If you had told Elizabeth Bennet two months (or two days) ago that she would not only be shadowing William Darcy's company and run into him in the hallowed halls of his own offices, but that, a few hours later, she would be drinking Lapsang with him and his little sister at said sister's favorite tea shop, she would've said you were nuts.
On the other hand, she'd said people were nuts for thinking crazier things.
"Please, call me Gigi. The only person who calls me Georgiana is my Aunt Cathy." She turned to her bemused looking older-brother. "By the way, Will, she called and asked for you a few hours ago."
Darcy coughed, and Lizzie had a sneaking suspicion that if she hadn't been sitting directly across from him she'd have caught him rolling his eyes.
"I'll call her back tonight."
"Please don't dodge her calls again—sorry, Lizzie," she grimaced, apologetically. "Family stuff, you know. Our aunt can be—"
"Lizzie's met our aunt," he interjected, dryly. "She can guess what you're about to say."
"I wouldn't have guessed that you needed tododge Catherine's calls."
His younger sister looked surprised.
"How do you know Cathy?"
Lizzie bit her lip. Though Gigi had said she was excited to meet her "because she'd heard so many things," clearly there were some things…many things…Darcy's sister had not heard. When she considered the enthusiasm and open-mindedness that permeated from Gigi Darcy, she actually felt dishonest.
"My best friend Charlotte works for her, at Collins and Collins, the media start-up," she explained, assiduously avoiding eye contact with Darcy. "I stayed with her back in October as part of my grad thesis. There were many...memorable dinners."
"Is 'memorable dinners' a codeword for 'she tried to write your life plan for you'? Because she does that." In an apparent attempt at making Lizzie her confidant, Gigi cupped her hands, pointed her finger at her brother and staged whispered, "Especially with him."
"Really." She made no effort to hide her interest was piqued.
"She practically forced him to go to Harvard."
"That is a gross misrepresentation of family history," Darcy cut in, frowning.
Gigi leaned against him, trying and failing to jab an elbow in his stomach. Every interaction between these siblings spoke to how comfortable and affectionate they were. She didn't know what she had been expecting when Darcy invited her to meet Gigi, but it hadn't been this arty, sensitive girl with a bright smile and her brother's chin, softened.
"Um, I'm sorry, but if memory serves, you wanted to go to Swarthmore," Her metal bracelets jangled cheerfully as she poured herself more tea. "Presumably so you could hang out with other weirdo intellectual loners and create your own hybrid creative writing/CS/IPE major."
Lizzie choked on her tea at this mental picture.
"It's really hard for me to imagine you not going to your first choice school." Truthfully, for most of the time she'd known him it had been hard for Lizzie to imagine Darcy ever not getting his own way.
Well, except for that…one thing, of course, she thought, stomach churning.
"I briefly considered alternatives to Yale, Harvard and Princeton, this is true…" He trailed off, thoughtfully. "But my personal preferences were only a part of the decision. Harvard was the obvious choice. It's where my father went—and prestige aside, the academics are excellent."
"He's just being polite. What he really means is Cathy and our uncle bullied him into it. All Darcy men must go to Harvard, and heaven forbid one ever mix it up and dip his toes into a consortium school."
His amusement at his sister's forwardness all but vanished. Lizzie wondered if his naturally private nature made it difficult for him to talk about this sort of thing with her—or anyone. Truthfully, she found herself—against all odds—really interested in these Darcy family insights. She had thought he had been paying lip service to the "wishes of his family" at Halloween, but from what his sister had unwittingly let slip, William Darcy was less used to always getting what he wanted than she'd thought.
He really is a creature of duty.
"Since I met my best friend at Harvard and received a truly enviable education, I have no cause to complain." he said to his sister, strangely terse. He seemed to find the idea that he might have suffered in the cause of pleasing his family distasteful.
"Dad didn't even mind, that's the most absurd part—" Darcy silenced her with one look, and she dropped whatever she was about to say mid-sentence. Lizzie was annoyed at herself for wanting to know more about Darcy's family (she had no right to be curious in that quarter, it had only gotten her in trouble in the past.) There was no natural place to pick up the conversation again, and the Darcys, not an innately conversational pair, both looked to her to smoothly transition them all out of this moment.
Her eyes darted around, looked for something to do or some object of interest to ask about. Literally grasping, Lizzie finally settled on reaching for the last piece of biscotti—at the exact moment that Darcy did.
When their hands brushed, she nearly jumped at the little shock his touch gave her.
What the hell was that?
"Ah—sorry. Please, help yourself." He jerked his hand away, quickly shoving it in his lap. His hand…he had really nice, large hands—very warm. And long, almost elegant fingers—He should play the piano. How had she never noticed them before? She'd felt them lightly rest on her shoulder, or innocently hug her waist as they danced often enough.
"I—thank you." She shoved the cookie in her mouth and chewed it with more force than was necessary. Why am I thinking about this?
"Hey," Delayed realization dawned on Gigi's face. "Isn't Collins and Collins the name of that start-up you did the consult for back in October? You never mentioned that Lizzie was there."
There followed one of the longest, most awkward pauses of Elizabeth Bennet's life. She wondered if she just felt like she should be turning red, or if Darcy's sister was watching it happen in real time. She risked another sideways glance at him. Apparently there was something utterly fascinating in the dregs of his cup of tea.
What were we, Lizzie? We were just—what? What was your endgame for that sentence? She surreptitiously tried to gauge his reaction to this subject. He looked tense, uncomfortable, completely reticent.
In other words, how he had always looked to her.
"The time your brother and I were there...only overlapped a little bit," she finally said, deciding it was better to discard "We were" wholesale. "So we didn't…really see much of each other."
Another excruciating pause.
"You know, I should really call her back—" he quickly stood up, nearly knocking over the entire tea service in the process. "Excuse me, ladies." Darcy nodded at them both politely, before ducking out of the shop. Lizzie's gaze followed him until he wandered beyond her eyesight's reach.
"I don't even know what's going on with him these days, I swear."
She dragged her attention back to Gigi, who was fiddling with the delicate little antique (cute but non-functional) stirring spoon that had come with each mismatched teacup at their table.
"What...what do you mean?"
"It's just...I worry about him."
"He's your brother, of course you do."
"We used to tell each other everything, but these last few months he's been so closed off. I just wish he'd lean on me a little. Will's always been there for me..." She sighed. I don't mean to lay all this on you. I just—I don't have many people to talk about it with, and you seem like a good listener."
Lizzie felt a stab of guilt—it wasn't the old, dull ache she'd had to deal with for weeks after reading his letter, either, but something entirely new. This girl liked her, trusted her, when she was the last person in the world who should—and if she knew the truth about her, she definitely wouldn't.
"I'm sure that whatever is going on, it will blow over. He's probably just trying not to burden you—he cares about you more than anyone in the world. He brags about you to everyone he meets."
She gave her a small, shy smile in return.
"It's funny you should say that..."
"Reception wasn't very good—" Darcy returned to their table, effectively running over his sister's last thought. "So I am going to call her back later tonight."
"What did she want?"
Darcy face flushed.
"Erm—" His eyes flicked over to Lizzie. "It's just business...concerns. Nothing interesting."
"But she never calls you about that on our house phone—"
His ears were starting to color, too. Whatever it was that his aunt had called about, Darcy obviously didn't want to talk about it, and Lizzie, having exchanged enough awkward, stilted sentences with him to last a lifetime, wasn't inclined to press him on it. Not that she wasn't a little curious.
"Haven't you figured it out yet, Gigi?"
"Figured out what?"
Lizzie lowered her eyes conspiratorially.
"What Catherine called about. Your brother's being coy…but I think it's pretty obvious."
She was attempting to affect gravity, but he could see the teasing in her eyes and that she was trying with some difficulty to suppress a smile. Lizzie didn't have his talent for seriousness any more than he had her sense of humor.
They could both have a go at it, though.
"Is it?" He cleared his throat, and practically commanded her, "Astound me."
"It's a house call." She sat up straighter to address him, because he was still looming over their little table—he was so tall—but he had always been that tall, she had known that from the beginning. "You've been put on Annie sitting duty."
Gigi was astounded by this pronouncement, but even more so by her brother's response to it.
"Do you think I'm really up to that task?" he asked her, voice laden with irony as he settled himself back down at the table. "Knowing what you do about my aunt's rigorous standards."
"You're probably the only person apart from her with the professional acumen required to take on the job," Lizzie replied, very earnestly. "I'm going to need a job pretty soon—are you looking for a PA?"
"Get back to me when you've finished your degree."
"Stop the presses—Gigi, can you confirm for me that your older brother just cracked a joke?"
His sister was surprised that her brother and this very spirited girl were even pretending they cared she was at the table.
"He does do that from time to time." Which Lizzie obviously knew, so she thought the question seemed a bit odd.
"Lizzie is more familiar with my captious side." She gave him a look that was unmistakable from across the table. "Would 'bellicose' be a better word?"
"Did you just casually drop the word 'bellicose' in conversation?"
He took a sip from his tea, apparently not seeing anything strange about his word choice.
"Well it…evokes something, wouldn't you say?"
"Yeah, the Princeton Review's GRE study guide, for one."
Her sarcasm didn't perturb him the slightest. Darcy, undaunted, kept his eyes fixed on her, in that same unnerving, completely focused way that had bugged the crap out of her that month they spent together at Netherfield.
It still bothered her, but for completely different reasons she was definitely not prepared to examine too closely at this juncture in time.
"I'm a very precise person," he said, finally. "With so many exact words available, why not use the one that best describes what you're trying to communicate?"
"So you're saying your philosophy of language…leaves less room for misinterpretation by all interested parties?"
When she was caught up in a conversation with him, Lizzie sometimes found herself, without even trying or thinking about it, talking like Darcy. He spoke with such natural reserve and stiff formality—but intelligently, and if she'd tried to talk to him as she did to Lydia, it would feel wrong, like plopping Britney Spears in the middle of a period drama. Talking to him had often been a battle, but today it was more like a very delicate, almost stylized dance, words and intent intersecting, complimentary—and very deliberate.
He was so much better at this type of dancing.
"That's its intention," he said, trying to keep his tone light and very general. "Though a poor communicator can mangle even the most seemingly simple of voiced thoughts…through tone, for example."
"Or mistaken…" she hesitated for a moment. "Preconceptions, on the part of the recipient."
"Also true. Misapprehension can destroy any chance of…understanding a person, no matter how large a vocabulary they have."
Without even thinking about it, Lizzie returned his intent stare. He was so difficult to read usually, but in this instance, there was little room for misinterpreting either of their meanings. Unsettled, she made an attempt to defuse all this veiled earnestness between them with a joke.
"A lot of people just equate big words with intelligence, so…" She gave him a challenging, arch look. "Being a walking, talking thesaurus can't hurt."
Her small, friendly smile—that's all it is, Will, it's just friendly, it isn't warm or caring or…anything else you want to project onto her—made his heart rate accelerate. Darcy suddenly felt recklessly daring.
He felt like breaking out of the familiar pattern of their waltz.
"Well my…thesaurus function tends to be less buggy than the rest of my programming, you know."
Comprehension and horror flashed in her eyes simultaneously, and he regretted saying it. They had been in neutral territory—well, bordering on it, anyway. Somehow Gigi's presence had created a comfortable buffer for them, facilitating one of the few successful conversations they'd ever had—and he'd ruined it, by bringing up one of the many, many taboo subjects between them. Possibly the most taboo of the lot.
Then, as she so often did, Elizabeth Bennet surprised him.
"So..." she started, tentative. "I guess you got those upgrades, then?"
He let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding.
"I'm never going to have any idea what the two of you are talking about, am I?" Gigi cut in, innocently. She was taking more and more interest in the way that her brother seemed, while in the presence of Lizzie Bennet, both totally on edge and completely…well, a completely different person. He never acted like this around anyone, not even her.
"It's a long story," Darcy offered, finally.
"Well that explains everything." His little sister took another sip from her teacup, suddenly thoughtful. "You know, I'm amazed Annie the fifth is still hanging on, really."
"Annie-kins is one in a long line of my aunt's canine companions," Darcy answered her unspoken question. Somehow hearing him say the word "Annie-kins" made that dog even more ridiculous, if that was possible.
"All named Annie?" She bent over her purse, rummaging around for her chapstick. "Where does the obsession with the name 'Annie' come from?"
When she raised her head again, the energy at the table had shifted. Lizzie knew that she'd unwittingly broached an uncomfortable subject for the pair of them. The relaxed—even, dare she say it—friendly Darcy of the last few hours had been replaced by the usual impassive, impenetrable man that she'd always been so inept at reading.
"It's actually our mother's name—her sister's," Gigi finally offered. "They were really close growing up."
"I suspect if Catherine had ever had a daughter the name would have had a more worthy recipient."
He sounded like he had so many times in the summer—was that cool, contemptuous, biting tone an…emotional response for him? A way of shutting down?
Lizzie had never given a second thought to Darcy's mother. She didn't think the reality that he had a mother had ever even crossed her mind. When he had been a near ubiquitous presence in her life back home it had been easier to think of him apart from things actual humans had—like emotions, concern for other people, and even relatives. When she'd heard her mentioned, she'd thought of Gigi as a female version of him—snobbish, wearing Dolce and Gabbanna Buddy Holly glasses while munching on kale chips and judging her.
Instead she got…the girl sitting with her now, who was shy and unassuming, and clearly worshipped the ground Darcy (Will—she's the only person I've ever heard call him that) walked on.
If both their parents had died, that was unsurprising.
The only thing she "knew" about Darcy Senior was what George told her, so she wasn't really sure she knew anything. Lizzie trusted, at least, that he had died five years previous, leaving Darcy ostensibly in charge of his family's company at his very young age. And he had been fond of George and wanted the best for him, Darcy had said as much himself in his letter...though whether that concern was merited was unclear.
Lizzie tried to imagine what it would be like to not have either one of her parents—she looked over at Darcy, so obviously somewhere else, and felt a rush of sympathy for him. Her family was the most important thing to her—as it obviously was to him, considering the way he doted on his little sister.
She's the only thing he has left of it. The thought left her melancholy.
"Normally, this would be the time in the conversation where one of us would tell a touching childhood story," Gigi said, a little strained. "But as you can see, my brother has a brick wall in place to avoid dealing with his emotions, so I guess that isn't going to happen."
Even Darcy cracked a smile.
"Emotional range of a teaspoon," she added, fondly.
"Oh, so you're a Ron Weasley?" Lizzie asked, mentally comparing them. Both tall, both verbally…deficient. It sort of worked. A few months ago she would have unreservedly compared him to Draco Malfoy…or possibly Snape, depending on their latest interaction.
"I don't have the faintest idea what that means."
Gigi rolled her eyes, long-suffering.
"Will is the only person left on the face of the planet who hasn't read Harry Potter."
Of course he was.
"Let me guess, Darcy—too mainstream?"
"I know you're convinced that I have disdain for the vox populi, but it simply isn't true."
"You claim to value the voice of the people, even while you use phrases from a dead language that only elite, prep-school educated people like yourself can understand?"
Any feeble attempts he had made in his head to convince himself he was over her were quickly thrown out the window. Lizzie was teasing him—and teasing implied a certain level of familiarity, if not affection. Had any other woman made fun of him for his taste in literature or his tendency to drop Latin in conversation (which he'd only done to impress her, anyway), he would've been annoyed, but coming from Lizzie it seemed terribly…intimate.
He almost blushed just thinking the word.
"He thinks it'll make him look stupid in public," Gigi informed her, unaware of the dangerous place her brother's thoughts had led him. "Reading it, I mean."
"What, because of the cover?"
A little red crept up his neck.
"I just don't have an interest in children's fantasy, as a genre."
"He also refused to buy the eBook because he didn't want to sign up for a Pottermore username." His sister's voice was brimming with amusement.
"I get enough pointless emails in my inbox as it is, thank you," Darcy protested, weakly. If he was not used to being argued with or contradicted, he was even less used to being double-teamed.
"Didn't want the Darcy name associated with something like CauldronCake13, eh?" Lizzie couldn't resist asking. She was a little unsure about giving him crap—Darcy took himself seriously, and she had mocked him so mercilessly in the past that she wouldn't blame him for not wanting to laugh at himself.
"I...flash doesn't work on the iPad," he quickly replied, with the barest hint of a smile.
"I lived in the same house as you for a month—I know you have more than one laptop. And if there was one person on earth I was sure had a Kindle, it'd be you."
"He has one, but he refuses to use it."
"Really?" She was surprised. "Why?"
He thought carefully before answering.
"I like the feeling of touching a book and turning the pages. EReaders are more cost-efficient, portable and environmentally friendly...but they have very little soul." He paused, before coloring and adding hastily, "That is, if there are degrees of soul. I suppose I could clarify, they have a soul and Kindles don't. In as far as objects can have souls…assuming you believe in them at all."
It was the sort of thing that, normally, she would have associated with his characteristic pomposity and pretentiousness. With no one but her and Gigi around, seeing that intensely earnest look in his eyes, and the way he stumbled over sharing something so personal—she knew he really meant it.
"That's the most poetic thing I think I've ever heard you say."
"That's the only poetic thing you've ever heard me say," he replied, ruefully.
She thought back on every blundering conversation they'd had over the course of their whole relationship, even that pièce de résistance, the most disastrous—she wasn't sure he was right. "Two parts of me have been at war..." In spite of every insulting and condescending thing that had followed, she couldn't help but admire that turn of phrase. She'd rewatched that glorious trainwreck more times than she would admit to anyone, even Charlotte...and it had stuck with her.
Darcy might've been an asshole, but he was an asshole with style.
She fixed him with another tentative smile—that he returned, hoping his feelings—the feelings he'd been carrying around in his heart, that he had tried to let go of, to overcome…the feelings that had returned with the force of a speeding locomotive smashing into the side of his heart the moment he saw her again—weren't as blazingly obvious as they must be.
"Speaking of poetry—" Gigi cut in, briskly, repressing the urge to just let them go on for hours. "I need to get a copy of Keats' complete poems. Do you mind if I pop over to Langley's? The two of you can just stay here and finish your tea..." Lizzie didn't know Darcy's sister well, so she didn't notice the casual slyness in the girl's tone, but he did. He narrowed his eyes at her very innocent expression.
"We own every Romantic poet's complete works already."
"I want a paperback, Will, so I can take notes in it. You can't do that with an antique on vellum."
"But I thought you were only covering the Odes...surely you don't need the rest of his poems." He seemed suddenly very intent on keeping her where she was.
"Aren't you the one whose always telling me to be thorough in whatever I study?" She jerked her head towards Lizzie, appealing to her for support. "He's such a hypocrite, isn't he?"
Of course Gigi was only joking, but the remark was so close to the angry, unfair accusations she'd leveled at him back in October that there was not a single thing she could think of to say that was not in really bad taste.
"It won't take long, really." Gigi was not surprised by Will being weird (weirder than usual) but she didn't think Lizzie would ignore the chance to give him a bit of a hard time.
Despite how comfortable they'd been up until that point—from where Gigi was sitting, it had looked an awful lot like flirting, Will style—Lizzie and her brother had gotten fidgety and uncomfortable. There was something she was clearly missing here. The older girl had become suddenly subdued.
"Actually, you know—I'll come with you." Lizzie hastily shoved her still unused chapstick back in her purse and grabbed it off the floor. "I need to pick something up for my...sister."
"Of course," Darcy too eagerly agreed to the plan. "The two of you go. I'll just take care of the check—my treat," he added, before Lizzie could protest. "I have a couple work emails I need to catch up with, anyway."
"You know me."
Do I? She was really starting to wonder. Did she know him at all? She had gone back and forth on this point so many times in the last few months she didn't even know where she stood anymore.
"Well don't work too hard, 'kay?" Gigi patted him on the shoulder as she stood up.
He watched them leave the shop and cross the street, comfortably chatting, with something akin to regret. Darcy regretted almost any moment he could be with Lizzie and wasn't—he quickly shook his head, as if that could shake her out of him. It was clear the idea of being alone together, in a personal setting…anyone who saw them at the table alone would think they were…well, given what had happened in her friend's office, he couldn't blame her for not wanting to risk repeating the experience.
At least this was an opportunity for her and Gigi to get to know each other better. He'd always thought they would hit it off, and he had not been disappointed. Lizzie, with her vivacity and warmth, had a talent for drawing people into her world. She had brought Gigi out of the shell his baby sister had curled into over the last year...just like she'd brought him out of his shell, and forced him to really look at himself, critically, maybe for the first time since his father died.
He didn't think he'd ever been more caught off-guard than when he'd run into Lizzie Bennet—almost literally—on a tour of his company. At first he couldn't believe she would have chosen of her own volition to work in a place where there was even the slightest chance of their paths crossing—but as soon as she was able to, Lizzie had reassured him she had no idea this was his company until she'd seen the ornately framed Darcy family portrait in the lobby. Considering that he'd been twelve years old when it was painted, the knowledge that this had been her tip-off was only slightly less mortifying than everything else.
She, at least, seemed as embarrassed as he was. Darcy felt better knowing they were on somewhat equal footing there.
Once he'd recovered his wits enough to string together a semi-coherent sentence, he'd managed to muster up the manners to suggest taking her on a more personal tour of the facilities, including the studios (which he felt certain was the place she'd be most interested in...he could see her working there in his mind's eye—but no, that was getting way ahead of himself again.)
At the end of the day he'd even screwed up his courage enough to ask her what she thought of it all.
"I think it's...it's wonderful. I can't imagine someone not thinking that."
"Your opinion matters more to me, though." He hastily added, "Since you have more discerning taste than most, that is."
"Earth to William Darcy—"
His sister stirred him from his recollections by waving a book in front of his face.
"Found it, no problem."
"Where's Lizzie?" He craned his neck around Gigi, on the lookout for a glimpse of painfully familiar pretty auburn hair.
"She had one more thing she was going to look for—" she swung down into the seat next to him. "She's going to meet us outside. I thought you were paying."
"I got...distracted." Absently, he took his credit card out and stood up to take it to the counter directly. Gigi stood right back up again herself and followed him, quite dogged.
"Was Cathy trying to set you up again?" The way that he studiously avoided looking at her was confirmation enough. "Did you not want Lizzie to know she does that?"
"Don't push it, Gigi."
"And why didn't you tell me that she was at Collins and Collins back in October? Did something—"
"It's very...complicated." He accepted his card back from the smiling woman behind the counter with a polite nod and dashed off a signature on the receipt. "That's all you need to know, trust me."
Understatement of the year, but not untrue.
His sister audibly sighed as they walked out of the shop, hoping to provoke a response from him—when she made "unladylike noises" he tended to get all Emily Post on her, which was a potential opening for more important conversations. When he did not rise to her bait, but instead stared determinedly at the streetlight to his left, she decided to fill the silence herself.
"You know William, I am an adult."
"Only legally speaking."
"Will!" She punched him on the arm, with more force than usual. "I wish you'd stop trying to protect me from things. You can't control everything in life, as much as I know you wish you could."
She would always be his baby sister, whether she could vote or smoke cigarettes (God forbid) rent a hotel room. Lizzie's comments about him might be embarrassing, but it was the George Wickham's presence on her vlog that Gigi would know nothing about, if he had his way.
"You may not understand now, but there are some instances where I still do know better than you, Georgiana," he replied, shortly, in his annoying 'this-is-not-a-discussion-this-is-a-statement-of-fact' voice.
"Uh-oh—I thought only Catherine called you Georgiana."
"Sometimes Will likes to channel her," Gigi said, over his shoulder, fixing her brother with another look which he pointedly ignored. Instead he turned around to greet Lizzie, who had managed to sneak up behind him and catch him off guard.
"Ah—I hope you found what you were looking for." He nodded at the unobtrusive brown paper sack she was carrying.
"I did, thank you," Lizzie had a devious look on her face. "It's actually...a gift."
"For Jane—or Lydia?" He added, hastily, mentally kicking himself for implying that her younger sister didn't read.
"Um, I haven't bought Lydia a book since her eighth birthday when she threw her new copy of the 'Secret Garden' at me," she laughed, and to her surprise found (admittedly more subdued) amusement on his face as well. Knowing the distaste he had felt at her Lydia's more "exuberant" tendencies, it was a pleasant surprise.
"Actually...it's for you."
For a very long moment he just stared at her. The Darcybot hard drive was whirring, helplessly—trying to compute the words that had just come out of her mouth.
When his brain finally got around to processing it, he blurted out the first cognizant thing he could think of.
"What is it?"
"Will!" Gigi laughingly admonished him. "Don't you want her to wrap it, at least?"
"Not particularly," he replied, feeling very petulant. Lizzie didn't seem to be offended, though—he didn't know it, but she found his childish impatience somewhat endearing.
"Something tells me your brother is used to getting his own way."
Darcy opened his mouth and closed it again, at a loss. Her light, teasing remark reminded him painfully of her incredulity back in October—"Are you rejecting me?" "Does that surprise you?" Everything about that day and the accompanying video had given him pain, but that hadn't stopped him from near-obsessively rewatching it, waiting hopelessly for his life to become the movie Run, Lola, Run and for that elusive checkpoint in the conversation where he could have restarted and salvaged some small part of his dignity—"I need to speak with you" would have been a nice spot. Or perhaps even "Excuse me, Lizzie." He probably could have said that better.
He really shouldn't think in video game analogies.
The look on her face now didn't remind him of how she had looked on her video diaries when she spoke about him, though. Lizzie Bennet certainly wasn't grinning, or laughing, or flirting with him...but she wasn't hostile, either.
"Alright, fine—but at least close your eyes. And don't peak!"
"Of course not." He held out his hands, expectantly. "Do I strike you as a cheat?"
He hadn't been fishing for compliments, truly, but the sincerity with which she said it warmed him anyway, almost as much as the idea that she had deliberately gone out of her way to give him something. She slid the cool, worn cover of a paperback novel into his outstretched hands. Amazed, he held it, eyes still closed, marveling at the mere fact that a gift from her for him existed in this world.
"May I?" he asked, curiosity outweighing his desire to prolong the moment.
"No, you've got to walk around with your eyes shut for the rest of your life," she replied, and even though he couldn't see her, he could imagine the gentle exasperation on her face, her hand resting on her hip, lips curled upward…Probably best to stop at lips. "Yes, Darcy. You can open your eyes."
When he finally did, a much-loved third edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone looked up at him.
"I figured you'd prefer the authentic Britishisms and superfluous u's of the English version."
"I...thank you. I look forward to reading it."
He was being completely and utterly honest again.
"You're welcome. I look forward to hearing about all the Nietzschean subtext in Snape's potion lessons." She had that catch in her voice that indicated this was a joke, and perhaps it would socially appropriate to laugh, but as Nietzsche was the only thing he had comprehended in that sentence, he figured there was little point. Let her be privately amused by his pop cultural backwardness…if it made her smile, it was worth it to him.
"Wait a moment—" He had flipped to the title page. "You haven't inscribed it."
"Do you…want me to?"
"Naturally, if you don't want to…" I'd like you to. Please. "If you could date it, at least...so I won't forget."
As if there's a chance I could forget today.
She plucked the book out of his still-outstretched hands, thoughtfully trying to read his expression. Was he just being polite, or did it really matter to him? She decided that Darcy was not the type of guy to ask for something because convention demanded it.
"Alright, fine." It disappeared back into its brown paper bag.
"…You aren't going to do it now?"
"Don't be so demanding, Will!" Lizzie carefully stuck the bag into her purse, for safe keeping.
"Since it's you, I have to come up with something clever. Anything else would be admitting defeat, and I hate to fail."
"Have words ever failed you?"
It was a sincere question, asked wistfully and almost as though he envied her. She tried to think of a suitable answer when cool night air hit them, distracting her.
"I'll go get the car and bring it around—if you'll both wait inside, please." Before either of them could argue, he was striding off to the garage around the corner, very determined.
"Don't mind him, he thinks he's being chivalrous when he's really just being annoying."
The two of them stood in the doorway of the Queen Mary's for a few moments in a thoughtful silence.
"Where are you staying, Lizzie?" Gigi asked, seemingly out of nowhere.
"At—just the local comfort inn. I don't really know anyone in town..."
Besides you. And your brother. Who declared his love for me to the internet a few months back. And who I rejected, also on the internet.
"That's miles away from the office." She snapped her fingers. "I just had an idea—what if you stayed with us?"
She froze. Did you not just hear what I thought?
"I...erm...that's very generous of you."
"It's just Will and me in a huge house...and he's going to be working all the time, like he always is."
"I don't want to intrude on your privacy."
"My privacy?" she scoffed. "You'd be doing me a favor, honestly. The tennis season starts up again next month and I could really use a partner—you used to play, didn't you?"
"Yeah—in high school. You're nationally ranked."
The younger girl grinned.
"I'll go easy on you."
"Plus you could carpool into work with Will!" This idea didn't appear to be very attractive to Lizzie...in fact, it seemed to make her very nervous. "At least come over and hang out with me tomorrow, please. Then you can see my dad's own personal Xanadu for yourself and have living proof of how unobtrusive you'd be."
"But your brother—"
"Is one of two people who live in my house and is allowed to invite friends to stay over."
Before they could discuss it further, Darcy pulled up to the curb in his (naturally) expensive but understated hybrid sports car. The three of them drove back to Lizzie's hotel, chatting comfortably about music—Gigi, feeling the strongest about the subject, did most of the talking. The other two were too engaged in their thoughts to contribute very meaningfully to the dialogue.
"Don't forget about tomorrow, Lizzie—you promised!" Gigi yelled out the car window as Lizzie crossed in front of it. Darcy lowered his own window and leaned out when she caught his eye through the front windshield.
"I'm guessing her claims on your word are dubious at best."
She was starting to get the feeling that Darcys, however sweet and unassuming, were all used to getting their own way.
"Don't worry about it."
Lizzie hovered at the window, awkwardly—she wanted to say something more, to let him know something or apologize or reassure him …but she wasn't sure what or what for or why…
"Thanks for the tea...and everything," was what she finally did say.
"It's nothing. You can pay me back with that book."
"I still haven't decided what I'm going to write in it."
Darcy looked up at her from behind the steering wheel of a car she was sure that her parents would not have been able to afford, even in their wildest dreams. She wished she knew what he was thinking—for most of the time she'd known him, Lizzie had assumed she had...she was never going to make that mistake again. She couldn't count on him to ever behave like she expected.
Today was proof of that.
"I'm sure you'll think of something."
Apparently, she did.
Several weeks later—long after Lizzie had so abruptly skipped town, and Will even more strangely departed a day later, on mysterious business of his own—Gigi had found that not-so-gently used copy of Harry Potter on her brother's bedside table. There was a bookmark in the ninth chapter, and next to it, in his neat, cursive hand, some adorably detailed notes for potential talking points with Lizzie ("Is the Durleys' cartoonish abuse and neglect an allusion to Victorian orphan narratives?")
Not able to resist her burning curiosity, she picked up the book, her missing CD all but forgotten, and flipped to the front. There it was, the promised inscription, on one of those useless blank pages they put before and after the part you read. Looking down at Lizzie's loopy handwriting, she frowned. Whatever Gigi had been expecting, it wasn't this.
It was much shorter than she would've guessed.
I guess sometimes words do fail me. All I can think to say is that I'm sorry. Friends?—Lizzie
She could not have conceived of the many times her older brother had traced those nineteen words with his finger, that he had memorized the shape of her handwriting, how she looped her y's and dotted the i's, and imagined her writing it—that he could hear her voice saying those three sentences to him, a litany or a prayer in his head, over and over again.
All she could do was gently set the book back down exactly where she'd found it, smile, and think on the past circumspectly, silently agreeing with Lizzie.
There were times when it was really hard to think of what to say. Sometimes you didn't know what another person needed to hear, or if there was anything you could tell them that would make a difference. Sometimes words did fail you.
And it was at that point, she supposed, when actions had to speak for you.
This was quite a labor of love. Feedback would be very appreciated! Thanks for all the support.