Lizzie wants to believe that even though nearly everything about her life is different from a year ago, she remains essentially the same, but every time the thought crosses her mind, she knows it's a blatant lie.
It's a easily acknowledged fact that for them to be together, Darcy (Will, she thinks belatedly, still not completely adjusted to calling him by his first name), has had to make myriad and relatively significant changes to his mindset and his view on the world. She knows that it's true because she herself saw the evidence of it, and the very fact that it happened at all is why she fell in love with him. But she, Lizzie knows, is anti-change. Nevermind that she has always believed and still believes that a woman should never change her fundamentals to please a man.
Gripping her cell phone in her sweaty palm, Lizzie tries to reassure herself that she has not necessarily changed for him, but that her association with Will has made her different. Not bad, not good, just different.
But she doesn't feel all that different as she dials his number and he answers with a curt, "Darcy." Which means he was working and didn't even glance at the number before he answered. It doesn't hurt exactly, but there's a moment of fluttery nerves and almost something like fear, before she speaks up. She would rather die than admit it to him, but CEO Darcy intimidates her.
Maybe it has something to do with the idea that this successful, well-respected, serious businessman actually loves her, and she half-expects that he will wake up one morning and change his mind.
"Will, it's Lizzie," she says breathlessly, as if he won't know who it is the instant she speaks.
"Lizzie," he says, and the tone of his voice instantly softens, and suddenly, instantly, the nerves are gone, replaced by their predecessor, annoyance. "Is everything alright there?"
Specifically, annoyance at him.
"I think there's been a mistake," she says succinctly.
"A mistake? Was there a problem with your room?"
"Yes, there was definitely a problem," she hisses back at him—or maybe just at the innocent tone in his voice, like he can't possibly believe there is something wrong when he arranged it all so neatly and so perfectly for her.
Someday, Lizzie thinks with exasperation, he will realize that it's the arranging that makes it so un-perfect, but for now, they've only been dating a matter of months, and like before, he is still figuring out the minefields in their relationship.
Okay, the one minefield.
"What's wrong, Lizzie?" he asks with the patience of a saint, even though she knows he is very much not one.
"You didn't pay for this room with points," she growls. "They have your credit card on file. I told you I didn't want you to pay for me."
He sighs then, and she half-wonders if someone will be losing their job because she's sure he left specific instructions that she was not to be told of the arrangements he'd made.
"You promised, Will," she says, and suddenly her voice is small and quiet. The last thing she wants is to fight with him, the man she loves so much she doesn't know how it took her so long to realize it, but she's afraid and doesn't know how to tell him that her fear is because she's terrified of losing herself in him. She doesn't have much, but the one thing she has always been able to rely on is her own self-reliance. If he takes that away from her, she'll slowly suffocate to death.
"Lizzie, it is the smallest thing. I just want to help you, help Lydia. Make your lives a little easier."
"This was supposed to be my treat for Lydia. A sisters weekend," Lizzie states. "You know how important it was to me that I pay for it myself."
"And you paid for the tickets yourself," he says. "The hotel room is such a small thing. . ."
She interrupts him, something she knows he hates, with the hope that maybe she can break through the well-meaning barrier he's constructed to prevent him from truly understanding what she can bear.
"It's small to you. Big to me."
She knows he's finally beginning to lose his temper because even though his voice remains even in tone, each word has a little more punch than the last. "Lizzie, what are we going to do about this six months from now? A year from now? Are you going to want to pay me rent when we move in together? Are you going to insist on splitting the check at dinner? Buying your own groceries?"
Even after the videos, she doesn't think he was this angry. Maybe he was, she concedes, but not at her. Mostly at himself, for being so blind and stubborn and prideful. But now, he's definitely annoyed, and annoyed because he doesn't understand how this thing between them is supposed to work. Well, she doesn't understand it either, and maybe that's a little part of her fear explained.
"I don't know," she finally says. "I wish I did, but I don't."
"I'm working right now," he says after an eternity of silence. "Can we talk later? I'll pick you up from the airport Sunday afternoon."
"Fine," she says, aware of how petulant she sounds, of the frustration and the fear and the anger boiling over inside of her. Fine means that everything is not-fine, but she knows that he's dismissed her because the problem looming between them is not something easily solved and he hates those.
"Lizzie, take care of yourself. Be safe."
"I will," she snaps then hits the end button on the screen before she can say anything else she will regret later.
But it's too late, she's already said too much—or maybe it was him this time, she's not sure—and the tears that she's always been so careful to keep inside of her, even when he was Mr. Douchey and the Darcy-Bot, are threatening. Maybe they were so easy to keep inside because before she didn't love him, and now she does and she doesn't know how to live with him.
"Is everything okay?" Lydia's voice asks from behind her. There's a fragile, careful quality about it, like she's not sure if she should ask, if she should risk breaking the peace that's been simmering between them.
"No," Lizzie admits, but doesn't turn around. "Darcy and I just fought."
"Well, that's nothing new," Lydia starts to say, but then Lizzie turns, and she knows that her sister sees the tears welling in her eyes.
"It is," Lizzie admits in a broken voice. "It is because it's different now. I'm different. He's made me different."
Lydia reaches out and grasps her arm, leading her towards the suite that Darcy had reserved for them with "points." She opens the door with the key card and plops Lizzie down on the edge of the bed.
"He didn't make you different," Lydia says, towering above her despite her real stature, "love made you different."
Lizzie gives a watery snort. "Love sucks."
"You want to talk about it?" This isn't normally the kind of question Lydia Bennett asks, and Lizzie is momentarily sidelined by her youngest sister's maturity. It was something she'd wanted from her for so long, but she doesn't like that it's come at the price of her ebullient buoyancy. Lydia has lost something, and it's the loss that makes her quieter and older and Lizzie would do anything to go back to the way things used to be.
"Not particularly," Lizzie admits. The money problem is something she and Darcy will have to eventually work out; a solution has to exist that they can both live with. She has to believe that or she'll fall apart in this expensive suite and miss the concert that is hopefully the first step to bridging the gap that's grown between her and her little sister.
"You want to get a drink before the concert?" This question is more Lydia, but there's still an understated quality to it, like suddenly the last thing on her mind isn't booze and parties and fun fun fun. Lizzie's afraid to ask what it is because deep down, she's worried she already knows.
"Sure," Lizzie answers. "Let me just . . ." Her gesture towards the bathroom is vague because Lizzie doesn't want to admit to anyone, even her sister, that she needs to go put herself back together. And that doesn't mean just wiping away the tears and reapplying her mascara.
Alone in the bathroom, Lizzie stares at the mirror and wonders again how she changed into this person who is so scared all the time. Scared of her feelings, scared of Will's feelings, scared of gaining something that she could eventually lose. There's a vulnerability in her eyes now; she sees it because sometimes she'll watch her old videos and miss the brash confidence that used to be such an integral part of her.
She shouldn't be picking fights with Will over money and credit cards and points that aren't points. She should gracefully let him do the things for her that he wants to share so badly, but that fear lodged in her breastbone, the fear that chokes her and makes it almost impossible to breathe sometimes, is what stops her.
Before she think it through, she's dialing his number again.
"Lizzie, is everything alright?" This time Will's voice is deeply concerned and the love in it almost brings a fresh wave of tears.
She loves him so much. The how or why is sometimes inexplicable but the fact remains.
"No," she chokes out. "No, it's not alright."
"I'm sorry about the hotel. If I'd known it would bother you so much," he says, the awkward phrasing back from months before. Lizzie can feel his own fear pulsing across their connection, and his fear is the same as hers.
What if she changes her mind.
What if she doesn't love me after all.
"How did you do it?" she asks in a rush.
"Before." The words feel like they're choking on that fear in her throat but she pushes through it. She needs to understand how he found the courage to stand by and wait for her to fall in love with him back. How he risked his own heart when hers was so uncertain.
It's not something they've ever discussed though Gigi has briefly mentioned the "bad times" in passing, when Will had returned from Collins & Collins and thrown himself into his work with a singlemindedness that had scared everyone who knew him. The 18 hour days. Forgetting to take breaks and eat meals. The dark circles under his eyes.
She hates that she did that to him, but she also needs to understand how he lived through it and was able to walk into her office at Pemberley Digital and smile at her.
Lizzie takes a single deep breath and continues. "How did you love me when you knew I didn't love you back?" She gets the words out but there's a crack in her voice at the very end.
"Lizzie." His voice is a caress and if he was here, next to her, he'd pull her into his arms, envelop her with his love.
"I'm so afraid," she whispers.
"And you think I wasn't?" he asks.
"I know you were." If he feels as strongly about her as she does about him, the fear must have been crippling.
"I loved you more than I was afraid," he says softly, "and I knew that if I let the fear rule me, I wouldn't ever have a chance to repair your opinion of me."
It makes sense to Lizzie; the execution is the tricky part, but she's suddenly so sure, with the confidence of the past Lizzie, that she can't lose him over something trivial like money. And it's not like with her family's history, she's ever believed that money was trivial.
She takes a deep breath. "Thank you for the hotel room, Will. It was really nice of you."
He catches his breath, almost imperceptibly but she is so tuned to his frequency that she hears it, and suddenly the concession of words doesn't feel so much like a concession as a victory. "You are welcome, Lizzie."
She knows he wants to say more, say that he would give her anything she asked for, that his money is meaningless if he can't use it to take care of her, but in the end, he knows her and knows it needs to be her that says it.
"I love you." Her whisper is so faint that he can barely hear it, but Lizzie believes that it's the words that count, not the volume they're spoken at.
"And I love you." Lizzie wishes she could see his face at this moment, but she can nearly feel his smile across the miles. She might have said she loved him before, but Lizzie hopes he understands that now it's a promise to him, and more importantly, a promise to herself.
"We'll talk Sunday," he says. "I know how much this weekend with Lydia means to you. Go have fun."
Setting her phone down, Lizzie glances back in the mirror, and grabs a tissue to try to repair her damaged makeup. Maybe, she thinks as she wipes away the mascara smudges, it's not the end of the world if she's been irrevocably altered by the man she loves.
"You almost done in there?" Lydia calls out, her brashness breaking into Lizzie's contemplative silence.
She takes one last look in the mirror, at the new resolve in her eyes. It's one thing, she discovers, to tell Will she loves him. It's quite another to tell him he'll be the last one she'll ever say the words to. She's committed now, heart and soul, fear be damned. She won't lose him again.
Lizzie opens the bathroom door and Lydia is standing there, her smile dimmer by the most miniscule amount. None of us, Lizzie thinks, are the same. Change is inevitable.
But change isn't always bad. "I'm ready. Let's go." She reaches out for Lydia's arm and for the first time since George Wickham finally exited their lives, there's the slightest glimmer of the old Lydia in the curve of her lips.
"Are you better?" Lydia asks as they exit the hotel room.
If her camera was rolling at that moment, not that she ever wants to publish another vlog, Lizzie knows it would capture some of her old confidence, back where it should be. "Yes. Much better."
After all, she reminds herself, courage isn't the absence of fear, rather that something else is more important. And she's found the one thing that is.