There was nothing quite as painful as being ignored by a beautiful, engaging woman. If someone had tried to tell William that before his stay at Netherfield, he would have rolled his eyes and scoffed. Perhaps it was because he was rarely ignored by anyone, let alone beautiful women.
Frankly, he had more female attention than he was interested in most of the time. But ever since he came to this third-ring suburb to spend some of his rarely used vacation time with Bing Lee and his sister Caroline, William found himself ignored at a frequency that both baffled and comforted him. He had never been one for conversing with strangers, but somehow, strangers always seemed to want to converse with him. Not so in this little town. Bing, sociable and easy to talk to, became the center of attention in any room he walked into from the second they entered the Gibson wedding reception. William was an afterthought.
It was a novel situation, to be sure. Caroline, whose attraction to him had never been more obvious, took full advantage of his social isolation. She was always there, hanging on his arm, chatting about something inane or mildly funny. He briefly considered finally giving in and taking her to dinner, or accompanying her to the little hole in the wall bar that Bing and his new girlfriend Jane Bennet seemed so in love with. But as the days turned into weeks, he found himself distracted, intrigued, and hopelessly tongue-tied by someone else.
Lizzie Bennet was all the things that he had never looked for in a woman. She was loud, overly expressive, confrontational and constantly disagreeing with him. Sometimes it seemed as though she disagreed with him on principle, and not because he had said anything particularly objectionable. She took obvious pleasure in finding new ways to show him how wrong he was on a number of topics, from social media ("Facebook is revolutionizing the way we share our lives with the world, Darcy. You're an idiot if you think that it's about Farmville and Mob Wars.") to Russian literature ("I can't believe you've never read Anna Karenina. Please tell me you've at least read something by Tolstoy? Are you kidding me? Pushkin? Chekov? Dochevsky? You're kidding me.")
Instead of finding all of this disagreement grating or annoying, though, William was drawn to her. Every time she walked into a room he had trouble looking at anyone else. More than once she caught him staring, to his great embarrassment. The problem became more pronounced when Lizzie and Jane came to stay with them at Netherfield while the Bennet house underwent a remodel. Even Bing had noticed, and his friend wasn't exactly the most observant man on the planet.
"Just try to have a normal conversation with her, Darcy," Bing had advised with a laugh. "It isn't rocket science. She's a girl, you're a guy. Just...talk to her."
Easier said than done. He had tried and failed so many times he lost count. Half the time he was convinced that their fights were an elaborate kind of foreplay, and the rest of the time he found himself confused and disoriented. Once he had lost his temper and snapped, "You really go to great lengths to deliberately misunderstand people, don't you?"
She had rolled her eyes and stomped away, dragging a smugly satisfied Caroline with her.
And still he was drawn to her.
That night, he had given a great deal of thought to how he would approach her. He even asked Caroline what kind of music she liked, thinking that it would give him a topic to fall back on if she started lecturing him on the virtues of Tolstoy again. He and Bing spent the afternoon installing a state of the art stereo system in the den, and while they worked, William ran through possible conversation starters in his head.
These speakers have a 270 degree delivery system. I put them in myself.
There's nothing like the true stereoscopic sound you can get with the right equipment.
Caroline said you liked this music. It's catchy, good for dancing. Do you like to dance?
Over and over again, he imagined finally making her smile. He felt her hand in his, her body pressed against him as they swayed to whatever Top 40 hit was blasting from the speakers. He would gladly listen to an entire Top 40 Countdown if it meant she would just see him standing there, really see him.
But the best laid plans often go awry, and that night was no exception.
He had started with his best line, hoping to impress her with his knowledge and show her that he could work with his hands, too.
"The sound quality is mediocre at best." She didn't even look up at him, just stared over his shoulder and scanned the room, as if she thought someone new would magically appear and rescue her from the drudgery of his company.
He cleared his throat and tried again.
"Oh, yeah. Yes. Ahem. My personal preference is for a vintage gramophone type of sound." She raised her eyebrows and looked at him. Finally, something had caught her interest! "They provide a more authentic and vintage feel. Bing had to have the newest system though, and I have to say that the system he chose really is state of the art."
She fidgeted and nodded. "I guess. If you like that kind of thing."
Her eyes drifted away again, and he took an uncharacteristically long drag from the beer bottle he was holding. False alarm. The music changed, and he recognized one of the songs that Caroline had mentioned. He had catalogued a list of related bands and their biggest hits and then downloaded them in alphabetical order. All afternoon, he listened to the playlist, simply titled LB, and tried to gauge which would be the best song to dance to. He had loaded his top choices onto a new playlist, strategically scattered among a mix of music from Bing and Caroline's iTunes libraries.
"This song is really...catchy."
Lizzie, who had been bouncing on her toes to the beat, sighed deeply and turned her shoulder toward him, staring at Jane and Bing, who were laughing a few feet away.
"I hear it's popular. Really good for dancing." His words sounded weak, even to his own ears, but he pressed on. "You like this kind of music, right? That's what Caroline said. Not that we talk about you. Er. Ahem. It's dance music."
Silence. The chorus picked up, and the lead singer, some wailing, undoubtedly prepubescent boy, started lamenting the girl who would never say yes. William sympathized. Maybe she hadn't heard him? They were standing very close to the speakers after all. Someone had obviously heard him, though. Jane Bennet was watching them with undisguised sympathy in her eyes. It was almost humiliating. Had she said something to her sister about his increasingly desperate attempts to get her attention? He pictured the Bennet sisters in their pajamas, gossiping about how pathetic and lovelorn he was, and how suave Bing was by comparison. It didn't bear thinking about.
He took another swig from his bottle and tried again.
"I said this music is really good for dancing. Don't you think?"
She finally turned to face him, but there was no smiling acceptance in her eyes.
"You can drop the act, Darcy. I know you're only trying to get me to say I like this song so that you can make fun of my plebian musical tastes. You'd rather suck battery acid than listen to popular music, so don't pretend that you're enjoying this song. I bet Caroline picked it out. You certainly didn't have anything to do with this music."
"I...I don't..." Her vitriol, while not unfamiliar, was certainly unexpected. What was it going to take to get her to see how hard he was trying?
"Look, I'm not going to give you the pleasure of picking me apart. So just go ahead and hate me, okay? I couldn't care less."
He considered pointing out that most of their conversations ended with her picking him apart, but in the end, he decided to set the record straight about something else.
"Hate you? I would never dare hate you."
She shrugged and twitched, tipping back the rest of her drink with a scowl in place. "Whatever. I'm going to go find Caroline."
His eyes followed her as she made a mad dash across the room. He finished his drink in one long pull, closing his eyes tightly and trying to block out the humiliating feel of rejection that washed over him in waves.
When he opened his eyes, Jane was standing next to him. She smiled sympathetically.
"Don't worry about it, Darcy." Her soft voice carried, despite the pulsing music. "Lizzie sees what Lizzie sees. Just...give her some time, okay? It's hard for her to get over first impressions. And she doesn't like to admit when she's wrong. I'll talk to her."
He cleared his throat and pulled his chin into his neck, embarrassed that she saw through him so clearly. "Don't mention it, please. I don't...I'm not sure what you mean."
There was a loud clamor as Lizzie reentered the room, Caroline on her arm. They were grinning about something, and Lizzie let out a loud laugh. His eyes were drawn to her immediately, and he let out an involuntary sigh.
"Right," Jane said quietly. He dropped his eyes immediately, praying that the heat he felt on his cheeks wasn't translating into an obvious flush. At least the room was dark. "Well, I'll just...get you a refill on that drink."
"Thank you," he murmured, making eye contact with the older Bennet sister. She smiled, patted his arm, and turned to make her way back toward the kitchen. Lizzie and Caroline were dancing now, twisting and bouncing around to the very song that William had chosen with such care. He clutched his empty bottle and watched, wondering when he had gotten so hopelessly enamored with Lizzie Bennet.