"Hi everyone, so we are back from Carter's [...]"
Carter's is crowded that night. The air is heavy and thick with heat and alcohol and Lizzie can barely hear what George is saying over the incredibly loud white noise of other people's conversations.
The meaning of his words is of little consequence anyway, her slightly drunk mind choosing to focus on other things instead, like the way he talks, with his body leaning towards hers, his broad shoulders shielding her from the rest of the world while the warm air that he exhales as he speaks caresses her ear and her neck.
His right hand clenches on her left hip and Lizzie tries hard not to shudder, finishing her third glass of vodka soda instead, just to have something to do with her hands and mouth other than the obvious.
"Do you want another drink?"
"Oh, it's totally fine."
But nevertheless George smiles at her, takes the glass out of her hand and mingles in the crowd that gathers along the counter.
It is when the human barrier of George Wickham disappears and leaves her exposed to the changing lights and other people's oblivious stares that she comes to these two logical conclusions: 1) She is drunker than she thought she was, and 2) judging by the malicious looks other girls are giving her, she is a very envied girl right now.
These two simple facts make up a strangely dangerous combination that makes her feel recklessly carefree and oddly empowered.
George comes back with a vodka tonic for her, his sweet smile and his warm, well defined body that seems to intoxicate her almost as much as the alcohol itself does.
She takes the glass out of his hands with a "thank you" and takes an exploratory sip. He looks at her, smiling, like he knows something that she doesn't as the fingers of his right hand travel lightly over the naked skin of her bare arm making her blush, raising goosebumps along her spine.
"You really are something, Lizzie Bennet," he says, and she smiles and blushes even brighter, a little embarrassed but not enough to take her eyes off of his. "You are smart and witty and breathtakingly beautiful. I must be the luckiest guy in the world."
If she wasn't already a little bit too tipsy those compliments would have sounded a little too fake, a little too used for her exigent ears; instead they sound pleasing and welcome.
She doesn't say anything back, there is no need to because George lowers his head and kisses her busying her lips. His mouth is insistent on hers, demanding, persistent and Lizzie can taste the raw savour of alcohol in the back of her mouth. His left hand gets under her shirt as his right one travels along her body till it reaches the top of her thigh and then her ass.
This is not like her. Lizzie is not the Bennet sister that participates in this kind of behaviour in public places, still, as George pulls her to him so that their bodies meet as much as possible, she doesn't stop him.
Later, she will blame the alcohol. Later, she will acknowledge that she probably should have left after her second vodka as she previously intended instead of becoming this pantomime of a late night show, but right now her mind is fuzzy enough not to care that much.
George's stubble chafes the skin of her face, her neck, her collarbone and his hands wrinkle her shirt when they are not venturing between the jeans and her skin. It's all too surreal; the music gets louder, the bass vibrate through her body, the light changes colors constantly and she is still holding the drink in her hand.
George retreats suddenly and catches her free hand in his. "Do you wanna get out of here?" But he is not really waiting for an answer and pulls her already making his way to the exit door.
"I'm…. wait. Wait." She stops on her tracks at the same time that somebody enters the club letting in some cool air that hits her like a slap. "Wait."
The distance and the coolness sober her up, if not completely, enough to know that this is not something she is completely comfortable doing. She feels ashamed, she feels a little cheap because he is a nice guy, he is funny with good manners and good conversation but Lizzie doesn't like him as much as she thinks she should. It's stupid because on paper, George is everything she has always wanted but it feels too rushed, too staged somehow, and she is not proud to admit that her previous decision to stay with him was primarily based on plain, old lust.
"Nothing's wrong. I just-" she shakes her head lightly, "I'm just going to go home. Now."
George's doesn't bother to hide his discontent as he lets her hand go. Lizzie tries not to feel disappointed on top of everything else.
"But I'll see you tomorrow at Bing's party, right?"
"Right," he says without much conviction.
Lizzie goes back home alone. She walks instead of taking a cab, she doesn't have the money to spare and the cold air of the night helps her clear her mind of its alcohol induced stupor.
When George doesn't show up at Netherfield the next night standing her up she feels used and betrayed, she feels so stupid and humiliated that she finds it hard not to cry, instead, she convinces herself that is all Darcy's fault and makes a point to be specially cruel and mean to him.
It's to nobody's surprise that they never become friends.
"I'm sorry to have caused you so much pain, I should have acted differently, I was unaware of your feelings towards me."
"You were unaware? Then why don't you watch my videos?!"
The room seems to have run out of oxygen until Darcy, politely and dignifiedly, storms out of the Collins & Collin's office that she has been using as a recording studio without making much of a fuss.
Lizzie can taste bile at the back of her throat. Her breathing is nothing sort of frantic, her stomach burns with rage and frustration and her hands clench in solid fists as she looks blindly at the turned off camera for a couple of seconds. This is bad. This is worse than bad because her best friend job depends on the opinion of the guy she has just rejected in the rudest manner she can presently think of.
This is definitely not good.
Lizzie breathes deeply, gaining courage if not much calm to quickly get up and out of the room to go chasing him. It only takes her a couple of minutes, her hasty pace promptly catching up with his slower, more imposing one along the hallway.
"Darcy," she calls at him. "Darcy!" she insists loud enough for some people to turn their heads around, because no matter what, she is not going to grab his arm even if she is close enough to do so. Friendship since foetuses has its limits too.
He stops and spins quickly to look at her so blankly, so preposterously collected that she wants to smack the composure off his face then and there, so much that the palm of her right hand itches.
"I don't think there is anything left for us to discuss any further at the present moment, Miss Bennet."
His voice is as unperturbed as it has ever been and Lizzie can feel the resentment building up inside herself, fuelling her already infuriated state of vexation for no discernible reason.
"Charlotte's work doesn't deserve to be undermined just because she is my friend," she says harshly and cold, exactly as she intended. Regrettably, she also says it far louder than she intended.
Darcy swallows almost audibly, forcefully, losing a mite of his cool façade. She considers it a victory. Petty as it is, his uneasiness placates her aggravation and makes her feel marginally better, it even makes her almost smile in a sick and revengeful way.
He looks around themselves in order to confirm that indeed, there are people from the nearby open space office that have stopped working and are now blatantly staring at them; some seem entertained, most of them just look pissed at the unwelcome interruption and he takes her by the arm and pushes them to the nearer open door and into what seems to be the office supplies storage room, closing the door behind them.
Lizzie barely has time to react before realizing that he has manoeuvred her like cattle.
"Let go of me!"
She shakes her arm off at the same time he gladly complies making the movement seem excessive and comical.
"Think as you may of the way I conduct myself socially, Miss Bennet, but I have never given you, or any other person, a single reason to question my work ethic." Lizzie notices his darkened pupils, his quick breathing and his square jaw set straight. He looks just about as angry as she feels. "I pride myself in taking the effort of gaining the respect of the people that work for or with me and you had no right to give those people out there the impression that I would asses Miss Lu's work with anything but the professionalism that it deserves."
Some minuscule part of her brain is still able to acknowledge that he is right and she should be appalled for her behavior but she is so used to silence it when Darcy is concerned, so eager to smack him out of his pedestal of self-righteousness, that she can't think of anything other than what she feels to be fair payback.
"Oh, that's rich. You calling me on for my faulty behavior." She takes a step ahead invading his personal space with her rage and thirst of justice. They are so close now that the height difference will certainly take a toll on both their necks, so close that she can smell his stupidly expensive aftershave and breathe in the air he breathes out. "Am I to believe in this supposedly work ethic of yours when your life ethic has crushed my sister's happiness for no reason?" she hisses.
She can see the hurt when his eyes flicker. Her heart beats with such a bitter force that it deafens her, her breathing so enraged that every time she lets air into her lungs her chest almost bumps into his stomach though not quite. He opens his mouth as if he was about to speak but closes it before a word comes out, he tries again leaning forward a little bit and his face is so close that she can't look at both his eyes at the same time yet, she refuses to give him the satisfaction of stepping back.
"It is clear that I can't do or say anything that would please you," he says and then uses the little space that remains between him and the door to take a step back and turn around to reach for the handle but she is not going to let him go invicted and unharmed.
She takes the last remaining step and grabs his left arm pushing him hard, with as much force as she can muster, making him rotate back and land awkwardly with his back against the door.
"Don't you dare to make this about me." She is still grabbing his arm but she pushes her other hand against his chest like this would prevent him from trying to run again. "It's not my fault that I can't reach your stupid, ludicrous standards because nobody could." She grabs a fistful of his shirt to emphasize her indignant diatribe. "And it's certainly not my fault that you treat other people like they are not worthy of your-" the bitter words die in the air as he goes completely and statuesque still as her body comes fully in contact with his in her latest attempt at physical intimidation.
There is an audible hiss, that could have been his or could have been hers, as her abdomen presses against the conspicuous bulge situated in the area between his legs but still she doesn't back down. The palm of both his hands are facing the wooden door as his back flattens as much as possible along the surface; he looks so positively terrified, so unmistakably humiliated, that she feels vindication starting to spread within herself.
"I'm-" she doesn't let him continue.
She pulls, her hands still on him, forcing him to lean down till she can crush her mouth to his, till she can shove her tongue between his lips mercilessly, pushing and recoiling and claiming the new territory she finds assault after assault, until he groans and she can taste victory in his desperation.
There is nothing soft about her, about this, she is just declaring war, the heat that spreads from a very compromising part of her anatomy is just collateral damage.
Darcy's hands are still glued to the door and Lizzie doesn't like it, she wants him consumed, she wants him undone, she wants him as mortified for his feelings for her as Lizzie has been for letting Darcy's opinion of her affect her.
Lizzie bites his lips and suck on his tongue as she slides the stupid suspenders off his shoulder and the stupid red shirt out of his pants and undone, but his stupid, stupid hands aren't anywhere near her yet and the posture is killing her neck so she slides her mouth against the warm skin of his neck, of his throat.
She sucks hard enough to bruise and she can hear his sudden intake of air, she can feel it as her hands explore his abdomen and she presses her body against his with more determination like she wants the words "decent enough" tattooed along every single inch of his skin.
"I... I-" he stumbles.
But she looks up and he looks down in which it turns out to be the greatest miscalculation ever made in the history of miscalculations because they look at each other's eyes for what seems like a century until she can see a different kind of resolve there.
"I get it." He murmurs. "Yeah, it's ok, i get it."
And she is about to tell him to shut up, she is about to smartly remark that he has forgotten his seventeenth century speaking style when he finally, FINALLY, gets his hands on her and kisses her.
His left hand slides along her waist till it reaches the small of her back as his right one aims for her nape and doesn't stop kissing her, all tongue and lips, daring and aggressive without being aggressive at all.
She involuntarily sighs and her stomach flutters as he turns them around in a fluid motion with his mouth still restlessly on hers. He kisses her lips once, twice, three times in quick succession and the hand that was playing with the hair of her nape moves along her jaw and down her neck, it caresses the side of her breast till it claims its place on her waist at the same time his other hand moves from her back to the other side of her waist and he effortlessly lifts her, her back pressed against the door, her legs automatically wrapping around his hips.
He keeps her pinned there, her hands at his shoulders on their own volition and her mostly grey dress all tangled around her thighs. Their faces are at the same height now which is not as convenient as one might think because she can't help looking at him in the eye and she feels herself lose a vital part of her much needed rage with every second she spends that way, so she closes her eyes and leans her head back against the door.
If she concentrates hard enough Lizzie can hear the sounds of the office at the other side of the wooden piece which is really not a problem since she finds it difficult to focus on anything else but the way Darcy's right hand slides up her thigh, up, up, up, till it is not longer on her leg but between both of them.
It's furious, it's quick and it's dirty. There's nothing that could resemble a romantic comedy in the way he thrusts his fingers inside of her, or in the way that his thumb describes angry, random patterns. Nothing tender in the way she bites the place where his neck meet his right shoulder as she comes so to not let out any improper shout, and there's definitely nothing dignified about the way her hands make their way into his pants until he is out of breath and out of control.
Still, later on, when Lizzie reads his letter and starts to progressively feel like she has publicly made a fool of herself, like she has been tremendously unfair to Darcy and finally completely ashamed by the way she has treated him, she can't find in herself the will to regret their encounter.
"Just read it. Please."
As soon as Darcy leaves the room Lizzie turns back to the camera pointed at her face. The envelope in her hands is small enough, as light as an envelope containing a simple letter is expected to be (not containing a bomb, not a thick lawsuit, not a formally long "cease and desist" notice), and this simple fact takes away enough of her worries that Lizzie mindlessly puts it aside and thinks later because as much as she would like to forget this incident as soon as possible and continue with her life as if nothing has happened, she has promised him to read his words and she is not the kind of person that usually breaks her promises.
"Later" turns out to be sixty four days later. She is about to finish her work shadowing the incredibly boring media company specialized in viral pop-ups - and another variety of equally annoying products - when the slight yellowish color of recycled paper among her old notes catches her eye.
She doesn't immediately remember what it is until she reads the laborious, readable characters that compose the address, "To Miss Lizzie Bennet". The angry black ink and the old fashioned wax seal stare pretentiously at her as she rolls her eyes, rips the envelope and starts to read its content expecting less than nothing from it. After all, he left and she turned down Pemberley Digital, they don't have anything in common anymore.
She reads it a first time and re-reads it a second one before she really begins to grasp the concepts behind the words. It's all so unbelievable that Lizzie runs through the five stages of grief in a matter of seconds:
1. No this can't be true (Denial)
2. Why didn't he tell me this instead of writing an stupid letter?! (Anger)
3. OK no. I'm going to close my eyes and when I open them again I'm going to realize I have read all this wrong (Bargaining)
4.This just sucks (Depression)
She is halfway through processing her acceptance when Charlotte calls on her cell phone.
"Lizzie you have to go home," says her friend, her voice frantic and worried, and "It's an emergency."
Lizzie is already randomly putting things in her travel handbag and throwing around interrogative particles like there were no tomorrow when Charlotte's words freeze the blood in her veins, "It's about Lydia. And Wickham. Lizzie, it is really, really bad."
She clutches the paper in her hand and cries silent tears of regret as she tries to figure out the affordable, quickest way to go back home.
I should have known, she thinks, and, how could I've been so wrong about so much, but mostly, for the fifteen hours that she spends in a noisy, stinky bus what she thinks is, Oh God, why didn't I read that letter before? and, this is my entire fault.
"You though that costume theater, as ourselves, would remind the audience that this isn't a conversation we would naturally have but because of that, the obviously constructed nature of the scene would, by its very artificiality, create its own sense of verisimilitude."
Hyper-mediation and new media in storytelling become her current security blanket; the perfect excuse to be bold and daring, as she shields herself behind the shared unspoken agreement that what happens in costume theater stays in wherever costume theater resides.
"Why do you hate my family so much?" Lizzie as Costume Theater Lizzie asks Darcy as Costume Theater Darcy.
The camera is not recording this time, she doesn't want the many faults of her family exposed and documented again, it would hurt her entirely too much because as much as she makes fun of them to keeps her videos interesting there is always the lingering care of someone that loves them in the way that she portrays them, but hearing other people criticize her family... well, that's another league altogether.
Darcy sighs, his shoulders down and his back not so straight as if defeated by the question. "I don't hate your family."
"You dislike them."
"I disapprove of the way they expose themselves socially."
Their arms are brushing lightly as they seat next to each other. She wants to ask him to elaborate, to give her concrete reasons, facts, examples, but she doesn't, instead she stares into his eyes and he seems to read her request in hers way too easily.
"I think it reflects poorly on them. Their... display of blatant interest in the wealth of other people may lead to very misfortunate first impressions."
For just a mere instant Lizzie is tempted to ask if that is such a terrible crime and then, half a second later, all of their common background in disastrous first impressions and subsequent ill fitted character judgements hit her with an intense and unexpected wave of sorrow.
And then he will take off his bright red, fake bowtie and she will strip of her plaid blue shirt and both will resume their previous tasks not exactly acting like nothing has happened.
"Do you really believe that difference between classes is such a big deal?" she asks him in other occasion, and, "eleven requirements to consider a woman together? Really?" the next day.
Between reasonable argumentations about the desvirtuation of the women by the media, with new scandalous celebrities as role models, and logical analyses of how the social and economic reality that people live in their formative years often shape priorities and goals in life, Lizzie can see, not only the validity of his arguments, but also that aside from the harsh way of putting them into words they are actually quite similar to her own. It a confusing and distracting realization which is why it takes her some time to figure out that there is still this mysterious, little piece of the puzzle missing.
She stomps with determination the hallways of Pemberley, red bowtie in one hand and blue shirt in the other, until she finds him in his office.
"Why don't you ask me any questions?" It's a second too late to realize that she just sounds a little too much like her little sister demanding attention. It is two seconds too late before she remembers she hasn't actually put on her costume or offered Darcy his.
He looks at her intently with his hands in his pockets and Lizzie figuratively tosses aside the costumes because maybe they have been playing charades for far too long for either of their own good.
"I was referring to the costu-"
"I know... what you were referring to."
He sighs, loudly and slightly out of character but Lizzie's patience is running too thin these days. It's even a wonder she has any patience left after all.
"And?" she instigates.
"And I didn't want to presume that I had that right?"
"It's costume theater not martial court law."
"I didn't want to impose."
"I don't have any obligation to answer!"
She is not even sure why she is pushing it this hard until Darcy tilts his head ever so slightly and asks her, "What do you want from me, Lizzie Bennet?"
And there, the final piece falls into place as she realizes what has been bothering her. "What do you want from me?" Because if his lack of interest in asking her personal questions is any indication, the difference between what they hope for the future is going to have little to do with their dissimilar origins.
"I think I already answered that. I thought it was clear that I've been answering that question constantly," he says, and Lizzie breaks a little inside because yes, she knew that, only she didn't know at all.
She takes a step and lets the bowtie and the shirt drop to the floor. She puts her hands on his face and pulls his mouth to hers surprising them both. The kiss is sweet, long and tender and when it finally ends they barely move, their faces still close enough to feel each other breathing.
"Don't trifle with me," Darcy whispers, his eyes still closed, "please, please. Don't trifle with me."
Lizzie fractures in a million tiny pieces like shattered glass. "I don't," she says as she kisses him again, and, "trust me," mumbled against his mouth.
"My name is Lizzie Bennet, and if you think I'm distracting myself until Lydia shows up, you are right."
She rushes through the door as she arrives home. She hugs her father and kisses her mother's cheek before she has time to let her travel handbag drop to the floor, and it's clear that Lydia is not at home and is not going to be for quite some time yet, so she pulls out her new shiny phone and dials Darcy's number.
She doesn't even think about it, a reflex born of years of family members telling you to call to assure you have reached your destination safely.
"Lizzie?" he answers almost immediately.
"I arrived home... safely."
Yep, classical conditioning at its best, Pavlov would have been so proud of her social awkwardness.
"Oh. Good. I'm glad."
Lizzie hides behind a curtain of her hair as she looks down, closing her eyes in utter mortification as the pause in the conversation stretches.
"How is your sister? Is there anything else I can do to help?"
And just because humor is the last resource of those living desperate times, she goes and remarks with a bitter snark, "well, you could find George Wickham and ruin his miserable life," which is intended to sound smart in its cynicism, but Darcy doesn't chuckle, Darcy doesn't make any sound at all, and instead of keeping going on about how the guy would make a cute punching bag, Lizzie is overcome by this bad, bad feeling.
The silence thickens around them, it becomes solid, it becomes present somehow. It's not like Lizzie fears Darcy would do anything stupid because, well, for starters it is Darcy and after everything there would be no reason for him getting involved in this mess but some pretty disturbing images of Darcy and Wickham dueling come suddenly to her mind.
His response comes in a low voice that is almost nothing more than a whisper.
"Don't worry," he says, as if that was even a remote possibility.
"I was kidding, I didn't want to imply-"
"Yes, of course."
Lizzie still has this unnamed feeling clutching her stomach, the distinctly knowledge that there is more in his words than just mere words but she doesn't dare to speak out, doesn't even dare to give shape to her vague impressions.
"Darcy I-" and then nothing. Apparently she has become the kind of person incapable of expressing herself in sentences anymore.
"I'm glad you called," and then, when she is absolutely sure that he is hanging up, Darcy still manages to calmly reassure her, "everything is going to be fine."
But no, nothing is going to actually be fine because her little sister has done the stupidest thing that she could have done and apparently Lizzie can't seem to do anything better than deliberately asking the guy whose company should be shadowing to do something about it.
She is mad, confused, embarrassed, indignant and not even a little less worried when Lydia shows her cheery self at the threshold of the room, and all she can think, all that Lizzie can decypher among the thousand different thoughts that cross her mind are just these four words and an interjection filled with anger and sadness.
Oh Lydia, How could you?