I've always had this little theory that Wednesdays were out to get me. Why a particular day of the week should have a grudge against me is another question entirely, and one for which I don't have a ready answer. Still, in my twenty-odd years of life on this earth, it was always Wednesdays that trailed along disaster and havoc in their wake.
My youngest sister, Lydia, was born on a Wednesday. I realize this sounds like a shitty older sister thing of me to inlcude in my list of proof that Wednesdays are out to make my life a living hell, but that's only if you don't know Lydia. Disaster and havoc is her middle name, or at least her primary modus operandi. I love her, of course, but not so blindly that I haven't realized a long time since that her wild ways have been a direct cause for many of my more embarrassed or stressed out moments.
My childhood pet, an ugly little mutt of a dog that I had named Four (family legend claims that this had something to do with my being three years old at the time. Whatever the actual reason was, I don't remember), died on a Wednesday. It was, perhaps, the most traumatic experience of my young life. To this day, I can still see in my mind's eye the awful scene of Mrs. Hill, our elderly next-door neighbor, running Four down with her Buick in the middle of the road. My parents assured me that she hadn't done it on purpose, but I was eleven when it happened and wasn't about to take an excuse like "near-blindness" as anything like recompense for my loss.
There's a whole slew of other ways that Wednesday did its level best to baffle and alarm me. I've been dumped, had class pictures with a freshly sprouted pimple in the dead center of my forehead, gotten my first speeding ticket, been in ill-advised shouting matches with my mother, been let go from a job (downsizing) and, once, even lost my best friend in the whole world. All on Wednesdays.
Still, Wednesday had never pulled such a terrible prank on me as it did when Fitzwilliam Darcy had shown up at my dorm room all set to ask me out on a date, not knowing the magnitude of misunderstanding that had piled up only several days previous.
What can I tell you about Darcy to help you understand how shocking this was? I had better start at the beginning.
Will Darcy had been widely regarded around campus as The Man. He was handsome, athletic, wealthy and, many people claimed, smart.
From the very first, I was willing to concede the first three even if I wasn't that impressed by any sport that wasn't soccer and therefore couldn't really be bothered to fawn over his basketball skills. But that last attribute? Smart? I had never seen it.
He wasn't a dumb jock or anything. In fact, I'm certain his academic studies must have been quite impressive since he was also the valedictorian of our graduating class, but when it came to knowing how to relate to ordinary human beings as though he were also just an ordinary human being? He was so people-stupid that it really hurt. Nobody wears highbrow arrogance quite like The Man, the campus god, Fitzwilliam G. Darcy.
Or, as I liked to call him, Fitzy.
Throughout the two years we spent matriculating together (I having transferred in from a mediocre community college), I did my best to remain on politely distant terms with my fellow students. There were a handful of people whose relationships with me evolved into something more like friendship, but I was on a scholarship and my studies were paramount.
So when an accidental collision in the cafeteria ended with me on my ass and wearing not only a heap of the salad I had planned on eating but also a steaming pile of the fettucine alfredo that had been on Darcy's tray, I was far from enthused at the first words out of his mouth.
"Why don't you watch where you're going?" I believe they were. I also believe they were spoken rather angrily, as though it were his designer threads that had been sloshed with olive oil vinaigrette and as though it were his face and arms that had sustained an array of mild burns from the piping hot alfredo.
I believe it was also a Wednesday. But then I believe a lot of things, like that Will Darcy is an irredeemable wanker.
For several moments, I could only stare up at him from my position on the floor. He was tall with broad shoulders and a mass of dark hair that tended towards the unruly. His brown eyes were cold with displeasure as he regarded me as though I were a particularly disgusting bug he had happened to discover in his underwear drawer; his high cheekbones were made all the more pronounced by the way his bronzed skin was drawn tautly over them, his lips pressed into a thin line.
I had picked myself up, looked him in the eye with as much dignity as I could muster, and had opened my mouth to say something cutting in reply. Alas for me, not only could I not begin to think of anything to say, I was forestalled by one of Darcy's teammates happening by and he proceeded to not only actually point at me, but also to laugh.
Scratch that. He brayed like a donkey.
"Assholes!" I had said, before departing with some haste to hide the embarrassing fact that the encounter had actually had the effect of making tears rush to my eyes. I had too much pride to cry in front of either one of them and so decided discretion really was the better part of valor.
After that, I had avoided him assiduously until the fateful day that we ended up as assigned partners in writing a massive paper on the subject of apartheid in South Africa. It had been with more than a shred of misgiving that I had approached him after class to set up a time to meet regarding the assignment, but he had been civil enough when he agreed to a study session at the neutral ground of the campus library and he made no mention of our last encounter.
Naturally, I was incensed that he had chosen to ignore the collision rather than to even attempt an apology, but then decided it was probably all for the best. If he had apologized for his part in it then I would have had to apologize for my parting shot and we might have had to actually try to be friendly during this forced partnership. It would be better to concentrate on the paper and on getting a good grade than it would be to try to forge some sort of temporary friendship.
What I had failed utterly to take into account was that we had arranged to meet on a Wednesday.
Sometimes I think that being able to go back in time for the sole purpose of punching one's past self in the face would be a dream come true.
Sometimes I think I would like it more than I would like to punch The Man, Fitzwilliam "Fitzy" Darcy in the face. And oh! How often I have wished to have the nerve to do that, eventual assault charges and jail time be damned.
But I digress.
Our first Joint Project Meeting rolled around and I made my way to the campus library, giving myself enough time to arrive early as was my habit. Settling myself at the table, I set out my supplies in neat rows, flipped open the book I had already identified as being the major source of information we would draw from and I waited.
My nonchalant acceptance at his being five minutes late was subsumed by a sort of frenetic inner rant about how that rich-boy asshat was even more rude than I had imagined him to be, what with being fifteen minutes late and no word via email as to why. After half an hour, I was literally trembling with rage and righteous indignation and as I gathered up my things to go I could not help darting glances all around the library. I was convinced he had done this on purpose and that he and his donkey-braying teammate were no doubt laughing at me from an out-of-the-way corner somewhere.
If they had been, the joke must have gotten stale some time past. I didn't see anyone as I left, other than a student worker sitting at the circulation desk, looking bored and probably playing solitaire on the computer in front of them.
Fitzy: 2Elizabeth Bennet: 0
As soon as I had gotten back to my dorm room, I composed an email to the professor, scanned the words several times and deliberated for twenty minutes on the whole endeavor before deciding that I was no fit judge of my own ability to sound calmly detached when I requested a new partner for the project - or to work alone if I must - and I deleted the draft rather than send it.
Relations between myself and Darcy were decidedly more strained after that.
Well, and after I demanded why he hadn't shown up or let me know he wouldn't make it, and all he had to say was that he was out of town.
"Urgent business," he added.
"That doesn't excuse anything," I muttered, but he ignored me.
Of course there was no apology.
On the plus side, we did get a very good grade on the paper. When Darcy finally got around to treating the project like it mattered, I was grudgingly impressed with the way his mind worked. Not that being book smart in any way made up for his being devoid of common decency.
Writing that one paper together might have been the end of it, save that my roommate, Jane, soon after became involved with a guy named Charlie Bingley. I really liked Jane, truth be told, and thought of her almost as the older sister I'd never had. She was kindness personified, drop-dead gorgeous and so unaware of it that no one could help but love her.
Although she was about to put my love for her into some serious jeopardy.
Darcy and Charlie were buddies, their friendship dating all the way back to the snobby private school they had attended together. This was a fact I was unaware of until the day that Jane pressured me into coming along with her and Charlie to see one of the drama department's plays. When I had protested the idea of being a third wheel on their date, she had told me with her guileless blue eyes all wide open and innocent that a friend of Charlie's would be there and she wasn't trying to set me up with anyone but it would be less awkward to have a fourth person along.
This incident caused me to seriously question whether Jane wasn't actually a demon in disguise. She knew how I felt about Fitzwilliam Darcy and encouraged me to head straight to the slaughter like I were any other exceptionally stupid little lamb and not her friend.
The evening held every promise of being sheer torture. Somehow I had agreed to go out for drinks afterwards - it was a Friday, after all, and we deserved to cut loose a little - and I was not allowed to renege on my promise simply because I didn't care for one-thirds of my company. Jane's argument, not mine.
Obviously. My argument was that Darcy was a raging prick and I would happily consent to strangling him a little bit, but nothing else.
Jane just gave me a pointed look and murmured something about, "That's what she said."
I proceeded to get drunk. So did Darcy. Our so-called friends didn't lift a finger to stop us. Instead, they packed it in just when Darcy had reached a particularly sloppy conclusion in a rant about why things like five-toed socks ought not exist and I was about to launch into my own rant about the horror that was 95% of woman's fashion in footwear and how even that 95% of twee heels and tacky-ass bows couldn't begin to compare to how gawdawful crocs were.
My rant was important to me in my drunken state, so I waved Jane away and told her I would be fine walking back the two blocks from the dive bar that all the kids on campus tended to frequent.
After that? Things are a little hazy.
What I can tell you is that at one point during the evening, Darcy and I were perambulating around campus and I was urging him into small acts of vandalism, like strategically scratching the letters off of signs so Classroom 305 became assroom 305. Juvenile, sure. But funny as hell when you're two or three or five sheets to the wind.
We talked seriously about frivolous things, like which type of pie was superior to all other types of pie and why. We talked even more frivolously about serious things, like how our college careers were soon to be over and it would be time to face the challenges of real life as an adult, whatever that was.
I remember thinking how amazing it was that all that was required to get my oil to mix with Darcy's water was a little bit of alcohol. I felt like we really connected that night.
The next morning, I felt like we had probably connected a little too much.
Long story short? I didn't wake up in my faintly musty dorm room. Oh no. I woke up in what I first thought was Heaven, all piles of white clouds and a gentle cushioning sensation that seemed to draw me in and embrace me. This proved to be Darcy's bed in Darcy's swanky off-campus housing where Darcy lived all alone, not needing roommates to split rent seven ways on a crappy three bedroom apartment.
I knew the piece of monkey shit was rich, but I hadn't ever imagined "cushy townhouse" rich.
To make matters worse, I was not alone in the most sinfully comfortable bed I'd ever slept in.
Nor was I clothed.
Nor was he.
The realizations sobered me up more quickly than a whole bucketful of icy water would have been able to do.
I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances: I ran. Well, it was more of a tiptoe-try-not-to-breathe-and-hope-this-place-does n't-have-creaky-floorboards gathering of my clothes and fleeing in a haphazardly-dressed manner into the quiet early morning air sort of thing, but my heart was racing as though I'd run a mile by the time I let myself out of the front door and got far enough away from the townhouse to feel comfortable in pausing long enough to determine just where the hell I was in relation to the campus and my dorm.
It was only after I left that I realized I hadn't taken the time to look around for any evidence of what might have happened between us. The nausea and pounding headache that I'd already acquired by way of being hungover was joined by a different type of sick feeling in my gut. One that was very concerned about the potential repercussions of possibly having had sex with Fitzwilliam G. Darcy, the Fourth.
I had been on birth control for ages if only to regulate my periods, but I had immediate and severe misgivings regarding what filthy diseases Darcy might have been carrying around.
At least assholishness wasn't sexually transmittable.
The next few days were something of a blur as I spent most of my time engaged with wrestling with the Million Dollar Question of whether or not I had drunkenly slept with Will Darcy, who was a jerk and who had probably made his way through half of the female portion of the campus population.
I skipped a class on Tuesday to go in for testing. That this occurred during the only class I shared with Darcy was a mere coincidence, I assure you. But apparently he didn't want to talk to me any more than I wanted to talk to him. He certainly hadn't sought me out in any way during the previous three days, and I thought it very indicative of his true nature that he would spend the night with a woman and not be bothered to make any attempt to contact her after the fact.
I imagined him waking up alone and giving himself a high-five for not only getting some, but also for doing so with a woman who didn't stick around long enough for a cup of coffee and awkward conversation.
The thing is, as much as I told myself I was glad that:
a) I didn't recall sleeping with him at all
b) Assuming we had, I could blame the decision on the booze, and
c) It didn't bother me at all that it had been a meaningless encounter to him
The thing is, it really did sting.
I didn't sleep with people lightly or at random. A one-night stand had never been in any of my plans, although I suppose that its very nature makes it a thing that very few people would put on their bucket lists. But Darcy was (probably) only my second sexual partner and it galled me that I had been so physically intimate with someone I despised so thoroughly.
I ran into him on a Wednesday, five days after our drunken escapades.
For me, it was unexpected. But for him, it was clearly done with a purpose. I could hardly think otherwise as I returned to my dorm from a grueling morning of classes only to find him sitting on my bed.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing here?" I snapped, past the point of caring of whether or not he perceived me as rude. After all, I had his number.
He stood, clasping his hands formally in front him, and fixed me with a pained expression. "You've been hiding from me," he accused.
"Have not!" I shot back.
He eyed me warily, seeming to struggle for an answer. "You weren't in class yesterday," he said. "You were gone by the time I woke up on Saturday." It almost sounded more like a question.
But my past five days of wondering and, yes, rage had left me with no patience for this strange conversational dance. All I had ever wanted from The Man was an apology for his rude behavior or at least a decent explanation as to why he had acted as he had.
"Why don't you quit telling me about where I haven't been and maybe tell me what it is you want to say."
He bit his lip briefly, seeming more uncertain than I would have guessed him to be capable of feeling. Despite his being much taller than me, Darcy seemed almost to peek out at me from under his lashes.
"About the other night," he began, and then faltered.
"I don't believe I ever want to discuss that night with you."
"Why ever not?" he asked, and puzzlement painted his tones.
"Well let me think," I said, exasperated. "How about that I have no idea how I came to be there, but I certainly woke up in the very last place I ever expected to. Way to take advantage of a drunk girl, Fitzy."
He cringed, but that might have been only at my use of the name Fitzy. I knew it annoyed him to have anyone even know that he'd been given such a wretched name as Fitzwilliam; to have anyone use it against him seemed to be something he abhorred.
"I took no advantage." Now he was all stiff formality and haughty reserve. "It was your idea, as I recall."
I was blank for a moment as the implications of that broke over me like a tidal wave. I found myself gaping up at him and struggling to draw a breath, so great was my rage. Before I could say anything to him, he continued.
"That night... I'd always enjoyed our previous encounters, but you always seemed to have your guard up around me. I've never really known what it is about me that made you keep a distance, but Friday was different. You were different."
He took a step forward, all intense eyes and firm purpose. I mirrored the movement, taking a step back and checking to see that the door to the dorm hallway still stood wide open in case I should need to shout or run or just throw up somewhere that wasn't right inside my room.
"I was drunk," I reminded him flatly. "Apparently alcohol has the effect of making you seem like less of a raging douche."
His head jerked as though I had slapped him and his surprise seemed genuine. "You're saying the only reason you stayed and talked with me when Jane and Charlie left was because you were drunk?"
I shrugged elaborately. "I was drunk. You were drunk. It takes off the rough edges."
"So everything that happened, everything we shared with each other, was all the result of a pleasant alcoholic buzz?"
Darcy seemed... hurt? But that was ridiculous.
"No, Fitzy," I stressed the name again, rolling my eyes this time. "I always go around campus with guys I can't stand and deface signs while perfectly sober. It's how I get off."
"Guys you can't -" he cut himself off, took a breath and started again. "If you can't stand me, then why did you stay with me? You were coherent, so you can't have been that drunk. Or are you just embarrassed now and pretending that you didn't feel something, too?"
I sucked in a noisy breath, not even certain where to begin.
"Firstly, I was pretty fucking drunk," I told him. "Like can't remember shit drunk. Secondly, damn straight I'm embarrassed! I don't like you. I never have! Not from the first time I met you. So yeah, I'm pretty fucking embarrassed about the pretty fucking big lapse in judgement that led me to getting drunk and bumping uglies with you!"
The looks that slid across Darcy's face might have been comical if it weren't for the fact that this entire argument we were having was in deadly earnest. His expression started with something that looked like surprise and then morphed through affront and hurt before settling on confusion.
"We didn't sleep together," he said blankly.
"Then what the fucking hell did happen?" I screeched, sounding even to my own ears uncannily like my mother. "And why in God's name were we naked together in bed?"
Darcy spoke slowly as he told the story, taking forever to get to the point. He made mention of things I did remember, however dimly. How our wanderings had brought us within the range of a party where Darcy had known several people. How they had pressed red solo cups of beer into our hands for the short time Darcy had stayed to make conversation. How I'd plummeted into the tight curves of the end of the downward spiral of intoxication.
"I knew I should get you back to your dorm," Darcy said, all earnest sincerity and troubled eyes. "But you didn't want to go back. You said you wanted to make wishes at midnight, so I took you to the fountain."
"I said that?" I breathed, a gasp catching in my throat.
Wishes at midnight was a tradition I had only shared with my father, a sort of game we would play on the nights growing up where I stayed up far too late reading and he would permit it. The rule was that I could read quietly in bed but that I must get some sleep and so he would check on me at midnight and we would make wishes together for good days and favorite dinners and a million dollars. Then he would kiss me on the forehead and I would sleep soundly, wrapped in the warm glow of love and peaceful dreams.
I wondered if I had explained any of that to Darcy.
Either way, he had taken me to the fountain that burbled merrily away in front of the Humanities building and had given me all the change in his pocket, allowing me to flip the small coins into the large cement bowl that formed the fountain's base.
"And when you ran out of change, you started a water fight," Darcy informed me, and I had a brief flash of memory of doing just that thing, pouting in childish indignation that he wouldn't wade into the fountain to retrieve the coins so I could make more wishes.
He had retaliated and in short order we were both soaked and growing chilly in the late spring night air.
"So I took you to my place since it was closer," Darcy concluded. "And persuaded you to change into dry clothes. I left the room while you did so, but when you called out to say I could come back in, you had burrowed into my bed and refused to come out."
More flashes of memory were coming to me. Me sitting huddled under the covers, laughingly refusing to either get dressed or move from the comforting softness of the bed. Telling Darcy he should join me, it was so nice to be warm, and I wouldn't look at him if he wouldn't look at me.
"I wasn't entirely sober either," Darcy reminded me. "So I stripped down with you laughing at me the whole while, peeking at me through your fingers. We talked for a bit and I did intend to get back up and at least get dressed myself before taking the couch, but I must have dozed off before I could. I swear to you, that's all that happened."
I felt as though the wind had been knocked out of my sails, but not in a bad way. Because the weight that had been pressing on me ever since I had woken up on Saturday was at last rolled off me and I felt like I could breathe.
That lasted for roughly five seconds before sense reasserted itself and I thrust an angry finger in his face, wagging it for emphasis. "Why the hell couldn't you have explained this sooner? Do you have any idea how much shit I've been through in the past few days? Didn't it occur to you that I left your house having no idea of what had happened to me?"
Darcy's hand engulfed my shaking digit and he pushed my arm down, his expression eerily reminiscent of the one he had worn on the day of the pasta incident.
"Don't blame me for your subjecting yourself to that torment," he rebuked me firmly. "How was I to know that you were so drunk that you actually would manage to forget everything that happened? I assumed you left early because you were embarrassed at your... unconventional actions of the night previous. I thought it would blow over in a few days and we could talk and I could assure you that, on the whole, I had found you to be rather charming.
"I certainly had no idea that you were sitting here working yourself into a tizzy over something that never even happened, or else I would have tracked you down sooner."
"God, you are so fucking smug!" I shrieked, stung at his defense. I didn't want to hear the truth of what he had said. "Is it any real wonder that I wouldn't have been terribly surprised to discover that you would take advantage of an inebriated woman? Or that you would sleep with someone and not be ecstatic when they were gone the next day having made no demands on you?
"You haven't exactly been a pinnacle of kindness or consideration towards me at any point in our relationship. How the bloody hell was I supposed to have any idea that I wasn't just a one-night stand you'd just as soon move on from?"
He looked like he wanted to object but I had been waiting for this moment for too long to let it go to waste now, and I barrelled on ahead.
"The first time I met you, you knocked me over and behaved as though I had done you some great injustice. My clothes were ruined. My skin was burned. And you didn't lift a finger to help me up, let alone stop your friend from calling further attention to my humiliation.
"And then you agree to meet me to work on the paper and not only do you not show up, you also don't bother to communicate to me that you won't be able to make it. When I ask about it, you give me some line about urgent business, like it explains anything to my satisfaction. Like my time isn't valuable enough to you that could even make an attempt to explain or apologize.
"How much does the word 'sorry' cost you anyway? You never say it, so I can only imagine you believe apologies are far, far above what your pride can afford."
Impossibly, his face settled into a mask even more remote than it already was.
"And this is your opinion of me?" he inquired. "Based off two experiences where I may have appeared to be rude, perhaps, or uncaring, you have arrived at a conclusion that I am what? Just some Lothario trying to fuck anyone who might happen along?"
I flinched at his use of less than polite language. It wasn't the words themselves so much as it was the fact that he didn't seem to normally use coarse language and it seemed all the more crude given the ugly tone in which he uttered it.
"I wonder how fragile your ego is that you should have so low an opinion of me, that you could try to blame me for your own actions. But no. I see that I was just as wrong in my estimation of you, for I had been thinking on how I have never known a woman quite like you, had never been so thoroughly charmed and beguiled in so short a time.
"I had come here today intending to make the first overture towards a relationship that I had hoped would be the sort of real forging of souls that might have ended in love and marriage and the house with the white picket fence."
Darcy flung the words at me as though they were stones. He was as angry as I had been, and perhaps far more rightfully so.
But then all the fight seemed to go out of him and his broad shoulders slumped forward in a picture of abject defeat.
"You have said enough to help me perfectly understand your feelings towards me. It only remains for me to be ashamed of what my own have been. I wish you all the best."
Having delivered himself of this parting shot, Darcy stepped carefully around me, taking extreme care not to brush so much as a sleeve against my frozen form. I heard the door click shut behind me and he was gone.
It was not until graduation day that I so much as heard him speak again, we each avoided the other so sedulously, and then it was only his valedictorian's speech.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't squirm uncomfortably in my chair when he spoke of mistakes being made and how they were great teachers and how sometimes it was far better to make a mistake early on than it was to make it later on down the road and end up suffering all the more for it.
And then? We moved on our separate paths to our separate lives. I never dreamed I would see him again, but the memory of Darcy haunted me.
Once I was past all the blinding influence of my own emotions, I had to acknowledge that I had wronged him and had done so more significantly than he had done to me. Where he had been selfish and rude, I had called into question his very character and had told him that I thought he was inherently a bad person. Darcy's words about my ego being fragile were uncomfortable, to say the least, but I was eventually forced to accept them as true.
He had not been a blameless victim in the tragedy of errors between us, but his part was less outrageously offensive than mine had been. Accepting such a truth about one's own self is difficult to say the least, but there was a part of me that wanted to embrace all the ugly truths and to change them.
I wanted to be the person he had said he thought I was.
And so I worked hard, both at my job and at being honest with myself. I avoided men for the most part, never going on more than one or two casual dates at most, and I rarely allowed myself anything to drink. I tried to be more open-minded about other people, even when they had, to all appearances, let me down or treated me harshly.
I thought often about mistakes and how they teach us harsh but needful lessons. I regretted making mine where I had.
Five years later, I returned to my alma mater for homecoming. I was still in touch with Jane and she had planned to go. It was at her urging that I undertook the drive of several hours and booked a hotel room. We had only seen each other a handful of times since graduation and I was looking forward to getting properly caught up with her life, especially now that she had finally become engaged to good old Charlie.
"He prefers Charles now," Jane had informed me.
I didn't care. He would always be Charlie to me.
I wondered, but did not ever ask, whether Charlie and Will Darcy were still friends. In fact, I did nothing to even attempt to pry into Darcy's life through any of the various means available to me in the increasingly crowded world of social networking. I did not Google him, nor Facebook stalk him, nor attempt to deduce his handle on Twitter. He returned the favor, so far as I could tell.
Still, it was with a certain amount of half-wistful and half-fearful hope that I returned to the campus where I had met Will Darcy. Just as much as I wanted him to be there so that I could at least lay my eyes on him from across a crowded room, I did not want to be in the same vicinity and have him shun me entirely.
Besides, he was married. He had to be. In my imagination, he had met someone tall and chic and refined and had fallen swiftly in love with her. After five years, it was possible that he was already a father to the imaginary cherubic child I couldn't help but envision, all dark curls and dimpled smile like his father.
I hope they named him Fitzwilliam G. Darcy, the Fifth.
To my utter relief and deepest dismay, I did not see him at any of the events held that first day. He had not come. Jane betrayed no knowledge of him and Charlie was so much in demand with a circle of his friends that I hadn't ever really known that I scarcely did more than wave to him from across the room.
When I returned to my hotel, it was with a very real sense of disappointment and the night was a restless one. Some perversion of character in me had me throwing back my covers a bit before midnight and pulling on whatever clothes were nearest to hand, these being a pair of raggedy sweatpants that I liked to lounge about in when in private, an oversized t-shirt with the phrase "Compromise is for losers" emblazoned across it and a pair of house slippers that were comfortable and could be relied upon to keep my feet warm in any season.
Thus attired, I made my way down to my car and drove the few miles to campus, where I parked near the Humanities building and tried without any particular success to talk myself out of what I was about to do.
The gesture was melodramatic enough that even I was internally rolling my eyes at myself, but I scooped up the handful of loose change that collected at random intervals and came to rest in one of my cupholders and walked around the side of the building to where the fountain still endlessly replenished itself.
At some point or another in the past five years, the campus had added a ring of low benches around the fountain's basin. I could well imagine any number of students sitting on them during fine days, talking or eating or studying to the accompaniment of the play of water.
I picked a bench at random, pulled out my cell phone to check the time and waited for two minutes until the display read 12:00am, exactly. Having used the intervening time to think, I immediately flipped a coin into the water and made my first wish.
"I wish to be able to sleep tonight," I said aloud.
Then I flipped another coin.
"I wish for fewer regrets tomorrow."
"I wish to someday find what Jane and Charlie have together."
"I wish for forgiveness."
"As do I," a deep male voice came from behind me, startling me so that I promptly dropped what was left of my handful of change as I stood and whirled to see who had spoken.
But of course I already knew. It was as if I had summoned him through my actions of the past several minutes.
Fitzwilliam Darcy stood before me, dressed casually in jeans and a cream-colored sweater. His hands were shoved into his pockets and he seemed almost diffident in his manner.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to startle you."
I realized that my own right hand was placed against my left breast, over my wildly beating heart. I also realized that I wasn't wearing a bra and that my nipples were standing at eager attention in the chill of the night air.
Served me right that the area around the fountain had to be so well-lit.
"It's fine," I managed, and then blurted out, "I didn't think you had come."
"I wasn't planning on it," he admitted, removing one hand from its pocket and running it backwards through his hair in a familiar gesture. "But then Charles happened to mention that Jane had talked you into coming and I made arrangements. They were of the last-minute variety, so I only just got into town a few hours ago."
"I honestly didn't think I would find you here when I decided to walk by. It's a bit like serendipity, don't you think?"
"I wouldn't have imagined you would think so," I replied honestly.
He nodded. "I've always regretted how things ended between us. You have no idea how much you have prepossessed my thoughts over these past years."
I laughed in reply and when I spoke I couldn't keep an edge of incredulity from creeping into my words. "You thought of me at all after that day?"
"How could I not?" He laughed too, briefly, and then gestured at the bench in invitation for me to sit.
I complied dumbly, repressing a shiver when he moved to sit beside me, a bulwark of warmth against the creeping chill of the light breeze and the occasional small misty spray of water.
"I have thought of you every day, I believe, since we last spoke. And I have often wanted to speak to you again, face to face, and to tell you how deeply I regret not only the hateful things I said to you then, but also how sorry I am for how I treated you earlier on in our acquaintance."
"But-" I began feeling desperate to interrupt him and to make him understand that it was I who owed him an apology.
"Please," he said softly. "Please permit me to speak."
I quieted, holding my breath as he half-turned on the bench to face me. "I was angry the last time we spoke," he began. "And I took no heed then of what you said about me and my behavior. It was only after time allowed me to think more clearly that I realized that you were justified in thinking poorly of me. I had been abominable. I had mocked you in your distress and treated you as less valuable than myself. I did not give you enough consideration as a person to even bother to apologize for my behavior, but I hope you will allow me the opportunity to do so now.
"I am sorry, Elizabeth, and it costs me no pride to admit it. You stripped me of my arrogance that day. You made me see how meanly I treated people for whom I had not yet learnt to feel any particular regard. I hope you can forgive me."
I was shaking my head in mute negation, silently arguing with the idea that I had done him any good service that day.
He misinterpreted the gesture and his shoulders slumped as he turned away from me.
"Please," I said, realizing. I laid my hand on his arm as if to hold him there. "I have forgiven you already for those small injustices. It is only that it is I who owe you an apology! You were right to say my ego was fragile! It was, and in my wounded self-pity I held you to a higher standard than I would have held anyone else.
"I purposefully painted everything you did in the worst possible light that I could, if only because I wanted to continue to feel justified in hating you. I maligned your character for no other reason than to keep believing all the lies I told myself about you.
"Please do not apologize to me, but rather accept my sincerest expression of remorse and regret for my own words that day."
Darcy had turned back to face me in the middle of my impassioned speech and I forced myself to look up at him as I delivered the last few sentences. His face was illuminated rather well, although I couldn't tell if the severity of his expression was due to his own feelings or if it was a veneer painted on by the harsh glow from the lights above.
There were lines around his eyes that hadn't been there five years ago, small beginnings of crow's feet that spidered out towards his temples. His mouth was bracketed too, more deeply, I thought. I wondered if those lines had been etched by smiling or by frowning.
But my study of his face did not reveal to me anything about what he might be thinking and he did not immediately make a reply.
"I wish we had slept together!" I blurted, surprising us both.
Wherever my verbal filter had gotten to, I wanted it back.
"Oh?" Darcy's eyebrows had shot up at my proclamation and did not immediately relax.
My face felt warm; I was blushing.
I covered my eyes with my hands, hiding in plain sight. "Ugh," I groaned. "I didn't mean to say that. Can you just pretend I didn't?"
Darcy chuckled, the deep sound of it sending a tingle straight up from the base of my spine. "I'd really rather not pretend any such thing. I'd much rather try to discover your reasons as to why you might feel that way."
I dropped my hands and peered up at him suspiciously. "Is this meant as penance for my sins? Very well. I will give you honesty to make up for my past lies."
He became very serious as he reached up one of his own hands to lay it along the edge of my jaw, the pad of his thumb sweeping along the tender skin of my cheek. "There is no need for penance. You have always had my forgiveness and you could not hope to earn something that I would give freely."
I closed my eyes, overwhelmed by sensations that no one had inspired in me in a very long time. His hand's caress against my face was so gentle and so intimate that I all but shuddered in ecstasy. When his lips ambushed mine a moment later, I think I groaned into the kiss, feeling my heart begin to speed and then to combust, setting my blood to fire in my veins.
When I opened my eyes, the world was new around me. All the tension that had been the hallmark of my relationship with Darcy had been obliterated as we at last turned our mouths to the purposes of kind words and expressions of passion.
"That's why," I said, hardly recognizing my own voice. It was low with desire, tinged smoky with nothing other than lust. "We would have been good together."
"If that is honesty, then I may have to rethink whether or not you owe me a penance," he murmured, claiming my lips again.
This second kiss was more languid, a chance to explore. My hands took the initiative and when we at last broke apart, I found my fingers twined through Darcy's hair. It was as lovely as I had ever imagined it might be.
But something was nagging at me and as I caught my breath I remembered what it was.
"Wait," I panted. "Aren't you married?"
"What?" Darcy drew away from me, nonplussed.
I felt the loss keenly.
"I see you have not changed your poor opinions of me, Miss Bennet," he chastised playfully. "Am I a cheating philanderer now as well as a womanizer?"
"No!" I exclaimed, feeling stupid. "I just thought, well..." I flapped a hand in his direction to indicate his general desirableness as an object of lust. "Look at you! How could anyone not have managed to snatch you up in the past five years?"
"Well," Darcy seemed to consider this rather seriously for a moment, tapping one long finger thoughtfully against his chin. "I am rather tall."
"You are determined to tease me, I see."
I was fighting laughter, but trying desperately to keep any trace of it off my face.
"Oh yes. I wish for nothing more than to tease and vex you. You have taught me the folly of taking myself too seriously - that is a nice paradox, is it not? - and I intend to show you how well I have learned my lessons."
"Oh, you have intentions, do you?"
"You know, I meant what I said back then, though I spoke it in anger. You can have no idea how deeply I regret saying those words in such a way to you. But Elizabeth, there has never been anyone to capture my interest as you have. And I do want to eventually get to that house with the white picket fence with you.
"But you deserve a better man than I was back then, so yes, I have intentions. I intend to come to you with all humility, begging you to accept my attentions. Then, I intend to woo and romance you, to treat you as you deserve.
"Only when we have learned each other's hearts and souls will I then ask you to be my wife. Have no doubt of what is coming, Elizabeth."
Coherence took some time in coming back to me and I swiped away the stray tears that had fallen all at once to streak my face with their salty tracks. What was there to say to such a declaration? I could think of nothing suitable and so contented myself with turning my face up in silent supplication for another kiss.
Darcy obliged me rather thoroughly and we stayed wrapped there together, half-listening to the gentle sounds of the fountain, but more focused on each other. As we had so many years ago, we talked of everything we could think up, openly and without reservation. But this was all the sweeter, for we would both remember every word and we both knew the bitterness of allowing pride to come between us.
But pride had been banished and, with conscious effort, I knew we would keep it far from our future dealings with each other.
When at last we grew too weary of the cold and the discomfort of our concrete perch, we turned to go together. But as I stood, I caught the glint of light reflecting off one of the coins I had dropped and I stooped down to gather up some of the currency.
Offering a dime to Darcy, I smiled up at him and said, "I know it isn't midnight, but I have a wish to make. Care to join me?"
He accepted the thin sliver of metal and seemed to think seriously before flipping it into the basin. I followed suit, watching my penny turn over and over before it was lost in the shallows of the water.
"And what did you wish for?" Darcy asked, pulling me close into his side as walked away.
A smile played around my lips, though I tried to hide it. "For more Fridays," I told him. "And fewer Wednesdays."
"You've lost me there," he admitted.
"Oh, give me time," I breathed. "Someday you'll understand what that means."
"I look forward to learning all your secrets. But, Elizabeth?"
"Today is Saturday."
I could not help but break into laughter at the realization. "More Saturdays then," I amended. "But certainly fewer Wednesdays."
He only laughed in reply and I had a feeling that he already knew my secrets.
:: Fin ::
Yes, confessions. "Notes" seems too dishonest.
If you're here, I'm assuming there's a good chance that you've come over from Suddenly I See. If you have, my deepest thanks for reading this! If you're just new, hello! My other story is not much like this. But you might like it anyway.
To the SIS crowd, never fear, this is only a temporary diversion. I had this plot bunny, you see, and chapter 22 is being a total pain in the neck to write so I allowed myself the break in hopes of getting the good old creative juices flowing again. Finishing this little one-shot happens to coincide with my actually catching a break from the complete and utter hell that has been my job recently, so I hope to have more SIS up soon. Or soonish. I make no promises other than that I'll try.
Also! This story turned out not to be the plot bunny I thought I had. So it's entirely possible that I have another one-shot lurking in the depths of my depraved little heart. You've been warned.