Chapter 38: Three Sides to Every Story
Will Darcy continued to thoughtfully swivel his phone in his hand even as the car pulled up onto the cobblestone drive at Pemberley. Although he had arrived earlier that morning, he had yet to notify his secretary that he was back in the country; doing so would inevitably spark a discussion about how to resolve a variety of business matters, and he hadn't quite determined his directions for returning Elizabeth's phone call. Even though his heart had already brought him back to England – within a matter of hours of deciding not to return, for that matter - he still didn't have an answer to give Susan on that subject, and his diligent secretary would certainly be looking for one.
Will once again tried to shake off the fog that had descended on his thoughts in the hope that he would finally gain clarity as to his next steps. He vaguely recalled travelling to his Turin factory upon his arrival in Italy, but once there it seemed impossible to focus on the task at hand; his heart had begun thrumming at an incessant rhythm from the moment he received the phone call, each beat loudly claiming his attention and disengaging him further from his present surroundings. Reviewing production specs for the Longbourn would only cause her charming face - arched eyebrow and all - to float through his mind, turning the numbers on the page into an unintelligible blur. And just when he thought he had succeeded in regaining his focus, Will was dismayed to discover that it was Lizzy's voice he heard in reply while speaking to his female plant manager, the result being an embarrassing lapse in concentration that demonstrated just how far gone he truly was.
Completely unable, therefore, to repossess his previous composure, it quickly became evident that his secretary's phone call had done more than simply unsettle him; it had undone weeks of a determined effort towards bracing his heart and mind for a future without Elizabeth. Exhausted from fighting back bittersweet recollections, and taking much longer than what would normally be necessary to finalize matters in Turin, Will resolved to immediately check into his hotel room and retire for the evening in a last-ditch effort to remove Elizabeth from his thoughts. If he couldn't force her out of his mind, he could temporarily erase her via the faint hope of a dreamless sleep.
At 3 A.M., however, after the glaring red numbers on the hotel room clock tauntingly reminded him that he had yet to even close his eyes, Will finally acknowledged to himself that the damage had already been done; there was no way that he could simply continue on his tour with the information he had been given. It now no longer seemed to matter if she was only trying to be polite; if there was a chance, no matter how small, of righting things between himself and Lizzy, he had to try and take it. Leaving a message for David to be ready for a 9 A.M. flight home, Will sat up the rest of the night emailing his remaining factories to notify them of the change to his travel itinerary.
When he boarded the plane the following morning, Will felt himself to be equally anxious and relieved, a conflict of dueling emotions so strong that it took all of his will power to maintain his outwardly composed posture and visage. What can I say to her? How do I approach this? Is there any possible outcome where we once again become friendly with each other? The truth was that he was terrified to alienate her further, and although he would consider it a triumph to simply part on neutral terms this time, there was something at the core of him that insisted he once again try to win her heart.
Just…what exactly should he do to give himself the best chance of success?
Still finding no answers, he was certain that a hot shower and a good breakfast would help sort his chaotic thoughts, particularly since sleep had continued to evade him.
Entering his home for the first time in months, Will heard the distinct sounds of one of the tour groups coming from the far end of the first floor. In truth, he had entirely forgotten about the daily tours of the home he permitted while he was out of the country, and his hand immediately traveled to the haggard patch of rough stubble now visibly gracing his jawline – only one of several pieces of physical evidence that he wasn't entirely himself. Not wanting to be discovered in his ancestral home - particularly when he paid for a heavily publicized London flat to keep Pemberley out of the public eye - he briskly headed up to the second floor and his personal quarters, which were conveniently tucked away in privacy towards the back of the house.
He never made it to his room. In fact, there was a precise moment when Will Darcy became frozen to the ground on which he stood.
The lithe figure stood across the gallery from him, back turned, gazing up at the portrait of his distant great grandparents; the same one his own mother had taught him to cherish as a child. Although he couldn't see her face, he didn't need to…his racing heart would know her anywhere.
But what was Lizzy doing at Pemberley?
His stubborn mind refused to provide him with adequate words amidst the shock of the moment. 'Hello?' Much too short and informal. 'Who's there?' Whoa, hey…intruder. 'It's good to see you Lizzy?' A little creepy considering she didn't know he was behind her. 'I still love you?' Darcy, you are a bloody eejit.
And then, like a vision newly revealed before his eyes, the only opener he could think of that shouldn't cause her to run screaming from his home came to mind. However, both he and Lizzy knew that running was not the only power she held over him, and he wasn't inclined to suffer any more pain than he had to. Straightening, he braced himself for whatever it was she could have possibly come to say, quickly determining that his only possible course of action would be to follow her lead. And then he mentioned the only thing they seemed to have in common at that moment:
Will stood just across from her, somewhat concerned, grey eyes seeking hers as he waited for her response. Lizzy immediately felt a deep blush sweep across her cheeks and tingle the tips of her ears as she averted her gaze. It was far beyond being caught off-guard; she could not have felt more exposed if her costume had failed during a dance recital. Her lungs constricted, her breathing hitched, and every iota of what she had wanted to say to him swiftly disappeared from her mind. After the moment began to stretch into what felt like eternity, Lizzy desperately tried to find anything to say that would make sense in the highly unlikely circumstances they found themselves in.
In an instant, Lizzy recognized it; the familiar Darcy mask was observing her with carefully guarded eyes. She knew enough of him to know that she wouldn't get very far if he insisted on keeping that mask on – she had to do something to make him relax with her, the way he had been in the DR before the cave…only then would they really be able to hear and understand each other. Gesturing to the painting, she gulped down her nerves and made an attempt at her usual playful congeniality. Ignoring his second question, she instead replied to his initial comment, "So…what's their story?"
He gave her a sideways glance; obviously, it hadn't been what he was expecting her to say. "You know? I don't know. The only thing I've been told was that they were crazy about each other, but I think that comes across pretty clearly from the portrait."
Lizzy forced herself to offer a light chuckle in reply. "Yes, I believe it does. I wonder what was in that letter she's holding? The expression in her eyes makes it look like it carries her favorite secret."
Lizzy caught sight of a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "It's funny you should say that. When I was a boy, the content of that letter was an inspiration to my imagination – a letter from pirates containing a treasure map…a magic letter that told the future…anything and everything. When I became a teenager, however, I think I settled on the idea that the letter was a love note from her husband that she had received just that morning." He shook his head at himself, "rather an overly-sentimental take on the subject, I'm sure."
"No, not at all! I…think that's rather romantic, actually. I might even claim that explanation for my own."
A very familiar silence ensued. Their eyes locked, and Lizzy desperately tried to find something in them that would tell her he still loved her, but all she saw was curiosity and tension. Will spoke first.
"Lizzy, may I ask what are you doing here? When Susan said you were requesting a meeting, I didn't picture it occurring in my home…"
Before she knew it, he had opened the door wide and her opportunity was before her. However, he still hadn't moved from where he stood previously, and Lizzy couldn't help but think that he looked slightly uncomfortable with the entire situation. Better make this brief Lizzy.
"Yeah. Well, about that…" Lizzy furtively slid her own letter back into her purse and tried to sort her thoughts on a moment's notice. "I feel really foolish to have you to find me here, and I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I don't actually need to talk to you about work…at all." He continued to look at her, unmoving. Unreadable. She continued, "I just, really needed to say something to you and I wanted to make sure you heard me. I don't know what I thought I would find here, but I guess it felt like getting you a message at your home felt more personal than anything else. Your secretary assured me – on more than one occasion, actually - that you would not be returning to England while I was here…I'm really sorry to intrude on you like this."
Will released a deep sigh as he splayed his arms in front of him and replied, "Well, you've got me. What was it you needed to say?"
There was no turning back now. Her voice was firm, but the vastness of the gallery seemed to absorb her words. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry, Will. I was incredibly unfair to you. The things I thought and said about you, to your face no less, were just awful. I feel terrible."
Will furrowed his brows at her in thought. Being in his presence again was a divine torture for Lizzy. He looked like he hadn't slept; the polished Darcy she was used to was completely hidden under a layer of disheveled clothes and a very alluring day-old beard. Now that she understood her true feelings for him, it amazed her how drawn to him she really felt. She would have given anything to just walk up to him and burrow into his chest, but the jaw that still seemed set against her persuaded her not to.
Fearful of what he was about to say, she tried again. "Look, I think I was just hoping that we could start over. From the beginning…the very beginning…like the, before Toshi's beginning? I really enjoyed getting to know you in the DR, Will, and I'm sorry that it ended so abruptly."
Even as she made her request, Lizzy was beginning to feel like she had already over-stayed her welcome. Although she had never felt like the obstacles between them were insurmountable, standing there, so close and yet so far, Lizzy began to see a rift between them, filled in with her scathing words and his seeming resentment and even a social divide that before coming to his house she had almost forgotten existed. She wasn't sure if it had been seconds or minutes (because it felt like hours), but his lack of response was almost worse than getting anger in return. She had lost him, that was obvious, and there was no one to blame for it but herself. "Well, alright. I should really get going. I paid for this tour and it would be a shame not to get my money's worth. It was good to see you Will. Your home is really beautiful, but I'm…well, I'm sure you know that."
God, she sounded like an idiot.
The burning heat of shame on her neck had already caused her to take a few hurried steps towards the staircase. Not only had he not seemed to care, he hadn't even needed her apology! She should have just let it alone when she had the chance.
Before she could descend the steps, however, his voice rang out once more behind her. "You're certain you want to return to the tour when you have the master of the house standing right behind you?"
His tone sounded teasing, and hope once again sprang into her chest. Slowly turning her head around, she playfully countered, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I know all the ins and outs of the place. Why settle for a second-rate tour when you can have the backstage pass, complete with secret passages, hidden gardens and…well, you get the idea."
"Does this mean you're offering?"
He raised his arms and shoulders in confused disbelief, "Of course."
"Okay then." She turned around to face him fully once again. "I accept."
"Good. I…uh…was getting a little nervous." For a moment, he looked away from her in thought before returning her gaze. "Lizzy, I'm…" He paused again, then continued, "I'm not always good with words, but if starting over is what you want to do, then that's exactly what we'll do. Besides, it probably is a good idea, considering Jane and Bingley's engagement. I wouldn't want to make things awkward."
"Oh right…Yea, Charlie told me that I owe you a 'thank you' for that, too."
He firmly shook his head. "No, not for that. When you corrected my misconceptions I knew immediately that I had to tell Charlie about the mistake. I only did what was right."
"Which was more than what most people would have done."
"Oh, I don't know about that."
Lizzy looked down as the magnitude of her previous judgments about him hit her full force. "No…Will- you are a good person... an excellent one, actually. Most people would be too embarrassed to own up to their behavior, I think." She offered him a sad smile and continued, "I'm just sorry it took me so long to figure it out."
He came nearer to her then, placing his hand on her shoulder and gazing directly into her eyes. Her arm began to tingle under the gentle warmth of his touch, while her insides went cold and knotted into a tangled mass of despair and hope. In fact, the feelings he evoked were so strong that her free hand involuntarily rose to her stomach in a futile attempt to settle it, and she waited in torment for what he had so gallantly come forward to say next.
"Hey…I thought we agreed that we're starting over? If you keep beating yourself up we're never going to be able to do that. And besides, I think I may have already done enough self-berating for the both of us. We both said and did things I'm sure we'd rather forget."
And there it is. He's willing to be my friend, but he's re-considered loving me. Well, it's better than not having him at all…I guess. Her heart provided the final dialogue: It will never be enough, but you need to take what you can get. You really don't even deserve this much.
Stepping back, Lizzy extended her hand in his direction and made her tone sound ten times lighter than she felt. "Alright, well…my name is Elizabeth Bennet, and I actually work for you it seems. However, my sister and your best friend just got engaged, so I think its best that we be friends instead of work colleagues. Our mutual acquaintance would also mean that you get to call me Lizzy." She thought a moment and continued, "By the way, did you know that they are arriving in England tomorrow so that she can finally meet his parents?"
He considered her carefully and gently took her hand in return. "Will Darcy. It's a pleasure. No, I didn't know that. And…I…wholeheartedly agree to all of the above?"
"Wonderful. So, how about this tour you promised me Will?"
"Actually, what are your plans for the rest of the day, Lizzy?"
"Besides, my tour? I didn't have any…"
"Then I'm claiming you."
"Oh, I see how it is. I give you an inch and you take a mile."
His face turned white.
"I'm only joking! You're going to have to loosen up around me a little, I think." she gently scolded. "If you really must know...I would love for you to claim me. I've been in England almost two weeks and haven't done a bit of tourism."
Her favorite teasing grin returned. "Besides visiting my house, you mean."
His perfectly timed retort made her blush. "Well, technically…yes."
"Alright, let me take a quick shower and I'll be happy to take you wherever you want to go…On one condition."
"I get to take you to dinner tonight."
Maybe all hope wasn't gone after all. "Like…a date?"
"Isn't that how you get to know someone you just met?"
"Sure…yeah." A self-conscious smile spread across her face in spite of herself. "Okay, dinner it is."
"Great. I'll be back in ten minutes. Did you want to stay in the gallery, or did you need a computer to do some work or anything?"
"Actually, your tour guide mentioned that you have a fantastic Music Room. I wouldn't mind waiting for you in there."
He gestured for her to follow him. "Alright, this way."
On a whim and at the last possible moment, Lizzy extended her arm and linked it through his own, allowing him to escort her through the brightly lit hallways of his magnificent home. Quieting her heart, she decided that if they were meant to be together, it would happen in its own time. Right now, she was happy to take what she could get, and although he hadn't rushed to embrace her, he hadn't rejected her either. He was finally by her side, and she was going to make the most of it while she had him.
However, she completely failed to notice the letter that had fallen out of her purse that now came to rest on the floor in front of the portrait.
Greg Wickham twirled a silken strand of dirty blonde hair slowly between his fingers. Kitty Bennet sat perched on the edge of his sofa, cutting class on a Friday morning and giddily absorbed in a replay of The Little Mermaid on the Disney Channel; her distraction had provided more than enough opportunity to peruse the latest copy of HELLO! Magazine while still keeping the recent images of her older sister secret.
The usually over-cautious Will Darcy had finally allowed himself to be caught, and Greg didn't know whether to be grateful or enraged by the long-awaited confirmation. His source had been unable to discover the state of affairs between the two, but the pictures he now viewed left little to the imagination. Simultaneously frustrated and intrigued, he once again dug his nail into the paparazzi images of Will and Elizabeth sharing a window seat at Julie's Restaurant; and while each image became more mutilated by his efforts, they still continued to convince him that he had correctly interpreted their relationship after all. One image showed Lizzy in all of her sassy glory, flashing her brilliant smile in his direction. Another depicted Will leaning forward and offering her a taste of his food with his fork. A final image showed him holding the door open while she ducked inside of his waiting limo. It looked like an amazing night. An intimate night. The headline splashed across the top of the two-page article said it all: Britain's Most Eligible Bachelor off the Market? Mystery Woman makes an Impression.
So she had spoken to Darcy after all. He wasn't surprised exactly; she had never contacted him for their January date, and the fact that she had gone on vacation in the same place as Will had already put him on his guard. Looking at the pictures of them enjoying time together made him feel physically ill – what had Will done to deserve her? To earn any of the incredible things he had in this life for that matter? NOTHING…hell, his family had been wealthy for generations…and it made his lips curl in disgust. He was tired of William Darcy constantly getting the best of everything, and he had made it his personal mission to ensure that he would never get Lizzy the moment he had seen Will look at her that way in Ella Lounge.
Although his ego was wounded that Lizzy had chosen his enemy over him, whether Lizzy came to him directly or indirectly didn't seem to matter anymore…as long as he took her away from Will permanently, his efforts could be seen as nothing short of success.
Greg sneered to himself as he realized just how well he had adapted by designing Plan B. Of course, it helped that Kitty served as a passable consolation prize for the time being. When he had first seen her photo hanging on their fridge, he thought nothing of her beyond the fact that she might become useful to his plans. And while she couldn't hold a candle to her sister's mind or looks, he was happily surprised to discover that she was eager and willing to please her new boyfriend, a trait that made his next steps that much easier to complete. A fake accent and some adoring glances was all it had taken to gain her trust and prime the girl to unwittingly lure his true victim, her sister, right to him.
And now, all there was to do was tolerate Ariel's screeching and patiently wait for Elizabeth's return home from abroad.
(If any of you read the story when chapter 36 was showing up as 37, that issue is now fixed. Sorry about that!) I again reserve the right to make tiny edits to this chapter over the next few days, although I am ecstatic to make my goal of two June Chapters!
I also wanted to take a moment to thank all of my guest reviewers. I have no way to reach out to you except through here, so I wanted to make sure to take a moment and let you all know that I truly appreciate your comments! I've lost count of how many guests have stopped by so thank you!
For those of you who I can reach, I am aware that I am long overdue to reply to some of you. (Miss Pseudonymous you are first on my list!) I plan on doing so shortly and apologize for the extended wait.
And to give you all an update, I have been given a job offer and may also have a phone interview for another position as well. I want to thank you all for your well-wishes and I hope to have a more solid update with my next post!
I had originally planned to post images for the last chapter, but then decided that nothing less than your own imaginations could do justice to both Pemberley and the Portrait, as both deserve to be nothing short of magical. If you all have an image that you would like to share with me, however, I would be happy to hear/see what you have come up with for inspiration!
(The link for Julie's Restaurant in this chapter has been posted, however. And how could I forget Kitty?! AND the engagement ring that Will liked from chapter 20? lol)
Thank you, again and again, for your patience with me. I do hope that you feel it has been rewarded. And, the next chapter promises some really fun E & D moments (I think), so stay tuned!
7/17/14 Update: I have not forgotten about you all. The next 2 chapters contain some big E/D moments, so I want to make sure to get them just right. As always, it's taking awhile, and my new job is sucking a lot of my spare time. I'm still waiting to hear from the other one so I don't know if I actually have to adapt to this new schedule or if I will get a reprieve. (Cross your fingers for the reprieve!) I've also turned my attention towards our apartment hunt, so as you can imagine things are rather busy. I do however, promise to get you the next update before the end of the month.
As always, the minute I have the chapter, you will have the chapter. :) Thank you for your patience! :)
8/11/14 Update: I'm still here! I Promise! The chapter is almost finished. I hope to have it out in the next 3 days. I am so sorry for the wait, but I hope you find it worth it. The creative process has been slow and I've had a lot of life stuff going on. I do always come back to the story, it's just that progress isn't always what I want it to be when I do. Thank you again, and again for your patience and support! I miss hearing from you all! :)