A Lifetime in One Night
William ran his comb under the faucet for the third time, trying yet again to coax his damp curls into place. This is ridiculous, he thought. I brushed my teeth twice. I had this sweater dry cleaned especially for today. I polished my shoes, for heaven's sakes. Just who am I trying to impress? He knew the answer. "Elizabeth," he whispered, her name a wisp of breath on his lips.
Elizabeth Bennet had haunted his thoughts for two weeks now, since his first meeting with her. He shook his head as he thought about that night. What kind of girl laughs with her friends about an insult? And that was the question that had been plaguing him--what kind of girl was Elizabeth Bennet? He seemed to come up with a new adjective every time he saw her. Vivacious. Sparkling. Witty. Confident. Beautiful. Intoxicating.
He'd never felt so much so quickly, about anyone.
So he stood before the mirror, a guest in Charles's home, preparing for a Valentine party to which she had been invited. He wondered how he could get close enough to enjoy her, without raising her hopes about a relationship with him; after all, he wasn't sure he wanted to pursue something just yet.
Who am I kidding? William thought with dismay. My own hopes are already sky high. What could it hurt to raise hers a little?
Elizabeth climbed out of Jane's car, anticipating a pleasant evening among friends. She had to appreciate the bit of luck that introduced them to Charles Bingley the day after he'd moved to the area. He was at the receiving end of a long-winded introduction from Brad Lucas at the checkout counter of the local grocery store. It was January 3rd, a snowy evening, and Brad called Elizabeth and Jane over as soon as they had entered the store and brushed the flakes off their coats. Charles had purchased a big, beautiful house in the nearby Netherfield neighborhood; he had been in his new home only sporadically over the holidays, but was ready to settle in for good--and he had his pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and bag of baby carrots to prove it.
Charles invited Jane and Elizabeth over to watch a movie that very evening. Elizabeth, ever pragmatic, thought, This guy could be an ax murderer and we'd never know it until he was coming at us with... "Our sisters are waiting for us to come home with a DVD," she said, coaxing her thoughts along a different path. "We couldn't let them down. But you'd be very welcome to bring your ice cream and join us."
And he did.
Since then they had spent many enjoyable evenings together. At first Charles tried to treat all the Bennets equally, but after a few weeks he gave into his fondest wishes and asked Jane out on a date. And now he was hosting a Valentine's Day party at his new home. "You're the unofficial hostess, you know, Jane," Mrs. Bennet had said as they walked out the door. Elizabeth smiled and thought Caroline would love to hear she'd been replaced.
Charles and his family and friends had infused a much-needed social boost into their small, tight-knit group of families. Everyone was fond of Charles and his adorably diffident conversations. His sisters were admired and emulated by the less fashionable women who wished to be more fashionable. His brother-in-law Gabriel was not much to look at, but had a sense of humor if you could engage him in conversation. And William Darcy...
"Hmph," Elizabeth groaned. William Darcy was the newest crush for every female in the area between the ages of 13 and 63. He was incredibly good looking. And arrogant. And rude. And difficult to talk to--so opinionated! And he uses those stupid dimples to his advantage, smiling that...that...that dimpled way whenever he can't think of a response. He's infuriating! Elizabeth thought as she hung her coat up in the closet.
Charles's house had a large room off each side of the entry. One was a living room, the other was bare. "If I ever buy a piano," he had insisted several times, "it's going in there." Charles bounced into the hall when he saw Jane and Elizabeth arrive. "Jane!" he cried, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pecking her cheek. "Elizabeth!" he said, not taking his eyes from Jane. "I'm glad you're here! You look lovely Jane," he said quietly. With some effort he finally tore his eyes from Jane and looked at Elizabeth, who was peeking into the empty room. "You look very nice, too, Elizabeth. Are those dancing shoes? There are refreshments and chairs in the living room, but I have the music room all set up for dancing this evening. I burned five CDs with nothing but slow songs!"
Elizabeth chuckled. Everything about Charles amused her--his slightly awkward way of expressing himself, his insistence that the empty room with no instrument was a music room, his glassy gaze whenever he looked at her sister. "I doubt I'll be going in there, then," Elizabeth replied. "No one to dance with."
"I'm sure you'll dance, Elizabeth," Charles said earnestly. "You must know how pretty you are--the men are bound to line up to fill your dance card."
Again Elizabeth laughed. "How do you manage to sound so archaic and so charming at the same time?"
"A gift." Charles shrugged.
Just then there was a light knock and the front door opened. Charlottes Lucas poked her head in. "Am I late?" she asked, with a wide grin.
"Charlotte! Come in! We were all just waiting for you!" Charles exclaimed, grabbing Charlotte's hand and pulling her through the door. "Everyone! The party can begin! Charlotte's arrived!" Charles yelled over his shoulder, but no one in the living room seemed to pay him any heed.
Elizabeth walked quickly to Charlotte's side while she was hanging her coat. "I'm so glad you've come," she said quietly. "I can't imagine what I would have done here without you."
"Danced, eaten, and partied?" Charlotte said jokingly.
"I would sit alone and think up terribly clever things to say at the expense of everyone here, and have no one to say them to!" Elizabeth linked her arm through Charlotte's, and they followed Charles and Jane into the living room.
William saw Elizabeth the moment she entered the room. She was following Charles and Jane; her head was close to Charlotte's, and they were giggling about something. She went straight to the refreshment table, took a seat near a window, and finally stood and walked around the room saying hello to everyone she knew--all without glancing at him even once. And he knew she hadn't glanced at him, because his gaze was on her every moment. Even when Caroline stood beside him, trying to engage him in conversation (primarily criticism about the guests), he kept his eyes locked on Elizabeth.
She looks gorgeous tonight, he thought. Absolutely gorgeous. He wasn't even aware that his feet were carrying him toward her until he stood beside her next to the refreshment table. She bit into a cookie and looked at him out of the corner of her eye, but didn't say a word. I didn't even mean to come over here, so I don't have anything to say. But I don't want to seem like an idiot. Quick! he mentally admonished himself. Say something! Anything...
"Did you come over to keep track of my calorie intake?" Elizabeth asked curtly. "This is only my second cookie, but I've had three glasses of punch, if you must know."
"No," William replied, mortified. "No, I just..." I just what? I just came over here because I wanted to be near you? Geez, William. You sound like a lost puppy.
"If you want refreshments of your own, don't let me stop you." Elizabeth moved away toward the other end of the table.
How are you enjoying the party? How long have you known Charlotte? Which is your favorite kind of cookie? Will you dance with me? Gah! The last thought came out more audible than the rest, and Elizabeth turned back and looked at William with her eyebrows knit. William could think of nothing else to do, so he smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
Those dimples! They're weapons-grade! Elizabeth thought with dismay. It's no wonder every female in a 90-mile radius has a crush on the man. She knew she was staring, so she quickly sought to look occupied by searching the room for Charlotte. There is no denying he's gorgeous. And that sweater...I can only imagine what it would be like to be inside those arms, snuggled into that cashmere-covered chest.
Elizabeth distractedly wandered out of the room and across the entry hall to peer into the music room. She saw Jane dancing with Charles, and Charlotte standing by a window deep in conversation with Wilbur Collins. Greg Wilkinson was nowhere to be found, but she wasn't surprised; he had grown up in the same area as William, and she knew they didn't get along. No doubt William's fault, she thought. Aside from Charles, I'm not sure he gets along with...
She was shocked and astounded to see William--gorgeous, unfriendly William--standing beside her.
"Elizabeth, would you care to dance?"
She tilted her head to the side. "I do like dancing, and I wouldn't mind doing it if a good partner was around somewhere," she answered saucily.
William blushed, licked his lips, and grimaced--which also revealed his dimples. "Well, until a good partner comes along, will you dance with me?"
Elizabeth stared at him silently for several seconds. He's asking me to dance?
"I'm sorry, am I intruding?" William asked, his eyes narrowed. "You look sort of... angry. I was only asking for a dance; if you have something else..."
"Okay," Elizabeth interrupted. She had seen his uneasiness, and decided that he asked her only because she stood there alone. Not because he had any desire to dance with her specifically. And if he doesn't want to dance with me, what better way to punish him for asking? She chuckled quietly.
"What's funny?" William asked, feeling tongue-tied and hoping they could find something to say to one another.
"Oh, nothing. I just like this song."
Elizabeth looked at him expectantly. He realized that they were facing each other in a room of dancing couples, and it was time to take her into his arms. He reached out for her very awkwardly, and she stood as far from him as the length of their two arms clasped at the hand would allow.
"So tell me about the Derby area. What was it like growing up there?"
William took a step closer to her, so they wouldn't have to raise their voices above the music, but Elizabeth correspondingly took one step back. "Have you ever been there?"
"Nope. It's, what, three hours from here?" Elizabeth batted her eyelashes and smiled at him. Her voice was syrupy sweet, but she very carefully maintained at least two feet of space between them.
"More like two and a half."
"Did you know Greg Wilkinson well at all?" She tilted her head coquettishly.
She's playing with me and I still find her attractive, William realized with some agony. "We went to high school together, but had very different groups of friends."
Elizabeth clucked her tongue. "Pity."
"I don't know...maybe you could have learned something from each other."
Like how to skip third period and who sells cigarettes and alcohol without checking ID. "There's nothing I’d want to learn from him," he said decisively.
"Oh? He's quick to make friends..."
"And just as quick to lose them," he muttered under his breath.
Elizabeth heard every word, and was shocked that William would stoop so low as to talk about someone behind his back. When the song ended a few seconds later, she said, "That was fun," and fled so quickly that William knew she meant just the opposite.
As the party was winding down, Elizabeth was again deep in discussion with Charlotte. "I hinted that he could learn something about making friends from Greg, and he said Greg was better at losing friends! Can you believe it?!"
"Liz," Charlotte said, trying to inspire a calmer temper with her gentle words, "you don't know much more about Greg than you do about William. You see him around, but you haven't had many real conversations with him. Maybe William's telling the truth."
"And maybe pigs fly."
"I think William's the smarter of the two, and I bet if things continued just as they are for a few more months, you'd find you liked William better."
Elizabeth's face clearly showed her disbelief.
"I think he's the more worthy opponent," Charlotte insisted, her mouth twisting in a joking smile. "I bet you'd even start going out on dates, just to have nice surroundings for your debates."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "If there is one thing I know, Charlotte, it is that I will never go out on a date with William Darcy. He has no interest in me, and I wouldn't want to spend even three minutes alone with him."
A faint expression of distress crossed Charlotte's features, and she looked meaningfully at Elizabeth. Heaving a great sigh of frustration Elizabeth turned around and found, exactly as she expected, that William was standing quite close to them. He looked at her with just a flicker of pain in his eyes, and then looked at the window, and the floor, and the stairs. Seconds later when Charles called to him he bolted out of the room.
"Self-fulfilling prophecy, Char. I will never go out with William Darcy. Not only would I never accept, but now he'll never ask." It wasn't until Elizabeth was alone in her bedroom that evening that she allowed herself to feel ashamed and sorry that she'd been overheard.
William lay awake in his bed, wondering why everything turned out the way it had. He tried to explain the snippy comments, the ocean between them while dancing, and Elizabeth's unequivocal rejection of him in a variety of ways: he misheard, he shouldn't have been eavesdropping, she didn't want to be at a Valentine party without a date... The list was long, and still nothing he came up with sounded like a plausible explanation. He swallowed hard and let the words he didn't want to hear escape his lips. "She doesn't like me." It hurt him more than he would have expected. More than he would have thought possible after a short and casual acquaintance. She doesn't like me.
He pondered the times they had been together, and all of their previous conversations, and he grudgingly admitted he hadn't given her much reason to like him. He had often been silent; sometimes he'd argued with her if only to see her mind in action. I love to follow the train of her thoughts; I love to hear the way she expresses herself. I love to see the gleam in her eyes. He pictured her face so clearly in his mind. Yes, I love those eyes.
William worked very hard not to dwell on the number of times he'd just thought the L word. He closed his eyes and tried to banish the image of Elizabeth from his head; when she wouldn't go, he silently pled, "Please, give me a chance to show her what is good in me."
On the evening of February 15th, Elizabeth was stunned when she found William Darcy on her front doorstep. So confused was she, her politeness vanished. "What are you doing here?"
"I need to...that is, if you have a few moments, I'd like to talk to you. Briefly." William grew nervous because Elizabeth wasn't responding. "If I may."
"Um, sure. Come on in," she said, stepping back and opening the door wide. "Follow me." She led him to a very small room with a loveseat and two overstuffed chairs, and she scowled at him as she offered him a seat. "Make yourself at home."
"Oh, thank you."
"May I get you anything? A drink?"
He was nervous, and the room was claustrophobically small and a little too warm. His reception was about what he'd expected, but not nearly what he'd hoped for. He slid his coat off and said, "Yes, I'd love a glass of water. Thank you."
Elizabeth remained where she was for several more seconds, staring at him in confusion. "I'll...be right back then. May I take your coat?"
William swallowed hard to try to rid himself of the lump that had developed in his throat. "Yes, thank you."
He was deeply uncomfortable--sitting in Elizabeth's house, waiting for her to return, not entirely sure what needed to be said. But he knew that she would never like him if she didn't come to know him, and he had to start somewhere. Let's hope I've chosen the right jump-off point... he thought as she returned to the room.
Elizabeth handed him his glass of water without saying a word, and sat in the chair beside him. She watched him intently, and he knew the ball was in his court. He cleared his throat. "Elizabeth..." It sounded like croaking, so he swallowed some water before beginning again. "You asked me last night about Greg Wilkinson."
"Will you tell me what he's said about me?"
"He said nothing I couldn't figure out for myself," she answered shortly.
"So, then, I take it you weren't talking about my high school GPA or extracurricular activities," he muttered, more to himself than her.
He was rewarded with a tinkle of laughter, and he saw in her eyes an unwilling sparkle of amusement.
That was unintended. But he was delighted. The mood had needed lightening desperately. "It would be hard for you to figure that out for yourself," he continued with a smile.
"I don't know. I couldn't come up with the exact number, but I'd guess that you were above a 3.8 and went to the university of your choice on scholarship." She returned his grin. When William blushed after her speculation, she said, "I thought so."
"I truly didn't come here to talk about me," he said self-consciously.
For the first time in their--admittedly--short acquaintance, Elizabeth saw a hint of vulnerability in William. She saw that he was not all haughtiness and pride. Why, he was practically beside himself with embarrassment that she had divined that much about him. She tilted her head to the side, willing to give him a chance. "Then why did you come?"
"I realize you have no reason to believe me, but I wanted to tell you that Greg Wilkinson is not what he appears to be. He has not been trustworthy in the past, and I can tell you without hesitation that he is beneath you."
"How do you know? "
"I know him, through observation. Some things I just couldn't help noticing--he flaunted them. "
"You may know him, but how do you know so much about me? Maybe I'm just like him."
"You're not," he said fervently, his eyes ablaze. "I've watched you. You're nothing like him. You have purpose and direction in your life. You have this..." William stared at Elizabeth, at the strength and power that surrounded her. He saw her beauty and her innocence, but he didn't know how to capture it in words. "...this liveliness, Elizabeth. It surrounds you and permeates you, and you leave it wherever you go. You are vital and alive and determined. Greg has nothing of that. He feeds off energy like that, because he doesn't have any of his own. He has no plan. He has no drive."
William could not know how his words affected Elizabeth; he couldn't know, for a brief moment when he described her--when his eyes captured hers and he held her in his gaze--that she felt protected and safe in a way that she never had before. He couldn't know that her heart rate climbed and that right then, for that moment, she thought him the most beautiful man in existence.
Breathing deeply and slowly, Elizabeth gained control of her reaction-run-amok. She was stunned that she believed William--that she had no desire to disbelieve him. "Well..." She struggled to find something to say. "I'll be very cautious, then, whenever Greg is around."
"I don't think he's any danger to you as a casual acquaintance," William added, quickly. "I think you're safe, if you..." He knit his brows together as he pondered just how much he knew of Wilkinson, and if his debauchery extended past indolence and self-indulgence to seduction.
"William? I won't allow him any openings," Elizabeth said, calling him back from his reverie. "I've been warned, and I'll take it to heart."
William exhaled. "That's all I hoped for," he said as much to himself as to her, and rose from the loveseat. "I won't take up any more of your time."
"Thank you, William, for...for coming over to talk." She had wanted to thank him for caring enough to say all those things, and in just that way, but she realized mid-sentence that it probably had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with Greg.
Reaching to hold her hand in his, William said, "Thank you, Elizabeth, for listening." He impulsively leaned down and kissed her quickly and lightly on the lips.
Later that night neither of them really remembered what happened between leaving the small room and William walking out the front door. William's head was full of Elizabeth's acknowledgment; and Elizabeth vacillated between being shocked at William for having the nerve to kiss her, and being shocked at herself for not being angry.
William virtually haunted Charles's home, knowing he'd have more chances to cross paths with Elizabeth there than at his own place. (Not to mention that he preferred pleasant, familiar company to being alone.) He wasn't disappointed: he spent many casual evenings watching DVDs or going out to dinner with Elizabeth. Yes, there was also a group of people, and Elizabeth was often at the far end of the table or across the room, but it was a beginning. And he was with her. But he realized with consternation that she wasn't warming up to him; if anything, she avoided looking at him, and seemed more uncomfortable each time they were in company. He blamed the kiss; he figured he had lost any ground he gained, and then some, by accusing Greg of being unscrupulous and then taking liberties of his own.
The second weekend in March, with everyone gathered at Charles's for a friendly night in, William noticed that Elizabeth was decidedly uneasy. She looked resolutely anywhere but his location, she sat with her back straight as a board during the length of the DVD, and she squirmed uncomfortably whenever he spoke to her. When she walked into Charles's kitchen to get some sodas, he followed her. "Are you...?"
She spun around and began talking before he could get out three words, let alone a sentence. "William, I behaved very badly on Valentine's Day. I was unconscionably rude when I...I said it, and I didn't care if you heard it at the time, but I was not thinking correctly about...and I think you should know that I feel terrible. About everything, really." She heaved a sigh. "I'm very sorry." She said the last, however, sounding not at all sorry; the grim look of determination she'd had when she began the speech was replaced by knit brows and a hint of defiance. "What are you laughing at?" she demanded.
For William had begun to laugh out loud. He had never seen Elizabeth nervous; he had never heard her so inarticulate, so unable to express a thought cogently. She had tiptoed all around something, without ever coming to the point and saying it. His smile widened while she spoke until finally his mirth escaped in laughter, which he tried to swallow so he could speak. "I'm laughing at you, Elizabeth. And I heartily accept your apology."
She folded her arms across her chest and her facial expression didn't soften. "Just what about me inspires laughter?"
William marveled, as he cupped her face in his hands, at the way impulse seemed to dictate all he did with Elizabeth. "I've never heard such a run-on sentence out of you. And I never would have guessed that this was the cause of your discomfort tonight."
"I haven't been uncomfortable!"
"You have too! You were a wax figure sitting in that chair in there. You didn't laugh once at the movie. And every time I spoke to you, you flinched!"
Elizabeth flinched and frowned. "It had nothing to do with you."
William ran his thumbs across her cheeks, and then dropped his hands back to his sides. "Well then, admit it--you're not sorry for what you said, only that I heard you!" He softened his teasing with a genuine smile.
Elizabeth shook her head, relaxed her shoulders, and almost smiled. "You're impossible."
The strangest feeling rose in Elizabeth's chest, anger instantly diffused. She wanted his hands back on her cheeks. She wanted him to stand closer. She wanted the conversation to last forever. When did he get to be so handsome? "Very well, I confess. I'm sorry you heard me."
William struggled to keep a neutral expression on his face; he was fighting against a wave of disappointment. He had allowed himself to believe that he was making headway. He hoped that she didn't dislike him. He wanted...
Elizabeth took one step closer to him, very much invading his personal space. In a quiet, sexy voice, eyes focused on his lips, she said, "And I'm sorry I said it." Before he could react, she rushed to the refrigerator and gathered sodas; she winked at him saucily, flipped off the lights, and left him standing alone in the darkened kitchen.
William showed up unexpectedly at Elizabeth's workplace around lunchtime the following Tuesday; he claimed that he had a favorite restaurant in that part of town, and asked if she'd ever eaten there. When she replied she had not he cried, "You must!" and veritably dragged her from the building and out to his car.
When the bill came Elizabeth insisted on splitting it; and when William dropped her back at work she said, "That was delicious, Will, and it was nice to have a mid-day diversion. We must do it again sometime."
William leaned over and kissed her so lightly she wasn't even sure she'd felt it. He'd definitely noticed the nickname. "I'd love to do it again, Liz." He smirked at her as she climbed out of his car.
Darn those dimples. Elizabeth watched him pull away and reflected with some satisfaction on their lunch date, trying to decide if he'd been aiming for her cheek or her lips with that kiss.
William wasn't content to merely reflect with satisfaction; he went into full-scale scheming mode. He stayed away from her for an entire two days, and then showed up, unannounced, at her work again. "Lunch?" he asked with all the charm he could muster, holding out his arm to her.
Elizabeth curtseyed. "I'd be delighted."
The following week he appeared on Monday, but not Tuesday. As she slid into his car Wednesday, she asked, "When is my next surprise visit, Will? The coworkers are yammering. Cody in the next cubicle over is running a pool about the date and time, and if you let me in on your plans I might just win a few bucks."
William chuckled. "You tell me when to come, and I promise I'll be here."
"Excellent. Stacking the deck. If we stay in cahoots I may be able to afford a luxury vacation by fall."
"If we earn a luxury vacation together, we go together," he said, wiggling his eyebrows.
"If you think I'm taking you on a cruise with me after a few measly lunch dates, you're sadly mistaken, Will."
Three weeks later as William returned Elizabeth to work after lunch he asked, "How much have we earned in the office pool?"
"I'm afraid," she said as she laid a comforting hand on his shoulder, "we're old news. No one cares anymore whether we're having lunch or not."
William shook his head in mock dismay. "So soon discarded. How distressing."
Elizabeth nodded in commiseration.
"Well, I think I won't come by tomorrow or Friday..."
Elizabeth felt keenly disappointed; during their frequent lunch dates they had discussed virtually every subject under the sun--from college roommates and favorite vacation spots to treasured friends and personal ambitions. She enjoyed his company. She liked William. Yes, it is nice to have someone to just eat lunch with. Someone with whom, she tried the same old line to see if it would be convincing this time, there are no other expectations than friendship. So she hid her disappointment, and found comfort in teasing. "Oh? Do you have some other woman to take to lunch?" she joked. As soon as it was out of her mouth, though, she half-worried that it might be factual--that everything with William had only been a casual friendship, and that he might move on. Little did she suspect the truth.
"No, actually, I'm...I'm hoping you won't get sick of me."
"Is that all? I haven't gotten sick of you yet, have I?"
"Well, I'd like to trade two days of lunch for one dinner. Friday night." He took a deep breath and looked in her eyes. "Are you free?"
"You want to go to dinner on Friday?"
He reached out and took her hand. "Only if you come with me."
"I'm surprised..." Elizabeth tilted her head to the side.
"Why are you surprised, Liz?"
"Because you've seemed so intent on the lunch dates. I wasn't sure..." I wasn't sure if you wanted more.
"Me? Intent on the lunch dates? Liz, I was taking it slowly, until I had some clue how you felt about me. If I'd gone my speed, you'd have already met my family. Extended family--aunts, uncles, cousins..."
Elizabeth blinked, trying to understand what aunts and uncles had to do with dinner on Friday evening.
"What I'm trying to say is that I'd...I'd..." William looked out the front window of his car and raked his hand through his hair, trying to think of a way to express himself. He glanced back at Elizabeth, watching him intently, and his impulse directed him to a useful demonstration. He leaned toward her, but instead of the usual quick peck his lips lingered on hers, gently and slowly savoring the bottom lip, then tenderly discovering the curve of the top lip. When he pulled away, he said, "I'd like to have a relationship, Liz. I'd like to be with you, and have you with me. I want an us. I want to take you to my family and show you off and answer all their questions with a resounding yes." He pulled her hand into his. "But it all starts with dinner. What do you say?"
Within a few weeks William and Elizabeth were firmly established as a couple; within three months of that dinner date--five months after the fateful Valentine's Day party--he proposed and she accepted. They were married on a sunny winter morning, they honeymooned in Hawaii, and they lived in a convenient condominium in the city. But William had something else in mind; the plan had been niggling since shortly after he met her. He'd seen a parcel of land in a lovely, quiet area, almost exactly halfway between Longbourn and Derby, and he wanted it. He wanted to build a home.
Our own home. With a tree house outside, and a large lawn where I can play soccer and catch with our children. Grinning like a fool at the thought of children, he walked through the door of the apartment and yelled, "Hey, Liz, I have an idea." He placed his briefcase in its usual spot and loosened his tie before turning around to see Elizabeth, beaming, holding an immense bouquet of pink and blue balloons.
"Guess what we're going to have in eight months?"
Their daughter was born on February 13th just after midnight. Several hours later she lay, wrapped securely in a blanket and wearing a knit cap, soundly asleep in her father's arms. "She's beautiful, Liz," William said, without even looking up. "I've never seen anything so perfect. Would you ever have thought, three years ago at Charles's party when I asked you to dance, that this was in our future?"
Elizabeth didn't answer, and William figured she had probably drifted off to sleep; she had handled the labor and birth beautifully, but had gotten very little sleep through the night. He placed a tender kiss on his daughter's brow and then glanced at his wife.
The intensity in her gaze stole his breath. "William Darcy, I have never loved you as much as I do this moment."
He rose from the gliding rocking chair to sit beside his wife on the bed.
"Look at her, Will. Ten months ago she didn't exist in any form. We made her. She is here today because we love each other. She is part of you and part of me." Her eyes clouded with tears. "You held my hand the entire time, telling me that you were excited to meet our baby and that you knew I could handle it. I couldn’t have done it without you." Her gaze drifted to their newborn daughter. "And now she's here. We're a family. We're parents. I love you so much Will."
"I love you too, Liz."
When their daughter Sadie was six months old they moved into their newly built house; they had planted a big grassy area by the time their son Eli was born. William tied a swing for Sadie into the branches of their strongest, tallest tree the day before the arrival of their son Kade. Sadie was climbing the snow-filled tree to get to the tree house and Eli and Kade were in tiny snowsuits making snowballs with their father when Elizabeth waddled from the house to tell them she'd begun having contractions.
Eden was born in the dark, quiet hours of the night; it was nearly dawn when they settled in a quiet room, Eden nursing at her mother's breast, Elizabeth cradled in William's arms. "Every time the feeling is the same, Will. I look at this person we created, and I'm overwhelmed with my feelings for you. How can I be so lucky?"
William thought back 11 years to that Valentine's Day. I was so miserable when I realized she didn't like me, I almost resolved not to bother her again. Look what I would have lost if I hadn't gone to her house the next day. "Liz, I'm the lucky one. You have given me everything I ever wanted--you gave me love. You gave me you. And you gave me them," he said, stroking Eden's soft cheek. "I had no idea what life was about until you gave me a life to live."
Two months later the household had more or less returned to a normal routine; Sadie, Eli, and Kade were asleep in their beds, Eden had fallen asleep nursing, and William was in pajamas, waiting for his wife. "Here." Elizabeth placed the sleeping baby in William's arms. "Wrap this blanket around the two of you so it gets warm, and then we'll put her in the crib."
When she reentered the bedroom after washing her face and brushing her teeth, Elizabeth saw William rocking their daughter and quietly singing to her. She loved it when he sang; he claimed he couldn't carry a tune to save his life, but she knew the lullabies he sang to the children were more precious than any perfect-sounding CD.
She was well aware that she had found someone incredibly special. Her affection and respect for William grew more every day; in the ten years they'd been married she had seen many other unions go sour and end. Watching William rock Eden, she thought once again about Charlotte. Poor Char--a baby and a toddler and in the middle of a divorce from a perpetually unemployed man. I'm not sure why she ever married Wilbur Collins. He wasn't her match. She needed someone brilliant and expressive. Wilbur would have been better with someone like Mary--serious, self-sufficient, quiet. Mary would have scared the idleness out of him in their first year together. She would have shaped him up, and he'd probably have become a determined worker...
Elizabeth let go of what-ifs, walking the short distance to her husband. She ran her fingers through his hair. "Will you put her in the crib?"
William gave his wife a fully dimpled smile and placed his daughter, wrapped in the warm blanket, inside the crib. "Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, you know..." Elizabeth said as she folded her clothes.
"Of course I know. Wait and see what I have set up." William raised his eyebrows and smiled mysteriously.
Elizabeth walked across the room and climbed into the bed. "Big plans, huh?"
William nodded; he pulled Elizabeth into his embrace and covered them both with the comforter. "I love you."
"I love you too."
He settled his face on the pillow next to hers and looked deeply into her eyes. "I mean it, Liz. I love you."
She smoothed the hair off his forehead. "I love you too."
"Do you know how much I love you? I adore you. I need you."
She caressed his face softly. "I do know. You show me constantly."
"I don't know what I'd do without you."
Elizabeth's hand gently traced a path to his chest and covered his heart with her palm. "You are my everything. I love you, Will."
William outlined her lips with his finger, and Elizabeth snuggled her body as close to his as she could. The look in his eyes as he stared at her heated her from the inside out. "I love you," she whispered again, her breath warm on his finger. Her hand traveled the length of his back, up his neck, and into his hair; she pulled his face closer to hers. "I love you," she whispered into his mouth, and William was lost. He kissed her with all of his devotion, and Elizabeth responded just as passionately.
In the early morning hours William sleepily felt the other side of the bed, searching for the warmth of his wife. The sheets were cool and the bed was empty. Maybe she had to get up with the baby, he thought, and opened his eyes. A cool grey light filtered through the curtains on the windows. He raised his head to check the time, but everything around him was unfamiliar. The furniture was in all the wrong places, the clock was missing, the color of bedding was wrong. "Where am I?" he said aloud, suddenly fully awake. "This isn't my house. Where's Elizabeth?"
He stared around him, fighting the urge to panic at the unfamiliarity. Wait, I've been in this room before--a long time ago. This looks like the room I stayed in at Charles's house all those years ago. Yes, it is just the same room. How did I get here? Are Elizabeth and I visiting...? No, Charles and Jane sold that house several years ago. Sold this house.
He had risen from bed and was hastily pulling on his jeans, which were lying over a chair between the closet door and dresser. He randomly pulled open drawers, looking for something familiar. I know this sweater, William thought, pulling out the soft green cashmere. Liz loved this sweater. She loved the way I looked in it. I wore it until it began to come apart at the seams... He turned it over in his hands; it looked new. He lifted it to his nose, trying to smell his wife, knowing that if he'd worn it she would have been in his arms, but it smelled of dry cleaning chemicals. He yanked it over his head before pulling open the closet door. The first pair of shoes he grabbed fit.
Hastily William left his bedroom. It was early so the other bedroom doors were still closed, the occupants asleep. He ran down the stairs. It's Charles's house, he thought. "I'm in Charles's house," he said aloud. "What am I doing in Charles's house?"
He pounded back up the steps, two and three at a time, and stopped in front of Charles's bedroom door. He knocked quietly a few times, and when that didn't work he knocked louder. The door opened wide and Charles stood squinting out at him. He was wearing flannel pajama bottoms and an old university T-shirt, and his hair was completely disheveled. "I'm sorry to disturb you and Jane, I just can't..."
"Ho-ho-hold on there, buddy. Jane's not that kind of girl, she's at home in Longbourn. What's up, Will?"
"What do you mean, at home in Longbourn? Did something happen between you?" William had never been so confused in his life.
"Yeah! A few great dates! With any luck something more serious will happen in the next few months..."
"I guarantee it," Will said, smirking. "Come on, buddy." William punched Charles in the arm, knowing this must be a joke. "You and Jane have been married for more than a decade. Where are our wives, Charles? What are we doing back here in this house?"
Charles shook his head sleepily. "What are you talking about? Did you have some kind of weird dream?"
William couldn't fight back the panic any longer. "No. This is the dream. I have a wife and four children and I'm happy. I'm so happy. This is the dream. This is the dream, do you understand me?" His voice rose in volume with every sentence. "Now where is my wife?"
Charles looked dumbfounded, and more than a little worried. "Will, I think we should call your cousin Rich. Maybe he can come here today, and..."
"I don't need Rich! I need Elizabeth! Where is she?!"
"Elizabeth Bennet? She'll be here this evening, for the party..."
"The Valentine's Day party, Will. Don't tell me you forgot?"
William felt a sickening lurch in his stomach. He was dizzy. He was lightheaded. And Charles reached out to steady him when he began to sway. "Listen, let's get you back into your bedroom, and..."
"No! I'm going to find Liz!" William wrenched free of Charles's grip and jogged toward the staircase. "This is the dream, Charles. I'm going to prove this is the dream!" He felt his right front pocket for keys and ran out into the cold, wintry morning. A red sports car was parked in the driveway. My BMW? He hadn't driven this car since their first child had been born, and he decided he needed a 4-door. He got inside the M3, slammed it into reverse, and sped down the driveway and toward the highway. In shortly over an hour he was racing past fields and pastures, nearing the parcel of land where he and Elizabeth had built their home. Where he played catch and soccer with his sons, where his daughter climbed trees. He had driven this route thousands of times, in every season, at every time of day.
He pulled off the road beside a barren lot. No home. No Elizabeth, no children. William Darcy rested his head against the steering wheel and began to cry.
Elizabeth woke in the early morning feeling cold. She reached across the bed to find her husband, but her hand groped only air. She opened her eyes and noticed that wan, grey, early morning light was coming through the window. And that the window was in the wrong place. In a voice thick with sleep, she said, "This looks like my old bedroom." She sat straight up in bed and looked around. "This is what my bedroom looked like when I lived here, before I married, before Lydia moved in and changed everything..."
She climbed out of bed and slipped into a pair of slippers and a tattered robe that she remembered from her university days, and very quietly slipped out of the bedroom to search for her husband and children. One by one she opened the other bedroom doors and saw her sisters in their rooms. Kate was in the shower, Lydia was looking through Kate's closet, Jane was still sleeping... It didn't make any sense. She descended the stairs and passed through every room, ending in the kitchen. Absently she stared out the window over the sink at the growing light, knowing the sun would soon rise.
"Good morning, Sunshine," her father said.
Elizabeth whipped around to face him, so surprised she couldn't even cry. It was her father, looking healthy and happy. Her father, who had been dead for two years, was standing in the kitchen with a bowl and a box of cereal. "Did you sleep well?"
"No, Papa, I didn't. I think I'm still asleep. At least I feel very strange."
"Well I hope you're feeling better by this evening. I know your sister Jane is counting on you being with her at young Mr. Bingley's party." He punctuated his statement with a head nod in the direction of the calendar as he poured his cereal.
Elizabeth turned to the calendar--hanging where her mother's calendars always hung--and noted that it was Valentine's Day. And then she noticed the year. And then she fainted.
Elizabeth made it through the day, despite being plagued by a strange feeling of emptiness oddly coupled with a sense of purpose. The dream did not fade as most dreams do, but remained with her vividly--her children didn't exist, and William Darcy was not her husband. But she would see him; she would talk to him that very night at Charles's party. It gave her comfort. It made her nervous.
As Jane's car pulled up the driveway she grew so anxious she was nauseated. She didn't want to be 22 and single and going to a Valentine party; she wanted to be 33 and happily married and a mother of four children, snuggled on a sofa watching a movie. Her mind spun when she thought of all the precious things that hung in the balance this evening.
Elizabeth had coaxed Mary into coming to the party, too; she was too distracted to be good company for Jane or Charlotte, so she hoped Mary could act as a substitute. She walked through the door and hung up her coat, and then took one last glance into the hallway mirror to check her hair; she hadn't remembered how to work with the style, nor had she found any clothes in the closet she felt like wearing. In the end she decided that seeing William--talking to William--was more important than an outfit or a hairstyle, but still she wished she'd turned out a little better. Impatiently moving to the living room where the guests were gathered, she sought him. As soon as she was through the door his eyes were upon her. He looked at her, the same look she'd seen a thousand different times in a hundred different places; the look was love and warmth and support and just a hint of desire, and she knew it better than she knew what shoes she was wearing or what route Jane had driven to get there. It was so familiar that her feet began to carry her toward him, toward the comfort only he could give her.
His eyes never wavered, but halfway across the room she remembered herself. She stopped mid-stride and blushed hotly. In truth she had hardly spoken to him. They weren't even friends. And yet she knew him better than anyone else did. And he knew her. Oh, yes, this near stranger knew her--he knew her hopes, her dreams, her weaknesses. He knew her mind, her soul, and her body. He had rejoiced with her in the very happiest times, and comforted her through the saddest. She felt utterly exposed and completely alone. Forcing a weak smile onto her face, she dropped her gaze and redirected her path to the table filled with refreshments and drinks.
William spent more than an hour on his appearance while preparing for the party. The only other time in his life he could remember doing so was his wedding day. A wedding day I only dreamed, he thought, still not believing. But he chose his clothes carefully, and tried to incorporate every aspect Elizabeth had ever mentioned liking. This evening he would see the woman who shared his life, who had borne his children, and whom he loved more than anything. He had to find a way to make her his before his heart broke from the loss.
He descended the stairs and entered the living room nearly forty minutes before the guests were due to arrive. He couldn't miss her. He needed to see her. He wondered if she would come in with Jane and Charlotte. He wondered if she would even glance his way. He watched the door restlessly until she walked through it.
As soon as she entered, her eyes sought his, and he felt grounded for the first time since he'd wakened. She was here. They could be together again. She began to walk toward him, and his world made sense.
Then she smiled uncomfortably and turned in another direction, and his loss was complete. His life with Elizabeth had been a dream. He felt the deepest love for her, and a connection that was almost tangible. But it was not so. She didn't like him. It seemed like he'd overcome this a lifetime ago, but nothing had changed.
Or has it? he wondered. Every few minutes Elizabeth looked his way. She tried to smile, though she looked sad enough to burst into tears. Oh, he'd learned through years of experience when she was holding back the waterworks, and he knew she was struggling. She wasn't deep in conversation with Charlotte. She wasn't talking to anyone.
William crossed the floor to stand by her side. "Elizabeth..."
She inhaled deeply before looking up at him. "Hello, Will. William."
He smiled. "You can call me Will, if you like." She smiled too, and tried to look relaxed. "Elizabeth, will you dance with me?"
She did not hesitate before she nodded and followed him to a bare space on the floor. He winced at the awkward way he placed his arms around her, and she, following his lead, kept a more than respectable distance between them. Neither could think of anything to say that wasn't, "I thought we'd been married for the last ten years..." So the song ended and each of them uncomfortably walked away from the other, distressed by the outcome.
Elizabeth tried to watch Jane with Charles; she tried to talk to Charlotte; she introduced Mary to people she didn't know, and tried to follow their conversations. But she couldn't distract herself from William, and how he looked just as good as he had on their wedding day, and how he couldn't bear to hold her in his arms, and that she was at once 22 and single, and married with four children. She took her coat from the closet and walked out onto the front porch and into the shadows of the night.
Not one minute later William was outside, too, standing silently beside her.
"Hello," Elizabeth said quietly.
"Aren't you cold?"
"Uh..." William shifted his weight from leg to leg. "Yes. But I wanted to make sure you were okay."
"I'm okay," she replied, feeling anything but okay, feeling tears filling her eyes. "If you want to get your coat, I'll still be right here, okay, when you come back." She didn't want him to see her cry so she kept her eyes focused on the snow-covered lawn. She didn't see him smiling at her, and couldn't know how hard he struggled against pulling her into his embrace.
"I'll be right back then."
Elizabeth nodded. She thought of boxing matches and NASCAR racing and slot machines, none of which interested her in the least, in order to chase the tears away and replace turmoil with neutrality.
A moment later William had returned. He stood beside her--closer than she would wish for a stranger to stand, but not nearly close enough. She took a deep breath, leaning on the porch railing, and willed herself to ponder roofing materials and snow shovels. William stood silently beside her, wishing he could tell her all he felt, afraid of frightening her, wondering if she could ever love him.
"So, William..." Elizabeth kept her eyes trained on trees far in the distance, and didn't see the way William perked up when she said his name. She didn't see the look of adoration in his eyes. She didn't know that he ached to hold her. "You grew up two and a half hours away from here, in Derby?"
"Yes." William recalled another conversation that started almost exactly this way. Elizabeth had asked him about Greg Wilkinson, and later she proclaimed she'd never go on a date with him. I believe her exact words were, "I wouldn't want to spend even three minutes alone with him," he thought sadly. "Have you ever been there?"
"Um..." Only hundreds of times. "I might have passed through it," she answered vaguely.
"It's a beautiful place."
"Mmm. Do you think you'll always live there?" Elizabeth asked, thinking for a moment of the house they had built halfway between the two families. Suddenly overcome with an urge to throw herself into his arms, she grimly contemplated cleaning her bathroom.
"Someday I'd like to build a home with my wife." William's voice sounded like a caress. She turned to look in his eyes and saw more tenderness than she could bear; after a few seconds forced her eyes back to the moonlight glistening on the snow.
William placed his hand beside Elizabeth's on the railing. "I dreamt about you last night."
She turned her head a little to the side, and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "Did you?"
"Yes. I've never felt so lonely in my entire life as I did this morning, when I woke up alone."
Elizabeth cleared her throat. She felt a rush of heat in her face; she knew she was blushing, and was thankful for the cool, dim night. "It was one of those dreams, huh?"
William chuckled--a deep chuckle she knew would rumble in his chest--and nodded.
And suddenly, all the thoughts in the world of oil changes and tax returns couldn't hold back her memories or feelings. "I had a dream about you, too," she said quietly.
William turned his entire body to face her. "I hope it was a good dream."
She thought of the birth of their firstborn, of moving into their house, of evenings spent in front of the fire and mornings waking up beside him. As ten years of memories flooded into her mind, tears again filled Elizabeth's eyes. "The best dream I've ever had." They looked at each other for several moments without speaking.
William hardly knew what to do next; this evening was so different from the Valentine's Day he remembered. Elizabeth was different. He desperately wanted to believe that she didn't dislike him--he wanted to hope that this time the path to forever might run a little more smoothly. Casting his fate to the wind, William asked, "Elizabeth, will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?"
Elizabeth smiled tremulously and a single tear rolled down her cheek. "Yes."
William reached out to wipe the tear, and then extended his hand to her. "And will you dance with me again? I did a terrible job last time," he added with a humble smile.
She laughed and placed her hand in his. He wove their fingers together, letting go only briefly to hang their coats before pulling her through the room toward an open space. They chatted comfortably, much to the surprise of everyone around them. He tightened his grip in a way she knew from hundreds of intimate conversations, pointing their clasped hands across the room. "Look at Mary," he whispered.
Elizabeth's younger sister was deep in conversation with Wilbur Collins, and both were grinning. Maybe this time... Elizabeth thought, and smiled into William's eyes.
He stood and opened his arms--as he'd opened them to her every day for a decade--and without thinking she walked into his embrace, putting her arms around his back and resting her head on his chest. William nestled her curls beneath his chin and drew her close to him. They remained that way, turning slowly together and speaking quietly, through two songs.
FINISContents of this page © Alyson 2004
Acknowledgement: This story began as a shameless rip-off of Alicia's A Glimpse, with her blessing. Thanks for letting me copy you, SC! *mwah*
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