Elizabeth tiptoed down the hall to the kitchen. She switched on the overhead light, squinting while her eyes adjusted to the brightness, the tile floor chilly against her bare feet.

The refrigerator beckoned and she answered its call, foraging for a snack. She didn’t understand why she should be hungry at this hour of the night, especially not with her internal clock still on New York time.

She had collapsed breathlessly into her seat on the plane only a few minutes before departure, but miraculously her luggage had arrived with her. Charlotte had met her at the airport as planned, and Jane had returned from Sacramento in time to help them consume a pitcher of margaritas at Charlotte’s favorite Mexican restaurant. Later, Elizabeth had settled into the second bedroom of Jane’s condo, which would be her home from now on.

Her eyes gleamed when she spotted a quart of Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Peanut Butter ice cream in the freezer. Now, let’s see if she remembered what goes with it. And, indeed, Jane had thought of everything. Elizabeth found a small, unopened jar of hot fudge sauce in the pantry.

She warmed the sauce in the microwave, licking her lips as she spooned it over the ice cream. She let the first spoonful melt in her mouth, relishing the contrast between the cold ice cream and the warm, gooey fudge.

“I thought I’d find you here.”

Elizabeth whirled, startled, and saw Jane standing in the doorway, a sleepy smile on her face.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“You didn’t. I was awake, and I heard you leave your room.”

Jane looked perfect, of course, in a pink tank top and pink and gray plaid pajama pants. Her slightly bleary eyes and her sleep-tousled hair just added to her natural beauty. I hate to think how I must look, like I’m wearing a fright wig, and then there’s my nightshirt with the ink stains all over it. Elizabeth often fell asleep late at night while grading papers in bed, felt-tip pen in hand. Her sleepwear, and sometimes her blanket, suffered the consequences.

Jane sat at the table. “I’m glad you found the ice cream.”

“I can sniff out peanut butter ice cream at five hundred paces. It was sweet of you to stock up on my favorites.”

“I wanted you to feel at home. I’m so happy to have you here.”

Elizabeth heard the slight tremor in Jane’s voice. “I’m happy to be here. I’ve missed you, and I know you’ve had a hard time lately. I just wish it could have been sooner.”

“I’ve been fine, Lizzy, really. But things will be even better now.”

“Want some ice cream?” Elizabeth started to rise from her chair.

“Stay put. I’ll get it.”

“Have you spoken to Charles recently?”

“No, he’s only called that one time since he moved to LA.”

“I bet he’s really regretting what he did by now.”

“I hope not.” Jane set the ice cream container on the counter and turned to face Elizabeth. “I want him to be happy.”

“But if he’s regretting it, maybe he’ll come back to you.”

Jane smiled sadly and shook her head. “I’ve accepted that it’s over. I’ll always love him, but we want different things.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“I’m doing fine, Lizzy, really. I’ve been focusing on my law practice. And I even went on a blind date a few days ago.”

“Really?” Elizabeth’s spoon clanged against the dish as she set it down. “You didn’t tell me about that.”

“It was a lunch date, right before I left for Sacramento.”

“And?”

Jane returned to the table with her bowl of ice cream and sat down. “And he was nice.”

“Nice? That’s all?”

“I don’t know,” Jane paused to swallow a spoonful of ice cream. “He’s a lawyer, a senior associate in a medium-sized firm here in town. He asked if I wanted to have dinner with him some time next week, and I said yes.”

“So you must have liked him.”

Jane shrugged. “He seems intelligent and interesting, and he’s good looking. But it wasn’t love at first sight. Maybe it’s just as well, considering my recent experiences.”

“Right now you need to go out and have some fun with no pressure. If you were wildly infatuated with this guy, I’d worry about it being a rebound thing.”

“What about you, Lizzy? Where did you leave things with William? Every time Charlotte tried to ask you about him over dinner, you changed the subject.”

It was true. Elizabeth’s feelings were a jumble of conflicting impulses, and she hadn’t wanted to try to sort them out at a noisy restaurant.

“Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” Jane asked gently.

“Yeah … I think so.”

Elizabeth described her stops at the Darcy house and the hospital while Jane listened with increasing concern.

“Poor William! How awful! And you never even found out what was wrong with him?”

“Some kind of heart problem, since he was in the CCU. The nurse assured me that he was going to be fine.”

“I wonder if Charles knows about this.”

“I bet he does. I saw Caroline Bingley in the hospital lobby.”

“Caroline was there? She didn’t mention anything about going to New York.”

Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed. “Wait a minute. You’ve been in touch with Caroline? After the way she treated me?”

Jane hesitated. “I know she behaved badly toward you at the rehearsal dinner. But apparently she’s had a huge crush on William for years, and she rarely gets to see him. So when she noticed his interest in you, she went a bit overboard. She feels terrible about it now.”

“A bit overboard, you call it? She all but ordered me out of the courtyard so she could throw herself at him. And she switched the place cards and stole my place next to him at dinner.”

“She did? You know, I wondered how I managed to mess up the cards. Though considering how angry you were at William, maybe it was just as well you were at separate tables. Are you sure she did it?”

“William said he was sure. Besides, who else would have done it?”

“Bill Collins? He seemed happy to have you at his table.”

Elizabeth looked at Jane in astonishment. “Bill, switch the cards? Oh, come on.”

Jane burst out laughing. “I’m teasing, Lizzy. He doesn’t strike me as the devious type. But he seemed to develop a crush on you that night. In fact, he called me a few days ago asking when you were due to arrive. I bet he’s going to ask you out.”

“Oh, great, something to look forward to,” Elizabeth said with a grimace. “But let’s get back to you and Caroline. Please tell me that you haven’t been letting her influence you.”

“I’m not naïve, Lizzy. But she’s always been kind to me, and she’s been especially nice since the … since that weekend. We had lunch together once a week or so during the engagement, and we’ve kept on doing that. In fact, she’s the one who arranged my blind date.”

“Oh, really? I wonder what she’s up to?”

“What ulterior motive could she have? When I was engaged to her brother, I suppose a friendship with me could have been valuable to her, but now I think she’s just being nice.”

“I don’t trust that woman.” Elizabeth didn’t like the sound of this. Jane was too guileless for her own good sometimes.

“You only met her that one time.”

“Which was more than enough.”

Jane sighed. “All right, I should know better than to try to sway you once you’ve made up your mind. And don’t worry, I’m not sharing my deepest secrets with her. This is just a casual friendship.”

“Yeah, well, be careful all the same.”

“I will, I promise. Anyway, we’ve gotten off track; we’re supposed to be talking about William. I bet he’ll call you tomorrow.”

“That’s what I’m expecting … well, more like hoping.” Elizabeth twisted a lock of hair around her finger.

Jane carried their ice cream bowls to the sink. As she rinsed them, she said, “What are you going to say when he calls?”

“If he calls, you mean. I’m going to apologize for turning into a crazy woman. But I’m also going to tell him that things were moving too fast, that he shouldn’t assume that he knows what a woman wants, and that we need to take a step back and get to know each other better.”

Jane nodded. “That makes perfect sense.”

“Except how are we supposed to get to know each other when we’re three thousand miles apart? Why would he go to that kind of effort? It’s not like he has trouble getting women to notice him.”

“But there’s only one Elizabeth Bennet, and she’s worth all the others put together.”

“I think you’re a little biased,” Elizabeth said, smiling fondly at her sister.

“I bet William would agree with me; he seems to understand how special you are.” Jane paused, and her smile faded. “But he’s not the only one whose feelings matter. Do you care enough about him to try to make a long-distance relationship work?”

“The morning after the dinner at his house, I think I would have said yes. The next day, I would have said no. And now …” Elizabeth sighed and fell silent.

Jane waited for Elizabeth to continue. The silence in the room felt heavy, broken only by the low-pitched hum of the refrigerator.

“I just hope he calls soon,” Elizabeth said. “After that, we’ll see.”

 

Late Saturday evening, Elizabeth sat quietly in the passenger seat of Jane’s Honda Civic as it approached their building, reflecting on the evening they had just spent at their parents’ house in Cupertino. It had been an enjoyable visit for the most part, due largely to Lydia’s absence, though they had heard about Lydia’s life in excruciating detail from their mother.

Kitty had ridden along with them. She was living in San Francisco now, sharing an apartment with three friends from high school, and was working as a paralegal in Jane’s firm. Elizabeth could see improvement in her, probably the result of Jane’s daily influence at the office, as well as the absence of regular exposure to Lydia.

Elizabeth and her father had made arrangements to drive up to Muir Woods the following Saturday for a hike and a picnic. They shared a love of long, quiet walks, and had often gone exploring together in the past. After five years in the noise and congestion of New York, Elizabeth longed to revisit the towering grandeur of the ancient redwood forest, especially since it meant spending time with her father.

Her first act on entering their condo was to check the answering machine in the kitchen. Her stomach did a somersault when she saw the message light flashing, but the call was from Charlotte, suggesting that they meet for dinner on Monday to celebrate Elizabeth’s first day on her new job.

Blinking back tears, Elizabeth followed the dark hallway to her bedroom. She collapsed onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Well, that’s it. If he hasn’t called by now, he’s not going to call. She had no idea how long she lay there unmoving, but finally she was roused by Jane’s voice.

“Lizzy, why don’t you just call him?” Jane stood in the doorway to Elizabeth’s bedroom.

Elizabeth sat up. “Because I’ve already called him twice and written him a letter, and he’s ignored me. Obviously he’s finished with me.”

“I hate to bring this up, but maybe his health took a turn for the worse after you left. Maybe he’s been too sick to call you.”

Elizabeth’s breath caught in her chest. “Don’t say that.”

“Why don’t you call the hospital and find out,” Jane said in a gentle tone.

Elizabeth stood up, her heart racing. “Yes, I think I will, right now.”

She hurried into the kitchen with Jane close behind her, and was soon connected to the hospital operator. William, she learned, was no longer a patient in the CCU, but had been moved to a normal hospital room. “It’s too late to connect you,” the operator said, “but you can leave a message if you want.”

Elizabeth hung up the phone and closed her eyes. She was relieved to know that he was not in any danger; his transfer out of the CCU indicated that much. But it also meant that nothing was preventing him from contacting her. All hope of hearing from him was now gone.

“It sounds like he must be doing better; that’s wonderful news,” Jane said. She had heard enough of Elizabeth’s side of the conversation to infer the details. “Maybe you should call him tomorrow. You could just ask how he’s doing, and explain that you’ve been concerned about him.”

“I can’t. I’m already on the brink of becoming Pathetic Stalker Chick.”

“Maybe he’s just waiting till he gets home to call you.”

“Why would he do that? He knows I visited him at the hospital, and that I’m worried about him. And he has my phone number out here; it was on the note I left. If he cared about me, wouldn’t he want to set my mind at ease? No, he’s decided that I’m not worth the trouble. Either that, or all he wanted was sex, like I’ve always suspected.”

“I just can’t believe that.”

“I can. I’ve said it a million times. This is William Darcy. What would he want with an ordinary music teacher? Maybe it’s just as well. I’m starting a new life, and I can’t do that unless I let go of the past.”

“But I hate to see you unhappy.”

“I’ll be fine.” Elizabeth glanced at her watch. “I think I’ll go to bed now. I’m still getting over jet lag.”

Jane scrutinized Elizabeth carefully. “That’s probably a good idea. But if you change your mind and want some company, I’ll be in the living room.”

Elizabeth quickly prepared for bed and slipped between the covers. Her eyes fell on the mystery novel sitting on her bedside table, the one she had taken on the plane. She opened it and gently removed an object that was pressed flat between the pages. It was the portion of the orchid’s stem that she had removed after damaging it in the taxi.

She cradled the flattened stem in her hand, memorizing its appearance while her fingers caressed what remained of two indigo blooms. Her mind traveled across the country to William, asleep in his hospital room, and she envisioned the orchid on a table near his bed. If he kept it, that is. He may have wanted it out of his life … just like me.

A tear splashed onto the stem, and then another. She angrily wiped her eyes. Enough. You were fine before he walked into your life, and you’ll be fine now that he’s gone. But not if you keep clinging to reminders like this one.

She couldn’t throw the stem in the trash; her heart ached at the thought of it languishing at the bottom of a dumpster. Then her eyes fixed on the bedroom window, and she knew that she had her answer. She opened the window and reached through, dropping the stem. It fluttered out of sight into the darkness, toward the garden below.

Goodbye, William.

 

“Mr. Darcy?”

William nodded at the nurse who had just called his name. He followed her down the hall from Dr. Rosemont’s plush waiting room to an examination room.

“How are you feeling today?” the nurse asked.

“All right, I suppose. I’m glad to be out of the hospital.”

“I’m sure. You were just released yesterday?”

William nodded. He rolled up his shirtsleeve so the nurse could check his blood pressure. “Is it back to normal?” he asked.

“Not yet, but I’m sure the doctor will discuss that with you. She’s with another patient, and then she’ll be in to see you. She’s going to need your shirt and trousers off.”

“My trousers?” he grumbled. “Why? Isn’t she just going to listen to my heart?”

“She has to check your lower-body pulse. She’ll be with you shortly.”

The nurse left, and he heaved a sigh as he yanked his polo shirt over his head. As if I haven’t already been poked and prodded enough for a lifetime.

He was folding his trousers carefully along the crease when he heard a knock at the door. “Come in.”

Dr. Rosemont stepped into the room, a crisp white lab coat covering her gray pantsuit. “Well, here’s my favorite concert pianist. How are you feeling?”

“Tired.”

“How did you sleep last night?”

“I stared at the ceiling for hours. I guess I was missing that wonderful hospital ambience.”

She chuckled. “I’m surprised you could tell the difference. Your housekeeper did everything but call in an interior decorator to fix up your hospital room.”

As the examination proceeded, Dr. Rosemont became businesslike, restricting her conversation to questions about his health. Finally, she was finished. “Get dressed, and come down to my office. We need to discuss your test results and decide on next steps.”

That didn’t sound good. She had kept him in the hospital for an extra day, a day filled with a seemingly endless procession of tests. If everything had been normal, she would certainly have said so.

The nurse escorted William down the hall to the doctor’s office, attractively decorated in neutral shades with a few splashes of bright blue. He surveyed the pictures on her walls and on the desk, most of which featured the doctor and her family in various exotic locales. The Rosemont family loved to travel, and she and William often compared notes about places they had visited.

At last, she strode briskly into the room and slipped off her lab coat. “Sorry you had to wait. All my appointments seem to be taking extra time today.” She sat down behind her desk, parked a pair of reading glasses with rainbow-stripe frames on the end of her nose, and opened a thick file folder. “William, I’m not going to beat around the bush. You did a foolish thing by ignoring your problem for so long. This has been getting gradually worse for months and you ignored it.”

“I made an appointment with you, but I went into the hospital the day it was supposed to happen.”

“It was too late by then. A few years ago we agreed on a schedule for your blood pressure checks, EKG’s, and physical exams. But you haven’t been here in almost a year. You canceled your last two appointments, and my office manager tells me that when we called you to reschedule, you didn’t return our calls. What’s going on?”

“I’ve been busy,” he said. “I’m very much in demand right now.”

“William, let me be blunt. You were seriously ill. You were, and still are, at great risk for a stroke. What if that had happened? All those demands on your time would die down to a trickle if you were paralyzed on one side of your body. There aren’t too many compositions out there for one-handed pianists.”

He gritted his teeth, feeling a hot flash of fury at her blunt statement. “That was harsh.”

“It may be harsh, but it’s a truth that you have to face. A stroke could completely incapacitate you, or even kill you. Thirty or forty years from now I want to see pictures of you looking wise and distinguished, still performing and being recognized as one of the greatest musical artists of all time. But that’s not going to happen if you neglect your health, because you won’t live that long.”

“Okay, you’ve made your point. I should have come to see you sooner. But I kept putting it off because …” He paused, unsure how to explain it. “Never mind. It’s water under the bridge.”

“No, go ahead. I want to hear this.”

“I thought my problem was the defective heart valve. I thought I was going to have to have open heart surgery to replace it.”

“So you thought if you ignored the problem, it would get better on its own?”

“No. But if I ignored it, somehow it wasn’t real—the surgery I needed, the long recovery period, all of it. So I told myself it was just stress, and that I needed a vacation.” He shrugged. “At the time it made sense. But I know it sounds ridiculous.”

“Not really,” she said in a gentler tone. “I understand the temptation to deny the reality of a frightening situation. But ignoring and delaying only made things worse. A stroke was only one of many possibilities. You could have had an aneurysm, or suffered permanent damage to your heart or kidneys.”

“But we caught it in time. None of that happened.”

She shook her head. “Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. Your echocardiogram showed an abnormality in the left ventricle of your heart. When the heart has to work extra hard to pump blood through the body, which happened because of the constriction in your aorta, the muscles in the left ventricle can thicken.”

Cold dread washed over him. “What does that mean?”

“The thicker muscles make the heart less efficient. In fact, that’s probably causing the shortness of breath you’re still experiencing. I heard a murmur when I examined you.”

“How is it treated?” He steeled himself for the answer, fearing the worst.

“Our top priority is to lower your blood pressure. It’s not responding enough to the medication you’re taking now, so I’m going to give you something stronger. Beyond that, it’s pretty much the same thing as always: a healthy diet, and moderate aerobic exercise to strengthen the cardiovascular system.”

These were the things he had been doing for years. He relaxed back into his chair, profoundly relieved. “I’m ready to start running again whenever you give me the go-ahead.”

“You’re not ready for that. I should have said mild aerobic exercise, for now. Let’s start with walking. After the shortness of breath improves, you can gradually work your way back up to running. Oh, and speaking of exercise—”

He raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to continue.

“I don’t know what your personal situation is, and you don’t need to tell me, but you should abstain from sex until we get your blood pressure under control.”

“Okay.” He stifled a sarcastic laugh. Not having sex. I’m an expert at that.

She closed the file containing his test results. “The good news is that if you take proper care of yourself, your condition stands a good chance of reversing itself, in which case you’ll have little or no permanent damage.”

“How long will it take?”

“That’s impossible to predict, but it won’t happen overnight. You’re going to have to take this seriously and make your health your first priority. And you need to reduce the stress in your life.”

“That’s easy for you to say, but I have a full schedule. I can’t just cancel everything I’ve committed to do.”

“I’m aware of the sort of frenetic pace you maintain. But if you don’t take care of yourself, I’m afraid you’re going to have a stroke, or a heart attack.”

He winced. His father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather had all died of heart attacks while in their forties. “Okay. What do I need to do?”

“Until we get your blood pressure stabilized, I want to see you in my office every other day. That’s going to mean staying in New York for the time being.”

He had been afraid of this. “Georgiana and I are planning to go to our vacation home at the end of the week. Wouldn’t long walks on the beach be good for me?”

“Remind me. Where is the house?”

“Barbados.”

She shook her head. “I don’t want you that far from a major medical center.”

That comment frightened William almost more than anything else she had said. “All right; we’ll postpone the trip to Pemberley. How long will I have to stay in town?”

“It depends on how quickly you respond to the medication. What do you have coming up in the next few weeks?”

“I’m supposed to go to Interlochen for two weeks in July.”

“How far is the nearest large city?”

“It depends on what you mean by ‘large.’ Grand Rapids is about two hours away.”

“I think, to be safe, you’d better cancel that trip.”

He sighed. “I suppose I can cut back somewhat through the end of July. But in August my performing obligations start to ramp up again, so I’m going to need to resume my full schedule then.”

“Let’s discuss that in a few weeks.”

“But if my blood pressure is back down again—”

She raised a hand, stopping him in mid-sentence. “Let’s wait and see what happens before we talk about longer-term plans.”

 

On a Monday morning four weeks later, William closed his book and checked his watch. It was almost time to go.

It was quiet in La Lanterna di Vittorio this morning. In the month since his release from the hospital, the tiny café in Greenwich Village had become one of his favorite places to spend a quiet hour or two absorbed in a book or simply lost in thought. Some of the staff had begun to recognize him—not as William Darcy, concert pianist, but simply as a frequent patron. Who’d have thought that I’d ever walk into a little place like this and have the person working the counter say, “The usual?”

“The usual,” unfortunately, was herbal tea and not the fragrant espresso that made his nose tingle on every visit. Eliminating caffeine from his diet hadn’t been easy, but Dr. Rosemont had been emphatic about it. It seemed sacrilegious to order decaf espresso, so he had forced himself to develop a taste for herbal tea.

He glanced at a small table in the corner. My table. But today when he arrived, a woman had been sitting there, her back to him, her dark curls cascading over her shoulders. His heart had jumped in his chest, but then she had laughed at something her companion said and the spell was broken. Her laugh was ordinary, not the sweet music that sent a thrill through him. Then she had turned in his direction and he had seen her eyes. They were a dull gray, not the sparkling green orbs that filled his dreams.

Dozens of times he had been on the verge of asking Sonya to find Elizabeth’s phone number in San Francisco, only to remind himself that, no matter how fervently he longed to hear her voice, she didn’t want to talk to him. Last week he had resorted to calling Catherine de Bourgh under the guise of discussing his foundation’s support of the conservatory for the coming school year. When that business was concluded, he had casually asked about his true interest.

“Elizabeth Bennet is teaching for you now, isn’t she?”

“The young woman for whom you purchased a job? She started a few weeks ago.”

“I see,” he replied, his tone carefully bland. “And how is she doing so far?”

“I have more important things to do than to track the daily movements of a junior member of the faculty, particularly one I didn’t wish to hire in the first place. But I have heard one or two reports that her work in the summer program is adequate.”

In other words, she’s doing a wonderful job, but you’ll never admit it. The call had ended soon after that, with Catherine mentioning that she would be in New York in early August.

William wanted answers to questions of a different sort. Is she happy? Does she ever think about me? Is she dating anyone? Of course she is. I’m sure plenty of men out there have noticed her.

He had fallen into the habit of making frequent visits to this café and the roof garden at his house, since he had spent time with Elizabeth in both places. Allen knew of William’s visits to La Lanterna and might have guessed their significance, but fortunately Allen was a man of few words and great discretion. Mrs. Reynolds had commented on William’s sudden preference for the roof garden, but he had attributed it to the recuperative powers of fresh air and sunshine. Fortunately the summer had been a pleasant one, warm and dry, so his excuse seemed plausible. So far, no one had thought to ask why he didn’t prefer the plush chairs on the private balcony adjacent to his bedroom.

Allen would be outside waiting for him by now, and William was due at Dr. Rosemont’s office soon. He stood up, steadying himself against a touch of light-headedness, and retrieved his book from the table. With a nod to the barista on his way past the counter, he exited the café.

 

Half an hour later, William sat in Dr. Rosemont’s waiting room, struggling to concentrate on his book. Over the past month, he had become intimately familiar with this room: its furniture, the selection of current and not-so-current magazines, and the flow of patients into the exam area and then back out past the billing clerk.

Dr. Rosemont’s nurse appeared in the doorway. “Mr. Darcy?”

He closed his book and followed her to the examination room.

“I hope they took good care of you while I was on vacation,” she said, smiling at him.

“Where did you go?”

“We were in Montauk for about a week. My in-laws have a place about half a mile from the beach.”

William perched on the exam table with a casual air born of much experience, and they fell silent as the nurse checked his blood pressure. “How is it?” he asked.

“It’s gone up since last time. The doctor may want to re-check it when she comes in.” The nurse made a notation on his chart. “You know the drill.”

He eased himself off the table, and rolled his eyes. “I think she makes me undress just to torture me.”

“She’ll be right in, so you can ask her,” the nurse replied, smiling. She shut the door, leaving William alone.

A current of resentment stirred inside him as he unbuttoned his shirt. He was tired of sitting on this exam table nearly naked, goosebumps forming on his arms in the air-conditioned atmosphere. He was tired of feeling listless and dizzy, and of becoming breathless from climbing the two flights of steps to his rooms at the townhouse. And he was tired of having his chest hair yanked out every time EKG leads were fastened to, and then removed from, his body.

But above all, he was tired of being poked and prodded like an overgrown science experiment. Pulse, blood pressure, temperature, heart rhythms … the list went on and on. A month had passed since his release from the hospital, but his frequent appointments with Dr. Rosemont had kept him in the uncomfortable grip of modern medicine.

He was equally tired of the constant surveillance at home. Mrs. Reynolds scrutinized his every move: what he ate, how much he slept, whether or not he had taken his medication, even whether he took the stairs or the elevator. And it wasn’t just Mrs. Reynolds. Gran was taking an active interest in how he spent his time, and Georgie had begun to visit him in his sitting room on a regular basis. He would have enjoyed Georgie’s visits had he not suspected Mrs. Reynolds of recruiting his sister as a spy.

Sonya tried to be subtle, but he was often aware of her watchful gaze turning in his direction. Even Richard had gotten into the act, finding transparent excuses to stop by at least once a day for a chat that always seemed to gravitate to his health. William often thought of a cartoon he had seen, the first frame showing a fish hiding among lush greenery, while the second pulled back to show the fish entirely exposed through the glass boundaries of a fishbowl.

Dr. Rosemont knocked and then entered the room. “Hello, William. How are you feeling today?”

“I’d feel a lot better if you didn’t keep making me take off my clothes and sit around here freezing to death,” he grumbled.

“How else am I supposed to get sexy pictures of you to sell to the tabloids? Smile for the camera, by the way; it’s hidden in that wall.”

“I knew it. Raising money to put your son through med school?”

“I’m glad you understand,” she retorted, grinning. “Seriously, how are you feeling? Are you doing any better?”

“Not really. I’m still exhausted, and kind of dizzy sometimes.”

“Still suffering shortness of breath?”

“Yes. But my biggest problem is that I’m so tired.”

“You’re still taking the vitamin supplement I recommended?”

“Yes.”

“Be sure you don’t stop. The medication can deplete you of certain minerals. Are you continuing with your exercise?”

“I’m walking every day.”

She asked a few other questions while she examined him. Finally, she was finished. She stood looking at his chart, frowning.

Unnerved by her silence, he asked a question. “Can we take me off this medication and put me back on my old one so I don’t have all these side effects?”

“No, unfortunately, we can’t. Your blood pressure has gone back up again. We’re going to have to try something even stronger.”

“So the side effects will get worse.”

“Not necessarily. In any case, most of your symptoms are from the left ventricle problem, not the medication. You damaged your heart, William, and until we get your blood pressure to stay down, you’re not going to start getting better.”

“Why is my blood pressure still so high? Shouldn’t it be back down again by now?”

“Ordinarily, yes. But in some coarctation patients the high blood pressure persists even after the constriction is repaired, and apparently you’re one of those.”

“That’s what happened after my childhood surgery, too.” William had been taking blood pressure medication since he was three.

“But the problem is more severe now. I’m disappointed that your pressure has jumped back up again. Last week, it was almost within normal limits. You haven’t stopped taking your medication, have you?”

“That would be impossible. If I didn’t take it on my own, Mrs. Reynolds would force-feed it to me.” He sighed. “Look, we need to figure out how to get me back in shape. I have a full schedule of concert dates coming up, and I need more energy if I’m going to perform up to my audience’s expectations.”

“I understand you went to Washington last weekend, against my advice.”

“Yes,” he said in a low voice, his eyes on the floor. He had insisted on keeping his engagement for a recital at the Kennedy Center the previous weekend, and had not been swayed by the opposition of Dr. Rosemont and every member of his family. He had argued that Washington was only a short train ride away, making this a low-stress performing trip.

“How did things go?”

“Fine,” he answered, still staring at the floor.

“William, I was curious, so I checked the reviews.”

He winced. Words like lethargic and lifeless had been used by the reviewers. One had commented that, while his technique was as flawless as ever, the electricity he usually generated was conspicuous in its absence.

“And your housekeeper called me this morning.”

This wasn’t the first time Mrs. Reynolds had informed Dr. Rosemont of developments related to his health. William clenched his jaw. “She shouldn’t keep doing that. It’s completely inappropriate.”

“When your health problems started last spring, you wouldn’t admit how sick you felt. So although I understand why it bothers you, I don’t blame your family for not trusting you to take proper care of yourself. They’re worried, and so am I.”

He felt his face flush. He wasn’t accustomed to being treated like a disobedient child.

She continued. “Mrs. Reynolds wanted me to know how exhausted you were when you got home from Washington.”

“All right, I admit it. The trip took a lot out of me. That’s why we need to do something to get me back in shape quickly.”

“You’re nowhere near ready. Doesn’t last weekend prove that? I think we have to consider a longer break.”

“How long?”

“A few months at least.”

“That’s impossible.”

“This weekend was too much for you, and it was just a train trip and a single recital.” She shook her head, her expression grim. “That might even be why your blood pressure is back up. How are you going to handle a more typical weekend, when you have to fly somewhere, rehearse with an orchestra, and perform three or four times?”

“I can’t cancel months of performances.” It was too horrifying a prospect to even consider.

“You can, and you must,” she said firmly, emphasizing every word. “You told me a month ago that you’d make your health a priority. Talk is cheap. Prove it.”

He stared at her, words failing him.

“You seem to think that I can wave a magic wand and you’ll be cured,” she continued. “That’s not how it works. But if you take a few months off now and really take care of yourself, maybe we can get you well along the road to recovery.”

“You don’t understand,” he said, finding his voice at last. “All those cancellations would ruin my reputation. People will think I’m a weakling who can’t be counted on, someone who might cancel just because I’m feeling a little bit tired.”

“If you don’t take some time off, a year from now you may still be in the same shape you’re in now, or worse. Do you want to develop a reputation for giving lackluster performances, and to live your life dragging yourself from one city to another, with no energy for anything else?”

“But—” He ran a hand through his hair, frantically searching for a compromise. “I suppose I could take a few more weeks off, if you think it’s necessary. I hate the thought of canceling my August bookings, but it wouldn’t be completely unthinkable.”

“That’s a start.”

“But in September I’m booked every weekend, mostly for season-opener galas, and I can’t back out of those.”

“A month isn’t enough time for you to start healing. You need rest, a regular schedule of sleep and light exercise, a healthy diet, and continual monitoring of your cardiovascular system. None of that is going to happen if you’re flying all over the world.”

William was cornered and he knew it. His sub-par performance in Washington had been humiliating. He sat up straight, squaring his shoulders. “All right, I’ll discuss this with Richard and Sonya and see what, if anything, we can rearrange. That’s all that I’m promising for now. How long a break would you suggest?”

“Ideally, six months.”

“That’s out of the question.”

“All right, then, let’s start with three months. If you’re doing well, you could keep a few concert dates in November, and gradually work your way up to a full schedule.”

“Are you absolutely certain this is necessary?”

“If we don’t do this, I’m afraid that you’re going to have a heart attack on an airplane some day, and by the time they’re able to land it’ll be too late to save you. With your family history of heart disease, that’s not a far-fetched scenario.”

This reminder was the final straw, and William surrendered. “All right. As I said, I’ll talk to Richard and Sonya. Now, please write me that new prescription so I can get out of here.”

 

“Absolutely. This is your health we’re talking about, and maybe your life. These concert dates are meaningless compared to that.”

William looked from Richard, who had just spoken, to Sonya. She nodded. “Of course. There’s not even a question.”

The idea of canceling three months of performances still horrified William. In addition to all of the other nightmarish aspects of his situation, his illness had already been mentioned in the New York Times, and also in the Boston papers, where he had missed a performance at Tanglewood due to his hospitalization. There would be a great deal more publicity now.

“I’d rather not explain the reason. The details are nobody’s business but ours. We could just say that I’m suffering from exhaustion and I need a rest.”

“Terrible idea,” Richard shot back. “People always assume that ‘exhaustion’ is a cover for a stint in rehab. Besides, what’s wrong with telling the truth?”

“You know the answer to that question,” Sonya said. “William’s worried about his privacy.”

“There’s nothing shameful about heart disease.”

“That’s not the point. He doesn’t want people in the music world gossiping about his health.”

“Do I even need to be here for this conversation?” William asked. “You seem to be doing fine without me.”

“Sorry, boss,” Sonya grinned. “Didn’t mean to put words in your mouth. But I was right, wasn’t I?”

William nodded. “I especially don’t want people to hear the story of my childhood surgery. I can see the headline now: ‘Young Prodigy Overcame Near-Death Experience to Become Musical Legend.’” He shuddered.

“So we leave out specifics and talk about an unspecified heart problem that’s being treated,” Richard said. “That’s what we’ve done so far.”

“Good,” William answered. “The less said, the better.”

“And are we agreed that Sonya and I should cancel everything through the end of October?” Richard looked to William for confirmation, his eyebrows raised.

The decision couldn’t be put off any longer. William closed his eyes, wishing he could wake up and find that it was mid-March, so that he could relive the past months and correct his mistakes. I’d see the doctor before things got so bad. And I wouldn’t screw things up with Elizabeth. At times he missed her so much that it became a physical ache in his body. Now, facing this unpleasant decision, was one of those times. As if my heart wasn’t in bad enough shape already.

Richard and Sonya were waiting for instructions. “Yes,” William said quietly. “Cancel them, conveying my deepest apologies for the inconvenience. And offer to reschedule for a future season, at whatever reduction in the fee you think is appropriate.”

He stood up, overwhelmed by fatigue. “I’ll be in my sitting room if you need me. I’m going to rest for a while.”

 

Richard paused outside the door to William’s sitting room, and shook his head at the music playing inside. They were right. He’s wallowing in sad Sinatra ballads. Juggling the bottle and glasses in his hands, he thumped on the door.

After a lengthy pause, the music stopped and the door opened. Richard saw his cousin almost every day, but he studied him now with fresh eyes. More than two weeks had passed since William had agreed to the three-month performing hiatus, and the time had taken a severe toll. He looked gaunt and pale, his shoulders were slumped, and his eyes were empty. It’s a good thing the women finally nagged me into doing this. He’s drowning right in front of us.

“Hey, there, Will,” he said with false cheer. “Mrs. R. said you were up here.”

“What do you want?”

Richard inclined his head toward the bottle of scotch in his hand. “I thought maybe you could use some company and a little liquid refreshment.”

William stepped aside, his face expressionless, and allowed Richard to enter. The room was dimly lit by a single lamp; the only other illumination came from the faint glow of a streetlight filtering in through the windows.

Richard set the bottle and glasses on a nearby table, pushing a stack of books out of the way to make room, and poured a glass for each of them.

“Did you clear this with Mrs. Reynolds?” William asked, holding the glass up to the dim light and inspecting the amber liquid. “I’m sure there’s some reason why I’m not supposed to drink it.” His voice was heavy with sarcasm.

“We won’t tell her. This is Dr. Richard’s patented prescription for what ails you.” Richard sat down opposite William.

William tasted the whisky. “Not bad.”

“Not bad? That’s the best you can do? This is a rare vintage of Macallan, aged for 50 years, bottled in 1987, and I won’t even tell you what I paid for it.” Richard raised his glass reverently to his lips.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to be unappreciative.”

“Hey, you know, just because you’re a fan of sissy-boy Kool-Aid like Chardonnay and Merlot doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a real man’s drink once in a while.”

William snorted but didn’t make any other comment. The cousins drank the scotch, both staring into the empty fireplace, the silence around them growing oppressive.

“So, how’s it going?” Richard asked.

William shrugged. “Pretty much the same as when you asked me this morning.”

“I mean in a larger sense. All this hanging around the house can’t be easy for you. How are you holding up?”

“I’m fine.”

Richard sighed. “Damn it, Will, you’re not fine, and everybody knows it. Do you think we’re blind?”

“What I think is that everyone should mind their own business. Or am I causing some sort of inconvenience by being underfoot all the time?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it.”

“Is there some problem with the way I’m spending my time? I’m doing my best to be at least marginally useful.”

“You’re doing better than that.” Richard was impressed with the projects William had undertaken to fill the time during his forced sabbatical. He was to teach a master class at Juilliard next week, he was developing a scholarship program for young composers through the Darcy Arts Trust, and he played the piano for hours each day, expanding his already broad repertoire into new areas. Yet he did it all mechanically, listlessly.

“Then what’s the problem?” William snapped. “Did Mrs. Reynolds send you up here because I didn’t finish my vegetables at dinner? Is Gran upset because I was too tired to attend the Trumbulls’ dinner party last night? Or is Georgie still in a panic because I was ten minutes later than usual getting back from my walk this morning?”

“Okay, I admit, they asked me to come up here and talk to you. But they were right. You haven’t been yourself lately.”

“I haven’t been myself,” William repeated, his voice bitter. “And of course none of you can think of any possible explanation.”

“Of course we can. And we want to help.”

“And so, what, you’ve come to tell me to buck up and be a brave little toaster? I’m doing my best, Richard. I wonder how well you’d do if you had your life taken away from you.”

Richard had never seen William like this, not even after his mother’s death. He grasped for the right words, but came up empty.

William hunched over, dangling his glass from one hand, and stared at the floor. “For openers, I’m useless. What good is a concert pianist who can’t play concerts?”

“That’s temporary. Once you get better, you can go back to the way things were before.”

“You mean if I get better.” William took a large gulp of scotch.

“Whoa, there, drink that stuff slowly. Show some respect for its age.”

“You’re absolutely right. Didn’t you say it was aged for 50 years? That’s longer than I’ll probably live.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I could drop dead tomorrow of a heart attack.”

Richard didn’t like where the discussion was headed. “That’s awfully pessimistic. Besides, any of us could die tomorrow.”

“But for most people it’s an abstract idea, like getting struck by lightning or hit by a bus. For me, it’s a legitimate possibility. It’s like having a bomb ticking in my chest.”

“I thought you were doing better, that your blood pressure was finally going down.”

William shrugged. “The men in our family don’t live to a ripe old age. My father, our grandfather and great-grandfather, one of our great-uncles … all dead of heart attacks in their 40’s, some even earlier.”

“If you’re trying to convince me to update my will, you’re doing a good job. But let’s try to be optimistic. Uncle Edmund and Grandfather never knew they had bad hearts. At least you’ve had a warning and you’re getting medical care. That’s sure to make a difference.”

“Maybe.”

“And in the meantime, yeah, you’ve had an interruption in your career. That would be hard for anyone. But you’re still doing plenty of things you can be proud of. You just can’t travel for a little while.”

“Precisely. I’m a prisoner in my own house.” William set his empty glass on the table and began to pick invisible lint from his shirtsleeve.

Richard could sympathize on this point. “The warden and the guards are ever vigilant, aren’t they?”

William’s head fell back against his chair and he stared at the ceiling. “What I eat and drink, where I go, what I do … nothing is too trivial to be noted, and usually commented on.”

“I’m sorry, Will. If I had a place of my own, I’d invite you to stay with me for a while, but I don’t think things would be much better at our place, with Mom there.”

Richard refilled their glasses, and again they fell silent. This time William broke the silence.

“Look, I know I’m not easy to be around these days. Or maybe I should say I’m even more difficult than usual. But in the past two months I’ve lost almost everything that mattered to me.”

“Oh, crap, you’re going to force me to get maudlin here.” Richard emitted a theatrical sigh, smirking, but then his smile softened. “You know there are a lot of people who really care about you, right? Starting with me?”

“Yes. And I know I’m lucky that you haven’t all given up on me by now.”

“Of course we haven’t given up on you, old man. And we never will. Every woman in this house thinks you hung the moon. That’s why they’re smothering you with attention. They’re helping the best way they know how.”

“I know,” William sighed.

“And as for me—damn, I wasn’t kidding when I said things were getting maudlin. When Mom and Dad and I first moved to New York, you were kind of a pest, like an annoying little brother. But I’ve gotten used to having you around. You know that, right?”

William smiled faintly and nodded. “You’re a good friend to me, Richard. You always have been.”

“Okay, then, enough sentimental drivel. What else have you lost, besides a few months of audience accolades, and a bunch of time spent in airports?”

William looked away with a sigh. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Yeah, it does.”

“Drop it, Richard.”

“I heard what you were listening to when I knocked at your door. Sinatra singing weepy ballads? What’s that about?”

“I’m just listening to some of Mamma’s favorite albums1. Don’t read anything into it.”

Richard’s confidence in the suspicion he and Sonya had discussed was strengthened by William’s defensive attitude. “How is Elizabeth Bennet doing? Is she enjoying being back in the Bay Area?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t talked to her since she left town.”

“I thought you two had gotten close while she was here.”

“We’re not in touch any more.” William’s tone made it clear that further probes would be fruitless.

“Okay, I get the hint. Changing the subject. What I can do to help you?”

“Could you explore getting me some local performances, maybe starting in September? Just some low-key events, no stress. I’m going stir-crazy in this house.”

“I’ll be happy to look into it, but you know, there’s another option.”

“What?”

“Why don’t we go to Pemberley for a while? With you temporarily out of commission, I don’t have much to do either. And remember, I set a personal goal to get you laid down there.”

“I can’t.”

“Can’t what?

“Have sex. Doctor’s orders.

“No wonder you’re so depressed.”

William set down his glass, a reluctant grin on his face. “You’d never be able to handle that particular restriction, would you?”

“Not a chance. They’d find me in the morning, cold and dead, but I’d be the happiest-looking corpse they’d ever seen.”

William chuckled. “I can see the headlines now. ‘Infamous New York Playboy Killed in Action, Two Blondes Claim Responsibility.’”

Richard laughed heartily. It was good to see William relaxing. “So how long is your sadistic doctor going to try to enforce such draconian measures?”

William shrugged, and Richard saw his expression grow more somber. “I was supposed to abstain at least till my blood pressure stabilized, and that’s finally starting to happen. I just haven’t bothered to ask about it. Doesn’t really matter. There isn’t exactly a line forming outside my bedroom door.”

“Well, if you’re in the mood and the doc says you’re good to go, you know I can find—”

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Yeah, I knew you were going to say that. Anyway, about Pemberley. Let’s go down there for a few weeks. And if the doc insists on keeping you in a chastity belt, I’ll make the supreme sacrifice and score often enough for both of us.”

William began to chuckle, but then Richard watched the animation drain from his face. “I forgot. I’m not allowed to go to Pemberley. The doctor wants me—how did she put it—‘near a major medical center’ for now.”

Richard grimaced. “Damn. I forgot about that. Didn’t mean to bring up an unpleasant subject.” He thought for a moment, and was seized by inspiration. “Then why don’t you go somewhere else? I think you need to get away from here for a while.”

“I wish I could, but Dr. Rosemont says I need continuous monitoring.”

“Yeah, but the doc doesn’t have to do it herself, does she? Couldn’t she refer you to someone? I’m not talking about going away for a weekend, or even a week. I mean a longer trip. Maybe a month or so.”

“I don’t know. I never thought about it.”

“What about going to LA? You could hang out with your pal Chuckles.”

William’s eyes held a gleam of interest that hadn’t been there for weeks. “I’d like to see Charles. He’s been trying to get out here for another visit but his father’s been keeping him too busy.”

“Plus, California is just the place for some major R&R. Get yourself a cool convertible and cruise the freeways. Rent a house at the beach and spend your days working on your tan and ogling women in tiny bikinis … or better yet, coax them out of their bikinis, once the doc gives you the all-clear.”

William nodded. He was sitting up straighter in his chair now, his shoulders no longer slumped. “This is a good idea. I’ll talk to Dr. Rosemont tomorrow, and if she says yes, I’ll give Charles a call.”

“Of course, you should be prepared for opposition.”

“From?”

“Every female who lives in this house. They’re going to hate the idea.”

“I don’t care. I’m going to lose my mind if I have to stay here till the end of October.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, I’ll tell them it was my idea. Maybe then they’ll turn their wrath on me instead of you. But that can wait till tomorrow.” Richard stood up. “Gotta go; late date. I bet she could dig up a friend who’d love to help you rebel against the abstinence restriction. Shall I call her and see?”

William shook his head. “Thanks, but I’ve got a busy day tomorrow, so I’m going to make it an early night. Have fun.”

“Oh, I will, don’t worry. Want to go out to dinner tomorrow evening? You could eat what you want without the Food Police looking over your shoulder.”

“I wish,” William sighed. “Don’t you remember? Command performance here at the house.”

Richard groaned. “Oh, God, the dinner for Catherine de Bourgh. I’d forgotten. Thanks for ruining my good mood.”

“You’re not going to try to get out of it, are you?”

“I wouldn’t dare,” Richard replied with a rueful grin. “Once Gran finds out that I’m conspiring to send you out of town, I’ll be in more than enough trouble. Okay, then, old man. See you tomorrow night.”

William rose from his chair. “Thanks for stopping by. And don’t forget your scotch.” He reached for the bottle.

Richard shook his head, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture. “I’ll leave it here. I have a feeling we’ll be in the mood to finish it tomorrow night, after the Dinner Party From Hell.”

 

William stood at his sitting room window, watching Richard emerge from the house. California. Some time on my own. Visiting with Charles. He just needed to convince Dr. Rosemont to refer him to a doctor out there, and then he and Sonya could start making the arrangements.

It was not lost on William that Los Angeles was only a short plane trip from San Francisco. The unfortunate irony was that, had Charles reconciled with Jane, their connection would have offered him a way to re-establish contact with Elizabeth. Perhaps if I could find some reason to go up there, just to visit …. No, I shouldn’t get my hopes up. But maybe she’d at least let me apologize.

He went into his bathroom and prepared for bed. As he re-entered his bedroom, his gaze fell on the orchid sitting on his night table. Lizzy’s orchid. That wasn’t really true—it had been a gift from Caroline—but it was inextricably linked to Elizabeth in his mind. For this reason, it occupied a place of honor in his bedroom: it was the last thing he saw each night, and the first each morning. He got into bed, his eyes on the fragile blooms. Good night, Lizzy. I love you.

He turned off the light and, for the first time in many weeks, drifted quietly to sleep.

------
1 “Only the Lonely” (S. Cahn/J. Van Heusen). Sung by Frank Sinatra on Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely. Capitol Records, 1998. (Originally recorded 1958). Listen to a sample on iTunes.