Because of the challenge involved in trying to keep the time zones straight, I’ve labeled each scene with the day and approximate time in both Sydney and San Francisco. As we join William, his sixth day in Sydney has just begun. He arrived last Thursday morning after spending all night on the plane from LA and crossing the International Date Line. When this chapter starts, Thanksgiving Day is still ten days in the future.

 

Tuesday, just after sunrise (Sydney) / Monday, around noon (San Francisco)

Park Hyatt and Sydney Harbour early in the morningWilliam leaned against the railing of his balcony, the slanting rays of the early morning sun caressing his face like warm, invisible fingers. Sunlight skipped across the harbor, gilding tiny ripples and eddies in the otherwise placid waters that sloshed against the rocks below.

View of Sydney Opera HouseHis suite had two balconies, but this one offered the best view: of the Opera House presiding over Sydney’s waterfront like a great white ship, its sails flying before the wind. For a moment he imagined himself as Balboa or Ponce de Leon, or even Admiral Lord Nelson, standing on the bridge of a frigate just after sunrise, soaking in the fragile beauty of a newly minted day. Like them, his eyes scanned an unfamiliar landscape thousands of miles from home. But unlike the admiral or the Spanish conquistadors, William navigated his deep waters in solitude.

Sailing shipHe sipped his coffee, delivered a short time ago along with the rest of his simple breakfast. Stubble rasped against his thumb as he absently rubbed his jaw, performing the mental arithmetic. Tuesday, seven in the morning. That means it’s noon on Monday in San Francisco. He shoved a hand through his unruly hair, his heart thudding. The letter should have arrived by now. “Guaranteed delivery by ten thirty Monday morning”: that’s what the concierge had told him when he approached the desk, envelope in hand, to inquire about international Federal Express service.

He regretted now that he had spent so much time revising the letter, as though it were an English essay instead of a desperate attempt to reach out to the woman he loved. The sooner she received it, the sooner she might begin to forgive him. Perhaps the next time he spoke to Sonya she’d greet him with the news that Elizabeth had called.

And right after that, the Opera House will hop down from its foundation and sail away.

William had come to regret his promise not to call Elizabeth. He had given his word and would keep it, though he knew that his letter tested the limits of his promise. Frustration at his helpless state gnawed at him continually, plaguing him with sleepless nights, easily jangled nerves, and a finicky appetite that resisted every temptation.

With the first weekend of concerts behind him, he had too much free time—time to think, to analyze, to worry. His hosts at the Sydney Symphony had been gracious, offering to show him the city and the surrounding area. But he had refused them politely, preferring his own company, even in his current depleted state, to that of strangers.

ChurchPhysical exertion was one of the few calming influences available to him, and he pursued it with obsessive dedication. Each morning he began with an extended run by the harbor, after which he spent an hour or more in the hotel’s exercise room. Following this unvarying regimen he showered and changed and then left the hotel again, this time to walk. And walk. Sydney was a pleasure to explore on foot, sparkling with vitality and carefree warmth. He was particularly intrigued by The Rocks, the historic district surrounding his hotel, and had spent hours wandering its streets, absorbing echoes of the city’s past.

After two days of solitary rambling, a phantom Elizabeth had materialized at his side, her hand clasped with his. At first he had resisted the temptation to indulge in the fantasy, fearing it would only make the reality of her absence more painful, but soon he surrendered to the comfort granted by her imagined presence.

Yet she always vanished at nightfall, when he needed her most. As hard as he tried to summon her wraithlike presence as he lay in the darkness, he remained alone, longing for her as he replayed their few nights together in an endless loop. And so it was that in the interminable hours before dawn he often wandered into the moonlit living room, seeking comfort at the piano. His music cried out deep into the night as he sought comfort, but each morning his invisible burden settled, solid and stifling, onto his shoulders once again.

At least the concerts had gone well so far. Better than “well,” in fact, with four consecutive nights of standing-room crowds, lengthy ovations, multiple encores, and, according to the breathless, pink-cheeked assistant to the music director, glowing reviews in the newspaper.

Ferry in Sydney harbourA ferry bearing early-morning commuters glided across the harbor, its reflection shimmering in the water as it passed its twin headed in the opposite direction. He glanced up and saw a pair of pelicans swoop gracefully out of the sky in search of breakfast. The birds, even the boats, are in pairs. Everybody but me.

He pushed himself away from the railing. It was time to decide how to spend his last free day in Sydney. Tomorrow he would be in rehearsals with the symphony, and tomorrow evening his second program of concerts would begin. And then he would fly home to New York for Thanksgiving.

Elizabeth wouldn’t be going to New York with him now. Even should a miracle reunite them before the holiday, the townhouse was not the place to rebuild a fragile relationship, not with the entire Darcy clan observing from the sidelines.

Left with no better option, he had called his grandmother from Los Angeles to explain that Elizabeth had been forced to cancel her visit. Rose had seemed to accept the vague excuse he offered—an unspecified family problem—but others had voiced skepticism.

“Lost your nerve?” Richard had asked in a jovial tone. “Afraid to bring the poor girl into the arena to be snacked on by the lions?”

“Of course not.”

“I just hope you’re not cooking up a scheme to sneak off someplace with Elizabeth for a shag-a-thon while I’m left here to deal with Gran’s wrath.”

William had indeed contemplated sneaking off, though unfortunately he’d be doing it alone. He dreaded the prospect of spending the holiday in New York, imagining every day what should have been. Yet he couldn’t desert his family on Thanksgiving unless he wanted to incur the wrath of the remaining women in his life.

Seeking a compromise, he had called Rose yesterday to suggest a family trip to Barbados for the holiday. The Darcys often spent Easter there, but hadn’t done so this year; why not Thanksgiving instead? “And besides,” he had continued, displaying uncharacteristic guile, “Georgie says your arthritis is bothering you. Warm weather and sunshine might help.”

But she had refused to even consider the possibility. “I’ve already invited guests for Thanksgiving dinner,” she had answered tartly. “We can’t just pick up and leave town on a few day’s notice, not with so many people involved.”

He had one idea left. Sonya had changed his travel plans once more to include a lengthy morning layover in San Francisco on his way home. Perhaps Elizabeth would agree to speak to him when he appeared at her door. In that case his flight home might depart without him … and perhaps he’d miss Thanksgiving in New York after all.

pond in Royal Botanical GardenHis untouched breakfast awaited him in the living room. He forced himself to take a sip of orange juice and a bite of the bagel before proceeding to his bedroom to dress for his morning run.

jacaranda treeToday he would head in the direction of the Royal Botanical Gardens, his favorite stretch of the waterfront. While he ran amid the jacaranda trees with their profusion of lavender blooms, Elizabeth might be reading his letter. A half-smile curved his lips as he strode to the bedroom, already slipping his robe off his shoulders.

 

Tuesday afternoon (Sydney) / Monday evening (San Francisco)

coastal scenery on the walk to ManlyLate that afternoon, William lounged on the sand at Manly Beach, leaning back on his elbows and surveying the horizon. He yawned for at least the third time in as many minutes. Immediately on the heels of his morning exercise routine he had embarked on the scenic walk from Spit Bridge to Manly, covering a distance of about ten kilometers of varied topography and memorable scenic vistas.

coastal scenery on the walk to ManlyHe had arrived in Manly, a northern suburb of Sydney, hot and weary, but with a sense of accomplishment after the three-hour hike over hilly terrain. Gulping water from the large bottle in his backpack, he had proceeded along the walkway to the beach and found a quiet patch of sand on which to spread his towel. Since then he had drifted in a state of inanimate contentment, lulled by the muffled roar of the waves pounding the beach.

Manly BeachTwo deeply tanned young women strolled by, offering an entirely different sort of scenic vista. His eyes widened involuntarily as they settled down nearby to bake in the sun. He wasn’t one to openly ogle women, but unaccustomed as he was to topless sunbathing, he couldn’t entirely suppress his reaction to the feminine flesh on display.

One of the women, her dark, curly hair heartbreakingly evocative of Elizabeth, sat up and rummaged through her bag. Her head swiveled in his direction and she inspected him with obvious interest, her frank stare sliding over his face and bare chest and then lower. William saw the invitation in her smile but he turned away flustered, staring out at the ocean. The last thing he needed was to pick up a woman at the beach. Correction; that’s exactly what I need. Some physical exertion of another kind. But it wasn’t a stranger’s embrace for which he ached every night.

He flopped back on the towel, arms folded behind his head. As always, the sound of the ocean soothed him, awakening visions of quiet childhood days amid the primitive beauty of the beach at Pemberley. He closed his eyes and inhaled the briny tang of the sea air, carrying with it a faint whiff of cocoa butter. A puff of wind gusted across his damp, overheated skin and he stretched, luxuriating in the blend of warm sun and cool breeze.

Manly Beach“You look comfortable.”

He opened one eye. Elizabeth lay beside him, clad in nothing but a bikini bottom, her skin gleaming in the hot sun. His other eye popped open to devour the view, which instantly rendered every other woman on the beach invisible.

He smiled faintly in answer to her remark and rolled onto his side, dragging his eyes up to her face with some difficulty. “Did you get my letter?”

She nodded, pursing her lips. “As love letters go, it wasn’t very romantic.”

“It wasn’t?”

“You can’t seriously believe that pages and pages of rationalization would win my heart.”

“But at the end I said—Ugh!”

William’s eyes flew open—for real, this time—and he rubbed his chest, wondering what had hit him. Then he saw the red cricket ball rolling away from him and the boy rushing to retrieve it.

“Sorry, mate,” the boy called out, nearly pitching head-first into the sand as he skidded to a halt and snatched the ball. “Joey hit it over my head.” Without waiting for a response he galloped away.

William struggled into a sitting position and inspected himself. There was no harm done, just a circular red mark that was already fading, but given the rate at which his heart was pounding his nap was obviously over. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and although he wasn’t hungry he decided to seek out a light meal at one of the cafés near the wharf.

He reached for his shirt, grimacing at the clammy feel of the sweat-soaked cotton. After a moment’s contemplation he folded it and stashed it in his backpack. He’d buy a tee shirt from one of the souvenir shops. It would be fun to own a garment emblazoned with the word “Manly,” if only to see Richard’s reaction.

As he toweled the sand off his feet and laced his shoes, his brief fantasy or dream—he wasn’t sure which it had been—returned to him. He licked his lips, remembering Elizabeth’s deliciously minimal clothing. Then he recalled her criticism of his letter. A tidal wave of cold dread broke over him. She’s right. What was I thinking?

What had started as a heartfelt declaration of love had ended, after several drafts, as a clinical defense of his behavior, though he hadn’t realized it at the time. He’d been too proud to prostrate himself at her feet begging for a loving embrace at any cost. He had already considered the possibility that the letter wouldn’t soften her feelings, but now he wondered if it might make things worse.pelicans

He rested his head in his hands for a moment, rubbing his forehead, and then rose slowly to his feet. In his newly agitated state, the thought of food evoked a shudder of repulsion. Sighing, he collected his towel and backpack and trudged off in the direction of Manly Wharf, where the ferries bound for downtown Sydney departed.

He was nearly to the wharf when he saw two pelicans standing together on the walkway. Although the large birds were a common sight along the Australian coast, he wondered if it might be the same pair he had seen that morning soaring above his balcony. “Thanks for the reminder,” he grumbled. “Not that I needed one.”

 

Monday night (San Francisco) / Tuesday evening (Sydney)

Elizabeth opened the door to the condo a few minutes before midnight to find the living room empty, a single lamp glowing in the corner. Jane was no doubt already in bed. She had chosen to stay home that evening, citing fatigue from the weekend. Elizabeth had made the trip across the Bay Bridge after her last class of the day, meeting Charlotte in Berkeley for dinner and a movie. Having had the chance to say her piece on Friday, Charlotte seemed satisfied to drop the subject of William, and their evening had been a pleasant one.

Bay Bridge at sunsetYawning, Elizabeth tiptoed down the hall to her bedroom. She was determined to get a good night’s sleep after more than a week of restless nights. Her teaching hadn’t suffered; she always managed to find energy when working with students. But between classes her productivity had plummeted. This afternoon she had resorted to locking her office door and napping in her desk chair for an hour.

As soon as she switched on the bedroom light she saw the large envelope on the dresser. Emblazoned with the bold FedEx logo, it seemed to vibrate with urgency. She reached for it, inspecting the label until she saw the name of the sender. Then her breath caught in her throat and she ripped open the cardboard, extracting a thick cream-colored envelope bearing her name in William’s handwriting.

With trembling hands, she opened the envelope and removed several sheets of paper filled front and back with his meticulous handwriting. She bit her lip and snatched a shaky breath when she saw the two words at the top of the first page: “Dearest Elizabeth.” Her heart thumping, she sank onto the bed and began to read:

Dearest Elizabeth,

You needn’t worry that this is the first of a constant stream of letters and calls from me. I don’t think silence is the best way to resolve our differences, but I still intend to give you the time and space you requested. While you didn’t specifically forbid me to write you, and while I feel justified in doing so this once, I realize that to do so repeatedly would break the promise I made before I left San Francisco.

I know that you probably consider it hopelessly old-fashioned that I wrote this instead of emailing you; however, you know how I feel about email, and in any case, I believe that something this personal needs to be written by hand.

I have something to ask of you in return: that you read this letter and seriously consider what I’m going to say. I didn’t explain myself well when we argued, and I need to try again. No matter how inexcusable you consider my actions, I deserve the chance to offer a more cogent defense.

Her lips compressed in a grim line. Apparently he still believed that their central problem was not his behavior, but her failure to understand his motives. It was a perfect demonstration of the arrogance that had caused their problems in the first place.

First, let me explain the situation surrounding my donation to finance your job. At Jane and Charles’s rehearsal dinner I learned that you had an upcoming interview with Catherine de Bourgh. I saw an opportunity to use my family’s association with Catherine to assist you. And since I’m determined to be honest, I’ll admit that I hoped to win your favor in the process. Although we had just met, you had already cast a spell over me.

I had brunch with Catherine and Anne before flying home, but unfortunately my attempt to help you backfired. To my surprise, Catherine was indignant at what she called my interference in her business. Like most influential people, she operates within a network of personal contacts and mutual favors, and I had expected her to view my recommendation in that light. I suspect that I displayed too much interest in you to suit Catherine, who persists in considering me Anne’s property.

Thus, it was probably my fault that she disliked you from the start; she was jealous on her daughter’s behalf. I confessed that much to you during our picnic in Golden Gate Park in August, but I’m ashamed to say that I lacked the courage to tell you the rest.

My involvement resumed after the benefit recital for Juilliard. That evening, you mentioned that you hadn’t heard from the conservatory since your interview, and you spoke of your concern for Jane and your wish to be with her. The next day I called Catherine and learned that she did not intend to offer you a job. Hearing this news, I made the offer that has caused so much trouble. I made it clear that you hadn’t asked for my assistance, and in fact knew nothing about the arrangement, but it’s possible she didn’t believe me. She was as skeptical of my motives as you are now, but despite her misgivings she finally agreed to the proposal.

Please understand that it was difficult for me to make that call. Although you didn’t believe me when I told you so, I was already in love with you by then. Had I thought only of myself I would have done everything in my power to keep you in New York. But I saw a chance to use my resources to make you happy, and I wanted your happiness above all else regardless of the consequences for me.

I had expected us to have a month or more together before your departure for San Francisco, and hoped in that time to build a basis for a continued relationship across the miles. The news of your early departure was devastating to my plans, and I could barely restrain myself from begging you to refuse the job and stay with me in New York.

She hadn’t considered his personal sacrifice in sending her to California, and she felt a few bricks crumble in the fortress around her heart. But her remaining defenses, weakened but defiant, struck back. Okay, so he meant well. You already believed that. But that doesn’t excuse the way he lied, or at least hid the truth.

As though hearing her thoughts, his letter continued:

Although you may not believe me, I always intended to tell you what I’d done. But once we were reunited in San Francisco I was a daily witness to the depth of your independent spirit, and I knew you’d be angry with me for taking matters into my own hands.

The longer I delayed making my admission, the more I feared your reaction. You had become so dear to me that the possibility of losing you was something I couldn’t bear to contemplate, so I took the coward’s way out and remained silent. Still, I promised myself that once I was certain you loved me, I would confess everything and hope that your feelings for me would help you to understand and forgive me.

But on the night when you told me you loved me, you also told me about Michael. You needed comfort and reassurance, so I couldn’t inflict another blow that night by telling you my secret. The night before I left for New York I nearly told you the truth, but I didn’t want to risk spoiling the happiest night of my life with an angry scene.

It was difficult to take offense at any of this. Later she might find the flaw in his argument, but now she could think of nothing but his gentle solicitude the night he had learned about Michael. And she was forced to admit that, in his position, nothing could have compelled her to risk spoiling the near perfect romance and passion of her private birthday dinner with a confession, even one so drastically overdue. But he shouldn’t have waited that long. He had dozens of chances to tell me before then.

You remarked during our argument that now you understood my desire to keep Catherine from learning about our relationship. In early August when she offered me the position as artist in residence, I gave her my word that you and I were not in a relationship. It was true at the time; we had been estranged for nearly two months. But had she learned of our later involvement, I was afraid she would assume that I had lied before, and that she might retaliate by telling you about the funding for your job.

I never considered that my actions might have harmful consequences for your career. I have spoken to Catherine, assuring her again that you had no knowledge of my offer, and that the responsibility was entirely mine. Please tell me if I can do anything else to rectify the situation. No matter what it is, you have only to ask.

Elizabeth could easily believe that he hadn’t stopped to consider the risks of his actions, or the ease with which gossip would spread through the close-knit academic community. William genuinely loved to give her gifts and did so with an impetuous, almost childlike air. His generosity was all the more touching because it contrasted with his conservative, measured behavior in most other areas.

I deeply regret that I’ve hurt you through my actions. You’re an exceptional teacher and you deserve nothing but praise and respect. Despite my guilt at concealing the truth, I’ve taken pride in watching you thrive at the conservatory, your skill and dedication valued by students and colleagues alike. I can’t defend what I did, nor can I defend hiding it from you, but please believe that my actions were motivated solely by my love for you.

The words on the page blurred, and she had to dab her eyes with a Kleenex before she could continue.

Now I move to an equally painful subject: Jane and Charles. My concerns about Charles’s planned marriage date back to the phone call in which he asked me to be his best man. Charles falls in love easily and often unwisely, and although his happy-go-lucky personality is part of his charm, his naiveté can be hazardous to his well-being. He trusts others too much and too soon, and trusts his own judgment too little, making him easy prey for manipulators.

Given this background, I hope you can understand why I arrived in San Francisco that weekend with misgivings about Charles’s whirlwind courtship and sudden wedding plans. To make matters worse, I soon learned about his deception involving the pre-nuptial agreement. Despite my efforts to reason with him, Charles refused to acknowledge that he was jeopardizing not only his private resources but also his father’s company through this subterfuge. His stubborn refusal to raise the subject with Jane was especially worrisome because, as an attorney, she would have understood the need for the document. I concluded that Charles must have believed that Jane would refuse to marry him were a pre-nup involved.

After the rehearsal dinner, I overheard your mother speaking to your aunt about Jane’s success in landing a wealthy husband. She congratulated herself for raising her daughter to recognize that money mattered more than love, and looked forward to the day when Jane’s windfall would be shared by the rest of the family. She even cast an eye my way with you—or, heaven help me, Lydia—in mind. You can imagine how disgusted I was with her attitude, and how it magnified my concerns.

I hesitate to mention one additional source of unease, given the way it aroused your wrath recently, but I can’t deny that other aspects of your family’s behavior also put me on guard. I won’t dwell on a point that I should never have raised in our argument, except to say that my concerns in no way extended to you, or even Jane, whose manners were flawless even if her motives for marriage were suspect.

Elizabeth tried to rouse righteous anger at this criticism of her family, but without much success. She had been disgusted with Lydia’s behavior at the rehearsal dinner and at Charlotte’s birthday party; she could hardly expect a more tolerant reaction from William. And as for her mother … Elizabeth sighed. She could imagine in humiliating, vivid detail the conversation William had overheard. Heaven knows she had heard more than her fill of the same.

You are of course familiar with the events that evening leading to the cancellation of the wedding. After you and Jane left the hotel, Charles had but one goal in mind: inebriation, as quickly as possible. I decided that I could at least see that he did so in the safety of a confined space. We returned to my suite, and I ordered a bottle of scotch from room service. I asked about his conversation with Jane, but he wanted to drink, not talk. What little he told me only added to my misgivings. First he reported some harsh words of Jane’s. I was already perplexed by her behavior that evening. I expected to see more emotion from a woman who had just broken her engagement, but she had seemed almost calm when you and she left the hotel. Combined with what he told me I began to wonder how much genuine affection she felt for him.

She bristled at his arrogance. How dare he presume to judge Jane—kind, gentle Jane—based on an acquaintance of only a few hours? But underneath she felt a twinge, recalling her pride at Jane’s calm self-possession that night. Perhaps to a stranger it might have resembled indifference. But that’s the point. He passed judgment on someone he didn’t know. Unless you’re a mind reader, that’s a presumptuous, and dangerous, thing to do.

Then I asked him about the pre-nup. He told me that she had refused to sign it, but he wouldn’t elaborate. This damning piece of evidence seemed to confirm my earlier fears, and I became convinced that the cancellation of the wedding was a blessing in disguise.

The following morning, after I spent time with you at Crissy Field, Charles appeared at my door with Caroline. He had approached his father seeking a compromise but had been rebuffed. Caroline seemed to be egging him on to defy his father and reconcile with Jane. I soon saw that if their father disinherited Charles, it would increase her share of the fortune and clear a path for her to succeed her father as CEO. Clearly she was pursuing her own agenda with no regard for her brother’s welfare, and it was essential that I present an opposing viewpoint as emphatically as possible.

I advised him not to turn his back on his family and sacrifice everything for Jane, about whose feelings I had doubts for the reasons I’ve outlined. I also told him he ought to make a sincere effort to work with his father before he rejected that possibility: until then, he had spent the bare minimum time on the job, never taking his responsibility to his father’s company seriously.

My advice might seem hypocritical since I failed to follow my own father’s path, but my personal experience only strengthened my conviction. I’ve told you very little about my relationship with my father, but it was he, and not I, who decreed that I would never take his place at the helm of his company. I’ve sometimes regretted the road not taken, the one he barricaded. In all honesty, he was right; music was in my blood then as it is now, and my personality isn’t suited to the boardroom. Still, I live every day with the knowledge that I was a disappointment to my father, and I didn’t want to see my friend suffer the same pain.

Charles was facing not just that, but estrangement from his entire family for the sake of a woman whose feelings appeared to be linked to his checkbook. I did what I thought best for him based on the available evidence, and under the same circumstances and in possession of the same information I would do it again.

“In other words,” Elizabeth muttered to herself, “you torpedoed my sister’s happiness.” She tossed the letter aside in disgust, but almost immediately picked it up again and went on reading.

In late August I came to San Francisco, and through my relationship with you I became better acquainted with Jane. The more I saw of her the less I understood her behavior the weekend of the wedding. Her commitment to her clients and to her pro bono work offered evidence of a generous spirit, and I found her to be consistently kind and thoughtful. Both Richard and Sonya challenged my initial opinion of Jane after meeting her, magnifying my doubts. But the morning I left San Francisco, when I dropped off your birthday gifts on the way to the airport, I overheard your mother advising Jane on a strategy for recapturing Charles and his money. Worst of all, Jane offered no rebuttal.

I saw Charles at the airport later that morning. He was wavering on the idea of attempting a reconciliation with Jane and he asked my advice. I told him what I had overheard, and also that I had seen no sign in Jane of deep feelings for him. She rarely asked me about him, she seemed consistently cheerful, and I knew she had been in at least one relationship since August in addition to her evenings with Richard. In short, her behavior was not that of a lovelorn woman.

Again, Elizabeth gritted her teeth at his arrogant presumption. Why did he persist in considering himself qualified to read Jane’s mind, even in the face of conflicting information? Because he thinks he’s always right, that’s why.

Above all, my mistrust of Jane persisted for one reason: she had refused to sign the pre-nup. Whenever my opinion of her began to waver, I would remind myself that this choice spoke volumes despite the contradictory evidence that continued to accumulate.

I know now that I was mistaken on that point, and that Jane’s refusal was linked to Mr. Bingley’s unreasonable demands, not to any objection to the pre-nup itself. Charles, in his uncommunicative mood that night, failed to explain Jane’s rationale; had I known the truth I might have acted differently. Unfortunately, his abbreviated explanation seemed to confirm everything I’d seen that evening, so I had no reason to doubt him. I see now that I was too quick to assume that I had the full story.

Given my apparent misjudgment of Jane’s feelings, your resentment is understandable. I acted in a way that contributed to your sister’s unhappiness, and I can only say how sorry I am.

His revelation of his misunderstanding about the pre-nup caught her off guard. No wonder Charles was so quick to accept responsibility. He misled William. Not on purpose, but still … For the first time, William’s occasional cryptic remarks about Jane made sense.

Before I left for Australia I went to Los Angeles to apologize to Charles in person. He was angry at first but we soon made peace, and I have reason to hope that he and Jane will find their way back together. Familiar as I am with the pain of separation from the woman I love, it’s a heavy burden to know that I helped to inflict similar pain on my closest friend.

There’s one more thing I must say before I end this letter. Whether you believe it or not, there are expectations, especially of the women, in families such as mine that can be stifling to someone accustomed to a different sort of life. You have often dismissed my concerns in this area as snobbery, but in fact they arise from painful experience.

I spent my childhood watching my mother attempt, with only limited success, to adapt to life as a Darcy after her bohemian existence in Rome. I saw my father all but walk away from us, repelled in part by my mother’s resentment when he forced her to end her singing career. I saw Gran thrust into the middle of their battles, trying in vain to balance conflicting interests but often having to choose sides, until circumstances compelled her to align herself against her only son. And I saw Georgie deprived of both her parents almost from the day she was born.

Long ago I resolved that my marriage would be a source of happiness and strength for both partners, not the prison it became for my parents. I believed, and still believe, that you and I could achieve this goal together. I knew you would have challenges to face and adjustments to make, which is why I suggested that my grandmother’s assistance might smooth your path. But never did I consider you undeserving of the Darcy name. You are the only woman to whom I’ve ever offered it, and I would never have done so if I had any misgivings.

The marriage proposal was the one thing Elizabeth hadn’t allowed herself to think about. She’d had no choice but to refuse him; accepting was unthinkable with so much unsettled between them. But of all the painful images from that weekend, the worst was the look of despair in his eyes as he had stared at the velvet ring box.

If you believe nothing else in this letter, believe that I love you. It is more painful than you can imagine to have lost your trust, a gift I valued more than anything I’ve ever received. I wanted only to make you happy and to protect you from harm, but instead I caused you pain. That is something I will always regret.

If you want to speak to me, and I’m praying that you will, Sonya can help you to reach me. I won’t contact you again until I return from Australia, but I can’t vouch for my ability to stay away past that point.

I love you, Lizzy, now and always,

William

A teardrop rolled slowly along the side of Elizabeth’s nose and plopped onto the paper. “What am I going to do with you, William Darcy?” she said softly, gazing down with watery eyes at his signature. He was often arrogant and occasionally patronizing, and those faults shone through in parts of the letter, but for the moment his final words swept those considerations aside. “I love you too,” she whispered.

 

Wednesday, just before lunch (San Francisco) / Thursday, early morning (Sydney)

Elizabeth sighed with relief when her Wednesday morning class ended. She had been uncharacteristically distracted, needing to correct herself several times and entirely losing her train of thought once, left standing in flustered silence until she gathered her thoughts. The students should ask for a refund.

Julie Andrews in The Sound of MusicThe letter was the culprit. In the day and a half since she’d received it she had thought of little else. She could recite long passages from memory by now, and had analyzed it from at least a dozen perspectives. She had arrived home last night with a pizza, a box of microwave popcorn, and a collection of rented DVDs, planning to mount a Rodgers and Hammerstein film festival for herself and Jane as a distraction. But by the time the camera swooped down from the sky to find Julie Andrews on the Austrian hilltop at the start of The Sound of Music, William and his letter had usurped her attention. This DVD, after all, had been one of his gifts to her.

She gave herself a mental shake and pulled out a pile of sheet music. The hour set aside for her Wednesday morning practice session was dwindling, and she had an unusual amount of new music requiring her attention.

After a brief interval of warm-up exercises she was ready to work. Her first few songs, for that evening’s Golden Gate Jazz rehearsal, needed only one or two run-throughs each to cement the work she’d already done. The group had several bookings in December, and they were introducing holiday music into their repertoire.

Her next task was to work on a song for what would probably be her final performance at the conservatory. The musical theater faculty had decided to produce a cabaret show to benefit the school’s scholarship fund. The theme, “The Best Broadway Songs You’ve Never Heard,” had sent her scouring the repertoire for unfamiliar selections for herself and her students. One of her choices was a poignant ballad cut from the musical, The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Yesterday afternoon, the orchestra’s student conductor had delivered a preliminary recording of the accompaniment to her song. She popped it into the CD player and took her place on the small stage. Her eyes drifted up to the doorway, which that would be forever haunted by William’s ghost. She began to sing.

Now when the rain falls it’s heavy and gray,
It tumbles and pitches through space.
I can remember when rain was soft
And you’d kiss the rain from my face.

Now when the wind blows I run from its touch,
With you wind was silk on my skin.
People in love walk inside the wind
Where nothing can hurt you, it holds you too close.
But now I’m outside looking in.

One day, all my world circled about you,
Now when I move on without you,
Nothing on earth is the same.

Do you remember the sweep of the rain?
The sound of it strumming the sky?
People in love walk inside that song.
But now when I listen, the melody’s changed.
The rain only whispers ‘goodbye.’

I don’t want to cry when I think of you.
But now when the rain falls, I do.1

Only her years of performing experience allowed her to finish the song, its lyrics far more meaningful now than when she had chosen it a month ago. By the end tears streamed from her eyes: tears for herself, for William, and for the chasm torn in the fabric of her life, an empty space she had come to understand that only he could fill.

A voice in her head chided her. Then why did you send him away?

I couldn’t help it. If he had stayed close, sooner or later I’d have looked into his eyes and melted, and then nothing would ever change.

Then stop whining. You told him to go, and he went. Deal with it.

The matter-of-fact voice of Diane, her counselor, pushed its way into the fray. And what might all this have to do with Michael?

“Shut up!”

Elizabeth didn’t realize at first that she had shouted these last words aloud, but as they echoed through the empty classroom she blushed. She wasn’t sure of the clinical definition of sanity—perhaps she’d ask Diane about it at their session later in the day—but she doubted it encompassed standing in an empty classroom, your face wet with tears, and refereeing a debate among your various inner voices. Obviously something needed to change, and soon, before they found her on the roof chatting with the sparrows.

She gathered her strength, collected her belongings, and trotted up the steps to the classroom door with renewed energy. Outside in the hallway she pulled the letter from her purse, its pages creased and dog-eared. “Dearest Elizabeth,” she read as she wandered down the hall to her office.

 

Wednesday evening (San Francisco) / Thursday late afternoon (Sydney)

Being honorable can be a real pain in the ass.

Roger Stonefield’s eyes drifted over Elizabeth as she sat on his sofa, her hands folded tightly in her lap. She looked small and fragile, her usual sparkle barely a flicker. It bothered him to see her this way, but it was even worse to do nothing about it but listen, nodding sagely at regular intervals.

She had asked to speak to him after rehearsal in order to seek “the male perspective.” Although he hadn’t admitted it, Roger had known the nature of her problem even before she explained. Charlotte had filled him in a few nights before over drinks at a Mission District bar.

“It’s such a waste,” Charlotte had said, concluding her story. “She’s miserable, and William must be even worse off.”

Roger nodded.

“And by the way,” Charlotte continued in a warning tone, “I’m telling you this strictly so you can keep an eye on her at rehearsals and maybe toss in a good word for William now and then, not for any other reason.”

“I know.” He wouldn’t ever take advantage of Elizabeth in a vulnerable moment. Damn it.

As if she had heard his expletive, Charlotte had smiled and patted his arm. “You’re an honorable man, Roger Stonefield, whether you like it or not.”

Could he have relived the night of the rehearsal dinner, Roger would have switched place cards with Bill Collins, earning himself a dinner with Elizabeth and perhaps changing the course of several lives. But instead he had spent most of the evening with Charlotte. By the time Elizabeth had returned to San Francisco, joined Golden Gate Jazz, and stolen his heart, it had been too late to act. It was inappropriate and dangerous to pursue the best friend of one’s current … girlfriend? Friend with benefits? It had always been hard to classify his relationship with Charlotte, whom he liked very much.

Instead he had cultivated a warm friendship with Elizabeth, struggling to redefine his feelings for her as brotherly. For her sake, Roger had even befriended William, whom he had come to like despite the envy that gnawed at him each time William draped a proprietary arm around Elizabeth’s shoulders or captured her hand in his.

Charlotte had soon guessed the truth. The crisis had come one night in bed when, to his great embarrassment, he had cried out Elizabeth’s name at an unfortunate moment. Charlotte had claimed not to care, emphasizing the no-strings nature of their relationship, but they had drifted apart soon afterwards and he was sure he had hurt her more than she would admit.

Afterwards, feelings of guilt had made him more subdued than usual, leading his friends to think he was pining for Charlotte. Worse yet, some had openly blamed her for callously disregarding his feelings when in fact she was the injured party. It had been an excruciating interval for them both, but she had kept his secret and eventually they had weathered the worst of it. He felt fortunate to still count her among his friends.

He had to forget Elizabeth and move on with his life. But that was difficult when at every rehearsal or performance of Golden Gate Jazz she captivated him yet again. Her flashing green eyes, her warm smile, and her sweet voice held him in thrall, and he couldn’t seem to break free. And now she and William were apart after a major misunderstanding, and she was lonely, in need of comfort, and vulnerable.

But an honorable man would never exploit that vulnerability.

“I know that William and I need to talk, and soon,” she was saying. “I’ve been too harsh with him. I had a bad experience a long time ago, and I let it spill over into the present. But I didn’t recognize the full extent of its impact on me until … well, this afternoon, actually.”

Roger leaned forward in his chair, his elbows resting on his knees. “Sounds like you have everything figured out.”

“Not quite. I may have overreacted, but he made a big mistake where my job was concerned. And there’s something else I haven’t mentioned, where he completely ignored my opinion despite the fact that I was in a better position to know the truth.”

“If you give him a chance I bet he’ll apologize for everything.”

“He already did, in his letter. But he’s so used to calling the shots without consulting other people that I’m not convinced it’ll ever be different. Besides, they say you shouldn’t get involved with a man with the idea of changing him.”

“That’s good advice.”

“So if that’s the way he is, and if I shouldn’t try to change him, am I just supposed to live with him swooping down periodically and taking over my life?”

“I’d never have pegged you for a girl who’d roll over and do what you were told.”

Elizabeth shot an exasperated glance at him. “Right. That’s my point.”

“Then I don’t see why you needed to kick him off the ranch. Just tell him to stop trying to run your life. You’ll have to say it a few times before it sinks in, but sooner or later he’ll get the message.”

“Why does he have to do it to begin with? Does he think I’m incompetent?”

Roger shook his head, wearing an expression midway between an affectionate smile and a smirk. “There’s a basic fact about men you’re missing. Sometimes we don’t think. There’s lots of instinct left over from primitive times, stuff we’re hard-wired to do. And when instinct takes control, the brain shuts down.”

“So what are you telling me? William acts this way because there’s an obstinate cave man at the root of his family tree?”

“Well, since you put it that way, yeah. He’s trying to show you he’s a take-charge guy.”

“But I didn’t ask him to take charge.”

“Doesn’t matter. He needs to do it ‘cause he’s decided you’re the one. He’s got to show you he can provide for you so you’ll let him father your children. The primal urge to procreate is pretty powerful stuff. And try saying that five times in a row.”

Elizabeth flashed a quick smile. “So you’re saying this is all about sex?”

“Isn’t everything?” Roger shrugged, grinning. “No, seriously, it isn’t all about sex. And it’s not a conscious thing. Like I said, this is primal stuff. If he were that cave man you mentioned, he’d go out in the forest and kill a wild boar with his bare hands and drag it home to impress you. But there’s a wild boar shortage in San Francisco—Manhattan too, from what I’ve heard—so he’s got to find some other way to convince you that he’s good breeding stock.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “That’s ridiculous. And I don’t just mean the wild boar analogy. If he got me the job to impress me, why did he conceal it, and even lie about it? Wouldn’t he have wanted me to know what he’d done?”

“Well, yeah, you’d think so,” Roger said, sitting back in his chair. “But after he was done proving his manhood he paused for a second to think about what he’d done, and only then did he see the huge mess trailing behind him. So he decided to bury the evidence and hope you wouldn’t notice. In cave man terms, he dragged that wild boar right into the living room. And then Cave Woman—that’s you, sweetie—saw this big hairy thing bleeding all over her nice clean floor, and she said, “Where the hell did that come from?” Cave Man, who still wants to procreate but he knows he probably just blew his chance, doesn’t have many options at that point. So he says, ‘I’ve never seen it before in my life.’”

“That’s just stupid.”

“We’re not too smart when it comes to stuff like this. I think ‘testosterone poisoning’ is the technical term.”

She giggled. “You’re just saying all this to make me laugh.”

“You’re partly right,” he said with a good-natured grin. “I don’t like seeing you unhappy.”

“Well, I’m not sure why, but your crazy rationalization has actually made me feel better.”

“Then my work here is done,” he quipped, rising to his feet. “I’m going to have a beer; can I get you something?”

“Thanks, but I should be going.”

She stood up, flipping her hair over her shoulder in an innocent gesture that almost sent him to his knees. He controlled his expression carefully as he walked her to the door. “What are you going to do?” he asked.

“Call his secretary first thing in the morning and ask for his number in Australia. I was thinking of waiting till he was back to the States, because this isn’t the sort of thing I want to discuss on the phone, but—”

“But you shouldn’t leave the poor guy hanging till then.”

“Exactly,” she said. “If our situations were reversed I’d be a wreck. Of course, come to think of it, that sums things up pretty well.”

She paused at the door and leaned up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “You’re a wonderful friend, Roger,” she said softly, her eyes shining. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

He nodded, indulging himself slightly by brushing a stray curl away from her cheek. “If he doesn’t make you the happiest woman in the universe, he’ll have me to answer to.”

“You’ll be the first to know.”

And then she was gone. Yes, being honorable was a pain in the ass sometimes.

Roger fetched a beer from the kitchen and collapsed on the sofa, oppressed by the silence in his apartment. He took a long, slow pull from the green bottle, and then raised it in a toast to himself. “Time to move on. And I mean it this time.”

It felt good—almost—to say it, and he decided to act on his decision at once. Carpe diem, and all that crap. He retrieved his cell phone from the kitchen counter and returned to the sofa.

“Hello, Anne? It’s Roger Stonefield …. Yes, I know, I’m sorry about that. I’ve been busy at work … You too? Then let’s have dinner tomorrow night, and we can compare notes on our workaholic lives … What about Indian food? I heard about a new place near the Civic Center that they say is excellent … Okay, great. How about seven o’clock?”

 

Friday, the wee small hours of the morning (Sydney) / Thursday early morning (San Francisco)

William kicked off the sheets and sat up in bed. He didn’t bother to check the clock. It was late, and beyond that the specifics didn’t matter. He stood up and padded into the living room, his feet well versed in the routine by now.

She still hadn’t called. It was late Thursday night, or early Friday morning, technically speaking, which meant it was around sunrise on Thursday in San Francisco. She’d had the letter since Monday, assuming it had arrived on time, but she hadn’t called, which meant that his desperate gambit had failed.

view of Opera House at nightHe stepped past the piano and slid open the balcony doors, revealing the breathtaking view of the Opera House at night. A few hours ago he had been the toast of the house, both during his performance onstage, and afterwards when he had accepted the conductor’s invitation to visit the Opera Bar.

Opera Bar at night

It had been an enjoyable interlude despite the crowds filling the outdoor patio. They had been joined by several of the musicians, who had sustained a congenial conversation requiring little more of William than that he speak approvingly of his glass of Australian cabernet at regular intervals.

Opera Bar at nightBut soon he had found himself parrying the advances of the principal cellist. The zeal of her pursuit increased along with the size of the pile of uneaten olives in front of her, each of which had arrived festooning a martini glass. Finally he excused himself, citing a nonexistent conference call in the early hours of the morning, and escaped before she could find an excuse to follow him.

Sometimes he wished he were the sort of man who could have accepted her invitation. Or that woman on the beach the other day, the one with the dark curly hair and the nice pair of …

He shook his head. He wasn’t like Richard, vaulting from one bed to another, and despite his current mood he was grateful to be different. Richard, with his surfeit of one-night stands, would never know the far greater ecstasy of making love. Now that William had experienced the latter, he was unwilling to settle for less.

Dragging a hand through his hair, he stepped away from the balcony and moved to the piano. His fingers slid silently over the keys as he considered what to play.

Bach. The answer was unexpected but it felt right. Although Bach had never earned William’s devotion as had Chopin and Rachmaninoff, he had an affinity for the old master’s music that often surprised those who knew him as an interpreter of the Romantics. William had excelled in mathematics in school, and the clean symmetry of Bach’s music, each composition a puzzle waiting to be solved, had intrigued him as a boy and still did today. Some thought of Bach’s music as the triumph of soulless technical perfection, but in William’s opinion those people didn’t understand Bach.

He licked his lips, a frown of concentration lowering his brow, and began to play.2

Near the end of the piece, William noted that his heartbeat had slowed to a relaxed thump. His mind was similarly becalmed, filled with a stream of abstract images and colors. The relentless progression of the piece, with its interwoven voices and repeated motifs that popped into the foreground at regular intervals, was oddly soothing despite the breakneck tempo he had adopted. Of course it’s soothing. It does what it’s supposed to do, when it’s supposed to do it. If only women were like that.

But they weren’t, and she still hadn’t called. Maybe today would be the day.

------
1 “Now When the Rain Falls” by Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton. Sung by Christiane Noll on A Broadway Love Story, © 1998, Fynsworth Alley. Not available on iTunes (which is a shame because her recording is much better than the recordings on iTunes), but you can listen to a sample sung by Arianna.

2 Capriccio from Partita No. 2 In C Minor by J.S. Bach. Performed by Martha Argerich on Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata BW911, Partita BWV826, English Suite No. 2, © 2000, Deutsche Grammophon, originally released 1980. Listen to a sample on iTunes.