Elizabeth sat in the reception area outside the Dean’s office at Pacific Conservatory, drumming her fingers on the arm of the sofa and trying to relax. She had been sitting for over half an hour awaiting the start of her job interview.
To distract herself, she inspected a flower arrangement on the coffee table. It reminded her of the flowers that had arrived for her yesterday: twelve perfect roses in a deep shade of lavender. The card had read, “Please accept my apology. I’ll call you in New York. William.”
“Elizabeth! It’s delightful to see you again!”
She looked up to see Bill Collins approaching. “Good morning, Bill,” she said, smiling.
“You look ravishing.” He eyed her gray suit with its pencil skirt that skimmed the tops of her knees. Elizabeth had saved for weeks to buy the suit for job interviews. Her hair was pulled back at her neckline and gathered into a large tortoiseshell clip. Charlotte would have called the style schoolmarm-ish, but Charlotte didn’t have to try to tame a mop of unruly hair on a daily basis.
“Thank you,” she answered. “You look nice yourself.” She saw a flush of color at Bill’s neck.
“I am so, so sorry about the cancellation of your sister’s wedding.” He sat next to her on the sofa and patted her hand.
“Thank you.” Elizabeth sighed at the reminder. Jane had shown tremendous grace under pressure all weekend; however, she was deeply unhappy. The sisters’ farewell this morning had been affectionate and tearful, and Elizabeth hated to leave Jane at such a time. It gave her another reason to want this job: she could be close to Jane again, and could keep an eye on her as she resumed her life without Charles.
“Hasn’t Dr. de Bourgh called you in for your interview yet? It was supposed to be at 8:00, wasn’t it? 8:00 on Monday morning; I’m certain that’s what we arranged.”
“Yes, that’s right. But her secretary said she was busy.”
“Well, yes. No doubt on an important phone call, probably to New York, or maybe London. As you know, she’s very prominent in the world of—oh, good morning, Dr. de Bourgh!”
Despite Dr. de Bourgh’s diminutive frame, the room crackled with energy from her mere presence, and her golden eyes blazed with fierce purpose. Elizabeth sensed that Catherine de Bourgh could be a formidable ally—or foe.
Dr. de Bourgh eyed Bill, raising a perfectly-groomed eyebrow. “Collins, I can’t remember the last time I saw you wearing a business suit on campus unless we had an important meeting. Why are you so dressed up today?” Her voice was deep and slightly husky, and she spoke forcefully, lending importance to every word.
Bill glanced involuntarily at Elizabeth. “Well, you see, I—that is, it seemed ….” His voice trailed off, his hands flapping at his sides.
Elizabeth was impressed; it took a lot to leave Bill Collins speechless. She braced herself as Dr. de Bourgh’s appraising stare settled on her.
“You are Elizabeth Bennet, I presume?”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Dr. de Bourgh.” Elizabeth was astonished by the strength of the woman’s brisk handshake.
“Let’s get on with this interview, since you’re so far behind schedule. I’m expecting a call from Itzhak Perlman, making arrangements for us to meet for lunch later this month when I’m in New York.”
Elizabeth was caught off guard by Dr. de Bourgh’s brusque reference to the tardy start of the interview, as though Elizabeth was the one at fault. She also suspected that the name-dropping reference to the famous violinist had been intended to impress her. She couldn’t wait to share the story with her father; they would laugh together about it.
“Dr. de Bourgh, with the delay, Elizabeth will be running behind schedule for the rest of her interviews.” Bill seemed to have regained his composure. “I’d be happy to rearrange things while the two of you talk.”
“Yes, yes, very well, Collins. Please do that.”
“Thank you, Bill,” Elizabeth interjected, “but the thing is, I don’t have too much flexibility to extend my visit. My flight leaves a little after 2:00.”
“Well, certainly you can switch to a later flight if necessary,” Dr. de Bourgh said. “At least, if you’re interested in this job.”
“I am interested, definitely, but my ticket is non-refundable.”
“I never purchase non-refundable tickets. And this is the reason. I am far too busy to accept so little flexibility. I recommend that you do the same in the future.”
“That’s so wise of you, Dr. de Bourgh,” Bill said, clasping his hands in front of him, “and I’m sure that Elizabeth—”
“Collins, I thought you were going to work on revising her schedule. Please do so at once. We are wasting valuable time.”
“Yes, of course, Dr. de Bourgh. I’m so sorry. I’ll get on it right away.” Bill scurried away.
“Now, Ms. Bennet, come with me.”
Dr. de Bourgh led the way down to her office, marked by a gold nameplate on the door, engraved in bold letters. The office was starkly modern with polished black floors, a large rug bearing an abstract design in gray and white, and glass and chrome tables displaying an eclectic assortment of musical instruments.
Elizabeth seated herself as the dean set a pair of bright red reading glasses on her nose and opened a file placed precisely in the center of her glass-topped desk. While Dr. de Bourgh studied Elizabeth’s resume, frowning, Elizabeth scanned a wall of photographs, all showing the dean with a progression of famous musician.
“So,” Dr. de Bourgh barked, “you chose to study musical theater instead of classical music.”
Elizabeth nearly laughed aloud. Why was everyone criticizing her career choices lately? “Yes, that’s right.” She wasn’t in the mood to justify her decision.
Dr. de Bourgh looked up, her glasses perched low on her nose, her eyebrows raised, and waited.
Under other circumstances, Elizabeth would have relished a staring contest, but she wanted this job. “I enjoy singing, dancing, and acting. Musical theater gave me a chance to do all of those things.”
“And opera would not have afforded you the opportunity to act?”
“Of course, but Puccini and Mozart didn’t include too many dance routines in their operas.”
Dr. de Bourgh stared at her in stony silence.
“Also, I think my voice is better suited to musical theater, though I’ve studied the classical repertoire as well.”
“Your Broadway experience is quite limited,” Dr. de Bourgh remarked.
“I spent about a year in the Broadway production of Rent. And six months in the national tour of Les Miz. After that I decided I wanted to teach.”
“Yes, I can see that. It’s right here on your resume, which, I might add, is light on credentials.”
Elizabeth considered responding to this criticism, but she sensed that anything she said would only antagonize Dr. de Bourgh further, though what she’d done to cause this combative behavior was a mystery.
“Now, do you understand the nature of the position we have available, Ms. Bennet?”
“Yes, I think so. I would teach voice lessons to students preparing for musical theater careers. I would also teach some courses related to Broadway music and possibly some general music classes.”
“That is correct. Also, we have a continuing education division, and I would expect you to teach some evening courses in that program. And we have an active summer music program in which you might be asked to teach, for additional salary, of course.”
Elizabeth nodded. “That sounds fine.”
“You have very little teaching experience.”
“I’ve been teaching for two years, classes similar to those you want me to teach, and I’ve been a teaching assistant for several professors at NYU. In addition, I recently won a university-wide teaching award at Pace University. It’s not on the resume I sent you because it happened just two weeks ago.”
“Hmm.” Dr. de Bourgh stared at Elizabeth over her reading glasses again. She glanced at the resume in front of her one more time and then looked back up, frowning. “Ms. Bennet, I’ll be blunt. You have neither the education nor the experience that would make you a strong candidate for a position here. However, I need someone to teach musical theater classes, and the stronger candidates rarely express any interest in doing so.”
Elizabeth nodded. She knew that her qualifications were weak. If she got the job only because nobody else wanted it, she didn’t mind; she would still have the job.
Dr. de Bourgh continued, glaring at her. “But if I were to decide to hire you, you would be judged solely on your performance at our institution, not on the influence of friends you may be so fortunate as to have.”
Was she referring to Dr. Church, Elizabeth’s advisor? She had written a glowing letter of recommendation. But that was common practice, not a sign of undue influence. Or had Bill Collins made a nuisance of himself speaking on Elizabeth’s behalf? That seemed more likely.
As though summoned by her thoughts, Bill popped his head into the room. “I beg your pardon, Dr. de Bourgh—so sorry to interrupt—but I have the revised schedule prepared. How much more time do you need with Elizabeth?”
“We’re finished,” the tiny woman announced, rising abruptly to her feet and removing her reading glasses. She nodded at Elizabeth, unsmiling. “I’ll be seeking input from the faculty members with whom you meet, and I will attend your audition performance later this morning.”
“Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Elizabeth followed Bill out into the hall, shaking her head. Dr. de Bourgh didn’t seem to possess even a shred of warmth. But if Elizabeth hoped to stay in San Francisco, she needed a job. And Jane needed her. There were worse things in the world than a prickly, demanding boss.
William sat up in bed, his heart pounding, and realized what had happened. Again. A glance at the clock confirmed that it was only 4:00 am, well before dawn.
Was that four or five nights in a row? It was Tuesday night … actually Wednesday morning. Five nights, then, since this had started.
Visions of Elizabeth had become a regular feature of his nights, to his increasing concern. He had made love to her in a variety of settings, most recently on the beach near Pemberley. He could no longer pretend that his fascination with her would subside in the familiar atmosphere of home; he needed to take action.
The only answer was to see her. If he spent time with her, it would break the spell. She couldn’t be as intriguing, as intelligent, or as desirable as she had become in his imagination.
A good plan, except for one problem: he didn’t know her telephone number. He had intended to ask for it on Saturday morning, but she had walked out on him before he had a chance. Jane would know it, and Charles would know how to reach Jane, but he couldn’t imagine making such an awkward request when Charles’s wounds were still fresh.
Sonya could help. She treated every request for information as a personal challenge, and could probably locate Elizabeth on a Tibetan mountaintop if necessary. A Lower East Side phone number would be child’s play by comparison. But Sonya knew him too well; she considered herself to be his assistant and his surrogate older sister in equal parts. She might guess his feelings, and he wasn’t prepared to deal with her knowing looks and probing questions.
William wandered across the hall to his sitting room. He turned on the lamp beside his piano and stroked its smooth rosewood case. His grandmother had custom-ordered it from Steinway, and it was his most precious possession. He sat down and caressed the cool polished keys.
The piano was his frequent companion late at night when sleep eluded him. One touch of the keys and his worries were swept away by his connection with the instrument, a connection in some ways as intimate as lovemaking.
He began to play, and the instrument sang a poignant melody under his fingers. This particular Chopin Nocturne1 had been one of his mother’s favorites; she had often stood beside the piano while he played it, tears shimmering in her eyes. Even now, whenever he played the Nocturne, he played it for her.
The final notes faded away into the night. William lifted his hands reluctantly from the keys, turned off the lamp, and returned to bed. He drifted to sleep, and this time when he dreamed of the beach, he saw a frail little boy walking beside his mother, his hand held tightly in her grasp.
“That’s right, I’m holding for Charlotte Lucas,” Sonya said. She held the phone pressed between her neck and her shoulder while she filed some contracts in the cabinet beside her desk.
William caught himself fidgeting with a paper clip. He dropped it on the desk and forced himself to stand still. Sonya was on the phone with the secretary of the Art History department at University of California at Berkeley, where Charlotte was completing her Ph.D.
Sonya covered the mouthpiece with her hand and glared at him. “Would you get out of here and let me do my job? I’ll transfer the call to your office when I reach her. You’re driving me nuts.”
He shook his head and frowned at her. “Aren’t secretaries supposed to respect their bosses?”
“Not when you’ve known the boss since before he started shaving.”
“Everywhere else I’m treated with respect, even adoration, but here in my own house; no respect.”
“That’s your problem. You get too much adoration for your own good, especially here in your own house.”
“I do not.”
“Oh? Mrs. Reynolds fawns over you and Georgie thinks you hung the moon. And even your grandmother defers to you, at least as much as she does to anyone. Somebody needs to cut you down to size, and hard as I try, I can’t handle such a massive job by myself—” Sonya removed her hand from the mouthpiece. “Yes? Oh, she isn’t? Do you have a number where we could reach her? It’s rather urgent.”
After a brief pause, she glanced up at William. “The secretary doesn’t want to give out Ms. Lucas’s cell phone number.”
He strolled over to Sonya, grabbed the phone from her hand, and spoke in his most confident tone. “Hello. My name is William Darcy. I’m a professional musician, a concert pianist … yes, that’s right, from the magazine article … thank you. I’m calling because I’m executive director of the Darcy Arts Trust. I met Ms. Lucas last weekend, and we discussed some possible sources of grant funding for her research. I was hoping to reach her at home this evening …. Thank you.” He motioned to Sonya for a pen and some paper, and wrote a number.
“She was happy to help,” William remarked after he had thanked the secretary and said goodbye. He slipped his hands into his pockets, a smug grin on his face.
Sonya rolled her eyes. “Please tell me she didn’t mention that ‘Classical Music’s Sex Symbol’ tripe from the magazine article.”
He shrugged. “It got me the phone number.”
“I don’t get it. I know you promised this Charlotte Lucas some contact names at arts foundations, but I could have just emailed her a list.”
“I prefer to handle it myself.”
“The personal touch, eh?” She raised her eyebrows. “So, will I be sending her flowers every day on your behalf, like Richard does on the rare occasions when he’s trying to impress a woman?”
“There’s nothing romantic about my interest in Charlotte Lucas.”
“Uh huh.” Sonya stood up, eyeing him with a suspicious frown. “Well, I’m going home, if you don’t need anything else.”
“That’s fine. Good night.”
As soon as she was gone, he strode into his office, shut the door, and placed the call. He was pleased when Charlotte answered the phone on the second ring.
“Hello, Charlotte. This is William Darcy.”
“William! What a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to hear from you.”
“I imagine not. I hope you don’t mind my tracking you down.”
“Not at all. What can I do for you?”
“I need Elizabeth’s phone number in New York.”
His request was met with silence.
He was about to speak her name again when she said, “I don’t know if I should give it to you.”
“Because every time you talk to her, you jam your foot a little further into your mouth.”
William sighed. “I said some things on Saturday morning that I wish I had saved for a better time. I’d like to apologize.”
“The way I hear it, you already ‘said it with flowers.’”
He smiled. “Ah, then she got the roses. Did she like them?”
“You should be asking her that question, not me.”
“And I will, if you give me her phone number.”
“Touché.” She paused. “Why did you choose lavender roses? It’s an unusual color.”
“No special reason. I saw them in the shop and they seemed right.”
“Interesting. Here’s her number. Got a pencil?”
He grabbed a gold pen from his desk and copied the number as she dictated it.
“May I give you some advice?” Charlotte’s matter-of-fact tone was tinged with kindness.
“Stop talking and start listening. You’ll never find out what an amazing person she is if you keep insulting her every time you see her. Let her do the talking for a while.”
He was offended by the suggestion that he had done nothing but insult Elizabeth all weekend. Of course that wasn’t true.
“William? Are you still there?”
“Also, be gentle with her. That may be the wrong word, but my point is, she’s not as tough as she pretends to be.”
“I’ll consider what you’ve said. Thanks for the number.”
“No problem. Good luck.”
As he hung up the phone, his eyes fell on the portrait of his parents above the fireplace. His mother looked distant and remote, in sharp contrast to her ebullient expression in the photograph taken at Pemberley. But it was his father who dominated the portrait and, in fact, the entire office. Edmund’s large antique globe rested on a stand in the corner. His collection of old maps, to which William periodically made an addition, hung on the walls. And in the center of it all, Edmund, imperious and unyielding, stared at his son from the portrait.
William sighed and returned his attention to the task at hand. He looked at Elizabeth’s New York phone number, written below Charlotte’s on the sheet of paper. Come on. Just pick up the phone. You can do this.
With a deep breath, he lifted the receiver, preparing to dial. But before he had tapped the first digit, he heard a knock at his office door.
He glanced at his watch and saw that it was precisely 7:00. “Come in.”
Mrs. Reynolds opened the door. “Dinner is ready, William.”
He hung up the phone with a sigh and followed her into the hall. His grandmother demanded prompt attendance at dinner; the phone call would have to wait.
1 Nocturne in C# minor (1830) by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Claudio Arrau on Chopin: The Complete Nocturnes, The Complete Impromptus, Phillips, 1997. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.