Part 3: November-December, 2001
Chapter 81


“You want me to change your flight to Australia?” Sonya asked. She wondered why she bothered to make William’s travel arrangements in advance anymore, since lately he was always changing his plans at the last minute. She had booked his recent return to San Francisco three times, and the Australia trip seemed headed down a similar path.


“Yes. I’d like to go out first thing tomorrow.” William sounded tired. She was surprised to hear from him so early on a Sunday morning.


“Hold on a second.” Trapping her cell phone between her chin and her shoulder, she opened her laptop and did a quick flight search. “That’s what I thought. The only nonstops are at night. There’s a flight in the morning, but you’d have to connect through Honolulu.”


“Tonight, then. That’s better anyway.”


“Tonight?” She shook her head. “After we upset the people in Sydney with your plans for a last-minute arrival, now you’ve decided to fly down early?”


“I don’t think I’m obligated to justify my decision.”


“What about Elizabeth? You never said so, but obviously you were trying to eke out a couple of extra days with her.”


Silence greeted her remark, and Sonya began to worry. “What’s wrong? And don’t say ‘nothing,’ because I know you better than that.”


“Nothing I wish to discuss.”


These days there was only one possible cause for his current emotional state. “Something happened between you and Elizabeth.”


“I don’t want to talk about it.”


A stranger or a casual acquaintance would have accepted his stonewalling at face value and changed the subject, but Sonya knew her employer better than that. Twice now he had offered indirect confirmation that a problem existed instead of ending the call or moving on to another topic. Coming from someone as private as William, that was tantamount to a cry for help. A suspicion formed in her mind, and she decided that a blunt approach might yield the most information. “Did Elizabeth turn down your marriage proposal?”


“What did you say?” His voice blasted icicles, even across 3,000 miles.


Apparently that was a bit too blunt. “Sorry, boss. I realize I’m butting in, but I know about the diamond ring.”


“How?”


“The jeweler called on Friday, asking where to send the extra copy of the appraisal certificate. He mentioned it was for a diamond ring, so I assumed you were planning to propose. Did you?”


After a long silence, he answered in a soft, low voice. “Yes.”


“And she turned you down?”


He didn’t respond, which was all the confirmation she needed.


“I’m sorry. And I’m surprised. I got the impression that she loved you very much.”


“I destroyed everything. I drove her away.”


“Tell me what happened.”


After a pause he said, “I’d rather not go into the details.”


“Seriously, it might help to talk about it.” She didn’t expect him to open up, but miracles happened on occasion.


“I don’t think anything can help. I just have to learn to live with the consequences of my actions, and hope that ….”


She waited for him to finish his sentence, but he had fallen silent. “All right,” she said, “but if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”


“Thank you for your concern, Sonya. I mean that. And I know I can count on your discretion in not saying anything to the others.”


“Of course. But I assume this means that Elizabeth won’t be coming for Thanksgiving. Shouldn’t we let your grandmother know?”


William made a small, anguished sound. “I’ll tell her myself, but … not yet.”


“Again, I’m sorry. I wish there were something I could do to help.”


“Just get me on a plane out of here as soon as possible.” His voice had a desperate edge.


“Of course. I’ll get working on it right away.”


“Perhaps it’s best that you know about this. If Elizabeth wants to reach me during my trip, I told her to call you. And if she does—”


“I’ll hunt you down, no matter where you are, I promise. If necessary I’ll send Crocodile Dundee to find you.”


“You’re a good friend, Sonya. I don’t tell you that often enough.”


“The best friendship money can buy.” She had intended her remark to be flippant, but in his current mood she worried that he might misunderstand. “I’m teasing. You know you’re like my kid brother. Seriously, if Elizabeth Bennet can’t see what a terrific guy you are, she doesn’t deserve you.”


“Thank you.”


She hung up the phone, shaking her head. It was a shame things hadn’t worked out for them. Elizabeth had seemed perfect for William: warm and reassuring when his sensitive nature required it, yet able to stand toe to toe with him when his imperious side asserted itself. It was a difficult balance to strike, as Sonya knew only too well.


But there was nothing she could do about it. She brought up William’s travel itinerary on her laptop and went to work.


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Jane sat at the dining table, finishing her simple lunch of a small salad and some fruit. Her Sunday afternoon promised to be uneventful, working through a pile of papers she had brought home from the office. She nibbled on a slice of apple, making a face when it turned out to be unpleasantly tart, and extracted a deposition transcript from the pile.


It was difficult to keep her mind on her work. The cell phone message left during her run this morning kept tickling the edges of her mind, generating additional worries.


The apartment phone rang, and she hurried to answer it. “Hello?”


“Jane? It’s William Darcy.”


It wasn’t the voice she had hoped to hear, but she greeted him warmly all the same. “Hi, William.”


“I’m glad you’re the one who answered. Is Lizzy there?”


She hesitated. “No, she’s at the conservatory.”


“That’s just as well. I’m leaving for Australia tonight, and she left a few things at the penthouse. I wanted to drop them off, if that’s all right.”


“Of course. I’ll be here all afternoon. Stop by any time.”


“Thank you. I should be there in about half an hour.”


Jane had arrived home from her date last night to find Elizabeth huddled under an afghan on the sofa, the throw pillow beneath her head damp from her tears. Jane had cradled her sister’s head on her lap, stroking her hair while listening to the story of William’s most recent visit. After offering a cup of tea and what little comfort she could, she had finally tucked Elizabeth into bed some time after two o’clock.


This morning Elizabeth had been calm but subdued. Yesterday’s tears had doused the usual sparkle in her eyes, and she was quiet and solemn. Jane had endorsed Elizabeth’s plan to help with the Sunday matinee of South Pacific, hoping the energized backstage atmosphere would take her mind off her troubles for a while.


William arrived precisely on schedule. He was perfectly groomed as always, but his eyes were bloodshot and his expression downcast. “These are Lizzy’s,” he said, a catch in his voice as he held out a hairbrush, a bottle of shampoo and a DVD of South Pacific. “Thank you for letting me drop them off. I won’t take up any more of your time.”


He looked completely miserable, and Jane couldn’t let him leave quite yet. “Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?” she asked.


“That’s kind of you, but I wouldn’t want to impose.” Despite his words, his tone was almost wistful.


She decided to nudge him a bit further, and adopted a teasing tone. “If you don’t stay, I’m going to be stuck here with nothing but a stack of legal briefs. I’m counting on you to save me from a fate worse than death.”


He almost smiled. “If you’re sure I won’t be in the way.”


“Sit down and make yourself comfortable. Decaf, black, right?”


He nodded. “Thank you.”


Soon Jane returned to the living room bearing a tray laden with their coffee mugs and a plate of fruit, cheese, and crackers. “Here’s your coffee. And I thought you might like some ….” Her voice died in her throat when she saw him standing beside the dining table, holding a photograph.


His eyes were suspiciously shiny as he stared at the photo. “She was so beautiful that night. The loveliest sight I’d ever seen.” It was the photo Jane had taken on the night of Elizabeth’s birthday dinner. William and Elizabeth beamed at each other in the picture, surrounded by a nearly visible halo of joy.


“I’m sorry,” Jane said, depositing the tray on the dining table and collecting the other photos. “I had these out so Lizzy would remember to give them to you. She said you’d probably want printed copies, not just electronic ones. I was gone most of the day yesterday and I didn’t get around to putting them away.”


His eyes were still locked on the photo. “May I have this?”


“Of course. There’s another that turned out well, too, if you want it.” She held out the photo, a more formal pose.


He inspected it briefly and shook his head, his eyes returning to the photo he held cradled in his hand. “No, just this one. This is my Lizzy.” He brushed the corner of his eye with his thumb, releasing a shaky sigh that went straight to Jane’s heart. Then he looked up from the picture. “Thank you for offering the coffee, but I think I’d better be going.”


“Wait.” She placed her hand on his arm. “Have you had lunch?”


He frowned. “No, but I’m not hungry.”


“When did you eat last?”


“There was a fruit basket in my dressing room last night before the concert.”


“Did you eat any of it?”


“I don’t remember.”


“And before that?”


He pursed his lips, silent for a moment. “Breakfast on Friday, I suppose, on the plane. I haven’t felt much like eating.”


She had suspected as much. “Why don’t you let me fix you something?”


“Thank you, but I’ve imposed on you enough. Besides, Lizzy will be upset if she arrives home and finds me here. I promised I wouldn’t try to see her.”


“She won’t be home for a while. And she’d be even more upset if she heard you weren’t taking care of yourself. You know how she is about your health.”


His eyes softened. “I suppose you’re right; I should eat something. But you don’t need to go to any trouble. Mrs. Hill probably left something in the refrigerator.”


“It’s no trouble at all.”


“I suppose I ….” He smiled—a weak effort, but a smile all the same—and nodded. “Thank you, Jane. I ….” He sighed. “Thank you.”


When she returned a few minutes later with his sandwich, he was still studying the photo. “That was the happiest night of my life,” he said softly.


She handed him his plate. “Lizzy said the same thing.”


His smile was the saddest one Jane had ever seen. “At least she and I agree on that much.”


“You agree on plenty of things,” she said, sitting on the sofa. “She loves you very much.”


“But she doesn’t trust me anymore.”


“William, why didn’t you tell her about the job?”


He sighed and stared at his plate at length before answering. “At first, I thought I’d done a good thing and she’d be glad. But later, when I knew her better, I realized that she’d be upset, and I was afraid of losing her. I knew I had to tell her eventually, but I thought the more she cared about me, the easier it would be to make her understand.”


“That might have been true, except you waited till she found out from someone else. Now it seems like you’re only sorry because you got caught.”


He grimaced and set his plate on the coffee table. “I think I just lost my appetite.”


“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so blunt.”


“Have I lost her?” His intense stare burned into Jane’s eyes.


“I don’t know, but I hope not,” she said. “Lizzy’s very upset, but it’s still so fresh. Do you understand why this was all such a blow for her?”


“I know I’ve made it harder for her to trust me, and I know she thinks I don’t respect her. But I don’t understand why she won’t talk to me. How can I make it up to her if I can’t talk to her?”


Jane was faced with a dilemma. She couldn’t tell William anything Elizabeth had said in confidence. But there were things Jane had figured out on her own, things it might help him to understand.


“At first I was surprised by that, too,” she said. “And, yes, the silence makes it much harder to work things out. But I think there are two things that make this particularly hard for her. First of all, she’s always had trouble accepting that you would want to be with her. The comments you made about her background and our family hurt twice as much because she’s had similar thoughts herself.”


His face flushed. “I’m sorry for what I said about your family. I was upset.”


She smiled. “I know. She said she spouted off about your family, too. But do you see what I’m getting at? It took her a long time to believe that a wealthy, prominent man like you could have any serious romantic interest in her. So any sign that you think she’s deficient, like when you talked about your grandmother teaching her how to behave, just feeds that insecurity.”


William rubbed his forehead. “I was trying to make her feel more comfortable, not less so.”


“The problem is, Lizzy’s gotten the impression that your grandmother doesn’t want her in your life.”


He frowned but didn’t comment, reaching for his sandwich. “You said there was a second reason?”


“Michael.”


William’s jaw clenched. “That bastard. I should have gone behind the bar and beaten him bloody.”


Jane stared at him. “What are you talking about?”


“I saw him.” He spoke in a tight voice. “On Thursday night. I watched him tend bar for a while and then I just left. I wanted to kill him with my bare hands, but of course there was nothing I could do.” His tight grip left indentations in his sandwich.


“Does Lizzy know about this?”


He shook his head. “I had the crazy idea that I could punish him, and then she’d be safe when she came back to New York.”


Jane smiled gently. “You really do want to take care of her.”


“More than anything in the world. I swore to myself that no one would ever hurt her again ….” He sighed and closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were full of remorse. “Except me, I guess.”


“It’s sweet that you have such strong protective impulses, William, and I was so happy when I heard how wonderful you’ve been with her about Michael and the damage he did. But I think it’s leading you to go overboard, to where you’re being controlling, not just protective. That’s never a good thing, and it’s an especially big issue for Lizzy.”


He nodded. “She told me that she has issues with control, since Michael.”


“She gets angry very quickly when she thinks someone is trying to control her. She’s always been independent, and of course she wants to make her own choices, but the anger is new, since Michael.”


“I know about the anger.” His eyes dropped to the floor.


“Yes, you’ve been on the receiving end of it more than once, and she’s working on controlling it better; she always regrets the outbursts later. But the way I understand it you tried to make several life-altering decisions for her without even consulting her. I don’t blame her for feeling like you were trying to control her life … and like you didn’t respect her as a strong, independent woman.”


“I never intended to make her feel that way. I do respect her.”


“I’m sure you were raised to treat women with respect; you have excellent manners. But you understand that I’m talking about something different, don’t you?”


He nodded, lips pressed together. “I should have asked her about my plans for the future instead of telling her.”


“And given her a chance to make suggestions, to tell you her own thoughts and preferences. And you might even consider asking her about other things sometimes, things that don’t directly involve her. She’s smart and creative and she notices things. If you sought her advice, it would show that you value her opinions, and that you know you don’t have all the answers.”


“Is that what she believes? That I think I have all the answers?”


Jane sidestepped the question. “I think that’s what your life has taught you to believe, or at least to project to others.”


His eyes widened momentarily; perhaps her point had hit home. “I can see why you’re such a good lawyer,” he mumbled.


“You sound just like Lizzy. Sometimes she hates it when I make too much sense.”


“I’m guided by logic in most areas, but when it comes to Lizzy ….” He shook his head. “My brain doesn’t seem to function properly.” A rueful half-smile on his face, he took a bite of his sandwich.


Jane brought the discussion back to her main point. “Because of her self-doubt, and because of Michael, it was hard for Lizzy to trust you at first. So imagine how she must have felt, after she’d dropped all her defenses, to find out that you’d been deceiving her for months. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but she’s started having nightmares about Michael again.”


“Oh, no.” Pain slashed across William’s face. “I never meant to ….” He massaged his forehead and sighed, his eyes on the floor.


“Of course not. And I didn’t tell you that to make you feel guilty. I thought it might help you to understand why she’s so upset, and why she asked you to stay away for a while. And I understand there’s something else, too, something she hasn’t told me.”


“She didn’t tell you everything?”


“She just said there was something else, something worse than the job. You don’t need to tell me. In fact, you probably shouldn’t, since she chose not to.”


In the silence that followed, William finished his sandwich. At last, he spoke. “I said I’d respect her wishes and stay away for a while, but if she won’t let me explain myself, she might drift away and I’ll lose her. I can’t let that happen.”


“I understand that you’re worried, but I think you need to do what she’s asking.”


“What if she forgets me, or decides she’s better off without me?”


“Could you forget her?” Jane asked with a knowing smile.


“Never.”


“She won’t forget you either. She loves you—you need to remember that.”


“I’ll try.”


Jane hesitated. This next part was tricky; she wanted to be tactful but still make her point. “There’s something else, but you might find this presumptuous.”


“Please, go ahead.” He gestured with both hands, palms up. “As well as you know her, I’d be a fool to ignore your advice.”


“All right, then. You might need the time apart almost as much as she does. Your relationship has been emotionally intense for both of you, and it might be good to step back and think.” She paused, trying to choose her words with care.


“About what?”


“About how much you’re willing to change in order to build a strong relationship with her, one that can last.”


“A partnership.”


She nodded, relieved that he understood. “Exactly.”


“That’s the word she used,” he said, glancing at the photo again.


“And you understand that she means an equal partnership, right?”


He nodded. “I think so.”


“You’re both going to have to do some compromising to make it happen. And I'm guessing that’s something you haven't had to do very often. So I think you need to consider whether or not that’s the kind of marriage you want.”

William pressed his lips together and stared into the distance for several seconds before he spoke. “Do you think we can get through this?”


“I can’t say for sure, but I hope so.” Jane leaned forward and grasped his hand, which was busy fiddling with a loose thread on the chair arm. “I’d like to have you for a brother someday.”


His gaze met hers for a moment, the warmth in his expression surprising her Then suddenly he looked away, fidgeting, his lips pressed together. Somehow, she had made him uncomfortable; perhaps she had overstepped by touching him.


She withdrew her hand and sat back. “Would you like some more coffee?”


He rose to his feet. “No, thank you. I should go; I know you have work to do.” He slipped the photo into his jacket pocket.


“I’m glad you decided to stay and talk,” Jane said as she walked him to the door.


“Thank you for lunch, and for the advice. You’ve been very kind. Much kinder than I deserve.”


“Not at all. I’m so glad you decided to stay.” She gave him a warm smile. “You’re leaving for Australia tonight?”


“Yes. I was supposed to stay here till Tuesday, but I decided to leave sooner.”


“Have you talked to Charles lately?”


William paused in the open doorway and turned back. “Not since I saw him at the airport last weekend.”


“He called this morning while I was running and left a message. He sounded upset. I tried to return his call, but he didn’t answer. I hope he calls again soon because I’m worried about him.”


“I’ll call him before I leave for the airport.”


She nodded. “That would be great. He doesn’t have much of a support system in LA.” She hesitated. “Do you think he’s happy?”


“I don’t know. Obviously he had a difficult time at first, after ….” He stopped and looked away.


Jane spoke quickly, anxious to relieve the awkwardness. “I understand. He had to make some difficult choices, and I hope for his sake they were the right ones. I want him to be happy.”


“What about you? Did you make the right choices?” He fixed a penetrating stare on her.


His question surprised her, but she supposed that the frankness of their earlier conversation had lowered the barriers between them. “Are you asking if I wish I’d agreed to Mr. Bingley’s terms? I couldn’t have done that. But I do wish Charles had been willing to try to work out a compromise with his father.”


William’s eyes narrowed and he frowned. “What sort of compromise?”


Jane shrugged. “Almost anything that would have softened his father’s terms. Of course you know what I mean. He insisted that we move to LA immediately and live under his roof, and that I give up my law practice. He wouldn’t even give me till morning to sign the prenup so I could have someone take a look at it first. I don’t mean to criticize; he had good reasons to be upset with the situation. But he seemed to be planning every detail of our lives, and Charles was willing to let him do it.”


“You wanted someone to look over the prenup before you signed it?” William’s frown deepened.


Jane smiled. “I know, it probably sounds silly. You’d think a family attorney could read through a prenup without help, wouldn’t you? But prenups aren’t my specialty, and besides, it’s an occupational hazard. Attorneys are notoriously skittish about signing things without examining every word under a microscope.”


“I see.” For a moment he looked as though he intended to say something else, but he stared around the room in awkward silence.


“I didn’t mean to keep you standing here while I babbled. I hope you enjoy Australia. I’ve always wanted to go there.”


“I was looking forward to it, but now ….” He shrugged and stared at his shoes.


“Your heart isn’t in it anymore. I understand. At the very least, take good care of yourself. Lizzy would want you to do that.”


“Thank you again for lunch. And … everything.” He sighed. “Goodbye, Jane.”


She watched him disappear down the hall before she shut the door. Then she collected the dishes from the living room and took them to the kitchen. Her eyes fell on the phone, and on impulse she pressed “Play” to listen to Charles’s message, wondering how soon she should call him again.


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William sat in his car in front of Elizabeth’s building, his cell phone to his ear. But the ringing gave way to Charles’s voicemail greeting. William left a terse message and then sat gripping the steering wheel, absorbing the news he had just received.


Jane had wanted time to look over the prenup, and Mr. Bingley said had no? And beyond that, she had merely wanted Mr. Bingley to soften his other demands somewhat? He tried to remember Charles’s exact words that night. Hadn’t Charles said that she refused outright to sign the prenup?


William was halfway to the penthouse when his phone, lying on the passenger’s seat, rang. He fumbled for it, his eyes still on the road.


“Will!” It was Charles. “I’m glad you called. How did you know?”


“Know what?”


“About Father.”


William frowned. “What about him?”


“He’s in the hospital. He had a massive heart attack, and they had to do emergency bypass surgery.”


“I didn’t know. But I’m sorry.”


“I thought that was why you called. Was there something you wanted?”


“It can wait.”


“I’m sorry I didn’t answer my phone when you called. They don’t allow cell phones in the CCU. I have to slip out now and then to check messages.”


William remembered this restriction from his time as a heart patient. “How is he?”


“Better, but … oh, God, it’s such a mess, all of it.” Charles paused and took a deep breath. “I almost called you half a dozen times, but I didn’t want to disturb your weekend with Lizzy.”


That discussion would also have to wait. “So when you say everything’s a mess, do you mean your father’s health?”


“It goes way beyond that. I don’t even know where to begin.”


William rarely spoke impulsively, but without any forethought he found himself saying, “Would you like me to come down there?”


“Oh, no, I can’t ask you to do that, not when you’re with Lizzy and about to leave for Australia.”


“No, it’s fine. I can come down for a visit and then fly on to Sydney.” William was surprised at himself for making this offer, but Charles sounded overwhelmed.


“Are you sure?” Charles asked. “I mean, it would be great to see you.”


“I can only stay for a day, two at most, but maybe that would help.”


“It would. Thanks, Will.”


“Is there anything you want to talk about now?”


“No, it can wait till you get here. Besides, I have to get back to Mom soon, and I need to call Jane. I left her a message this morning and she’s tried to call me back twice.”


“I stopped by there earlier. In fact, it was her suggestion that I call you. She said you sounded upset, and she was concerned.”


“Then I definitely need to call her,” Charles said.


“All right, then. I’ll leave you a message once I know what time I’m arriving. Which hospital?”


“Cedars-Sinai. And of course you can stay at the house, but I should warn you, Caroline’s there. if you’d rather stay at a hotel, I understand.”


“No, it’s all right.” For Charles’s sake, he could tolerate her for a day or two.


“Will, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”


“It’ll be good for both of us,” William said, feeling the truth of his words. “I’ll see you soon.”


He disconnected the call and placed another, using the only speed dial code he knew aside from Elizabeth’s. When Sonya answered, he said, “About that change in my flight to Australia—”


“Didn’t you get my message?” she asked. “It’s all done. You leave at 10:15 tonight, and the hotel is expecting you tomorrow morning. Well, Tuesday morning, I guess, with the International Date Line, but you know what I mean. We were lucky that your suite was available for the extra days.”


“Right. But about those arrangements—”


“William Darcy, if you’re about to tell me that you’ve changed your plans again, I recommend that you reconsider. Bear in mind, I could route you through Duluth. And don’t think I wouldn’t.”


William grinned, surprised at how good it felt to smile. “Isn’t it about time for me to remark that this is why I pay you the big bucks?”


“Not big enough, trust me.”


His grin widened. “How sad for you. Here’s what I need you to do.”


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