“Hi, Aunt Maddie. It’s Elizabeth.”
“Oh, Lizzy, it’s so good to hear from you! I’ve been thinking about you.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t called. It’s been crazy. But Georgie said she’d been keeping you up to date.”
“Yes, and she told me quite a bit about what Dr. de Bourgh said, but I want to hear the full story from you.”
Elizabeth stretched out on her bed, pillows propped behind her head, and launched into yet another rendition of the tale Catherine had told her. At dinner, as she had promised Rose, she had told the carefully edited version Georgiana had already heard. But this time, she was glad to be able to confide in Madeline without tiptoeing around some of the less savory details.
“I was going to ask you if you thought it was the truth,” Madeline remarked when Elizabeth was done, “but I don’t think she could make up a story like that. Having a baby to save your first child from military school? That’s … I don’t even know what to call it. I had no idea you were marrying into such a dysfunctional family.”
“Neither did I.” Elizabeth plucked at some loose stitching on the bedspread. “But I hope you’re not saying I should call off the wedding.”
“No, of course not. But I’m glad you’re going into it with your eyes open. William is going to need your help understanding how a strong marriage works.”
Elizabeth scoffed. “It’s not as though I grew up with a good example either … except for you and Uncle Edward. We’re going to need lots of help.”
“And you know I’m here for you, whatever you need. But I think you’ll do just fine; you’ve shown excellent instincts with this whole situation. Every time I talk to Georgie, she practically sings your praises.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“How is she? She sounds good on the phone, and of course the father question is resolved, but the underlying problems aren’t going to just go away.”
“I know. She seemed great in San Francisco, but she’s been very quiet and withdrawn since we arrived home. I’m going to talk to her about therapy, and then sell the idea to William and his grandmother.”
“Speaking of the grandmother ….”
“You were telling me how much traveling you and William have planned for the summer. And although Georgie and her grandmother need to rebuild their relationship, from everything you’ve told me, I’m not sure leaving them alone together is the best way to do that.”
“I know. I’ve been thinking the same thing. I’m hoping we can take her with us sometimes.”
“That sounds like a good idea. But, also, I was thinking of inviting her to spend a month or so with us this summer … if Mrs. Darcy approves, of course. Tessa has an internship at the State Department, and Val hopes to find a summer job in the area, so they’ll both be home.”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful!” This was exactly what Georgiana needed: some time in a normal family. The Gardiner daughters were fun-loving but level-headed young women who would be a far better influence than Georgiana’s troublemaking friend, Courtney. “Is it okay if I mention it to Mrs. Darcy?”
“Go ahead, but afterwards I should talk to her myself. And I’d be happy to invite her down for a visit ahead of time, so she can see where Georgie would be staying.”
The conversation turned to other family matters, and finally, Elizabeth said goodbye. Then she dialed Jane’s number; her sister deserved an update as well.
Meanwhile, down in the library, a different sort of family discussion was in progress. Richard had departed with plans to meet Charlotte at a club downtown, Robert had snuck home to watch what he insisted was a do-or-die hockey game for the Islanders, and William was upstairs with Georgiana, leaving Eleanor alone with Rose. Eleanor could almost hear the wheels turning in her mother’s head, and she intended to say her piece while she had the chance.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with that child,” Rose said. “Secretly corresponding with Wickham, and then running off to Washington to meet him! Imagine what could have happened. And that’s on top of the shoplifting.”
“Yes, she’s made some spectacularly bad choices,” Eleanor said. “As for the shoplifting, though, I think she’s learned her lesson.”
“You thought the same thing the first time it happened,” Rose snapped. “Had you not covered up for her and kept me in the dark, perhaps there wouldn’t have been a second time.”
Eleanor winced inwardly but maintained a neutral expression. She had indeed misjudged that situation, but she’d done it to protect Georgiana from the restrictions she remembered only too well from her own teen years. “Okay, I’ll grant you that, but this time, with going to court and everything, I really do think she’s not going to repeat that mistake. Especially not if we can keep her away from Courtney, and that should be easy at least until summer since I understand Courtney is away at boarding school.”
“I wonder if I should send Georgiana away to school. Elizabeth seems to think the girl needs more contact with children her own age.”
“You could ask Georgie if she’d like to do that starting in the fall, but right now I think it might benefit her more to spend time with Elizabeth. They really seem to have bonded.”
“Perhaps. But that’s a decision for later. For now, I need to respond to her latest escapade. Evidently the conditions I placed on her after the shoplifting were inadequate; she still can’t be trusted.”
It was exactly as Eleanor had feared. “But, Mom, consider her situation. The poor girl is trying to figure out who she is. I remember how confused I was back then, and of course it’s worse for her. With both parents dead—while she was still too young to remember them—she’s got to feel like there’s a big hole in her identity. So when she met Wickham, who knew her mother, it must have seemed like manna from heaven. And then, on top of that, the serendipity of finding the diary! Of course she emailed him.”
“And concealed that fact from us.”
“Because you and William had made it clear how much you disliked him.”
“For very good reasons, which we explained to her.”
“I’m sure she decided that a few emails would be harmless. She didn’t know that he would take the opportunity to manipulate her in order to hurt you and William.”
“Which is why she should have accepted our assessment of him and not established contact.”
Eleanor shrugged. “Teenagers test limits; it’s practically their job description. At her age, I would have done the same thing.”
“Was that was supposed to offer reassurance? Because it did quite the opposite.”
When Eleanor had decided to rejoin the Darcy family a decade of estrangement, she had soon learned that she would have to tolerate the occasional sting of a poisoned dart flung by her mother. She had learned to be philosophical about it; she had hurt Rose deeply by escaping to San Francisco at the age of eighteen and staying away for so long, and this was Rose’s way of sharing the pain. Eleanor yearned to save Georgiana from a similar fate.
Eleanor brushed her mother’s latest dart aside and returned to the more important point. “Mom, it comes down to this. You tried locking Georgie in the house, and it didn’t work. Instead, one of your own house guests spewed a bunch of malicious gossip and sent the poor girl down a rabbit hole. Imagine how much pain she must have been in!”
Rose sighed, wearing a resigned expression. “I’ve had words with Dorothy Scofield. Evidently her guest that afternoon—a woman I know only slightly and have never liked—knew Anna and had heard how cruel I supposedly was to her. Dorothy thought she was defending me by talking about how put-upon I’d been by my daughter-in-law, with her scandalous—and, we now know, fictitious—affair. I’ve forgiven Dorothy—we’ve been friends since our school days. But William has made it clear that she’s no longer welcome at the house, and I don’t disagree with him.”
“Good for him. I think you’ve let her off too easy, but at least Georgie won’t have to see her again.”
“Needless to say, Dorothy’s guest is also persona non grata. That’s my decree as well as his.”
Eleanor smiled. “Good for both of you.”
“But, Eleanor, that child must learn that she can’t run off wherever and whenever she likes. This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated, whatever the provocation.”
“Agreed. But this isn’t just garden variety disobedience. She was already vulnerable after the shoplifting arrest. And Elizabeth says there are other things under the surface.” Elizabeth and Eleanor had managed to find a few minutes for a private chat after dinner, with Georgiana’s future the subject. “You need to talk to Georgie, though I don’t know how much she’ll be willing to say. And above all, talk to Elizabeth. Get the full story before you start locking Georgie up even further than you already have. Unless, of course, you want her to leave for good. Like I did.” Occasionally, it felt good to fling a dart back to its source.
“And we rode a cable car and saw Chinatown. And Charles told me how weird you were when he took you to … was it the Tonga House?”
“Tonga Room,” William said. “He told you about that, did he?”
“And Anne de Bourgh was there, too,” Georgiana continued. “And she actually spoke! Like, a lot. Did you know she’s a math genius? She’s going to Harvard.”
William was astonished by the relaxed, chatty girl sitting cross-legged in Elizabeth’s chair in his study. He wasn’t sure if this was Elizabeth’s doing, or if learning the truth about her parentage had lightened Georgiana’s spirits to this extent. Either way, the change delighted him.
He heard a knock at the half-open door, after which it creaked further open. Elizabeth stood in the doorway. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said, “but may I join you?”
“Of course!” William scrambled to his feet. “Here, take my chair.”
Elizabeth seated herself on his cushioned piano bench. “No, sit back down; I’m fine right here.” She smiled at Georgiana. “Jane and Aunt Maddie both say hello.”
“I’ve been telling Will about San Francisco,” Georgiana said. “And before that, Will was telling me stories about Mamma. I’ve heard most of them before, but it didn’t matter.”
“I think I’m out of material at this point, at least for now,” William said, rubbing his chin. “I’ll have to see what else I can remember.”
“That’s okay,” Georgiana replied. “I’m going up to my room. I’m tired, and besides, you two probably want to make out.”
“Georgie!” Elizabeth’s cheeks grew pink. She glanced at William. He grinned back, not embarrassed in the least. He escorted Georgiana into the hall and kissed her cheek.
Then he returned to Elizabeth, chuckling. “You have to admit, she wasn’t wrong,” he said, sweeping her off the piano bench and into his arms. No, Georgiana hadn’t been wrong at all. At first, they just held each other. William buried his nose in Elizabeth’s hair, inhaling the familiar jasmine-and-vanilla scent. “I’ve missed you so much,” he murmured.
Instead of replying, she looked up and drew his head down to hers, pressing her lips to his. He needed no encouragement; he poured all of his love, passion, and gratitude into the kiss. Time seemed to stop until, finally, she lowered her head again, resting it on his shoulder, and nestled close with a little sigh.
“Much as I’d like to just keep doing this,” she said, “we have some things to talk about.”
He reluctantly released her from his arms. “I know.” He returned to his chair, surprised when she remained standing. She seemed to be studying her chair, located on the opposite side of the fireplace.
Finally, she shook her head. “Nope,” she said. “Too far away.” She plopped down in his lap, sitting sideways, and kissed his cheek. “I hope this is okay.”
“It’s better than okay,” he replied, wrapping his arms around her.
She rested her head on his shoulder with a contented sigh. “It seems like months since we’ve been together. I know we had a few days last week, but it wasn’t enough.”
“Ironic, isn’t it? You moved out here so we could be together, and ever since then, one of us has been out of town.”
“But maybe from now on, things will settle down.” She pressed a warm, lingering kiss to his lips.
“Keep kissing me like that and I’ll never let you out of my sight,” he whispered.
“Promise?” She took his suggestion, and a few minutes passed before they spoke again. Then she sighed and her head drifted down to his shoulder. “Is there room for a sofa in here?” she asked, her lips against his throat. “That way we wouldn’t both have to squeeze into your chair to be close together.”
“I think there’s a lot to be said for squeezing together. Besides, I’m very comfortable.”
“Good,” she murmured in his ear. “Actually, so am I.”
William had a sofa in his bedroom, perfectly situated in front of the fireplace, but he didn’t mention it lest she think he was trying to lure her into bed. She had been clear about her refusal to make love in the townhouse during her Christmas visit. Back to being William “Patience” Darcy, just like last fall. He owed her that … and so much more.
“Cara, I truly don’t know how to thank you for everything you did for Georgie. And not just on my behalf; you’ve done so much for the whole family.”
She lifted her head and gazed into his eyes. “To be honest, I didn’t do it for your family. I did it for you, because I knew how much it would hurt you if anything happened to Georgie. And I did it for her, because she needed someone in her corner.”
“And it’s not just all the traveling around you did, and meeting with that snake, Wickham. Your instincts about what Georgie needs have always been spot on. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize it for so long. And your family … Georgie told me earlier how wonderful Madeline and Edward were, and Jane, too. And you connected her with Anne de Bourgh in San Francisco; that was inspired.”
“But only possible because you took Georgie out there. It’s as though you found my sister, the one I knew before everything changed last fall, and brought her home with you.”
He saw a tinge of sadness in Elizabeth’s smile. “I wish that were true, but didn’t you see how she behaved downstairs?”
“She was quiet, but I wasn’t surprised, after everything that’s happened. Besides, she’s never been chatty in groups.” He grinned. “She takes after her brother.”
Elizabeth laughed softly and nuzzled his neck. “Indeed she does.” Then she sat up, her smile gone. “But it’s more than just being quiet. Her relationship with your grandmother is seriously broken. And it’s not just that; I think there’s other stuff going on with her that must have developed over time. If the underlying issues aren’t addressed, this could all happen again, or worse.”
“That’s why I’m glad you understand her so well. You can help her.”
“I can help her up to a point, and I’m going to keep doing whatever I can. But I think she needs to see a therapist. Someone who’s used to working with teens, and who Georgie will see as being objective. Aunt Madeline thinks so, too, and in her line of work she knows about these things.”
“You really think it’s necessary?” He shook his head. “If people find out she’s in therapy, won’t they think she’s crazy?”
“What people?” Elizabeth sat up and shot an annoyed look at him. At close range, he almost felt it as a blow. “Please don’t tell me that your family’s social standing matters more than your sister’s emotional well-being.”
“No, of course that’s not what I meant. Trust me, there are plenty of therapists making money off the residents of the Upper East Side. I meant her friends, the other kids at her school. I’d hate to have them ridicule her.”
She relaxed against him, and when she spoke, her voice was softer. “I imagine there are plenty of therapists making money off the teenagers of the Upper East Side, too.”
He hadn’t thought of that, but no doubt she was right. He raised his deeper concern. “Also, I wouldn’t want her to think she’s weak, somehow.”
“Sometimes, people just need help.” She caressed his cheek. “I understand what you’re saying. I resisted getting therapy for years after I was … after Michael. At the time, I told myself that I could handle it on my own, but you know what? The stronger approach would have been to get help from someone who could help me deal with what happened. Instead, I was actually denying that I had a problem.”
“Interesting.” He had never thought about it that way.
“And my denial caused me pain. In fact, it hurt you, too. Imagine how different things might have been, that night in New York when you wanted to have sex, if I’d worked through my PTSD issues with a therapist before then.”
“Do you think we would have slept together?”
She was silent for a moment, glancing upward, but then shook her head. “No, probably not. Even though I was tempted, it was too soon. But I wouldn’t have thrown a screaming fit and kicked you out of the apartment. I would have told you, calmly, to cool your jets because I wasn’t ready.”
“Which I would have done.”
She nodded. “And then we wouldn’t have spent the summer missing each other. I would still have gone to California, but we would have stayed in touch.”
William could still feel the misery of those lonely summer months. He closed his eyes, soaking up the warmth and comfort of her body against his. “Okay. You win.”
“So you’ll help me talk your grandmother into getting therapy for Georgie?”
“Good. And I was thinking that, to convince Georgie to see a therapist, I might tell her that I’m in therapy, too.”
“Still? I thought you were done.”
“So did I, but I had … I guess a small flashback over the weekend, probably brought on by all the emotion and stress.”
“Oh, cara, I’m so sorry.” He tightened his arms around her. This was his fault, for allowing so much responsibility to fall on her shoulders.
“It’s okay; I’m fine. I pulled myself through it, using what Dr. Walker taught me. I saw her when I was in San Francisco, and we agreed that I’d start working with someone out here, a colleague she recommended. I’ve come a long way, but I can still use some help.”
“Sometimes I forget how brave you are,” he murmured. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you.”
“I don’t if I’m brave or not. But if I am—it’s hard to explain, but you make it possible. You give me a place where … where I feel safe and warm and … grounded. A place where I belong. Does that make any sense at all?”
He nodded. “Home.”
“I feel the same thing, when I’m with you.”
She took his face in her hands, her eyes shining. Their kiss was gentle and warm, a loving benediction. “I love you,” she whispered.
They fell silent, nestled together, and William reflected on the notion that she was his home, not this house. It wasn’t the first time it had occurred to him, but it had greater significance now. “Lizzy?” he began.
“I’ve been thinking about our life, after the wedding. About where we’re going to live.”
She raised her head and met his gaze. “And?”
“I know I’ve been assuming we’d live here, and I know you haven’t been enthusiastic about the idea. I hoped you’d come to love it here, but … well, I know your heart is still in San Francisco. No song reference intended.”
She smiled. “I have to admit, I had a wonderful visit there, even if it was short and required me to spend time with Catherine de Bourgh.”
“I remember what you said when we shared our ‘perfect world’ scenarios for our marriage. The best way I can think of to thank you for what you did for Georgie is to give you as much of your ideal scenario as I can.”
“Are you saying ….?”
“I’m saying, let’s buy a house in San Francisco and move there after the wedding. Maybe the school where you were teaching will have an opening; you loved it there. You can travel with me whenever you’re able, and the rest of the time, you’ll have Jane and Charles to keep you company. I bet the jazz group would be happy to take you back, and when I’m in town, I can sit in with them sometimes.”
“No, let me finish. I can’t give you the part where I only travel on the West coast during the school year, at least not yet, but in a few years I can make that happen.” He found himself becoming enthralled by the idea.
She kissed him. “You are the most wonderful man,” she said, but her smile held a measure of sadness. “Unfortunately, we can’t do that.”
“Why not? We’d have to travel back and forth periodically, but that’s okay.”
“We can’t leave Georgie right now. She needs us.”
“Oh.” In the midst of his enthusiasm for the idea, he hadn’t stopped to consider what—and who—he would be leaving behind. “Couldn’t she come with us? Maybe a fresh start would be good for her.”
“If we did that, I’d have to stay home while you traveled alone—and we already agreed that wouldn’t be good for our marriage. Otherwise, we’d be leaving her behind too often. We could take her along sometimes—in fact, I’m hoping we can do that no matter where we live—but she needs more stability than we could offer.”
“You’re right.” He sighed, dejected. “I should have realized. But I know you’re not happy here at the townhouse. You haven’t brought it up lately, but should we start looking for an apartment in the city?”
“Let’s wait and see.”
His eyes widened. He had expected her to agree to his suggestion. “But I want you to be happy.”
“I can’t explain it, but I think I’m starting to feel differently about living here. Maybe it’s because you’re here, and until now I’ve mostly been here without you, but ….” She shrugged. “It means so much that you’re willing to move out of the townhouse for me.”
“I meant it; I’ll do it if it’ll make you happy.”
“Like I said a few minutes ago, I love you.” She kissed him, hard, on the mouth. “But like I just said, let’s wait and see. Maybe we’ll decide that’s the best option. We’d have our own place, yet we’d still be nearby. But ….” She shrugged. “We don’t have to decide right now.”
“It might take a while to find a place.”
A sheepish look stole over her face. “Well … actually, I already have Sonya looking around.”
“Is that so?” he asked in his haughtiest tone. “Going behind my back?”
Elizabeth winced. “Are you mad?”
He chuckled, unable to maintain the façade. “No, it’s fine. But I so rarely have an opportunity to tease you.”
She swatted his chest, scowling in mock annoyance. “I was going to talk to you about it. I talked to her first just to see if it was even feasible. But like I said, I’d rather wait a while. If we decide to move out, it’s okay if it takes a few months after the wedding. We’re going to be traveling a lot this summer anyway.”
“Okay. But the offer stands. And I still haven’t found a way to thank you for everything you’ve done.”
“Like I said at the airport, just love me.”
“And like I told you then, that’s going to happen no matter what.”
Another interlude of kissing followed, which Elizabeth broke abruptly, exclaiming, “Oh, I almost forgot! How are you getting on with Anna’s diary?”
It took William a few seconds to clear his desire-fogged brain. He blinked hard and then responded. “I haven’t gotten much done so far. I never learned to read Italian, only to speak and understand it. So I need to read it aloud, and that’s a challenge.”
“Oh, I can help you with that!” She beamed at him, her eyes sparkling, and if she hadn’t already owned his heart, she would have won it at that moment. “I learned Italian diction in voice lessons at Interlochen.”
“I thought of that yesterday when I was struggling with the vowel sounds; I was sure your voice training would have included Italian arias. But that’s not the only issue. I’ve forgotten a lot of vocabulary over the years, and Georgie was right about the terrible handwriting; it’s even worse than I remembered.”
“Well, tomorrow, let’s sit down together and I’ll try reading it to you. Maybe Georgie can help, too—she can look things up in her Italian-English dictionary.” She gently extricated herself from his grasp and rose to her feet. “But now I have to say goodnight.”
“So soon?” He glanced at his watch and saw how late it was.
“I want to say goodnight to Georgie before she falls asleep, and it might be too late already.”
William stood and enfolded her in his arms. “I don’t suppose you’d consider coming back downstairs afterwards and spending the night with me.” He spoke in a diffident tone; he knew the answer already.
She reached up and caressed his cheek. The regret in her eyes told him her answer, not that he had expected anything different.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I shouldn’t have brought it up, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. No need to explain.”
Their good night kiss was warm and gentle, and she seemed reluctant to leave his embrace. As she left the room she looked back over her shoulder, and again he saw regret in her eyes. She blew him a soft kiss, and then she was gone.
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