She considered entering the small bookstore while waiting for William; however, instead she approached a bulletin board listing a series of upcoming environmental education programs. Soon, she heard William’s deep voice behind her.
“I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”
She turned and found him standing close behind her, wearing a royal blue polo shirt and gray sweatpants. He had tamed his hair somewhat, though a few damp curls still strayed onto his forehead. It seemed unfair that he could look that good when when he was sweaty and disheveled; after a dance class, she looked like she had just staggered out of the pouring rain.
“You didn’t,” she replied. “I just got off the phone with Jane a minute ago.”
“Can you stay for coffee?”
“Yes. A quick one, anyway.”
He smiled. “I’m glad. How is Jane?”
Elizabeth considered her words carefully. “She’s unhappy, of course, but Jane is strong.”
“It certainly seemed that way last night in the lounge.”
She was glad to learn that William had noticed Jane’s dignity under pressure. “Jane and my aunt and uncle are making calls about the cancellation of the wedding, and she says they don’t need my help right now; all the phones are in use, and I don’t have a cell phone. But I need to be back before my parents arrive, and I might have to wait a while for the bus.”
“No need for that. I’ll give you a ride.”
“But it’s out of your way. I don’t want to be an inconvenience.”
“It’s no inconvenience.” William’s tone brooked no disagreement. He placed his hand on the small of her back, leading her toward the café.
She was nonplussed by his sudden self-assurance. It contrasted sharply with his awkward demeanor last night, or even fifteen minutes ago.
“What about Charles?” she asked. “You still need to call him, don’t you?”
“I changed my mind. He’s probably still asleep. That’s the best thing for him right now.”
They placed their orders at the counter and then carried their coffee and bagels to a table by the windows offering a panoramic view of the marsh and the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Very nice,” William said. “This was a large land reclamation project, wasn’t it?”
“Right. It was an old military airfield. Two years ago they re-created the marsh and opened it to the bay. I guess the birds and animals are beginning to rediscover it.”
“So I see.” He indicated a heron standing at attention by the water’s edge. “Before I forget, do you still have my cell phone?”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” She retrieved it from her pocket and handed it to him. “I know most New Yorkers go into withdrawal if their phones aren’t handy. They ought to just have them surgically attached to their hands.”
He chuckled softly. “Not me. I hate my cell phone. I’m always looking for excuses not to carry it. It drives my secretary insane when I don’t have it with me.”
Silence fell between them, growing awkward as time passed. Eventually, Elizabeth felt the need to say something.
“I thought Mr. Bingley was horrid to you last night, especially what he said about your father. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you, but he was rude to all of us.”
“But, seriously, what he said to you was ridiculous. What father wouldn’t be thrilled to have a son who’s as talented and successful as you are?”
William stared intently into his coffee cup, his hands wrapped around it as though he were trying to warm himself. She appeared to have touched a nerve. Impulsively, she reached across the table and covered one of his hands with hers. When he didn’t respond, she withdrew her hand and retreated into embarrassed silence.
Finally, he looked up at her, his eyes full of raw emotion. He opened his mouth and seemed about to speak. Then a neutral mask descended as though he had pulled down a window shade. He sat back in his chair, his eyes scanning the room.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said in a dismissive tone. “Mr. Bingley doesn’t know anything about my family. He was just striking out blindly because he was angry.”
Elizabeth shrugged. She had no hope of unraveling the mystery that was William Darcy—at least, not over breakfast. “All I know is, after last night I can see why Charles would be scared of his father.”
“Mr. Bingley amassed a huge fortune in a short time; he started with nothing. You can’t do that without being forceful.”
“He’s a horrid, hateful man. How dare he insult my sister and issue ultimatums to her?”
“He was rude, of course. But what he asked Charles and Jane to do was reasonable, if you see it from his perspective.”
“What he ordered them to do, you mean.”
William continued without responding to Elizabeth’s remark. “First, he insisted on a prenup. That’s essential. He has to protect his family’s assets in case something goes wrong.”
“Jane would never—” Elizabeth began, leaning forward in her chair, but William interrupted.
“Money makes people do strange things. Suppose they did get a divorce, and Jane believed that she was the wronged party. She might be tempted to punish Charles, financially speaking.”
Her grip tightened around her coffee cup. “Jane would never behave that way.”
“Perhaps not on her own, but she might be influenced by your … by others who would see the situation differently.”
She stared at him in silent indignation while he continued.
“The other thing Mr. Bingley wants is for Charles to move to Los Angeles. Mr. Bingley is in his late 60’s, and he needs to train his successor.”
“And Jane’s law practice doesn’t matter?” She set her coffee cup on the table emphatically, setting the liquid sloshing in the cup.
“Compared to a multi-million dollar business?” He shrugged. “Certainly Jane must have realized that in return for the privileges of marrying a wealthy man, she’d have to make a few small sacrifices.”
“And giving up her career and leaving her family seem like small sacrifices to you?”
William sat back and folded his arms across his chest. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” he said, his voice calm and matter-of-fact. “You have no idea of the obligations that come with wealth and social position.”
“And what about Charles’s obligation to the woman he loves?”
“He had an obligation to tell her the truth, and he didn’t, so of course she’s angry. But shouldn’t he be able to count on Jane in spite of that?”
“Count on her to do what?” Elizabeth gritted her teeth. His imperturbable tone was even more infuriating than his words. “To tolerate being lied to and patronized?”
“He ought to be able to count on her loyalty and her unconditional love.” William leaned forward in his chair. “Aren’t people in love supposed to stand by each other, no matter what? ‘For better or worse’?”
“But to do that, they have to be able to trust each other.”
“Speaking of that, I understand that she refused to sign the prenup.”
“So you think all she wanted was his money?” Her voice was tight with fury. “How dare you?”
“I don’t claim to know what Jane wanted. But if she didn’t care about the money, why not sign the prenup?”
Elizabeth wanted to defend Jane, but she was too angry to find the words. What happened to the sweet, gentle man who had kissed her on the beach? And who was the arrogant jerk sitting in his chair?
He leaned back, his fingers steepled, and spoke in the pedantic tone of a teacher lecturing a recalcitrant child. “Her refusal to sign makes it look like she was only interested in the money. Whether it’s true or not, that will make things even more difficult with the Bingleys.”
“I can’t believe you’re suggesting that any part of this is Jane’s fault. She didn’t do anything wrong. She simply refused to live the rest her life under the thumb of a bitter old man whose son doesn’t have the guts to stand up to him!” Elizabeth glared at him.
He lifted his chin in a haughty gesture that had her grinding her teeth. His tone was serenely self-assured. “As I said before, you wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be born into a wealthy family. Most people only see the perks, but there are major obligations.”
An angry retort nearly flew out of Elizabeth’s mouth, but then it occurred to her that perhaps if William grasped Jane’s perspective, he could help Charles and the Bingleys to understand. She swallowed her anger and said as calmly as she could, “Everyone has family obligations, not just rich people.”
“I understand why you’re upset. Of course you’re loyal to Jane. That’s to be expected, and I admire you for it.”
His indulgent smile and condescending tone left her momentarily speechless. And he was giving her permission to be loyal to her sister! How charming.
“But you’re a smart, strong woman, and once you’ve had time to think about what I’ve said, I’m sure you’ll be able to get past blind loyalty and see the situation objectively.”
Elizabeth shoved back her chair and jumped to her feet. She had no intention of being patronized any further. Her hands gripped the edge of the table as she skewered William with a cold stare. “I’m flattered by your confidence in me,” she said in a tone that she hoped was as arrogant as his. “But I have to go now. My parents will be arriving soon to commiserate with my sister over the fortune she just lost.”
“There’s no need for sarcasm,” he said haughtily.
“I beg your pardon, but I think there is,” she snapped. “Thanks for the coffee.” She grabbed her denim jacket from the chair.
“Wait. I said I’d drive you home.” He rose to his feet.
“No, thanks.” she retorted. “The walk to the bus stop will help me to clear my head. Stay and finish your breakfast.”
“Elizabeth!” He called after her as she left the table, but she ignored him.
As she practically ran from the building, her footsteps echoing in the hallway, her face felt hot and her hands formed into fists. The nerve of that arrogant, insufferable jerk! And she had allowed him to kiss her? As always, she was incapable of judging men correctly.
Elizabeth was still fuming when she arrived back at Jane’s condo. She now regretted leaving instead of staying and telling William exactly what she thought of him. But it had become clear that William wasn’t interested in understanding Jane’s point of view; he simply wanted to look down his nose at her. And at Elizabeth too, for that matter.
She wondered why he had bothered to kiss her, if he found her lack of social sophistication such a failing. It confirmed her suspicions from last night. She was good enough for idle flirtation and a kiss or two. And maybe “dinner or a concert,” followed by an hour or so in her bed. Not the whole night, though; he’d be on his way once he’d had his fun.
Jane’s living room was filled with the cacophony of four voices speaking at once. Jane, Madeline, Edward, and Charlotte sat in separate corners of the room, speaking into their cell phones.
Charlotte set down her phone and joined Elizabeth in the center of the living room.
“Hi, Char. How was the rest of your night?”
“Very satisfying,” Charlotte answered with a wicked smile. “And what have you been up to?”
“Just taking a walk and getting a cup of coffee.”
Charlotte inspected Elizabeth closely in silence. Then, without warning, she grabbed Elizabeth’s arm and dragged her down the hall to her bedroom.
“I’m proud of you,” Charlotte said. “You’re wearing something sassy for a change; that top looks great on you! But you wouldn’t wear something like that just for an innocent morning walk by yourself. What gives?”
“I had to borrow a top from Jane. This was all she had.”
“So, then, you didn’t see William Darcy this morning?”
Charlotte laughed as Elizabeth’s eyes darted toward her in surprise. “Aha! I knew it.”
“You scare me sometimes, Char. Did he leave invisible radioactive particles on me, and you have some weird sensor that recognizes them?”
“Totally unnecessary. You’re all worked up. You can’t leave your hair alone, you’re twisting the buttons on your jacket, and if you don’t stop grinding your teeth you’re going to wear them down to little stumps. There’s only one person in San Francisco who makes you behave that way. What did he do now?”
“I went to find him on his morning run, because Jane wanted to know how Charles was doing. At first he was … nice.” An unwelcome memory of William’s warm mouth brushing hers flooded her mind. She caught herself touching her tongue to her lips. “But then he turned back into his true self—patronizing and unbelievably arrogant—and he said some terrible things about Jane.”
Elizabeth briefly described their argument, but omitted the events preceding it. Charlotte listened intently, a frown creasing her brow. “That poor guy,” she remarked.
“Poor guy? Excuse me? Did you listen to what I said?”
“I feel sorry for him because I doubt the chef at the Ritz-Carlton has Sautéed Foot on the menu, and that seems to be William’s favorite dish.”
“I can’t believe you’re making a joke out of this.”
“Sorry. I agree, he had no business even hinting that Jane might be a gold-digger. To think that about Jane, of all people? That’s absurd.”
“And his idea that she should give up her law practice and leave San Francisco regardless of her wishes?”
“That’s a little more complicated. William is Charles’s best friend, so of course he’s on Charles’s side, just like you’re on Jane’s. Maybe William thinks going to LA is what’s best for Charles. It was probably inevitable that you two would fight about this.”
“And his patronizing crap about how I’m too stupid to understand his world?”
“I doubt he actually called you stupid, but he has a special genius for saying things in the worst possible way.”
“When you walk around looking down your nose at everyone, you’re likely to say arrogant things.”
Charlotte hesitated. “But if you think about it—and you’re not going to like this, but hear me out—he does have a point. How could we understand what it’s like to grow up as the heir to the throne in an extremely wealthy family?”
“Big deal. He doesn’t understand how I grew up either. Besides, it doesn’t give him the right to be so smug and condescending. He just kept insisting that his opinion was the only correct one.”
“And of course you would never be forceful in expressing your own opinions,” Charlotte teased.
“That’s different. Jane’s doing the right thing. I know it.”
Charlotte stared at her, eyebrows raised.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and grumbled, “Okay, okay. Point taken. But I still want to punch him in his egotistical nose.” Yet even as Elizabeth said these words, an image of their kiss floated back into her mind. She shoved the thought aside, furious with herself.
“His nose may be egotistical, but it’s awfully handsome.” Charlotte said, smirking. “Do the world a favor and don’t break it.”
Elizabeth and Charlotte laughed together, and Elizabeth felt herself relax. Her respite, though, was brief. The doorbell rang, and soon afterwards she heard Mrs. Bennet’s high-pitched voice in the living room. Smiling ruefully at Charlotte, she said, “I think we’d better get out there.”
The Gardiners, as expected, were of tremendous assistance in calming Mrs. Bennet’s frenzied reaction to the cancellation of the wedding. In addition, Mr. Bennet, to whom Jane had spoken earlier, had told his wife the basic facts of the case on the way to San Francisco, in order to save Jane from having to hear her mother’s first and most volatile reactions. Mrs. Bennet was now whimpering nonstop while Madeline sat beside her on the sofa, holding a Kleenex box with weary solicitude.
“Now, Francie, it’s a sad day, but it’s not the end of the world,” Edward said, from his perch on a stool at the breakfast bar. He exchanged a long-suffering glance with Mr. Bennet.
“It is, for Jane. This was her one chance to marry a rich man, and it’s gone, all gone. Why didn’t she just agree to whatever he wanted? I would have expected that kind of stubbornness from Lizzy. But Jane, my sweet, obedient girl? I just don’t understand.”
Jane had already attempted several times to explain the situation; however, Mrs. Bennet seemed to prefer not to understand. “Mom, I know it’s confusing and upsetting. But I felt I had no other choice.”
“But you were going to be so rich, so important! Why didn’t you just sign the pre-nocturnal thingie?”
“Mom, it wasn’t just the prenup,” Elizabeth interjected. “There were other issues. Charles was lying to Jane.”
“I wouldn’t mind being lied to now and then if I could live in a $5 million house,” Mrs. Bennet said, sniffling. “Honesty in a man is overrated.”
“I think your mother’s right about that,” Mr. Bennet said genially. “When she asks me if a new dress makes her hips look big, telling the truth never enters my mind.”
“Andrew!” Mrs. Bennet wailed.
“Francie, he’s just teasing,” Madeline said.
“And I had such hopes that the Bingleys would take an interest in Lydia, you know, with her being down in LA. Perhaps they would have invited her to stay sometimes, or to be a guest at their country club. I’m sure they know lots of rich young men who would love to meet her.”
Charlotte and Elizabeth glanced at each other, both trying to conceal their amusement at the thought of Lydia socializing with the Bingleys.
“And just think,” Mrs. Bennet continued, “the Bingley family fortune! The house in Pacific Heights! Gone, all gone. I simply can’t stand it!” She burst into tears, and Madeline patted her hand gently.
Elizabeth left her seat at the dining table and approached her mother. “Mom, you’re making this even harder on Jane. Please, can’t you try to calm down just a bit?”
“Calm? How can anyone be calm at a time like this? It’s a disaster. When I think how happy we all were at the dinner table last night. Mr. Bingley was so interested in dear Lydia’s acting career. And so was Mr. Darcy.”
“Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth felt a sinking sensation in her stomach. “What did you tell William Darcy about Lydia?”
“Oh, just about her latest acting role, and her new job. He said that he had noticed Lydia the minute she walked into the room last night. And of course he would. Lydia’s so lively and attractive that young men can’t help but notice her. In fact, for a moment I thought that perhaps—but, no, she’s a bit too young for him.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. William and Lydia?
“But now that I think of it,” Mrs. Bennet continued, raising her eyebrows significantly, “he also took quite an interest in your singing career, Lizzy.”
“Oh?” Elizabeth darted a glance in Jane’s direction.
“Mom, Lizzy doesn’t want to hear about this right now,” Jane interjected hastily.
“Of course she does. A famous man takes an interest in her career, and you think she wouldn’t want to hear about it?”
“What did he say?” Elizabeth asked, though she could guess the answer.
“He said that you should have pursued opera. One of your teachers tried to tell you that too, but would you listen to them? No. As usual, you thought you knew best.”
“I know all about that,” Elizabeth replied, ignoring her mother’s reproof. “William shared that opinion with me, too.”
“And he pointed out that you’d failed on Broadway, but that it was too late to change directions now.”
“He said I was a failure?” Elizabeth practically shrieked the final word.
“Lizzy, he didn’t mean it that way,” Jane said quietly, touching her sister’s arm.
“He most certainly did!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed, lifting her chin and crossing her arms over her chest.
Elizabeth looked at Jane. “Did he say it or not?” she asked, her diction precise.
“Not those exact words, no.”
“But he said something like that. In front of my family. Who else was at the table?”
“Lizzy … “ Jane’s voice trailed off.
“Who else?” Elizabeth rapped out the words. “Charles, the Bingleys, and Caroline, right?”
Jane sighed and nodded.
“Wonderful,” Elizabeth hissed. Then she remembered Mr. Bingley’s insulting speech to her in the courtyard: I will not be criticized by a failed, no-talent actress. She had wondered how Mr. Bingley knew anything about her career, and now she understood. He was merely repeating what William had said. William, who had stood by her side last night offering silent support. William, who had kissed her so gently, and looked at her with such warmth. William, who had been condescending and arrogant over coffee just a short time ago.
“That reminds me!” Mrs. Bennet sounded cheerful for the first time since her arrival. “Did you know that William Darcy is having an affair with Caroline Bingley?”
“No, he’s not,” Elizabeth said, pressing her lips together.
“Of course he is. You didn’t see them together at the dinner table. Very cozy, if you ask me. She had her hand on his knee under the table, and on who knows what else.” Mrs. Bennet wagged her eyebrows.
“Mom!” Elizabeth gasped, shocked.
“Now, Francie—” Mr. Bennet began, but Mrs. Bennet babbled on breathlessly.
“And I heard Caroline tell her sister that she and William were going to spend Saturday night alone together. She said they’d have the house in Pacific Heights all to themselves after the wedding, since Jane and Charles were staying at the Ritz.” Mrs. Bennet paused, her face clouding over. “Oh! The wedding! The house! Oh, dear!”
While Mrs. Bennet resumed her piteous wailing, Elizabeth joined Charlotte in the kitchen, her face grim. “If I’m ever tempted to get within fifty yards of William Darcy for any reason, please, just shoot me. I’ll suffer a lot less that way.”
“Is this about what he said about your career, or about Caroline Bingley? Because if it’s the career stuff, that was pretty bad, but I’m pretty sure that the only way he would ever spend a night with Caroline is in her dreams.”
“Why should I care about that? He and Caroline can go at it in the hotel lobby for all I care. They deserve each other. I never want to see either of them again, as long as I live.”
1 Note to those familiar with San Francisco: This part of the story is set in 2001, shortly after the original Crissy Field Center opened. A newer center, opened in 2014, is more elaborate and, as I understand it, is used for special programs but is not open to the general public.