When William arrived home from Boston late Sunday afternoon, he made only a perfunctory response to Mrs. Reynolds’s warm greeting. He surprised her further by asking that his dinner be brought to his sitting room.
“But you’ll go and say hello to Mrs. Darcy and Georgiana first, won’t you?” Mrs. Reynolds suggested. “They were expecting you to join them for dinner. They’re out in the garden.”
He shook his head emphatically. “I’ll see them later. I’m tired and I need some rest. Please apologize to them for me.”
As she watched, he climbed the stairs at an uncharacteristically slow pace. His shoulders were slumped, and she had seen the lines of strain and worry on his face. She shook her head, wondering what was wrong. Above all, it was unlike William to closet himself away from his grandmother and Georgiana. Mrs. Reynolds could remember countless evenings when William, obviously exhausted from his travels, had listened patiently to Mrs. Darcy’s account of her recent activities while simultaneously helping Georgie with her homework.
She went in search of her husband, Allen. Perhaps he had picked up some clues during the drive home from Penn Station. Not that he’d tell her anything without plenty of nagging, but she would try.
William collapsed into the leather armchair in his sitting room, relieved to be alone at last. He was exhausted in mind and body, yet he couldn’t stop his mind from repeating, parrot-like, the question that had tormented him all the way home from Boston on the train: What am I going to do?
His plan to emancipate himself from the spell cast by Elizabeth Bennet had been a miserable and mortifying failure. Instead, three days later, he knew with frightening certainty that his recent emotional volatility was not simply a sign that he needed a woman—at least, not just any woman. Rather, the responses Elizabeth ignited in his body—and, he realized now, his heart—were for her, and her alone.
The weekend had begun well enough. His recital on Friday night had been well attended and enthusiastically received. At the reception afterwards, he had encountered Paula Martinson, a woman he had dated a few years ago. Their relationship, like most of his connections with women, had been based on friendship, companionship, and convenience, not romance. Eventually, Paula had begun a serious relationship with an investment banker and had moved to Boston to be with him.
William had heard from mutual friends that Paula was engaged, but when he congratulated her over drinks following the recital, he learned that they had broken up a short time ago. She invited him back to her apartment and, with the frankness he had always appreciated, explained that she needed a night in the arms of a sympathetic friend. William, certain that he needed the same thing, willingly accompanied her.
Once they were alone, he couldn’t go through with it. He stood in her living room, exchanging awkward glances with her and mostly staring into the distance. Paula finally took the initiative, drawing him into her arms and kissing him. He felt nothing at first, not even the slightest spark of desire. Then his imagination conjured up a vision of Elizabeth, her soft lips pressed against his, her body warm and yielding in his arms, and he became instantly aroused.
When Paula untied William’s bow tie and began to unbutton his vest, he was forced to make a decision. He could allow his imagination free rein, entering a fantasy world in which he was making love to Elizabeth. But he couldn’t use Paula in that way. Gently but firmly, he extricated himself from her embrace, led her to the sofa, and explained that the problem was with him, not with her.
To his great relief, she took his hand, saying, “Don’t worry about it. I could tell something was wrong from the moment we got here. Just answer one question.”
“Forgive the indelicate remark, but I couldn’t help noticing that the flesh is willing, so it must be the spirit that’s weak?”
William was too embarrassed to respond.
Paula continued. “And even though it’s been a few years, we’ve done this before, several times. And we were good together. So I doubt you’re worried that I might not respect you in the morning.”
A ghost of a smile touched William’s lips. “No.”
“You’re in love, aren’t you?”
William shook his head emphatically. “Of course not.”
“Oh, I think you are. But I know you’d rather die than admit something that private.” Paula squeezed his hand. “And since you said you’re unattached, I’m guessing she doesn’t know how you feel. Or, worse yet, she doesn’t feel the same way about you.”
He couldn’t meet her frank gaze, so he inspected his patent leather shoes in silence.
“I hope it works out for you, Will. You deserve someone special.” She leaned over and re-buttoned his vest. “So we’ll drop the extracurricular activities. Let’s just sit and talk. Would you like some more wine?”
He had stayed as long as politeness required but had said little, afraid that if he started talking, she would coax the whole story out of him. Then he had called a cab, kissed her on the cheek, and departed.
Back at the hotel, he had lain awake for the rest of the night, searching for answers. Elizabeth had invaded his thoughts and dreams until he had no peace. It was a cruel irony that the one woman he longed to impress was also one who found nothing impressive about him.
Her dismissive farewell in the park haunted him. She could scarcely have made it clearer that she never wanted to see him again. He winced as he thought of her harshest reproof: You don’t know the first thing about being a decent human being.
William heard a knock at his sitting room door. It was Mrs. Reynolds, delivering his dinner.
“Here you go, William. I made all your favorites. Shall I set it up at the table here?”
“Just leave everything covered for now. I’m not hungry.”
“You have to eat to keep up your strength. You’ve been working too hard.”
“I’ll eat. But first I want to rest for a while.”
Mrs. Reynolds set the tray on the table and approached his chair. “Are you feeling all right?” He saw her hand twitch, as though she was tempted to feel his forehead for a fever, something she had done frequently when he was a boy.
“I’m fine. Just tired. It was a long weekend.”
“If there’s anything I can do to help, all you have to do is ask.”
If only he could introduce Mrs. Reynolds to Elizabeth. The housekeeper would give him a great character reference. “Thank you, but all I need is some rest.”
“All right, then. I’ll take this back to the kitchen and keep it warm. When you’re ready to eat, call me and I’ll bring it right up.” She raised her eyebrows and emphasized her remaining words. “I expect to hear from you before long.”
He smiled in spite of himself. “Thanks, Mrs. Reynolds. You take good care of me.”
“I try,” she remarked over her shoulder as she left the room.
In his dreams, William was on the beach near Pemberley again. He sat alone as evening approached, leaning back on his elbows. He was waiting for someone, but the beach was deserted. He stared at the waves crashing against the rocks, leaving foamy surf behind, and wondered how long he would have to wait.
After a few minutes, movement in the distance caught his eye. It was a woman, strolling along the edge of the water, the waves splashing at her ankles. Her dark curls cascaded down her back, wafting gently in the breeze. As she came closer, he recognized Elizabeth. Her skin glowed in the fading sunlight, and her green eyes shone with vitality, a life force that he longed to absorb into himself.
As he watched, her eyes softened and her lips curved into a tender smile. But then he noticed a man approaching from the opposite direction on the beach, and he realized that her eyes were fixed on the approaching stranger.
The pair met, and the man wrapped Elizabeth in his arms, kissing her passionately. White-hot jealousy arced through William as she pressed herself against the man, her hands stroking his back and shoulders.
“Elizabeth?” he called out frantically.
She turned and stared at him. “William? What are you doing here?”
“I was waiting for you. I thought you were coming to meet me.”
“Why would I want to be with you? You don’t know the first thing about being a decent human being.”
“Yes, and you will always be alone. You deserve to be alone. Goodbye, William.”
Elizabeth and the man walked down the beach together whispering and laughing, his arm wrapped around her waist. Soon they were gone, and William sat on the beach, a solitary figure, as the sun set and darkness descended.
By Tuesday morning it was obvious to everyone in the Darcy household that something was wrong with William. He was by nature a private man, and his loved ones were accustomed to his occasional moods. But since returning from Boston, he had been unusually glum and uncommunicative.
Each of the female residents of the house tried, in her own way, to raise his spirits. Mrs. Reynolds toiled in the kitchen, lovingly preparing all of his favorite foods, but although he thanked her gravely for her kindness, he ate little. His grandmother tried to draw him out by asking a variety of questions about his recent travels, but his answers were brief and subdued. Georgiana played the piano for him, something that never failed to excite his pride in her accomplishments. But although he praised her afterwards, his remarks were vague and his manner distracted.
Sonya made light of the others’ worries, remarking, “Let’s just be glad he’s going to LA for the weekend. We won’t have to deal with him, and maybe he’ll come back in a better mood.” In truth, she was concerned about him too, but for the present she chose to watch and wait.
Richard, for his part, did what he could to get William out of the house, but with little success. One morning as they ran together in Central Park, Richard regaled him with tales of the previous night’s club-hopping, a festival of debauchery in which William had declined to participate.
“I’m telling you, Will, you missed a great night.”
“You know I’m not comfortable making small talk in bars. And I’m not interested in picking up a woman for a one-night stand.”
Richard shrugged. “It kills me the way you’re squandering the William Darcy Magnetic Field. You could be with a different woman every night, but instead you sit at home alone and brood.”
Richard was surprised to see pain slash across William’s features. “Okay, Will, enough beating around the bush. What happened in Boston?”
“Nothing,” William replied. He increased the length of his strides, pulling ahead of Richard.
“All right, then, before that,” Richard had to raise his voice to be heard as he struggled to catch up with William, whose longer legs gave him an advantage. “You’ve been on edge ever since you got back from San Francisco. What’s going on?”
“Okay, old man,” Richard replied with a shrug, “have it your way. I know better than to try to get you to talk when you don’t want to. I hope your trip to LA cheers you up. Are you going to see Chuckles Bingley?”
“No, he’s going to be in Chicago on business.”
“Too bad. But at least you can get some sun and fresh air. Go to the beach and ogle girls in string bikinis. I know that’s what I’d be doing.”
Richard saw William flinch at the mention of the beach. The whole business was a perplexing mystery, but apparently William wanted it that way.
William’s arrival home from Los Angeles the following Monday was reminiscent of his return from Boston the week before. He proceeded directly to the third floor and shut himself in his sitting room without speaking to anyone.
The weekend in Los Angeles had been sheer misery. He was accustomed to traveling by himself and ordinarily didn’t mind the solitude, but on this trip he was keenly aware of being alone. Even his rental car—another Z3, this one in silver—brought him no pleasure. Then, partway through the weekend, his imagination had conjured up a companion: Elizabeth. She was not the angry, disdainful Elizabeth of his reality, but rather the warm, loving woman of his earliest fantasies. She walked beside him down hotel corridors, talking and laughing, her hand entwined with his. She sat in the audience at his concerts applauding his performances, pride shining in her eyes. And she lay in his arms at night, caressing him and whispering endearments after they made passionate love.
He knew that he had placed her on a pedestal, gifting her with unattainable perfection and impossible desirability. But without the fantasy, loneliness descended like a crushing weight on his chest, making it hard to breathe.
The worst part of his torment was that it was his own fault. He understood that now. He had driven her away. Just as she had told him with such contempt in his dream, he deserved to be alone. You don’t know the first thing about being a decent human being. Those words still echoed in his head, an accusatory refrain that gave him no peace.
He paced back and forth in his sitting room, running his hands through his hair. It had been just under three weeks since he had met Elizabeth, and he had spent most of that time riding an emotional roller coaster. What was wrong with him?
Without conscious direction, his feet propelled him toward his piano. Almost before he knew what was happening, his fingers struck the keys, playing the powerful opening octaves of one of Rachmaninoff’s darkest preludes.1
After the final chord faded away, he slid the bench back from the piano. He leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees, and buried his head in his hands.
As he climbed the stairs, Sonya emerged from her second-floor office. “The paperwork related to the latest group of grant awardees is still on your desk. When can we get together to handle it?”
William’s dizziness was growing worse, but he refused to let Sonya know. He grasped the handrail to avoid losing his balance and summoned all his strength to keep himself upright. “I need to take a shower, and then I have some other things to do. I’ll see to it after lunch.” He needed time to rest and recover his equilibrium.
He struggled to clear his head, afraid that he might pass out and fall down the stairs. “Sonya, I said I’d see to it after lunch,” he insisted in an obstinate tone, his breathing labored. “Excuse me.” He began to climb the stairs to the third floor, his steps tentative.
“I asked you to sign these papers before you left for LA last Thursday, and you put me off then, too. They need to go in today’s mail. What’s the matter with you lately?”
“Nothing is the matter with me!” he bellowed, his powerful voice echoing through the house. “I wish you would all stop asking me that question! I said I’d sign the papers after lunch, and I will!” Gripping the handrail tightly, he finished his climb to the third floor and tottered down the hall to his bedroom. He slammed the door behind him and collapsed onto the bed, trying to catch his breath and to stop his head from spinning.
Mrs. Reynolds emerged from the breakfast room on the other side of the second-floor landing, a polishing cloth in her hand. She exchanged a shocked look with Sonya.
William’s dizziness had finally abated, and he stood alone in his two-person shower, lathering his body and staring out through the glass at his two-person whirlpool tub. It was empty, as always. Even in his imagination he could conjure up nothing but a succession of days, months, and years in which the tub would sit empty.
He showered, shaved, and dressed quickly, and then studied his haggard face in the mirror. He was ashamed of himself for shouting at Sonya, who had only been trying to get him to pay attention to an important business matter. He was angry at only one person—himself—and had taken it out on her.
He descended the staircase to the second floor and stepped into Sonya’s office, which adjoined his larger one. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. You didn’t do anything to deserve it.”
She nodded. “Apology accepted. Just don’t do it again.”
“I won’t. At least, not today.”
She grinned and nodded. “Why don’t we have Mrs. Reynolds bring our lunch up here. We can go over the papers while we eat.”
“All right, that sounds good.”
Sonya called Mrs. Reynolds to order lunch while William went to his office. Richard was right; it was like a cave, gloomy and oppressive. He opened the drapes to admit some daylight and turned on several lamps. He switched on the chandelier as well, smiling as he remembered Richard’s complaints about its weak light. His efforts were succeeding: he could feel his mood brightening along with the room.
He retrieved the stack of papers Sonya had left on his desk, sat at the conference table, and began to review them. Sonya joined him, and they made it through the papers just as Mrs. Reynolds arrived, accompanied by the part-time maid who assisted her. Both carried trays heavily laden with food.
“Good grief, Marcia, you’re just feeding two of us, not the entire city!” Sonya exclaimed. “But everything looks delicious.”
Mrs. Reynolds glanced at William. “I wanted to make sure the two of you got enough to eat,” she explained. “I’ll be downstairs if you need anything else.” As she turned to go, he saw her look at Sonya, raising her eyebrows.
After Mrs. Reynolds had departed, William turned to Sonya. “Okay, what’s going on?”
“What are you talking about?” she asked, feigning innocence. “Doesn’t the food look good?”
“‘Dumb’ doesn’t play on you, Sonya. I saw the not-so-subtle look you exchanged with Mrs. R. I assume she heard me yelling earlier?”
She nodded reluctantly. “She’s worried about you.”
“Are you, William? I’m worried about you, too.”
“I just lost my temper earlier. It happens to everyone now and then.”
“That’s not the only thing. I mean, you’ve always had your share of artistic temperament and then some. What do you call a male diva? A divo, maybe?”
“Do you have a point, or are you just needling me on general principles?”
“And when you don’t get your way, you can be demanding and sometimes rather cold.”
“Why, thank you.”
She continued as though she hadn’t heard his interruption. “But in all the time I’ve known you, you’ve never lost control of yourself the way you did earlier.”
“I said I was sorry for yelling at you.” It seemed like he’d done nothing but apologize to women for the last three weeks.
“I’m not looking for another apology. I’m not angry. I’m concerned because you haven’t been yourself lately. You’ve been unusually moody. Granted, you have your mother’s intense emotions, but usually you do your best to suppress them, to be more like your father. I’m not saying that’s an easy way to live, but it’s what you’ve always done.”
“Just let me finish. I can tell that something bad has happened, something you’re struggling to deal with. William, it’s eating you alive, and you need to talk to someone.”
He shook his head. “I’ve had something on my mind, but I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You know you can trust me, don’t you? Nothing you say will ever leave this room.”
“And I know that you almost never share your feelings with anyone, but you’ve confided in me before when you needed someone to talk to.”
That was true, though it had been many years ago. Sonya had supported 15-year-old William through his grief when his mother had died in a car accident. He had found himself able to open up to her while hiding his pain from the rest of the world. Three years later, she had again helped him deal with the death of a parent when his father had died of a heart attack.
But he was no longer a sensitive teen. He could handle this on his own. “Thank you, but talking about it won’t change anything.”
“Is it a woman?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Just a feeling.”
Sonya’s “feeling” was accurate as usual. William didn’t want to lie, but he also couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth. Instead, he turned his attention to the food, dipping a spoon into a steaming bowl of Mrs. Reynolds’s soup. “This is delicious. You should try some.”
“Don’t change the subject. Okay, you didn’t deny that it’s a woman. So I’m right about that.”
“And have a sandwich. The bread is still warm; it must be fresh from the oven.”
“And considering how unhappy you’ve been, I assume that this woman didn’t take one look at you, leap into your arms, and cry, ‘Take me, I’m yours!’”
He set down his turkey sandwich, painful emotion flaring in his heart and his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she continued in a gentler tone. “Looks like I might have just hit a little too close to home. But I’m going to drag it out of you eventually, so why don’t you just tell me what’s going on.”
A long silence ensued while William stared at his parents’ portrait. He realized that Sonya was right; he truly was their son, with his mother’s emotions and his father’s coldness, his mother’s sensitivity and his father’s arrogance. Elizabeth was right about him.
He swallowed hard. “Yes. It’s a woman.”
“When did you meet her? I know it was recent.”
“In San Francisco.”
“Is it Charlotte Lucas, that woman I tracked down at Berkeley?”
“No. A friend of Charlotte’s.”
“What’s her name?”
“Elizabeth.” It felt good to say it aloud. “She was the maid of honor at Charles’s wedding, the bride’s sister.”
“And she doesn’t share your feelings?”
“No. She hates me.”
He exhaled loudly. “Because I’m arrogant, patronizing, and rude. Not that any of this comes as a surprise to you.”
Sonya’s lips twitched. “No, not particularly. But you’re a lot of other things too.”
“Conceited, egotistical, and insensitive?”
“Wow. She landed on you hard.”
William leaned back in his chair, his head tilted back as he stared up at the ceiling. He was mortified to be making these admissions, and even more mortified to feel tears threatening to fill his eyes. He glanced at his parents’ portrait again and heard his father’s disapproving voice in his head: Only weaklings cry. He had been no more than four years old the first time he heard that admonition, but he had quickly learned that crying was unacceptable. He hadn’t cried since his mother’s death fifteen years before, and even then, only in private.
He took a deep breath and sat forward again, his eyes reluctantly meeting Sonya’s sympathetic gaze. “We’d better finish eating. We have to leave for Lincoln Center soon.”
“We have enough time to finish our lunch and this conversation. Tell me more.”
“What’s the point? Elizabeth doesn’t want anything to do with me. End of story.” He dropped his half-eaten sandwich onto the plate, his appetite gone.
“That doesn’t sound like you. You worked hard to build a successful musical career. And you did that despite losing your biggest supporter when you were still young. It’s not like you to give up in the face of obstacles.”
“But what can I do? She doesn’t want to see me, and I don’t want to harass her.”
“One of your problems might be that you’re used to women throwing themselves at you. It’s a foreign concept that you might have to—well, it’s an old-fashioned word, but you’ve never had to court a woman. I bet that’s why you made a bad impression on her, if it really was so bad. Or are you just dwelling on something small, blowing it out of proportion?”
He sighed. “No, it really was that bad. And you may be right; I think I just assumed she’d be attracted to me.”
“And I can guess the rest. You were mostly among strangers in San Francisco. I can just see you standing in a corner somewhere feeling awkward and pasting that cold look on your face, the one that makes everyone think you consider yourself too exalted to speak to them.”
He grimaced. “I might have done that.”
“And then, when you were forced to talk, overcompensating by showing off your expertise.”
William shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “You know me too well.”
“My dear boss, you’re spoiled rotten. You’ve been doted on by a house full of women for most of your life. Nobody ever talks back to you—besides Richard and me, that is—and you’ve developed a bit of a swelled head. No, make that more than a bit.”
“If this is supposed to be making me feel better, it isn’t.”
“I’m not saying you’re a bad person. It’s a weird thing to say to your boss, but you’re the kid brother I never had, and I’m crazy about you. And I don’t know anyone who is more generous. Brad would never have been able to go to Princeton without your support. And without Princeton, he wouldn’t be heading to Harvard Law in the fall.”
William couldn’t help but smile at the reminder of Sonya’s brilliant son. “He deserved the help.”
“You have such a warm, generous heart. You’re affectionate and loyal to the people you love. But outside of that tiny circle, you think of yourself first, and everyone else second, and you’re too quick to look down your nose at strangers. As long as you want to marry one of the army of fawning women who’d be only too happy to make your every wish their command, that’s fine.”
William shuddered. “No, thank you.”
“Exactly. I give you credit; I think you realize that you need a woman who will be your equal partner, who will challenge you. And to have even a chance of finding her, you’re going to have to learn to think of other people first.”
“It’s too late with Elizabeth.”
“Maybe so. But give what I’ve said some thought. At least the next time you meet someone like her, maybe you’ll make a better impression.”
Sonya was probably right. It was over with Elizabeth, but the next time he was attracted to a woman, he could try to avoid repeating his mistakes. But what if Elizabeth was ‘the one,’ and he had lost his one chance at happiness?
William’s appetite vanished. He left Sonya finishing her lunch and excused himself to get his jacket before they left for Lincoln Center. He trudged upstairs to his luxurious master suite, built for two, inhabited by one. One lonely man.
1 Prelude in C# minor, Opus 3, No.2, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Performed by Van Cliburn. From My Favorite Rachmaninoff, © 2000, BMG Entertainment. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.