Elizabeth was still smiling an hour later when she parked her car behind her building. She hurried upstairs and unlocked the door to the apartment. “Jane? I’m home. I hope you—” The words died in her throat.
Richard was lounging on the sofa, his shirt unbuttoned almost to the waist, his bare feet propped on the coffee table. “Good morning,” he said with a smirk, raising his coffee mug in a rakish salute.
Elizabeth swallowed hard. “What are you doing here?” Jane and Richard? It was impossible; at least, she hoped it was.
“I’m drinking coffee. I assume you left the old man with a big smile on his face?”
She ignored his suggestive tone. “You spent the night here?”
“An excellent deduction.” Richard sat back and drank his coffee.
Jane, dressed in her favorite gray suit, joined them in the living room. “Lizzy, there you are!”
Elizabeth was still staring at Richard. “I see we have a guest.”
“I think you’d better tell Miss Lizzy where I slept.” From the angle of his crooked grin, it was clear that Richard was enjoying the situation. “Looks like she’s reached her own conclusion based on my reputation.”
“Oh, Lizzy, that’s not it at all. I knew you were planning to visit William after rehearsal, and I wanted you to have some privacy.”
“So she kidnapped me after dinner and brought me here to keep me from crashing the party,” Richard said. “And then Will called and told me I was persona non grata.”
“And when it got late and I was sure you weren’t coming home, I made up your room for him. I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“No, that’s fine,” Elizabeth replied, smiling apologetically at Richard. “I didn’t mean to get you kicked you out of the penthouse.”
“You may not have,” he retorted in a good-natured tone, “but the old man threatened to have me dragged away in irons if I showed my face within a five-block radius.”
“That was for my sake. We were discussing something personal, and he wanted me to know that we wouldn’t be disturbed.”
Jane raised her eyebrows, eyeing Elizabeth with interest, but then frowned as she glanced at her watch. “I wish I could stay and talk, but I can’t afford to be late this morning.”
“I’ll walk you to the elevators,” Elizabeth said. At least they could have a brief chat in the hallway.
Jane approached Richard, who had risen to his feet. “I’m afraid I have to leave, but you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”
“Thanks for not tossing me out onto the streets last night.” He kissed her on the cheek. “Knock ‘em dead today. I hope I didn’t get in the way of your prep work too much.”
“That’s right,” Elizabeth said. “You had work to do for your court case. I’m sorry.”
“I finished everything, never fear. I offered him sole custody of the TV remote and took my work into the kitchen.”
Richard folded his arms over his chest. “Must we reinforce that absurd stereotype about men and channel surfing? Though come to think of it, that’s what I did till I found a movie to watch.”
“Wait a minute. You spent an evening sitting at home watching TV?” Elizabeth teased. “I can hardly believe it.”
“Please don’t tell anyone in New York,” Richard shot back. “I’d hate to have my reputation ruined. Incidentally, I assume we’re still on for Top of the Mark tonight?”
“Absolutely. Are you going to be able to make it, Jane?”
“I think so, but it depends on how things go in court today. Charlotte’s coming, right?”
“As far as I know,” Elizabeth replied. “She got home from Amsterdam day before yesterday.”
“I told Richard that I thought they’d get along well.”
Elizabeth snickered. “To say the least. Char is exactly like he’d be if he got a sex change operation, except better looking.”
“I hope you meant that she’d be the better looking one. Because the thought of me in a miniskirt ….” Richard shuddered, wearing an exaggerated grimace.
“Oh, I don’t know; I bet you’ve got lovely legs,” Elizabeth called over her shoulder as she accompanied Jane out into the hall.
“We seem to have resolved everything. Are we ready to adjourn?” William scanned the faces at the conference table, receiving a chorus of nods in reply. “Very well. Thank you all for your assistance in this process.”
For the next few minutes, William’s attention was occupied with saying goodbye to the faculty members and local musicians who had helped him select the winners of his foundation’s young composers’ grants. Once they had departed, he nodded to Sonya. “Go ahead and prepare the notification letters for my signature.”
“I’ll meet you in your studio.” She collected the stacks of papers and left the room.
“I must say, that went reasonably well.” Catherine de Bourgh rose to her feet. “And I’m satisfied with the outcome.”
“Thank you for your help, Catherine.”
“Of course. Although, as I told you in August, I would have been pleased to chair the selection committee rather than simply serving as a member. I have extensive experience in such matters.”
William stifled an eye-roll. “In any event, your participation was valuable. Now, if you’ll excuse me—”
“Don’t leave yet. I need to speak to you. In my office.”
William checked his watch. “I have somewhere else I need to be.”
“It will only take a moment. We need to speak about your schedule for the rest of the semester.”
He checked his watch again. He was probably missing a song even now, but he’d still be able to get there before she finished. “All right.”
Catherine led the way to her office and gestured to a chair, seating herself behind her desk. “I am displeased to learn that you’re leaving us at the end of the week. I understood that you would be here for the entire semester.”
“When we discussed the idea in New York, I told you that I hoped to resume my normal activities in November. Nothing has changed. And the recital in December will proceed as planned.”
“Nevertheless, I’m displeased. And Anne is deeply disappointed. You’ve spent almost no time with her these past months, and now you’re leaving. To make amends, you should join us for dinner this evening.”
“I’m afraid I have plans.”
“I’m curious about these plans of yours, William. I never had the impression that you were such a man about town, with constant social engagements.”
William ignored the general context of her remark and addressed the current situation. “I believe you’re aware that my cousin Richard is visiting me. My plans this evening are with him.” It was true, more or less.
“I beg your pardon, Dr. de Bourgh?” Bill Collins stood in the doorway to Catherine’s office.
“Yes, Collins, what is it?”
Bill hustled into the room, halting beside her desk in an attitude of humble supplication. William regretted that he didn’t have a Milk Bone in his pocket. “Please forgive the interruption,” Bill began in the unctuous voice that never failed to annoy William, “but I’m preparing the faculty’s preliminary contracts for the next school year, as you requested. You told me to start with senior faculty and administration, and work my way down to the junior faculty.”
Catherine glared at him. “Yes, I did. I should think that you’d be better off getting it done, rather than standing here wasting my time.”
“Please accept my deepest apologies. It’s just that I know you’re planning to meet with the junior faculty in November, and I thought you might want drafts of their contracts for next year available for those meetings. So I thought perhaps I should start with those instead.”
Catherine’s momentarily disconcerted expression was comical. William coughed to conceal a snicker that escaped before he could suppress it. She recovered quickly, snapping, “Well, of course you should. I’m astonished that you even need to ask the question. See that they’re ready in time.”
With a dismissive air, she turned away from Bill and addressed William. “If your plans with your cousin are keeping you busy tonight, then Anne and I would welcome your company in our box at the Opera House on Friday evening. I believe you’re in town until Saturday, and you haven’t accompanied us to the opera yet this season.”
“With your permission, Dr. de Bourgh, I’ll get back to work now. I want to get started on those contracts this instant.” Bill’s words were for Catherine, but his smirk was directed at William. Bill knew quite well where William was going to be that evening. Golden Gate Jazz had a job at Top of the Mark, the lounge atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. Bill would be there as the group’s pianist, and William had become a regular fixture at their performances.
William and Elizabeth had stopped trying to hide their relationship from Bill, based on Elizabeth’s argument that Bill must have heard conservatory gossip about them by now. “If he were going to tell Dr. de Bourgh, he’d have done it already,” she had insisted. William had finally agreed, relieved that he could stop censoring his behavior toward Elizabeth in Bill’s presence.
“I have plans on Friday night as well,” William replied to Catherine’s invitation. “But I’d be pleased if you and Anne would join me for dinner at Acquerello tomorrow night.” William usually reserved Thursday evenings, when Elizabeth taught a night class, for visiting a jazz club with Roger, but he could make an exception in the interest of suppressing Catherine’s dangerous curiosity. Perhaps he could even talk Roger into coming along; he hadn’t met Catherine and so wouldn’t automatically avoid her.
“I’m afraid that I’m engaged tomorrow evening, but Anne would love to join you. I’m sure you know that’s her favorite restaurant.”
He excused himself from Catherine’s office, checking his watch as he strode down the hall. Anne was in her office, next door to her mother’s, but he would speak to her later. He made his way rapidly through the hallways of the conservatory, his footsteps echoing through the deserted corridors. In less than fifteen minutes, the current class period would end and the hallways would be jammed, but for now, silence reigned.
He reached his destination and was gratified to see that, as usual, the classroom door was open. He heard a woman singing and smiled, but within a few seconds he realized that the voice didn’t belong to Elizabeth. Damn. I must have missed her.
Although he had seen Elizabeth perform in public on several occasions, he had not yet realized one of his fondest wishes: to be the audience for a private performance. He had tried teasing, cajoling, and even a dignified form of sulking, but she was always ready with an excuse: a lack of sheet music, a full stomach (with its negative impact on her singing), or the lateness of the hour.
Then one Wednesday morning in September, he had passed this doorway en route to her office and had heard her sweet voice. It was the same classroom in which he had heard her poignant song the afternoon of the party at Rosings. Casual questioning a few days later had unearthed the information that she often stayed to practice after her morning class, since the classroom was vacant until after lunch.
Since then, William had made a habit of spending Wednesdays at the conservatory, and his routine always included a late-morning stroll down this hallway. Occasionally he was disappointed by an empty room, but usually his songbird was there, hard at work. He had never announced his presence, cognizant of his own dislike of an audience when he practiced, yet unable to give up these delightful interludes.
He stepped silently to the doorway, which stood at the highest point in the room, and scanned the rows of seats below him. She was in the second row, her attention trained on the singer, whom William recognized as another instructor from the vocal music department.
The song ended and Elizabeth called out, “That was fantastic!”
The other woman, whose name William couldn’t recall, replied, “So I got the focus changes right this time?”
Elizabeth rose from her seat and headed down to the stage. “And you were completely believable.”
“Thanks to you. I can see why they’re working you to death on ‘South Pacific.’ You’re good at this stuff.”
“I’m glad I could help, Barb. That’s going to be a great audition piece. Do you want to perform it one more time?”
“No, thanks. I’m feeling good about it. And didn’t you say you had something you wanted to sing?”
Elizabeth glanced up, and William stepped back into the shadows. “Yes, if you don’t mind.”
“No, go right ahead.”
Elizabeth retrieved a CD from the desk and loaded it into the player. William situated himself for optimal listening. He had found that she never raised her eyes to the highest row of seats in the room, which meant that he could safely lean a short distance into the doorway and enjoy both her voice and the emotions she conveyed so vividly. He always imagined that he was in the room with her, sitting in the front row, the recipient of her undivided attention.
She began to sing, and William was transfixed. It was as though she was singing her story, their story, and every word spoke directly to his heart:
For once I’m lost for words,
Your smile has really thrown me.
This is not like me at all,
I never thought I’d know the kind of love you’ve shown me.
Now, no matter where I am,
No matter what I do,
I see your face appearing
Like an unexpected song,
An unexpected song that only we are hearing.
I don’t know what’s going on,
Can’t work it out at all,
What ever made you choose me?
I just can’t believe my eyes.
You look at me as though you couldn’t bear to lose me.
Now, no matter where I am,
No matter what I do,
I see your face appearing
Like an unexpected song,
An unexpected song that only we are hearing.1
As Elizabeth held the final note of the song, William couldn’t stay hidden any longer. He stepped through the doorway, standing in the back of the room. Perhaps sensing movement, she looked up. Her eyes locked with his, brimming with love and tremulous joy. He was about to descend the steps to the stage and capture her in a crushing embrace when Barb’s hearty applause echoed through the room and he froze. He had forgotten that they were not alone.
“That was amazing!” Barb stood up and approached the stage. “You made me cry. But don’t you dare tell any of my students that I have a sentimental side.” She took a closer look at Elizabeth. “Wow, you even made yourself cry.”
Elizabeth was indeed wiping a tear from her cheek. “They’re happy tears,” she said in answer to Barb’s remark, but William knew the comment was intended for him. “This song is special to me.” She raised her eyes to William again.
“Well, I wouldn’t change a thing about that performance.”
Elizabeth brushed away another tear. William ached to hold her, kissing away any further teardrops. “Thanks for giving me the chance to try it out,” she said, smiling at Barb.
“Do you want to go through it again? Not that you need to.”
William hoped that Elizabeth would accept that suggestion, but she shook her head. “I have a voice student due any minute. We’re going to work in here so we can use the sound system.”
“Not even enough time to grab a sandwich?”
“I’m afraid not, but thanks for asking.”
“Um, excuse me?” It was a high-pitched feminine voice, coming from behind William. He turned and saw a tall, slender girl standing behind him, her short cap of red hair gleaming even in the indifferent light in the hallway. She gaped at him. “You’re William Darcy!”
“Yes, I am.”
“Omigosh! I’m, like, a huge fan! I’ve seen you at some receptions and stuff, but I was always afraid to, I don’t know, talk to you or anything.”
William didn’t know what to say, so he just smiled, hands in his pockets.
The girl’s eyes were huge. “My name is Jenna. Jenna Woods. Are you here to see Ms. Bennet? I mean, I’ve heard rumors that she’s your—never mind, I shouldn’t say that, but—oh, geez, I’m babbling like an idiot!”
William usually disengaged himself from giddy fans as quickly as possible, but for some reason it seemed important to put this girl at ease. “It’s nice to meet you, Jenna. Are you here for your voice lesson?”
“How did you know that?”
“I heard Ms. Bennet say something about it a minute ago. She’s waiting for you, so you might as well go right in.”
“Thank you. But first—no, I shouldn’t ask.”
“What is it?”
She held out a yellow folder. “Would you autograph my music folder?”
“Do you have a pen?”
While Jenna was fumbling in her purse, Barb exited the classroom, nodding to William as she passed. Jenna produced a purple felt-tip pen which he accepted with a grin, writing a short message on the folder.
She took the folder from his hand, inspecting it closely, and then looked up at him, her eyes dancing. “Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome. Have a good lesson.”
Beaming, Jenna practically bounded into the room and down the steps. Elizabeth stood halfway up the stairs, her eyes shining. Evidently she had observed the exchange. “Jenna, go on down to the stage,” she said. “I’ll be right with you.”
The halls were filling now with students and faculty, some strolling slowly and conversing in animated tones, others weaving through the crowd at high speeds. Elizabeth stepped outside the room and faced William, a sweet smile on her face. “Hi,” she murmured.
He embraced her with his eyes. “Hello, cara.”
“Did you like the song?” She took a step closer to him.
He stepped closer too, their bodies almost touching. “Very, very much.”
“I’m glad, because it was for you.”
“I want to kiss you.” It was taking every ounce of William’s restraint not to snatch her into his arms despite the crowds milling around them.
“I know.” She touched his hand in a fleeting caress. “I hate to go, but ….” She glanced behind her at the classroom, where Jenna waited.
“I understand. And, Lizzy?”
“Promise you’ll sing me that song some time when we’re alone?”
Her smile was tender. “I promise.”
He watched her descend to the front of the room, and then forced his feet to move in the direction of his studio, where Sonya was working on the grant winners’ notification letters. Partway there he stopped and, on a sudden impulse, exited the building through the main doors. He crossed the grassy slope that led down to the street, pausing when he reached the sidewalk.
He needed time alone to process everything he had learned in the past day: Elizabeth’s harrowing story, her explanation of the misunderstandings that had impeded their relationship, and the certainty that he was loved by the woman he adored. A long walk, to exercise his body and clear his mind, sounded like the perfect prescription.
William turned to his left and sauntered down the sidewalk. Sonya would have to wait.
1 “An Unexpected Song / The Last Man in My Life.” performed by Christiane Noll on A Broadway Love Story, © 1998, Fynsworth Alley. ("An Unexpected Song: music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; lyrics by Don Black, © 1981, The Bicycle Music Company). Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.