Half an hour later, William was finishing his second cup of decaf coffee and contemplating a third. He and Charles sat at a small table near an espresso cart at the end of the concourse—not a peaceful setting, but one where they could monitor the status of William’s flight. His airline’s nearest club lounge was too far away to justify going there, especially since this departure time was approaching.
They had banished Caroline, who had declined Charles’s suggestion that she head into the city on her own, to a nearby table where she sat sipping espresso, playing with her rings, and scanning yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. With the announcements of flight arrivals and departures adding to the hubbub of travelers hurrying along the concourse, William doubted she could hear their conversation, but her occasional curious stares were still an inhibiting force.
William had surprised himself by talking to Charles at length about Elizabeth. He was finding unexpected pleasure in discussing their relationship, of course concealing details that would have compromised their privacy.
“I’m happy for you,” Charles said in a hearty tone. “And as I remind you constantly, Jane and I thought you two might hit it off. It just took you a little while to admit it. I didn’t expect it to get this serious, though.”
“Why do you say that?” William glanced involuntarily at Caroline, but her nose was buried in her newspaper.
“Don’t get me wrong. I think Lizzy’s terrific. But it seemed like you were looking for someone who grew up in a home like yours, who’s used to all of it. You talked about those issues where Jane was concerned, and I thought it would matter even more to you. In fact, you said something like that the first time I mentioned Lizzy, before you even met her. Someone on your ‘social level,’ I think you might have said.”
William winced, wondering if he would ever live down those words.
Charles continued. “So I figured that while you might still enjoy Lizzy’s company, it wouldn’t amount to anything more than going out to dinner now and then.”
“As you pointed out, that was before I met her.”
Charles swallowed the last of his coffee and set his cup on the table. “What does your grandmother think? Isn’t she pushing for you to marry Anne de Bourgh?”
“Gran is concerned, but she’ll love Lizzy once she knows her better.”
“I’m glad it’s working out so well. Lizzy’s obviously good for you; you look great.”
“I feel great, and I’ve never been happier.”
A voice on the loudspeaker system interrupted their conversation, announcing a delay of William’s flight.
“Flying is a such pain in the ass,” Charles said. “But the good news is, we’ve got some extra time to talk, which makes up for my late arrival. Would you like some more coffee? It’s my turn to buy a round.”
“Thanks. I’m drinking decaf.”
Charles jumped to his feet and approached the counter, chatting with the barista as she fixed their drinks. Caroline started to rise from her chair, obviously intent on joining William, but she withered under his warning stare and sank back into her seat.
“Here you go, Will. The barista asked who you were—she thought she recognized you—but I told her you just have a familiar face.”
“Thanks.” He wasn’t in the mood for autograph seekers. “I think we’ve dissected my life for long enough. How are you doing? It seems like things might be improving.”
“They are—at work, anyway. My job isn’t so bad, and I’m kind of good at it. This is the first job I’ve had in my father’s company where I felt at least marginally competent.”
“Then it’s good you asked for the job you wanted instead of accepting the one he chose for you.”
“Yeah. I’m glad you talked me into doing that.” Charles winced as he swallowed a mouthful of steaming coffee. He swallowed, blinking his eyes in obvious discomfort. “I should have talked to him ages ago. I just didn’t think he’d listen.”
“Then everything is going well?”
“Yes and no. The job is okay, and Mom and I have gotten to know each other better. But I can’t seem to please Father, no matter what I do, so dealing with him is unpleasant. And above all, I miss Jane. I still love her. And sometimes ….” A flight boarding announcement blared out, forcing Charles to pause. When he could continue, he said, “Sometimes I think she might still have feelings for me.”
“Has your father changed his mind about Jane?”
“No. He hates that I come up here, and he’s not one to suffer in silence. But I’m living in LA, like he wanted, and taking my work seriously, so he can’t say much about how I spend my weekends. Maybe if I offered a compromise now, he’d finally listen. But it depends on Jane, and whether or not she’d still want me.” Charles leaned forward, his elbows on the edge of the table. “You’ve seen more of her than I have lately. What’s your opinion? And I want the truth, not what you think I want to hear.”
William took a cautious sip of his coffee while deciding what to say. Through personal experience, he understood Charles’s feelings much better now than he had in May. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen any evidence that she’s still in love with you.”
Charles’s hopeful expression withered. “Are you sure? Jane’s not the sort to make a fuss about things. Does she ever mention me, maybe ask about me?”
“Your name comes up occasionally in conversation, in a general sense. But Jane wouldn’t be likely to discuss her feelings in front of me, so I’m not the best person to ask.”
“What about Lizzy? Has she ever said anything about Jane and me?”
“Let’s see.” William thought for a minute. “It’s an awkward topic for us, given our different loyalties, so we tend to avoid it. She asks about you occasionally, wondering if I’ve spoken to you, how you’re doing. And she said something yesterday about hoping you and Jane would reconcile.”
Charles’s expression brightened. “What else did she say?”
“That was all, just that she wished it would happen.”
“Still, that’s encouraging. At least she thinks it’s a possibility. That must mean Jane still thinks about me. What about other men? Is Jane still seeing that Jordan guy?”
“I don’t think so. Recently she’s been spending time with Richard.”
Charles scowled at William. “Your cousin Richard? How could you let that happen?”
“‘Let’ isn’t an appropriate term when it comes to Richard,” William said with a wry grin. “It’s platonic; they just enjoy each other’s company. He found someone else for non-platonic activities; for the past few days he and Charlotte Lucas have been inseparable.”
Charles raised his eyebrows at the mention of Charlotte, but then seemed to dismiss that news with a small shake of his head. “So he and Jane haven’t … slept together?”
William didn’t approve of discussing other people’s sex lives, even nonexistent ones, but he needed to make an exception to ease Charles’s mind. “No. And sometimes I think she was just trying to keep Richard busy so Lizzy and I could have some privacy. He has a talent for showing up at inopportune moments.”
“That sounds like something Jane would do,” Charles said, a sad smile on his face.
“Now that I know her better, I understand why you were drawn to her. But ….” William glanced in Caroline’s direction to make sure she wasn’t eavesdropping. “I wish I didn’t have to say this, but there is still the issue of her motives where you’re concerned.”
“Oh, come on, Will. If her primary interest is money, why would she have opened a solo family law practice? She’d be making a lot more at a big firm. But she wanted to help people.”
“I admit, there are pieces that don’t add up.” William shifted his chair, knocking his briefcase on its side, and bent down to set it upright before continuing. “But earlier this morning I stopped by Jane and Lizzy’s place to drop off some things, and Mrs. Bennet was there. I overheard her instructing Jane in ways to attract you so she’d have a second chance at the money, and especially the house. Mrs. Bennet loves that house.”
Charles sat back and folded his arms across his chest. “All that proves is that Mrs. Bennet is interested in those things. What did Jane say?”
“I didn’t hear everything. Perhaps she’s resisting her mother’s influence. But she grew up with the woman, hearing that kind of advice every day.”
“So did Lizzy, and you don’t seem concerned in her case.” Charles’s tone was petulant.
“Lizzy and her mother have never seen eye to eye. She’s her father’s daughter. She left for school when she was just fourteen. And she was cool toward me early in our relationship.” That was an understatement. “If she’d been interested in me for my money, she would have been much more encouraging in the early days.”
“Maybe so, but it shows that ‘like mother, like daughter,’ doesn’t necessarily apply.” Charles heaved a loud sigh. “So during this eavesdropping you were apparently doing today, Jane didn’t say anything about me?”
“She told her mother that you and she were friends now, that anything else was over.” William paused. “I’m sorry, Charles.”
Charles winced. “She didn’t say anything about wishing we were more than friends? Or about her feelings for me?”
William could see the disappointment etched on Charles’s face. “But she might not have wanted to discuss her feelings with her mother. After all, you seem to think she’s showing an interest in spending time with you.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling myself, but maybe I’ve been seeing what I wanted to see. She’s always willing to see me if I’m in town, but she never asks me to come up to visit. Even Lizzy’s party—I heard about it from you and hinted for an invitation, and of course Jane was too polite to refuse me.” Charles slumped in his chair. “So maybe she just thinks of me as a friend, but she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.”
Again William felt a wave of sympathy. “Or maybe she still loves you and it simply isn’t apparent.” He hated to see Charles so unhappy, but he had nothing more encouraging to offer. It occurred to him that, during his summer of longing for Elizabeth, he had never once been as cheerful as Jane was on a daily basis.
Charles drained his cardboard coffee cup, crushed it between his fingers, and tossed it into a nearby trash bin, a humorless grin twisting his mouth. “Maybe I should have had you tell me what I wanted to hear after all.”
“No, it’s okay; I appreciate your honesty. You’re a good friend.”
William didn’t feel like a good friend. In fact, he was surprised by how much he wished he could encourage Charles and thus lighten his spirits. But he owed Charles his honest opinion.
The gate agent made the first boarding announcement for William’s flight. “They’re playing your song,” Charles said, with a weak smile.
“Enjoy the party tonight.” William stood up and collected his briefcase. “I wish I could be there.”
“I bet Lizzy does, too. Shall I give her a kiss for you?”
William chuckled at the rakish angle of Charles’s eyebrows. “I wouldn’t recommend it. I understand her man is a possessive sort.”
Caroline popped up from her table. “William, you’re leaving? I can’t believe you two left me alone all that time. I thought after you had a chance to tell your little secrets, you’d invite me over.” She hurried to William’s side and rested her hand on his arm, staring into his eyes. “Think about what I said. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Goodbye, Caroline.” William evaded her attempt to kiss him, shook Charles’s hand, and crossed to his gate.
Later, as the plane roared into the sky, he watched the graceful bay and its surrounding canvas of hills and valleys recede into the distance, finally vanishing behind a dense curtain of clouds. Caroline had been right about one thing: the past two months had been a vacation from reality. And now, vacation was over.
With a sigh, William pulled down his window shade and opened his book, settling in for the long journey ahead.
“Here you go,” Charlotte said. “One more birthday gift. I thought it was better to wait till the crowd thinned before you opened it.”
Elizabeth’s birthday dinner was officially over, and the remaining guests had migrated into the restaurant’s bar area on the ground floor. She was seated at a small round table with Charlotte and Richard, not far from the table where Jane chatted with some neighbors from the condo building. The members of Golden Gate Jazz, except for Bill Collins, were clustered with Charles at one end of the bar. Bill had been invited to the party along with the other band members but had declined, citing a prior commitment involving Catherine de Bourgh. “Right,” Charlotte had chortled at the news, “he’s probably parking cars for some big party on her estate.”
Elizabeth inspected the red gift bag Charlotte had just placed on the table. “But, Char, you already gave me my present. Our day at the spa was fantastic.”
“This is just a little something extra. I thought you might find it useful. And educational.”
“Finally, the mystery gift is unveiled.” Richard drained his glass of scotch. “All Charlotte would tell me was that Will would enjoy it even more than you did.”
“Hmmmm,” Elizabeth eyed the bag with trepidation. “It sounds like I’d better wait till I get home to open it.”
“Not a chance,” Richard said. “Inquiring minds want to know.”
Elizabeth peeked into the bag, fearing that she’d find something microscopic or transparent to wear. Instead, she saw a paperback book standing on end beside three small plastic bottles. She reached for the book, chiding herself for her overactive imagination.
Her relief was short-lived when she saw the book cover. “Char!” She slapped the book face down on the table, covered it with her arm, and glared at Charlotte.
“Just a little instruction manual on the care and feeding of the male organ,” Charlotte said with a smirk. “I thought it might come in handy.”
“I assume you’ve read it.” Richard gazed at Charlotte, a lascivious glint in his eyes.
“Read it? What makes you think I didn’t write it?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me if you had,” Richard said with a crooked grin. Despite her embarrassment, Elizabeth felt a pang; she had never noticed how much his grin resembled William’s.
“Seriously, Liz, you might find some helpful hints in the book. If nothing else, you’ll have fun experimenting.”
“And the bottles?” Elizabeth gingerly lifted on a few inches out of the bag.
“Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry-flavored massage oils. A Neapolitan treat. I figured it was appropriate since William is half Italian.”
“And when in Rome ….” Richard rose to his feet. “I need a refill. Anybody else?”
“I want to try a Monkey Business,” Charlotte said. “The name intrigues me.”
“How apropos,” Richard replied. “Lizzy, how about you?”
“A Mangopolitan, please.”
Richard sauntered to the bar to place their orders. Elizabeth jammed the book back into the gift bag and fixed a narrowed stare on Charlotte.
“Sorry, Liz. I didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of Richard. But he already knows you and William did the deed, so I didn’t see the harm.”
“How does he know? Did you tell him?”
“I didn’t need to. He said William was uber-relaxed and couldn’t stop smiling when they went running yesterday. He didn’t admit to anything, but it was pretty obvious what had happened.”
Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. “I guess it’s pointless to hope for a little privacy around here.”
“I’m afraid so. You light up like a tiki torch when William walks into a room, and whenever you’re nearby his eyes practically hop out of their sockets and skitter around after you. It’s pretty easy for the rest of us to gauge the state of your relationship.”
“I wish his eyes were following me around right now.”
“I know.” Charlotte’s tone was matter-of-fact, but sympathy shone in her eyes. “But he’ll be back soon. And he left you quite a keepsake.”
Elizabeth smiled and fingered the emerald for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. “I know. I can’t seem to stop touching it.”
“I don’t mean to sound mercenary, but you should have it appraised and insured. I bet it cost him a bundle.”
“William said he’d take care of that.”
“You do realize that a good emerald of that size can cost several thousand dollars, right?”
Elizabeth stared down at the stone. “Several thousand?”
“Emeralds aren’t cheap, at least good ones aren’t.” Charlotte reached out and cradled the pendant in her hand, examining the gem. “It’s hard to tell much about the stone in this light, but William wouldn’t buy you a piece of crap. Plus, there’s the diamonds. I bet you’re wearing at least five grand around your neck, and possibly more.”
Elizabeth gulped. Charlotte was right; William would buy only the best. “And to think I wore it to rehearsal this morning with my jeans and tennis shoes.”
“What’s wrong with that? He didn’t give it to you so it could be locked away in a drawer. I say wear it and enjoy it. Good jewelry goes with anything.”
Richard returned with their drinks, and Roger ambled over to join them. He pulled up a chair, sat down, and looped his arm loosely around Elizabeth’s shoulders. “Hey, birthday girl, how’s it going?”
“That’s my cousin’s woman you’re mauling.” Richard glared at Roger with mock belligerence. “Don’t make me come over there and pummel you into the ground in the name of family honor.”
Elizabeth kissed Roger’s cheek. “Yeah, but he’s my date tonight.” Both dateless, they had decided to stick together.
“And as for you, you shameless hussy—” Richard paused, shrugging. “What the hell. Live it up. It’s your party.”
“And I’ll cry if I want to.” Elizabeth sang the words.
“Or there’s that other song: ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with,’” Charlotte said, raising her glass. “That’s always been my philosophy.”
“My kind of woman.” Richard clinked glasses with her. “By the way, I know I’m not half Italian, but I like Neapolitan flavors too. Did you get some extra bottles of that stuff?”
“What stuff?” Roger asked.
“Ignore him; he’s babbling about nothing,” Elizabeth answered quickly, darting a warning glance at Charlotte and Richard. “Is Charles okay?”
Roger shrugged. “He’s fine. Why do you ask?”
Charlotte snickered. “Liz, you can’t expect guys to pick up on subtleties.”
“I guess not.”
“I resemble that remark,” Roger said. “What did I miss?”
Elizabeth shook her head sadly. “Haven’t you noticed the way Charles and Jane seem so distant with each other tonight?”
Roger frowned. “But they sat together at dinner.”
It was true, but Elizabeth had sensed coolness between them. And since dinner, they had placed themselves in separate conversational circles.
“I need another beer,” Roger said, rising to his feet. “Why don’t you join us at the bar? Jim’s been telling jokes, but I’m sure he’d stop if we begged him.”
“We will, in a few minutes.”
Elizabeth glanced around the bar, a sudden wave of loneliness seizing her. She checked her watch. It was late, but he had told her she could call as late as she liked.
She pulled her phone from her purse and excused herself, finding a secluded nook near the rest rooms. As she had hoped, William answered promptly.
“Hello, cara. I was hoping you’d call.”
“I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“No. I’m in bed reading. Or perhaps I should say I’m trying to read. Mostly I’m thinking how cold and lonely I am, and how much I wish you were curled up next to me.” The tenderness in his voice spread over her like a warm blanket.
“I wish I were there, too.”
“I hope you’re enjoying the party.”
“I am, but it’s not the same without you. I almost cried when Jane gave me the rose you left for me. And thank you so much for the DVD! It looks like it has all sorts of great extras.”
“I thought you’d like it.” William had left a final birthday gift with Jane: The Sound of Music on DVD.
“You were smart not to give it to me till you were gone. That way you ought to be able to escape watching it with me over and over. I’ll inflict that on Jane instead, like I used to do with my Sound of Music videotape. When I was a kid, I even had little routines that went with parts of it—lines I’d say or sing along with the characters, and things I’d rewind to watch again.
“Actually, that sounds entertaining.”
“Maybe for the first ten minutes. And speaking of perfect gifts, everybody’s been drooling over the pendant. But Richard says you’re wrecking the curve for ordinary guys.”
He chuckled. “He was already annoyed because I wouldn’t give him the keys to the Ferrari.”
“Yeah, he says he’s going to hot wire it and go joyriding. Seriously, though, he and Roger have appointed themselves my guardians on your behalf.”
“I’ll have to thank them the next time I see them.”
They fell silent, and Elizabeth’s smile faded.
“I miss you.” His soft voice was like a caress.
“I miss you, too.”
Silence fell between them again. Elizabeth would have been content to stay on the line for hours without speaking, simply knowing he was at the other end, but he needed some sleep. “I guess I should go.”
“I’m keeping you from your party. Though I admit, I don’t much care.”
She laughed softly. “We’ll talk tomorrow night?”
“I’ll call you. I love you, Lizzy.”
“I love you, too. Sleep well.”
When she returned to the table, Richard sat alone. “Where’s Char?” she asked.
“Upstairs. She thinks her lipstick fell out of her purse during dinner, and she’s checking under the table. How’s Will?”
“He’s fine. He said to tell you he put an alarm on the car, and if you try to hot wire it you’re in for a shock, literally.”
Richard chuckled, his gaze sweeping the room. His smile faded as his eyes rested on Jane. “Just for the record, I’m not as obtuse as some members of the Y Chromosome Club. Jane and Chuckles are giving off a weird vibe.”
“Has she talked to you about Charles?”
“Enough that I know she’s nuts about him, even if some people can’t see it.” He sat forward in his chair. “In fact, I hate to spoil my reputation for all-occasion cynicism, but that’s something I admire about you and Will.”
“What?” She plucked the tiny purple orchid from her drink and sipped from the glass.
“The way you’ve been able to get past his opinion of Jane.”
“His opinion of Jane?” She set down her glass more firmly than she had intended, and some of the liquid sloshed over the rim.
“Oops, careful there.” He handed her a cocktail napkin. “Yeah. He told me all about the business with the prenup. But there’s no way Jane is on the prowl for a rich husband. That’s not her style.”
Elizabeth frowned, trying to make sense of Richard’s remarks. “William must have told you this quite a while ago.” It was the only possible explanation.
“Yeah. He told me about the prenup right after he got home from the wedding, or the wedding that wasn’t.”
“That’s what I thought.” It was old information, nothing more. William had been suspicious of Jane’s motives in those days, before he had gotten to know her.
“And he mentioned it again a couple of weeks ago, the day we got here.”
She sat up straight in her chair but didn’t comment.
“We’d just finished dinner—at Foreign Cinema, I think—and Jane and I were headed off on our own. It was an entertaining bit of theater. You dragged Jane off to the ladies’ room, I assume to warn her about my reputation for humping everything that moves. Meanwhile, Will grabbed me by the balls and threatened to amputate them if I messed with Jane.”
“He’s protective of the people he cares about.” Elizabeth relaxed; she’d obviously misunderstood Richard’s implications before.
“Yeah, he is, so he finished his lecture by reminding me about Jane and the prenup. Pretty ridiculous, wasn’t it, to think I was in danger? Even if she was in it for the dough, I’m not the marrying kind, so it wouldn’t matter. Anyway, that’s when I thought, ‘I give Will and Lizzy a lot of credit for being able to agree to disagree about Jane.’”
Elizabeth’s mind whirled. It seemed impossible, and yet she saw no reason why Richard would have invented the incident.
When she didn’t comment, Richard spoke again. “I guess it goes to show that there is something to this whole love business. It could almost make a believer out of me, the operative word being ‘almost.’”
Elizabeth gave him a tight smile and sipped her drink in silence. Charlotte returned from upstairs, waving her lipstick in triumph.
Soon afterwards, the trio left their table and joined the group at the other end of the bar. As Elizabeth listened to the jovial conversation, she forced Richard’s remarks aside until later. There had to be an explanation, but she wouldn’t find it in the noisy party atmosphere.
William blinked to clear his vision, but the display on the clock didn’t change. 3:27, precisely six minutes later than the last time he had looked.
He had been checking the clock at regular intervals for the past hour or more. His mind and body were still attuned to California time, which made it almost twelve thirty, not particularly late by his standards. But after two nights of sacrificing sleep in favor of more pleasurable pursuits, he had hoped that fatigue would claim him quickly. Obviously it was not to be.
It was a familiar experience, lying in this bed longing for her, and memories of the last summer’s loneliness washed over him. Hoping to find some measure of comfort, he summoned her up, her lips warm and sweet against his, her loving hands stroking his hair. But her phantom presence stirred his desire instead of soothing his soul, and now the ache in his body rivaled the one in his heart.
He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. A veteran of hundreds of sleepless nights, he knew that it was time to surrender to wakefulness. He wrapped himself in his robe and crossed the hallway to his study. Weak ribbons of light filtered in through the windows, providing all the illumination he needed.
His piano beckoned, waiting patiently in the dark for his touch. “I missed you,” he murmured, the polished keys whispering a cool welcome as he brushed them with his fingers. He seated himself, his hands poised over the keys, and then the music began, streaming from a place deep inside him as though he were merely its conduit.
The Nocturne he played1 suited his mood to perfection. Chopin had understood late-night yearning, the quiet ache of a soul subdued but not at peace. The poignant melody wove its spell, his bond with the instrument a peculiar form of love that few would understand. The final chord drifted into the darkness, his hands unmoving but still resting on the keys. Images of the past weeks floated around him: fog clinging to the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, the fiery sun extinguished as it slipped into the ocean at sunset, and a pair of brilliant green eyes shining from a face that had become the center of his world.
A phrase tugged at his sleeve, the title of a song so well known that the cliché made him feel foolish. Yet as he tried to brush it aside, it clung firmly to him until he surrendered with a rueful smile. “Oh, all right.” His voice sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness of the room. “It’s certainly appropriate.”
Cliché it might have been, but as he improvised a gentle rendition of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,”2 he couldn’t deny the truth of the words.
1 Nocturne in Eb, Op. 9, No. 2, by Frederic Chopin. Performed by Claudio Arrau on Chopin: Complete Nocturnes and Impromptus, © 1997, Philips Classics. Recorded 1978. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.
2 “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by D. Cross and G. Cory. Performed by Emile Pandolfi on What a Wonderful World, © 1999, MagicMusic Productions. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.