Elizabeth sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes, but everything still looked as though she had stepped into an Impressionist painting. Her head throbbed, her throat felt like she had spent the evening drinking sand instead of Mangopolitans, and when she brushed her hair out of her eyes she discovered that even her scalp hurt. She nearly succumbed again to the bed’s beguiling embrace, but it was nearly nine o’clock and she had a jam-packed day ahead of her. Over the past week her relationship with William had absorbed her attention, and now it was time to get the rest of her life in order.
Her unsteady feet carried her down the hall under protest, rebelling altogether when they made contact with the chilly tile floor in the bathroom. Her toes chattering in sympathy with her teeth, she hopped onto the small rug in front of the sink, grimacing when her head seemed to absorb the impact.
“My first hangover since … I don’t remember when,” she croaked to her pallid reflection in the mirror. “Wonderful.” Elizabeth wasn’t a heavy drinker, but several of the party guests had insisted on buying drinks for a series of birthday toasts, and this morning she was paying the price.
On this dreary Sunday morning, the remarkable events of the past week seemed like an improbable dream from which she had awakened to find herself alone. Of course that wasn’t true, as proved by the faint hint of William’s scent clinging to her nightshirt, the same one she had worn at the penthouse. She turned on the shower and unbuttoned the shirt, burying her nose in its satin folds. The aroma of Eau de William was fleeting, perhaps even imaginary, but she took comfort in it all the same.
The shower felt soothing and invigorating both at once. Gradually she felt herself waking up, though washing her hair without causing her aching head to explode was a tricky business.
The comforting aroma of coffee greeted her in the kitchen. Silently blessing Jane for being an early riser, she poured herself a healthy dose of the brew and sank into a kitchen chair, mulling over last night’s party. Although Elizabeth had enjoyed herself, the chill in Jane and Charles’s relationship had cast a pall over the evening. Jane had evaded Elizabeth’s questions when they arrived home, citing fatigue and the late hour. When Jane returned from her morning run, Elizabeth intended to hear the rest of the story.
Ten minutes later, the front door opened with its characteristic squeak. Elizabeth croaked, “Hi, Jane.”
“Lizzy, are you okay?” Jane asked in a blessedly soft voice. Her hair was slightly tousled from her run, but otherwise she looked perfect as always.
“I’m starting to feel better. Anyway, it’s my own fault—I overdid the partying a little. How was your run?”
Jane sighed. “Embarrassing.” She poured a cup of coffee and joined Elizabeth at the kitchen table.
“I was in the mood to run along the bay, so I went to Marina Green. I should have realized that Charles might go there too.”
“So you saw him while you were running. Why was that embarrassing?”
“I saw him at the Marina Safeway. I stopped to get a few things on my way home. First I bumped into Jordan.”
“He lives nearby. We hadn’t talked in a while; he stopped calling after I turned him down for dates a few times, when Charles was … when things seemed ….” Jane’s voice trailed off and she sat staring into her coffee cup.
Elizabeth sat forward, trying to ignore her throbbing head. “I think you’d better tell me what happened yesterday between you and Charles, and then we’ll get back to this story, because it sounds like the two are connected.”
“There isn’t much to tell. Charles isn’t interested in me anymore.”
“I’m going to need more than the Cliff Notes version.”
Jane shook her head slowly. “I don’t want to bother you with this. You’re not feeling well, and I know you’re busy today.”
“And you’re my sister. Tell me.”
Jane rose and went to the refrigerator, retrieving two oranges. She returned to the table, setting one in front of Elizabeth, and began to peel hers, carefully depositing the rind on a napkin. Finally she began to speak.
“Charles and I decided not to go running yesterday, with all the rain, so we went to the Museum of Modern Art instead.”
“How did that go?”
“He just wasn’t himself. He was quiet and distracted and he seemed unhappy. Whenever I tried to start a conversation, he just gave me short answers—polite, of course, but nothing that helped the conversation along. And he barely even looked at me. He seemed … maybe bored, or maybe uncomfortable.”
Elizabeth rolled her orange along the table. “And you didn’t get any indication of what was wrong?”
“No. But maybe I’ve been misreading his intentions. He’s so kind and friendly; I may have seen something more because I wanted to, not because it was there.”
“Not a chance. He always looks like the happiest guy in the world when he’s with you.” Until last night, that had been true.
“But that’s just Charles. He can make anyone feel special.” Jane sighed. “It’s one of the things I love … loved about him.”
“Did you ask him what was wrong?”
“I asked if anything was bothering him, and he said he was fine. Of course Charles would say that no matter what. He doesn’t like to trouble other people with his problems. And then last night … you saw what happened. He mostly hung around with his jazz group and avoided me.”
“What happened this morning?”
Jane crossed the room, discarded her orange peels, and washed her hands before returning to the table. “I called him first thing and canceled our brunch date. I said I wasn’t feeling well. I hated lying, but I thought it was the kindest thing to do. That way I could spare him the awkwardness of trying to figure out what to say to me over brunch, and instead he could enjoy some time with Caroline before he went back to LA.”
“‘Enjoy’ sounds like an overstatement if Caroline is involved.” Elizabeth had been invited to brunch as well but had cited her busy schedule as an excuse. Caroline Bingley’s face across the table would have curdled her stomach even more than last night’s revels had done.
“Now, Lizzy.” Jane pursed her lips, but her attempt at a stern glance failed completely, as it always did at such times. “Charles and Caroline are genuinely fond of each other.”
“Maybe.” Elizabeth wasn’t interested enough in Caroline to argue. “Anyway, you canceled brunch, and you went on your run.” She drew in a sharp breath as realization dawned. “And you saw Charles at the grocery store, after you’d said you were sick.”
“So he knew I’d lied. And even if he was relieved that I canceled, it was still awkward.” She closed her eyes.
“What did he say?”
“Nothing much. He nodded and said hello, and then he left.”
“Was this while you were talking to Jordan?”
Jane nodded. “We were just chatting, but Charles might have misunderstood.”
Elizabeth grabbed the phone and held it out to Jane. “Call him right now. Explain everything. At least then you’ll know for sure how he feels.”
“It’s too late for that.”
“No, it’s not. Come on, what do you have to lose?”
Jane pressed her lips together and sat quietly for a moment. Then she looked up, nodding. “I guess you’re right.”
Elizabeth stood up slowly, trying to ignore her pounding head. “You need some privacy for this. I’m going to go get dressed.”
The heady sweetness of the crimson roses on her dresser filled her bedroom. She lifted the small card beside the vase, smiling as she read the brief message in William’s precise handwriting. Next her eyes fell on her beloved orchid, its purple blossoms a poignant reminder of both the joy and the pain she had known since William entered her life.
Joy and pain; there had been plenty of both. And now, she had to consider what Richard had said last night, about William’s continued distrust of Jane. It was a disappointment; lately he had seemed more comfortable around Jane. But it was almost certainly true; she couldn’t see what Richard would gain by lying.
Her hands clenched into fists. She couldn’t see how anyone who knew Jane—kind, gentle Jane—at all could suspect her of such mercenary behavior. Just wait till the next time I talk to him. He’ll be sorry he ever opened his mouth.
She forced herself to take a slow, deep breath for the sake of both her temper and her aching head. It was possible that Richard had misinterpreted William’s advice. Perhaps he hadn’t been talking specifically about Jane, but about women in general. If half the stories about Richard were true, it wasn’t far-fetched to imagine him awakening some morning in a Las Vegas hotel suite, hung over and sporting a wedding ring. On Richard’s first night on the town in a new city, perhaps William had simply sounded a much-needed note of caution. Elizabeth resolved to keep an open mind, up to a point, until William had the chance to defend himself.
She dressed quickly, finishing by fastening the emerald pendant around her neck. A tiny shiver went through her and she double-checked the clasp. It felt heavier and colder now, with the knowledge that she probably wore ten times her bank balance around her neck.
She returned to the kitchen and found Jane standing by the counter, the phone in her hand, her eyes brimming with tears. “What happened? Did you talk to him?”
“No. I called the house and Caroline answered.” Jane stopped and closed her eyes. A tear drifted down her cheek. “She said he’d already left for the airport. He decided to take an early flight.”
“Call his cell phone. You must have the number.”
“I tried that before I called the house, but he didn’t answer.”
“So you’ll call him later in LA.”
Jane shook her head, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. “It’s no use. It’s over.”
“You don’t know that till you talk to him.”
“When he got home from the party last night, he told Caroline he wouldn’t be coming back to San Francisco anymore.”
Elizabeth couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. “She probably made that up just to torture you.”
“Why would she do that? If Charles wants to be with me, what would she gain by keeping us apart?”
“Maybe you’re not grand enough to suit her notion of what Mrs. Charles Bingley should be like. She wants him with someone like that insipid snob he brought to the party at Rosings.”
“No, Lizzy, I think she was trying to warn me that he’s not interested anymore, that it’s really over.” Jane’s voice trailed off and she choked back a sob.
Elizabeth hugged Jane, her own eyes full of tears. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“So does that cover everything for the meeting?” Sonya stared up at William, her reading glasses perched low on her nose.
“I think so.” His stomach rumbled. He had slept late and skipped breakfast, his routine still disrupted by the recent change of time zones. “Run the draft agenda past Gran; she might think of something else.” The foundation’s annual board meeting was scheduled for Thursday evening.
“Will do.” She closed the file folder on her desk and checked her watch. “Are we done? I have a lunchtime appointment.”
“You’ll handle that other matter this afternoon?” he asked, doing his best to sound casual.
“I’ll work on it, but it might take a few days, or even longer.”
William shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. “I need it by Wednesday at the latest.”
“I’ll do my best. I have lots of places to check, and what little background information you have is several months old.” It was obvious from her frown that she wanted to question him about his peculiar request, but was restraining herself.
“And all this time I thought you were a miracle worker,” he said with a smirk.
Sonya rolled her eyes. “You’re hilarious. Now go away and leave me alone so I can get out of here.”
“There’s one more thing.” He uncrossed his arms, noting a loose button on his shirt. He’d have to remember to give it to Mrs. Reynolds to be mended. “It’s about Georgie.”
She removed her reading glasses and slipped them into her purse. “Yeah. I heard what happened yesterday.”
“Gran was furious with her.”
“What about you?”
“I wasn’t angry so much as worried,” he said, dropping into the chair beside Sonya’s desk. “We had no idea where she was, or why she didn’t show up at the recital.”
“If I understand correctly, she was with her friend Courtney?”
He nodded. “It was the girl’s birthday and Georgie was invited to spend Saturday night. Gran even gave her special dispensation to skip church and family brunch yesterday so she wouldn’t have to come home early. But the condition was that she’d meet us at the recital. She insisted that Allen didn’t need to pick her up; she could take a taxi.”
“She’s done that a lot lately. She says it makes her feel like a little girl when Allen drives her around. But that’s beside the point. What was her explanation, once she finally appeared?”
“She said they were shopping in the Village and lost track of time.”
“That was the best excuse she could think of?” She shook her head. “The youth of today have so little imagination.”
“I’m glad my family’s problems are providing you so much amusement,” he retorted, glowering at her.
“I’m sorry.” Sonya composed her expression and sat with her hands folded on her desk. “But can we look at this from another perspective? How many of your recitals and concerts has she sat through in her life? Dozens, right? So she missed one to shop with a friend, maybe even accompanied by a couple of boys that she’s neglecting to mention. That’s a pretty good percentage. And anyway, she’s fifteen; shopping is in her blood. So are boys, for that matter.”
Boys? William tucked that unwelcome thought away for later consideration and returned to the central issue. “The problem wasn’t so much that she missed the recital as that no one knew where she was. Gran was getting ready to call the police.”
“Why didn’t somebody just call her cell phone and check on her?”
“We did, during intermission, but there was no answer. Later she said the battery was dead.”
“‘She said’? You mean you don’t believe her?”
“I don’t know. I … Yes, I believe her.” William had no rational basis for doubting his sister’s word, but Gran insisted that there had to be more to the story. “But she refuses to discuss it with me. I don’t understand that. She’s always been able to talk to me.”
Sonya shook her head, and he saw her forcing a smile off her face. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but while you’ve been jetting around the world collecting standing ovations, the little girl who used to follow you around with a teddy bear in her hand has turned into a young woman. She used to be able to talk to you about things because her life was uncomplicated. Or at least as uncomplicated as any Darcy’s life could be. You’re a high-maintenance bunch.”
“Why, thank you.” He pursed his lips and fixed a narrow-eyed stare on her.
“I’m not complaining. It’s the source of my livelihood, after all. Now and then I just recite that line from The Philadelphia Story: ‘With the rich and mighty, always a little patience.’ But let’s see—what was my point? Oh, right. She’s growing up, and she’s naturally going to be more secretive.”
“But it’s worse than that. On the rare occasions when she’ll talk to me, she sounds impatient, dismissive. She doesn’t even seem to care that I’m home.”
“She cares. Trust me on that.” She hesitated. “Has it ever occurred to you that she might resent the time you’ve spent in San Francisco?”
William shook his head. “That’s absurd. She knows I went there to convalesce.”
“You could have done that here.”
“I was going slowly insane here.”
“Not that slowly, if you ask me. I understand why you went, and it was a blessing for us to get you out of the house. But I don’t think Georgie saw it that way. She thinks of you as indestructible, so to her, it might just look like you just chose to abandon her. And she adores you, no matter how she’s acting right now, so that had to hurt.”
William was becoming annoyed. “She’s used to my absences, with all the traveling I do.”
“But you’re usually not gone for such a long time. This is only the second time you’ve been home since August.”
“I was supposed to keep my travel to a minimum,” he said in a cold voice. “And I invited her out to visit me.”
“Which was impractical for her during the semester. Look, I’m not blaming you, so don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just telling you how Georgie may see things.”
“Has she discussed this with you?”
“Not directly, but she’s made a few not-so-cryptic remarks.”
“Excuse me, William?” It was Mrs. Reynolds, standing in the doorway. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but your lunch is ready. Where would you like it served?”
“Will Gran be joining me?”
“No, she’s at a Heart Association luncheon.”
“In my office, then, please.”
Mrs. Reynolds returned to the kitchen, leaving William and Sonya alone again. “Let’s assume for the moment that you’re right about Georgie,” he said. “What should I do to fix things?”
“For starters, spend some time with her this week.”
“That could be difficult since she won’t talk to me.”
“You can at least issue some invitations. It’s only Monday, so you have several days. Take her out to dinner some night. Someplace fun, not one of your stuffy old dives. Or find a movie she wants to see and go with her. If you’re desperate, take her shopping; after all, bribery wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t work. She may act like it’s an imposition to go places with you, but I think she’ll be glad that you cared enough to ask.”
William lifted his chin. “Of course I care enough. She’s my sister. I’d do anything for her.”
“I know that. And I’m sure she knows it too, deep down, but she needs a reminder.”
“All right. Thank you, Sonya. I appreciate your candor.”
“So may I go to lunch now?”
“Yes, I suppose you may,” he answered in a lofty tone, his eyes twinkling.
She chuckled. “Thanks, boss. See you later.”
“How was your dinner with Georgie?” Elizabeth asked, settling back on the sofa and tucking her feet beneath her.
“Good. It was awkward at first, but by the end things were much better.”
It was Wednesday evening, and she and William were in the midst of one of their nightly phone conversations. “I still can’t believe she didn’t have a Halloween party to go to.”
“I asked her about that and she said Halloween was for little kids.”
“Did you dress up?” He sounded intrigued.
“Didn’t you tell me that’s a crazy place on Halloween?”1
“It sure is,” she answered, laughing. “It was too wild for my tastes, but the costumes were great. Char’s favorite was art-related, of course: a guy dressed like the Magritte painting, the man with the green apple in front of his face.”
“Oh, trust me, there were costumes at all points on the taste spectrum. I kept thinking how horrified you would have been by the whole thing. Richard would have liked it, though. I assume he’s out somewhere partying?” Richard had flown home two days ago. According to Charlotte, they had said a casual farewell with no particular intention of staying in touch.
“Probably. Earlier tonight he was at the World Series game.”
“Lucky guy. It must have been exciting. I heard the Yankees won in extra innings.”
“Did they? I hadn’t heard.”
“Did you talk to Georgie about the AWOL episode?”
“No. It was just a misunderstanding, and it won’t happen again.”
Elizabeth wasn’t convinced of that, but she had expressed her opinion already and had been ignored. William had obviously made up his mind and wasn’t going to listen to any disagreement. Georgiana was a Darcy, and to William that ruled out the possibility of willful disobedience.
He continued. “But I think it’s good that I’m home right now to spend some time with her. I should probably have visited more often, but I’ve had some major distractions.”
“So that’s all I am to you? A distraction?” She had meant it as a bit of light banter to match his teasing tone, but her voice betrayed the unexpected sting his words had inflicted.
“Of course not. I was just teasing. Lizzy, is there something wrong?”
The gentle concern in his voice filled her with shame. He wasn’t blaming her for his problems with Georgie. He had women on both coasts who loved him; he was trying his best to take care of everyone. “I’m sorry. I’m tired and grumpy tonight. It’s probably just as well you’re not here so you don’t have to put up with me.”
“I bet we could have found a way to cheer you up,” he murmured.
She could imagine the wicked glint in his eye, and it brought a rueful smile to her face. “You’re right about that. I guess I’m just pining away for you.”
“That makes two of us. By the way, I assume you’re going to stay with me at the penthouse this weekend.”
Although she had made the same assumption, she decided some teasing was in order. “My, what a charming invitation.”
“I apologize. Ms. Bennet, will you please be my guest at the penthouse during my stay in San Francisco?”
She leaned back against the sofa cushion, laughing softly at his stately tone. “I’d be delighted, sir. The only thing is—”
“No. No conditions, no exceptions. I need you all to myself.”
She was accustomed to William at his most imperious, and he didn’t intimidate her. “I have to go see South Pacific over the weekend. After all the time I’ve invested, the cast expects me to be there to cheer them on. In fact, I should go on Friday; it’s opening night. Want to go with me?”
“I can’t. I’ve had to change to a later flight on Friday. Georgie has an audition in the morning, and she and Gran both asked if I’d stay a few extra hours and go with her.”
I bet his grandmother was thrilled to keep him away from me for a little longer, just like last time. She stifled that uncharitable thought and adopted a supportive tone. “That sounds like a good idea. And in that case I’ll go to the musical Friday night by myself. Shall I meet you at the penthouse afterwards?”
“No. I’ll pick you up at your place.”
“But if I’m staying at the penthouse until you leave town, I’m going to need my car. I have to drive to school on Monday and Tuesday.”
“I’ll drive you to and from school.”
She rolled her eyes. “William, that makes no sense at all.”
“Why do you still call me William?”
“You don’t call me anything special, not even Will, and that’s what most of my friends and family call me.” He sounded almost petulant.
She shrugged. “You just seem like a ‘William’ to me. Do you want me to call you Will?”
“Maybe. Or ….”
“It seems ironic that Caroline Bingley insists on calling me ‘darling’ and ‘dear,’ and you never call me anything like that.”
Elizabeth sat up. “Caroline? What does she have to do with anything?”
“I saw her Saturday, at the airport.”
“You didn’t mention that before.”
“It wasn’t the highlight of my day, I assure you.”
“So I take it she was flinging the endearments around?”
“I’ve told her before not to call me ‘darling,’ but I don’t have a lot of options in terms of enforcement.” He sighed loudly. “When I’ve imagined someone calling me that, it certainly wasn’t Caroline.”
Elizabeth relaxed, nodding to herself. “I get it now. You want me to call you ‘darling’ or ‘sweetheart’ or something like that.”
“Only if you want to.”
“I’ll have to think about it … darling.” She giggled. “I don’t know. That seems a little too sugary for you. Maybe I’ll just give ‘Will’ a try.”
“Mmm. I intend for you to give Will a try on several occasions this weekend,” he said, his voice laced with heat.
Elizabeth burst out laughing.
“Well, so much for my attempt at being sexy,” he said in a tone of injured dignity.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that you don’t usually say things like that.” She forced herself to stop laughing. “No slur on your sexiness intended, though.”
“Good.” He paused, and when he spoke again his voice was husky. “I miss you.”
“Me, too.” Her hunger for his presence had become almost a physical ache. “I don’t suppose you could hop on a plane first thing tomorrow morning?”
“You don’t know how much I wish I could.”
“I know. You have the foundation board meeting tomorrow night.”
“I’m going to be completely useless. I’ll probably start fantasizing that you’re sitting on my lap and I won’t hear a word anyone says.”
Silence fell between them as the light-hearted moment dissipated. “I don’t even want to think about what it’s going to be like when you’re in Australia,” she said.
“I know. We have some things to talk about this weekend.”
It wasn’t the first time William had suggested that they needed to discuss their future. Elizabeth had considered the matter in depth and had also discussed it with Jane, and she had decided to offer to move back to New York as soon as the school year ended in May. The prospect wasn’t an entirely happy one. She loved her job and still marveled at her good fortune in finding a position at such a prestigious school. She loved San Francisco, too, and above all she loved being reunited with Jane after years of living thousands of miles apart. But William’s constant absence was too painful a prospect to endure in the long run, and relocation would be far more difficult for him than for her, so there seemed to be no better solution.
They also needed to talk about Richard’s information at her birthday party. But she reminded herself, as she did each time the thought arose, that there could be an innocent explanation. And it was a question better discussed in person. However, the thought of Jane reminded her of something she needed to ask. “Have you talked to Charles yet about what happened over the weekend?”
He answered as he had on the two previous nights. “Not yet.”
Elizabeth pressed her lips together. “You’d have a lot better chance of me calling you ‘darling’ if you’d do this for me. What’s so hard about picking up the phone?”
“As I’ve explained, I don’t like the idea of invading Charles’s privacy that way. If he wanted to talk about it, he’d have called me by now. I don’t intend to try to force him to confide in me.”
Elizabeth was annoyed, but not truly surprised; a more unlikely matchmaker than William was difficult to imagine. He had compounded her frustration by volunteering only one bit of information from his meeting with Charles at the airport: that Caroline was telling the truth about Charles’s increasing interest in his job. She decided to make one last attempt to learn something useful. “He didn’t say anything about Jane when you saw him Saturday?”
William was silent for a few seconds before he spoke. “He was … ambivalent.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Then he did talk about her! What did he say?”
“You’re putting me in an awkward position. He spoke to me in confidence. Lizzy, I know you have your heart set on a reunion for them, but it doesn’t seem likely. It might be best to accept that.”
Elizabeth was reaching the same conclusion herself, though with much reluctance. She heard a key in the lock. “Oh, that’s Jane now. She’s been working long hours at the office this week. I’d like to talk to her for a while, if that’s okay.”
“Of course. I need to do some practicing anyway.”
William hung up the phone and sat back in his leather chair, reviewing their conversation. Her continuing questions about Jane and Charles were unsettling. While he hadn’t lied in the strictest sense of the word, he had concealed the fact that Charles’s doubts had been about Jane’s feelings, not his own. But Charles had obviously decided to sever the relationship, and perhaps it was for the best. To raise Elizabeth’s hopes would have been pointless and unkind.
Even as he offered himself this reassurance, he questioned his own role in Charles’s decision. But he had offered as much encouragement as he could, however feeble it had been. Besides, he hadn’t told Charles what to do; he had only expressed his opinion. It was Charles’s decision.
William was sufficiently self-aware to hear the defensive tone of his thoughts. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, he was losing conviction in his beliefs about Jane, and perhaps he owed it to Charles to investigate further. But there was nothing to be done about it now; it was too delicate a matter to be handled over the telephone.
He checked his watch and found that it was almost 1:30. Not yet tired enough to sleep, he considered practicing in spite of the late hour, but found that he wasn’t in the mood. He lifted his book from the table beside him and opened to the marked page.
I’ll have to rearrange the furniture in here; she’ll need a comfortable chair of her own. Smiling in anticipation of a lifetime of quiet evenings together, William sank into his book, the sounds of late-night traffic on Fifth Avenue receding into the distance as peace enveloped him.
1 Halloween in the Bay Area is a bigger deal for adults than I was used to seeing elsewhere in the country. At the company where I worked, different teams of coworkers would come up with theme costumes, and then would spend nearly the entire day visiting other teams all over the building to show off their handiwork. At the time of this story, Halloween night in the Castro District was a huge and chaotic street party that had gradually grown since the 1970s. A shooting in 2006 led the city to work towards shutting it down, and within a few years, the Castro Halloween bash was no more.