Georgiana’s voice, rising above the whine of the jet engines, roused Elizabeth from her reverie. She hadn’t been asleep, not quite; rather, she had been drifting in a swirling ocean of thoughts, images, and feelings. So much had happened over the last five days, yet so much was still unresolved.
Elizabeth struggled to shift her brain into gear; perhaps she had been asleep after all. However, Georgiana’s use of her nickname didn’t escape Elizabeth’s notice. It wasn’t the first time—the girl had used it once the day before, when talking to Jane—but it was a sign of their growing bond. Baby steps. Elizabeth raised her seat back and turned to Georgiana, eyebrows aloft. “Hmm?”
“I’ve been thinking. About what you said about Gran.”
Elizabeth nodded and waited for Georgiana to continue.
“I get it, I think. Gran tells me lots of stuff about how ladies should behave, like your mom did to you. And like you said, it makes me feel like I’m always wrong, and she’s disappointed or mad at me. But I never thought that maybe she was trying to help me?”
“I understand. She has definite ideas of how Darcys should behave, and that can be intimidating. And she’s very direct; she doesn’t say things gently.”
Georgiana snorted. “That’s for sure. For a long time, I tried to be good, to take all her advice. But I guess I finally decided it was hopeless and gave up. And then I started just doing whatever I wanted.”
“Which didn’t work out very well, did it?”
Georgiana heaved a sigh.
“I think one problem last fall was that you didn’t have enough supervision.”
Georgiana’s eyes narrowed. Elizabeth didn’t want to antagonize her—she needed Georgiana to remain open to her advice—so she quickly retrenched. “Okay, let’s call it guidance, not supervision.” This seemed to help; Georgiana’s expression softened, and Elizabeth continued. “I think your grandmother felt guilty for giving you too much freedom, and she blamed herself for the mess you ended up in. That’s why she over—I mean, why she reacted so strongly after you were arrested.” Elizabeth had caught herself just in time; she was trying not to criticize Rose’s decisions when talking to Georgiana. It was a fine line to draw: to respond honestly and with empathy, but without blatantly taking sides.
“I’m not a little kid; I don’t need people babysitting me all the time.” Georgiana’s brow lowered. Ironically, she wore what Elizabeth could only describe as a childish pout.
“I agree. But you aren’t ready to be left completely on your own, either; unfortunately, you demonstrated that when you shoplifted, and again last week by running off to Washington.”
”I know, I know. I screwed up. You’ve told me that like a hundred times. Geez.” Georgiana huffed air through her nostrils and turned away from Elizabeth to stare out the window, her arms folded across her chest.
Elizabeth was becoming annoyed. Although Georgiana had admitted making mistakes, she had shown very little awareness of the impact of her choices on others. “Yes, I’ve said it several times, because I’m not sure you’re really getting it. Even though your little adventure ended rather well, you caused havoc in several people’s lives. Every member of your family, the Reynoldses, Sonya … they’ve all been worried. You didn’t see what it was like in the house on Friday when we didn’t know where you were. And you have no idea how much pain you caused William and especially your grandmother. They were terrified that something awful had happened, and they couldn’t bear the thought of losing you.” Elizabeth could easily have included herself on this list, but that was beside the point.
Georgiana’s only response was a sigh.
“I know you don’t want to hear this stuff, but it’s the truth and it’s important for you to recognize it.” Elizabeth’s tone softened. “And I know that you did it because everything got to be too much for you, and nobody seemed to understand. So you took matters into your own hands and did the only thing you could think of. That took courage, but it was reckless and dangerous.”
Georgiana nodded very slightly, her gaze still fixed on the horizon.
“I agree that you don’t need a babysitter, but you do need some guidance. Someone you trust, someone to help you sort through your thoughts and feelings. And you need some—oh, I don’t know, borders? Limits? Not like the restrictions you’ve been under since January, but I’m sure we can find a middle ground between complete freedom and—”
“House arrest?” Georgiana shot back. She reached for the glass of soda on the small tray between their seats and took a sip.
Elizabeth couldn’t really disagree with Georgiana’s characterization, but the girl still wasn’t accepting any responsibility for her situation. It seemed best not to rise to the bait. “Does what I’ve been saying make sense?”
Georgiana continued to stare fixedly out the window. Elizabeth’s spirits plummeted. They had been doing so well, but obviously she had pushed too hard.
After a long, uncomfortable silence between them, the only sounds those of the plane’s engines and the quiet conversation of passengers across the aisle, Georgiana finally spoke, so softly that Elizabeth almost missed her words. “I guess so.”
“Good.” Elizabeth exhaled, unaware until that moment that she had been holding her breath.
“I thought about telling you everything. I told you that before, didn’t I? That I wanted to tell you about the diary and the emails with Wickham and stuff?”
“Why didn’t you? I would have been happy to help you figure things out.”
“I was afraid you’d tell Will that I was emailing with Wickham, and he’d make me stop.”
“I admit, I would have been very concerned about you talking to Wickham, and I would have felt that William needed to know.”
“I thought so.” Georgiana’s dark expression returned.
“Now, hold on. I didn’t say I would have told him. I would have done my best to talk you into telling William yourself.” However, Elizabeth knew that she would probably have felt obligated to tell William, had Georgiana refused to do so.
“But then he would have told Gran. And she would have freaked out and locked me in the basement with nothing but bread and water.”
Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile at Georgiana’s exaggeration, which was accompanied by an equally exaggerated eye-roll. “Oh, come on. She’s not really that bad, is she?”
“Yes.” Georgiana, rolling her eyes again, turned it into a word of at least two syllables.
“Okay. I know she’s … challenging to deal with sometimes. Partly, she’s just a very strong woman. And she had to be—her husband died fairly young, and then so did her daughter-in-law and her son. She’s been the one holding the family together, all on her own, for a very long time.”
Georgiana shrugged slightly.
“But I think, over the years, she’s gotten frozen in the past.” Elizabeth had analyzed the matter for hours the night before, until sleep had finally vanquished her overactive brain. “She was a teenager back during World War II. The world has changed so much, but her world really hasn’t.”
“She told me once that she’s lived in the townhouse ever since she got back from her honeymoon.”
“Right, and that was nearly sixty years ago. All this time, she’s been living in the same house. A lot of her friends are people she went to school with. And I don’t know exactly when Mrs. Reynolds was hired, but she remembers the day William and your parents arrived from Italy. That was almost thirty years ago. So the household staff has been the same for a long time, too.”
“I’d be so bored living that way, with everything the same year after year.”
“Maybe she is bored.” Elizabeth stifled a poorly-timed yawn. “But she’d never admit it. When something needs to be done, she’s like the bunny in those ads for batteries.”
Georgiana smiled. “She just keeps going and going. Always in charge.” She winked. “See what I did there? Charged?”
“Nice pun.” Elizabeth was intrigued by the hints of wit and humor Georgiana exhibited on occasion. “You know, it occurred to me just now that the first time I ever saw her seeming kind of helpless—and definitely not in charge—was last Friday, when we found out you were gone.”
“She wasn’t bossing everybody around?”
“Not in the least. In fact, she seemed kind of … small, I guess is the word. Worried and sad. She mostly waited for the rest of us to make the decisions.”
“I wondered why you were the one who came to Washington instead of her,” Georgiana said nodding. “That explains it.”
“Actually, no. That was the one area where she took charge. She planned to have Allen drive her down there to get you. I had to talk her into letting me go instead.”
“I was so relieved when I heard you were coming. I was pretty sure you’d listen to me, and not just lecture me.” Georgiana made direct eye contact with Elizabeth, something that still rarely happened. “And I was right.”
“You had Aunt Maddie, too. She would have listened no matter what.”
“Yeah. She’s great. I called her last night.”
“Uh huh. When I talked to her before we left New York, she asked me to let her know what we found out from Aunt Catherine.”
Elizabeth felt a wave of guilt. She hadn’t spoken to Madeline or Edward since leaving Baltimore. “Thank you for doing that. I should have called her myself.”
“I like talking to her.”
“Aunt Maddie is great. She has a lot of common sense, and her daughters aren’t that much older than you. But that takes me back to your grandmother. The last teenager she was involved with before you came along was Aunt Eleanor, and that was a long time ago.”
“What about Will?”
Elizabeth had expected to hear a sarcastic remark about Eleanor’s departure for San Francisco at the age of eighteen, but perhaps Georgiana didn’t know about it. “I don’t think William was ever really a teenager.”
Georgiana giggled. “Richard says Will was born middle-aged.”
“That’s why he calls him ‘old man,’ right?” Elizabeth replied, grinning. “It’s a bit of an overstatement, but I know what he means. When he was your age, William was a college student with the beginnings of a professional performing career. Dealing with him didn’t require your grandmother to modernize her views.”
“And like you said, she’s so old now. You’re older, too, but you still sort of remember what it was like to be my age.”
“Yes, despite my advanced age, I can still remember my teens.” Elizabeth smirked at Georgiana. “Just barely, though; I’ll probably have forgotten by next week, around the time they bring me my cane and my hearing aids.”
Georgiana rolled her eyes. “I didn’t say you were old, just older. Than me.”
“Nice try at a recovery,” Elizabeth retorted, followed by a quick laugh. “But, seriously, I know what you meant.”
“The thing is, if the problem is that Gran’s too old, it really is hopeless. It’s not like she’s going to get younger, so nothing’s going to change.”
Elizabeth feared that Georgiana was right on that score, but she didn’t want to admit it. “Let’s not give up so easily. Maybe she just needs some help.”
The pilot announced over the intercom that they were about to begin their initial descent into New York. After he finished, Georgiana remained silent for a moment, gnawing her lip with a pensive air. Then she said, “Will wants you to travel with him from now on, right?”
“It depends on my job situation, but, yes, we’re hoping I can go with him sometimes.”
“That means you’ll be gone from the townhouse a lot.”
“Are you concerned about being there with just your grandmother? And the Reynoldses, of course?”
“Yeah. I’m scared of her.”
“Scared of her?”
“Scared to talk to her, I mean. I don’t know what to say. If I’m alone with her, it’ll be hard to avoid talking to her.”
“As I said before, let’s not give up hope that things can improve. I think they can.”
“I wish I could travel with you and Will.”
Georgiana had just touched on another topic Elizabeth had pondered the night before. “I’ve been thinking about that. Maybe you can come along sometimes.”
“It’ll never happen. Sometimes I used to ask to go on trips with Will, but Gran always said no.”
“I don’t think you realize how busy he is on these trips. He has rehearsals and performances and sometimes receptions to attend. He needs to be able to focus on his music without having to worry about keeping track of his sister. But if I’m there, it’ll be different. We can hang out together when he’s busy.”
Georgiana shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Gran will never let me go.”
“You’re such a pessimist! Like I keep saying, let’s not give up hope.”
“Besides, I bet you and Will would rather be alone together, without me hanging around.”
Elizabeth smiled to herself. Georgiana wasn’t wrong, but time alone with him wouldn’t always be the rare gift it was at present. “Sometimes we’ll want to travel by ourselves, but other times I’d love to have you along. I met him for a weekend in Denver back in January. He did everything he could to make me feel like a pampered princess, but I was still on my own a lot of the time because of everything he needed to do. It would be fun to have a partner in crime along on a trip now and then.”
“Bad choice of words,” Georgiana shot back.
Elizabeth winced, realizing what she had said, but Georgiana answered the wince with an impish smile. “Just kidding.”
“Okay, a partner in completely legal activities, then. Deal?” Elizabeth extended her hand and Georgiana shook it with an air of tongue-in-cheek gravity. They glanced at each other, and then both burst out laughing.
Since their seats were in first class, Elizabeth and Georgiana were among the first people to disembark when the plane arrived in New York. If it had been up to Elizabeth, they would have sat in coach; it would have offered Georgiana a contrast to the privileged life she led. But Sonya had made their reservations and Elizabeth hadn’t been specific about the choice of cabin. Besides, the comfort and serenity in first class had been welcome after five days of relative chaos.
As they stepped off the plane, Elizabeth noted Georgiana’s tight expression and the way she was gnawing her lip. The cautious optimism Elizabeth had managed to instill had clearly dissolved with their first step on terra firma. “What’s wrong?” she asked, although she knew the answer.
“Everybody’s going to be so mad at me, for going off to Washington and everything.”
“Georgie, what’s our mantra?”
“Don’t give up hope,” Georgiana answered in a singsong voice.
“That’s right,” Elizabeth said with an emphatic nod. “Keep repeating it in your head, and even out loud if necessary. As we’ve discussed, there will probably be consequences for the way you ran off on your own, but that’ll be temporary, and you can handle it. Beyond that, we’re going to work on making things better.”
They made their way up the busy concourse, full of spring break travelers on their way to or from warmer destinations. Elizabeth sighed when she heard a boarding announcement for a flight to Barbados; if only she and William could jump on a plane together and spend the next two weeks at Pemberley! But that would have to wait until their honeymoon.
As if the flight to Barbados wasn’t enough temptation, the ridiculously delicious scent of cinnamon rolls began to tickle her nose. She wondered if the vendor intentionally piped in cinnamon-filled air to make the scent even stronger. She hadn’t eaten much on the plane, and now she regretted it.
At last, they passed through the exit from the secure area. Elizabeth had arranged for Allen to meet them by the curb, saving him the trouble of parking, so she ignored the crowd just past the exit waiting to greet new arrivals.
Georgiana drew in a quick breath. “There’s Will. Did you know he was coming?”
Elizabeth scanned the crowd and saw him, drawing in a quick breath of her own. “No, I didn’t.” Her gaze locked with his, and she saw her favorite boyish smile spread across his face.
Elizabeth and Georgiana quickened their steps to meet him. He first sent Elizabeth a tender smile, and then threw his arms around his sister. “Georgie, I’ve been so worried about you.”
“I’m sorry, Will. I didn’t mean to ….” Georgiana burst into tears.
“If anything had happened to you ….” He kissed her forehead and retrieved a handkerchief, dabbing the tears from her cheeks. He looked past her to Elizabeth, and she could see tears forming in his own eyes. Their gazes held, and he mouthed the words, “I love you.”
Georgiana was the first to withdraw from the embrace; she glanced around, suddenly morphing back into a self-conscious teenager. William turned to Elizabeth and took her in his arms. He kissed her and smoothed her hair away from her face. “Thank you, cara,” he murmured. “How will I ever repay you for everything you’ve done?”
“Just love me,” Elizabeth whispered, surprised to feel tears stinging her eyes as she burrowed into his embrace. She had needed to be in his arms so many times over the past days; finally, she was home.
“That’s a given,” he replied, his arms tightening around her. “Till the day I die.”
She tipped her head up and gave him a watery smile. She could see that he was about to kiss her again, but she remembered where they were and reluctantly dislodged herself from his arms. “We’d better stop this or we’re going to embarrass Georgie.”
“Too late,” Georgiana replied, but with a hint of a smile.
A sizable welcoming committee awaited them at the townhouse. Mrs. Reynolds flung open the door and drew Georgiana, and then Elizabeth, into warm embraces. Elizabeth watched as Georgiana was greeted by a gauntlet of Darcys and Fitzwilliams: Eleanor embraced her, Robert enfolded her in a bear hug, and even Richard kissed her cheek—the opposite one from his mother, as he quickly pointed out. “That way she has a matched set.”
But all eyes were on Rose as Georgiana approached her. “Hi, Gran,” Georgiana said, so softly that Elizabeth could barely hear her.
“Hello, my dear,” Rose said in her usual measured tone. “I’m glad you’re home.” Then she leaned forward and kissed Georgiana’s cheek.
Elizabeth could almost feel a collective sigh of relief from the observers, who were now moving in her direction. She received her own share of hugs, hand clasps, and a kiss on the cheek from Eleanor, who whispered in her ear, “Thank you so much.”
Rose was the last to approach Elizabeth. “My dear, the family owes you a debt for what you’ve done for us.” She took Elizabeth’s hand in both of hers, and her pale blue eyes were as warm as Elizabeth had ever seen them. “Thank you.”
The group moved back to the library for drinks. Rose had invited them all—as well as Sonya, who joined them soon after they were seated—to stay for dinner. William steered Elizabeth to a sofa they could share and immediately draped his arm around her shoulders. When Georgiana chose a seat on Elizabeth’s other side, Eleanor’s eyebrows levitated slightly, followed by a nod and a smile.
The moment they were seated, Robert, Eleanor, and Richard all began speaking at once, each one asking some version of the question, “Tell us, what did Catherine say?”
“You already know the most important thing,” Elizabeth said. “Not that there was ever any real doubt that Georgie is a Darcy through and through.” She smiled at Georgiana. “Do you want to tell them everything I told you?”
Georgiana shook her head. “You do it, please.” Her gaze fell to her lap. It was sad to see the contrast between this Georgiana, who was clearly awkward in the midst of her family, and the smiling, talkative girl who had emerged the previous evening in San Francisco.
“Why don’t we save the story until we’re seated for dinner,” Rose said. “It’s almost time, and that way Elizabeth won’t be interrupted when we move to the dining room.” Rose directed a significant glance in Elizabeth’s direction, one she couldn’t decode. Apparently, something was wrong.
“How was dear old Lady Voldemort?” Richard asked. “Was it a repeat of Thanksgiving? Please don’t tell me that this time it escalated to mud wrestling, because it would break my heart if I missed it.”
“You didn’t miss a thing,” Elizabeth replied, grinning. “No wrestling in mud, nor any real flinging of it either. She got in a few little digs, but mostly she was civil and just told her story. She’s still annoyed about Thanksgiving, though. She pointed out that she hadn’t received an apology.”
William snorted. “I hope she’s not holding her breath.”
“She also asked about funding for the conservatory.”
Rose frowned. “We already told her there would be no more of that.”
“I know, but she’s hoping you’ll change your minds. I’m pretty sure that’s why she agreed to meet with me. I didn’t promise anything, but it might be worth reconsidering. She was really very accommodating, all things considered. She met with me on short notice, and she spoke to me for quite a while and answered all my questions.”
“You’re more forgiving than I am,” William grumbled, “after the way she treated you at Thanksgiving, and also at the conservatory. And didn’t you say that she’s been talking about you to a few of her colleagues?”
“Well, I mentioned to her that any possibility of funding would evaporate if we heard about any badmouthing directed at a member of the family. So that ought to put a stop to whatever she’s been saying about any of us.”
“Well done,” Rose replied, much to Elizabeth’s astonishment. “I hope she took that advice to heart.”
“Mrs. Darcy,” Mrs. Reynolds said, from the library doorway, “dinner is served.”
As the group filed in to dinner, Rose drew Elizabeth aside. “Regarding Catherine’s story, I imagine there are parts of it that would be best not shared with everyone?”
“And I assume that I can trust you to apply good judgement as you tell the story, and keep those parts private?”
Elizabeth did her best to tamp down her annoyance. That Rose thought such an inquiry was necessary bordered on insulting. “Of course, Mrs. Darcy. Apparently, you’ve forgotten that I already told the story once, to Georgie, and she seems to have survived. I’m just planning to repeat what I told her.”
Rose raised an eyebrow a few millimeters. “You’re well prepared, then. But after dinner, we need to have a private conversation. I would like to hear whatever you don’t share at the dinner table.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Darcy, but I need to spend this evening with William. We’ve had very little time together lately. And I want to spend some time with Georgie, too, and make sure she’s doing okay now that she’s back home. But perhaps we could find a time to sit down together tomorrow.”
Rose’s eyebrow elevated a bit further. She studied Elizabeth with a speculative air, her emotions impossible to read as always. After a short pause, she nodded. “Yes, I suppose tomorrow will be soon enough. Let’s go in to dinner.”
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