From the San Francisco Chronicle, Saturday, November 3:
Elizabeth dropped the newspaper onto the floor and leaned her head against the sofa back, closing her eyes. She had warned herself not to read the Arts & Entertainment section of the paper, but like the tendency of a tongue to probe a sore tooth, she hadn’t been able to resist. She felt a dull ache as she imagined William playing the somber Rachmaninoff prelude1 instead of the encore she knew he had chosen for her.
After two consecutive sleepless nights, she felt as wilted as the rose William had brought with him yesterday afternoon. She struggled to her feet, tripping over the belt of her terrycloth robe, and rescued the thirsty flower from the dining room table. Poor thing. None of this is your fault. Jane could put it in her bedroom, out of sight, if it wasn’t already too far gone.
Elizabeth studied the blossom on her way to the kitchen. It seemed impossible that only eight days ago she and William had made love in the rose-filled paradise he had created for her. Eight days ago? No. A lifetime.
The rose safely installed in a bud vase, she fetched her teacup from the living room and returned to the kitchen to refill it. Then she sank into a chair and wrapped her hands around the cup, savoring its warmth.
“Lizzy, there you are. I thought you’d still be in bed.” It was Jane, dressed to go running. She inspected Elizabeth with obvious concern. “How are you feeling?”
“Like someone gave me a whopping dose of emotional Novocaine.”
“Poor thing, you look tired. Did you get any sleep?”
“Not much. I had another nightmare.”
“Oh, dear. Michael again?” Jane sat down across the table.
Elizabeth nodded. “I was doing so much better, but now ….” She sighed. “Thanks again for going with me last night.”
“Of course. I was glad to keep you company, and the show was outstanding. I felt bad for you, though, the way you couldn’t sit still.”
Jane had accompanied Elizabeth to the opening performance of South Pacific last night. Elizabeth had considered staying home, but the cast had expected her to be there, and she had seen no point in continuing to hide in her room, nursing her wounds. But she had spent most of the second act sitting on the theater steps, huddled in her jacket against the early November chill.
“I know this is hard for you, and for William too,” Jane said. “He loves you so much.”
“I know.” Elizabeth sighed as the dull ache returned. As angry as she was, she didn’t like to think of him alone and in pain.
“I didn’t want to ask yesterday when you were so upset, but … are you sure this isn’t some sort of misunderstanding that could be resolved?”
“You bet there’s a misunderstanding. He thinks we’re all puppets and he’s holding the strings.”
Jane touched Elizabeth’s hand. “He shouldn’t have intervened in your job situation, especially not without telling you. That was wrong and I understand why you’re hurt and angry. But on the other hand, you really wanted this job, and he found a way to get it for you. Viewed from his perspective, I can see it as a loving gesture.”
“I wish I could see it that way. That’s his story, but love shouldn’t be about control and deception.” Elizabeth wished she could make Jane understand, but it was impossible. Jane hadn’t been the one looking on in horror when Bill Collins had opened the folder to reveal a copy of William’s check, the symbol of his betrayal finished off with his meticulous signature. Elizabeth had hurried to the sanctuary of home as soon as Bill left her office, postponing her meeting with Catherine de Bourgh on the grounds of sudden illness.
“And something good did come from his actions,” Jane continued. “It’s been wonderful to have you here this summer and fall. I’m not making light of what he did, but I can’t help but be grateful for that, at least.”
Yeah. He deprived you of your fiancé and shipped me out here in exchange. Jane didn’t know about William’s role in what had happened with Charles. “I’m not inclined to thank him, but I’m definitely glad to be here. And maybe I can find another job in the area so I can stay.”
“I can’t stay at the conservatory, not after this.”
“Don’t you have to stay till the end of your contract?”
“I’ll stay till the end of the semester, but I don’t think Dr. de Bourgh will try to keep me longer than that. She never wanted me in the first place.”
“But now you’ve had a chance to prove your worth.”
“Not in her eyes. At least it’s a relief to know why she’s always hated me.”
Jane sighed and left the table to pour herself a cup of tea. As she stood at the counter letting the tea bag steep, she asked, “What are you going to do?”
“About William. Are you going to call him or wait for him to come to you?”
Elizabeth rose from the table and crossed to the sink, dumping the remainder of her tea down the drain. “Neither.”
“What I meant was, when are you going to talk to him?”
“I’m not.” Elizabeth leaned against the counter. “I said everything that mattered yesterday.”
“But surely you weren’t serious last night when you said it was over between you?”
“I was entirely serious.”
“Lizzy, I know you’re upset, and for good reasons, but don’t be in a hurry to throw this relationship away. He adores you, and I know how much you love him. That kind of love doesn’t come along every day.”
“So I should just overlook what he’s done? Would you have liked it if I’d given you the same advice back in May?” Elizabeth folded her arms over her chest. It was a novel experience to be angry with Jane.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Jane answered in a soothing tone. “I meant that you might be able to work through this if you sit down together for a talk and really listen to each other. Be honest about your feelings, and get him to do the same.”
“That’s the problem. How can I trust him anymore? This is exactly what I always worried about—that he was hiding things from me. And there are other things he did, things I can’t tell you, that are worse than his involvement in my job. And he insulted our family, and me, and even you.”
“Oh, Lizzy, I’m so sorry.” Jane hugged Elizabeth. “I wish there were something I could do to help.”
“You are helping, by being here. But it’s hopeless. William and I are just too different.”
“I think in some ways you’re more alike than you realize, which may be part of the problem. And where you’re different, you complement each other, like yin and yang.”
“Like oil and water, you mean.”
Jane shook her head, wearing a sad smile. “What are you going to do about the ring?”
Elizabeth grimaced. William had left the engagement ring behind yesterday. “I don’t want to think about that right now.”
The sisters stood together sipping their tea until Elizabeth couldn’t bear the silence anymore. “I need to get out of here,” she said. “Would you be willing to give up your run today, and go for a walk in Golden Gate Park instead?”
“Absolutely. And after that, why don’t we go out for breakfast?”
“Only if you promise that we will not, under any circumstances, talk about William.”
Elizabeth’s last action before they left the apartment was to remove her cell phone from her purse and place it on the dresser. Of course he would try to call, and she needed a clearer head before she talked to him again. If she ever talked to him again.
William checked his appearance in the small mirror beside the elevator as he awaited its arrival. His eyes were bloodshot, courtesy of a sleepless night, and lines of tension were evident on his forehead.
Elizabeth had answered neither her cell phone nor the phone at the apartment when he had called an hour ago, but he knew her habits well enough to be sure she hadn’t left home so early. Probably she’d been in the shower while Jane went for her morning run, and she would be dressed and eating breakfast by now. He would sit with her and they’d resolve everything over a cup of coffee—or as many cups as it took.
He had hoped to arrive during Jane’s absence, but getting ready had taken too long. His hair was finally tamed save one wandering lock on his forehead. For some reason Elizabeth found it irresistible, so he allowed its wandering to continue. He had scrutinized his wardrobe at length trying to select clothes she especially liked. His efforts might have seemed superficial, but he needed every advantage at his disposal, however miniscule.
Half an hour later he stood outside her door. He raised his hand to ring the bell, surprised to notice it trembling, and his breathing quickened. This had to go well; there was no acceptable alternative.
By the third time he pressed the doorbell it was obvious no one was home. His heart contracted, realizing the truth a few seconds ahead of his sleep-deprived brain. Elizabeth must have known that he would come to see her. Had she wanted to see him, she would have been home. Things were worse than he had supposed; until now he hadn’t considered that she might refuse to even speak to him.
Five minutes later he sat behind the wheel of his car wondering what to do next. He couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the penthouse. Traces of Elizabeth were everywhere, from the package of home-baked cookies from Mrs. Reynolds—along with a note William had been sternly instructed not to read—to the hairbrush and the bottle of shampoo she had left in his bathroom the week before.
He had to hold himself together sufficiently to survive tonight’s concert. Last night he had poured his agony into the music, but instead of dissipating, his emotions had magnified, washing over him in ever-larger waves that seemed to engulf the concert hall until the music had nearly escaped his control. The massive ovation and the glowing review in the Chronicle hadn’t surprised him; the audience had sensed the precarious tightrope he walked, adding even more excitement to his emotional performance. He had left the stage weak and trembling, barely able to return for the encore demanded by the cheering crowd.
It was almost dark by the time Elizabeth and Jane arrived home. The walk in the park had been followed by brunch and a window-shopping trip that had consumed most of the afternoon. Each time an image of William had drifted into her mind, Elizabeth had shoved it aside and studied a jacket or a pair of shoes with exaggerated interest. But she didn’t buy anything; she couldn’t bring herself to spend his money … and since every paycheck had come from him, it was all his money. She and Jane had ended the day on the western edge of the peninsula, sipping wine and watching the sun set over the Pacific.
Jane went to her room to get ready for a dinner date with Jordan while Elizabeth foraged in the kitchen. After finding something semi-nutritious to eat, she intended to move on to her big plan for the evening, a date with a bowl of microwave popcorn and the Philadelphia Story DVD. A mournful voice in her head reminded her that she and William had intended to watch it together.
She opened the refrigerator, emptying the contents of the vegetable bin onto the counter. When she turned to retrieve a cutting board, she noticed the blinking light on the phone. She approached it and, reaching out with a tentative hand, touched the “play” button.
A man’s voice spoke, though not the one she expected. “Yeah, this is Tom, down in the first floor lobby. Someone brought you something, and it’s here at the desk.”
She stared at the machine, daring it to continue. It did.
“Lizzy, it’s William. If you’re there, please pick up. I have to talk to you.” She drew in a quick breath during the silence that followed. “All right. Either you’re still not home, or you’re standing there listening to this. And you didn’t answer your cell phone either. We need to talk. Please call me.” He paused, and when he spoke again his voice had a husky edge that made her ache. “Lizzy. I couldn’t sleep last night. I can’t think of anything but you. You have to give me a chance to explain. I love you, cara.”
The line went dead. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands into fists until her fingernails dented her palms. All the optimism she had summoned during the day drained out of her. Why can’t I hate him? It would be so much easier.
There was one more message. “Lizzy, it’s William again. I hope you’ll come to the concert tonight, in spite of … everything. I’ll be finished at intermission, and we can go somewhere and talk.” She heard him sigh, and then he continued. “I’ll leave your ticket at the ‘Will Call’ window. Your seat is down front.”
Though she hated to admit it, he was right; they needed to talk. There was unfinished business between them. Despite her dismissive comments to Jane that morning, she would have to see William again before he left for Australia. Talking to him at Symphony Hall seemed like a good idea. Both the apartment and the penthouse were haunted by too many memories, but his dressing room would be a neutral setting, a much safer place to say what needed to be said. She would be calm and rational, but firm.
The intercom buzzed, and for a moment her heart leapt into her throat, but it was only Jordan. She buzzed him into the building, nodding to herself. Yes. I’ll eat my salad and then drive over there to see him. And when I get home, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant will be waiting to keep me company.
Satisfied with her plan, Elizabeth went to Jane’s room to alert her of her date’s arrival.
NOTE: Most of the music links I provide are for an extra experience if you’re interested, but to me, the concerto referenced in this chapter is almost a character in the story. It’s considered by some to be the greatest piano concerto ever written, and the melodies (at least one of which you will probably recognize) are gorgeous. It’s almost 30 minutes long, though, so if you don’t have the time or just hate classical music, please listen to the opening three minutes and the final two minutes, and visualize William on the stage, playing. The whole concerto is in a single Youtube link, provided in the footnotes.
She didn’t plan to watch the performance. Sitting in her seat as William’s guest, and having him see her there, would send the wrong message. Instead, she would wait here until he finished and then present herself at the backstage entrance, requesting that a message be delivered to him.
Elizabeth was about to go upstairs when she heard a voice call her name. Turning, she saw Jenna Woods, one of her voice students, standing by the doors to the auditorium, a small flashlight and a stack of programs in her hand.
“Hi, Jenna.” Elizabeth approached her, forcing a smile onto her face.
“Hi, Ms. Bennet. I was so excited when I heard Mr. Darcy was playing!” Jenna’s eyes sparkled. “Of course you’re here to see him. Can I help you find your seat?” She reached for Elizabeth’s ticket.
Elizabeth drew back. “No, that’s okay. I’m just going to ….” She pressed her lips together, puzzling over how to explain her refusal without wandering into sensitive territory.
Jenna peeked in the auditorium doors. “Come on, Ms. Bennet. We have to get inside. It looks like he’ll be coming onstage any second.”
“I’d better not. My seat is way down front. I’d never make it there in time.”
“You can sit with me, then. There aren’t any empty seats tonight but they set up a few folding chairs for the ushers. You can run down to your seat after the first movement.”
“Oh, no. Thank you, but I shouldn’t.”
Jenna pulled the door open, standing aside for Elizabeth. “Really, it’s okay. I know you don’t want to be stuck out in the lobby, listening through the doors.”
It hadn’t occurred to Elizabeth that she would hear the concerto even out in the lobby. Besides, no matter what William Darcy the man had done, she couldn’t resist seeing William Darcy the artist on stage. She slipped into the auditorium with Jenna and settled into a folding chair just as he came onstage.
The sight of him halted her breathing. He looked almost godlike bathed in the stage lights, his expression solemn as he accepted the audience’s warm greeting. She had always found him irresistible in formal wear, though recently she had discovered that he looked best wearing nothing at all. Stop it. You’re heading down a dangerous road.
The applause continued, the air electric with anticipation. She thought she saw him glance down at the front row. He would be unhappy to see her seat empty. It was his fault she wasn’t there, but she hated to think of him in pain, especially pain she had caused.
He flipped back his coattails as he seated himself. It was her last chance to escape before he began to play, and although she knew she should leave, she couldn’t seem to move. After a brief pause during which she held her breath, he exchanged a nod with the conductor and lowered his hands to the keys.2
The concerto’s opening chord sounded quietly on the solo piano, followed by another and another, imbued with a tragic dignity that expanded until at last the orchestra joined in and the opening theme swept through the hall. The moods in the music were like quicksilver, in turn mournful, brilliant, majestic, and passionate. Elizabeth sat frozen, lost in the music, the poignant melodies melting her composure until she began to blink back tears. William’s hands flew over the keys in the movement’s agitated final moments, and a teardrop splashed onto the program balanced on her lap.
I’ve got to get out of here. During the brief pause between movements, she could tiptoe out of the hall, unobserved by anyone but Jenna. But her feet refused to move, and then it was too late.
Later she would remember that it was the introspective second movement that burrowed through the armor in which she had clad her heart since yesterday’s confrontation. The main theme sang of unfathomable longing, and the pain she had held at bay nearly doubled her over with its force. She leaned forward, elbows resting on her knees, and tears began to roll down her cheeks. How could he have done this to me? To us? I loved him … love him so much.
The music continued, relentlessly laying waste to Elizabeth’s defenses as William bared his soul for all to see. She heard regret and yearning and a deep well of loneliness as his hands caressed the keyboard. Tears continued to fill her eyes and dampen her cheeks as his pain seeped into her heart, magnifying her own.
Wiping her eyes, she glanced at Jenna, who had not yet noticed her tears, and at the faces of nearby audience members. Although they watched with rapt attention, it seemed that only she could hear his cry for help. Only she knew the magic that could heal him, make him whole again. Pictures flooded her mind of the two of them in moments of intimate communion: clasping hands across a table for two in a candlelit restaurant, gazing into each other’s eyes as they made love, drifting asleep blissfully entwined.
But he had destroyed their bond. She couldn’t make him whole, nor could he do it for her. The thought was cruel, but she couldn’t deny its truth, and fresh tears spilled from her eyes.
Elizabeth was grateful for the energetic opening of the third movement, since it offered her the opportunity to regain control. Jenna glanced over, obviously worried. Elizabeth attempted a reassuring smile, though given her damp face and trembling hands she doubted her success. As the orchestra, and then the piano, introduced the sweeping main theme of the movement, she surreptitiously removed her compact from her purse and peered into the mirror, worried that she was testing the limits of waterproof mascara. But there were no black rivulets adorning her cheeks; even in the dim light she could see that.
She grabbed a fresh tissue and dabbed her eyes, beginning to feel like herself again. The music had entered another energetic section; William and the orchestra were playing a musical game of catch, tossing notes and phrases back and forth, the pace ebbing and flowing but always retaining a restless edge.
Just as she began to relax, a fierce crescendo in the orchestra gave way to the piano, restating the poignant theme of the movement. She seemed to hear William’s voice threaded through the melody, begging her for another chance. Her cheeks grew wet again, and when she licked her lips she tasted the salty tang of her tears. Her gaze was locked on William as the hall vibrated with the concerto’s finale, all fiery emotion and breakneck speed. As he thrilled the crowd with his virtuosity, Elizabeth cried for herself, for him, and most of all for what might have been. She found, as she had feared, that now that she had started to cry, she couldn’t stop.
The concerto ended with a flourish and the audience jumped to its feet in unison, cheering. Shouts of “Bravo!” rose above the din as William stood and faced the audience. Jenna was on her feet with the others, alternating between worried glances in Elizabeth’s direction and fervent applause. Elizabeth stood as well, brushing away the tears that flowed at an ever-faster pace. “I have to go,” she said.
“But Ms. Bennet, what’s wrong?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “I’m fine. I just … I have to go.” She escaped the hall, hurrying out into the damp night air. How she made it to her car she wasn’t sure, but she unlocked it and slid into the driver’s seat, trembling. Then she buried her head in her arms, resting them on the steering wheel, no longer able to contain her sobs.
William leaned his head back against the limo’s headrest and shut his eyes, exhausted from the effort of keeping them open. His sleepless night was part of the problem, but the larger source of his weariness was his despondent heart.
Elizabeth hadn’t come to the concert. He had incited himself to unreasonable optimism while sitting in his dressing room, but reality had come crashing down when he strode onstage and saw her empty seat, trumpeting its cruel message: “You’ve lost her. She wants nothing more to do with you.”
He remembered few details after that. He had engulfed himself in the music, pain streaming from his fingers onto the keys in inexhaustible supply. The orchestra, the lights, and the standing-room crowd had all faded away, present but invisible as though obscured by fog.
After the concerto he had again played the Rachmaninoff prelude as an encore, the desolate landscape it painted suiting him even more perfectly tonight. Afterwards, a crowd of fans had waited on the sidewalk outside the musicians’ entrance to the hall, CDs, program booklets, and Sharpie markers thrust toward him. He had signed some mechanically, and then a symphony intern had held the remainder of the crowd at bay while William ducked into his limo.
“Excuse me, Mr. Darcy?” It was the driver’s voice. Only then did William notice that the limo was no longer moving. “We’re here, at your building.”
“Wait. There’s somewhere else I need to go.” He gave the driver terse directions to Elizabeth’s building and leaned back, closing his eyes again.
He had to see her, yet the necessity of begging for her attention lacerated his pride. He had suffered agonies of embarrassment after leaving his first, pathetic message on her answering machine that afternoon. His ego had stepped in at that point, holding him firmly in check during his later message, determined that no hint of his inner turmoil would be audible. After all, he was trying to talk to his girlfriend, not get an audience with the Queen … although, as things were working out, the Queen had been far more interested in meeting with him.
Ten minutes later, he walked through the main doors to her building. He nodded to the guard at the desk, who clearly recognized him, his raised eyebrows a likely commentary on William’s formal attire. No one answered the doorbell at the Bennet apartment, so he returned to the lobby. “Have you seen Elizabeth Bennet this evening?” he asked.
“Yeah, a couple of times. I think the first time was around dinnertime.” the guard said, frowning. “She came down to pick up a plant someone left for her.”
Then she had gotten the orchid, at least. “Did she go out after that?”
“I saw her on the basement security camera; she was heading for the parking lot, maybe a couple of hours ago. I don’t think she’s back yet.”
The residents’ parking lot had a separate entrance downstairs with direct access to the elevator. “In that case I’ll wait for her down there. If you see her, would you tell her where I am?”
The guard shrugged. “Sure.”
Down in the lower lobby, he settled into a wicker chair with pale peach cushions, prepared to wait as long as necessary.
1 “Prelude in C# minor, Opus 3, No.2,” by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Performed by Van Cliburn. From My Favorite Rachmaninoff, © 2000, BMG Entertainment. Available on Amazon and iTunes Store. Hear on Spotify. Hear on Youtube.
2Piano Concerto #2 in C minor, Opus 18, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Performed by Van Cliburn with the Chicago Symphony, Fritz Reiner conducting, on Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 - Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2, © 1958, BMG Music. Hear on Youtube (movement 2 starts at 10:50, movement 3 starts at 22:20).
Bonus: View a video of Van Cliburn playing it (sound quality not as good)