“I’d like to propose a toast,” Richard said, raising his glass of scotch. “To Lizzy, who vanquished three dragons over the past several days: George Wickham, Lady Voldemort, and possibly the most fearsome of all, a teenaged girl.”
“Seriously, Liz,” Charlotte added, raising her glass as well, “you must be exhausted. When Richard told me everything that’s happened over the past week, I couldn’t believe it.”
Elizabeth smiled. “It gave new meaning to the phrase, ‘a long weekend.’ And I’ve been busy since we got home, too.”
William joined the toast, raising his glass of cognac. “To the bravest woman I know.”
The trio sipped from their glasses while Elizabeth tried to hide her discomfiture behind a smile. She had heard somewhere that you weren’t supposed to drink when you were toasted by others, but it felt awkward to sit there, grinning like an idiot while the others drank. Not that her companions would have cared if she’d lifted her wine glass in solidarity, but she needed to exploit every opportunity to practice the social niceties that had been omitted from her upbringing.
She stifled a yawn with some difficulty. She was indeed exhausted, both physically and emotionally, so much so that she had almost asked William to cancel their evening plans. But she hadn’t seen Charlotte in over a week, so she had pasted on her brightest smile and headed downtown with William. She was enjoying herself despite her fatigue; Richard had chosen a relaxed Italian trattoria serving delicious pasta, and the genial banter around the table had raised her spirits.
But with this reflection came a reminder of why her spirits needed to be raised. “Thank you for the toast, but I don’t deserve the compliment. I convinced Rose and Georgie to go to tea at the Plaza yesterday, and … well, I don’t want to go into the gory details, but it was a disaster. Georgie got mad and stormed off, and now things are worse than ever. She won’t come out of her room and she’s barely speaking to me. Meanwhile, Rose just keeps going from meeting to dinner party to evening reception to her room and avoiding all of us. It’s all my fault.”
Richard scoffed. “Georgie just ran off a week ago. And the two of you just got home, what, day before yesterday? You seriously thought you could get them singing “Kumbaya” in perfect harmony so soon? Lizzy, I adore you, but you’re out of your mind. The Dalai Lama couldn’t reunite those two as quickly as that. When they’re in the same room, it’s so frosty you can see your breath. And it’s been like that for the past year.”
“That’s an exaggeration,” William said. “I admit, after the shoplifting, Georgie was harder to talk to, but that’s understandable.”
“You’re just saying that because you didn’t see it. Georgie used to think you hung the moon—and probably bedazzled it, too—so she was still being nice to you. And you thought pretty much the same about her, so you chose not to notice how your perfect little princess was starting to behave around everybody else.”
William glanced at Elizabeth. She couldn’t resist raising her eyebrows in a silent, “I told you so.”
Richard continued. “She started losing patience when you turned into Heathcliff on the moors last summer. But then you were off to California in hot pursuit of Miss Lizzy, so, again, you didn’t notice.”
“That aligns with what she’s told me,” Elizabeth said, nodding. “And she hated me from the moment we met, because even if she was mad at William, she didn’t want me stealing him away.”
“Which makes it a miracle that you won her over so quickly,” Charlotte said.
“And then promptly lost all the ground I’d gained.”
“I doubt it. Richard’s right; give them some time. It took a while for their relationship to deteriorate this far; it’s not going to fix itself overnight.”
“I know you’re right. But it’s just so frustrating, especially when Georgie was really starting to talk to me and trust me. I really thought I could help her.”
“You still can, and you will,” William said softly, squeezing Elizabeth’s hand. He signaled the cocktail waitress to refresh the group’s drinks, and then he changed the subject, asking Richard a question about an upcoming performing trip. Elizabeth suspected that he had done it to save her from any more of Richard’s pessimistic commentary. She listened to their conversation at first, but before long she turned to Charlotte. “I feel like you’d probably handle Georgie better than I have.”
“Not a chance. I wouldn’t have the patience. Anyway, a lot of this sounds like typical teen angst. At this age, I hated my mom and barely tolerated my dad. And as I recall, you weren’t too fond of your mother when you were fifteen either.”
“But I think Georgie has some reasonable grievances. I mean—well, you’ve met Rose Darcy.”
“Yeah. Not exactly the warm, nurturing type. There aren’t too many people who intimidate me, but she does.” Charlotte accepted a fresh glass of scotch from the cocktail waitress. “I’ve heard her mother was really affectionate, but the poor kid wouldn’t even remember her.” She paused to sip her drink. “But, really, Liz, it sounds like you’ve been doing great with her.”
“I just keep asking myself, WWJD?”
“What would Jesus do?”
“No, what would Jane do?”
They chuckled together. “Well, yeah,” Charlotte said, swirling the scotch in her glass, “as role models go, that’s a good one.”
“By the way, something else came up. At first, I was thinking it was a good idea—that is, until the tea party disaster. Now I’m not so sure.” Elizabeth went on to describe her conversation with Spencer Hamilton about guardianship of Georgiana.
“Wow.” Charlotte stared into her glass, frowning. “Wow. Sorry to say it again, but … wow.” She shook her head. “Are you sure you want that kind of responsibility?”
“No, I’m not,” Elizabeth moaned. “Not at all. But the lawyers think a change would help her case, and … well, I’m sure Eleanor and Robert would do it, but William and I are the ones who will be living in the house with her, and I don’t want her to have to move.”
“Have you talked to anybody about it?”
“Only William. He’s willing to do it, but we haven’t talked to Rose or Georgie yet.”
Charlotte shook her head again. “A husband and a daughter. Talk about domesticity! I couldn’t do it.” She sipped her drink. “But I’ve got to say, you’re not the same woman who moved out to California last summer. You used to spend too much time doubting yourself. But now, you seem like you’re living life full speed ahead.”
“I guess I am, and mostly I’m happy. But it’s scary sometimes.”
“Hey, you’re hanging on and getting things done. And if you’ll excuse me for saying something that might sound patronizing, I’m really proud of you.”
Elizabeth wasn’t sure what to say, so she limited her response to a smile and a long sip from her wine glass. They fell silent briefly, until they overheard Richard say something about the wedding date and its impact on William’s calendar.
“That reminds me,” Charlotte said. “What’s the latest with the wedding plans? It’s less than three months away, so you must be in high gear, but with everything else going on lately, I haven’t had a chance to ask.”
“It’s funny; we were so busy right after Christmas and then there was a lull. Back then, we had to reserve the church and the ballroom for the reception, and the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. Then Mrs. Darcy said we had to choose the caterer and the florist and so on way in advance, to make we got the best of everything. And then for a while there wasn’t much to do. But things are picking up again; we’re choosing menus and table settings for the reception, and we’re talking about the cake. Oh, and we ordered the invitations last week. And now we have to work on the flowers. You wouldn’t believe all the flowers we need.”
“I get cold chills just thinking about this monster of a wedding,” William groaned, looking to Richard in an obvious ploy for sympathy. “And wait till you hear the size of the guest list. I think the list of people who aren’t invited would be shorter.”
“It’s kind of inspiring,” Richard remarked, “that you’re more worried about the wedding—which lasts just one day—than about the prospect of being stuck for years and years with the same woman.”
“Gee, thanks,” Elizabeth shot back.
“C’mon, Lizzy, you know what I mean. Granted, the old man got his hands on quite a prize, but nothing lasts forever.”
“This will,” William declared, leaning over to kiss Elizabeth’s cheek.
“I still say, weddings are easy; it’s marriage that’s hard. Right, Char?”
“Right, which is why you and I will never do it.”
Charlotte and Richard were still together and seemed happy—and apparently monogamous, despite Richard’s continual reminders that they had made no promises. They were quick to point out to anyone who remarked on their happiness that it had been only three months since his impulsive flight across the continent on New Year’s Eve. However, Elizabeth suspected that fifty years from now they would still be together—and still insisting that marriage was not for them.
Later that evening, peace reigned in William’s bedroom. The crackling fire cast warm light around the room, and soft jazz music issued from speakers on the mantel above the fireplace. As they had done the last two nights, Elizabeth and William shared the sofa in front of the fireplace, but this time they lay nestled together, covered by a blanket he had fetched from his closet.
Elizabeth caressed his chest, smiling when she heard his long, rumbling sigh. “I still don’t understand why you wanted to make love over here instead of in your nice, soft bed,” she murmured.
“Is that a complaint?” He raised one eyebrow.
“Hardly. But you can’t even stretch your legs right now.”
“I know, but we’re closer to the fireplace, and you look so beautiful in the firelight. Besides, isn’t a little novelty a good thing?”
“Novelty? We’ve spent just two nights together in your bed, and you’re already bored and looking for new experiences?” She pinched his buttocks.
“Ouch!” he yelped, grabbing her wrist. “You know, I could suggest a much more interesting occupation for your hand.”
She scoffed and pulled her hand away. “Oh, but I’ve done that lots of times. There wouldn’t be any novelty, so why bother?” She pushed him gently, almost sending him tumbling off the sofa.
He sat up, chuckling, and swung his legs onto the floor. “Okay, I surrender. There is still plenty of novelty in having you in my bed. And you’re right; my legs are getting cramped.”
William, unconcerned as ever about being naked, strode across the room with his customary loose-limbed grace. Elizabeth couldn’t help but lick her lips as she enjoyed the view, enhanced by the firelight turning his skin the color of warm honey.
“Are you coming?” he asked, standing in the doorway to the bathroom.
She wrapped the blanket around herself and, clutching it tightly, followed him into the palatial bathroom. Tonight, she had brought a large purse down from her room, complete with a toothbrush, a hairbrush, and a few other necessities. They brushed their teeth, exchanging shy smiles in the mirror. It wasn’t the first time they had shared a bathroom, but this was different. Elizabeth shivered slightly; it felt like they were already married.
She turned her back, dropped the blanket, and dove into the nightshirt she had stashed in her purse. Then she followed him into the bedroom and slid under the covers.
“Oh, yes,” he sighed as she cuddled against him. “A little of this every day for the next 60 years or so. Who needs novelty?”
“And if we do, there’s always the bathtub. And the shower.”
“They’re on my list. By the way, I should warn you: it’s a long list.”
“Absolutely. There are a lot of horizontal surfaces in this house.”
She slapped his hip gently. “You are so bad.”
“Oh? Not so long ago, I got the impression that you thought I was rather good.” He hovered over her, a rakish gleam in his eyes. “Or was that someone else making all those noises earlier?”
Oh, yes, he had been extremely good over on the sofa, wringing cries of ecstasy from her despite her efforts to remain quiet. But this was no time to feed the ego. “You were okay,” she retorted, smirking. “Maybe even a little better than okay.”
“Why, thank you, ma’am,” he replied. “We aim to please. By the way, I should apologize. I shouldn’t have called this ‘my bed’ earlier. It’s our bed.”
“It’s not ours yet.”
“It feels like it’s ours,” he said. “Two nights ago, when you came down here to spend the night for the first time, it felt almost like our wedding night.”
She stroked his jaw, smiling. “I know what you mean.”
“I wish it had been our wedding night,” he said with a sigh. “That would mean the three-ring circus euphemistically called our wedding would be over.” He shook his head, wearing a hangdog expression. “But I’m sorry; I mentioned it at dinner, too. I don’t mean to be a broken record about it.”
“But it’s really bothering you.”
“Doesn’t it bother you, too, that our wedding has almost nothing to do with what we want? I’ve heard some of your conversations with Gran, and she’s calling all the shots. And she’s inviting practically the whole city. I just ….” His voice trailed off and he sighed.
“Not exactly your vision of the perfect wedding day.”
“No, but I’ve always known that my wedding would be like this. And I always knew I’d hate it, just like I hate big parties in general. And I especially hate that I’m dreading the day we become husband and wife. That should be a day full of nothing but joy.”
“Suppose you could redesign our wedding any way you wanted. What would you change?”
She stared at him, one eyebrow raised. “Everything?”
He winced. “Except the bride, of course. If you have any doubts about that ….” He rolled onto his side, pulled her close, and their lips met in a long, slow kiss that would have removed all doubt, had that been necessary.
“Seriously, though,” she murmured as she caressed his shoulders. “What would your perfect wedding be like?”
“Hmm.” He frowned, staring up toward the ceiling. “A lot like Jane and Charles’s wedding, I think.”
“It was lovely.”
“It wasn’t an Event with a capital E. It was a small celebration with family and friends.”
“You’d probably omit the part where we formed a circle around them and all held hands,” she teased.
“Even that was perfect,” he retorted, smiling. “After all, we were in California. What about you? You enjoy parties, so maybe you’ve always wanted a big wedding with all the trimmings? If that’s the case, I’ll stop complaining.”
“I wouldn’t mind a bigger wedding than Jane and Charles had, but not this big, and not this elaborate. All the flowers and food, and invitations that have to be worded just so, is a little much for me. I guess that part doesn’t bother you so much; it’s just the number of guests.”
He shrugged. “I suppose, but I could do with less pomp and circumstance, too.”
“If we’d gotten married in San Francisco, I’d have wanted a wedding on the beach, maybe at Half Moon Bay. And no tuxes. You in one of your five thousand white shirts and a nice tight pair of jeans, and me in a pretty sundress. Maybe even barefoot.”
He laughed. “Gran would love that. Why don’t you tell her that’s what you want? Be sure to emphasize the barefoot idea.”
“Yeah, she’d probably take back that invitation to call her Rose, right after she threw my stuff off my balcony and kicked me out of the house.”
Still laughing, he shook his head. “She can’t. It’s my house.”
“Somehow I don’t think she’d let that stop her.”
William could tell that Elizabeth was troubled. On their return from dinner, he had done his best to distract her, to their substantial mutual enjoyment. But after he kissed her and turned out the light, he could tell that she couldn’t relax. As a result, neither could he.
Finally, he sat up in bed and propped a pillow behind his head. Ignoring the subject wasn’t helping. “You still haven’t told me about tea at the Plaza yesterday. You just keep saying that it didn’t go well.”
She didn’t respond at first, and he wondered if she was trying to feign sleep. But then she sat up as well and rested her head against his chest. “I don’t even want to think about it. I was so arrogant, believing that I had the magic solution to all their problems. Instead, I made things worse.”
He wrapped his arms around her. “Lizzy, I don’t know what happened, but I know one thing for sure: you were trying to help. Perhaps you underestimated the difficulties because, like Richard was saying, you didn’t realize how hard it would be for them to open up to each other.”
“No offense intended, but you come from the most emotionally constipated family I’ve ever met!”
His eyes twinkling, he asked, “Does that make you my metaphorical prune?”1
They laughed together, and she raised her head to kiss his cheek. “Thank you. I needed to find something funny about this.”
He stroked her hair, his eyes warm. “Just tell me about it, cara. You’ll feel better if you get it off your chest.” He paused for a moment to marvel at how much she had changed him; a year ago, those words would never have passed his lips.
Elizabeth summarized the conversation—or lack thereof—at the tea room, followed by Georgiana’s angry exit. She had failed to find Georgiana outside the hotel, but a bellman at the entrance had confirmed seeing a girl matching Georgiana’s description running across West 59th Street toward Central Park. “When I got home, I found out she was upstairs in her room, which was a huge relief. Of course, I went right upstairs to see her. She opened the door, but only briefly; she said she was okay but needed some time to herself.”
“I’d have wanted the same, in her position.”
Elizabeth nodded. “I reminded myself that sometimes you need to retreat into your bubble, and that was probably what she was doing. But since then, it’s gotten worse instead of better.”
“You went up there again when we got home from dinner, didn’t you? I asked about it when you came back down, but you changed the subject.”
“Yeah. I felt like such a failure, I didn’t want to say anything. She didn’t answer at first, which scared me; I wondered if she’d run away again. But I just kept knocking. I guess I finally annoyed her enough that she called out through the door that she was tired and wanted to be left alone.” Elizabeth sighed. “She was really starting to trust me, and now I’ve ruined everything.”
Elizabeth had been through so much because of his remarkably difficult family. How he would ever make it up to her, he had no idea. “I don’t think you’ve ruined anything, cara. I think you just need to give it more time. So much has happened in the past week.”
“You’re saying I’m being impatient.”
“I’m saying you’re trying to move mountains, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Consider how long it took me to learn the value of sharing my feelings.”
“That’s true. I guess I need to remember that it doesn’t come easily to everyone.”
“I’ll say it for you, so you don’t have to,” he said, grinning. “It’s especially hard for Darcys.”
Her mouth twisted in a humorless smile. “Okay, then, how do I help them?”
“What you told me earlier, about the talk you had with Gran, sounded like you already know what to do. You were honest with her and even critical, but you didn’t go overboard. And she listened and understood. For her to apologize for misjudging you, and to admit that we were going to have a good marriage ….” He smiled and shook his head. “It’s not often that Gran admits a mistake. I think you should talk to her again, this time about Georgie. And I’ll talk to her, too, from a different viewpoint.”
“We could do it together. Or would it seem like we’re ganging up on her?”
“It might. Let’s approach her separately.”
“It’s a deal. Thank you; I feel better now. There’s only one Darcy I’m going to think about till morning.” She planted a soft kiss on his lips, and then lowered her head to her pillow, closing her eyes.
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1This line made me laugh when I heard it on the “Miranda” British TV show. It seemed appropriate here.