Elizabeth would not let any man close to her four-year-old daughter. She knew that something was lacking in her child’s life – primarily a male authority figure – but she was too intelligent to introduce a change unless it was permanent. Also, Elizabeth didn’t trust men.
As a teenager she had always been reserved around the opposite gender. Although she had a witty tongue and a sparkling personality, she never much trusted boys who went after her and not her gorgeous older sister, Jane.
She always thought that their heads were screwed on incorrectly or that they were teasing her in some way. She would joke and laugh with them, but that was it, and not one of them (despite her other sisters’ many protests and complete wonder) could make her reconsider. She would happily catch a flick with a friend and listen to her sigh over some actor’s “gorgeousness” but she never much agreed herself (except in the case of Charles Bingley, but who under the age of twenty wasn’t in love with him?). Elizabeth didn’t go to Homecoming and although a popular guy did ask her to Senior Prom (she went only on Jane’s urging), she didn’t much enjoy it.
He had tried to get her drunk but she just hitchhiked back to her house in a dress she swore she would never wear again. Some of the jocks claimed she was lesbian. Elizabeth only responded that she wasn’t Greek.
The summer after high school was an uneventful one. Elizabeth had grown up in the small New England village of Longbourne and, frankly, there was nothing to do except walk to the general store (where ice cream could be had) or go to the local drive-in theatre. Everyone in the town thought that she was kind and sweet although a bit cynical for her age, although she was not as pretty as her sister Jane or as book-smart as her sister Mary, who was a shoo-in for valedictorian.
Furthermore, she was never one to get into any trouble unlike her sisters Kitty and Lydia, the youngest of which constantly had the county cop after her with all of her threats of “running away.”
When she went off to a respectable college (on full scholarship), then, everyone was surprised when she suddenly dropped off the face of the planet, or at least the little world that she had once inhabited.
After three months she stopped calling her mother and wouldn’t even speak to anyone but her sister Jane, who would only announce that “Lizzy is fine. Just stressed.”
At Easter, when there had been no news from her, her father drove three hours to drag her back home to a nice family meal only to find that she no longer lived in her dorm and couldn’t get anyone to tell him where she was.
He then tried to get the police involved but as Elizabeth Bennet was over eighteen, they informed him that nothing was to be done and that if the woman didn’t want to be found, then perhaps he should leave it at that.
Elizabeth hadn’t wanted to cut her parents out of her life but at the time she felt that she really didn’t have another option. She remembered her first week of college with absolute clarity. Her new roommate, Charlotte, was everything she could have wished for (although she had taken several years off before going to college and was twenty-one) and she loved Boston and everything about it.
They would go out to Starbucks, walk along Newbury Street, and laugh together on the T as if they had always been the closest of friends. Naturally, when Charlotte suggested to Elizabeth that they attend a fraternity’s End of Summer party, the small town girl had been a little skeptical and even reticent, but soon her new friend convinced her that she would stay by her side the entire evening and make sure that no one put anything in her drink.
Charlotte, though, had only kept half of her promise. Although Elizabeth firmly held on to her beer so that no one could spike it even if they had wanted to, Charlotte was soon whisked away by a grad student, leaving Elizabeth alone and sitting in a corner. With the music pounding in her head, she watched as sexless bodies gyrated before her and soon become sick with the entire spectacle.
Grabbing another beer, which at this time was probably her fourth and silently berating herself for letting Charlotte talk her into wearing the glittering blue tank top that she never should have purchased, she pushed her way into what she had hoped was an empty room.
The details of that night were still a blur to Elizabeth.
She remembered that there had been someone there, someone with these incredible eyes that she just couldn’t look away from, and that she had stayed there until well after the party was over. For several weeks, she assumed that she and the “eyes” (what else could she call the person?) must have been talking, but after a month and a half of vomiting into the trash bin every day at about four in the afternoon, it was time to face the truth.
She and the “eyes” had not just been talking.
Clearly they had been doing something else entirely. Some days, after finishing her homework, she would stare out of the window and try to recall his face – his name – any detail about him that would help her. As it was, neither she nor Charlotte had any idea what fraternity they had visited that night or how they could find it again.
Elizabeth was too proud to tell her parents or family. She didn’t even tell Jane until after she had given birth to a small and beautiful girl who, despite her earlier resolve, Elizabeth couldn’t give up for adoption. Fortunately, she had inherited a small amount of money when her uncle had died, and she happily set herself up in a tiny apartment and finished her work while looking after her child.
It wasn’t a realistic solution, but Elizabeth had been determined to do it on her own. When she graduated after three years (thanks to AP credits and winter session courses) she finally picked up the phone and made the call her family had been desperately waiting for. She managed to hide her daughter away, not wanting to face her parents’ disappointed faces or interference, and got through her graduation ceremony without much incident.
“Why did you name her Mabel?” Jane curiously asked when Elizabeth had finally managed to get rid of her overbearing parents. She was holding her niece in her arms, cooing to her as they walked down Newbury Street.
“Hmm?” Elizabeth questioned as she looked into a shop window and sighed at a dress she would never be able to afford.
“Mabel – why did you choose it for a name?”
“Oh,” Elizabeth blushed. “It’s silly, really.”
Jane laughed. “There must have been a reason.”
“Of course there was,” Elizabeth responded. “It’s something her father said that night. Or I think he said it. I still can’t even properly remember what he looks like.”
The blush on Elizabeth’s cheeks darkened. She would often dream of that night, just snatches of conversations and looks from the eyes that she swore she would recognize if she ever saw them again. “He was talking about some relative named Mabel. Or maybe her middle name was Mabel. Or Mirabel. I’m not really sure.” She laughed at herself. “Christ, that’s the only night I’ve ever had anything to drink.”
She looked down into her two-year-old daughter’s face and smiled.
“So, you should relocate to New York and come live with me,” Jane changed the subject abruptly. “Boston has too many memories for you. And you need a change of scenery.”
Elizabeth laughed again. “Are you sure you just don’t want to kidnap Mabel from me? Whenever you come to Boston, you are constantly spoiling her.”
“No more than you do, Lizzy,” she smiled. Jane, at twenty-three, was a budding Broadway musical actress and was constantly inviting her sister down to see her. Not only was she beautiful (Elizabeth used to tease her that she should go to Hollywood) but she had a smooth and easy soprano that every girl envied.
“I don’t have a job,” Elizabeth sighed as she took a groggy Mabel into her arms. “I don’t even know what I want to do.”
“Apart from studying for your LSATs?”
“Jane, I need a year off from school work. I want to spend some quality time with Mabel. Have a job with set hours so that I can actually raise her.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” her sister teased.
Elizabeth sighed as she looked desperately into her closet, her four-year-old daughter drawing with crayons on her feet. Her room was small but bright with Van Gogh posters lining the walls and books overflowing into every free space. She had now been living in New York for over two years and in all this time she had never once been out clubbing. It was all Charlotte’s fault, she mused, as she thought of her third roommate and college friend. After taking a year off to pursue a gorgeous ass, Charlotte had finally graduated and come to New York looking for love and a new exciting way of life, and presumably a job. She had found the latter in a little office as a receptionist and now meant to celebrate by taking Jane and Elizabeth on the town. She had even been so serious that she had found a babysitter for Mable and offered to pay for all of Elizabeth’s drinks during the evening. Not that Elizabeth meant to drink. She would not make that mistake. Again.
With a knock at the door Charlotte entered and Elizabeth groaned. “Have you decided what to wear yet?” her friend asked as she nimbly avoided trampling on Mable.
“No,” she moaned.
“Well, what do you have?”
“Nothing. I haven’t been dancing since our first month in college.”
Charlotte laughed. “Clearly you should wear that outfit then. You got action that night!”
Elizabeth glared at her and turned back to the dresses she wore on a day-to-day basis. Since coming to the City-that-Never-Sleeps years before, Elizabeth had worked as a minor editor for a Children’s Publishing Company. She had been an Literature major and, with her vast knowledge and strange love of children’s books that came with being a young mother, the job had seemed perfect for her. She had meant by this time to move on and go to Law School but, strangely, she could never draw herself away.
“Do you have any jeans?” Charlotte inquired as she looked through Elizabeth’s drawers.
Her friend only shook her head.
“A dress it will have to be then, you crazy person!” she sighed. She could never understand why, even after her friend had gotten her figure back, she had still insisted on wearing dresses. Not that her clothes weren’t cute. Charlotte was ashamed to admit it, but Elizabeth had a peculiar and yet impeccable sense of style and always looked put together wherever she went, despite being a young and frazzled single mother. However, none of her dresses were clearly clubbing material.
After several moments, she finally pulled out a simple black dress and sweater. Nothing about it screamed “club!” or “fuck me!” as Charlotte thought it should, but at least it was casual enough and had a nice red trim to it. “Put this on,” she said quickly. “And wear the black boots. And I’m lining your eyes tonight!” she called as she exited out of the room.
As soon as Elizabeth entered the club an hour and a half later, she knew that she had never felt so uncomfortable in her life. “Jane,” she whispered into her sister’s ear before Charlotte could drag them to the bar, “make sure Charlotte doesn’t get me drunk.”
Jane was soon whisked away to the dance floor and Charlotte quickly pulled Elizabeth into the crush after her. Images flashed before her confused mind and she couldn’t help but a remember a night, so like this and yet so different, five years before. Who was he? her mind asked itself over and over again, but all she could see were shapes and colors and eyes that were strange and yet so piercing. Losing herself to the beat, she swung herself back and began to dance the night away.