After several turns on the dance floor, Elizabeth was feeling tired and wanted nothing but to rest. She looked over at her sister Jane was happily swaying in the same man’s arms that had claimed her over an hour before. Elizabeth smiled despite herself and felt happy for her sister. The man looked strangely familiar to her, but she just couldn’t quite place him. He was handsome with blue eyes and an odd reddish-blond color to his hair. As Elizabeth didn’t know many people outside of the publishing industry, she automatically assumed he must somehow be connected with it. That was clearly the only explanation.
Pulling away from Charlotte, she pushed her way back to the bar where she ordered a ginger ale while briefly looking at the man to her left. He had a stoic profile which could have been called handsome if he hadn’t been grimacing into the crowd, staring straight at Jane and her mystery dancer. Elizabeth tried not to snort into her drink as the bartender handed it to her. “Are you sure I can’t get you anything stronger, dear?” He winked at her.
She smiled sweetly at him and said, “Thanks, but I don’t drink.”
“Don’t drink?” he asked rather loudly as the song was being changed. The man next to her turned slightly to hear the conversation, clenching his own alcoholic beverage tightly within his grasp.
She laughed. “No.”
The bartender chuckled and looked down at the vodka he was holding in his left hand.
“Why ever not?” the man next to her interrupted, tilting his head toward her. If his eyes still hadn’t been plastered on Jane, Elizabeth could have sworn he was trying to pick her up.
She grimaced. She hated when strangers listened in to her conversations. However, the bartender was still looking at her expectantly. “I got drunk – really drunk – the first and only time I had alcohol.” She shivered at the memory.
“And?” the stranger haughtily asked as he condescendingly looked down his nose at her before once again turning his attention toward Jane.
She scoffed. “Complete blackout and the worst hangover that lasted for thirty hours. I’m never doing it again.” She gave this explanation more for the bartender than for the stranger’s benefit, as the former was still smiling at her. She couldn’t remember the last time she had looked at a man and although the bartender wasn’t her type (although, to be honest, she technically didn’t have one), he was kind of cute in a “oh, no, he’s male and has too much facial hair”-kind of way.
“That must have been quite a bender, Miss,” the bartender chortled.
She only smiled in response before downing half of her ginger ale and looking over her shoulder to see Jane waving at her.
“Lizzy,” the woman exclaimed as she made her way through the crowd, dragging the familiar man behind her. Elizabeth smiled back and took in the happy form of her sister. With pale skin and nearly jet-black hair, Jane was a classic beauty, the kind that Hollywood sadly no longer favored. Lizzy often joked that Mabel got all of her coloring from Jane as she herself possessed red-gold plaits that fell neatly to her shoulders, though knowing that Mabel’s deep brown curls and blue eyes must really be from her father.
“Jane,” she responded. “Where’s Charlotte?”
“Still on the dance floor, I imagine.” They shared a knowing look.
“Elizabeth, I’d like you to meet someone,” she quickly changed the subject as the man behind her gently cleared his throat.
“Hi,” Elizabeth quickly said as she stuck out her hand. “Have we met before? You look oddly familiar.”
The man blushed a deep red as Jane began to laugh and the stranger, who was once again listening in to what she said, snorted into his whiskey.
“Charles Bingley,” the man said as he tried to regain his composure.
Elizabeth stared at him blankly before remembering herself. “Sorry?”
“He’s a movie star,” the stranger said as he gazed into his drink. “He won an oscar for ‘King Lear.’”
Elizabeth looked at the three people around her. Movie star? She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen a movie that didn’t involve animated robots or fluffy animals. “Sorry,” she replied hastily. “I don’t go to the movies that much.”
“Lizzy and I,” Jane quickly explained, “only go when we take her daughter.”
“You have a daughter?” Charles asked incredulously as he looked at the young woman before him.
Elizabeth shot a warning glance at her sister. She loved her daughter, desperately, and wouldn’t change any of the past five years for the world, but she didn’t often tell random men about her. She was half convinced that they were all scoundrels and didn’t want them within ten miles of her little girl.
“Sorry,” Jane whispered in her ear.
Elizabeth tightly smiled. “Yes, she’s four.”
She smiled and finished her drink, carefully placing it on the bar behind her.
An awkward silence followed when Elizabeth wouldn’t offer up any more information. Jane looked hesitantly between Charles and her sister, and tried to figure out why the man next to Elizabeth had joined the conversation.
“I was just telling your sister,” Charles quickly said, “how much I admired her performance in ‘The Master and Margarita.’”
Elizabeth smiled politely.
“Darcy here and I have both seen it numerous times, and I couldn’t believe it when I actually walked into this club and saw ‘Margarita’ before me!”
“Darcy?” Jane asked.
“Oh, I am sorry,” Charles blushed again, looking at the stranger next to Elizabeth. “I quite forgot myself. Elizabeth, Jane, this is my good friend Fitzwilliam Darcy. Darcy, Jane Bennet you know by reputation, of course, and this is her sister, Elizabeth –” He hesitated.
“Bennet,” Elizabeth supplied, glancing above her at the sour expression on Darcy’s face.
“You kept your own name?” he asked not-so-politely as he looked down at her empty ring finger.
Elizabeth only glared at him and she could see Jane shift uncomfortably out of the corner of her eye. “It would appear so, wouldn’t it?” she snapped.
“Anyway,” Jane began, trying to find another subject, but was soon interrupted.
“I was merely asking, Ms. Bennet,” Darcy replied haughtily.
“Perhaps,” Elizabeth responded, “you should mind your own business.” She knew she shouldn’t get angry but she couldn’t help it. The man beside her was positively infuriating. His eyes, whenever he deemed to glance in her direction, were full of a cold energy that frightened her. It was irrational, she knew, and yet she couldn’t pull herself away from his gaze, however fleeting, which made her even angrier than before.
Before Darcy could say anything, a very drunken Charlotte came into the mix, ordering a vodka martini. Downing it quickly, she turned to Elizabeth and said, “You must dance, I insist.”
“I’d rather not.”
“When is the last time you danced? Honestly.”
“Last week when watching ‘Angelina Ballerina.’”
Darcy tried to hide the smile that was growing on his face.
“Jane did, too,” Elizabeth added at the accusing look on Charlotte’s face.
“I meant,” Charlotte drunkenly explained, “with a man.”
There was a pause in the conversation.
“Exactly,” Charlotte crowed. “I’m finding you a man. You need to get laid. It’s been five years and you can’t even remember if it was good or not!”
“I’m a lesbian,” Elizabeth pleaded, looking for any excuse. If Darcy had been a bit more polite, she would have claimed she was with him and hoped that Charlotte would leave her alone, but even she wasn’t about to go that far, especially considering how unpleasant the man was.
“Since when?” Jane asked coyly, looking at her sister.
Elizabeth looked down at her hands and then met her sister’s gaze defiantly. “Since this moment.”
“Lizzy,” Charlotte explained as she swayed slightly. “We all know you are not a lesbian. You have a beautiful little girl, which proves it and you need to stop, and I repeat, STOP, dreaming about her father and his ‘fine eyes.’ It’s time to move on. Now is the time to be the slut we all know you to be. And I brought condoms so there won’t be another surprise visitor this time,” she concluded as she drunkenly grabbed Elizabeth’s arm.
“Please, Charlotte,” she pleaded, “I’ve taken a vow of celibacy.”
Jane looked at her, astonished, and then realization came into her eyes. “Damn,” she muttered. Her sister had been a complete innocent when she went to college and, even after the night that she could not remember, Jane doubted that Elizabeth had any knowledge about the act apart from her own body’s memory.
Charlotte looked confused. “I don’t understand.”
Jane looked pointedly at Charlotte and said quietly, “She was an innocent, Char.”
Charlotte still looked confused.
Elizabeth realized where this was heading and didn’t like it. “Jane,” she warned. She knew it was stupid. Clearly she had had sex, she just didn’t know what sex entailed. Sometimes she would have these dark dreams where she would be on the verge of knowing, of understanding, what the longing her body felt meant, and yet it avoided her. She knew she could go and get a biology book, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Her mother had never allowed her to go to health class and Elizabeth just didn’t really read or watch anything that would inform her about “the facts of life.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Lizzy,” Jane responded.
Darcy looked confused. And stern.
“I don’t get it,” Charlotte said stupidly and, at that moment, she dragged Elizabeth away from a very shocked-looking Darcy. As Elizabeth was pulled toward the dance floor, she could just hear Jane making apologies for their intoxicated friend.
After three quarters of an hour, during which Charles and Jane had made it back to the dance floor, Elizabeth finally managed to get away from Charlotte and the strange looking man that she had been trying to push at her. The man had seemed eager enough with the kind of expression in his eye that even Elizabeth had to recognize, but she wasn’t in the mood. And he smelled like stale beer. Leaning up again the bar, she caught the bartender’s notice and he sidled up to her. “Hello again. What can I get you?”
“Just a coke.” She smiled at him and left him a generous tip when he went to help some other customers. She turned her gaze to the dance floor and saw Jane swaying next to Charlotte, Charles Bingley nowhere in sight. That’s odd, Elizabeth thought to herself.
“Darcy!” she heard someone call and looked to see Charles approaching his friend further down the bar. Darcy was once again brooding into a whiskey and looking at Jane far too much. Elizabeth didn’t like it. He was a little too stalkerish for her taste.
“Bingley,” Darcy responded coolly, neither of them noticing her.
“This is getting ridiculous. I take you out so you can relax and all you do is drink whiskey and stare at me all evening.”
“I was looking at your latest devoted fan.”
“Don’t be mean,” Charles said coldly. “It’s not like that at all. I’m her fan.”
Elizabeth smiled at the adoring tone in Charles’ voice.
“Clearly,” Darcy scoffed.
“You really should loosen up a bit,” Charles continued as he ordered two drinks at the bar, one of them, Elizabeth noticed, was Jane’s favorite.
“So you’ve been telling me for years.”
“She was just a girl that you barely knew, and yet you’ve been acting like she broke your heart. Enough is enough.”
Darcy stared fixedly at Jane.
Charles sighed. “You should dance. That’s why I brought you here, you idiot.”
“You have been dancing with the only attractive woman in the entire establishment.”
Elizabeth laughed despite herself. Neither of the men heard her.
“Isn’t she stunning? I can’t believe I actually got to meet the Jane Bennet.” He took in a deep breath. “But what about Elizabeth? She’s exactly your type and I noticed you talking to her at the bar earlier.”
“She’s tolerable, I guess, if it weren’t for the fact that she’s on the prowl. How can a woman be that irresponsible when she has a child?”
“Now, Darcy, that other woman was clearly drunk and probably just –”
Darcy cut him off with a look. “Go back to your broadway starlet, Charles. You’re wasting your energies on me.”
As Charles sighed he picked up the two drinks and left his friend at the bar, wondering what possessed him to even try to begin with.
Charles, naturally, got Jane’s number and Jane, slightly buzzed from her sea breezes, invited him to her next matinee performance with his friend Darcy. She had a private box at her disposal that day and she assured them that her sister and niece wouldn’t mind being joined the following Saturday.
Elizabeth, however, did mind. All during the week she silently fumed as she read countless manuscripts, coming home at five only to fake a happiness in front of her daughter and sister.
As soon as the sisters had awakened the morning after they went clubbing (Charlotte slept through the whole day, having gotten herself properly drunk), they had gone to the local video store and rented every Charles Bingley film they could find. Most of them they couldn’t watch until after Elizabeth had sung her daughter to sleep at night, but even she had to admit that Charles was a good actor, albeit a Hollywood superstar. She had seen some of his earlier films when she was in high school and blushed when she remembered she had had a slight crush on the actor at the time.
Now she almost laughed at the thought of her beautiful and talented sister dating him. Although she hadn’t seen him since that night, she was given a play-by-play of the lunches they had had throughout the week, had helped Jane pick out a dress for an early supper at the Russian Tea Room, and soon found herself to be an expert on everything Charles Bingley.
When Saturday finally arrived, Elizabeth painstakingly dressed a struggling Mabel in her “Sunday dress” and mary janes. The child was a bit young for the content of the musical, but Elizabeth was of the opinion that culture was culture and the earlier her child received it the better. Her own father, whom she hadn’t seen since her graduation, had always played Wagner’s Ring Cycle on his old record player when she was a child. Elizabeth teased Jane that that was what had started her musical career – Germanic ballads of love sung between a brother and a sister.
“Where are we going?” Mabel asked for the thousandth time that morning.
“To see Aunt Jane sing, little one,” Elizabeth teased as she placed a blue ribbon in the child’s hair.
“Does she sing like you?” Mabel’s small world revolved around her mother. Although Jane often offered to sing the child to sleep, Mabel would always ask for “Mommy” instead and could rarely be persuaded to sleep before Elizabeth would sing a childhood lullaby in her mezzo soprano voice.
“No, she sings much better,” Elizabeth assured her. “And she sings with other people.”
After quickly looking over her own appearance, Elizabeth ushered a smiling Mabel out onto the streets of New York and into a waiting cab. She had a foreboding about this excursion and no matter how many times she tried to explain it away to herself, she couldn’t. She never allowed Mabel to meet the few men she had dated since she was born, and rarely let her catch glimpses of Jane’s beaus. She felt that she could never trust them – her little girl was too precious to her, too valuable. She didn’t want her to be hurt and the easiest way to assure it was to make certain that she could never come into contact with someone who would not be there down the line.
Now, however, they would be in a private box with two men for several hours, one of whom had told Jane (who had then told Elizabeth) how excited he was to meet Mabel. The other was a taciturn bastard who thought that she wasn’t attractive and a desperate slut.
When Elizabeth and Mabel arrived in Times Square, she tucked her daughter’s hand in her own and walked the familiar streets to the theatre. Mabel pointed out the pigeons to her mother, who laughed happily in return. When they finally approached the theatre, they met a grinning Charles and an awkward Darcy in the lobby. A bodyguard stood a few feet away and was eyeing her warily as she approached the movie star.
“Elizabeth, how wonderful to see you again,” Charles began as he kissed her politely on the cheek.
“Charles,” she smiled broadly at him and then looked down when she felt Mabel pulling on her skirt.
“Mommy,” the little girl said, “where’s Aunt Jane?” Her eyes were wide and looking about her.
Elizabeth laughed and bending down, explained, “She’s getting ready. Do you want to meet Aunt Jane’s friends though?”
Mabel nodded and Elizabeth swooped the girl into her arms. “Mabel, this is Charles.”
Darcy turned his head abruptly at the introduction, his eye focusing on Elizabeth’s daughter. Charles, however, ignored him and smiled at the child as she buried her head in her mother’s shoulders.
“How are you, Miss Bennet. You look quite pretty in your dress and ribbons.”
She shyly smiled back at him.
“Forgive her, but she’s a bit shy, especially around strangers. She hasn’t really been introduced to many men.”
“Well, she’s quite a credit to you. Although, I must say, I was expecting a little girl with blonde hair like yours.” He smiled sweetly at her and Darcy cleared his throat.
“Presumably, Charles, the child takes after her father in her coloring.”
Elizabeth glared icily at him and caught his gaze. He was staring right back at her. Turning quickly away, she looked again at her daughter who was looking at her with wonderment. “Who’s that, Mommy?”
“I’m sorry, but I never learned your first name.” Her cold was polite but cold and no hint of a smile graced her face.
“Fitzwilliam,” Darcy supplied.
“Fitz-Fitzwilliam,” Mabel tried to pronounce, concentrating, as Elizabeth carried her to their box. Mabel’s attention, however, quickly shifted when her mother set her in her own seat. “Mommy, why won’t you sing, too?”
Elizabeth blinked when she noticed Charles and Darcy looking straight at her. “We’ve come here to see Aunt Jane sing, Mabel,” Elizabeth whispered as the orchestra began to play. “Now be good and watch your aunt sing for you.”
“Can we have ice cream later?” she begged, twisting in her seat.
“Perhaps,” Elizabeth responded.
“Please, Mommy? Please?”
“I said, ‘Perhaps,’ you wee bearn.” She pulled the child into her lap and rested her chin on the top of her head. “Now watch the musical.”
As the curtain slowly rose, however, only three pairs of eyes in the box focused on Jane Bennet in the lead role.