Forgotten First Impressions: Chapter Three

Filename FFI03

Throughout the performance, Elizabeth couldn’t get rid of the feeling that someone was watching her.  She looked down at Mabel and saw that the girl, despite herself, was entranced by Jane’s performance.  Her small hands rested against the balcony, her shockingly blue eyes transfixed on the actors beneath them.  She turned briefly and saw that Charles was equally engrossed and she smiled to herself.  Her sister Jane had seen a variety of men since Elizabeth had moved to New York.  Most of them were nice, adoring, and handsome in some respect.  However, they had never really seemed like fully developed people to Elizabeth.  They were instead fans who happened to be escorting their idol.  Charles, however, was different.  He stood on his own, independent of Jane, and appeared to be with her because he wanted to be with her and not just a famous Broadway name.  Jane was – or soon would be – his girlfriend, not a trophy to try to pump up his ego.

One curious aspect of Charles, however, that Elizabeth could not understand was his friendship with Darcy.  If the man hadn’t had such a superiority about him, Elizabeth would have sworn that he was merely a hanger-on to the movie star.  In their brief acquaintance, all he had done was sneer and look down on her, and warily watch Jane as if she was either some sort of prize-winning trout or dangerous vixen.  For whatever reason, Elizabeth couldn’t figure out which opinion he held.  

He was also a bit of an enigma to Elizabeth.  She didn’t know who he was or what he did, only that he was Charles’ friend, was self-important, and didn’t think that she was attractive.  The last, for whatever reason, had hurt her somehow.  That night, when she stood alone at the bar, all she could do was replay his words over and over again to his friend in her head.  Whenever she thought about it, she just got angrier and angrier.  Who did he think he was to think she wasn’t attractive enough to dance with, especially when he had already been listening in on her conversations?

Elizabeth sighed as she tried to refocus on the musical.  The devil was wreaking havoc on Moscow.  However, that’s what happened for most of the show.

When the curtain finally went down for intermission, Elizabeth found that she’d been thinking of the insufferable Darcy the entire time.  She looked about her and saw that Mabel was excitedly telling Charles how much she liked the big cat and wondering aloud if her mother would get one just like that for her.

“Not until you’re older, little one,” she chided.  “The apartment is much to small.”

Charles graciously offered to get them all refreshments and Elizabeth took a coloring book and pencils out of her bag for Mabel to play with during the intermission.  Humming a lullaby to herself, Elizabeth was surprised to find Darcy staring at her unblinkingly.

“I take it,” he said awkwardly when he realized that Elizabeth was looking back at him, “that Mabel’s father is out of the picture.”

Elizabeth at first could only stare at him.  She could not understand what thoughts could possibly be going through his mind at that moment.  “Yes,” she answered quickly before the silence became too long.

“Forgive me, but you seem rather young to have a child, especially since I understand you are a successful editor of children’s books.”

“I was nearly nineteen when she was born,” she said icily.

“How did you manage to get through college with an infant?”  Elizabeth was shocked but he actually seemed genuinely curious.

“Determination and hard work.  I can also operate on very little sleep,” she smiled as she thought back to the long nights of paper writing and breast feeding.   Thank God she had actually given birth to Mabel in June after exams.  Not liking where this conversation was going, especially with a far-too-intelligent four-year-old only a few feet away, Elizabeth quickly changed the subject.  “So, how do you know Charles, Darcy?”

“I’m vice president of a production company, and Charles and I are childhood friends.”

“You’re based in L.A., I’m assuming?”

He nodded curtly.  Their conversation then lapsed into almost complete silence.  Elizabeth looked out into the crowd and into the other boxes and was surprised to see a man in a tuxedo looking quite fixedly at her from below.  Turning her gaze away, she checked on Mabel who had progressed through most of her coloring book and was now turning her entire attention on Darcy, which worried Elizabeth slightly.

“Mommy,” the child said, “is he a prince?”

Elizabeth laughed despite herself.  Darcy looked quite startled by the question, a frown appearing on his face.

“Do you think he looks like a prince, Mabel?”

“Yes,” she replied, lisping slightly. “His hair is just like mine and I’m going to be a princess when I grow up.”

“Well, why don’t you ask Fitzwilliam if he’s a prince or not?”

Mabel turned to the man again and looked quite fixedly at him.  “Are you a prince?”

“Sadly, I’m not,” he replied stoically.

“My father was a prince,” Mabel continued as she got up and approached him.  Darcy looked slightly uncomfortable under the small child’s steady gaze.

“Was he?”

“Yes.  Mommy doesn’t talk much about him, but I know that he was a prince.  And some day he’s going to come riding up on his horse and take Mommy and me away to his castle.”

“Mabel, dear,” Elizabeth said kindly, having had this conversation with her daughter before, “your father isn’t coming back.”

“Why not?” the child pouted prettily, her chestnut curls swaying as she turned toward her mother.

“Because he has his own life, munchkin.  You know that.”

Mabel turned her attention back at Darcy who, instead, was looking at her mother.  “Will you be my new father?” she asked suddenly, her blue eyes fixed intently on his.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth rushed in hastily, her face blushing as she scooped up her daughter, “she knows better than to ask things like that.”

“But he’s a prince!” Mabel explained patiently to her mother.

“Mabel Elizabeth Bennet,” Elizabeth scolded harshly.  “Remember your manners!”

She looked back through the crowd, afraid to look at Darcy.  What must he think of her?  What must he think of Mabel after such questions?  He already thought her to be slut and a bad mother, and now he would think she was unprincipled and used her daughter to find a husband.

The man down below was still looking at her, his gaze intent.  She didn’t know what to make of him.  She had never been openly stared at by a man before, at least to her knowledge.  There was something about him that was oddly familiar but she soon shook that thought from her head.

“Well,” Charles said as he reentered the box, having been gone for only fifteen minutes.  “I’m back.”  He was smiling widely and he was holding four ices precariously in his hands and had two cokes in his tuxedo pockets.  “Miss Bennet, Miss Mabel,” he said as he offered them ices and one of the cokes.

“Thank you, Charles,” Elizabeth said as she placed her drink on the floor before helping Mabel take off the top of her lemon ice.

With Charles’ reappearance, Mabel had become more withdrawn again but she was still looking at Darcy with an appraising look in her eye.  Elizabeth, if she hadn’t thought so before, now knew that coming to the performance today had been a mistake.  Mabel was far too inquisitive and intelligent for a four-year-old.  She could already read a little (that was the price, Jane joked, of having a children’s book editor as a mother) and she was alarmingly good with puzzles.  Now she had taken it into her head that Darcy should be her new father and the more that Elizabeth looked at him, the more she realized that this cold and proud stranger could easily be taken for a relative of her daughter’s.

“So,” Charles began the conversation as the four of them ate their ices.  “Jane tells me that your mother wants to come to New York for Thanksgiving.”

Elizabeth choked suddenly on her coke and nearly spit it out onto the floor.

“Wh-What?” she coughed.  “When did Jane say that?”

“I think she said she got a call this morning when I spoke to her before you arrived.  Something about a family holiday.  She didn’t seem too happy about it, for whatever reason.”

Elizabeth’s face blanched as she thought of her flighty mother, her vain father, and her three younger sisters being let loose in the same city where she lived with her child.  The thought was absolutely terrifying.  As much as she trusted Jane and Charlotte, either of them could let something slip about the child and then where would she be?  She felt ill to her stomach and suddenly couldn’t eat any more.

“Elizabeth, are you quite alright?”  Charles asked as he leaned toward her.  Darcy remained silent and brooding, though his eyes were trained upon her.

“Y-y-yes,” she stammered.  “I just didn’t know.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he apologized, and it looked like he truly meant it.  “Are you not close with them, then?”

“Not anymore, no.”

The orchestra began to tune as the lights flashed to signal the start of the second act.

“I was actually quite looking forward to meeting them.”

Elizabeth glanced at Charles and said nothing.  As the curtain went up, she settled Mabel back on her lap and tried to focus on the musical, Darcy’s eyes never leaving her form.

After the many applause and rose throwing after the performance, Elizabeth, Mabel, Darcy and Charles (with a bodyguard in tow) made their way back stage to greet Jane.  Charles had pulled out a stunning bouquet of lilies from nowhere and looked nervous as Elizabeth led him and his friend through the winding hallways that she knew almost by heart.  Knocking softly on her sister’s dressing room door, they heard a soft “Come in,” and entered to find Jane dressed in a pink robe with her face still covered in stage make-up.

“Aunt Jane!” Mabel squealed happily as she launched herself into her aunt’s arms.

“May,” Jane replied happily as she kissed the child’s head.  “Did you like the show?”

Mabel nodded in enthusiasm.  “Charles brought you flowers,” she said conspiratorially as she looked at the blushing man who was sheepishly standing near the door.

Elizabeth approached her sister and, after saying her congratulations, picked Mabel off her lap and led her to the door.  She looked knowingly at Charles and then said, over her shoulder, “We’ll be outside if you need us.”  When Darcy made no attempt at moving, she grabbed his arm and dragged him out the door.

Several minutes of awkward silence followed as Darcy, Elizabeth and Mabel waited outside of Jane’s dressing room.  Mabel, becoming quiet again, hid herself in her mother’s skirts, Elizabeth greeting the cast members she recognized as they walked by.  “Jane have an admirer in there?” one asked and laughed at herself.  “She’s always the lucky one.  Is it that lawyer who was following her around last month?”

Before Elizabeth could answer, the girl was gone and she was left again to try and not notice that Darcy’s steady blue gaze was upon her.

“Lizzy,” Jane said as she emerged, now fully dressed casually in jeans and a button down black shirt.  “Charles is taking me to dinner, if you don’t mind being left on your own.”

“Not at all,” Elizabeth laughed.  “Doctor Who’s on and Mabel and I can make pasta.”

“Thank you,” she sighed as she kissed her sister’s cheeks.  “By the way, Mom called.”

Elizabeth glanced wearily at Darcy and noticed that Charles was now talking to him.  “I heard.  We’ve got to talk her out of it.”

“She’s our mother, Lizzy,” Jane responded as she took Mabel’s hand and began leading them to the back door.

“What do you expect me to do, Jane?  I can’t hide Mabel for several days if Kitty and Lydia decide to just drop by our apartment.”  She sighed as she imagined their two younger, boy-crazed sisters showing up unannounced with chips and dip and their stares when they saw Mabel for the first time.

Jane stopped suddenly and Charles and Darcy nearly ran into them.  “Lizzy, this is ridiculous.  She’s their granddaughter!”

“Whom they know nothing about and I intend to keep it that way,” Elizabeth whispered dangerously. 

“You need to stop being so protective of her, Elizabeth,” Jane said harshly, the two sisters forgetting entirely that they had an audience.  Putting her hands quickly over Mabel’s ears, who fortunately had been too engrossed with the people in costumes walking around to pay attention earlier, Jane continued, “Just because you were date raped doesn’t mean that the whole world is out to get you and Mabel.  For Christ’s sake, until today I don’t think that Mabel had ever been allowed around a grown man except for the few glimpses she caught of them.”

Elizabeth stood there, completely stunned.  Taking a deep breath, she tried to answer as calmly as possible, “Until you get pregnant the first month of college and raise a child while getting your degree without any help, I suggest you not comment on how I raise my daughter.”  She took a breath.  Her mind was muddled, confused.  Here was sweet, innocent Jane, and they were somehow having an argument, which was astounding in itself.  Then her mind shifted gears quickly and she demanded,  “Who told you I was date raped?”

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out,” Jane said quietly.

Elizabeth looked stunned.  Slowly processing the information in her mind, she looked down at Mabel who was looking at Darcy again.  Yes, she couldn’t remember the night at all, but could it really be true?  She had never thought about it before – but her daughter, her beautiful daughter, could not possibly be the outcome of such a horror.  She shook her head.  “We should go.”

“Fitzwilliam,” Jane said quickly as Elizabeth picked Mabel up.  “Would you do me a favor and make sure Lizzy and Mabel get home safely?”

Darcy looked completely stunned and at first didn’t respond.

Elizabeth glanced at him and countered, “Jane, I’m a grown woman.”

“You’re upset, I insist,” Jane countered.

“Of course he will,” Charles said, recovering himself. 

Darcy slowly nodded his head.  “It would be my pleasure.”

Elizabeth laughed.  “Jane,” she said, her voice still pained, “I think we just had our first fight.”

She slowly walked away, not looking back, and assumed that Darcy was following her.  As she pushed her way through a back door she looked up at the cloudy sky and sighed. 

“Mommy,” Mabel began hesitantly, sensing her mother’s changed mood, “I’m hungry.  Can I have ice cream.”

“May I have ice cream, Maple Leaf,” Elizabeth corrected. 

The child sighed as she looked over her mother’s shoulder at Darcy who stood, staring fixedly at Elizabeth’s profile. 

“Fitz-Fitz,” Mabel said, changing tactics, “wants ice cream, too.”

Darcy smiled slightly at the precocious child and Elizabeth turned to see him grimacing.

“You need to have a proper dinner first, Mabel, and I said ‘perhaps’ earlier.”

“Fitz,” Mabel pouted, “don’t you want ice cream?”

“I’d be happy, Miss Bennet,” he said politely, “to treat you and Mabel to a dinner and then ice cream.”

“No, that’s quite alright,” she responded quickly, confused by his offer, but Mabel began to plead with her.

“Please, Mommy, please!”

“I assure you it would be no trouble,” he said as he looked between mother and child.  “It’s the least I could do after you shared your box with me and Charles.”

Elizabeth sighed and looked at him pointedly, searching his eyes for something.  Darcy could sense her wariness and added, “I have a younger sister who was born when I was thirteen, so I’m quite used to young children.”

She looked at him disbelievingly and then slowly nodded.  “Thank you, Mr. Darcy,” she responded and he quickly called a taxi.

“Would Serendipity be alright?” he asked as Elizabeth climbed into the cab.  “They have great ice cream and Georgie, my sister, loves it.”

Elizabeth nodded her head and Mabel squealed in delight.  Elizabeth didn’t know what she was thinking, accepting this man’s invitation to dinner.  She felt tired and didn’t want to have to go home quite yet to an inquisitive Charlotte. 

She wanted to forget herself, to be someone else for one night, to not have to guard against the world.  There was also something in his gaze, something that she felt she could trust however unpleasant Darcy was.  And, most of all, she wanted ice cream.  That would make everything right somehow.

Settling into the cab, she looked over at her companion and noticed him watching her.  Thinking he wanted to ask her about the argument she had with Jane, she sighed and closed her eyes.  “No questions, please.  Not tonight.”

He nodded his head to her and she looked out the window, pointing out landmarks to a happy Mabel. 

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