Elizabeth realized too late that accepting Fitzwilliam’s invitation to lunch would change her life – and not in a good way. After Mabel’s first meal at Serendipity, the little girl had been so excited and happy that the very next day she told her Aunt Jane all about it. Although she could barely pronounce the name of the restaurant, Elizabeth was happy to supply the correct pronunciation to Jane as well as giving the establishment, if not the company, a glowing review. Such praise from Elizabeth was rare as she was hardly impressed by anything in the city.
When Mr. and Mrs. Bennet finally grew tired of their three younger daughters, they then asked Jane for the name of a restaurant where perhaps they could slip off to while leaving their children under the care of their eldest. Jane, who was too good natured despite her recent and endless conflict with Elizabeth, didn’t hesitate to recommend Serendipity and quickly gave directions.
As the older couple was led to their table, Mrs. Bennet couldn’t help but cast her eyes every which way, at every table, and especially at any man who looked like he might do for any of her five daughters. Her gaze landed on a particularly handsome man, with dark curling hair and blue eyes, although he did look a little severe. He in turn was looking quite fixedly at a blonde-haired woman to his right, who was slowly eating a brownie. With astonishment, Mrs. Bennet recognized her own daughter and before she could help herself, she cried “Elizabeth Bennet! Where have you been hiding, girl?”
Elizabeth and the man next to her turned in shock to find Elizabeth’s parents rushing over to the table. Charlotte, who recognized them of course, muttered “effing hell,” knowing this couldn’t go well. Caroline looked amused at the crassness of this stranger and Richard couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. Mabel looked curiously up at her mother and asked, “Mommy, who are they?”
Elizabeth fought the urge to shove Mabel under the tablecloth where, if not seen, her parents might forget that a child had ever sat there. Of course, this was contingent on the four year old remaining silent and relatively still, which was a lot to ask of anyone, especially a hyper and overly curious Mabel. Trying to smile, she said weakly, “Mom, Dad, what are you doing here?”
“Your mother insisted we get away from your sisters and have a nice lunch. Jane recommended this place. Said you liked it.”
Elizabeth silently cursed her sister.
“Yes, something about you slipping here after a performance with a man. Are you seeing someone, darling?” her mother asked coolly. “If not, I know this wonderful man, excellent job –“
“Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, how nice to see you again,” Charlotte put out her hand.
“Likewise,” Mrs. Bennet looked at her as if she had never seen her before. “Sorry, who are you?”
“Charlotte Lucas, Mom, she was my first year roommate.” Sarcasm laced Elizabeth’s voice.
“Oh, yes,” Mrs. Bennet snapped. “The bad influence. Weren’t you the reason Lizzy here dropped off the face of the planet? Without a single fucking word to her family until she graduated?”
“That’s me,” Charlotte resignedly replied.
“What did you get her into, heroin?” the older woman continued. “I mean, she was always headstrong, but to even move out of the dorms, change her number, and then not even bother to call us until a few days before she graduated and then she wouldn’t even allow her sisters to come. That’s the behavior of a goddamn prostitute, not a girl from an upstanding family.”
Mrs. Bennet looked at Elizabeth, a sudden thought crossing her mind. “Oh my god. That would explain everything,” she whispered. “Are you a prostitute?” She looked her daughter up and down, trying to discern the answer from her clothes and make up.
Mr. Bennet had focused a penetrating glare on his daughter and it frightened her until her mind shifted to what her mother had said.
“No!” Elizabeth exclaimed, “I am definitely not a prostitute.”
Charlotte tried to interject some humor into the conversation and try to draw away the Bennets’ primary focus from her friend. “She’s the Virgin Mary.”
Everyone, apart from Mabel, stared at her.
“No, really, she is,” Charlotte stated.
“Does your friend mean to tell me that you need to be in a mental institution because you think you have been visited by the goddamn Archangel Gabriel?” Mr. Bennet’s voice was cold and commanding.
“Perhaps I should watch my tongue, however, as there’s a child present.” He looked down at the little girl who looked straight back at him.
Fortunately, Mabel remained silent and started eating her mother’s brownie.
“And then after graduation, she comes to New York and won’t see us for years. Thank god my Jane knows what’s due to her parents.” Mrs. Bennet had started up her own train of thought again.
“Aunt Janie?” Mabel asked innocently.
“Yes, Aunt Jane,” Charlotte replied, trying to draw attention away from her friend again.
“Mommy,” the child said turning back to Elizabeth, “that man has a funny nose.”
“Shit,” Charlotte breathed.
Darcy couldn’t help but put a protective hand on Elizabeth’s arm. She looked at him, startled, before glancing back at Mabel. She was completely frozen. Everyone was now looking at the two of them and she had no idea what to say.
Mr. Bennet’s face clouded with an emotion that Elizabeth did not want to comprehend. “Lizzy,” her father began sternly. “How old is the child next to you?”
“I’m four,” Mabel piped in, “and almost a half.”
Mrs. Bennet turned entirely white as she stared openly at the little girl. “Oh my god,” she finally said. “Who’s the father?” She looked accusingly at Richard and Darcy. Taking in the latter man’s coloring in comparison with her granddaughter’s, she snapped, “It’s you, isn’t it?”
Now Darcy looked stunned. “I assure you, madam, I am not Mabel’s father.” His voice was cold and his eyes unswerving.
“Mabel?” Richard asked in confusion. “I thought her name was Mae?”
“Mae’s her nickname,” Charlotte added in. “And I told you, she’s the Virgin Mary, as innocent as snow despite my best efforts.”
Elizabeth glanced at her friend and couldn’t help but smile a little, glad that the tension was somewhat relieved. Ever since she had discovered that she was pregnant with Mabel, it had been a bit of an inside joke between them.
“I have an aunt –” Richard began before Mr. Bennet cut him off.
“Lizzy,” he said, pulling a chair from a nearby table. “Why didn’t you tell me? We could have made this go away. Why sacrifice yourself?” His words, on the surface, were kind, but with a sense of overwhelming nausea, she could understand the partial threat behind his words.
“Where was your sense, child?” Mrs. Bennet began to rant as Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Haven’t you heard of birth control? Abortion? Or Adoption at the very least?”
“Mother,” Elizabeth responded quite coldly, “I forbid you to speak about such things in front of my daughter!”
“Why can’t you have any sense like your sister Jane? She’s gone and captured a movie star and you have – are you even married? Why did you even pick such a horrendous name?”
“I like it, even though it is a bit outdated,” Caroline put in, enjoying the spectacle around her. She had been desperately trying to think of ways to humiliate the impertinent blonde and now it had already been done for her! Karma was truly a beautiful thing.
“It was Mabel’s father’s mother’s name. Or his sister’s. Though it could possibly have been Mirabel as Lizzy can’t quite remember,” Charlotte said before Elizabeth could answer.
Her friend glared at her.
“And this is what we get for sending you to W—,” her mother sighed. “I told you, John, that if she didn’t become a lesbian she would become a flirt. That’s what happens when there are no male students.”
“Why does no one listen when I say she’s the Virgin Mary?” Charlotte muttered to herself. Really, people could be so daft sometimes. If they would only look at Elizabeth, they could tell that she was neither a lesbian nor a flirt.
Darcy’s face suddenly became drained of blood. “You went to W—?” he asked calmly.
She simply nodded her head. “Yes, why?”
He looked at her intently as if he was seeing her for the first time. He took in the contours of her face, her shortened hair which was no longer lightened into a true blonde, the curve of her neck and shoulders. Darcy could hardly breathe.
At that moment, Elizabeth’s phone rang and she answered it. “Jane, the cat’s out of the bag,” she said by way of greeting. “Thanks for sending Mom and Dad to Serendipity.” She paused briefly. “Yes, he’s here. What does that matter?”
After a hurried conversation, Elizabeth realized that everyone was looking at her, including Mabel. She knew the child was bursting with questions, but she didn’t know what to do. She turned to her daughter and said in a forced cheerful voice, “How would you like to go watch ‘Doctor Who’?”
The little girl’s face lit up with joy at the mention of her favorite show. “Yes, please,” she said as she hugged her mother. “Can we watch one with Captain Jack?”
“Of course,” she sighed, “Well, thank you for lunch,” she said to no one in particular, trying to avoid everyone’s gaze. “I think we must be off.”
“Wait one moment,” Mr. Bennet began but Darcy cut her off.
“I’ll escort you and Mabel home, Miss Bennet,” he said curtly with a look of warning at Elizabeth’s mother. Elizabeth couldn’t understand his motives, but whatever they were she was grateful that she now had an excuse to leave without a further encounter.
As she walked out the door and into a cab, her phone vibrated and she saw that Charlotte had text messaged her. She grimaced and checked the message that simply read, “Omg that dar guy is sooooo in luv wit u.” Elizabeth couldn’t help but roll her eyes.
Two days after Elizabeth was forced out of the diaper bag, as she liked to call it, she found her sister crying on the sofa eating raw cookie dough, flanked by a sympathetic Lydia and Kitty. Jane had decided that since their parents now knew about Mabel, there would be no harm in letting their sisters come visit as long as they weren’t too loud at night. Elizabeth decided that it was time to look for her own place.
Cautiously, she approached Jane and noticed that the three sisters were watching King Lear. “Jane,” Elizabeth began, “you already know the ending. There’s no reason to cry.”
The tears only started to run down her face faster and Elizabeth looked at Kitty in confusion. “What’s wrong?” she mouthed and Kitty looked at her sadly.
“It’s that Charles Bingley guy,” Lydia explained harshly. “The one in the movie.”
“What about him?”
“Well,” she pursed her lips in some sort of perverted pleasure. “Jane here was apparently dating him.”
“Was,” Lydia confirmed.
“What happened?” Elizabeth asked incredulously. “He was devoted to you, Jane.”
Jane only started to cry louder.
“He broke up with her.”
“Why?” Elizabeth couldn’t believe it.
“It has something to do with her being out for a famous husband to further her career,” Kitty explained quietly as she ate some chocolate ice cream out of the box.
“Who would ever give him such an idea?”
Jane had suddenly become silent and paused the movie. “Lizzy,” she said quietly.
“You’ve been seeing Darcy, haven’t you?” she mentioned softly.
Elizabeth was a bit confused. She knew that she was not dating Darcy. He was too … everything. She didn’t understand him or his motivations and he was stern, aloof, proud, looked down at everything around him, stared at her as if there was something wrong with her (which was probably Mabel, in his eyes). Why would Jane even ask such a ridiculous question? And what did this have to do with Charles?
“Define seeing,” the blonde said warily as she sat down on a chair and looked at her sister.
“I thought so.”
“What?” Elizabeth was confused. Even if she were dating Darcy, which she wasn’t, his taking her to lunch twice because first her sister and then his cousin forced him did not constitute dating in anyone’s book, unless they were desperate in the worst sense of the word. Of course, he had inexplicably come up for a nightcap and even taken her home after her mother showed up and made a scene –
Her mind wandered. He did look good in what he had been wearing the other day. Why did he have to have such an outdated sense of honor and play the gentleman even though he clearly disliked her? And why did he have to look so delicious while being an idiot?
“What exactly have you told him about me and Charlie?”
Elizabeth was startled and visibly jumped. “Sorry?” She was confused. What did that have to do with Darcy’s blue turtleneck?
“Where else would he get this crazy idea if not from you?” Her small form was shaking with silent sobs and Elizabeth’s heart slowly broke at the sight of her sister.
And then it hit Elizabeth. It was Darcy. From that first night he had been staring at Jane and accused her of being a “devoted fan” who was out to get Charles because he was a famous actor. Then her mother had to surprise them all at Serendipity and openly crow about Jane’s relationship for the very same reason.
No wonder Darcy had been so cold and quiet during the entire cab ride. Even when he had walked up to their floor, his eyes had been more distant and harsher than usual, every glance of his judging her. At the time she thought it was because of the fight but now she knew, she knew that it had to be because of Jane.
She cursed under her breath and Lydia looked up at her with wide eyes. “What is it, Lizzy?” she asked in astonishment.
Elizabeth ignored her. “Where’s Charles now?”
“He flew back to L.A. with his sister,” she whispered.
“What about Darcy?”
“How should I know? He’s theoretically your boyfriend!” Jane ate another large scoop of ice cream, a resigned air tinged with fury radiating from her. This never-ending fight with Jane had to end. Now. But there was nothing Elizabeth could do to stop it at the moment, but try to make it better.
Elizabeth turned and picked up her blackberry and quickly dialed her assistant. Closing the door as she entered her bedroom, she heard Helen pick up. “Miss Bennet?” the girl asked confused on the other end of the line.
“Hi, Helen, sorry to bother you over vacation,” she began hurriedly, “but I was wondering if you could trace down a number for me.”
“Umm, sure,” Helen said cautiously. “Whose number do you need?”
“I need the number of either of the executives of Grendel Films from that meeting a few weeks ago.”
“Let me call you right back, Miss Bennet,” she said before quickly hanging up the phone.
Elizabeth exited the room and went to go check on Mabel. The little girl was playing quietly in her room with her favorite doll. Elizabeth smiled at her.
A few minutes later her phone rang. “Helen?” she asked.
“Yes, Miss Bennet. I have the number for both Mr. Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy right here.”
“Thank you, Helen,” Elizabeth responded as she jotted down the numbers.
She took a deep breath before dialing Darcy’s number but got no response. Cursing under her breath, she tried Richard’s number. After the third ring he finally picked up.
“Hello?” he answered, voices clearly audible in the background.
“Mr. Fitzwilliam?” Elizabeth asked. “It’s Elizabeth Bennet.”
“Elizabeth!” he said happily and there was an odd hush behind him. “How are you? Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Thanks.” Taking the leap, Elizabeth added, “Listen, I’m trying to reach Darcy and he won’t answer his phone.”
“Does he have your number?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“That’s why. He never picks up if he doesn’t know who’s calling.”
“Damn stupid of him, really. I’ve been telling him to get your digits, but then he just glares at me.”
Elizabeth was confused. Why would Richard want Darcy to get her phone number? So he could glare at her over the phone?
“Are you still there?”
“Yes, of course,” she stammered.
“Well, he’s become a bit of a shut in over the past few days. Hasn’t left his hotel suite or anything. I couldn’t even get him to a proper Turkey Day feast yesterday.”
“Hmm,” Elizabeth said noncommittally.
“Look, I’ll ring him and see what’s up and call you back.”
She hung up and was left to wait. Twenty minutes later, Darcy’s number flashed on her screen. Elizabeth took a deep breath and answered.
“Elizabeth,” Darcy said in greeting before she could say “hello.” Elizabeth paused, genuinely shocked. He had never called her Elizabeth before. His voice was raw as if he hadn’t used it in days or as if he’d been possibly crying.
“Darcy,” she responded after a long pause, hoping that he couldn’t hear the awkwardness in her tone.
“I need to speak with you,” she finally said. She sounded defeated even to her own ears.
He paused. “You figured it out.” His voice was dead and yet it was tinged with something else. Elizabeth was confused. Again. Would this day never end?
“How could I not?” she said bitterly, wishing she could see his face.
“This would be a better conversation to have in person,” he said finally.
“I’ll see you at the bench in the park in half an hour?” he asked hesitantly.
She sighed. “I’ll be there.” She hung up the phone.