“Hayworth,” Elizabeth said as she noticed the author lurking in the shadows near the stairs. She never thought of him as a lurker. Or a stalker. Or a liar. She never thought of Richard as a skinny dipper, either. Or Darcy as a potential rapist … Or loving father.
“Elizabeth,” he responded as he reached out for her, but she took an involuntary step back. She didn’t want to be touched, not now, especially not by him. He didn’t have that right. “Are you alright?”
“No,” she sneered. She was confused. What was Darcy on about? He proposed to her, dropped a ton of bricks on her head, and then he had to be kind and respectful of her wishes in the cab. Who was this quiet, reserved man, and why couldn’t she stop herself from smiling slightly at the thought of him?
“I was afraid of that,” Hayworth sighed and passed the back of his hand over his mouth. “After what I witnessed between you and Darcy –“
“Save it, Hayworth,” Elizabeth said, measuring her words slowly. “I’m not in the mood.”
His features clouded. “Elizabeth –“ he began.
“Alexander, as far as I’m concerned at this moment, our friendship is over. How dare you come to my home, lie to my sister, and then remain in the apartment after you know that it is my express wish that you are no where near my daughter?”
“I know you’re angry with me, but don’t you think you’re taking this too far?” he stammered.
She snapped. “What do you mean I’m taking this too far? You entered my home, when I wasn’t there, under false pretences!” she screamed. The thought flitted through her mind that if she knew she could take him, she would have tackled him that very moment. She mentally chided herself for not inviting Richard and Darcy to escort her to the door. They’d be able to take him in a fight.
Slowly, she took a deep breath.
“You know I would never hurt Mabel – I was really concerned about you after what I witnessed in the park,“ Hayworth attempted to explain.
“How can I possibly know that you wouldn’t hurt her?” she said, anger coursing through her veins. “You expressly went against my wishes, showing me that you are not trustworthy. If I ever catch you doing this again, I will call the police.”
“Lizzy,” he said softly, reaching toward her again
She quickly pulled away, a wave of revulsion going through her at the sound of such an endearment. “Don’t touch me.” The harshness in her voice even surprised her.
“I came to comfort you,” he pleaded.
“You have no right to call me Lizzy, and you certainly have no right to comfort me.”
“Is it Darcy you want then?” he concluded for her.
She avoided his question by looking away, as if the traffic had suddenly become fascinating. After what seemed an interminable silence, Elizabeth turned to enter her apartment building, ignoring the man who looked imploringly at her.
“Elizabeth,” he said, “I’d always hoped that one day –“ He couldn’t continue. The neediness in his voice only steadied her resolve to get the conversation over with.
“Hayworth, you know I never cared for you the way you wanted me to. I never led you on.” She sighed. “I’ll give your account to Arthur.” It was better to get through the business details now. “His children love your books,” she smiled, trying to turn their nasty encounter to civility.
“Don’t do this,” Hayworth pleaded. “Don’t shut me out. You know I love you. I’ve waited for you for years, hoping that you would see how great a dad I’d make for your little girl. I did everything in my power to prove myself to you.”
“Hayworth,” she began softly, “you don’t love me.”
“How can you say that?” His eyes were full of an emotion, Elizabeth could see that, but it wasn’t love. It was something else, something that made her pity him.
She laughed softly. “Did I ever tell you about my mom and dad?” she asked. She glanced over at him and he just stood, waiting. “I don’t think they ever were in love. You can see it in their eyes. When I was little, there was something there, something other than love, but now it’s completely gone. There’s only convenience in their eyes now when they look at one another. My father sees a woman who spends his money like water, and yet it would be too much of a hassle to get rid of her. Mom sees Dad as, well, a credit card. They’re still together because it’s easy. Perhaps that’s why they got married in the first place.”
“What does this have to do with anything?” he asked bitterly.
“When I look into your eyes, I see how Mom looks at my father. I don’t want that. I never did.”
Hayworth began to interrupt her, but fire flashed through her dull eyes.
“Don’t even think of denying it, Alexander. You like me because I’m successful and pretty to look at. I wouldn’t embarrass you and you could play father. You want to play dollhouse with real people and I’m convenient. I already have the package.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes. “I want something more.” She had seen what a marriage without love could do every day of her childhood. She had determined to be free of that. Only the deepest of loves could tempt her to consider risking her own fate and her daughter’s.
Hayworth was stunned into silence.
Suddenly this was too much for Elizabeth. She couldn’t think again. How could this be happening to her?
“I need hot chocolate,” she said, a non sequitur.
Hayworth was confused. “I can get you some.”
Elizabeth, whose mind had wandered to whether her sister was putting Mabel to bed yet, looked up, confused. “Sorry?”
“I can get you some,” he repeated.
A look of confusion passed over his eyes. “Hot chocolate.”
She smiled despite herself, suddenly too worn out to be angry. “It’s your own fault, you know. I had just sat down to a nice expensive cup of cocoa and then I had to rush off to kick you out of my flat.” She laughed softly at the thought of how she had been so preoccupied that she had gotten into a cab with Darcy.
“Then let me make it up to you.” His voice was soft, hopeful, and for a moment she wavered between a denial and indecision. “You could even bring Mabel,” he added.
A dark look came into her eyes as a deep anger flashed through her. As soon as she turned her gaze on him, Hayworth knew he had said the wrong thing.
“Never mind,” he said quickly, “it can be just the two of us. You could get to know me better.” But as he looked at her he saw that it was too late.
“I’ll write Arthur an email over the weekend,” she said by way of a parting and turned her back on him. Opening the door, she shut the world out behind her and quickly ran up the stairs, leaving a stunned Hayworth cursing to himself in the snow.
“Jane!” Elizabeth called as soon as she walked through the door. Kitty and Lydia were staring agape at the television screen where a nude Charles Bingley was making love to some blonde. Why did movies have to be so graphic these days? Jane was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s Jane?” Elizabeth asked her little sisters.
“Bathroom,” Kitty said as she picked up the remote and skipped to the beginning of the dvd chapter so they could watch Charles undress again.
Her sisters really were the most lust-craved girls on the planet, Elizabeth realized. They weren’t remotely good for Mabel. She’d have to make Jane kick them out. Or she would have to if Jane decided to be all bizarre again.
Running a hand through her disgusting hair, Elizabeth ran to Mabel’s room where she saw her daughter looking through a French storybook.
“Look, Mommy,” the happy four-year-old said, “it’s Prince Fitz!” The little girl pointed to a picture of Prince Charming and she had to look away from her daughter.
“Really?” she said with false cheerfulness as she sat by Mabel. She looked at the book and realized that it was a copy of Cendrillon. “I thought it was Prince Charming.”
“No,” Mabel corrected, “it’s Prince Fitz. His hair is like mine.”
Elizabeth was startled at the child’s perceptiveness and softly kissed Mabel’s brown curls. “Yes, it is,” she murmured to herself.
“Mommy,” Mabel began again, “Aunt Jane is crying.”
“I know, little one,” Elizabeth responded softly. “I know.” After a moment, she continued. “Where’s Aunt Charlotte?”
The door was half open and Charlotte, who had been hiding in the kitchen, came through. “Right here, love,” she said in a fake Australian accent. Her face looked worn despite her half smile and Elizabeth realized that Jane’s Charles Bingley obsession was also driving Charlotte to distraction.
“Char,” she said, smiling weakly.
“What’s wrong, Eliza?” Charlotte said as she sat down on the rug next to her best friend.
Elizabeth quietly began to cry and Charlotte pulled her into a hug.
“Mabel,” she could hear Charlotte say softly, “would you like to go play with my shoes?”
The girl happily looked up at this unexpected treat. “Really?” she asked sweetly.
Mabel hugged her adopted aunt and quickly ran from the room.
Elizabeth closed her eyes and felt safe. As much as she loved Jane, ever since she had gone to college, Charlotte had always been there for her in the strangest ways. When the earth shattered, Char would come and pick up all the pieces and help her put them together with superglue while throwing in some added glitter. She was a bit crazy, Elizabeth had to admit, had horrible taste in men, and thought that making out with a cute guy could cure almost anything (Elizabeth remembered her second semester at W—when Char had thought that the cure for pregnancy hormones was going to a frat party and trading saliva with a jock she knew who strangely fancied pregnant chicks) – but she was always there for her. When she couldn’t call home or tell even Jane she was having a baby, Charlotte was the one who got her homework assignments. When she was vomiting her stomach into the toilet, Charlotte gave her the silent support she needed.
“I tried to kick that Hayworth guy out,” she said by way of conversation, “but Jane wouldn’t have it and I wasn’t strong enough.” She took a deep breath. “I came in here with Mabel, though, to make sure she was okay.”
She took a deep breath. “Normally, I would insist that we go to a club, but I think I have a better solution.”
Elizabeth looked at her skeptically. “A better solution than drunk half-naked men?”
“I’ve seen enough half-naked Charles Bingley for the rest of my life,” Charlotte laughed. “I don’t want to see any skin any time soon.”
Elizabeth cracked a smile. “What’s this plan, then?”
Charlotte hesitated. “I don’t mean to criticize anyone, especially as Jane is your sister –”
The small blonde looked up and steadied a level gaze at her friend.
“I think I know where this is going,” she confessed.
“I mean,” Charlotte began, “I know the lease is in her name, but she’s been acting oddly ever since she met Charles. I know you two are close in a way I’ll never get, but even I see that she’s now completely lost it. She’s introducing Mabel to strange men, one of them a movie star and the other – I actually can’t remember Darcy, but from what you’ve said of him, I don’t like him very much. She then waltzes about and I found Mabel here all alone, twice, when she was supposed to be watching her …”
“What!?” Elizabeth shrieked.
“Don’t worry!” Charlotte said quickly. “It was fine. Mabel was here for less than an hour each time. Jane said she talked to you the first time and everything seemed to be okay, but after last week, I’ve seriously begun to wonder if her head is screwed on properly.”
Elizabeth looked steadily at Charlotte. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she whispered.
“I made sure Jane never had her alone again. I was watching her and making sure – I didn’t want you to be angry. I thought – I don’t know what I thought. I know it was stupid of me but, god, you know, Elizabeth, that Mabel means so much to me. You two are my family. I would never let anything happen to her.”
“And now there’s this whole incident,” Elizabeth concluded.
“Yes.” Charlotte paused, “Should I talk to her?”
The blonde thought about it for a few minutes. “No,” she concluded. “I think I should.”
Elizabeth quickly left the room and checked on Mabel, who was happily standing in purple heels. She hugged her quickly, remembering her promise to Darcy, and kissed the top of her head. “My, how you’ve grown, Miss Mabel!” she said happily.
Her daughter beamed up at her.
“Jane?” she asked as she reentered the living room.
Jane looked exasperated. “I don’t want to hear it,” she said defiantly.
“Jane –” Elizabeth persisted.
“I’m tired of being walked over,” Jane continued. “Everyone walks over me and thinks that I don’t know my own mind or can make decisions. So I made perfectly good one today and you go and blow a gasket.”
Elizabeth tried to keep her cool. “Have you lost your mind?”
“No. It’s quite in tact despite your interference in my life, thank you.”
Elizabeth decided that this was the worst time for Jane to develop the patent Bennet stubbornness. “I didn’t remotely interfere, Jane, and you know it. Stop blaming me because you cannot blame your precious Charles,” she said acidly.
Jane didn’t look at her. Elizabeth decided she was too dense or too delusional to see reason.
“Jane,” she said softly, again.
Her sister still wouldn’t look at her.
Elizabeth sighed. “What happened today can never happen again. Hayworth is a work associate and he abused my trust by coming here today.” If she was going to lay herself bare, then she might as well do it fully. “And worse than that, you abused it. I know you’re hurt and angry, but you went too far. You crossed the line.”
“Right. So it’s all my fault, is that it?” Jane stared at her young sister with a look Elizabeth had never seen. In a voice, dripping with venom, she said, “Little Miss Perfect who always knows what’s best. You think you always have the answers.” Jane raised her voice in what Elizabeth supposed was an imitation of her. “Keep him away from my child. My precious little girl. After all, I can raise a child all by myself. I don’t need anyone!”
Elizabeth took a step forward before she realized it and was raising it to bring it down on her sister’s face. Catching her arm, Jane continued, “Well, you’re not smarter. You just had to have your way. You couldn’t bear for me to happy, and now because you always have to have your own way it’s lost me the one man I wanted. What did I do to you? Couldn’t you have your beloved Darcy and just leave me and Charles alone? And now I find out it’s over between you two? You’re onto that pitiful Hayworth?”
This time Jane was not quick enough to see it coming, and Elizabeth slapped her. For a small woman, she was quite strong. “Thanks, sis,” Jane remarked dryly. “I knew I could count on you.”
“Jane, stop it. I don’t know what Bingley said, but I swear it’s not my fault.”
“He said – he said he knew I didn’t really want –” But here Jane stopped, unable to go on. Her angry bluster evaporated, and she sank to the kitchen floor. “Oh, God, Elizabeth. What am I going to do? He won’t take my calls – and he – he …”
Her sister began sobbing uncontrollably on the floor. Elizabeth looked around and saw Kitty, Lydia, and Charlotte staring at her. “I think,” Elizabeth began hesitantly.
“She needs time away from this apartment and those dvds,” Charlotte said resolutely.
“Where’s Mabel?” Elizabeth questioned, silently agreeing with her friend.
“I put on a Veggie Tales cd and she’s still playing with my shoes.”
“Maybe she could stay with her parents for the weekend.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right.”
Charlotte sighed. “You look tired. I’ll call your parents, get this crew out of here, and look after Mabel for the rest of the afternoon. Why don’t you pack Jane’s bag and then go to sleep?”
Elizabeth smiled at her gratefully. Hugging her friend, she whispered “thank you” in her ear before slipping into Jane’s room.