Elizabeth locked the door after her as she stepped into bathroom. She stared at herself in the mirror, her blonde hair flowing about her. The apartment was silent except for the memories screaming inside her head.
“He’s always had a thing for blondes,” saidthe voice that kept whispering to her in the dead of night and, in fact, that had been whispering to her every hour since it had happened. “It’s one thing we always had in common.”
She shuddered as she remembered the feel of his hand slipping up her thigh, the drug burning within her, seemingly disconnecting her mind from her body. She felt stimulated and responded almost involuntarily to his vile touch and yet all the while the small rational part of her mind had wept the name of the man she loved – Fitzwilliam.
Closing her eyes, she remembered the cool air of the ice skating rink where Fitzwilliam had taken her on their first date, the taste of steaming cider on her lips as he softly kissed her goodnight, his hand gently brushing her blonde hair behind one ear as they smiled happily at one another.
With a broken sob, Elizabeth took out a pair of scissors and just stared at herself again. Wearing nothing more than a bra and sweatpants, she could see the red marks left on her body from the assault that marked how she had fought her captor with every ounce of reason her confused brain could drudge up.
She recalled how his bleached hair fanned about his head like some blasphemous halo, blinding in the fluorescent lighting of the Starbuck’s washroom. His hand reaching out for something heavy and hitting her over the side of the head—stars spinning—and then memories flooding into her mind as she tried to be anywhere but lying on those tiled floors, her hands wrenched up painfully over her head where he briefly held them. She remembered how she willed her mind to go elsewhere, to escape ever so briefly the horror he was visiting upon her.
“How can you possibly like this place?” Darcy shouted as she dragged him back to the karaoke bar.
“It’s fun!” she smiled back up at him before placing a gentle kiss on his lips. “Humor me.”
“Are you going to sing Britney Spears again?” he asked with a mock shudder. His slight smile gave away how much he was hoping she would do just that.
Elizabeth laughed. “For that, I’m going to make you get tickets for her tour.”
Darcy stopped abruptly and pulled her to him. Searching her eyes, he whispered, “Would you like tickets? You know I’ll give you anything you want—and yes, even that.”
Her eyebrows had shot up. “Umm …” she breathed throatily, looking down as she felt his hands stroking her hair. She always felt so lost when he buried his hands in her tresses and looked at her like that.
When the rapist freed her hands, she used them first to rake across the cold tears on her face as she felt him kneading her breast roughly. Slipping a hand into the pocket just below the waist of her dress, she clasped her cell phone and hit the speed dial. When her body had arched as the call connected, the model mistook the movement for ardor. She willed her breathing to steady and stared straight into the man’s cold, flat eyes.
Her memory teased her with a figure hunched up against a wall with strobe lights and pulsing music, terrifying her. She briefly tried to connect it with her sister’s boyfriend and tried not to gag as she began to suspect who he was.
She knew she needed to keep her wits about her in order to impart the pertinent facts over the phone. The rapist, intent upon pulling down his pants to unleash himself, never wondered for a moment why she started talking loudly about the Starbucks.
“You like what I’m doing to you, don’t you, sexy?” He grinned down at her as she fell silent. “Oh, yeah, oh yeah. Who would ever have thought it would be Starbucks, of all place? Starbucks—you come here all the time with Jane, and now you’re with me—here at Starbucks.
“And Forget that skinny bitch sister of yours. She never meant anything to me. Not like you. I’ve wanted you since the minute I laid eyes on you. And George always gets what he wants eventually.”
“Sure, you do. George, you know, I had forgotten your name. I’m sure Jane must have told me. . . “ she tried to stall him, wanting him to talk, to do anything but touch her again.
“I told you, forget that damned sister and her black hair. But after this you won’t forget me, will you? You’ve been wanting this, haven’t you?” He grunted then, the most obscene sound Elizabeth had ever heard.
Fitzwilliam, Fitzwilliam, Fitzwilliam.
Never again, she promised her reflection in the mirror. Never again.
With trembling hands, she grabbed a fistful of hair and achingly slowly began to cut off her deep gold tresses.
“Never again,” she told herself fiercely as she shoved her discarded hair into the rubbish bin.
The sound of Wickham’s voice whispered in her memory, but she never lost eye contact with herself as she grabbed another handful of hair. Not caring if she looked beautiful or even presentable, she savagely tore at her own tresses. She wanted to be ugly, to be unappealing. She wanted him to never want to touch her again. Piece after piece of her glorious mane fell into the sink and around her feet, but she didn’t notice.
All she could hear were her memories echoing off the bathroom wall, taunting her again and again. And again and again.
“I bet Darcy didn’t touch you like this,” he had laughed as she had kicked him away, turning to lie on her stomach, wanting his hands off her, and yet her drugged body traitorously aching for more. Her head had pounded as she could not believe that this was happening. She had stopped in on her way to pick up Mabel, had seen Jane briefly and without acknowledging her, had picked up her drink. And then she had felt him pushing her toward the bathroom, a needle shoved into the crook of her arm before she could even react, his words telling her that he’d been waiting for her to finally show up alone. “You know, all those years ago at that frat party, you were supposed to be mine,” he said accusingly, as if she had somehow cheated him. “Sad, really. You were younger then and now you’re starting to put on weight—but it does make your tits bigger. And that pretty blonde hair—I think I like it even more now.”
Now looking at herself in the mirror, Elizabeth knew she would never be a Britney imposter again. She didn’t have the heart. She couldn’t sing cute lyrics of a teenager poised on the brink of sexuality.
She had seen too much this time, too much of the world’s cruelty. She was afraid, more afraid than she had ever been, even when she found out she was alone and pregnant as a teenager.
Never again, she promised herself.
She exhaled the breath she didn’t know she had been holding. “It’s over now,” she said aloud and reminded herself silently that she had to be strong for Mabel.
When the police and ambulance had come, there was little to be done. Her face had been covered in tears, blood trickled down from her head, there were scratches along her thighs and abdomen where he had grasped her too tightly as she had tried to slip away. Darcy arrived only shortly after the police, but she couldn’t look at him, couldn’t let the man she loved see her so broken and tainted by the one man he hated.
“Go,” she had whispered as she had faced the wall in the hospital. The room had been eerily quiet and Darcy had been sitting in that one chair for days, watching over her.
“Go?” he had inquired to make sure he heard correctly.
“I can’t bear to look at you,” she had stated, her fingers tracing the patterns on the wallpaper.
She had felt him shift toward her and had felt his hand in her hair, and she had to fight the rising bile in her throat. His touch now made her feel sick.
“He was right,” she had sighed, “he had said both of you liked blondes.”
As he had continued to stroke her lovingly, trying to bring her comfort, she had pulled away again. “Go,” she had sobbed. “Haven’t you done enough to me?”
She had felt differently earlier, in the Starbucks washroom, when she had prayed that Darcy would hear over her cell phone and understand. With those lights shining up above her, as Elizabeth felt the slimy tongue of her rapist on her neck and tears flooded from her eyes, she prayed that Darcy would break down the door in time for this horror not to tear them apart.
But he had come too late. She knew that it was not his fault, just another of the universe’s cosmic jokes. Give her the love of her life and then make it impossible for them to be together.
A voice in her mind whispered that she was ruined in Darcy’s eyes and she knew it. She could never again be the innocent romantic and now she knew that he must see her as nothing more than the filth under his shoes. He would never say that, he was far too kind, but she knew.
“Fitzwilliam,” she had whispered as she had been carried out on a stretcher, covered in warm blankets and I.V. fluid being pumped into her, before closing her eyes at the feel of his hand pressed against hers.
She wanted to thank him for saving her life. Even in her desperate state as she was loaded into the ambulance afterwards, she realized it could have been worse. If the police had not interrupted him, that man—whom she was later told was George Wickham—could have killed her. The police had found a chemical he apparently meant to use to wipe away traces of his DNA. All her rapist had meant for anyone to find eventually behind the out-of-order sign on the bathroom door was her body.
With one final look at herself, her hair cropped short at odd angles, she threw the shears into the bathroom trash basket and wondered how it had come to this. At the hospital, when she had awakened, she had begged for the morning after pill, tears in her eyes as she had stared dejectedly at the wall. She couldn’t carry that bastard’s child. She wasn’t going to go through the fear, again.
Before, she had been a child and not quite sure of what was happening to her. Her innocence was her strength, but older and wiser, all she could feel was broken.
“I heard you had a kid. Shame it isn’t mine, though it easily could have been. Didn’t think Darcy boy had it in him, to be honest,” he had sneered as he had violently entered her.
No, she wouldn’t carry that bastard’s child. She would rather throw herself onto a poisoned stake than…
A sob quaked through her body as she gripped the edges of the sink before her. No, never again, she swore to herself. Never, ever again.
Elizabeth shivered in the cold December air, looking through the glass windows of the Delacroix Salon. After a great deal of prodding from Charlotte, she had made an emergency appointment (using Jane’s name, which was social currency – how else could she get a time slot the next day instead of waiting for months?) and now all she had to do was walk through the front doors.
She sighed as she looked down at her phone. She had fourteen missed calls over the past three days—all from Darcy. Her phone rang again. Elizabeth laughed at the ringtone—“Love me, hate me, but can’t you see what I see?” At least she could listen to her favorite song every time she wouldn’t take his calls, and she hoped, rather than believed, that the fun lyrics would lift her spirits.
“Elizabeth Bennet,” she told the receptionist a few minutes later, a hat firmly placed over the remnants of her hair. The young man, dressed all in black, took a lingering look at her.
“Ah, yes, the emergency appointment,” he stated before calling M. Delacroix himself out of the back room.
“Madame, a pleasure,” he greeted, before asking her to take off her hat.
Elizabeth glanced nervously sideways, out toward the street, and then slowly took off her hat.
Delacroix was used to challenges because the clientele assumed that with the money they spent, he could fix all manner of damage to their hair. But the young woman in front of him didn’t have damage. Her hair had been hacked off, and, in Delacroix’s opinion, criminally so. He could do a little, but mostly it was a question of time. Luckily, while she waited for it to grow back, she could take comfort in having a very pretty face.
“Might I inquire what happened?” he asked as he led her to a chair before his hands started sifting through her nonexistent hair.
Looking him steadily in the eyes, she answered truthfully. “The man who raped me liked my hair, so I cut it off. I’d prefer if it could be dyed another color as well.”
“Je comprends,” Delacroix said softly. “My sympathies, Madame.”
She nodded softly before he took out color swatches. “There is little I can do for the actual hair cut itself. But if you give me a few hours, I may be able to make it more presentable.”
Elizabeth nodded again. “What color would you recommend?”
“With your eyes either an auburn or a dark brown. Most likely the latter. It will bring out your cheek bones and make you look an entirely new woman.”
“Will I be – recognizable?” she inquired.
He glanced at her eyes in the mirror, seeing the sadness there. “At first glance, no, madam,” he replied. “But you are a very striking woman, if I may say so, and you will be recognized if someone looks closer.”
She smiled at his kindness as she settled on a deep, lush brown.
“Never again,” she whispered to herself, “Never again.”
Jane took a deep breath as she stood outside of Corgi Press, knowing her sister was inside. She hadn’t heard from her boyfriend in over a week, and she was really getting sick of men treating her like dirt. She wanted someone who would actually care for her, even just a little, not move on when he found someone better or more talented.
She knew the rumors she heard must be lies. The story in the newspaper about an unnamed woman attacked by an assailant whose name had also not yet been released—none of that could have anything to do with George. Jane’s mind had difficulty conceiving of or comprehending such an extreme act. She thought it was more likely a stunt pulled by Elizabeth. That would be just like her. She couldn’t be date raped once, no, it just had to miraculously occur again. Didn’t the girl know that lightening never struck twice?
She knew it had been a mistake to introduce Elizabeth to George when they had run into each other at Starbucks. The way George’s eyes had raked over her younger sister was disgusting, though at the time Elizabeth had faked disinterest. Before that meeting, he would always arrive late at Starbucks but after that—she sighed. After that she would walk by the coffee shop and see him sitting there although they were not scheduled to meet, as if waiting for something—or someone. That day she had decided to catch him in his game and surprise him, but Elizabeth had walked in first. She had appeared nervous to Jane and yet there was a glimmer in her eyes, and as soon as George had walked in and carried her off, Jane had known why. It had happened all over again. To her. Jane left soon after George and Elizabeth disappeared. She tried to tell herself she was seeing things. But then George wouldn’t answer any of her messages and she knew, she just knew that her younger sister was somehow involved.
Squaring her shoulders, Jane marched into the building only to be told by her sister’s secretary to see an Arthur Castle. Walking casually over to his office, she knocked on the door before swiftly opening it, completely ignoring this Mr. Castle’s secretary.
“Mr. Castle,” she began, “where the hell is Elizabeth?”
A startled middle-aged man was sitting behind the desk with a nondescript person sitting across from him.
“And who may you be?”
“Jane Bennet, and I want to know where she is and why my boyfriend’s gone missing.”
Arthur leaned back against his chair and looked directly into her eyes. “You haven’t heard then.”
“If you mean the bizarre lies in the paper, of course I have. Who hasn’t? But George would never do anything like that.”
Arthur looked over again at the other man before asking quietly if he could give them a few moments.
“What’s going on?” Jane asked belligerently even before the door was closed.
Arthur sighed and started playing absently with a pen in his hands. He had always been protective toward Elizabeth. She was like a niece or surrogate daughter to him and it killed him when she had called up a few days before and told him the news. She had asked that it didn’t go farther than the two of them, although of course the press had gotten wind of it without specifically identifying the parties, but here was her sister who needed the information. In that moment, he decided that she should know.
“Miss Bennet,” he said sadly, “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but last Tuesday, Elizabeth was drugged and then sexually assaulted and raped. It is true. I went and visited her myself. She was in the hospital, but has now been released, thankfully. From what I understand, the perpetrator was the same person who drugged her five years ago.” His voice was dead and hollow as he looked into Jane’s ice blue eyes.
Jane sat, completely stunned. “Excuse me?” she finally managed to utter.
Her mind went into overdrive. After a few moments she took a deep breath. “You mean to tell me that Mabel’s father date raped her again?”
Arthur looked confused. “Mr. Darcy was the one who called the police when he received a phone call from her during the attack. No, it was a Mr. George Wickham. The judge has denied bail and he’s awaiting trial.”
Five minutes later, Jane stormed out of the office, tears running down her cheeks.
“Miss Bennet,” the nondescript man called, who had been waiting outside of the office. She waited briefly and saw him come up to her and noticed it was Hayworth. “Please, let me escort you home,” he said briefly, “you’re in no condition to drive or –”
He paused and she looked up at him, her mind reeling. How could George do this to her, especially after Charles had left her?
Jane looked at him more closely and realized he was the man from the apartment that day of the fight. He was Elizabeth’s would-be suitor. No, she thought, he wasn’t handsome. But what the hell. After a movie star who dumped her, a model who raped her sister, she frankly couldn’t do any worse. And she needed someone, anyone right now.
Also, he was Elizabeth’s. Two could play at this game, she decided, although her mind was too exhausted to go beyond that epiphany.
She smiled as they quietly left the building together.