Song Credit: The song Elizabeth heard on the radio (and then again in her memory) is “Beautiful” by James Blunt.
Elizabeth wondered if she would ever be able to sleep without prescription drugs again. She had slept under the heavy sedation they administered in the hospital, but that wore off days ago and she opened her eyes. She could still hear the song that had been playing when he had pushed her into the bathroom. While she was still in the hospital, it took her perhaps a day to realize that the reason the nurses looked at her so sadly when she asked them to shut it off was that the song was in her head.
Now lying awake in her own bedroom, the song played on, repeating itself constantly in her mind.
You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.
You’re beautiful, it’s true.
I saw your face in a crowded place,
And I don’t know what to do,
‘Cause I’ll never be with you.
God, she had always hated that song—even before. It was the equivalent of a sap ex-boyfriend who just wouldn’t let go with a dash of an equally meaningless idiotic grin from a stranger. She shut her eyes, a tear silently rolling down her cheek. It was one week ago today when everything had fallen apart – almost one week without Fitzwilliam. He had spent that night in the hospital, and when she saw him, his eyes hollow and ringed by black shadows, she felt anger, guilt and sorrow. She could not even identify one from the other.
This night, knowing she would not be able to sleep yet again, she quietly got out of bed and pulled on a hoodie over her t-shirt and sweats. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, her lips turned up slightly at seeing a complete stranger. No one would know her now. She had even passed Jane in the street as she had walked by Corgi Press, contemplating whether or not she should go in, and her sister had not even glanced at her.
Yeah, she caught my eye,
As we walked on by.
She could see from my face that I was,
Flying high, And I don’t think that I’ll see her again,
But we shared a moment that will last till the end.
She didn’t want to be here in this apartment anymore with so many memories. So many good times and plans for the future. She and Jane laughing, happy to get to know each other again for the first time since high school, Jane giving into Elizabeth’s wishes to keep her life with Mabel a secret from her parents because Jane had taken so to the little girl, dressing her up and bragging about her everyone in sight—Elizabeth now knew that her sister had thought of Mabel as little more than a doll, and this thought, almost more than any other, disgusted her; Jane and Elizabeth together playing with Mae, the sisters teasing Charlotte about her newest wild outfit, Jane becoming more successful on Broadway and saying they should get a bigger place but hold on to this because it was rent-controlled, Jane so excited to be dating one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, and then Jane suddenly and incredibly angry with her. Angrier than Elizabeth could ever imagine her sister could be –but, Elizabeth reminded herself, they really had not known each other during all those years in college.
Jane had been there that day in Starbucks but had walked away. Elizabeth knew her sister had no idea of the horror that she, Elizabeth, was about to face, and remembering that moment when she saw her sister’s back, she realized that Mabel could have easily been his—her rapist’s.
She also knew now how lucky she had been five years ago when she had managed to walk away and into the arms of the one man George Wickham appeared to fear. His words of anger and hatred as he assaulted her told her that much. He was so afraid that he never followed after the night of the frat party, and catching up with her now was a random event. Wickham had thought this was his moment to steal what he had missed and no one would be the wiser. His revenge against Darcy for years of perceived slights and injustices would be complete.
Elizabeth laughed coldly into the darkness. Darcy would see that Wickham rotted in hell. She was certain of that. It was the only thing now that she was certain of.
Fitzwilliam, Fitzwilliam, Fitzwilliam.
No, she couldn’t stay here. Not in this apartment. She needed to get as far away from there as possible. If it weren’t for Mabel, she would grab a backpack and fly as far away as she could—but she couldn’t give up the security of a home; she couldn’t do that to her daughter, her life.
She glanced at the clock. It was just past one in the morning. It would be hours before Mabel would awaken and Charlotte was in the apartment. Her little girl would be safe. Leaving a brief note on the kitchen table, she grabbed a key card before rushing into the cold December air.
Elizabeth remembered that it was Christmas Eve.
Christmas. She smiled slightly at the memory of Fitzwilliam attempting to saw down the tree that was now in their small living room. They had driven out of the city to a nursery about two hours north. Fitzwilliam had read a review that it was the place to go and he wanted girlfriend and his Maple Leaf to have the best. He said he wanted this Christmas to be special for them. He had even rented a car for the journey. It was to be their first together – as a family.
The tree was small; Elizabeth had argued that anything remotely full sized wouldn’t make it up the stairs, and yet it had been their first Christmas tree. She had always had real trees growing up as a child, but when she had had Mabel, she could never seem to find anyone who would go with her to find a tree, let alone chop it down and drag it to her home. Thus the tradition of the Bennet Christmas Wreath had been born. She would hang a wreath on their wall and put all of the presents underneath it. Charlotte always laughed at the wreath, but had grown just as fond of it as she was. Mabel simply loved it because among all of her friends, she alone had a special wreath.
Hopping into a cab, Elizabeth gave the address with only the hope that he would still be there. The streets were empty in the first few hours of Christmas Eve, as empty as they could ever be for New York City. Darcy had said in his last text message that he was only a phone call away if she ever wanted to see or needed him again. But so near Christmas, perhaps he had gone back to California.
Or, he might have gone to New England to see his sister for the holidays. Maybe that’s what he had meant by his message.
Elizabeth would not blame him for leaving because she was the one who had turned him away. After she had finally come back to the apartment and had seen Mabel again, whom he had been diligently looking after each night so Charlotte could spend the evenings with her, she had completely cut off all access to herself and her daughter. She didn’t want to see the look in his eyes when it turned cold. She knew she couldn’t take that on top of everything, nor would she let that happen to Mabel.
As the cab pulled up to the Hilton, she noticed that it was now two in the morning. Even if Darcy were still a guest, he wouldn’t be awake—unless he, too, couldn’t sleep.
She sought out the desk clerk to find if Fitzwilliam Darcy was still a guest in the penthouse. “I’m sorry, madam, but we cannot give out that information,” he responded without making an effort to mask his reaction to her bizarre appearance.
She squinted at him. “Look, I know it’s two in the morning, but I would really appreciate it if you could just tell me if this keycard still works. I’d rather not wake a stranger by fumbling with their lock at this time of night.”
The only response was a strained look.
Elizabeth sighed and pulled out her phone. Hitting the speed dial “4” (1 was her voicemail, 2 Mabel’s daycare, and 3 was Charlotte’s cell phone), she waited impatiently to see if he would pick up at this time of night.
After the fourth ring he answered. “Elizabeth?” his tired voice asked quietly.
“Hi. Umm…are you still at the Hilton?”
She heard a thud in the background. Perhaps he had fallen out of bed, she mused. “Yes, I am. G is here with me for Christmas.”
Elizabeth paused. “I shan’t disturb you then. The desk clerk wouldn’t give me the information so I thought calling—”
“You’re in the lobby?” His voice sounded impatient.
“Don’t go anywhere.” Elizabeth could hear him hastily getting dressed. At least, that’s what she assumed he was doing. Then he said goodbye and she hung up.
The desk clerk was still staring at her. She must really look a fright.
After a few minutes she began fidgeting, wondering what Darcy’s reaction would be to her appearance. The elevator finally opened, and he walked out. Glancing around the lobby, his eyes instantly caught hers and she saw him catch his breath. Walking hastily toward her, he stopped a foot and half away and stared into her mournful brown eyes.
“Elizabeth,” he breathed, his desire to touch her as palpable as his fear of what her reaction might be to his touch.
She glanced down. “I-I couldn’t bear to be at the apartment anymore. I-I can’t seem to sleep. Not since—” Her voice caught and she felt him draw nearer, although he still didn’t touch her.
“Shh,” he whispered, “it’s alright.”
Elizabeth looked up again before hesitantly reaching out to him as tears streamed down her face. She felt him relax, his arms pulling her closer to him as he kissed the top of her head.
“You’re safe, darling,” he murmured. “You’re safe now.” After several moments, he inquired, “Where’s Mae?”
She pulled away and looked up at him. “Sleeping in her room. Charlotte’s there. I should probably get back before she wakes up.”
He nodded almost imperceptibly. “You can stay here as long as you want,” he offered. His voice was firm and deep. “You and Mabel never have to go to the apartment again if you don’t want to.” She gasped as a sob of relief and gratitude erupted involuntarily from her.
Smoothing away her tears, he looked over her appearance lovingly. “You cut your hair,” he observed. When she didn’t respond at first, he tentatively reached out and stroked her bangs that now fell across her forehead.
She looked away, unable to meet his gaze. “He, he said—my hair—he—”
Her voice cracked, and before she could utter another syllable, she found herself in his arms again, his head pressed against her ear as he whispered, “I’m sorry, my darling, I’m so sorry I couldn’t get to you in time.”
“You saved me,” she said haltingly. “I could have died—you came. Thank you. That’s why I think I came here tonight, to tell you that.” She clung to him, and he pulled her even closer.
“I’ve missed you, Elizabeth, my sweet, lovely Elizabeth,” he murmured.
Her sob turned into a half-hiccup which sounded almost like a small laugh. She pulled away and cocked her newly shorn head. “Maybe not so lovely at the moment,” she teased.
“Are you kidding me?” he asked. “Do you know how beautiful you are? How beautiful you will always be to me?”
Elizabeth gazed into his eyes, filled with love and earnestness, and a small smile played on her lips. “I’m so tired,” she confessed.
He nodded. “Why don’t I take you upstairs, make you some cocoa, and you can write a note to Charlotte. What time does Mabel usually wake up?”
“Nine on weekends. Maybe nine-thirty.”
“Well, at about eight thirty I’ll go the apartment and I can bring her over with your things, if you’d like. I can even bring over the gifts you bought her.”
She glanced down and nodded slightly. She had felt so ashamed, so dirty, but standing before him, she felt that slipping away, at least a little. Here she was doing the one thing she had promised she wouldn’t.
Sensing her thoughts, he gently lifted her chin. “Elizabeth,” he said softly, “I love you and will always love you. Nothing, especially what that man did to you, will ever change that. Please trust me. Please let me take care of you.”
She thought how sad he was as he asked that. In a sudden flash, she realized what he must have been going through for her. Letting him take care of her was something she could do for him to take care of him. She wondered if she would have the strength to do this at moments in the future when she expected that her own pain would overtake her, but as she looked up at him Elizabeth hoped she could.
His arm around her, Darcy looked over at the desk clerk who was staring openly at them. Reading his nametag and memorizing it, he told him sternly, “Please tell your manager that I want to speak to him tomorrow morning.” His tone conveyed his displeasure. “And in the future, Elizabeth and our daughter will always be given any information they request. Is that understood?”
The desk clerk nodded before trying to appear busy on the computer.
Leading Elizabeth to the elevator, he escorted her inside, never letting her go. “G has the guest room, but you’re welcome to mine for the rest of the night. We can figure out sleeping arrangements later. I might even get Georgiana her own room.”
Elizabeth was too tired to respond. She felt the sleep that had been eluding her begin to take over, finally feeling safe for the first time in a week in his arms.
As they entered the penthouse, Elizabeth saw a Christmas tree had been set up in the corner, adorned only with red and gold bows. “Compliments of the Hilton?” she inquired and Darcy chuckled in response.
Two piles of presents were stacked underneath the tree. Taking a closer look, Elizabeth noticed they were for her and Mabel. All of Mae’s gifts were from either “Fitz Fitz” or “Prince Fitz,” she noted.
“I was going to send them over tomorrow if I hadn’t heard from you,” he confided gently.
Elizabeth nodded. “Mabel’s presents are all on the top shelf of my closet. I-I haven’t wrapped any yet.”
“I can do that if you’d like.”
She nodded again.
After writing a note to Charlotte, giving her permission to allow Darcy into the apartment and to collect Mabel as well as their things, she settled into the master bedroom. His scent still lingered on the pillows. She sank back against them and smiled as he brought in her hot chocolate.
“I left a note for G so that she knows what’s going on,” he said.
“Does she know about –”
Darcy hesitated. “She knows that I am in love with the most remarkable woman who has a little girl, and that you were assaulted last week. I didn’t tell her anything else because—well, I didn’t know if you’d ever let me see you or Mabel any time soon, if ever.” He blushed. “And I didn’t want to bring back unpleasant memories for her.”
Elizabeth grasped his hand before pulling him close.
“Stay with me?” she asked softly.
He kissed the top of her head gently and squeezed her hand. “Of course, Elizabeth.”
She drifted off to sleep half an hour later in his arms, and when she awakened in the night with a start, he pulled her closer. “I’m here,” he assured her and watched over her until she fell into a fitful asleep once again. “I’m here.”