Everyone dreaded Monday. Elizabeth didn’t know what she should expect in the office. Jane was trying to find a way to get released from the contract she had signed with Netherfield Editions. Charlotte was trying to change her phone number because Bill Collins had not stopped calling and proposing. William Lucas was trying, completely unsuccessfully, to calm down his wife. The week had started badly.
However, no major changes took place during its course. Neither William Darcy nor Charles Bingley showed up in their offices. Darcy was getting prepared to take his position at Pemberley.Net and he had no time for ‘Meryton,’ as he explained to Charlotte, who was to temporarily replace him. The truth was, of course, that he did not want to see Elizabeth. With his ego completely beaten after their fight on Friday, he did not realize that he was doing what he most hated in other people; he was giving up. Charles on the other hand, was so full of guilt after his behavior of Saturday morning that he could not bear to leave his house.
Jane Bennet did not quit her job. She found a lawyer to represent her at Netherfield Editions and she continued writing. Her wounds began to heal. The shock that Charles caused her gave her the determination to start her life again. A life where her happiness would be her main priority. She decided that she would never let anyone harm her again. She promised herself that she would act only in a way that would bring pleasure to her and to the people she loved. And, quite unexpectedly, her opinion on the existence of love changed once again. ‘Somewhere happiness is awaiting me and I am going to find it. Soon.’
She was concerned for her sister though. It seemed that the moment Jane found the strength to confront anyone and anything that threatened her well being, Elizabeth lost it. Jane was disappointed to find that her sister would not confide in her. Sometimes she was tempted to reveal to her that she knew everything but she always decided against it. Her heart was aching for Elizabeth, but life had taught her that the only way to solve this kind of problems was by dealing with them alone.
Elizabeth continued investigating the Ministry of Education’s projects as if her life depended upon it. Charlotte became worried about her. She watched her eating and sleeping insufficiently. The only thing Elizabeth could speak of was her job:
“You know, Char, according to the police reports juvenile criminality…” she said for the umpteenth time one day.
“Liz, I’ve had enough of this obsession! Go home this moment. This thing is driving you mad!” Charlotte interrupted her and added a bit more softly, “Truly, you look exhausted.” She was right. Elizabeth was so tired that she didn’t have the strength to argue with her.
Christmas was approaching and Elizabeth had no news from William. She had hoped that this would diminish the pain, the longing, the need for him which was burning her heart, but the suffering only grew worse from day to day. On Christmas Eve she went to work. She walked into his office and looked at his desk, his chair, his books, his collection of pens, all the things that he had ever touched. ‘This has to stop,’ she thought. ‘You are completely pathetic.’ She turned to leave but her cell phone began ringing. It was Charlotte and the panic in her voice prepared Elizabeth for an unpleasant piece of news. But no preparation could have been sufficient for the announcement that followed.
“Liz, I am getting married.”
“Pardon me? Married? When? With whom?” Elizabeth began thinking that she might indeed have overtired herself.
“As soon as possible. With Bill Collins.”
It took several minutes to Elizabeth to find her voice and shout,
“WHAT? Are you out of your senses?”
“No, I am pregnant.” Charlotte said matter-of-factly.
A long pause. Then Elizabeth’s whisper:
“What did you just say, Char?”
“I am pregnant, Liz. I am expecting a child. I discovered it yesterday evening and accepted Bill’s proposal this morning. It’s a good thing that he proposes every day.”
“Char, dear, you cannot marry him! He’s the stupidest man ever born! He’s a total pervert and…”
“He is the father of my child.” Determination was evident in Charlotte’s voice.
“But you don’t have to marry him!”
“And be a single mother instead? No thank you.”
“And what exactly is wrong with single mothers?”
“There is nothing wrong with them.” Charlotte had regained her calmness as Elizabeth was losing it. “I admire them exceedingly. But I can’t do it, Liz.”
“You can’t do what?” Elizabeth half knew the reply and she was ready for yet another confrontation. Charlotte was her dear childhood friend, a supportive listener whenever she needed one; she was family in fact. But, sometimes her ideas were just…too adjusted to the 19th century mentality.
“I can’t stand the responsibility. I can’t stand the speculations about my personal life and the father of the child. I can’t stand the gossip. I’ve always dreaded such situations and I am not letting this happen to me.”
“The world’s opinion shouldn’t matter to you, Char. You should care only for your happiness and the happiness of your child.”
“Don’t you see?” Charlotte’s voice showed resignation. “I am not like you. Never have been, though I wish I were. Seriously, Liz. Do you think that it is easy to be as independent and free as you? You have a gift. You are special. I am not, and Jane isn’t either. You tried to make her like you, but she isn’t. Look how hard she had to pay for it. I am not repeating the same mistake. I am getting married with Bill. He cannot fly me to the moon, but he can’t hurt me badly either. This is enough for me.”
Elizabeth was speechless, partly from her surprise and partly from her inability to contradict Charlotte’s arguments. She made one last effort, speaking softly.
“Char, think about it again. Please. You’ll have my support. Jane’s support…” Here she paused, as she thought of her mother.
“And what about your mother’s support? And consequently my father’s? If my own family won’t forgive me, what I am to expect from the rest of the world?”
“But is Bill going to make you happy? What about your job? Will you move to Hertfordshire and work in London?”
“I am quitting my job, Liz. I will concentrate on my family.”
Elizabeth was incredulous.
“You’re abandoning a most promising career to concentrate on Bill Collins?”
“And on my baby. They are my family from now on. I love you, Liz, but don’t try my patience. I am a big woman and can decide for my self. You are not me, and you do not know my wishes.”
“I thought I did.” Elizabeth said weakly. She knew that she was defeated.
“Oh, really? And you think that I wish to return every night to an empty, cold apartment? With no one to talk to? If you think that, then you know nothing about my wishes, Liz. I’ll be happy to see you at my wedding, but if the sight is so appalling for you, just don’t come!”
Elizabeth was astonished. She realized that she had overstepped the limits. ‘It’s her life after all. And I’ve always said that everyone has to make their own decisions. It’s just that sometimes…people’s decisions are so disappointing!’ She sighed and decided to apologize. But Charlotte was engaged in the same way:
“I am sorry, this sounded too harsh. I didn’t mean to be so… I had hoped that… Liz, try to understand. Please. For the sake of our long friendship.”
“It’s ok, I deserved it. I was interfering too much and you were right to put me back in my place. I only hope that you will be happy.”
“If you don’t want to come to the wedding, I understand.”
“No, I will be there. It’s your special moment after all!”
After the conversation with Charlotte had ended, Elizabeth immediately dialed Jane’s number and informed her of the invitation she should expect very soon. Jane was as surprised as Elizabeth was, but she did a far better job than her sister in concealing it. She even asked with a voice that didn’t betray the slightest emotion,
“And what has caused this change of…feeling?”
“Pregnancy, Jane. Pregnancy!”
“But when?” Jane asked before thinking better.
“Remember Scotland?” Elizabeth had developed a strange capacity to relate all the events in her life to that weekend.
“Right, right.” Jane replied quickly as she was trying to remove the memories that had intruded. “It was during that horrible weekend that followed…Scotland.” A sigh followed the last word.
“Exactly,” Elizabeth said but she stopped, petrified, as she heard a gasp from behind. Only then did she realize that she was still in Darcy’s office…and William was there too. For how long he had been standing behind her she couldn’t tell. He had gone pale and he was looking at her intensely. Telling Jane that she would call her later, she hastily hung up and returned her attention to him. He seemed thinner and tired. His gaze was darker and more unreadable than ever. Elizabeth attributed the changes to the responsibility of the position he was going to undertake. Her heart did whisper that perhaps he was suffering as well, but she dismissed such thoughts. She had been disappointed once. His words, ‘Just because we’re sleeping together…’ still echoed in her ears. She couldn’t bear disappointment once again.
She didn’t speak; she didn’t know what to say. He seemed at a loss of words as well. When he finally decided to use his voice, he was not at all coherent.
“Elizabeth…I…you…must talk. We must talk.”
Before he could become more enlightening, his cell phone started ringing.
“Don! I told you that I wanted no one to disturb me! No! What? Now? I can’t! I don’t care if it is important! Yes? Who is there? Tell him that… Alright, I will.” He finally agreed. Then he hung up and turned to look at Elizabeth once again.
“I am sorry, Elizabeth. I have to go now. But we must talk as soon as possible. Are you free for dinner? Tonight?”
Elizabeth was at a loss. He hadn’t called her for weeks and now he was asking her out? Unable to think of a reason for such urgency, she stated simply,
“It’s Christmas Eve.”
“And you’ve got other plans, right?” He sounded disappointed.
“Don’t you?” Elizabeth tried to avoid answering. In truth, she was still looking for a good excuse to escape her mother’s family gathering. Charlotte, though unwelcome, would be there too and she would announce her engagement. Elizabeth knew that she had to be near her friend on such an occasion, but there would be too many appalling sights in the scene. And which would be the worst? Her mother’s red face, William Lucas’s astonished one or Bill Collin’s triumphant one? It was really hard to decide.
“I don’t.” William stated simply. “Richard and Georgie are going to a party but I don’t feel like it. Tonight would be a good chance to talk. It’s important, Elizabeth. But if you are unavailable, there is nothing I can do.”
“Well, if it is that important, I think I am going to make it.” She would upon no account make things easy for him and confess what she really sacrificed to dine with him.
He smiled warmly, reminding her of scattered happy moments in the past. ‘Why is he doing this to me? ‘
“Excellent. Shall I pick you up at eight?”
“Eight would be fine. Where are we going?”
“I thought of inviting you to my home. Much less noisy, you know. No one will disturb us there. Unless you object to it.”
‘I haven’t been to his apartment once during the five months of our relationship and he’s inviting me now that we’re on the verge of separating! Elizabeth sighed and assured him she had no objection to his plan.
“Good.” Another smile. “See you at eight then.”
Talk. Important. His home. To say that Elizabeth was puzzled would be an understatement. She knew that they had to talk but could not account for his impatience. After their argument over Wickham and his continued absence, she couldn’t expect anything better than a separation. Convinced as she now was that he never thought seriously of their relationship, she had little or no hope that he would wish to fight for it. What they used to share was now dying and it would take great effort to save it. He didn’t seem ready to try at all. But in truth, how ready was she?
Separation then? But why a talk about this should be that important? It was Christmas Eve after all! Even when she was most miserable in her past relationships, she avoided at all costs separations during Christmas. She didn’t want to spoil the magic and poison her favorite season of the year. The irony was, of course, that her father had left on December 20th. ‘The people I love leave me when it hurts the most.’ Was William so anxious to free himself that he didn’t care for the pain he inflicted? Why? What had happened? It seemed too cruel and whatever his faults were, cruelty did not reside among them. Had these three weeks away changed him so much, or was it she who had never truly known him? But why did he smile like this? Elizabeth thought that her head would burst.
One thought prevailed: ‘Whatever happens tonight, I will save my dignity. I have compromised it long enough. I will not let him leave me. I will leave him first.’
Darcy arrived at her house a quarter of an hour earlier than their appointment, but it was of little consequence since she had been ready and waiting for him for at least one hour. The drive to his home was silent, with Christmas songs playing on the radio. Elizabeth sighed at the irony of the situation.
William Darcy was a very wealthy man and his house could not be anything less than immense. It was decorated with elegance and good taste. Clearly Darcy didn’t want to show off but rather live in a pleasant and comfortable environment. The house excited admiration but not awe. Still Elizabeth found it lacking in something. There were no photos, no little treasures, nothing to remind him of the past, of his childhood, of his college years, of his family. And there was something in the air, too. Elizabeth could not explain it very well, but she suddenly understood. Memories were missing from that house. She felt momentarily sorry for him, but then she checked herself. ‘I must help myself first. I f I suffer, I cannot make anyone happy. Neither him nor me.’
Dinner was delicious but they both felt so uncomfortable that the cook’s efforts were not appreciated as much as they should have been. They made attempts to have a casual conversation but they failed miserably. William was constantly inquiring after her health and appetite. Elizabeth attributed his weird behavior to nervousness but she became tired of assuring him that she was doing fine and that she found the food exquisite. Finally the dessert came and it consisted of chocolate cake in the shape of a heart. Elizabeth, who had been drinking water, almost choked. William, who had been previously sitting opposite to her, though not very far away, moved to the chair that was just next to hers. He looked at her for another long moment, inhaled deeply, took her hand into his and said,
“Elizabeth Bennet, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
Elizabeth had not expected this. She had gotten prepared for a separation. If he had asked simply for a reunion, she wouldn’t have been shocked. But a proposal from the great William Darcy, who had never said that he loved her, who was constantly making it evident that he didn’t want to become too much involved with her…this was too much for words or rational thoughts. Before she could respond in any way, she felt his hand softly caressing hers. Smiling again, he moved one hand to his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet box. Elizabeth was sure that she was dreaming; and she couldn’t decide if it was the best dream or the worse nightmare she had ever had. He opened the box and revealed the most beautiful ring she had ever seen. When, as a little girl, she had envisioned her engagement ring, she always imagined that it would be like the one she had now before her. It was not the size but the details that made it special. The way the stone was united with the metal, embracing it, making it complete. Two elements that were so different but suited each other to perfection. Elizabeth was amazed that he could still read her mind and guess her every wish. She admired the ring and forgot about the proposal. William was still looking at her, his hand never leaving hers. He took the ring and slid it through her finger, closing her hand into his. Then he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it.
The sense of his lips burning Elizabeth’s skin finally brought her back to reality. Thoughts and images invaded. A cascade. Their whole relationship passed before her eyes. “Nice to meet you, Miss Bennet.” … “You may call me, William…Elizabeth.” … “I’ve wanted to kiss you the whole night Elizabeth.” … “I want you. Desperately so.” … “Good morning, Elizabeth. Always a pleasure to wake up here.” … “No one must learn about this. No one. For your sake. For my sake. For your career, Elizabeth, and for my reputation as an employer. You said so as well.” … “Elizabeth Bennet? For God’s sake, Charles, don’t tell me that you think her beautiful?” … “She is not at all to my taste.”… “There is only one room that suits me, Elizabeth. Yours.”… Scotland, Scotland. The kiss, the night. “Just because we’re sleeping together…”… Scotland… “Just sleeping together.”
She lifted her head to look into his eyes, to escape her turmoil. They were smiling. She looked better, more deeply. And then she knew. And she was shocked to know.
“Oh my God! This is fake!”
“I beg your pardon?” Until this moment William was only curious as to if she would say ‘Yes’ or ‘I will.’ This was out of the plan.
“Fake, Will! Forced, untrue! The romantic dinner, the ridiculous cake, your astonishing attitude…but most of all your eyes, Will! Your eyes are lying! You are lying, Will!”
“Elizabeth, be serious.” He became annoyed. He had done everything in his power to prepare the romantic atmosphere that should accompany his proposal in less than half a day, but Elizabeth was not cooperating. “Do you think me capable of proposing in jest? I mean every word of it! Do you want me to repeat it?”
“You mean it? It’s obvious that you’re doing this against your will. You may have tried to open as little as possible in our relationship, but so far I can safely say: You hate the whole fantasy more than I do now.”
“This is ridiculous. Why should I propose against my will? It would be insane!”
“I don’t know, Will. You tell me.”
“Elizabeth, you are a logical woman and this is not…”
“What? Are you playing games with me?”
“I am not. You offered to say the words again just a minute ago. Please do.”
William spoke, but his voice was angry and totally unsuited to accompany the words he was uttering.
“Elizabeth Bennet, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
“Just this,” she commented. “You want to say nothing more?”
“What more is there to say?”
“Why do you want me to become your wife, Will?”
“Did you expect me to rejoice in the proposal so much and to be so ecstatic in the prospect of marrying you that I would not notice the absurdity of the situation?”
He didn’t speak. His face was red with anger. No one had offended him like this in his whole life. She went on.
“We have a fight. The fault is yours, because you have never told me anything about you or your family. You insult me, and then you decide to tell me a story—at last!—and you expect me to understand and feel mortified. I respect your wishes. You disappear. Not a phone call for three weeks. You called Charlotte, not me, for God’s sake! And now you decide to make an impressive come back and… propose? I could say that the distance made you think and suffer…suffer as much as I did, Will!” She could contain her tears no longer. She was speaking quickly and had trouble in breathing.
“Yes, I could have believed that. I could. If I were talking with another man, I would have believed it. Even if you had not been like this tonight, I would have happily deluded myself. As I have done all these months by your side!” she shouted. She paused just to recover breath and continued, “But, it is all too clear now.”
“What is clear?” He was beside himself with rage. He had never had so much trouble understanding anyone in his life.
“What are you offering me, Will?”
“Elizabeth, stop it. Stop this game now. I will not be responsible of the consequences if you don’t.”
“I am not afraid of you. You cannot hurt me more than you already have. Just what are you offering me?”
“I was willing to give you my name, my home, my belongings. A family. A healthy, normal family.”
“I don’t care for your name, I don’t care for your home, I loath your belongings!” she cried. “A normal family? You have no idea what this means… Me neither.” His eyes were dangerously dark. “Forgive my outburst. And what do you want me to give you in return? What can I possibly offer you? You do not seem to need anything I have in my power to give.”
“The damn baby you carry, Elizabeth!” William was very angry. And, as one great authoress has said, angry people are not always wise. William was, evidently, extremely far from wise that moment. And each moment that passed, he was losing his powers of behaving like his usual self.
Elizabeth’s mind was working fervently. ‘Baby I carry?’ This acting, this deceit, this parody of dinner had happened because he thought her carrying a baby?
“You think that I am pregnant,” she stated.
“Don’t try to deny it, Elizabeth! And don’t try to deny that you were thinking of marriage. I heard you. I heard you on the phone with Jane. You said that it happened in Scotland and will result in marriage. So, let’s forget everything of this disastrous evening. I’ll propose again tomorrow and everything will be all right.”
Elizabeth did not speak. She was too absorbed in thinking. William thought it a good sign. And he chose the moment to commit his fatal mistake.
“I know what you’re thinking. That tonight I have not proved myself strong enough to protect you. But I will. I promise I will.”
“Protect me?” Elizabeth repeated, as she had difficulty in following him while she kept thinking.
“Protect you from the gossip. From the comparisons with your sister. It’s too great a coincidence, Elizabeth. Both marrying so rich and important men by telling them you were pregnant. And Jane even lied about that! Don’t you know how many people will laugh at me for being a fool? They will think that you have trapped me in a marriage that I don’t want.”
“They would not be wrong,” Elizabeth said and William was surprised by the irony in her voice. When he looked in her eyes, he knew that something had gone very wrong. For the first time he found them hollow, devoid of any liveliness, empty, without feeling.
“Oh, yes, people would be right in their assumptions. You definitely do not want this marriage. Guess what, Will! I am going to free you! Be happy: I am not pregnant. Charlotte is, and to my great regret, she’s getting married with the idiot man that is her child’s father. And it happened the weekend after Scotland! Oh, please, let me finish. Except if you are so anxious to take your proposal back. Can you give me one more minute, Will?”
He cast his eyes down and didn’t speak. Her harsh words pointed at a way with no return.
“I have even better news for you! I am freeing you not only from your proposal, but from whatever else we had. You see, I do not dare to call it a relationship any longer. I don’t want to see you again. But I must warn you. If you dare to accuse my sister as you have just done right now, so unjustly, with such cruelty, arrogance and contempt, I will have to see you again. In court. She has been too liberal to the monster she was married to, but my patience is over! I don’t give a damn about Bingley in case you’re wondering. Actually I am glad that he showed his true colors so early and left us alone. But no one is going to speak ill of my sister again, I swear.”
“Jason Younge has saved my family. I trust him!”
“Too bad for you. You’ll discover that he’s a scoundrel some day but it will be too late for you!’
“Elizabeth, it must be a misunderstanding. Please. I know things didn’t go well this evening, and that we won’t be marrying anytime soon, but I want to sort this out.”
Elizabeth looked at him. He had hurt her, he had killed a part of her, he had trusted others and not her. She had never told him any particulars about Jane’s divorce, but she had told him that Jane had suffered near her ex-husband. Wasn’t it enough for him? He should have asked her if he had wanted to learn more. But he hadn’t. He didn’t want anything to do with her family. Still, she loved him. And she was losing him. She dreaded the loss. Again.
“Say something to make me stay, Will.”
“Make me stay. Say one word. Say why you want me here.”
William couldn’t answer. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“I love you, Will! Make me stay!” she implored for the last time.
But William had frozen. The word love echoed in his ears. He had not heard it directed to him for years. She loved him! Could she? And she was leaving? She couldn’t love him and leave! Could she? ‘Speak, Darcy, speak!’ he thought.‘I can’t! I can’t say it and it’s killing me!’ he heard a voice screaming inside him.
Elizabeth was looking at him, crying without restraint now. She waited for a minute. He lowered his eyes. She pulled a handkerchief out of her handbag, cleaned her eyes and said in a low voice,
“We are over.”
William felt numb as he watched her removing the ring from her finger and handing it to him. His impulse was to grasp her hand, to savor their contact, to not let her go. But he stood motionless, expressionless, an impassive statue in the middle of the storm. Until she was out of his sight.
Elizabeth closed the door and left without looking behind. Thus she didn’t notice William burying his head into his hands and she didn’t hear him whispering to himself between his sobs: “I’ve lost her…I’ve lost her too…”
Back to the safety of her house, Elizabeth wondered how she could ever remove the pain that resided in her chest. She had said goodbye to the only man she could ever love, to the only man that could make her happy. It was over. She had left. Just like her father had done. Had she inflicted so much pain on Will as her father had on her? No, that was impossible. She didn’t want to hurt Will, she had to leave. To save them both. Just like her father had done. Her father was right in leaving, wasn’t he? Then why did the right decisions hurt so much?
She cried herself to sleep, but nightmares did not let her rest. Somewhere she heard a phone ringing. She opened her eyes. It was six in the morning. What day was it? Oh, Christmas! Who was calling so early? She both hoped and feared that it was Will.
“Hello?” She answered the phone hesitatingly.
“Good morning, Elise.”
Oh, my God… Oh my God!
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