Georgiana Darcy looked at her cousin, the famous, sexy, strong, divine Richard Fitzwilliam who was snoring loudly and not at all divinely, just next to her. Hardly had they entered the car that was to take them home than he surrendered to sleep. No wonder he felt so tired, it was five in the morning and he had not stopped dancing since eleven. She sighed, as she realized that she should not take his presence at the Christmas table for granted. The lunch wouldn’t be crowded in any case. Her brother, Richard and she, as well as Richard’s bodyguard and his personal assistant would taste her cooking, as William had sent all his staff to their homes to celebrate with their families. ‘Someone must have fun,’ she thought, painfully aware of the fact that she had never had fun during the festivities. Holidays only reminded her of how differently she felt from the rest of the world, as if she was an intruder. And they also reminded her of the two men who had tried to change this, only to betray her and leave her lonelier than ever.
She quickly dismissed these thoughts. Tonight, she had had fun. Not the same way as her cousin, but she had enjoyed herself as well as she could. She had even danced once or twice, she drank, though she rarely tasted alcohol, and she had watched the liveness, the carefree expressions, the diffused euphoria of the multitude. She had almost become part of it. Almost. There always was a restraint, a barrier that prevented her from feeling…normal, part of a team. Perhaps she was special. Perhaps she was too much like her brother. In any case, she was glad that she had let Richard drag her with him and she wished her brother had followed her example as well. He could use some relaxing. His mood had darkened even more than usual since their return from the States, although he seemed almost happy there. Almost. She sighed once again. This word—almost—- seemed to haunt the Darcy children.
The car stopped. Despite her efforts, Richard would not wake up. He remained at his place, with his mouth agape, producing snores as loud as ever. She thought of leaving him there. However, even though Christmas was not so special to her, she refused to let any family member wake in a car with a hangover on Christmas Day. So she just sat next to him, undetermined, until his bodyguard got out of the car and returned to Richard’s sitting place a moment later, saying, with such a low voice that Georgiana was sure Richard could not hear:
“Richard, if you don’t wake up and get out of the car this moment, the water that is contained in the bucket I hold will visit your expensive face. And, Richard, it is NOT clear water.”
Richard did hear and obey with an alacrity that provoked Georgiana’s rare chuckles. Only a minute later he was standing in front of Darcy’s door with such a lively look on his face that one could swear that he had been awake for hours.
“Your bodyguard knows how to make you behave, cousin,” Georgiana commented before opening the door.
“Monika? You haven’t seen anything yet. Do not let her slim figure trick you, Anna. Trust me. You don’t know what she’s capable of.”
After they had opened the door, however, all previous thoughts were forgotten and one new prevailed: What has happened to the house? What has happened to Will? The hallway was full of glass. Every vase they had in the house was there—broken. Georgiana ran terrified to her brother’s room and screamed upon not finding him there. Richard, who had already hurt his hand when he tried to pick a piece of glass from the floor, was imploring Alex, his assistant, to call the police. Monika intervened and stopped him. She assured him that no thief or murderer could have entered the house without the immediate arrival of the Security men and the policemen. Moreover she was certain that the whole mess was created by only one man whose purpose was to destroy everything that surrounded him. “I think that your cousin Darcy has had a breakdown.” Richard calmed down and accepted his assistant’s care of his hand.
Georgiana was running like mad from room to room until she found her brother in the room that used to be their mother’s office. It had been empty, without any furniture, and locked, for years. He had fallen asleep. She was more than surprised to see the stains on his cheeks that showed that he had been crying. His fingers were bleeding. His left hand rested upon the right protectively. She removed it. The right hand apparently held something but surprisingly his fist was very tight and Georgiana could not see what it was. Next to him on the floor, there was a photograph torn to pieces. Georgiana put them in the right order; she was good at puzzles. Then she sighed in relief. ‘At least I know what is wrong with him.’ She called the other three to help her take him to his room. When they had put him on his bed, Monika and Alex left. Georgiana looked at William who was sleeping not so peacefully and then turned to Richard who still had no clue about what was going on, and she said:
“Who would have thought it, Richard! Will in love!”
“Look at this.” She handed him the photograph.
Richard recognized William and his friend Charles Bingley in front of a birthday cake with a pack of persons he had never seen before. Next to Charles stood one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen—and he had seen lots of women in Hollywood. Another woman was holding Will’s arm possessively. Even though he was drunk and tired he didn’t fail to notice the mercenary look in her eyes.
“Will is in love with this woman?”
“You men can sometimes be completely blind!” Georgiana said in mock contempt. “Will is in love with this woman!” she said pointing at the brunette at the other side of the photograph. Richard looked better and discovered that Will and that woman were indeed looking at each other but he couldn’t read their feelings. Georgiana interpreted his puzzlement correctly.
“I will be proven right, Richard. Goodnight… and don’t you dare disappear from the Christmas table. I will send Monika to fetch you!”
“I’ll be there, I’ll be there…” he said with resignation.
William opened his eyes next morning with the feeling that something dreadful had happened. For two seconds he tried to remember what was causing the bitterness that burdened his chest. When he did recall what had happened he wished he hadn’t. Elizabeth’s otherwise beautiful face, full of anger, disdain and determination haunted him. His normal self would be mad at her, offended and unwilling to ever forgive her. His normal self wouldn’t be willing to give anything he had to change the previous night. He wouldn’t long for her so badly. He would have already forgotten her eyes, her voice, her touch, the feeling of her skin against his, the sweetness of her mouth, the curves of her body. He wouldn’t feel like he had just been exiled from Paradise just because he could not hear her gasps of pleasure anymore nor feel her body surrendering to his caresses. However, he was nothing like his normal self this morning.
William relived the previous night second by second. He could describe every change of her countenance; he could now explain her feelings. He shuddered as he recalled her voice, imploring him to make her stay, saying that she loved him. She loved him? Yet she had left! Like his mother had done. William Darcy was in the place of his father now. Had it hurt him so badly? Had he felt, too, that life had no pleasure to offer him anymore? Because this was what William was now feeling: That he could never be happy again. Was he happy when he was with Elizabeth then?
She said that she loved him and she left. She was wrong in doing this, of that he was certain. Elizabeth was a fighter in her life and this time she had given up. She had to stay and fight. William knew that he had been weak, unpardonably weak. He knew that he had not tried hard enough. But Elizabeth hadn’t tried hard enough either. She didn’t want to fight alone. But if she had truly loved him, she would have found the strength to fight alone. She would have found patience. She would have waited. He couldn’t say the blasted words the night before, he still couldn’t utter them. He needed help and she had left. She had let him down. It was selfish of him to think like this, William knew it, but he couldn’t help feeling betrayed. By his mother, by Elizabeth. By the women he had…he still couldn’t say it.
He looked at his fingers. They were stained with the blood that had dried. He remembered his despair the night before, the wish to make everything around him vanish, because everything he was looking at brought him new waves of pain. He wondered what Georgie and Richard would have thought at seeing the house in such a state. He realized that they had brought him in his room, because the last memory he had from last night was his kneeling and crying in his mother’s now empty office, like a wounded beast. He had cried for the past, the present but most of all for the future.
He looked at his tight fist. Slowly he opened his hands. The ring was there. The ring that had adorned her finger last night. The ring that belonged to her finger. It was made for her and she had thrown it back to him, saying: “We’re over, Will.” She had given it back. But it belonged to her. He was certain that it belonged to her. Fresh tears threatened to appear as he was looking at it. ‘She left me. She didn’t stay. She didn’t love me. I was a fool to believe that there could be love. Because I believed it. For a moment I did believe it. And now it hurts a thousand times more.’
Had he voiced his last thoughts? He was sure he hadn’t. But either he was mistaken or his sister was a mind reader—who, by the way, could enter and stay in a room for a while going completely unnoticed. Little did he know that his sister had spent most of the night in his room, watching him talking in his sleep, calling Elizabeth’s name and deploring his lost love repeatedly. By the time William woke up, his sister had a fair idea of what was going on in his mind.
“Will, she did love you. But that doesn’t mean that she was obliged to stay and be your therapist.”
William looked at his sister the same way that he would have looked at an extra terrestrial if one happened to appear that morning.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The woman in the photo, the beautiful brunette with the perfect eyes that was looking at you, the woman who was here last night, the woman who left you, Elizabeth DID love you.”
“Georgie, have you been spying on me?”
“Anna, Will! For the umpteenth time, please call me ANNA!”
“It’s my wish, Will. Everyone else respects it. Why don’t you?”
“But it’s her name!”
“By her you’re referring to our mother, I suppose?”
“She is responsible for the misery of our lives!”
“No, she is not! At least not any more than our father and ourselves!”
“Our father?” William couldn’t believe that his sister was so ungrateful to the parent that had stayed with them. “Our father who spent his life mourning her loss and raising us?” He was astonished. He had always assumed that she disapproved of their mother’s actions as much as he did. They had never talked about it before. Why hadn’t they? It seemed too obvious or perhaps too painful? How could they have acted as if nothing had happened for so long? ‘Twenty-two years of silence,’ he thought. ‘Twenty-two years of misunderstanding?’ He couldn’t believe it. Georgiana was as much hurt as he was. She had suffered from the lack of a mother’s guidance. Had she been thinking differently than him all these years? And why had she chosen that moment to show him her true feelings? Now that the wounds inside him seemed unlikely to ever heal? Why was she adding to his pain?
Georgiana sensed her brother’s suffering and tried to control her rage. She tried to speak in a soft voice, she really did. But after all these years she finally released her anger, her own bitterness and disappointment. Gradually, her voice became louder and her tone harsher.
“Our father who removed her every trace. Our father who sold her clothes, her furniture, her belongings, who tore her pictures, who never spoke her name, who made me forget that I had a mother. That I needed a mother.” She paused for a moment and took a deep breath. She prepared herself for what she was about to utter; for what she was about to admit. She looked at her brother, tenderness returning to her face. She felt like a mother who wanted to protect her child, but had to tell him the horrible truth. “Our father, Will, who made her leave.”
“That is preposterous!”
“Why did our mother leave us Will?” she asked calmly.
“I don’t know! And I don’t care!” William said with the stubbornness of a wounded child.
“I don’t know either, brother. But I do care. And I will find out. And you should care too, because this is the only way to win your brunette back!”
William was shocked. He had never expected that his morning conversation with his younger sister could take this direction. And now her meaning became too accurate for him to ignore. Deep inside him, he always knew that his insecurities were poisoning what he had with Elizabeth. The insecurities that his mother had caused him. But hearing the truth coming from Georgiana’s lips was a completely different thing. He almost feared to ask her to become more explicit. Finally, he met her gaze and uttered hesitatingly,
“I said ANNA!” she cried with in a desperate tone. Georgiana was very sorry for what she was doing to her brother, but she knew that the only way to help him was to show him that he was being willingly blind.
“Fine! Anna!” he shouted, his efforts to control his temper having miserably failed. “Well, Anna, will you be kind enough to tell me how the understanding of our mother’s unpardonable behavior will promote my happiness?”
Georgiana didn’t answer immediately. She was striving to find the right words to convey exactly what she had in mind. Despite her previous outburst, she was not at all angry with her brother. She was only grieving for him. She had always thought him stronger, with a heart unlikely to ever be touched. Until that morning, it had never crossed her mind that he resembled her so much, suffering but not letting anyone know it. And now that she was discovering the truth, there was nothing but love and compassion in her heart. She wanted to help him, to save him; as much as she wanted to save herself.
“If you can be persuaded that our mother never stopped loving you, you will understand that you don’t have to possess someone in order to love them and be loved in return.” She sighed. “Mother’s behavior, as you interpret it, has destroyed your faith in people. If you understand her, you will be released.”
“But, Georgie…sorry, Anna, there is always the possibility that she just ran away with the chauffer!” His tone was much softer now, somewhat wistful.
“She didn’t.” Georgiana’s confidence amazed even herself. “But even if she had, she wouldn’t have been a good person; you wouldn’t need her love, in that case. It’s not the thought that she was a horrible mother that’s tormenting you, Will. It’s the thought that she was as good as you remember her to be, full of pure love for everyone except you. The problem lies with you, Will, and with what you think of yourself.”
He remained silent. She continued, looking directly into his eyes. Hers were consoling; they were caressing him, sensing the vulnerability inside him. Georgiana had been forced to mature abruptly. After being betrayed and so hurt eight years before, she had faced her inner fears. Maybe she had not won the battle yet, but she knew what she was fighting against. She had stopped deluding herself very long ago. She had realized that happiness was impossible to attain without knowing the truth. She was determined to find it in order to forgive the others; in order to forgive herself. And now she realized that her brother needed exactly the same. They had not been close, and they rarely confided in each other. But now they were allies. They would go through this together. A warmth filled Georgiana at the thought. She walked towards William, smiled and took his hand into hers.
“The truth will set you free, Will. And we’ll find it together, I promise.” His sister gave him comfort and relief. Everything would be fine. Everything? What about Elizabeth? Nothing could be fine without Elizabeth. He resumed his former grave look. Georgiana spoke again.
“But first, Will, I believe you owe me another story. And you owe an explanation to all four people who found you in that state this morning.”
William nodded. He never talked about his personal life, but he owed it to these people. He had given them quite a fright on such a day. The least he could do was to explain why he had behaved as a lunatic.
“I believe I do, Anna. But please, I need to eat something at first,” he said in a more casual tone.
“Of course you do. It’s lunch time. Take a hot bath and we’ll wait for you downstairs.” She walked until she reached the door, but then she turned back and smiled. “Will… Merry Christmas!”
‘Nothing is merry without Elizabeth,’ he despaired. But, knowing that Georgiana deserved something better than his sadness, he forced himself to smile back.
“Merry Christmas, Anna.”
When William made his appearance in the dining-room, he felt his embarrassment overwhelming him. He was well aware of the fact that the people he was to have lunch with had witnessed the effects of his crisis the night before. He realized that he felt safe in his relationships with people only when he could inspire admiration or awe. Now he was completely vulnerable, expecting nothing better than sympathy or compassion. He hated to excite compassion. He joined them at the table trying to resume the most dignified look he could manage, when Monika spoke.
“Mr. Darcy, don’t worry. We can all act as if nothing has happened and be a very merry party, if this is what you want. We have done it many times. Ask your cousin.”
Darcy choked, Georgiana laughed, Alex smiled and Richard protested.
“Monika, it’s ok to try to make him feel better, but is it necessary to destroy my reputation?”
“Richard dear, your reputation is based on vague rumors like this.”
“So true.” He sighed and everyone except Darcy laughed.
William had a pensive look. He didn’t know what to say, where to begin with, and how much to reveal. He hadn’t figured out his feelings, and now he had to talk about them to a group of people. It felt like…therapy. He had never tried it and he scorned the tactic as a proof of weakness. But then he realized that no one could be accused of weakness more than himself. It took courage and bravery to take a deep look inside you and share with others what you found there. He was ready to do it, no matter how much pain it would cost him. To be a better man. To be the man Elizabeth deserved to have by her side. Even if she never returned to him. He cleared his throat.
“Normally, I would pretend that everything is perfect. But it isn’t. Something happened to me last night. Since you have born the consequences, you are entitled to know the cause as well. But let us eat first.”
Georgiana had never seen her brother so open and willing to speak about his feelings and to reveal what was going on in his mind. ‘At last! He acts differently than our father! Time to stop repeating the old mistakes.’ She gave him a tender smile that showed her approval. She realized that despite everything her mood was better than ever. Because she had talked. Because she knew she could share her problems with her brother. Life didn’t seem so difficult if you could rely on other people. Her gaze moved to everyone around the table. Richard, Monika, William, Alex. Alex was looking at her and she felt a wave of warmth embracing her. She closed her eyes. Everything would be fine.
The doorbell rang. William stood up immediately, saying,
“Apparently, you cleaned the house. It’s my turn to open the door.”
A few moments later, Charles entered the dining room. Everyone looked at him in surprise. They had asked him to join them for Christmas lunch but he had declined the invitation. Darcy reminded him of Jane and he was not ready to face the memory yet. So he had chosen another party that his sister attended as well. But everyone was too happy there for his dark mood, so he had stood up and left without offering the slightest explanation. The host was very offended and Caroline would have shot her brother for embarrassing her so terribly, had she only possessed a gun. Charles walked to the Darcy house without realizing it. He walked in and sat at the table, expressionless, like an automaton, as if he was programmed to do so. Only when Georgiana gently asked him if everything was all right did the tears appear in his eyes.
“I can’t stand it! Why does it hurt so badly?”
“Tell me at least that it is not the same woman that makes them both suffer,” Monika whispered. For the first time Richard felt that he knew something that his bodyguard didn’t. He remembered the photograph.
“No, it isn’t.” He answered.
“Good. I hate soap operas.”
In the meantime, Georgiana observed her brother’s usually cheerful friend. Charles was not eating and Georgiana noticed that he had become a shadow of his former self. He had lost weight, he had cut his hair very short and resembled a prisoner. His eyes, that used to be bright with laughter and mischief, were now empty. He didn’t touch his fork. Georgiana sighed. It seemed that everyone had chosen this particular Christmas to have their hearts broken. Well, she had chosen this Christmas to become brave and help everyone. She smiled at Charles and asked in a low voice.
“Do you want to talk about it Charles? If you do, I am sure no one will mind William’s leaving us for some time and joining you in his office. I will fetch dessert later.”
“Oh, I have not much to say and I don’t mind your listening to my story,” he stated bluntly and continued, feeling the tears returning as pain sharpened his handsome features. “I loved a woman… and it was different this time. I mean I’ve had many women, but this… I wanted to wait. My body was screaming, but I could wait… I’ve never wanted anyone so much…And I could wait…because I wanted her to be happy…And she was proven to be... a total…”
Georgiana wished that Charles refrained from cosmetics. He paused and no one dared interrupt him. They waited for several minutes silently. At last, he cried in despair,
“But I still love her!” He was breathing with difficulty, as if the pain was so heavy in his chest that it didn’t permit the air to enter. “I can’t stop! I can’t! I’ve tried! I went to…what’s her name, Jessica? Oh, who cares! All I could think of was her! How am I going to stop seeing her face wherever I am going?”
William’s expression was dark, as regret started assaulting his heart. First of all, he could see that his friend was suffering, almost as much as himself. He felt unable to offer any solace, completely helpless. Then he remembered Elizabeth’s words regarding Jason Younge: “Too bad for you. You’ll discover that he’s a scoundrel some day but it will be too late for you!” He looked at Georgiana, who was very pensive. Charles went on.
“And I went to her house… And I hurt her! And I was right…But I can’t forgive myself for what I have done! I can’t forgive her…I can’t forgive myself.”
The doorbell rang once again put an end to his ramblings. As William rose, Monika whispered to her employer,
“If we’re going to have another broken hearted person here, you’re doubling my salary!”
Richard nodded silently.
As William opened the door, all he could see was a tight fist coming towards him. Before he had time to do anything, he felt an unbearable pain in his left eye. He lost his balance and fell down. His hand moved instinctively to his eye that was full with tears. He opened his other eye and saw Jane looking indignantly at him.
“Where is my sister? What have you done to her?”
All the pain disappeared at the thought of Elizabeth. Every fiber of his body was shaking; he was overwhelmed with worry.
“Something has happened to Elizabeth? What? Why are you looking at me like this? Speak, Jane!”
“You should know better than me!” she replied angrily.
“Jane… you know?” he asked hesitatingly.
“Is this all that you have to say?” She looked at him with contempt.
Meanwhile, the others had heard William’s falling and had come to the hallway. Now they were watching the scene silently.
William didn’t answer and Jane continued.
“Yes, I know! I know that it’s you who broke her heart! Who made her suffer! Who trifled with her!” At William’s puzzled expression, she explained: “She got drunk and told me everything one night but even she doesn’t remember it! My sister drunk! Because of you!”
William had got up just in time to receive another slap. Everyone looked in awe. Monika stepped forward.
“Look, Jane—it’s Jane isn’t it?—you really seem very talented and if you want to work as a bodyguard like me you’ll have a wonderful career, but this man here has had an awful night. Don’t be tough on him dear.”
“What about my sister’s awful night?” Jane shouted.
“How is she?” William asked with a soft voice, having obviously forgotten that the woman before him had hit him twice.
“I don’t know! She disappeared!” She burst into tears. William was petrified. ‘What if she did something stupid in her despair? Oh, my God, this is my fault! I must find her. I must find her now and beg for her forgiveness.’
“We must find her! We must find her now!” He voiced his thoughts, trying hard to think rationally. They had not a moment to lose. “Jane, where can she possibly have gone? Have you got any clues?”
“She left me a note,” Jane replied in a calmer voice than before. She was a good woman and even though her concern for her sister was uppermost in her thoughts, she could not help being affected by Darcy’s reaction. He seemed in turmoil and she tried to check her own feelings in order to spare him some of the pain he was obviously experiencing.
She took a paper out of her bag and handed it to William. He recognized Elizabeth’s handwriting and could see that her hand had been trembling while writing:
I know that it is too selfish of me to leave you now, without an explanation and without revealing where I am going. And, honestly, I am tired of secrecy. But I have to do this, trust me. I’ll come back and explain everything, and never hide anything from you again. I promise. And I will bring someone with me. Everything will be fine. I love you and I hate giving you pain. But I have to cure this on my own. Please don’t try to find me. I won’t be gone for long.
William read it again and again. Everyone was looking at him, waiting for his reaction.
“She doesn’t want to be found,” he said at last with such defeated bitterness in his voice that even Jane felt sorry for him. Georgiana could not see him give up. Not after the talk they had had. Not in the middle of the healing process.
“Doesn’t she, Will? Are you sure? Don’t do what our father did, Will.” Only then Jane turned and looked at them. Her gaze fell hard upon Charles, but upon meeting Georgiana’s eyes, an expression of shock diffused all over her face.
“You!” she shouted. “The woman with Jason! The photos! Eight years ago!”
Even Monika who was prepared for everything did not expect anything like this. William opened his mouth to speak, but no sounds came. Richard decided that he would have to play only in comedies for the next three years to make up for the drama he was living now. Alex’s eyes rested worryingly on Georgiana, who had gone completely pale. With a voice that was barely heard, she asked:
“You’re Jason’s wife?”
Charles, not having the slightest clue of what was going on, moved forward and said harshly,
“You have given enough pain to everyone, Jane! Leave us alone!”
This time it was his cheek that felt the effects of Jane’s admirable right hook. Monika was the first to recover and ask:
“Anna dear, did you sleep with a married man? Eight years ago?”
“I didn’t know it! He didn’t tell me! I am so sorry… So very sorry…” she murmured between her sobs. Alex moved to support her as she began to collapse in grief.
William felt all his blood leaving him. He grabbed the door for support. ‘Oh, my God… What does this mean? A married man? Jane… Jane’s husband? Could she? Oh, my God…OH MY GOD!!! Jason Younge! He was the other!!! The hypocrite, the snake, the man I trusted! The man that I thought I was indebted to… All this time, all these years… Lies?’ There was darkness around him. He was oblivious to all the faces talking to him, looking at him worriedly, touching his hands and shoulders. There was only darkness, nothing else. And then, emerging slowly, came Elizabeth’s face. Elizabeth’s words followed, echoing in his ears. Realization struck him, like lightening. ‘She was right! God, she was right! She was right about everything. And now it’s all too late. What have I done?’
“Elizabeth!” he exclaimed in a voice that no one recognized. And then he noticed all the puzzled faces looking at him. He saw Georgiana’s fear, but there was no compassion for her in his heart—not yet. He yelled at her.
“Why didn’t you tell me? What on earth were you thinking? You were lecturing ME about the truth when YOU have spent the last eight years lying to me! How could you? How could you do this to me?” He buried his face in his hands in an unsuccessful attempt to conceal his tears from the others.
Richard was watching his two cousins acting as he had never seen them before. His heart was aching for them. He felt that he would give anything just to remove this tension, this anger and bitterness from their souls. However, and despite the fact that he was used to having all his wishes coming true, he was completely incapable of offering any solace now. He sat without speaking and his eyes met Monika’s. For the first time he saw a sympathetic smile on her face that warmed his heart immediately.
Charles knew that something had gone very wrong. He collected the scattered phrases, the meanings behind the unfinished sentences, the angry exclamations and the questions that remained without answer. He felt helpless, fighting something that was bigger than him. He was trying so hard to understand. He looked at Jane. Her face was almost white and her whole body was shaking. He wanted to support her, to go and help her. He wanted to forget, but he couldn’t. Jane’s face didn’t let him forget. Her gaze was fixed on Georgiana, her eyes wide open, her lips trembling, silently inquiring the other woman. Georgiana could not control her sobs any longer. She had wanted to leave everything behind her; she had decided not to let the painful memories intrude any more. And now everything was back, threatening to destroy her life once again.
“I thought , I thought it was of no importance…” She managed to answer breathing heavily.
“Of no importance!” William shouted, his eyes looking directly into hers once more. “You destroyed my only chance at happiness! Now, do you consider this important, Georgiana?”
Monika took pity of Georgiana and interrupted him. “I am afraid that only we can destroy our own happiness. No one else. Now, everyone in the living room. I believe Anna and William have something to share with us. Jane, please come, too. We’ll find your sister.”
“I met Jason Younge when I finished high school. It was at a party. He was the handsomest man that I had ever seen. Charming, funny, interested in me. Nobody had been interested in me before… It’s ok, Will, it’s ok. He never said anything about being married, engaged or even dating anyone else. He had so much time to give to me, how was I to suppose that… Well, he did ask me to conceal it, but it didn’t seem strange. I was rich, and he was four years older than me and people would say…I didn’t know that he was rich as well. I was too young to judge properly. And I was too happy to want to judge properly! Whenever something seemed amiss, I found a way to justify it. I was good at deluding myself. And Jason did everything in his power to help me overlook the tiny details. He even took me to excursions for weekends. And…Well, I was happy…Until George Wickham came. He didn’t say anything about Jason at first; he tried to win me in his own way. But he was too self-confident, too sure about everything… Something scared me about him. He didn’t hesitate to speak ill of my mother and accuse her of abandoning an ‘angel like me.’ I explained to him that I was in love with Jason and nothing could make me care for another. He told me part of the truth: That Jason was married…and he used me as a distraction because his marriage was facing some crisis…”
She stopped abruptly. Jane had uttered a strangled cry and all the eyes turned to her. She had covered her mouth with her hand, as if she was trying to refrain from screaming. She closed her eyes and her expression changed again, as if a memory was haunting her. Darcy nodded his head in compassion. He remembered Elizabeth telling him how much her sister had suffered near the monster. He could see how right she was. Richard was astonished. He thought that he knew Georgiana better than anyone else and he couldn’t believe that she had been carrying such a burden for so long without arousing any suspicion. Monika sat by his side and whispered something that seemed to make him relax a little. Alex was still standing next to Georgiana, fearful of how this confession would finish. Charles, whose look showed almost horror went near Jane and tried to help her. She opened her eyes and said weakly, without looking at Charles,
“I am fine. Could I have a glass of water, please?” She was given the water and Georgiana went on, with a voice that was trembling a little more than before.
“Later, I found out the cause of the crisis, quite by accident. I don’t want to reveal details, but I can say that Jane had nothing to do with this. Jason’s behavior to her was unpardonable and I cannot help thinking how much my behavior added to her distress. It was unintentional, I swear…” She paused and walked towards Jane offering her hand. Jane gave her hand mechanically. Georgiana took it into hers, and said with a voice pleading for understanding: “Still, I cannot ask you to forgive me; it would be audacious of me. As soon as I found out, I told Jason that I never wanted to see him again. George was there to console me. He wanted more… I didn’t want to give him more.” William, Richard and Alex gasped here, but Georgiana’s voice was now steady and reassuring. “Jason was a monster, but I was still in love with him. I reasoned again and again, but I couldn’t deny my feelings. But I swear I never saw him again. He stopped trying to contact me very soon. Later, I learnt the reason for this too. George, afraid that I would succumb to Jason’s pleading, sent some photos of us to his wife. As soon as Jason knew, he visited my brother and told him about their bet. Because in truth, George and Jason were former friends who had decided to put a bet on me…for 10,000 pounds! Oh, I feel so proud!” Alex shook his head as if someone had hit him. Georgiana went on, bitterly,
“Jason, of course, failed to mention his part in the story. He appeared the savior who won Will’s gratitude. But he was afraid of George. I am sure that he found something to silence him, I am not sure what it was, but still he felt insecure. So he took Jane and left for the States. My brother told George that he would die should he dare come close to me again. Wickham never stopped abusing him after this.”
She lifted her eyes. No one spoke for several minutes. William had buried his face into his hands once again. Charles had done the same. Monika was looking at her hands and whispering: “I could strangle them… Or better whip them… Maybe spread acid all over their bodies…Hang them? Shoot them... No, no that would be too rapid.” Richard was thinking how much he should increase his bodyguard’s and his assistant’s salary to atone for what they had to bear on Christmas day. Alex was looking at Georgiana worriedly. She seemed so vulnerable, so fragile, yet so full of determination. She spoke again, addressing her brother, even if he would not look at her.
“Why didn’t I tell you, Will? Who knows? Perhaps because I was not used to telling you anything. Tell me Will, before this morning, when did we speak frankly and openly to each other? Would you have understood if I had confided in you? Our relationship was so fragile…It seemed completely based on mutual silence. You would have wanted to simply destroy Jason… You wouldn’t have asked for my opinion. Perhaps, it would have been better like this; perhaps you should have destroyed him then, not letting him do additional damage. But, Will, much as I want this to happen now, it was the last thing I wanted then. I saw him only as a man who had made a mistake. Even when I learnt about the bet, I still believed that he had come to love me a little bit. And maybe he had. But he loved himself more than anything or anyone else.”
There was silence again, as everyone expected Darcy’s reaction. He raised his eyes and said, in a steady voice, looking at her with clear, determined eyes.
“You made a mistake, Anna, but I have made far more mistakes than you. I have no right to blame you, I was only trying to find someone to accuse for what I have done. It’s my fault that you didn’t trust me. It’s my fault that I didn’t trust Elizabeth when she warned me about Jason Younge. I made too many errors in my judgment and now I have to live with them. As for you, if you do want to ask for forgiveness, you had better address Jane.” He remained grave, even when his sister smiled at him. He had to live with a burden that no smiles seemed likely to remove. Georgiana now spoke to Jane, with a serious expression and a determined voice:
“Jane, I have heard the rumors Jason is spreading concerning you. And I know how untrue they are. I understand your need to leave everything behind you, but just look around you. Look at us. You can leave nothing behind you! You think that you have nothing to lose but there is always so much to lose…So many people to hurt!” Jane nodded in silent acquiescence. Georgiana paused, and looked as if she was making a very important decision. Then she went on with a loud, steady voice,
“I will help you. I have no idea as to what I should do, but I swear that I will help you. I know that Jason is not evil. George frightens me, he always has, but Jason doesn’t. Still, he’s a spoilt man who cares for nothing besides himself and gives pain to all the people who surround him. And he can’t go on like this. He has to pay. I can’t ask for your forgiveness, but please let me help you with this.”
No one spoke… No one even breathed. Everyone was looking at Jane, waiting for the verdict. William felt that everyone’s fate depended on Jane’s words. If she found the power to forgive, then the world had beauty and kindness in it. It contained hope and faith in people. If Jane didn’t forgive, then… everything would be without meaning, vain. Jane spoke.
“There is nothing to forgive,” she said softly. “I believe you. You were so young…so innocent…He hurt you even more than he hurt me. Just let me think a little, is this all right?” Georgiana exhaled heavily, so did William and Alex. Jane rose to leave, with everyone looking at her with admiration. Everyone except Charles whose face was still buried in his hands… If anyone had cared to cast a better look at him, they would have realized that he was weeping. But William stopped Jane. He was smiling faintly, relief diffusing all over his face. She had given him hope; she had given him the strength to fight for the only thing that mattered to him: Elizabeth. His voice was soft as he asked her,
“Jane, would you stay a little longer, please? I owe you a story too. To all of you.”
“Just a word before you begin, Will.” Georgiana intervened. “Jane’s sister, Elizabeth, is the brunette in the photo, right?”
“What do you feel about her, Will?”
The scene before their last parting the previous night came before him. Her words, her imploring, everything appeared so vivid in front of him that he lifted his hands to touch her, to remove the tears off her beautiful face. He didn’t answer, only murmured, “I could not tell her, Anna… I could not admit it…”
“Even before meeting her, I admired her… Her mind was a diamond, fresh, sharp and ever so charming. Her style of writing was unique, and the topics she chose showed her taste and right instinct. I heard so many people singing her praises; even those who were accused by her. It was singular. I was never in my life so impatient to meet someone. I knew she would be a kindred spirit, someone I could talk to, someone who could understand and recognize perhaps my pathetic humor. Then I met her… She was everything I had ever imagined and so much more. Her spirit…fresh water. Her eyes, her smile, her voice, the most perfect laugh I have ever heard. Away from the dust and the bitterness of the world… So beautiful—in every aspect. I didn’t think of anything else, I didn’t bother to ask myself why, I simply had to ask her for dinner. The very same evening that I met her. Then I had to kiss her. Then I had to make her mine. I am a possessive monster…” He stopped, his own words hurting him. He was ashamed and disgusted. He continued, impatient to say everything, to not conceal the slightest detail, as if he was searching for the cure in the pain itself. The pain caused by his words.
“I’ve destroyed her. I made her bear my bitterness. I made her suffer with me, the selfish beast!” He spoke in a very agitated voice. He stopped, passed a hand over the forehead and through his hair, as if to clear his mind. He took a breath and continued with more calmness. “I asked her to keep it a secret. Yes, gossip wouldn’t be good for the career of either of us. I intended for her to take my place at ‘Meryton’ when I leave for Pemberley.Net. I still do. I never told her, but I thought I should protect her from gossip.” He laughed bitterly, “I was just being selfish. I feel as if I polluted her! I asked her to lie to everyone! How could I dare to do that? I shouldn’t care for the rest of the world. I knew her…” a fair smile slightly lit his face, “and anyone who knew her would never think her capable of scheming… I gave her so much pain… And she stayed…and she tried…” He stopped again, as he was too angry and disgusted with himself to continue. But then he brought to mind the times they spent together, just the two of them. Their walks, their discussions, the movies they had watched, their dinners, their nights. He looked into his heart… And he found there nothing to be ashamed of or disgusted with. He found only fond memories and precious feelings. He regained his courage and continued, “Scotland.” He turned to Charles whose mouth was agape and had a hard time convincing himself that all this was really happening. “I must thank you for your invitation, Charles, I’ve never been so happy in my life.” Charles was so bewildered that he couldn’t react in any way. He just continued to stare in disbelief, as his friend revealed a side of his heart that he had never imagined existed.
William continued, unable and unwilling to stop the flood of words pouring out from deep within his soul. Still, he could not control the anguish in his voice. “And yet I would not open to her. She gave herself to me completely…and I was still keeping a distance.” He stopped in sudden realization. “How could I ever think that she left me, when I have abandoned her in my own way again and again?” His eyes met his sisters’. “Anna…you were right. I stayed…but I am so much to blame…Yesterday, she came here and I proposed to her because I thought that she was pregnant. I insulted her and you Jane…Jason’s story, and me, the idiot, trusting him and betraying her!” He exclaimed and then, lowering his eyes, addressed Jane, “I am so sorry. So very sorry.”
“You are forgiven, William. I could never stay angry at you after this,” Jane said in a low voice.
But he didn’t even wait for her response. He barely heard her voice, as he resumed his recount. He had reached the worst point, but he couldn’t stop. He had to go on; he had to say it all. In order to forgive himself. In order to win her back. “She left. She threw back the ring that I gave her and she left. She asked me to say how I felt for her; she asked me to make her stay, but I said nothing. I could say nothing! I had no power over my mouth, my hands… I wanted to stop her, to hug her, to kiss her, to tell her what she wanted to hear…and I would mean it too! But I stood there, petrified and watched her leaving. I don’t know how I am going to live with this memory.” He looked around him, as if he didn’t recognize the people and the surroundings and finally said, shaking his head, showing how much his own self had disappointed him, “My whole world collapsed. She wanted to make it beautiful and I didn’t let her. And now everything has collapsed.”
Jane smiled, despite the sad ending. She detected William’s feelings and she saw nothing to be afraid of in his heart. Yes, things would turn out for good. Charles had not recovered the surprise yet and was still staring. Georgiana’s heart was swelling with pride for her brother who was fighting his demons. Alex was gazing at her, content to see the joy diffused all over her face. Monika looked pointedly at Richard, who decided to break the silence.
“Let me ask you as well, Will. How do you feel about Elizabeth?”
Richard’s question brought him back to reality. He had to make decisions; he had to act, and to act quickly if he wanted to find happiness. He dismissed the shadows haunting him, and he let the light enter the darkness of his mind, as he realized that there was nothing to fight against, and no decision to be made. His heart had spoken a while ago. He just wouldn’t listen to it. The reply came easily, in a soft voice, as the happiest smile of his life curved his lips.
“I love her.”
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