Elizabeth stopped talking and turned to look out of the window. New Year’s Day had been proven to be cold and colorless. The wind was blowing and the waves were crashing over the rocks. Nature was far from peaceful this morning, but the house inspired a feeling of comfort and security. It was a shelter to protect her from the rest of the world. But who would protect her from her own thoughts?
Her gaze was steady, fixed on the waves. The color of the sea was a dark blue, somewhat menacing and obscure, as if it was carrying all the secrets and the sorrow of the world. ‘The bitterness resides inside me,’ she thought. The naked rocks, without even a tree for a covering, stood fast, giving lessons of endurance. ‘I wish I were that strong.’ She sighed heavily. More than a week had passed since her last meeting with William. Major changes had taken place in her life during its course, but her mind was still on him. Whatever happened, she was thinking of him; wherever she went, she was carrying his image with her. She had never believed it before, but she now knew that he was the most important person in her life, and the relationship with him the only thing that mattered to her. It had taken her some time and many miles to realize it, but the truth stood now before her: She loved him. The words she had said when she was angry, disappointed and desperate were the most sincere she had ever uttered. She loved him, and there was no turning back.
The man, who had heard her whole recount without interrupting her, after watching her silently for a while, came closer to her. He embraced her shoulders and his arms rested warm around her waist. His head lowered and he whispered in her ear, “He loves you, Elise. I know it. I can feel it.”
Elizabeth turned once again towards him, and the sadness in her eyes was like a dagger in his heart.
“He doesn’t love me, dad. That’s why I left. As you did. For the sake of us both.”
The pain inside him grew worse. Guilt had never abandoned Paul Bennet since the night that he had kissed his angels, who were asleep, bid his wife goodbye and left his house never to look back. Even though love died too early in his marriage, he was content to stay and take care of his family. He hated changes; the daily routine was happiness to him. When his wife announced that she wanted a divorce so that she could marry their very recently widowed neighbor, his whole little world collapsed. All the dreams that he had not fulfilled and all the compromises he had made for the sake of stability appeared in front of him. He decided to give himself a chance. But he felt that no bonds from the past should remain from fear that they would always stop him from pursuing what he really wanted. He quit his job at the English Museum and settled on this small Greek island, Milos, where he studied the Ancient Cycladic Civilization. However, unlike Elizabeth, he now considered all his actions the result of selfishness and lack of courage. Leaving had been a mistake. It was killing him to watch his daughter repeating his actions, being even less justified than him. At least, Fanny had wished him to leave. The man Elizabeth mentioned did love her.
“Elise, my child, you have forgiven me far too easily. But you are too harsh on others,” he told her gravely.
“Dad, I understood the necessity of your leaving,” she answered softly, and added afterwards wistfully, “Don’t you realize how important it was for me to do the same?”
He did not speak for a minute. He tried to find a way to make her see the situation clearly. Again he hesitated; it wasn’t easy for him. But then, determination marking his features, he thus began,
“Elise, it is very hard for me to admit it, but I will.” His voice became louder. “For once in my life, I’ll do the right thing. I won’t let my mistakes be repeated by you. No, Elise, leaving and trying to put everything behind you, denouncing the life you’ve lived so far is never right.”
Elizabeth interrupted him as he paused to resume normal breathing.
“But, dad, you started a new life. A happy one. You’ve got peace of mind, you live at the place of your dreams and you have Teresa Gardiner, who is a wonderful person.”
He blushed slightly as he said,
“Teresa and I are very good friends.” Even in his own ears, he didn’t sound convincing. It was true however. Although his colleague was the closest person he had, nothing exceeding the limits of friendship had ever occurred between them. He sighed.
“Come on, dad.” Elizabeth interpreted his look rightly. “I’ve seen the way she looks at you. And the way you look at her is not different. What on earth are you waiting for? You have wasted too many years, dad.”
‘Pathetic attempt to change the subject, Elizabeth.She thought. And not at all successful. You’re still thinking of him.’
Although Paul knew how wrong it was to let his daughter take initiatives as far as his personal life was concerned, he couldn’t help smiling at the thought. But then he realized that his daughter tried to avoid the subject that hurt her the most. And he was not going to let her do this.
“Elise,” he told her with a mix of tenderness and graveness in his voice, “This is not the point. I do not regret my coming here. I do not regret a moment of my life here. It’s the way that I came here that was completely wrong.”
Elizabeth looked at him questioningly.
“My dearest child,” he resumed, “What I am trying to say is this. We can’t leave everything behind and start a new life. It’s impossible, it’s cruel. Yes, we are cruel to our own selves when we renounce our former life. To learn from our mistakes is indispensable. But it is equally vital not to let our mistakes make us underestimate ourselves and all our actions. We have to reconcile the past with the present, Elise. Otherwise we’ll be unjust and unforgiving. Renouncing is the easy way, the way of cowards. But little do we know that it is ultimately the most painful one. We just say: ‘I was not being myself’ and forget.” He paused and looked deeply into her eyes. He saw puzzlement there. But he saw the rising of an understanding as well. He continued in a voice marked by bitterness and despair; by the disappointment that the greatest mistake in his life had given birth to: “We kill a period of our lives; we kill a part of ourselves!” Silence followed his outburst. When he spoke again, his life’s wisdom, this wisdom so painfully gathered, was dripping through his words, through his eyes, through his hands that found their way to his daughter’s cheeks. “Sometimes, my dear Elise, it is too hard to forgive our past mistakes. It takes courage and responsibility. But it’s the only way to go on. We do not stop and start lives just like that, Elise. We continue. ” He felt his daughter startle. His hands moved to Elizabeth’s shoulders. They were tender and reassuring. He was being a parent that moment; a true parent that was revealing the truths of life to his child, ready to support, give courage and console. He knew he was right this time. The rest of his words came out easily; no selfishness intruded. “Yes, your mother and I needed a divorce. Yes, I needed to come here and find the job I truly loved. But this didn’t mean that I was justified in leaving you, just because you were a part of my life with Fanny. You needed me and I let you down. I was not justified in avoiding any contact with my ex-wife, all my former friends and most importantly my children. I hurt too many people, Elise, and believe me; it didn’t help me feel any better.”
Elizabeth was trying to digest everything she had heard. Her father, whose actions she had defended repeatedly to anyone that would accuse him, admitted that he had made a mistake. Her whole hierarchy of values was shaking at that moment. It was a shock but it was liberating as well. Deep inside her, complaint and bitterness had been lurking for years, but she had always refused to listen to them. However, now the veil was removed. She didn’t have to delude herself any longer. Firstly, she had admitted that she loved William Darcy; more than anyone else. With a passion and tenderness and a longing that her heart had never known before. And now, she could finally say that she had felt horrible when her father left her. That she had become terrified of loss and that fear had influenced all her actions and decisions. That she was angry, lonely and miserable. That she felt unable to excite a man’s love. Unworthy to excite a man’s love.
Her father embraced her tenderly, letting her head rest on his shoulders. As if he read her thoughts, he murmured:
“I am so sorry, my dearest child. So very sorry, Elise.”
Elizabeth made no reply. She wanted to tell him that she forgave him; that she had already forgotten all the pain and the agony caused by his absence. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t do it so soon. She had just discovered her feelings and faced her fears. It was too early to try to exorcise them all with a few words. Elizabeth needed time. She knew that time was her ally and she felt better. She surrendered to the warmth of her father’s embrace. She was content to receive all the tenderness she was deprived of all these years. She cried and cried, mourning for the past. In order to prepare herself for the future. In order to find the forgiveness in her heart and to feed the love that already existed.
She finally calmed down and looked at him with red eyes and flushed cheeks.
“You think he loves me?” She asked, looking adorably innocent, like a child.
“How could he not?” Paul answered playfully, but sensing her need for reassurance, he added, “You taught him what love means and he taught you in return. You belong to each other.”
“How can you be so sure?” she insisted. “You don’t even know him.”
“Oh, you haven’t seen much of Teresa Gardiner either, have you?” He said while a sly smile lit up his face. “Yet you know that she’s the right woman for me, even though I’ve been denying it to myself for years. Am I correct?”
“You see, Elise,” he continued, “Sometimes it takes an outsider to stir us; to wake us up from the lethargy of self-denial we surrender to. So, I can say that this William Darcy loves you as much as you love him.”
Elizabeth looked at her father pensively. She still doubted his words. Her scattered memories concerning William were of little help. When it was just the two of them, every time that they managed to leave the rest of the world behind, like the weekend in Scotland, she could feel his love enveloping her whole existence, worshiping her body and speaking to her soul. But there were too many ugly moments, when he was reserved and she was stubborn. She shuddered at the remembrance of their two final arguments. He had the power to hurt her more than anyone else. And she felt that she could cause and had caused the same degree of suffering to him. She had hurt him deliberately, choosing the cruelest words she could find. They brought to each other all the happiness and all the sadness of the world. Was it worth it to give it another try?
Her father watched her with great interest that was bordering on suspense. His Elise deserved everything one could bestow on her. He knew that he was partly responsible for his daughter’s current state of sadness. But then he noticed a slight smile hesitatingly curving her lips. It slowly became more confident and open. He looked into her eyes. They were positively glowing. There was a light in them that he had never witnessed before. She spoke, more to herself than to her father.
“I love him. It’s always worth it all when you love. I can’t abandon something that precious. I am not giving up.”
Paul exhaled and then smiled encouragingly.
“Of course you aren’t.” He paused to give emphasis to his next statement. “You are a fighter, Elise,” he finally said, moved and relieved.
“Like you?” she asked smiling sweetly. For the first time she felt absolutely confident regarding her decision. Her heart was light, as she had cast aside all the shadows that were painfully pressing against it. It wouldn’t be easy and the outcome could be different from the one she wished for, but she was going to fight. For him and for her. For them.
“No, Elise.” Her father answered laughing softly. “Thankfully, in the way you’re taking your life into your hands, you are very unlike me.”
Ten days after the formidable Christmas lunch, Charles Bingley found the courage to approach the Darcy house again. His normal self would be very angry with Darcy for having misguided him regarding Jason and Jane. But there was no trace of such selfish feelings in his heart. He was finished being irresponsible and putting all the blame on others. After all, Darcy had only voiced his personal opinion, and he had been deceived himself. It was very easy to always accuse someone else, but that would not do. Bingley knew that the mess with Jane was his fault entirely. Rumors were always circulating, especially regarding the women rich men dated. He should have become used to it and not doubt Jane. He had no idea how he could ever make her forgive him. He asked for nothing else. He loved her more than ever, and his feelings were frightening him. He had no idea that love could cause so much pain, such longing and such despair. But he could not ask Jane to love him back. Not after the things he had said. He would be content even if she stopped thinking so very poorly of him. He spent his days trying to figure out what he should do with his life. And when he made his first wise decision, he went to Darcy to communicate it.
Georgiana welcomed him as warmly as possible. They both felt very embarrassed after the Christmas revelations. At least they had many things in common: Tender feelings and admiration towards the wonderful Jane, pure hatred for Jason and concern for William. Although he had opened up and no longer refused to talk, his suffering had not abated. He had received no news from Elizabeth and despite her note he had begun fearing that something dreadful had happened. He had made every possible attempt to trace her and had made so many people look for her, that he was certain that she couldn’t be in England.
Charles knocked on the door and entered in William’s office with Georgiana following behind. Darcy was speaking on the phone, his gaze fixed on the item he had in his hands. Charles couldn’t make out what it was, but then all thoughts were forgotten as he realized that his friend was talking with Jane.
“What do you mean you couldn’t trace the phone call, Jane? We had made sure that… How could this have happened? Damn-it Jane, what did you do wrong? Ok, I am sorry, I am very sorry… I didn’t want to shout at you…I know… It’s just that… All our hopes were… Yes, thank you Jane. You are too good. I wish I knew it from the beginning.” He sighed upon noticing Bingley and then he returned his attention to the object in his hands. A tender look diffused all over his face. His voice was lower and softer as he continued,
“How did she sound, Jane? Do you think she’s all right? Happy, suffering? Did she say anything about… Yes, I know that you are not supposed to know. Yes? Happy you said? Well, was she too happy? Peaceful? What do you mean by peaceful? Jane, about this person she said that she would bring…do you have any idea who that might be? I know it’s too selfish of me, but did she have any relationships abroad? Oh, I see. Yes. Do you think she will be here soon? Yes, I hope so too. Please call me of you have any news. Bye!”
He still wasn’t looking at them. Georgiana and Charles took a seat. Darcy spoke, more to himself than to them.
“This ring will be my eternal punishment. Always reminding me how wonderful she was. How perfect for me she was. How I should have begged her to consent to stoop and accept someone as unworthy of her as I was. This ring belongs to her and I almost forced her to throw it back at me.” He clenched his fist tightly and closed his eyes in pain. Georgiana spoke.
“That was far too melodramatic even for someone who has created such a mess as you have, Will.”
“It isn’t funny, Georgie. ” he said. Being a typical elder brother, he had learnt how to punish his impertinent little sister for laughing at his pathetic state.
Georgiana resumed a grave expression.
“You have no idea where she is, right?”
William nodded silently.
“Well, in this case you can’t go and find her, kneel and ask for forgiveness while the sun is setting—which would be a very romantic thing to do—but that doesn’t mean you have lost all hope, Will.”
“I know, Anna. I am not giving up. I’ll do whatever it takes to see her happy… And, hopefully, see her happy with me.”
“Just give her time, Will.”
“I still can’t believe that you kept such a secret, Will.” Charles spoke for the first time since his entrance. “You could have dated so many women all these years. Women we know!”
“Nothing serious, Charles. Even worse than your relationships!”
Charles was momentarily struck by a terrifying idea.
“Have you ever dated Caroline?” he asked, not very sure of his reaction if his friend answered in the affirmative.
Georgiana looked at her brother with an unmistakably disgusted look and hurried to check herself for Charles’ sake. Darcy didn’t keep them in suspense for long however.
“No, Charles. I knew that her intentions towards me were honorable and I didn’t want to trifle with her.”
Georgiana discovered after twenty-six years on planet Earth that her brother did possess a wicked sense of humor. Charles however wanted to be sure about his friend’s feelings:
“But she’s not your type, is she?”
“If she heard you talking like this she would never speak to you again!” William cried in mock panic.
Charles’ eyes lit up.
“Is she by any chance eavesdropping?” he whispered smiling devilishly. Georgiana realized that she had underestimated Bingley.
“I am afraid that she isn’t, Chuck. But don’t worry. We can always ask her best friend—Georgiana, of course—to relate everything to her,” William answered trying to suppress his chuckles.
“Anytime you want, Charles,” she answered very amused. But thinking better over it, she added gravely, “I am warning you though; you will owe me a huge favor if you make me act the Caroline’s-best-friend-part.”
“I will indeed be indebted to you, Georgiana. Now, Will, I want to talk to you about something. But first…” He hesitated and resumed a softer look before asking in a gentle voice, “How’s Jane, Will?”
Darcy smiled in sympathy. He knew exactly what his friend felt because he was experiencing a similar longing himself.
“She is fine. She’s strong and calm and I think she is very forgiving. I am afraid she hasn’t mentioned your name at all, but…”
“I didn’t expect her to.” Charles didn’t ask for pity or consoling. “I am happy that she’s fine. That is enough for me,” he declared.
“This and the fact that she is very forgiving, right?” William reminded him.
“I am not sure if I deserve her forgiveness.” Charles stated gravely.
“Oh, back to soap opera again…” Georgiana sighed. “I did prefer your naughty selves, you know.”
“Then you will have them back, Anna.” Charles said gallantly. “I came to discuss with you the payback for our dear friend Jason.” His voice was so determined, cold and full of hatred that William and Georgiana instantly knew how badly he wanted it. Georgiana did not even dare share her thoughts: This is not naughty, this is frightening.
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