I always have a lot to say but... I've already said so much...
Anyways, if you haven't already, read the story's front page before diving in. Tks.
A long, long time ago
“Sorry to bother but, when a young girl, I had a close friend who had your name exactly and I miss him dearly.
At the time I was a passionate human rights enthusiast and His Royal Highness the Prince of Pemberley, heir of the richest estate-country in the whole England, was one of my favorite people. HRH shared my views for a better world - as long as they didn’t disturb his presumptuous kingdom’s peaceful life.
We used to correspond frequently, our bond was strong.
If, by an ingenious twist of fate it is you, please reply. I really miss you, friend.
Elizabeth Wickham, Bart. (Née Bennett)”
Elizabeth read the note twice more before hitting ‘send’, her heart beating erratically.
"Alea iacta est, Elizabeth”
It had been so long ago… almost twenty years? Yes, that long.
She could still fondly remember the letters exchanged with the mysterious guy, the subtle teenage flirts handwritten on paper, how they opened their hearts to one another, shared plans and dreams for their future.
Smiling to herself, Elizabeth gazed out her office’s window to the lush gardens of the Brazilian Federal Health Institute’s Palace and let her mind take her back in time to the early eighties when she was the passionate human rights enthusiast, part of the Brazilian Royal British School’s Youth Group, the many projects exhaustively discussed in interminable meetings every Saturday afternoon: planting trees alongside the river, volunteering on immunization campaigns, spending an afternoon with orphanage children… Dividing her time between junior high, aerobic classes, her gang of friends and revolutionizing the planet.
How proud she had been when she was chosen secretary for the National Board!...
Passionate years when everything had to be either black or white, never abhorrently grey. When her dear late father pampered her with small bits of wisdom and lots of attention; when she lived with her family, all five sisters in the same house sharing one bathroom. Concentrating, she could smell freshly boiled plantain still in the peel waiting her when she came from school in the afternoon. Her early years’ snack was also quite calories controlled, who would say?
The thought of dieting brought her to the present. She had always kept a healthy eating habit, never straying far from size six – every time her control jeans felt tight, she went immediately on a diet. A successful Biomedical graduate and Master of Health Science of thirty-nine years old, Elizabeth Bennett Wickham felt good in her skin, especially for the recent breast lift surgery she had finally gathered courage for.
After years focusing on her career, caring for her mother and sisters as well as building a family of her own, Elizabeth gave herself leave to be vain. Her breasts sagged a little after breastfeeding two kids, her stomach was a little distended and she felt a little too old for her age; small ugly traits sapping into her self-esteem making her unhappy enough for her husband to suggest the surgery.
If he had suggested it in a less sexy manner, she might have lost another chunk of self-esteem but Navy Capt. George Wickham, MD didn’t lack sex appeal. Actually, he was excessively hot for a husband who spent three weeks working away from home every month - Elizabeth chose not to dwell too much on his career choice’s consequences.
For a surgeon, especially a craniofacial one, aesthetic surgery was routine and if his wife was insecure with her body, Wickham didn’t see why she shouldn’t improve her image. Six months after the remodeling she felt great and empowered – ready to face the ‘mighty 4.0’.
The impending doom terrified Elizabeth. Wasn’t a forty years old woman too old?
A fit body, a fairly happy marriage, two beautiful kids – Thomas of six years old and Cassandra of three, a steady federal career as epidemic diseases control professor and researcher, a nice apartment near the beach at Recreio dos Bandeirantes – the calm and picturesque neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, her mother and sisters under control; Elizabeth’s world was neat.
Maybe it lacked passion, like the urgent need to improve the world she felt when a teenager. Fire in her veins fighting the evil society traits, trying to build a better place with her own hands, making friends around the globe – the vast unknown globe.
“You should have been there with me at Wembley last week; we would have made a bloody good pair. I could enjoy the music while you wasted time enjoying the political speeches!”
Elizabeth was surprised by her dear friend’s words from all those years back barging in her mind. Darcy had teased her unmercifully with Xerox copies of his Free South Africa concert ticket before it happened and then sending her the stub afterwards with a meticulous retelling of the event. She teased him back saying he was too rich and aloof to care for Africa or Mandela or anything that wasn’t directly connected to him, accusing him of being shallow - but he was not. He was serious and complex, committed with the Youth Group’s values and his future almost geek-like.
“Things happen outside your bubble, I mean, rich kingdom, you know?”
Suddenly she remembered how surprised she had been to think him almost handsome on one of the first good pictures he sent her; maybe it was the polo uniform or the enormous beast of a horse beside him. The few pictures he had sent before were yearbook profiles of a gangly skinny boy in which she saw his firm gaze as the only interesting feature. He was always squinting as if there was too much light shining on his face – not a handsome face per se, but oh-so-charming. Those slanted eyes were so beguiling…
Caught in a landslide, Elizabeth was awashed by memories of Darcy’s pictures, his teasing, his letters and her answers. He called her Baroness saying she surely occupied a special place in his Kingdom’s Court. Bart, he would call her.
Miss Elizabeth Bennett, Bt
The image of his careful handwriting popped into her mind, even a tiny flaw on the ink – she used to think it was so arrogant that he used his grandfather’s fountain pen. She smiled remembering the thrill she felt whenever she received a letter, a rare token of individuality in a family of five daughters. Elizabeth giggled to herself remembering how she used to sniff the paper hoping for a small hint of Darcy.
‘Elizabeth, you can’t hide in here for the whole party.’ Her colleague Charlotte Lucas cheerfully said entering her office. ‘The cake won’t attack you, you know?’
Laughing, Elizabeth pretended not to be sad for being yanked from her daydreams. ‘If you mean that same soggy chocolate and coconut thing-’ She shook her head. ‘I’m not jeopardizing my waist for that!’
A few minutes earlier, trying to avoid the boring office party, an incredibly simple idea occurred to her: Google! She tried googling ‘Fitzwilliam Darcy’ and found a single entry, sadly without a picture.
Derbyshire Holding: Head chairman of the board.
That sounded so pompous and stiff and presumptuous that it might as well be:
His Royal Highness, the Prince of Pemberley.
Her dear lost friend.
She thought it over, rolled his name on her tongue speaking out loud alone in her office, laughed softly at how silly it felt and finally thought: why not?
A few words deleted and rewritten and then she had a simple friendly note to send.
There was no e-mail address under his name but he surely had a company account. She only had to guess what it was. “Why not, Elizabeth? Why not?” She thought to herself typing email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Given the choice, she would spend a few more hours daydreaming about that rich voice crackling on her small pink boombox when she could tune in Darcy’s pirate radio, the ‘Lamb Tone’.
“You were just Rick and rolled*CRRR* here on the Lamb Tone as an especial offer from a dear hot chick *CRRR* from Rio de Janeiro. Now Madonna will Cherish you and hopefully me *CRRR* to this girl – I hope you’re listening, Bart. We won’t be able to hijack Manchester W540 for long! *CRRR* This is the Prince himself bringing this chick music to you but let’s not panic, Stones are coming up. *CRRR* Pemberley Kingdom calling the Jungle. Do you copy?”
Charlotte shook her head. ‘Come on, friend! What’s wrong with some indulgence? Let’s toast to our Doctorals!’ Charlotte had been postponing her chance to try for a PhD abroad until Elizabeth would accompany her on the adventure.
‘I do indulge, but with something worthwhile! My tongue feels funny after eating that chocolate grease. Why didn’t they ask us? I could have brought a fine homemade cake…’
‘Maybe it’s not that bad today…’ Charlotte twisted her mouth to the side.
‘Let’s bet on it. If it is the same shit you’ll pay for a decent chocolate cake slice in Europe on our first opportunity. Deal?’ She smiled mischievously. ‘I’ve already sent my applications.’ Elizabeth closed her laptop and stood from her desk.
‘You traitor!’ Her friend cried. ‘Didn’t you wait for me?’
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows and tilted her head to the side.
Charlotte sighed. ‘I know, I know. Enough procrastination… I’ll do it tonight. Imperial College-Sorbonne program, right?’
‘London-Paris-Rio connection!’ Elizabeth smiled from ear to ear. She could have chosen other programs. Canada, Cuba, Germany, USA… but London had a little twist, a tangy feel of good times passed. It was Darcy’s country, maybe his home. It was an irresistible pull.
‘I wonder if I’ll have any nails left by the time we know if we were approved…’ Charlotte looked sadly at her manicured hands.
Elizabeth chuckled and linking arms, marched with her friend to the big library where a small office party was taking place.
England. Silly as it was, the mere mentioning of the country always brought Darcy to her mind.
It had been seventeen years since they had lost contact, soon before her college graduation. Elizabeth had visited London once after that, but didn’t meet Darcy – not there, not ever.
Pushing him from the front of her mind, she steeled herself to face the chocolate horror.
Almost six thousand miles away, Weston Gardiner was proudly ending his first week as junior IT consultant at the renowned Derbyshire Holding headquarters. He had tried to find a position in this firm for a long time during college and luckily, the opportunity presented itself right as he finished his masters.
A great place to work, great benefits, state-of-the-art technologies and very decent earnings – a dream job.
It was past his shift but Weston was eager to be noticed. His assignment was to protect the crowned heads from any cybernetic threats screening the board’s communications to check what the automatic spam filter might have missed.
“Sorry to bother but, when a young girl, I had a close friend who had your name exactly and…”
That seemed legit, Weston thought, even if a little curious. A quick search of ‘Elizabeth Wickham’ found she was a real person, Brazilian government employee, Merytônia. Funny, that was where his mother used to live. He quickly exchanged a few texts with her asking casually about a Bennett family and she said they had been neighbors actually.
It all checked so Weston forwarded it to the big boss.
Some other small mails were deleted, a few sent to the Human Resources department, one directly to Security and his day was done.
Weston turned off his computer and left for the weekend.
“No, Graham. I don’t have any plans today.” Darcy smiled with his lips closed. It was dark outside, his jacket was neatly arranged on the chair before his desk and he loosened his tie while chatting on the phone with Graham Fitzwilliam, his favorite cousin.
“It’s a pity. You employ so many people and still have no company for a Friday night.” Graham teased. His younger cousin sounded more bored than the usual.
Darcy sighed refusing to bite Graham’s bait. “I’ll be facing a difficult weekend, it’s probably better if I sleep early. Are you still coming?”
“Yes. I even considered arriving at Pemberley before Anne, just to annoy her.’ Graham grinned. “Is she really uniting the family? Including the old aunts?”
“Yes. Her mother insists.” Darcy answered unhappily.
“Oh, bloody hell.” Graham cursed. “I’ll arrive late Sunday morning.”
“Brilliant! I’ll be alone at the arena.” Darcy grumbled.
“Gang up with the girls!” Graham suggested.
“Diana likes to spend time with Granny Catherine, God knows why. Sarah hides somewhere I can never find, I only have her company if we go riding.” Darcy passed a hand through his hair and averted his eyes from the window to his computer when a new e-mail beeped.
“Poor cousin, shunned by his own daughters!” Graham teased.
“Spending time with your wife is out of the question… I guess.”
“Anne and I are treading water these days. Especially when her mother is close.” Darcy said frowning at his computer. “I believe you remember what it is like.”
Graham groaned. “How come we don’t have anything fun to do at Pemberley?” Graham asked, genuinely concerned about their age arriving way too fast.
“After we gave up our radio…” Darcy stopped talking, feeling a little dizzy by the landslide hitting him as his eyes roamed his screen repeatedly.
“Ah!... The Lamb Tone!” Graham laughed. “I miss our adventure in the broadcasting industry. Do we still have the equipment? Is it still at Pemberley?” He asked. “William?” He insisted. “William, are you there?”
“I am… I… I’ll call you back.” Darcy disconnected.
“Sorry to bother … close friend … miss dearly … Prince of Pemberley … one of my favorite people … shared my views … correspond frequently … bond was strong …please reply … miss you … Elizabeth Bennett … Bart”
It felt like the Earth stopped and restarted rotating the other way, time moved backwards and he was seventeen again. Lizzy! Lizzy Bennett!
Immediately her face popped into his mind, her big smile, eyes that communicated a lot on the small picture she included in a letter that travelled weeks from Brazil to England and arrived at his hands a little crumpled. He had kept that photo on his nightstand’s drawer for years.
His teenage friend, the only pen friend he ever had, the girl who lived worlds too far from him and still he tried to impress.
A smile escaped his lips and he reread the note. Once. Twice.
Boarding school, the pirate radio, both his parents alive, Georgiana as a little girl, his cousins close, being single and obsessing about girlfriends, his first stallion and polo competitions, music… His youth.
Overwhelmed by the power of reminiscence, Darcy was surprised to see his dear younger daughter’s face appear in his phone as it buzzed.
“Dad, hi. I was wondering… Can I skip this weekend’s brunch?” The sweet teenager’s voice reached his ear.
“Oh, doll... You’re rarely at Pemberley these days and your mother has been planning this brunch for weeks…” He answered, his eyes locked on ‘Elizabeth Wickham (née Bennett).’ “How’s school?”
The girl sighed. “If I say I really need to cram this weekend, would you cover for me?” A thirteen years old Sarah asked hopefully. “I promise I won’t leave the school’s dorm.”
Darcy knew that was probably half a lie but shook his head and chuckled realizing he hadn't been that happy since… since… a long time ago. “You know what, my darling? Yes.”
“Really, dad?” Sarah gushed. “Brilliant!”
“But you’ll have to call me twice a day.” He smiled pressing his lips, eyes intent on the hundred words’ note.
“You got it, dad!” The girl laughed. “You’re the best!” She disconnected.
Darcy chuckled again, took his desk’s phone to call his Security Chief and waited.
“Hurst!” The loud male voice barked.
“Hurst, I’m glad you haven’t left yet.” Darcy said.
“Leave? I don’t have a life.” The man answered.
“Look, I got an e-mail now…” And Darcy told the man about the note, adding small tid-bits about his past to make it clear Elizabeth was real. And missed. And dear to him.
“I’ll kill the fucktard who let this pass!” Hurst shouted.
“No! Give the responsible a raise! A promotion! Shares!” Darcy laughed.
“What?” Hurst asked. “Don’t do anything about it!”
“I’m replying now!” Darcy answered smiling broadly.
“I forbid you! I work my ass off to protect yours.” Hurst cried.
“She’s my friend!” Darcy explained.
“I don’t fucking care if she was your bloody cunt, don’t answer before I check her out.”
“Easy…” Darcy ordered in a low voice, sobering up. “She’s my friend. My dear friend.”
“Fine. You have until Monday morning.”
“Bloody hell, here goes my weekend.” Hurst grumbled. “Forster! Get your ass over here!” He yelled before disconnecting and Darcy had to take the phone off his ear.
Darcy smiled to himself alone in his office, a hand covering his lips.
My Lizzy Bennett!
“…Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone
But that’s not how it used to be…”