I don't feel like talking too much today, besides, there are 3.800 words here...
As always, if you haven't already, read the story's front page before diving in. Tks.
‘William!’ A familiar female voice shouted. ‘William, where are you?’ The voice shouted louder and tad angrier.
‘Mom, why are you shouting like this?’ A younger familiar female voice asked disapprovingly.
‘Your father is missing! Have you seen him?’ The older woman asked.
‘Not since breakfast. Isn’t he in the library?’
‘No… Your grandma is there. She wants to talk to him.’
‘William, are you hiding from my mother? Your own aunt?’
‘Really, mother! Do you think my father would do such a thing?’
‘William, where are you? Come to the library!’
‘Really... Do you have to shout?’
‘Diana, your father is capable of making me so angry…’
The voices trailed off as the women probably went down the stairs and Darcy sighed. Where he was? He was safe.
Alone in the attic where his wife Anne had exiled the Darcy family memorabilia, his old gun trunk opened on the floor at his feet, his father’s old office chair feeling unsettlingly cozy to him. He remembered seeing his father seat his heavy body in this chair and stay there for hours at an end reading the newspaper or escaping his own mother-in-law. Had he finally become his father?
He lowered his body, rested his elbows on his knees and rummaged a little more in his gun trunk. He used to be so proud of this old thing; his dear grandfather’s gift for his tenth birthday. He remembered perfectly how ecstatic he was to get his own gun – an old thing that needed a lot of maintenance – and how afraid to lose this treasure he was while watching his parents argue with his grandfather. At the end it was agreed that the gun was not be used – it was only decoration – and his grandfather bought buy him a safer brand new air gun.
Darcy caressed the old gun, the old leather padding where it was attached to and let his eyes yield to her handwriting. Lizzy’s letters were bound with twine in stacks of ten or so envelopes. The first packs had small round handwriting, almost childlike, sometimes in pink or green ink; and then it changed to inclined lettering, clearly written in a fast hand.
‘To: HRH Fitzwilliam Darcy, Prince of Pemberley’
‘To: My dear friend, Fitz D.’
‘To: The most presumptuous, insufferable guy in all England – Fitz Darcy’
She always surprised him when addressing the envelopes and the way she did gave him a clue of what was inside. Usually she teased him, but occasionally she accused him of being obnoxious, snob, insufferable. Darcy smiled to himself remembering how much he anticipated each letter, each answer to his previous one. And how he never minded her calling him ‘Fitz’ even though he told her how much he hated his name. He continued signing ‘William’, but she insisted with ‘Fitz’.
When it started, he was in school and inspired by a teacher had joined the school’s Youth Group two years before. His seriousness had propelled him into a post at the International board and being boring enough to take care of paperwork he gathered data to produce the international achievements’ reports to be presented on tri-annual conventions. His pride was stroked by this high post, how he was seen as a serious young man during that single week when students from all over the world united to exchange experiences of how they were changing their little corner of the world. He looked forward to the next one.
Basically, it was a boring task that none of the cool guys wanted. He was aloof enough to take it and put up with the correspondence coming from the different countries his school – the Royal British School - had branches. His grandfather helped him organize a form and he mailed it worldwide receiving fairly good answers until he got the one from Brazil. It was not in his format, it was handwritten and added several information he hadn’t asked for. Same happened the next trimester. The third time, he sent the report back with a personal note saying he would be forced to disregard Brazil’s data if it wasn’t sent in his unified form.
Her answer was priceless and to this day Darcy was sorry he had tossed away the note. In a few lines, an Elizabeth Bennett properly humbled him saying his form was nearsighted since it didn’t cover half of what was interesting and suggested him to rethink it. He was furious for days, barely spoke a word to people around him, considered several angry comebacks but before he sent her anything else, another letter arrived with a new form. Based on his, her form was indeed much better and easier to fill; it made the Youth Group’s efforts interesting to read.
The note that came attached to the improved form he kept. It was faded and crumpled but he could read her childish handwriting perfectly.
‘Dear Mr. Darcy,
I know you consider us inferior to your standards since we are a Third World country of uneducated people. I’m almost sorry to contradict you.
Although our country lacks many things, intelligence is not one of those. Especially not in our Groups.
I’m sending you an improved version of your form perfected in a joint effort of our five groups from the schools in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Santa Catarina and Goiás. Actually, this is the form we’ll use from now on.
The way the Brazilian board sees our work, the Youth Groups are composed of friends who help each other and I’m sorry to know that our data won’t be considered in the International reports. On our next National convention we’ll discuss the best way to present it ourselves during the next International convention in Peru.
I shall not consider the inferiority of your form as degradation. In vain I have tried to conquer the need to send you our form but ultimately such a spiteful action goes against the nature of our youth group.
Certain of the reward of your understanding,
It stayed in his desk during all summer, every other day he would read it trying to find some underlying message he might have overseen but it was always there – the bordering derisiveness even if in the same courteous addressing he had used.
Finally when it was time to return to school, he gave in and adopted her form, but not without adding some changes. He didn’t remember his actual words but he thanked her almost grudgingly and communicated her the Brazilian form was now international.
Her answer was again, priceless.
‘Dear Mr. Darcy,
We are profoundly humbled by your acknowledging of our weak contribution to the improvement of our institution’s data collecting.
Next time you consider it interesting to rule over your kingdom, allow me to suggest consulting your subjects.
Unsure of the reason for such a passionate response to his impersonal note, Darcy chose to keep these notes private. This Elizabeth – Lizzy - must be really a fiery girl and that was irresistible. Also impudent, almost impolite and she consistently hurt his pride.
Not once he considered he may have hurt hers first.
He did write back and also very grudgingly, Elizabeth answered in unmerciful teasing, relentlessly making fun of the ‘rich boy who didn’t know anything outside his little corner of the world’. Not long after they moved from adding notes to documents to exchanging letters purely for the fun of it forming a pen-friendship.
Derisively she started calling him Little Prince referring Saint Exupery’s book, only he was the heir of the magnificent country-estate of Pemberley and not a planet. In spite of her intentions, it endeared her to Darcy. He started to also refer to himself as Prince of Pemberley – at least when talking to her.
She was good humored and authentic. She sent her photos and reciprocating, he sent her as many photos he could.
“Seeing how overwhelmingly big Pemberley is made me realize how important you must be, some kind of royalty for the people around you. Really a Prince. How many do you employ? Do you provide health care and schools for this small nation you rule?
You have humbled me… In your world, I would be a gentlewoman at most. Not even a Fidalga.”
‘My Baroness!’ Darcy whispered to himself and covered his smile with a hand, lost in his memories of how he used to call her, an affectionate nickname. ‘Bart!...’
Her letters were very different from anything he was used to. She always sent him some token, a dried flower, an insect wing (that she said reminded him of how grossly he behaved), newspaper clippings, a cassette tape with music and a recorded message from her, chocolate coins.
And that first photo she sent him… he felt his insides churn. It was faded now. Her sweet smile in parentheses, her eyes sparkling under a thick bang of dark hair, the tanned skin. Gorgeous. Nothing like the girls he knew. Authentic, original, pretty as hell. Lizzy.
Feeling dumb, Darcy kept his hand hiding his mouth as he looked at that photo. He kept her photos together and not inside the letter it came in because he always wanted to see her. He perused them after wasting an awful amount of time on that first one. With anticipation he arrived at his favorite: the smiling older Lizzy was half turned, the setting sun and the sea behind her, wind playing with her hair – long and straight, free of the heavy bangs. He turned it and read the inscription marveling at how her words popped into his head a few nanoseconds before his eyes read them.
‘Looking forward to show you this sunset in person, friend. Can you believe I’ll get to meet you and graduate in the same week? I’ll be free from college, free!’
It was all planned, his visit to Brazil in order to attend her graduation.
She was ecstatic he had accepted her invitation. She planned incessantly sending him almost daily letters detailing what they would do in Rio de Janeiro, how they would spend their time. Since she would start a new job soon, she would spend her last vacation before succumbing to capitalism with him.
He wanted to. He was excited to go, happy to meet her in person after ten years exchanging letters. They had tried once before. At the International convention in Peru he would be stepping down from the Youth Group since he was already in college; Elizabeth was finishing school and about to start college. They exchanged excited letters with expectations for what the future held for them, the most thrilling one was to meet in person. He had wanted to try using the burgeoning internet through his university’s computer lab but she couldn’t access it from anywhere, their only chance to a close contact was in person in Peru.
Darcy arrived in Lima barely containing his heart in his chest. How could a twenty one years old young man not look forward to meet a seventeen years old enchanting girl? They had made plans in letters for sightseeing, eating ceviche, he bought tourist guides and studied the country to impress her with his intelligence. When the convention started the next day, he was locked in a meeting and didn’t see the Brazilian group arrive. He searched the crowd of eager teenagers during lunch in the huge cafeteria until someone pointed the ‘Bennett girl’ and for a second his eyes fogged. Where was the dark haired beauty with bangs?
With a heavy heart he heard his friend Charles Bingley say that the only Bennett girl in Peru was Jane. He wanted to punch Bingley’s chuckling face as he presented the lovely Jane and the girl with Elizabeth’s nose and mouth extended him a thin envelope saying her sister was really sorry.
‘I mean, there’s not much I could do. If father lost his job we should save money and… I don’t have to lie to you: I’m devastated. I wanted to die when mother decided only Jane could go. I still want to die. I may be already dead when you get this.’
Darcy left the convention as soon as his duty with the next International secretary was accomplished. There was nothing in Peru for him if his friend wouldn’t be there. The gifts he had brought for Elizabeth were delivered to Jane with a curt nod. Bingley decided to follow Darcy and it took Jane a few days to understand why the guy she had dated for two days left all of a sudden.
‘You are lucky I wasn’t there, Fitz! Why would you let my sister date such a jerk? This Charles left without saying goodbye to her! I loved the t-shirt and the chocolate, by the way. But why would you befriend such a jerk? Isn’t Jane adorable enough for him?’
Alone in the attic Darcy chuckled to himself remembering he had actually been afraid of answering that letter. Bitter and jealous, he had been the one who told Bingley to go home. After two weeks gathering courage, he admitted to her he was wrong in his advising although he didn’t force Bingley, who was never constant in his love interests, to go. Elizabeth had given him all kinds of hell over Bingley and he laughed alone rereading those angry letters. She only calmed down when he sent Jane a personal apology note.
Only six years later another opportunity reached them, she was always in a tight budget and he under his father’s thumb. But when she graduated he had already finished his masters and had access to his trust fund. He was starting his adult life, was engaged and his cousin-fiancé was planning their wedding.
Anne de Bourgh twisted her white thin nose at the idea of flying to Brazil but accepted after some cajoling. He would never say anything but deep down Darcy hoped she would leave him in the lurch; Elizabeth was his friend, not hers. What if Lizzy was even more enchanting in person? There was a good chance of that.
He confirmed he would attend Elizabeth’s graduation; he bought the flight tickets and planned to stay for a month. But then he had to disappear for a while.
A week before his trip, his mother was very badly injured after she fell from a horse. Pemberley grounds were vast and it took them a few hours to find her in a deserted area, winter was severe that year, the chilly weather worsened her condition. After almost a month in the hospital, Anne Darcy died.
During this wretched period, Darcy started to write a letter to Elizabeth a few times, even tried to call once but didn’t manage to talk to her. When he told Anne about his idea of spending some time in Brazil to grieve, she didn’t take it well and soon after announced she was pregnant. Darcy was surprised, happy in a confused way, hurt, missing his mother and worried about his father and his little sister who were very happy with the possibility of having a baby in the house.
Devastated and dazed, Darcy accepted when his father forced him to anticipate the marriage, feeling it was his duty to emotionally support the family.
Now, decades later, the suspicion that Anne planned to force their marriage poisoned him. He hadn’t needed that; he wanted to go to Brazil, change sceneries and give fate a chance.
Soon before the wedding, Anne and his father were involved in a car crash that buried Darcy alive: his father died and Anne miscarried. That day burned all remembrance of anything lively or sparkling.
Anne lost her wits and doted on Georgiana who had sixteen at the time. Darcy was sad for a long time and missed Elizabeth, their friendship, her letters and cheering up.
When he thought he could write anything pleasant, he gathered his strength and sent her a long letter but never got an answer. He missed her graduation, didn’t explain why he didn’t show up, she probably was furious with him. What if she had gone to the airport to greet him?
But he hadn’t had much of a chance at the time. Even if he had been considering breaking up with Anne when she announced the pregnancy, after the miscarriage he didn’t have the courage to do it. Then came the girls, first Diana e soon after Sarah. Years later he still felt he was sacrificing himself.
That’s why he was in the attic now, dreaming of a ‘never been’. Never was.
Darcy sighed and leafed through Elizabeth’s old letters.
‘It’s easier to say 'I love you' to me than to your girlfriend because you're saying it to a piece of paper and a piece of paper doesn't have fingers for you to feel obliged to put a ring on! Besides, our ‘I love you’s are totally different. Right?
PS.: I'm sending you a paper doll with my face, but no ring friendly fingers!’
He laughed to himself remembering he had actually played with that paper doll when he got it. A little ashamed, he had undressed the doll and found little frilly knickers. Lizzy must have used an old paper doll with her smiling face cut and glued with scotch tape, and two sets of clothes.
He found it crumpled in a corner of the old trunk, the neck already creased from the extra weight of the picture glued to the head.
‘Your good opinion once lost is lost forever... This is something very poetic to say but holding a grudge is toxic. Shouldn't you offer the other cheek? And don’t accuse me of being ‘too catholic’. There isn’t such a thing as ‘too catholic’.’
The boarding school fight!... What was it all about?
Darcy had to concentrate to remember why he had a fistfight when he was almost an adult. Someone said something about a girl he wasn’t even dating… He faintly remembered an ex-boyfriend and sour grapes.
‘I heard you! Lamb Tone rocks! I loved it! Rick Astley is sooooo great! Thanks, Prince! And Madonna… I appreciate your effort on giving me a few moments of pop rock instead of Plant, Page & Jagger all the time. You rock! And… such a sexy voice you have, your Highness!’
It had taken them three letters to arrange dates and schedules to make sure he would hack into Manchester radio station when she would be able to tune in using extra antennas or something and listen to his occasional broadcast.
Darcy spent many minutes smiling to the ceiling remembering how serious he and Graham took their pirate radio. They had shows, a recorded vignette and special features… So much fun.
‘Broadcast signal intrusion is a felony here. I think Lamb Tone is totally worth it but can hijacking Manchester radio put you in trouble? Oh, and the polo photo? Wow!...’
It was illegal and it brought him a lot of trouble. Manchester W540 radio only needed a few meager enquires to find out who was responsible for hijacking their signal one or two times a month. The Darcys were a traditional family in the area and the radio owner – a personal friend - called his father.
Darcy and Graham were in big trouble for a long time. Darcy winced remembering his father and uncle yelling at them to ‘stop behaving like lads and start being men’.
And the polo photo… Darcy smiled to himself. He had planned to impress Lizzy with all his male exuberance atop his exquisite gelding and the polo team uniform. It worked!
‘So, I guess I had it easy. I mean…
What if this guy turned out to be one of those crazy abusive boyfriends???’
Darcy hated to read her talking about guys who he couldn’t meet in person to see for himself if they were good enough for her.
And guys complained about their pen friendship! The gall!...
My mother is right; being a teacher in Brazil means almost starvation! What was I thinking???
With a degree in Biomedicine I can get a job in health care but the salary… it’s a shame. Don’t worry; I won’t start with the political speech here – even though our health care politics ARE SHAMEFULL – but no one can live off the two dollars/hour salary.
Of course I could change majors but that would mean I’d have to start college all over again. I’ve been thinking about law school… Do you think I’d be a good lawyer?
Are you still interested in my insecurities or are bored to death?
He remembered how confused she was after the first year in college. He thought that if she changed majors, she would just want to do it again in a year time. She had been so sure of biomedicine the year before…
Reading her letter, Darcy remembered how ardently he had wanted to take her to a pub and let her open her heart to him over a pint until he could give her a wisdom dripping advice.
Instead, he had written her a long, long letter.
‘Engaged?! My friend, congratulations!
Anne will make you really happy, she has known you since you were born, and dealing with your mother-in-law will feel as easy as a dear aunt! Ha!
I don’t see myself getting married anytime soon, you guys are really brave! Isn’t marriage supposed to be the beginning of the rest of one’s life?
I’m really, really happy for you.
Do you think Anne will let you keep writing me?’
At the time he had felt a tiny sting of disappointment. Elizabeth was his friend, his confidant but also a very pretty girl. And being Brazilian gave her an edge… she sounded juicier. When she wrote saying she was happy for his impending marriage, did it mean she didn’t have any romantic designs for him whatsoever?
Darcy fished his phone from his pocket and speed dialed his Head of Security who didn’t answer the phone. Two seconds later came a text.
‘Wait until Monday.’
Soon after came another.
‘Dad, Mom is seething. Have you left the house? Granny Catherine wants to talk to you about one of her very important things…’
“…Someone said: “If you’re not careful,
You’ll have nothing left, nothing to care for”…”