He still watched her videos.
He hadn't intended to. When leaving Lizzie's office after handing her the letter, Darcy had glanced back, telling himself it would be the last time he saw her. She had never really intended for him to see her videos; only an angry impulse, immediately regretted, had informed him of their existence. To continue watching them would feel too much like intruding on her, and seeing her again could only heighten his grief. Steady to his purpose, he filed the report with his aunt and returned to San Francisco with Fitz without ever returning to Collins and Collins.
The next morning, he was the first person to arrive at Pemberley Digital. Between analyzing Collins and Collins for his aunt and debating with himself what to do about Lizzie, he'd accomplished less of his own work than he'd planned during the last month. Pemberley needed his attention, and…well, he'd always found that work provided some relief from his pain. Three hours of emails and project proposals sharpened his mind, and it was only when he finally took a break to fetch a cup of coffee that he paused to check Twitter for the first time in days. The top tweet made him freeze.
Lizzie Bennet New Video - "Letter Analysis" - w/ @TheCharlotteLu #theLBD - bit.ly/LBD62
He followed the link without hesitation, taking a deep, fortifying breath as he waited through the opening ad. He'd never been able to settle in his mind whether Lizzie was likely to believe what he'd written. Certainly she would be inclined to doubt him, and she despised him so intensely that she might even think him capable of inventing a story to discredit Wickham at Gigi's expense. He knew she hadn't asked Fitz for confirmation, as he'd suggested. No matter what she thought, though, he was as certain now as when he'd written the letter that she wouldn't broadcast the details of Gigi's story. The woman who so passionately defended her own sister against his accusations would not risk harming his sister.
She believed him. She was offended still by his words about her mother and younger sister--he winced, suspecting that his remaining bitterness had tinged his written words--but she matched his admission that Jane's feelings might have been stronger than he thought with her own admission that Bing's feelings might not have been as strong as she thought. And though it "messed with her worldview," as she put it, she believed what he'd written about Wickham and Gigi and regretted having accused him of cruelty toward him. He closed the tab and exhaled as he sat back in his chair. It was some time before he returned to his work.
He should, he knew, stop following her on Twitter. He needed to allow himself space to heal. More than once during the next few days, his finger hovered over the link to unfollow her, but each time her uneasy words at the end of her last video gave him pause. "Not only did I insult and reject Darcy, but I managed to drive him hundreds of miles away." His following her on Twitter had led her to believe he intended to retaliate for her videos, and now it seemed that his determination to avoid another encounter with her had hurt her in some unfathomable way. What might she think if he unfollowed her now? His indecision annoyed him, and he suspected that his own selfish desires colored his reasoning, but in the end he couldn't bring himself to sever his last tenuous connection with her.
To counter his weakness, he attempted to ignore Twitter altogether--a return to his usual practice, for neither he nor the handful of friends he followed tweeted often, and he was notified when one of them tweeted him. Over a week passed before he returned to the site, but when he did he was surprised once again by her latest tweet.
Lizzie Bennet New Video - "C vs. C" - #theLBD - w/ @TheCharlotteLu and @that_caroline bit.ly/LizBe64
He watched both videos of their confrontation with mixed feelings. He remembered well Caroline's earlier success in exacerbating Lizzie's hatred of him, so there was some satisfaction in seeing her combative expression and tone of voice directed at Caroline rather than at him. Caroline, he saw, was attempting to manipulate him as well as Lizzie, looking pointedly at the camera when she explained why she'd hidden the videos from him and Bing and when she condemned Lizzie for unfairly mocking others. His irritation shifted to guilt, however, when she went on to parrot his own harsh words about Lizzie's family. How much more would Lizzie have to endure because of him?
Darcy checked Twitter frequently after that, for Caroline's parting words had been ominous, though vague. Her determination to know the contents of his letter unwittingly threatened Gigi, and he might need to say something to check her when they all met for Thanksgiving the following week. New information came from Lizzie herself over the weekend.
Lizzie Bennet It is locked away. RT @dramamusicbooks: @TheLizzieBennet What if Caroline steals the letter from you? …Maybe you should hide it!
He nodded to himself as he read, grateful for her reassurance, though unsure whether she'd intended the words in that way. Actually, it was a wonder she hadn't just shredded the letter to save herself any further hassle concerning it. Still, he had her word that it was safe, and now…now there was no further reason for him to watch her videos. He could even unfollow her on Twitter without worrying how she might interpret it. In fact, if she gave the matter any thought at all, she might even conclude that he no longer felt the need to check whether she respected his confidences. It would be a fitting end to all that had passed between them, yet the thought of it flooded his chest with a fresh sensation of loss. Considering the matter resulted in a dull determination to watch only one more video, to assure himself that Caroline no longer bothered her.
That video shocked him into immobility, for she opened it by welcoming him to her audience. Her voice was soft and hesitant as she did, and she seemed uncertain whether he was actually watching, but as he replayed her words he felt a calmness settle over him. He could not unfollow her now, nor would he stop watching her videos. The die was cast.
And so he watched. He watched her Thanksgiving video on his phone while waiting at the airport for Gigi's plane to arrive. Others were watched between meetings, and still others were his reward after a long day, viewed in a luxurious but empty hotel room during a business trip. Watching now, without the fresh pain and anger that had colored his initial viewing, he rapidly came to admire the videos themselves and the skill and creativity of the woman who enlivened them. "Compelling" was an excellent description of the videos, even if it was Caroline's.
The best part of continuing to watch her videos was also the worst. Each little window into her life and mind made him realize anew how thoroughly delightful she was. She continued to refer to him every few videos, sometimes with lingering anger over his interference with Bing and Jane, but other times with a more tentative inflection, as if unsure what to think of him. She made him laugh about George Wickham, of all people, by describing his dissipated college lifestyle as "not very spelunky." She live-tweeted her mishaps while writing her first independent study report, and he found himself wondering how her assessment of the company compared with his. He wanted to tell her of the lame title Fitz had insisted upon for their report, "The Consultants' Comprehensive Checkup on Collins & Collins," just in the hope of winning a genuine smile from her.
He barely heard most of her fight with her younger sister, so absorbed was he by one statement she made. "Sometimes people form hasty impressions, and while they may not be completely accurate, it can be useful to understand how people came to those conclusions so you can change the way people see you." Her words aptly described the task he'd set before himself: to understand how an intelligent, discerning woman had come to see him as she did and to amend his behavior so that others did not come to the same conclusion. His task went beyond that as well, for many of her descriptions of him had been based on an accurate estimation of his arrogance and his disdain for those he felt were beneath him. Hearing her put his determination into words was more moving than he would have expected.
Though committed to his task, he found it difficult to know what progress he made. People he met certainly talked to him more now than they had previously. Fitz, at least, was satisfied that he was improving. He'd decided early on to take his friend into his confidence. Fitz had responded to his halting, self-doubting words with compassionate reassurance and, characteristically, with his own peculiar brand of humor. It had been Fitz's idea to keep a newsie hat in his office, where he would see it often and be reminded of his task. To humor him, Darcy had dutifully placed the hat atop the coat rack by the door, but in truth he needed no external reminders. He thought of Lizzie far more frequently than he looked at his coat rack.
Christmas drew near, and with it another dilemma. Since their parents' deaths, he and Gigi had always spent the holiday at their cabin in the Sierras. His sister knew nothing of what had happened. He'd spoken to her briefly on the phone before writing the letter to Lizzie, but his pain had then been too raw to speak of. At Thanksgiving, she had eyed him worriedly during the drive from the airport to the Lee's home and had asked him outright what had happened to him in the last few months. He had evaded her questions, for he could hardly tell her of Lizzie without mentioning Bing and Caroline's involvement. Thanksgiving dinner promised to be awkward enough without that added complication.
There would be no evading Gigi now--in fact, when they'd talked on the phone earlier in the week, she'd said pointedly that the ski trip would allow them time to "really catch up." The first evening at the cabin, she sat next to him on the couch before the fire, turned sideways so she could see his face. Her own face was so full of concern and affection that he began to speak with only minimal prompting. He warned her first that what he had to say might hurt her, for it involved George Wickham. Pain clouded her face at his words, and he tensed, preparing himself for her tears or silence. She looked away for a long moment, then turned back to him, her eyes steady. "I need to know what happened to you, William. Please tell me."
So he did. He told her of meeting Lizzie, of the way she challenged and exhilarated him, of his turmoil as she unknowingly beckoned him to fascination and admiration and love. He told of his mistakes, how he had danced with her as if she were covered with fleas and spoken thoughtless and cruel words, how his battle against his feelings had kept her ignorant of them. He told how Wickham's lies, but ultimately his own faults and flawed judgment, had caused her to hate him. He told her of the videos.
Gigi's hand came to rest on his arm as he spoke. She listened with sympathy, occasionally interrupting with a question or with words of disbelief. When he finished, she was quiet for a time. "I'm sorry," she finally said, "that Lizzie didn't see who you really are." He looked over at her in surprise, for Gigi was certainly aware of his failings. "You sound like you think it was all your fault, but that can't be right. I know you don't want to discuss this much more, but just…don't let the fact that you failed with her make you doubt who you really are." He compressed his lips and nodded, too drained from speaking of Lizzie to argue his culpability. Gigi said little after that, but she pulled him close in a hug before heading to bed.
Darcy remained in the darkening room for a long time. Gigi's last words ran through his mind, and he was struck by their similarity to words he'd heard in one of Lizzie's videos. The video called "New Jane" had done much to relieve his guilt where Jane was concerned, for there had been happiness and peace in her face as she spoke of her new life in L.A. "I don't need one failed relationship to define me"--those were her words that came to his mind now.
Did his failure with Lizzie define him? No, he realized, but rather it was redefining him. He was now a humbler man, one more considerate of the feelings of those around him, than the man she'd rejected almost two months ago. He was a better man…and one who loved her more deeply than ever. If only he could somehow reverse time and repeat the months he'd spent with her, so he could meet and interact with her as the man he'd become rather than the one he had been. Would he still be "the last man in the world she could ever fall in love with?" It was impossible not to wonder but useless to speculate. The reality was that he had irrevocably ruined his only chance with her.
What now? Watching her videos now was somehow comforting and healing and yet wounding, all at the same time. Her videos kept her fresh in his mind, and there was little chance her hold on him would lessen while he continued to watch them. Should he stop? It was an unsettling question, one that he was too exhausted to reason through just then but that recurred to his mind frequently during the following days.
The ski trip was otherwise a success. Gigi was in the highest spirits he'd seen from her since before Wickham, and her enthusiasm for the holiday and the fresh powder was contagious. All too soon they had to leave, Gigi to return to her classes and part-time work at Pemberley, and he to stop in briefly at home before flying to L.A. to prepare for a week of intensive meetings. He turned on his phone after his flight to find several Twitter notifications. His eyebrow rose. Apparently Gigi had lost no time in finding and watching Lizzie's videos. Once settled into his hotel room, he read through her tweets, smiling to see that she too found Lizzie compelling. The Wickham videos had naturally upset her, and he was grateful to see that Fitz had called to comfort her.
The next morning, he deliberated as he shaved but decided to check Twitter in anticipation of Lizzie's newest video. He nearly regretted his decision, for as much as he usually enjoyed her Costume Theater scenes, he would have preferred to live out his days without the mental image of Mrs. Bennet's coyness regarding her memories of Las Vegas. Lizzie's previous Costume Theater had had a similar effect on him. There could be few more disconcerting experiences than watching the woman you love imitate the sleazy flirtation of your worst enemy.
Then the tone of her video changed as she spoke of her next independent study project. She would be in…San Francisco. He stared piercingly at the screen as he mentally reviewed the communications companies in the city. Which one would she shadow? Would it be one with ties to Pemberley? Was there even a slight chance that he might see her again? He listened impatiently, hoping she would give more specifics. Then came the words that electrified him.
She was coming to Pemberley Digital.
Lizzie was…his hand trembled as he replayed the last few seconds of the video. No, he hadn't imagined it. He switched quickly to his email account, searching for a message about an upcoming student visit that HR had copied him on several days ago but that he hadn't yet read. The email confirmed her words.
Lizzie was coming to Pemberley Digital. He set his phone down carefully as his heart sent minor earthquakes reverberating through his chest. How was it possible? He wasn't even acquainted with her professor, yet somehow it had been arranged that she would shadow his company. He would see her again, and not just in passing. She would be at the office every day for a month, analyzing the company that was both his heritage and passion.
Darcy bent his head, and in that moment every longing he'd had, every dream of reveling in her company and loving her and sharing his life with her, all surged through him, more powerful and intoxicating than ever. She'd said in the video that she was ready to find where she was supposed to be, and he yearned for her to find that place at Pemberley, with him. It was illogical. A man who had once been so categorically rejected should know better.
He did know better. He'd lapsed so easily into his old habit of thinking of his own feelings and wishes without considering hers. That had already brought disaster once. The realization sobered him, and he reined in his scattering thoughts. Lizzie deserved better from him. She had not planned to shadow his company; in fact, she had seemed unaware of his connection with it. He rewatched the last minute of her video with clearer attention than before. She hadn't known then, but judging by the expression on Charlotte's face, she knew by now.
How would she react to the news that he owned Pemberley Digital? Would she dread seeing him again? She had been smiling and optimistic in the video, excited about the possibilities awaiting her in a new city. Had her smiles disappeared when the camera turned off and she learned the truth? Memories from her earlier videos assailed him--her initial excitement about Netherfield turned to misery by his constant presence there, her cheerful, playful mood spoiled by his appearance at Collins and Collins. She'd said then in exasperation that he "clearly would not get out of her life." The idea that she might be thinking the same thing now caused the last of his earlier elation to vanish.
Would she ask to shadow a different company instead? Even as the thought formed, he knew that she would. She had likely already requested a different assignment. He shook his head ruefully at the acute disappointment this thought produced. Speculating like this could only work him into a turmoil. He would find out soon enough whether she'd canceled her visit. Surely she would discuss it in her next video--but no, she'd said she planned to take a week off from vlogging. He grimaced in frustration. Was she trying to drive him mad? He knew, of course, that she wasn't. She couldn't know the affect her words would have on him. He understood that moving would be less stressful for her without the obligation of filming more videos. Still, the prospect of remaining in suspense for a week and a half was intolerable.
Darcy pocketed his phone, picked up his blazer and briefcase, and headed downstairs. As he drove to his meeting, he considered his options, such as they were. Once at his destination, he pulled out his phone and subscribed to receive notification whenever she tweeted. He also checked his email, knowing HR would likely copy him on any message about a change in her visit. It was an action he repeated frequently in the coming days, even on the weekend, when logic told him his staff wasn't even at the office.
No news came. Fitz tweeted once, indicating he'd been the one to arrange Lizzie's independent study at Pemberley Digital. Lizzie tweeted a vague statement that he could only assume related to her continuing estrangement from her younger sister. Nine o'clock on Monday morning came and went with nothing further from her. He'd thought she might post a video about changing her independent study plans. In his anxiety to know something, he called Pemberley's HR department later in the morning and was told they'd heard nothing about a cancellation. "No news is good news" was a terrible cliché to have to live by.
Tuesday featured meetings that fortunately consumed his attention for long stretches of hours. He had dinner with two members of his host company's board of directors and returned to his hotel room rather late. Once alone, his thoughts took their habitual shortcut to Lizzie. To distract himself from pointless worrying, he rewatched two of his favorite videos, the one she'd posted on Thanksgiving and an earlier one involving green beans in cranberry gelatin. They were light-hearted videos that never failed to make him smile, and they showed her at her most winsome, as she schemed to help her sister and friend. He went to sleep after that, only to rouse an hour later when his phone beeped. He finally had news.
Lizzie Bennet Crashing with @TheCharlotteLu tonight. Tomorrow is move in day!
Lizzie Bennet Yes, @TheCharlotteLu pointed me right to it. "@vivaglamr3d: So, have either of you ladies had time to check out @pemberleydig's website yet?"
She was coming to Pemberley Digital, despite everything. He sat up and switched on the lamp, then ran his hand over his chest. The suspense that had hung over him in the last few days lifted, but in its place settled a greater weight of responsibility and uncertainty.
What did she think of her visit now? Her words were too few for him to discern much. He thought again of her "New Jane" video, and after a few minutes he located and rewatched it. It was the most revealing video she'd ever posted about herself. He had always thought her fearless, for she never hesitated to challenge or contradict him, even when he was at his most forbidding. The Lizzie in this video had been unsure of herself, her worth, and her future, afraid to leave the home she'd always known. Now she was facing her fear and moving to a new city, only to find herself forced into contact with the man who troubled and angered her more than anyone.
It was in his power--because of their history, because he was the CEO of the company she shadowed--to make her first experience away from home a difficult and miserable one. He would never purposely retaliate in that way, of course, but he could easily do so unintentionally. He already had, twice, and the risk was even greater now, for she would be without the support of her sister or friend. Would he be any better this time at recognizing her discomfort? He certainly hoped so--watching 60 videos' worth of her growing revulsion had to have taught him something. If she showed signs of disliking his presence or avoiding him, then he would see her only as much as was necessary for her report. He would make himself scarce, even if it killed him.
That bleak thought followed him back to sleep and through the following day's meetings. His first meeting on Thursday was delayed, which only added to the frustration he felt after Wednesday's negotiations resulted in an impasse. To calm himself and pass the time, he visited Lizzie's Twitter page. There was, of course, no new video because of her week-long hiatus. He admired her profile photo for a minute, then impulsively clicked to see who all she followed. He blinked in bewilderment at the sight of his own name. When had she started following him on Twitter? He'd chosen to stop receiving notifications the previous summer amid an influx of new followers that he now knew were her viewers, but she must have followed him recently, for his name was at the top of her list, just above Pemberley Digital's.
What did she mean by it? There was no time for contemplation, for others were beginning to file in for the meeting. Quickly he typed a tweet that he hoped would set her mind at ease, if she was uncertain about encountering him.
William Darcy If the first couple days are a reflection of the year to come, then I will be spending much of 2013 in meeting rooms in Los Angeles.
His efforts to gauge her mindset continued in the following days. Her following him on Twitter was, if nothing else, an acknowledgment that they would see each other again. That calmed him somewhat but did nothing to stop his increasing fixation on her upcoming visit. What did she think of him now? He didn't need to rewatch her videos, for her words came to his mind effortlessly. She was thankful for his letter and had found it illuminating and challenging to her worldview. She had not taken the bait when Caroline suggested she had no affection towards him and had even told Wickham he had some (albeit unspecified) virtues, but he was wary of reading anything into that beyond her unwillingness to oblige either of them. She didn't speak of him with her former hatred, that much was clear, but beyond that he could not tell.
Nine o'clock on Monday morning found him refreshing her Twitter page with embarrassing frequency. She'd tweeted on Friday that her tour of Pemberley Digital had been amazing and unexpected, but her new video would tell him more. Such was his nervousness that his first viewing produced little more than a jumble of impressions, particularly since his mind raced to figure out what Gigi was up to. He replayed the video many times that morning and in the coming days, even after he was certain he'd caught every nuance in her voice and manner.
As expected, she'd tried to get out of shadowing his company. He felt badly that she'd had to choose between completing this particular independent study and delaying her graduation plans. She had indeed followed him on Twitter in the hope of learning his plans. It was reassuring to know he'd correctly guessed her thoughts on at least those two subjects. Time only would tell whether he'd truly become better at reading her. She was excited and impressed by what she'd seen of Pemberley--not just by the amenities like the rooftop pool, but also by the happiness and creative fulfillment displayed by his employees. It was gratifying to hear her praise his company, but far more important was what she had to say about him.
Thanks to Gigi's meddling, Lizzie thought for a brief period that he was disliked by his staff. Two months ago, she would have readily believed that, but now she seemed puzzled by the thought. After Gigi corrected her misunderstanding, she conceded that her own observations confirmed that his employees did like him. She spoke of wishing to avoid him, but without any animosity in her voice; in fact, she said only that seeing him would be "awkward" and "weird, especially under these circumstances." It was more than he could have dared imagine, but he did not forget that this was her opinion after not having seen him for two months. It was possible, maybe even probable, that seeing him again would restore her to all of her former dislike.
Her manner in speaking of him made it clear she didn't think he still watched her videos. It was only natural that she should think so--after all, he had continued watching them against his better judgment. She didn't know he still loved her, for she had never truly understood or accepted the fact that he loved her in the first place. It would be foolish and inappropriate to speak to her of love now, but he could demonstrate his love by making her feel welcome at Pemberley and by showing her that he didn't resent the past.
He would see her soon. His meetings in L.A. concluded successfully on Wednesday, and he booked a late afternoon flight in order to be back at Pemberley for a board meeting the following day. He would not see her that night--it was late enough that she would surely have gone home already, and in any event he would only stop by his office long enough to pick up Gigi for dinner--but he would seek her out in the course of the following day. He tried, during the flight, to compose the words he would say, but it was a futile exercise.
He knew not what he wanted to say to her, only what he wanted to accomplish. He wanted to show her the man he had become, the man she had motivated him to become. He wanted to obtain her forgiveness for the man he had been. This in itself would be enough, if he could manage it. Yet his heart also harbored a spark of hope, faint but stubborn. He parked his car in front of Pemberley, texting Gigi to let her know of his arrival as he walked through the reception area. If he detected any softening of Lizzie's manner toward him, if she seemed accepting of his presence rather than merely enduring him as she had before, he would declare himself in a way he hoped she would understand.
He would find a way to tell her he still watched her videos.
© 2013 Copyright held by the author.