There were, Darcy decided, certain advantages to loving a woman who ran a vlog. Most men, when trying to gauge a lady's feelings toward them, had to rely on whatever fleeting clues they could gather while with her. Or, if they were unable to think analytically while in her presence, they had to reflect while alone on indistinct memories of her words and manner, trusting that their confidence or modesty did not lead them astray.
Last October, he had been so self-absorbed that he'd never truly questioned the nature of Lizzie's feelings toward him, but now, as her stay at Pemberley Digital entered its fourth week, the subject dominated his thoughts. He'd observed her carefully and knew she no longer disliked him. She had invited him into her videos and grown more relaxed in his presence. She listened when he spoke, truly listened and responded to his words rather than merely looking for a reason to contradict him. He hadn't known until it happened how wonderful a change that would be.
Of couse, none of this necessarily meant that he had gone from "the last man in the world she could ever fall in love with" to a man she would consider dating. Hence his gratitude for her videos, for they offered another opportunity to observe their interactions and hopefully discover whether she would be receptive to him.
He arrived home late and exchanged his business suit for more comfortable clothes before settling into the den with his laptop. He'd already seen each of her Pemberley videos, except for the one she'd filmed and posted earlier that very day. In truth, that was the video he most wanted to see, for he'd left their interview feeling almost giddy from the smiles and laughter he'd provoked from her. As a man who liked things to be well-ordered, though, he decided to begin with the video in which he'd handed her his letter and watch in order each one in which he appeared.
He didn't know what to expect as he approached her office. In his worst imaginings, she looked at him in disbelief and anger, tossed his letter in his face, and spat out, "What more do I have to say to get you out of my life?" He certainly didn't expect to find her filming again and, what's more, fretting about his reaction to her videos. There was some pride involved in his words to her, an instinctive desire to appear less than devastated by what had happened. More than anything, though, he brought up the subject of her videos and their effect on him in order to calm her fear that he would retaliate.
"I'm not going to sue you…It's fine. I don't care about that." Those were hardly conventional expressions of love, but as he relived the scene through her video he knew that was precisely what the words had been for him, though he hadn't thought of them in those terms at the time. She quieted in response to his reassurances but still eyed him warily as she accepted his letter.
Next came the video called "The Lizzie Trap." The title referred, of course, to Gigi's blatant manipulation to capture on camera their first meeting in two months, but it also seemed appropriate in a larger sense. Thanks to Fitz and her degree requirements, Lizzie had been trapped into coming to Pemberley, and the strain of the situation was clear in her voice from the start of the video and only intensified when Gigi shoved him into the room. Amazingly, she overcame this enough to attempt an apology for surprising him.
He was surprised, not by her presence but by the way she looked at him, wide-eyed and without a hint of aversion. He would have been content to simply sit with her, so near, and take in that expression, but her obvious discomfort reminded him of his responsibility to make her feel welcome at Pemberley. Their exchange was almost laughably commonplace, but beneath the surface swelled a current of something entirely new, of gentle eagerness on his part, and on hers--what? Even now, it was hard to put into words, but perhaps it could be described as a willingness to please and be pleased.
"The hills in this city can be quite unforgiving." It was the change in Lizzie's manner--particularly the way she responded to his offer of a ride to her dinner engagement, as if she declined because she didn't wish to trouble him rather than because of any dislike for his company--that decided him. He gathered his courage and repeated a sentence from her previous video, leaning in with a look meant to assure her that he understood and intended all that his words implied. She responded to his declaration with another refusal, polite this time but a refusal nonetheless. He carefully restrained his disappointment, knowing that although she rejected his offer she might still consider his words. He rose then to leave, only to be revived and confused by her gentle thanks and touch on his wrist.
His next appearance in her videos came, for the first time, at her request. He was puzzled at first by her suggestion that they do costume theater as themselves, for though they had seen each other a few times in the week since his return, he didn't think anything notable enough to deserve re-enactment had occurred.
"This isn't a conversation we would naturally have." It was immensely satisfying to show her that her costume theater idea was in no way stupid, that mass communications was a passion he understood and shared with her. He might never know whether his opinions on Tolstoy would impress her, but media theory was comfortable ground for him. He'd been familiar with Dr. Gardiner's work even before meeting Lizzie, and he'd re-read a few of her papers after learning she was Lizzie's mentor. Lizzie looked charmingly bewildered as he finished the thought she'd dismissed, a look he relished and decided he needed to cause more often.
There was no time like the present. He strode quickly toward his office, where he knew he would find a spare bowtie in his desk drawer and a newsie hat atop his coat rack. Anticipation coursed through him as he walked. He'd not asked her the nature of the scene she had in mind, for fear of appearing to distrust her. He little cared what type of hypothetical scene she would create for them but was intensely curious as to the lines she would give him to speak and what they would reveal of her current opinion of him.
He stepped back into her office and tried to contain his smugness at the shocked, pleased expression on her face as she took in his improvised costume. She took up his challenge, shrugged on her usual plaid shirt, and then proceeded to surprise him.
She didn't have a script. He'd watched her videos. She always had a script for costume theater, even for imaginary scenes, unless her scene partner had actually been present for the conversation they were portraying. Only two exceptions came to mind, one of them an early video in which Jane, acting as Lizzie, had been led to reveal her hopes for her new relationship with Bing. The other was in "Snickerdoodles," in which Lizzie had summarized Wickham's excuse for missing Bing's party and then allowed Jane to improvise as they re-enacted his call. That scene had turned into something completely different, as Jane revealed her pain and anger toward the man who had dumped her. He glanced at the camera uneasily, wondering what revelation Lizzie might seek from him in this "conversation they wouldn't naturally have."
Nevertheless, he agreed to continue, recovering enough to appreciate what she offered. She was giving him the freedom to speak for himself in her videos, to turn what had been a caricature into a more accurate image of the man he really was. Both his appreciation and his nervousness grew when she revealed the topic she'd chosen--his interference with Bing and Jane. This was a sticking point for her, even months after the fact, and no wonder, for she clearly adored her older sister. It was a topic they needed to discuss.
"If Bing truly felt a strong attachment, would he have been so easily parted from her?" This was, for him, the heart of the matter. He understood why she resented his role in drawing Bing away, but he could not understand why she was so fixed on reuniting him with her sister, who appeared to have moved on with her life. Bing was his best friend, and goodness knew he wished he had Bing's easy, caring manner in situations like the present, but the fact remained that it had taken him and Caroline less than a day to convince Bing to abandon Jane. A man who truly loved a woman would never give up so easily. He knew this to be true, for nothing less would have brought him to this moment, sitting beside Lizzie in his bowtie and newsie hat, trying desperately to show her that he was no longer the same man she had hated.
Her response hurt and rebuked him. He was, she implied, making the same mistake he'd made before. He'd interfered at first because he had presumed to understand the nature and depth of Jane's feelings toward his friend, and now he was presuming to understand the depth of Bing's feelings toward Jane. He looked away, forced to acknowledge Lizzie's point, but at the same time he wondered whether she even registered what he was trying to do.
"I think you should ask him." At some point, their words about Bing and Jane gained a more personal, intimate subtext. He wasn't sure at first whether she sensed it too, but then she turned and shyly asked whether he thought "Bing" still cared about "Jane." If she had asked him outright, he would have confessed the feelings that had only grown steadier and deeper with time, no matter how much the admission would cost him given her current doubtful state. But she asked him in subtext. He slowly removed his hat and indicated that she should ask only if she was ready to hear the truth.
She wasn't ready. Once the moment was broken, she couldn't see him leave quickly enough. He'd been hurt by this at the time, but it was clear from the video that she was rattled rather than displeased with him. That he could understand, for the conversation had unsettled him as well. Her next video showed she had given careful thought to his words, and she began it by renouncing all further meddling. It was hard to take any pleasure in her admission, not when Bing reappeared and asked after Jane with unmistakable longing in his voice, not while Lizzie's question--"isn't finding happiness hard enough?"--lingered in his mind.
The following Thursday was hectic with meetings, and when he finally emerged during a brief break, he was more than ready for some coffee. He entered the beverage area to find Lizzie there alone, fixing a cup of tea. She started at his greeting, looking at him with a dread that dismayed him and set his mind scattering to remember what he might have done to trouble her. They both spoke at once, he to hesitantly ask if she was all right, and she with "Youneedtowatchmyvideo."
He watched it then and there, leaning against the counter next to her. When Gigi entered the frame, looking purposeful yet nervous, he glanced at Lizzie, only to see her worried gaze dart from his face to her tea. He looked back at his phone, bracing himself for whatever was coming. He'd never heard the whole story from Gigi's perspective. As he listened, his anger at Wickham and at himself was overshadowed by his love for her, this young woman with whom he shared so much and yet who was so often incomprehensible to him. He would do anything in his power to prevent her being hurt like that again.
"I'm not going to kill you." Lizzie had hesitated at the end of the video when Gigi asked to confirm their weekend plans, unsure of his reaction when she posted their conversation. He pocketed his phone and looked up to find her still watching him. "Gigi can be very determined, I know. I just hope that talking to you, and your viewers, will…help her heal, somehow." Lizzie nodded and seemed about to say something when approaching voices announced the end of their privacy. He left then, explaining that he was due back in his meeting, but not before assuring her that he too looked forward to the weekend tour.
Darcy looked up, raising an eyebrow as he realized he'd just spent over an hour studying a few short videos. His analysis so far yielded no firm indication of her current feelings toward him. She was willing to rethink her earlier opinion of him, which was certainly progress, but before he could truly hope, he needed to effect a change in her heart, not just in her mind. He compressed his lips, wondering if he was a fool to even think that possible, then rose and walked to the kitchen to get a drink. He picked up his briefcase on his way through the foyer, his steps slow as he recalled their tour of the city just two days ago.
"Our pleasure." He had probably spoken more to Lizzie that day than during the entire month they'd lived under the same roof at Netherfield. That had been Gigi's doing, for she had conveniently forgotten every bit of information she knew about San Francisco's sites and history and had deferred all Lizzie's questions to him. He had given brief answers at first, not wanting to weary her, but as her natural curiosity had shown itself he had begun to speak more freely, even relating some family memories of a few places they passed.
Once back in the den, he took from his briefcase the photos Gigi had taken during the tour. His favorite was a candid photo, the first of the morning. He sat at a table, his attention on the distant sunrise. Lizzie sat next to him, looking at him with an expression that was not quite a smile but was open, curious, assessing. He would give a great deal to know what it was she sought from him and whether she'd found it during their time together. She had, in any event, enjoyed touring the city--her thank-you tweet at day's end only confirmed what he'd read in her increasingly relaxed demeanor and her smiles that had come more and more easily as the day progressed.
At length, he set the photo aside and turned his attention to her latest video.
He was running late, thanks to a jack-knifed semi, and Gigi's text came when he was at a stoplight. "Where are you? Lizzie says she wants you NOW." He blinked rapidly, trying to imagine Lizzie saying those words. Another text came thirty seconds later. "Bet that woke you up! She needs an independent study interview & maybe today's video?" Her video was due at 9 a.m., which didn't leave him much time. At the next stoplight, he stared at his packed schedule, then called Reynolds and shifted their meeting to his lunch break the following day. That meant he was free for the next hour…if only he could get to the office.
"Yes, I have the time. Or I'll make it." There was uncertainty mixed with the politeness of Lizzie's request to use their interview for her video, as if she was surprised he would take time away from his work for her. He didn't truly have the time this particular morning, but he said instead what he hoped would convey her importance to him. Her face lit with pleasure at his words. The combination of that smile and her brief touch on his shoulder as she went to close the door sent a keen yearning through him.
Lizzie reseated herself, and the interview began. He'd thought she might be nervous, for he had certainly participated in more interviews than she, but surprisingly he seemed the more nervous one. Though he'd longed for months to share Pemberley, and all it represented, with her, it suddenly seemed more likely that he would bore her or, worse, make her think him as prideful as ever. He faltered after answering her first question, only to see her attempt to set him at ease by complimenting the vision he'd developed for Pemberley as a young CEO. He heard such comments frequently--at business functions, and especially when industry publications sent women to interview him--but the praise was somehow new and meaningful coming from Lizzie.
"All right, I'll show you that what you do is special." He'd meant merely to point out that passion and pride in their work was something they shared, but then she brushed aside his praise of her "little" videos. Suddenly, their interview, his hectic day, his uncertainty about her feelings, all faded next to the need to make her understand how talented she truly was.
He'd first felt that need weeks ago, when she posted a video titled "New Jane." In it, she admitted she feared leaving home, then listed the reasons she was "needed" there. This woman, who believed so passionately in her best friend's abilities that she quarreled with her when she took a job she believed would stifle her; this woman, whose first attempt to apply her mass communications studies had resulted in a vlog that resonated with tens of thousands of people; this woman, who was one of the most creative and intelligent people he'd ever met, seemed to think her greatest usefulness lay in absorbing her mother's craziness, providing unheeded advice to her immature younger sister, and assisting with her father's hobbies. Her words had torn at his heart, and the memory of them fueled his determination to use his expertise or credibility or whatever influence he possessed to make her see her talent.
He thought at first that he was proving his point. She blinked in amazement when he singled out costume theater to illustrate the creativity of her videos, then lifted her chin and archly tossed her old "newsie" descriptor at him. What followed was a whirlwind trip from satisfaction at being teased by her, to panic at the thought of re-enacting a karaoke scene, to donning a newsie hat and flower and exhibiting every bit of awkwardness she'd ever accused him of having, to digging himself a hole by implying she mocked others with the very creative device he'd been attempting to praise. He should have declined to portray Gigi, but…well, he'd felt he was making progress at last, and how on earth was he to refuse when Lizzie coaxed him?
"I'm trying the same thing, to see from other points of view." She responded to his unintentional charge of mockery by apologizing for having portrayed him in a prejudiced way. She did so in subtext, naturally--last time, the two of them had been reperesented by Bing and Jane, and now he was apparently represented by her mother--but he was better at reading her now and caught her meaning. He admitted in return that he had been so proud that he'd neither thought nor cared how others saw him. That was the more personal reason he appreciated costume theater. Painful as it had been to watch, it had made him see for the first time how he was viewed by those around him, Lizzie most of all, of course, but also more sympathetic observers like Jane and Fitz.
The seriousness of the moment passed, and then he was warmed anew by her willingness to think up a costume theater scene that wouldn't make him uncomfortable. He wondered as she brainstormed that she didn't suggest re-enacting something from their weekend tour of the city, but he was glad she didn't. That day was too dear to share any more than Gigi already had with her tweeted photos.
Eventually, they settled on re-enacting her lunch with Fitz. He fetched a wig from the wardrobe department and did his best to imitate his friend's penchant for rhyming and playing to the camera. The scene went nowhere, for she dissolved into laughter, and time pressed in the form of his meeting and her posting deadline. Still, a feeling of contentment followed him the rest of the day. They had taken another step toward addressing the past that lay between them. And he'd made her laugh.
Darcy replayed their exchange of apologies one last time, then paused the video. He'd been on edge during most of their encounter that morning, for various reasons, and it took watching the video for him to realize just how well it had gone, despite his inevitable awkwardness. As a "corporate interview," as she'd titled it, it had of course been an abject failure, but he could think of worse fates than having to sit and talk with her again at a later date.
He could, however, think of few worse fates than having to finish the interview later if she rejected him again. He could picture the scene vividly, could imagine her mumbling through a list of questions and shifting uncomfortably under his gaze, could imagine his misery at having to describe his vision for Pemberley Digital when his own future was unutterably bleak. The smiles of one morning, especially when interpreted in his eager frame of mind, were insufficient proof against the possibility that he would overstep himself, distressing her once again and ruining any remaining chance with her. He exhaled slowly at the reminder of all that was at stake, then refocused his mind on what he'd observed in her videos.
Was he deceiving himself, as he'd done before, in thinking Lizzie enjoyed spending time with him? No, she had said in her video that she'd had fun with him and Gigi over the weekend, and she'd directed her thank-you tweet for the "awesome" city tour to him rather than his sister. She had twice invited him into her videos, once to help her think through a question that could greatly impact her sister's happiness, and once for an interview during which she'd praised and teased and laughed at him. Those were not the actions of a woman who "would rather have a hernia repaired" than be around him, as she'd once accused him of acting toward her.
Recalling her vivid description brought with it the memory of the rest of that encounter. It was his only appearance in her videos that he hadn't rewatched this evening. In truth, he'd watched it only once, at the end of a day spent accepting her challenge. If he was unaware of her feelings, she'd said, "Then why don't you watch my videos." The irony, that he now watched them looking for reasons to hope, made him unsure whether to smile or question his sanity.
Perhaps he should rewatch that video too, to keep from getting ahead of himself.
What was he thinking? He'd already relived that scene a hundred times in his mind, the memory of his words and behavior becoming more inexpressibly painful each time. There could be no surer way to destroy any fragile courage he possessed than to rewatch her rejection of him. Yet the idea persisted, and he soon located the video and began to watch.
He paused it less than fifteen seconds after he entered the frame. Her voice had shaken with agitation from the start, yet he had disregarded her feelings in his determination to speak and to claim her. He couldn't do this, couldn't listen as he proved himself worthy of every ounce of hatred she'd felt for him. He sat for a minute, breathing deeply, then muted the volume and restarted the video, his eyes fixed on Lizzie.
Her expressive face told the tale of her reaction to him--confusion when he announced that "consulting" was a cover for seeing her, a roll of her eyes as he described his social superiority, astonishment when he proclaimed his love, growing fury as he insulted her sisters and her mother. Preoccupation with his own careening thoughts, and the fact that she had been in profile to him part of the time, had kept him from registering the extent of her anger until he'd finally heard her literally splutter with rage. Had their earlier interactions been captured on camera, would they have revealed a similar story, of her feelings written plainly enough on her face, if only he'd had eyes to see them?
She looked at him differently now. That was another advantage of watching videos of their recent interactions--he could see how she looked at him, could follow the progression of her thoughts as she responded to his words. He still remembered his surprise when watching "The Lizzie Trap" for the first time and seeing the glances she'd sneaked at him when his gaze was elsewhere. Even when she had disagreed with him, during their discussion about Bing and Jane, her face had shown not dislike but rather a willingness to hear and weigh his thoughts. Then, during their interview…he replayed that video once more, this time with the sound muted. She had smiled brightly and almost incessantly.
He rose then, pacing the floor as he thought. How would she respond if he approached her again? He had reaffirmed his love for her more than once since that disastrous October day, though never in so many words. At first, she had barely registered what he said. Since coming to Pemberley, she seemed more responsive, though he didn't think she fully understood his underlying meaning yet. She had been surprised, though, and not irritated when he hinted that he still watched her videos and again when he flirted with her about media theory. She had appeared delighted by his willingness to make time for her videos and participate in costume theater. She seemed pleased and not repulsed when he expressed his love for her.
He stopped to lean against the wall, bending his head for several long minutes before nodding in decision. He would ask her on a date. As much as she loved costumes and play-acting, he felt sure she would enjoy a night at the theater. He would call in the morning to secure tickets and then seek an opportunity to ask her. This time, he would not allow his own urgency to blind him to her needs. He would first ask how she was and wait for her response, to ensure he hadn't once again picked "the worst possible time," and he would not speak plainly of his love, not unless and until he was certain she was ready to hear of it.
He would ask her, and then…his insides clenched with nervousness. Then his happiness would once again be explicitly in her hands.
© 2013 Copyright held by the author.