Darcy played the last half of the video again, a sensation of déjà vu taunting him. He had done this before, had watched as Lizzie described their relationship in terms bewilderingly, painfully different from his own perceptions. In the early videos, Jane had frequently spoken for him, insisting that he genuinely liked her and wanted to dance with her, but Lizzie had believed he wished only to mock her. Charlotte too had tried to alert her to his interest and his admiration for her "fine eyes," only to be ignored in Lizzie's certainty that he didn't like her. Now, Charlotte asked the questions he wished he could ask himself--"You're not friends? You really believe that?"--and again Lizzie's replies ripped him and his hopes into shreds.
They were not friends. He was a force of nature, a guy she used to complain about in her videos. There was nothing more to say about him.
"Nothing more to say." She hadn't mentioned him during the crisis involving Lydia's tape, nor had he expected her to, knowing how all-consuming a sister's heartbreak could be. Even after taking the website down, he had restrained himself from calling her. Lydia had asked to spend more time with her sister as she healed, and given that her situation was partly his fault, not distracting Lizzie was the least he could do. He had continued as always to watch her videos, hoping for some sign that she thought of him and wanted to hear from him.
Then Lizzie had started mentioning him again, and he had become more impatient than ever for the arrival of each Monday and Thursday. She had first referred to him obliquely, describing her time at Pemberley Digital as "nice," her tone and deliberate look at the camera giving the word meaning. Last week, he had spent a rare meeting-free afternoon analyzing whether she had reverted to subtext when speculating about Bing's regrets about Jane.
"What if things had been different? What if the timing hadn't been so bad? What if they moved on? What if we missed our chance?" He had pondered the first question himself for too many disheartening hours, but it was so vague it could apply to anyone. The second seemed to apply less to Bing and Jane, who had rather suffered from mistaken interference, and more to himself and Lizzie. He had, after all, asked her on a date mere seconds before she learned of Lydia's tape. The fourth question…well, if he could have persuaded himself that she referred to them, he would have been on her doorstep that very day, eager to remove all doubt from her mind.
It was the third question that had finally convinced him she hadn't been speaking of her own feelings, for it was clearly something Bing could have feared--had feared, in fact, given how tentatively he'd asked Lizzie all those weeks ago whether Jane was seeing anyone. Lizzie, on the other hand, could not possibly think he'd moved on. Not when he had risked everything the last time they met and asked her on a date, not when he'd slipped a business card with his personal number penned neatly on the back into her hand as she left and told her to call if she needed to reach him. He had made his intentions clear, and although patience had never been a strength of his, he could practice little else until she indicated what (if anything, insisted a voice he tried not to heed) she wanted from him.
Yet she did think he'd moved on. "You both got a chance to get to know each other," Charlotte had said in today's video, and Lizzie's reply had been a pensive, "Yes, and his feelings have almost certainly changed." Incredulity and frustration roiled within him at this proof that she doubted him, but those emotions could be easily overcome if he had reason to believe she regretted him. There was something in her tone and in the way she hesitated when asked whether her own feelings had changed that made him wonder, made his heart seize with yearning…but no, he knew full well the disaster and heartache that resulted from assuming her words meant more than they did.
"We're not friends." The words were stark, allowing no misinterpretation or rationalization. They were also utterly confusing, coming as they did only a minute before she agreed with Charlotte that they'd had a chance to get to know each other. Somehow, Lizzie had come away from their time together with an impression of their relationship markedly different from his, believing the opposite of everything he'd tried to convey regarding his feelings and desires toward her.
Darcy kneaded the back of his neck with his hand and glanced at the clock. Thirty minutes remained before he needed to leave for his appointment. He paced the length of his office a few times before stopping to rest his shoulder against the frame of the full-length window that overlooked San Francisco Bay.
What had happened between them while Lizzie was at Pemberley Digital?
"Chemistry. Heat. Tension." Before today, caution had limited him to words like warmth, rapport, and, in especially optimistic moments, flirtation. He could be bolder now that she had tacitly agreed with Charlotte's assessment. The attraction that he had thought existed between them at Netherfield and at Collins & Collins had truly been there at Pemberley Digital. The altered dynamic had been welcome and startling and wonderful…and yet not enough. Not enough to turn Lizzie's heart toward him or convince her of the strength and permanence of his love for her and, he was beginning to realize, not enough to satisfy him.
In the first wretched days after her rejection, the illumination had been nearly blinding, her words and her videos acting as a searchlight to reveal how far he fell short of the man he had expected and believed himself to be. Since that time, he had continued to watch her videos, both new and old, and further illumination had come to him gradually, as if a smudged and distorted glass set between himself and Lizzie was being cleaned inch by inch. He had known for many months that his ardor for her could not be sated by a mere fling, but watching her videos had revealed to him a woman who was entrancing and lovable for reasons beyond her spirited intelligence, a woman with whom he longed to share both heat and friendship. Today's video had given words to his desires while simultaneously denying them.
Being relegated to friendship without heat--"just friends"--was a plight both mocked and pitied by society. It was a cliché with painful truth behind it, for he had seen Bing suffer briefly but acutely through two such episodes in college, and something within him would surely die if Lizzie asked of him a purely platonic friendship.
The pain was no less, however, when she stated the opposite, that heat but not friendship had existed between them. He had tried, during the four weeks she spent in San Francisco, to rein in the hopes that were for him an inevitable response to her presence, only to find that each encounter far surpassed his hopes. There had been the thrill of mutual attraction, yes, but she had also allowed him into her life, revealing her insecurities about her videos and confiding in him regarding her sisters' troubles. She had even coaxed him out of himself to join her in costume theater. What was that, if not friendship?
His phone beeped, reminding him of his appointment with Edward Hurst. He considered calling to postpone, for his turmoil was such that he wished for solitude above anything. A few moments' thought sent him downstairs to his waiting car after all. Hurst was the first new investor Darcy had secured after taking over Pemberley Digital, and he was a CEO's dream, loyal to the companies he funded, knowledgeable, and dependably enthused about any new project pitched to him. He had been quite gracious when Darcy canceled their previous appointment in order to track down Wickham, and Darcy could not in good conscience miss today's meeting too.
Three hours later, he was glad he hadn't given in to the temptation to postpone. A friend of Hurst's, Charles Goulding, had unexpectedly dropped in as their meeting began, and both men had been intrigued by the possibilities of the Domino application. Darcy left with the promise of generous funding and an invitation to contact them with additional investment opportunities. He called Reynolds to relay the news as his driver returned him across town, then settled back in his seat.
Their route lay along San Francisco Bay, bringing memories of exploring the waterfront with Lizzie and Gigi. If asked, prior to today, he would have said he and Lizzie became friends that day. He had stuttered mid-greeting when she smiled at him, not the tight or, of late, uncertain smile he normally received, but a genuine, happy smile. That smile, and others even warmer, had reappeared throughout the day as they wandered and shared their memories, she of a school trip to the Pampanito submarine and he of family outings to Alcatraz and the Legion of Honor. Gigi had delighted in tormenting them with sly references to lobsters, unforgiving hills, and something involving shipping that Darcy didn't understand but that made Lizzie blush, but despite that occasional awkwardness the day had been…well, "awesome," as Lizzie's thank-you tweet had put it.
And yet they were not friends. He couldn't argue against it, for an unshared friendship was as much an impossibility as an unshared relationship. He couldn't dismiss her words as intentional misunderstanding as he had in the past. Coyness was not Lizzie's way, at least not in serious matters. He could only accept and try to understand it--try, once again, to understand her.
Once back at Pemberley, Darcy set his laptop on his desk, then made his way to Lizzie's office. It was still hers, kept vacant in case she needed to return to finish her independent study. He had been selfish to hope for that, he knew, for the timeline for her thesis and graduation would be tight after taking time off for her sister. Nevertheless, he had felt a renewed sense of loss this morning when she mentioned planning her last independent study.
He closed the door of her office and, as had become his custom when memories and longing drew him here, stood for a few minutes looking about him. Nothing of hers remained, for Gigi had volunteered to pack and send on the things she'd left here and at the apartment. Gigi too must have hoped for her return, for she'd left the stools Lizzie used for filming here instead of returning them to the prop department.
Darcy slowly walked over and sank onto the stool closest to the door. His gaze flicked to where her camera had been, then rested on the other stool. At length, he sighed. Staring at her stool would not conjure her presence on it, smiling and witty and teasing; nor could it tell him what had really happened all the times they sat together in front of her camera. Lizzie alone could tell him that, but calling her now was out of the question. He could not bear to hear her reiterate the words from her video that were currently smarting in his chest, and even if he was inclined toward such masochism, only a brute would force such a conversation upon a woman who had clearly stated that she had nothing further to say.
"William Darcy is a force of nature." The phrase made him sound remote, unpredictable, unknowable. At one time, he would have been amused and a touch gratified to hear himself described thus. Even in earlier, happier days, he had not enjoyed socializing, and of his few friends only Bing and, at first, Wickham had cared and been tenacious enough to keep the friendship alive when his life was consumed by the responsibility of raising his baby sister and running Pemberley Digital. As for the latter, he had found "it's lonely at the top" another all-too-true cliché. As much as he valued his employees and associates, he had preferred, aside from Fitz, to keep his own counsel. He had prided himself on being selective in his friends, in those few people he allowed into his heart.
Then Lizzie had come, a force of nature in her own right, tearing through his defenses and effortlessly capturing his heart. And then he had watched sixty videos, had heard her say that he probably had to pay people to be his friends, that he was "purposely dooming himself to be alone for life." For a man so recently rejected, who had lost his parents and his former best friend and had nearly lost his sister as well, her words had seemed to portend an appalling future.
He had changed since then. The exertions of several months had produced new habits in him, habits of looking for merit and common ground in others instead of assuming he would find none, of attempting to show consideration to everyone he met rather than just those he deemed worthy. He would always be reserved--even if he wished it, no amount of effort would transplant Bing or Fitz's personality into him--but the "pride, arrogance, and selfishness" that had isolated him and that Lizzie had so abhorred were, he hoped, being replaced by more honorable attitudes.
He had changed, and yet Lizzie, brave, indomitable Lizzie, didn't dare to call him because she thought him a "force of nature." Could she really see him that way? All his efforts at Pemberley to show her the man he had become--had they truly accomplished so little? Was he so hopelessly inept at relating to this woman that not even wearing a newsie hat or a flower or an afro wig could make him approachable in her eyes?
"I was unaware of your feelings towards me." "You were unaware? Then why don't you watch my videos?" Lizzie's words last fall had served as a challenge to leave off fixating on his own emotional response to her and try instead to see himself and their interactions from her point of view. He had watched her videos to discover how thoroughly she hated him and why and to fall ever more deeply in love with her; to gain hope that her feelings toward him had changed and to see that hope dwindle when his mistakes with Wickham threatened to destroy her sister. He had now to watch her videos again, this time likely to discover how baseless his hopes had always been.
Resolutely, he pulled out his phone and navigated to her Pemberley videos. Perhaps he was a masochist after all.
Lizzie was ashamed of her videos. That was the first unwelcome fact to present itself. Not ashamed in general, but as they related to him. In a way, this represented progress. Prior to the disaster at Collins & Collins, she hadn't hesitated to tell her viewers of her hatred for him. She had immediately regretted telling him of her videos, but only because she feared he would sue her in retaliation. Since coming to Pemberley--since reading his letter even--she seemed to regret some of the actual content she'd posted about him. She had been mortified when Gigi suggested that his employees had seen her videos, and she had been leery of becoming friends with the sister of the man she had disparaged. He had seen her uncertainty but had hesitated to address it directly, doubting whether either of them was ready for a candid discussion about the past.
"He's a guy I used to complain about on my videos." He had hoped that telling her he still watched her videos and agreeing to appear in them would ease her doubts. For a time, Lizzie had seemed to respond to his indirect assurances, playfully recalling her old "newsie" taunt during "Corporate Interview." Unfortunately, his blunder while playing Gigi in costume theater had undercut the progress he'd made, making Lizzie believe then and now that he resented her past criticisms.
Darcy stared over at the window, a muscle in his jaw working in his dismay. Lizzie's videos were so much more than a thesis project to her. She invested herself in them, revealing her strengths and faults and vulnerabilities in a way most people, himself included, would find terrifying. The videos showed how unique and creative she was, but instead of helping her see her talent, he had inspired only her shame.
When at last he returned his attention to her videos, what he found dismayed him even more.
Lizzie habitually expected the worst from him. When they first met at Pemberley, she had thought him upset by her presence. That was understandable, given the circumstances, but that was not the only example. He watched "Hyper-Mediation in New Media" again, struck this time by the courage it had evidently taken to ask him to help with her video. She had explained her costume theater idea doubtingly, as if expecting him to burst forth in mockery at any moment. "Whydidn'tyoutellBingaboutmyvideos" had become a single word in her agitation, and she had assumed he would rebuke her for revealing the truth about "Batman's" "cave" money. Later, she had anticipated his fury for daring to post Gigi's revelation about Wickham. Even after they had spent an entire day together touring the city, she had been uncertain if he would agree to be filmed for "Corporate Interview."
Time and again, she had expected his disapproval, his dismissal, his anger even. What had he said or done to make her doubt him?
He played the videos again, this time focusing on himself. It was no use. He was unequal to the task of watching himself and trying to guess what she could read in him. He should have recognized her misconception, though--he had, in individual instances, and had been glad for the opportunity to prove himself better than her expectations, but not until now had he realized the full extent of it.
Darcy remained locked in painful thoughts for some minutes. At length, he stood and moved to the window, the momentary stiffness in his back a reminder of how long he'd sat motionless on the stool.
Reflection brought him no comfort, only a greater certainty of his failure with Lizzie. He could not wonder that she didn't comprehend him, not when the events of today proved how abysmally he had failed to comprehend her. He had 93 videos' worth of her expressions and conversations to aid him, for all the good it did.
He pushed away from the window and resumed his seat. How quickly he had forgotten what he had learned from seeing himself portrayed in costume theater! Lizzie's face when imitating him had taken on a rigidity, her scowl matching her hard, expressionless voice. She had found him unknowable then, and--he drew a shuddering breath as the truth lacerated his heart--despite her willingness in San Francisco to see him differently, she still found him unknowable now.
Darcy set his phone on her stool and bent nearly double, his hands on his face as he released both his breath and his hopes. They were not friends. He was a force of nature, a guy she used to complain about in her videos. There was nothing more to say about him.
© 2013 Copyright held by the author.