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Save Me, San Francisco

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I been so damn lost since you’re not around

I been reggae and calypso

Won’t you save me, San Francisco?

 

-Train

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“Don’t your feet hurt in those things?”

 

Cricket examines Lola’s peep-toed spike heels with interest as they walk—well, he walks; she’s doing some sort of marching thing, arms swinging in fists at her sides.

 

The heels are studded with metal points that look sharp enough to put an eye out. Or at least seriously scratch someone’s cornea. They’re paired with shining silver leggings and a reflective white peplum top. Her lips are painted an electric blue, there are tiny rhinestones pressed to the corners of her eyes, and she’s repurposed a broken silver pocket watch as a hairpin. If the sun catches her right, she has a glare so blinding that it could make your eyes water.

 

She looks, he thinks, like the future. Like his future.

 

“Years from now,” Lola pants, groaning as they start to climb another hill, “I am confident that a brilliant female scientist will have developed the technology for painless heels. They will sing songs of her brilliance at fashion week. They will award her a Nobel Peace Prize for ending the pain and suffering of models and fashion-forward women everywhere.”

 

“And until then?”

 

“Until then, shhhh.” She grits her teeth and marches on.

 

He watches in amusement, grinning and lets her get a bit of a lead on him. It takes him only three loping strides to catch up with her.

 

“You didn’t have to walk me you know.”

 

“I know,” she says quickly. “But it’s a big deal, today. You’re graduating next week and all of these fancy companies want you to work for them, and this one is actually in San Francisco…”

 

“Lola,” he says softly and reaches for her hand, entwining their fingers.

 

“It’s fine.” Her smile strains as she shakes her head, her short white wig swinging. “But it’s not like you can dress in costume to encourage the universe to send positive future vibes our way.”

 

They walk the rest of the way to Pemberley Digital in a silence broken only by the sound of Lola’s panting and the painful pleas of their hearts.

 

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“Lizzie.”

 

“I’m not saying that I want to be invited to her wedding--“

 

“Lizzie.”

 

“--But if you don’t think she knew exactly what she was doing, you’re an idiot,” Lizzie concludes, throwing her laptop case into his chair with such force that if it had been one Caroline Lee-soon-to-be-Elton she’d be without a head and she’d probably be a much better person for it.

 

On William’s desk, his phone lights up with a text alert from her sister. Lizzie had been on the phone with her, cell pressed to her ear as she’d fumbled through the mail at the apartment she and William share. Lydia had been in the midst of telling her about Gigi’s visit wherein the two of them had “totes owned Carter’s” before Lizzie had interrupted.

 

“Lydia? I’ve got to call you back,” she’d said, voice tight. The calligraphy on the envelope glared up at her. “I’ve got to run over to Pemberley.”

 

“Red alert, Darceinator,” the text reads now. “Hurricane Lizzie headed your way.”

 

A little late there, Lydia. 

 

“Am I an idiot robot now?” William’s lips twitch as she huffs out a noisy, disgruntled breath, finished with her tirade. She rolls her eyes. “Or an idiot newsie?” He slides his arms around her waist as a smile slides across his features, hiding his grin in the crook of her neck. She feels it etched there like a tattoo. “I find it’s difficult to keep track at times. Am I malfunctioning or do I require a rousing chorus of Seize the Day to get important matters accomplished?”

 

“You think you’re funny,” she grumbles.

 

“You’re often inclined to agree with me.”

 

“I also think kittens playing with chinchillas are funny. I’m not exactly a taste-maker.” She finally lets the corners of her mouth tug up as he drops a kiss onto her shoulder blade, and sighs, playing with the hair at the nape of his neck.

 

“She sent the invitation to William Darcy and guest.”

 

“Yes.”

 

And guest, William.”

 

“I know.”

“I bet the senator she’s marrying is douchey anyway.”

 

“Bing seems to like him.”

 

“Bing likes everyone!”

 

“A fair point.”

 

“I can see the two of them now.” Lizzie flips her hair and adopts a cool tone “Oh, Senator Douchelord. We should insist upon only water and juices being served. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to focus on food or alcohol when they could be focusing on…” She tosses her head and lowers her eyes with a smirk. “Me, of course.”

 

“You’re wishing you had her sunglasses from costume theatre right now, aren’t you?”

 

“I do miss it sometimes.”

 

She doesn’t want to go to this wedding. She doesn’t. But seriously. Seriously, she cannot believe that Caroline is still this casually manipulative. Well, maybe she can believe it. It’s been a little while since she’s had to deal with her. Lizzie, William, Gigi, and Lydia had visited Jane and Bing in New York for Thanksgiving and it had been an entirely pleasant experience.

 

Now, she reflects that that is probably due to Caroline’s absence.

 

“I wish we could skip it,” she half-breathes, half-whines, toying with the tie at his neck. She misses the bowtie, but this kind of tie has other advantages.

 

“It’s entirely within the realm of possibility.” William pulls back to look at her affectionately and sometimes that look he gives her, soft and accepting and like he’s still not sure that all of this is real, puts a lump in her throat. “Would you like me to make our excuses? I can have Reynolds make some sort of travel arrangements…”

 

And he would too, she knows. “No,” she sighs. “No, we have to go.” Because letting Caroline get to her is one thing, but letting Caroline know that she got to her? No. No, no, nopity, nope, ain’t gonna happen. She doesn’t make the videos anymore, she gets to pretend to be this cool, confident unruffled grown-up and since she doesn’t tell the internet about the minute details of her life anymore, Caroline will never know that she’s a fraud.

 

Actually, she thinks it may bother Caroline to think that Lizzie wasn’t at all affected.

 

Huh. An upside.

 

“Will it be so bad? Jane will be there. You can stand in the corner and invent stories about the guests while she admonishes you.”

 

She laughs, and picks up her laptop case. “Because secret conversations about strangers at weddings are never overheard. No, William Darcy, we’re going to go to that wedding. And what’s more, we’re going to dance.

 

“I was afraid of that.” He tucks his chin, just a little bit, and a wry smile twists down at his shoes.

 

Her hair is tangled in her Pemberley badge and she yanks it loose impatiently. “Do you have time for lunch?”

 

“Unfortunately, not at the moment. I’m interviewing a young man for an engineering position.” His hands go into his pockets and he rocks back on his heels.

 

She threads her arms through his and pecks him on the lips quickly before heading out the door. “Don’t call him a young man. You’re probably not that much older than him. I’ll be in the cafeteria when you’re done. I want to get some work done on the Docutemporary.” She wrinkles her nose. “I’m still not sold on that title.”

 

“Doesn’t your company have its own facilities?” he calls after her.

 

She ducks her head back into the room for one more tease: “Yes, but women don’t swoon over them nearly as often.”

 

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The young man—that is, the job applicant—is rather tall. Taller than William is, which while not unprecedented, is unusual.

 

“Cricket Bell?” William extends a hand, which Cricket shakes. It's a firm, but very quick handshake. Room for improvement. “William Darcy.”

 

His eyes widen. “As in the CEO of Pemberley Digital, William Darcy?” Nervously, he fluffs up the back of his hair. It serves as an optical illusion, albeit an effective one, that he is even taller. “Do they usually have the CEO interview people for entry-level engineering jobs?”

 

“No.”

 

Lizzie would tell him to elaborate, that his agoraphobic lobster tendencies are shining through, to which he would respond that not only would the lobster have been unable to vocalize a single word, but, if she’ll notice, he’d managed to shake Cricket Bell’s hand without any sort of maiming.

 

You and your logic, she’d say. He smiles a little easier imagining it as he gestures to the chair in front of his desk. “Please, have a seat.”

 

He folds himself into the chair as if he’s grateful to it for catching him. His elbows are tucked in and his legs are close to the chair’s legs like he isn’t used to having room to spread out.

 

William settles himself at his desk, smoothing down his tie and picking up the fountain pen that rests next to Cricket Bell’s cover letter, resume, and application. “This isn’t an interview for an entry-level position.”

 

This throws Cricket. He actually draws his head back as if dodging a projectile. “It’s not.”

 

“No.”

 

“Am I supposed to be somewhere—“

 

“No.”

 

“I haven’t even graduated yet.”

 

“I am aware.”

 

“Then…?”

 

The papers crinkle softly as William lifts them to find the specific passages he’s searching for. “In your cover letter, you enumerate your dreams of inventing. You talk about simple innovations and creating to add the beauty in the world. You say that—one moment, I want to be certain I quote this correctly.” He reaches for his glasses, thick black frames sitting beside his phone. “You say that ‘Just because something isn't practical doesn't mean it's not worth creating.’”

 

He looks out the window at the grounds of Pemberley. “My parents didn’t create Pemberley Digital, but they rebranded it. They innovated it. That is a spirit that I have always attempted to keep alive and well here. I am not interested in having a stagnant company that stays the course. I am interested in the evolution—or even the revolution of digital media. I am interested in Pemberley Digital leading that charge. If you’re the type of man I think you are, you’ve seen our work with Domino. We want to go beyond that.”

 

He cuts his eyes to Cricket, who is leaning forward, hands on his knees. Did his hair get bigger while William was looking away? His legs stretch out just a little further now. “You’d have room here. Room to grow. To challenge even your own limitations.”

 

Cricket grins. “This isn’t an entry-level position.”

 

“No, it’s not.”

 

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This place is unreal.

 

Lola chews on a hangnail as she sits at a vacant table. She’d seen Cricket into the building and a nice older woman had given her a security pass and a voucher for the cafeteria. Andy would love it. They have a snickerdoodle pie. She didn’t even know that was a thing.

 

“Hey.” A girl with dark red hair shuffles her feet in front of Lola. Lola blinks up at her, feeling her false lashes stick just a little to the bottom lashes. Damn. On a day like today, she should have sprung for the more expensive brand, instead of the dollar drugstore brand.

 

She wonders how much longer Cricket’s going to be.

 

“Um. Is it all right if I sit down?” The girl hoists her laptop bag a little higher on her shoulder. She laughs a little and it sounds just a little stilted. “I picked a bad time to come down here. Prime lunch hour and cafeteria real estate is scarce. I promise not to bug you.”

 

“Oh. Sure.”

 

“Thanks. I’m Lizzie, by the way.”

 

“Lola.”

 

Lizzie unzips her laptop case and yanks an old Macbook from its depths. The clicking of her typing makes for a comfortable soundtrack as Lola pulls her phone from a cell phone holster at her hip (because a purse hadn’t seemed right today). She thumbs through some old photos: a trip with the Bells to Paris, last Halloween when she’d decided that she and Cricket had to go as the moon and the sun, a horrible Facetime photo when he’d gone to one of Calliope’s events and she’d been stuck at school with finals.

 

She hadn’t seen him for two weeks. It had sucked.

 

What if he doesn’t get this job?

 

Crap, no, she is thinking Positive Future Thoughts now, positive. She and Cricket are good, they’re solid, it’s Future with a capital F, it’s a sure thing and—

 

And what if he gets a job that’s not in San Francisco?

 

She bites her lip because she is afraid. She would do the long distance thing for him, she would, but she hates it, hates having him far away. She likes him an arms’-length, a window, a short train ride away at the most. She likes him where she can lean back and look at the impossible length of him, where he can fold her into him, press her to his heart, where she can reach out and touch his hand and where he can let her.

 

“Whoops.” A pen clatters to the floor. Lizzie ducks under the table to retrieve it and pauses. “Whoa.”

 

It’s the shoes. They have that effect on people.

 

When she pops up again, her hair has come a little loose from her half-back style. “I have to tell you, your shoes are kind of awesome.”

 

This improves Lola’s mood by a fraction. “Thanks.”

 

Lizzie surveys her whole outfit now. “Actually, your whole outfit is kind of awesome. It’s sort of… spacey? Sci-fi?”

 

“Futuristic?” Lola suggests and Lizzie laughs.

 

“Yes, exactly.” She purses her lips, thinking. Her eyes move slowly from Lola to her laptop. “Have you ever done any costume design?”

 

“Every day of my life. But not so much professionally.”

 

“Would you like to?”

 

“I’m not sure I—“

 

Lizzie waves her hands. “Oh, sorry, I should explain! I’m working on this webseries called ‘Docutemporary’—I know, it’s just a working title—and the basic premise is sort of… The Office meets time travel? It’s filmed like a reality show revolving around these documentarians who make each film about a different time period by travelling back in time. We’ve got enough to pay an intern stipend—please tell me you’re in school-- but have kind of a shoestring budget for costume. Which is important for obvious reasons in a time-travel series.”

 

That sounds… amazing, actually. She could do everything. Flapper dresses, Victorian fashion, the fifties… Lola eyes the badge around Lizzie’s neck. “So you work here?”

 

“Not… exactly. Um. My boyfriend does.”

 

Lola’s brought right back to the present. “Oh.” She examines her hands. “My boyfriend might.”

 

Lizzie draws back a little, confused and seeming a little offended for someone who doesn’t even work there. “It’s a great place to work, you know,” she says shortly.

 

“Yeah,” Lola says. “It seems amazing.”

 

“So why do you sound like I just told you they lock the employees in a room without sunlight to increase productivity?”

 

“Sorry. I just—It does seem amazing. I’m just afraid to get my hopes up for him.”

 

“Ah.” Lizzie’s brow unfurrows. “There are always other jobs,” she offers.

 

“Not like this one,” Lola says. “Not in San Francisco.” Lizzie doesn’t seem to have a response for this, but Lola has just a little more to add. “Long distance is hard, and I’m afraid that the universe won’t keep giving me second chances.”

 

Lizzie closes her laptop and smiles at Lola. It’s a smile that pulls one out of her to match. “Take it from someone who knows something about second chances,” Lizzie says. “If it’s meant to be, the universe doesn’t give up on you.”

 

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They talk for a while longer. Lola likes Lizzie’s ideas about the web series, and Lizzie likes Lola’s ideas for costume designs that will be cheap, but won’t look cheap.

 

“If someone’s going to be sitting down confessional style, you don’t have to waste money on a renaissance-style skirt either. Just the top,” she suggests. Lola’s long since finished her snickerdoodle pie and they’ve moved on to tea while they bounce ideas off of each other. Lola’s almost forgotten why she’s there when she sees the unmistakable shape of Cricket Bell’s hair bobbing above the other people milling about the cafeteria.

 

“Sorry, Lizzie,” she interrupts. “Give me a second?”

 

She’d fly over to Cricket if it were possible, but running in these heels is hard enough. She screeches to halt in front of him. “So?”

 

He grins and she throws her arms around him. “You got the job?”

 

“I got the job.”

 

Someone clears his throat behind him and Cricket introduces Mr. Darcy, the CEO of the company. Lizzie, laptop at her hip, joins their small huddle. “Is this the boyfriend?”

 

“Yes,” Lola says, beaming.

 

Once introductions and small talk are finished (Lizzie’s boyfriend who “works here” owns the company, how’s that for subtle?), Lola can’t stop grinning. “You got the job,” she repeats, shaking Cricket a little. “We have to call your sister and tell her or she’ll think I’m making you keep secrets from her.”

 

“Sister?” Lizzie asks.

 

“Twin sister,” Cricket clarifies.

 

Lizzie laughs and elbows Mr. Darcy. “William. He has a twin sister,” she says.

 

“I heard.”

 

They wait, but neither Lizzie nor Darcy seem inclined to elaborate on exactly why that’s funny.

 

“We’d better get going,” Cricket says. “Lola has an early class tomorrow. But I’ll see you in a few weeks?”

 

“I look forward to it.” They shake hands as Lizzie digs in her bag for a business card to give Lola. “Let me call you a car,” Mr. Darcy offers.

 

“That’s o—“ Cricket starts to decline before Lola cuts him off, relieved for her feet.

 

“That would be great,” she says. “The hills in this city are absolutely unforgiving.”