"Maria, are you recording?"
Maria straightened the video camera and made sure that Ricky's face was in focus. The last time she'd filmed him the camera's face recognition software had decided to focus on a pot plant instead. He had not been impressed.
"Yep!" she replied brightly. This was so exciting!
Ricky obviously agreed, if the look of nervous glee on his face was anything to go by. Charlotte's expression was more subdued, but it usually was.
"Fantastic!" He gave her a cheerful smile and Maria decided that he must have forgiven her about the plant thing. Ricky was the best boss ever. "I think it is more than fitting that this momentous occasion in the history of our company, Collins and Collins, be recorded on video, since it is the in the very medium of video that we, here at Collins and Collins, have chosen to..." He was interrupted by a loud ding.
"The elevator!" He turned to Charlotte. "Miss Lu! Is my tie straight?"
"Yes, Mr Collins," said Charlotte, in exactly the same comforting tone she'd used on Maria when she was six and convinced that Voldemort lived in her closet.
Maria turned her camera towards the door and tried to focus through the frosted glass. There was definitely someone walking up the corridor, but it didn't look much like...
"Mr Darcy!" said Ricky with a loud, confident voice, turning quickly with his right hand stuck out to shake hands with the person coming through the door.
Who... had turned out to be Lizzie. Maria grinned. This was even better than meeting Mr Darcy! She hadn't seen Lizzie in ages.
"Uh..." Lizzie looked at Ricky's proffered hand like it was a dead fish. "I'm not Darcy. I mean, I know we do look an awful lot alike, but you can tell us apart by the fact I'm not wearing a scarf and the way that I don't radiate a constant aura of disdain."
"Miss Bennet!" said Ricky. "I was not expecting...you were not expected to arrive until...I thought you were Mr Darcy! He was supposed to be here!"
"Hi Lizzie," said Charlotte. "It's good to see you."
"Hey," said Lizzie, looking over at Charlotte with a wonky little smile. Smiling was good! Much better than shouting. Maria had been worried there might be shouting. But they just stood there smiling at each other, like the whole refusing to speak to each other thing had never happened. Maybe time did heal all wounds. Time and a very carefully worded email- Charlotte had worked on the invitation to visit for days.
Meanwhile Ricky was muttering to himself. "Where can he be? Did I somehow make a mistake with the invitation? No, I was far too meticulous..."
Eventually Lizzie remembered that there were other people in the room and turned towards Maria, still smiling. "Is that a video camera I see in your hands, Maria Lu?" she said. "Following in your big sister's footsteps, huh?"
"She even got me a job here as an intern!"
Lizzie's expression soured a little. "Good for you...I guess. Though you know, you don't have to follow in her footsteps exactly. There's other ways to get into video making."
"Lizzie..." began Charlotte.
"You're looking for Darcy?" said Lizzie, pointedly interrupting Charlotte and turning to Ricky. "He couldn't find parking. I bumped into him in the parking lot just as he was driving off to find somewhere else to park. I told him I passed some empty spots down by the bowling alley."
Ricky's face went white with horror. "The nephew of Catherine de Bourgh comes to visit my offices, and he is forced to park at a bowling alley? Oh, this will not do. This will not do at all!"
He wrung his hands for a moment then searched his pockets for his keys before walking quickly towards the door. "Miss Lu!" he said decisively to Charlotte. "I must find Mr Darcy, and then bring him back here, where I will provide him with access to my own private parking space. You are in charge until then!"
She nodded, and Ricky ran off out the doors, looking the most scared Maria had seen him since they were kids and Lydia had persuaded him that the Bennet house was haunted.
Lizzie snickered and watched him run.
"So, Lizzie," said Charlotte. "Welcome to Collins and Collins!"
"Not Collins and Lu? Or Lu and Collins?" asked Lizzie satirically. Charlotte made a face and Lizzie gave an apologetic smile. "Thanks," she said, in a friendlier tone. "I'm glad I could make it. Sorry me arriving a day early caused so much trouble, there was a thing with Mom, and...I'll explain it to you later. Anyway, it's good to be here! And good to see you, you look...great. Really great. You should wear business wear more often." She grinned and Charlotte blushed.
"I, uh...thanks. It's really good to see you too. I've missed you."
"Yeah me too," said Lizzie. "I'm really glad you invited me here, and I'm sorry I gave you so much hassle about taking Ricky's offer. You did what you had to do, and if you're happy then I'm happy."
"I am happy," said Charlotte. "Especially now I have my best friend back."
Now Lizzie was blushing. They were adorable. Maria started imagining how the scene would look if she put a soft filter over it and some backing music. She could call it "BFFs: The reunion" and get Lizzie to post it on her youtube channel, that would be awesome.
"Well," said Lizzie, "Do I get the grand tour? Show me all the sights! The Collins and Collins break room! The Collins and Collins monogrammed toilet paper! The Collins and Collins private jet!"
"The break room is great!" said Maria. She was pretty sure Lizzie was joking about the jet, and the paper in the bathroom was regular plain white. "Ricky got the idea for how to lay it out from Catherine de Bourgh herself! It has a coffee machine right next to the cups! And the coffee is free."
"Wow," said Lizzie. "This I have to see for myself. Next to the cups you say? She truly is a genius of business management. And who can resist free coffee?"
"Exactly!" said Maria, who had possibly drunk a little more of it today than was entirely healthy.
The tour went really well. Maria had been a little worried that Lizzie would be really negative, since she'd been so against Charlotte taking the job, but she seemed to be genuinely impressed by how nice the offices were. Maria certainly was, and she came here every day!
"Wow, your office is huge!" said Lizzie, standing next to Charlotte and looking out the great big window in her office. Maria didn't have a window, or her own office, but she was only an intern, so she tried not to be too jealous of Charlotte. "And you have a view! Of a the back of a warehouse, sure, but it's a surprisingly attractive warehouse. I bet it gets all the warehouse modelling jobs and the other warehouses are jealous."
"I actually could have gotten a bigger office," said Charlotte, "but I liked this one more. It does have a nice view, and it's in it's own separate partition with a lock on the door, so people can only come in and talk to me when I want them to."
"People like Ricky?" asked Lizzie with a sly smile.
Charlotte coughed and tried to hide her answering smile. "Actually, I often don't see Ricky...Mr Collins for days at a time. His office is at the other end of the building, and I've made it clear that I don't like to be disturbed unnecessarily. The work environment here is quite...satisfactory. I'm glad I took the job."
"Right," said Lizzie. She reached out and took Charlotte's hand, her eyes shining in the afternoon light streaming through the window. "You know, I said it before, but I really am happy for you. And I'm sure you're going to do great things at Collins and Collins."
"I'm sure you're going to do great things too," said Charlotte. "And just because I'm working here now...I hope that doesn't mean we can't do...things together, one day." She stepped towards Lizzie and gave a really big smile, the sort you didn't see her give very often.
Maria concentrated on making the camera zoom in on their faces smoothly. This was compelling stuff. Neither of them noticed: they were too busy looking into each other's eyes. She smiled to herself. If this was a movie, there'd be a swell of music and then a big romantic moment. Well, if they weren't both girls, anyway.
"Now kiss," she muttered to herself, snickering.
"What?" said Lizzie, blushing and stepping away from Charlotte. They were both looking at her with wide eyes. Maria wanted to sink into the floor in embarrassment or maybe just die.
"Oh God, I didn't mean it like that, I'm sorry!" she said. "I just...the two of you together, it looked like...but I was just joking and I mean...obviously, you wouldn't...um."
Lizzie was avoiding meeting Charlotte's eye and blushing bright pink. "Yeah, Maria," she said with a nervous laugh "I mean it's not like I was...that I would ever think of Charlotte...I mean...how weird would that be? If I was interested in her like that? Especially because, I mean, it's not like she's into girls anyway, so obviously she wouldn't be into me, so even if I was interested, which I'm not, I would never..." She trailed off, and started playing with the mug of pens on Charlotte's desk until she accidentally knocked it over. After swearing and righting it again she turned to Maria with a forced smile. "Didn't you say something earlier about free coffee?"
Charlotte didn't say anything during all this, she just blinked at Lizzie slowly.
"When did I say I wasn't into girls?" she asked once Lizzie had babbled her way into awkward silence.
"Back in high school," said Lizzie. "After John Willoughby broke my heart I said I was considering becoming a lesbian, and I asked you if you'd ever thought about it. And you said you were pretty sure you weren't a lesbian, and that a single bad relationship wasn't sufficient reason for giving up on a whole gender. And then you said that instead of making quick judgements and rushing into things, I should wait to find someone who really suited me and would make me happy."
"You remembered that?"
"Uh...yeah," said Lizzie.
"You know," said Charlotte slowly, looking Lizzie in the eye, "just because I'm not a lesbian doesn't mean I'm not into girls."
"What, really?" said Maria. She took a moment to process it. "So you're, like...bisexual or something? Wow! Have you told Mom? And Dad, omg, they are going to freak!" Realising that this was not the script you were supposed to follow when one of your siblings came out she added "But it's totally ok, I still love and accept you. Actually...it makes you kind of cool." Today had been so exciting. And she hadn't even met Mr Darcy yet!
"Uh, thanks," said Charlotte. "And yes, actually, I have told Mom and Dad, back when I was dating Ed. It seemed prudent to bring it up when I was with a guy. That way they wouldn't start freaking out about never having grandchildren. They were surprisingly accepting, actually."
"And you never told me?" said Maria. "But I'm you're sister!" Oh god, did she come across as really homophobic or something? She didn't think she was homophobic. She'd even posted that "It gets better" thing from Pixar on her Facebook!
"What about me? I'm your best friend!" said Lizzie.
"It just...didn't come up," said Charlotte. "Unlike Mom and Dad, I knew you'd both be accepting if you found out unexpectedly but talking about it could have been awkward. So...I didn't. I don't know, maybe I should have said something."
"You bet you should have!" said Lizzie. "I mean, I'm not...I don't think I'm....mostly...but it would have been nice...and I just..." She stopped and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I'm being an ass. You didn't have to tell me if you didn't feel comfortable about it. But I'm glad I know. And I'm sorry I just assumed."
"Me too," said Maria. She was glad Lizzie was here to express things so eloquently.
"That's ok," said Charlotte. "I mean, you're straight, it probably just didn't occur to you."
"Hey, I'm only mostly straight," said Lizzie. "I get interested in girls...sometimes."
"Really?" said Charlotte. "You never mentioned it to me."
"Aha!" said Lizzie. "Now who's complaining about being kept in the dark!"
Charlotte raised an eyebrow and Lizzie smiled.
There was a happy silence. Except...was that someone shouting she could hear in the distance?
"So, about those girls you've been interested in," said Charlotte. "Anyone I know?"
"Uh..." said Lizzie, looking out the window at the warehouse. "...maybe."
"I see," said Charlotte. "Well, in the interests of full disclosure..."
"Shh!" said Maria. "I can hear something." She strained her ears and could just make out the words "Miss Lu! Miss Lu!" She moved closer to the door to hear better. "Charlotte!" she cried, "Ricky's back! And he's brought Mr Darcy!"
Charlotte did not look as happy as Maria would have expected. In fact she looked downright annoyed.
"That took long enough," said Lizzie. "Did Darcy get lost and start driving to the bowling alley back home? Not that I'm complaining."
"You should go meet with them," said Charlotte to Maria. "I'll be there in a second, I have something I want to clear up with Lizzie first."
Maria looked at her sister in shock. Charlotte was the most diligent person she knew. She never blew off a responsibility. Like ever. And Ricky was waiting for her.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," said Charlotte, firmly.
"Ok!" said Maria, and rushed out the door. Hopefully Ricky wouldn't be too mad. He had been pretty enthusiastic about Lizzie touring Collins and Collins after all. Which was weird, really, since she'd been pretty clear about not wanting to work there. He must just be really proud of his business!
It was only once Maria had jogged across the whole building to meet up with Ricky that she realised that she'd forgotten the camera. Since Charlotte hadn't shown up yet she decided it would be rude to go back and get it, so she just smiled and tried to give off the professional polish Ricky was always going on about. Luckily Mr Darcy wasn't half as scary as Lizzie had made him out to be. He even managed a small smile for her and Charlotte when they turned up a few minutes later.
"Here's your camera back," said Charlotte, handing it to Maria. "I noticed it as we were leaving my office. You should take better care of it!"
"Oh wow thanks!" said Maria, and started shooting again for a whole thirty seconds before Darcy complained and made her turn off the camera. Ok, maybe Lizzie was right about him after all.
"So...I guess you have to do the grand tour again," said Lizzie. "I should let you work."
"You don't have to go," said Charlotte.
"Indeed," said Mr Darcy.
"Have you seen the break room?" asked Ricky. "The layout is based on ideas from Catherine de Bourgh herself!"
"Yes, I've seen the break room," said Lizzie, "And it was magnificent." Ricky beamed. Lizzie smiled shyly at Charlotte. "No, I'll let you work, but...see you tonight? At your place?"
Charlotte beamed even wider than Ricky. "Absolutely," she said.
That afternoon as she reviewed her footage Maria realised that Charlotte hadn't just turned off the camera when she'd noticed it, she'd erased the whole conversation in her office from just after the point where she and Lizzie finished talking about how nice it was. Maria was a little disappointed, she'd been curious to know what Charlotte had wanted to talk to Lizzie about so urgently, but watching an accidentally recorded conversation like that would probably be a violation of the video maker's code or something anyway.
Letting go of her dream of creating "BFFs: the reunion" Maria started up her editing software and began cutting clips for "Collins and Collins: the future of video editing" instead. Maybe if she did a good job Ricky would put it up on the official website! Drinking another cup of free coffee Maria smiled to herself. Today had been the best day ever.