"You do realize we're here to have Christmas dinner with my parents," Lizzie declared, squeezing Darcy's bicep with the hand looped through his arm as they made their way up the driveway. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"
“Just please tell me your mother isn’t serving fruitcake,” he pleaded. “I don’t think I can think of any other ways to surreptitiously dispose of it.”
“You’ve been tossing my mom’s fruitcake?” Lizzie asked, surprised. “That’s funny; she seems to think you like it. After dinner last week, she spent the rest of the weekend overjoyed that the great William Darcy did her the honor of complimenting her fruitcake.”
Darcy sighed. “I couldn’t exactly tell your mother that it didn't look very appealing,” he said. "She was so very proud of it, and I have been trying to be less abrupt around her."
“Well, now you’re screwed because Mom has been telling everyone about it.” Lizzie cleared her throat before speaking in her mother’s accent. “‘Why, Debbie,’” she said, batting her eyelashes and placing the hand not wrapped around Darcy's elbow over her heart, “‘did I tell you that Mister Darcy, my Lizzie’s handsome rich boyfriend—I’ve told you about him, right? He’s a millionaire—told me just the other day that my fruitcake, which I serve every time he’s come over this season, Debbie, because you know how everyone loves my fruitcake. Well, anyhow, he told me it was causing him to recall his opinions on fruitcake, as he hadn’t been served fruitcake in so long and he’d almost forgotten? And then—‘” Lizzie paused here before bursting into laughter. “Oh, God,” she said in her normal voice. “Recall your opinions. Oh, poor Mom.”
"It seems too late now to rectify the situation," Darcy replied regretfully. "I do not wish to mislead your mother, but nor do I wish for her to constantly serve fruitcake while under the misapprehension that I enjoy it."
"Have you ever had fruitcake?" Lizzie asked. "Or are you making a judgment call based on what you think it'll taste like?"
Darcy hesitated, finally giving a sheepish little shrug. "I haven't actually tried it before," he said. "But it just looks completely unappealing."
"Hmm," said Lizzie. "It's not like you to make assumptions based on how things appear without fully researching all sides of a situation to make sure you're right."
"Is that sarcasm I hear?"
"Sarcasm? From me? Never."
He nudged her playfully. "It is not as though it is harming anything."
"No," Lizzie said. "But one of these days, it's not going to work anymore and you won't be able to hide the fruitcake in your sock or wherever you've been sticking it when Mom's not looking."
Dinner went as well as it ever did when Darcy had dinner with the Bennets. Mr. Bennet said little, Mrs. Bennet said too much, and Jane, Lydia, and Lizzie did their best to keep Darcy from drowning himself in the soup tureen by frequently changing the subject.
After dinner, Mr. Bennet and the other two Bennet daughters led Darcy to the living room, where they sat and waited in silence (occasionally broken by the ping of Lydia's phone as she received texts, and her giggles as she replied to them) while Mrs. Bennet dragged Lizzie off to the kitchen, ostensibly to help prepare the coffee and dessert but, judging by the long-suffering sigh Lizzie let out as she was being led off, Mrs. Bennet more likely wanted to grill her middle daughter about why Darcy hadn't proposed yet.
Mrs. Bennet and Lizzie returned after a few minutes, and Mrs. Bennet handed Darcy a plate; he tried not to look frustrated when he saw that it contained a rather large slice of fruitcake.
"I'd like your opinion, William," she said, patting his arm. "You're so used to eating all those fancy foods; you would know best. You see, at church last week, I was talking to Delia Miller, and she said that she was watching a cooking show where they were making fruitcake, and the chef suggested adding a little coffee to the recipe, and I thought that sounded just so interesting. I think it turned out really well; what do you think?"
Mrs. Bennet peered at him intently, and Darcy hesitated, his gaze flickering between her and the cake in his hand, which still didn't look very appealing (he was almost positive those candied fruits were glowing). He could see Lizzie watching them, and she was trying not to smile at his discomfort. Told you so, her raised eyebrows seemed to say, and he had to keep himself from rolling his eyes at her while Mrs. Bennet could see.
"I'm sure it's as delicious as always, Mrs. Bennet," he said solemnly, attempting to hand the plate back. "But I'm afraid I have no room for dessert and I wouldn't want to undertake such a delicate task as this without being fully prepared."
"Oh, it's fine," Mrs. Bennet said soothingly, flapping one hand in a dismissive gesture, and Darcy was beginning to relax until she continued. "You don't have to eat the whole piece, just a teensy little bite is fine."
Lizzie couldn't hold in her snicker this time, and Darcy made a mental note to get her back for it at the first opportunity. He gave one last glance to a hopeful Mrs. Bennet and sighed internally. The things I do for love, he thought, before picking up the fork and using it to cut as small as piece as he thought he could politely get away with and eating it. His eyebrows shot up as he chewed. "This is quite good," he said, hoping he didn't sound as surprised as he felt.
Mrs. Bennet beamed at him. "Oh, wonderful," she exclaimed. "You know, I've been trying to teach Lizzie how to make it, but she's so hopeless in the kitchen; it's a good thing she's with you and has a chef to cook for her or you two would starve to death, and you're already both so thin, I can't even imagine."
"I can make Ramen," said Lizzie. "That's really all I need to know to survive. Ramen and coffee."
"Well, now you'll need to know how to make fruitcake, Elizabeth," Mrs. Bennet replied. "We want to make sure William has a good Christmas, and what's Christmas without fruitcake?"
"I wouldn't want to take away William's attention from your fruitcake, Mom," said Lizzie, walking over and placing her hands on the back of Darcy's chair. "I mean, he's got such high expectations now," she continued, gesturing towards the still-mostly-full plate in Darcy's hand. "I might as well not even try to live up to the ridiculously high fruitcake standards you've just set."
"You may be right, Lizzie,"said Mrs. Bennet. She patted Darcy's arm again. "I'll just make sure there's always some here whenever you come over, so don't worry about that."
"That's very generous of you," Darcy said, and was suddenly very grateful that fruitcake was a seasonal food. Even Mrs. Bennet wouldn't bake it anytime other than Christmas, would she?