Because Lizzie is the only person in town who knows what’s actually going on in Darcy’s life, he ends up spending a lot of time with her over the next couple of weeks. He’s never really been one to talk about his problems, but he finds that when he does it with Lizzie, it actually helps. She seems better suited to deal with the whole Georgiana situation than he ever was, insightful and empathic and clever. Maybe it’s because she has the emotional distance from it all that he very definitely lacks, maybe it’s because she’s so close with her own sisters. He’s not sure, but he finds himself wishing he’d always had her around to give him advice.
The fact that he’s been spending an increasing amount of time away from Netherfield does not escape the notice of the Lee siblings. Caroline actively ignores it and most mentions of the Bennet sisters that are made in their day-to-day conversations. Bing, however, brings it up one morning just as they’re finishing their daily jog.
“Yes,” Darcy says when Bing very astutely points out that he’s been spending a lot of time with Lizzie.
“I think it’s good for you, man,” Bing says as he towels off the back of his neck. Darcy doesn’t say anything. “I was really worried you and Caroline weren’t enjoying yourselves here. You guys are so…” He glances upward in thought. “Fussy,” he finally says.
“Fussy?” Darcy asks.
“Yeah,” Bing says. “You know how Caroline is with her farmer’s market produce and her imported coffee. And you…”
“Capricious old women are fussy,” Darcy interrupts. “Caroline and I are selective.”
“Whatever,” Bing laughs. “Point is, I’m glad you’re chilling out about everything. Maybe you’ll rub off on Caroline, too.”
“I doubt that.”
“Well I have my hopes up.”
“You always do,” Darcy says. “It is by far your worst character trait.”
Bing just claps him on the shoulder companionably in response. “Oh, by the way,” he adds after a second. “I promised Lydia I’d throw a party at Netherfield sometime.”
“I’ve been told that’s a binding contract.”
“Same here,” Bing laughs. “Anyway, I was thinking a week from Friday?”
“It’s your house,” Darcy says. “You don’t need my permission.”
“I know,” Bing replies. “But you live there too. I wouldn’t want to be a bother.”
“It’s no bother,” Darcy says. Bing gives him a skeptical glance, because they both know there’s really nothing Darcy hates more than noise and large crowds and being forced to socialize, but he just shrugs in reassurance. When he does, Bing breaks out in a wide smile.
“See?” Bing says, poking him in the shoulder. “You’re lightening up already.”
The day of the party, Bing invites Lizzie and Jane over early to help set up. This is mildly suspicious to Lizzie because the party is going to be staffed by like upwards of thirty people, but she goes anyway to hang out.
“What’s this room called again?” she asks as she meanders around the room that is designated as the central location for the party. It’s the size of the church’s rec center. Maybe a little bigger. The ceiling is vaulted, it has four chandeliers, and the floors are hardwood parquet. The entire West wall is louvred windows, a strangely postmodern touch in the antiquated space, and the view leads down to the pool, which is uncovered now that it’s summer. The event staff are wandering around the grounds, setting up party tents. “I mean, like, on the floor plan. What’s its practical use?”
“It’s the ballroom,” Bing says.
“Oookay,” she laughs.
“What’s funny?” Darcy asks from where he’s hooking up the sound system.
“Its practical use is ballroom,” she says, deadpan. He doesn’t get the joke. That’s not really surprising. “I just can’t imagine what possessed you to buy a nine bedroom mansion complete with actual ballroom in the middle of nowhere,” she says to Bing.
“I didn’t really have a reason,” he says in a thoughtful and reflective tone. “But I’m glad I did it.”
“Me too,” Jane agrees.
Lizzie rolls her eyes at them because that’s all there really is to do when they’re being cute and dumb. She wanders over to Darcy.
“Don’t you have people who could be doing that for you?” she asks. He glances up at her reticently. It’s strange to see him bracing his weight against the ground so he can see down low behind the speaker he’s setting up when he’s usually so stiffly postured, strange to see his sleeves cuffed up to his elbows when his shirts are usually immaculately pressed.
“I want it done right, so I decided to do it myself,” he says, turning his attentions back to the wiring.
“Ah,” she says, sitting down on the edge of the make-shift stage (where word of mouth has told her there will be a live string quartet playing, because it’s going to be that kind of party). “So it just takes your overwhelming hubris for you to get your hands dirty. Good to know.”
“You’re particularly bellicose today,” he notes without looking up at her.
“No I’m not.”
He takes a second to raise his eyebrows at her in a way that suggests she is only proving his point, then turns his attentions back to the last of the wires. He stands up as he finishes, wiping his hands on his slacks. “There,” he says.
“Ah, but does it work?” she asks.
“Try it,” he says. She picks up an iPod that was on the stage next to her.
“Yours?” she asks as she hops down and walks over to where he is. He nods and she begins to flip through his music. “Oh my god, I hate your iPod,” she declares after approximately twenty seconds.
She tabs through several more categories. “The only thing on here I have ever heard of is this TED Radio Hour podcast,” she says, holding his iPod up so he can see it. “What is the rest of this?”
“Mostly experimental San Francisco garage rock,” he says.
“Ugh,” she says, handing the device back to him. “No.”
“I said something wrong?” he challenges.
“Yes,” she says.
“Say it again.”
“Experimental San Francisco garage rock,” he says. She pulls a face. “Which part is it that you find objectionable?”
“All of it.”
She pulls her laptop out of her bag and sets it on the bass speaker while she roots around for her own iPod. While she’s doing that, he picks her laptop up, reading off the sticker she stuck to the lid a couple months ago after she’d been to one of Dr. Gardiner’s anti-SOPA talks.
“I support net neutrality,” he says, making a small disdainful noise in the back of his throat after he finishes reading it. She almost doesn’t catch it, it’s so quiet. “Really?”
“Of course,” she says
“I don’t suppose you have a good, logical argument as to why the internet should be treated as if it were some lawless Wild West frontier town,” he says, “and not be held to the same legal standards as the rest of our country.”
“Okay, you’re being overdramatic. And I do, actually.”
“I’d love to hear it.”
“I think the more pressing question here is how do you not support net neutrality?” Lizzie asks, snatching her laptop away from him and dropping it back on her bag. “You run a new media company.”
“Yes,” he says. “But we’re also a production company. We suffer from internet piracy the same as any other studio.”
“Oh, sorry,” Lizzie scoffs, scrolling through her iPod playlists. “I forgot how many people are at this very moment torrenting the Stories of Ann Radcliffe on VHS.”
“We have DVDs,” he says, sounding so truly and genuinely affronted that she can’t help but laugh. He gives her a look with an emotion behind it that Lizzie can’t quite classify.
“Anyway,” she says, shaking her head, a small smile still lingering on her lips. “Compromise for music. The Decemberists?”
“How is that a compromise?”
“I don’t know, isn’t this like hipster music? So that’s your taste. And I’ve actually heard of it, so it’s a halfway point.”
“First of all, my taste in music is not ‘hipster’—”
“If you use airquotes around the word hipster, you’re a hipster,” Lizzie interrupts. He ignores her.
“Secondly, wasn’t that band on the Colbert Report?”
“What, does recognition automatically cancel out talent?”
“No,” Darcy says. “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying I didn’t understand your meaning in saying it was a compromise.”
“Fine,” Lizzie says, scrolling through her iPod and selecting a song by Lady Gaga. She offers the iPod to him. “But let the record show that I tried.”
He plugs it in to the sound system and the dulcet tones of Poker Face fill the room. Darcy closes his eyes in exasperation. Across the room, Jane and Bing laugh as they improvise a little swing dance to the song.
When Darcy opens his eyes again, he sees that Lizzie is staring at him and glances away quickly.
“I’ve never seen you dance,” she tells him.
“There’s a reason for that,” he responds after a labored pause.
“Come on,” she says.
“No,” he says.
“How about a compromise?” she asks. After a second of skeptical silence he shrugs. “Do you know how to waltz?”
He looks at her like she asked him if he knows how to tie his shoes.
“I took a ballroom dance class for PE credit back during undergrad,” she explains. “C’mon.”
He finally resigns himself. “Will you at least let me lead?”
“Only because I’m rusty,” she says, motioning him over to her. He sets the iPods down on the speaker and joins her on the dance floor. He stands an arm’s length away from her and she steps towards him to put them at comfortable dancing distance. He takes her hand, his other hand hovering awkward just above her waist. She puts her hand on his shoulder, and when he does his hand settles down on her waist. His hands are big, and his fingers splay out so that they rest along the swell of her hip.
It’s the closest, Lizzie thinks, that she’s been to him since… well. She puts the thought out of her head as they start dancing at an awkward, lumbering pace.
“Sorry,” she laughs after a second. “It’s been awhile.”
“It’s not your fault,” he says. “This isn’t exactly…” He clears his throat, glancing away from her and back to her very quickly as the song hits its bridge. “Waltzing music.”
“I knew I should have put on Miley Cyrus,” she says with a melodramatic forlorn sigh. Surprisingly enough, he cracks a smile at that. When she laughs she feels his fingers shift against her waist and he laughs too, a low throaty chuckle that she feels reverberate in the pit of her stomach.
Across the room, Bing and Jane call out supportive comments about what a good job they’re doing. Lizzie knows they mean the best, but really, she and Darcy are dancing so badly that she can’t help but feel chuffed at their comments.
“Let’s see you two do better,” she calls back, and they take her up on the offer. They’re pretty good – definitely better than Lizzie and Darcy, but Jane has trouble with the steps and loses her balance when Bing tries to dip her. “Here,” Lizzie offers, forcing Darcy to waltz them towards the other couple. “Switch partners with me.”
Darcy gets out half a protestation before Jane speaks up in support of this plan.
“You’re both much better at it than we are,” Jane agrees emphatically, reaching out to take Lizzie’s arm. “Show us how to do it.”
So they do, and Lizzie and Jane watch on, laughing and leaning on each other for support as Bing tries to convince Darcy to dip him – for demonstration purposes, in the name of teaching Jane.
When Caroline gets home twenty minutes later, they’re all still in stitches over the entire incident, but they’re also under strict orders from Darcy that this particular story never leave the room.
The party goes on for hours, and frankly, Darcy grew tired of it not long after it had started. Most of the evening has been tolerable, but only just so. Lizzie disappeared some time ago, and he’s been wandering the perimeter of the party not so much with the express purpose of finding her as a vague inclination towards it.
He finds her outside, down by the pool. She’s dangling her feet into it. He walks up behind her and she cranes her neck to look at him upside-down, smiling when she sees him.
“Hey,” she says, kicking her feet back and forth through the water.
“Enjoying the party?” he asks, tucking his hands into his pockets.
“Oh, yeah,” she says as she returns her head to a normal position. She motions for him to sit down, but not wanting to get his pants or shoes wet, he just lowers himself into a crouching position next to her. “Very fancy. I feel like I’m at Jay Gatsby’s house.”
“An apt comparison,” he says. “As I think Bing largely agreed to hosting this party so Jane might attend.”
Lizzie laughs. “I think he threw it ‘cause Lydia made him, actually.”
“I heard that story too.” Checking that the ground isn’t damp, he sits back, the toes of his shoes right up against the edge of the pool. He’s still a little back from Lizzie and she has to turn her body so that she can see him properly. Her knee-length dress is bunched up to keep it out of the pool, exposing the skin of her thighs.
“Come to think of it, I don’t even think Lydia showed up,” Lizzie reflects after a moment, shrugging it off. “Anyway, it’s a crazy party. She’ll be sorry she missed out.”
“I’m sure she can talk him into throwing another one.” He really doesn’t doubt it.
“Well I’m sure Jane would love that,” Lizzie says with a knowing smirk. He nods, looks up at the sky, thinking. That, he knows he shouldn’t doubt either, but he’s been having such a hard time figuring the eldest Bennet sister out. “What?” Lizzie asks eventually.
“Your sister…” he begins, but then he sighs and starts over, trying to think of a better way to say what he wants to say. With Lizzie, he knows, that picking his words carefully is very important. “Bing is very fond of your sister. I just wanted to make sure that she…”
“She likes him a lot,” Lizzie says automatically. “Like a lot.”
“You’ve talked to her about this?”
“Well, not… directly, but I know her pretty well.”
He purses his lips for a second. Lizzie taps her fingers against the pool tiles, clearly growing irritated. He’d known going in that this was a risk he’d be taking. Lizzie has a very short fuse when it comes to her sisters.
“Bing has never been particularly good at… taking small steps, is what I’m saying. I wouldn’t want him to misread the situation. The way he talks, sometimes,” he says, not feeling a need to conclude the sentence.
“Jane too,” Lizzie insists. “Really, I think he’s fine.”
“Then my concern is that by virtue of their natures they may find themselves in a committed situation without proper forethought,” he says. “Mutual infatuation is one thing, but…”
“Have you talked to Bing about it?”
“Not directly,” he echoes. Lizzie really, seriously contemplates what he’s saying for a second.
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll talk to Jane about it if you talk to Bing about it. Then we’ll compare data. Deal?”
“But I really don’t think we have anything to worry about here,” she adds.
“Better to be safe,” he points out. “And make sure everyone’s on the same page.” She smiles wistfully. His phone buzzes. It’s a twitter alert. “Caroline’s looking for me,” he tells her.
“See you later,” she says, waving him off.
He sets off to look for Caroline, but he doesn’t have to look very hard, because she’s lurking around the patio that overlooks the pool waiting for him. She links his arm through his and leads him back into the house as she speaks.
“You two seem cozy,” Caroline comments. “Not as cozy as you’d like to be, I’d bet.”
“I’m not sure that’s any of your business,” he sighs.
“I’m sorry,” she says in her quiet, more genuine tone. Then, in her normal lilting voice: “I’m just worried about you.”
“What for?” he asks.
“Well,” she says, shrugging quickly. “You’d want to know, right, if your trust was being betrayed somehow? Or if you were putting yourself into a tricky situation?”
“Is this about Lizzie?” he asks, resigned.
“Oh, it’s not just about Lizzie. It’s about Jane, too, and even their sister – wait until I tell you what she’s been up to…”
“I don’t want to gossip about Lizzie’s family,” Darcy says. “It’s none of our business.”
“And you know what’s none of her business?” Caroline asks, flipping her hair over her shoulder as they reach the relatively empty kitchen. Darcy pulls his arm away from hers and puts some space between them. She pulls her phone out of where it was tucked into the band of her dress and taps at it for a second before offering it to him. “I’m really sorry,” she says, all that authenticity gone, her brow knit together in overdrawn concern. “But you should really watch this.”