“That’s what the viewers want to know,” Charlotte tells her matter of factly, like it’s obvious. But Lizzie’s been purposefully cut off from the world the last few weeks. Assumed her audience had the attention span of a goldfish like the rest of the internet.
“What is there to tell? We’re dating. It’s...different.”
Lizzie looks at the camera that’s no longer there.
It’s their first date and both of them are trying too hard.
Lizzie wears four inch heels that get her at least somewhat closer to eye-level, and Darcy takes her to a chain restaurant that doesn’t take reservations just to prove that he can and that he’s totally okay with it (even if he flinches when he finds out they only serve wine by the glass).
She orders a burger and extra fries. He orders a salad.
“That’s...not a meal.”
“Of course it is.”
“It’s not even under ‘entrees’. It’s lumped in with soup. You’re ordering like an 80-year-old.”
He fiddles with his silverware, scratching at a flake of something that the dishwasher didn’t catch.
“I thought you would be comfortable here.”
He picks at the fork again and mutters “You ordered like a teenager.”
It goes on like that for a bottle of wine-by-the-glass and all through dinner. When the waiter asks if they want dessert, Lizzie all but yells “no!”
“Home at 8:30? Uh oh.”
“Lydia, be nice. I’m sure it was perfect. It was perfect, right?”
Lydia sits perched with a laptop on Lizzie’s bed, Jane on Skype, eager and waiting.
Lizzie kicks off a shoe.
It’s their second date and neither of them are trying at all.
Lizzie wears the same hoodie she’s had on all day and Darcy doesn’t put up a fight when she buys the movie tickets.
“Concessions?” he offers.
“Popcorn. And Junior Mints. Unless that’s what a teenager would order...”
He comes back with every box they have in stock. She gapes at him.
“You didn’t specify a quantity,” he says simply, taking the seat next to her and a sip of her lemonade.
They hold hands during previews and kiss for three minutes on her front porch.
“Third date! You know what that means...”
“Lydia, no, it does not mean that. I mean, not necessarily, unless you want it to. Do...you...want it...to...”
“Oh, I don’t know--”
“You’re buying new underwear, right? Sorry, that came out like a question. I meant to say, you’re buying new underwear.”
“What’s wrong with my underwear?”
“You cannot sex up a CEO wearing boy shorts from Target, god!”
It’s their third date and they’re trying really hard not to think about it.
He makes her dinner at Netherfield, pouring wine from an actual bottle and there are candles on the table. Somewhere jazz is playing on vinyl and it crosses her mind that there might be rose petals on the bed.
“This risotto is amazing,” she says, because it is and because that’s a much safer topic than the black lace that’s scratching at her hip bone.
“I’m glad you like it.” He hasn’t touched a bite but has taken long drags of his wine glass several times.
When she runs out of things to compliment, she does the same.
By the time her individual creme brulee is served, she’s warm and buzzed but still very, very aware of her underwear and how taking it off doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. For comfort’s sake.
After dessert, he lights a fire in the den and joins her on the couch, a respectable cushion between them but their hands still manage to find each other in the middle.
“Thank you for dinner.”
“Did you get enough?”
“Yes plenty, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” His fingers graze up her arm to her neck to the strand of hair that’s fallen out of her braid.
And it’s hard to say who moves first or how but Lizzie guesses it’s the red wine that makes it so easy to not care, not when they’ve become horizontal on the couch and her knee is between his legs and his mouth is doing some unbelievable things to her collarbone and it’s all going so well until his hand slides up her leg and just barely skims the black lace and that’s when a marching band goes through Lizzie’s head.
“Whoa, yeah, I umm--”
“No, you’re right, I’m sorry--”
“No, it’s not you, it’s my underwear.”
“Your underwear,” he repeats calmly.
Lizzie pushes herself to her elbows. “It’s just--Lydia said--and then Jane said I shouldn’t worry about it--’”
He leans back fully at that, the red in his cheeks deepening. “No, of course, that’s perfectly--”
“I want to,” she ducks her head to meet his eyes. “Like, a lot. Just--”
He kisses her quiet and she smiles.
“Is it okay if I sleep over?”
They talk all night and get no sleep at all.
“You didn’t come home last night and I am so proud of you!!!!!!” Lydia crushes her with a hug at breakfast and high fives her again at lunch.
Lizzie doesn’t bother correcting her.
It’s their fourth date and dinner doesn’t get touched at all.
(He minds the boy shorts only long enough to take them off.)
It’s their sixth and last date before he goes back to San Francisco.
They keep it casual and populated on purpose. Jane and Bing fly out for the weekend and meet them at Carter’s where drinks are cheap and the music is loud enough that she won’t hear her own thoughts, like you should go with him.
Why aren’t you going with him?
She knows all the reasons why--they’ve been over them a hundred times--but that doesn’t make it any better or hurt any less.
No one calls it a going away party, but that’s exactly what it is and Lizzie knows and sees it on his face. How he’s trying to laugh at Lydia’s jokes and smile at Bing telling the same old college stories for the millionth time but it’s not the same and she’s scared to death that when he gets on the plane it never will be.
He calls when he lands, just like he promised.
“I have a meeting at two, it shouldn’t be more than an hour. May I call you this afternoon?”
“I’m meeting my advisor to go over notes at 4:00. Tonight?”
“Gigi and Fitz are taking me to dinner. They think I’m a jump risk.”
She laughs. “Are you?”
“It sounds tempting.”
“I love you, you know.” The words come with a lump in her throat because she does and now more than ever she wishes she hadn’t spent so many months insisting that she didn’t.
There’s a long pause and deep sigh before he says, “I love you, too. Very much.”
She wishes she hadn’t spent so many months insisting she didn’t hear that, either.
It’s two months since she stopped counting dates (including phone calls and some very creative uses of Skype).
He and Gigi fly down for graduation. When they call her name, her tiny little corner of the auditorium erupts in whistles and cheers and a “get it girl!” that’s she’s 100% sure is Lydia. She waves at them and the things it does to her heart to see him there next to her parents, with Bing and Jane, Gigi and Lydia, his world combined with hers so seamlessly it’s hard to believe it wasn’t always this way.
She gets her diploma. She walks off stage. She doesn’t trip.
She sighs with relief and cries.
She did it.
They go for out for pizza afterward.
Lydia and Bing play games in the arcade and Gigi asks Jane all about Fashion Week, while her mother goes on and on to Will about how she’s sure this must not even compare to the “real stuff” they have in Italy. Lizzie wants to cringe but she’s finding she doesn’t do it as much these days, not when he’s incredibly gracious about it all, politely saying that the kind in Naples might be more traditional but for taste he prefers classic American.
He still cuts his slice with a knife and fork but some things won’t ever change.
She wouldn’t even if she could.
It’s six months and ten trips between them when the hints start to drop.
Gigi shamelessly dog ears bridal couture ads in her Elles and Vogues. Fitz casually mentions that the timeshare in Fiji is theirs whenever they want to use it, “even if it’s really spur of the moment, I’ll make a call, it’s done.”
Oh, her mother.
“Well sugar, it’s too late for a summer weddin’, but think how lovely the trees will look in the fall, don’t you agree, William?”
William doesn’t miss a beat.
“I’m partial to spring in the central valley, but autumn is a close second.”
Lizzie refuses to talk about it.
Not that she hasn’t stopped on those dog-eared pages, or clicked through online ads for vacation packages. Not that she’d even necessarily say “no” if he asked.
But he hasn’t yet, as quiet on the subject as she is, and it’s the not knowing that’s the worst. Every time he reaches into his pocket for his keys, or drops her off at the airport and the goodbyes last a little bit longer than usual, she holds her breath and can’t decide what she’s hoping for.
(More often than not there’s a pang in her chest that feels like disappointment but it passes quickly and she tells herself she’s relieved).
It’s nine months and they still fight all the time.
Big things and little things. Student loan repayment, Tolstoy versus Chekov and who made the bigger impact on Russian narrative (Darcy asks her to define “impact” and she threatens to throw both anthologies at him to find out).
Gigi goes on a date with an old swim teammate of George’s and makes Lizzie promise not to tell. Darcy finds out anyway through a Twitter reply and they don’t speak for a day and a half.
They say things they don’t mean and some that they do. The distance is what makes it the hardest and too often she’s tempted to max out her credit card just to fly up there and fix whatever needs fixing (too often he’s the one doing the flying and fixing at no expense and the imbalance of that drives her crazy).
“I’m not going to move up there just so we can stop fighting.”
“I hardly doubt the fighting will stop. It will just be more...contained.”
“And that makes it better?”
“At least if you slam a door in my face, we’re under the same roof.”
“I’d want my own apartment.”
“If that’s what you’d like.”
She rolls her eyes. “God, do you have to be so agreeable?”
There’s a laugh on the other end of the line. “I think that’s the first time anyone’s ever called me that, including you.”
It’s a year and she can officially say she’s loved him for longer than she didn’t.
She’s in San Francisco at a new job and her own place (one of her terms and conditions of the move), though there’s hardly a night she spends alone, except when he’s away on business and even then she goes with him when she can afford the time and the money. She sees Prague and Switzerland, Barcelona and London. He even surprises her and shows her the original Pemberley. It’s one of the oldest estates in England, he tells her as they tour the gardens, and ten generations of Darcys have lived there.
“This is where my parents were married,” he tells her under the gazebo, swallowing, nervous. Lizzie thinks this is the part where she should be too, where she usually changes the subject, but she’s not. Not anymore. She just takes his hand and rests her head on his shoulder.
There’s no bended knee, no ring; there’s not even really a question. Just a squeeze of her hand, a kiss pressed to her forehead, and a laugh into the crook of his neck that’s been a long time coming.