Welcome to the continuation of Pride, Prejudice and Snow! You can read Part 1 here, and the third and final part will be posted on Christmas Eve. No need to worry – there are no cliff-hangers, just Christmas miracles.
This is a modern story set near Woods Hole, MA. It doesn’t include the characters from my Woods Hole stories, but I think of it as taking place in the same seaside universe.
Pride, Prejudice and Snow- Part II
There were only a few cars in the lot at St. Stephen’s Church on Christmas Day. Elizabeth entered through the small door at the back which led into the empty lunchroom. She hung up her coat and scarf on the same coat rack she’d used as a child coming to Sunday school, but now she didn’t have to stretch to reach it. She was always a bit surprised at how much smaller it seemed now.
Jason was instructing a couple of teenagers on how to set the tables. “There should be a basket of bread, a pitcher of water and a pitcher of milk on each of the round tables, and two on the long tables. Oh, Merry Christmas, Lizzy. Thanks so much for coming in. It’s a blessing that you’re able to help us. We’re always short-handed on Christmas Eve, but somehow we manage to make do.”
“I’m happy to help.” Elizabeth felt the usual peace slip over her as Jason talked to her. He was one of those people who seemed to spread calm and goodwill simply by his presence. She wondered what his secret was, how he kept such an air of joy while working among those who were suffering. “Where do you want me?”
“Can you help with the stuffing in the small kitchen? There were still mountains of apples to peel and onions to chop the last time I looked.”
“Sure.” It was going to be odd working with a crew she didn’t know rather than the same familiar Wednesday volunteers, so she was glad to be assigned to the small kitchen rather than the busy and hectic main kitchen. She stopped to put on an apron, then followed the smell of sage and apples into the small kitchen. For a moment, the tall man at the cutting block reminded her of Will Darcy, but she shook that idea out of her head. For the last two weeks, since Jane’s Christmas party, she’d thought she saw him a dozen times at least. A woman stopped stirring some fried onions long enough to wish her a Merry Christmas and to introduce herself as Claudia. She had to speak up a little to be heard over the chopping.
“I’m Lizzy, the last-minute sub. How can I help?”
There was a sudden silence as the chopping stopped and the tall man turned around slowly. Elizabeth suddenly could not take her eyes away from him. It really was Will Darcy, with his shirtsleeves rolled up neatly and a knife in his hand.
Claudia said into the silence, “That’s Will. He could use a hand with the apples and onions.”
Incautious words came out of Elizabeth’s mouth. “What are you doing here?” This was the last place she expected to find Will Darcy. She’d have thought that his sense of charity, if he had one, would be best assuaged by the hard labor of writing a check.
His mouth twisted. “Chopping apples. Merry Christmas.”
Claudia turned back to her frypan, seemingly oblivious to the sudden tension in the air.
Embarrassed, yet still unable to believe her eyes, Elizabeth said, “I guess I’m your assistant, then. What can I do? I hope you’re not planning to use that knife on me.” At least he couldn’t make trouble here. She hoped.
He glanced down at the knife in his hand as if surprised to see it there, then set it down carefully on the counter. “Umm, could you peel and core the rest of the apples? There’s one of those thingamabobs you can use.” He gestured to a red cast iron peeler. “Do you know how it works?”
“Yes, I have one at home, but I’m used to giving all the peelings to my rabbit.” Elizabeth realized she was babbling.
“You have a rabbit?”
“Yes. Sir Lancelot.”
“Sir Lancelot the Rabbit?”
“He tries to protect me from strangers, and doesn’t quite understand why nobody is intimidated by six pounds of hissing bunny.” She busied herself lining up a large, rosy apple on the prongs of the peeler.
“A killer bunny, then?”
Elizabeth told herself she had no business finding his smile endearing. She turned the handle briskly, giving herself a chance to look away, and did not answer.
“Do you come here regularly?” he asked after a minute.
“That’s why I haven’t seen you before. I always do Fridays, at least when I’m at home.”
“Not out partying on Friday nights? I wouldn’t have thought this was your kind of thing.”
He gave her a puzzled look. “I can’t imagine why. Didn’t I bring you here for the first time?”
Elizabeth froze. She had forgotten that completely, one of the memories of Will she had put away when she discovered what he was really like. But it was true; she had tagged along when he brought Michelle here for his volunteer shift. “Of course. I’d forgotten that,” she said in a slightly strangled voice.
He frowned. “I guess it wasn’t very memorable.”
“You have a better memory than mine.”
“No, I just remember that day because I was really happy, at least until Michelle decided she didn’t like it here.” He chopped more fiercely for a moment. “What’s Michelle up to these days?”
“No idea. We had a falling out years ago. Last I heard she was working in Boston.”
“Really? I thought you two were friends for life.” His voice sounded strained.
“I thought so too, but there was a little incident where I was turned down for a job and she was hired, and I found out afterwards she’d gotten it by telling the employer lies about me.”
“It’s okay. I was upset at the time, but it was for the best. Michelle had a bit of an untrustworthy streak, and I’d spent years turning a blind eye to it.”
“Tell me about it. I thought I’d done such a good job of breaking up with her gently, and then the next thing I knew neither of you were speaking to me.”
Elizabeth frowned. “I thought she broke up with you.”
“I don’t know where you got that idea.”
He sounded so honestly bewildered that Elizabeth couldn’t keep up the pretense of friendliness anymore. “Maybe from the fact that she objected to you sleeping around?” she said sweetly, yanking an apple core free and replacing it with a new one.
“What? That’s ridiculous. I never cheated on her, or anybody else for that matter.”
“Oh, come now. Why would she have lied to me?”
“How would I know?” He stopped in mid-cut, then carefully laid down his knife precisely parallel to the edge of the cutting block. He said in a hollow voice, “Never mind. I know exactly why she did it.”
Elizabeth racked her brains for any corroborating evidence. Had she believed Michelle simply on the strength of her word? She knew now that Michelle’s word wasn’t reliable, but was Will Darcy’s any better? “It doesn’t matter, really. Maybe we should just drop it.”
“She wanted to drive a wedge between us. She knew the main reason I was breaking up with her was because I was interested in you.”
Elizabeth’s hand slipped off the knob of the peeler. “In me?” she echoed in shock.
“Yes,” he said brusquely. “I’d realized I was spending too much time wishing I’d met you first, and that the only real reason I was still dating Michelle was because it gave me a chance to spend time with you. She knew it, too. She threw it in my face when I broke up with her, and I couldn’t deny it. I never was a good liar.”
Elizabeth’s stomach was turning somersaults. Will Darcy had been interested in her? All that time she had thought her crush was unrequited! High school might be ancient history to her now, but it seemed like her body didn’t agree. Another thought shot through her mind, killing off the feelings. “Michelle also said that you….” Suddenly it sounded ridiculous, and she couldn’t bring herself to say it.
“What else did she say?” Will’s voice sounded angry.
Elizabeth carefully placed another apple on the peeler, avoiding his eyes. “She said you used to hit her if she said no,” she said in as quiet a voice as she could muster.
“She said what? And you believed her?”
“She was my best friend,” Elizabeth said uncomfortably.
“Did I ever give you reason to think I was the kind of guy who hit girls?”
Elizabeth shook her head miserably. Even at the time she’d thought it was out of character, but Michelle had assured her it was a regular occurrence, and Elizabeth had not questioned it.
“Damn it, we never even… never mind.”
Light footsteps sounded on the linoleum behind them. A girl’s voice said, “Will, would you give me a hand with the big table? It’s too heavy for me to lift by myself.”
“I’ll be finished in a couple of minutes, then I’ll be right out.” Will pushed the cutting board back from the edge of the counter. “Elizabeth, this is my sister Georgiana.”
Georgiana smiled shyly, then said, “Not the Elizabeth?”
Will looked away in embarrassment. “Yes, the Elizabeth.”
“Oh, wow. Nice to meet you, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth blinked as she looked up at the taller girl. “Georgiana? Actually, we’ve met, but I doubt you remember that. The last time I saw you, everybody called you Georgie and you were only about this high.” She held her hand up about three feet from the ground. “Your brother was teaching you to ice skate.” She still remembered how patient he had been with the little girl.
“He still calls me Georgie sometimes,” she confessed.
“Can I help you with the tables? I can take a break for a few minutes.” And it would get her away from Will’s magnetic presence and give her time to figure out what it meant to be the Elizabeth.
“Sure.” Georgiana led her into the cafeteria and indicated which table needed to be unfolded and moved. “They’re heavy, though.”
“That’s okay. I’m stronger than I look,” Elizabeth said as she lifted one end of a long table. “I teach women’s self-defense, so I have to stay in shape.”
“Wow, you must be really strong, then. I could never do something like that. I’d be afraid to hit somebody.” Georgiana bit her lip with an almost forlorn expression as they carried the table to the middle of the floor.
Elizabeth set down her end of the table, taking care to keep her toes well out of the way. They still ached from her last class. “Actually, you don’t need to be strong for the kind of self-defense I teach, and you don’t even have to hit people. It’s mostly about escaping.” She walked back to Georgiana and stuck out her hand. “Here, grab my wrist with your hand, as if you’re going to pull me somewhere.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t.” The girl looked downright panicked.
“It’s okay. It won’t hurt either of us at all, I promise.” Elizabeth spoke in the soothing tones she used for anxious students. “Go ahead.”
Hesitantly Georgiana wrapped her hand lightly around Elizabeth’s wrist.
“Come on, hold me hard. Use all your strength. It won’t hurt me. This is fun, you’ll see.”
Georgiana squeezed tighter till Elizabeth could see her effort. Then Elizabeth easily pulled her arm free.
Georgiana stared at her. “See, I could never do that. You’re so strong.”
With a conspiratorial smile, Elizabeth said, “Watch this.” She reversed the situation, clamping her hand down on the girl’s wrist. “Now try to get away.” When Georgiana had the normal response of trying to pull her hand back without success, Elizabeth added, “Here’s the trick. See where my thumb meets my fingers? That’s my weak spot. Twist your arm so the narrow part of your wrist is against it. Then pull your arm to the side, not away from me, right where my thumb is. Just try it.” Over Georgiana’s shoulder she saw Will watching them from the doorway, and she crinkled her nose at him.
Georgiana looked at her dubiously, then followed her instructions and stared at her freed hand in astonishment. “It worked!”
Elizabeth beamed. This was the part of teaching she loved, seeing women recognize their own power. “See, you can do it. You just need to learn how.”
Will’s face now loomed over his sister’s shoulder. He did not look happy. “Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Just fine,” Elizabeth assured him. “You should try it with Will, since he’s probably stronger than I am.” She instructed him how to grab Georgiana, then watched the girl’s delight as she escaped his grip. Will examined his hand as if it puzzled him.
“I was showing your sister a self-defense technique,” Elizabeth explained. “It can be a useful thing to know.”
“Maybe I should take a class,” Georgiana announced, making her brother’s eyebrows shoot up.
“Something wrong with that?” Elizabeth put her hands on her hips. She wasn’t about to let Will Darcy bully his sister.
“No,” he said slowly. “I was just surprised. I think it’s a good idea.”
“Well, then, I’ll get back to work on the apples. Georgiana, if you ever want information about classes, just let me know.” She gave Will a saucy look and marched off into the kitchen.
A few minutes later he was beside her again, still looking somber. After an uncomfortable minute of silence, he said, “I’m astonished. Georgiana has been afraid to let anyone touch her these last few weeks, and now she’s out there showing everybody your technique.”
“It’s a good confidence builder.” Then Elizabeth realized what he had said. “The last few weeks?”
He nodded abruptly. “Charlie didn’t tell you? She was assaulted. That’s why I came home from Japan.”
“Oh, no. I’m sorry. I had no idea. Believe me, I would have approached the topic more carefully with her if I’d known.”
“Seems to have worked, though.”
“Is she getting some help?”
“She sees a therapist. She’s having trouble leaving the house alone.”
Elizabeth shot him a keen look. “Is that why you didn’t want me to walk home by myself?”
He flushed. “They haven’t caught the bastard who did it yet,” he said in a low voice.
“Well, under the circumstance, I’ll acquit you of failing to have faith in my ability to defend myself, but don’t make a habit of it,” she said teasingly.
His smile flashed through. “Thank you.”
Heat seemed to rush through Elizabeth. Casting around for a distraction, she said, “Shouldn’t the two of you be with family on Christmas Eve?”
“This is our Christmas tradition. My mother started it, and we’ve kept it up. It gives us a good excuse not to spend the day with our aunt. She’s the original grinch. But why are you here?”
“I didn’t mind an excuse to get away from all the family ganging up on me about why I’m not married yet.”
He gave her a sideways look. “Are you seeing anybody?”
“No,” she said automatically, then felt the significance of the question.
Though he made no response, there seemed to be some change in the set of his shoulders as he returned to chopping apples.
Elizabeth could have found a way to avoid standing next to Will as they dished up turkey and stuffing to the stream of people who had come for the free meal, but she did not. Instead, she worked by his side, greeting some of the regulars whom she knew from Wednesday nights. Will seemed to know many of them as well, not surprising given the number of people who depended on the program for their most nutritious meal of the day. She was surprised, though, when a motley group of seedy-looking teenage boys with piercings and tattoos came through.
“Yo, Will!” exclaimed one of them as he held out his plate. “I got something for you. Seriously deep! Double A.”
Will heaped his plate high with turkey. “Excellent! Save me a seat and we can talk.” He glanced down at Elizabeth. “Maybe two seats.”
“You got it, dude!”
“Got a bug for you, Will,” muttered the next without looking up.
“That’s twenty bucks if you can prove it,” Will said.
After the last of the boys was passed and there was a break in the line, Elizabeth turned to Will. “Leading a gang in your spare time?”
“They’re my Gamer Street Irregulars. They test out my unreleased software and get paid for every bug they find. That’s why my programs are so clean when they’re finally released. Some of them are learning to code as well.”
“Encouraging them to play video games instead of going to school?”
“Not at all. Keeping a C average is the price of admission, and the ones with B averages get paid better. They have to show me their reports cards. They have a special room at my office with computers they can use either for my work or to do their homework.”
“A little free enterprise, then?”
“So to speak. I’d rather have them hacking for me than getting themselves into trouble on the internet. But I suppose I should have asked first if you wanted to sit with me,” Will said carefully.
Elizabeth hesitated. “What about your sister?” The rules called for no more than two volunteers per table to make certain they mingled with the people coming in for the free meal.
“She’s sitting with one of her friends. But maybe you’d feel more comfortable elsewhere.” His voice was flat.
“It isn’t that. I was just worried that Georgiana might be nervous on her own after what happened to her. If she’s sitting elsewhere, I’d be happy to join you.”
His smile warmed the air. “Good.”
Normally Elizabeth wouldn’t have chosen to sit at a table full of rough-looking teenage boys. If nothing else, she wouldn’t know what to talk to them about. Tonight that was Will’s lookout. She glanced sideways at him as she put her plate at the place next to his at the large round table.
Two of the boys on Will’s left were already barraging him with questions, so Elizabeth turned to her right and stuck out her hand. “I’m Elizabeth.”
“Rico. You Will’s girlfriend?”
“Just a friend. We went to Falmouth High together, but I’ve hardly seen him since then.” Somehow she knew Will was listening.
“Can’t imagine Will in high school. Why’d he go here instead of some swanky private school?”
Elizabeth tilted her head to one side. “Good question. Will, Rico wants to know why you didn’t go to private school instead of Falmouth High.”
“I never thought much about it. My mother was very sick, and I wanted to be with her. Besides, the girls here were cute.” Will winked at her.
One boy wolf-whistled as Rico said, “Bet you got all the cute ones.”
Will laughed. “High school was when I learned that the prettiest girls often aren’t the best company.” Michelle had been generally acknowledged as the class beauty.
“True dat,” said a tall boy with a nod.
“You still looking for new hackers? I got one for you, Will.”
“Hey, I know somebody, too!”
The boys looked ready to talk computers for the rest of dinner, so Elizabeth settled in to eat. The apple-onion stuffing had turned out particularly well, if she did say so herself, and it was interesting to watch Will interacting with the boys. A few hours ago she would have thought it impossible for Will Darcy to care about underprivileged teenagers.
Now everything had changed between them – and the evening wasn’t over yet.
They’ve finally had a chance to talk – and it’s still the night before Christmas. What else will this Christmas bring for Will and Elizabeth? You can find out when the final part is posted on December 24.