Happy hump day! I’m posting Chapter 4 a few days earlier than planned, as my week has quickly spiraled out of control. Just a reminder, you’re reading a draft that hasn’t been professionally edited yet! I hope you enjoy it just the same!
Friday, December 17th
Will’s eyes flew open and he blinked several times, focusing on the intricate design that swirled through the plaster of his bedroom ceiling. He glanced at his alarm clock and saw that it was just past seven. He didn’t usually sleep this late but since he had nothing pressing to do this morning, he was glad his internal alarm hadn’t roused him at five like it usually did.
But something had woken him; he’d been dreaming. The luminous green eyes buried in his subconscious had decided to come out and play when he was at his most defenseless. And that was the only image he could conjure up now; a pair of bright, emerald-colored eyes. Most of the other details had vanished the moment he woke but he was sure of at least one thing; it hadn’t been one of those other dreams, when he woke up with something else that wanted to come out and play.
He rose from bed and disappeared into the bathroom, and when he came out a few minutes later he dressed quickly, pulling on wool socks, a pair of faded, worn jeans and two layers of warm shirts.
He was surprised to find George at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee and looking over the paperwork Will had taken to his meeting the day before.
“Hey. You’re up early.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep. Do you mind if I read this stuff?”
“It’s fine. Mom still sleeping?”
“She’s upstairs with Dad.”
Will poured a cup of coffee and dropped a bagel into the toaster, still trying to banish those green eyes from his thoughts.
“So this is all good, right?” George asked. “Your audit score is awesome.”
“How do you know it’s called an audit score?”
“I read up on it, I know it’s a big deal. I thought it would be helpful if I learned about it.”
Will’s eyebrows rose. “What do you want to know?”
“What are you looking at me like that for?” George asked, sounding indignant. “I’m not an idiot, you know.”
Will chuckled. “I never said you were. But you’ve never taken much of an interest in anything to do with the farm. Not in the last two years, anyway.”
“Yeah, well… I still don’t know if I want to make it my life. I don’t know if it’s what I want.”
“Fair enough.” The bagel popped from the toaster and Will dropped it onto a plate and spread a thick layer of his mother’s homemade strawberry jam on top of it.
“But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t know what’s going on, right?”
“Right. It’s as much your farm as it is mine.”
George nodded toward the stack of paperwork as Will sat down at the table. “How many pages is that application?”
“About thirty,” Will answered through a mouthful of food. “Give or take.”
“Holy shit. You filled it out by yourself?”
Will shook his head and swallowed. “No, that’s why I met the rep yesterday. I filled out as much as I could, and he helped me with the rest. Good guy.”
George thumbed through the pages and stopped on one in particular. “This whole section is about employee training. We don’t have any employees.”
George looked at him curiously. “You hiring?”
“Maybe. I’m hoping Dad will agree to it.”
“How many people?”
“One, to start.”
“He’ll tell you we can’t afford it.”
“I think we can afford someone part-time for now, and maybe bump them up to full-time in the spring. I can’t go through another summer with just you as my help.”
“Yeah, I’m not much help.”
Will shrugged. “That’s on you. You didn’t choose to feed your arm to the picker, but you choose what to do when you roll out of bed every morning. You could help more.”
“I know, I know. What’s going on with the organic thing?”
“It’s coming along. I’m hoping to be certified mid-season.” Will eyed his brother closely. “For someone who’s not sure he wants to work the farm, you’re asking a lot of questions.”
“Just thinking about things, I guess. Trying to plan for later.”
“Yeah. I don’t know if I want to be here working the farm forever, but I need to be doing something. I need a plan.”
“You serious about Charlotte?”
George shrugged. “Maybe, yeah.”
Will noticed the light blush that spread across his brother’s cheeks. “How long have you been seeing her?”
“About six months.”
“That’s a record for you, isn’t it?” Will teased. “Don’t they usually give you the boot at about a month or so?”
George laughed. “Screw you. This one knows better.”
Will clearly heard the insecurity beneath the bragging. Before his accident two years ago, when he was just twenty-two, George had been outgoing and confident, with charm to spare. As the baby, he’d grown up fairly spoiled, without responsibilities or expectations. He didn’t feel the pressure of the family legacy, and he certainly didn’t spend much time worrying about the viability of Pemberley.
After the accident, his self-confidence had plummeted. Instead of dealing with his feelings, he’d chosen to bury them under a façade of brashness and nonchalance. The accident never bothered him except for when it did, and then he made sure everyone knew it.
He’d never had a problem getting female attention in the past—girls seemed to fall at his feet for as long as Will could remember. But all of that changed after the accident; he’d become withdrawn and self-conscious and wouldn’t even think about approaching a girl…until Charlotte Lucas had set her sights on him. She seemed to be the real deal, and Will had never seen his brother so happy.
“What about you?” George asked.
“What about me what?”
“What about you and women? When’s the last time you…went out with someone?”
Will rolled his eyes. Translation: When was the last time you got laid? He remained silent, not willing to divulge that information, mostly because it had been so long it bordered on embarrassing.
George sat back. “And what the hell happened between you and Caroline Bingley?”
“I told you, it’s none of your business.” Will rose from the table and refilled their coffee cups.
“Dude, come on. Brother to brother.”
Will laughed and leaned back against the counter. “Nice try. It just…didn’t work. We expected different things from each other. But we weren’t headed for anything serious anyway. She’s still a good friend.”
“Okay, so…are there any other prospects? Anne DeBourgh maybe?”
“No. She’s not my type.”
“Seriously, man, what is your type?”
“Good question.” A pair of bright green eyes flashed into Will’s mind. “I’ll let you know when I figure it out.”
The days that passed after The Bakery Incident—as Elizabeth referred to it now—were quiet. She’d gotten into the habit of walking every morning, no matter the weather, though thankfully it had been cooperative. Other than the one time Jane had joined her, Elizabeth went on her own; there was no better way to begin her day and she looked forward to it, taking different trails through the woods each time.
On Saturday morning, Jane suggested they drive to the nearby town of Becket to pick out and cut down their own Christmas tree. Elizabeth suggested they drive to the local nursery in West Stockbridge and pick out a tree that someone else had already cut down, but Jane was having none of it.
“C’mon, Lizzy, it’ll be fun. This is our first Christmas together in a really long time. We can pick out the perfect tree.”
Elizabeth finally caved. “All right, fine. But the Paul Bunyan stuff is on you, I’m not chopping. How will we get the tree home?”
Not two hours later they were headed to Becket in Charlie’s SUV, which he’d lent to them in exchange for Jane’s Subaru. They picked a tree, and although Elizabeth had vowed not to do any of the ax work, they ended up taking turns and while one chopped, the other sipped hot chocolate from a thermos. After the tree was securely lashed to the roof of the SUV, they began the short trip back to West Stockbridge.
“When do you have to return Charlie’s truck?” Elizabeth asked.
“We’ll swap tonight, we might go out. Do you mind?”
“Of course not, go have fun.”
“Well… Charlie also suggested maybe he could call Will, and the four—”
“I really don’t think he’s all that bad, Lizzy, you just got—”
Jane puffed out her cheeks and exhaled heavily. “Maybe we can go to a movie, that way you won’t even have to—”
“You are so stubborn! You don’t want to give an inch!”
“I don’t want to spend time with him! It would be awkward and tense, and would ruin it for you and Charlie. You don’t need Farmer Darcy and me tagging along and scowling at each other.”“Are you sure?”
“Yes! Don’t worry about me. I’ll get in my pajamas, find a good movie and pull out my laptop. It wouldn’t hurt if I looked over some work stuff. Go out and line dance or something.”
Jane grinned. “We just might.”
Charlie arrived at Longbourn later that evening. Elizabeth answered the door, and when she saw the large, flat box in his hands, her eyes widened.
He grinned. “I did. Jane told me you had a craving.”
She shut the door behind him and held her face over the box, eyes closed, inhaling the scent wafting from inside of it.
“It’s my favorite. I’ve never found a pizza place anywhere that is better than Baba Louie’s. Which—”
“The Dolce Vita.”
Elizabeth smiled dreamily as she inhaled again. “I can’t believe you drove all the way to Great Barrington to get it. Thank you so much!” She took the box and walked into the kitchen with Charlie following behind her. “How much do I owe you?”
“Talk to Jane, it was her treat.”
Elizabeth took a plate from the cabinet and set it on the counter, and then turned to him with her arms folded over her chest.
He laughed. “Don’t wait on my account, I can tell you’re dying for a slice. Dig in.”
“Thank you.” She opened the box and lifted a slice straight to her mouth.
Jane walked into the kitchen then, looking absolutely stunning. She greeted Charlie before smiling at Elizabeth. “So? Is it as good as you remember?”
Elizabeth’s mouth was full, so she nodded enthusiastically. Finally, she managed one word. “Better.”
“Are you ready to go?” Charlie asked Jane.
They made a beautiful couple, but Elizabeth still got the sense that Charlie wasn’t entirely comfortable; he smiled and laughed easily, but seemed to be holding back. I hope he isn’t stringing her along.
They moved into the living room, Elizabeth with her pizza box and plate in hand, and Charlie excused himself to use the bathroom.
Elizabeth glanced down the hall, then turned to Jane. “Um, I won’t be waiting up, if you know what I mean.”
“Jane! If he doesn’t make a move, you need to make a move. You have to find out what he’s thinking!”
“I know. I will.”
“So all I’m saying is if you do make a move one thing leads to another…” Elizabeth paused. “I mean, I’m not telling you to jump the guy or anything, but if it seems like things are moving in that direction, just go with it.”
“I want things to go in that direction so badly. But he can be hard to read.”
Footsteps in the hallway halted their conversation
“All set?” Charlie asked as he walked into the living room.
Jane smiled. “All set.”
Elizabeth thanked Charlie again for delivering the pizza and watched them leave.
After devouring two more slices, she put the leftovers into the refrigerator and set up her laptop on the coffee table. Despite the size of the living room, it was quite cozy when the fireplace was lit, and at least she could watch TV while she worked, although she didn’t really want to work.
It had been difficult to walk into the office over the past couple of weeks, knowing a few of the people she’d worked so closely with would be gone by the first of February. Mr. Phillips had assured her that her job was safe, but she still felt a bit uneasy.
His behavior had been erratic of late; she’d worked closely with him for the past six years and couldn’t remember a day he hadn’t been in the office. Lately, his hours had been inconsistent, if he showed up at all. When he was there, he was ill-tempered and gruff. He offered no explanations and kept his office door closed, not talking much to anyone—Elizabeth included. To top it off, she’d recently learned that two of CMA’s clients had moved their business to another firm, and she’d wondered if it was a sign of things to come.
She checked her work email, and saw only one that required her immediate attention. Norwood Sports was a New England-based sports equipment company that was trying to branch out with a national campaign. They’d tapped CMA as their advertising firm and Elizabeth had jumped at the chance to represent them. She remembered her days at the Berkshire School and easily recalled the Norwood Sports logo imprinted on everything, from basketballs to badminton racquets. The marketing manager there was only requesting some follow-up information, so she quickly retrieved what he asked for and sent it off.
She clicked into her personal inbox and stared at the real reason she’d needed to check her email. There it was, the message titled, “Where are you?”
Colin had called her a few times over the past week. The first time, he’d left a lengthy message; the second time, a short one; and the third time, he hadn’t left a message at all.
She’d seen the email notification when she and Jane were on the way home from Becket, and knew that she couldn’t avoid him forever. I need to just do it. Break it off for good. Taking a deep breath, she opened the email.
I don’t know what’s going on or where you are, but it’s pretty obvious you’re ignoring me. The last time we saw each other, I got the feeling you were pretty overwhelmed by everything. Or maybe just by me? If that’s what this is, I wish you’d tell me and not just give me the cold shoulder. You know how I feel about you and how much I want to make this work. Please call me, or just respond to this so I know you’re okay.
She closed the email and frowned. I am not a very nice person. Colin had hit the nail on the head; she had been feeling overwhelmed. By work, yes—he vaguely knew of her worries there—but more recently by him. Things had been going so well between them, and he had to go and screw it up by getting serious.
She’d told Jane she’d been involved with him for a few months, but it was actually closer to eight. A few months sounds less serious, while eight sounds like you’re working up to something and not just having fun. But for her, that’s all it had been.
They’d hit it off nicely when they’d met in the spring. She’d gone out with a few co-workers and met him when he’d accidentally bumped into her, spilling her drink. He’d apologized profusely and bought her another, they’d ended up talking for quite a while, and before going their separate ways, exchanged phone numbers.
He was handsome, smart, and funny and after seeing each other a couple of times, they’d decided to keep seeing each other. They’d also agreed to keep things light and simple—neither wanted a serious relationship.
It seemed to work well; dates a couple of nights a week, which eventually and invariably led to sex a couple of nights a week. It meant having someone to take to social engagements and business functions, someone to share laughs with…someone to fill a space.
But things began to change, and two days before she’d left for West Stockbridge, he’d confessed his feelings had grown and that he was in love with her and wanted to solidify their relationship. He’d talked of moving in together and of meeting each other’s families…and she’d freaked out. Just a little.
His exact words at the time were “somehow, you’ve become necessary for my happiness.” It was a wonderfully sweet sentiment, but she knew that he wasn’t necessary for hers. Part of her almost wished he was, but another part of her was glad she didn’t need anyone that way.
She’d avoided him since then, but knew she couldn’t any longer. She sighed and picked up her phone, but at the last minute decided to call Kit instead.
After talking for a few minutes about work and other mundane things, Kit mentioned she’d seen Colin out the night before.
“The minute he saw me he cornered me. He’s pretty ticked off at you, but he seems kind of sad too. You have to call him to tell him what’s going on.”
“I know. You didn’t say anything, did you?”
“Of course not. I can play dumb like the best of them. But seriously, Lizzy, you need to call him.”
“I was about to, but I called you.”
“I’m not a chicken! I just need a moment.” Elizabeth paused. “Do you think I’m doing the right thing?”
“We’ve already had this discussion! Don’t keep questioning yourself. Just grow a set of balls and call him.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “That’s what I needed to hear. Thanks.”
“I’m on my way out, but call me tomorrow to let me know how it went.”
They said their goodbyes and just as Elizabeth was getting ready to call him, she remembered there was a half-empty bottle of red wine on the kitchen counter. She rose and went into the kitchen to pour herself a glass before once again settling on the couch. After taking a fortifying sip, she dialed his number.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine, how are you?”
“I’m all right I guess.” He huffed. “Actually, I’m not all right, because I have no idea what’s going on. Where are you?”
“I came to visit Jane while I had some time off.”
“You drove to West Sturbridge? Why on earth did you do that?”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s West Stockbridge. And I wanted to see my sister. I thought it would be nice to have Christmas with her.”
“I see. So did you just get tired of your phone ringing? Or did you feel bad when you read my pathetic email?”
His initial happiness at hearing from her had very quickly morphed into anger, and she couldn’t blame him; she’d run away and had no excuse for it.
“I’m sorry I left without talking to you. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“You’re right, you shouldn’t have.”
“What, Elizabeth? I tell you ten days ago that I’m in love with you, and I get radio silence. Nothing. I saw Kit last night, but of course she wouldn’t say a damn thing. I couldn’t reach you on your cell or at work… Do you know how hard it was for me to not drive to your place?”
“Hold on,” she responded, her ire rising. “You’re the one who decided that what we had wasn’t enough anymore. I’ve been totally honest all along about what I wanted. You know I don’t want to be serious with anyone right now, and you said the same thing. We both wanted something casual, something fun. You are the one who changed everything.”
“It’s not like I could help it! For crying out loud, Liz, I fell in love with you! How was I supposed to stop that from happening?”
She remained silent, and his voice had softened.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to yell, but I’m frustrated. The way my feelings for you grew…it just happened, it wasn’t a choice.” His voice took on a lighter tone. “You’re the hottest girl in Boston, with brains to boot. How could I not fall in love with you?”
She smiled a little and saw his comment for what it was—a way to defrost the space between them.
“I couldn’t stop it, I didn’t want to,” he went on. “I thought–I thought maybe things had changed for you too. I hoped they had.”
She hated saying the words but there was no getting around them; she just didn’t feel the same way. Yes, they had fun and yes, the sex was good—not earth-shattering, but good.
But something was missing. Her heart didn’t feel like it was about to jump out of her chest when she saw him. Her breath didn’t catch. Her skin didn’t flush. She didn’t daydream about him or wonder what he was doing when they weren’t together, or wonder if he was thinking about her too. It just wasn’t like that, and she couldn’t force it to be. And it’s not that she was a die-hard romantic, but she wanted to feel those things.
“I care for you so much,” she told him quietly, “but I’m not in love with you.”
Tears sprang to her eyes. She did care about him and didn’t want to hurt him, but there was no other option.
“Can we try again when you come home? I won’t be demanding or place expectations on you or anything like that. We can move at your pace—”
“Colin, no. I don’t think so.”
“Can I just see you one more time? So we can say goodbye properly?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think seeing each other would make it worse for both of us.”
“But I’m not ready to give up on you.”
She felt a stab of exasperation. “I’m not so sure it’s your decision.”
“Well, we’ll see I guess. You have to come back to Boston sometime, right?”
“I heard you, Liz. I heard every word you said, loud and clear. If I want to take the chance, I’ll take the chance.”
“My feelings won’t change. I consider us broken up.”
He chuckled, which annoyed her even more, and she just wanted to get off the phone so she could drink her wine and curse the male of the species.
Is arrogance a trait in all men?
“Goodbye, Liz. For now.”
It was just after midnight and Elizabeth was reading in bed when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs. There was a soft knock on her door a moment later and she set her book down.
Jane poked her head in. “Still awake?”
“Just reading. Fun night?”
Jane came in and sat on the edge of the bed. “It was wonderful.”
Elizabeth grinned. “Do tell.”
“We had a great dinner, we danced and laughed…” Jane’s smile grew. “He kissed me goodnight when he dropped me off.”
Jane nodded. “And it was a real kiss, not a little peck on the cheek. I mean, we didn’t make out in the driveway, but it was an honest to goodness kiss. On the lips. And my God, he has unbelievably soft lips.”
“Spare me the details,” Elizabeth teased, and moved over to give her sister room.
Jane took off her coat and shoes and stretched out next to her sister. “It was incredible, it made my toes curl, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
It’s about time, Charlie. “Good for you.”
“What did you do tonight? Besides inhale that pizza. Did you get any work done?”
“A little. I looked over some emails, sent some info to clients.” Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip. “Um, I talked to a friend on the phone.”
“Kit? How is she?”
“Oh, she’s fine. But I meant another friend. The guy I’ve been avoiding? He’s called me a few times this week and then he emailed me, so I figured I should talk to him.”
“He’s been calling you while you’ve been here?”
“But you haven’t talked to him?”
“No. Hence my use of the word avoiding.”
“So? What did he want?”
“He wanted to know where I was. I didn’t tell him I was leaving Boston.”
Jane’s mouth dropped. “You’ve been seeing someone for a few months and you didn’t tell him you were leaving town?”
Elizabeth grimaced. “Eight.”
“Eight months. I’ve been seeing him since April.”
“Oh, even better! Will you please start from the beginning? I want to know everything.”
Elizabeth told her how they met, how often they saw each other, what they did, what he was like, the good-but-not-earth-shattering sex… And most importantly, how she felt. She was relieved to see an empathetic expression on her sister’s face when she told her of the feelings she wasn’t having, the ones she truly wanted to have but just weren’t there.
“I get it,” Jane said. “I know exactly what you’re talking about, because I feel that way when I see Charlie. I get all…mushy. Butterflies, weak knees, pounding heart, all of it.”
“That’s what I want. Someday.”
“Then you did the right thing then. If you don’t feel that way after eight months, chances are your feelings won’t change.
“That’s what I think, too. I mean, I truly like him and care about him and we’ve had some great times together, but it never went beyond that for me.” She shrugged. “I wish he would just give up. I don’t know why he feels like he has to pursue it.”
“Love can make you do crazy things. And people can be stubborn, especially when they’re in love.”
“But it’s not like he’ll make some grand gesture and I’ll think, ‘oh, I do love him after all.’ I can’t make myself fall in love with him.”
“You’re right, you can’t.” Jane paused. “You know, you didn’t handle the whole situation very maturely.”
Elizabeth grimaced. “I know. I apologized for taking off. I didn’t talk to him the last couple of days I was in Boston, and then I came running here as soon as I could.”
“You came running home. We all do it at some point, I suppose.”
Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose. She hadn’t thought of it that way; she’d looked at it as running away from something—a couple of somethings—not as running to something.
But really, where better to run?
West Stockbridge was empty of the buildings and the people and the work and everything else that made up such a huge part of her life. She could breathe here.
Thoughts of her father suddenly popped into her head. What would he say to me, right now, if he was standing in front of me? If he knew I’d run away?
The answer was as clear as if he was standing in front of her, and she pushed it to the back of her mind. It’s okay. I can disappear here and become lost, just for a little while.
That part of it, the actual running, was easy. The hardest part was figuring out what came next.
Elizabeth stood in the kitchen the following morning, sipping her second cup of coffee and getting ready to decorate the Christmas tree with Jane. The ringing of the front doorbell echoed through the house, and she was about answer it when she heard Jane’s voice mixed with the deeper tones of Charlie’s. She decided to remain out of sight until he left, assuming his unannounced visit would be a short one, and Jane came into the kitchen a few minutes later carrying an arrangement of fresh flowers.
“Wow,” Elizabeth said. “Did he stop by just to give you those?”
Jane beamed. “Yes, and to thank me for last night.”
Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose. “Are you sure you only kissed him? I mean, I can only imagine what he’ll give you the first time you guys—”
Jane carefully arranged the colorful blooms in a crystal vase and then carried it into the living room. “I want to have them out here, they’ll brighten—”
Elizabeth waited for her sister to finish, but when she remained silent Elizabeth followed after her. “They’ll brighten up the room? I agree.” She noticed Jane looking out the front window. “What are you looking at?”
“Charlie’s truck is still here, but I don’t see him.” Jane set the flowers down and went into the foyer, slipping on her boots and jacket. She opened the door and called out his name, but there was no response. “Where the heck is he?”
Elizabeth watched through the window as Jane walked to the driveway, and then heard her yell as she went running toward Charlie’s SUV. Elizabeth put her coffee down and ran outside coatless and in her slippers, and found Jane kneeling next to the vehicle cradling Charlie’s head in her lap.
She paled when she saw the splotches of blood in the snow. “Oh my God, what happened?”
“He must have slipped on the ice.” Jane called out his name, and although he groaned and his eyelids fluttered, he didn’t respond. “Lizzy, call 9-1-1.”
Thanks for reading! Hoping to post Chapter 5 on our around March 6th.