Unfinished Business ~ by Alicia
Elizabeth Bennet entered the attic of her dormitory building in search of her trunk where she stored her winter clothes while at college. The weather had started to turn colder, and she was looking for her sweaters. She lived at Longbourn, an old estate house that had been converted to a girls' dormitory when Meryton University had opened. She found her trunk and opened it to pull out her winter sweaters. When she closed her trunk again and made her way towards the attic stairs, something caught her eye from a dark corner where the roof slanted down. It was a very old trunk. It did not look like it belonged to any of her roommates. She thought everything had been cleaned out of the attic when they started using it for storage at the dorm.
She walked over to the trunk and when she opened it, she found it was full of very old clothing and other ladies' acoutrements. At the very bottom, she found a drawing of a pretty young woman. Underneath the drawing the following words were written: My Sister, Elizabeth, By Catherine Bennet. She also found a very old dance card from a long ago ball with a small pencil attached to it by a string. At the top it said in an elegant script writing, Netherfield Ball, November 26, 1811. Then there was a list of dances. Next to each there was a line that had been a space to fill in. In the first space, Elizabeth could make out the name Collins. The name made her wince as it reminded her of Billy Collins, a very annoying fellow student. She couldn't read any more of the names, but she could make out a letter here and there. A few lines down she noted a name that started with a "D" but she couldn't tell what the rest of it said. She thought it looked like Darcy but that would be too much of a coincidence.
Elizabeth was amazed by her discovery. She had heard that the tradition of the Netherfield Ball had been started when Meryton University was founded based on a legend that a real ball had been held in that house in the early part of the 19th century. It was rumored that the house had been closed the day after the ball -- never to be opened again until it was converted into a co-ed dormitory for Meryton University. Some even said Netherfield was haunted by ghosts of those who had attended the original Netherfield Ball.
Elizabeth and her roommates had just received their invitation to the annual Halloween Masquerade Ball at Netherfield the day before. At first she had decided not to wear a costume at all, but now she became giddy at the thought of wearing one of the antique gowns she had found. She was able to come up with an entire ensemble, including slippers, a cloak, and a fan. She closed the trunk and took her costume and the dance card downstairs to show her sister and roommate, Jane. She did not wish to tell the other girls of the treasure she'd found because she felt they might ruin the delicate items in the trunk, while she knew she would be careful with the things she had decided to borrow.
Jane was just as amazed as Elizabeth to see the things she had found in the attic. They talked and speculated about the girl whose trunk it might be deep into the night. Jane was glad Elizabeth had found the dress and was willing to wear it. She had hoped her sister would dress up for the ball. Jane was planning to dress in matching costumes with her boyfriend, Charles Bingley, but she would not tell anyone what they had decided on. Charles lived at Netherfield and was the event coordinator for the masquerade this year. He and Jane were made for each other, and Elizabeth was happy for her sister. She had hopes for heself as well. George Wickham was a handsome student who had been flirting with her for the past two months. She was eager to tell him about the dress, as he had promised to wear a costume to match hers at the ball.
The next day, Elizabeth was pleased to have one of her sweaters with her as she trotted along in the cool morning air next to her younger, and much more immature roommate, Lydia Philips. "You are not going to believe this when you see it," said Lydia. "I just noticed it the other day. Kitty was taking forever in the bookstore so I came outside to wait for her and there it was."
Lydia had dragged Elizabeth out to look at some discovery she had made, but would not tell her what it was.
Finally, they arrived at the book store which had been built where an old church had once stood. They walked around back to an old graveyard. Lydia wound her way among the headstones until she came to a very old one in the back. It said:
Elizabeth just rolled her eyes. "This is what you wanted to show me? Do you now how common my name is?"
"Oh Lizzy, you're no fun," replied Lydia as she walked off towards Longbourn. Elizabeth followed her pensively, thinking of this woman from so long ago who shared her name. She must be the same woman whose picture she had found in the trunk the day before. But she soon shrugged it off.
The weeks until the ball flew by. Elizabeth had her dress pressed, but had not needed to alter it, as it was already a perfect fit. She had told George what she was planning to wear and he had promised he would find a gentlemen's suit from the same time period. Billy Collins had also asked her what she was wearing to the ball, but she refused to tell him. She didn't want him dressing to match her.
Finally, Halloween night arrived. Elizabeth felt very elegant in her ball gown and she even wove fresh flowers through her hair for the full effect. She finally saw Jane's costume and was delighted to see her dressed as an angel. Nothing could be more appropriate. The girls from Longbourn all piled into Charlotte Lucas' SUV. Elizabeth looked out the window and noticed that the moon was full. Something was going to happen tonight. She could feel it. She looked forward to seeing George and she felt butterflies in her stomach. They passed the old graveyard next to the bookstore and a chill ran down Elizabeth's spine. She thought she heard something howl in the distance, then she realized perhaps she was getting into the Halloween spirit a little too much!
When they arrived at Netherfield, they were immediately greeted by Charles Bingley and his sister Caroline, who also lived at Netherfield. Charles was dressed as a devil, and he and Jane looked so cute together, Elizabeth could not help but smile. They walked away together and Caroline, who was dressed as Jessica Rabbit, made a sneering look at Elizabeth's outfit before she followed them. Elizabeth was glad to see her go, she reflected to herself that it would have been fitting for Caroline to dress as a witch but then she remembered that the whole idea of dressing up for a masquerade was to not come as yourself. She smiled at her own little joke and then began looking around for George.
As Elizabeth walked through the crowd and began to mingle with her acquaintances she saw a man at the far end of the room dressed in a Regency period costume turned away from her. She smiled to herself and approached him to get his attention. She tapped him on the shoulder, but was shocked when he turned around. It wasn't George at all. It was the detestable Will Darcy, Charles' best friend and roommate at Netherfield. He seemed surprised to see her, but smiled and greeted her politely. She could barely make a civil response to him. She had never liked him from the first time they'd met and she had never gone out of her way to talk to him. In fact, she'd avoided interacting with him as much as possible. Especially after she had learned that he was responsible for George losing a great internship opportunity. Now she was at a loss to understand how Will Darcy could be dressed the way he was. It was too much to be a coincidence. Had he dressed to match her on purpose?
"Why are you dressed like that?" she asked.
He looked surprised but then said, "I wasn't going to dress up at all, but I found some old-time clothes in the attic and Charles talked me into wearing them. They fit just right, too."
She stared at him. No, this couldn't be true. This kind of coincidence just wasn't possible. Jane must have told Charles about her costume and Charles had told Will. He was mocking her.
"I need a drink," she said, and she walked to the refreshment table. There, she saw Denny, a friend of George's, and learned that George had decided not to come to the party, but had asked Denny to apologize to her for him. "Nice," she thought. "He didn't even call me. But I don't blame him, after what Will Darcy did to him! Why should George subject himself to Will's presence all evening?"
Elizabeth's hopes for the evening were dashed. After helping herself to a glass of pumpkin punch, she found a chair in a quiet spot and sat down to watch Jane and Charles dance along with the other couples. It was fun to try to identify everyone beneath their costumes and make up.
After she had been sitting for a few minutes, a girl about her age sat beside her. Elizabeth knew she had never met the girl, but she looked oddly familiar, all the same. Perhaps it was because she too was dressed in a Regency gown. "I guess we had the same idea," said Elizabeth.
The girl smiled, "The same idea about what?"
"Oh yes," said the girl. "They do seem to be in the same style."
"Where do you live?" asked Elizabeth.
The girl looked puzzled for a moment and then answered, "I suppose you could say I reside here, at Netherfield."
Elizabeth smiled at the girl's turn of phrase. "I spend so much time in the library on campus, I'm not sure where I live either!"
The girl smiled and changed the subject. "The style of dancing has certainly changed since my day," she said as she looked towards the dance floor.
"Your day?" said Elizabeth with a laugh, "You're not that old."
The girl only smiled.
Elizabeth looked across the room and noticed Jane and Charles had walked off the dance floor and had stopped to talk to Will Darcy. When they left him, Elizabeth saw another Regency-clad gentleman approach Will and start a conversation with him.
"Is that your date?" she asked the girl next to her, nodding her head in the direction of Will and the man standing with him.
"My date?" asked the girl.
"Yes. I noticed your costumes match. Was that planned? Do you even know him?"
"Oh yes, I know him," she said wistfully.
"Well, you make a cute couple," said Elizabeth.
The girl smiled, "Thank you. I think we would look rather well together." Then she added, "You mentioned the gentleman my friend is talking to, Will Darcy. Are you acquainted with him?"
Elizaeth rolled her eyes, "Yes."
"He does not seem to be a favorite of yours."
"That's one way of putting it. But the feeling's mutual. He can't stand me either."
"I would not be so sure of that if I were you," the girl replied cryptically.
Elizabeth said, "It doesn't matter. He's just an arrogant jerk. If he can't tell I don't like him that just means he's stupid too."
The girl looked at her with a shocked expression. "Perhaps you have misjudged him," she said gently.
"I don't think so."
"I misjudged a man once," she said. "He was the most wonderful man that ever lived. And, he loved me. But I never knew it. It was here in this very room, where we both made the choice not to take a chance on each other. I confirmed my dislike of him and refused to believe that my opinions might be in error; and he chose not to form any serious design on me. We never saw one another again after that night. A night of missed opportunities."
"But it's not too late," said Elizabeth. "You talk as if your life is over. You're very young. If you feel that strongly about it, you should call him and try to work things out."
The girl smiled, even as her eyes moistened with unshed tears. "It is far too late for me . . . but not for you," she said earnestly. "You should not be too quick to misjudge this Will Darcy. I am certain he does not dislike you. In fact, I would not be surprised if he harbored some very tender feelings for you."
Elizabeth stared at the girl in shock. "Well, I happen to know he's not the type of man I want to be involved with."
"Be careful, my friend," the girl added quickly, "I would wager this George Wickham you are so taken with has not revealed the whole truth of his dealings with Will Darcy to you."
Elizabeth was even more surprised, "How did you know about that?" she asked.
The girl glanced towards the two gentlemen and Elizabeth followed her gaze. She noticed them walking in her direction. The girl turned her eyes back to Elizabeth and, grasping her hand, replied, "Just promise me you will keep an open mind when it comes to Will Darcy, that you will not make the same mistakes I made."
"I promise," Elizabeth assured her.
Just then, the gentlemen arrived and were standing before them. When Elizabeth turned to look at Will Darcy, he smiled and then bowed low. When he stood up straight again he extended his hand and said, "Miss Bennet, would you do me the honor of dancing with me?"
Elizabeth only now realized that a slow song was starting to play. She smiled at his acting in character, then took his hand and stood from her chair. "I would be delighted, sir."
As they walked to the dance floor together Elizabeth thought she could hear a brief exchange in tones of restrained emotion.
She glanced back towards the other couple, but there was no one there.
"Where did they go?" she asked Will.
He looked towards the chairs and said, "I don't know, maybe they were ghosts."
Elizabeth laughed and said, "What were you and that other guy talking about?"
Elizabeth might have been surprised, if not for her recent conversation with the mysterious girl. "What did he say?"
"He told me to keep an open mind and to not make the same mistakes he made."
"She told me the same thing about you."
He smiled. "They must have been working together." Then, after a pause, he added, "He also told me to tell you my history with George Wickham."
"I would like to hear what you have to say about it."
"After the dance," he said quietly as he took her in his arms.
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