Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies. - Jane Austen
"You are," she paused for a second and then continued with a nervous breath, "You are Elizabeth Bennet."
What? What? I stared ahead trying to focus my eyes on something—anything. Attempting to let this informational bombshell sink in proved to be unmanageable. If this was her idea of a practical joke, I was going to be the first to tell her it was not funny. But, I had seen much in the past few days, enough to remind myself the absurdity of what I was being told might not have been so far-fetched after all.
Who was this woman sitting across from me? Was it still safe to call her mum? The wheels in my head turned, and thoughts came in like a flood, filling every section of my mind. I was unsure of what to say or how to behave. I felt my body grow cold, and my stomach began to feel empty. A chill washed over me as I started to realize I barely knew the woman who raised me. My fingers shook as I tried my hardest to be strong.
I needed some answers. I needed answers, and I needed them right away. But, my mouth remained shut. The blow of everything that had happened was catching up to me. I wanted to talk. I wanted to ask all the burning questions running through my head. At long last, I found my tongue and cleared my throat
"So," I squeaked, "I'm Elizabeth Bennet?"
"Yes, you are." My mother answered.
"Darcy is probably wondering what to call me. One minute I'm Elizabeth, the next I'm Amanda and then, oh would you look at that, I'm Elizabeth again."
Darcy spoke, "What I am wondering is if you are Elizabeth, then who is this woman whom you call your mother?"
My mother smiled, "I knew this would become a concern. I will answer your questions over a hot meal. Have you two had dinner yet?"
"I'm not hungry." I looked down at my folded hands, "Just tell me the truth. I deserve that much, mum. I mean, Frankie? Um, person?"
"I made your favorite."
I could not resist my favorite dish. Beef Wellington and roast potatoes. Part of me wanted to resist, saying I could not eat, that I was not hungry. Still, my belly rumbled, and I knew I would succumb to it, bringing in every bit of the buttery, flaky crust, and the tender, juicy steak. My mouth salivated as I thought of the food.
I pursed my lips, "Fine. I'll eat, and you will tell me everything."
We stood up and followed my mother to the dining room. The table was already set as if she expected me to say yes to my favorite meal. My brow creased at the thought of this woman knowing me so well. At the center of the table was a whole Beef Wellington, Roast potatoes flanked its sides. My mother proceeded to cut the dish and place it on our plates.
Darcy and I sat next to each other, our eyes never leaving her. She had to tell us eventually, right? It sure seemed as though she was taking her time. Was she under the impression we would forget? There was no way I could forget. I was the most beloved character in romantic literature. Then, it sunk in; I was the most beloved character in romantic literature. I was Elizabeth Bennet. Oh my goodness, I was a character. I was fictional. I could fall in love with Darcy without any troubles.
But, why did I feel something was still wrong? I decided to think about it after eating the wonderful food in front of me. I grabbed my fork and began to dig in. Darcy began to eat as well, and I think it was more from politeness than hunger. He ate his food with all the proper manners of an aristocrat, never once did his elbows touch the table. Me, on the other hand, my only goal was to insert food into mouth. If I was truly Elizabeth Bennet, I needed the polish that living in modern times did not provide. In other words, I needed to be made into a lady.
My mother sat across from us, her hands clasped together. She watched us for a moment and then began, "As everyone here knows, I told you who you are. Now, it is time for me to tell you who I am."
"Who are you?" I inquired with my mouth full of steak.
"To know who I am," she spoke slowly, "I suppose I will have to start with the beginning of my story."
Reaching under the table, I took hold of Darcy's hand. I know, there I went again with the hand holding, but, it was all I could do to keep me from throwing the Beef Wellington on the floor and growling like a feral beast. Yes, I was frustrated and confused. And, believe me, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. If there was anyone that could have an identity crisis, it was me.
"Why can't you tell me who you are?"
"Because," she smiled at me, "you will gain more understanding if I let you know my humble beginnings."
I inhaled sharply, "I don't have time. I need to find a way to get Darcy back where he belongs."
"It would appear time is all you have on your side." She muttered in a cryptic tone.
"You're drawing this all out for dramatic effect."
"You have all the time in the world, my dear." My mother said.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean to say," she raised her eyebrows, "neither of us knows how to get back. We have enough time to hear my story before you begin to research how to get back to Pride and Prejudice."
I watched her as she delicately folded her hands and began, "I was born at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire, England."
"But," I stated in confusion, "I thought you were born in London."
"After, a few years away for schooling with my sister—"
I interrupted, "Wait a minute, you have a sister?"
She went on, "We relocated with the family to Southampton once my family could no longer afford to send us to boarding school."
"What is your sister's name? Why have I never met her?"
She ignored me, "Then, our father announced his retirement and uprooted the family to Bath. I was depressed. Having moved so many times before had left me feeling uninspired to continue with my interests. I had to believe in something, so I clung to the idea that I would begin to feel better."
"Why are you telling me this? What does this have to do with me?"
She continued, "What helped me get through this depression was my writing. It was in Bath where I revised First Impressions."
"I renamed it Pride and Prejudice."
"What the f—"
"Elizabeth Bennet does not curse," she tsked with a small smile.
How was this possible? How was Jane Austen my mother? I had been eerily quiet for what seemed like hours, trying to process all I had been told. To be told I was Elizabeth Bennet had come as a shock, however, it was nothing compared to her secret. This had come as a bolt from the blue. Questions rushed through my mind as I remained silent. Was I supposed to take the red or blue pill? Could I bend spoons with my mind? Was I some clueless chosen one? Finally, I laced my fingers together as if creating a prison for all my problems.
"How?" I cleared my throat after asking the question, my throat dry from the lack of speech, "You're supposed to be dead. There's a grave and everything."
"There was a discrepancy in my time of death."
"There's a grave, yes. However, it does not mean I am buried there."
"Well, obviously." I held my tongue trying my best to hold back stronger language than was necessary. "But, how?"
"I was ill," Jane explained, "The general understanding was I had tuberculosis. It was deadly then and I believed I would not last the week."
"How did you get there?" I leaned forward, "To modern London?"
"It is the mirror. The one I passed on to you." She sighed, "It has to be. Upon hearing of my illness, a gift was given to the family. I was told the giver of the gift preferred to remain anonymous. But, my sister, Cassandra and I both had a feeling we knew who it was from and I have clung to that idea for centuries."
"Tom LeFroy?" I asked.
She nodded, "Love is a potent emotion. It moves religions, marries couples, and even, in the case of Helen of Troy, starts wars. It may even be the strongest magic in the universe. A gift out of love, from the heart, must have possessed the ability to create portals to other universes. Before I died, the mirror sent me to my own creation, Pride and Prejudice. This was on the Sixteenth of July 1817."
"Didn't you die on the eighteenth?"
"I was not declared dead until the eighteenth."
"Why such a gap between dates?"
"They had to search for me." She explained, "I was not the kind of woman to become a runaway or disappear without explanation."
"Why don't I recall anything?"
"Because I am your creator," Jane began, "it took me to the beginning of your life. You were a baby. When the mirror took me back, you were holding my hand. The mirror then took us to mid-80s London."
"1880s?" I asked.
"No, the 1980s."
"If you're not buried, then who is?"
"I don't think anyone is." Jane shook her head, "I believe it was a family memorial that was secretly made to look like a grave. After my death, Cassandra burned all my letters. All except for a hundred, which I believe were the letters she could not part with. I think she was upset with me for disappearing and partially trying to cover up what could have become a scandal."
I nodded, "Okay. How do we find the way back?"
"Are you going back with him?"
I hesitated. Go back? Did Darcy want me to be with him after everything? Did I want to go back there? I glanced sidelong at him and found him looking back at me in curiosity. Part of me wanted to smack him across the face and demand he declare his love for me. Another side, the more logical one, wanted to sit down and discuss the eventuality in which we would find a way back. The logical side won over. Thank goodness. But, deep down, I wanted to stamp my feet impatiently and scream like an overindulgent spoiled brat. I didn't even know if he was my boyfriend. What were we to one another?
"We need to figure how this mirror works first."
Jane narrowed her eyes with a smile, "No, what we need to figure out is when we will set your wedding date?"
Darcy coughed uncomfortably. I let go of his hand, which was, warranting the awkwardness in the room, the only logical thing to do. My eyes bulged out in embarrassment, "Mum!"
"Do you love her?"
Without hesitation, Darcy said, "Very much."
My chest tightened as I looked at him. Jane continued, "What is holding you back? I know you feel you cannot trust her, but she never lied to you. We were all victims of circumstance."
Darcy nodded as he listened to mother, um, Jane. She continued, "I think the best thing would be to marry her here if you cannot find your way back. In six months, if you are still here then marry her."
"And," Darcy asked, "If I find my way back, what will happen?"
"Then," Jane beamed, "you marry her in Pride and Prejudice."
After dinner, Jane pulled me aside, "He loves you."
I smiled, "I know."
"I think he will want you to go back with him." Jane smiled, "He is miserable here. It is too modern and he has no fortune. I cannot imagine him working in a cubicle. He is counting on the mirror to take him back to his home. It would be a pity for you to not go back with him."
"I don't know, mum."
She smiled, "I like that you still call me mum."
"Well, you did raise me after all." I smiled, "You and dad. Wait a minute, Dad wasn't from back then, was he?"
She smiled, "No. He was from modern times. A good, honest man and I fell in love with him. Darcy is also a good, honest man."
When it was time to leave, she kissed me on the cheek, "Think about what I told you."
Darcy and I took a cab back to the condominium. When we walked upstairs, I glanced at the clock. 3 am. As if looking at the time had started the onset of fatigue, I yawned. After everything that had happened, the last thing I wanted to do was sleep. My mind was too active, too anxious. I sat down on the couch and Darcy sat down next to me.
It was unusual to be called Elizabeth now. I had always been Amanda even though I had been Elizabeth all along. However, it was even stranger for Darcy to call me Elizabeth—not Miss Elizabeth. Had we grown so close that the formalities were no longer needed? It was going to get some getting used to because I was a fictional character too. All this time, I believed I was a real person. But, maybe I was real and fictional at the same time. Mother—Jane—did say love had some potent magic to it, perhaps, it induced the ability to make a tangible world from the greatest love story ever penned.
"I know... this is a lot to take in and, I'm sorry to drag you into this mess." I mumbled, "I understand if you want to leave here as soon as possible." Sighing, I sent him a sheepish look, "I understand if you want to leave." Leave me, I thought to myself.
"I should be the one making amends. I have been distant and unpleasant to be around. I know you are not to blame for the situation we are in and I must apologize for my behavior towards you."
"No," he looked down, "no, it is not fine. You had no control over these circumstances and I," he inhaled sharply, "I should have been more understanding. I am truly sorry, Elizabeth."
I smiled softly, "Thank you."
"I must earn your respect back."
"Oh Darcy," I laughed, "I never lost respect for you."
"Is there anything I can do? I implore your forgiveness."
My eyes crinkled and I smirked, "Hmmm, I don't know if I can forgive you."
"What must I do?"
I suppressed a giggle by biting my lower lip. He seemed genuinely concerned about getting back in my good graces. At that moment, I could see the boy he once was, trying to please his parents. I could have told him everything was fine. But, I decided to do things my way for once. After all, the handholding needed to stop!
I shrugged indifferently, "Perhaps, a kiss?"
He pulled me close by the shoulders. My chest tightened and my lips parted, waiting to drink him in. His kiss was tentative, as if he was unsure and testing the waters. He moved back and peered at me with a searching look.
"Was that agreeable?" He asked.
"Um," I raised an eyebrow, "no."
"Am I forgiven?"
I shrugged, "I'll think about it."
"No, that will not do. Shall I try again?"
I tried my best to hide my smile. Indifferently, I muttered, "If you want to—"
Darcy reached over and placed his hands on the side of my face. My eyes closed and my heart began to beat against my rib cage. His velvety lips brushed against mine.
I shook my head, "No."
He smiled at me and snaked his arms around my waist. A quiet gasp escaped from my lips as he drew me against him. I put my hands gently on his chest, feeling the muscle through his shirt. He hungrily pressed his mouth against mine. This time, there were no butlers or maids to interrupt us. His warm lips sent a current through my body. Deepening the kiss, he moved his hand towards my hair, entangling his fingers in my long waves. I responded by throwing my arms around his neck, losing myself in the moment.
My breathing hastened as he held me even tighter. I had a feeling I would pass out if this kiss did not end soon. As if he were able to read my mind, he pulled away, "Am I forgiven now?"
I placed my head upon his shoulder, trying to catch my breath. "I had forgiven you long ago."
He laughed and kissed my forehead, "I love you, Elizabeth Bennet."
I blushed, "I love you too, Fitzwilliam Darcy."