July 11, 2016: The Day I Met an Android and a Poet (Part 3)

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"Big bro?"

I couldn't have heard that right. This bubbly, curly-haired cherub in front of me could not possibly be related to the frozen-hearted vampire behind me.

George continued, "What's up? Did you come here to invite me to lunch? Wow, lunch with the great Will Darcy. I'm so excited!"

These words might seem sarcastic to you, Diary, but that's because you didn't hear George speak them. His tone was very warm and friendly. And the way his baby blue eyes lit up, I could see he was truly excited to see Will.

Will remained silent. Though I was studiously avoiding eye contact with him because...reasons...I sneaked a look at him.

His expression sent a chill down my spine.

Will Darcy is always stony-faced, but by that I mean he has a face that looks like it was carved out of marble by Michaelangelo: pale, immobile, and inhumanly perfect.

This was a different kind of stony-faced: a cold glare that emanates barely suppressed fury. The kind of expression that makes guilty criminals quiver before judges and treasonous subjects cower before kings.

Will stepped beside me and placed his hand on my shoulder. I jumped.

"Ms. Bennet," he said.

"Yes, Mr. Darcy?"

Conscious of George standing nearby, I tried to speak in a suave voice appropriate for a Famous Literary Author. But to my mortification, the words came out high-pitched and girlish instead.

I couldn't help it. Will's expression was so severe, I was afraid he was about to arrest me!

But I quickly realized lawyers don't arrest people, and I blushed. Then I felt my cheeks warm and, even more mortified that Will might misinterpret my blushing to mean something else, I blushed hotter still.

George said, "You two know each other? Dude, why didn't you tell me you know my favorite author?"

Will's eyes didn't stray from mine, and his hand didn't move from my shoulder. "I'm glad I ran into you. I have something to discuss."

George sighed. "Right, you have more important things to do than talk to lesser mortals like me. Too busy saving society and breaking hearts, aren't you?"

Again, Diary, the words were not as contemptuous as they appear in writing. George's tone was gently ribbing. You know, the way boys tease people they like.

Will acted as if he couldn't hear George, or even see him standing there. Yet his jaw twitched slightly when George spoke, and his posture stiffened when George leaned towards us with his elbows on the checkout counter.

Will asked me, "Are you available on Saturday at 6 pm?"

"This Saturday? Yes, I am."

I hate myself for answering so quickly and truthfully. Will's vampire superpowers must be highly useful in court. He just gazes straight into criminals' eyes, and the whole truth comes tumbling out of their mouths.

Belatedly, I asked, "Why?"

"Charles has tentatively chosen that time for his housewarming party."

"Oh."

I couldn't think of anything wittier to say than "oh." Maybe my head went blank because the dynamic in the room was so surreal. George was calling Will "big bro," Will was treating George as if he didn't exist...and why did Will keep his hand on my shoulder for so long, as if we were intimate friends?

George asked, "How's Gianna doing?"

The fingers on my shoulder tightened. Something raw and frightening shot through Will's eyes. Then, in a split second, his face turned back to marble. His hand dropped to his side.

The flash of emotion appeared and disappeared so quickly, I wondered if I'd imagined it.

Will said coolly, "If Saturday at 6 works for you and your family, I'll let Charles know."

George raised his voice. "She's my sister too, you know? I worry about her."

Will turned and strode out of the bookshop. The bell on the door clanged behind him.

The shop seemed unnaturally silent in the moments after Will left. George pouted, his mouth in a tight line. I stood awkwardly at the checkout counter, unsure what to say.

George exhaled and relaxed. He met my eyes and laughed. "Sorry, that situation just now was super uncomfortable, huh?"

"Not really," I said to be polite.

"Bend is still a small town in a lot of ways, isn't it? Crazy that you're friends with Will."

George placed my book into a small paper bag with the Annie's logo. "But it's not surprising. He's friends with everyone who's anyone around here. Everyone loves him."

"I don't love him!"

I spoke more loudly than I intended. George stared at me in surprise.

I cleared my throat. "I mean, he's kind of stuck up and judgmental. And sometimes the things he says are really rude. I don't see what's so loveable about him."

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. I have no idea what came over me. Talking trash behind a person's back feels so dirty, even if that person deserves every word.

And the man I was trash-talking was George's brother, too! Even if a person doesn't have a lovey-dovey Brady Bunch family, insults to parents and siblings are absolutely off limits. I mean, Mary isn't the most loveable person either, but if someone came up to me and said, "Mary is kind of dowdy and abrasive," I would be livid.

I grimaced in shame. "I'm so sorry, I..."

"No, don't be! It's a relief to know there's one other person who feels that way. Everyone else treats Will like he walks on water."

Under his breath, barely audibly, George added, "They have no idea what he's really like in private."

George handed me the paper bag. He smiled at me shyly. "My shift is over in a few minutes. Do you have time to stay for a coffee, Elizabeth? My treat."

"Oh! Um..." I checked my watch. It was almost noon--my parents might have filled out a Zillow ad and a divorce application by now.

George turned that adorable shade of pink again. "It's just...I'm so lucky to meet you like this."

He looked down and fidgeted with a cup of pens on the counter. "I know it sounds strange, but when I read your book for the first time, I felt as if...you knew me. Like, even though we'd never met, you were writing straight to me, and you understood me better than anyone else in the world. So I...I really want to talk to you and become friends in real life."

Of all the compliments I've ever received about my writing, that was by far the sweetest and most heartfelt. How could I say no?

"Of course," I said. "I'll drink anything with sugar and whipped cream in it."

George is such a nice and earnest boy. At the time, I didn't know why Will had treated him with such childish hostility, but I knew it must have been for some petty reason. How could he not adore such a cute kid brother?

As I learned over the next hour, Will's behavior towards George was beyond petty. It was downright cruel.

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