Chapter Four - The Meeting
The old, converted red barn in the center of the campground’s one-hundred acres had been transformed at dusk into a colorfully lit barbeque dance hall. Music blared through the building as the campers entered taking seats at the many wooden picnic tables along the perimeter of the dance floor. A 1970s strobe light hung from a wooden beam above the parquet.
Cat was in all her glory since this was the first event to kick off the official summer camp season. She loved this and loved these kids, each one right down to their wise-crack answers to the bloody scrapes on their knees after a hard day of playing and competing.
Unfortunately, age was creeping up on her, and she knew in her moments of realistic thinking that she would be spending most of her time living up at the ranch house with the Gardiners soon enough. This summer was to be her swan song, and she was going to make some changes to the curriculum—unbeknownst to all. She wanted to stir up the pot a little and since having a long talk with the Gardiners about William still being single and their idea of him and Lizzy getting together, she thought she would have a little fun.
Billy entered the barn, coming toward her, his eyes lit with happiness. “Pemberley is fine this year, Mrs. D. Your nephew is extraordinary, got those boys under control already. He’s magnificent, so commanding. A man like him will make someone very happy one day.”
Her hands clutched her gold lame-clad hips. She loved this tight pantsuit, which complimented her purple sunhat and painted red lips. “Collins! Are you finally coming out of the closet!? I always say, you gotta be yourself! You’re quite obsessed with my nephew, but I’m sorry to be the one to tell you but he bats for the other team!”
Truthfully, he really didn’t understand what she was talking about; he didn’t even have a closet in his cabin, but if he did he’d definitely add shelves. As for batting … they hadn’t even kicked off the softball games yet.
“No, Mrs. D, I mean …” He backed away, shaking his head vehemently. He didn’t think he was fixated on Darcy too much, certainly not to the point of obsession. “Um … there’s Pemberley now. I must go to help them.”
He bolted toward the open barn doors, tripping over a bench leg in the process and nearly falling into Anne. “Excuse … um … Anne.” Ah Anne, I love you. If only ...
Beside her table of campers,Lizzy watched the doors for Jane’s Cheapside cabin and Charlotte with her Hunsford group of eight and nine year-olds. Preceding their arrival, he came in smiling alongside his miscreant band of pimpled peckers. Mr. Beautiful Dimples. She started torn between anger and intrigue.
And Lydia noticed, followed by an elbow to Georgie. Both girls followed Lizzy’s line of vision.
Georgiana smiled knowingly. She’d seen that deer in the headlights look directed toward her brother before but never with hatred behind it. It was usually more like lust. “That’s my brother.”
“Aahh, he’s a hottie, really smexy. We should hook them up. Lizzy could use a good lay. She’s too frigid.”
“Did she go to Drexel University?”
“How did you know that?”
Georgiana laughed, trouble already brewing in her mischievous brain, thinking she had to endure lunch with Aunt Cat tomorrow no thanks to her brother. She shrugging her shoulders. “Yeah, we should fix them up. Does she shave her armpits?”
“Of course she does!”
Lizzy continued to stare, watching the crazy-haired redhead fawn all over Mr. Perfect and his complete disregarded of the woman. The woman was making a foolish spectacle of herself, holding his bicep and moving closer to him with flirtatious smiles and body language, but Lizzy felt bad for her. Mr. Rude Behavior was cruel, ignoring the Scarborough counselor, blowing her off without a second glance. Under her breath she called him an egotistical bastard.
Georgie heard that little remark and snickered with a glance over at Lydia. “Oh, yeah this is gonna be good.” She laughed, and they waited for the show to begin.
Charlotte and Jane settled their kids down and made their way over to Lizzy. Kisses went around between the three women.
“Char you look great! Where have you been these last three weeks?” Jane asked.
“With studmuffin over there.” She pointed to a beefy guy with an eight year-old draped over his shoulders as though he was Atlas. “Best friggin’ time of my life with Rick. He’s like the Energizer Bunny on steroids, goes for hours.” She waggled her eyebrows. “I really like him. He makes me laugh and other things.”
“I’m glad to hear that. You deserve to be happy. You’ve studied and worked so hard for so long. If he makes you that happy then I hope he’s the one,” Lizzy said. “If nothing else you’ll stop sleeping around.”
Charlotte slapped her best friend’s arm. “Funny, Lizzy.”
Lizzy poured a cup of lemonade. “How is it going for you, Jane? Have you settled into Cheapside ok? How are your girls?”
“Fabulous, they’re all good girls. I don’t think I’ll have any problems. I think …” Her eyes completely diverted across the room in Charlie’s direction. “… Who the heck is that? Yum.”
Charlotte turned, following Jane’s gaping gaze. “The blond? He’s one of John’s friends, Charles Bingley. He’s been a counselor along with his business partner for years.”
“Oh, he’s scrumptious.” Lizzy recognized that glazed over look her sister often displayed whenever she saw a new playmate.
“Jane, I know this look you have. Forget about it, he’s a jackass. In fact, they’re all jackasses. I overheard your golden boy over there tell the boys to ask our girls to dance even if they consider them ugly so that the girls won’t compete as hard against them in the games. The audacity. As if our girls would fall for that ploy.”
They gasped. “NO!”
“Yes! The worst of all is that prick right there ...” Lizzy blatantly pointed to Darcy from across the room at the exact moment that he glanced up in her direction.
Jane covered Lizzy’s pointer finger with her hand. “He saw you!”
“Good! He’s a woman-hating, sexist jerk, and we’re going to kick the boys’ butts in the games making him eat his misogynist words and over-inflated ego. What is it with men who think women are nothing more than worthless arm candy? You alone prove that point to be so absurd, Jane. If it wasn’t for that torn Achilles, you would have gone to the Olympics. As it is you’re like Einstein reincarnated into this gorgeous creature.”
“Ladies! Little pictures have big ears,” Charlotte said, drawing their attention to the attentive Lydia and Georgie absorbing every word with chins resting in the palms of their hands.
Jane leaned into her friends. “He might be a sexist prick, but he hasn’t stopped staring at you since he caught you pointing at him.”
“Is that supposed to do something to me? All that does is prove he has good taste.”
All three howled in laughter as Darcy watched as if struck by lightning by the most incredible looking woman he’d ever seen.
Jane twirled her hair. “Listen to us, we sound like teenagers. I suppose it’s our repressed youth coming to the surface due to this whole summer camp experience.”
“I, for one, am going to enjoy this summer and just so you know … that prick, as you so eloquently call him, is my studmuffin’s cousin. His name is Will Darcy.” Charlotte said.
Cat climbed the stairs leading to the platform stage at the end of the barn and dance floor then removed the microphone from the stand, followed by a few hand taps to the end. Campers and counselors silenced amidst shushes. The Gardiners stood off to her side, enthusiastic for the evening to commence.
“Look there’s Aunt and Uncle,” Lizzy said happily.
“Welcome to Camp Mount Oakham! We’re going to have a great summer!” Cat happily greeted.
One new boy at Darcy’s table made a loud raspberry with his fist and mouth, and much to the horror of Lizzy, she observed Darcy give him a swift, gentle love-smack to the back of his head. The boy, of course, silenced immediately from further disrespect, but her condemnation was swift. Mr. Rules! Child-hitting asshat.
Cat raised her hand high. “We are going to mix things up a bit this year, and not just for you campers. Since this is the last year for many of our counselors, I have decided to throw a fly into their ointment.”
That elicited hoots and howls from the kids and the counselors looked from one to the other, eyes eventually falling on Anne who shrugged, oblivious to her mother’s change of plans.
“This year, after every competition you children partake in, the counselors will have to compete in that same competition, pitting the female counselors against the male counselors. Betting among you young people will be allowed, and Billy Collins will be the bookmaker. All betting begins before tomorrow’s first swim relay. The sky’s the limit. Bet whatever you want! What do you think of that kids?!” Cat shouted, raising both arms in the air like a rock star when the cassette player blasted “Eye of the Tiger.”
“YEAHHHH!” The children rocked the barn in an uproar of shouts and thunderous applause.
Cat shouted, “Let’s watch as our counselors make mincemeat of one another!”
Yeah, the counselors were afraid.
Darcy glanced across the room to watch the gorgeous brunette. What a smile. Her whole face lit up and her eyes danced, sparkling with humor. He found himself captivated by every move she made, every joyful expression … right up to the point when she looked directly at him.
Their eyes locked at the same time as her index finger sliced across her neck. She then pointed at him, eyes narrowing, her joyful smile turning into a mean, thin line.
Darcy leaned toward John. “Do you know who the brunette standing next to your sister is?”
John’s heart skipped a small beat at seeing Lizzy across the barn. “That, my friend, is Lizzy. I used to date her.”
“Fabulous woman, intelligent, fun loving, incredibly sexy… but she’ll tear your balls off with her teeth if you piss her off.”
“So basically, you’re telling me you’re either still in love with her or warning me to keep away from her.”
Darcy furrowed his brow, confused as to why she challenged him when he hadn’t even had the chance to meet her or turn on the ole Darcy charm. “Does she know me?”
“I don’t see how she would unless your reputation has preceded you.” John chuckled in the face of Darcy’s love ’em and leave ’em reputation. “Why do you ask?”
“Because I think she has one of my nuts between her canines.”
Testing the boundaries, the kids went wild on the dance floor. It was sheer pandemonium as the little ones ran unchecked all over the place to the delight of Aunt Cat, Maddy, and Ed who loved the energy and would be sorry when it ended at the end of the summer. Girls danced with girls and boys body slammed boys much to the objection of Darcy and Charlie who tried to break them up.
The women counselors positioned themselves with backs against the wall, chatting and watching as boy after boy approached a girl to dance only to be shot down in flames. Not a single girl from any cabin accepted the bait, thereby leaving the boys to dance among themselves. Lizzy thought this a smoothly executed plan and, much to Jane’s silent disapproval, never even gave a second thought to the psychological ramifications of an adolescent boy’s open rejection by a girl. Her sister observed with concern the strange sense of satisfaction Lizzy had at the dismantling of Darcy’s plan and how she looked forward to the summer of his discontent.
Aunt Cat approached Darcy, took his hand in hers, then dragged him across the dance floor to stand before the women. Sheepishly, he blushed, emparassed by her and the wicked gleam in her eyes when she called out in front of everyone, ”You there, Elizabeth! I must have you dance. Set the example for these young people! Dance with my nephew!”
Darcy thought in split-second realization, so this is Elizabeth, Hippie Tom’s daughter. He scanned her up and down noting the lack of body hair that he had assumed would be clinging to her long shapely legs. Hmmm … maybe she isn’t a hippie—or a feminist.
Lizzy’s eyes grew wide. “Ah, no thank you, Mrs. D.” She looked away, unwilling to meet Mr. Perfect Prick’s eyes.
“You dare to say no to me?” She questioned, shoving her nephew, his body crashing into hers.
“Dance with my nephew!”
“We’d better do as she says. She could be quite persistent, trust me,” Darcy said, his eyes bore pleadingly into hers and she couldn’t help raising a challenging eyebrow to him.
He took her hand, leading her to the dance floor and she struggled to ignore the comforting warmth of his palm against hers.
The song selection turned slow at Cat’s command.
Lizzy remained silent, looking away from him when his arm slid around her waist. He swayed extremely close to her, too close for her comfort. She couldn’t deny that while her repulsion was real, so was her attraction. She was having a tug of war within herself. She wanted him to dance with her and at the same time, she wanted to stomp his foot and slap his face. Damn he smells great. Why does he have to smell so great?
“Surely, you have something to say since you already seem to dislike me immensely,” Darcy began.
She clenched her teeth. “Aren’t you a bit old to be a camp counselor?”
“Ok ... That was not the beginning I hoped for. How about we talk about the barbeque food or the swim meet tomorrow. Simple polite talk. Can you manage that?” Man, she’s lethal.
“Fine. I’ll talk. I think it’s only fair to warn you that, you personally, Mr. Darcy are going down. This woman is no wimp, and I intend to prove to you that women are not the weaker sex,” she declared petulantly as her inner monologue commenced, Mr. Dreamy Sexist.
“Whoa … what did I do to deserve this women’s lib crap you’re dishing out?” Damn. She is a feminist but feels so good in my arms. Surely, God is punishing me for something. She’s extremely ferocious, and yet I just want to silence her only with my mouth.
“Look Mr. Chauvinist, let’s sort this out on the playing field. What’s your ante?” Mr. Beautiful Hazel Eyes.
“Mr. Who? My what?” He pulled her closer until her body pressed against his. She’s incredible. Her green eyes flash when she’s angry.
The feel of his hard muscles discomfited her. “Your bet, what do you put up as acceptance of my challenge?” God, his body is rock solid.
Slowly, she was succumbing to the Darcy charm, which really wasn’t actual charm but more like animal magnetism as his head dipped ever so slightly down to hers.
His voice lowered an octave. “And what challenge is that?” Let me kiss you, tigress.
“That … that … I will beat you in the overall standings of the counselor competition.” God his lips look perfectly kissable. That bottom lip is…
“Mr. Willy! Mr. Willy! Mr. Willy!” Three little six year olds shouted, attaching themselves to his legs and winding themselves in between him and his dance partner.
The two separated and backed away from each other, both needing air.
Caroline swooped in just before Darcy exited the dance floor, winked at the girls, and grabbed hold of his waist when the music revved up. Her body started to jerk and thrust with her wild, flaming hair going this way and that as her arms circled above her head like a helicopter shooting red fire from below.
He was completely frustrated and utterly confused by Lizzy’s animosity. Feigning politeness by continuing to dance with Caroline, his mind was a million miles away where it pondered “Mr. Chauvinist” and Lizzy’s claims, falls presumptions about how he felt about women.
In all the commotion of Darcy and Lizzy’s forced, awkward dance, coupled with the construed arrival of a dancing Caroline, they failed to notice Lydia tucked in the corner of the barn as she and G-Train grinded to the music. Georgie stood by sullenly witnessing George’s kisses to Lydia’s neck. Nor did anyone notice the angry mien demonstrated by the usually placid John Lucas who felt as though his good buddy just stabbed him in the back.
Counselors and campers alike retired for the night as silly songs filled the darkened pathways while Children made their way back to the cabins. It seemed as though everyone had a plan for their first night at camp Mount Oakham and all set about to execute them.
The men met with the older boys to assemble the tarps and Vaseline in preparation for their midnight run on the girls’ campus. They excitedly prepared for battle as the men stood by watching and waiting to be of assistance. They had done this many times before and knew the boys would feel proud at breakfast, hearing the girls’ horror stories of having walked into a sheet of Vaseline upon exiting their cabins - their hair becoming a greasy mess until the chlorine of the pool would take it out.
John stood with his arms folded across his chest in a very protective, defensive manner. His body language said ‘annoyed’ as if big bold letters were emblazoned across the frown lines of his forehead.
Darcy was concerned because John was usually a very happy guy, much like Charlie. “John, I haven’t seen this look on your face since, well since, Mary cheated on you with Pete senior year at Penn State.”
They were good friends and like most men, John didn’t beat around the bush. It was a man code - say it, get it out in the open, and get over it. “Are you going after Lizzy?”
“Are you still in love with her?”
“I think I am.”
“Then no … I’m not going after Lizzy, as you say.”
“It didn’t look that way on the dance floor.”
“That was beyond my control.”
“Yeah, now you see why I’m still in love with her. I feel like Tantalus when around her. She’s all that I desire and yet always out of my reach. She’s that tantalizing and I’m a truly thirsty man.”
“What happened between the two of you?”
Darcy considered John a good man and probably a good catch for a woman. He had a good job as the Manager at Hooters, was a responsible homeowner, considered fairly good-looking. An avid Eagles football fan and an overall sports enthusiast, he also drove a Jeep. What was a girl not to like?
“I … um … we had a difference of opinion about my extra-curricular activities.”
Darcy nodded feeling John’s pain, “That explains why she tore your balls off.” He put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. Darcy found himself truly appreciating John’s unfortunate circumstance. Yes, Lizzy was that tantalizing, enticing and monumentally tormenting, but Darcy thought John was an absolute fool to cheat on and lose a gorgeous woman her, but then again maybe she drove him to the edge of insanity with that acerbic tongue of hers.
“Don’t worry John, I’ll keep away. Besides how could she avoid that Lucas charm for four weeks?”
Back at the girls’ campus, the little ones put themselves to bed because Caroline was too busy slathering Nair on every part of her body since tomorrow was swim day. Hayley, quite proud that their first “Darcy” assignment was a success, bargained for bowls of Skittles for breakfast in payment for separating him from the pretty lady of Longbourn.
After lights out and assurances that the girls were asleep, all the other women met at eleven o’clock with lawn chairs on the circular lawn the center of all the girls’ cabins. Their intent was to act as sentry in detering the boys from executing their nighttime raid. Within thirty minutes of quiet chatting and waiting, sure that every camper was fast asleep, Lizzy procured the coveted bottle of Jose Cuervo Tequila and began passing it around.
Eventually, Caroline who found herself completely overcome by the grinding teeth and incessant sleep talking from her little terrors, exited Scarborough wearing a black, sheer nightie.
Lizzy held the bottle up to her. “Only stay if you intend to drink.”
Jane glanced up, already affected by the powerful elixir and slurring her words. “Hey, your brother ish that blond hottie, Shharlie. It’s okay, Lishy. She can stay.”
Anne demanded, “You’re gonna have to fight me for Charlie-boo, Amazon woman. Gimmie that bottle, Lizzy!”
“Did you just call my sister an Amazon?” Lizzy asked incredulously, holding back the bottle against her chest.
Charlotte’s head switched from one drunken woman to the other, feeling as though at Wimbledon tournament only fights didn’t happen in tennis. Unless of course you were John McEnroe and even then, he never actually called someone an Amazon, asshole maybe, but never Amazon. “Ladies, this is our first night together. No catfights allowed yet. Quiet down … you’ll wake the kids.”
“You quiet down, Charlotte. You’re a pediatrician not a referee.”
“Well you, what’s your name? Lizzy? What the hell kind of low-class name is that?” Caroline challenged pointing at the woman she felt an obstacle to her little seduction plan this summer. “Stay away from my boyfriend. I saw you about to kiss him on the dance floor!”
Soundlessly, the boys crept behind the bushes beside their counselors, thinking that the girls’ campus was fast asleep for their first prank. Twenty-four boys and five counselors ended up with quite a surprise when they oggled Caroline, in the center of the women, backlit by the moonlight—the sheerness of her nightgown giving them all an eye-full.
Rick covered one of the younger kid’s eyes.
Lizzy stood, towering over Caroline and waving the bottle of Jose in her hands in sweeps around her. The other women lounged on the grass, equally intoxicated, listening and nodding in agreement to Lizzy’s drunken denial of her attraction to Mr. Rules.
Darcy listened from behind a thorny blackberry bush to the catfight, his ears pricking when it turned on him.
“You can have Will Darcy, Red! That guy is an egotistical, male chauvinist pig who disciplines the boys like he’s the head of a Hitler Youth camp! I don’t give a shit if he is Mrs. D’s nephew, he’s the last man in the world who I would ever be interested in. Mr. I Think I’m a God. So what if he has a great ass and beautiful dimples. Who cares if he’s gorgeous with a hot body and his smile can melt ice cubes. He’s still an arrogant jackass!”
Charlie, squatting beside Darcy whispered, “With the exception of her extreme prejudice and hatred, it sounds like she’s hot for you.”
A quick shove to Charlie’s shoulder sent him backward into the bush.
The point of Lizzy’s index finger pushed against Caroline’s negligee. “And isn’t he a bit old to be a camp counselor! He must be some kind of out of work looser. No thank you! You can have him!”
“That’s right, uh ... hmm … loozzer …” Jane nodded as her hand tried to grab the bottle of Jose, but Lizzy swung her arms Jane’s reach kept missing the booty.
“Don’t talk about my Willy dahling like that, you… you ... feminist!” Caroline shouted.
“Willy? Is that what he’s called, Willy? Oh, that’s rich! His little Willy is probably three inches, and he most likely drives a Hummer to compensate!”
Darcy placed his head in his hands shaking it back and forth. “I’ve entered hell. They’re calling me Willy.”
“Lizzy… that’s my cousin you’re talking about and gimme back that tequila!”
Lizzy politely handed the bottle with a flourish to Anne’s outstretched hand.
“No you’re wrong, Lizzy, Rick says Will is a really nice guy and extremely wealthy,” Charlotte said trying to end her friend’s drunken verbal assault on the only man who had ever gotten under Lizzy’s skin like this.
Rick whispered behind the shrubbery, “Well, thank God for my Char ’cause your ass is meat, cousin.”
“Well Mr. Nice and Wealthy better suit up in his expensive Dolce and Gabbana bathing suit for the fight of his life because tomorrow his ass is mine!”
Jane slurred, “Yeah, he and the other counselorss think we’re weak and inferior. NO ONE shez we’re weak, even your Charlie-boo! We’re going to kick their asshess back to their man caves. This Darshy is goin down!”
Grinning, John placed his hand on Darcy’s shoulder. “I feel so much better now knowing that Lizzy’s in the process of castrating you.”
“Thanks, buddy,” Darcy smiled weakly.
Slowly the boys receded into the woods at the direction of Rick and Charlie. It was clear that tonight’s prank would have to wait for another night and one when Caroline wasn’t showing off all her scary assets or when tequila wasn’t thrown into the mix.
In Longbourn, Georgiana and Lydia’s eyes met. They smiled, happy for the commotion outside. No one’s attention would be focused on their cabin, and they could sneak away into the night to find that stash of pot George left for Lydia behind the equipment shed.
Well at least the attraction is there. Shame it's clouded by her prejudice and tough exterior.