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Darcy’s childhood bedroom was half a floor beneath her par- ents’ and on the end of a marble landing. It overlooked an Olympic-size swimming pool surrounded by checkerboard tile and white lounge chairs, with an infinity waterfall segueing into a clear blue hot tub. The room hadn’t changed one bit since she had last seen it eight years ago. The navy sateen of her canopy bed, the wall of plaques and trophies from high school debates and academic honors and horseback riding competitions. It was all still there. She locked the door behind her and went to her bookshelf, which still held all her old favorite books: The Great Gatsby, Atlas Shrugged, Sense and Sensibility, War and Peace, and so many more. These had been the books to get her through the loneliness of high school. She ran her finger along their spines.
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“Oh my God.” She laughed, her eyes falling on the stuffed animal perched at the end of the shelf. “Little Lion!” Little Lion had been a present from her father when she was nine years old and had to have her appendix removed. She could still remem- ber waking up from surgery to find her father at the side of the bed, holding the stuffed animal with a red bow around its neck, made extra bright and shimmery by the painkillers. She had named him Little Lion because, even then, she didn’t like the idea of making things up. She liked cold, hard facts that couldn’t be argued with, and so she gave him a name that would most accurately represent who he was.
Now she took him in her arms and laid down on the cool cot- ton sheets of her childhood bed. As she lay there, the sun be- gan to set outside the wide window, where freshly cut flowers sat in Le Creuset vases. And as the sun set, her thoughts spun. It had been a whirlwind twelve hours since she received the phone call with news of her mother’s heart attack and she hopped on the first morning flight to Ohio. The transition from her new life suddenly into her old life felt surreal and jarring. She couldn’t reconcile the person she was now with the person she used to be, and she couldn’t get the image of her father’s disappointed, resentful face out of her head.
At the same time that her old life felt light-years away, it was also hard to believe that it had been eight whole years since things had gone sour between her and her father. In some ways, it felt like just yesterday that she had “let her whole family and community down” by not agreeing to follow her father’s plan for her. What he wanted was for her to marry her high school (and on-and-off-again college) boyfriend, Carl, who came from a re- spectable family of lawyers, doctors, and war heroes who had
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been the pride and joy of Pemberley, Ohio, for generations. Darcy had tried hard to feel passionate about Carl, tried to con- vince herself that he was the one, but at the end of the day their days together felt dry and their nights left much to be desired. Mr. Fitzwilliam’s wishes for his daughter were twofold, and the second fold involved her doing what a truly good and hon- orable woman would do: give birth to children and dedicate her life to raising them. Like the first fold of his plan, this didn’t work for her either.
“I don’t have to marry him, Dad,” she had said, sitting across from him at the long, stretching dining room table.
“No, you don’t,” he had replied triumphantly, as if the card he held would surely win this game. “Not if you don’t mind liv- ing on your own money.”
“That’s right. I’ll restrict you from access to your inheritance, and I certainly won’t finance your life while you gallivant around New York City doing Lord knows what.”
Darcy had considered this momentarily, but ultimately knew what she had to do. Her happiness was in jeopardy, after all. She rejected her family money, broke up with Carl for the doz- enth time, and moved to New York in search of what it meant to be independent.
“We made the right decision, didn’t we, Little Lion?” Some- times she wasn’t so sure. After all, this was her first Christmas with people other than herself, and here she was talking to a stuffed lion, the only thing she had ever truly been able to con- fide in. It wasn’t that she didn’t have any friends; it was just that nobody could understand her the way an inanimate, nonrespon- sive object could.
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“You’re pathetic,” she said to herself, then apologized for the insult. Her therapist, Dr. Springs, liked to talk to her about self- love and going easy on oneself, something Darcy knew almost nothing about. In the way of self-care, all Darcy really knew was setting goals and working toward them, then rewarding or pun- ishing herself depending on the outcome.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Dr. Springs liked to say. “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first, otherwise you’ll have nothing to work with.”
She repeated these messages in her head, telling herself that she’d have to relax and put her life back in New York aside if she wanted to be of any real help to her mom at all. Her mom would be okay, wouldn’t she? If Mrs. Fitzwilliam was telling the truth, then she was on the mend and would be good as new by Christmas. This would be a onetime thing and life would go on as usual. But Darcy knew all about her mom’s bad hab- its and faltering health. She’d been a lifelong smoker, had a sweet tooth the size of Mount Everest, and was one of those women who made it look glamorous to start drinking Belvedere at ten in the morning. When Darcy had held her hand upstairs, it had felt cold and frail. A small wave of fear rolled through the pit of Darcy’s stomach.
She unzipped her Louis Vuitton suitcase and took out her favorite Kate Spade deco dot pajamas. She took out her tooth- brush and the lavender-scented, self-cooling eye mask that she never slept without. As she carried these items to bed, she felt exhaustion rise up as if from nowhere to claim her. It closed in around her foggy head, causing her eyelids to droop suddenly. I’ll just sit down for one minute, she thought, letting the weight of her body plop down onto the bedding. She let her eyes close,
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