Anne Fitzwilliam meets William Darcy. Cuteness ensues.
Waltzing with Winston the Fish
Most of the Harrisford girls regarded the bi-weekly dance lessons with the Pinewood Hills boys beginning in their tenth grade year with eager anticipation, but Anne Fitzwilliam was not one of those girls. It wasn’t just a personal reluctance, either—she was genetically predisposed to be terrible at dancing.
She had inherited her father’s extreme lankiness, surpassing both of her older sisters in height by the time she reached the age of twelve. Now, at fifteen, she was just an inch shy of six feet, and had all of the grace of a newborn deer, just discovering she was meant to walk on these long, spindly things that barely managed to pass as legs. She also did not understand dancing. Her sisters had tried to teach her (Clara was more patient with it than Cathy, who declared that Anne simply “wasn’t trying hard enough”), but no amount of training could change the fact that she could never seem to put her feet in the right places at the right times while keeping any sort of posture.
Still, the dancing lessons were a tradition and a requirement, so Anne submitted to Cathy curling her hair (“It’s too bad you got Mother’s hair—such a boring mousy brown.”) and picking out an outfit that didn’t hang oddly from her frame (“Honestly, Anne, you will never have a decent figure if you don’t eat more.”) and giving her last-minute advice (“Please, at least try not to step on your partner’s toes.”).
Anne walked toward the Harrisford ballroom feeling her nerves jangling in her stomach the whole way. Beside her, Cathy chattered on about the Pinewood boys, who was the cutest, the richest, the most likely to submit to wrapping himself around her little finger. Anne made no replies. She would have had difficulty fitting any of her words in edgewise anyway.
When they reached the ballroom, Cathy joined a crowd of her twelfth-grade friends, leaving Anne behind without a second thought. But Anne was perfectly content to be left alone. At any rate, it wasn’t long before the dancing instructor, Mrs. Bates, called the crowd to order.
"New students to my right!" she called. "Veterans, find your partners from last year!"
Mrs. Bates was a slim, graceful woman, perhaps thirty or thirty-five. She wore her brown hair in a tight bun and surveyed her surroundings with sharp green eyes. She went about the work of pairing each new girl off with a new boy. When she reached Anne, she paused, frowning.
"You’re Anne Fitzwilliam?" she asked, craning her neck slightly to meet Anne’s eyes.
"Yes," Anne replied, wishing for perhaps the millionth time that she could shrink a good six inches.
"I was told you were tall, but…" she trailed off. She looked around at the tenth-grade boys, but, shaking her head, turned her attention instead to the rest of the room. Finally, she seemed to have found her man. "Mr. Darcy!" she called.
"Present," came a voice from across the room. Anne could see why Mrs. Bates had chosen him. He was towering, well over six feet. He had large gray eyes peeking out from behind large black glasses and wore a green sweater vest over a crisp white shirt and black tie. Mrs. Bates led him over to Anne.
"I’m afraid," she said, "that I will have to pull you away from your former partner and place you with Miss Fitzwilliam. You may be the only one here tall enough to partner her."
Mr. Darcy nodded. “That will be fine,” he assured Mrs. Bates, directing a dimpled smile at Anne.
"Good, that’s taken care of." Mrs. Bates swept away to pair the rest of the students.
Anne stood beside her new partner in silence for several moments, but finally forced herself to speak. "I apologize in advance for being terrible at dancing," she said to him by way of an introduction.
"Mrs. Bates called you Miss Fitzwilliam," he said, ignoring her apology. "Is there a given name to go along with that surname?"
"Anne with an ‘e’?" he asked with a wink.
That couldn’t have been an Anne of Green Gables reference. Teenage boys didn’t read L.M. Montgomery… did they? Anne decided to test the waters. “Yes, but I prefer to be called Cordelia.”
He laughed. Anne laughed too, partially because she was so relieved not to get a blank stare at a pronouncement like that, partially because his laugh was contagious, and it made his gray eyes sparkle.
"It’s nice to meet you, Cordelia," he said offering his hand. "I’m William."
Anne shook his hand. “A pleasure, William.”
"All right, dancers!" Mrs. Bates called. "We will start with the waltz. Mr. Evans, Miss Fitzwilliam. A demonstration."
For one terrifying moment, Anne thought Mrs. Bates was calling on her, but then she noticed Cathy stepping through the crowd, leading this Mr. Evans fellow by the hand. She had a poise about her that Anne could never hope to emulate. She walked in a way that accentuated the curves in her body while seeming perfectly effortless. When she and her partner assumed the waltz stance, her posture was, of course, perfect.
Cathy and her partner demonstrated the basic step pattern, and Anne had seen this sequence of steps a million times before—seen these steps floating across the floor at full speed, and seen them slowed down and exaggerated for her benefit. Somehow, seeing them performed by another person inhabiting another body never could translate well to her own brain and her own body. It was a completely different point of view, after all, between watching someone else do it, and watching your own feet from from the eyes in your own head, which you really aren’t supposed to do anyway.
But now it was their turn. Anne swallowed at the lump in her throat and turned to face William. “Seriously,” she reiterated, “I’m sorry for the pain I am about to inflict.”
William didn’t seem to believe her. Wordlessly, he placed one hand at her waist and held out the other to her. She sighed and slipped her hand into his. He had very large hands. Her own long, slim hand (with its “spider-monkey fingers” as Clara liked to call them) provided an odd contrast.
Mrs. Bates dropped the needle on the record player and the music started. They commenced dancing—
—and got no further than the second step before Anne trod on his foot.
"See? Didn’t I tell you?" Anne threw up her hands and took a step back.
William just held out his harms again and beckoned for Anne to come back. Anne shot him a dubious look and William only raised an eyebrow in response.
Anne reluctantly stepped back toward him. “Do you enjoy subjecting yourself to torture?”
"Oh, this isn’t torture," he assured her. "I’ve got sturdy shoes, and you’re not very heavy. Feel free to step on my feet all you’d like."
Anne blinked a few times and found herself pleasantly surprised.
"Now, it might help you to just follow what my feet are doing. See? My foot moves, yours moves with it—so I step forward, you step back, see?" He nudged her foot backward with his. "And to the side… and together."
Anne concentrated on his feet with all her might—and after completing a few boxes, she felt like she was doing okay. Every other step or so, she’d start off in the wrong direction, but she’d catch it in time and manage to land with her foot in front of his rather than on top of it.
"Eyes up, Miss Fitzwilliam!" Mrs. Bates chided.
Anne snapped her head up, trying to keep her mind still trained on her feet, frowning and murmuring the counts aloud.
"So what’s your story?" William asked out of nowhere.
"You look like a person who has a story. What is it?" He asked. Then he shrugged. "Or any story. It doesn’t have to be yours. I like stories."
"I, uh…" Anne tried to think of something. "My fish died the other day."
"Ah. A tragedy." William said, nodding solemnly. "What was the name of your dear departed piscean friend?"
"No, like my uncle Winston. Though, come to think of it, my uncle may have been named after Churchill. My family comes from England."
"Is that so?" William smiled. "Mine too. You’re doing quite well."
"With my story?"
"With your waltz."
Anne’s eyes widened and she looked down—and promptly stepped on William’s foot. William laughed and Anne laughed too. They started dancing again and continued talking about poor Winston the fish and his elaborate (and by the end, quite fictitious) funeral ceremony.
"So you danced with William Darcy," Cathy observed on the way back to their rooms afterward.
"Yes, he’s very nice."
Cathy shrugged. “He’s an odd one… obsessed with books and stories.”
"He’s read Anne of Green Gables,” Anne said with a smile.
"Now, that’s just strange,” Cathy observed. “Teenage boys aren’t supposed to read books like that. You don’t think he’s—queer, do you?”
"No!" Anne said perhaps too emphatically. She blushed. "I mean, I wouldn’t think…"
"A little taken, are we?" Cathy asked with a smirk. "Well, he would be a good catch, and no lie about it. Heir to some… film company, or so I hear. As far as I’m concerned, if he ever proposed to me, he could have all the strange reading habits he wanted.”
As Anne said good night to her sister and entered her room, she decided she didn’t care what Cathy thought. She loved the fact that William Darcy had read Anne of Green Gables. And she was very much looking forward to dancing with him again.
A/N: Social strangeness does not always equal inability to socialize. I figured these two weirdos would find their own language with each other pretty quickly. Also, in my head canon, “Cordelia” is William’s pet name for Anne from this point on.