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Tempus Fugit
[short story - PG13]

Author's note: This is not a new story. I've written it three years ago, shortly after my (then) 18-year-old daughter expressed a wish to spread her wings. Writing these few words down helped me get over those overwhelming feelings that a phenomenon called 'nostalgia' can cause from time to time. Certain things in life are bound to come to an end, but fortunately the memories will remain.

Some of this modern P&P story is fiction, lots of it is fact.

~ * ~

You are loved for the little girl you were; the special woman you are now; and the precious daughter you will always be. *

2 May 2003

While Elizabeth Darcy and her daughter Emily were checking on the last preparations for her 18th birthday party, Emily hesitantly said: "Mama, can I tell you..., I mean, can I ask you something?"

"Of course, sweetie, what is it?"

"Well, when I go to uni this September, I would like to... I mean, it is not far from home, I know, and I could easily stay with you while travelling up and down, but umm, I would very much like to have a place of my own then. Not because I want to leave you and Papa, not that I don't like living with you" Emily hastily added, "But I so wish to take care of myself. You know, mama, from the very first day I went to grammar school, I had this wish to be independent as soon as I would pass my exams and, well, that thought has never left me. I don't think I ever told you this before. Would you mind if I started searching for a room?" Emily concluded a little breathless, but relieved that she finally came out with it.

Swallowing a lump in her throat and trying to keep herself in check, Elizabeth replied in a somewhat strangled voice: "Indeed we didn't discuss this subject before, but of course I don't mind, sweetheart. Even though I was a little bit older when I left home myself, I perfectly understand; it is only natural. To own the truth, it had crossed Papa's and my mind, since you could have chosen a university farther away from home. In that case we wouldn't even have had a choice, now would we?"

With a distant look in her eyes, Elizabeth continued: "What you are telling me right now reminds me of the fairytale about the young seagull we used to listen to in the car. Do you remember? The seagull that was afraid to grow up but had a very sensible mother who forced him to use his wings and find his own food? Well, with you it is the other way around. You need no encouragement to fly out, you have no fear of the unknown. In fact, you are encouraging me to let you go. I am very proud of you, my dear."

"Oh yes that story!" Emily cried laughing, "I remember it very well, I couldn't get enough of it. You even told me that I used to call all birds 'kra kra' since seagulls were the first birds I got acquainted with. And Mama, I am very happy you feel this way, thank you."

Holding her daughter tightly against her, Elizabeth closed her eyes and all kinds of sweet and bittersweet memories came back to her so vividly as if they happened only yesterday.

~ * ~

1 May 1985, 8.00 pm, Labour Day

"William! Oh my God, William, the contractions have started!!!" Elizabeth shouted in agony.

Elizabeth had not felt very well all day and went to bed early in the evening trying to get some sleep. After almost 39 weeks of pregnancy, Elizabeth's body got in the way and she scarce knew what to do with herself anymore. She had grown so heavy, her legs had begun to protest against her weight, her back ached and her belly frequently became so hard that she longed for the baby to leave his safe hiding place and face the world. Even though the little baby inside her was not due for another week at least, it seemed impatient to get acquainted with the outside world already.

She heard her husband running up the stairs taking two steps at a time. Seeing his wife in pain he immediately called the obstetrician who could tell on the basis of William's information that the process was just starting and it was far too early to go to the maternity clinic. She advised them to try to relax, and obviously they could call whenever they felt the need.

However, not an hour later the labour pains came in such frequent succession that indeed it was time to go. Upon arrival at the clinic, Elizabeth and William were shown into a softly lit delivery room where Elizabeth immediately noticed the little transparent crib. And in that crib our first baby will be sleeping in a few hours Elizabeth pondered while struggling with her emotions. Tears welled up in her eyes and she hardly heard the nurse, who was telling her about the procedure and doing her best to reassure her.

2 May 1985 almost 0.05 am

Delivery for Elizabeth was like being in trance. Never in her life had she felt such concentration. When the pains were well nigh unbearable she heard the obstetrician say: "One more push, Mrs. Darcy, one more push and your baby will be born. Don't give up, the baby is almost there." And then she heard William shouting with a catch in his voice: "It's a girl, it's a girl!" and a tiny wet, slippery creature was laid down on her belly, while the obstetrician cut the navel cord.

When the afterbirth was delivered and the baby had been weighed and washed, an exhausted but extremely happy Elizabeth softly held her newborn against her chest where the tiny mouth immediately searched for her nipple. "Welcome to this world, my little Emily! My, you already know that one must eat to live. You're such a smart girl."

"Admit it Lizzy," William said smiling, stroking his wife's hair, "All parents think it, but in this case it is the absolute truth: our little Emily definitely is the most beautiful baby in the whole wide world, however purple and crumpled up she looks just now. Look at her tiny eyelids, swollen with oedema due to the hard work the little one has managed to accomplish so successfully."

"You're absolutely right, my love, there never was such a beautiful child like our Emily." Elizabeth said smiling.

Since Emily was born but five minutes past midnight, Elizabeth had asked the obstetrician to register her birthday on May 1, International Labour Day. After all, most of the hard labour had been done on that date! However, the obstetrician explained that that would be an illegal act and that she could not grant Elizabeth's request. So, Emily's birthday was and would always remain the 2nd of May. Afterwards Elizabeth was glad that she had not been willing to take part in her little joke; after all a new life should not start with a lie, however harmless.

When Elizabeth returned home with her daughter the next day, the happy parents could not get enough of the little miracle they had both created and wanted to keep her all to themselves the first couple of days. They kept her in between them in their bed as much as they could, just watching her - and one another - in tender amazement.

Emily was a sweet, quiet baby. She didn't cry much, had a healthy appetite and a keen interest in the world surrounding her. The look in her dark brown eyes told her parents soon enough that she had an inquisitive mind of her own, for sure!

~ * ~

"Mama. Mama, what's on your mind? Are you listening at all? Oh, I can see it, you have that well-known absent-minded look in your eyes. Tell me, what's the matter?"

Elizabeth woke from her musings and chuckling replied: "Indeed, sweetie, I was rather, hmmm... absent, I travelled 18 years back in time to be exact."

"Oh, no, mama, no time for that now," Emily said with a wink, "We've got work to do. You really have to help me with the cake, I made such a mess out of it, look at it! Why is it that my hands often fail to carry out what my brain orders them to do?!" Emily cried out in desperation.

~ * ~

All children go through a so-called 'why' phase, which can exasperate parents in the extreme. Emily was no exception in that regard! And what was worse - no, better - she never grew out of it! All through her school career the question 'why?' remained essential in her book. So, Elizabeth could hardly keep her countenance when Emily asked this desperate rhetorical question.

When she was four years old, and the perfect mixture of both her father and mother with her brown eyes and thick dark curls, she had asked her father about the meaning of life one evening when he was tucking her in: "Papa, why are we here?"

After a few moments of reflection William had answered: "Nobody can know for sure, my princess, but I think that the reason we are here is to try to find an answer to that question."

Wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him good night, she said she would do her best to find the answer.

Some time later she asked her mother about the facts of life: "Mama," she had said, nestling herself next to her mother in her parents' bed and looking her candidly in the eye, "You and Daddy wanted to have babies, didn't you? And you have to make love to have a baby, don't you? Did you go to the hospital to do that?"

"Good heavens no, my treasure, fortunately not! People make love in their own bed, there is no need to go to a hospital for that!" Elizabeth had answered chuckling.

"Oh, yuck!" Emily's succinct reaction was and she left it at that... for the time being.

Pre-school and primary school went by without any problem and before her parents knew it, it was time to go to secondary school. Emily was a good student, with a special aptitude for the classical languages and history. She wasn't always particularly happy though. Puberty definitely got in the way: she didn't like her looks, hated the pimples that popped up particularly during her period (a thing she hated wholeheartedly as well), and felt embarrassed by the voluptuous breasts she had already developed at a young age. Her appearance made her shy and self-conscious, in particular towards the opposite sex.

~ * ~

While Elizabeth was enjoying a cup of coffee at the kitchen table she observed her daughter who, grumbling and muttering, was trying to decorate that stupid cake, as she called it, and pondered how quickly her Emily had changed from an awkward chick into such a grown-up beauty. Was it love that had made her blossom so...?

~ * ~

Being witty, smart and loyal, Emily had many girlfriends, but the more her girlfriends boasted about their romantic conquests, the more she longed for a boyfriend of her own and the more frustrated she felt when her feelings for a certain boy were not returned. This most certainly did not help to increase her self-confidence, and her natural cheerfulness could suffer a great deal from it...

William was capable of keeping a certain distance, admirably knowing how to put things into perspective, but Elizabeth often was at a loss. Whenever Emily was unhappy, Elizabeth felt miserable, powerless really. However, that changed drastically for the better one memorable afternoon in September 2002...

Elizabeth sat at her desk writing invitations for a dinner party she was organizing to celebrate her 45th birthday when a breathless Emily came barging in telling her mother, with flushed cheeks, that she had a date.

"Why, that is wonderful love, do I know him?" Elizabeth asked.

"No, Mama, you do not. I met him at a rock group contest. He is the lead guitarist of his band and plays fantastic!"

"That sounds lovely, my dear," Elizabeth answered amused, "What is his name and how old is he, where does he live?"

"His name is Mark Brandon, he is..." Here Emily hesitated, "he is 24 years old, rides a motor bike, studies mechanical engineering and lives in an apartment not far from us. He will pick me up here tomorrow, so you can make his acquaintance."

Hearing his age Elizabeth could not help being a little concerned: her daughter having a date with a boy - no - a man of 24? She made sure, however, not to show her reservations so as not to disappoint her. Emily was but 17 and even though she went out frequently with friends, she hadn't dated before.

"Well, dear, if he is handsome enough to tempt you, I'm sure he must be special. I'm looking forward to meeting him."

"Thank you, Mama. Actually, I am thinking the opposite, I can't imagine why he would be interested in me!" Emily replied giggling.

Emily kissed her mother on the cheek before going upstairs to her room, singing one of her favourite hit songs.

The following day Elizabeth met Mark, a blond, very tall - at least two inches taller than William -, brown-eyed skinny boy with dimples in his cheeks, wearing jeans and a leather motor jacket.

Not only much older, but almost twice as tall as Emily as well. - Elizabeth pondered smiling.

"Very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Darcy," He politely said, firmly pressing the hand Elizabeth held out.

"Very pleased to meet you too, Mark. I've heard so much about you. I hear you're a musician in a rock group and that you play very well."

"Oh no, Mrs. Darcy, I don't play very well. I mean, I am fond of music, but I'm sure Emily plays the violin much better than I the guitar!" He replied with a smile on his face that showed his dimples.

"My, you have an interesting art collection, Mrs. Darcy, is this a real Malevich?" Mark asked, pointing out one of the many art works in the room.

"Indeed it is, Mark. My husband feels very much attracted to the Russian constructivist artists, and admires Malevich's suprematism in particular. I'm sure he would love to talk with you about the works of art he has collected through the years, if you're interested of course."

"I'd love to, thank you, Mrs. Darcy. I am very interested in art indeed and I find the Russian Avant-Garde fascinating."

Emily, who, with flushed cheeks, had silently listened to the conversation between her mother and Mark, waited impatiently for Mark to leave with her. She wanted to go before her mother could ask more personal and, consequently, embarrassing questions or make observations she had rather not. So she pulled Mark by his sleeve and urged him to come with her.

Soon Mark called on Emily practically every day and after a few weeks, Emily joined her mother in the library where Elizabeth was quietly reading.

"Can I talk to you for a minute, Mama?"

"Of course, my dear, what is it?" Elizabeth asked.

"Well, it's about Mark."

"What about him?" replied Elizabeth, already having a hunch of what was to come.

"He wants to sleep with me." Emily bluntly said.

"I see, and what about you?"

"I don't know... yet." Emily replied with a distant look in her eyes.

"Honey, we have always been very open on matters concerning love and sex and you know my opinion. I have but two concerns: firstly that you would do something against your will and, secondly, if the moment is there, you do not protect yourself. However, as long as you are not ready for it, there is but one answer to his question: no."

"But, mama, what if I refuse and he doesn't want to have anything to do with me anymore?" Emily worriedly asked.

"In that case, you should be happy you did!" was Elizabeth's logical answer.

"If Mark really cares for you he'll wait, if not, he does not deserve you. It is as simple as that. Do not give in because you think you might lose him otherwise, sweetie. He should be able to exercise some patience, even though I cannot blame him for asking." Elizabeth concluded with a wink.

Emily coloured and couldn't help chuckling. "I am in love with him, I'm sure about that. I love his kisses and when he touches me I long for more, I really do. When he is not with me, I miss him. Still, I think going to bed with him is quite a step."

Elizabeth cupped the face of her daughter in her hands, kissed her and looking at her intently said: "When it is time, my dear, I wish it will be a wonderful experience for you. However, there is no need whatsoever to rush things. And the decision is up to you, not to him."

This was one of those precious, intimate conversations with her daughter that Elizabeth would cherish forever.

When the time had come for Emily to sleep with Mark, she didn't tell her mother, but Elizabeth knew. And Emily knew that she knew. There was no need to talk about it. Emily seemed very happy and the only thing that worried Elizabeth a little was the closeness between the two young people, since Mark was Emily's first boyfriend. But then again, so was William for her: the first and, hopefully, the last.

~ * ~

When all preparations had come to a satisfactory end, mother and daughter still had some time to spare before going upstairs to dress. So, over one last cup of coffee, they leisurely chatted about one thing and another. Emily had one major ambition: becoming a novelist. This was the very reason why she had chosen history as her object of study: she considered history to be the best basis on which to achieve her goals. However, practical as she was, she imagined earning her money as a journalist, and she was already looking forward to the second university year so that she could take journalism and new media as subsidiaries.

Elizabeth marvelled at the wisdom her daughter already had gained by this age. She was so much further in her development than she had been herself at 18. And when, a couple of hours later, Emily descended the stairs in her beautiful, sexy gown, with her dark curls hanging down her shoulders, Elizabeth was convinced that Emily was very much capable of standing on her own two feet. Elizabeth had to learn but one thing: to genuinely and sincerely like that fact.

1 October 2003, 2.30 pm

"Mummmmmmmmmmm! It's bingo this time!" Emily shouted through the telephone announcing the good news to her mother.

It had taken Emily five months of searching via newspapers, real estate agencies, student associations, Internet sites and what have you, but each time she came away empty-handed. However, today she had finally found herself a room she liked and could afford in a student's house. In this particular case she had refused the help of her parents. Her father had offered to buy her a flat, but Emily wished to be an ordinary student amidst the others, not the daughter of the wealthy Fitzwilliam Darcy. She wanted a simple room that she could afford with the money she earned herself in the bookshop where she worked. The only thing she asked of her parents was to help with the financing of the university fees and her books. Emily took the meaning of the word independence very seriously.

The house where she rented her room was downright filthy. It was in a very bad state of repair, and the room was a lot smaller than the one she occupied at home. Besides, she had to share the kitchen and shower with six other students. Elizabeth and William were both appalled and amused when they saw the place for the first time. However, Emily was so excited and happy with it that they were quite affected by her enthusiasm and shared in her joy.

Elizabeth was sincerely happy for her daughter. Throughout all those months of suspense she had supported her and grieved with her when things didn't work out as expected. But now that her leaving the house had become a reality, Elizabeth all of a sudden felt terribly melancholic.

That night, when William and Elizabeth were in bed and Elizabeth nestled herself in the intimacy of her husband's arms she told him how she felt about Emily's leaving home. "What an awful place she's moving to, William, but I am proud of her. Proud of her independence and I'm so grateful for the 18 years she has been with us. I am so happy to look back on the relationship between the two of us. Why is it then, my darling, that I feel so sad and empty?"

"You know the inscription on our sundial in the garden, my love: tempus fugit. Children grow up far too quickly, just like that young seagull in the fairytale we 'enjoyed' listening to at least a thousand times." William replied smiling, "Birds must fly free and find a place of their own in the world. The nest gets empty before you know it and that requires a lot of adjustment, mainly on the part of the parents," He continued, kissing the top of her head, "I think we should be very happy and grateful, Lizzy. Emily is a strong and intelligent young woman, who will be able to face all that life has in store for her, good or bad. Let her go, my sweet, and she'll be yours forever."

As Elizabeth was overcome with emotions, she could not withhold her tears. Cuddling up even further against William's body she managed to conjure a smile on her face through her tears and said: "I will let her go, dearest, I know I can, she deserves it."

Before Elizabeth finally drifted away in a deep dreamless sleep, she was certain, absolutely certain that she heard a faint "kra, kra" in the distance.

~ Finis ~

* Anonymous

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