Elizabeth sat waiting in a lobby, trying not to bounce her knee in impatience. She had come for an interview, been met by someone from human resources, then been led to this place where she was told to wait where she assumed she was meeting someone in the department she would be working in.
“He’s ready for you, Ms. Bennet.”
Elizabeth stood and smoothed her skirt, quickly patting her hair into place and taking a calming breath. She tucked her portfolio that held her recent work, resume, and references under her arm and strode through the door the assistant was holding open.
“You must be Ms. Bennet,” said the man behind the desk as the door clicked shut behind her. He was looking at a paper on his desk and didn’t look up. “Please, have a seat.” He gestured to a chair in front of his desk and she sat down.
“Tell me why you want to work for Pemberley,” he said, still reading the papers he was flipping through on his desk.
“Pemberley has an excellent reputation for sound principles with both the customer and its staff. Turnover is low, promotions often come from within, and the company has great policies for women.”
He finally looked up at her. “And why does that appeal to you personally?”
“Because I want to be able to sleep at night, enjoy where I work, and advance in my career. And because I’m obviously a woman.”
“Obviously.” He leaned back and crossed his hands over his middle. “What would you consider to be a person’s most important quality in business, Ms. Bennet?”
“Honesty and integrity,” she responded quickly.
“Really? Not innovation, commitment to excellence, or loyalty?” he asked drily.
She shifted slightly in her seat. “If you are honest, it follows that you are loyal. If you have integrity, you are committed to excellence.”
He raised a brow. “And do you have integrity, Ms. Bennet?”
The other browed raised. “Would you consider yourself honest?”
“Yes, sir. Definitely.”
“Explain? That I’m honest?” she asked nervously.
“Um, well, I, sometimes I am too honest for my own good.”
“How so?” he asked, his eyes focusing on her intently.
“I have, upon occasion, said more than I should have or told the truth when it would have been better to be silent.”
“That sounds like you put your foot in your mouth, Ms. Bennet, not honesty,” he said flatly and returned his gaze to the papers in front of him.
“No, I don’t!” she exclaimed. “I mean, I don’t often say the wrong thing or put my foot in it as you call it, but sometimes, when someone asks me for my honest opinion, I actually give it instead of telling them what they want to hear.”
He nodded slowly. “So your difficulty lies in reading people, not in control of your tongue.”
Her eyes widened. “Sometimes, sir,” she said quietly.
He leaned back again, settling comfortably into his chair. “Do you like this tie, Ms. Bennet?”
“My tie. Do you like it?”
“I’d rather not say.”
“Come now, Ms. Bennet. You’re asking for a job in my company and have touted your honesty as your most valuable quality. I am now asking for a demonstration of said quality.”
She looked at him carefully, sure this was a trap, but not sure where he expected her to falter exactly. Realizing the outcome of this interview depended on the answer to the next question, she squared her shoulders and looked him in the eye.
“No, sir. I do not like it.”
She thought she saw the corner of his mouth twitch. “And what don’t you like about it?”
“Honestly?” she asked and then rolled her eyes at her own stupidity. “I don’t like the colors, they don’t suit you. The pattern is retro but you don’t strike me as a retro kind of man, and the texture looks odd from here, though I’d have to touch it to be sure. You seem to be a silk tie kind of guy. It’s also too narrow for your frame. Men with broad shoulders look silly in skinny ties.” She stopped. “In my opinion, sir,” she added softly and looked at her hands.
“Well said. Your knowledge of menswear is nowhere on your résumé.”
“My sister is a tailor.”
“Ah,” he said. “Ms. Bennet, I’d like to reward honesty with honesty.”
She sat forward, suddenly nervous.
“We will not be hiring you today. You’re up against stiff competition for this job, against people with years more experience and knowledge of our brand,” he said sincerely, elbows on the desk in front of him.
She nodded. “I understand, sir.”
“However,” she perked up, “I agree with you, about this unfortunate tie and about honesty and integrity being invaluable qualities in an employee. I would encourage you to apply again should another position become available. I believe you’d fit in well at Pemberley.”
She smiled and he stood.
“Thank you for your time, sir.” She picked up her portfolio and started to turn around.
“Ms. Bennet, there is another company that will have an opening in your field soon. Here is the contact information for Richard Fitzwilliam, the man who will be doing the hiring.” He walked around to her side of the desk and handed her a business card. “Let him know I sent you, he should be able to see you this week.”
“Thank you, sir.” She smiled and put the card in her pocket.
Her hand was on the doorknob when he called her name. She turned around and he was standing right in front of her.
“Would you like to get a cup of coffee with me?” he asked.
“Coffee? Me and you?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes. Me and you. You can tell me more about how my clothes don’t suit me.”
She blushed and looked down. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I knew it was none of my business, but I thought you were testing me and wanted to see if I could be completely honest even when it was uncomfortable.”
“You were right, I was testing you. And you passed. Well done. Now, coffee?”
She made a face. “Will my answer make a difference with future hiring decisions or with your recommendation to your friend?”
He stood up straighter. “Absolutely not. I assure you, Ms. Bennet, my commitment to integrity is just as strong as yours.”
“Alright. When and where?”
“Tomorrow, nine o’clock at the café on the corner?”
“I’ll see you then – I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” she added, somewhat embarrassed.
“Oh, my apologies. Darcy, William Darcy.”
Her eyes opened a little wider. “William Darcy, CEO of Pemberley, William Darcy?”
“The one and only. Is that a problem?”
“No, not at all,” she answered lightly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He smiled and she left, quickly making her way to the elevator and pressing the button for the ground floor. As soon as the doors closed, she leaned against the wall and fanned herself.
“William Darcy! Oh my g-d!”