Section I, Next Section
Prologue Posted on Tuesday, 20-Oct-98
This story is a continuation of Annie's "Kiss and Cry".
From Sports Illustrated, December 27, 19-- Issue: The Year to Remember
It was a year of bitter lockouts and monstrous moonshots, dreadful officiating and memorable record breakers, a year in which there were moments which the sports world could take great pride in and others in which it needed to hang its' head in shame...
The year began with the Winter Olympic Games, in which there were several moments of shame--the U.S. men's hockey team and the dreadful plot against ladies' skater and eventual gold medalist Georgiana Darcy. At the same time, there were some of the best moments from that winter--the U.S. women's hockey team, the amazing feat of Richard Fitzwilliam in becoming the first man to cleanly land a quadruple lutz and the beautiful program skated by silver medalist Elizabeth Bennet and gold medalist Fitzwilliam Darcy to end the exhibition. Bennet and Darcy, who are now in training together for the next Olympics, can be counted on to bring more glory to the sports world in the years to come...
From Sports Illustrated, March 17, 19-- Article: Passion and Perfection
With a perfection unseen in the pairs' figure skating world since Gordeeva and Grinkov, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy fulfilled and exceeded all expectations at the World Championships, earning Bennet her first World title. Skating to music from Sense and Sensibility, Bennet and Darcy pulverized the rest of the competition, leaving Jane and Charles Bingham far behind...
From People Weekly, June 11, 19-- Article: The New Generation of Ice Royalty
GEORGIANA Darcy seems less like the shy fifteen year old she was last February and more like any other normal teenager these days. The reigning Olympic champion has changed everything since her stunning win at last year's Olympic games. She has a new coach (Edward Gardiner), a new hometown (from Boston, Massachusetts to Chicago, Illinois), and a new hairstyle (from long to short and sassy).
And there are quite a few new things about her--she's had her first boyfriend, someone from outside the skating community, has been enjoying time in public school (where it's said she's made quite a few friends) and is considering joining a skating tour rather than returning to Olympic competition.
However, some things about this feisty redhead haven't changed. She's still extremely nice, and she's very close to her brother and her brother's partner, Elizabeth Bennet. "Lizzy and Fitz are my touchstones," Darcy says. "We talk about everything together..."
RICHARD Fitzwilliam is not your conventional male skater. Indeed, along with best friend and rival Carl Denny, he seems determined to smash the image of men's figure skating.
"Don't let anyone fool you," Fitzwilliam says. "No matter what people say, they still think of men's figure skating as something sissyish."
There's absolutely nothing resembling sissy-ness about Fitzwilliam, who stands just over six feet tall and looks like he'd be at home in just about any other sport with the possible exception of football. Although he comes across at times as the sort who would be content to play the dating scene forever, he's quite content to have settled down with fellow skater Helena Johnstone. The two split their time between his apartment in Chicago, where he trains, and her lovely home in Louisiana, where she trains...
CHARLOTTE Lucas came out of obscurity at the last Olympics to win a well-deserved bronze medal. It came at the perfect time for her as well, since it catapulted her from what would've been a career in coaching to a lucrative contract with the --- Company and their figure skating tours.
"It's my dearest dream come true," Lucas says. "I think about where I was last February and where I'm at now, and I pinch myself because it surely must be a dream."
The dream hasn't ended for Lucas, who in addition to her touring has been seen in the company of Carl Denny, although they both maintain that they're just friends...
From Entertainment Weekly, February 14, 19-- Article: Whatever Happened To...?
It's been two years since the infamous attempted attack on Georgiana Darcy. In a hideous recreation of the Kerrigan attack, a man dressed in black attempted to attack Darcy by hitting her in the knee. However, unlike the first attack, this one did not succeed--the masked man was caught by Richard Fitzwilliam and revealed to be George Wickham.
Wickham's motive? Revenge against Darcy's older brother Fitzwilliam, who had defeated Wickham the week before for the pairs' gold medal.
Also involved in the attack was Lydia Bennet, who although never formally charged, was considered guilty by the skating world. Many people believe that Fitzwilliam Darcy's former pairs partner Caroline Bingley was also somehow involved, although this has never been proven.
What happened to this unholy trio? George Wickham spent a year in jail and has since been released on parole. He has been banned from skating for life and the Darcys have a restraining order keeping him from them. Lydia Bennet, having been booed at by hecklers attending her skating practices, has gone into seclusion. The last rumors about her said she was skating in a children's ice show under an assumed name. As for Caroline Bingley, she has been searching desperately for a new partner and, as yet unable to come up with one, has attempted to take up singles skating...
From Entertainment Weekly, March 30, 19-- Issue:
Two-time world champions Elizabeth Bennet, 22, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, 30, officially became engaged. At the World Championships, Bennet was spotted sporting an heirloom engagement ring and confirmed the engagement. No date has been set for the wedding.
From People Weekly, October 1, 19-- Issue:
The on-again, off-again relationship between figure skaters Richard Fitzwilliam and Helena Johnstone is decidedly off. It was reported just last week that Johnstone became engaged in Ireland to Dr. Nick Hampton...
From Entertainment Weekly, December 9, 19-- Issue:
Olympic bronze medalist Charlotte Lucas, 29, announced her engagement to tour promoter John Thorpe, 33...
From Chicago Tribune, Sports Section, February 8, 19--
It's been three years since their magical program to end the Olympic Skating Exhibition. To celebrate the occasion, Elizabeth Bennet and her skating partner, Fitzwilliam Darcy, are planning to get married on February 14...
Part 1 Posted on Saturday, 24-Oct-98
"Today I met the boy I'm going to marry," Elizabeth Bennet sang along to the music coming from the stereo system at Tony's Hair Studio, where she was having her hair and makeup done. It was their last stop before heading to St. Anthony's, where the wedding was to be held. "He's all I wanted all my life hmm hmm hmm hmm..." She'd forgotten the words.
"If you weren't marrying my brother, I would hate you for being so beautiful," Georgiana Darcy said as she looked at her soon-to-be sister in the mirror.
"Don't be silly. I don't rate a second glance from anyone but Fitz whenever you're around," Lizzy replied. She frowned when she looked in the mirror. They'd attached the veil to the hairband in her hair, and she thought it looked crooked. Her hands flew to her head to adjust the veil when she decided that it looked just fine and settled down.
"You think that because you never bother to look at anyone else when Fitz is around." Georgiana didn't sound all that envious, except perhaps of Lizzy's happiness.
Still, when Georgiana thought of all the problems which had started their relationship three years earlier, she knew they were entitled to a lot of happiness now. Caroline Bingley, Lady Cat and Frances Bennet, the whole incident with Rich Fitzwilliam, and of course, George Wickham and Lydia Bennet and the attack.
Rather, the would-be attack. The one that, although she hadn't admitted it to anyone, still gave her nightmares on occasion. Nightmares where Rich didn't arrive in time, and George and Lydia's plan succeeded. Try as she might, Georgiana had a hard time replacing that scenario with what really happened, even though...
Never mind that now.
Frances Bennet came to stand on her daughter's other side, looking in the mirror at the lovely picture the two young women made. Georgiana was called back to her stylist's chair to see what, if anything, could be done with the wild tumble of curls that fell to her shoulders, having decided that short hair wasn't her best style because she looked decidedly elf-like rather than exotic. Georgiana wanted to be exotic.
"I still can't understand why you wanted Georgiana to be your maid of honor," Frances said. She managed to keep her voice low and out of Georgiana's hearing, but there was an undercurrent which Lizzy couldn't miss. It had been flowing since Lizzy had announced her engagement.
Horrified as Frances was that her daughter had agreed to skate with Fitz Darcy and train with another coach, Lizzy knew that her mother was secretly pleased with her success. After all, it didn't hurt her reputation as a coach that her daughter was doing so well now that she'd finally found the right partner, and since Rich still trained with her, she was seeing more talent than she had before the Olympics three years ago. The talent Frances Bennet was seeing now would once have tried to curry Catherine de Bourgh's favor.
Still, Frances would never forgive Lizzy for skating with longtime rival Catherine de Bourgh's cousin, especially since she blamed the Darcys for Lydia's disgrace. No matter how many times Lizzy or Thomas, Lizzy's father, tried to explain that Lydia had no one to blame for her unhappy situation but herself, Frances refused to believe it.
When Lizzy had announced her engagement, Frances had been a mixture of happiness and horror. On one hand, she was horrified because it meant that she would now, technically, be related to Catherine de Bourgh. However, she had been happy at the time because she thought that Lizzy would naturally ask Lydia to be her maid of honor, which meant that she would get to see her again.
Lydia had tried to continue skating after the Olympics. She and George Wickham had split quite swiftly after the botched attempt to injure Georgiana, and within a short period of time, Lydia had been able to convince herself that she truly had had little to do with the plot. After all, that's what the press said.
Public opinion was another matter. The entire world believed her guilty, and the people who had been supporting her all through her rise to the Olympics jeered her attempts to reenter that realm. She had skated at the Nationals the year following the Olympics only to receive such low marks that she hadn't even qualified to skate in the long program. Humiliated and frustrated, she disappeared.
Frances knew exactly where to find her daughter when Lizzy announced her engagement--skating in an Ice Capades-like show for children. She wore a costume and had changed her name to Lindsey Bent. She'd let her hair go back to its natural dishwater-brown color, and she started wearing aquamarine contacts to hide her own brown eyes. She made sure to get well tanned, and the change seemed a bit startling until her mother saw her smile. Lindsey Bent had something of a career and was still skating, if not in the form her mother had had in mind. Lydia Bennet had nothing. But the two of them were working until such a time as Lydia could return to skating without being humiliated again.
Frances' plans for a Bennet family reunion were dashed when, after telling Lizzy that she would call Lydia in Boston, where the show was currently running, Lizzy said, "I think it would be best if you didn't do that."
"And why not? You'll want her to be your maid of honor, won't you? After all, she is your sister. And she'll need to be fitted for her gown, and she'll throw your bridal shower, and--"
"Mom, I've already asked Georgiana to be my maid of honor."
There was a long silence. "You asked who?"
"Georgiana. Fitz's sister."
"I know who Georgiana is! Why did you ask her when you had your sister? And how do you think Liddy's going to feel when she finds out that you're getting married and she isn't going to be your maid of honor? She'll be nothing but a bridesmaid, and--"
"Mom...Fitz and I have talked about this, and we feel that it would be for the best if Lydia didn't come at all."
Another long silence. "I can't believe you'd do such a thing. You would get married and let your sister read about it in the newspaper. I can't believe I raised such a disrespectful daughter."
"It isn't disrespectful. But even you have to admit that it would be somewhat awkward for Georgiana to be there with the girl who tried to wreck her career."
"Lydia did no such--"
"Mom, don't start that again! You and I--" Lizzy broke off, the futility of trying to make her mother see reason sinking in. "Listen, we're compromising. Fitz thought of asking Lady Cat to come to the wedding, and we decided not to invite her. So you see, he's making a sacrifice and I'm making a sacrifice."
In actuality, neither one was making much of a sacrifice, but Frances never quite caught onto that. She could see nothing but the fact that Lizzy was slighting Lydia by not asking her to come to the wedding, and that she was no daughter of hers to be siding with the Darcys.
"I want you to know that I called Lydia," Frances was saying now. "I wanted her to know that I had no part in this little decision you and Fitz made to keep her away from your wedding."
"I talked to Lydia myself," Lizzy said, not bothering to mention the scathing reaction she'd gotten. Lydia had been furious that Lizzy was getting married and she wasn't invited. Worse than that was who had taken the place Lydia considered to be hers in Lizzy's wedding. "She understands."
"She hardly understands, Elizabeth! She's hurt beyond words! She's such a tender spirit and you've undoubtedly damaged her forever."
Tender spirit? It had been no tender spirit who had told Lizzy she hoped her marriage was a living hell.
"It was my decision to make," Lizzy said, frustrated that her mother would bring this subject up again on her wedding day. "It's my wedding, and my choice, and I would rather have Georgiana in my wedding party rather than Lydia. Georgiana and I are closer than I ever was to Lydia, anyway. It's too late to do anything about it even if I wanted to, so just drop it."
Frances backed away from her daughter, a small frown on her face. "Fine," she said coolly, returning to sit in a chair to have the rollers taken out of her hair.
Lizzy sighed, then tried to focus her thoughts. Block out the negative, concentrate on the positive. You're going to be married in just a few short hours. And then you and Fitz will be together forever...
"I never thought I would see this day," Richard Fitzwilliam said with a chuckle as Fitz Darcy paced frantically back and forth in front of him. They were waiting at the church.
"See what day? The day in which you would be acting as my best man?"
"Hard as that might've been to imagine three years ago, no. I meant the day when you would be so nervous you would be snapping everyone's head off. It used to be that you were grouchy because you had the Lady Cat Mind Trick thing going on."
"What 'Mind Trick' thing?"
"You know. You'd psyche your opponents out by seeming so calm and cold. Anyone who came near you would get some sarcastic comment. Lady Cat taught you well."
"Yeah, well, things change."
"Don't worry, man. Liz is going to be at the church. She's going to walk down the aisle and become your wife, and the two of you are going to live happily ever after." Rich smiled reassuringly, despite the fact that the words "happily ever after" should've been stricken from his vocabulary.
Happily ever after. Yeah, right. He was supposed to have that with Helena. So how had everything gone so dreadfully wrong? When had their relationship gone from great to troubled to gone forever?
Helena was married now. She'd married that obstetrician or whatever the hell he was. Nick Hampton. Rich knew who he was--everyone did. His brother, James, was one the most respected sports announcers in the world. Whenever James held a party, Nick was there. That was how Nick and Helena had met.
Rich had tried to put things in perspective in the last few months, with little success. He could honestly say that he was happy for Helena. He knew that in the final months of their relationship, they were both somewhat miserable. But beyond that, he couldn't understand what had gone wrong.
What was so wrong with him that two wonderful women couldn't love him? He'd loved Lizzy, but she'd been in love with Fitz. And he'd loved Helena with more than he thought he'd had, and she'd fallen out of love with him and in love with an Irish doctor. Or was he English? Didn't matter. He was her husband, and Rich wasn't.
"Hello? Anyone in there?" Fitz was looking down at him, a pitying look in his eyes.
Rich frowned. He didn't need pity. "Sorry. Just thinking about the past."
"Thinking about Helena, aren't you?"
"You know she's going to be here, don't you?"
"Yeah. I heard that the Hamptons were related to you on your mother's side of the family."
"Father's. James and Nick's mother was my father's sister. Lady Cat is related to me on my mother's side."
"I bet James and Nick are grateful for that. Means that they aren't related to her."
Fitz chuckled. "Yeah."
There was a swift knock on the door, and before they could say anything, Carl Denny came in wearing a gray tuxedo and looking rather stylish. He was smiling, but there was something wrong with him as well because the smile didn't reach his eyes as it always did.
"You two look like you're heading for an execution, not a wedding," Carl said, trying to lighten the mood. "What's wrong? Changing your mind?"
"Much as it might thrill my soon-to-be mother-in-law, no," Fitz said. "Just nervous about the whole thing. I've never gotten married before."
"And hopefully you'll never have to again, right?"
"You're lucky to have her," Rich said with a wistful smile. "She's one of a kind."
"I know. It's why I'm marrying her."
"The only reason?" Carl asked.
"Well, there is the little matter of being in love with her. You guys know how that is."
Fitz didn't seem to notice how both of his friends fell silent as he looked in the mirror and adjusted his tie, which had somehow managed to get a bit crooked. Rich was lost in his memories of Helena, and Carl...
Well, he was wondering when his romantic life had taken a major downswing as well.
Lizzy and Georgiana were ready, Lizzy in white satin and tulle and Georgiana in violet. The only problem was, they were two bridesmaids short and the wedding was due to start in less than forty-five minutes.
"Sorry I'm late!" Charlotte Lucas exclaimed as she swept into the brides room of the church, her violet satin bridesmaid gown slung over her shoulder. "John had a minor fender bender on the way here, and then he and the other driver fought over whose fault the accident was, and then John took a liking to the other guy's car..."
"And so on and so forth," Georgiana said. "How many accidents does that make for him in the past year?"
"He's not the world's greatest driver," Charlotte said with an apologetic smile. "Anyway, I'm here now, and it'll only take me a couple minutes to get dressed. What do you think of my hair?"
Charlotte's hair, which was normally a nondescript blond, had been lightened dramatically. It wasn't all that becoming. It was also far too short for her round face and hadn't been styled all that well.
"It's hair," Lizzy said, trying to sound nonchalant so she wouldn't have to be honest about it. "You know, we would've been more than happy to have you with us at Tony's."
"Oh, well, John said his last girlfriend went there and they made her look like a freak. He said that Hair-Em's was a lot better. He said that you should've gone there rather than Tony's."
"I've been going to Tony's since I was thirteen," Lizzy said. "He's less expensive and he does terrific work. Wouldn't you say that my hair looks nice?"
"Your hair looks beautiful, Lizzy. But you know John."
"Yes, I know John."
Indeed, she did. Lizzy and Fitz had joined the tour Charlotte and Carl Denny had been a part of for about six months. John Thorpe had been the promoter and had done his best to alienate Lizzy and Fitz. They had quit a mere five months later, opting to return to Olympic-eligible ranks.
How Charlotte had ever become engaged to such a jerk was beyond their comprehension, but Lizzy and Charlotte had been friends for too long for Lizzy to risk her friendship just because she didn't like Charlotte's fiancÚ.
Charlotte apparently didn't hear the sarcasm in Lizzy's voice when she said that last line. She was too busy pulling her sweater over her head. When she had squirmed into the dress a few minutes later, she smiled. "I'm ready."
"We've got a little while yet," Lizzy said. "The guests are still arriving, and we're short a bridesmaid."
"Who isn't here? Oh. Jane hasn't arrived yet, has she?"
Lizzy had asked her good friend Jane Bingham to be the last member of her wedding party. Although Jane had been reluctant at first because she would be six months pregnant at the time of the wedding, she had agreed.
"I hope nothing's happened," Georgiana said.
"And nothing has," a softly accented voice said as she entered the room. No one spoke for a moment, merely astounded at the beauty that had arrived. "Hello, everyone."
Jane Bingham had always been beautiful enough for anyone to envy, but impending motherhood had given her such a glow that the three women in the room could say nothing. Her gently rounded stomach was hidden by the gown's design.
"That does it. Someone get me a paper bag to put over Jane's head. She's going to outshine me," Lizzy said.
The quartet of women laughed loud enough to be heard in the church, where the guests wondered what was so amusing.
"I shall do no such thing, Elizabeth. You shall have all eyes on you today, and no one will notice a fat, pregnant, married lady."
"You know, if pregnancy makes you look that good, maybe I'll have a baby," Lizzy said.
"Have you talked to Fitz about that?" Georgiana asked.
"We've talked about everything--argued a lot, I should say. He won on having a small wedding, I won on having a grand reception. He won on going to Hawaii for our honeymoon, and I won on not changing my last name professionally."
"You're going to remain Elizabeth Bennet?" Charlotte asked. "Why? Why shouldn't you be proud of your new last name? I'm going to be Charlotte Thorpe after I get married in June."
"It's just easier to remain as I am. People know me as Elizabeth Bennet. I'll probably still be called that even if I were to take Fitz's last name. In private, I'll be Mrs. Darcy. In public, I am who I am."
"So what did you decide about having children?" Georgiana asked.
"Oh, that. Well, we decided--and we were in agreement on this--that we should wait a few years. I'm only twenty-three. We're well on our way to winning gold next year. After that, we want to enjoy success for a few years, then maybe take a couple years off to have a baby and raise it."
"That is what Charlie and I decided," Jane said. "We thought we would wait until after next year. But things happen that you don't expect, you know. And I couldn't be happier about the baby. I think I was ready to leave skating, and I love being pregnant. You get all sorts of attention and...and I'm proud of the fact that I'm going to have Charlie's baby."
The three other women smiled at her. It was a warm moment.
So of course, Frances had to come in and in a shrill voice say, "It's time! Lizzy, it's time, and only God knows where your father is!"
"I'm right here, Francie," Thomas Bennet said, walking into the room. He smiled at his daughter. "Elizabeth, you are a vision. I almost wish I didn't have to give you to Fitz."
"Now, Dad, you know--"
"Yes, dear. You love him. So I suppose we should get this whole thing started." Thomas smiled, and shooed his wife away, and soon everything seemed to get fuzzy for Lizzy.
She had thought that her wedding day would be something she would remember, moment by moment every day for the rest of her life. But mere days after the wedding, she would need to watch the videotape to remember much about the actual ceremony.
The one thing she would remember until the day she died, however, was the priest asking, "Do you, Fitzwilliam George Darcy, take this woman, Elizabeth, to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
And his answer, looking into her eyes with so much love that she could hardly believe she had inspired it. "I do," he murmured with a gentle smile.
The next thing she knew, Fitz was lifting her veil and kissing her passionately. The guests were cheering, and the priest was introducing them as "Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy."
Part 2 Posted on Monday, 26-Oct-98
Lizzy, with the help of Georgiana and a reluctant Frances, had pulled together what was undoubtedly the biggest gathering of past and present skating stars ever. She had left a few names off her list--the arrogant Marc Gercourt, William "the Toad" Collins, some other people she or Fitz had never gotten along with, and of course, Lydia and Catherine.
Fitz, who had originally pleaded for a small reception to go with their small wedding, had to admit that this was turning out to be one of the best parties he'd ever been a part of. He'd stood in the reception line for what seemed like forever, but with Lizzy by his side it hadn't been as bad, even if he had wanted to do nothing but hold her in his arms. His bride.
Fitz looked over at Lizzy, who was at that moment talking to the photographers about to take the pictures of them taking their first drink together, and later of them cutting the cake. Her beautiful eyes sparkled in amusement and joy. She looked much like he felt.
"Fitz! Good going!" Fitz smiled at Nick Hampton, shaking his hand. A moment later, he was receiving a hug from his beautiful wife and nearly being overpowered by her jasmine perfume. He looked over her shoulder to see Rich standing across the room, staring at them with a longing in his eyes and a lonely look on his face.
He really does love her.
It surprised him, even if it shouldn't. Fitz had never quite been able to shake the belief that Rich was still in love with Lizzy, probably because he couldn't understand why every man didn't love her. (Which didn't mean he wanted that to happen--God help him if it ever did--but love made people think strange things sometimes.) Helena, Fitz had thought, was merely a cover. A beautiful and alluring cover, but still just a smokescreen to mask Rich's true feelings. And when their relationship went into permanent "off" mode right around the time Fitz and Lizzy had become engaged, Fitz's fear grew.
He suddenly felt rather guilty for thinking what he had.
"Darling? They're ready to begin taking pictures," Lizzy called.
Fitz walked over to her. "How much longer until the honeymoon?"
Lizzy just laughed.
Georgiana watched him out of the corner of her eye. She knew where he was at all times, but she tried to make it as inconspicuous as possible. If Fitz ever found out, he'd give her one of his looks and tell her she was only eighteen, that she was too young to be falling in love, and that would be the end of it. He'd say it was just a crush. Even if she were to point out that Lizzy had been a mere two years older than herself when she'd fallen in love with Fitz, he would say that Lizzy had been more mature.
Fitz would always see her as a little girl. After all, hadn't he sent most of her boyfriends scurrying to get away with just one look? The People article about her having a boyfriend had made her laugh. She'd had dates, nothing more. Fitz had made sure of that.
Which was why Georgiana hoped that marriage would distract him. In fact, she was secretly praying that Lizzy would get pregnant right away, so that all her brother's attention would be focused on his child and not his sister.
It was also why Georgiana had never, by any action or word, revealed to anyone her feelings. If she had, she knew that Fitz would have had him banished from her life as much as possible, and she didn't think she could've borne not being able to see him.
Her quarry moved to the open bar and ordered a drink. Georgiana dared get close enough to hear what he ordered, then a few minutes later, ordered the same thing. She did so while holding her breath, fearing that the bartender would ask to see her ID--or worse yet, recognize her as not being twenty-one and refuse to serve her. Her fears were wasted, because the bartender was too bored to recognize her as he handed her the drink. She was just another guest.
Georgiana had never had an alcoholic beverage before, except for the time when she was four and apparently she'd drunk the remains of three vodka martinis that had been left over from a party her parents gave. Her mother told the story, which was the only reason Georgiana had ever heard it. The drink she was holding now, a whiskey sour, smelled like medicine, tasted about as bad, and burned all the way down. Her eyes watered, but it was what he drank, so she would drink it.
Georgiana bumped into her friend Katt, an ice dancer she'd become friends with at the last Olympics and only occasionally kept in touch with when they would meet at competitions. Katt was there with her boyfriend and partner on the ice, William. They talked for a few minutes, Georgiana being careful to keep an eye on him. When Katt noticed that Charlotte was temporarily free from John, she rushed over to talk to her former coach.
Georgiana sat in a chair. Seeing Katt reminded her of the Olympics, and who she used to be. Her whole life had changed because of one remarkable performance, one magical night in her life when she had beaten Helena Johnstone. She thought of the shy, terrified girl who had clung to her brother's side on her first trip through the Olympic village and almost cringed. Sometimes she wondered if that period in her life had been a nightmare.
It hadn't been, of course. Her right knee still acted up to remind her of how real that time had been. And there were the nightmares.
Still, she was glad that success had brought changes to her life. Most importantly, those Olympics had brought him into her life. His quirky smile. His easy laugh. His strong body. And of course, his lightning-quick reflexes. She might not have ever skated again without them.
Georgiana drained the drink--which wasn't as bad as she had first thought--and wondered why, of all the people in the world, she had fallen in love with Richard Fitzwilliam.
John Thorpe had expected to be seated at one of the better tables. After all, he was one of the premier tour promoters, and besides, he was engaged to one of the bridesmaids. So his placement, far away from the band and the head table, exceedingly disappointed him. Not to mention that he was stuck at a table with a ditzy singles skater, two people he didn't know and didn't want to know, and Arthur Hurst.
John considered this quite an insult.
At thirty-three, he was what most considered attractive--tall, blond with dazzling blue eyes. He kept in good shape. Although he'd rather be castrated than ever put on a pair of figure skates, he'd made a great deal of money in the sport. He'd been hoping to capitalize on the major scandals which had played out at the last Olympics, but the principals in those hadn't joined his tour. Still, he'd done quite well, and his tour was the most successful in the world.
After business and making money, John was most passionate about cars. He owned a variety of classic models and had restored several from the inside out. Today's accident had fortunately occurred when he was driving a newer car. And something good had come of it. The idiot driver of the other car (a nice racing green Corvette convertible) was considering selling. John would be the first person he called--or so he'd said.
John's next passion was golf. He played all over the world and had even played several times with the pros--which he constantly bragged about. He'd taken batting practice with the New York Mets several years ago. He had his own yacht, docked in southern California.
And then there was Charlotte.
He couldn't quite explain her appeal. She wasn't his usual type. Her hair was too dark, her looks too ordinary, her talent...well, she was only a bronze medalist. He usually only dated the champions. Nothing but the best would do for him.
But Charlotte was something else. He didn't think he was in love with her, but he was closer to the emotion than he'd ever been.
Telling himself that was a convenient way for him to forget that the only reason he'd asked her out was because she was one of the few skaters on the tour he hadn't dated. She had also turned him down the first four times he'd asked her.
And so she was the one who lasted when he'd finally been able to convince her to go out with him. Charlotte hadn't fawned, asked for more money, or been impressed by his wealth. She'd been intelligent, if not particularly quick-witted. Over time, John decided that she would make the perfect wife for him. She would understand his busy schedule and not complain. She would be happy not to have children, since she could get back to coaching. He hated children. Most importantly, marrying her was the only way, she'd said, that he was ever going to sleep with her.
He'd kept getting the impression that she would be worth the wait, but God, he was tired of waiting. Not that he was actually waiting--that would be asking too much of any normal man. But he hadn't waited for a woman like he'd waited for Charlotte before. Before, he just would've cut his losses and moved on.
John looked at the bride and groom. They were eating and talking and laughing. They had the look of a couple who were truly in love. John would bet money that Lizzy hadn't made Fitz wait until the wedding.
With an almost lecherous grin, he thought about the delectable Mrs. Darcy in bed. He'd be willing to bet that she was a hellcat. Alas, she was now married, and although John was not above seducing a married woman, he had every hope of snagging the Darcys for his tour next year after their inevitable Olympic victory. As intriguing as Lizzy might be, money meant more to him.
Carl Denny frowned when he noticed the leer on John Thorpe's face as he looked at the newlyweds. Carl couldn't help getting upset.
Isn't it bad enough that he's got Charlotte? He has to humiliate her in such a way?
Carl didn't remember when he'd fallen in love with Charlotte Lucas. It had hit him one day as he was talking to her on the tour bus. They'd been discussing how unlikely their situations in life would've been ten years ago. Neither had won gold, but they made excellent money on tour, were cheered everywhere, and quickly became known for being the most consistent skaters on the tour. Rarely did they make mistakes.
It had been gradual, he recognized that. Charlotte was never a stunner. She was the type of woman who sneaked up on a man until he realized that she was so vital to him that losing her would be agony. He'd fallen in love with her gentle smile. Her swift mind. Her tender heart. With everything about her.
And just when he'd been about to tell her, John Thorpe seemed to sense his feelings and swooped into Charlotte's life. Charlotte was dazzled by him, and Carl couldn't understand it. Charlotte was so intelligent--so why couldn't she see through his corny lines? His fake smiles? His phony sincerity? The package was nicely wrapped, but underneath he was still rotten. And everyone knew that he'd dated most of the single female skaters on the tour and had several affairs with some of the married ones.
When it became clear to Carl that Charlotte was besotted with Thorpe, and for some reason, Carl was more interested in Charlotte than people thought he would be, Carl vowed never to let her know that he'd fallen in love with her. As much as he'd played the field, she probably wouldn't have believed him anyway.
But if Thorpe ever broke her heart...
"You look as miserable as I do," Rich said. "But I don't see why."
"It's a...well, never mind. This isn't the time or place for it."
"You'll tell me later, right?"
Carl sighed. "If I remember what was bothering me." As if he could ever forget.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. and Mrs. Fitz Darcy are now going to have their first official dance together as husband and wife," the wedding coordinator announced.
Fitz led a beaming Lizzy to the dance floor as the guests cheered.
"What song did you pick?" Fitz asked. Lizzy hadn't told him what they would be dancing to, wanting it to be a surprise. "Not that Pink Floyd song."
"I happen to know that you adore that one, but I didn't choose it. This song's more appropriate."
Fitz grimaced. "It isn't by Celine Dion, is it?"
"Relax. You'll love it."
The music began to play. Fitz smiled even though he didn't recognize the song. The lyrics were perfect for the occasion, even if the band Kiss was a little out of the ordinary.
I gotta tell you what I'm feelin' inside
I could lie to myself, but it's true
There's no denying when I look in your eyes,
Girl I'm out of my head over you
I lived so long believin' all love is blind
But everything about you is tellin' me this time
This time I know and there's no doubt in my mind
Until my life is through
Girl I'll be lovin' you forever
I hear the echo of a promise I made
When you're strong you can stand on your own
But those words grow distant as I look at your face
No, I don't wanna go it alone
I never thought I'd lay my heart on the line
But everything about you is tellin' me this time
This time I know and there's no doubt in my mind
Until my life is through
Girl I'll be lovin' you forever
I see my future when I look in your eyes
It took your love to make my heart come alive
Cause I lived my life believin' all love is blind
But everything about you is tellin' me this time it's forever...
As the song ended, the guests again applauded as the couple kissed.
After Lizzy and Thomas danced to Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me" (well, what wedding would be complete without at least one Celine Dion song?), the dance floor was declared open for everyone.
Georgiana seized her chance. She walked up to Rich and said, "I think it's customary for the best man to dance with the maid of honor."
"It is?" Rich smiled. It was an easy smile, but one that was tolerant. Georgiana felt like he was humoring her.
"Then let's get out there. I don't want it being said that I would go against tradition." Rich stood up and led Georgiana to the dance floor. The song was another slow one, by Daniel Lavoie and called "Weak for Love."
Some kind of madness keeps me coming back for more...
Georgiana was relishing the feeling of Rich's strong arms around her. She only wished...
I don't care if every word you said is a lie
I don't even wonder where you've been tonight
I got a problem baby
I'm weak for love.
...that he weren't looking at Helena dancing with Nick across the floor.
You get me laughin'
I put off what I came to say
I don't know if I meant it after all
You got the bluest eyes I ever saw...
Georgiana wanted to scream that she had blue eyes, if only he'd look into them.
Can't you tell you got me goin' crazy
Don't you feel a little reckless maybe
Is it real or is it just a dream that we create
Well I don't wanna wake up...
Georgiana was beginning to wonder if this had been such a good idea. Rich was paying NO attention to her. He kept mooning over Helena. Georgiana wondered if this was her rival's revenge for losing the gold three years ago.
I guess my self control has let me down again
I should be holdin' out, instead I'm givin' in
I got a problem baby
I'm weak for love...
When the song ended and Georgiana had managed to bring herself back to reality by telling herself that Helena's best revenge would've been marrying Rich rather than dumping him, Georgiana thanked Rich for the dance. His smile was like the one he'd given her when she'd asked him to dance with her, and then he walked over to ask Jane Bingham to dance.
It meant nothing to him.
In the middle of all this joy and celebration of love, Georgiana Darcy was miserable.
"Ladies and gentlemen, in just a few minutes Mr. and Mrs. Fitz Darcy will be taking off for a romantic little getaway to Hawaii. But before they go, we've got some tossing to do! Would all the single gentlemen please step to the center of the room? Fitz is about to toss the garter!"
Only a few men stepped forward. Charlotte noticed Carl sitting by himself and called, "Carl Denny, get out there! You're single and you need to get married!"
Everyone laughed, including Carl. As he joined the slowly-growing group he was wearing the first genuine smile he'd had all afternoon.
Rich, who had ducked out of the sight before anyone could yell for him to join, saw Carl's smile and wondered. Could Charlotte have anything to do with his recent funk?
Surely not. They were just friends. Carl had insisted that to be true often enough.
Fitz held aloft a lacy blue garter. He turned his back to the men and said, "Here goes!" He tossed it over his shoulder, and...
It landed firmly in the hands of a tall, handsome man who bore more than a passing resemblance to the groom.
James Hampton gave the object in his hands a wry glance before saying, "You did that deliberately, didn't you Fitz?"
More laughter, while the rather relieved men clapped him on the shoulder and shouted condolences.
"Okay, ladies, now it's your turn! All of you beautiful single women get out there and get your chance to catch Lizzy's bouquet!"
Rich almost laughed at the number of women who jockeyed for position in the crowd. It was twice the number of men who had just been there. Georgiana was his favorite to catch it, because he knew Lizzy would try her best to aim it her way.
Lizzy held it like a trophy before turning her back and heaving the flowers high into the air. They hung up long enough for her to turn and see who caught them. The women crowded around where they were about to land. For a second Lizzy feared there would be a riot.
But when the bouquet had landed, all of the women backed away from the person who had caught it. Lizzy thought their behavior a bit odd until she saw who it was.
Dressed in a violet gown identical to those the bridesmaids were wearing was the petite bleached blonde.
With a triumphant smile on her face, Lydia Bennet stood there in the silence of the room, Lizzy's bouquet clutched tightly in her hands.
Part 3 Posted on Thursday, 29-Oct-98
Lydia's smile turned to one that Lizzy recognized--cheerful. It was the last thing she expected.
"Hello, Lizzy," Lydia said, her voice as cheerful as her smile. It was almost as though she didn't realize that she wasn't welcome. "Sorry I'm late, but it took me a while to get through traffic. Mom explained everything to me, about you changing your mind--"
Lizzy turned to glare at her mother, who was looking at the scene unfolding with a calm expression on her face.
"--and then my invitation got lost in the mail, which was why I missed the wedding."
"Lydia--" Lizzy stepped forward to try and get her out of there, before things really turned ugly. They were bound to do so when she told her that she hadn't invited her.
Rich, however, got to Lydia first. "Hey, Liddy, good to see you! Wanna drink?" He slurred his words and stumbled a bit.
"No, Rich, I--hey!"
"You have no idea how happy I am to see you!" In her ear, he hissed, "Unless you want me to leak your identity to the press, Lindsey Bent, you'd better come with me!"
Lydia paled visibly. "But I don't understand," she whispered, her smile fading.
"You don't have to. Now come on." Rich grabbed her elbow. Lydia, confused and hurt, turned back only once to look at her sister. Her eyes will filled with hurt as she realized what must've happened, and slowly-dawning anger rose.
Lizzy shuddered slightly. "How could Mom do this to me?" she murmured softly. "I...I..."
"Don't do it, Elizabeth," Fitz said. "Don't let them ruin our wedding day. It's surely why Lydia came here. As for your mother...don't try to figure out her reasoning."
Lizzy looked up at him. "I know, Fitz, but...she hates me now. I did nothing wrong, but she hates me."
"She's just angry that you didn't include her. She'll get over it."
"No, she won't. You don't know Lydia like I do. She hates me."
"She's your family. Why would she hate you?"
Because I'm the successful Bennet sister now. Because I broke my partnership with George. Because Georgiana is so close to me now. Because I married you. Because she's bitter and resentful about what happened three years ago. Because every time she talks to my mother, my mother encourages all these feelings she has.
Lizzy said none of that. Instead, she blocked it all from her mind. Fitz was right. Lydia had come, dressed as she had, merely to upset her. Her mother had told her where the reception was going to be, and Lydia had come on her own. Thinking about the rest of it would only allow her to succeed.
"Maybe I'm imagining things. Anyway, you're right. This is our day, and it's almost time to go."
Fitz smiled. "Is this where you leave to slip into something more comfortable?"
"Actually, less eye-catching. The 'comfortable' part comes tonight."
"I'm keeping them all tonight, my love." Lizzy looked at him with such love and affection in her eyes that he almost felt like crying.
Was he really the one inspiring such a look from this wonderful woman? It sometimes felt like a dream, one he feared waking from every day. He feared waking up to find himself the old, arrogant Fitz Darcy, coached by Catherine de Bourgh, partnered with Caroline Bingley, never thinking of Lizzy Bennet as anything more than a pesky nuisance. He feared waking up in a world without Lizzy's love, warmth, laughter, passion...
Fitz kissed her passionately, drawing a number of whistles and catcalls from their guests.
"Get a hotel room!" someone shouted.
"You know, he's right," Fitz said. "To hell with changing. Let's go now."
"But Fitz, this dress was so difficult to get into and I don't--"
"I'll help you out of it," he replied with a wink.
"I'll only be a few minutes. This way, I know the dress will survive in one piece."
"Five minutes or I'm coming in after you."
Lizzy reluctantly left his arms, motioning to Charlotte and Georgiana that they were getting ready to leave. The trio headed for a private room where Lizzy's simple but lovely outfit waited.
It ended up taking twelve minutes to get Lizzy out of her wedding gown and veil and into the green dress. She was amazed that Fitz hadn't come after her as he said he would. Lord, the look in that man's eyes right before he'd kissed her...
Did I really inspire that in him? she wondered as her mother opened the door.
"Have you seen Lydia?" Frances asked.
"No. Not since Rich left with her." Lizzy's eyes narrowed as she glared at her mother. "I'm not going to say anything right now, since there isn't time. But when we return, Mother, you're going to have to justify inviting Lydia to the wedding against my objections."
Lizzy's look froze Frances, who just said, "You look nice." Then she left the room.
Lizzy sighed and started to smooth down her glossy dark hair, which had become mussed when they'd taken off the veil. There was a tap at the door and then Fitz was there, his heart in his eyes. "Ready?" he asked.
Lizzy smiled. "Yes."
"You are so beautiful," he breathed as she walked to him.
Taking his hand in hers, she grinned. "Babe, you ain't seen nothing yet."
Fitz laughed as they headed for the corridor and then outside where the guests waited to shower them with birdseed and shout their good-byes. They rushed to the waiting limousine, turned to wave one last time, then got into the vehicle. It pulled out of the parking lot and headed for their hotel suite.
The guests turned and headed back into the reception hall. Just because the bride and groom had left was no reason to stop partying.
Rich, who was brushing the birdseed out of his hair (someone in the crowd had dreadful aim), made sure the limo was well out of sight before returning to the small storage closet where Lydia was waiting. He'd had every intention of seeing Fitz and Lizzy off, but to insure that a recently enraged Lydia wouldn't interfere with anything, he'd locked her in the closet. He had no doubt that she was going to try to kill him the moment he unlocked the door, but at least she wouldn't be able to ruin Lizzy's wedding anymore.
With a sigh, he turned the key. A moment later, the door nearly rammed him in the head as Lydia barreled through it.
"You...you jerk! You son of a--" Lydia's language turned pungent as she came at him, fists flailing.
Lydia tried to hurt him, but Rich was able to dart out of the way of most of her blows. She reached high to try and hit him, but he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. He headed for an unlocked, unoccupied room, ignoring the pain as her fists hit his back.
"Lydia, grow up!" he snapped.
"They're gone, aren't they?"
"You didn't really think I was letting you out until they left, did you?"
"I would've liked to see my sister off."
Rich snorted. "Yeah, off a cliff."
Lydia crossed her arms and said nothing.
"Why did you come when it was clear your presence wasn't needed?"
"I told you the truth. Mom called and told me that Lizzy wanted to mend the breach, so she was inviting me to the wedding. And I wanted to be there to see her. Can I not be concerned about my sister's happiness?"
"When have you ever been concerned with anyone's happiness other than your own?"
"I'll have you know that I've changed a great deal in three years."
"But even you would have to admit that I have a right to be a little upset at her for marrying--"
"Lydia, if you say that Fitz and Georgiana forced you to withdraw for no reason--"
"They did! Otherwise I would've been arrested."
"And the USFSA would've forced you to withdraw. You weren't going to skate either way. You should be grateful that you're still--"
"Grateful? I did nothing wrong! Remember? I was innocent. All the papers--"
"I was there, Lydia. Remember? I saved Georgiana's career. I heard you when you came to see Wickham. You were in on that plot the whole way, and only the graciousness of Fitz Darcy kept you from total disgrace."
"Graciousness, my eye. He did it so Lizzy wouldn't be tainted and he could skate with her."
"What do you care about his reasons? You should be glad he did it, otherwise you wouldn't have a skating career at all. You shouldn't look at yourself as being the injured party. You did plan to attack Georgiana. You were guilty. The fact that the press wrote what Fitz told them to write doesn't mean their account is correct."
Lydia looked at her feet and said nothing. Rich figured she was ignoring him, just as she always did when this subject came up. She was like her mother in that respect.
But then she surprised him. "I really didn't think she hated me enough to keep me away from her wedding."
Lydia's voice was so low that Rich wondered whether or not she was actually the one speaking. Lydia's voice was never that quiet.
"She doesn't hate you," Rich said softly, for the first time seeing a crack in the wall Lydia had surrounding herself. "She's gotten close to Georgiana--"
"Liddy, you never were close to Liz before the incident. Then you disappeared. Georgiana was always around, always asking for advice...they were...it was only natural for her to ask Georgiana to be her maid of honor."
"But I'm her sister. I should've--"
"Georgiana is Fitz's sister."
"So they talked and decided that I wouldn't be needed? I couldn't even come to the wedding?" Lydia's voice started to rise again.
"It would've been awkward."
"I noticed Dr. Nick and Helena were here. Isn't she your ex."
Rich waited for that familiar stab of pain, and was puzzled when nothing arose. "She is."
"Wasn't it awkward for her to be here, with you in the wedding party?"
"Nick's a relative."
"So am I!"
"Nick never tried to win a competition by crippling an opponent!"
"He just married the woman you loved. Love," she corrected.
"Yes, but I'm not the groom. I had not say in that." Rich felt as though Lydia was talking circles around him, and he was scrambling to catch up.
And when he did, he got the sinking feeling that she was making sense. Even if Lizzy chose not to have her in the wedding, Lydia still should've been invited, uncomfortable for Georgiana and Fitz or not. At least, he was beginning to think so.
"I guess it's all moot now, isn't it?" Lydia's shoulders slumped. She reached up to tug at her hair--a wig, Rich was surprised to discover--and a few seconds later, a tumble of tawny brown curls that some might call dishwater fell past her shoulders. "They're married and gone. At least I got to catch the bouquet."
Dear God, aliens landed and took over Liddy Bennet's body.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, his heart going out to her. She looked more vulnerable than he'd ever seen her, more chastened...
Dear god, aliens have taken over your body for thinking that! Lydia came to the reception to ruin it. Look at her dress, for God's sake! Remember how angry she was at Liz just minutes ago!
Unfortunately, looking at her dress allowed him to admire her figure, and remembering the words coming from her mouth drew his attention to her face. He noticed that she'd been crying, her brown eyes still filled with unshed tears.
"I thought you had green eyes," he said softly.
"Colored contacts. I always hated my eyes. They were ordinary in color and without glasses I couldn't even read the big 'E' on the chart," Lydia said absently.
Rich took her chin in his hands and tilted her face to look up at him. He thought of asking her if she'd ever considered apologizing to Georgiana, but the naked pain in her eyes wiped all that away. She was genuinely hurt by Lizzy's decision, and hurt by the rejection today.
Before he could even think about what he was doing, he gently lowered his lips to hers.
Rich didn't hear the choked sound coming from the doorway, which was cracked open. Georgiana had followed Rich after Fitz and Lizzy left, and she'd heard his conversation with Lydia the entire time. Horrifying as hearing Lydia remaining unrepentant even after three years, worse was seeing what Rich was doing now.
Lydia! Of all people! She nearly ruins my brother's wedding day and now she's taking Rich away from me!
Georgiana didn't think of the fact that Rich didn't actually belong to her. For all the turmoil of her young life, she was still young and a bit naive. She had no idea how to fight for what she wanted, not only because she'd never learned but also because she'd never had to.
But it looked as though she would have to now. She wanted Richard Fitzwilliam.
Her only problem was--she had no one to turn to. Fitz and Lizzy were on their honeymoon, and even when they returned she wouldn't want to bother them, since they would be caught up in their new state. Her girlfriends, although they thought Rich was "cute," weren't likely to be much help. She wasn't about to call Catherine de Bourgh for advice. Indeed, there was no one Georgiana could think of who had any experience...
Then she thought of someone. She fumbled with her purse to dig through all the junk, hoping that the telephone number she had was right. She found a pay phone and stuck in the required money. She prayed silently until the other party picked up. "Hello?"
Taking a deep breath, Georgiana spoke. "Caroline...it's Georgiana Darcy."
Part 4 Posted on Tuesday, 03-Nov-98
I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories...
Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" was playing. The crowd had thinned a bit--some of the older people had taken off for their warm beds. The younger people were still around, still having fun.
Well, most of them were having fun, anyway.
Carl Denny was trying to figure out why the hell he was torturing himself by watching Charlotte dance with John Thorpe. They were doing little more than rocking back and forth in each other's arms. Occasionally, John would whisper something in Charlotte's ear, and she would say something back. Occasionally, she would laugh. Occasionally, they would kiss.
And every time, Carl told himself he was going to leave before he ran over there and ripped her out of his arms and told her the truth about her "wonderful" fiancÚ.
Hell, you have no proof of anything. Charlotte would never believe you.
The only reason he was still there was because he hadn't had a dance with her yet. He intended to claim one, and soon. He'd meant to earlier, but every time he went up to ask Charlotte to dance, John was there ahead of him, leading her to the dance floor and walking past Carl with a satisfied smirk on his face. Carl wondered if John knew how he felt about Charlotte, and was rubbing it in his face by doing such a thing. But Carl knew he hadn't revealed his feelings in any way. No one knew how he felt.
The song ended, and Carl circled the dance floor, hiding himself. Just because he was pretty sure that John didn't know how he felt, didn't mean that he hadn't inadvertently given himself away. He was going to surprise the jerk before he could spirit Charlotte away.
Charlotte and John approached the place where he'd hidden. Charlotte was smiling and looking so happy that it tore at Carl's heart. She spotted him almost immediately. "Carl! What are you doing skulking around back here?" she asked, smiling.
"I'm hardly skulking," Carl said with a smile. "I'm just lurking."
"And I was waiting--for you. You know, it's tradition that the groomsmen dance with all of the bridesmaids. I've managed to catch Janie and Georgiana, so I guess that leaves you."
John frowned. "I don't think that's such a good idea."
Charlotte turned to him, a bit surprised. "Why not? He's right, you know."
"I've never heard of such a tradition. Besides, I noticed that you were starting to get tired out there."
"You were. You were practically leaning on me for support."
Carl wanted to roll his eyes. You are such a liar! Charlotte, don't believe him.
"Nonsense. I think I know myself better than you, fiancÚ or not. I feel just fine. I'm an athlete. I don't get tired dancing a few dances."
"You do in those heels."
"New skates hurt worse than these heels."
"You need your rest," John repeated. "Otherwise you'll be too tired to practice in the morning."
"For God's sake, John, I think everyone's allowed to be tired after a wedding. I don't know what's the matter with you. It's just a dance! And a slow one. It's not like I'll be trying to tango across the dance floor."
John looked at Carl for a long minute, then back at Charlotte, then down at the floor. "I guess one dance won't do much more damage. But after that, Charlotte, we're leaving."
"I don't want you hurting yourself," John said. "I'm just looking out for your safety, sweetheart."
Charlotte's dark look suddenly lightened, and she smiled again. "Thank you, John." She kissed him firmly on the lips. As soon as she pulled out of the kiss, she took Carl's hand. "Come on, Denny."
Carl allowed her to lead him to the floor, wanting to shout his frustration, but too relieved that Charlotte had managed to get away from Thorpe to bother. The DJ put on a new CD. Ivan Neville was singing "Why Can't I Fall in Love."
So many people come walking by
Looking so happy when all I do is cry
I just wanna be with somebody too
What I'd give for a kiss
What am I gonna do?
"This is somewhat depressing," Charlotte said. "I mean, for a wedding reception. This is the sort of song one should play when they've broken up with someone. When I get married, I intend to make sure that every single song is a happy love song. Nothing about love affairs gone wrong or people who can't fall in love."
"Not everyone is happy just because the bride and groom are," Carl said quietly.
"Like you?" Charlotte asked.
Carl's eyebrows rose. He didn't think she'd noticed that he hadn't been happy.
"You think I didn't notice?"
"Well, you've had a lot on your mind lately, with getting engaged and then with this wedding."
"We're friends," she said simply. "I notice when something's wrong with my friends. Just because I've been blissfully happy doesn't mean I'm so wrapped up in my own life that I wouldn't notice you're unhappy. I'd hope I never would be like that."
Friends. Great. I don't want to be friends, I want to be so much more, oh Charlotte, why can't you see that if you're so observant?
"You never will be," he reassured her.
Why can't I fall in love?
Why must it, it seem so hard to find?
Why can't I fall in love?
I know she's out there waiting
So why, why can't I fall in love?
"It gets more depressing," Charlotte said with a chuckle. "We should've requested a better song, Carl."
And here I thought it was a perfect one for the mood I'm in. "Too late to ask for a new one now. I somehow doubt that John's going to let me have another dance with you."
Charlotte frowned. "You don't like him much, do you?"
"Who else? Of course John."
"I--" Carl wasn't sure how to put it. He didn't want to lie to her--he didn't like John Thorpe. But at the same time, he looked into those pretty gray eyes of hers and wondered how he could say what he needed to say without hurting her. "I don't know. I guess I'm just a little afraid of him."
"Afraid of him? Why?"
"Because you're probably the closest friend to me in the world--next to Rich. And now you're getting married. We won't be as close as we used to be."
Charlotte smiled. "Why, I do believe you're jealous."
Didn't I see it's always been me
I thought I was better off in my misery
It's time to be real and change where I'm at
But the same old questions keep holding me back...
"In some ways," Carl said honestly. "Charlotte, we haven't talked in a while, not since the tour ended."
"We talked on the telephone a few times. Don't those times count?"
"Not really. We haven't talked face to face since you and John announced your engagement."
"And you want to know how I really feel about him."
"Yes. How did you know?"
"Because for some reason, everyone's been trying to find that out. I don't understand it. John is such a dear, and he's done so much for skating's popularity. I would think everyone would like him, but it seems like no one does."
"What does John tell you about that?" Carl knew Thorpe would have an excuse.
And he did. "He says that no one really likes the person who has to take charge. It's an authority issue," Charlotte stated, almost by rote.
"Then assuming that I'm just like everyone else, why don't you tell me why you're in love with John? And how you knew he'd fallen in love with you."
Charlotte smiled. "You're the first person who truly believes that he's in love with me. No one else has asked me that last one."
Carl hadn't said he believed John was in love with her. He merely wanted to know what he'd done to make Charlotte believe that.
Why can't I fall in love?
I know she's out there waiting
It's time to fall in love...
"I guess I knew I was in love with him because he was...he was so funny. And he was patient. He...well, I shouldn't be telling you this, but we haven't...we aren't going to..."
Carl almost laughed. How in the hell had Charlotte managed to convince that rutting toad to keep his hands to himself until after the wedding? Well, at least he knew what was keeping John attached to Charlotte. She was the only woman who'd ever turned him down, and he was just interested enough in her to give her a wedding ring.
Charlotte was still scarlet as she continued. "Anyway, he was also very romantic. We went on sunset boat rides and walks along the beach and he'd always pay for my dinner. Even on our first date, he refused to let me pay. He always thought I was the best skater on the tour. He said that I should've won a gold medal three years ago. He...there are so many little things along the way, Carl, that I couldn't help falling in love with him."
"And what about him? Why did he fall in love with you?"
"Because I played hard to get," Charlotte said baldly.
Carl laughed. "Surely there was more to it than that, Charlotte!"
"Not in the beginning, there wasn't. I'm not that stupid. I wouldn't sleep with him, so he had to get to know me. And once he did, he respected and liked me. And eventually, he fell in love with me. It's rather simple, and I don't expect him to lie to me and say that he fell in love with me the moment he saw me. Or that he wrote love sonnets describing my incredible beauty within days of our meeting. I know there's nothing all that spectacular about me, but John doesn't make me feel inferior. He makes me feel...so incredible."
"So you think he's perfect?"
Charlotte scoffed. "Hardly. You saw him a couple minutes ago. He does tend to be a bit controlling, but then he's so used to being in charge that he's having to learn how to adjust to an equal partnership. It's frustrating sometimes, but I have to tell myself that this is a new experience for him as well, and to get used to it. He'll change in time. He's come a long way from the way he was when we first started going out."
And let her know just how I feel
Give it up, I'm giving all
Something tells me
This can't be real
Carl wasn't sure what he could say now. He'd been hoping that Charlotte wouldn't see John as perfect because it would've made it harder for him to try to convince her that he wasn't. But since she didn't, and she was willing to take him on with his faults, he had no defense.
"Nobody's perfect," Charlotte continued. "God knows I have plenty of flaws myself."
"I don't see a single one," Carl said, even though gullibility was high on his list of her faults at the moment. Also eternal blindness to his true feelings, but that was his own fault because he'd hidden them from her.
"You're my friend. Of course you don't see a single fault. And if you did, you'd tell me so I could correct it."
I know she's out there waiting
It's time, it's time
Why can't I fall in love?
Why must it, it seem so hard, so hard to find...
"So, when's the wedding?" he asked in a falsely bright tone.
"Well, we'd finally settled on June when John realized that we'd still be touring in June. So I'm not going to be a June bride after all."
"Not really. I never particularly liked June anyway."
"It seems sort of unromantic to postpone the single most important day of your future lives just for business."
Charlotte laughed. "It's the skating business, Carl. You and I both know what it's like. I'm used to it. Besides, John and I are committed to each other. I know it'll eventually happened, and I'm not impatient. I'm willing to wait a couple extra months before becoming Mrs. John Thorpe." She looked over his shoulder at someone--probably John. "We're probably going to get married in early September. You'll get the first invitation, don't worry."
Why can't I fall in love?
I know she's out there waiting
It's time, it's time
Why can't I fall in love?
Why must it seem so hard, hard, hard, hard to find?
I know she's out there waiting
So why, why can't I fall in love?
The song came to an end far too soon for Carl. Charlotte smiled and said, "Here we've done nothing but talk of me. I feel terrible about it, because I wanted to talk to you about why you've been so unhappy lately."
"It's just a funk," Carl lied. "Jealousy over you and John, like you said."
"No, I don't think that's it. It's something else." Charlotte wrinkled her brow in concentration, then, as the answer came to her, her eyes lit up. "You're in love with someone!"
"Not so loud, please," Carl hissed, hoping John hadn't heard her.
"Is it true, Carl? Are you in love with someone?"
He sighed. "Yes, I am."
"But that's wonder--oh. Oh, now I understand."
"Yes. She's not in love with you. Oh, Carl, now I feel extremely horrible. I'm so sorry."
"You don't have to apologize for being happy, Charlotte. Just because I'm not happy doesn't mean I don't want you to be."
Charlotte kissed his cheek. "I know you're going to find happiness soon. Then you won't have to listen to depressing songs like the one we just danced to."
"I happen to like that song."
"So do I, but it's too depressing. It isn't a Carl Denny song." Charlotte sighed. "John's waving me over. I want to stay a little longer, so it's time for me to go argue with my fiancÚ."
"Don't let him win," Carl said softly. "Don't let him crush you, Charlotte. Promise me?"
Charlotte, who had started to walk away, turned back. "Of course I won't let him do that. Love isn't like that, you know." She then returned to John's side.
"Love isn't," he murmured. "But your relationship with John just might be."