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From: Sports Illustrated Winter Olympics Preview, 199-.
American Skaters Look to Win Big at Olympics
Although team spirit may be something the Americans lack this time around, there is one thing to be sure of--that they are the fiercest competitors and are determined that they will bring home gold.
Pairs: For years, top U.S. duo was Caroline Bingley and Fitz Darcy. A perfectly-matched pair skating under the watchful eye of one of the coaching greats, Catherine de Bourgh, they had skated to three U.S. titles, two world titles, and at the last Olympic games, a solid fourth place. With the top two couples at that Olympics turning professional, everyone felt that Bingley and Darcy would be the next Olympic champions.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came Elizabeth Bennet and George Wickham, a stylish, dynamic, athletic duo from Chicago. At this year's Nationals, they startled everyone by defeating the world champions soundly.
"I don't know why it surprised everyone," Frances Bennet, Bennet and Wickham's coach said. "I've said for years that if Lizzy could find the right partner, she'd be the best in the world."
Others attribute the upset win to Bingley and Darcy's somewhat emotionless presentation on the ice. As commentator Edward Gardiner pointed out, "With Bennet and Wickham there was a true sense of their enjoying what they were doing. Bingley and Darcy, while perhaps as athletic and artistic as the other pair, often seem as though they don't care about anything except winning. That's all well and good, but you need to have some fire and passion to win competitions. The judges sensed that there's no connection between the two skaters, and that was what cost them the National title."
The rivalry on the ice has also carried off of it. There were rumors that in the dressing rooms and off camera, Bingley and Darcy taunted Bennet and Wickham, who returned the favor. One thing that did happen was Bingley getting in the way while Bennet was trying a double axel. The two skaters crashed into each other and fell to the ice. While neither was injured, some feared that the incident would shake Elizabeth Bennet. Frances Bennet claimed that scaring her competitor was exactly what Bingley was out to do, though Bingley denies this.
And so the pressure is on Bingley and Darcy as the Winter Games rapidly approach.
Men's: America's two best hopes are complete opposites. Tall, majestic, sometimes brilliant but often erratic, Richard Fitzwilliam is looking for redemption. At the last Games, he was the favorite going into the short program, but after a fall on his triple axel combination and quickly dropped to tenth place. Skating a clean long program, he managed to finish seventh.
His American rival is the flamboyant Carl Denny, who has the fastest feet in figure skating and generally has the most fun with the audience. Denny has had some trouble in the past year with his right knee, and some say that he may not be ready to skate in the Olympics. Denny, however, quickly quieted his doubters by defeating Fitzwilliam at the Nationals.
On the ice, these two may be fierce competitors, but outside the rink, they are good friends. At a press conference, the two were asked if their rivalry spilled over into their friendship. Denny quipped, "The ladies may come running when Rich shows up at a bar, but they stick around to be with me!"
To which Fitzwilliam laughed and replied, "Only because you can dance, Carl."
Women's: The women's competition is quite possibly one of the best ever. The Americans are considered the ones to beat this year, and there's even talk of an American sweep of the medals this year.
The favorite remains Lydia Bennet, who last year at the Worlds did what only two other women have accomplished--landed a triple axel in competition. Bennet lands hers with such strength and consistency that her athleticism has been praised all over the world. However, Bennet's weak spot remains her artistry--as one commentator put it, "She has the artistry of a piece of cardboard." Bennet, who like her sister Elizabeth is also coached by their mother, Frances Bennet, has been working hard on changing her long program and making it more artistic. If she's able to accomplish that feat, she would almost be a lock for the gold.
Close behind her is Georgiana Darcy. If Bennet lacks artistry, Darcy has it in excess--Gardiner said about her, "She seems to float on the ice as though she were dreaming. A beautiful skater."
These Olympics however, are not thought to be hers to win. Georgiana has been known to crack under the pressure of competition, having finished fifth at last year's Worlds when she stumbled on her triple lutz and went on to skate hesitantly through the rest of her long program. Coach Catherine de Bourgh attributes it to inexperience. At only fifteen, Darcy has a great presence and maturity on the ice, but some feel that she may have been pushed into the top ranks too soon, and that she won't be able to take the Olympic pressure.
Finally, there is Charlotte Lucas. She is the elder stateswoman of the three--at twenty-seven, she is the oldest woman competing for the U.S. team and has very little hope of medaling. Lucas, who was a member of the 19-- Olympic team and finished fourth, has returned triumphant, she claims, and was happy to make the team. "All I've ever wanted is to skate my best at the Olympics," she says.
PAIRS: Even though Bingley and Darcy did not win at Nationals, they are still the team to beat--last year's world champions will almost certainly medal. However, they'll have strong competition for the gold not only from their American rivals Bennet and Wickham but also from recently wed British pair Jane and Charles Bingham, the bronze medalists at the last Olympics.
GOLD: Caroline Bingley & Fitzwilliam Darcy
SILVER: Jane Bingham & Charles Bingham
BRONZE: Elizabeth Bennet & George Wickham
MEN'S: Fitzwilliam's said he has the quadruple lutz perfected, but many believe that he's not entirely truthful. Only the second man to ever attempt the jump in competition, Fitzwilliam landed it cleanly during the warm-up for the long program last month but opted not to attempt it during his performance. Should he land it, the judges just might be impressed enough to give him the gold. However, don't count Denny out altogether. Denny may not have the jumping skill of Fitzwilliam, but when he's on, he's unbeatable. Both men will face competition from England's William Collins and Canada's Arthur Hurst.
GOLD: Carl Denny
SILVER: Richard Fitzwilliam
BRONZE: Arthur Hurst
WOMEN'S: The gold is Lydia Bennet's to win, if she does come through with a more artistic long program. Her strongest competitor will be Marie Roi, a French skater who stunned everyone at the European Championships by defeating the favorite, England's Louisa Thurston. Georgiana Darcy and Charlotte Lucas should both make good showings, but neither is likely to medal.
GOLD: Lydia Bennet
SILVER: Louisa Thurston
BRONZE: Marie Roi
"I can't believe I'm actually here!" Elizabeth Bennet exclaimed as she lay on her bed, in her room in the Olympic village. She was still trying to take in everything she'd seen in the three hours since her plane had touched ground.
The first glimpses of the Olympic village--and all the activity surrounding it--were awesome. People of every nationality from around the world were present, and even Lizzy, who was quick to notice everything, had trouble taking it in. There were the tall Norwegian cross-country skiers mingling with the petite, exquisite Russian female figure skaters. A group of women passed her by, and it took Lizzy a good half minute to realize that it was the U.S. women's hockey team. Several of them waved to her, and she gave a quick wave back. People darted here and there, trying to find out where they were supposed to go and seeing people that they saw at every major sports event.
But this was Elizabeth's first Olympics. Most of these people she only knew from television or news stories. When she thought she saw a member of the highly-touted men's hockey team, she thought she'd regress into her childhood and run up for an autograph. Fortunately for her, good sense and the image of her younger sister Lydia expelled any thought of acting like a tongue-tied fan.
She still couldn't believe she had made it at last. She had thought, four years ago when she'd been abandoned by her third partner who hadn't considered her pretty enough to win a judge's favor, that her skating career was over at sixteen. Less than a year after that, she and George Wickham were starting to make their miraculous journey from unknowns to national champions.
And just perhaps, in two weeks, they would be leaving the Olympics as the Olympic champions.
Elizabeth Bennet, Olympic champion. It had a lovely ring to it.
Don't get overconfident, she chided herself. You haven't won anything yet, remember. And there are about two dozen couples here who believe they have just as good a chance as you do.
"Lizzy!" The voice preceded the person, who was calling as she ran down the hall to their room. "Lizzy! Wait until you hear who I saw!"
Lizzy never failed to be shocked that her sister, who stood a mere four feet eleven inches, had such power not only in her body but also in her voice. Not that Lydia was any delicate shrinking violet. At a hale and hearty eighteen, Lydia loved life and lived it with gusto...sometimes too much gusto, in Lizzy's opinion. But their mother insisted that however Lydia did things, they obviously worked because she was the gold medal favorite in the family, not Elizabeth.
Lydia entered the room, all big bright green eyes, pale blond hair (a bottle job--Lydia spent most of her time in the rink) and flashing smile.
"Who was it?"
"I saw Fitz Darcy, that's who!"
"Oh." Elizabeth's interest in Lydia's news deflated quickly. "Who cares?"
"You're kidding, right? His highness, King Fitz himself, deigning to lower himself by visiting the Olympic village? I heard several people claim it was quite an honor. It was, like, the biggest talk of the day."
"And here I thought everyone knew what an arrogant s.o.b. he was and would rather not have to see him. What was he doing there, anyway? I heard that Lady Cat put her skaters up in a hotel where the press couldn't get to them."
'Lady Cat' was the nickname everyone used when referring to Catherine de Bourgh, not only out of some respect for her two Olympic medals (one gold--earned at the expense of a young skater named Frances Bennet--and one bronze) but also out of some derision, for Lady Cat was known to be smug and superior, taking only those she considered to be the best skaters in the world. It tended to make her pupils act in a similar manner.
"She did, but I guess he snuck out to get a taste of the good life. Me, I don't think I'd want to be stuck in a dull old hotel when the action is a hell of a lot more fun here."
"And just last week, you were commenting that when you won the gold medal, you intended to get the more endorsements than anyone else ever had. And what was it you were going to do with the money? 'Live in the lap of luxury,' I think you said."
"Hey, I could have more medals than Sonja Henie and I'd still stay here during the Olympics. Just because I want to have a lot of money doesn't mean that I don't want to have fun." Lydia dug through her suitcase and opened a box of chocolate-covered cherries. "And besides, have you seen the German skiers? Or the French male skaters? Some of those guys are hot."
"Thinking of learning German and French, are you?"
"Nah. Most of them speak good English." Lydia offered her sister a candy, but Lizzy shook her head.
"I don't suppose Fitz's partner took the same plunge he did, did she?" Lizzy's question was laced with heavy sarcasm.
"Of course not. You'd have to drag that prima donna here with a leash around her neck." Lydia popped another of the chocolates in her mouth. "But you know who else I saw? Little Miss Georgie, with her big brother."
Lizzy propped herself on an elbow. "Really?"
"Mm-hmm. God, I can't stand that twit. She's so...so..."
"Nice?" Lizzy suggested, knowing full well that her sister's competitor was naturally shy but a very nice young lady away from her overprotective brother and the snippy Caroline.
"God, no. She just looks so..."
"It's all an act. She's no angel, and yet everyone runs around treating her like she was one of Mom's china ballerinas."
"Well, rest assured, Liddy, now that Georgie's gotten her taste of the Olympic village, the only times you'll see her are on the ice."
"I hope so. She puts me in such a rotten mood that I almost want to scream." Lydia ate another piece of candy.
"You should watch yourself. You don't want to gain weight now, so close to the competition."
"You're right. Hide these from me, would you, Lizzy?" Lydia handed her sister the box, which was promptly stuck under the bed. Later, Elizabeth would give them to Charlotte, who was in the enviable position of eating just about anything she wanted without ever gaining an ounce. Licking the chocolate from her fingers, she said, "Well, I'm heading back out. Coming with?"
"I don't think so."
"What, you're just going to stay in here and watch the walls until practice? Not very interesting."
"I'm tired from the flight. I'm going to have a nap, then I'll go out."
"Whatever," Lydia replied with a shrug as she headed back out the door.
Lizzy sighed as her whirlwind sister left. She wanted to go out and wander around, but she didn't want to do it with Lydia. She loved her sister, but when Lydia was in high spirits, she was sort of embarrassing to be around.
She waited fifteen minutes after Lydia's departure before striking out on her own.
"I can't even comprehend why you wanted to go," Fitz Darcy grumbled to his sister Georgiana when the two of the returned to their hotel suite. "A never-ending mass of people who have very little style or grace whatsoever."
Georgie rolled her eyes. The only person she was ever sassy with was her brother, but that was because he tended to provoke it. But she hadn't wanted to go into the Olympic village on her own, not only because she was afraid to go alone but also because if Catherine found out she'd berate her for days.
"It was fun," Georgiana said. "I loved the atmosphere."
Caroline Bingley turned up her nose. "Loved what? The crowds? The noise? The smell?" How she would ever know of such things was anyone's guess, as Caroline hadn't bothered with the Olympic village four years ago.
"All of it."
"All the same, Georgie, that is the last time I make an appearance there. If you want to go again, go yourself." Fitz knew that his sister would never work up the courage to do it. She was too sheltered--by him, by their family, by Catherine. Georgiana had never really learned to be on her own, and no one thought anything wrong with it.
"Maybe I will." Bravado, he thought, and nothing more.
"At least we didn't run into Wickham," Fitz said.
"And where were you that you might run into George Wickham?" demanded a strident, demanding voice. Catherine de Bourgh had entered the suite in time to hear Fitz's last comment.
"Georgie and I took a small tour of the Olympic village--just so she could see what it was like and understand how fortunate she is to be here rather than there. Just think, Georgiana--you would have to share a room with someone, and it likely wouldn't have been Caroline."
Georgiana gave a small shudder at this, and, completely chastised, went to her room to study. Even at the Olympics, she wasn't allowed to skip her studies.
"This will be the last I hear of such doings, will it not?" Catherine asked.
"You certainly won't catch me going there," Caroline replied quickly, always obedient to the woman she considered her idol.
"And I'm not inclined to go again," Fitz agreed.
"Good." The conversation turned to the infinitely safer topic of Fitz and Caroline's short program, which would be coming up in three short days.
Georgiana heard the last of the conversation from her room, where she had opened her French book but wasn't concentrating on it at all. She had been hoping to bring up the possibility of their walking in the opening ceremonies the following day, but it looked like that was a distant hope now. Her brother, having so little an interest in the village, was not likely to want to go to the opening.
With a small sigh, she went back to conjugating French verbs and tried to put all thoughts of the opening ceremonies out of her mind.
Lizzy wandered around, once again amazed at all the sights. She ducked into the Surf Shack (the Internet was present even in the Olympic Village, and it looked like business was brisk) when she caught sight of William Collins, nicknamed "the Toad" among her friends. Her mother had tried, four years ago, to hook the two of them up. She thought that he would make a wonderful pairs partner for her, and Lizzy had had a devil of a time trying to convince her mother that it was not feasible for her to pair up with a man from England-- in fact, Lizzy had brought up the ice dancing controversy so often that her mother had threatened to scream if she ever heard the names "Punsalan and Swallow" again.
In the end, George Wickham had appeared on the scene, and Frances eagerly accepted him as Lizzy's partner. Yet the rejection hadn't fazed Collins a bit--he still tried to convince Elizabeth to go out on a date with him. No matter how many times she said no, he still never got the hint.
Lizzy sat down at a free computer and decided that she might as well waste some time. After all, the Toad might still be lurking somewhere nearby. She'd only been on the Internet a few of times, but she remembered a particular chat room she'd liked and headed there.
Entering her name as "Golden Girl," she began reading the messages. After fifteen minutes, she was about to give up--she'd been propositioned twice, asked about whether she was "a natural blond" twice (Lizzy had chuckled as she readjusted her dark hair), and four different chatters had asked for her "numbers," which she presumed were her measurements. Ignoring all of these bozos got her called "stuck up" followed by a nasty four-letter name.
And then he entered the room. At least, she prayed it was a man--with the Internet, you could never be completely certain.
He called himself "Ice King".
ICE KING: Hello, Golden Girl. What's the reason behind the name?
(Lizzy was a little hesitant to answer, but she decided she might as well.)
GOLDEN GIRL: Because that's what I hope to be when the Olympics are over.
ICE KING: You're at the Olympics? So am I.
GOLDEN GIRL: Talk about a coincidence.
ICE KING: Certainly is. What are you here for?
(Right then, someone cut in and asked Lizzy, "You're really in the Olympics? Wow! Are you that hot babe who does that triple jump?" Lizzy didn't bother answering him.)
ICE KING: Golden Girl? Did you get my question?
GOLDEN GIRL: Sorry, no.
ICE KING: I asked what your event was.
GOLDEN GIRL: Figure skating.
ICE KING: Same here.
(Lizzy thought it odd that he didn't mention just which of the four categories he fell into, but decided that maybe it was best that neither mention who they were in such a public forum.)
GOLDEN GIRL: So, why are we at computers rather than enjoying "the Olympic experience"?
ICE KING: Hell if I know.
GOLDEN GIRL: Are you somewhere in the Surf Shack?
ICE KING: No. Are you?
GOLDEN GIRL: Yes. Where are you?
ICE KING: I'm in a hotel room with my family.
(Lizzy had been a little nervous that she might be talking to one of Lady Cat's skaters until he said that. Many of the skater's families, including her own, were staying at the hotels in or around the city.)
ICE KING: It's kind of boring, actually.
GOLDEN GIRL: If your family's anything like mine, I can believe it.
ICE KING: It isn't the family I object to, it's the hotel room.
GOLDEN GIRL: Then why don't you come down here and we can have some fun?
ICE KING: I don't even know who you are.
"Lizzy! There you are!" called Lydia, who had stuck her head in to see if she could find her sister. "You'll never guess whose autograph I just got!"
"Probably not," Lizzy said.
Lydia came up behind Lizzy, reached for the mouse, and clicked out of the room.
"Who cares about that stuff? You shouldn't be cooped up in here, you should be out having fun. Besides, I thought you were going to have a nap."
"I did. Now I'm awake."
"Oh." Lydia was a little confused on that point. Lizzy quickly got back on the Internet and tried getting back into the chat room. Unfortunately, all she got were "Chat room full" messages, so she wasn't going to get to talk to Ice King anymore.
"Thanks, Liddy. I was having a good conversation with a guy, and he was probably about to tell me that we could meet somewhere, and you came along and screwed it up. Now I can't get back in."
"Sorry. He was probably some jerk who was ugly as sin and had bad breath."
"He was a figure skater. What if it was one of those cute French ones?"
"Then I'll truly be sorry."
Lizzy sighed. "So, whose autograph did you get?"
Lydia whispered a name in her ear, and Lizzy gasped. "He's here? In the Olympic village? You're kidding!"
"Here's the proof," Lydia said as she held out the signed piece of paper.
"What'll you take for it?"
"Oh, no! Forget it. I'm not forgetting the time you got to go the Aerosmith concert and wouldn't take me along. You got to go backstage and meet the band, and you know they're my favorites!"
"Mom said you were too young."
"You were only seventeen!"
"Look, I'll trade you my autographed picture of the band if you'll give me that piece of paper."
"No way. Revenge is a dish best served cold."
"What would you want with it, anyway? It's got my name on it, and you aren't me."
"I can cut that out so it just leaves his name."
"Doesn't matter anyway, since I'm not giving it up!" Lydia smirked. "Why don't you get your own autograph? I'm sure he's still around somewhere."
"Because everyone and their cousin will be looking to get one, and besides, I hate the idea of being an autograph hound."
"Okay, pass up your once-in-a-lifetime chance to get the Great One's autograph. It'll be your loss." With that, Lydia swept out of the room.
Lizzy frowned. She was tempted to try to get back into the chat room, but she decided that even if she did return, Ice King was probably not going to be there, anyway. So she left to do some more exploring.
"I don't understand your obsession with that computer," Caroline said as she dialed the number for room service.
Fitz gave a silent thanks to God that she hadn't walked in while he'd been talking to the person calling herself "Golden Girl."
"There are all sorts of interesting things you can do with it."
Caroline shook her head and wished that he would realize that there were all sorts of interesting things he could do with her, besides skating. But no matter how many hints, suggestions, and coy remarks she sent his way, he brushed them all aside. Caroline had spent a long three weeks believing he was not interested in women at all until she'd seem him making out with a pretty redhead. After that, she'd realized that he just wasn't interested in her. She was determined that he would be hers...and soon.
"What do you want for dinner?" she asked.
As he absent-mindedly gave her his dinner order, he wondered where Golden Girl had gone so suddenly. He wondered who she was. A skater, she'd said? That narrowed it quite a bit. But she was staying in the Olympic village...
And he barely knew her. For all he knew, she could be that bubbleheaded Lydia Bennet, or worse yet, her sharp-tongued spitfire of a sister. At the thought of Elizabeth Bennet, he grimaced. He still remembered her parting words to him the last time they'd met.
"You may think you're God on high, descending to we mere mortals, but you're still human--and you're beatable."
Little did she know the big hole she'd opened up. Much as he might like to think of himself as a machine, he knew she was right. He was just as human--and imperfect--as anyone else. Nothing Lady Cat or Caroline could say would take his mind off that irrefutable fact.
He sighed. He hadn't felt any tension talking to his Golden Girl, so it likely wasn't her. She would've identified herself right away to insure that he wasn't Fitz Darcy. So who did that leave?
Any number of women.
Get her out of your mind, Fitz. She's nobody. Probably just one of the lower-ranked skaters who dreams of gold but knows she'll never get it.
Yet he kept thinking that even though they'd only chatted a few minutes, he'd felt a strange connection to her...almost as if he knew her very well...
Resolving not to think about it, he turned the computer off and walked to Georgiana's closed door. With a soft tap, he asked, "Georgie? Need some help with those French verbs?"
Author's note: For anyone who doesn't know what the "ice dancing controversy" was that Lizzy kept repeating to Mrs. Bennet, it happened in 1994 when ice dancers Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow prevented their top rivals, Renee Roca and Gorsha Sur, from competing for the U.S. at the Olympics because Sur wasn't a U.S. citizen (from what I've read, he apparently had applied for citizenship, but it wasn't enough because they were barred from competing).
And as for whose autograph Lydia got and Lizzy wanted...well, I leave that to your imagination! :-D
"I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want..."
Lizzy groaned. Of all the music in all the world, they have to play the Spice Girls? Don't I get enough of this at home, where Lydia blasts their music twenty-four hours a day?
She had ended up in the cafeteria, starving from her sojourn and carrying what was, in her opinion, the most precious piece of paper in the world. And to her utter surprise, he'd actually known who she was, and wished her good luck in competition.
She looked around to see if she knew anyone. Before she could finish her once-through, an ice-cold pair of hands covered her eyes and hissed, "Guess who?" in her ear.
"I don't care who you are, get those ice-cube hands off my eyes," she replied.
"C'mon, be a sport and guess."
Lizzy reached up with her right hand and felt a solid wall of muscle. The man was taller than her, which eliminated Carl Denny, who was only two inches taller than her five foot one. She would've spotted George right away, because she'd spent the last half hour searching for him. That left only one person who it actually could be.
"Is it...Prince Charming, come to sweep me off my feet?"
"Only if you want me to, Elizabeth darling. Just say the word and we'll be off to Vegas in a minute." That confirmed his identity.
"That's an awfully long drive."
"Then we'll do it when we get back, then hie ourselves off to Hawaii for a nice long vacation in the sun away from rinks and coaches and judges...and terrible music."
"I think my mother might have some objections. If we both win gold, we'll have all sorts of things to do when we return to America."
"That trip to Disneyland."
"Oh, yeah." He still hadn't taken his cold hands from her eyes.
"Hello, Rich. Would you please get those icebergs off my eyes?"
"Sorry." He let her go, spun her around, and gripped her in a bear hug.
"Rich!" she squealed.
"It's so good to see you, Lizzy. Of all the ladies I miss, I always miss you the most."
"We saw each other just last week."
"Has it been such a short time for you? It seemed like an eternity to me."
Lizzy laughed. She'd known Richard Fitzwilliam for years--they'd skated together at the same Chicago rink since she was nine and he was thirteen. Although Frances would have loved to see her daughter become romantically involved with the handsome Fitzwilliam, they'd never been more than friends. Their friendship was of such an easy nature that they could say just about anything to each other.
"What's that?" he asked, motioning to the piece of paper in her hand. Lizzy showed him. "He's here? What's a guy like him doing in the Olympic Village?"
"I talked to him. He said he intends to stay here just like everybody else."
"You talked to him? What did you talk about?"
"What else? What it was like being at the Olympics."
"What would you be willing to take--"
"No way. I went through ten agonies to get this, and I still felt like a complete moron asking for it. If you want one, go ask him yourself or see if you can con Lydia out of hers."
"Lydia got it?"
"She got one because she thought I wouldn't--and so she could rub it in that she had his autograph. I think if you name the right price, she'd be willing to give you hers."
"I just might have to do that. So, where's George?"
"You mean he hasn't checked in? Mom said they'd put him in with you."
"They did, and I haven't seen him."
"God, I hope nothing happened to him. I'd die if something did."
"Were you going to have something to eat?"
"Yeah. I've been wandering around for a couple of hours."
"Good. Then we can eat together and you can tell me what you've seen so far. I got here twenty minutes ago and I'm starving."
"Why didn't you eat anything on the plane?"
"After I got food poisoning from eating airline food coming home from World's last year? I don't think so."
"Could've been worse. You could've gotten sick before the competition."
"Hmm. So what's it going to be? Something halfway healthy, or McDonald's?"
"McDonald's, definitely, and if you say one word to my mother..."
"I get the idea. Mum's the word."
After getting their food and finding a somewhat secluded corner, they sat and ate and talked together. She told him about the Internet chat room she'd been in, and about "Ice King." After being teased for a few moments ("Is it love at first byte?" he'd asked), she changed the subject and mentioned that she'd picked up some brochures about the local sights and she was hoping that she'd have time after the competition was over to do some sight-seeing.
"After it's over, Mom will be so focused on Liddy that she won't care what I do," she added.
"You're lucky, you know that?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because your competition comes first. By Wednesday, the pairs competition will be over and then you can enjoy the rest of your time here. I won't even have skated my short program before then."
"I don't know that it's such an advantage, Rich."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because we've never practiced on this ice. I've heard that the rink here is larger than the ones we normally practice on, and we'll have to adjust to that before Monday. At least you guys have a week to prepare yourselves." Lizzy popped a french fry into her mouth. "And anyway, I somehow doubt that you let yourself not have fun because you don't compete until next Thursday."
"I'm not talking about having fun. I'm talking about the nerves."
"Yeah, I know." Lizzy sighed. "I wonder if they ever get nervous."
"Fitz Darcy and Caroline Bingley."
"What the hell made you think of them?"
"Lydia said she saw him with his sister wandering around the village. And they are our biggest competition, save the Binghams."
"I'm sure they get just as nervous as you do. More so, since you and George took the National title right out from under them. And don't forget--everyone thinks they're going to win. That's a lot of pressure."
"Yeah, I read the Sports Illustrated article. A bronze medal is apparently all George and I can hope for."
"See? Everyone considers you two the underdogs, so you don't have to worry about the pressure of being number one. Most of all...you two don't have Lady Cat cracking the whip."
"No, we just have my disappointed mother, who hates the mention of Lady Cat and cracks an even sharper whip than that woman ever could."
"Why the hell does your mother hate Catherine de Bourgh so much? No one seems to know why."
Lizzy sighed. The tale she had heard as a bedtime story for so many years was not one she really liked telling. She'd never told Rich, and he was possibly her closest friend in the skating world.
"Mom was...she was the Olympic favorite years ago. She was National champion, World champion...but at her first Olympics, she'd fallen in her long program and finished fifth. People figured it was because of nerves, and so she was expected to win four years later. Then along came Catherine de Bourgh. Everyone was hyped about her. She was young, talented, and she could jump like nobody's business. Catherine and Mom both made the Olympic team, and after the short program Mom was ahead."
"So far, so good."
"Mom had a good luck charm--a gold cross on a chain my great-grandmother had given her the first time she ever took the ice in competition. Mom couldn't compete without it. The day of the long program, it turned up missing. Mom searched for three hours, looking everywhere for it, but she couldn't find it. She skated without it, and lost. She ended up with the silver medal, and Catherine won gold."
"Mom and Catherine were standing on the podium and the national anthem was playing. Don't ask me how she managed to notice, but Mom saw Catherine wearing a necklace. When Catherine turned around, Mom saw that it had a gold cross."
"Everyone knew the story about the necklace, and how Mom truly believed that it was her good-luck charm. But Mom refused to confront her where everyone could see. She waited until after they were in the dressing room before she came up to Catherine and ripped the chain from her neck."
"But how could she be sure that it was hers?"
"Mom's initials were engraved on the back. So Mom checked, and sure enough, it was her necklace. Catherine very coldly told Mom, 'Thanks for loaning me the necklace. You can have it back now.'"
Rich let out a heavy sigh. "God...who could imagine that she'd stoop so low?"
"You call that low? Come on. Things haven't improved in twenty-six years. All you need to do is go back through all the junk about Tonya and Nancy to know that."
"No...I mean, you remember what she said when all that crap came out. She said something like it's a shame that people felt they had to resort to sordid means in an attempt to win. Your mother could've exposed Catherine as a major hypocrite."
"No, she couldn't. She never said anything to anyone about what Catherine had done. Her only mild consolation is that Catherine didn't win gold again four years later. But she's waited all this time to have a chance to defeat her at last...and she thinks she has it."
"Yeah. She's got Lydia going against Georgiana Darcy, and she's got Wickham and I against Fitz and Caroline. Her only disappointment is that Catherine doesn't have a male skater going against you."
"I've heard that she's had a lot of influence over William Collins," Rich said.
"Ugh. Don't go there."
"Come on, Lizzy. Put the poor man out of his misery and go out with him."
"Forget it. I'd rather eat sushi. I remember when Mom made us skate together that one day to see how we'd look. His hands were sweaty, he stood so close to me I fell twice, and his breath smelled bad. I'd rather skate with Fitz Darcy than William Collins."
"Okay, okay. I get the hint."
"Good. Then make sure you keep it." Elizabeth finished her Big Mac as her eyes scanned the room again. Finally, she spotted the man she was looking for...and sure enough, he was sitting in the middle of a group of lovely young women.
"George!" she called. "George Bartholomew Wickham, get over here!"
George Wickham looked over at her. With tender good-byes and a few promises to the prettier ones that he would see them later, he walked over to Lizzy's table.
"Where the hell have you been?" she asked. "I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be skating the pairs competition alone."
George kissed the top of her head. "I got delayed in traffic and just got in ten minutes ago."
"And this little gaggle of women?"
"Just some ladies I ran into in my search for you."
"Right." Lizzy laughed as Wickham stole a seat from another table and sat beside her.
"And I will thank you not to use my full name when calling for me," he added.
"It got your attention right away, didn't it?"
Rich chuckled as the other man looked a bit disgruntled at her logic. "How's the quad coming, Rich?" George asked.
With a grimace, Rich replied, "Don't ask. I don't think I'm going to try it."
"Because it's too risky. If I skate perfectly, I can beat Carl without it."
"Maybe you can," Lizzy said. "But you can almost definitely win with it."
"I still think it's too dangerous. That's why I didn't do it at Nationals."
"And look how they turned out. Carl won."
"Look, George, I've had a long talk with Frances about this and I've made my decision. I'm not doing the quad."
Both Elizabeth and Wickham sensed that pushing Rich any more would be unwise, so George changed the subject. "Where is everybody?"
"Lydia's out running wild. Mom's at the hotel with Dad, going over Lydia's artistic program again. He doesn't think it's artistic enough to win, she thinks it's more than Lydia needs."
Thomas Bennet was one of the best choreographers in the world, a former pairs skater himself who never placed better than fifth in a competition but had a true love of the sport that had carried on to his older daughter
"Where's Carl?" she asked Rich.
"He's practicing, which is probably where I should be right now."
"Hmm. Charlotte's asleep--she's got a bad case of jet lag."
"And our favorite couple?" George asked.
"Lydia said she saw Fitz and Georgiana around here today, but no one's seen Caroline. Of course, night hasn't fallen yet so she can't come out of her coffin." When the men laughed, Lizzy smiled.
Rich and Wickham continued to talk as Lizzy's thoughts drifted to the mysterious "Ice King." She barely knew the guy, so why had she been so disappointed when their conversation was abruptly cut off?
Perhaps she should try to find him again...how hard could it be? After all, there weren't all that many male skaters in the competition.
Author's note: I've gotten a couple of e-mails asking what exactly the "quad" is, so just a brief history: the jump that is generally called the "quad" is a quadruple toe loop. Kurt Browning was the first man to land it in competition; Elvis Stojko was the first to land it in combination with a triple toe loop. However, the "quad" that Fitzwilliam talks about is a quadruple lutz, which was attempted (but not landed) by Michael Weiss just a couple weeks ago in Nagano.
The skaters began arriving at the arena long before daybreak. The first to arrive, to her own (and her mother's) surprise, was Elizabeth Bennet. Lizzy, never known for being an early riser, had been too excited about the upcoming Opening Ceremonies to get much sleep. George joined her not thirty minutes later, looking far more tired but having been roused out of bed by his alarm clock he found himself unable to get back to sleep.
"Mornin', Liz," he mumbled as he laced up his skates. Lizzy waved to him as she sped by. Slowly warming up his body, he took off his skate guards and joined her on the ice. She lapped him several times as he slowly moved around the edge, holding onto the boards as though he'd never skated before in his life. He could get away with it early, with no one but themselves and Frances present. "God, where you get all that energy?"
Lizzy stopped in front of him. "Unlike some people, I actually went to bed at a decent hour."
"I went to bed...oh, I guess I didn't get to sleep until late."
Lizzy sighed. "Are you going to be up to practicing today?" she asked.
George wanted to be honest and tell her that he wasn't really certain he was, but out of the corner of his eye he saw a second couple take the ice. Wearing practice costumes which probably cost more than the ones George and Lizzy would wear in the competition, were Fitz and Caroline. Lizzy turned her head to see where his gaze had gone.
"Great," she muttered. "Just what we need."
"Looking like a million bucks," George added. He looked over Lizzy's practice outfit--a plain black dress which suited her creamy complexion well, but was...well, plain. Caroline's elaborate orange lace dress was obviously more ornate, more expensive...beautiful, even if it did make its wearer look sallow.
"I don't care how much money she's spent, she still looks like an overripe pumpkin," Lizzy replied. "Unsure about wanting to practice now?"
"Suffice it to say that I believe I've found a fountain of energy."
"Shall we?" Lizzy took his hand in hers as they spun around the ice.
"Lord, it's them," Caroline hissed. "I thought that Miss Eliza never got out of her bed before noon."
"Apparently, they've had a change of plans," Fitz replied.
"And looking so lovely and modish in that outfit." Caroline checked over her own ensemble, which she believed was beyond compare.
Which was a mistake, because Fitz's gaze took in the expensive but undeniably hideous outfit and then compared it to the plainly elegant costume of the young woman who was being lifted at that moment by her tired but determined partner. In less than a few seconds, she was placed gracefully back on the ice and the pair continued their routine. The gown made the otherwise ordinary-looking Lizzy look almost...pretty. And when Lizzy and George stopped at the boards to talk, he noticed that the exercise gave her complexion some brilliancy, which made her dark eyes (which he'd always admired) all the more lovely.
"Caroline, Fitzwilliam, what are you doing just standing around yapping?" Catherine had returned to the boards with a cup of coffee in her hands. "Get to work!"
Neither skater thought to argue with their coach, and so began their first Olympic practice.
The explosion came early and fast. Skating practice has an unwritten etiquette which generally everyone follows. When the music of a skater or pairs team is playing, they have the ice. Other skaters may continue practicing wherever they can find room, but they aren't supposed to interfere with another's practice while the music is playing. This etiquette had been broken by Caroline at Nationals when she had run into Lizzy while Lizzy was jumping.
Caroline had obviously not learned her lesson, for during a portion of the program where Lizzy and George were not skating side by side, Caroline began speeding up in preparation of a double axel. Lizzy, who was in a spin, noticed that Caroline was going to run into her within moments. She barely managed to spin out of the way just as Caroline soared into the air.
After the other woman landed somewhat heavily and ended up falling on the ice, Elizabeth skated with slow precision over to her.
"What the hell was that?" she snapped, trying to keep her voice down so no one would hear.
"You were in my way while I was doing my double axel."
"You heard me." Caroline struggled to her feet, and Lizzy took a spiteful pleasure in the observation that her competitor had gained a few pounds since Nationals.
"Have you suddenly gotten hard of hearing? In case you didn't notice, that's our music playing, not yours."
The music had continued even though everyone had come to a halt. Everyone knew the history between these two couples, and no one could tear away from the scene developing.
"You started that spin after I started preparing for my jump."
"But this is my time on the ice. You're supposed to respect that." Lizzy's tone, however, made it clear that she was amazed that Caroline respected anything.
"You should've gotten out of the way."
"Caroline!" Fitz was suddenly at her side. "What did you think you were doing?"
"I was practicing."
Fitz wasn't going to bawl out his partner--not here, not in front of Elizabeth Bennet. But later, she was going to hear all of his displeasure or his name wasn't Fitzwilliam Darcy.
"You could've injured yourself with that stunt. Now come on. We have other things we can practice."
Caroline allowed herself to be drawn away from Lizzy, and everyone around the rink let out a sigh--some in relief, others in disappointment.
Lizzy bottled her anger, for she noticed two people sitting in the stands watching closely. Two people she recognized instantly--Edward Gardiner, a commentator and former gold medalist who was married to the woman with him--Sally Gardiner, the judge from Canada.
And it wouldn't do to get angry in front of a judge, who was watching her every move and mentally ranking her already, even before the competition had taken place. Lizzy knew that if she could calm down and skate cleanly, she would appear to greater advantage than the spiteful Caroline, who had clearly been in the wrong and would be held accountable for it later.
Hopefully. Caroline also happened to be a world champion, and judges had long histories of holding up world champions at the Olympics, no matter how catty they were in practice.
Lizzy skated back over to George, who asked, "Are you all right? Nothing shaken or stirred?"
"Nothing except my temper," she replied. She chuckled and was relieved to feel her fury fade somewhat. "One of these days, though, she's going to get hurt doing that."
"One can only hope," George said. "Lady Cat, however, will keep her from pulling that stunt again, I think."
"You never told me what happened when you and Lady Cat parted ways."
George's eyes darted over to the famous coach, who was not hampered by the decorum Fitz had shown and was castigating her student virulently. "A story for another time, perhaps," he said. "For now, let's show Sally Gardiner how professional skaters act on the ice."
"You mean amateur skaters."
"Professional amateur skaters, then. God, are we having to create a vocabulary just for skating?"
"I think we are," Lizzy said with a laugh as the last shades of tension went away.
She didn't feel rattled in the least by Caroline's power play, and skated beautifully.
As Lizzy and George were finishing up, she noticed a lonely figure on the sidelines, watching her with a wistfulness that normally would've made her heart go out to him. However, the lonely person was William Collins, and along with the wistfulness was a creepiness which always made her skin crawl.
"George," she whispered, "follow me to the dressing room and keep watch on the door. He's watching me again."
"Don't look, but it's William Collins."
"I thought he'd finally taken the hint and backed off."
"No such luck, I guess."
"Be assured, Lizzy, I'll keep watch on you."
"Thanks, George." She gave him a kiss on the cheek as the two of them strolled away from rinkside.
On their way to the ladies' dressing room, they were passed by a French singles skater named Marc Gercourt, an attractive young man two years older than Lizzy. This wholly common event would've gone unnoticed by Lizzy except that he called something to his friend Arthur Hurst, who was watching the action as he warmed up.
"Bonjour, Arthur! The ice King has entered the building!"
Lizzy stopped suddenly, not sure if she had heard him right.
"Lizzy?" George asked softly. "Something wrong?"
"What did Marc just say?"
"Marc Gercourt--he just passed us by. What did he say?"
"Something about the ice King having entered the building. He always greets Arthur that way."
Of course! Who else would call himself the Ice King!
Lizzy turned around and started to walk back to the ice, transfixed by a man who had never really caught her attention before. She watched as he joked around with his Canadian friend, then took the ice himself.
It was Marc.
Lizzy smiled brightly, her certainty in the identity of her Internet friend absolute.
"Lizzy, he's looking at you again."
For a moment, Lizzy thought George meant Marc, but she realized quickly that he'd meant William Collins.
"I figured he would be, so we'd better go."
"What was the big deal about Gercourt?"
"I..." Lizzy wasn't able to bring herself to tell George about her adventures in the chat room. She knew that George still hoped for something more than friendship, but Lizzy had known for a long time that it would be better just to leave things as they were. A romance between them would ruin everything.
And anyway, she'd known that something better was waiting for her. And she was right.
His name was Marc Gercourt.
Georgiana took the ice for her practice at ten-thirty. The sheer size of the arena before her made her quite speechless, and were it not for the presence of her brother she would probably not have been able to go through with it.
"Georgiana, you simply must get over this foolish terror you have of open spaces," Catherine said coolly as she observed her youngest pupil looking with wide, nervous eyes at the scene around her.
Unlike the early morning, when there had been only a few people around, there was a fair crowd standing around the arena, people who were eager to see the Olympic hopefuls but were likely unable to get tickets to see the main events themselves. A good number of fans had noticed her already and were shouting encouragement over the speaker system, which was playing a musical selection from Much Ado about Nothing. The person with command on the ice was Lydia Bennet, who saw Georgiana and immediately performed a triple axel, landing cleanly but with a certain lack of elegance.
"She does that so easily," Georgiana murmured.
"She may have it easy when it comes to jumping, but she'll never have your grace and beauty, my dear," Catherine said with a rare show of affection. "Now we must not waste a moment. You should be practicing."
"Of course." But her eyes followed Lydia, so carefree and cheerful as she skated. When have I ever felt like that on the ice? Georgiana wondered to herself. She knew the answer. Never.
She looked over at her brother, who was talking with Caroline--actually, it looked as though they were having a spat of some kind, and she suspected that it had something to do with Caroline's almost-collision with Elizabeth Bennet earlier. She sometimes thought that Fitz didn't enjoy skating any more than she did. She wondered if he ever had.
Of course he did, otherwise he would've quit by now. And he never would've encouraged you to become a skater yourself.
Fitz noticed his sister looking at him and he gave her an encouraging smile and little wave. Georgiana waved back and, determined to make her brother proud, skated onto the ice as though no one else were there.
"Your sister is so lovely," Caroline said, forgetting the anger he'd been heaping on her for the past few minutes as they both watched Georgiana skate around the ice. "She should be the gold-medal favorite, not that upstart--"
"You only say that because she's Lizzy's sister."
"I most certainly do not. I say it because it's the truth. If anyone could see past Lydia Bennet's jumps--which I don't think are that spectacular to begin with--they'd see that she's not much of a skater. Why she should be praised to the skies and thought to be the eventual winner is quite beyond me."
"She's a tolerable skater, and combined with her obvious love of the sport, it is enough to gain favor with a great many judges." Fitz sighed. "But I must admit, she isn't half the skater her sister is."
"Her--her what?" Caroline sputtered. "What did you say?"
"I said--" Fitz stopped for a moment. Dear God, what had he said? That he admired Elizabeth Bennet? What had brought that on, when just yesterday he'd thought her nothing more than an annoyance? Caroline's dislike of her? The incident with the double axel? Or the way she'd looked with her eyes bright and her hair tousled and...
Admit it, Fitzy boy, you like the lady. You've liked her for a while now.
"I believe you paid a compliment to the competition." Caroline frowned, expecting him to say that he hadn't meant what she'd just heard.
"Yes, I suppose I did." Fitz tried to put the image of the lovely young woman gliding around the ice out of his mind all morning, only to find that the more he tried, the more she dug in and clung to him.
Caroline stood up. "Do you want to skate with her? Is that what you want? To skate with a dilettante with no elegance, no beauty, and no grace? If that's what you want, Fitz, then I'll step aside and explain to the ISU that you want to change partners three days before the competition begins. I don't think they'll take you up on the proposition."
"Caroline, calm down. I do not wish to skate with Elizabeth Bennet. I want to skate with you." But deep in his heart, he didn't feel the words he said.
Although he didn't realize it, he had lost some of the passion he'd once had for skating in the past four years. When he'd first started skating with Caroline, he hadn't thought her all that bad. But when they hadn't medalled four years ago, he'd started seeing her in a different light. Slowly but surely, she had killed off a good deal of his enjoyment in skating. The only times now that he felt like he was content on the ice were the times before Caroline could be rousted out of bed and he was skating alone.
"Are you absolutely sure about that?"
"I wouldn't have said it unless I meant it."
Caroline seemed to accept it, for she sat down again. Deciding that it might be best to find a neutral topic to talk about, she said, "Georgiana looks very good out there."
As Georgiana leaned too far on a triple salchow and fell to the ice, Fitz sighed. "She's allowing Lydia Bennet to get to her."
"I still don't see why."
Fitz shook his head. "She's not like you, Caroline. She's...more fragile. I wish she weren't here."
"Why? Don't you want your sister to win--"
"She's too young, that's why. You know it, I know it, and so does Catherine. But Catherine was determined that she go now."
"Perhaps it's best that Georgiana have some Olympic experience. Lydia will likely still be here four years from now, and she'll have the advantage of Georgiana."
"Do you want Georgie to get a reputation of choking in the major events? Last year's Worlds started everyone off. If she does poorly here, it will only get worse. She's got a bad enough phobia about failure as it is." Fitz tried to keep himself from frowning, because he knew his sister's gaze was on him. "I think she would've benefited from another year or two at the junior level."
"If anyone knows what's right for Georgiana, I'm sure it's you--and Catherine."
Fitz didn't reply. An idea was forming in his mind, and although he had just the day before expressed his disinterest in participating, perhaps it would do Georgie some good to be out and about.
He wondered if he would see Elizabeth Bennet--or his "Golden Girl," whoever she may be--there.
Lizzy chose a corner computer to look up what she wanted to know already, not because she was avoiding William Collins but because she didn't want anyone seeing what she was looking for.
Yahoo! didn't even list his name under "Skater's pages," so she'd had to go through a figure skating page called SkateWeb in order to find a page about Marc Gercourt. In the back of her mind, she thought that later on, she'd look through some of those "skating humor" pages, but not right then.
The page opened to a picture of Marc, smiling and looking slightly arrogant. Of course, he was on the ice, and he was portraying a character--which one, she didn't really know. Looking into his personal data, she found nothing which disappointed her--he was single (thank God, she didn't know what she'd do if he'd had a significant other), and France's best hope for a medal in these Olympics. If he wasn't quite as talented as Rich or Carl, that didn't matter. He had a great deal of charisma, according to the person who kept up the web site (an obviously lovestruck fan, but that didn't matter).
A soft smile played on her lips as she took another look through the photo gallery. So this is my Ice King.
She realized that she shouldn't leap to conclusions--just because they'd had a brief but pleasant conversation didn't mean he was going to turn out to be Mr. Right. But he was the most interesting thing that had come along in quite a while.
Lydia preened for the cameras as reporters asked her questions at lightning-quick speed, answering those she could with a playful cheekiness that everyone thought most amusing. After a few minutes, she apologized profusely for leaving, but insisted on taking a shower.
Thirty minutes later, she emerged from the locker room and came face-to-face with George Wickham.
"Hello, little sis," he said.
Lydia sighed. Try as she might, she'd never been able to break him from the habit he had of calling her "little sis," which she saw as a poke at her placement in his affections--behind Lizzy.
"Hello, George." Lydia prayed that she wouldn't make herself look too obvious to him, but she couldn't help it. She had had a crush on him ever since he'd walked into their rink back in Chicago to skate with Lizzy, but she knew she'd never tell him.
Open as she was, even she had her pride. And she knew that he was crazy about Lizzy.
"Going back to get ready for the ceremony?"
"Good. Listen, if you see Lizzy, would you tell her I'm looking for her?"
Lydia thought that just once, she'd like to see her older sister a little tarnished in his eyes. And so she reached out with the only weapon she had.
"You might try looking for her in that Internet place. Seems she's gotten herself a cyberspace lover."
George's smile faded. "A what?"
"Yesterday, she had a long, hot, and heavy conversation with some skater around here. She's been obsessing over him ever since."
"Does she have any idea who he is?"
Lydia frowned. She could be honest and say no, but a better idea popped into her mind.
"Yeah. She mentioned yesterday that she thinks it's Fitz Darcy."
George's face fell into a deep scowl. Without a word or even a second glance at her, he stormed off.
Lydia sighed. Perhaps she hadn't done the right thing, but at least she'd gotten his attention.
Besides, if he was fool enough to believe that Fitzwilliam Darcy would be hanging around in computer chat rooms, he deserved whatever was coming to him.
Elizabeth was slowly but surely getting used to her surroundings. She ran into a couple of people she recognized from the day before, and waved to them. She stopped by the cafeteria to have a little lunch when she noticed two friends of hers that she hadn't seen up till then. She took her salad, spaghetti and milk and walked over to them.
"Hello, strangers," she said. "Mind if I sit down?"
The couple looked up at her. "Lizzy!" the woman exclaiming, rising from her chair and giving the girl a hug. "It's so good to see you!"
"Same here," she said. "How are you, Jane?"
Jane Bingham smiled at her. "I'm fine. And yourself?"
"Never better. Hello, Charlie."
Charles Bingham kissed her on the cheek. "Lizzy. We had been wondering if you had arrived yet, and then we heard about your practice with Caroline."
"Oh, yeah. Has everyone heard about that?" Lizzy was a little nervous about the incident getting back to the judges.
"Pretty much, but do not worry--everyone is putting the blame where it undoubtedly belongs, on Caroline."
"Good, because it was her fault."
The trio sat down, Jane and Charlie together, Lizzy opposite them. Lizzy had discovered, back when the two first met at a junior Worlds competition, that she was related to Jane--second cousins, or some such connection. Since that revelation, the two had been good friends.
Lizzy had even traveled to England the previous December to be a bridesmaid at Jane and Charlie's wedding. Jane had deliberately thrown the bouquet to her, which at the time had annoyed her slightly. Now she saw it as something of an omen...a blessing, saying that she would find Mr. Right and soon.
"So, what have you been up to outside of raising Caroline's ire?" Jane asked.
"Looking around, mostly. I haven't left the village yet, but I intend to after the competition."
"You should definitely go see the city. It's absolutely beautiful," Jane said. "We went sight-seeing yesterday."
"I think one could spend two weeks here in the village and still not see anything," Lizzy replied. "Do you know they even have a building set up for the Internet?"
"I'd heard about that," Charlie said. "Amazing thing. I've thought about dropping by there, but I believe Jane has our itinerary all mapped out for the next two weeks, and a trip to the Surf Shack isn't included."
"Because you can do that at home, dear."
"Well, yes, I suppose you're right, but I still thought maybe I could send a little note to all our friends at home who sent well-wishes."
"I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours, my love." Jane kissed him.
Lizzy smiled as she twirled spaghetti with her fork. She always got a kick out of talking with Jane and Charlie--it might sometimes seem as though she let him around with a ring through his nose or he was a bit too autocratic, but she knew that it was all an act. They were equals in everything. Lizzy was extremely envious, but then, she wasn't married. She hoped when she did marry she'd find someone just like Charles Bingham...well, only a little more like her, not Jane. Jane was just too sweet, something no one would ever accuse Elizabeth Bennet of being.
"It's an interesting place," Lizzy said. "You never know who you're going to meet."
"Oh? You've met someone? One of the Norwegian skiers, no doubt." Jane smiled.
"No, actually, I think Liddy's got a lock on them...or was it the Germans? I met someone...I think I know who he is, but I can't be certain."
"Tell me about it."
Lizzy proceeded to tell her friend about the short conversation she had with "Ice King," and the comment made at rinkside by Marc Gercourt. When she got to that, Charlie turned a little red.
"What?" she said. "Is there something wrong?"
"No, no," he said. "But, Lizzy--"
"Hello, Elizabeth," a new voice said from behind her. Lizzy turned to see George standing there.
"George! How's it going?" She turned back around and shook her head slightly at Jane, who understood what it meant. Jane had known without being told that George was crazy about Lizzy, and knew that Lizzy would rather not tell George about her Internet friend.
"I think you have something to tell me."
"About you and Fitz Darcy!" he roared. The entire cafeteria came to a standstill. Lizzy's pale cheeks flushed in embarrassment and fury.
"I think this is a conversation we should have somewhere else," she replied. "Excuse us, Jane, Charlie. I should be back in just a minute or two."
George gripped Lizzy's arm tight.
"Let go of me, dammit, before I get bruises," she hissed. "This is not going to make a good impression on the judges."
George released her arm, but kept a somewhat painful grip on her hand as he led her out of the cafeteria.
Lizzy had no idea where they could go for a private conversation, for there were people everywhere. George, however, knew exactly where they could go. He led her back to his room and slammed the door.
Lizzy snapped, "Why did you drag me over here?"
"I told you. I want to know what's going on between you and Fitz Darcy."
"Absolutely nothing. In fact, if I could avoid the man, I would. Are you nuts?"
"I am perfectly fine, Elizabeth. Your sister told me everything, so there's no need to lie."
"Lydia? What did she tell you?"
"She told me that you had a conversation on the Internet yesterday with some guy calling himself 'Ice King,' and that it was Fitz Darcy."
Lydia Jane Bennet, when I get my hands on you, you're going to wish you were back home in Chicago. "Look, I didn't want to tell you about this guy. We had a nice conversation, very short, and that was it. I don't know who it was." A little lie, but it wouldn't hurt anything. "And if I even suspected for an instant that it was Fitzwilliam Darcy, I would've cut off the connection like that." She snapped her fingers for emphasis. "I can't stand him. I don't even want to think about him!"
George sat down on the edge of his bed.
"I don't know why Liddy told you about him, or why she said it was Darcy, unless she wanted to get a rise out of you." Lizzy sighed. "And she succeeded."
"Yes, she did."
"Why should you care?"
George looked up at her. "Maybe it's time that I did tell you the truth about what happened before I left Lady Cat."
"Please sit. I'm sure Rich won't mind."
Lizzy sat on Rich's bed, eager to hear the tale.
Fitz left the rink before Georgiana finished practicing. He wanted to surprise her, so he decided to tell her his plan when she returned to the hotel. He'd given his plan a lot of thought, and even though Catherine was bound to be furious, he decided that for Georgie, it would be worth it.
While waiting for his sister, he turned his computer on again. He went back to the chat room, as he had several times during the past day, but his "Golden Girl" wasn't there. With a sigh of disappointment, he headed for another web site that was Olympics-oriented.
He heard the key click in the lock thirty minutes later, and Georgiana entered the room.
"Hello, Fitz," she said.
"Hello, Georgie. How did the rest of your practice go?"
"All right, I guess. Catherine says I need some work on the triple lutz-double toe loop combination."
"Catherine always feels that something needs work."
"She's right, isn't she?"
Fitz laughed. "Yes, Georgie, I suppose she is...for the most part. I have a surprise for you."
"Yes?" Georgiana waited in anticipation of another trip to a historical site.
"How would you like to go to the Opening Ceremonies today?"
"My God," Elizabeth whispered as George finished his tale. "I can't blame you for wanting to leave. I don't think I could've taken another day there, knowing what Fitz and Lady Cat had done to me."
"So now you see why Lydia was able to get to me when she told me it was Fitz Darcy," he said. "I'm so sorry, Lizzy. Maybe if I'd said something earlier..."
"No, no. This isn't something you share unless there's a good reason. And Lydia couldn't have known this when she told you...but she's still to blame."
"I can't understand why she would do it, though. It's not like she's in love with you or anything. Liddy has too many boyfriends and spends too much time admiring other guys to notice you...not that you don't deserve notice, George, but you are eight years older than Liddy, and she's still very much a kid."
"Who can tell what goes through your sister's mind, Lizzy?" He smiled. "The important thing is that we've got it worked out."
Lizzy nodded. "I have to get going if I'm going to be ready in time for the Opening Ceremonies," she said, standing up.
"Of course. See you there?"
She nodded absently, her thoughts lost in the story George had related to her as she left.
Part 7--Opening Ceremonies.
itz, what if Catherine sees us?" Georgiana asked. They were in a large group of people, the athletes representing the United States, not five minutes from making their way into the stadium where the Opening Ceremonies were being held. "There are cameras all over the place."
"Don't worry. Catherine never tunes into such 'plebeian' events, so she won't see it. Caroline's probably out shopping. We left a note saying we're sight-seeing, so who's to know that we didn't actually go?"
Georgiana couldn't believe that her brother had actually suggested participating in the Opening Ceremonies. She'd thought he was kidding for a minute, until he'd repeated the question. After some slight hesitation (it took about five seconds), she told him that she would love to go.
And now they were here.
Georgiana hadn't been sure what to expect. She'd thought it would be a cross between wild and dignified, orderly and disorderly, terrifying but absolutely thrilling.
So far, it had been nothing but a walk, and a bit of a long one since the United States would be one of the last nations to appear.
She had thought her brother would be making comments about how he was "doing this for her benefit," but he hated the entire thing and wished he could be in comfort back at the hotel, jabbering away to his computer.
Instead, he was holding a small American flag (as she was--he'd bought them on their way) and chatting with Carl Denny about the men's hockey team's chances of a medal. Georgiana had only interrupted once--to ask what they thought of the women's team. After the three came to an agreement that the U.S. women's team was the best, Georgiana remained quiet.
In the distance, she could hear the announcer's voice over the loudspeaker, along with the roar of the crowd, and her stomach started fluttering. She'd never been in front of so many people in her life, and she was extremely nervous about the whole thing. Tens of thousands of eyes directly on her. It was most unnerving.
"Relax, Georgie, you're just one person in a maze of thousands," Fitz said when he noticed his sister's tense face. "Hardly anyone will be paying attention to you. They're waiting for the host country's athletes to come in."
"It's just the idea of all these people...Fitz, I don't know if I can do this."
"Too late to back out now. Come on. Don't think of it as being on display...think of it as being at a great big party where you're just another of the invitees. Have some fun!"
Just then, they heard the announcer call out, "The team from the United States of America!"
Carrying the flag was a great honor, one that Frances Bennet had desperately tried to get for Lydia. Her argument was that since Lydia was really the only solid gold medal favorite the U.S. had, she should get to carry the flag. However, there was a big push for a luger participating in his fourth Olympics to carry the flag in, and it was he who had the honor.
Not that Lydia really cared. Sure, carrying the flag was supposed to be a big deal, and she'd get to be on camera for sure, but she'd rather stay with the rest of the pack and meet some cute guys. Most of the men's hockey team was out because they were married, but that left a number of skiers and, never to be ignored, George Wickham, Richard Fitzwilliam, and Carl Denny--wherever he was.
She wondered if George had confronted Lizzy yet about what she'd mentioned to him, and how things stood between them now. She'd started feeling a bit guilty when she'd returned to the room she shared with her sister, but the guilt had quickly faded and she thought it best not to be around when Lizzy arrived to get ready for the Opening Ceremonies. Which was why she didn't know where her sister and her pairs partner were at the moment, and she was alone.
Not that Lydia really cared. As she walked into the stadium and heard the roaring crowds, she felt as though she had been born to be there, at that moment. She felt as though every single spectator had shown up in adulation of her, even if most of them had no idea who she was. And she loved every minute of it.
Lizzy felt as though she had yet another thing to blame Fitz Darcy for, because as she walked into the stadium she couldn't keep her mind on anything but what George had told her. He was ruining her Olympic experience!
"Liz?! LIZZY BENNET!!" she heard someone shouting. She knew that if she turned around she'd get trampled on, so she didn't stop walking. A second later, a hand fell on her shoulder and she found that Rich had caught up to her. "Have you seen anyone else in this mess?"
"I see quite a few people, Rich. Who are you looking for?" She had to yell to be heard over the crowd.
"I've seen your sister--she's close to the front of the pack!"
"If you see her again, you'd better tell her to run because I'm going to kill her when I get my hands on her!"
"What'd she do this time?"
"I'll tell you all about it--later. Right now, I'm ready to have some fun!"
"Wanna see if you can climb on my shoulders and see everything?" he asked.
"We'll slow down the procession, but thanks anyway!"
"Can you believe it? All this brouhaha for us? Seems pretty amazing, doesn't it?"
"You've been through this before, though!" Elizabeth yelled. "I haven't!"
"Yeah, but I was a lot younger then. Didn't appreciate it as much!" Rich laughed. "And you never get used to all this, sweetie!"
Lizzy smiled, and resolved to think no more--during this afternoon, anyway--about Fitz Darcy or George.
"It was so amazing!" Georgiana cried. "When they lit the flame, it was just so cool! And I couldn't believe--"
"I can't believe that this is my shy, unassuming sister," Fitz said with a laugh.
"Do you think I should..."
"No! Georgiana, for heaven's sake, I was just teasing you. I'm glad you had a good time."
"Thank you for taking me, Fitz," she said.
"You're welcome. Just remember--no telling Catherine or Caroline where we went, or else we'll never hear the end of it."
"Right." Georgiana winked. "I guess it'll be back to French verbs when I get home."
"Unless you'd really like to go out sight-seeing," he said.
"No...I'm actually kind of tired. I'm going to do my homework and then go to bed. My practice time is earlier tomorrow."
Fitz was glad that Georgiana seemed to have had a lot of fun at the Opening Ceremonies. After he'd told her to relax because no one was really noticing her, she'd been almost...lively. And that was something he hadn't seen Georgie be in a long time.
The moment they arrived at the hotel, they found Caroline sitting in the lobby, waiting.
"Oh, no," Georgiana murmured. "She doesn't look happy, Fitz."
And of course, Caroline wasn't. "Where have you two been?" she demanded.
"Didn't you get our note, Caroline?" Fitz asked.
"What note? I never saw a note."
"Georgie and I went--"
"I know where you went. I saw it on television."
Georgiana turned pale at the thought of Catherine seeing the two of them on television.
"Don't worry. Catherine didn't see you. I turned the channel to something else as soon as I realized that you two were there."
"I don't pretend to know why you went. But I won't tell on you."
"Thank you," Georgiana said.
"I don't care if you do," Fitz said at the same time.
"Fitz!" Georgiana gasped, for one of Catherine's lectures remained at the top of her list of the worst things that could happen.
"Georgiana, Catherine de Bourgh is not Satan. She's not your mother. She's just your coach. You shouldn't let her terrify you, because that isn't what a coach is supposed to do."
"Then why did you say not to tell anyone?"
"Because you thought it important."
Caroline wanted to scream. She'd intended on using Fitz's appearance at the Opening Ceremonies as a bargaining chip, and he'd just taken it away from her! Well, perhaps not entirely. Georgiana still seemed plenty afraid.
"Come, let's go upstairs. You're tired and I have some things to do."
The trio arrived upstairs minutes later. Catherine accepted the lie about going sight-seeing without a second thought. Georgiana went to her room to study, asking Caroline to join her. Caroline smiled, eager to look good in Fitz's eyes.
Fitz switched on his computer and got on the Internet. He headed for the familiar chat room, hoping as he always did that he would run into the person he sought.
As he flipped through the list of names of people in the room, he was nearly gasped, but caught himself in time. Catherine would ask what was the matter, and he really didn't want to tell her.
But there, right in the middle of the list, was "Golden Girl."
Tentatively, he tapped out his first words, specifically to her.
ICE KING: Golden Girl, are you the young woman I spoke to yesterday? The one at the Olympics?
He waited nearly two and a half minutes for his answer.
GOLDEN GIRL: Ice King? It's me!
Lizzy had gone straight from the Opening Ceremonies to the Surf Shack, wanting to get away from George and hoping she could cool down a bit more before finding Lydia. She hadn't thought she'd find "Ice King" in the chat room, and at first, she hadn't. She'd been thinking about talking to a fellow Chicagoan about the Cubs when she saw the message.
ICE KING: Golden Girl, are you the same young woman I talked to yesterday? The one at the Olympics?
Lizzy nearly jumped when she saw the message. It was him. As quickly as she could type, she tapped out her answer, then had to go back and correct the typos--who knew that a simple four words could cause so much grief?
GOLDEN GIRL: Ice King? It's me!
ICE KING: Good to hear from you again.
GOLDEN GIRL: Same here. Were you at the Opening Ceremonies?
ICE KING: Yeah. I had a great time!
GOLDEN GIRL: Me too, except that I had some trouble seeing things at first. Being petite is a problem when you're standing behind a guy who's 6'2"!
ICE KING: Poor girl! How'd you end up in that position?
GOLDEN GIRL: Luck of the draw, I guess. I don't know.
ICE KING: So, tell me about yourself. How long have you been skating? Where are you from? What do you see yourself doing after this is over?
GOLDEN GIRL: All those questions! I've been skating since I could walk--my mom used to be a skater herself, only she never really "took off," and so I guess I'm being used to fulfill all the dreams she had that didn't happen. And now of course there's all the endorsements that I could make if I win.
ICE KING: You don't sound that excited.
GOLDEN GIRL: Don't get me wrong, I'd love to make some decent money at last. For one thing, it would finally get rid of the financial burden my family's been under for years. For another...it might finally get me out from under my mother's thumb.
ICE KING: You and your mom don't get along?
GOLDEN GIRL: No, not really. How about you? Do you get along with your parents okay?
ICE KING: I guess so. They're divorced--the distance became too much for them in the end.
GOLDEN GIRL: That's sad to hear. Whenever I think things are really bad, I remind myself that at least my parents are still together...and I have my dad on my side, at least.
ICE KING: Any siblings?
GOLDEN GIRL: One, a younger sister I'm planning to kill whenever she shows her face.
ICE KING: LOL, GG. Why are you killing her?
GOLDEN GIRL: She told my skating partner a lie about me that really ticked me off. Why she did it I don't know, and I doubt I'll find out before she's dead at my hands.
ICE KING: Probably in love with him.
(Lizzy pondered this for a long minute. Was Lydia in love with George? She hadn't thought so--he was way too old for her. But was it possible?)
ICE KING: Golden Girl?
GOLDEN GIRL: I got the message, I was just thinking. That might be it. I wouldn't think so, given the age of my partner and the age of my sister, but maybe.
ICE KING: It might be a crush on her part. My sister's the same way.
GOLDEN GIRL: You have a sister too?
ICE KING: Yeah.
GOLDEN GIRL: This is amazing. We have so much in common...I feel like I already know you.
ICE KING: And we've only spoken to each other twice.
GOLDEN GIRL: Isn't this weird? I mean, for all I know, you could be some psycho who lures innocent women into traps to kill them.
ICE KING: For all I know, you might be one too.
GOLDEN GIRL: I hope you didn't get offended. I don't really think you're a psycho.
ICE KING: I know what you meant.
GOLDEN GIRL: So how about you? How long have you been skating?
ICE KING: Longer than I can remember. But my parents didn't push me into this. I have a distant cousin--who also happens to be my coach--and she told my parents when I was two that I had what it took to be a world-class champion.
GOLDEN GIRL: You're kidding.
ICE KING: I wish I were. Don't ask me how she knew.
GOLDEN GIRL: God. Sounds like your cousin and my mom should meet.
ICE KING: After the initial shock wore off--my father ranted for a long time that no son of his was going to become a "damned sissy skater," according to my mother--they decided to give it a chance.
GOLDEN GIRL: Yeah, I hear that a lot of fathers get that reaction. Of course, since there were only girls in my family, we never had a scene like that. But I think that even if there had been a son in the family, he would've skated. My parents are that involved in the sport.
ICE KING: Mine weren't. My father still gives me strange looks whenever I see him.
GOLDEN GIRL: I'm sorry to hear that.
ICE KING: I learned to accept it a long time ago. My father has certain ways of viewing the world, and he isn't quite sure where a son who figure skates fits into it.
GOLDEN GIRL: What about your mom?
ICE KING: My mother doesn't really care one way or another. If I win here, it'll be one more thing she can brag about to the ladies at the bridge club.
GOLDEN GIRL: You know, I think I'm going to give my mom a hug next time I see her.
ICE KING: LOL.
GOLDEN GIRL: Listen, I want to meet you.
ICE KING: I was just thinking the same thing.
GOLDEN GIRL: We can talk a bit more intimately than we could on a computer.
ICE KING: And the entire world wouldn't be able to listen in.
GOLDEN GIRL: Where do you want to meet and when?
(Fitz was curious. She hadn't mentioned any names, nor had she bothered to tell him if she was a pairs, singles, or dance skater. So he thought a test was in order.)
ICE KING: How about Monday?
(Lizzy smiled at the computer when he mentioned that. It had to be Marc, because a pairs skater wouldn't have suggested the day of the short program.)
GOLDEN GIRL: Sorry, that's out. How about tomorrow sometime?
ICE KING: Sure. Say...noonish?
GOLDEN GIRL: Maybe later. I'm not much of an early riser.
ICE KING: Four o'clock, then. We can meet in front of the Olympic Village.
GOLDEN GIRL: Sounds great to me! Where will we go?
ICE KING: I don't know. Just around, I guess.
GOLDEN GIRL: You can't imagine the smile that's on my face right now.
ICE KING: I can try, can't I?
GOLDEN GIRL: You certainly can.
ICE KING: I have to go now--I'm being booted off the computer.
GOLDEN GIRL: Okay. By the way, what's your name?
ICE KING has left the room...
"Shoot!" Lizzy said under her breath. "How am I supposed to know it's him if I don't have his name?"
But you know who it is, dummy. It's Marc.
Lizzy clicked out of the chat room, deciding that it was time for her to leave. Her conversation with "Ice King"--and the promise of a meeting tomorrow--put her in a very good mood.
Which was a good thing, because the first person she encountered upon leaving the Surf Shack was Lydia.
"Hello, Lizzy," she said.
"Hello, Lydia. I think we have something to talk about...don't you?"
Lydia groaned. "He told you, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did. Now you're going to tell me just what exactly is going on here."
Lydia sighed. She knew she wasn't going to get out of this one so easily.