Chapter Twenty-Three

Showtime in Toronto. The skaters were hustling around the backstage area at Maple Leaf Gardens, trying not to bump into each other as they hurried to get ready. Ten minutes ‘til spotlight on the last show of the tour... and so much going on.

Colin hadn’t had a chance to confront his girlfriend with what he knew. The second he’d gotten back to the rink, he’d realized most of the others were already at the Gardens... and had tried to forget everything and just concentrate on the show ahead. But the thoughts still plagued him, and he wished he’d had a chance to talk to her before they had to go on ice... but he hadn’t, and there was an audience out there who’d paid to see them skate, so he had to block it out...

Block it out. Easier said than done. Belle, too, had things other than skating on her mind, but ever the consummate professional, she too knew she had to go on. But how was she going to go out there are skate the Romantic Schlock program with her partner when all she could think of was what he’d said earlier than evening... when all she could hear was his voice, saying, “Honey, we can’t go on like this. We can’t”... when all she could see were his eyes when he’d left her alone. He’d left her alone. All alone. She stillcouldn’t believe it. He’d really left her. She was really on her own...

Jason was having just as much trouble actually believing that he’d finally done it. He’d broken away. He’d let her go. Now, a few hours later, he was beating himself up for being so absolutely stupid. If he lost her now, it would be completely his fault. She’d been right there in his arms, and he’d let her go! He knew deep down that what he’d done had been right, that it had been the only way, but he couldn’t stop thinking that by pulling away, he’d given up his chance...

Wing-Yee was pacing backstage, looking absolutely gorgeous in her crimson skating dress, but trying to stop herself from crying. She was such a mess. Toronto was the last stop of the tour, and she knew he would be sitting in the audience, watching herskate... perhaps for the last time. In three days, she’d be on a plane back to Beijing, and she didn’t know what she would do.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, was worried about Belle. Again. She’d told herself that she had to detatch herself, that she had to stay away from her friend for Belle’s own good, but it was harder than she’d thought. She’d see Belle in the halls, looking so tortured... she’d see her on the ice, barely able to hold herself together... and she’d want to rush over to her and ask her what was going on, if she was okay, but she’d resisted. She couldn’t get involved... she couldn’t.

What she didn’t know was that rumours about the little off-ice dramas taking place were beginning to circulate through the cast ... that suspicions were flying and that at last, Belle and Jason’s immaculate acts were beginning to fall apart...

“Two minutes, guys!” Lisa hollered, hoping to be heard above backstage noise. “C’mon, everyone, let’s go!”

Belle came hurrying out of the dressing room and caught sight of her partner waiting for her.

She managed a wobbly smile. “Last show, eh?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “Weird.”

“Um...” She searched for something to say to keep silence from falling between them, and fell back on an old standby. “How do I look?”

“Beautiful,” he replied, with a half-smile. “As usual. Except...” He gently turned her to face him and brushed a wayward lock of hair off her face. As he did, his hand lingered on her cheek for a minute... and he looked down at her... and in that splitsecond, everything changed.

The gentle gesture told her everything she’d been wanting to know for so long, and more. The touch of his hand on her cheek, the look in his eyes, the feeling of his gaze upon her... it was the answer she’d been searching for. All of a sudden, she knew. She knew, and she knew everything would be okay. After all the tears, all the longing, all the confusion, something so simple made everything clear again. Her answer had been right there all along ... she’d just been searching in the wrong places, searching too hard.

It wasn’t over yet, she knew. Far from it. But now that she knew where she was going, she felt lighter... even though she knew it was quite possible there were still roadblocks, still tears left to fall. It wasn’t going to be easy... but at least she knew whatit was.

All the skaters managed to get through the show that night in stellar style, no matter what was going on off-ice. Toronto loved them, as the city always did. There were prolonged standing ovations and the tour finished in triumph, as it had begun. But for once, there was more drama stirring off ice than there had been on ...

“Liz!” For the first time in almost two weeks, Belle ran after her friend, who was standing in the hotel lobby. “Liz, wait up!”

Elizabeth stopped and turned around. Belle. Belle smiling.

“Oh, please let it be good news...” she prayed inwardly.

Belle fell into step behind her friend, dragging her bag with her. “Liz, I did it,” she declared quietly.

“Did it?” Elizabeth inquired warily. “What?”

“I made my decision.” Belle’s tone wasn’t triumphant, nor was it outwardly happy. She was simply stating a fact.

But her friend was so relieved that she almost sighed audibly.

“Thank God,” she muttered instead. “You don’t even have to tell me who. I already know.”

“You were right,” Belle admitted. “I should’ve listened to you.”

The two girls kept walking, towards the elevators.

“I knew it,” Elizabeth said. “I knew--” She suddenly trailed off and realized Belle wasn’t listening to her. She was listening instead to a conversation being played out about three metres away from them, just in earshot.

“I can’t believe you didn’t know, honestly!” Elena Yashin was telling an audience of Marina Leonovich, Nancy Dawes, and Gillian Masse. “She thinks no one knows, but everyone does. Perfect little Isabella and her perfect little partner...”

It was obvious Elena did not know who was standing right behind her, and was having the time of her life spreading gossip.

“You know what’s going on, right?” she said, letting the suspense build as her audience listened attentively.

“No, Elena.” Gillian was getting impatient. “C’mon, what are you talking about?”

“Honestly, don’t you guys know anything?” Elena laughed meanly. “They’re... you know... together. You know what I mean by together, right?”

Elizabeth and Belle were just standing there, glued to the floor in shock.

“I always knew she was like that,” Elena smirked. “Pretending to be such a nice girl, so good, always with her little boyfriend, when all along, she’s been sleeping around behind his back with that partner of hers...”

A sudden strangled sound made all four girls turn around. They spotted Belle, and their mouths suddenly dropped open, almost in unison. Belle gave them a look that would’ve quelled the worst of them, turned on her heel, and fled down a side hall.

Elizabeth didn’t know whether to rush after her friend or say something to the gossipers. She was having a very hard time controlling her temper. How could she?! How could Elena Yashin, that little bitch who’d destroyed countless marriages with herwild affairs, talk about her friend like that?!

“C’mon, Elizabeth, don’t lose your head...” she advised herself. But it was too late. She turned to Elena and glared at her.

“You’re one to talk, homewrecker!” she shouted, and with Elena gaping after her in shock, she turned and ran after Belle.

But someone else had caught Belle just before she did, and Elena and her friends were suddenly way more interested in that than the fact that Elizabeth had just insulted her to her face.

Colin Davenport was blocking Belle’s exit from the hotel lobby.

“No avoiding me this time, Belle,” he said quietly. “We’ve got to talk. Now.”


Onto Chapter 24
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