With Grace gone, how will the team fare when it comes to banking money? Who will move on to the final rounds and who will have victory snatched from their fingertips in the final vote?
Mum and Dad had been so well behaved tonight. Lance was prone to embarrassment at their complete lack of shame, but they'd promised they wouldn't humiliate their son, and they had stuck to their word. No shouting, no swearing and no talking smack to the other contestants and their families. They'd sat there patiently and given their son nothing but support and praise from afar, and as he turned around and grinned at them, they gave him an animated wave. He turned back, and the empty place to his right brought him back to reality. Grace.
It wasn't supposed to go this way.
He doubted his ability to beat her in a one-on-one situation... yet, he remembered that it wasn't him who made two mistakes in the last round. She did. Maybe he could have beaten her... if he got lucky with his questions. He peered to his left at his final opponents. Nathan, also looking back to his loved ones - his tired-looking mum and gorgeous brother and sister, the girl wearing noise-cancelling headphones. The Irishman's momentum was dropping off fast. Then there was Casey, who hadn't ever interacted with anyone in the stands while he was observing her. She was painfully reckless, throwing out the first answer that came to mind.
I can beat them.
He sighed, feeling lonely. He wanted Grace, though. She'd been the strongest of them. The fantasy he'd recently concocted of a perfect finale was dead in the water. She was gone, but he didn't beat her, and that didn't sit well with him.
I don't just want to win. I want to be the best.
Casey's cold brown eyes locked with his as he spent the brief intermission between rounds working out what he wanted to do next. He didn't blink, nor did he flinch. His eyes burned at her through rose-gold tinted lenses. Nathan spun around and leaned over his podium, almost obscuring his view. When the red-haired fellow noticed Lance was looking over in his direction, he smiled, baring his crooked white teeth. It was impossible not to return it. Nathan wasn't Grace. Far from it. There was sincerity and generosity about him. Maybe Lance couldn't get the finale he dreamed of, but there was another one he'd happily accept. There would be joy in beating Casey head-to-head, but he didn't want to give her the satisfaction of making it there. There was still one more vote to go. Nathan clearly didn’t want her around either. The Irishman had voted for her on two different occasions, which filled Lance with hope.
You and me. We finally take this bitch down.
The Hostess soon stepped back up to her stage. "Round seven! Of a possible thirty thousand pounds, you have managed to bank fifteen thousand, six hundred and fifty pounds. Without Britain's youngest know-it-all, there are now only three of you left. Lance, who is too fashionable for general knowledge, Nathan, who says he never forgets, and last but not least, the critically important Casey who thinks she has a wealth of expertise. We're taking another ten seconds off the clock, so you now only have two minutes to reach your five thousand pound target. We'll start with the strongest link from the last round, and that's Lance. Apparently, lightning can strike twice." Lance's dazzling smile involuntarily parted his lips. "Let's play The Weakest Link. Start the clock. Lance, in cinema, in the 1994 film Forrest Gump, the title character repeats his mother's catchphrase: 'Life is like a box of what?'"
The boy's smile persisted. His best friend Jane's mum said it all the time. "Chocolates."
"Correct. Nathan, in anatomy, how many teeth does an adult human have?"
Nathan did the pufferfish face again, which wasn't a good sign. "Twenty... eight?"
"No, thirty-two. Casey, in which year did the Titanic sink in the northern Atlantic?"
Casey shrugged and rolled her eyes. "1932?"
Lance didn't know the answers to either of those questions either, but it didn't feel good to be the only one to get his answer right in that rotation.
"1912. Lance, in computer terminology, which is larger: a megabyte, a terabyte, a kilobyte or a gigabyte?"
Lance's eyes widened. He was sure his brother would know the answer to this, but he was never big with computers. He used his slow, old laptop for Webflix, Myspace, MSN, Facebook, Youtube and maybe Wikipedia on the rare occasions he bothered to do his coursework while he was still at school. Not much else.
"A terabyte?" He guessed.
It was the one of the four he'd never heard of. He figured it must have been very big... or very small. Hopefully big. He hugged himself with his arms. The game was scary without Grace making him look strong. He had to rely on himself now, and he wasn't a genius. He was just a sodding dropout!
"Correct," the Hostess took his answer, much to his relief. "Nathan--"
"In the animal kingdom, pigs roll themselves in mud to cool down because they lack what glands?"
"Adrenal? No-- sweat!" He blurted out.
"I must accept your first answer. The correct answer is sweat glands. Casey, which author wrote the novels Misery, It and Needful Things?"
"Stephen King," she answered. Lance hoped she was right. Novels were her chosen career, so she should have at least some knowledge in that area.
"Correct. Lance," the dancer wearily scratched his eye. He'd been so focused for so long, and he was running out of stamina. "In the TV comedy series 'Keeping Up Appearances,' Patricia Routledge played which character?"
That was one of Mum's shows. She often compared Lance to the main character played by Patricia Routledge, the woman whose last name was Bucket and insisted it was pronounced 'bouquet,' and Dad to that lazy slob brother-in-law Onslow.
How can I know his name but not the main woman's??
It was infuriating! He guessed. "Heidi?"
He slapped his hand on the podium. He knew that! Mum and Dad would relentlessly annoy by telling him how alike they were because he let himself be embarrassed by his family. Perhaps he would have paid more attention to the show if their teasing didn't make him determined to hate it. He wondered what Grace would be thinking if she were watching the three of them right now, unable to string together any correct answers without her to scale the chain for them.
She'd be laughing, and rightfully so. We're a bunch of clowns.
Aww, honey. I answered wrong. There's not even any money to bank, you goose.
"In which World War did Japan occupy the Philippines?"
"Second!" Nathan was visibly relieved to get a question he could answer.
"Correct. Casey, in farming, an Aberdeen Angus is a breed of which animal?"
"Cattle." Casey, on the other hand, showed no anxiety or lack of endurance and never had since the game started.
The Hostess grimaced a little. "I'll accept. Lance--"
"Bank," Lance figured two hundred and fifty pounds was better than nothing, and there couldn't be much more time left.
"In Ballet, there are only how many positions of the feet?"
Lance recoiled briefly. He and Jane had been learning ballet since they were old enough to enrol. The answer depended on which type of ballet. Typically only five, but a sixth and seventh position existed in Serge Ligar's choreographies. He suspected the question had been written by someone with lesser knowledge in the field and decided to give the most likely answer.
"Bank!" The Irishman was now banking every time, regardless of whether Lance had even answered correctly.
He's cactus. Completely shook.
"In the 1939 film 'The Wizard of Oz,' which character asks the Wizard for a heart?"
"The straw man?"
"No, the tin man."
The terrified fellow looked as though he were ready to burst into tears, leaning down to rest his elbows on the stand in front of him and rubbing the back of his head with his hands. Lance had sympathy for him. The Irishman was doing the best he could, and he desperately wanted to win money for his organisation. Next to him, Casey had the nerve to roll her eyes in disgust at his repeated mistakes. What did she even need the money for? It was all just a game to her.
Don't worry, lovely. We'll get her. Just hang in there.
"Casey, in theatre, which Italian opera term literally means 'first lady?'"
"Soprano?" Casey guessed wrong.
"No, primadonna. Lance, in astronomy, what planet is known as both the morning star and the evening star?"
Ugh. I don't know.
As the tired, frustrated boy prepared to guess Mars, the tones of defeat saved him from making a bigger fool of himself, and the round came to an end.
That was a bloody disaster.
"Time is up, and the answer to your question is 'Venus.'" The Hostess glared at her victims, black leather-clad arms tightly folded across her chest. "From a possible five thousand pounds, you banked a grand total of four-hundred and fifty pounds. I'd like to point out how terribly you played, but I'm afraid the three of you managed to take all the fun out of it! Now team, remember that in round eight, the money you and your opponent manage to bank will be tripled before the final round, so I urge you to think very carefully about who you send home. Who's going out with a whimper? Who surpassed expectations in the wrong way? Is it time to write Casey off? Has Nathan forgotten how to win? Will Lance be a very cross dresser?” Lance laughed, as did everyone behind him. It was a cheap shot, but it was well delivered. “It's time to vote off the weakest link."
Casey. Casey. Casey. Casey. Casey. Casey. Casey.
Lance didn't write her name down just once. He managed to fit it seven times on the oval-shaped board, once for this round and once for every other round she'd unjustly survived.
"Okay, pens down. It's time to reveal who you think is the weakest link."
"Casey," Lance flipped his board over.
"Lance," Nathan's voice was tiny.
"Lance!" Casey belted out victoriously. Then she laughed.
The realisation struck Lance Lovecraft like a sledgehammer, and his jaw dropped. Behind him, the spectators rumbled loudly in surprise, and he could hear Dad loudly booing from the stands. The boy was stunned.
Did that really just happen? No.
He looked at the two boards with his name on them, just to make sure he hadn't heard it wrong. Lance. Lance.
Is this a joke?
The Hostess surveyed the votes with her cool, sharp eyes behind her glasses, and she turned to the horrid novelist first.
"Casey. What's your reason for voting off the strongest link in that round?"
I was the strongest link again. Three times. Heh. Pity that doesn't save me.
She seemed only too pleased to rub it in. "Because Lance has had it in for me since the very first round, and this is my revenge."
It took every ounce of professionalism and poise to stop Lance from throwing his board at her. He was livid at the injustice and pettiness of it all, but he would never let them see it. He stood still as a statue, eyes front and face blank, watching the Hostess. He wouldn't look at Casey. He would NOT! His composure depended on avoiding that smug grin. If he were the only person in the entire game who played with integrity and valour, then thatwould be his legacy. Not betrayal. Not underhanded tactics.
"Are you sure that's all there is to it? It looks very much to me like you're afraid of him!"
Casey shrugged again, to make sure everyone knew how little she took the game seriously. "It's the votes that count. I'll be competing for the prize money and Lance will be taking the walk of shame."
The Hostess turned towards the Irishman next. "Nathan! You seem to have forgotten that the aim of the game is to make money."
"I had a rotten round," Nathan replied.
"Rotten is right! Tell me, what's your excuse for voting for Lance?"
Unlike the girl next to him, Nathan had the guts to give an honest reply. "I'm not proud of it, but it's purely tactical. Lance is a very strong player, and I think I have a much better chance of beating Casey in the finals. That's why I voted for Lance. I don't think I'd be able to win against him." Lance, heartbroken by the betrayal he never saw coming, didn't want to validate the lily-livered loser any more than he did the conniving cockroach, but the traitor's next words mended some of the damage he'd done. "I'm really sorry, man."
The dancer turned his head towards Nathan, who looked genuinely apologetic and remorseful. It wasn't personal. Lance knew that, even though his feelings were crushed. He expected a vote from Casey. She was no better than that. But Nathan? Lance had never sent a vote the red-haired fellow's way. Not a single one. Nor had Nathan voted for him, even in the two rounds he'd played poorly. The dancer would have taken him to the finals and battle it out with him fair and square. Clearly the Irishman didn't feel the same way. It sucked to know that Casey was probably going to win a large sum of money she didn't need and didn't earn, but it stung worse that the other boy sold him out. For the sake of the cameras recording his every movement, Lance forced a smile and gave Nathan a nod of understanding.
"Lance!" The Hostess rotated to face him.
"Will you miss me?" He brushed the hot pink from his eyes one last time, tucking it behind his pierced ear.
"Indeed. Frankly, I don't want to go on now!" The old, lemon-faced tart managed to elicit a real grin from the furious teenager. "Well, what can I say? You have been voted off by two cowards. You were too much general knowledge and not enough fashion for Nathan and Casey. You were the strongest link three times, but with two votes, you are the weakest link. Goodbye!"
He'd been watching The Weakest Link since he was four years old. He'd seen thousands of contestants lose the vote and take the walk of shame, including six other teenage triumphs this very night, but it still didn't prepare him for his own. The lights went dark and the death toll felt like it rattled his bones. They all clapped for him, though. Mum and Dad, and nearly everyone else hidden in the darkness behind him. He turned to blow one final kiss their way, and forced his most dazzling smile as he strutted briskly down the studio floor, his shoes clopping loudly with every step. It was humiliating. It was unfair. It was heartbreaking. But he didn't let them see. He made sure to hold his head high as he passed by the Hostess and the cameras watching him, and he pushed open the heavy door with both hands.
Don't let them see they got to you. It's just a game, right?
He pushed the heavy door open and let it close behind him, and once he was out of that tense, scary place and away from the backstabber and the luckiest girl in the world, Ronda was there to meet him. Rather than bury his face in his hands the way he wanted to, he made himself smile once again.
But I wanted to win so badly.
"Hey. You alright?" She asked him in a low voice, obnoxiously chewing something in the corner of her mouth.
What was I supposed to do? I made mistakes and they voted for me. I got my questions right and they voted for me!
Lance's eyes fell and he exhaled deeply. "I-I-yes. But... I might need a minute."
Did I even stand a chance?
"Yeah, that's completely fine," the woman seemed much less scary when it was just the two of them. Even sympathetic. "Come with me. We need to do a quick interview then I'll take you back to the green room with the others."
Lance had almost forgotten that he still had one final part to play in the game. Following their elimination, the contestant would vent their frustrations to the camera and give their insight and possible predictions. He wondered what the others had said about him. Did Jamie complain that the talentless Lance had managed to beat him and steal his place as the fan favourite? Did Bugeyes tell everyone how ridiculous he looked? Did Grace correctly predict that he was doomed without her there to babysit him? He wouldn't know until he watched the episode play out on the television in a few weeks. When red light blinked on the camera facing him in the small room down the hall, he didn't hold back.
"I'm absolutely gutted right now. It never occurred to me that those two had a brain big enough between them to see me as a threat, but clearly I underestimated them. I really thought Grace and I would end up as the final two. We were the strongest players and we could have won more money for our charities than I believe Nathan and Casey can. When I lost Grace from my side, I was shook all the way down to my toes! I should have known they would come for me after her. The writing was on the wall, but... I didn't see it. Still, I'm very proud of how well I did. As a high-school dropout I figured I'd be voted out much earlier, and I almost made it all the way to the end! Don't ever sell yourself short, because you never quite know what you're capable of, I suppose. Of the two, I hope Nathan wins the money tonight. I can see how much winning for his charity tonight means to him, and I think he's the better player. Casey should have been voted off right from the beginning - she had a terrible start and managed to scrape through the whole game like a cat with nine lives. If she wins tonight, at least she can afford extensions that don't look as though something ghastly's gone and nested on her head."
Thank you for reading! I apologise for the cruel twist, but there is still one chapter to go and it will be up tomorrow! ❤️ Have a lovely day!