The Bandbox Hat
Previously: After taking April home to Rosedale, SarahJane returns to the reality show Date My Son. She and one of the production assistants Liam share a moment. SarahJane wonders how she’ll be able to handle watching women on the show come on to her brother Nathan. She wonders if she can get Linda, the original bachelor’s mother, to get rid of her on the show.
I stared at the ceiling for more than an hour before creeping out of bed. Cassie’s comment about the only way out of here was for Linda to want me to go whirled through my head like peaches in a blender. Only instead of a yummy smoothie, all I had was more confusion.
Downstairs, a couple of girls huddled together on the sofa. They stopped whispering when my footsteps echoed in the tile hallway. I sketched a wave and moved on to the kitchen. After getting a glass of water, I just stood at the sink and stared out at the night.
The pool, surrounded by quintessential California palm trees, shimmered in the moonlight. Even though there were no camera operators following me around, I knew the house was equipped with other cameras hidden in corners or lights or something. Liam had made a point to tell me on the very first day that this was a 24/7 venture. So while I might think I was alone, I knew I wasn’t. As much as I yearned to curl up on a chaise outside and sob my woes out, I didn’t want to be end up on a promotional video with a deep voice asking, “Stay tuned to see SarahJane’s emotional meltdown after these messages,” before a Viagra commercial.
I had to smile at myself. Always seeing the worst possible outcome was the part of me that I most wanted to change.
I stood up straight.
So why not?
Why not change from a pessimist to an optimist?
Why not look on the bright side?
Why not be spontaneous, in spite of what might happen?
I pushed through the French doors and onto the pool deck, then stretched out on the wide chaise longue. The palms swayed and bent, bowing to the moon. I stretched my hands over my head, then curled onto my side, hands under my cheek.
How could I stay on this show and watch these girls as they schemed and maneuvered to get close to Nathan? It had been hard enough to watch when it was Austin and Linda being played. But my own brother?
On the other hand, I signed a contract. And this was supposed to be part of the adventure of living my own life away from my family and their long shadows. Perhaps most surprising—even as I admitted it to myself, I couldn’t believe it was true—I really did like Austin and his mom. They were genuine people. Or Oscar worthy actors, and that didn’t seem possible. Linda treated me with warmth and grace. Austin was a gentleman. In fact, according to some of the girls, too much of a gentleman to follow up on their invitations to kiss them.
The French doors opened with a soft click. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to deal with anyone right now.
Footsteps made their way to the pool edge. Then … a sob?
I sat up and strained to see who invaded my quiet with their crisis.
A tall woman stood near the pool, blonde hair cascading down her back.
“Amanda?” I asked.
She started and whirled toward me. “I didn’t see you there! What are you doing there, spying on me?”
I sighed and rolled back to my side. “I was here first. You’re spying on me.”
Silence. Which suited me fine.
After a moment, footsteps sounded again. She must be walking around the pool. Then a faint splash. Ah. She’d probably invited Austin to meet her here for a midnight swim and I messed up her plans for an intimate encounter.
Well, I was here first and I wasn’t moving.
We coexisted in our own cocoons of thought for a while. Me, curled up on the chaise, watching the moon move through the sky. Amanda floating in the water with an occasional splash as she turned or kicked.
The sounds of water and wind in the trees combined with the quiet eventually unknotted my muscles and I stretched out. My eyes grew heavy. In spite of the breeze, the night was warm and I had no urge to go back to our stuffy room on the second floor.
After what seemed like a half an hour I noticed the stillness. “Amanda?” I whispered. I hadn’t heard a splash for several minutes.
She didn’t respond.
I sat up and peered at the pool. She still floated, hair spreading behind her like a peacock fan. “Amanda?” I said it more loudly.
Still no response.
I stood and made my way to the pool edge. She came into focus and I could see what I’d missed in the darkness. She was face down in the water.
“Amanda!” I jumped in and paddled to her. “Are you okay?”
Her only movement was bobbing on top of the waves I generated as I flailed my way to her.
“Help! I need help!”