The Bandbox Hat
Previously: SarahJane takes April home. Jake meets her in the driveway. He tells her Rachael, her long lost sister, has been calling and communicating with him. SarahJane leaves to return to Los Angeles and the reality show, Date My Son, with her brother Nathan now on as a new bachelor in competition for the women on the show.
I barely nodded off when we exited the freeway and drove through streetlight dappled roads that twisted up. When Justin pulled into the mansion driveway I pulled my hair away from my face and patted my cheeks.
“Is everyone back from the beach?” I asked. There were fewer than usual vans lining the drive and hardly any camera equipment littering the walkway.
Maybe I could shower and crawl into bed without seeing anyone or having it documented. I slammed the front door and took the stairs two at a time.
So close. My shoulders drooped at the sound of Liam’s voice. I turned and dragged back to the ground floor and into the kitchen. “Hey, Liam.”
He leaned against the refrigerator. “How was the trip?”
“April is home. I’m here. I guess it went according to plan.”
His eyes narrowed as his gaze searched me. “What’s wrong?”
I opened the fridge door, blocking his view of me. “Is there any ginger ale? I don’t feel so good.”
His fingers appeared on the side of the door followed by his forehead then his eyes. Funny, I never noticed how clear blue they were. Like one of Mom’s prized Wedgewood serving bowls. “I’ll call catering for you,” he said, then murmured something into his walkie.
I let the door waft close and sighed. “When does every get back?”
“About twenty minutes.”
“Is Nathan staying with Austin?”
Liam shook his head. “I was against this, just so you know.”
A tiny seedling of respect rooted in my heart. “Thanks, Liam.”
He nodded once. “Nathan’s going to stay in the pool house here. We’re adding talks between Austin and Nathan, with and without Linda, to discuss which women they’re going to invite on which dates. We’ll be doing several of those tomorrow and making new date plans, so tomorrow will be a slow day for you all.”
The prospect of a whole day with no one yelling for me to hurry up or stand here or walk there again made my eyes fill. I wiped my eyes before the tears could fall and betray my precarious emotional condition.
Liam seemed to understand. He gripped my elbow and leaned close.
An assistant stumbled around the corner, recovered, and set a fizzing glass on the island. “Ginger ale?”
“Thanks, Mindy.” Liam’s lips tightened and he exhaled heavily before speaking. “Drink up and I’ll see you tomorrow, SarahJane.” He turned and followed Mindy out of the room. The front door made a loud thunk as it closed behind them.
The glass sputtered in my hand as I carried it up to my room. I’d just sat on my bed and sipped when I heard doors slamming, high voices of excitement, and footsteps hurrying up the stairs and along the halls.
The bedroom door opened a cracked. Cassie’s head appeared first.
“Oh, good, you’re back.” She stepped in.
“Just.” I lifted my glass of ginger ale in a toast. “How was the rest of the beach day?”
She flopped back on her bed, her hair fanning behind her in a perfect soft-as-flannel pillow. “Very fun. You missed the excitement of watching so many girls change their sights from Austin to Nathan. And the ones who couldn’t decide are still playing to both of them. This is going to be fun.” She rolled to one side, rested her elbow on the bed, and placed her head on her hand.
I groaned. “I’ve seen enough girls throwing themselves at my brothers for more than one lifetime. Is there any way I can get out of this?”
“Only if Linda kicks you off and I don’t see that happening. She likes you.”
Regret coursed through my veins even as an idea rooted. “I like her, too.”
The question, of course: did I like her enough to stay around and watch these women rub up against Nathan? And if I didn’t, could I get her to dislike me enough to vote me out and release me?