Authors: Kate Stayman-London
“Seems like you’ve had a good week,” he said, an edge in his voice.
“Yes, this country is amazing. I really love it here.” Bea was so confused—the last time she saw him, they’d been confessing their feelings and kissing passionately. What had changed?
“Okay!” Rahim’s voice broke in. “Riding a camel can be tricky. They spit, all four of their legs can kick in all four directions, and they’re frankly not thrilled that you’re here. So I need you all to be
when you mount them. They’ll sink down to the ground, and you need to lean
as they rise up. If you lean forward, there’s a not-insignificant chance they throw you over their heads, and we have a lot of cameras here, so even if you don’t get injured, your mortification will live forever on YouTube. Okay?”
Bea, Asher, and Jefferson all nodded with trepidation. Bea was starting to think maybe belly dancing wouldn’t be the most frightening date option in Morocco after all.
“Great!” Rahim clapped his hands. “Let’s get this party started.”
The camels were putrid and surly, and Bea said a silent prayer as hers rose to its feet that she wasn’t about to be pitched headfirst onto a rocky path. But once the camel stood up and they got going, she was bowled over by the majesty of the experience. The camels were markedly taller than horses, and while riding them wasn’t exactly comfortable, their lilting gaits did have something of a hypnotic quality.
For half an hour they rode higher into the mountains, until they reached a plateau where the producers had arranged a beautiful picnic. Thirty minutes on a camel didn’t seem like long, but by the end of the ride, she was more than ready to take a break—thick Moroccan bread with savory roasted lamb was just the ticket.
“What, no camel meat?” Bea joked with Rahim.
“Shhh, they’ll hear you!” Rahim looked meaningfully at their camels. “We can’t let them know how lean and nutritious they are.”
“I think you should consider being the spokesperson for the camel-meat industry.”
“Why do you think I agreed to do a camel tour on reality TV? I’ve got ambitions, baby.”
After lunch, the producers had blocked out discrete mini-dates for Jefferson and Asher to give each of them time to talk alone with Bea. First, Bea took a short walk with Jefferson to a magnificent vista that overlooked the entire city of Marrakesh below, the high walls and turrets and palm trees and twisting alleyways gleaming in the afternoon sunlight.
“This is so beautiful,” Bea said, feeling grateful to be in this extraordinary place. It reminded her of a road trip with Ray up to Malibu almost ten years ago, a Saturday treat after a terrible week at the agency. The convertible top down, the wind in their hair, walking together over jagged cliffs as they laughed and talked for hours, admiring gorgeous views like this one. Bea realized that she’d barely thought of Ray all week—was it just the ocean between them that made him feel so far away? Or had making room for the possibility of these other men left a little less space for his memory?
“Whatcha thinking about?” Jefferson gave Bea a little nudge, easing her back into the present moment. She looked up at him, cast in golden light and the handsomest she’d seen him.
“Just thinking how profound my time here has felt, even though it’s only been five weeks.” Bea laughed with a moment of self-awareness. “Wow, I sound like everyone who’s ever starred on this show, don’t I?”
“It’s a good thing, though. I feel the same way.” Jefferson sighed and leaned against the stone wall that framed the vista. “I’ve been saying for years that I’m ready to get married, feeling frustrated that I can’t find a woman to be my wife. But being here with you, I’m starting to wonder, was I really ready before? Because this feels … so different.”
“Really?” Bea didn’t mean to sound incredulous, but she and Jefferson had really only shared two conversations—nice ones to be sure, but there was certainly nothing life-altering about them.
Jefferson laughed. “I know, I probably sound insane to you—believe me, it sounds even crazier to me. And maybe I’m just getting swept away with this show, with all the amazing things we’ve gotten to do. But I don’t know, Bea. Watching everything that’s been thrown at you for the past month, how gracefully you’ve handled it all, how you’ve been vulnerable but kept your sense of humor—yeah. It’s been really special. It’s taught me more about the kind of person I want to be.”
“Wow,” Bea said quietly, not really knowing how to react to this. “I really wish you and I would have had more time together before now.”
“It’s not too late, is it?” He reached for her hand—she noticed his was a little clammy. Was he nervous about this conversation? If so, it was incredibly endearing.
“It’s funny,” she said, “the way you describe yourself in Kansas City, with dating, I mean—that’s pretty similar to how I’ve been for the last few years.”
“Seriously?” Jefferson looked skeptical.
“Yeah—I know most of the girls on this show are pretty marriage-minded, but that hasn’t been me. At all. And as much as I’ve said I’m ready for marriage, I haven’t really given any man the chance to form a real relationship, let alone get engaged.”
“Why do you think that is?”
Bea shrugged. “The easy answer is that I’ve been focused on my career—and that’s true, I have.”
“And the harder answer?” Jefferson gave her a knowing look.
“I guess …” Bea stopped, then pushed herself to go on. If this could be her only chance to figure out whether there might be potential for something real with this man, she owed it to him—and herself—to try to be vulnerable.
“Growing up, I was always wary of boys. When I was little, kids in elementary school were so cruel—even in high school, they treated me like a joke, you know? I didn’t really date until college, and guys there were happy to sleep with me—just not to be seen with me in public. After that, I think I really shied away from putting myself out there. I would fall in love with these unavailable people, and tell myself it was my own bad luck, but the truth is, maybe I was just trying to avoid finding something real, because it still scared me so much.”
“And now?” Jefferson looked into her eyes. “Are you still afraid?”
“Hell yeah, I am.” Bea laughed softly. “This show is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But also—I see all this potential, and it’s thrilling. Like I’m flying off the side of this mountain and taking it on faith that it’ll somehow be okay.”
“Maybe you’ll land on happily ever after,” Jefferson quipped.
“Yeah?” Bea smiled. “What would that look like?”
“Well”—Jefferson draped an arm over her shoulders as they turned to admire the view—“it’d be you and me, a big house with a yard, a dog for sure—you like dogs?”
“I love dogs.” Bea grinned.
.” Jefferson faked intense relief. “So us, the house, the dog, a couple of kids, road trips on the weekend to a cool barbecue joint or a national park. Friends coming over for game nights, smoking wings and brisket for football Sundays, getting old, being happy. You know, life.”
“That sounds pretty good.” Bea leaned against Jefferson’s chest, and he pulled her in to face him.
“So since there are no kids or relatives around,” he said with a grin, “do you think it’d be okay if I kissed you?”
There was absolutely no reason not to kiss him—but something in Bea still hesitated, still didn’t feel quite right.
“It’s okay, Bea,” Jefferson said gently. “You don’t have to stand in your own way anymore. You can let yourself be happy.”
Bea nodded yes, and as he leaned in to kiss her—a gentle kiss, respectful and sweet—Bea still wasn’t sure if she really saw a future with Jefferson, but she did know that she loved the big, solid certainty of him, the way that when he held her, they just fit.
And it felt really, really nice.
After Bea went back to the main staging area, she climbed into another 4x4 beside Asher, who didn’t seem any happier to see Bea than he had that morning. They rode in silence to a spectacular waterfall, water spilling over a jagged cliff and thundering into a deep green pool below, then hiked in equal silence to the edge of a copper-hued rock formation, where soft mist cast in rainbow prisms floated across their bodies. It was one of the most romantic places Bea had ever been, but Asher would barely look at her. She’d spent all week looking forward to being alone with him, reliving their Ohio kiss in her memory, and now he was acting like she’d done something to offend him—only, as she hadn’t seen him, she couldn’t imagine what that might be.
“Hey!” she shouted over the noise of the falls. “Is everything okay?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, his back still toward her.
She grabbed his arm—he turned in surprise. “Can you at least look at me?”
He did, but his expression was hard, his manner guarded.
“Are you stressed about your kids?” she asked. “Whatever it is, can we please just talk about it?”
Asher’s jaw tensed. “Did you sleep with Luc last night?”
” Bea felt like she’d been slapped in the face.
“He and I are roommates in the
” Asher said curtly, and Bea’s stomach dropped. “He left the room around midnight, and didn’t come back until four. When I asked where he’d been, he smiled and said he was with you.”
Bea flushed crimson. So not only was Asher furious, now the one private moment she’d had with a man all season long was going to be a major plot point of this week’s episode.
“I don’t like asking you to air your private business on television,” Asher said, “but if you’re going to meet my children, I think I have a right to know what happened.”
“Really?” Bea pushed back. “Because I’m having trouble seeing how one thing relates to the other.”
“Bea, I haven’t introduced
to my kids since their mother left. You think I’d let you meet them if you’re not taking this seriously?”
“You think I’d want to? Come on, Asher. I’m not a monster, I don’t want to drag your kids into a limelight you don’t want them in—I would never ask that of you, period, let alone if I didn’t think—”
Her heart was pounding. She couldn’t say it.
“What?” he prodded. “If you didn’t think what?”
Bea closed her eyes. “If I didn’t think I could really fall in love with you.”
She looked up at Asher—his expression was pained.
“I hate this,” he said finally.
“What do you hate?”
“You, with other men.”
“You knew the premise of this show when you agreed to be on it, right?”
“That doesn’t mean I have to like it,” he sulked.
“No one’s asking you to! But I don’t see a way for us to make it through this if you shut down during what precious little time we actually get to spend together because you’re busy thinking about everyone else.”
“I know,” he admonished himself. “Believe me, I hate that I’m behaving this way. I couldn’t get back to sleep after Luc came back. I kept thinking about the two of you, and wondering …”
For the first time all day, he looked Bea dead in the eye.
“If you feel as strongly for me as you do for him.”
Bea sighed in frustration. As much as she didn’t relish sharing this particular detail on television, she had a feeling it was the only thing that would get this date (and this relationship) back on track.
“Asher, I didn’t sleep with Luc.”
He looked up at her, surprised and a little hopeful. “You didn’t?”
Bea shook her head. “Not even close. And I’m sorry he gave you that impression. You know how he is, I’m sure he was just trying to get a rise out of you.”
“It’s not just him,” Asher said softly.
“Sam was pretty happy when he came home from his date.”
Bea exhaled deeply. She’d been so worried about these men hurting her, she hadn’t even considered the fact that she could hurt them.
“Come here,” she said to Asher, taking his hand and putting it over her heart, just as he’d done in Ohio. “I know how awful it is to see someone you care about with someone else, okay? Believe me, I’ve been there. But if you can’t trust that I’m taking this seriously, you might as well leave now. Is that what you want?”
Asher let out a huge sigh and pulled Bea into a hug.
“That’s the opposite of what I want,” he mumbled into her hair, and Bea relaxed into his touch. This was what she’d longed for all day, and now that she was here, she finally felt some of the tension in her body unspool.
He pulled back so he could look at her. “Forgive me for being a jealous ass?”
She nodded, then took his hand and led him over to a picnic blanket piled with pillows that the production staff had set out. They settled down to enjoy thermoses full of hot tea as they looked out over the falls.
“So,” Bea started, “we have a big decision to make this week.”
“Regarding my children?”
Bea nodded. “Will you tell me more about them? How old are they?”
“Gwen is twelve, and Linus is nine.”
“Wow, so you were a really young dad.”
“Yeah, just twenty-three when Gwen was born.”
“What’s she like?”
“She’s very serious.” Asher smiled. “She wants to be a scientist someday; she got very into zoology this year and did a whole research paper about the differences between leopards and cheetahs.”
“I love leopard print?” Bea ventured.
“I’m not sure that counts as having something in common.” Asher patted Bea’s thigh. “Gwen can be a tough nut to crack—she’s a lot like me, if I’m honest. Very thoughtful, very critical. Even a bit guarded. She didn’t want me to come on this show.”
“Really? Why not?”
“She thought it was a waste of time—and as you know, I agreed. But it meant so much to Linus … I just couldn’t say no to him.”
“Will you tell me about Linus?” Bea asked, and Asher’s whole expression softened.
“He has this sweetness that can change your whole day. And he’s sensitive—he picks up right away if Gwen’s in a bad mood, or I am. He just wants everything around him to be filled with joy.”
Bea didn’t miss the note of pain in Asher’s voice. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
Asher looked at Bea for a long moment, and then sighed.