Authors: Kate Stayman-London
“You’re lying.” Bea felt the first tears coming. “If none of you were interested in me, why would you even stay on this show?”
Jefferson laughed. “Are you stupid? The longer we stick around, the more likely it is that one of us will be the next Main Squeeze! Don’t you think it’s worth it, pretending to like you for a few hours a week to increase our odds of having twenty-five women compete for us? And you made it so easy, Bea, you really did. Honestly, you bought that I didn’t want to kiss you last week because there were
around? How gullible can you be? I was just putting off getting physical with you for as long as possible.”
“Stop”—Bea was shaking—“please stop.”
“I think in time you’ll come to see that I’m doing you a favor. No one in your life is honest with you—that’s how you ended up on this show in the first place, got tricked into being a national laughingstock. So take it from me: You’re not single because you’re focused on your career, or because you’re pining after unavailable men, or subconsciously trying to protect your heart because some kids made fun of you in elementary school, or whatever bullshit you tell yourself. You know why no man wants to be seen with you in public? It’s not that hard to figure out. You know what’s standing between you and marriage? About eighty pounds.”
Bea didn’t know what to do, where to go. She stepped backward and nearly tripped on the hem of her dress, wobbling in her high heels.
“Bea,” Wyatt stepped forward, “don’t listen to him, it’s not true—”
“No,” Bea yelped, and Jefferson laughed. She hated herself for crying in front of these men she’d finally started to trust, but who could just as easily be using her, same as Jefferson, same as Ray, same as always. She couldn’t be here, couldn’t take this. Couldn’t spend one more second on this set where her existence was one big joke, the setup her fatness and the punch line her loneliness.
“Excuse me, I—excuse me.” She choked out the words and left the living room as fast as her high heels could carry her, then blindly stumbled up the stairs back to her room and slammed the door.
I WANT JEFFERSON TO DIE
He will eventually
NOT SOON ENOUGH
Has anything like this ever happened before?? That was … awful
I mean, there’s never been a plus-size person on this show before, so no, not really.
Can Bea just leave? SHOULD she?
No!! She still has good guys left!!
That’s a hot take, Cat
I believe!! #TeamAsher
jeez, you guys have been right this whole time
Yes definitely. About what?
men are trash
You all gave me shit when I said they shouldn’t put a fat woman on Main Squeeze, but look what happened!
This isn’t the UN, dummies. It’s reality TV. If you put a fat cow on there, people are going to call her one. It’s not Jefferson’s fault for speaking the truth. It’s Bea’s fault for expecting anything different.
In the hour after Jefferson’s outburst and Bea’s dramatic exit, her greatest source of comfort was the lock on her bedroom door. The door itself was heavy and wood, stained dark and engraved with intricate latticework. The key was old-fashioned, thick and brass, and the lock emitted a satisfying click when Bea shut out the entire mess of her life.
Bea paced the floor beside the little settee where, just the night before, Luc had held her and assured her she was beautiful. What an idiot she’d been to believe he was telling the truth.
What did she know about these men, really? Luc was a player, Wyatt was lovely but a bit of a mystery, Sam was an exuberant kid, and Asher … Asher. Maybe he was just fooling himself. Maybe she was too.
It was after midnight now—their flight back to America departed in seven hours.
“I should pack,” Bea said to no one in particular. But she didn’t. She sat on her bed, still in her gown, her face in her hands. One breath in, another out. All those weeks of holding the men at bay, trying not to form attachments—as much as that hurt, it was better than this. She should have listened to Lauren.
She tried to convince herself that this was no big deal—after all, what was she really losing? They were just hopes. They’d been intense, maybe, but she could live without them. Put off her chances at happiness for another few weeks until all this was over, just as she’d done so many times before. Waiting to schedule dates until after she got home from this next trip, after she finished up this project, after she lost a little weight. After, always after, until her romantic life became a kind of stasis, cryogenically suspended in a perpetual state of anticipation.
After this show is over, my life will change. I’ll meet so many new people. Maybe I’ll find someone then.
And then, a knock on her door.
“Bea, are you in there?”
Was that Sam?
“Of course she’s there. The producers said as much.”
“Dude, I know she’s in there, but it’s after midnight, I’m trying to be polite.”
“Maybe she’s sleeping?”
There was Wyatt.
“No, but you see, the light is on.”
“Should we knock again?”
“Maybe she doesn’t want to talk to us.”
Silence, all of them listening. Bea didn’t want to hate them.
“I think we should knock again.”
But the loud click of the lock gave her away as she opened the big wooden door.
There they were, still in their suits, ties undone, looking shades of relieved and apprehensive—and flanked by cameras and sound guys.
“What is this?” Bea asked, suspicious.
Sam took a tentative step forward. “Can we talk for a minute?”
As the men and the camera crew filtered into the room, Bea sank down onto the bed—Sam and Wyatt sat beside her. Luc lounged on the little settee, and Asher stood uncomfortably, surveying the scene. For a moment, they all looked at one another, totally unclear on who was meant to speak first. Finally, Luc broke the silence.
“Someone must say it. Jefferson was dull and self-important, and none of us liked him.”
Wyatt shook his head. “Luc, that’s not the point—”
“We cannot allow this, this, what is the word, for one who helps Saint Nicholas?”
“An elf?” Sam offered.
Oui, c’est ça,
we cannot let this nasty elf poison Bea’s mind against us.”
“Bea,” Sam added, “what Jefferson said down there … it wasn’t true, okay?”
Bea swallowed. “So you guys wouldn’t be happy to have twenty-five women competing for you?”
“In other circumstances, of course we would.” Luc’s manner was easy as always. “But Bea, for us this is not winning. Being with you—this is what we want. This is why we are here.”
“Jefferson was just angry,” Wyatt piped in. “He wanted to hurt you.”
“What can we do?” Sam asked. “How can we help you get past this?”
Bea just looked down, willing herself not to cry again. Sam gave her a little nudge, his shoulder against hers. She thought back to the hammam, his hands on her hips—that had been real, hadn’t it? Not a trick of her mind, a lie for the cameras? It suddenly seemed impossible to know.
“I’m so sick of questioning everything—especially you guys,” she admitted. “Since the first night, it’s felt like I’ve been some kind of detective, always on guard, looking for signs that none of this is real. And now, with so few of you left, with how much I like you … it feels unhinged. What Jefferson said—I guess in a way that was easier to believe.”
Wyatt looked concerned. “You’d rather believe we’re all lying to you than that we all genuinely like you? Why, Bea?”
A tightness was forming in Bea’s chest, like some deep and ugly piece of her was being excavated, tearing at her insides as it was dragged to the surface. “If you’re lying to me, and the worst things I believe about myself are true, then … then I’m safe. Then none of you can really hurt me.”
“We don’t want to hurt you,” Sam said softly.
Bea looked to Asher—of the four of them, he was the only one who had yet to speak.
“What if you do anyway?” she asked him. But he didn’t answer—just reached into the pocket of his suit jacket.
“Bea, we don’t want you to take our feelings on faith. We have something to ask you.”
The rest of the men fumbled in their pockets, too, and Bea was puzzled when she saw what they’d come up with: tubes of ChapStick.
“What the …?”
“You think you’re the only one who can kiss cheeks and be all gallant?” Sam asked as they all slicked on their ChapStick. “We can be gallant, Bea.”
“I can see that.” Bea couldn’t help laughing, even as tears leaked out of her eyes.
Then Wyatt stood—he offered Bea his hand and helped her to her feet—and the other men stood as well.
“Bea,” Wyatt asked, “will you stay with me another week? I know this week has been exotic and all, but I think you’re going to be pretty awed by my family’s wheat fields.”
Bea smiled. “Yes, I’ll stay.” Wyatt kissed her cheek. He stepped aside, and Sam approached her.
“Bea, my bea-tific bea-uty,” Sam started.
“You’re going to win me over with wordplay?”
“Absolutely, I am, because you’re the Bea’s knees.” He grinned, and Bea laughed. “Bea, I love spending time with you, and I want you to meet my family. Will you stay with me another week?”