"Do you know who you're picking?" Jason asked as a makeup artist patted powder onto my cheeks. I could see the matching flakes on his face. All of the boys were forced to get their makeup done to look their best on the season finale. The producer's orders.
"Yeah," I said as casually as I could. I waited for the artist to strut away in her kitten heels to add, "The one you don't want."
His lids fluttered. "Excuse me?"
"I won't say it on the air or anything. Not going to make you uncomfortable." I shrugged, trying my best to prove that I didn't give a damn about it all. "But I was thinking about last night. About how you didn't want me to pick you. And about how you never talk about any other girls or stare at my chest or try to make a move on me."
His burning stare relaxed. His lips even swirled into a smile. "Took you long enough to figure it out," he said.
"Well, like I said, I won't pick the one you want. I don't know if he's gay or bi or anything, but at least it'll give you a shot with him."
"And that's why I love you," he said, grinning as he slapped me on the back.
Before I could banter with the other boys, the host, whom I hadn't seen since the first episode, pulled me in front of a row of cameras. "We're starting," she said bluntly, and when the red light lit up, her entire expression changed. Now she was bubbly and beautiful. "It's time to pick the winner."
Earlier, the producers had instructed me to make things as dramatic as possible. That's why I stared at Jason for a full thirty seconds, admiring his light blue shirt and navy blue tie. Then I moved my eyes toward Craig, who was wearing a button-down shirt with a leather jacket, undone tie, and his signature leather jacket. Finally, I looked over at Brandon with his black slacks and matching blazer.
"It's time to turn down one of the boys," the host said, acting like a newscaster trying not to grin while reading a devastating story. "Make your decision."
I stared at each of them for another few beats, and then moved toward my best friend. I grabbed his upper arm and squeezed as I said, "I know that America is going to be upset with me, considering that the majority of them always voted for us, but you're my best friend. We don't need to be anything more than that for you to make me happy. You already make me happy. I love you. And I have to admit, you're pretty gorgeous. But we wouldn't work as a couple. But we'll always work as friends."
"I love you, too," he mouthed back at me, because the host was already talking.
She said, "Okay. One down. One to go. Let's move on. The folks at home are eager to see who you've picked to be your man!"
After another few seconds of dramatic staring, I turned my attention toward Brandon. "We didn't really have a chance to connect, but I don't think it would've mattered much," I said. "I think you need someone who's a little more optimistic than me to balance out your... Well, your attitude. You need someone who's sweet and can calm you down and make you laugh, and that's not me."
I glanced at Jason, wondering if a wink would make my intentions too obvious. "But I do hope to see you again," I continued. "Maybe all four of us can hang out sometime." I left out the part about wanting it to be a double date.
Brandon just puckered his lips, clearly annoyed that he'd lost, so I turned my attention toward Craig and said, "I'm sure you've done the math by now. Figured out you're the winner."
"I figured it out, but I can't figure out why," he said, his insecurity seeping through his outer layer of confidence.
"I mean, look at you," I said, motioning to his chest, but he wasn't happy with that superficial answer. I knew the viewers wouldn't be either.
That's why I elaborated by saying, "It's not just your looks. Or that I find bad boys unbelievably attractive. It's that you sung my favorite song from Grease when we went to Karaoke. And you stuck up to Brandon when he was being too handsy. And you didn't take this whole show too seriously." I paused, trying to stop myself from blushing. "Not to mention the way it feels whenever we touch."
He nodded, a smirk on his lips. Then he said, "I have to admit, my brother signed me up for this show without my permission. And I wanted to use it to gain popularity. Help my band out. But I was serious in the first episode, when I said I wanted a marriage like my grandparents had. I don't know if it'll be with you, but I think it could be. I think we should give it a shot."
I bit down on my lip before remembering what the producers had instructed me to do. Kiss the winner. When they gave me the order, I was worried about it all looking too staged. But now, I didn't have the same worry. I knew a kiss with him would feel right.
That's why I curled my fingers around his shoulders and waited for his lips to wrap around mine.
I didn't know if Craig and I would actually last for more than a few weeks, but I was excited to find out. If we broke up, at least I'd have Jason to laugh about it all with.
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