The blonde presenter slumped down in the plush brown leather chair in her bosss office. "No," she whispered softly, letting her head sag and her eyes fall resignedly to the floor. "You cant seriously expect me to do that," she said half to the cigar-smoking producer and half to herself.
Jim regarded her pensively for a moment. He knew it wasnt a pleasant task he was asking her to do, talking a woman out of going to the funeral of what could likely have been her best friend, but it DID need doing.
Rachel sighed heavily and looked up at him, her green eyes ever hopeful he would change his mind. He almost felt sorry for her and they stared at each other in silence for several moments. But then, this was the business she had chosen to live in he thought to himself and it wouldnt be the worst thing shed have to do in her career, not by far.
"Its not a request Rachel," he said, the serious undercurrent of his tone letting her know a debate on the matter would prove pointless. "We need Alex to stay in the house and the show. The public like her and that means ratings. We need ratings to be a success. Need I remind you that YOU need ratings to be a success."
The presenter opened her mouth to argue but promptly closed it without uttering a word. As much as she didnt like what he was saying, she knew deep down he was right. This show was make or break for her career.
She let her thoughts wander to Alex and remembered how vulnerable she had appeared sitting alone on the sofa playing her guitar. She also recalled the footage she had been shown of the contestants first night in the house. She found it difficult to shake the image of tears tracing the darker womans cheek as she lay awake in the dark.
The last thing Rachel wanted was to cause the guitarist more pain. But then it looked like she had no way out. Bad news was bad news, she couldnt exactly do anything about that.
Rachel pondered how she would tell her. At least Alex would hear it from her than from someone else, she thought. Perhaps she could even soften the blow in some way, maybe keeping Alex from the funeral would be keeping her from pain. Yeah right, she snorted out loud. And just who was she trying to kid.
She rose from the chair and walked out of Jims office without a word or a backward glance and let the door close behind her. She would do as he asked because it was in the best interests of the show, the best interests of her employers and the best interests of herself. But the fact that it wasnt in Alexs best interest would leave a very bad taste in her mouth. Hell, she could almost taste it already.
Alex stood outside in the garden compound completely drenched, her hair and clothes dripping. News that they had successfully completed task one had been met with roars of approval and high-fives from the team of ten players.
And news that a delivery of champagne was waiting for them outside had prompted a mad dash to the garden, with the contestants racing to open a bottle each.
No-one had intended to waste their prize on the expensive fight that had eventually ensued but Dwaynes cork impacting off the back of Mikes head resulted in a revenge attack from both the body builder and his buddy Joel.
The bumbling mans screams as a forceful jet of liquid hit him square between the eyes had alerted Alex who immediately joined the fight in his defence.
Before long every player was shaking up a bottle and aiming the sweet liquid in between gulps at each other.
As Alex stopped and tried to catch her breath, she heard the unmistakable sound of a cork popping behind her. "Stephen! No!" She tried to run but knew it was futile as cold champagne sprayed over her.
The guitarist spied an unopened bottle nearby and made her way towards it already plotting her revenge. She paused on hearing the compound intercom system crackle to life, champagne still dripping from her nose.
"Alex." It was Rachels unmistakable tone, although more subdued than normal. She coughed and continued. "Would, err, Alex please come to the Confession Room. Thank-you."
The housemates stopped in their tracks and turned to look at their dark-haired companion. Alex in turn shrugged her shoulders before turning and making her way inside.
"Trouble," said Claire loudly. "Bet shes in trouble. Her sort always attract trouble."
"You would know," retorted Laura who watched her friend disappear curiously. "Youve been watching her every move since you got here."
Claire shot the normally friendly blonde an angry glare and stalked off towards the living room.
"She should be in trouble," moaned Joel whose face was decidedly pale. "She whacked me in the family jewels with a bloody cork." He stood with one hand hovering protectively in front of his groin. "It hurts like hell."
"Ah dry your eyes," laughed Mike, licking his lips and savouring the taste of warm champagne. "I know Id like to get her into trouble thats for sure." A seedy smile formed across his unshaven face as his mind teemed with a hundred different fantasies involving the attractive contestant.
Alex entered the small white room and looked back at the trail of wet footprints shed left behind her. "Oops," she muttered out loud. She glanced at the single seat and the camera positioned steadily in front of it with an unsure look on her face.
"Sit down please." Rachels business-like tone cut through the silence making Alex jump.
The presenter couldnt see her on her screen yet, but had heard the door close and knew she was in the room somewhere. She was growing more nervous by the minute about her task at hand and was trying to hurry things along before she backed out altogether. The fact that Alex was hovering about and not doing as she was told was frustrating the blonde and adding to her already fraught nerves.
"Sit." It wasnt a request.
"But Im all wet," explained the contestant, looking nervously at the plush confession room chair.
"It doesnt matter," replied Rachel curtly, pleased when she could finally see the darker womans face on her monitor.
Try as she might, she couldnt stop the tiny smile that tugged at the corner of her lips. Alex looked adorable. The sight before her reminded Rachel of the day her Aunts black Labrador puppy had got too close to the garden sprinkler. Except the puppy didnt have a soaked white t-shirt that clung deliciously to every curve. The presenter felt a gentle nervous flutter hit her stomach as she took in the image on screen.
The guitarists inky black hair was bedraggled and her bangs clung haphazardly to her forehead while champagne still dripped from her scalp, onto her face and nose. Alex sat with a grin on her face, still high from the excitement of the garden battle, and stared curiously into the camera.
Rachel sighed sadly and felt a heavy feeling sink in her stomach at what she had to do.
Surprisingly, Alex broke the silence first. "I thought eviction nominations were planned for tomorrow." She said, quirking her brow into a curious frown.
"They are," responded the presenter who sat in the command centre fidgeting with a pen.
"Then why did you call " Rachel cut her off before she could finish the question. Best get this over with I guess. "Alex, Im afraid I have some bad news."
The guitarists jaw clamped shut. "News? What news?" The colour drained from her face as her mind filled with possibilities. Her eyes widened in panic. "Tim! Is he alright?"
"Hes fine." Rachel answered quickly, wanting to put her mind at rest over the safety of her brother. "Actually, I spoke with him this morning."
Alex breathed a sigh of relief. Her younger brother was her only family since their mother died a few years ago. The pair were constant companions and closer than most siblings. They had provided help and support to each other through the roughest times and made a point of speaking, either in person or by telephone, almost every day.
She was finding their separation and loss of contact the hardest part of her participation in the show so far.
Rachels tone brought her attention back to the present. "Tim wanted me to talk to you. Theres been an accident involving a Tracey Matthews. He thought you should know."
Alex face remained passive, her expression unreadable. "Is she okay?"
Rachel took a deep breath. "Shes dead." The presenter paused before continuing. "Your brother said she was a friend of yours? Im so sorry."
"Dont be," said Alex in a barely audible whisper.
"I said dont be." Her voice grew stronger and colder. "Dont be sorry for someone you dont know."
Rachel say back in her chair, surprised by the route the conversation had taken. She had expected grief, maybe even tears, but not the uncaring response that Alex was projecting. Shock. It had to be shock. After all, Tim had said they were close.
She pressed on, hoping to get the guitarist to open up a little. "I am sorry Alex," she said softly. "Maybe I didnt know her. But I know you and if it causes you pain, then for that Im sorry."
Alex simply nodded. Truth be told, she was still trying to digest the news that Rachel had told her. Shed got used to the fact that Tracey was no longer part of her life a few months back, but she was finding it difficult to accept that she was gone. Truly gone. And she wasnt coming back.
"Alex," Rachels soft voice brought her back to the present. "Are you okay?" she prodded gently.
"No," came the whispered reply. She closed her eyes as emotions she though long buried resurfaced once again.
"Alex? Are you home?" called Tracey as she closed the front door and threw her keys on the nearby coffee table. She turned to her auburn-haired companion and squeezed her hand. "Come on, lets get this over with so we can get out of here."
"Trace? Youre early," replied a surprised Alex as she walked into the living room from the kitchen with a mug of freshly brewed coffee in her hand.
She paused as she noticed their friend by the door. "Sandra, good to see you. Kettles just boiled, can I get you anything?"
The paler woman glanced nervously from Alex to Tracey and back again. "Er, no. No thanks. I dont think were staying long."
Alex frowned and looked questionably at Sandra before glancing towards her girlfriend. "We?"
Tracey cleared her throat and looked up guiltily. "Alex, we need to talk."
Hurt. Anger. Hatred. Panic. Fear. Betrayal. Every emotion she had felt that day began to wash over her in waves as she relived the pain over again. She let her head slump forward but not before Rachel caught sight of a single tear tracing the darker womans cheek.
"Alex," she prodded again. "Talk to me please."
The guitarist glanced back up at the camera, her eyes filled with tears, and finally spoke. "She wasnt my friend. I mean, she was but..." She paused. "We were lovers."
Rachels eyebrows lifted in surprise as Alex continued to talk. "It ended She ended it a few months ago. It wasnt pretty and I havent seen her since."
"What happened?" the presenter asked softly.
"You mean who happened? snapped Alex, her voice raw with emotion. She sighed heavily before continuing. "She left me for someone I thought was a good friend. I trusted them both and they threw it back in my face."
"Ouch," muttered Rachel quietly, more to herself than the contestant. She took a deep breath and pressed on with her producers request. "We need to talk about the funeral."
Alexs brow knitted in confusion. "I dont understand."
Rachel fidgeted in her seat. "Well, its next week you see and um "
"How did she die?" Alex interrupted, her mind starting to focus back on the reality of the situation.
"Car crash," replied Rachel quietly. "Im not sure how it happened but she was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle." She continued to pass on the information she had heard earlier that day.
"From what we know, she wasnt wearing a seatbelt. There were major head injuries and an ambulance rushed her to hospital but there wasnt much they could do for her. Your brother contacted us to let us know and asked that we inform you.
Usually contestants are kept isolated from the news outside the house but in the circumstances " her voice trailed off. "Anyway, I spoke to Tim this morning and he asked that I pass on details of the funeral."
Alex nodded sadly. "How is he? Can I talk to him?"
Rachel shook her head, then remembered the contestant couldnt see her. "Im sorry. Its against the rules." She caught the pained expression that crossed the guitarists face and added, "he misses you though. He wanted me to tell you that."
"Yeah?" asked Alex, a small smile forming on her lips.
The guitarist ran a hand through her damp hair. "So when is the funeral?"
"Wednesday," murmured Rachel. "Do you want to go?"
"Can I?" queried Alex.
"Yes but " Rachel took a deep breath, "but going would rule you out of the rest of the show. The producer checked over the rules. You can leave the house if you choose however once out, you cant get back in."
"You would disqualify me?" Alex asked incredulously.
Rachel exhaled. "Its not my decision Alex. I feel awful about it, but the rules when you signed on for this were very clear. There was to be no contact with the outside world. I tried fighting this for you but they wouldnt budge. Either you go and throw away everything youve achieved in here. Or you stay. Its your choice."
Rachel braced herself for an outburst that never came. Instead she heard a very quiet voice whisper in surprise, "you fought for me?"
"Er, yeah." The presenter touched her hand to her cheek. Am I blushing?
"Why?" continue Alex unaware.
She sat quiet for several minutes unsure of how to respond. The silence stretched on for so long that Alex began to think she wouldnt get an answer at all. The guitarist just stared at the black camera in front of her and waited.
"I never really thought about it," replied the presenter eventually, her quiet voice reaching Alex through the rooms built-in speakers. "It just seemed like the right thing to do."
Alexs genuine smile flashed across Rachels screen and it wasnt long before she realised she was staring again. The contestants voice broke the silence as the presenter found herself fighting hard to concentrate on breathing.
"Thanks for trying," she said quietly. "I really mean that." Alex stood and walked round to the back of the chair. "How soon do I need to let you know my decision?"
Rachel swallowed before answering. "Tomorrow."
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