To Cybernana — a beta reader who answered a frantic call for help in my time of need. Your suggestions and support have been greatly appreciated. To everyone else… On with the show ;-)

*****

Rachel sighed heavily and let her head fall gently against the cushioned back of her cream leather sofa. What a day, she thought to herself kicking off her shoes and curling her bare feet up under her.

She opened one eye to glance at the small gold clock mounted on the opposite wall. 10pm, only 14 hours to go. Light-coloured brows furrowed as she watched the small hands tick by seconds first and then minutes. Why couldn’t she have just made a decision today? I’m going to go crazy by the time tomorrow rolls around.

The shrill noise of the phone ringing cut sharply through the silence, pulling Rachel from her musings and making her squawk in fright. She fumbled for the receiver and finally managed to grab it on the fourth ring.

"Hello?"

Georgia’s distinctive chatter assaulted her ears.

"Babe! How are you? Where did you rush off to after filming? Is it true your woman is going to walk? Honestly, you call me your best friend and leave me last with the news! Everyone on set is talking about it you know! They’re even taking bets! We could really clean up here so come on, what’s the scoop?"

"Jesus George, do you ever find the time to take a breath?" replied Rachel rolling her eyes and wriggling to get comfy. Where her eccentric friend was concerned, there was no such thing as a short phone call.

"Aww now is that nice? And here I am phoning to find out if you are okay and why you shot out of here like a rabbit out of a trap after your nice long chat with you-know-who."

Rachel laughed. "No, you’re phoning to find out which way to go in the set’s latest sweepstake, but I forgive you. I’m glad you called. Today has really been exhausting."

"So tell me what happened," her friend replied slightly concerned. It wasn’t like Rachel to let her work affect her so much. Normally she would have been delighted to have bagged such touching footage for the show. Everyone had been talking about what a great job she had done but instead the presenter sounded tired, sad and even remorseful.

"Did you see any of what we filmed?" asked Rachel. "Erm, no," replied her friend slightly embarrassed. "I kind of got a bit caught up in the finer details of the betting process, but from what I hear everyone was pleased."

"Not everyone," the presenter said quietly. She took a deep breath and launched into her long conversation with Alex. She told Georgia about the revelation over the dark-haired woman’s past girlfriend, their break-up and everything else that followed.

"Jesus, what a bitch," her friend said quietly. "Sounds like she’s been through a lot."

"Yeah, I know," said Rachel softly. "And here I am making things worse."

"Huh?" questioned the puzzled make-up artist. "How do you figure that?"

Rachel sighed and twisted the phone chord around her index finger. "I may have just talked her out of her only chance to say good bye to what could be the only person she’s ever truly loved."

"Aww Rach, hunny, don’t put that on yourself. It’s not like you are making the choice for her. All you did was spell out the consequences. Ultimately it’s up to Alex. The final decision is hers and hers alone. C’mon, get a grip."

"I guess," the blonde said quietly digesting her friend’s logic. " I just wish I knew what she was going to do."

"Ahh so that’s what you’ve been doing all evening," teased Georgia, trying to lighten her friend’s mood. "Counting the minutes till you find out?"

Rachel blushed in embarrassment, glad for once that her friend couldn’t see her face. "No of course not, don’t be silly," she stammered deliberately looking away from the clock on the wall. "Anyway, tell me about your day," asked the presenter quickly, hoping to change the subject.

The pair talked a little longer, mainly about Georgia’s sex-only relationship with the poor man now dubbed "boring Brian" before agreeing to meet for lunch the following day.

They eventually said their goodbyes and Rachel hung up the phone, sank back into the comfort of her sofa and let her eyes fall closed. George is right, she thought to herself, I do need to get a grip. She stretched over and hit the power button on her radio, hoping to find a relaxing tune to ease away her worries.

Every breath you take

Every move you make

Every bond you break

Every step you take

I'll be watching you

Every single day

Every word you say

Every game you play

Every night you stay

I'll be watching you

She opened her eyes in disbelief and stared up at the ceiling. "Oh goddddd," she groaned as Sting’s melancholy voice faded away. "This is driving me insane."

***********************************************************************************

Rachel arrived on set early after a restless night’s sleep to find the area swamped with activity.

The crew was busy realigning cameras and lighting on the studio floor in preparation for the first contestant eviction to be aired live the following day.

She spotted Jim talking animatedly with someone she thought was one of the station’s bosses and decided to duck in the opposite direction.

The presenter made her way into the show’s control centre and slipped on her headset, cutting off the bustling noise from the other side of the door.

She glanced round a few monitors and noted that many of the contestants, Alex included, were still asleep and pulled a draft script for the eviction broadcast out of her bag.

After a few minutes of reading over her lines, she snagged a pen left on the desk beside her and began making small notes and suggestions in the margin, completely losing herself in her work.

It was a couple of hours later when a knock at the door vied for her attention. She turned to see Georgia’s concerned face pressed up against the circular window and waved at her friend to come on in.

"Hey George, what’s up? Everything okay?"

Her friend frowned in confusion and replied, "actually I was about to ask you the same thing."

"Me?" said Rachel surprised. "Well, yeah, I’m okay. I didn’t exactly sleep well, but I thought about what you said and you’re right. I need to get a grip I think."

The make-up artist looked at her friend uncertainly before realisation dawned. She took a deep breath. "You haven’t seen it have you?" she asked.

"Seen what?" queried Rachel.

"This," said Georgia, letting the newspaper in her hand fall across the presenter’s desk.

Rachel stood staring at the front page of a well-known local tabloid in horror. Alex’s picture was featured prominently alongside a huge black headline.

YOUR MONEY OR YOUR WIFE?

Game show contestant faces moral dilemma.

THE restrictive boundaries of reality TV have hit

home to one luckless contestant this week.

Alex O’Connor, who is among a group of 10

people to volunteer for the newly launched ‘It’s Only

A Game Show’, faces the toughest choice of the

programme so far.

Faced with the death of her ex-lover, should she do the

honourable thing and leave the show in order to pay

her respects?

Or will she ignore the funeral and tarnish the memory of

Tracy Martin by choosing to stay within the show compound

and fight for her share of a 100,000 prize.

Public opinion on the matter is divided and the answer will

not be known until the show’s live broadcast at 8pm on

Friday night.

Producer of the groundbreaking programme, Jim Reynolds,

said today that the dilemma the contestant was facing had

captured the attention of the nation.

"The concept of this show was to follow the lives of these

people through the good and the bad. Obviously we are as

fascinated as the general public over what choice Alex is

going to make."

He added: "We expect people to tune in to the show in their

thousands tomorrow, not just to find out who is evicted, but

also to discover whether Alex will be staying or leaving."

Full story on page 15

Georgia watched as her friend’s face clouded with rage. The presenter snatched the paper from the table and stormed out the room without saying a word, slamming the door forcefully behind her.

***********************************************************************************

Jim sat behind his desk grinning and deeply inhaled the smoke from one of his favourite Cuban cigars.

His conversation with Mike Jones, executive director of the station, had been the highlight of his day so far.

The show’s progress had gone down very well with his bosses and the added attention sure to be generated by today’s media coverage had rounded things off nicely.

The producer had already received a pat on the back from his superiors and the possibility of them commissioning a second series had been mentioned as long as he could keep up the high level of public interest.

He blew out a steady stream of smoke and was considering taking Mrs Reynolds out to one of the town’s finest restaurants to celebrate when his office door shot open and Rachel burst in.

"Ahh, there’s my favourite presenter," he boomed happily, completely missing the look of rage in her eyes.

"What can I do for y…"

His sentence was cut short by a newspaper being propelled across his desk, spilling cigar ash from his ashtray.

"What the FUCK is this?" she demanded.

They locked eyes for several moments — Jim was too stunned by her uncharacteristic outburst to speak and so, eventually, it was Rachel who broke the silence.

"Confidential Jim. You told me that sensitive talks between the contestants and myself, this one in particular, would be confidential. It’s bad enough it was aired at all, but then you go and give lip service to the press. And not even the decent press, but this two-bit rag," her voice began to escalate in volume once again.

"Rachel calm down," he cut in, eventually finding his tongue. "Can’t you see how great this exposure is for us. Ratings are set to soar and we are being featured in almost every daily newspaper around the country. We even had a mention on this morning’s main news bulletin. It’s great stuff."

He flashed a smile, hoping his enthusiasm would rub-off but Rachel just scowled in return.

"Jim, it is so not great stuff. In fact, it’s about as far away from great stuff as it can get. Look at this," she picked up the paper again and held it in front of his face.

"Your money or your wife," she read. "For Christ sakes Jim, these are people’s lives we are playing with here."

"Exactly," he replied forcefully, his patience wearing thin. He stood up from his chair to meet her head-on. "That is exactly what we set out to do and each and every person in that house signed a contract allowing us to do just that.

"Press coverage, whether good, bad or indifferent about these people was expected and even planned for. It’s the nature of the beast Rachel and it is why we are all here, and that includes you." He pointed a large, tar-stained finger at her chest.

"You might not like it, but you’re going to have to get used to it and I sure as hell don't expect you to burst into my office like this again."

Rachel continued to glare at him for what seemed like an eternity before realising that the uncomfortable silence wasn't getting her anywhere. All Jim saw was ratings and the increasing number of television viewers that would be tuning in with every scandal. Everything else came second.

Her shoulders eventually slumped in defeat and she turned and left without saying another word, leaving Jim alone again in his office still shaking his head at her uncharacteristic outburst.

***********************************************************************************

It was several hours later when a much-calmer Rachel settled back down in her command centre chair and placed her headphones comfortably over her ears. She took a deep breath and activated the live microphone link to the speaker system inside the house. "Would Alex come to the confession room please?"

The contestant, who had been sitting alone in the girls’ room for the best part of the morning, lifted her head at the sound. Sighing softly, she pushed herself off the bed and made her way through to the tiny room followed by curious glances from her fellow housemates.

"Hi," said Rachel quietly as she watched Alex sit down and stare directly into the large black camera, her head and shoulders framed perfectly on the linked monitor.

"D-day huh?" Alex joked, forcing a smile and trying to lighten the mood a little.

"Fraid so," the voice replied. God I can’t believe how nervous I am, thought Rachel as she watched Alex chew on a fingernail.

Several moments passed before the contestant cleared her throat and lifted her chin. "Okay, I’ve made my decision."

The presenter scooted forward a little on her chair and leaned towards the screen, her arms resting on her workstation with her fingers interlaced. Stay. Please, pleasepleaseplease she mentally chanted.

Alex took a deep breath. "I’m staying."

Yesssssss, a huge grin appeared on Rachel’s face. There was a gentle knock on the door, and she dragged her gaze away from the monitor. Jim’s smiling face appeared as the door opened, along with a hand giving her an enthusiastic thumbs-up, then disappeared again as he left.

The presenter exhaled slowly and relaxed back into her chair, smiling in relief.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah," said Alex sombrely. "I am. I said goodbye to the Tracy I knew a while ago now. The funeral is a place for her family, not me… not anymore. I’m staying here, that is, if that’s okay?"

"Of course it is," replied Rachel quickly. It’s MORE than okay, she thought to herself. "But with you staying, we need to progress to the nomination stage. If you’d gone, no one would have been evicted this week. I need you to have a think and give me two names when I call you back in later, same as everyone else."

Alex nodded. "Then what happens?"

Rachel looked down to the sheets of paper on her desk and checked her itinerary for the remainder of the day. "Well, then we show the nomination footage on television at 7pm, giving the public the names of the three who received the most votes from you guys. And we let the people in the house know who’s place is at risk. After that the phone lines are open for three hours and the person with the highest number of public votes will be asked to leave."

Alex sat forward, interested in what was planned. "When will they go?" she asked. "The person evicted I mean?"

Rachel looked at her watch. "It’s 12 o’clock now. I have to do a live interview with whoever is evicted at 10pm. Whoever it is, they’ve not got long left."

The contestant’s eyebrows knitted together in thought. "I could be evicted couldn’t I? Even though I’ve chosen to stay."

"True," replied the blonde, "but so could any of the nine others. I’ll be taking everyone’s votes in a few hours."

Alex stood to leave the room. "Well then, I guess I’ll talk to you soon." She paused and looked directly into the camera once more. "And I might be seeing you later."

***********************************************************************************

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