© Copyright 2009 by Elizabeth Delayne
Jamie mingled under the tent and reminded herself that it was supposed to be a party. There was music and a bonfire, Tiki torches, and plenty of food. People spilled out from under the tent, into the dark. She smiled, she laughed, and she met the other team, trying her best to learn about them and file the information in case it was needed later.
She only could hope that was what the cameras captured and not the swirling thoughts in her mind. Tyler had yet to make an appearance.
She tried not to look over at the RV, knowing full well the cameras were watching. It didn’t matter if he was hurting now. Weeks down the road, when the episode aired, he would be hurting again. The editing would highlight his anger and his pain.
And if he left, before it all began, they would be without a leader.
She glanced over at George, then Thessa, and then Cameron.
Or at least one that had experience.
The other team was made up of three women, three men; two professionals, one athlete, two college students and their leader whom Jamie had yet to talk to. She wondered if he had a job that he walked away from. She wondered if he’d known what his presence was meant to do.
Was he all that Tyler thought and more?
Or was he simply caught up in the ride as the rest of them were.
Then she nearly laughed at herself as she leaned in close to try and hear what one of the locals said over the music. Zeke paced the outer edge of the tent like a general preparing for battle. He was stoic, intense.
And it was all an act, played up for the camera.
Oh, he knew what he was doing.
She shook her head, focused—or tried to focus on the conversation. Music pulsed around the mingling parties, lights flickered. Cameron and his X-Game counterpart on the other team held court in the center with males and females alike.
She spotted Felicty, who leaned close to one of their compeitors, the look on her face intense as she listened—as she tried to take in as much of what the other one said as possible. To remember, Jamie thought. To use later.
“We’re going to take a risk and let the cameras hear us,” Jamie turned to find that Thessa had walked over to her, with George at her elbow. “One of those supposed locals just said he heard from someone on the crew that Tyler was packing up, going home.”
Jamie stared at Thessa, then glanced over at the RV.
“You should go to him.”
“Me? What am I supposed to say?”
“He seems to be closest to you.”
“Close?” Jamie asked, aware even then that the cameras were there–and an audience would eventually tune in to find out what she did say. “I don’t even know what happened back then with him and ...” she waved her hand toward the blond adonis in stood on the edge of the crowd.
“So? Felicity knows the show best. Right now, she’s playing the game. Do you think we would ask her to go in and try to get Tyler out? What do you think she would say to change his mind?”
“And I know what to say?”
Thessa shrugged, “You’ll come up with something. Seriously, Jamie. He could be going home.”
Jamie looked at George. He nodded his head. “Go.”
Tyler looked up as the front door of the motor home slowly slid open, the expulsion of air cut into the quiet. He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or not that it was Jamie who stepped on board.
He ignored the camera man who stepped in behind her. That was normal. There was already one sitting at the end of the bus constantly watching him. Tyer caught the smile on his face as he turned his camera back on, leaned forward.
Anticipating a show.
He’d already given it, maybe ten times over. He’d been visited by a slue of producers, assistants. People.
He’d called Frank.
And now he just sat there. Numb. Betrayed.
“I started to pack a bag,” he said as Jamie stopped in front of him.
“I heard. Or maybe I heard what people are speculating. I guess that means you’re thinking about leaving,” Jamie said quietly. He looked up at her.
“I don’t know that I have it in me.”
“To stay or go?” She sat down beside him, folded her hands. “You’re not here for him, Tyler. You’re here for us, now. We need you.”
He shook his head.
“Is it so bad what he did?”
Tyler shook his head. “It’s...”
“What I did. I’ll at least admit that.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “He knows my buttons. I don’t have many of them ... ”
For a moment she just looked at him, studied him, with those serious eyes. He wondered what she saw, what he wanted her to see.
“The cameras going to amplify our weakness,” she murmured. “I’ve thought about that since I agreed with my grandmother to do this thing. The editors and others, they’re hoping we’ll make mistakes. Filming to catch us screwing up. It makes better TV. I know that. And for whatever reason, I’m still here. I thought of that. What it means, how I’ll handle it.
“My grandmother,” she said slowly, “says that sometimes God lets us make mistakes so that we know they’re there. She He can fix them.”
He sighed, slowly worked his jaw, took in her words. “Sounds like something Frank would say.”
“You know what I think?”
“No,” he said, then looked at her and tried to make an effort. “What?”
“You try to be this likeable guy,” she said. “You really put forth and effort. Maybe even without even trying. But you can’t try with him. And that upsets you.”
“He might have changed.”
Tyler shook his head. “No, it was a network decision. If he had changed, they wouldn’t have wanted him. They’re pitting him against me, have probably encouraged him to be all the things he was before. It’s all about the ratings.”
“You’re upset with the network.”
“I’m upset with...” he stared straight ahead, “I don’t know.”
Without thinking about it he reached for her hand, studied the long, capable fingers, ran his thumb down the middle one. Then he sighed and leaned back, rested his head on the cushion and looked up, followed the pattern on the ceiling.
“If anything ... I might have stayed one year too long. I’ve always been afraid of that. It was just to easy to stay in a rut. It’s a bad habit of mine.”
Jamie chuckled and he looked at her, watched her shake her head.
“It’s so odd when a rut becomes meeting new people and going new places everyday. According to Gram, I came here to get out of the rut she said I was in”
Tyler gave her a small smile, he couldn’t muster much else.
“I haven’t quite figured out why I’m on the show,” Jamie told him. “I’m not all that exciting. I carry bandages, gauze and my stethescope in my backpack, because I can’t help it. I mean, we haven’t even competed yet and there’s been a trained EMT around at all the gatherings. I’m just neurotic, I guess. Not quite OCD, but likely that’s how I’ll look when they film me. And Felicity thinks I’m going to be labeled the mother figure on the show. I’m only 29. How can I be any grown adult’s mother? Or a mother to George.”
He laughed, shook his head. Why did he suddenly feel better all the sudden?
“I’m staying,” he told her even as he sighed. “But I don’t have to like it. They can have all the brooding footage they want tonight. Its what they want. It’s what I feel. I’ll give it to them, because I really don’t care enough to hide it.”
“Can we get the other Tyler back in the morning?”
He turned his head slowly, looked at her for a long moment. She simply waited him out. His fingers twitched. He wanted to reach out, stroke a finger along that serious line in her brow.
She’d spoken of God, had hit on the one thing he feared—his own mistakes.
And inside, he sighed.
“He’ll be back in the morning.”
“Jamie,” he reached out, stopped her from getting up. He lifted a hand, gave into his need to touch as he ran his knuckles down her check. “You’re not a mother figure to me.”
Her lips parted, then closed. She nodded.
“Go on out there. Enjoy yourself, or pretend to,” he leaned back and sighed as he stared up at the ceiling again. “I’ll be back to normal by morning.”
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