Elle's Bachelorette Challenge - Day 5


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Elle's Bachelorette Challenge - Day 5

  1. 1. Smoothie Sims, Inc. proudly presents… Elle’s Bachelorette Challenge - Day 5
  2. 2. As usual, the mi nutes di rectly after eli mi nati on w ere used by the people i n the observati on house to take care of thei r needs, so w hi le Akor w as leavi ng the bachelorette house, Mari na enjoyed a peaceful few mi nutes to herself. She w as very happy to have all her favori te people i n one place agai n, but her favori te people w ere all such bi g personali ti es that someti mes, i t w as hard to keep up w i th them.
  3. 3. “Lunch di shes are cleaned up,” Spencer reported, w alki ng back i nto the room. “Thanks, dude.” “No problem. Any acti vi ty yet?” Mari na scrolled around the screen. “She’ s brew i ng the tea now . Not qui te. It shouldn’ t be much longer, though. Where’ s everybody else?”
  4. 4. “I’ ll gi ve you one guess as to w here Rhys and De are. ” “Oh my God, i n the mi ddle of the day? They can’ t hang onto thei r pants unti l bedti me at least? Gah. ” “Does i t really surpri se you? He’ s a Romance Si m. We do our reuni ons thoroughly. ” “What surpri ses me i s that you can say that w i th a strai ght face about your ow n son and your ex. Be honest, Spencer, does i t bother you?” He shrugged. “A li ttle, but not as much as i t di d. Speaki ng honestly I saw i t comi ng a long ti me ago. And, w ell, Rhys i s my son. He’ s spent enough ti me hati ng me as i t i s w i thout my needi ng to pi ck a fi ght over somethi ng poi ntless. ” “You’ re a trooper, Spencer. ”
  5. 5. “Thanks, Mari na.” He glanced over at the couch. “Apparently Zuzu and Dom got i n the mood, too.” Mari na low ered her voi ce. “What do you thi nk of Dom, by the w ay?” “Tryi ng to fi gure out i f I’ m jealous?” he smi led know i ngly. “Jealous?” “Well, I do know how much you li ke hi m. It’ s ki nd of obvi ous from the w ay you’ ve talked about hi m.” “Please. I couldn’ t li ke anybody better than you and you know i t.” Spencer smi rked. “Just checki ng. I li ke hi m a lot. He’ s very personable and bei ng around hi m has helped Zuzu recover some self-esteem, w hi ch I obvi ously appreci ate.”
  6. 6. “Glad to hear i t,” Mari na sai d. “Now , the mai n i ssue i s how w e’ re goi ng to get the couch back once i t’ s ti me to si t dow n agai n.” Spencer laughed. “Everyone’ s pai red off but us, haven’ t they?” “Meh, w e’ ll deal.”
  7. 7. Noti ci ng how engrossed Mari na w as i n the computer, Spencer deci ded to have a li ttle fun w i th her. Slouchi ng on hi s hi ps as sexi ly as possi ble, he w hi spered, “Wanna make out?” “I’ d rather ki ss a frog,” Mari na sai d, w i thout looki ng up. He gri nned. “That’ s just nasty. Have some standards, Mari na. I’ m a much better ki sser than a frog w ould be.” “You’ re si ck.” “You know you w ant to.” “Spencer, do the w ords ‘ negati ve chemi stry’ mean anythi ng to you?” “Oh, I bet w e could bump i t up a bolt i f w e tri ed hard enough.”
  8. 8. She fi nally looked up, eyes narrow ed. “You really enjoy getti ng a ri se out of me, don’ t you.” “Every ti me,” he sai d cheerfully. “Come on, out of that chai r.” “Hell no. You touch me, you di e.” “I w as joki ng, Mari na,” he sai d pati ently, taki ng her by the arm and helpi ng her up. “You need to take a break before you develop a hunchback from bendi ng over that thi ng so long.”
  9. 9. “But someone needs to moni tor Elle--” “I’ ll do i t. I thi nk I know enough about how all thi s w orks to manage for a couple hours, at least. You can have the computer back after the tea date.” He paused. “Why i s i t tea, anyw ay? What happened to hot tubs?” “Spencer, you have met Elle, ri ght?” “…ri ght. Forget I asked.”
  10. 10. He took Mari na’ s place at the computer, and she turned to yell up the stai rs. “Rhys! De! We’ re ready, but you can’ t come back dow n here unti l you’ ve put clothes on!” “Fi ne w i th us!” a sli ghtly muffled voi ce called i n reply, follow ed by a gi ggle. Spencer barked a laugh w hi le Mari na groaned. “I guess w e’ ll have less obnoxi ous commentary from the peanut gallery, at least.” ***
  11. 11. If asked, Elle w ould have sai d that the tea dates w ere her favori te part of bei ng i n a bachelorette challenge. They provi ded a ni ce, calm, neutral setti ng, w hi ch she desperately needed after each eli mi nati on because they only got harder as the days w ent by. She also enjoyed chatti ng w i th her new favori te guys and getti ng to know more about them through the li ttle thi ngs. Casual conversati ons could someti mes be more telli ng than heart-to-hearts, not that she w as opposed to ei ther one.
  12. 12. And today, everybody i n the house w ould get to come to tea and no one w ould be left out. Stuart and Ham w ere the fi rst ones to arri ve. “Hey, guys,” she sai d, happy to see them. “Gi ve me a sec and I’ ll have your tea ready.” “There i s no hurry,” Stuart sai d. “We are sti ll w ai ti ng on Mr. Whedon.” “He w i shed to use the faci li ti es before joi ni ng us,” Ham explai ned, “and asked us to i nform you that he w as doi ng so.” “That’ s fi ne. Thanks for passi ng i t on.”
  13. 13. “You seem a li ttle subdued,” Ham noted w hi le she poured Stuart’ s tea. “I guess. I don’ t li ke sendi ng people home. That’ s the only part I really hate about thi s w hole thi ng.” “There i s nothi ng w rong w i th that,” Stuart sai d. “It show s greatness of character.” She half-laughed. “That w on’ t make i t any easi er. But I’ m tryi ng not to thi nk about that ri ght now . Thanks, though, both of you. I appreci ate the concern.”
  14. 14. Just then, Li am came upstai rs and practi cally sli d i nto hi s seat. “I’ m here,” he huffed. Elle laughed, genui nely thi s ti me. “It’ s not a race, Li am.” “It used to be,” he retorted, “and i t’ s habi t now .” “Catch your breath,” Stuart advi sed, looki ng amused. “There i s plenty of ti me.” “Have you deci ded on a questi on for today, Mi ss E--uh, Elli e?” Ham asked, w hi le she poured Li am hi s tea. “Yeah, I’ ve got one. I w ant to know w hat everyone’ s mi ddle names are. I mean, i f i t’ s really embarrassi ng you don’ t have to say, but I’ m curi ous. I’ ll start, and w e’ ll go clockw i se, opposi te from yesterday. Okay?” “That sounds perfectly fai r.”
  15. 15. “My dad’ s really senti mental,” Elle began, “so my si bli ngs and I all got our mi ddle names from fami ly members w ho’ ve passed aw ay. They w ould have been our fi rst names i f my mom hadn’ t talked hi m out of i t. So I’ m Elle Nari ssa, after my great- grandmother.” The three boys responded i n varyi ng degrees of “pretty” and “how ni ce,” w hi ch made her smi le. “Yeah, I li ke i t too. How about you, Stuart?” “My mi ddle name i s Wi lli am,” Stuart sai d, smi li ng, “after my grandfather, a truly w onderful man. He di d much for my fami ly, i ncludi ng bui ldi ng that thri vi ng busi ness empi re I told you about, Elli e. We ow e hi m a lot, and I am proud to bear hi s name.” “I am also named for my grandfather,” sai d Ham, deli ghted at the coi nci dence. “Although hi s name w as Fi tzw i lli am and I am si mply Wi lli am. I w as born w hi le he w as sti ll li vi ng, how ever, so I am called Ham or Hammy at home to di fferenti ate us.” “Is ‘ Ham’ deri ved from your mi ddle name, then?”
  16. 16. “It i s. Indeed, I have tw o mi ddle names. My mother has a sense of humor. They are Hampson, w here ‘ Ham’ comes from, and Walter.” At thi s he made a face. “I must admi t I do not care much for my second mi ddle name and am exceedi ngly grateful that i t i s not the name my parents chose to refer to me by.” Li am snorted. “You thi nk that’ s bad? Mi ne i s Angel.” That earned hi m three i ncredulous stares from the others. “No, I’ m seri ous. Li am Angel Whedon i s my full name.” “Di d you have a relati ve called Angel?” Stuart asked. “No, as far as I can tell my mom ei ther had a sadi sti c sense of humor or she w as just a crackpot.” The last part w as sai d w i th less venom than the last ti me they had talked about hi s fami ly, w hi ch w as an encouragi ng si gn that he w as i n a good mood. “At least i t’ s not my fi rst name.”
  17. 17. “So half of us hate our mi ddle names, and half of us love them,” Elle observed, smi li ng. “I only di sli ke one of mi ne,” Ham poi nted out. “The other I am perfectly content w i th.” “I w ould’ ve thought you’ d take more offense to Hampson,” Li am sai d. “It has a certai n ri ng to i t that I enjoy. How ever, Walter sounds li ke the name of a fi fty-year-old man, and I am not anyw here near that age.” “And how old are you?” Ham colored a li ttle. “You can hardly expect me to say.” Li am laughed. “Oh come on, you’ re not that old. Tw enty-fi ve tops, I bet.” As Ham conti nued to blush and stammer, Elle and Stuart laughed and attempted to help hi m w hi le Li am egged hi m on.
  18. 18. It w as such a relaxi ng, fun ti me that Elle hated to end i t, but after the allotted three hours she reluctantly got up and began to pack up the tea set. “Well, you guys know the deal by now , I guess. We’ re goi ng to have one-on-one ti me after thi s dow nstai rs i n the room w e usually use i n the morni ng. You guys can deci de the order betw een yourselves, okay?” Recei vi ng affi rmati on from each of the guys, she smi led. “Okay. I’ m goi ng to head dow n there and I’ ll see you all i n a bi t.”
  19. 19. “So you never di d tell me w hat I’ m supposed to be doi ng w i th the guys ri ght now ,” Elle sai d to her earpi ece, settli ng on the couch to w ai t for her fi rst vi si tor. “No, I guess I di dn’ t,” Mari na repli ed. “I di d come up w i th my notes though, so i f you’ re ready I can tell you now . ” “Okay, go for i t.” “You’ re goi ng to gi ve them each a ki ss. ”
  20. 20. “WHAT?” Mari na recoi led from the screen. “Elli e, my ears!” “You don’ t seri ously expect me to--” “Oh yes, I do, and now you ow e me for blasti ng my eardrums. It’ s not li ke I’ m telli ng you to make out w i th them. One ki ss each, on the mouth, and i t doesn’ t have to last longer than you w ant i t to.” “But--” “And I’ m putti ng you on a ti mer thi s ti me. You get fi ve mi nutes each to w ork up the guts to get i t over w i th.” “I can’ t do i t! ”
  21. 21. “Yes, you can, Elle. You can’ t tell me you haven’ t thought about i t before. ” “But--but w hat i f they don’ t w ant to?” “They w i ll. ” “You don’ t know that.” “Elli e, each of the guys w ho i s sti ll there w ants to be there, and they know w hat they’ re there for. I hi ghly doubt they’ re not goi ng to be on board w i th thi s. Just go for i t. You’ ll li ke i t, I promi se. ” “But--” “Heads up, Stuart’ s on hi s w ay i n. ” “ACK!”
  22. 22. She had bare seconds to calm herself dow n before Stuart w alked i n, completely unaw are of w hat had just transpi red and i mmedi ately concerned w hen he saw that Elle w as looki ng a bi t nauseous. “Are you i ll?” he asked. “No, no, I’ m fi ne,” she sai d qui ckly, w i th a small, nervous laugh. “Are you qui te sure? You look a bi t fai nt. I w ould be more than happy to escort you to your room--”
  23. 23. “Thank you, no,” Elle sai d, getti ng up determi nedly. “I’ m fi ne. Really. Just a li ttle nervous.” Stuart smi led. “There i s no need for that, i s there? I w as under the i mpressi on that the tw o of us w ere qui te comfortable w i th each other by now .” She shrugged, relaxi ng a li ttle bi t--but only a li ttle. “I’ m more than comfortable w i th you, Stuart. Someti mes thi ngs come up, that’ s all.” “What do you mean?” Fi ve mi nutes. She w as so embarrassed and scared she couldn’ t even say i t. “I-I’ m w orri ed you’ re not goi ng to li ke w hat I’ m goi ng to do,” she managed. “And w hat w ere you planni ng on doi ng?” he asked gently.
  24. 24. Fi ve mi nutes. Fi ve mi nutes. Fi ve mi nutes. She took a breath and made herself move, putti ng her hands on hi s shoulders and glanci ng deli berately at hi s mouth before rai si ng her eyes to hi s. “Would you mi nd i f I…” Hi s eyes w i dened a bi t. “Are you sure?” “I w on’ t do i t i f you don’ t w ant me to.” She hesi tated. “But…I really, really w ant to.” Stuart seemed surpri sed by thi s statement, but i t qui ckly faded i nto a smi le. “You have my permi ssi on,” he sai d softly.
  25. 25. Elle had never ki ssed anyone before and had heard so many descri pti ons of w hat i t w as li ke that she hardly knew w hat to expect. The fi rst ki ss, i n parti cular, w as a poi nt of contenti on. Some people sai d i t w as w onderful. Magi cal. Fi rew orks behi nd the eyes. Others sai d the fi rst ki ss w as a li ttle odd, and not that speci al unless i t w as w i th someone you really li ked. She di scovered qui ckly that yes, i t w as a li ttle odd, but i n a w ay that she enjoyed. She li ked Stuart qui te a lot and ki ssi ng hi m and havi ng hi m ki ss her back and hold her close to hi m w as really, really ni ce. After the i ni ti al fears of havi ng hi m reject her and that she w ouldn’ t be any good at i t, she found that i t w as somethi ng she could get used to.
  26. 26. After the tw o of them pulled apart, they stood there for a moment smi li ng stupi dly at each other. “So,” Stuart sai d after a moment, “i s that the modern w ay of doi ng these thi ngs?” “I w ouldn’ t know ,” Elle sai d, gi ggli ng a li ttle i n spi te of herself. “That w as my fi rst ti me.” “I w ould not have guessed.” “Oh, sure you w ould have. Maybe I w asn’ t bad at i t but I w as terri fi ed. You saw .” “You should not have to feel that w ay around me, ever,” Stuart sai d. “I li ked i t, and I li ke you, and I w ould not be averse to a repeat performance.” He li kes me! Elle thought, beami ng.
  27. 27. Thei r date ended there because the ti mer w ent off and Elle settled dow n on the couch i n a sli ght daze to w ai t for the next arri val, w hi ch turned out to be Li am. Looki ng up at hi m and know i ng she w as goi ng to have to ki ss hi m w i thi n the next fi ve mi nutes brought a new w ave of apprehensi on. “Hi , Li am,” she sai d shyly. He rai sed an eyebrow . “Hello, Elle. Are you okay?” “Yeah, fi ne.” Determi nedly, she got on her feet. Fi ve mi nutes. Just do i t.
  28. 28. “So, w hat’ ve you got for me?” he asked conversati onally, as he had that morni ng. “Well…” She bi t her li p, thi nki ng about her approach. “Thi s i s probably goi ng to come totally out of the blue, but…w hat w ould you say i f I asked you i f I could ki ss you?” Li am bli nked i n surpri se, and then hi s li ps curled i nto a smi rk. “I’ d ask you w hy you w ere aski ng i nstead of just doi ng i t.”
  29. 29. That w as all the encouragement she needed. Li am w as a completely di fferent ki sser than Stuart w as. Possi bly because of hi s more reserved background, Stuart’ s had been gentle and sw eet, almost questi oni ng. It surpri sed Elle how qui ckly Li am took control. It w asn’ t rough, exactly, but very thorough. The only thi ng she could do w as follow along, not that she mi nded. There w as an extra somethi ng odd about i t that she couldn’ t qui te place, how ever.
  30. 30. They separated somew hat breathlessly. “So, how do I rate?” Elle asked after a moment. Li am smi led. “As a ki sser? Not bad.” She rai sed an eyebrow . “Not bad?” “Uh, I meant to say good. You’ re excepti onal.” “That’ s better.” They looked at each other for a few seconds, and then burst out laughi ng. “Ri ght, I should go,” Li am sai d, as they recovered and the ti mer w ent off. “Feel free to drag me i nto a closet later i f you w ant another of those, though.” “I’ ll remember i t,” she repli ed, sti ll tryi ng not to gi ggle.
  31. 31. The sun had gone dow n by the ti me Ham arri ved, and Elle couldn’ t help smi li ng as she looked up w hen he entered. She had mi xed expectati ons of thi s one. People di dn’ t just go around ki ssi ng each other w here Ham w as from ei ther, and she w asn’ t totally sure he’ d be comfortable w i th i t. At the same ti me, si nce the fi rst day he had been pretty w i lli ng to go along w i th the desi gnated acti vi ti es, so he probably w ouldn’ t tell her not to. “Hi , Ham.” “Hello, Elli e,” he sai d, poli tely, but smi li ng w i dely.
  32. 32. Because the fi rst tw o ki sses had gone w ell after she’ d taken the plunge, w i thout preamble she stood up and reached for hi m. “Is i t okay i f I ki ss you?” She had obvi ously taken hi m by surpri se w i th thi s request, but after splutteri ng for a bri ef moment, he cleared hi s throat and nodded. “Ah, I thi nk that w ould be ni ce, yes.”
  33. 33. Thi s ki ss w as completely di fferent from the fi rst tw o. Ham took a bi t to get i nto i t, but after that he happi ly w ent along w i th w hatever she di d. The fact that he hardly ever took the lead w as a li ttle frustrati ng, but he made up for i t w i th hi s eager responses. At the same ti me, how ever, he took thi ngs easy, w hi ch Elle w as grateful for as Li am had left a bi t of a brui se.
  34. 34. Thi s ti me, Ham w as the fi rst to pull aw ay, hi s expressi on a mi xture of appalled and pleased. “Oh good heavens, I am sorry,” he began. Elle frow ned. “What for? I started i t.” “Yes, but I w as taki ng dreadful li berti es w i th you--” She had to laugh. “That w as ni ce, Ham. I w ouldn’ t have mi nded i f you’ d taken more.” “Really?” he asked, color creepi ng i nto hi s cheeks. “Really, si lly.” He gi ggled a bi t w i th pleasure and embarrassment. “Oh. Well. I rather thought i t w as ni ce, too.”
  35. 35. After she sent Ham out, she stayed i n the room alone a moment, runni ng her fi ngers over her li ps i n a stunned fashi on. Ki ssi ng someone w as a very new experi ence for her, and she had alw ays assumed she w ould li ke i t--w hy w ould people ki ss each other i n general, i f they di dn’ t?--but she w as surpri sed by how much she li ked i t. It could become an addi cti on i f she w asn’ t careful. A qui ck tap at the door brought her back to the present. “Yeah?” “May I come i n?” Stuart’ s voi ce came. “Oh, sure.”
  36. 36. The door opened and he sli pped i nsi de, looki ng a bi t pensi ve. “What’ s up?” she asked. “Oh, nothi ng really. I only w anted to spend a li ttle more ti me w i th you before di nner.” Elle smi led. “Sure. Do you w ant to play a game of pool or somethi ng?”
  37. 37. Stuart shi fted hi s stance a li ttle. “Well, I suppose w e could. To be honest, I w as si mply hopi ng w e could talk.” She di dn’ t li ke the sound of that. “What’ s w rong? You’ re not upset that I ki ssed you, are you?” “Oh, goodness no,” he sai d, looki ng sli ghtly horri fi ed that she w ould suggest such a thi ng, w hi ch w as encouragi ng. “I enjoyed i t. I only w i shed to--”
  38. 38. Abruptly, he reached up to touch her face. Elle, completely stunned, stood frozen to the spot. “I fi nd i t very, very di ffi cult,” he sai d softly, “to keep from oversteppi ng my bounds outsi de the desi gnated ti mes that the tw o of us spend alone together, and I fear after thi s i t w i ll only be more di ffi cult.” “Stuart--” “I care for you a great deal, Elle Fi tzhugh,” he conti nued, as i f he hadn’ t heard her. “I may even be falli ng i n love w i th you. I apologi ze i f heari ng thi s di stresses you, but I feel that you must know .” As a w oman of sense, Elle reacted to thi s confessi on i n the most appropri ate w ay possi ble.
  39. 39. She ran aw ay.
  40. 40. She made i t as far as the di ni ng room before Stuart caught up. “Elli e, please w ai t,” he pleaded. “I am so sorry, I should not have sai d i t--”
  41. 41. That brought her to her senses and she turned to face hi m. “Don’ t apologi ze. I’ m glad you sai d i t.” “Then w hy di d you run?” “I…w ell, i t’ s--i t’ s li ke w hen you w ant somethi ng, li ke you really, really w ant i t, and you dream about i t for a long ti me and fantasi ze about how i t mi ght happen and then all of a sudden…i t happens.” She smi led fai ntly. “And you don’ t know w hat to do because you never actually thought i t w ould.”
  42. 42. Stuart laughed a li ttle, taki ng her hands. “So you ran.” “That’ s my i nsti nct for everythi ng, I guess.” “I di d mean every w ord,” he sai d seri ously. She bi t her li p. “I’ m not sure i f i t’ s fai r to tell you I feel the same w ay w hen I can’ t make any commi tments ri ght now . I have an obli gati on to fi ni sh the w eek.” “Does that mean you do feel the same w ay?” he asked, looki ng hopeful. She could hardly resi st that. “Yes, I do.” “Then I w i ll be sati sfi ed w i th that unti l you make your deci si on.” “Thanks. That’ s all I need.” ***
  43. 43. The rest of the eveni ng passed i n a bi t of a haze and Elle w ent to bed early. The next morni ng, she got up at the usual ti me and shook the sleepi ness out of her eyes, tryi ng to focus. “ Morni ng, Elli e,” Mari na greeted her. “Morni n’ ,” she mumbled. “How are you feeli ng?” “’ m okay.” “Good. Ready to hear w hat you’ re goi ng to be doi ng today?” Elle bli nked as she came to the full reali zati on of w here she w as. “Oh God. I have to send someone home agai n today.” “I know . Any i dea w ho i t’ s goi ng to be?”
  44. 44. “No, I can’ t do i t. I don’ t w ant to.” “Elli e, you’ ve got to. ” “But I li ke them all. I don’ t w ant to hurt anyone. It’ s li ke you sai d yesterday, they all w ant to be here and I have to tell one of them to go aw ay.” “Honey, I know i t’ s goi ng to be hard. I li ke them all too and so does your si ster. But face i t, you don’ t w ant to date all three of them at once, do you?” She si ghed. “No, not really. But I really do li ke them all. I just don’ t know .” “You don’ t have to deci de ri ght now . Fli rti ng fi rst, maybe that’ ll help you get your thoughts i n order. Then after eli mi nati on do your last tea date, and after that, I’ ve got somethi ng speci al i n mi nd for you to do w i th the guys. ” “If you spri ng ki ssi ng on me agai n--”
  45. 45. “No, no ki ssi ng. Not unless you w ant to. There i s formal w ear i nvolved, though. I put a ni ce dress i n the w ardrobe for you and you should do your hai r ni cely. ” “Oh. Well, that sounds ki nd of fun.” “We’ ll talk about the rest later thi s afternoon. ” “Fai r enough, I guess. Ugh, I sti nk. I’ m goi ng to take a show er and then head dow nstai rs.” “Good luck, Elle. ” “Thanks, Mari na.”
  46. 46. An hour later at the observati on house, one last, somew hat unexpected arri val made her w ay up the porch stai rs i n search of the occupants.
  47. 47. “These toaster pastri es smell great, De.” “I know , ri ght? I can’ t w ai t to eat them, I’ m starvi ng. Stupi d ‘ Serve’ codi ng.” “Chi ll out, you’ re almost done. And thanks, by the w ay.”
  48. 48. “You’ re w elcome--hey, I thi nk someone’ s at the d--” At that moment, Ursula Fi tzhugh strolled calmly through the door w i thout knocki ng and sni ffed the ai r appreci ati vely. “Somethi ng smells good i n here,” she announced. “Ursula!” Mari na cri ed, deli ghted. “I di dn’ t thi nk you w ere comi ng!” “Yeah, changed my mi nd. How dy, and all that. What’ s cooki ng?”
  49. 49. At the sound of the door openi ng, Spencer w alked over to greet the new arri val. “Hey, you. How ’ s my favori te granddaughter?” “I thought Nari ssa w as your favori te,” Ursula repli ed, amused. “You’ re all my favori te. How are you?” “I’ m peachy, thanks. It’ s good to see you--i t’ s been a w hi le.” “Yeah, i t has. What have you been up to?” She smi rked. “Well, Isaac and I mi grated to Ri verblossom Hi lls, he had a plantbaby, and w e got marri ed and had a ki d and adopted a Bi gfoot.” Spencer laughed. “Sounds exci ti ng, congratulati ons.” “Never a dull moment. Thanks.”
  50. 50. Mari na gri nned at thi s exchange, and shi fted sli ghtly to yell up the stai rs. “Rhys! Get your butt dow n here, you’ ve got a vi si tor!” “Tell them to w ai t, I’ m busy cleani ng thi s toi let!” w as the reply. “The toi let can w ai t!” “The hell i t can! De trai ned me too w ell, I have OCD now !” “It’ s your daughter, you jerk!” “…w ell w hy di dn’ t you say so?” “Because I w as tryi ng to surpri se you!” “Yeah, w ell…bi te me!” “Real mature, Rhys…real mature.”
  51. 51. “Those tw o really don’ t get along any better than they ever di d, do they?” Ursula commented, as Rhys hurri ed dow n the stai rs. Spencer just smi led. “You can tell w hen tw o people hate each other, Urse. That’ s not w hat thi s i s.”
  52. 52. “Hey, ki ddo.” Rhys greeted hi s daughter w i th a bi g hug. “Hey, Dad. Mi ssed you.” “I mi ssed you too. How are you doi ng?” “I’ m great. How are you?” He smi rked a bi t. “Pretty darn good myself. It’ s ni ce to be back among the li vi ng for a bi t.” “I bet i t i s.”
  53. 53. “Hey, I thi nk you made i t just i n ti me for breakfast. Want somethi ng to eat? It looks li ke someone just made toaster pastri es.” “Yeah, okay, sounds good.”
  54. 54. The tw o of them sat dow n at the table w i th Mari na, w ho glanced up from her toaster pastry to w elcome them and then turned to Spencer. “Hey, Spencer, can you w atch the screen for me and tell me w hen Elle starts the fli rti ng dates?”
  55. 55. “Sure thi ng, Mari na.” “Thanks, dude.” ***
  56. 56. Elle had alw ays had a brai n that moved hundreds of mi les per hour to make up for the fact that her mouth couldn’ t go nearly that fast. Duri ng the fli rti ng dates, she tri ed not to let i t run aw ay, but the i mpendi ng eli mi nati on w as alw ays present i n her thoughts no matter how hard she tri ed to push i t back. Ham came dow n fi rst, and as usual he w as very sw eet. Elle enjoyed bei ng i n hi s company and hi s i nvestment i n w i nni ng w as obvi ous. She w asn’ t sorry she had kept hi m as long as she had.
  57. 57. She certai nly di dn’ t w ant to send hi m aw ay now , ei ther. She cared about hi m too much at thi s poi nt to hurt hi m. But w as that a good enough reason to keep hi m? Di d she hate to send hi m home more for hi s sake, or hers? She w asn’ t sure.
  58. 58. Then there w as Stuart, w hom, i f she w ere honest, she had w orri ed over more than once over the course of the w eek. They got along w ell, and she li ked hi m a lot, but she hadn’ t been able to help w onderi ng i f he felt the same w ay. There had been ti mes w hen she thought he di d, and others w hen hi s Vi ctori an upbri ngi ng left her unsure.
  59. 59. Now she knew for sure that he w as i nterested. What he had sai d the previ ous ni ght left her w i th no doubt of that. She really w anted Stuart to stay too, more than ever now that he had fi nally spoken up.
  60. 60. And she also had Li am to consi der. She also cared about hi m, hated to hurt hi m, and w anted hi m to stay. He presented a completely di fferent problem than Ham and Stuart, how ever. Pleasant as he could be, w hen he tri ed, the apocalypse i ssue stood betw een them li ke a bri ck w all, and there w as somethi ng she had w i th Ham and Stuart that she di dn’ t have w i th hi m…or maybe i t w as the other w ay around.
  61. 61. Even so, she thought she w as getti ng somew here w i th hi m. They became more comfortable w i th each other as they w ent, and she genui nely enjoyed bei ng around hi m most of the ti me. She di dn’ t w ant to rui n i t by sendi ng hi m home now .
  62. 62. It w as a di ffi cult deci si on, and she w as no closer to maki ng i t once the fli rti ng dates w ere over. Frustrated, she w ent to have some gelati n, hopi ng the fresh blood sugar w ould help her thi nk a li ttle better.
  63. 63. When she had fi ni shed her food, she w andered i nto the li vi ng room, and fi ndi ng Li am there, asked hi m i f he’ d li ke to play some pool w i th her. He agreed, and she set up the balls w hi le he grabbed them a couple of pool cues. “So,” he sai d, after a moment’ s si lence. “How are you holdi ng up?” She smi led fai ntly. “I’ m hangi ng i n there. Wi th di ffi culty.” “Yeah, I don’ t envy you ri ght now .” “You’ re aw fully calm consi deri ng there’ s about an hour unti l someone goes home.” “I don’ t see any poi nt i n freaki ng out about i t.” “Yeah, I guess there i sn’ t.”
  64. 64. Elle contemplated the table i n front of her for a long moment before she spoke agai n. “I really, really hate thi s. All three of you mean a lot to me. I don’ t w ant any of you to go.” He laughed a li ttle. “That’ s comforti ng.” “I’ m sorry, I just…I di dn’ t thi nk i t w ould come to thi s w hen I told Azula and Mari na I w ould do i t. I di dn’ t expect to be so i nvested. Frankly, I di dn’ t expect any of you to be, ei ther.”
  65. 65. Li am shut hi s eyes, not respondi ng for a moment. Just w hen Elle had resi gned herself to an otherw i se si lent game, he spoke agai n. “Would i t make thi ngs easi er i f I asked you to send me home?”
  66. 66. Horri fi ed, Elle sucked i n a breath. “Li am, don’ t you dare say that unless you w ant me to.” “I don’ t know , Elle. Maybe you should. I’ ve got a lot of baggage, you know . I w ouldn’ t blame you i f you di dn’ t w ant to deal w i th that anymore, especi ally si nce you’ ve got tw o other guys here w ho are the epi tome of chi valry and don’ t have my problems.” “Stop i t.” “I mean i t.” “I di dn’ t ask you that. Do you w ant to go home or not?”
  67. 67. He si ghed deeply, shoulders saggi ng a li ttle. “No. I don’ t.” She nodded si lently and abruptly moved to put aw ay her pool cue. “I’ ve got to go thi nk. I’ m not doi ng the eli mi nati on i n front of everyone today, so i f you don’ t see me personally at noon i t means you’ re stayi ng. If you see the other guys around, pass i t on please.” “Sure.”
  68. 68. By noon, she had made her deci si on and w alked all over the house i n search of the guy she had to send home. She found Ham i n the front yard raki ng leaves and approached hi m, tryi ng to smi le and completely fai li ng. “Hi , Ham.”
  69. 69. “Afternoon, Elli e,” he sai d cheerfully. “Have you made your deci si on yet?” “Yes, I have.” At her tone, he looked up w i th a start, saw her expressi on, and understood. “Oh.” “I’ m so sorry,” she w hi spered, feeli ng the sti ng of tears i n her eyes.
  70. 70. He hesi tated for a moment, and then gathered her i nto a hug. “I i mplore you, do not cry,” he sai d urgently. “I could not bear i t i f you di d.” “Thi s sucks.” Elle hung on for dear li fe. “Thi s really, really sucks. I don’ t w ant to do thi s to you. I don’ t w ant you to go.” Ham ti ghtened hi s hold on her. “Then let me stay.” “I can’ t. If I di d I’ d only hurt you w orse later and I couldn’ t stand that. Leadi ng you on w ould be the w orst thi ng I could possi bly do to you.” “In that case, I w i ll have to bear i t li ke a gentleman.” The w ords w ere brave, but hi s unhappi ness w as clear. “Whi le I am di sappoi nted, I do not fault you for doi ng w hat you must.”
  71. 71. Elle pulled back, somehow musteri ng a smi le. “Thank you. I’ m glad you came here and that I got to know you. You’ re a w onderful guy, Ham, really, you are. I w i sh you all the luck i n the w orld.” “I w i sh you the same, and I hope w hoever you choose w i ll endeavor to deserve you.” “Keep i n touch?” “Certai nly, I shall.”
  72. 72. “Mari na?” “Not now , De. I have to make sure Ham gets to hi s cab okay and talk to Elle before she starts the tea date.” “I have to tell you somethi ng. It’ s i mportant.” “If i t’ s not li fe or death, save i t.” De laughed nervously. “Uh, i t mi ght be my death.” “…w hat di d you do?” “Please don’ t ki ll me.” “Deanna, w hat di d you do?”
  73. 73. “I’ m pregnant.” *** And that’ s the end of Day 5, people! Look out for Day 6, w hi ch should be up by the end of the w eek, to fi nd out w ho Elle chooses and w hat thi s w i ll mean for the Apoc! Unti l then, Happy Si mmi ng ^_^ Thanks once more to Cai t for the beauti mous cover and her help i n beati ng up my w ri ter’ s block, and to all the w ri ters of the bachelors for thei r loan and assi stance i n w ri ti ng them. Turn the page, as usual, for the scores -->
  74. 74. “COMPUTER PLZ.” “Hell no, you and your underw ear are not contami nati ng my sacred Apple laptop.” Rhys: *stalk stalk stalk* Scores Stuart - 100/63 = 163 (best fri ends, mutual crush) Li am - 100/53 = 153 (best fri ends, mutual crush) Ham - 100/50 = 150 (fri ends, mutual crush)