It was Franky’s second ‘one on one’ date with Kim and she was nervous.
Not because she had any feelings for Kim, and not because she was scared of amusement parks (she loved them and would often take her little sister, Tess, to them), but because she had to confront the elephant in the room, for her and Gidge’s sake.
It had been a week since Kim caught them making out behind the trees after the kayaking group date, and the petite contestant had studiously avoided Franky since then, choosing to leave the room at any given opportunity or, if there was no escaping, scowling at Franky and Bridget. Sometimes she smirked, and they both knew that it was a veiled threat. Kim was the executioner, holding an axe above their head and gleefully daring them to become complacent, to think she would keep their secret.
Bridget had become withdrawn, and Franky could tell the Production Assistant was barely keeping it together. She understood that Bridget could lose everything; a job that she loved, friendships that she had nurtured, and contact with her favourite contestant and soulmate.
Okay, so Gidge hadn’t exactly declared them soulmates, but Franky had in her head at night, and any time she looked into those stunning blue eyes.
Franky noticed over the past few days that Bridget’s hands would shake slightly when clutching the clipboard. She also noticed that the blonde’s eyes were tired, as if she hadn’t slept well. Coupled with the smell of wine that subtly drifted through the air during their last (and ridiculously formal) Hot Seat interview, Franky knew that Bridget was at breaking point.
And so, Franky was going to poke the beast. She was going to confront Kim Chang.
“Oh my gosh, Franky! Come look at this!” Kim squealed excitedly, tightening her grip on Franky’s arm and pulling her over to a claw machine filled with teddies, “aren’t they adorable!?”
“They’re cute,” Franky grinned, not breaking away from Kim and instead pulling out a coin, “what’s say I try and win ya one?”
“First you save me from drowning and now this… Franky, you’re a keeper!” Kim smiled, staring at her in adoration.
“Okay, cut the cameras!” Matt Fletcher called out, switching off his own and rolling it backwards, “that was great, loving the chemistry. It’ll waste footage to see your attempts so I’m thinking I speak to the staff, get one of the teddies, and we’ll do a few shots and edit. Sound good?”
“I thought this was meant to be reality TV, Fletch?” Franky rolled her eyes, pulling her arm away from Kim.
Matt offered a tight smile in response and shrugged.
“Sometimes you gotta let it flow naturally and sometimes you gotta bend the truth a little. It’s meant to entertain, Franky, and an hour of contestants snoring, picking their noses, and discussing the weather ain’t gonna cut it.”
“So you’re saying it’s basically an edited highlights reel? Full of fiction?”
“We don’t create the drama, you all do that,” Matt responded, “we just… emphasise it.”
“Right,” Franky sighed, loitering by the machine, “well you go see about that teddy then, yeah?”
Matt moved away, his camera pulling along behind him, in search of a staff member. Franky took the opportunity to grab Kim by the arm.
“Ouch!” Kim hissed, being hoisted in front of Franky and frogmarched away from Matt, “Franky! What are you doing? Let me go!”
Franky pushed her toward a large carousel before dragging her out of view of anyone, including the meandering public. She slammed Kim back into a wall and placed her hands either side, trapping her with her arms.
“What the fuck do you think you are doing?” she seethed, and Kim looked at her confused.
“F-Franky, I don’t know what you mean-“
“-You know exactly what I mean! The scowls, the smirks, the intimidation crap. It’s bullshit, Kimmy and you need to stop.”
“Why should I?” The innocent confused expression fell away and Kim smiled smugly, pushing away from the wall and getting up in Franky’s face, “Hmm? I’m not the one in the wrong here, Franky, I’m not the one fucking some slag of a-“
Franky’s knuckles cracked against the wall with a resounding thud, the pain intense but her anger at Kim’s slur muting it. Kim leaned back against the wall and had the good grace to look contrite at her words.
“Don’t you dare call Bridget that.”
“I thought we had something, Franky… the flirting, our date, saving me from drowning…”
Franky sighed and felt the anger ebbing away at the genuine hurt in Kim’s eyes. She hadn’t meant to lead the other contestant on, she thought she had made herself clear. Apparently not.
“Look, what we have,” Franky explained gently, “it’s for the cameras, right? I flirt with everyone, it’s what I do, and you and I both know that date was a shitshow. I pulled you out of the water because I care about you, Kimmy, as a friend. I’d have jumped in for Red, or Allie, or Kaz, or even Marie. It was the right thing to do.”
Kim started to cry and Franky grimaced, removing her arms and taking a step back.
“Don’t do that,” she grumbled half-heartedly. She hated seeing people cry, “look, I’m sorry that you were in this deeper than me, but… I’ve fallen in love with Bridget. It’s not something I can control, y’know?”
Kim’s eyes darted up, bloodshot, and she gawked at Franky. The tattooed brunette saw anger flare in them and recoiled. She certainly was not expecting that kind of reaction.
“You love her!?”
“I… yeah?” Franky fumbled, not quite knowing how to respond to this fresh wave of anger.
“I thought you two were just fucking, I thought…” Kim shook her head and laughed, but there was something hollow and, dare Franky say, sinister about her chuckle.
“Now you’re really screwed,” she hissed, “A casual fuck, now that I could understand, even forgive. Everyone has needs after all… but this… a contestant falling in love with the staff? This is too good! I’ll have you both over the barrel for this one.”
“Kim,” Franky pleaded. She knew it was futile, but she had to try for Gidge, “please don’t do this! Bridget could lose her job… they’d accuse her of giving me an unfair advantage. Please think about this, she doesn’t deserve this.”
“You both should have thought about that before you screwed me around and made me think we had a future, because guess what, I love you,” Kim snapped, “but I guess I was the butt of your jokes, hmm? Did you both laugh at me while you laid in bed together?”
“-No, Franky,” Kim put her hands up, effectively ending any case Franky made to her, “I’ve spent a week wondering whether to go to Vera about you two. I was debating letting it go, seeing it as a casual one-off fling, and that maybe outside of this we could… but this? If there is no ‘us’, Franky, then there’s no point in you or her being here.”
Just as Franky opened her mouth to respond, a deep voice called out their names.
“Doyle!? Chang!? Where are you!?”
Kim wiped any residual tears and smiled coldly one last time at Franky before pushing away from the wall and skipping toward their Production Assistant.
“Over here, Matt! We’re coming!”
Franky dropped forward against the wall, feeling fear creep up and grip her insides. Tears started to fall as she thought about what would happen to Gidge when they got back to the mansion.
“Fuck,” she cried.
Vera was in the production suite, seated rigidly as she trawled through the edited footage that Linda had put together for her that day.
It was sloppy and tedious, and Joan would rip Vera a new one for even considering putting it forward to the network. She’d be having words with Linda tomorrow, that was certain.
A tentative knock on the door pulled her away from the computer.
“Come in,” she barked, her brow then furrowing in confusion when Kim Chang walked in the room.
“Chang? What can I do for you?” Vera asked automatically. Kim had never willingly sought out any of the Production staff as far as she was aware.
“I needed to tell you something, something that I witnessed,” Kim looked at the floor as if she was there under duress. That in itself was mildly ludicrous to Vera, who knew that Kim must have purposely left the mansion when she was on shift to seek her out in the nearby trailers.
“Well okay, go ahead,” She pushed her chair around and sat forward, waiting for the contestant to start speaking.
“It was after the kayaking trip,” Kim started, “I saw a contestant and staff member engaged in an… inappropriate relationship.”
Vera’s eyebrows skyrocketed up her forehead. That was certainly not on the list of conversations she expected to be having. She grabbed the pad of paper on the desk next to her and fumbled in her breast pocket for a pen. Never taking her stern eyes off of Kim, she sat poised and ready.
“Sorry I’m late,” Bridget breezed into the production suite thirty minutes after her late shift started, trying her best to look calm and collected. She’d been up until 4am that morning over-indulging on red wine and forgot to set her alarm. It was lucky that she had woken up early enough in the afternoon to empty the contents of her stomach into the toilet, so that she was only slightly on the drag.
Of course, the hangover only served to remind her why she had demolished two bottles of wine in the first place. The ever-present threat of her and Franky being found out. She’d gone through all her usual stages of processing; the sheer panic, the denial, the acceptance, the second denial, the second sheer panic. In the next day, she was sure she’d be at the second round of acceptance, but for now she was on edge, her nerves frayed.
She knew Franky had noticed her behaviour. The tattooed brunette was trying her best to be respectful, keeping her distance but offering gentle and reassuring smiles, and more importantly not mentioning the stench of alcohol that must have hit her like a freight train during their last Hot Seat interview. The woman was a godsend and, once Bridget hit her second acceptance stage, she’d make sure the contestant knew it.
Bridget was surprised to see that, instead of Linda sitting half-heartedly clicking at the computer whilst she scanned the racing pages of the newspaper, it was Vera. The petite brunette was rigid in her seat, hands clasped in front of her and staring intently at the door Bridget had just swept through, as if waiting for her arrival.
“Oh, God,” Bridget sighed, dropping her bag down at her feet and folding her arms, “what has Linda done now? Did she fuck up the edits again?”
Vera drew a sharp breath and her nostrils flared. Bridget watched her face uncertainly, having never seen Vera so angry before. What on earth had happened for her to… oh fuck, no.
“I have a written statement given to me this afternoon,” Vera stated, clearly trying her utmost to control her fury, “that details the inappropriate relationship between you and Francesca Doyle.”
Bridget remained silent, though her heart was hammering so loud in her chest she wondered if Vera could hear it.
“Do you deny it?”
Denying it would make no difference, she knew Vera suspected something between them and would scrutinise them until she found something, anything, to hang them out to dry. Confirmation bias, as a psychologist would call it. Plus, Bridget felt a small part of her heart bristle at the thought of having to deny her love for Franky. Hiding it she could bear, if that was the way it had to be, but denying it out right after only recently admitting to herself that she loved the contestant wholeheartedly. That was not something she could do anymore.
“My relationship with Franky-“ Bridget started gently, but was interrupted by a dismissive wave.
“Do you deny it, Miss Westfall?” Vera asked again. Bridget winced at the use of her surname and sighed.
“I don’t deny it, no.”
Bridget watched with an air of indifference and confidence that she did not possess, waiting for her boss to formulate a response. Vera bit her lip, her face cold as she shifted her gaze from Bridget to the desk next to her. She was considering her options, Bridget knew, but she also knew that she didn’t stand a chance.
“You leave me no choice then,” Vera turned her eyes back to the blonde standing in front of her, “consider this your last day. You will hand in your badge and all your equipment at the end of your shift. I want you packed and out of here by tomorrow morning, 10am.”
“-I’ll inform Joan first thing tomorrow and Franky’s contract will also be terminated. We’ll postpone the Elimination tomorrow evening to balance the numbers on her exit.”
“Vera,” Bridget implored, her tone having just enough remorse to catch her boss’ attention, “you’re right to fire me. I fucked up, I know that and I’m so, so sorry… but please, please don’t take this out on Franky. It was my fuck up.”
Vera’s brow furrowed in confusion.
“The statement said that both of you were-“
“- the statement is wrong,” Bridget interrupted her, “it was all me. I instigated it. Franky had nothing to do with it. I kissed her.”
Vera sat silently, mulling over what Bridget said, and the blonde hoped that she would believe her. She had to believe her. She couldn’t let Franky be ripped from her dreams of funding her own education, not because of this.
“I’ll have to consult with Joan,” Vera said eventually, and Bridget could see that there was less of an edge about the woman. She knew now was the time to press, because if it went to Joan then Franky would be axed within the hour.
“You have the statement and my admission, surely Joan allows you enough autonomy to decide for yourself?”
“Y-yes, of course she does,” Vera snapped, though her eyes were wide at the thought of making her own call on such an important situation, “I’ll think about what you have told me. Either way, my decision stands with regards to you. I want you gone by the morning.”
“I understand, but please consider keeping Franky in. She’s innocent in all this.”
“I’ll let you know. You may leave now, Ms Westfall.”
Bridget nodded stiffly and left the suite with all that remained of her dignity. She’d have begged at Vera’s feet if it meant that Franky would be spared the axe. As she shut the door behind her, she let out a shaky breath and rubbed a hand over her face.
She had to find Franky before the tattooed brunette heard it from anyone else.
After all, bad news travelled fast.