"You're doing great, darling! Maybe I'm not supposed to tell you this, so don't rat me out to the big boss, but you've got a lot of avid fans in the Higher Ups. They're all rooting for you."

After recovering from the initial heady buzz of my first date with Andrew, I had been driven back to the main mansion in another production van. Victor was there waiting for me when I arrived, abuzz with general excitement about the show and full of questions about how the date had gone. I tried my best to answer, but I got the feeling that his good mood wasn't stemming from the good show ratings but rather from the hushed conversation I had seen him having with a certain, stern, blonde businesswoman earlier that day. I wondered what they had talked about that had made him so enthusiastic. He kept fidgeting with the thin gold chain around his neck, and I could see clear sweat stains in his light-wash shirt. 

We had a period of downtime for the rest of the day and the next day, as the crew reviewed the footage from each of the 12 dates and spliced and edited it together. I wondered how all the other dates had gone. I tried hard not to think of Patrick, or even of anyone but Andrew, but my efforts were largely unsuccesful.

I said goodbye to Victor and thanked him for the ride as I headed inside. I walked through the foyer to the kitchen, feeling hungry and a little bit worn out. I grabbed an apple from the bowl on the island and bit into it happily, humming a little tune to myself. You're just full of surprises, aren't you, Lyra? You never hum happily.

As I pondered the potential reason for my seemingly random happiness, a high-pitched giggle and a splash from outside startled me from my thoughts. I looked up and through the glass doors leading out to the veranda to see Jazmin emerging from the pool out on the back porch, looking like some sort of water goddess, her jet black hair streamed wet and flat against her head and her eyes happy and glowing.

I braced myself, expecting to see Patrick show himself at any time. I hoped that their date had gone well- I really did- but I wasn't sure how I felt about him, still. The fact that they were hanging out in their free time, too, meant that it probably had gone well. That's okay, I thought to myself, mine did, too.

Before I could stop myself, I wandered out into the sunny afternoon and onto the veranda, clutching my half-eaten apple for support. But instead of seeing Patrick out enjoying the pool with Jazmin, I only saw another girl lounging on a nearby pool chair, tanning and reading a book, which she looked up from every so often to watch Jazmin, who was now doing long, graceful laps around the pool. 

She had strawberry-blonde hair with honey-colored highlights, and she had sunglasses propped up on her forehead while she read. I recognized her as Alice. I had spoken to her maybe once or twice since we had arrived. She seemed nice enough. All I knew was that she had been paired up with Theo, a beautiful god of a man, and because of that, I had heard two other girls whispering about her jealously this morning. 

"Lyra!" Jazmin called up to me from the pool. She was now floating at the edge of the pool, her tanned elbows propped up against the wall, looking up at me and Alice through her wet hair.

"Why don't you put on a suit and hop in? Water's nice and warm. I don't bite!"

Alice snorted sarcastically. 

"I don't think she'd be scared if you did. You're about as intimidating as a koala bear."

Jazmin gave her a look and promptly splashed some water up and towards where Alice was lounging on the deck. 

"Hey!" She squealed and recoiled. "Alright, Jaz, that's it, then. You asked for it." 

With that, Alice stripped off her t-shirt and shorts, revealing a cute navy one-piece underneath. She tossed her book aside and took a running leap into the pool, splashing down under the water next to Jazmin and coming up two seconds later. Both of them dissolved into a fit of giggles.

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