Chapter Twenty

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One Month Later

"Congrats to each of you for being in the final six. You've gone through hell and back to get here and we think that you all deserve to have your cake and eat it, too.  The challenge today will be on the longer side. You will have four hours to give us a three tiered showstopper cake that shows us something about you. You have free reign to do whatever you want as long as it's three tiers. Be creative! And for a bit of motivation we brought an audience." Miranda gestured towards the door and people started to stream through.

That morning the crew and the producers had had an excited energy to them despite how drained me and the rest of the contestants were. It left the six of us feeling like something big was going to happen and as soon as I saw strangers filing through the door it was obvious this was it.

A few small doll-Like children came through the door followed by a tall, broad shouldered blond man. "Darlin,'" he called out in a thick twang. Immediately, I pegged him as Mary Lou's husband and for a moment I wondered at how...interesting a Southern accent was before I watched Mary Lou and her husband hug. Each of the three kids squealed "Mama," in a cacophony of shrill whoops and cheers.

One by one other loved ones entered the room. I saw Ai's girlfriend and I was surprised that she was half black. Ai hadn't brought that part up, only that she was Japanese, which I guessed was the other half. She was blindingly pretty with honey brown skin, and cascading waves. She was taller than Ai and the two of them grinned at each other before embracing.

Mel's son was a younger, better looking version of him, but with a blond set of curls. He looked like he was fresh out of high school and he gave his dad a long hug.

Alex wept when she saw her husband.  Since she was so small her husband went on his knees to envelop her in a hug. It seemed like they were both crying.

Brian squealed as soon as he saw his husband. His husband was a few inches taller than him and a bit on the fluffy side, wearing a pair of spectacles. But as soon as he heard Brian squeal his face fell into a lovely smile and they hugged tightly.

But by then there wasn't anyone else left. I was surprised and hurt. I stood awkwardly to the side wondering when or even if anyone would come through for me.

Richard quickly came up to me when he saw me on the side and he took a moment to gather his words. "Before you came on the show you expressed a list of people you would want to visit you if you made it this far. Your mother couldn't make it because her and your father were accompanying your brother to a basketball award show that happens to be tonight. Your friend, Manuel Espinoza was supposed to be here but he broke his leg in a construction accident."

"Is Manny okay?" I interrupted, squeezing my hands together because I didn't know what to do with them.

Richard looked surprised at my question. "Yeah, he's okay, but aren't you...disappointed there's no one here to support you?"

I took a glance around at everyone else and their loved ones, trying not to look at the camera man standing right beside Richard. I still had trouble pretending I didn't notice them. "I'm sure my family is busy and I can't help it if Manny is hurt." Even to my own ears my voice sounded somewhat hollow because it would have been nice to see him. The last time I'd gone this long without seeing Manny was when I was in university.

"But, we did get someone to come. It's not your parents or Manuel..." Richard gestured towards the door and I couldn't believe who came through next.

Trace.

Wow, he looked...just like the first time I saw him: utterly amazing. It had only been a month but it felt like a lifetime. His hair was a bit longer and I could see now that his hair was wavy and the length of it curled around his ears. His skin was browned from the sun and he grinned as soon as he saw me. His dark t-shirt and off-brand jeans were casual but having him in front of me made my heart beat fast and hard.

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