“That shade of lipstick looks so nice on you, Victor,” Brock said in a fake feminine voice. “Wherever did you find it? I wanna get some just like it.”
They’d barely gotten seated in the limo before the guys laid into Victor and Michelle.
Ashton turned to the window and wouldn’t even Acknowledge Victor’s appearance. He didn’t want to think about the implications of why Victor had Michelle’s lipstick on his face.
It didn’t matter. Ashton was sure he wouldn’t be around much longer anyway. How he’d gotten past the first two rounds of eliminations he would never know. Well, he’d won his second love letter in a game of chance. He’d probably never discover whether or not she would have chosen him.
He kept his gaze at the passing scenery all the way to the bar, ignoring the continued goading.
It was early in the evening when they pulled into the Karaoke bar, which meant they had the place to themselves. The cameras were able to be positioned in strategic ways so that as patrons filled the room throughout the evening the show would capture people coming and going, dancing on the mosh-pit style dance floor, singing on the stage, and of course sitting at the raised tables that perched behind the railing overlooking the dance floor. It was the perfect set up,
The remaining ten guys monopolized three of the tables and positioned themselves close enough to the DJ booth that they would have easy access to the stage. Ashton had a feeling they were going to have a fun night.
He pushed aside the annoyance of Victor carefully positioning himself to Michelle’s left and pulling his chair just an inch or two closer to hers, draping his arm around the back of her chair. Ashton also noticed Michelle pull her chair just a hair closer to Victor’s.
Instead of avoiding eye contact and staying to the back of the group like he had been the past week, Ashton sat directly in Michelle’s line of sight so that in order to not look at him she would have to turn away from Victor. The irony of the situation almost made Ashton laugh, but he purposely looked at his menu and ignored her… for now.
They all ordered burgers and fries, and Cokes, until they got around to Andy who asked the waitress what beer they had on tap and ordered a Bud Light. Other guys glanced at one another and raised their eyebrows, hoping the night turned out okay for everyone.
Ashton supposed if Andy got inebriated and made a fool of himself that was one fewer guy in his way to getting another love letter.
Dinner was jovial, and the guys all flipped through the Karaoke song lists, laughing and writing down their song choices. Ashton wanted to find something that would be meaningful but fun and light, and didn’t upstage anyone else. He didn’t want to be accused of stealing the spotlight again.
By the time their tables had been cleared of dinner dishes, and songs had been chosen, the restaurant had filled up. The patrons at the surrounding tables seemed excited to be a part of a television show and had all signed agreements to allow their faces to be shown on the episode when this aired.
Rachel Gibbons took the stage first and introduced Michelle and each of the guys to the crowd. When she introduced Victor, the patrons cheered. He was a local guy, being the first baseman for the Dodgers, and was by far the most well-known of all the group. That was fine with Ashton. He needed an evening out of the spotlight.
The last person to be introduced was already near the DJ booth and waiting to come on stage, his guitar already tuned and strapped around his shoulders.
“We have a special treat tonight,” Rachel said. “Up-and-coming country star Reggie Johnson is here, all the way from Nashville to perform his latest single, ‘Running to You’.”
Some people in the crowd cheered. Ashton was surprised to learn that Reggie was known in the country music sphere. Just as Reggie wouldn’t have heard of Ashton because he didn’t follow the surfing scene, Ashton never listened to country music. That made this evening more fun.
Michelle called out, “Go Reggie!” and the rest of the guys politely called out their cheers and applause. Reggie really was a nice guy. He wouldn’t make it past the next round of love letters, but they all knew he wasn’t interested in Michelle. This night, and this event, was exactly why he’d been chosen as one of the contestants. This was going to boost Reggie’s career. Accepting that made it easier to support him.
He started the evening with a country ballad, during which he basically serenaded Michelle. She played along perfectly, batting her eyelashes and holding her hand to her heart as if Reggie’s song was actually drawing her closer to him. She even leapt from her seat when he was done and ran up to the stage to give him a hug.
She was obviously a good actress. Someone brought Michelle a stool to sit on and Reggie sang her another love song while she sat there smiling up at him as if he stood a chance with her. She gave him another hug and then returned to her seat, where Victor leaned closer and whispered something in her ear that made her laugh.
Ashton was through being jealous. He suspected Michelle was putting on a good act for Victor as well. But not for Ashton. Their connection was real. He could feel it in the way she tried to avoid his glances from two tables over.
When they finally did connect, Ashton raised his eyebrows seductively and then winked at her. She almost choked on her sip of Coke. Yeah, their connection was real.