* * *
Jan was grateful for the hiatus which followed his big date. While each of the girls was given her shot at Jason, the others all enjoyed a one-day pass outside the compound. Jan knew exactly how he had to spend his free day.
He was a few minutes late for his lunch meeting in West Hollywood with Hap Arnhold. Wearing dark glasses in an attempt to overcome his new celebrity status, he found Hap holding forth at his regular table. Jan was wearing the same sundress that had wowed the crowd at Dodger Stadium, but most of the men in the restaurant paid no attention to him. Virtually all of them were gay.
"Look at you," Hap said proudly. "No wonder Andrea Messenger is shitting bricks."
Jan waited until a waiter took their orders. "Have you been watching the show?"
"Religiously, along with the rest of the country. You're knocking them dead."
"When does the next episode get aired?"
"Next week. You should know. It's the big date show, when Jason has dinner each night with a different girl. How did yours go?"
"That's why I called you. It went great. No, better than great." Jan looked around to make sure no one was listening. "Hap, I've been a guy most of my life, and I can tell when a guy has the hots for a girl. This guy wants to get into my pants."
"Along with every other red-blooded boy in America. So what's the problem?"
"The problem, Hap, is that if I make it into the next round, I have to spend the night with him. And if by some miracle I can make it through that, I have to bring him home to Mom and Dad."
"They're gonna love this in Omaha."
"Fuck you!" Jan shouted in his girlish voice, attracting stares from the nearby tables. "Fuck you and this fucking idea of yours. There's no way I'm going to drag my family into this freak show. It would kill them."
"All right, all right already, calm down," Hap said. "We'll think of something."
"I already have, Mom."
The waiter returned with their orders, and Jan waited until they were alone again. "You heard me right, I called you Mom. So far as Jason knows, I was raised by a single mother in Los Angeles. If he's dense enough to put me in the finals, you'll have no trouble fooling him too."
"Now hold on. I'm a respected figure in this town. You can't expect me to parade around in a dress and pretend to be your mother on national television."
Jan leaned forward, and his voice was deadly serious. "That is exactly what I expect. You wrote my contract. If I make it into the finals, there's an extra hundred thousand in it for me, and with your obscene commission, you'll get a big slice of that. Besides, you got me into this mess. You owe me."
"No way. Find yourself another mother," Hap said with finality.
"Then you leave me no choice." Jan put his purse on the table and patted his mouth with his napkin. After freshening his lipstick, he stood up to leave.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"Straight to Andrea Messenger's office. I'm going to walk off the show."
"You can't be serious!"
"They'll sue you!"
"I'll go back to Omaha. At least then my family won't disown me."
"Think of me! I'll never work in this town again."
"What a shame."
Jan spun on his heel and headed towards the door.
"All right! All right! I'll do it!" Hap cried.
Jan turned around and returned to Hap's table. All eyes in the restaurant were on him as he sat down and kissed Hap on the cheek. "Thanks, Mom."
* * *
Jan was waiting up for Becca when she returned from her date with Jason that evening. "How did it go?" he asked her as he watched her undress.
"It was dreamy, just like your date. He's really a nice guy, don't you think?"
"Do you have feelings for him?"
"Now it's your turn to be jealous! Of course I do. He's a hunk."
"So it's just physical?"
Becca waltzed around the room in her bra and panties, pretending that she was dancing with her Prince Charming. "I dunno, Jan. It's nice spending time with a guy who doesn't wear lipstick and nylons."
He got up to leave. "Where you going?"
"Back to reality. Thanks for the cold shower."
"Hey, I was only kidding, you know that."
"Were you?" he said as he opened the door.
"Please, come back."
One dramatic exit was enough for the day. Jan closed the door behind him and returned to his room.
* * *
Jan and Becca avoided each other for the rest of the week. In fact, the tension between all of the girls was palpably higher as the taping of the next rose ceremony approached. Finally, the day after the last quarterfinalist had her dinner with Jason, the girls were herded into two limousines and taken back to the mansion in Palos Verdes. Even Gloria was silent during the forty-minute drive.
Once again, they were assembled at the foot of the spiral staircase, and once again Jason pronounced their fates. Gloria, Becca and Jan were each presented with a rose. Two of the other girls broke down, and the third gave Jason the finger off-camera.
The three winners were ushered into one of the limousines along with Andrea Messenger, who had a clipboard on her knees as they headed back to the Girls' House. If she was concerned about the upcoming train wreck between Jason and Jan, she gave no indication. "Okay, ladies, you've had almost a week to decide where to take Jason on your overnight getaway. Becca, you first. Where to?"
"I want to stay in one of those high roller villas at the Bellagio in Las Vegas."
"Done. How about you, Gloria?"
Gloria, who had kept uncharacteristically quiet, closed her eyes and smiled. "I want the 'Pretty Woman' suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. That's where they filmed the movie, right?"
"No problem." She turned to Jan with trepidation. "And you, Jan?"
"We're going to hire a sport fishing boat in San Diego and go deep sea fishing off the coast of Baja."
"What?" all three of them asked in unison.
"You heard me. Jason told me he loves to fish, and I've got a little sailor dress that I've been dying to wear."
"Okay, if that's what you really want," Andrea said, wondering how they would be able to support a camera crew on board a fishing boat. Gloria started talking up a blue streak about her plans for her romantic evening with Jason. When Jan looked over at Becca, she nodded and gave him a conspiratorial wink, as if to say, "I don't know what your game is, but I'm going to figure it out."
Gloria's getaway was scheduled first, followed by Becca and Jan. When they returned to the Girls' House, Gloria went off to pack her things while Becca and Jan had a light lunch together.
"So much for your theory about Gloria," Jan said to break the ice. Things were still cool between them.
"New fact. Changed the equation."
"Gloria gave Jason a blow job during dinner the other night."
Jan choked on a crouton. "You've got to be kidding!" he said as he washed it down with iced tea.
"Nope, it's true."
"Did she tell you?"
"Are you kidding? I learned it from one of the camera guys I was flirting with before my date."
"Oh, yes. When she came back from the ladies room during a break in the taping, she ducked under the tablecloth and crawled under the booth. Nobody saw it except the guy who told me, and he's pretty cool. He said Jason sat up with a start, and then his eyes got real big all of a sudden. Next thing he knew, Jason had this shit-eating grin on his face, and Gloria came out from under the table looking like a cat who just swallowed a canary."
"Isn't it gross? But you gotta admit, it worked for her."
"I can't believe Jason is that superficial."
"Dear, sweet, innocent Jan! Are you sure you're really a guy? I think you've been wearing skirts and dresses too long, Missy."
"Okay, so she put out. Jason can have any girl he wants. Why pick her?"
"So he can get laid tonight, dummy. That's why. Don't you realize what this means?"
"That Jason is going to get fucked tonight, I guess."
"Guys are so dense sometimes," she sighed. "It means you and I are headed for the finals. Jason wants to get his rocks off tonight, and Gloria is a sure bet for that. It takes the pressure off him with us. By the way, nice move with the fishing trip. Are you going to jump overboard when he discovers you're really a guy?"
* * *
Becca and Jan kept to themselves the next day, and when Gloria returned from her overnight, there was scarcely time to grill her before Becca and Jason were off to Las Vegas. All they learned was that Jason was wonderful, the suite was amazing, and Gloria had the best sex of her entire life.
Jan felt downright depressed after Becca departed with Jason. Who was he jealous of, Becca or Jason? As he lolled around his room, listlessly packing a nightgown for his night on the boat, he kept going over the things she had said to him, and the gulf that had formed between them. "It's nice spending time with a guy who doesn't wear lipstick and nylons... you've been wearing skirts and dresses too long, Missy."
And that was before their big blowup. In order to charter a fishing boat in San Diego in time to make it out to deep water during daylight hours, they would have to get up early tomorrow, a fact which had infuriated Becca when she found out about it just before she left for Las Vegas. She complained bitterly to Andrea Messenger that it was all a plot to cut short her getaway with Jason, but Andrea had explained that they had to stay on schedule. Becca was still seething when she stormed out of the compound.
Jan finished packing and sipped a glass of wine as he soaked in the tub before shaving his legs one last time. Tomorrow would finish him, unless his cockamamie plan worked. He had another glass of wine before he fell asleep, once again dreaming that he was a girl, this time on the eve of her wedding and honeymoon. He woke up with a start when the alarm told him it was 4:00 am.
Jan wasn't kidding about the little sailor dress. It was navy blue, with white piping on the hem and collar, and a red kerchief that he tied loosely around his neck. Bare legs and topsiders completed the nautical theme. When he joined Jason at Santa Monica airport for the quick trip in the network's jet to San Diego, he detected exhaustion on Jason's face. But he seemed to perk up when he saw his date.
"Wow. You're not going to catch any fish dressed like that, but you sure look cute," Jason said as he strapped himself in beside Jan.
"You can catch the fish, big boy, and I'll make sure your beer stays cold. Deal?"
"Deal. Man, was I stoked when they told me about this. How did you know I liked sport fishing?"
"You told me, silly, don't you remember?"
"I probably told you a lot of things I don't remember."
The sleek jet turned onto the runway and blasted into the sky. "How was your date with Becca?" Jan asked above the roar of the engines.
Jason seemed surprised by the question. "Uh, we're not supposed to talk about that."
"Sorry. I thought you liked my honesty."
That threw him. "Well, I do, but I mean, that wouldn't be fair to Becca, would it?"
"Who says I have to play fair?"
"Look, this is almost over, and I really like you, okay? Let's not blow it now."
Jan gave him his sweetest smile. "You just passed the test."
"Jason, this whole thing has been totally weird, but the thing that's worried me the most was that the whole world would learn about whatever might happen between us. It's like we're in such a goldfish bowl. If you'd told me about your date with Becca, I'd be afraid we had no secrets."
Jason frowned. "Where do you get off testing me?"
"Jason, if we're going to make it, it's going to have to be for real. No relationship can survive if one person is totally dependent on the other. I'm sorry, but I just can't sit here and say whatever you want me to say, and do whatever you want me to do, in the hopes that you will select me over the other girls. If I did, and you picked me, we wouldn't last five minutes once we got away from this circus. That's what this is supposed to be all about, isn't it?"
Jason reached down and squeezed Jan's knee. "You know something? You're amazing. Not just pretty, but you've got a real head on your shoulders. The only other one who comes close to you is Becca. There, how's that for honesty?"
Jan reached forward and kissed him on the cheek. "That's what I like in a man."
They pressed their heads together as they looked out the window at San Diego's spectacular harbor, then they were on the ground and speeding towards Shelter Island for their rendezvous with the charter boat. The Silver Bonito was just as Jan had imagined, small and sturdy, her decks crowded with fishing gear and one very uptight camera crew. Andrea Messenger was waiting for them at dockside.
"Okay, kids, here she is," Andrea said. "The beer and the bait are already on board, and the Captain has promised to cook whatever you catch for dinner tonight. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning."
Jan pulled a floppy hat out of his canvas shoulder bag and sat down on the afterdeck across from Jason, who was clearly in heaven. As Jan had anticipated, the roar of the engines made small talk impossible, and for the rest of the afternoon they bounded over the open ocean until they were on top of a school of albacore. Jason hooked one almost immediately, and Jan cheered him as he battled with it, perspiring in the hot sun. Jan rubbed sunscreen on his muscular arms and thick neck, keeping him supplied with cold beer as he reeled in fish after fish.
The sun was low on the horizon when the Captain headed back towards San Diego. They would drop anchor just outside the harbor, Jason and Jan sharing a cramped cabin with a toilet and shower while the camera crew retreated below. Jason was clearly exhausted as they watched the sun dip into the Pacific during the long run back towards the harbor, and Jan massaged his aching shoulders and kept him plied with beer. When they finally dropped anchor, the Captain served up a delicious dinner of grilled albacore, which Jason wolfed down while Jan picked at his plate.
Eventually, Jason noticed Jan's lack of appetite. "Something wrong?" he asked.
Jan nodded his head and started to cry.
"What is it?"
"You are? Why didn't you tell me?"
"You were having such a great time, I didn't want to spoil your day."
"Jan, I'm so sorry."
"Please, don't be. It was my stupid idea. And you know what? Even though I feel totally lousy, this has been one of the greatest days of my life."
Jason led Jan to the bedroom and tucked him in under the covers after he took off his dress. "You go to sleep, it's the best thing for you."
"Are you sure you'll be all right?"
"Hell, I'll be fine, the boys are playing poker down below, I'll go take some money off them and then sleep in a hammock under the stars. Go to sleep, baby. I'll see you in the morning." He kissed Jan on the forehead and quietly closed the cabin door behind him.
* * *
Andrea Messenger paced nervously back and forth on the dock as the Silver Bonito swung into her berth. There was no sign of Jan or Jason on deck. Were they even speaking to each other? Would Jason fly off the handle when he saw Andrea? Under his contract, he had no way out of the show, but that didn't mean he had to be pleasant about it. How in the world had she let Hap Arnhold talk her into this? At least she had covered her rear end with the studio executives. But they could still make her a scapegoat.
Suddenly Jan and Jason emerged from a hatchway, laughing and joking about something. Jan was still wearing the blue sailor dress, and Jason looked like he had slept in his tee shirt and cutoffs. What the hell was going on?
"Good morning," Andrea shouted at them. "Have a good time?"
Jason pointed to the stack of albacore waiting to be offloaded. "The best!" he shouted back.
"How about you, Jan?" she asked after the Captain cut the engines. "Everything okay?"
Jan knew that the cameras were rolling. "It was wonderful," he said with a sigh. My man caught our dinner, and then he tucked me into bed. It was every girl's dream."
The cameras caught them getting back into their limousine for the short drive to the airport. When they were alone, they laughed about the look an Andrea's face. "I don't know what was eating her, but you're quite the little actress," Jason said.
"You have no idea," Jan replied. When they got back on the plane, Jason nodded off as soon as they strapped themselves in, and Jan knew that he was home free.
* * *
Having slept for nine hours in the cozy little cabin, Jan felt and looked terrific when he returned to the Girls' House, a striking contrast to the bedraggled appearance of the other girls who had preceded him. Becca eyed him warily as he stopped by the dining room for a cup of coffee before returning to his room.
"Still wearing the same dress, I see," Becca said. "You're going to give us all a bad reputation."
Jan faked a yawn. "I was too tired to change. Besides, Jason really likes me in this dress."
"How many times did you do it?" Gloria asked.
"The nerve of you!" Jan said. "What makes you think I'm that kind of girl?"
"Come off it, Sister," Becca said. Suddenly Jan was afraid that Becca might spill the beans. It would be a smart move, which would simultaneously knock her chief rival out of the competition, and endear her to Jason forever when he realized what she had done for him.
Gloria saved him. "I bet they screwed all night, after Jason's night with you. They tell me Jason lost his ass at the tables, which must have put him in a terrific mood, then you guys had to get up in the middle of the night to fly back to LA. He had to be horny."
"Tell us about your evening," Becca retorted. "Did you blow him under the table again in the dining room, or did he take you straight to bed so you could suck him off while he had room service?"
Becca and Gloria had to be forcibly separated by Andrea Messenger and one of the gophers as Jan ducked out of the clubhouse and returned to his room.
* * *
The girls rode in stony silence to the penultimate rose ceremony, which was mercifully short. Jason selected Becca and Jan, after thanking Gloria for all the good times. She seemed genuinely shocked when he dumped her, and before she was led away by network staffers, she tearfully thanked Jason and wished the last two girls well. Jan reckoned that she was angling for a shot at "The Bachelorette". Becca wrote her off as a ridiculous bimbo.
Gloria was whisked off in a separate limo, leaving Becca and Jan to ride back to the lonely Girls' House with Andrea Messenger. Arrangements were already underway for Jason to meet their families, and each of the girls was given a date and time for the film crews to show up at their parents' doors. Becca, who was from the Chicago, would go first, and her large Italian family was already gearing up for the spectacle.
Needless to say, Andrea Messenger was more than apprehensive about Jan's situation. She accepted at face value his description of his childhood, substituting his true sex for the girl in the yarn he had spun for Jason. Would his mother welcome her son and his boyfriend with open arms? Was America ready for that?
Things had gotten way out of hand, and all Andrea could do now was hang on tight and pray to God that Jason had the good sense to choose Becca. Then again, she knew full well that if he did propose to Jan, the sensational revelation, when leaked to the media before the airing of the final episode, would propel their ratings into the stratosphere. A "win-win", the network suits called it, but for Andrea, it was a disaster waiting to happen.
* * *
The Girls' House was deserted after Becca and the crew left for Chicago, leaving Jan alone with plenty of time to think. "The Bachelor" had consumed his existence for months, and it was time to start planning his life after the fantasy ended.