It had all started out as something so silly and abstract. A joke. Well, maybe not a joke as much as something mildly exciting to do on a random Saturday afternoon. But even though she’d laughed about it with her friends, she’d also secretly been hoping she’d get picked. And not because she was desperate for a husband (she wasn’t). But because Ali always got chosen.
Ali always won.
Clad in high waisted shorts, a drapey tank, and her low-top Chucks, she intermittently stood and sat in line for what felt like decades, the cheap cushioned seats making her ass sore as she tried not to roll her eyes at every squeaky comment around her. The waiting area in the community center was teeming with women, their teeth whitened, blowouts fresh. The room smelled faintly of desperation, and everyone was fighting over wall outlets.
Speaking of which, her iPhone battery was at a paltry 21% by the time she’d finished filling out her questionnaire and it was her turn to get her headshot taken. The polaroid was clipped to her application with the words “Ali, 21, Waitress” Sharpied in tired, hasty scrawl underneath her smiling face. The production assistant had balked at her request to be professionally identified as “Thief,” simply because if she ever got on the show she thought it’d be hilarious (and sort of true!) to see underneath her name every time she was on screen.
No one who worked in television had a sense of humor.
The rest of the afternoon was sort of a blur. Ali didn’t lack for confidence, and couldn’t even remember all of what she’d said in her interview because it was all so inconsequential to her. If she didn’t get chosen, she’d probably have stewed about it for a few weeks simply because of her competitive nature, but she wouldn’t have mourned the experience. She’d simply find something else to do for the next few months that could hold her interest until she became bored of that, too. Ironic, really, that the woman who couldn’t be tied down was entertaining the idea of going on a show that, if won, tended to end in a marriage proposal.
She was simultaneously in disbelief and not surprised when she found out she’d been chosen.
She knew that, in person, she was the entire package, but what she’d been worried about was how she looked on paper. She was a college dropout with a boring-sounding job (only because her real moneymaking job wasn’t technically legal!), and she was a little younger than the average contestant. Against those odds, however, some casting director had pored over her interview video and application and had deemed her worthy, out of a pool of how many? Ten thousand? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Well. Probably not millions.
She didn’t have a lot of time to tie up loose ends before it was time to head down to L.A. Her audition in Seattle had been one of the final locations for the hunt, and she’d had to beg her dad to let her use his credit card for eight new dresses. She had been prepared to pout, but it hadn’t really been necessary, because her parents had been sort of awed and star stuck that their daughter was going to be on TV. They were even going to host viewing parties for their rural Tennessee friends to attend, a thought which both slightly embarrassed and excited her. She loved the way her friends had all become mildly obsessed with the idea that Ali was going on The Bachelor. Even Julia, who hated shit like this on principle, was telling everyone who would listen, although Ali guessed that it was less pride for her friend and more the giddy excitement of her vague proximity to fame.
To her delight, she at least had the evening to prepare to meet the new bachelor the following day. A hotel had been booked near-ish to the mansion so that the girls didn’t have to emerge, rumpled, from a plane and then step immediately into the arms of their possible future husband. The night before her drive to the mansion, her sleep was fitful, to her annoyance, and she’d had to resort to popping half an Excedrin PM.
She didn’t want to admit she was nervous. But she was nervous.
The next evening, she plucked her eyebrows carefully in the hotel bathroom, shaving her legs, armpits, and vagina to within an inch of her life. She smoothly applied her most expensive-smelling lotion, and spent about 45 minutes trying to get her winged eyeliner just right. Once she’d slipped on her navy blue minidress and checked her reflection from every angle, it was time for her to climb into her own personal limo, where she and her driver would make their way through Calabasas to meet the man who the show’s producers would tell her nothing about. She picked at an invisible piece of lint on her knee, staring out the window at the L.A. lights that winked in the distance.
She didn’t know if she’d be the first or last woman he’d meet, or somewhere in the middle. She didn’t like all this uncertainty, but pretended to be unfazed. If she didn’t even end up liking the guy, at least she didn’t want to come off screechy and tense on camera. At the very least, this opportunity would give her slight fame and the possibility of free shit because of her celebrity status once it was over. At best, maybe she’d be the next Bachelorette and have two dozen men fighting over her. It was a win/win!
Finally, she noted the limo’s blinker was on, vaguely registered the driver’s, “We’re here,” and sat bolt upright, cursing herself for her sudden nerves. She hadn’t done anything gimmicky to make her first impression. They were supposed to give out a rose for that, but Ali had her tits. That was first impression enough. She didn’t need some squirrel mask or super soaker or whatever the fuck these desperate women who got sent home on the first night resorted to.
The limo came to a stop. Steeling herself, she took a deep breath, released it, and reached for the limo door with numb fingers.
She stepped out of the car, leveling her gaze at the besuited man standing underneath an arbor lit with twinkle lights.
And muttered, “fuck,” under her breath.