I liked the Loser Lodge.
Owen disappeared into the kitchen, and I heard the sound of coffee brewing. After a few minutes, he came into the living room and sat down across from me, legs casually spread as if he had not a care in the world. He wore pajamas, and another one of those cupcake shirts – this time in blue.
The man had a cupcake fetish apparently.
We drank our coffee in silence, avoiding looking at each other.
"Where is everyone?" Owen asked after a long minute.
"Do I look like the Cameraman Whisperer to you?"
He was silent.
I was silent, too.
The front door opened a few minutes later and I jumped to my feet, relieved. Someone else to talk to! An assistant entered—Kitty. I’d talked to her a few times before she’d admitted they weren’t supposed to chat with us, but I liked her. She had a grocery bag in her arms, and she gave us a cheerful smile. "Hey guys. How are things?"
"Good," I said, heading in her direction. I took the bag from her so she could remove her coat. "Where’s everyone today?"
"Oh, there was a big meeting yesterday," Kitty said, grinning. "A big shakeup. They’re deciding to do all kinds of things differently since this is the Christmas edition. They figured they can modify the rules for this particular show."
"Really? Like how?" I headed into the kitchen area with the grocery bag.
"Well, the producers aren’t very happy with you guys," she said, frowning. "That food fight cost the catering allowance an extra three grand."
"Three grand?" Owen snorted from his vantage point on the couches. "For that stale garbage? You guys are getting ripped off."
Kitty shrugged. "Regardless, the executive producer is kinda cheap and he doesn’t like to waste money like that. He’s really not happy with you two." She hesitated, and I noticed she wasn’t taking her coat off, just playing with the zipper over and over again.
"So what is it?" I asked, setting the bag down on the counter and looking at her. "Are we being punished? Is that why everyone’s gone?"
"Yes and no," she said. "So here’s the thing. It’s kind of a punishment for you two and kind of a great twist in the game."
My stomach lurched. "Oh?"
"Yep!" Her voice had a happy note. "They’ve decided to do a final five."
My eyes widened. "A final five?"
"Why?" Owen blurted. He got up from the couch and moved to the other side of the counter from me, watching Kitty with wary eyes. "What’s the point of a final five? The vote’s going to be split all different ways."
"Not really," Kitty said. "The producers wanted a prime number for jury members, and they thought…eleven would be perfect." Zip zip zip…she moved her coat zipper up and down in an agitated fashion.
I counted in my head. Eleven jury members and five contestants left…that was everyone still in the game. "So…wait. Everyone left gets to be on the jury?" Jury members got twice as much money as the other losers and they were sequestered from everyone else, which meant even nicer digs.
"Yep," Kitty said, and flicked her zipper up again. Then down. Then up. She wasn’t looking me in the eye. "So, the base of operations is heading over to the Jury lodge. I’m going to come here daily to make sure that you guys have everything you need, but for the most part…you guys are it for the Loser Lodge."
I stared at her in horror. "You’ve got to be kidding me."
"I wish I was," she said in a small voice. "I’m sorry."
I sucked in a deep breath. Let it whistle back out. "So…wait. For the next month, everyone’s going to be over at the other lodge, partying it up and building the jury? What about the camera crew that films us?" At least we’d have them to talk to, right?
Kitty wrinkled her nose. Toyed with her zipper some more. "Well, since we only have two loser lodge members, they decided to nix that footage and just go with extended juror footage. Sorry."
"So we’re not even going to be filmed for the website?" I blinked.
She bit her lip and zip zip zipped again. "Remember the part I said about punishment?"
"So, in other words, because we misbehaved, the producers are punishing us by forcing us to stay in this lodge with no company except each other for the next three weeks," Owen said. "Is that right?"
"In a nutshell." Zip zip.
I was going to jerk that damn zipper out of her hands in the next minute if she didn’t stop it. Hell, it wasn’t Kitty’s fault, though. She was an assistant. She was just doing whatever they told her to do. I rubbed my forehead. "This sucks."
"I’m sorry," Kitty said in a small voice. "If you need something, though, you just let me know and I’ll get it for you. Otherwise, I’m not supposed to stay for long. Boss’s orders."
"It’s okay," I said, and patted her shoulder. "Thank you."
"I brought some groceries," she said timidly. "If you make a list I can bring you some other stuff over the next few days, okay?"
"Thank you," Owen said. His voice was so flat that it didn’t sound polite at all.
"Okay," Kitty said, and gave me a faint smile. "See you guys tomorrow." She turned and headed for the door. “Happy holidays!”
I watched her go, and shut the front door of the lodge behind her. There went my only hope for company for the next three weeks.
Eleven damn jurors and a final five. It was unbelievable. The producers were bending the rules just to punish us. We wouldn’t be let out of our ‘jail’ until the show stopped filming, which was around New Year’s.
If we left, we’d not only forfeit our money for being on the show, but we’d be in breach of contract to the tune of a million dollars.
We were trapped and they knew it.
This was some punishment.
I looked over at Owen, but his arms were crossed. He slouched against the counter and stared out the windows, his expression bleak.
I knew just how he felt. We’d been sentenced to a month of sheer torture.
Happy holidays, indeed.
I FULLY ADMIT THAT I sulked for a few hours. I avoided Owen, too. If he was in the living room, I was in my room. If he was in his room, I headed down to the living room. I did some yoga to center myself, worked on my horror movie script, and spent a lot of time staring out at the snow.
I was pretty effing bored by the end of the day, too.
I liked having people to talk to. I was a social creature. That was why I went to the coffee shop to do my writing instead of hanging out at home. Being a writer was a lonely sort of thing. I didn’t do so good with lonely. I got my best ideas when I chatted with other people. I’d start talking, and they’d start talking, and my brain would suddenly start pinging all these different ideas to me and I’d have to scramble to write them all down.
When it was just me? I had nothing but an empty piece of paper.
The idyllic lodge was starting to suck, too. There were no phones, because we were supposed to be in seclusion. No TVs either, for the same reason. No computers. Nada. There were magazines, a few books, and a crossword puzzle book that I’d done most of on my first day here.
So I sat with my notepad in hand and stared out the snowy window, bored out of my mind. The fire crackled and blazed, and I occasionally got up to toss another log on.
Around sunset, I was watching the orange and purple skies light up and trying to think of a way to get my serial killer, nicknamed ‘the Termite,’ all the way to Alaska for the new setting. I had nothing. Ugh.
Above me, the floorboards creaked. (I wrote that down, because a good creaking floorboard was a staple in a horror movie). Then, I heard the heavy, rhythmic thump of Owen’s feet coming down the stairs. Mentally, I braced myself. I was cozy on the couch, a blanket over my legs, my grilled cheese sandwich on a nearby plate, and my notepad in front of me. I’d just built the fire up to a roaring blaze, and now he was going to come down here and force me out. I clenched my jaw, irritated.
Sure enough, Owen came down to the living room and threw himself down on the couch across from me.
He said nothing for a long minute, and then locked his hands and leaned forward, bracing his arms on his knees. "Truce?"
I blinked. I was pretty sure I’d heard him wrong. "Huh?"
"I said, truce?" Those gorgeous amber eyes focused on me. "Look. I know we got off on the wrong foot over and over again, but it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to be stuck with no company but each other’s for the next month. And I’d really prefer not to spend my time hiding from each other. So why don’t we declare a truce and try to be decent to each other for the next few weeks?"
He stuck a hand out to me to shake.
I narrowed my eyes and stared at it, not quite trusting him. After a moment, I reached out and gingerly touched his fingertips, then turned his hand over and examined the other side.
"What are you looking for?" he asked.
"A joy buzzer. This is a trap, right?"
He drew back and sighed heavily. "It’s not a trap, Boston. Jesus, you’re suspicious."
"Well, how do you expect me to behave?" I said defensively. "From day one, you’ve mocked the way I talk, told me I sucked at challenges, and turned everyone against me."
"Yeah, that worked out really well for me, didn’t it?" he said sarcastically. "Seeing as how I was out second?"
Was this…an ass-backwards apology of some kind? "So you admit that you were wrong?"
"No," he said, tilting his head as if he were trying to reason with some strange creature. "I’m admitting that I’m super competitive. You are, too."
Well, that was true enough. I toyed with the edges of my notepad. "So are you going to keep making fun of my accent?"
A hint of smile flashed across his face. "I might."
I made a face at him and searched for a rejoinder. His cupcake tee-shirt glared out at me, and inspiration struck. "Then I’m going to call you Cupcake every time you do."
"I wish you wouldn’t."
"Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which one fills up faster," I told him, using one of my Pops’ favorite sayings.
"God, Boston. You have a mouth on you." He shook his head.
"Thank you," I said primly. And then I couldn’t think of anything else to say so I turned back to my notepad. I was character sketching, and until now, I’d been completely dry. Hero’s brother has ridiculous name, I wrote in the margins. You couldn’t de-masculine the hero, but I could always add a comic relief male character. Maybe I’d call him Cupcake. A big, bulky guy named Cupcake could be fun. I wrote that down.
Owen stretched out on the couch across from me and propped his head up on one elbow, watching me. "So what’s in the notepad?"
"Work," I said abruptly, and scratched out Cupcake so he couldn’t read it. Too obvious. I changed it to ‘Sugarbean.’
"What kind of work?"
His brows drew together. "What do you mean, script work?"
I began to write some more, mostly to keep my fingers busy. "You go to the movies much?"
"You like horror movies?"
"You ever see The Termite or The Termite 2: Walls of Blood?"
He snorted. "Not if I can help it."
"Those are my movies," I told him proudly. "I write horror movie scripts. Sometimes they get picked up by Hollywood, sometimes not." Okay, most times not, but I wouldn’t tell him that. "I’ve had two picked up by production companies and two more purchased by TV channels who want some Saturday night flicks." I gestured at my pad. "Right now, since I have time on my hands, I’m sketching out some preliminary ideas for Termite 3."
"What’s that ‘huh’ mean?"
"It means you’re a tiny little chick, you know? Kinda girly except for that Boston mouth on you. You don’t seem like the type that would be into horror movies."
"I happen to love horror movies, "I told him loftily. "They’re escapist fun."
He grinned, and for a moment he was so gorgeous my heart flipped. "So what’s The Termite about? Is he a big bug that eats people?"
I shook my head. "Nah. That’s too easy. Plus those B-movie special effects look like shit. He’s a serial killer that likes to hide in the walls and kill his victims. He’s called The Termite because he emerges from the woodwork and attacks, and then drags them back into the walls. No one knows where people are disappearing to until they smell something, or the blood leaks through." Both of which I’d used to great effect in the first and second movies.
Owen wrinkled his nose. "Sounds nasty."
"It’s supposed to." I tapped my pen on my notepad. "What is it you do?"
For a second, his gaze flicked away. "I’m a pastry chef."
I blinked. "Really?"
"What, a big guy can’t be a pastry chef?" he said defensively. "I like cooking. I especially like baking."
"Okay," I said, since he’d gotten all pissy about it. "Is that why you keep wearing a cupcake on your chest?"