At the bottom of the bag, there was one more bikini in a different style, and a swimsuit—a tankini. All in the same nasty pink with my name screaming across the chest. I also had a pair of water shoes and a pair of sneakers. That was it.
Six weeks’ worth of beach clothing. They were kidding, right?
Abby who?—Dean Woodall, Day 1
The blindfolds did an excellent job—I hadn’t seen the face of one single, solitary person. I could hear them and smell them around me, though. The faint scent of cologne, deodorant, and some girl’s powdery floral perfume lingered in my nostrils as the plane descended, and we were shuffled out, blindfolds intact, onto a boat. The motor purred as we were taken out onto the water, waves crashing against the hull. I sat with my small bag of clothes in my lap, my legs pressed against two other pairs of legs on either side of me.
Someone shuffled equipment near the front of the boat, and I heard the motor cut. The breeze ruffled my hair gently, a signal that we’d slowed down or stopped on the water. I heard the microphone flick on and the crew talking to themselves in low voices.
“Are we ready?” called a familiar, overly-cadenced voice. I tried to place it, but couldn’t without a face.
“Ready,” intoned someone else. “In three… two… one…”
“Welcome,” boomed the host so loudly that I jumped slightly in my seat, my nerves on edge. “Welcome to Endurance Island! We are here in the famous Cook Islands, home to piracy and private, sandy beaches. This will be your home for the next six weeks, provided you can withstand all the challenges that Endurance Island has in store for you! Who’s ready to Endure?”
Silence met his question. Someone coughed.
“Cut, cut,” the host yelled, annoyed. “You’re supposed to respond when I speak to you. Enthusiastic! Jeezus.”
One brave soul piped up, to my left. A woman. “I thought we weren’t supposed to speak until we got to the Island.”
“When I ask you something, you answer, understand me?” The man sounded unpleasant.
A rash of murmurs went through the boat and after momentary coaching we tried it again. This time, when the host’s voice trilled upward with ‘Who’s Ready To Endure?’ we yelled and cheered like morons.
I so hoped the camera wasn’t on my face at that moment or it’d catch my look of disgust.
“I’m Chip Brubaker, star of Family TV’s hit sitcom, Too Full of a House!”
Aha. That was where I’d heard that annoying voice. The image of a too-skinny, storky blond man crossed my mind and I smiled wryly. I’d given Mr. Brubaker’s horribly ghost-written memoir an F and he’d written me a nasty letter in response.
Sixty days of fun, coming right up. Yessirree.
“Your first challenge is about to start,” Chip yelled in an overly cheerful voice.
Everyone tensed, sitting up.
“When I say ‘Go,’ you’ll take off your blindfolds and grab one of the luxury items off the table in the center of the boat. You can only grab one item. From there, you will all swim out to shore—the first person to arrive on shore and ring the gong will win a special, additional prize. Are you all ready?”
Shit! No, I wasn’t ready. I still had my sneakers on, and I was wearing too many layers—
“Take off your masks! Go! Endurance Island has begun!”
I ripped off my mask at the same time as everyone else, bodies flying into motion. Someone elbowed me in my face, and people shoved ahead, trying to get to the center of the boat where the table was laid out.
I was half a step behind everyone else. In my urge to catch up, I stumbled forward and tripped over someone’s discarded mask, knocking into the press of bodies ahead of me.
The table pitched forward, spilling the contents on the ground, and the frenzy got worse, even as the other contestants cussed at me. “You stupid idiot!” some older guy yelled at me.
“Hey, f**k off!” I yelled back, then forgot I wasn’t supposed to cuss on TV. Whoops. I shoved ahead with everyone else, and they shoved me back like a well-tanned mosh pit. Someone was stepping on my shoelaces and I pitched to the floor, my palms smacking against the bottom of the boat.
A heavy object pitched against my shoe. I reached down and grabbed it, not caring what it was at this point—a person on the far end of the ship had just splashed into the water and was swimming for shore. I shoved the heavy canister into my pack, threw it over my shoulders, and ran down to the far end of the boat with the others.
I was the third one into the water, a man and a woman swimming ahead of me in frantic strokes. I adjusted my bag on my shoulders and dipped under the water, propelling myself forward.
Someone heavy landed on me, stepped on my shoulder, and shoved off.
I nearly took in a lungful of water at that and clawed my way back to the surface, intending on giving a good yell at the a**hole that had basically springboarded off me. I saw a blur of blue and then he was gone, moving through the water at an unholy pace, his movements steady and even and powerful. Dark blue, I thought to myself, wiping salt water out of my eyes as I took a deep breath. I’d remember that. Though I couldn’t breast stroke, I managed to maintain a calm and easy pace as I began to swim for shore.
“Someone help me swim!” A girl shrieked in my ear, and the next thing I knew, she was clinging to my backpack. “Help me swim! I’m going to drown!”
No kidding, I wanted to shout in her ear. Her violent flailing was dragging me down with her. Still, I figured it wouldn’t look good if I let some crazy bitch drown on day one, so I hooked her arms with mine and helped drag her to shore. It wasn’t so far off, even if a flood of people were already surging onto the pale sands, Dark Blue leading the pack.
Oh well. I hadn’t wanted that extra item anyhow.
A short time later, I dragged the flailing blond girl into shallow-enough water so we could walk along the sandy ocean floor. I continued to help her forward, though a quick glance around showed that we’d fallen to the back of the pack.
As if sensing she didn’t need me any longer, Blondie gave me a rough shove of disgust. “Get off of me, loser! I’m not helping you any longer!”
My mouth dropped, and when she splashed me, I got a lungful of salt water. Coughing, I wasn’t able to protest that I’d been the one dragging her sorry butt to shore, something she’d neglected to point out to the two dozen people loitering on the beach, all staring at us.
That was my grand entrance to the game—dragging my weary, waterlogged self onto the beach, dead last, coughing up a storm. Lovely.
One girl stumbled over, kicking sand into my face as I lay flat on the sand. “Ohmygawd,” she shrilled in a high voice with a thick southern accent. “You guys, I think she’s fixin’ to need medical attention.”
“I’m fine,” I tried to protest between coughs, but I’d swallowed a good liter of salt water, and it was still determined to make its way back up my throat.
“She just swallowed a little water,” said an arrogant male voice. “Let her suck it up. We’re all here to play an athletic game—”
“I know,” the Southern girl interrupted again. “But she’s obviously not athletic. Did you see her thighs?”
I coughed and tugged my wet shirt down over my upper legs. They weren’t big! They were just… normal girl thighs. Not the tanned, shapely twigs that Shanna (according to her bikini bottom) had.
“Maybe she deliberately gained weight for the show,” a girl with a Boston accent piped in.
All eyes rotated back to me.
We hadn’t been on the island for ten minutes yet, and I already wanted to hide in shame. I was still coughing, so I did the next best thing—shot them all the bird.
“She’s fine,” the one male voice said again, sarcastic.
I’d be willing to bet that the voice belonged to Dark Blue.
The others ignored me after that, most of them flocking to a tall, bronze Adonis nearby. He wore a shirt—dark blue—with the word DEAN sprawled across the damp chest and was shaking hands with the other guys.
“Good job,” the others praised him, showering him with accolades as if he’d suddenly discovered world peace instead of landing in first place in a swim competition. Of course he wore a smug, flashy white grin that told me he was used to getting compliments heaped on him.
I hated Dean on sight. Screw him.
I didn’t care if he did happen to be one of the hottest guys I’d ever seen, and that he pretty much hit all my kinks right up front. The usual guy I was attracted to was tall, muscular, tanned with dark hair and pale eyes. Dean fit the bill remarkably well, with a set of amazing cheekbones and a cocky grin that was quickly turning some of the other girls to Jell-O.
He carried an axe in his hands, flipping it with casual ease—the obvious reward of this mini challenge. Camera crews were already on the beach, swarming in the distance as we milled around each other and made awkward introductions.
Everyone pretty much ignored me. I took those moments to take inventory of what I’d grabbed from the table. Digging through my soaking wet pack, I grasped the heavy canister that had felt like a bowling ball against my back as I swam.
Peanut butter. A very large, very heavy jar of chunky peanut butter. Absurdly pleased at that, I smiled and shoved it back into my bag. Food and protein. A nice secret weapon to have in my stash. I glanced over my shoulder furtively and noticed Adonis had been paying attention to my bag rummaging. I scowled at him, ignoring the cocky smile on his face.
Hated him. Five minutes on the island and I already knew who I was voting for first.
Chip waded onto shore a brief time later, giving us his best Hollywood Dad smile and hamming it up for the cameras. He gestured to a long row of circles in the distance and had us stand on the colored disks. We randomly picked spots—pink disks for the female players and light blue disks for the male players. Once we were on each disk, sandy, wet, and disheveled, the cameras zoomed in and Chip began to speak again.
“Now that you’ve all had a chance to get a good look at each other, it’s time to pick teams.”
A chorus of cheers arose from the assembled crowd. I clapped my hands slowly, waiting to hear what he had to say.
“We’re going to do a school-yard pick. Who won the bonus prize?” Chip craned his neck and peered at us, as if it wasn’t obvious that Adonis—sorry, Dean—had won it, judging from the fawning of the others. “Dean? Can you step forward, please?”
The tanned god did so, casting a quick grin back at the rest of us, and moved to stand next to the host. Next to him, Chip put his arm around Dean’s shoulders. “Dean, since you won the special prize, I want you to hand out the rest of these plaques to the team.” As Dean did so, Chip continued speaking. “I want everyone to write their profession down on a plaque and hold it in front of their chest. The guys will get to pick their partners instead of the other way around.”
“Partners?” Dean spoke up, and Chip gave him a subtle frown. I guessed that we weren’t supposed to interrupt the host.