Rachel had marathoned the first four seasons of the show to prepare for her interview, and when she fell asleep after that first exhausting day, her subconscious regurgitated them all over her dreams in a hot mess of klieg lights and tulle.
There she was, face stiff with make-up, hair sticky with spray, bare shoulders goose-pimpling in the cold, and her stomach tied up in knots, hoping, hoping, hoping, that the Suitor (Suitress?) would pick her in the elimination ceremony. Her new colleague Jay was next to her, carrying off his ball gown better than Rachel ever could. He looked down at her, half contemptuous, half conspiratorial, and whispered, “You clean up nice, tiny girl.” Rachel feigned a snarl and tugged up her strapless bodice, until Jay slapped her hand away.
Then Quinn appeared on the dais, wearing a wet dream of a tailored tux, and looking like the collective fantasy of “The Butch-Femme Dyad in Literary History” course Rachel took in college. Quinn surveyed the contestants, enjoying her power. Her lips quirked and her gaze sharpened, her eyes lingering on Jay. Rachel could’ve sworn she heard his heart start to thump, but that might’ve been her own. Then Quinn said, “Rachel,” and the rush of her blood deafened her to everything else.
“Rachel, will you continue this journey with me?” Quinn asked, voice rich with secrets, when she approached. Her hands on Rachel’s arms were only a degree or two warmer than the air. With the sudden bursts of knowledge one has in dreams, Rachel realized that her wisp of a dress had disappeared. But she didn’t care. Naked, she lifted her face, hoping for a kiss.
Wish fulfillment much, Goldberg? she asked herself when she woke up.
“This parsha is too much for you,” Quinn murmured, running a hand over Rachel’s hair, then giving a painful twist to the ends. “I knew they should’ve given you an easier one. You’ll choke. You’ll freeze. You’ll embarrass your family. You’ll embarrass me.”
“I won’t,” Rachel begged. “Just let me try it one more time.”
“Knock yourself out.” Quinn folded her arms and narrowed her eyes.
Rachel dug her nails into her palm so she wouldn’t cry, and began to chant.
One morning, a few years into Rachel’s job, Quinn paled, clapped a hand over her mouth and rushed out of the control room. Everyone looked at each other in silence; and then everyone looked at Rachel. She made an “oh okay” face, secretly thrilled to be the one given the task, the one everyone knew was closest to Quinn.
There were unmistakable sounds of retching coming from the first floor bathroom farthest from the control room.
“Quinn?” Rachel called. “Are you okay?”
“Go away, Rachel.”
“Everyone’s worried about you.”
“Go a-way, Rachel, and take your Florence Nightingale schtick with you.” Quinn sounded almost normal, and Rachel considered backing off. But then a soft groan and more vomiting noises issued from the bathroom.
Rachel fought back a train of shamefully pleasurable visions: Quinn being loaded into an ambulance, while Rachel held her hand and gave authoritative instructions to the anxious crew—or better yet, a helicopter, Rachel shielding Quinn from the wind of the blades. She shook her head to clear it, and gave the doorknob a gentle shake. Locked, of course. “Can I get you something?” she called. “Call a doctor?”
The toilet flushed, and then Quinn said, “Oh, you’d all love that, wouldn’t you? Big, mean boss lady laid low—holiday for everyone.” The bathroom door swung open and there was Quinn, looking improbably put together—white as a sheet, yes, and lipstick-less, but face clean, clothes straight, and hair smooth. “Well, I’m fine,” she announced. “Just another fucking migraine. As soon as my useless doctor can get me some of his magic pills, I’ll be good as new.” She had her phone out and was trying to scroll through the directory with shaking hands.
After a watching her fumble with the screen for a few moments, Rachel gingerly prised it from her hands, expecting a rebuke that never came. “Vasopolis,” Quinn said. “He’ll know what I want. Tell him I want them delivered yesterday. And then, you, back to work.” She stalked back towards the control room, back ramrod straight as always.
And that was the end of that non-drama, except that Rachel fell asleep that night to half-dreams of different outcomes. Quinn’s head on her lap as she smoothed away the pain for gentle fingers; Quinn’s voice, hoarse, and grateful, saying “Aw, Rach, no one takes care of me like you do.”
“Rachel,” a different voice said. “Are you awake? Can you hear me?”
It took a lot of effort, but curiosity got the better of her; Rachel opened her eyes. Her mother had vanished, and Quinn was there in her place. This was suspicious, since Rachel had just been wishing she could see Quinn. She knew Quinn would explain to her, in crisp, unsentimental terms, just what the fuck was going on. But more suspicious, still, Quinn was in the same pose her mother had been, down to the handholding, which definitely didn’t seem like something Quinn would do. A drug-induced hallucination, Rachel decided, or even a true psychotic break. There was no way her mother would let Quinn in to see her. She’d be seeing angels next, or talking houseplants.
“Focus, Rachel. Can you do one thing for me?” Quinn was asking. Her voice was harsher than an angel’s, and a lot more articulate than a houseplant. “Don’t take the drugs. Palm them, spit them out. Do whatever it takes. They’re making you crazy, not helping you. And I need you whole. Okay?”
Rachel nodded. She didn’t have the energy to speak. Quinn—and this was the most un-Quinn-like thing of all, the thing that truly convinced Rachel it was a dream—kissed her gently on the forehead.
Rachel stopped taking the drugs. But she never had the guts to ask Quinn whether or not any of it had really happened.
It was the first sleep Rachel had gotten in twenty-eight hours, and it was only a catnap in a deck chair, but she resented it being interrupted all the same. “G’way,” she muttered, trying to shy away from the slapping hand.
“No, no, no—you’re going to want to see this. Don’t say I never got you a birthday present.”
“My birthday’s in June.”
“Early, then—or late. Who cares? C’mon!”
But Rachel was already out of the deck chair and trailing Quinn into the control room.
“Okay,” Quinn said, settling Rachel into a chair and slipping headphones over her ears. The screens were black. “You’re not too sleepy to remember that Doug, our doltish suitor, has chosen Little Miss Switch Hitter for an overnight, right?”
Quinn meant Hayden, Everlasting’s first openly bi contestant. “Yup,” said Rachel, propping her chin in her hands. “Score one for Team Het.”
“But” –Quinn’s eyes danced—“Madison found that out she’s not so much of a switch hitter, and more of a lefty who tells everyone she’s ambidextrous.”
“I do. Tonight she’s like a vegetarian eating her first steak. Or sausage, as the case may be.”
“But won’t she just be grossed out?”
“No—that’s the good part: she’s really into him. Doofus Doug converted her.”
“Okay, you know conversion’s not a real thing, right?” Rachel said. But Quinn was right—this was good. So good Rachel was suddenly sure she was still asleep. “Is this real?”
“So real. So real it’s unreal. And it gets better. Hayden the Hasbian is really worried she won’t know what to do with a man, so she’s let us wire her up to give advice.”
The wires were their new secret weapon, fantastic miniature tech that let them invisibly whisper in contestants’ ears. Doug-the-Dolt had been wearing one since he revealed an unfortunate tendency—uncaught by vetters who’d since been fired—to go blank in front of the cameras. Along with their other innovation—the “heart-cam” monitors that let them see whose pulse sped up and when—they had made for a fun season.
“And that means—“ Rachel could feel herself getting caught up in the crazy logic of the thing.
“Yes ma’am: our very own set of obedient meat puppets. Who do you want to be, him or her?”
Some shred of compunction made Rachel object. “Shouldn’t Madison? If she’s the one who got the info?”
“No way. No way I’m letting Dorothy near this. It’s you, Rachel, you and me.” Quinn gave Rachel a look that made her glad she wasn’t hooked up to the heart cam. “You in?”
Rachel swallowed. “I’m in. I’ll take our first timer.”
“That’s my girl.” Quinn pressed a button and the screens lit up. “And we’re live.”
“Bad girl,” Rachel mouthed at Quinn, who shrugged happily.
Now Rachel had four camera on the spectacle of Doug and Hayden sitting chastely side-by-side on an opulent hotel bed. Doug was a beautiful man--dark hair, pale skin, and chiseled, delicate features that made him look like the wise Elfin King of some fantastical kingdom. No one would know, looking at him, how awkward he was. Hayden, too, was gorgeous—slender and graceful, her black hair in a pixie cut. In fact, she looked a bit like a girl-version of Doug. Rachel wondered what part that had played in the supposed conversion.
Quinn jerked her head a Rachel and raised her eyebrows, so Rachel spoke into the mic. “Hayden, hey, it’s Rachel—I’m going to be backing you up tonight.”
“Took you long enough,” Hayden hissed from all four camera angles.
Doug immediately looked contrite. “I know. I always liked you. I guess I was just worried about the whole, you know, lesbian thing.”
“Bisexual,” Hayden corrected, while Quinn, in the control room, rolled her eyes and said into the suitor-feed, “Okay, okay, no need to debate sexual identity. Just tell her she looks pretty and move on to the action.”
Obedient as always—it was his saving grace—Doug said “You look really pretty tonight,” and leaned in towards Hayden.
But whether due to the lame compliment, or the unfamiliar proximity to a man, Hayden shied away.
“Hey,” Rachel said into the mic. “You got this. He’s so into you—you know you’re going to win this thing. And you know, kissing a guy isn’t any different than kissing a girl.” At least Rachel was pretty sure that was true, her only experience having been in dreams. But most of successful seduction was confidence, wasn’t it?
Hayden seemed to believe her, at any rate. She relaxed just enough towards Doug to allow his lips to touch hers. Momentum took care of the rest. Soon, a feed gave them the soft, wet sounds of satisfied smooching. Rachel and Quinn leaned back in their chairs, Quinn lifting a palm so that Rachel could high five it. “We’re so good,” she said in a stage whisper.
And then it all went to shit. Doug tried to move to second base. “Oh for goodness sake,” Quinn sputtered into the mic. “Not like that. Not like you’re testing tomatoes in the supermarket. Gently. Approach those nipples with respect.” Rachel made a disbelieving face at her, and Quinn shrugged. Her phrasing seemed to do the trick, though. Doug’s hands on her breasts made Hayden throw back her head and moan. It sounded a little fake to Rachel, but Hayden’s heart cam readout above the screen indicated something genuinely physical was going on.
Doug and Hayden did make a pretty picture, Rachel decided. She felt a bit turned on herself, though whether that was from the spectacle of Doug and Hayden, her secret power over them, or just sharing the manipulation with Quinn, she couldn’t say. She glanced at Quinn, and saw that she, too, was slightly flushed.
Time to bring this baby home. “Okay. Your turn now, Hayden,” Rachel said. “Let’s move things along. A little over the clothes action. Below the belt. Just slide your hands up his thighs. That’s it. You’re doing great.”
But at the last crucial approach, Hayden balked. “I can’t,” she said, freezing.
“You can,” Doug said inanely. “Oh baby, yes you can.”
“He’s right,” Rachel pleaded. “You can do this. A penis is no big deal. Just think of it as a really high quality dildo.”
Next to her, Quinn pushed away from the console in silent, hysterical laughter.
On the screen, Hayden disentangled herself from Doug and stood up, straightening her clothes. “I’m sorry, Doug, but this is right,” she said, mustering more dignity than Rachel would’ve thought possible. “Isn’t right for me, I mean. I can never be with you.” She swung away from him and made a surprisingly graceful exit, not even slamming the door behind her.
“What happened?” Doug looked completely befuddled. “I thought she was into me. What did I do wrong?’
“Oh, honey,” Quinn told him. “You didn’t do anything wrong that half the species doesn’t do every day.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.” Quinn killed the audio and visual. Even the heart cam went dark. “Still sleepy?” she asked Rachel.
Rachel shook her head. She was wide awake. “I could do this all night.”
“Then let’s go make some kick-ass TV.”