You can do this, there’s no problem at all. Just get up there. Maybe she won’t even choose you. I mean, look at you. She’s got standards. And I mean- I mean come ON! She won’t choose you, of course not. She’s a smart woman. Oh God, what if she sees through me! What am I gonna do then?! What if she tells everyone that she doesn’t want me there because I’m- I’m-
Isabelle’s voice cuts like a knife through the anxiety induced haze in Alec’s mind. He jerks his head up, and tries to focus on his sister’s face, his hazel eyes glassy with a cocktail of fear, anxiety, and apprehension, his palms sweaty.
“Alec! Alec, you okay? You with me? Alec?”
“I-I can’t breathe!”
“It’s okay, Alec. I’m here. I’m right here with you. You’re safe, you’re with me. Breathe for me, big brother. I’m right here with you. Just breathe.”
Alec lets his sister’s voice guide him through the fog in his mind, her hands on his arms are a grounding touch. He centres his mind, breathing slowly and deeply.
“Slow and steady, there we go.”
Alec feels a little calmer now. He still isn’t completely out of it, but now that it’s a bit clearer, he can find his way. He finally looks at those mocha brown eyes filled with concern. “It’s better now. Thanks for that, Iz.”
“Don’t thank me now. I am your sister. It’s my job to help you. Even if you are preparing to throw your life away.” Izzy throws her perfectly shaped right eyebrow at him.
“Not again, Iz,” Alec groans.
“You don’t have to do this Alec,” Izzy pleads.
“I do, actually,” Alec tries to sound determined, but whether it's to Izzy, or himself, he’s not sure.
“No you don’t. Let Jace go up there. He’s okay with it too. Please don’t go.”
“Alexander Gideon Lightwood, would you stop being so self-sacrificing every damn minute!” Izzy is getting impatient now.
“Five minutes till camera rolls people!” The assistant director, Aline , Alec remembers, yells.
“I have to go Iz.” Alec half-walks, half-runs away from her, not sure if the walls around his heart can take another blow of her determined reasoning.
Of course I have to do this. I’m no good to my parents otherwise. Having a son like me is practically political suicide, and if doing this means they have a better time campaigning, well, I could happily die for them, and this is just marriage.
Yes, Jace could’ve gone up there, but this will need diplomacy, and a clean media presence, and as much as I love him, the playboy image doesn’t help here. It’s all about strategies. And Jace is not who someone would go to for strategies. And after the media outrage my parents faced the last few months, I’ll do anything to protect my family name.
Even if it means denying that I’m- you know.
And-and, yeah meeting someone who loves me for who I am would be wonderful. God knows I’ve been having this dream since I was 12 years old! But that's all it is, a 'dream'. This is the real world. It sucks.
It’s not like Mom and Dad can just change their whole lives. They have high hopes from this campaign. I can’t screw this up.
I have to think about my family.
“Okay people, let’s begin the Rose Ceremony. It’s showtime.” Aline gives a thumbs up.
Alec adjusts his black bowtie and smoothes down non-existent creases on the black lapels of his wine-purple tuxedo jacket.
“Miss Blackthorn?" Aline knocks on the door to her green room thrice.
“Ma’am, we’re starting shooting in an hour.”
A muffled voice comes through the door.
“Ma’am I’m coming in,” Aline decides in a moment.
Aline opens the door cautiously, and finds Helen sitting on the floor, far away from the door, tucking her head in between her knees, the light dimmed in the room. Aline approaches her, stopping outside her personal space.
“Miss Blackthorn, you okay?”
“It’s okay, I’ll be ready in a minute. Sorry you had to see all-all this.” Helen wipes her face with the back of her left hand, right hand gesturing at herself.
“It’s not a problem Ma’am. Do you need anything? Maybe someone to talk to?” Aline doesn’t dare to move from her spot, afraid she may startle Helen with any sudden movement
“It’s okay, really, you don’t have to listen to me. The show starts in a couple minutes, I’m sure you have many things to do.” Helen finally looks up at the woman before her.
Bright jade eyes start at the bottom, taking in the olive green Doc Martens, following the black jeans to the untucked black t-shirt, to the sleeveless olive green hoodie thrown over it, a grey binder tucked at the crook of her elbow. She reaches up to the face, and there’s a headset around the woman’s neck, crackling with incoherent sounds.
But Helen can’t seem to care about that, as she takes in the beautiful face in front of her, framed by shoulder length jet black hair, brown eyes that seem almost black in the low light, pulling her attention in even more, with unabashed concern and kindness in them. There isn’t a trace of makeup on that face. It is the most beautiful face Helen has ever seen, and she works with professional models on a daily basis.
“Actually, I could use a little break. From all the production hustle, you know,” Aline says sitting down in front of her, her chocolate brown eyes twinkling with a smile. “If that’s alright with you, Ma’am?”
“Oh please, call me Helen. And I just don’t want to waste your time with my problems. Wait, you didn’t tell me your name.”
“Aline. Aline Penhallow. And please, feel free to talk about whatever you want. I’m told I’m a good problem solver.” Aline smiles and makes a fake snobby gesture, making Helen laugh for the first time since she entered the room. Aline stares at her form shaking with laughter.
Wow, she’s breathtaking!
“Is that so? Well then, here it is, the woes of my life.” Helen makes an over-dramatic gesture of touching the back of her right hand to her forehead, making Aline break into a smile. Helen's eyes widen seeing her smile.
Holy crap, that is a beautiful smile!
“It’s just- it’s gonna seem really silly.” Helen hesitates.
“I always wear mismatched socks. Right now, I’m wearing a purple one and an orange one,” Aline says after a moment.
“What? What does that have to do with anything?” Helen asks, scrunching her nose, completely thrown off track now.
Awww, she looks so cute with her nose scrunched up! Damn it Penhallow, control yourself!
“You said it’s gonna seem silly. Well, I wear mismatched socks for good luck, it seems silly to you, but it’s absolutely important and serious to me. Whatever it is, it’s serious enough to bother you, so don’t worry. Just tell me.”
Helen stares at her. I-I don’t know what to think of this.
Finally, Helen clears her throat.
“Thank you. I needed that. It's just, I-I miss my family tonight. My parents aren’t alive anymore, but I have six siblings. I’m the oldest. Mark and Jules are actually babysitting the rest for the time being. But that’s what I’m worried about. I love them, but I’ll be lucky if I get home to the house in one piece after this.” Helen’s eyes shine with fondness, her mouth curling into a soft smile.
She’s a great sister.
“If they’re anything like their sister, I think they’ll be fine,” Aline says matter-of-factly.
“Thank you for that Aline. That’s very kind of you.”
“I’m just being honest,” Aline shrugs.
“Actually I was wond-“
Helen gets cut off by someone’s shout coming from Aline’s headset that she'd put on the ground before sitting down.
“Oh crap! I’m so sorry to do this, but we’re down to fifteen minutes now. And I really need to get you ready,” Aline says, guiltily.
“No, no, please, it’s your job. And I’m sure I couldn’t have had a better person to talk to. Thank you for helping me, Aline. I feel better now, thanks to you.”
“It’s my pleasure. You’re gonna be amazing, Helen. And if you need someone to talk to, just find me.”
“I may just take you up on that offer,” Helen smiles at her.
“Penhallow! We need Camera 1 and 5, ready to go, stat. PENHALLOW!”
“Coming Boss!” Aline faces Helen, “Duty calls.”
“I’ll get ready too. Break a leg, Penhallow.”
“Break some hearts, Blackthorn.” Aline gives her a wave, and leaves, beaming at the smile Helen gives her.
Later, when she sees Helen step in front of the camera, in a stunning silver gown, her silver blond hair in wavy locks, and jade eyes rimmed in purple eyeshadow and mascara, crystal purple stilettos on, wearing a million-dollar smile, she suddenly feels jealous of the ten men standing opposite her.
Magnus looks at himself in the mirror of the vanity in the green room. The show operator has given him the fifteen minutes warning, till his appearance, coming in at the middle of the show instead of the start as a twist. He will be the surprise contestant of this season, and one of the ten originals will be going home. It was a PR strategy, to keep the audience on the edge of their seat, and he admits that it will work. The public loves twists and turns in a love story after all.
He's donning a charcoal grey suit of his own design, a hot pink tie with a silver arrow tie pin, purple vest, jewellery and rings worn in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, perfectly coiffed hair with fuchsia highlights, his favourite snake ear cuff in his left ear, and Ralph Lauren boots. Magnus is glad he decided to go with his winged purple eyeliner, and black eyeshadow. He has kept the ring finger of his left hand empty, to present as a punch line thought up by the show runners, Magnus rolls his eyes at that. And of course, glitter is a must. After all, he is Magnus Bane, The Glitter God of fashion.
Magnus rubs together his impeccably manicured index finger and thumb of his left hand, a nervous tick he’s had since early childhood.
I’m doing this. I’m actually doing this. I’m taking a chance on love.
A love where the public gets to witness every part of my story.
Well, maybe this time, it will be better. Camille and I were so private, but when she broke my heart, it didn’t hurt any less, maybe this sort of transparency would be better for me.
But all of this applies only if Helen even chooses me at the end. Hell, if we even have something worth choosing.
She is a wonderful human being, Magnus thinks. He met her during one of the fashion photoshoots for his 2018 Fall collection for Threadbare , the famous fashion magazine published from Helen's company, Thornbush . In spite of being the CEO, Helen was there to personally greet Magnus and his team, and he found out that she does that for every client. Feeling intrigued, Magnus talked to Helen before, during and after the photoshoot, and had been pleasantly surprised to find her smart, funny and hard-working, with intricate knowledge of all of the departments under her supervision. Also, it was her strict and fair work-ethic as well as couture fashion sense that won him over. Not all CEOs were like Helen, and Magnus wished they stayed in touch after that.
Oh well, she’s gonna know me pretty well for the next couple of weeks. What if she doesn’t like what gets dredged up in this?
I’m putting my entire soul on the line here.
It may just be a disaster. Maybe I should’ve declined when they asked me if I was interested, I had just broken up with Camille, AGAIN, and I-
No. NO. I’m done letting Camille manipulate me. Now I don’t care if I get my soulmate from here, or if I get my heart broken, it will all be on MY terms. No more cheating, no more lies. I’m taking back my life from her.
One rose at a time.