Jia and Rylan meet on a publicly televised dating game... what could go wrong? Thanks for reading the first five chapters of my novel, The Extent of Logic. Please buy on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo for the whole story.
What had just been a raging dance hall became a studio audience. The dancing guests retired to chairs that were neatly in rows and facing the raised platform at the front of the room. Soft music provided background noise as the guests mingled and talked amongst themselves while a camera crew filed in and set up their equipment.
The lights and music faded out and a spotlight shone bright on the platform, illuminating five silver stools on a black stage. Chitchat among the guests turned to applause when a familiar face stepped on the stage.
“Good evening. I’m Margo Yu from channel three news and I’m coming to you live from the Choi ballroom. How’s everybody doing tonight?” a lady in a pale lavender dress said into a microphone.
Wild cheering erupted from the audience, and when it calmed down she looked into the camera in front of her. “Thanks for tuning in. Tonight, we will watch as a very desirable young bachelorette finds love. Let’s bring her out, shall we?”
More cheering came from the audience. “Ladies and gentlemen, the star of our game and the evening- Miss Jia Choi.” Margo motioned to the side of the stage and the crowd roared with applause.
Jia walked slowly up the stairs to the stage, watching every step she took so she would not trip in her heels. Once she made it up the stairs safely, she glided across the stage and shook Margo’s hand before they both took a seat, Margo in the middle of the stage and Jia on the right.
“Happy birthday, Jia.”
“Thank you, Margo,” Jia said, a microphone pinned to her dress.
“You turn twenty today, is that right?” Margo asked.
“Yes,” Jia nodded.
“Your teen years are behind you and now you’re looking for love.”
Jia smiled shyly. “I guess so.”
“Well you’re in luck because tonight we have three guys for you to choose from, and let me just say- I think they are all amazing. Let’s bring out the boys,” Margo said through a smile, motioning to the other side of the stage.
Three boys filed on stage, taking the three empty seats on the left side of the stage. Each of them wore identical white-collar shirts and brown sacks over their heads, but they each wore chino pants in a different color, one in red, one in blue, and the last in yellow.
When the clapping died down Margo turned to Jia with a smile on her face. “So, Jia, what do you think of the boys so far?”
Jia brought a hand to her mouth to cover her giggles. “I think I can’t see them.”
Margo chuckled and so did the studio audience. “No, you can’t. You have to meet them first. Here’s how the game will work: you will ask each of our lovely bachelors two basic questions, and they will each have an opportunity to woo you with their answers. Then each of these guys will amaze you with what they can do in a talent segment. Last, you will ask them two- more personal- questions and then you will have to choose one to date. Sound good?”
“Alright, let’s begin. Jia read the first question.”
Jia opened a small silver envelope and took out a card with two questions on it. She read the first aloud. “What do you like to do in your free time?”
“Bachelor number one in the blue pants, what is your answer?” asked Margo.
He sat straight and brushed out the wrinkles in his shirt. “Well, I’m here now, aren’t I? Obviously doing what it takes to please my girl is a priority.”
Margo and the girls in the audience sighed. “Aw, that’s precious. What about you, bachelor number two in the red pants? Same question.”
The boy in the red pants sat still. His head was facing Jia but from under the sack, she could not tell if he was staring at her or asleep.
“Bachelor number two?” Margo asked again.
His head jerked toward Margo. “Um,” he leaned back in his chair and forward again before he answered. “I spend a lot of time with my friends.”
“Well, alright then,” Margo continued on without any further comments about what he said, “Bachelor three in the yellow pants? What about you?”
“I like to spend time working on myself. I go to the gym for at least three hours a day, and I keep up a tan most days, too. I think taking care of your body is important.”
Margo smiled. “Very nice. Well, Jia, you’ve heard from all three of our guys. Any thoughts so far?”
Jia took a deep breath. “Well, they all seem very different. I don’t go to the gym like bachelor three, but I do go for a run every morning. I like that bachelor two makes time for friends. I get busy and don’t always make time for my friends, so it’s nice that they are a priority for you. Bachelor one, I appreciate the effort you made to be here, but you seem annoyed.”
The audience ‘oo-ed’ and Margo gasped. “Interesting. Let’s move on to our second question.”
Jia glanced down at the card in her hand. “How do you feel about your girl making more money than you?” She looked directly at the contestant sitting in the middle. “Mr. Red Pants, what do you think?”
All three boys sat straight, surprised that she went out of order and targeted bachelor two. He cleared his throat and said, “Well, I have my own business, and I wouldn’t mind supporting you. But I would never stand in your way if you want to pursue your own dreams, too. It doesn’t matter to me at the end of the day who makes more money, just that we’re both happy doing what we like.”
“Nice save, bachelor two,” said Margo, “bachelor one, going back to you- how would you feel?”
Bachelor one in the blue pants cleared his throat before he responded, too. When he did, it was short and stifled, as though he cleared his throat out of agitation rather than necessity. “I have my own money, you don’t need to be working.”
“What a gentleman,” said Margo, “What about you, bachelor three?”
He flashed a smile and waved off the question. “I like when my woman makes more money than me- why not? I’m sure you’ve made plenty by modeling, so keep it up, you’re doing a great job.”
“Alright,” Margo said and turned to the camera, “after a quick commercial break, we’ll be back with our talent segment. Stay tuned.”
Margo smiled at the camera until a crewmember yelled ‘cut’, then she turned to face Jia. Her sour expression caught Jia off guard, and her voice was wicked when she asked, “What were you trying to pull with that stunt back there?”
Jia stared at her blankly. “What stunt?”
“Don’t play dumb with me.” Margo leaned in closer, her finger pointed at Jia. “You ask the questions, I do everything else. I’m the hostess, that’s my job. You do not address the boys, especially out of order. Do you understand me?”
Jia blinked repeatedly, her mouth open. “Yeah, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was a problem.”
Margo huffed. “Your mother was right- you are difficult to work with.” She stormed away.
Jia sat alone on the stage and listened to the audience mingle during the commercial break. She lowered her head and closed her eyes in an attempt to keep a tear from escaping.
“Hey, are you ok?”
Her eyes flew open and she saw a pair of red pants standing in front of her. She looked up at his covered face. With tears no longer threatening to roll down her cheeks, she took a breath and found her default straight-faced expression. “Um, yeah, I’m fine.”
“Good.” He hovered near her. The area of the sack covering his mouth moved as though his lips parted, but he said nothing else.
Margo clicked across the stage in her heels and stopped next to him. She tapped her toe, and when he did not respond, she said, “Places, we’re on in five.” The bag on his head shifted as he glanced at Margo and his leg brushed Jia’s on his way back to his seat.
Just as a cameraman gave her the thumbs up, Margo fluffed her hair one last time and she smiled widely at the screen in front of her. “Welcome back. Before the break we were introduced to our three fine bachelors. At the end of our show, Jia will have to choose one to date. Now we move on to talent. Let’s make some noise for bachelor one.”
The audience clapped as the boy in the blue pants rose from his seat and took center stage with a microphone in hand. He waited for silence to fall and an electronic karaoke track started to play. He danced along to the intro, his arms moving stiffly in a different direction than his body. The audience cheered and clapped to the beat out of time.
He started to sing. Jia found herself mouthing along with the words to the popular love song. He carried the tune so the song was recognizable, but his tone was flat. At the chorus, the entire audience was singing along, and he motioned toward them. He inched closer to the front of the stage, working the crowd, never once acknowledging Jia to his left.
Jia winced as he went for the big finish and butchered the last high note. Margo clapped wildly with the audience and she rose from her seat to stand next to him. “That was amazing, bachelor one, where did you learn to sing like that?”
The boy in the blue pants draped an arm over Margo’s shoulder and leaned in to her microphone. “Just one of my many talents.”
Margo pulled her microphone closer to her face. “I’ll say. Thank you bachelor one.” The audience clapped as he went back to his seat, a perk of satisfaction in his step. “That’s a tough act to follow, but someone has to do it. Let’s hear it for bachelor two.”
The boy in the red pants leaned over the side of the stage to grab an acoustic guitar before he walked to the middle. He slung the strap around him and played a couple practice chords, adjusting the silver knobs to tune the guitar. He turned his head, and Jia felt his eyes on her through the sack. She saw the material around his neck move as though he gulped, and he turned back to face the audience.
He strummed the opening chords and whispers spread across the audience, lacking the instant recognition of bachelor one’s song. He started to sing, and even though his voice was not the deepest or strongest, there was a captivating quality in the emotion he brought to each word.
It’s getting old, being a puppet on your string
No end to the tunnel, no light for me
What good is supposed to come of this?
You’re controlling every step I take
Stuck under your thumb, always under your thumb
Going on like this, I’m bound to break
Jia went stiff in her seat. Her heart dropped to her stomach, and she forgot to breathe. She was thankful that the spotlight was on him and the rest of the stage was in shadows because she could tell by the heat in her cheeks that her face was quickly turning red. He angled his body toward her, acknowledging her without turning his back on the audience.
I’m numb to the good, I’m numb to the bad
Your direction is all I’ve ever had
To hold on to, but that ends tonight
I’m cutting the cord and taking back my life
Jia’s heart raced. How did he know? Her eyes became glued to him, her ears hanging on every word he sang. He relaxed his shoulder and tapped his foot to the beat as he continued on.
I can’t be you, I’m not your clone
Tight in your grasp, you won’t let me go
But even in your control, I’m always alone
And there’s more to life that I need to know
Stuck under your thumb, always under your thumb
Going on like this I’m bound to break
Stuck under your thumb, always under your thumb
Even if it kills me, it’s no mistake
And I know, I may fall flat on my face
But you know, you’d do the same if you were in my place
Jia studied the boy in the red pants, watching every rise and fall of his chest when he took a breath, noticing how he swayed slightly when he sang the chorus. She was so focused on him that she was oblivious to the audience’s- and Margo’s- general disinterest in his performance. He strummed the last chord and held the pick away from the strings, letting the sound fade out. A quiet, obligatory clap came from the audience and Margo hurried to his side.
“Thank you, bachelor two, that was very… angsty,” she said, motioning for him to go back to his seat, “let’s welcome bachelor three.”
The clapping from the audience picked up in anticipation of the new act. The boy in the yellow pants provoked the crowd and cheering erupted. A heavy bass boomed over the crowd and he bobbed his head to the beat. He started dancing to the song, moving more fluidly and with more conviction than bachelor one had during his song. The audience clapped along to the beat, their encouragement fueling his steps.
He put a finger up to the sack on his head where his mouth should be, as if he was sharing a secret with the audience. The crowd hushed. He brought his hands to his chest, and just as the song grew louder he ripped his shirt open with minimal effort, revealing a toned and freshly shaved chest. The audience reacted, cheering louder than ever before. He tore his pants off and tossed them aside, revealing a sequined G-string. Jia gasped and raised a hand to her face, peeking through her fingers at his upper half. He danced along to the song, the attention of the crowd fueling his energy. Margo whooped and hollered from her seat directly behind him.
The boy shimmied across the stage to where the other bachelors were seated. He pointed at them and stroked his abs, challenging the other two boys. Bachelor one shot up from his seat and unbuttoned his shirt. He shook a hairy chest at the audience and they cheered. The two danced together, soaking up the attention and applause. They turned to the boy in the red pants, who had backed away from them. The other boys danced along either side of him, encouraging the audience to cheer him on, pressuring him to take his shirt off too.
With a sigh, bachelor two gave in and reluctantly raised his hands to the neck of his shirt and he slowly unbuttoned it. Jia’s heartbeat quickened with every button that came undone. He pulled the shirt back, revealing a lean chest that rivaled bachelor three’s in definition. His skin was tanned and free of hair and blemishes. Unlike the other two boys, he had a tattoo over his heart- a symbol meaning ‘peace’ in the old native language. Heat rushed to Jia’s cheeks, and her face would have been red as a cherry had she not been wearing so much concealer.
The song ended, and the audience gave the boys a standing ovation. Margo came forward from her seat and motioned to the shirtless boys beside her. Bachelors one and three took a bow. Bachelor two did not move from where he stood in the back of the stage.
The crowd was still roaring when Margo said, “Join us after the break for a couple intimate questions and Jia’s choice.”
The boys put their clothes back on and took their seats, and Jia was handed another envelop while the audience regained order as the commercial break came to an end. Margo smacked her freshly glossed lips together. Jia shifted her weight in her chair and picked at her dress so it lay smooth.
“Welcome back to our final segment. Our game is drawing to a close. Jia, are you getting closer to making a decision about which one of our bachelors you would want to date?”
Jia smiled shyly. “Getting there.”
“Alright, why don’t you go ahead and read the first of our final two questions.”
Jia opened the envelope that was given to her during the last break. She read the question on the top of the card. “Do you believe in soul mates or love at first sight?”
“Bachelor one,” Margo cut in at the end of Jia’s question, “what do you think?”
The boy in the blue pants sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t know about ‘soul mates’ or ‘love at first sight’ specifically, but I do know that a girl like you should be with a guy like me, so if that’s what you want to call it, then fine.”
The boy in the red pants faced Jia, his body frozen. “Not until tonight.” His voice was barely above a whisper but rang loud in Jia’s ears.
“That’s nice,” Margo said quickly, “Bachelor three?”
The boy in the yellow pants snorted. “That’s chick stuff. You need to prove yourself to me before I call it ‘love’.”
“You mean we should prove it to each other?” Jia asked.
He swatted the air with his hand. “Yeah, sure.”
“Ok, fair enough. Jia, read the final question for these charming gentlemen, please.” Margo forced a smile.
Jia cleared her throat and held the card up to read it. “Why are you interested in going out with me?”
“Bachelor one?” Margo cut in just as Jia finished her question.
He brought his hands together and rested them on his knee. “You’re the only girl on this island who is worthy of being mine.”
He had yet to move and his voice was quiet when he answered. “I want to know everything about you.”
“Bachelor three?” Margo glanced at Jia after she addressed the three boys.
He shrugged. “Because you’re hot. And I’m hot. Hot people just go together.”
“Alright, there you have it folks,” Margo said, “Jia, any final thoughts before you make your decision? Any last questions you would like to ask the guys?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Jia shook her head. “They’ve all made themselves very clear.”
Margo clapped her hands together around the microphone. “Let’s eliminate one right now, shall we? Jia, which boy do you not want to go on a date with?”
Jia looked over each of the boys before she answered. “Bachelor three in the yellow.”
A sympathy ‘aw’ and clap came from the crowd.
“Good bye, bachelor three, please leave the stage,” said Margo.
Bachelor three threw his hands up in a universal way of saying ‘what the-’ and stormed off the stage, making sure his attitude did not go unnoticed.
When the clapping died down, Margo turned to Jia. “So, who will it be? Bachelor one… or bachelor two?” She said ‘one’ slow and exaggerated in a not-so-subtle way of sharing her opinion.
Jia hesitated and a drumroll sound effect played from somewhere behind her. It was clear Margo- and the majority of the audience- was rooting for her to pick bachelor one, but bachelor two affected her heart in a way the other two had not. If she picked bachelor one, she would be making everyone else happy- everyone except herself. Jia swallowed her feelings, knowing one day she would need to stand up for what she wanted rather than go along with what others wanted for her- just like the lyrics bachelor two sang. When the drumroll stopped, she made a decision, and her words all rushed out together. “I choose bachelor two in the red.”
Margo faked a smile through her look of disgust. She stood and ushered Jia next to her in the center of the stage. “Let’s meet your new beau. Come on over here, bachelor two.”
The boy in the red pants stumbled as he stepped away from his seat and hurried across the stage. Jia’s heart raced as he got closer. She stared at the brown sack on his head, dying to know what was hidden underneath it.
“Please reveal yourself.” Margo’s words were unnecessary because his hands were already loosening the string around his neck as she spoke. Jia swallowed hard in anticipation of his reveal. He lifted the sack off his face in what seemed like slow motion, and Jia thought her heart would pound right out of her chest if he did not hurry.
His hands wavered slightly as he pushed the sack off the back of his head and let it drop to the floor behind him. He shook his head, and when locks of blonde hair fell in his face, he slicked it back with his hand. He sighed through a smile and his blue eyes met hers. She smiled back at him, and her heart rate calmed, feeling at home in his gaze.
Gasps and whispers came from the entirely native audience. “Isn’t he-?” “But I thought the Choi’s were old fashioned.” “Her family approves of her being with a guy like him?” The comments fell on deaf ears as Jia and her prince charming retracted into a world of their own.
Jia raised her hands and they caught on his chest as he leaned into her. With a hand under her jawbone, he tilted her face up as he bent down until their lips touched.
“No, no, no.” Bachelor one’s voice quivered as he rose to his feet. He yanked the sack off his head and threw it on the ground. The entire audience gasped in unison at his revealed identity. “I did not mess up my hair for this.” Jun slicked his bangs down and stormed off the stage.
Backstage Jun stomped past Mrs. Choi. His fists shook at his sides. “I thought you paid some actors to be terrible so she’d choose me for sure,” he said in her direction.
“I know, I’ll take care of it,” Mrs. Choi’s face flared red and a vein on her forehead popped. “Security,” her voice cut above the commotion, “that boy is an imposter. Remove him at once.” Two tall, muscular men in tight black shirts walked briskly to the stage. “The party is officially over, tell everyone to go home,” she said after them.
Mrs. Choi turned to her maid. Naomi’s hands clenched together and her nervous eyes darted around the room. “Well, what are you waiting for- get my daughter and bring her to me,” Mrs. Choi said, each word more vicious than the last.
“Y-yes, Mrs. Choi,” said Naomi. She hurried to the stage.
The couple’s lingering kiss broke off when the two security guards each grabbed one of the boy’s arms and pulled him away from Jia. Confusion plagued both of their faces as they were being ripped apart. The men shoved him further from her. He struggled to break free from their grip, but his effort was in vain. Jia jumped when she felt a hand around her wrist. She turned to see Naomi by her side. “Let’s go, Miss Jia,” she said and she tugged Jia stage right while the guards dragged him to the left. The two lovers absorbed every second they had with each other until they were out of sight.
“Naomi, what’s going on?” Jia asked as she was being pulled down a hall beyond the ballroom. Their hurried steps and shallow breathing were the only sounds in the hall.
Naomi turned to face her while keeping a steady pace. “Don’t you know who that boy was?”
“No, someone pulled me away before I had a chance to find out,” Jia said, not hiding the resentment in her voice.
Naomi swallowed before she spoke. “That was Rylan Marlowe.”
Jia’s steps came to a halt, and Naomi stopped in the middle of the hallway with her. “Naomi… why do I know that name?”
“His family owns the hotel chain that’s been bringing all the tourist traffic to the island. They are also the only family that has more annual income than yours. Your parents despise them.”
Jia was at a loss for words. Her eyebrows scrunched up, crowding the middle of her face. Tears filled her lower eyelids, and the corners of her mouth turned down.
Naomi sighed empathetically and rubbed the side of her arm. “I’m sorry, Miss Jia.”
Jia looked away. Naomi took her arm again and nudged her forward. “Your mother would like a word with you.”
Facing the ground, she rolled her eyes. She sunk her heels into the floor, but she reluctantly followed Naomi into her dressing room.
Mrs. Choi’s eyes were sharp as she watched Naomi enter the room with Jia. Her mouth formed a thin straight line. “Have a seat.”
Jia’s gaze did not leave the floor as she sunk into a chair. Her mother approached her, arms crossed over her chest. “You embarrassed me tonight.”
Jia let out her breath and took in another. She looked her mother in the eye. “How can you think that when you’re the one who embarrassed me?”
Mrs. Choi’s hands flew to her hips. “How on earth have you reached that conclusion?”
“How is it not obvious?” Jia huffed. “I went along with your game. I did everything you wanted me to do. I picked a guy, and I was actually happy about it. I even started to think ‘maybe this wasn’t such a disaster after all, I should apologize for making such a fuss earlier’. Then you go and have him hauled off like he’s some sort of criminal. And you have Naomi lead me around like I’m a little girl. It. Was. Embarrassing.”
“Do you know who you picked?” Mrs. Choi asked, her voice shrill.
Jia sat back in her chair. “Naomi filled me in.”
Mrs. Choi stood staring at her daughter, waiting for more of a response. Jia stared back at her quietly. After a moment, Mrs. Choi said, “Well?”
Mrs. Choi took a step closer to her daughter. “You picked the wrong guy.”
“How could I have picked the wrong guy?” Jia rose to her feet and also inched closer. “I thought it was my choice.”
“You were supposed to choose Jun.”
“I don’t like him.”
Mrs. Choi crossed her arms over her chest again and leaned forward so her face was inches from her daughter’s. “Well you should, I told him what to say.”
Jia’s eyes widened and she staggered back a step. “You. What?”
Unashamed, Mrs. Choi explained herself. “I told him what to say so you would choose him.”
Jia’s face went red. “So not only did you tell him exactly what to say, but he still managed to sound like a jerk even though he was given all the right answers? If that’s what you think I like in a guy, you don’t know me half as well as you think you do.”
Mrs. Choi dismissed her with a wave of her hand. “He was not a jerk, you’re over-exaggerating.”
Jia shook her head, still stunned. “So nothing he said was even real?”
“Nothing that Marlowe boy said was real either.” Mrs. Choi’s words came out quick and defensive.
Jia opened her mouth to respond but closed it, and she cleared her throat before she could speak. “T-that’s not true.”
Mrs. Choi pointed a finger down at her daughter. “He didn’t mean a word of what he said. He was only trying to sabotage your relationship with Jun. He was messing with your head, and you believed his lies. You fell for every last word. And you embarrassed me.”
Jia turned away from her mother. Shallow breaths came through her trembling jaw. After managing to hold it together all night, Jia did not have the energy to fight the tears that rushed down her face. She squeezed her eyes shut, questioning her reality.