“Are you sure I can’t come with you? I want to see the studio,” Caroline said, as she spruced up my curls with her fingers.
“You can’t. I’ll be too nervous as it is.”
“You better get over it, Kenzie. You’re going to be on national television in a few months.”
“Don’t remind me,” I groaned.
“Are you kidding? I’d kill to go on that show.”
“Like you could survive a month without your phone.”
Caroline made a face, covered her cell with her hands, and whispered, “Shh, you’re going to hurt her feelings.”
The boys started banging on the back door to be let in, and I took that as my cue to leave. The last thing I wanted was for their filth to rain down upon my outfit. I slipped out the front door and dashed through the downpour to my car. Once in the dry vehicle, I thought about my family. I’d never spent a day away from them, and now, not only would I be gone for nearly two months, but I was also planning to leave them altogether after the show was completed. I wondered if I would have the courage to leave them behind to follow my own path. God, I hoped so.
The interview took about ten minutes. Apparently my life was so boring I couldn’t even get my fifteen minutes of fame. I was peppered with questions about the show and the recruiting process, and I happily answered. Slowly I was adjusting to the camera and feeling more comfortable in front of it. At least, until I was hit by a query I hadn’t expected. This was supposed to be a lighthearted fluff piece, not an exposé. Yet the reporter began describing my mother’s death as if were the most natural thing she could speak of. My stomach clenched in grief, as it always did when someone mentioned her.
“Do you think losing your mother in such a tragic way has conditioned you to seek out adventures in your own life?”
I wanted to laugh in her face. If anything, her loss had driven me inward and created a more cautious person. What I was doing – competing on Marooned – had nothing to do with my mother and everything to do with myself. I’d spent too many years living the life that was supposed to be hers. No more. From now on, my future was mine to make.
Kyle: Family Matters
Walking up the ramp at LAX, I could hear them before I could see them.
“There he is,” Mom sighed in relief.
“Where?” Dad asked in his signature clueless tone.
“Where? I can’t see him.”
“Oh, my god, Scott,” Mom’s irritated voice echoed. “He’s literally right there!”
Dad kept searching the crowd until I magically appeared before him.
“Oh, there you are,” he beamed.
Mom rolled her eyes.
A smile spread across my face. Those two! “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad.”
“Kyle!” Mom came in for a hug. “Ahh. Look at you! You’re taking the scruff to a whole new level, aren’t you?”
“Nice to see you too,” I grinned.
She pulled on my sorry excuse for a goatee. “What’s this thing called?”
“I call it Jim.”
Mom laughed. “Well, will ‘Jim’ be joining us for Mitch’s wedding?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
“Maybe you should start now, since it typically takes you a while to make big decisions,” Mom teased.
“Are we really having this discussion?”
“I just want you to look nice for your brother’s wedding. That’s all.”
“No one’s going to care if I have whiskers, Mom.”
“Yeah, Michelle,” Dad grinned. “They’d first have to get past his ugly mug.”
I playfully gaped at my parents as if I was offended. “Wow, such heartfelt greetings. Really, guys, you outdid yourselves this time.”
Dad swallowed me up in a hug. “I missed you, kid. How’s your brother?”
“Doing good. He says hi.”
“I called him today, and he totally brushed me off,” Mom complained.
“I can’t imagine why.” I made a face.
“Did he really have a TV appearance today, or was he lying to get me off the phone?”
As far as I knew, Jake didn’t have anything going on, but I wasn’t about to throw my brother under the bus. “Oh, yeah, he did, actually.”
“You’re such a bad liar, Kyle.”
I laughed. I really was. “Honestly, I have no idea what his schedule is. I stopped looking when it no longer directly impacted me.”
“Well, once he gets to Arizona, he won’t be able to evade me,” Mom jested, using her best crazy stalker-lady voice.
“You keep talking like that and I’ll help him hide,” Dad countered.
“Yeah, yeah. Come on, Kyle, let’s get you home. I need to fatten you up before you get on that show.”
“I heard it’s better to go into the competition already starving, so you don’t crash and burn the first day out there.”
“Listen to yourself, Scott. You want to send our son off half-starved onto an unforgiving, deserted island?”
“Well, when you put it that way…” he grinned.
“I think he’s trying to kill me, Mom,” I pouted, sidling up to my protector.
“No, Kyle, I just know you,” Dad said. “And you’re definitely the type of person who would blow his chance at a million dollars for a spoonful of peanut butter.”
I spent the following two weeks meeting with producers and medical staff and getting briefed on the rules. Because I’d been away on tour, I had some catching up to do in order to be ready to go with the rest of the contestants in three weeks. The producers gave me a little leeway, no doubt because of my connection to Jake.
I had first been approached to do the show by a talent scout after one of my brother’s Los Angeles concerts. The guy pretended not to know who I was, saying only that he thought my edgy look would play well with audiences. I wasn’t fooled for a second. Of course he knew. I didn’t stand out in a crowd. Really, there was very little that distinguished me from any other twenty-something guy on the street. Hell, the only interesting thing about me wasn’t me at all... it was Jake.