“Think of a word. Search it on Google Images. Write something inspired by the 7th image.”
She could hear the drone hovering, not that far overhead, so she knew the cameras were watching. Why had she agreed to this? Sure, if they won it would pay for the wedding, the honeymoon, hell, the everything, but she’d watched The Challenge before. She knew she was in for this at some point in the game. She looked up the rock face again, taking a long slow breath. Her cheeks felt cold. She wondered if the cameras could see just how pale and sweaty she was. If they could, it would certainly be part of the clips tonight. Revealing a weakness to her competitors was not an idea that she relished. She glanced at Drew. He was calmly laying out and inspecting the climbing equipment that had arrived with the Challenge Envelope this morning. Right now she envied his military experience and wondered if he felt as unbothered as he looked. He felt her eyes on him and looked up, eyebrows climbing just a little to express his concern, but keeping the cocky smile that had quickly made their team a fan favorite.
“You okay, Reggie?”
She swallowed hard, nodded, and then smiled back. “Yeah. Million bucks, right?
“Right.” He gave her that look, the one that said if these rocks were made of rusty nails, he’d carry her up them if she needed him to, but also told her that he knew she didn’t.
They spent a few minutes dealing with the daunting equipment. Reg didn’t even know what half of it was called, although he’d coached her as much as he could during their approach. They knew they had the lead, but it wasn’t by a lot. Screwing around or stalling could cost them their place in the top three. No way was she going to let that happen. They’d been through too much already in this game. And she’d asked him to do this. He was sort of shy, definitely not one for cameras or performing, but had reluctantly agreed, knowing that the money could give them the start they both wanted. Everything was ready. The cameras were close now, stirring the dust behind them. As they always did before starting one of the Challenges, they put their arms around each other and kissed. It was for the cameras in a way, but it was still a good kiss, and gave them just enough privacy to check in.
Putting his mouth right next to her ear, Drew whispered, “Can you really do this?”
She nodded, just a little, and whispered back, “”Course I can. This is all us.”
He pulled away grinning and started up the rock face with the practiced ease of an experienced climber, his weekends of recreational search and rescue paying off in his rapid ascent. After a few minutes the expected rope dropped down from the first good ledge. She took a minute to go over everything he’d said this morning, determined to be at the top celebrating the second to last challenge before anyone else finished the approach. Drew knew even open stairs made Reggie nearly panic and had offered to back out as soon as he’d opened the envelope in their hotel room. She’d just said he was a climber and she knew he’d get her through it. She’d talked him threw the underground tunnels last week; almost certain he was going to call an end to things at any minute in the oppressive, cramped, sweaty, dark. She owed him this. He said he’d coach her through the handholds, tell her when she had a good foothold so she didn’t ever have to look down. “Just keep your eyes on me, on your hands. I’d never let you fall.”
That one sentence summed both of them up really. Remembering gave her what she needed to get her feet moving.
Reggie stepped up to the rock face, clipping in just like he’d showed her this morning, checking the connection. Her mouth was dry, but she managed, “On belay?”
She thought she sounded all right, a little shaky maybe, but the wind had picked up a little, so maybe the cameras had missed it. After he rechecked everything, Drew called down, “Belay on!”
One last deep breath. She felt a lot more confident than she expected. This was so in the bag. Acrophobia be damned. “Climbing!”
She could hear him grinning as he called down to her, knowing the cameras were pulling in tight on his dimpled smile. His ‘I love you’ was implicit in his voice, “Climb on!”