Chapter 15: Reactions

Before Sasha could protest, Payson Keeler grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him towards her. She pressed their lips together and backed him insistently against the wall almost knocking the wind out of him in the process. Shocked and bewildered, Sasha's just stood there with wide eyes and arms raised awkwardly at his side.

It took this kiss for Sasha to truly realize that Payson Keeler was no longer the naïve, insecure girl she used to be. Her lips moved against his with confidence. She wasn't afraid this time around – in fact, she seemed impatient. She wrapped her arms around Sasha's neck and pressed their bodies even closer together. He shuddered at this, suddenly feeling disoriented. He placed his hands on her hips, ready to gently push her away as he had dutifully done six years before.

But the thing was…Sasha wasn't pushing her away.

As he took in the scent of Payson's hair and the lovely taste of her mouth, Sasha became distracted by the basic fact that they'd done this all before – not only years ago in an empty gym, but just days before in a hotel room. Now his muscle memory seemed to be taking over, reacquainting his mind with the night they had both forgotten. Sasha's body began to soften beneath Payson. Out of instinct, he finally closed his eyes and responded eagerly while the flashes of memory resurfaced: the delicate curves of her body, the way her fingers raked through his hair, the familiar friction that was building up between them…

At the same moment, Sasha and Payson pulled apart from each other and refilled their lungs, chests rising and falling in rhythm. Payson's eyes fluttered open dreamily and met Sasha's. He just stood there in silence, staring down at this woman as though he was seeing her for the first time.

"That was…" Payson blushed sheepishly and attempted to formulate a complete sentence.

Suddenly, her smile dropped.

"Payson?" Sasha asked with confusion. He turned around to look at what she was staring at.

There, planted on the top corner of the ceiling, was a small black camera with a blinking red light. Sasha's eyes widened in panic and he felt numbness take over his body.

"Sasha…" Payson said, her voice now hardly above a cautious whisper. "Is that a -?"

Lauren Tanner chose that moment to unceremoniously kick the door open and enter the room with gusto.

"Payson, why haven't you been answering any of my calls and texts?" she asked as she strode into the room, her long honey-colored hair swinging behind her. "You two need to follow me or -"

Lauren paused and narrowed her eyes. She looked back and forth between the two disheveled individuals before her. Then, the truth hit her like a ton of bricks.

"No. Way."

Before Payson and Sasha could explain themselves, another person entered the room behind Lauren.

"Why hello, everyone." Ben Pierce said with a grin. "Having a little chat in here, uh?"

The oily SNP host stopped at the door frame, crossed his arms in delight, and winked at Payson. For a one fleeting moment, Payson optimistically thought that he might not find out about what she and Sasha had done. Maybe, somehow, she could handle this situation. Maybe that blinking camera was just for routine security purposes, meant only to be seen by semi-distracted building guards who could care less about her private life.

This, unfortunately, was a foolish thought.

No sooner had it crossed her mind, than Payson looked over Sasha and felt her stomach drop like an anvil.

There, smeared all over Sasha's mouth, was Payson's new shade of lipstick.

Without asking permission or pausing to take a breath, Lauren Tanner grabbed both Sasha Belov and Payson Keeler and dragged them past a very smug looking Ben Pierce. Down the hallway they went, making their way back to the main studio. As the threesome power walked past Emily and Kaylie, Lauren desperately signaled for them to follow her. The last two Rock Rebels obeyed and walked quickly towards the SNP ladies room.

"Wait – I can't go in there –" Sasha started.

"Not now, Belov!" Lauren mumbled, pushing him inside.

Once they were all safely in a camera-free zone, Lauren locked the door and turned towards her companions. She tried her best to appear calm and composed, but before she could formulate a plan of action and share it with her teammates, Kaylie and Emily had already picked up on the obvious.

"Oh my God." Kaylie said under her breath, her eyes locked on Sasha's heavily stained mouth. "No way…"

Sasha glanced in the mirror and yelped uncharacteristically. Feeling obligated to help him, Payson quickly grabbed a wet paper towel and handed it to him. He took it, but stubbornly avoided eye contact with her.

"Sasha…" Kaylie started. "You and Payson weren't by any chance…practicing CPR?"

Sasha glared at her, silently answering her question.

"I kissed him." Payson admitted, throwing her hands up in the air. "I confess! The whole world will know soon, so we might as well not pretend."

"Oh my God…" Kaylie said, massaging her temples. "You were caught on camera, we're you?"

"What is it with you two and kissing in front of cameras…?" Emily asked, almost curiously.

"Let's just calm down." Lauren said, stepping in diplomatically. "We can get through this. Everyone just needs to shake it off and think about this rationally."

"What's to think about?" Emily demanded. "Ben Pierce has been fishing around for a scandal all week and we just gave him one. Now, this is all the Rock Rebels are going to be known for…this will be our new legacy according to cable television!"

"I won't let that happen." Lauren said evenly. "I will find a way to get us out of this."


"I just will, OK?" Lauren cried like a mad woman. She started pacing back and fort in front of her confused, disoriented audience. "I'll sort it out…I can fix this. There has to be a way."

Payson cringed in shame. "Really, Lauren. You don't need to do that –"

"Yes, I do! I have to make this right. It's the least I can do -"

"Lauren, Payson is right." Sasha said, finally speaking. "This is our mess and there is no need for you, Emily, or Kaylie to get involved. Who knows what might happen."

"Wait…" Kaylie Cruz stepped forward and raised an eyebrow at Lauren. "What do you mean…'it's the least you can do'?"

Glances were exchanged nervously around the bathroom, but eventually all eyes fell on Lauren Tanner.

Lauren had always known her sins would catch up with her eventually…she just had no idea it would be now.

"It was me." she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper.

Payson cocked her head. "Wait, what on earth are you talking about?"

"I'm the one who sent the picture of you and Sasha kissing to the NGO six years ago."

An eerie silence filled the room.

"E-Excuse me?" Payson asked.

"Payson, I'm so sorry-"

But Lauren didn't get the chance to finish her apology. Payson Keeler, 2012 Olympic Gold medalist, had just launched herself unceremoniously on her old teammate.

"Whoa!" Sasha stepped in and held Payson back. He grabbed her around the waist with one strong arm and lifted her off Lauren Tanner who was now sporting disheveled hair and the faint beginnings of a black eye.

Despite the drama of it all, Sasha – a former boxer – couldn't help but be impressed by Payson's unexpectedly good form.

"Cool it, you two!" he cried, in his coach voice, squeezing the resistant Payson a little tighter. Even now, she was attempting to escape his grasp.

"Holy Shit." Emily said under her breath. She had always known that one day Lauren Tanner would get punched…she just always assumed it would be from her.

"I can't believe you!" Payson yelled at Lauren through heavy breaths. "You almost ruined my life! You DID ruin Sasha's life!"

"Payson, no one ruined my life –" Sasha stared, trying to remain the calm one in the room.

"No!" Payson continued, still glaring at Lauren Tanner. "There are no excuses for what you did, Lauren. I can't believe that you came to New York mad and me – MAD at SASHA! For what, exactly? For being the victim of your crime?"

"I wasn't lying during the resentment game, Payson!" Lauren said, trying to explain. "I was mad at Sasha for giving you all the attention before Worlds and I've always been jealous of you for bouncing back so fast. I'm sorry, OK? I was a messed up kid!"

"That's for sure…" Emily muttered.

"I wish I could take it back, believe me!" Lauren continued. "But I can't, so please let me take care of this problem. I've been tailing Ben all week and I think I can fix this. I know I can-"

"Like we would ever trust you again…" cried Kaylie. "You really did it this time, Lauren!"

"Everyone, just stop!"

Sasha's voice rang out with authority, bouncing off the tiled walls of the bathroom. All the girls paused and looked at him. He had that familiar, coach-like aura about him now.

"There's only one way to fix this." He said, his words steady and calm.

Sasha strode out of the bathroom without explanation. The girls all paused for a second of confusion, but then quickly followed him back to the room where he and Payson had just kissed. The SNP staffers all looked on curiously as, once again, their interviewees power-walked across the main studio for no apparent reason.

When they arrived at the room. Sasha grabbed a chair, stood on it, and then ripped the camera out of the ceiling.

"Well that was pointless…"

The girls turned around and glared at Ben Pierce who, as always, seemed to be just two steps behind them at all times.

"I still have the footage, you know." Ben said casually. "You all should read your contracts more carefully. If you did, you'd notice that SNP has the right to record documentary footage anywhere on our property-"

"I don't care!" Sasha stepped down from the chair and walked over to Ben with clenched fists. "Hand it over, Pierce."

Ben laughed. "Seriously? You think I'm just going to do what you say? My job is on the line here. I could care less about being nice to you."

"Geeze, Ben, stop being such a scum bag! Give us the recording!" Lauren cried.

"Shut up, Lauren!" Kaylie, Emily and Payson said together.

"I was just defending you from -"

"I don't need you of all people to defend me!" Payson crossed her arms. "What? You think you're any better than him?" She pointed to Ben Pierce. "Well, you're not! You're exactly the same!"

Payson's words hit Lauren hard. She turned pale and looked down, suddenly at a loss for words.

"Look Ben," Sasha said. "Man to man, I need you to understand. You can…you can name your price."

"I'm not interested in money, Belov." Ben said bluntly. "I have everything I need."

"Fine." Sasha said tersely. "Then I'm leaving."

Ben laughed again. "You can't leave. You're contracted to finish this."

Sasha stepped up toward Ben and towered over him darkly.

"Sue me." Sasha dared. "Literally. I could care less."

And with that, Sasha Belov turned on his heel and stormed away.