I Do(n't)(6)

By: Leddy Harper

But I had no desire to find a man who’d extend past a free vacation. Still, half the people in the house did come here to find true love—I was not one of them.

“How many couples do you think got it wrong?” I asked while looking around the room, taking note of everyone. I’d become friends with a few of the girls, gotten along great with most of the guys, but overall, no one here meant anything to me. I’d been burned enough times that I’d eventually learned to numb myself when it came to a relationship of any kind.

“Out of the ten couples, I think at least six of us got it right. I know at least two have it wrong.”

“Which ones?”

“Donna and Eric are so not soul mates,” Carrie answered with a flip of her hand. “Eric is the same kind of guy she normally dates. We even had a whole conversation about it in like week two. So I know they have it wrong, which means there’s at least one other couple incorrectly paired, as well. But none of that means anything to me, because I have Mike. And we’re gonna get paid.”

I’d previously told her I didn’t think Mike was there for her, but she’d made it clear she wasn’t open to listening, so I knew nothing I said now would change her outcome. We were less than an hour away from the big reveal. All our questions would be answered. It was a little late to change minds at this point in the game. We’d been given eight weeks to learn about the other people in the house and find our “soul mates,” or at least the ones deemed to be soul mates by the producers through some scientific method used to pair us up based on our likes and dislikes. Cue the eye roll. I wouldn’t be surprised if their super-scientific technique was nothing but an eeny-meeny-miny-mo, point-and-pick process. But I didn’t care, because I wasn’t here for love.

The entire process began six months ago when I received a letter in the mail, asking if I would be willing to audition for a reality dating show, of sorts. Normally, I would have tossed it straight into the trash, but the premise was entirely different—and the ten-thousand-dollar prize at the end really grabbed my attention.

The letter detailed a dating game, but unlike anything that had already been done. There would be no roses, no elimination ceremonies that dragged on and on. Instead, twenty people—ten guys and ten girls—would live in a lavish beach house on a privately owned tropical island together for eight weeks. No neighbors and no civilians around other than the production crew.

We had random dating opportunities, and we were all trapped in the house and forced to get to know one another, either by talking or hooking up. At the end of the experiment, we were to pair up with our “soul mates,” and if we chose correctly, we’d win the ten thousand dollars. If we chose wrong, we’d walk away with nothing.

I wanted that money more than anything, so I had made sure I played the game right—which meant no getting acquainted between the sheets for me. Now Connor, my “soul mate,” had his fair share of hookups, which probably should’ve bothered me, but it didn’t. I didn’t care to see him after this production anyway, so his recklessness was irrelevant to my finish line.

After Carrie and I had finished breakfast, we went to gather our suitcases. Everything had been kept super secretive up until this point. We’d been instructed to set our luggage by the front door for the crew to load them into the cars, which told us we were leaving our tropical getaway after the “exit interview,” but other than that, we were left without further directives.

We all sat together quietly on the couch while they called us away, two at a time. About every ten minutes or so, the production staff would send for another pair to find out their fate. By the time Connor and I were summoned, my heart was lodged in my throat. Only three couples remained. I quickly hugged the two girls left behind, waved to the guys, and took Connor’s hand. We followed the staff outside to the idling black SUV with heavily tinted windows, and then rode in complete silence until we stopped at a private airport.

More staff led us into a secluded meeting room off to the side of the entrance. I laced my fingers with Connor’s, the anticipation of our fate slaying my insides. Just because I didn’t have feelings for Connor had nothing to do with the contest. My competitive nature had taken over long ago, and I aspired nothing short of a win. Cameras were set up inside the room with several suits sitting behind a staged desk. Many more crew members with mic booms and headsets watched the monitors as if we were nothing but puppets on strings awaiting their instructions.

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