I Do(n't)(7)

By: Leddy Harper

“Janelle, Connor…” Larry, the host, gestured toward two chairs, indicating we take the empty seats in front of him. “How are you two feeling today? Confident about your choice?” His line of questions seemed as phony as his smile, but I guess it came with being on camera.

“Yes, we feel very good about it,” Connor answered for me, and that was why I knew I’d picked right. It was no secret that Connor hated everything about this show, yet he sat here with his shoulder leaning into mine and gazing lovingly at me, like someone who’d just spent the last eight weeks in paradise with the love of his life. I’d thought numerous times since meeting him that he’d make an amazing actor.

“Ready to find out the results?” Larry’s eyebrow quirked, indicating he knew some big secret we didn’t. It didn’t fool me. His reactions were meant for the viewers, for those long, drawn-out moments where the music gets intense and then they cut to a commercial break, essentially taking a five-second moment and dragging it out for ten minutes. All for the drama.

Connor and I nodded before Larry opened the sealed envelope—as if it being sealed made it official or something. The entire production was a joke. But I couldn’t complain, because I was about to be handed a check for ten thousand dollars.

“The results show…” He paused dramatically and took a long breath. Impatience urged me to snatch the papers from him, but before I could make a move, he glanced up and looked back and forth between Connor and me. “You two are soul mates. Congratulations!”

I smiled and squeezed Connor’s fingers, but honestly, that was for the cameras. I knew it wasn’t a done deal until that cash was in my bank account, so I made sure to keep up the façade until the bitter end.

“Now, here’s the fun part,” Larry added with a mischievous grin that made my stomach knot. “For guessing correctly, you two will receive ten grand—which for you math wizards, is five thousand each.”

“Wait,” I interjected with enough obvious bewilderment I wouldn’t have been surprised if all the blood drained from my face. It seemed I’d been played, and that thought made me physically sick to my stomach. “I was told I would win ten thousand dollars. Not five. Ten.”

“Yes, that’s correct. The couples who guess correctly win ten…as a couple.”

“That wasn’t stated in the contract.”

“I can have someone go over that with you, Janelle, once we finish here if you’d like, but I can assure you, it’s clearly stated what the prize money would be. I apologize if you assumed that was for each of you versus each couple, but that unfortunately isn’t the case.”

I knew my reaction spoke volumes for how I truly felt, but I decided to shove down my frustration and keep it to myself. There was no point in arguing with the show’s host, especially while on camera where anything could be edited to make me look like a moron or loose cannon. Not to mention, Larry always kept his composure, so no matter how the footage would get trimmed, I’d still come across as the villain, and Larry would be viewed the victim.

“So you can take the money, or you can both use it to buy a bigger pot.”

“Excuse me?” Connor and I both leaned forward and asked for clarification at the same time.

“If you both choose the money, you each walk away with a five-thousand-dollar check. However, you also have the option to use that money to buy rings—specifically, the kind worn on your left ring fingers.”

“Hold up.” Connor lifted his hand. “Why would I give up my money to buy a ring?”

“Good question. Glad you asked.” Larry’s tone and expression sickened me. It was obvious he had something up his sleeve, and it didn’t feel right. “If you choose the option of spending your prize money on wedding rings, and actually following through with it, you will receive fifty thousand dollars.” He paused for a moment and looked both of us in the eyes before following it up with, “Each.”

My jaw dropped. This was certainly unexpected, and not in the bad way. “Fifty grand? Each?”

“That’s correct.”

There was so much I could do with that kind of money, and the first thought on my mind was being able to put my freshly printed degree to good use and start my own business. “What’s the stipulation?”

“Only stipulation is you have to get married.”

“And stay married for how long?” This was too good to be true. I could feel it.

“As long as you’d like. There’s no requirement. As soon as the marriage license is signed, you get your money.”

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