Clara looked at her watch, for the umpteenth time. Yes, it's twenty minutes past 10am and no, her date still hasn't shown up! Aaargh!
She knew agreeing to that blind date had been a mistake. When her best friend Alexa pleaded her to go on a date with her brother's teammate's roommate’s cousin (don’t even ask me how they managed to find such a random single guy), she knew she should have said no, like any normal person would. I mean, c'mon, who would even agree to such a date, where even their bestie hadn't seen the date's face!!
The only reason she said okay to such a ridiculous date was because she knew, deep down, Alexa was feeling very miserable on her behalf.
After she broke up with her boyfriend Jace with whom she had been together for five years, Clara never really dated anyone seriously, even though it has been three years after the incident. And before you jump to conclusions, nope, he didn’t die in a tragic accident or something similar. They had to break up because his father got a job transfer and he had to move to another country with his family and so, they broke up as they knew that long distance relationship won’t really work for two children of fifteen years of age, who might or might not even meet again in the near future. (Yeah yeah, they loved each other very dearly, but definitely not “The Notebook” level of love!)
She wasn't ready to face the heart-break and loss and the binge-watching sessions of all chick-flick movies Alexa had brought her, and not to mention, the enormous “ice-cream time”. Eating cartons and cartons of Chunky-Monkey as not a difficult chore, per se, but the aftermath period, where she had to go on a diet and hit the gym every day to lose the weight she had gained because of the ice-cream was something she wished she rather not repeat.
Coming back to the present, Clara came to the realization that she had been stood up (duh, why wasn’t she surprised!) and decided to leave the restaurant with as much dignity as possible. She also pretended to not notice the sympathetic glance the waitresses gave her, while secretly wishing for the ground to swallow her whole right there.
After leaving a voice note to Alexa telling her about her “wonderful date” (please note the sarcasm) and the list of things she needs to do to gain her forgiveness, Clara simply walked aimlessly until she found herself walking towards a small fair which was being held near her favourite park.
As a child, Clara loved to visit that park. Jace and her used to have weekly picnics there, and she also had her first kiss under the big banyan tree, so it was quite a memorable place. But over the years following her break-up, she refrained from going there as she had too many bitter-sweet memories associated with that place.
Since she was almost there, she decided to just pop in and check out the various stalls, just to while away the time. She was kind of embarrassed to go home and face her parents after leaving her house to go for a date just thirty minutes before. Her face became red all over again when she remembered she got stood-up!
Giving herself a mental prep talk to get over it and forget all about it, she was about to pop into the first stall, when a loud cheer was heard from the other end of the fair. It piqued her interest and she went on to check it out.
She found out the reason for all the cheering. A reality game show was about to begin. Two people are supposed to form a team and a list of games would be conducted. Ultimately, the winners would be selected based on the score they gained throughout the games. It seemed like a lot of fun, and Clara suddenly wished Alexa was with her so she too could have participated. Not to mention, the prize money was quite large too. Just as that thought entered her mind, her eyes caught on to the rules board. Unfortunately, only couples could play the games, as per the rules board! Seems like the Universe was very keen on irritating her that day (sigh).
She decided to stand and watch the show for a while and then leave for home. As she was looking at the crowd, she noticed her chemistry lab partner, Eric.
The only thought that ran in her mind was, “Seriously Universe!!! Do you hate me this much??” Eric’s an arrogant school-mate of hers, who walks around the Campus with a I’m-holier-than-thou attitude. Clara realised this about him when she was paired up with him for the lab. Every reading which Clara took, he would re-check because God forbid, but anyone other than him could not produce the correct answer, atleast that’s what he believes. His competitive streak is just so wild that it was a miracle Clara managed to tolerate him for 2 months. Unfortunately, she still had 2 more months to finish that course.
Clara noticed that Eric was scowling at the rules-board. Seemed like he too noticed he needed a girlfriend to participate. Was she evil for being happy that the Universe hated him too at that moment? Naah, according to Clara, he deserved it!
Suddenly, Eric turned his head and noticed her. In those few seconds when their gazes clashed, Clara could practically hear the gears turning in his head. She dreaded the moment he finally smiled and walked towards her. Was it too late to pretend she never saw him and run in the opposite direction???
Before she could even finish that thought, Eric was in front of her.
“Are you also here for the game show?” Eric asked.
“Nope. Totally no..I just came to watch the others play. I don’t even have any idea of playing….like, zero idea, just to be clear” Clara emphasized.
“C’mon now, don’t be a spoilsport. We both know you too like to participate in this show, but you are here alone” “No surprise there” she heard him mutter under his breath.
Clara narrowed her eyes at him and said, “Listen, I know why you even ’graced me with your presence’” she mocked him using air quotes, “and I’m totally not interested to be your pretend girlfriend just so you could participate in this show. I already have to put up with you during the lab hours. I’m not gonna do it outside school too.” And just for dramatic effects, she turned her head away from him with haughtiness.
“Did you even check the prize money? If we win, each of us would go home with ten grand!” he exclaimed.
“Oh please, even ten grand does not sound captivating enough for me to team up with you, and that too as your girlfriend! You do realise that as a couple, we have to pretend to be understanding of each other and share the tasks and work in unity, right? We won’t be able to fool them, trust me.”
“Please Clara, I promise you that I’d let you play the games as you wish. This is really a huge amount and it’d be really really great if we won it. I won’t stop you from having fun while playing just so we can win either. And I promise you we can have a good time too. Just say okay.” He pleaded.
Seeing The Mighty Eric plead to her surprised her. It was like he was a different person outside school. Come to think of it, she only then noticed that even his dressing style was completely different. He wasn’t dressed in a button-down shirt, with his hair combed in a perfect way and all. In fact, he actually looked like a regular eighteen-year-old guy! (gasp)
Also, it slightly unhinged her a bit seeing Eric treating her an equal and at the same time excited her to get a chance to take part in the game show at last. With that in mind, she told him that she would play the games with him, but under the strict condition that he wouldn’t try to dictate her every move. The moment he tried to do that, she threatened to leave him all alone mid-game. Oh, and also, she made him promise to cooperate with her during the remaining lab sessions too.
Both of them gave their names in the participants list and waited for a while for the game show to start. The hosts, two thirty-ish looking people, a blond fellow named Jacob and his co-host Melanie, a redhead were telling the rules and regulations of the games.
Soon, the show started with a three-legged race. The top ten teams would be selected for the next round.
Clara and Eric might not have been good lab partners, but both of them were sure smart. After a bit of pushing and shoving, they planned to synchronise the steps and after taking a few steps, they were able to have a grasp of the situation. Suffice enough to say, they got selected for the next round.
For the second round, which was a karaoke round, five teams would be selected. Singing wasn’t the difficult part. Singing with each other, and to each other with love was the difficult part.
“Do you even sing?” Clara asked him. In her mind, she could practically see him stuttering on the stage, with a deer in the headlights expression and finally running down the stage, because he finally realised he is not good at everything, after all. Yep, he evil-meter switches to high mode when he is around.
“Well, my family and I used to have Karaoke nights every weekend in my grandparents place when I as young, so yeah, I can sing fairly well” he replied proudly.
Rolling her eyes, she went to check the song list. He followed her. Most of the songs were nauseatingly romantic and she knew that she would never be able to sing those songs with him for sure! Finally, they fixed upon Nelly and Kelly Rowland’s Dilemma.
Feeling pretty convinced that this was the round they were gonna get disqualified, she got onto the stage with him. But, once she heard him sing, she was dumbstruck for a second! Boy, could he sing! When it was her part of the song, she decided to give her best too, because she wouldn’t be able to stand it if he proved that he was better at her in singing too. Also, she had already reached her embarrassment quota for the day. She wasn’t going to get further humiliated. With that thought in mind, she sang as soulfully as she could, until all she could hear was the applause in the end.
Yes, they cleared that round with the top score!
The next and final round was a tad bit tricky. Each team was presented with one huge bodysuit which both the partners should wear it together, and go, collect and cook a dish, in that costume! (It is definitely not as easy as it sounded)
Clara and Eric donned their bodysuit with great difficulty, tried to walk to the set-up kitchen table.
“Don’t grab me, you idiot.”
“I wasn’t trying to! I can’t move my lift hand with you pressed against it, silly girl.”
“Why don’t you just keep it still then. Don’t you think my hand is more than enough to pick the items on my side? I knew teaming up with you was a bad idea.”
“Oh, hush now. I made one mistake and you try to run away. I’m sorry, okay. Yes, it is a good idea. You be our left hand and I’ll be the right hand….Huh, though, it just sounds a bit weird.”
“Yeah, I’d agree to that.”
After that, they somehow managed to grab all the ingredients they needed to make a chicken casserole and started their task. Just like the first round, they worked in perfect harmony and he even gave his suggestions to improve the recipe to her POLITELY (apparently, outside school, Eric knows how to be a gentleman…at times).
Since they chose one of the easiest dishes to make, they completed that round first, which earned them the top score for that round too!
Both of them were so excited about it that they hugged each other when they saw the score board, and realised what they had done exactly two seconds later. They quickly pulled away their arms as though the other had the plague and tried to act as nonchalantly as possible.
They forgot this awkward moment the minute the hosts announced them as the winners though. Wow, guess the Universe didn’t hate her as she initially thought. (Thank you, Universe, she sent a silent prayer) Clara was excited and surprised beyond words. She never would have even dreamed of winning something by actually working together with Eric. After collecting their prize, they were standing awkwardly beside each other. Neither of them had actually been polite to the other, so this was a first for them.
“So, I guess miracles do happen.” Clara said to him with a small smile.
With a laugh, he replied, “Yeah, I guess. Listen, thanks a lot for pretending to be my girlfriend. I, um, really needed this money for my family and I wouldn’t have been able to win it without you. So, um, yeah, thanks again.”
“You are welcome. Besides, I too won ten grands, so it’s a win-win situation, no pun intended” she said with a laugh. “You won’t go back on your word, right, about letting me do the lab work too?”
“No no, I keep my word. I’m sorry for being a jerk to you in school. The thing is, I need the highest scores for getting into my dream college and I was so fixated upon it that I didn’t notice that I was being very obnoxious. I know this is no excuse for how I’ve treated you, and I’m really sorry for that.” he said to her guiltily.
Surprisingly, she could understand that. Also, she had a lot of fun that day, excluding the moments she argued with him (actually, strike that…thinking back, those were fun moments too!), so she decided to let bygones be bygones.
“Okay then, apology accepted” she said to him with a pretty smile.
After hanging out for a few more minutes, they bid each other goodnight (Yes, they actually spent one whole day with each other without losing any body part! That was a good beginning for a friendship, Clara mused) and went on their separate ways towards their home.
Wow, it sure was a memorable fake-date incident!