“Hey. Are you willing to be my fake boyfriend for a month?”
I’m woken up by the aroma of pancakes and bacon.
I open my eyes and am warmly greeted by the lens of the camera, a blue light flashing, announcing that I’m currently being filmed.
Audrey is standing right behind it, smiling at me, her perfect white teeth blinding me more than the flash from the camera.
The camera crew fills my bedroom, expecting a reaction from me which they can record.
I plaster a lovestruck smile on my face, my heart having melted at my boyfriend making breakfast for me.
I hope they don’t notice that my smile is fake.
Well, they haven’t noticed one thing fake about this arrangement, so I calm myself down.
I remove the blanket, immediately feeling cold.
I reach for the lavender robe on the table next to the bed and wrap it around myself.
Audrey hands me the microphone, which I clip on to the shirt underneath the robe, suddenly feeling conscious of my every move.
It’s still hard to get used to.
But I need to get used to it, I have to.
I walk down the stairs, the entire crew following me.
I try to speed up my pace, but Audrey doesn’t even fall behind.
I enter the kitchen, Cooper standing there wearing an apron and flipping pancakes immediately infuriates me.
But he’s doing exactly what I asked him to.
He’s actually going over and beyond to be the loving and caring boyfriend I supposedly adore.
As much as I don’t want to, I walk over to him and hug him from behind.
I startle him with the sudden touch, but he recovers quickly.
I use his shirt to muffle the sound received by my microphone, and whisper in his ear.
“You keep this up, there is no way we won’t win.”
He laughs, as if I said something flowery into his ear, playing his part to perfection.
I feel him wince afterwards, almost as if my comment had hurt him.
Cooper pulls the chair out and moves to pull out his own only after I’m seated.
I think he’s beginning to enjoy being a gentleman a little too much.
Making a mental note to ask him not to overdo it later, I smile at him.
He smiles back and gestures to the waiter.
As he orders, I notice he doesn’t order any meat for me.
He pays attention.
I hadn’t ever mentioned that I’m a vegetarian, but he seems to know already.
After ordering, he gives me a confused stare, my inscrutable expression clearly not making things easier for me.
I stop looking at him and look around the restaurant.
People sneak glances at us, taking pictures discreetly, thinking that we wouldn’t notice.
After all, we are one of the most sought-after couples on Soulmate, a popular reality show for couples.
I’m interrupted in people-watching by Cooper clearing his throat and subtly turning towards the camera and back at me again.
Oh right, we have to do what normal couples on dates do.
Talk to each other.
“So, uh, how is uni going for you, Cooper?”
“It’s a lot of fun Ethan, but not as fun as coming home to see you.”
He reaches across the table and squeezes my hand, winking playfully.
I blush, and I hope he doesn’t notice.
Audrey and the other camera guys aw from behind the cameras, and so do the rest of the patrons at the restaurant.
If this keeps going in this direction, we will most definitely win.
I’m sure of it.
As soon as we hear the camera crew leave, Cooper removes his hand from across my chest and pushes himself off the bed.
We always put up our act till the end of the day, up until the sleeping part.
Then we stop pretending as soon as they leave.
Cooper walks out of my room and closes the door, walking across the corridor to his room.
I hear him close his door more harshly than usual.
I toss and turn throughout the night, unable to sleep.
Is it right of me to torture Cooper like this?
I was convinced that it was, but now I’m not so sure.
He was always going to be my first choice because he was one of the only openly gay guys in university.
He apparently had a crush on me, and I offered him a chance to be my boyfriend for the sake of the show.
He wasn’t incredibly thrilled about it but agreed anyways.
I wasn’t going to date a girl for this, I wouldn’t stoop so low.
And besides, gay couples get more love on television.
The winner of the show would get half a million bucks, incidentally the amount of money I needed to clear my debts and leave the city, while the rest of the money could be given to Cooper.
But I was breaking his heart.
He was just a normal guy who wanted to finish university, get a normal job and live a normal life.
But now he was going to have anything but an ordinary life.
He would always be known as that guy on Soulmate.
It would follow him around for the rest of his life.
While I live mine happily in a different country, with this behind me.
Is that fair?
Thankfully, it is Tuesday today.
The one day where we don’t need to shoot for Soulmate.
The one day where we can just be ourselves and not be so cuddly and lovey-dovey like other days.
I work at the local McDonalds for a part-time job, but today I call in and ask someone else to take my shift.
I need to talk to Cooper.
And I don’t think this conversation is going to last just five minutes.
“Cooper, are you free? We need to talk.”
He’s lying on his bed and completing his assignments, books sprawled around him.
He grins, saying, “Today’s a free day Ethan. We don’t need to talk at all, remember?”
I knew it.
He isn’t happy with this arrangement one bit.
I walk over to his bed and move a few of his books to clear some space for me to sit.
“What’s wrong Cooper? What are you not telling me?”
His expression changes.
“Woah Ethan, you care?”
“Stop it, Cooper, tell me what’s wrong.”
“Oh, I have to stop it? I have to stop being hurt that I’m just being used for the sake of money, I have to stop speaking facts, I have to stop being honest to the entire world, just for your sake. I mean nothing to you, don’t act otherwise.”
“I’m sorry Cooper. I know that I’ve been inconsiderate of your feelings. I had no right to ask you to drop everything and pretend to be my boyfriend. I realize that I’ve been selfish, and I know I’m too late to do this but better late than never. You can leave, Cooper. I won’t stop you.”
He just blinks at me.
“I hate myself for what I did. I have no right to keep you here. You deserve a happy life. A genuine life. Not this fake life I’ve forced you into.”
“I’m giving you a choice. You can leave and I won’t say a word. But if you choose to stay, I want to give this relationship a chance. I want to date you. For real.”
He blinks again.
“Cooper, you have to say something. I know you’re mad but I –”
He’s kissing me.
And I’m kissing him back.
This is real.
He breaks the kiss and looks at me.
He has green eyes.
I had never noticed.
“Ethan, I want to give this relationship a chance too.”
I kiss him again, and it feels like a weight has been lifted off my heart.
We go on a date later in the evening.
We talk about our families, and about ourselves.
We share our funniest stories about uni and laugh our heads off.
This time the laughter is real.
The smiling, the blushing, the hand holding, all of it.
I hadn’t even realized when I’d developed feelings for him.
But I’m glad I know now.
I’m so glad.
“The results of Soulmate will be announced tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry about it bub, we’re definitely going to win.”
I look at Cooper, his words assuring me for a moment.
But the pit in my stomach refuses to leave me alone.
A few weeks ago, I was sure that we were going to win.
I was happy that I could leave the country.
But now I’m not.
I can’t leave him.
“Cooper, will you come to London with me?”
“I know we have uni and all, but I’m taking a gap year. Will you take it with me?”
“I hate it when you just stare at me like that.”
I stare back, dumbstruck.
“Wait, you’ll come?”
“Of course I will. I know you feel like you always demand from me, but what you don’t realize that you’ve proven that you can put in the effort to keep this relationship, and you’ve earned my heart. I need to go where my heart goes, right?”
“Nothing to say, Ethan?”
“Thank you, Cooper.”
“Anything for the man I love.”
“I love you too.”
We’re on the set of Soulmate with the other couples, and Audrey’s camera is trained on us, waiting for our reaction to the announcement.
“And the people have voted. The most heartwarming and adorable couple has been chosen.”
“The winners of Soulmate, receiving half a million bucks are… Cooper Rivers and Ethan Benson!”
I can’t believe it.
As the confetti pops and falls on us, I see Cooper laughing, his eyes lit up with joy.
I kiss him, and for a moment no one else is in the room.
I keep fidgeting.
Cooper keeps glancing at me, confused.
We’ve reached the beach.
Now we are walking along the shore, the sand entering my shoes.
Cooper takes his shoes off, and runs, laughing and teasing me to follow him.
I just stand there and grin like an idiot at how cute he is.
I now know that what I’m about to do next is completely inevitable and needs to be done as early as possible.
I walk over to him slowly, running my lines through my head.
I’m now in front of him.
He’s still enjoying the feeling of water falling on his feet.
He looks at me and seeing my tense expression, his face becomes worried.
“What’s wrong Ethan? You’ve said close to nothing today. Is everything okay?”
“More than okay.”
I bend down on my knee and pull out the box from my pocket.
As I open it, his eyes are all I need to know that I’m doing the right thing.
“I know that our relationship started in a terrible way, but I’m so glad we found each other. You are my soulmate, as proven by the show Soulmate.”
He laughs at my stupid joke, tears falling from his eyes.”
“With every passing day, I fall more in love with you. I now know for sure that you are the man I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with.”
“Cooper Gwendolyn Rivers, will you marry me?”
He squeals, nodding vigorously.
“Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes.”
I slide the ring on this finger, committing this moment to memory.
He pulls me up and kisses me.
This is it.
This is what my entire life has been leading up to.
His body in my arms, my body in his.
This pure second of joy, of understanding, of love.
Nothing compares to this.