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Romance Friendship LGBTQ+

“It ends tomorrow,” James says, as though I’ve been able to think of anything else for the past two days.

“It does,” I say, sinking into the bed. “Shame, this resort bed is so much more comfortable than my own.”

He laughs. “Yeah. It’s huge too.” He pauses and takes a breath before continuing. “Do you think it’s a shame that we’ve been living together for a month and the part we’ll miss most is the beds? That we didn’t actually… fall in love?”

I give him a sideways glance. “Do you?”

He laughs. “Not really. Perhaps in another life.”

“Good. I did not listen to your half-hour monologue about aromantic asexuality only for you to change it on me now.”

“Oh, please,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Someone had to get it out of the way. All you had to say was ‘same.’”

“Still bitter about that, huh?” I ask with a grin, poking him. 

“I’m bitter about many, many things in life,” he replies.

“Oh dear God, please spare me. If I have to listen to you wax poetic about all your life’s regrets again, I will scream until that window breaks, we will get kicked out of this hotel, and we will lose this idiotic game show.”

James rapidly shakes his head. “Clara, when I told you I was broke, I meant broke, so please, don’t let us lose in the last 24 hours.”

I sigh. James and I have only known each other for about a month, but already he feels like my best friend. I’m not sure what my actual best friend, Steph, will have to say about this whole predicament, but I get the feeling they’d get along eventually. James assures me everyone in his life will love me. It touches me that he plans on us being lifelong friends, it really does, but I’m not so naive as to believe that he doesn’t know a single person who would hate me. I definitely have a few coworkers in mind who will not be able to stand him. He has this inexplicable need to touch everything he sees, and anyone who works in retail knows that people like that are nightmares.

Despite this, I suppose it only makes sense that we would become best friends. When I first entered this reality TV show, Monthly Fiancé, it was mostly a joke. Steph sent me the ad along with the message, “sounds perfect for you, Clara!” I had laughed, realized I had nothing better to do with my Friday night, and applied. A social experiment, if you will. Can the people casting figure out that I, in fact, don’t experience romantic or sexual attraction at all?

They cannot, clearly, since they cast two of us. They loved me instantly and told me I had to do a mandatory callback, but that I was sure to get cast. They had a match for me already. I ended up engaged to a hopeless idiot for a month, pretending to be hopelessly in love with him. 

The description of what I would be doing on this show only made me want to hurl a little bit. Twice a week, we compete with other couples on the show in challenges to see which of us are most ‘compatible’. Fortunately, James and I both have a lot of practice pretending to be in love with other people, and we excel at every challenge. 

All of this is designed to pave the way to an all-expenses-paid dream wedding, but no actual certificate of marriage (apparently, there have been… incidents in the past). Oh, and a $50,000 cash prize each. James and I didn’t know how, or if, we could tell anyone that both of our applications were a joke. I’m terrified, and James thinks he couldn’t get through it without laughing. That, and we’re both in need of the money anyway. 

Granted, my match could have been much worse. James is aesthetically agreeable, and a good person all around. He is tall enough to reach things on high shelves, tan enough to not use too much of my sunscreen, and confident enough to order for me at restaurants.

We just fit in a way I didn’t think someone like me could do. Needless to say, I could do much worse for a fake fiance.

“Fine. I won’t intentionally make us lose. But we’re going to lose either way. Reading our wedding vows? I’ve only known you for a month, dearest.”

James snorts but doesn’t dissent, which I take as agreement. I’m not even sure I could write vows about Steph, and we’ve known each other basically our whole lives. 

Even though I have, regrettably, become attached to the idiot, I don’t know what it is to feel romance for another person. It strikes me as odd if I think about it hard enough, the way all my friends rush about from one relationship to another. The way they talk about their significant others. All those… feelings.

I sigh again. The final challenge is tomorrow, and we are in trouble.

“James Tomsen, love of my life,” I say, clearing my throat to stifle my laughter. James is smiling in that way that means he’s also repressing his loud, booming laugh. He’s already read his terrible, cheesy, disgustingly over-romanticized vows to me, and the judges are crying. The other contestants, Krystal and Pansy are glaring daggers at us from their end of the reception hall. If I can just nail the last part of this speech, we win. But it’s fine. I took speech and debate in my freshman year of high school.

“I didn’t think I’d ever find someone who fits so well with me, who was the missing piece to my puzzle, who was the yin to my yang. But you stepped into my life a month ago and proved me wrong,” I say, forcing tears out of my eyes to cover the giggles welling up in my chest. “You are my forever, and I am thrilled to spend the rest of my life with you. I promise, as long as we both shall live, that I will accept you for whoever you are, wherever we are, whenever we are. For these reasons,” I say to the judges, feeling for all the world like I’m writing an essay, “I do.”

My least favorite judge, Kennedy, blows her nose. One of the other judges, Michael, pats her on the back.

The third and final judge, Riley, takes one look at their coworkers and rolls their eyes. “Thank you, James and Clara. Those were lovely. If we could have all of you step into green room seven, we’ll be with you in just a minute.”

James, Krystal, Pansy, and I dutifully enter the room. The door has barely shut before James and I are clinging to each other, wheezing.

“Lovely,” James snorts. “Love!” He says and collapses into a peal of laughter. “Us! Imagine.”

I wipe a tear from my eyes. “That felt like a persuasive essay from high school again, oh my gosh. Like we’re standing there, trying to be like ‘yes, yes, I am very much attracted to other people at all. Very much not aromantic. Not me, no, never.’” I say, miming a swooning lover.

James manages to stand up long enough to pretend to catch me before collapses onto one of the couches and continues to shake from silent laughter. 

Pansy finally speaks up from her spot in the corner, holding hands with Krystal. “Sorry, but… what’s happening with you?”

I look at James, who looks at me. We burst out laughing again and don’t stop until one of the directors comes to get us. He takes one look at the mascara running down my face and calls for the makeup crew.

“Last minute cold feet?” he asks sympathetically. 

“Something like that,” I say, exchanging looks with James.

“Shame,” he says. “I mean… I know nothing. Absolutely nothing about what was just discussed. Nope,” he continues, walking away. James snorts.

Once we’re lined up again, the judges school their expressions into the perfect, non-revealing expressions you always see on TV.

“Thank you, all of you, for your touching vows this afternoon,” Riley says.

“However,” says Michael, “only one couple can make it to the final episode for their dream wedding.”

“The couple we have decided has proved their eternal love for us this evening,” says Kendall, pausing for dramatic effect, “is James and Clara.”

As we practiced yesterday, James and I scream and hug each other. Krystal and Pansy show identical, slightly disappointed expressions. They shake each of our hands and then are ushered off stage by the directors.

Riley, Michael, and Kendall explain to us our winnings as if we haven’t heard and read them a million times already, before dismissing everyone to our suites. Krystal and Pansy, looking rather angry, are packing to go home. James and I are packing for a wedding, as it happens.

“I cannot believe we did that,” I say, flopping back onto the bed again.

James laughs. “Miracles do happen, apparently.”

“Now you can finally fulfill your lifelong dream of paying off your student debt, marrying a nice and respectable woman, settling down, having three kids, and moving to the suburbs,” I tease. He’s silent for a moment, which makes my breath freeze. He better know I was joking. 

“Actually, I was thinking of traveling with our rewards.”

“James,” I chide. “What about me, your dutiful fiance? Your student loans? Our picket fence?”

“I didn’t say I was planning on leaving you behind, stupid. You’re not rid of me yet, unfortunately.”

I look sideways at him. “Is this your way of inviting me on whatever ridiculous idea you’ve recently concocted?”

He continues to stare up at the ceiling, and I wish he would look at me. “You know,” he says, softly, “most people go on honeymoons after marriage. And there are tax benefits to getting married.”

“There are,” I agree tentatively.

“I could use some tax benefits.”

“I suppose I could as well.”

He sits up suddenly. “You’re not really agreeing to this, are you?”

I slowly heave myself up to look at him as close to the eye as possible. “Why not? You’re basically my best friend at this point. We both need the money. I have a bedroom to spare.”

“Really?”

“Yep. And high shelves I never use.”

James smiles. “We’ve really fooled the whole world into thinking we’re in love, haven’t we? What will our friends say?”

“Steph will think we’re chaotic but geniuses. My parents will be confused, but go along with it anyway. You’re part of the deranged scheme. I don’t really have that many other people invested in my well-being.”

“Step one of our tax benefits marriage will be to introduce you to my friends. Or any friends, really.”

“My social anxiety-”

“I’m aware. You still need people who care about you, though,” James says, quietly.

I look at him. “I love you, you know.” James turns to gape at me, eyes wide. His neck spins so fast, I’m surprised his neck is still intact. “Not like that, idiot. You’re just… the best friend I have, okay? And you get it. Being aromantic asexual. You know?” 

I really hope he knows, because I’m not joking around this time. I guess I really don’t have that many good friends. I don’t need anything past friends to be fulfilled in life. But these friend things James keeps mentioning… they seem nice to have, I suppose.

He visibly relaxes. “Yeah. I know. I love you too, but not like that.”

I rest my head on his shoulder and hold out my fist. He bumps it and wiggles his hands like a firework as he pulls away, which makes me laugh. 

I have parents who love me, and a new set of friends who, from what James tells me, will make me laugh until I cry. I have Steph, my honorary sister, who would die for me. I also have a best friend for life. I am not in love with him, and I will never be in love with anyone.

And that is okay.

November 07, 2020 06:34

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3 comments

Luna Martin
19:36 Nov 18, 2020

This. This is what I like. Keep it up!

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Madeleine Hays
03:33 Nov 28, 2020

Thank you!!

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13:41 Nov 07, 2020

Hi Madeleine! I just wanted to pop in to warn you that you typically don't want to put your age in your bio. Both for personal privacy, and Reedsy won't let you win a contest if you're "officially under eighteen." :P

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