It’s London’s senior year and she only needs one class to graduate. She just didn’t expect her final assignment: fall in love.
Communication 224 has a reputation for giving out the most unique projects of the semester. When London James and Beau Anderson signed up for the class they had no idea they would be paired up together, much less spend an entire semester working on their final grade.
Professor Garcia tasks them to produce a study on the hit reality show, Love Match, a show about strangers falling in love on over the top dates. London and Beau decide to debunk the popular show’s fantasy portrayal of romance. Determined they can date the entire semester and not fall for each other, the classmates share blogs about their dates and start a website where everyone can follow their dating experiment. Resisting their growing attraction for one another is harder than they thought.
London is in for the toughest class of her college career. The headstrong and success-driven student discovers there might be more important things in life than an A.
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“London, you’re the most graceful person I know. You took professional ballet lessons. I’ve never seen you fall. Like, ever.” Nina was busy preparing a homemade icepack for me with a plastic bag and some ice tray cubes.
I managed to hobble into our one-story brick house and plant myself on the couch. I needed more than ice after the performance I gave today.
“I used to be the most graceful person you knew. I can’t remember the last time I fell. Probably when I learned to ride my bike.” I winced as she held the icepack on my leg.
“At least it’s not bikini season. That’s going to look terrible.”
“Thanks.” She was right. I could already feel a goose-egg size knot forming under my jeans.
“Tell me. What’s the project? I’ve got some time before I have to catch the bus for lab.” She had collected a few throw pillows from around the living room and handed them to me on the couch.
Just the mention of Communication 224 sent a wave of nausea through my system.
“It’s terrible. I don’t know what I’m going to do. The nutty professor used an experimental computer program to pair us off in class. Then each group was assigned a reality show for the semester. We have to prove whether the show is real or just part of Hollywood commercialism by living out the show. She told us to be it. Whatever that means.”
“Really? That’s it? What show did you get?” Nina’s eyes lit up. She would have been perfect for the assignment. She was America’s resident reality TV fan. The only reason I had even heard of half of the shows was because of her.
I should have covered my ears. The squeal from my roommate was the high pitch equivalent of a howling banshee. “Love Match? I love that show! The dates are so romantic and the guys are so cute. Everyone falls in love and they travel all over the world. There are private jets and champagne. Oh, you’re so lucky you got that one.” Nina was getting more excited with each detail she shared.
“Calm down. It’s not that great. I didn’t tell you about my partner.”
“Oh, who did you get? Tell me he is super hot.”
“Beau Anderson.” I moved the pack of ice farther down my thigh.
“Wait. You mean the guy who wrote the bucket list blog?”
“Yeah, but that’s not all. He’s not only Bucket List Guy, he’s also Bike Guy.”
“What? The guy from last week who plowed you down is Beau Anderson and he’s your Communication 224 partner?” Nina was laughing.
“What’s so funny? Are you laughing at me? I’m in pain over here and panicking about this class.”
“Stop worrying, London. But really, what are the chances you would get paired up with him?”
“It’s not going to be that bad, right? I really need this grade.” And I needed a dousing of Nina’s reassurance.
“You’re going to be fine. Love Match is my favorite. I’ll walk you through it, one candlelit step at a time. No worries.” Everyone loved this show.
I was relieved. At least I could count on Nina’s love for bad TV to pull me through.
“Tell me. What’s Beau like? I’ve never seen him.”
I thought about my new partner. With all of the confusion and theatrics in class, I hadn’t really noticed much about him. Well, not much other than he must be a human heater. T-shirts in icy January kind of stood out. Then there were those perfectly sculpted arms. I could feel my cheeks warming again.
“He’s a guy.”
“That’s it?” Nina carried her backpack to the front door. She sounded disappointed.
“Yeah, I mean he looks like any guy on campus. Brown hair, brown eyes. Not that interested in class—you know—a guy.”
“Huh. That’s too bad. I thought that maybe someone who came up with all of that cool stuff on the list would be hot. You know, for your sake.” She giggled and clutched her bus pass.
I wasn’t sure why I held back on the arm details or the dark eyes—they were definitely worth mentioning, but Beau Anderson was just like every other guy I had met in my other classes. They were in school for things unrelated to expanding their academic horizons. I couldn’t see how he was any different.
“No, not hot. Sorry to ruin your little blogger crush. You better go. You’ll miss the bus.”
“You sure you’re ok by yourself? I can skip lab if I need to stay and help you.”
“I’m good. I think a nap is in order.” I shimmied into the assortment of pillows on the couch. The sun still wasn’t shining and it was freezing outside. With both roommates out of the house, a nap was a perfect end to this Bronte-esque afternoon.
“I’m jealous. Ok, I’ll see you after class.” Nina closed the door behind her.
I nestled into the couch and pulled the quilt nicknamed, “ugly quilt,” around my shoulders. Candace’s grandmother had given it to her when we moved into the house last year. The three of us spent the entire summer before our junior year planning our house décor. We wanted it to look retro chic, which is challenging on a college student budget. Candace did her best to fake a smile when she opened the package from her grandmother that arrived during the first week of classes. We laughed so hard that the three of us were in tears making fun of the orange and brown patches sewn together with pink thread. It was never supposed to be visible in the living room, but after a late night movie fest, I discovered it was comfy and warm. I became the champion defender of Ugly Quilt, and it had a spot on the back of the couch ever since.
My eyes closed, and somewhere in my mind’s replay of the awkward meeting with Beau, I fell asleep.
Through the fog of my afternoon nap, I thought I heard the distant sound of my phone ringing. I shoved Ugly Quilt away and fished for my cell on the floor next to the couch.
I swiped at the screen. “Hello?”
“London? Did I wake you up or something?” I didn’t recognize the male voice on the other end of the call.
“Um. Who is this?”
“Beau. Your Comm partner.”
I blinked hard. It was dark outside and I had no idea how long I had been sleeping. My leg was aching, and the icepack Nina had made was a bag of room temperature water.
“Oh yeah. Hey, Beau. What’s up?” I realized that I didn’t add his number to my contacts after he called me in Manning.
“I was just talking to my roommate, and his girlfriend is over here. Anyway, I told them about Love Match and she’s a huge fan.” I was starting to feel like maybe I was the only girl on campus who didn’t watch the dating show. “She said there’s a marathon on tonight on the Timeless Channel. Maybe I could come over and we could watch it. Get caught up before the new season starts.”
I shook the sleepy fog from my head. “Ok. Sounds good. When does it start?”
“In an hour, I think. Where do you live?”
“I’m off campus, just a few blocks back from Franklin Street off Mallette.”
“Cool. Just text me the address and I’ll see you soon.” He hung up before I could respond.
I saved his number in my contacts, then opened the screen to text him our address. I noticed there were three missed texts from Nina.
Derek needs help with the read throughs. I’ll be at the theater late if you want to meet us.
An hour later, there was another one.
No one else is here, so don’t meet us. This might be my chance. Hope your leg is better.
I tried to picture Nina tearing Derek away from his playwriting obsession to focus on her in the Graham basement. She was probably going to be there for hours just working up the courage to make a move on him.
I typed a quick response.
Good luck. I want the deets.
I thought about letting her know about the impromptu TV date with Beau. It wasn’t a date, it was homework, but I hesitated. Nina would make something out of it.
I folded Ugly Quilt and placed it back on the couch. I surveyed the room. It was fairly neat. We spent most of our time in our bedrooms and only used the living room to watch TV or movies. Candace was the messiest, so with her out of the house it was easier to keep it presentable. I wondered what Pearce thought of her housekeeping skills.
I boiled a pot of water and tossed in some spaghetti noodles. Within fifteen minutes, I had a gourmet Italian meal ready to eat. I sat at the kitchen table, spinning my pasta on my fork while I pulled up the bucket list Beau wrote a few weeks ago on my laptop.
Some of the things seemed tame: “Take your picture with Rameses.” Ok, that was one I had always wanted to do. He was the school’s cuddly mascot.
I read one of the items buried in the list: “Hook up in Davis Library.” What? Who was this guy? He actually made a list that encouraged students to shack up on campus at the library—that was ridiculous and gross. I was right when I told Nina he was just like every other guy I met at school.
I continued reading through the list: “Have a picnic in the arboretum at night.” Ok, that one sounded slightly romantic.
I cleared the table and rinsed my bowl before placing it in the dishwasher. The doorbell rang.
I pulled back the heavy wooden door. Beau stood on the porch under our single lightbulb.
“Hey. Can I come in?”
“Oh yes. Sure. Come on in.”
He breezed past me, tucking his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. He was wearing a T-shirt in our school colors, light blue.
“Nice place. Do you have roommates?”
“Thanks. Yes. I have two. But they are out right now. Want something to drink?”
Beau took a spot in the middle of the couch and leaned into Ugly Quilt. I fought the urge to reach behind him and grab my cuddle blanket.
“Sure. You have a beer?”
I had no idea if we had any beer. My grocery shopping usually consisted of juice, pasta, and cereal. I thought I remembered Candace buying some for Pearce just in case he was ever at our house. I shuffled through Chinese food containers and a bag of browning lettuce. There it was. A six pack of tall brown bottles. I grabbed one for my guest, but before I closed the fridge, I picked up a second.
I handed him the cold bottle and watched as he placed the edge of the cap on the coffee table and slapped the lid with his left hand. He tossed the cap in the center of the table and took a swig.
I followed the same steps as I had seen Beau just perform. Placing the lip of the beer cap on the edge of the table, I whacked the lid with my left hand. Instead of freeing my lid from the bottle, I sent the entire bottle to the floor and with it a bubbly puddle. Well, now he probably knew I had never opened a beer before.
“Shit,” I muttered under my breath while I darted to the kitchen to grab some paper towels. I started mopping up the sticky liquid.
“Here. Let me help you. Looks like you’re having a rough day.” Beau pulled a handful of the towels from my hand. “First beer?”
“How could you tell?”
“It might have been how you placed the bottle on the table like you were getting ready to perform surgery.” He laughed. “That was serious concentration.”
I took the dripping mess from his hands. “Thanks. I’ll be right back.”
My refillable water bottle was in the drying rack next to the sink. I placed it under the faucet and waited for the water to reach the top. Beer was off the list for tonight. Plus, it was better for my vocal chords to stay hydrated.
When I returned to the living room, Beau had already cued the TV to the Timeless Channel. I took a sip of water and sat opposite of him in the recliner. I eyed Ugly Quilt.
“It’s getting ready to start.”
I watched floating rose petals and candlelight fill the screen. Before the show even began, I had made up my mind—this was not reality.
A handsome blue-eyed man in a tailored silver suit began speaking. “Welcome. I’m your host, Mitch Henderson. On tonight’s episode of Love Match, our bachelor, Toby, is down to three bachelorettes: Roxanne, Julie, and Victoria. But who will he choose? Is Julie’s past too much for him to handle? Is Roxanne here for the right reasons? Find out on tonight’s dramatic episode of Love Match.” The montage of date clips flashed across the screen.
I saw Beau take another sip of beer and roll his eyes.
Once the introductory segment was over, the show launched into a date with the bachelor and one of the girls. He walked along the shoreline of a tropical island and stared into the waves while the girl rushed ashore on a jet ski, squealing and laughing. The two devoured each other in the surf and I thought Toby might dismantle the girl’s bikini right there. I grimaced as the petting got heavier. After a few more seconds, they finally jumped on the jet ski and raced out to a yacht, where they spent the day feeding each other grapes, swimming with dolphins, and inhaling champagne.
Beau placed his empty bottle on the table. “Mind if I get another?” It was a commercial break, but I needed a break from the mushy gushy content too.
“Sure. Back of the fridge.”
He turned the corner for the kitchen. My mind paced through options for our project. I had only seen fifteen minutes of the show, but it couldn’t possibly be real. I had never seen anyone in real life act like those two.
Beau knocked the top off the beer just as date number two commenced. This time Toby was harnessed to the edge of a cliff overlooking waterfalls, when one of the girls rode up on a horse. She dismounted and jumped into his arms, repelling gear and all. Wait, did he just shove his tongue down her throat? He was doing that yesterday with Victoria. Horrified, I watched as he strapped his date into a harness so they could repel down the cliff tandem-style. The poor girl was in tears, but the hunky bachelor assured her if they could get through this, their relationship could handle anything. I wanted to ask him if it could handle Victoria and Roxanne.
With only twenty minutes left in the show, Toby met his third date of the episode in a classic convertible. Roxanne jumped and clapped when he revved the engine and slid across the hood to spin her around in his arms. The short sundress she had on flared up and I was sure his hand was under that skirt. I kept my eyes straight ahead and didn’t look at Beau. Toby and Roxanne spent the day in a field of wild flowers, sorting through the most perfectly packed picnic basket I had ever seen. Roxanne even made matching bracelets out of flowers. I choked on my water when Toby promised to keep it forever. He tucked it in the pocket over his heart.
In the final segment of the show, the three girls stood side by side, holding each other’s hand. Toby strolled into the candlelit room with a furrowed brow. He exchanged a handshake with blue-eyed Mitch and presented his beloved trio with a choked up speech. He preceded to hand out roses to two of the girls—the ones that made the cut after the last round of dates. Julie was out and Roxanne and Victoria hugged, knowing they were the final two in the race to win Toby’s heart.
“Ok. I don’t think I can watch another episode of this tonight. How many are there?” I looked at Beau.
“I think two more. But I know he’s going to pick Roxanne.”
“Roxanne? But they had the worst date in the wildflower field. I didn’t see any connection there at all.”
Beau laughed. “For someone who’s never watched this, you’re kinda into it.”
“No. Not into it. It’s just we watched the whole episode and I didn’t see anything between them. Besides, how do you know he chooses Roxanne in the end?”
“My roommate’s girlfriend told me. Victoria is the new bachelorette. She’s the one we’ll be watching all season when the episodes start next week.”
“Oh.” I had no idea how this show worked and I was probably more confused now that I had seen an episode. Nina needed to help me with this.
“Do you have any ideas for the project? We have to prove if this is real or not—and include class theory,” he added.
This couldn’t be real. How could Toby have been with all three of those girls and then propose to just one at the end? The show had to be a concocted phony. People don’t fall in love like that.
“It’s fake. It has to be.” I was certain. “I know acting when I see it. I’ve been on stage long enough to know those people aren’t having real feelings.”
“I agree. But how do we prove it?”
“Hear me out. This might sound crazy.” I couldn’t believe what I was getting ready to say. “You know how Professor Garcia wants us to be the show? What if we date?”
“What?” Beau sat up.
“Not really date, but date like they do on the show. We’ll try to go on the same kind of dates they do and we’ll prove that you can’t force people to have feelings just by putting them in romantic situations. Since neither of us believes it’s real, we’re going into this on the same page.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it could work. We copy their dates each week.”
“We’ll work in some theory from class. And we can even blog about it. That can be our social media component. I’ll write about the date from a girl’s perspective and you give the guy’s take. It’s perfect.”
“Good. We have a deal.”
“Yep.” Beau raised his beer to my water bottle until they tapped.
I smiled. I could see the A for Communication 224 on my transcript now.
About the Author:
T.A. Foster is a Southern girl whose heart and spirit are connected to the beach. She grew up catching rays and chasing waves along the North Carolina Outer Banks and now resides in the state with her adventurous pilot husband, two children and two canine kiddos.
Author Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7164289.T_A_Foster