It was hard to focus on being charming to Mr. Right when all I could think about was escape.
The other dead zones were a broom closet and an unused bedroom, I managed to get to both Tara and Diana and tell them there was a chance we were getting out. Diana hugged me so tight I heard my ribs pop and Tara asked me twice more to repeat myself to make sure she heard me correctly.
But we still had to act normal. If we tipped our hand, we’d end up the same as the other girls.
Tara took a bit of her personal time to buddy up with Joshua. Act like she was just having a rough time, needed someone to talk to that wasn’t a contestant. It was, of course, an act so the two of them could plot the way out. My job and Diana’s job was to keep the attention off of them.
So yeah, I had to make myself be charming.
“So, what are you reading?”
I ‘bumped into’ Donovan at the library, he was just enjoying some quiet reading. His face immediately lit up when he saw me. “Hey.” He put the book down and gestured to the spot next to him on the couch. “Nothing, really, I’ve been stuck on the same page for the last fifteen minutes..”
I took my seat, snuggling right up. The library was chilly, especially next to the frost flecked window. “Unable to concentrate?” I asked.
“Maybe there’s someone on my mind,” He winked.
I laughed and rested my head on his shoulder as I watched snowflakes drift past the glass. “It’s snowing. You think enough will come down for us to make a snowman?” I asked.
“I haven’t made one of those since I was… probably ten.” Somehow I didn’t flinch when Donovan’s fingers combed through my hair. I hated how easy it was to just relax right next to a killer. “But if enough comes down, I wouldn’t mind making one with you, if that’s what you want.”
I nodded. “I doubt enough will come down though. It’ll melt before any sticks. So, what’s on the agenda for this week?” I turned my head. “Another surprise date?”
“Actually…” Donovan took a deep breath before his eyes flicked up to a dark corner, where I imagine one of the cameras was. “I think it’s time you meet my parents.”
I nearly choked. “Your mom and stepdad?” I asked.
He nodded. “They’re a part of my life, so I’d want them to meet any women I’m interested in. I’d like you to meet them first, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Oh boy. I took a deep breath before I nodded. “That sounds fantastic. Do you think they’ll like me?” I asked.
“Cecil, without a doubt. He’s the kind of man to get along with just about anyone. My mother… well, it could go either way.” Donovan sighed. “You’ll understand when you meet her. Just don’t take any of her insults to heart. I’m her only child, so she’s a little protective.”
“How’d she let you on a dating show?” I asked.
Donovan rolled his eyes. “It was all her idea. She likes the spotlight, and this way she could have a chance to approve of any girl I like… not like she has a say in my choices, but I let her believe she does. It makes things easier.”
Ugh, this was gonna suck. But I powered on through with more smiles and a kiss on his cheek. “I’m sure we’ll get along just fine,” I said.
Monday was my ‘meet the parents’ day. Cecil was a beanstalk, all height, no weight, with a quiet voice and glasses with circular lenses. Meanwhile, Tilly was short, plump, talked loud and looked almost nothing like her son. They had the same color of hair, but that was about it.
Her ring covered fingers reached up to turn my face both left and right as she examined me. “Well, she could lose a little weight, but she’s got nice eyes. Quite pretty,” She said with a tut of her tongue.
I could already see a piece of Donovan’s soul die as he buried his face in his palms. Cecil just smiled weakly as he poured the tea. “Come on, dear, let’s enjoy a cup and get to know this girl,” He said.
“Oh very well!” Tilly bounced over to the seat next to her husband and I took the one next to Donovan, already feeling the urge to just get the fuck up and run like hell. But Donovan’s fingers interlaced with mine and somehow his touch was grounding enough to keep me still.
“It’s great to meet you two, Donovan’s told me about how much you care about him,” I said.
Tilly bobbed her head up and down. “Of course, he’s just my baby boy!”
“Mother, I’m almost thirty,” Donovan said.
“And I’d already made a dozen mistakes with men by the time I was that age, I wish my parents cared as much as I care about you,” Tilly reached across the table and patted Donovan’s arm before turning her predatory look on me. “So, you’re the one who swore during the first date, right? A lady should know better than using crude language.”
Oh boy, I did not like this woman. But Donovan squeezed my hand tighter and I managed to stay pleasant. “Yeah, well, this isn’t your… typical dating show, I guess. I was still thrown from last Friday’s elimination. And I prefer to say what’s on my mind rather than let the elephant stay in the room. I’ve never met a guy with a scorpion tail, that’s for sure.”
Tilly gazed upon her son with nothing but pride. “My son is special. You’ll never meet a better man, that’s for sure. And well, you’re certainly better than some of the other girls. I dare say, you might be my favorite.”
“I’d figure you’d prefer Diana,” I sipped my tea, “She’s better mannered.”
“Well,” Tilly tutted her tongue again, “She’s also-”
“If the next thing out of your mouth is racist, dinner is over and you’re not going to meet either Tara or Diana,” Donovan interrupted, his glare borderline murderous.
“It’s not like I don’t like Mexicans, I just think you can do better!”
I cleared my throat, trying to ignore that urge to claw out this woman’s eyes. “She’s Puerto Rican, actually,” I said.
Cecil turned away to hide a smile and Donovan chuckled as his mother’s face turned red. “Anyway, let’s change the subject!” She finally chirped. “So, how do you feel about children?”
Oh good lord, this woman would bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘monster in law’. Donovan looked ready to sink into the floor at the mention of children, but thankfully I had a feeling I was going to get such a question. “I love them. I think when I get married, I’ll wait a few years to start having kids but when I do… I hope to have two or three?”
Right answer, judging by Tilly’s smile. “That’s great to hear. I would’ve loved to have more, but I don’t think I would love another child as much as I love Donovan, since they wouldn’t have the same father.”
Poor Cecil. He just seemed heavily focused on his tea cup as I clutched onto Donovan’s hand. I took a deep breath before just going for it. “Can I ask… who is Donovan’s father? How did you meet?”
Tilly was the one taken off guard, and I decided to take another risk by adding, “You don’t have to tell me, if it makes you uncomfortable.”
“I’m not uncomfortable! I just don’t think about him often nowadays.” Tilly’s eyes clouded over as her mind went back through the years. “His name is Rivinare. I met him outside of my parent’s estate in Washington. It was a party, I was tired, the room was just unbearably stuffy… and there he was, sitting on a tree branch. Watching the party with the most envious and beautiful eyes I’d ever seen. He’d never been to a party before. So I ended up sneaking him some appetizers and a glass of white. In return, we had an affair that lasted the entirety of the summer, and when it was over he gave me Donovan.”
She sighed as she ran her finger over the rim of her tea cup. “I’ve gone back searching for him, but he’s never shown up again. I’d almost chalk it up to a girl’s daydreams if I didn’t have my boy. Looks almost just like him, you know.” Seemingly coming back to the present, Tilly’s smile seemed almost genuine now. “I hope you can find love like I did with my Donovan.”
Now I blushed, but inwardly I was cheering. I’d gotten approval from Donovan’s mother. One of the hardest hurdles to cross. After the date, Cecil stopped me and patted my arm. “You’re a good woman,” He said before he took his leave. The one sentence he’d really said to me the whole time and I was floating on air the whole way back to my room.
I remembered our plan the moment I was back in said room and I nearly puked when the wave of guilt hit me. I got cozy with Donovan’s family while Taylor was six feet under in an unmarked grave.
I told myself I did what I had to do in order to keep Donovan and the crew from getting suspicious. I didn’t have a choice, if I didn’t act like I wanted to win this, then they might figure out our plan. The guilt still made me stay in bed for the rest of the day.
The plan was to get out Wednesday night. Joshua would come to each of our rooms once he set the cameras on a loop of empty hallways. Meanwhile all three of us had to come up with our own makeshift weapons without tipping off Bruce or Monica. I must have spent hours sharpening a butter knife I snuck away from dinner one night. I tried to get a steak knife but the moment I was going to go for it Monica walked into the room and I lost my chance.
That night, the minutes dragged on to midnight. I tried to think of a million ways this could go wrong and how I’d have to react.
What if Donovan was up and about?
Then either me or Diana would have to distract him. Diana was the favorite this week but I knew I was coming in second. It might mean one of us would be left behind, but it’d be worth it to get the others out.
What if the door to the garage was locked and Joshua couldn’t find the key?
Then we’d have to go out the front and make it on foot.
What if someone tried to stop us?
I just gripped my shank tighter and reminded myself that whatever it took, I was leaving this goddamn house the moment I got the signal.
But midnight came and went and Joshua didn’t make his appearance. I stayed up until three AM before I finally accepted that something had gone wrong that I didn’t consider-
someone caught Joshua tampering with the cameras.
Thursday morning and we came into the dining room to see Joshua’s body dangling from the chandelier, chest ripped open, face twisted in an expression of horror.
Nothing needed to be said. I did notice Bruce has a wicked shiner on his right eye and that Donovan had a mild limp but in the end, Joshua’s body was enough of a statement. We weren’t getting out. Not unless we were in a wedding gown or in a coffin.
Obviously, since I’m still here, I didn’t get eliminated. And neither did Diana. For this last week, we’ll be sharing a room. We’re head to head.
It was Tara who was eliminated this morning. Monica just seemed so smug as she read out her name. To her credit, Tara didn’t break like Monica obviously wanted her to. She just took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders, and smiled at the two of us.
“Shit, I guess you can’t win them all, right? … Maybe next time.”
With her head held high and not a single tear shed, she walked out the archway where Donovan was waiting. She didn’t so much as flinch as his tail shot forward, although she did gasp as it burrowed into her chest. Tara dropped to her knees and with an uncomfortably familiar wet tear, out came her heart.
I’ve spent my afternoon crying. I don’t know what to say to Diana. Good luck? If she gets good luck, I’m the one who’s dead meat next week. May the best woman win? Neither of us is better than the other. It’s just down to Donovan’s personal preference.
But, since I know how this will likely end… good bye, everyone.
I never thought that second place would still feel like a loss.