Who does this think he is? Some kind of armchair psychologist-puppeteer or some ? Launching this game on us and watching like it’s some kind of fun little show for him.
I see him stand back, a little smirk on his face as he watches as all the contestants talk amongst themselves and scamper to find their partners, strategizing, deceiving, worrying, freaking out, calculating and judging one another. He gets off on mind games, I can tell.
“Saerom, be my partner,” Mingyu’s voice from behind makes me stiffen. I’ve been avoiding him all night yesterday after he rejected my embarrassing request for him to be my boyfriend, and now I feel like I have nowhere to hide.
I take hold of Jiheon’s arm, who was conveniently standing there next to me.
“I’m with her,” I tell Mingyu. “Sorry.”
Jiheon has kind of been following me around like a little puppy since yesterday. Ever since I got rid of that old geezer who was giving her a hard time, she’s been thanking me and following in my trail as if I would be her protector if anything like that happens to her again. She even saw me cry yesterday after the whole Mingyu thing, but didn’t ask any questions.
It’s a little irritating, but right now, I’m glad she’s there lurking in my shadow. She’s my excuse to get out of being with Mingyu. Plus, she’s doesn't seem like the type to be untrustworthy in this game.
Or would she?
Honestly, I don’t know very much about her. She seems innocent enough, but what if her desperation to win this leads her to betray me? Then again, that’s the whole damn point of this dumb game and it will apply to any one I choose as my partner. The only one I would trust not to betray me is Seungkwan, but it seems he’s already chosen his partner.
To my surprise, Seungkwan has more or less left me alone. Instead, he’s been hanging out with that Chaeyoung girl, the one rumored to be the love of Mr. Joshua’s life.
I don’t know how Seungkwan became buddy buddy with her so quickly; he was never the best with girls. But somehow, they’re already talking and laughing together like it’s nobody’s business. He sure moved on from me quickly enough.
Or maybe this is a strategy for him to win the game? Get close to the competition?
Nah, Seungkwan isn’t that strategic. More likely he just saw that she was having a rough time and extended a helping hand because he’s a ing softie with a big fat heart that’s gonna hurt him one day.
Mingyu went on to find someone else to be his partner, and I watched him like a hawk, noticing how he only approaches the hot girls. He turns on his charming smile and asks them politely, like he’s a gentleman and not some heart-breaking boy.
It makes my blood boil.
He ends up with number 09, that beautiful heiress that just looks rich. And confident. Like nothing Mingyu could do would jeopardize her. Like she has it all figured out.
I look away from them before I get visibly upset at the notice of hundreds of cameras pointed at us from every direction.
I turn and focus on my glossy-eyed companion, so innocently punctuating that 69 number she wears on her chest.
“Here’s the deal, kid, we both just keep choosing hearts. No matter what. Capiche?”
She nods. “Yes, hearts. A hundred percent.”
“Can I trust you?”
“I promise you, I will always choose hearts.”
“If you betray me, I’ll unleash the bugs on you!” I say. I’m only half-joking. A subtle allusion to the ticks I could collect, but not so obvious it could incriminate me with all the recording devices capturing my every move.
She laughs nervously, nodding in understanding. She knows what I did to that old man and thanked me for doing it. I even asked her to dispose of the tick jar I smuggled, among other errands.
“Also you…” she says, quietly. Innocently. “Don’t betray me. Please.”
Her eyes expand like saucers, glossy, innocent and pleading. If cuteness worked on me, I’d be bowing at her feet.
But I’ll be honest. The thought of betraying her does cross my thoughts. That’s what this dumb mind game does to you. It forces you to reckon with your ego and sense of duty to your partner. Because my partner’s innocent and sweet and doesn’t seem to have any ulterior motives, she’ll probably always choose the heart. I can easily choose the X and gain a bunch of points that will mean I get one-on-one time with Joshua, and then I can seduce him into marrying me.
“Please Saerom,” she says. “I really need to stay in this game as long as possible. The money I’m making is going to help my family survive. If I get disqualified, I don’t know what will happen to them…”
I know what it’s like to be hungry. To carry the burden of your family’s finances at so young an age.
And hell if I’d be the one to put that in jeopardy for a dinner date with that flaming piece of .
And so, when it comes time for us to make a choice between the ♥ and the X, I choose ♥.