The Game of Love
By Elena Lane
Date: March 24, 2021
Ch. 99

“And that’s why we can’t be more than friends.” Gigi mused when she was sure that Vincent was out of earshot.

“I know that, Gigi, but that doesn’t make me feel any less stupid.”

“You’re not stupid. You’re smart and sweet and handsome. I like those things, but things are complicated and right now, you and I just can’t work out. Do you get what I’m saying?”

“Yes, Gigi, I think you’ve been pretty clear about how you feel.” Rowan said somewhat bitterly. He sighed, “Well, I better go to bed.”

“So, early?”

“It’s been a long day.” Rowan said, turning away from Gigi.

“Wait,” Gigi called, gripping Rowan’s forearm. She pulled him so he was facing her with only an inch of space between them. Slowly, Gigi leaned her face towards his, until their lips were locked in a gentle kiss.

Rowan pulled away from Gigi. “What was that for?”

“To show you what it would be like to be together.”

“Gigi, you’ve already made it clear that that can’t happen.”

“It can’t happen now, but someday, things will be simpler.” Gigi said, grasping Rowan’s hand.

He slid his hand from hers. “Gigi, I can’t do this. Not right now. Let’s just call it a night, okay?”

“Okay, Rowan, but don’t give up on us.”

Rowan just nodded before bidding Gigi goodnight, leaving her alone in the kitchen and awake with a million untamed thoughts. No, Gigi would not be getting any sleep that night, that’s for sure.

The contest proceeded on; there were endless cycles of challenges and subsequent eliminations, each with a theme. Best Smile, Most Athletic, Best Eyes, and Best Dressed were all names of fun, though arduous challenges created by the producers. Each challenged seemed to melt into one never-ending experience. There were lots of good times at the Popular Mansion, but Gigi was sick of pretending. She was sick of pretending to be the perfect girlfriend. She was sick of pretending that she was in love with Vincent and that she was only friends with Rowan. Kenzie had just been eliminated and Gigi felt more alone than ever. She needed a friend to talk, but Kenzie was gone and she couldn’t talk to either Vincent or Rowan about her love life, that’s for sure.

Vincent walked into the common room to the couch where Gigi was sitting. He gave her a kiss. “Hey, babe,” He said.

“Oh, hey, Vince.” Gigi said with a little less enthusiasm.

“What’s the matter, Gi?” Vincent asked with concern.

“You know, being in the final four is just a little bit stressful for me. The fewer of us there are, the more likely either you or me will be eliminated. The odds aren’t in our favor, Vince. It’s simple math.”

“Yeah, maybe that’s true, but love is in our favor. That’s all that really matters. We have each other. Even if we lose, I like what we have. I’m glad that got together. We’re better together, I know that now. Being on this show is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love you, Gigi. I love us.” If Gigi didn’t know any better, she would have thought that Vincent was being sincere, but Gigi did know better. Gigi had played Vincent’s girlfriend long enough to know that she wasn’t the thing he cared about. Still, Vince’s sentiment made Gigi’s heart melt a little bit. For one second before she had given his words any thought, the words had felt real to Gigi. Though, it didn’t take long before Gigi burst her own bubble. She knew that Vincent would never love her. Gigi knew that and she couldn’t let herself forget it or else she’d get lost in his deep, soulful eyes.

“Love can be pretty powerful.” Gigi mused. Though, she still wasn’t sure if it held more power than money. If it did, she supposed things would be easier and she wouldn’t be so persuaded by America’s Most Popular’s cash prize.

“Vince, I don’t want to go through with this.” Gigi told him quietly.

“What are you talking about, Gigi? Are you crazy? There are only four of us left, anyway. We’re so close. We can’t just give up. Not now, we’re too close to the prize. Besides, we don’t have too much of a choice in the matter.”

“I know that, but I don’t have a choice in who I love either. I don’t want to lose him, Vince. When I’m around Rowan, things just feel right.”

“Rowan,” Vincent seethed. “You like Rowan. You’ve got to be kidding me. I don’t know how you could possibly like him, Gigi. He’s a complete tool.”

“It’s none of your business who I love. We were never real. It’s all been a sham that we’ve both been forced into. I know that you want the money, but at this point, I’m willing to give it up. I’m willing to throw it away because I’m so in love. You don’t know what it’s like to love something more than money, but I do. Money isn’t everything, I know that now. Though, maybe it’s just a little too late.”

“It’s not about the money for me either. It’s about you, Gigi. The money’s the only reason that you stay with me, but it’s not the only reason that I stay with you. I love you and I don’t want you to slip away. I just wish you could see that I’m not so bad. Just let yourself get to know me and you’ll see that I’m not that bad.” Vincent looked sincere, but he was a good actor, a chess master who never lost. Vincent knew how to play the game and Gigi wanted to prove that she knew how to play the game just as well.

“You’re just trying to manipulate me, Vincent. I know that.” Gigi replied obstinately.

“Gigi, please. Don’t be so cynical.” Vincent put his hand to Gigi’s cheek and Gigi pushed it away.

“I’m just being realistic.”

“You’re being foolish, Gigi. Who cares about love when a million dollars is on the line? Listen, I know that I can be a jerk and I know that I can never love you like he can, but I need this money. Gigi, we’re too close to throw it all away.”

“Yeah, trust me, I could use this money too, but now, all I want to do is take a chance on love.”

“There’s no guarantee that you and Rowan will even work out. Is that really worth half a million dollars? Last time I checked, it wasn’t.”

“I don’t want a guarantee. I just want to avoid regret.” Though, Gigi wondered if she’d have regret no matter what she chose. Still, at least in that moment, love seemed to be the better option.

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