"So, results are in. I trust you all have already checked the website and seen who you are to be paired up with, but, for the sake of formality, consider this your formal announcement. I'll read off the pairings and then we can get down to business filming the next episode. Please, hold all of your questions until the end," said Veronica, who had appeared this morning in the main gathering space of the house, between the male and female wings, right as we were finishing breakfast.

She smoothed out her cream-colored jacket and took a deep breath before rattling off the names, her tone brash and barking, not unlike what I would expect from a drill sergeant.

"Theo and Alice. Tyler and Saoirse. Patrick and Jazmin."

Here, I tried to compose my features into as neutral a mask as possible and keep them that way until I was not in the presence of either Patrick or Andrew. Or Veronica. Or anyone else, for that matter.

"Cole and Priya. Uriah and Rose. Ayden and Isabella. Keegan and Belle. Xavier and Amanda. Daniel and Cecilia. Diego and Xioran. Andrew and Lyra, and Ezekiel and Danielle."

Veronica sighed and pushed down her reading glasses, regarding us all with an expression somewhere between impassive nonchalance and overt contempt.

"I assume there are probably complaints with these, as there are also contentments. To that, I can only say that I don't make the rules and that this is how the people want things to happen. You signed up for this; now you're stuck with the consequences of your decision. I advise that we all simply follow the rules and have fun. Now. After the closing of the initial pairing polls, audiences were invited to take extensive surveys and polls based on venues of our various first dates, which will be taking place today. In a moment, I will tell each of you couples where your first date will be taking place, and give you further instructions on how you are to go about conducting ourselves while on them. After that, I will release you to your stylist teams, and from there, it's up to you until tonight."

I sucked in a deep breath and finally allowed myself to look around the room. After insisting that Patrick and I leave my room at separate times so as to eliminate any suspicion, I waited until I was sure he could have made it back across the hall to his room before I got dressed and headed down to breakfast. I had sat alone this morning, as the breakfast area was blissfully empty so late in the morning, and I worked harder than I ever had on a crossword from the morning's paper. 

I was interrupted by Veronica's arrival, and was now standing against one wall of the main room listening to her finish out her speech. The rest of the contestants were strewn about the room, on couches or bar stools or beanbag chairs, their expressions showing varying levels of interest in what she had to say.

Patrick was seated in an armchair closest to me, despite my repeated warnings to keep his distance, and Andrew was slung across the side of a couch that also seated Jazmin and another girl I recognized as Alice. When he noticed me looking in his direction, he gave me a small half-smile of recognition. I could sense that neither of us knew exactly how to act in this given situation.

"Alright. Your teams are waiting out front. Off you go."


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