A/N: Hi and welcome to the first chapter of my new story. When Two Blue Line was almost completely written, I was desperately looking for inspiration for a next project when the show Married At First Sight started to air on a German TV station. That was exactly what I'd been waiting for. Some may know the show, others won't. I assure you, it's not necessary to have seen it to get what this story is about.
For all of you who didn't know, I wrote an OS as an extended teaser for this story and entered it into the Meet the Mate Contest. Those of you who either followed the contest or read the OS after I posted it, you may remember parts of the first two chapters, but I promise, this story is starting a few weeks before the OS, and all parts that were in the OS have at least been extended.
I gathered a wonderful team around me; three wonderful ladies I just couldn't do without. evelyn-shaye, Midnight Cougar and LaPumuckl, I can't tell you how much I admire your work and appreciate the time and effort you put into this. Thank you all so much.
Now, let's see if you like my new story :).
Disclaimer: I neither own Twilight nor Married At First Sight …
Chapter 1 – Debts of Honor
Why was I up at ten in the fucking morning on a goddamn Saturday, sitting in a conference room with about three hundred other guys, waiting for something — anything — to happen? Oh yeah, right — because I was a sucker for punishment.
Not able to keep my fucking mouth shut, I bet against my friends, Seth and Emmett, that a taxi would get through rush hour traffic faster than Em's beloved black Mustang. That idiot was so confident in his baby's power and his own driving prowess that I just had to take him down a notch. Unfortunately, I must have ended up with the dumbest cabby in Manhattan to take me across town for that race. A few fries short of a Happy Meal, the idiot managed to lose his way twice in the process. That gave Emmett the chance to arrive with time to spare; he'd even parked the car properly behind the bar where we were supposed to meet.
Being sure of myself and New York's taxi drivers, I would have accepted any wager, so I could maybe thank my lucky stars I only had to go to the casting for this mysterious new dating show. If I won, I'd become the new Bachelor or that guy who pretends to be a millionaire only to have the unlucky winner find out later I was about as poor as a church mouse.
Okay, that might be a little exaggerated, but I was far from being wealthy. I was twenty-eight, rotting away in the IT department of a big company and living with my college roommate. I wasn't looking too bad — at least the ladies never complained — but I wasn't anywhere near Prince Charming material.
How long were they planning on keeping us waiting? The email Emmett received, after signing me up for this joke, said the thing would start at ten. Now it was five past ten. I wasn't usually the first to arrive anywhere, but couldn't we at least expect them to respect us enough to start on time? Come on, we got up virtually in the middle of the night on a Saturday for this big event.
Five more minutes passed before four people walked onto the podium situated in the front of the room.
The two men and two women took seats facing us and exchanged a few words we couldn't catch. Then a blond guy in his mid-forties stood, picked up a microphone and stepped in front of the table.
"Good morning, gentlemen. My name's Dr. Carlisle Cullen and I'm a psychologist at New York University. My companions here are Dr. Esme Platt …" He gestured toward an attractive, hazel-haired woman of about forty. "She's a sociology professor at NYU." The woman nodded in greeting, and Dr. Cullen waved his hand toward a pretty blonde of maybe thirty-five. "This is Irina Denali. She's a sexologist." She smiled encouragingly. "And last but not least, we have Peter Nichols. He's a spiritual advisor at Columbia University." The slender, dark-haired man on the right end of the table gave one quick nod.
"Now that introductions are out of the way, you might ask yourself what a bunch of shrinks and university graduates are doing at a casting for a TV show. Let me tell you, this is not your regular dating show. It's a radical, new, sociological experiment."
He let his words sink in for a moment, none of us having any idea what he was rambling about.
"Decades of studies on marriages and divorces have proven that — statistically — arranged marriages have a better chance at lasting than ones founded through the traditional dating system."
Why was he talking about marriage? Wasn't this The Dating Game or something?
"All of you have answered an ad targeted toward people who want to settle down and find a lasting relationship."
Hell no! I hadn't even seen that ad. Emmett had planned this whole thing.
"We have established a system which allows us to match up people with accuracy and precision. Our goal is to find partners whose characters, hobbies, future plans and values are similar enough to convince us they'll be able to forge a lasting bond. Those partners will be married at their first meeting …"
I didn't really hear anything else after that.
Married? Is that guy nuts? Are they all totally out of their fucking minds?
I felt the overwhelming urge to jump up from my chair and run out of the room as fast as I could. Somehow, though, I remained seated and instead watched the guys around me — most of them wore matching expressions of shock and horror, but a few idiots looked actually intrigued.
Having no idea how long the meeting lasted, I was relieved when I could leave without drawing too much attention to myself. I walked out of the room hidden in a crowd, grabbed papers the people at the doors handed each of us, and made a beeline for the next subway station to get home, where there was booze to drown the memory of this strange experience.
"Oh man, I had no idea." Emmett shook his head, taking a pull from his beer bottle after he'd spewed the last one across the coffee table in surprise. "I thought you were going to woo The Bachelorette or something. But, man, getting married on TV? That's sick!"
"How are they planning to make those magic matches anyway?" Seth asked, incredulous.
I chuckled humorlessly. "I don't have the faintest idea. I zoned out right after the word 'married.' If you're interested, they handed me these papers." I motioned to the stack of crumbled sheets I'd unceremoniously dropped onto the couch next to me.
Seth leaned over and picked them up, reading with curiosity.
"You said one of the chicks was a sexologist? What the fuck's that supposed to mean? Did she look like a high-class hooker or something?" Emmett chortled.
"If so, neither you nor I can afford her services. All of them were dressed in the finest clothes." Whatever it was they did for a living, they had to be making a shit load of money.
Suddenly, Seth burst out laughing. "Oh, Ed, there's no way you'd have made it into that show, man. They want you to tell them where you see yourself in five years. I doubt they'll find a woman wanting to live here with you and Emmett while you spend most of your time drinking, having poker nights or playing video games. And here, how long was your longest relationship? I don't think six months will do."
Emmett immediately joined in. "I'm sure they're asking if you're a cat or a dog person. You should tell them how you killed that kitten by force-feeding her sand. I'm sure that's going to leave a winning impression." He guffawed loudly.
"Em, I was four back then, and I doubt that's a serious criteria." I tried to defend myself.
"It is," Seth objected. "It's question twenty-five."
Emmett had a hard time speaking through his bellowing laughter. "See, you can be glad the whole thing is so absolutely ridiculous we let you bail out. You didn't have the slightest chance of getting onto that show anyway."
Getting married was the farthest thing from my mind, and the thought of going through tedious interviews and questionnaires raised my hackles. Though the way they painted me as incapable of convincing the TV people of my eligibility, rubbed me the wrong way.
"If I set my mind to it, I could totally get into that show," I said with conviction, emptying my bottle.
"Ed, you're as much marriage material as Seth's a girl. Even you can't put on that good of an act." Emmett lifted his beer only to find it empty. Instead, he rose from his seat and grabbed a bottle of Johnny Walker that was left from a party, together with three glasses and set them on the table.
Shaking his head, Seth poured us all a generous amount. "I'm sorry, Edward, but I think Emmett's right. You don't stand a chance."
Lifting my glass of amber liquid, I swirled the content around a bit, musing. "What if I do? Of course, I won't get married. I'm not insane. But what if they cast me? What's it worth to you?"
Emmett scoffed. "I'm so sure you'll lose, you'll get my 'Stang if you actually make it."
Knowing how much he loved that car, I could see how confident he was about the bet.
"Seth, you in?" I asked.
"Sure," he agreed. "I bet my new sixty inch flat screen that you won't make it into that show."
Emmett knocked back his drink. "Now, we've covered the highly unlikely case that you win. What about the most probable scenario in which you don't? What's your wager?"
"I don't think I own anything either of you have much use for," I replied with a sense of relief.
"Oh, you sure don't," Emmett mused. "But I think you should bet something more … personal, anyway. How about a tattoo. We choose the design and placing — within certain reason, of course."
Considering I already had three tats, I wasn't afraid of the thing itself. I wouldn't put it past them, though, that I'd end up with their names on my ass cheeks. I was just trying to determine how sure I was of myself when Seth came up with a different idea.
"No, no, no, no, no! How about he has to go on a date with that chick from downstairs that has a crush on him? You know, the ugly one with the pimply face and greasy hair. And I'm not talking a movie here. Dinner, drinks and dancing — in public. Oh, and the girl deserves a goodnight kiss, of course."
Em and Seth both cracked up laughing while I felt my bile rise. That girl was really gross. I wasn't the typical womanizer with one girl on each finger, but I had certain standards, and she definitely didn't meet any of them.
Exasperated, I ran my fingers through my unruly hair, contemplating my ability to play nice with the price exhibit of every haunted house, when Emmett jumped up from the couch, pointing his outstretched index finger at me with glee.
"That's it! He has to shave his head! Not only that, he has to go bald for a month if he doesn't get cast in that show! What do you say, Eddie Boy, do we have a deal?"
Dammit! Unerringly, they found my one weakness! They both knew I was kind of obsessed with my unruly, always-looking-freshly-fucked mop of weirdly-colored hair; and that made it the perfect incentive. Seth's flat screen was nice because it was bigger and had better sound than ours, but what I really wanted was Em's car — if only to goad him with it. With my hair at stake, though, the bet took on a whole new dimension. I was hard-pressed to chicken out, but then I'd have to admit I wasn't entirely sure of myself. That was definitely out of the question. So all I could do was put on my poker face and do the best I could to win this bet.
"Of course, we do. You can kiss your 'Stang goodbye already because she's going to be mine soon."
Em scoffed while Seth refilled our glasses. "Sure. Dream on, buddy, or should I say, baldy?"
"You're laughing now, but you won't be once you have to hand over those keys."
We clinked our glasses together and drank to our newest bet.
Well, now I needed a solid plan, because I definitely had to step up my game to win this one.
"So, Edward, tell me a bit about yourself," Dr. Cullen prompted during my first interview.
To get to this point, I'd had to fill out a twenty page questionnaire, turning myself inside out. I tried to stay as close to the truth as possible, so remembering my story wouldn't be too hard once the personal interview part came, but for every question about relationships and future plans I basically had to make up an answer I thought would further my case. It took me the whole damn Sunday to get through the one hundred and twenty questions. A few days later, I was contacted by the show's psychologist to set up an appointment.
"Well, uhm, what's there to tell? I'm Edward, as you know. I'm twenty-eight years old and work in IT here in Manhattan." That should cover the basics.
"Are you originally from New York, Edward?" the psychologist inquired.
"No, I'm from New Jersey, but I've always been leering across the bay at the Big Apple. I moved here for college and never went back." Since my father had taken me into the city for the first time when I was five, I'd known I wanted to live here.
Dr. Cullen smiled at me. "What is it you like about New York City?"
I didn't have to think long to have an honest answer to that. "There are a thousand little things I can't easily sum up. I've been in love with it since I was a kid. The energy, the sites, the character and the people. They're so unique." I could almost see the stupid smile on my face, thinking about the city as the only woman I'd ever been in love with and forever would be.
"Why did you choose to participate in this experiment?" he continued after a short pause.
There it finally was, the question I'd practiced to answer for days. I took a deep breath and summoned whatever acting skills I had, hoping they were enough.
"I'm approaching thirty, and I'm done with casual dating. I'm more than ready to settle down. Sure, I enjoy spending time with my friends, but most of them are paired up." That wasn't even a lie. I had three close friends. Seth was single — mostly — but Emmett had been with his girlfriend, Rosalie, for three years, and Jasper, my best friend from high school, had gotten married two years ago. Sadly, we'd drifted apart since then. Before I could dwell on that, I forced myself to continue my pre-written speech. "I'm the odd man out. But it's hard to find the right woman on an island housing 1.6 million people. I sure haven't so far. That's where you guys come in."
The content little smile on Dr. Cullen's face assured me I'd pretty much hit the bullseye.
"Where do you see yourself in five years?"
"I'd like to be married with a house in Brooklyn or Queens, a dog, one kid and another one on the way." I had to suppress a shudder at the thought, and instead, went for what was supposed to be a wistful smile.
The rest of the interview continued in the same pattern. Although sometimes I had to lie through my teeth, in the end, the psychologist appeared to be satisfied with my performance.
One down, three to go.
"Edward," Dr. Denali greeted me with a wide smile, "I'm happy to see you today. I hope you don't mind diving right in. How important is sexuality to you?"
What a way to start a conversation. "Uhm, I'm a guy. I'd say it's pretty damn important." Running my hand through my hair nervously, I waited for the uncomfortable questions to continue.
"At least you're being honest," she said with a smirk. "Can you tell me a bit about your sexual history?"
Fuck! My mother could watch the show!
A little panicked, I glanced over at the camera a few feet away from us. Dr. Denali's eyes followed mine, apparently knowing what I was thinking.
"It's okay, Edward," she tried to reassure me. "This won't be aired on TV. We'll only take very general parts of my interviews into the final cut of the show. Most of what we talk about is just for the sake of finding you the right match. I'm sure you wouldn't want a wife who has completely different likes and dislikes in the bedroom. Now, relax and just tell me a bit about your experiences."
Deciding I had to give her something if I wanted to win my bet, I plunged right in and stuck to the truth — mostly. "Okay. Here goes. I was kind of a geek in high school, so it took me until my first college party to lose my virginity. I've had a few girlfriends, a few one-night stands and a friend with benefits, but all things considered, I think I've had less partners than the average single guy my age." And of that I was sure.
"Sounds like it, yes," she agreed, then she straightened up in her seat. "When you're being intimate with a woman, are you rather the active or passive part?"
That was a hard one. I really liked it when my good friend and fuck buddy Vicky came off self-assured and a bit aggressive, but I also liked when I needed to put a little work into getting a girl to give it up.
"I like a confident woman who knows what she wants and isn't too shy to say so, but I like to feel in control as well. I guess it depends on the person and situation." That was the best I could give her. I was neither dominant nor submissive, and I didn't want my partner to be one of those, either. Not that it mattered since I was dropping out as soon as I'd won my bet.
Dr. Denali seemed satisfied with my answer, and the next thirty minutes passed slowly with similar, more or less uncomfortable questions and wet spots under my arms, but I made it through.
Two down, two to go.
My interview with the spiritual advisor was the one I was the most nervous about. Not being a very spiritual person, I had no idea how to play it. Would it further my chances to mime the devout Christian? But seeing I wasn't religious, playing that angle convincingly would be difficult.
Saying things as I saw them probably wouldn't work out in my favor, either. So I decided to take the middle ground, acting like the Christmas and Easter Christian my parents raised me to be; stating I believed in God but didn't need a certain church to live my faith. I was sure I'd be able to pull that off.
Sitting across from Peter Nichols in his office made me sweat bullets and feel surprisingly calm all at the same time. The guy exuded a certain serenity only a person completely at peace with himself could. Taking a few calming breaths, I waited for the questions to begin.
"Edward, it's nice to meet you in person. Your questionnaire was very interesting."
Interesting, huh? What's that supposed to mean?
I didn't know what to say to that, so I waited for him to pose an actual question.
"Asked about your religious denomination, you wrote your parents are Lutherans. What does that mean?"
I cleared my throat and willed my leg to keep from bouncing nervously. "Well, I was christened and my parents took me to church on Easter and Christmas and a few Sundays in between, but when I got older, I stopped going."
"That's not unusual," he replied, nodding. "But why did you stop attending services?"
I pondered my answer for a moment, then said what I supposed would sound best. "It's not like I don't believe in God. I do, but I don't feel like I need a church to tell me how or what exactly to believe. I can pray at home if I feel the need to."
Somehow, Nichols seemed to be appeased by my answer as he scribbled something on the stack of papers in his lap.
"How important do you think religion is in a relationship? Could you, for example, imagine your wife to be Catholic, Jewish or Muslim?" He looked at me expectantly, implying the next answer was kind of crucial.
That was something I'd never thought about. I'd dated a Jewish girl once, but since she wasn't any more religious than I was, and we weren't really serious, it hadn't been a problem. I decided to go with the truth on that one.
"Huh, that's something that never occurred to me. I don't have a problem with people who have a different faith, as long as the cultural background is similar."
Again, he took some notes. "Now, what if your wife would ask you to go to church with her?"
Dammit, this is more difficult than I thought.
"I think, if it's really important to her, I'll go." That was my first outright lie today. I probably wouldn't.
"What about children, Edward? Would you have your children baptized?"
I knew there probably was no right answer as well as there was no wrong one, but I needed to stay consistent.
"If it were for me, I wouldn't, but if my wife feels the need to, I won't get in the way."
After a few more questions about my parents and a rendition of a typical Christmas at Casa Masen, Peter Nichols shook my hand, a smile on his face, and we parted ways.
Only one more, then I had to pray for my hair to remain.
The last hurdle was Dr. Esme Platt. She'd seemed nice enough during that informational meeting, but she totally shocked me when she called and told me we weren't supposed to meet at her office or whatever; that she'd visit me at home to see my natural habitat.
Although it was in Emmett's best interest to make me look as bad and ineligible as possible, he helped me in my herculean task of cleaning up our apartment, nonetheless. I pleaded with him, telling him even if I didn't get cast, that wouldn't mean parts of the interview wouldn't be aired anyway. He knew Rosalie would kill him if it looked like he was living in a pig sty for all the world to see, so he reluctantly started to pick up around the living room.
I was just done mopping the kitchen floor when Dr. Platt knocked on the door. The camera crew following her into our living room was a little unfamiliar and strange, and left me with an unsettled feeling, but I guessed I had to endure it. After all, if I was indeed willing to follow through with their show, I'd have a lens in my face for weeks, and I couldn't let anyone suspect that was the last thing I wanted.
I greeted the sociologist, who immediately asked me to call her "Esme," and led her over to the couch. Emmett, the coward, was hiding out in his bedroom as I entertained my guest.
"This is nice," Esme stated as she took a seat. "It has a clear masculine touch, but everything is very well kept. You're living here with a roommate, right?"
I poured her a glass of water from the bottle I'd placed on the table earlier. "Yeah, I live with my friend, Emmett. We bunked together in college and rented this place after graduation. He's working in graphic design."
Esme nodded a few times, then took out a folder which probably held my questionnaire or her notes on it.
"I need to get an idea of your background. So, tell me a bit about your parents and how you grew up." With an encouraging smile, she waited for me to talk about my family.
"Well, my mom's a piano teacher, and my dad works as a judicial officer for Family Court in Newark, New Jersey. They were high school sweethearts and got married between freshman and sophomore year of college. They both graduated and had me right after. They wanted more children but my mom couldn't have any more after me. They're still madly in love and keep pestering me about when I'll finally get married, settle down and give them grandchildren." After the exhausting interview with Nichols, it was refreshing to actually be able to tell the truth.
"So you grew up in an intact, loving, middle-class home."
"That about sums it up, yes."
We talked a bit more about my early years before she moved on to the present.
"I see a vast amount of multimedia equipment in this room. Are you a computer gamer, Edward?" she asked with obvious amusement.
Scratching the back of my neck, I contemplated an answer. "My friends and I play a lot, yes."
"What else do you do for fun?"
"I, um, I go to a gym once or twice a week, and I like to just hang out with my friends. Quiet stuff, mostly." So much for the truth, but now comes the lie. "But lately, it really feels like something's missing. You know, I see my friends with their girlfriends and feel lonely in a crowd of people."
Esme threw me a look full of sympathy, and I knew I had her right where I wanted her.
After a few more questions about my job and financial situation, I showed her around the apartment. She lingered in my room for a bit longer than I might have liked before she finally said goodbye and left me to the gnawing curse of having to wait for their decision.
Would I win a car or lose my hair? Only time could tell.
A/N: So, what do you think? I get if you don't like this Edward much — for now — but I promise he's not all bad. Next chapter, you'll learn about his preparations for the wedding. Here's a little teaser:
… "Mom, Dad, there's something I need to tell you." I looked up from my soup to find them both looking at me with different expressions. While my mother seemed to be excited for some reason, my father was rather apprehensive. I took a deep breath and started to break the news to them.
"Well, I wanted to let you know that I'm getting married — in two weeks." …
Will the Masens be happy? Shocked? Tell me what you think, here or on Facebook in my group Payton79's Fanfiction.
Now, I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. CU in two weeks.