The Fill-in Boyfriend

the-fill-in-boyfriend-by-Kasie-West

Chapter 1

In some part of my brain, probably the logical part that seemed to be missing at the moment, I knew I should let go and walk away, maintain some of my dignity. Instead, I gripped his waist more securely by wrapping my arms around him and pressed my cheek against his chest. Logic was definitely not ruling my brain right now. Desperation was. And even though I knew desperation wasn’t attractive, I couldn’t help myself.

He sighed, releasing some air, which allowed me to tighten my hold even more. Isn’t that how boa constrictors kill their prey? Not even this thought made me let go.

“Gia, I’m sorry.”

“Then don’t do this. And if you have to, can’t it wait two hours?”

“The fact that you said that makes me know it can’t. You only care about your friends seeing me.”

“That’s not true.” Okay, so it was kinda true. But only because of Jules. She’d infiltrated our group a year ago and ever so slowly tried to turn my best friends against me. Her latest claim was that I’d been lying about having a boyfriend for the last two months. So yes, I wanted my friends to see that I had not been lying. That it was she who was trying to divide our group in half. She who was at least one quarter evil. Not me.

That wasn’t the only reason I’d wanted Bradley to come tonight. I had really liked him before he decided to break up with me in the parking lot at prom. But now that he’d pulled out the jerk card, I just needed him to walk inside, prove that he existed, maybe punch Jules in the gut for me, and then walk out. Was that too much to ask? Plus, hello, this was my senior prom. He was really going to make me walk alone into my senior prom, where I would possibly be crowned royalty tonight?

“That’s not all I care about. . . .” My voice cracked even though I was trying not to show weakness. Well, aside from the whole clinging-to-him-like-a-static-filled-sock thing.

“It’s all you care about and you confirmed it tonight when you saw me and the first thing you said was ‘My friends are going to die.’ Really, Gia? That’s the first thing you say when you see me after two weeks?”

My mind raced back. Was that really what I had said or was he making things up now to try to make himself feel better? He did look really good. And yes, I did want my friends to see just how good he looked. Could he blame me for that?

“And the whole way over here you were trying to plan how we were going to walk in. You told me exactly how to look at you.”

“So I’m slightly controlling. You knew that about me.”

“Slightly?”

A car pulled into the empty space across from where I was squeezing the life out of my boyfriend . . . my ex-boyfriend. A couple climbed out of the backseat. I didn’t recognize either of them.

“Gia.” Bradley pried my hands apart and stepped back. “I have to go. It’s a long drive home.”

He did at least look sincerely sorry.

I crossed my arms, finally finding a little dignity far too late. “Fine. Go.”

“You should go inside anyway. You look amazing.”

“Can you just cuss me out and walk away or something? I don’t need to think you’re sweet after all this.” He was sweet and the thought that my desperation to keep him here was about more than just my friends was battling to take over my emotions. I pushed it back. I did not want him to know he’d really hurt me.

He smiled his playful smile then raised his voice. “I never want to talk to you again. You’re a shallow, self-centered snob and you deserve to walk in there alone!”

Why did that sound so convincing? I kept up our little charade. “I hate you, jerk!”

He blew me a kiss and I smiled. I watched him until he got in the car and left. My smile slipped off my face as my stomach tightened. Guess he was assuming I’d find a ride home. Thank goodness all my friends were inside . . . waiting for me to show up with the guy I’d bragged about for the last two months. I growled, trying to turn my hurt into anger, and leaned up against the tailgate of a red truck. That’s when I caught the eye of a guy sitting in the driver’s seat of the car across from me. I quickly straightened up from my slumped position—not even a stranger got to see me looking weak—and he dropped his gaze.

What was some guy doing sitting in his car? He lifted a book and began to read. He was reading? Sitting in the parking lot at prom and reading? Then it hit me: the couple that had climbed out of the backseat. He was dropping someone off. A younger sister or brother, maybe.

I assessed him while he read. I couldn’t see much but he wasn’t bad to look at. Brown hair, olive skin. He could’ve even been tall—his head was higher than the headrest—but it was hard to tell. He wasn’t my type at all—hair a little too shaggy, on the thin side, glasses—but he’d have to do. I walked to his window. He was reading some geography book or something about the world in eighty days. I tapped on his window and he slowly looked up. It took him even longer to roll down the window.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hey.”

“Do you go here?” If he went to school here and I just hadn’t met him before, this wouldn’t work. Because odds were people would know him.

“What?”

“Do you go to school here?”

“No. We just moved here, but I’m finishing out the year at my old school.”

Even better. They were new to the area. “You’re here dropping off your brother?”

“Sister.”

“Perfect.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“You get to be my date.”

“Uh . . .” His mouth opened but that’s all that came out.

“Do you live close? Because you can’t go in there in jeans and a T-shirt. Especially one with a telephone booth on it.”

His eyes flickered to his shirt and then back to me. “A telephone booth? Seriously?”

“Do you at least have some dark pants and a button-down shirt? Maybe a tie? A teal tie would be awesome to match me but I’m not holding my breath about that.” I tilted my head. He really didn’t look like my type. My friends would know this. “And do you happen to own contacts and some hair product?”

“I’m just going to roll up my window now.”

“No. Please.” I put my hand on top. Had I ever had a night where I felt so desperate? “My boyfriend just broke up with me. I’m sure you saw. And I really don’t want to walk into my senior prom alone. Plus my friends didn’t think he existed. Long story, but I need you to be him. Two hours. That’s all I’m asking for. Besides, you’re just sitting here anyway waiting for your sister.” Crap. His sister. Was she going to yell his name across the gym and ruin this for me? We’d just have to avoid her. Or let her in on the secret. I hadn’t decided yet. “It will be way more fun than sitting in a parking lot.”

He was still looking at me like I was crazy. I felt crazy. “You want me to pretend to be Captain America?” He pointed toward the street.

I was confused at first but then realized that’s what he was calling Bradley, whose build was on the beefy side. “They’ve never met him, so they have no idea what he looks like. Besides you’re . . .” I gestured toward him without finishing the sentence. I tried to think of a different superhero to compare him to but nothing came to mind. I wasn’t well versed in superheroes. Were there some who were on the thinner side? Spiderman? That didn’t seem like a compliment.

He just sat there, staring at me, waiting for me to finish the sentence.

“I can pay you.”

He raised his eyebrows. “I’m sure there are services for that. Maybe you can try calling 1-800-HOOKERS or something?”

I rolled my eyes but couldn’t help the smile that came with it. “You know that number well?”

He let out a single laugh.

“Fine. If you feel weird about taking money, I’ll owe you.”

“Owe me what?”

“I don’t know. . . . If you’re ever in need of a fake date, I’ll be there for you.”

“I’m not exactly in the habit of requiring fake dates.”

“Well, fine. I’m glad you can get a real date whenever you want, but I can’t. Well, I mean, I usually can, but obviously not right now in the middle of an empty parking lot.” Was I going to have to pull out some fake tears to get me a fake date?

“Fine.”

“Fine?” I was surprised even though I’d really hoped he’d say yes.

“Yes. I live six blocks from here. I’ll go change into something more prom worthy.” He rolled up the window while muttering something about how he didn’t believe he was going along with this. Then he drove away.

I stood there for five minutes wondering if that was just his way of getting out of this whole thing. He probably texted his sister and told her just to call when she needed a ride home. And if he only lived six blocks away, why was he waiting in the parking lot anyway? Shouldn’t he have driven home and waited there?

I pulled out my phone and checked Instagram and Twitter to make sure Bradley hadn’t said anything about our breakup. There was nothing. It didn’t surprise me; Bradley wasn’t online that much. Another reason Jules thought I’d made him up. I sent off a tweet about how prom was going to rock and then tucked my phone back into my clutch that matched my dress perfectly.

Another ten minutes passed and I was sure he wasn’t coming back now. I started thinking of all the excuses I was going to give my friends when I got inside. He got sick. He had to study for finals for his college classes on Monday . . . because he’s in college.

I sighed. This was pathetic. The truth. I needed to tell the truth. He broke up with me in the parking lot. My eyes stung with tears over that thought. Bradley broke up with me in a parking lot. I’d screwed up and lost him and now I might lose more than just him. Would this be the final piece of evidence my friends needed to believe the claims Jules had made? I knew the look I’d get from Jules right away when I told the truth. It would be the yeah-right-he-doesn’t-exist look. The look she gave me every time I mentioned Bradley. It was the look that always made me tell more stories. Too bad I’d told so many that even my other friends had started to question his existence.

We’d met in a café at UCLA when we were there for a film festival my older brother was involved with. Alone in the café, Bradley had thought I was a student there. I didn’t correct him because I was actually going to be a student there next year. I’d just gotten my early acceptance that very weekend so I had been feeling quite collegiate. We’d exchanged phone numbers and texted for a while. And what started off as mere attraction became more. He told stupid jokes and knew so much about so many places from all his traveling. He was interesting. A couple of weeks later, I came clean about my age. By that time, we liked each other. The main problem was that I lived three hours from UCLA. So he’d only come up a couple of times in the two months we’d been dating and hadn’t met my friends. And now, it was over.

I threw back my shoulders and faced the gym doors. I didn’t need a date, real or otherwise. My friends liked me regardless of who I was or wasn’t with. Even as I thought it, I wished for it to be true. I couldn’t lose my boyfriend and my friends all in one night. I needed them in my life. As I started to walk, headlights cast my shadow on the asphalt in front of me. I turned as the car and lights went off.

The guy stepped out. “Were you going to go in there without me after all that begging?”