I was a ball of nerves. What was I supposed to wear to a graduation party where I was playing the fake girlfriend? I called Claire and Laney over to help me pick out an outfit, trying to keep the same pre-date routine I always had.
Carrying a Coke Freeze, Claire walked into my room and sat down in my desk chair. Laney took the bed next to the clothes I’d laid out. “Are these the top choices so far?”
“Yes.” I grabbed the first outfit, a pair of shorts and a flowy blouse, and went to my closet to change.
“Where’s Jules?” Claire asked.
“She said she couldn’t come.” I’d told Claire I’d try, and even though I hadn’t really wanted her to come over, I’d called and invited Jules.
“I talked to her on the way over.”
“Oh, good. Did she change her mind?”
“She said you didn’t invite her.”
I came out of the closet half dressed. “She said what? I called her and told her to come. How is that not inviting her?”
Claire sighed as if she didn’t know who to believe. “You guys need to get used to each other or you’ll never survive next year.”
I started to continue arguing about inviting her but then stopped. “Wait, what?”
“Next year . . . college.”
“She . . .” I didn’t even want to finish that sentence.
“Yes, she got into UCLA. She didn’t tell you?”
She was too busy sabotaging me. “No, she didn’t.” I slunk back into the closet to put my shirt on. This was not good news. It made my insides burn. I tried to push that feeling away and walked back out, holding my hands to the sides. “Yes?”
“No,” Laney said. “Too casual.” She threw me the yellow sundress.
Claire said, “She said she was going to tell you.”
“This is the first I’m hearing of it. But that’s great,” I said from in the closet because I wasn’t sure if my face would support my words. “It should be fun.” I really did have to fix something, because there was no way I wanted to continue this drama in college. “Now I really wish you were coming too, Laney.”
“I know. Don’t remind me. Community college is sounding worse and worse every day.”
“It’s not too late to join us,” Claire said.
“Actually I’m about four years’ worth of good grades and thousands of dollars too late for UCLA.”
“Who needs money and good grades when you have community college?” Claire said.
“Exactly what I’ve been saying for the last four years,” Laney said. I could hear the embarrassment in her voice and I felt bad that school had been a struggle for her.
I pulled the dress over my head, straightened it, then joined them in my room. “You’ll have fun, Laney. And we’re only three hours away. We’ll see each other all the time.”
She folded the outfit I had already tried on and smoothed the shirt over and over. “You hardly saw Bradley at all and he was your boyfriend.”
“Exactly. He was just my boyfriend. You’ve been my best friend for five years. It will be way different.”
Claire joined Laney on the bed and wrapped her up in a hug. “Who needs a Laney sandwich?”
I rushed over to hug her from the other side.
“It’s fine, guys. Don’t feel sorry for me.”
“We don’t feel sorry for you. We just needed a hug.” I squeezed her tighter.
She laughed. “I’m going to miss you.”
I gave her one last squeeze then stood up.
“I think that’s the outfit,” Laney said.
I let her change the subject, sensing she needed to. “You think? Does it say backyard barbecue?” I did a turn. “It even has pockets for my cell phone.”
“I’m so confused. Who is this new guy? I can’t get over the fact that you haven’t told us anything about him.” Claire reached for her drink still sitting on the desk and nearly fell off the bed.
Laney grabbed her leg, preventing the fall. “Yes, don’t we get to know?”
“It’s a blind date. I don’t know anything about him.”
“Who is setting you up on a blind date and since when have you ever agreed to go out with someone sight unseen?”
I flinched. I’d never been set up on a blind date before, but I assumed I would’ve said yes if I trusted the person setting me up. “This girl in my government class. She’s a junior. It’s her older brother.”
“What? Some girl from your class set you up with her brother and you said yes?”
“I kind of owe her a favor.”
“I haven’t been very nice to her and her friends.”
“Oh, I get it. This is like a charity date? Are you going to be safe?”
“No. I mean, yes, of course I’ll be safe. And no, her brother is not in need of charity.” I turned and looked at myself in the full-length mirror. “So yes? No?”
“Yes, it’s perfect. Wear your hair down and wavy and pair it with your wedge sandals. Unless he’s short. Is he short?”
“No, he’s not short.” He was actually a really good height for me. “So, are you guys going to Logan’s party tonight?”
Claire, who had been stirring her straw around her cup, looked up. “Logan’s having a party tonight?”
“We hadn’t heard about it,” Laney said.
“Oh, sorry. I should’ve told you. I thought he was just inviting everyone. You should go.”
“We weren’t invited.”
“He probably figured I’d tell you. Sorry.”
Claire and Laney met eyes for a brief second and then Claire went back to her drink. “Yeah, that sounds like fun. Maybe we should go, Laney. Let’s invite Jules too.”
I couldn’t tell if they were mad at me for not telling them or what. I felt bad. I’d just figured he was telling everyone. “I’ll try to join you all after my date.”
My mom was trying to be polite; I could tell by the smile on her face. The problem was it was the most forced smile ever and there was no way Bec couldn’t tell.
“Where are you going again?” my mom asked, looking mostly at me but her eyes kept darting to Bec, this time lingering on the row of earrings that lined her left ear.
“Just to my house. We have Government together and Gia said she would help me study. Here’s the address.” Bec slid a piece of paper across the counter to my mom. “And my parents’ phone number is on there too if you need to talk to them.” She smiled and my mom’s smile became a little less forced.
But to me my mom said, “Your brother is in town. I wanted us to go out to dinner tonight as a family.”
Just as she said this, Drew walked through the kitchen holding his car keys. “I’m going out with some friends, Mom. Can we do dinner next time I’m in town?”
“What?” my mom asked.
Drew stopped in the middle of the kitchen when he saw Bec, a look of curiosity taking over his expression. He took in both her outfit then mine and didn’t need to say anything out loud for me to know he was wondering who Bec was and why she was here.
“This is Gia’s friend,” my mom said. “Bec, right?”
“You two are friends?” His tone conveyed his disbelief.
Bec let out a single laugh. “Not so much friends as study partners.”
This explanation didn’t change Drew’s expression. He looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time. “Huh,” he grunted, then finished walking through the kitchen. “We good, Mom?” He flashed her the smile I remembered always got him out of the trouble he’d caused when he lived here.
She shooed him away with a smile of her own.
I pointed toward the front door. “See, he’s not even staying. So I can go, right?”
“How come you’re so dressed up for a study session?” Mom asked, looking me up and down.
The excuse came easy. “Because she has a cute brother.”
My mom rolled her eyes as if she now understood the whole reason I was hanging out with this strange creature standing in her kitchen. “Okay, keep your cell phone on, Gia.”
“Of course.” I kissed her cheek and Bec and I left my house silently.
When we got outside, I said, “Why the need for an elaborate story? I thought your brother would pick me up.”
“It’s just I didn’t prepare my mom for . . .”
“Well, parents love the ‘she’s helping me study’ thing. It makes them think their kid is smart. But for the record, my grade in Government is two percentage points higher than yours. So if you need help studying . . .”
“Is she going to be pissed that you went out when she was planning on going to dinner as a family?”
“I don’t think she’d been planning on it necessarily.” I mostly thought she was using that as an excuse not to let me go with Bec.
“So she always looks like that?”
“Like what?” I glanced over my shoulder expecting to see her standing on the porch, but it was empty.
Bec unlocked the car doors and we climbed in. “Perfectly put-together.”
I thought about my mom, her hair always styled, her makeup always done. I’d rarely seen her any other way. “Yeah . . . I guess so.”
As Bec backed out of the driveway my mother appeared on the porch. I smiled and waved. “So when my mom calls your parents, because she most likely will, they’re going to be okay?”
“I gave her my phone number.”
“Oh. Right.” Other kids probably tricked their parents like that all the time but I’d never had to. “So wait, if you can drive, why did your brother have to drop you off at prom?”
“Because supposedly he needed the car that night, which was another reason I was so angry to see him at prom with you.”
“What was he supposed to be doing?”
“I have no idea.” She pulled away from my house. It was the moment of truth. I was about to see fill-in Bradley again.