The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 14

“So, what’s the story? Who’s Ryan?” I nodded back toward the table where he and Eve still sat, her head on his shoulder.

“He’s my best friend . . . well, was my best friend since the fifth grade.” A line formed between his eyes with this admission.

“Ouch. I’m sorry.”

“It happens.”

“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck when it does.”

“We exchanged a few black eyes. We’re good now.”

“Really? You’re still friends?”

“No, not at all, but I don’t want to beat him senseless every time I see him now, so that’s a step forward, I think.”

His still-tense jaw made me wonder if that statement was true at all, but I didn’t mention this. “I’d say that’s a very good step.”

He squeezed my hips and then put his forehead to my shoulder. I couldn’t help but notice I was a great height for him to do that. He wouldn’t have been able to do that comfortably with Eve.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I told you that we’d come as friends and then I pull this. I guess I just thought . . .”

“That she’d beg for forgiveness tonight?”

“Yes. Is that wrong? I just wanted a little justice. Some karma or something. Instead, I’m playing a stupid game. I don’t do this. I don’t play head games with people.”

I twirled the hair at the nape of his neck, hoping that Eve was watching because his story had made me feel completely justified in playing head games. “Maybe just this once you can give yourself permission to give her a taste of her own medicine. And it’s not like I’m unaware of what you’re doing. You’re not preying on some random, unsuspecting girl to make your ex jealous. I’m fully aware and wholeheartedly in support of making this girl feel at least one small twinge of regret tonight.”

“And then tomorrow we’ll both be better than this, right?”

I laughed. “Absolutely.”

He wrapped his arms around my waist and picked me up, spinning me around once. “You’re the best.” He put me down and offered me his smoldering stare that he had unveiled at prom. “So, are you ready for this?”

I laughed, not really sure that I was, if he was going to pull out all the stops like that. “Yes.”

He took me by the hand and led me in the opposite direction of Eve, toward the beach.

“We’re going the wrong way,” I said.

“No, this will drive her nuts, seeing us sneak away from the party.”

“Oh, right.”

“There’s a place over here that’s a little more private. Hopefully it’s not taken.” He maneuvered us around some large rocks and then glanced over his shoulder, probably to see if Eve had noticed.

He was right, this was very private. A semicircle of rocks blocked us from the view of the party but gave us the perfect view of the ocean. He’d probably spent a lot of time here with Eve. He plopped down in the smooth sand and pulled on my hand for me to join him. I did. We sat shoulder to shoulder facing the ocean.

“So, you didn’t tell me your sister dressed like . . .”

“A drug dealer?”

“That’s not what I was going to say. But that’s why I didn’t recognize her at prom. She looked so different from the way she does at school.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s just a phase she’s going through. She’ll be on a new kick in a couple of months.”

“What? Why?”

“I’m not sure. I think it might be her way of not letting anyone get too close. She likes to keep the world at an arm’s length.”

“Has she been burned before too?”

He tilted his head in thought. “No, actually. Maybe she learns well from those around her.”

“But you two seem close.”

“We are. We have a close family, but maybe that’s been a disservice to her because she thinks no one could possibly love the real her as much as we do.” He picked up a handful of sand and let it slowly trickle between his fingers. “What about you? Are you close with your family?”

“Yes,” I said right away, but then I paused, Drew’s words about how my parents hadn’t really been there for me after I broke up with Bradley coming into my mind. I shook my head to get rid of the thought and then nodded. “Yes.”

Hayden raised his eyebrows. “You sure about that?”

“I’m close with my parents, but my brother—I don’t know—he’s always trying to stir up trouble. He went away to college, though, so it’s generally pretty quiet at home.” I thought about how Drew had come home this weekend and offered to help me find out if Bradley was cheating. “But I think he has good intentions. He wants to be a good brother. He just doesn’t do it in the best ways sometimes.”

“That’s good. If he’s trying, then he cares.”

“You think so?” Maybe I wasn’t ready to give up on a relationship with my brother after all. Hearing that he might care more than I thought made me happy.

“Yes, I do.” He leaned back on his hands and stared out at the ocean and I watched as several waves crashed on the shore. “I feel like I’m being selfish tonight. I really should get you home.”

“It’s only, like, eight o’clock.”

He lifted one side of his mouth in a half smile. “And shouldn’t the little high school student be going to bed soon?”

I laughed. “First of all, there is no school tomorrow. Second, you’re in high school too and we graduate in four weeks. Speaking of, why is your girlfriend throwing such an early graduation party?”

“I’m sure everyone is planning their parties for the end of the month and she wanted to be the first and the best. Plus she’s probably going somewhere foreign and exotic the second she graduates.”

“Right.”

“And she’s not my girlfriend.” He leaned forward and took off his shoes. “They’re full of sand,” he explained as he dumped them and set them off to the side.

A print of his hand from where he had been leaning was stamped on the sand between us. I traced a line around it then placed my hand inside of it.

“You have long fingers,” he noted, seeing that my fingertips almost reached the top of the print.

“I do. But the bottom part of your palm is missing from this imprint.”

“I don’t think so.” He held up his hand and nodded for mine.

I pressed my hand against his, aligning our palms. The top of my fingers barely reached his first joint.

“I guess you’re right,” he said. Our hands stayed pressed together for several breaths. “You have sand on your hand.” He took me by the wrist and began gently wiping it off.

My phone rang, making me jump. I left it in my pocket.

He let go of my hand. “Don’t you want to check that?”

“Not really.”

“What if it’s your parents?”

I pulled out my phone to see Bradley’s name flashing on the screen. Hayden and I stared at it until it stopped ringing.

“Still determining?” he asked after a moment of silence.

I shrugged.

He moved his fingers, gesturing for me to hand him my phone.

“You’re not calling him, right?” I gave him my phone.

“Of course not.” He opened my text messaging, entered a number and sent off a text. Then he handed me back the phone. I read the message.

I decided that Bradley is no good for me. I don’t ever need to talk to him again. He did dump me at prom, after all, and left me alone in the parking lot to find my own way home. Plus he’s way too old for me.

“Who did you send this to?”

Right as I asked, his phone chimed. He pulled it out, looked at the screen, then typed in something, and tucked it back into his pocket. He nodded his head toward my phone just as it chimed.

You are so smart. I completely agree. I’m glad you made the right determination. ~H (aka FIB)

I laughed. “You think so, huh?”

“Having been Bradley for a night, I can honestly say that he is no good for you. I mean, you caught him cheating with that other girl, remember?”

I pushed his shoulder. “I think that might have been his sister.”

“Yuck. Even worse.”

I smiled. “Well, if you’re going to determine things for me, then I get to determine things for you.”

“Okay, that’s fair. What’s the verdict?”

“You know what I’m going to say.”

He didn’t deny it.

“You deserve so much better. She really cheated on you with your best friend. You need to let them both go . . . forever.”

As if she sensed we were talking about her, I heard her voice calling out. “Hayden? Are you back here?” And without a second thought, I launched myself at him. I had just meant to jump into his lap, but my momentum sent him onto his back, me landing on top of him.

“Um . . . hi,” he said, looking up at me.

“Hi.” His eyes were amazing up close—crystal blue.

Eve’s voice was louder now, just around the rock, less than three seconds from discovering us.

He reached up and took my face in his hands. He pulled me toward him, the desire in his eyes spelling out his intentions.

“Don’t do it unless you mean it,” I whispered, inches from his lips. I had meant it as a joke but it came out breathy and serious.

He immediately paused, his eyes changing from desire to worry. He turned my head and kissed my cheek instead. I was both disappointed and relieved all at once. I reminded myself what we were really doing. If this didn’t make Eve jealous, nothing would.

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