The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 15

“Oh,” I heard Eve gasp. “Sorry.”

We sat up as if caught.

Hayden ran a hand through his hair, brushing off the sand and completely messing up my styling job. “Hi, Eve. Did you need something?”

“No. I mean, yes, um, Spencer is looking for you.”

Hayden’s eyes lit up. “Spencer is here?”

“He just got here. I told him you were coming.”

Hayden jumped to his feet then reached down to help me. He pulled me up so hard that I almost ended up on the ground again. Then he took off, looking back once to make sure I was following. I was trying to, but he was moving fast.

“They have a total bromance,” Eve said, and I realized she was keeping pace with me. “Well, I’m sure you already know that.”

“I haven’t met him.”

“No? They’re practically the same person. Although Spencer is a little over-the-top to Hayden’s go-with-the-flow routine.”

I watched Hayden throw his arms around a guy and they patted each other’s backs several times before separating. I could hear their laughter from where I had slowed to a crawl about thirty feet away.

“He’d want you to meet him,” Eve said, giving me a little push.

“Oh. Right.” I really didn’t want Hayden to have to extend this lie to people he actually cared about, but with Eve standing right there I felt like I had to. I walked forward until I stood next to Hayden. For the first time I had a clear view of Spencer’s face—dark eyes, almost black in this lighting—and I nearly took a step back. I knew him. Well, not really. He went on a date with Laney once two years ago and I had doubled. The only reason I remembered him was because he’d been a total jerk, mean to her the whole date then trying to make out with her when it was over.

Hayden was in the middle of telling Spencer a story about some scene he had to do for drama. “. . . so I asked the teacher, ‘Can this be a monologue?’”

Spencer laughed. “What did the girl say?”

“She thought I was kidding.”

“And let me guess, you went along with that?”

“What else was I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know . . . maybe stop worrying about someone else’s feelings for once and worry about your grade.”

Hayden shrugged. “Whatever. It turned out fine.”

Spencer’s eyes drifted to me and I waited for him to recognize me as well but he didn’t. He just seemed to be wondering why this strange girl was interrupting their conversation. It had been two years and he hadn’t even been my date. It was understandable that he wouldn’t recognize me.

Hayden’s happy eyes met mine and they seemed to snap back to reality. “Oh, Gia. Hi.”

“Do you know this gorgeous girl?” Spencer asked.

“I do. She came with me.”

“You lucky dog. How does an average-looking guy like yourself attract a girl way out of your league?”

“I think it must be my killer charm.”

Spencer turned to me. “Would you agree with that assessment?”

“He is rather charming.”

“Hmm. I thought I had that in droves.”

Eve, who had joined us as well, gave a small laugh. “There’s a difference between charming and obnoxious, Spencer.”

“I’m sure you know that difference well,” Spencer said.

Eve raised one eyebrow. I waited for her comeback to him but both she and Spencer laughed. He rushed forward and threw her over his shoulder. “I’ll be back. I’m just going to drop this girl in the ocean as part of her graduation present.” He headed off like he was going to do that very thing.

“You better not,” she said, pounding his back. “Save me, Hayden.”

Hayden just shrugged with a big smile on his face.

“Ryan!” Eve screamed.

Both Hayden and I watched as Spencer trudged toward the ocean. Before he made it, Ryan joined them and they had a fake wrestling match in the sand. Hayden let out a sigh. He seemed so happy for the first time tonight. I didn’t need to tell him that Spencer had been a jerk to my friend two years ago. Spencer obviously didn’t remember and he had probably changed a lot since then. He seemed different, nicer.

“Your friends are fun,” I said.

“Yes, we had a lot of fun together.”

“You miss it.”

“I miss how it was before. Everything is different now and it’s pointless trying to make it the same.”

I hoped he meant that he had given up trying to win Eve back. Neither she nor Ryan deserved him in their lives.

Hayden was sitting at a table catching up with Spencer when I came back from the bathroom. I approached him from behind and draped my arms over his shoulders, pressing my cheek against his. Take that, Eve, I thought as she walked past us with Ryan. The night had cooled considerably and Hayden’s cheek was warm. I felt him smile then he laced his fingers with mine.

“You two are sickeningly cute, aren’t you?” Spencer said.

Hayden tensed and shifted in his chair. His fingers slipped from mine and he folded his arms over his chest. Oh no. He felt guilty. He wanted to tell his friend this was a lie. I could sense it because I knew the feeling. It had been one thing for me to lie to Jules—I felt like she’d deserved it—it was a completely different story to lie to Claire and Laney.

“Please don’t,” I whispered in his ear. He couldn’t tell him tonight when he had no idea how Spencer would react to this news. For all we knew, he’d run off and tell Eve and then this night would’ve been pointless. “You can break up with me tomorrow and let him know.”

Hayden offered a stiff nod. I pressed a kiss to the skin right beneath his ear. He smelled so good I wanted to linger there, take advantage of the last few moments of physical contact we’d have. I felt him shiver so I pulled away.

“You ready to go?” he asked.

“Stay and talk for another minute. I’ll go grab your shoes.”

He looked down at his still-bare feet. “Oh, right. I left them by the rocks. Thanks.”

It was getting late. It was darker this time and the path to the rocks a little less clear. I made it around the bend to see two people making out.

“Oh! I’m sorry.”

Eve and Ryan straightened up and faced me, Eve flattening her hair.

“Sorry,” I said again. “I just needed to get Hayden’s shoes. There they are.”

I scooped them up.

“Are you leaving?” Eve asked.

“Yes.”

“Thanks for coming,” Ryan said as I tried to scurry away. “It’s good to see Hayden happy again.”

It’s all an act, you jerk, I wanted to say. You are the worst friend ever and don’t use his happiness to ease your guilt. Of course I didn’t.

“Yeah, sure. See you around.”

Hayden was up and heading my way when I emerged from the rocks. “Thanks,” he said, pointing to the shoes, when I met up with him. I was so glad I was the one who had found Eve and Ryan behind that rock just then and not him. He didn’t need to see it rubbed in his face any more than he already had tonight.

He wrapped me up in a hug and buried his face into my hair. “Thanks for tonight.”

I closed my eyes. “Of course. It was fun.” And I was surprised to realize that I really meant that. Hayden was easy to be around.

He tightened one arm around my waist and his other hand moved up and down my back. Maybe he wanted to take advantage of the last few moments of physical contact we’d have, as well. “I had fun too. Let’s get you home.” He let me go and took my hand.

I glanced over my shoulder and sure enough, Eve was standing next to the rocks, staring at us. I should’ve known his reason for physical contact.

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