The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 18

The morning sun shone through my window and I rolled over, rubbing my eyes. I stared at the ceiling, thinking about the night before, what Hayden and his mom had said about being better. I wondered what a better person consisted of. Where I was supposed to start.

My mom knocked on my door then poked her head into my room. “Good morning. Your friends are here.”

“My friends?” My phone said it wasn’t even ten a.m.

“Should I tell them to come up?”

“Sure.”

She closed my door and I rushed over to the mirror above my dresser to see how out of control my hair was. It was bad. I had just enough time to run a brush through it before my door opened and Claire, Laney, and Jules burst through, a combination of laughter and perfume.

“Hi.” I put a smile on and plopped back on my bed where Claire had sat. “What’s going on?” I wondered why they were all together without me. Had I forgotten something we planned?

Claire, who seemed to read my mind, said, “Jules kidnapped Laney and me this morning and then we came over to say hi.”

“Oh.” I looked at Jules, wondering if that was part of the original plan or if she was hoping to leave me out and then casually mention at school on Monday that they had hung out together.

Jules didn’t give away her hand. She just put on a pleasant smile. “I heard you went on a blind date last night? That’s crazy. I would never go on a blind date.”

“Yeah. Remember, I told you I was going on one when I invited you to come over and help me get ready.”

“You never called me. Maybe you thought you did because you called Claire and Laney. You probably just forgot.” She smiled sweetly. “It’s okay, it’s not a big deal.”

“Jules. I called you.”

Claire looked between the two of us. “Maybe you did forget, Gia.”

“You think I’m lying?”

“No, I already assured Jules that you would never lie to us. That’s why there must be a different explanation.”

I closed my eyes. Right. I’d never lie to them. How could I get upset and accuse Jules of lying to them right now when I was doing the same thing? I swallowed my pride, willing to let this one go, at least until I came clean myself and moved on. “Well, I know I told you, so maybe you just forgot.”

She shrugged. “Maybe. So was your blind date fun?”

“Yes, it was.”

“What did you do?”

Her questions always made her sound like the lead investigator at a crime scene.

“We went to a graduation party for one of his friends.”

“So is he weird?”

“No, he’s not.”

“If his sister has to find dates for him, he must be at least a little weird. I just want to know what favor you owed her to make you agree to dating her brother.”

“Yeah, seriously,” Claire said. “I’m curious too.”

“I just haven’t been very nice to her or her friends.” Which was true.

“That’s good that you could help her out, then,” Laney said.

“Yes, it is.”

My laptop sat closed on my desk and Jules pointed at it. “Can I use it for a sec?”

“Sure.” When she sat down and powered it on, I went to my closet and pulled out clothes.

“Is your brother still in town?” Claire asked.

I narrowed my eyes at her but it was hard to portray anger when I was smiling.

She laughed. “What? Drew and I have a connection.”

This time I laughed. “No, he left.”

She made an overly dramatic sad face.

“So is this where the kidnapping adventure was meant to end? Or are we going somewhere?”

Laney bit her lip. “Well . . . we’re going somewhere, but we knew you probably wouldn’t want to come so we just wanted to say hi before we went.”

“Where are you going?”

“Matt texted me about ten minutes ago and asked if we all wanted to surf today. I guess his uncle is in town and is this world champion surfer or something and wanted to know if any of his friends wanted some free lessons.”

Claire nodded. “We thought we’d make it a group date. So I called Tyler and Jules called Garrett.”

I looked at Jules, who was still on the computer. “That sounds fun.”

Her eyes swung to mine and she tilted her head.

“It does?” Claire asked. “So you’ll come?”

“Why not? I should at least try it before I decide I hate it, right?”

Claire smacked my arm. “That’s what I’ve been saying forever.”

“It’s about time I listened.”

“You should ask your blind date from last night to come with us!”

It would actually be really fun to call Hayden and ask him to go on a group date with my friends and me. I liked hanging out with him. And he’d probably think surfing with some professional was the coolest date ever. But there was a huge problem with this. There were actually probably a lot more problems than just one, but I didn’t want to think about how Hayden and I were only acting and he would probably say no to a real date anyway. The main problem was that my friends couldn’t see Hayden again, ever. He was Bradley to them.

“It’s too soon to ask him out again. But I’d love to come if I wouldn’t be some sort of third . . . or seventh wheel.”

“Of course you wouldn’t be a seventh wheel.”

I did feel a little like the odd-numbered wheel, but I could see how Claire might find surfing peaceful—the gentle rocking of the waves as we waited for one to ride, the power of the ocean as it pushed us along. And Matt’s uncle was really cool. Without him, I was sure I wouldn’t have been able to catch a wave at all on my first time out.

And I’d caught quite a few. But now the others were riding while Claire and I lay on our boards, side by side, hands linked so we wouldn’t float away from each other.

“You seem quiet. You okay?”

“I’m good.”

“Are you having fun?” she asked.

“Yes, I am actually.”

“Don’t sound so surprised.”

I laughed. “Well, I’m not used to being the worst at something, so that’s my only complaint. Well, that and my completely valid original points: the cold water, salt in my hair, and—”

“Sand everywhere. I know.” She smiled over at me.

“I’m impressed, Claire. You’re really good. And you taught Jules, right?”

She nodded.

“You did a good job. She’s good too.”

She squeezed my hand. “Should we catch another?”

Just as she asked, Jules paddled up. “Did you see me ride that one? My longest yet.”

I sat up on my board and Claire followed. “We missed it.” My gaze found Tyler, who was riding a wave now. “Did you see that trick he just did? Way to find a surfer boy, Claire.”

“I didn’t even know he surfed until after prom.”

“And he’s Claire’s date, Gia,” Jules said.

“Um . . . I know.”

“It’s just you’ve been flirting with him all day. I thought I should remind you.”

“What?”

“Jules,” Claire said. “Stop. It’s nothing.”

I turned my stare to her now because “it’s nothing” wasn’t even close to “she is not.” “I haven’t been trying to, Claire, I promise.”

“I know, Gia. You’re just friendly. Seriously, it’s nothing.”

Jules gave me a look like, It’s something, and I wondered if this was something they had talked about before. Me flirting with their guys. I had never flirted, on purpose, with their guys.

“Let’s surf,” Claire said. “This one’s mine.” And just like that, she dropped in and caught the wave, leaving Jules and me alone.

“Why’d you do that?” I asked.

“Do what?”

“You know what. Why are you lying about me not inviting you places and now accusing me of flirting with other people’s dates?”

“It’s time to stop playing innocent and own up to the things you do. You already flirted with Logan when you knew she liked him. Leave Tyler alone.”

“I did not flirt with—”

She glanced over her shoulder and caught the next wave.

I was trying not to hate her but she was making it really hard.

As we finished up for the day, paddled into shore on our boards, and said good-bye to Matt’s uncle, I saw Bec on the beach with her friends. I cringed. It was the closest beach to where we lived so it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see people I knew. I quickly scanned the area to make sure Hayden wasn’t with her. He wasn’t. That made me relax a little, but I still feared my friends would recognize Bec from prom. I was already on their bad side today with the supposed flirting. I didn’t need to add to it.

“Freak alert,” Jules said, walking up behind me.

I tried to steer our group in a large arc around Bec and her friends, but the quickest path to our stuff was the one that led right next to them. My attempts to go to the right only resulted in them all outpacing me by staying the course. When I caught up again, I noticed that Garrett, who was carrying both his and Jules’s surfboards, had slowed to almost a stop.

“I didn’t know they let you all out in the sun,” he said. Jules laughed.

Bec met my eyes but then looked back at Garrett. “I didn’t know you knew how to speak.” I wished she wouldn’t egg him on. It only made it worse.

Jules took a step forward, like she was going to walk away, but her foot dragged in the sand and kicked a spray of dirt over the group. They all jumped to their feet, Bec brushing at her face. “Hey!”

“Oops, sorry,” Jules said, her tone proving she wasn’t.

“Come on, guys,” I said. “Leave them alone.”

“Yes, listen to your leader,” a girl behind Bec said, dripping with sarcasm.

This comment was the wrong one to make. Pointing out my supposed status only made Jules more cruel. She draped her arm around my neck. “Since it’s obvious you all have never been to the beach before, our leader would like to share a few rules with you, starting with appropriate beach attire. Right, Gia?”

“No. I wouldn’t.” I ducked out from under her arm. “You guys can do what you want.”

Bec smirked at me. “We didn’t realize you owned the beach, but thank you for giving us permission to do what we want.”

Jules stared at Bec hard, and just when I thought she was going to throw back another mean comment, she said, “You look familiar.”

My heart stopped when Bec’s piercing stare met mine again. She was going to tell. I could see it in the way her dark-colored lips lifted into a smirk. “I go to your school” was all she said.

I took a relieved breath, grabbed Jules by the arm, my rented surfboard still in my other hand, and dragged both the girl and the board away. The others followed. When we’d walked ten steps that way, Jules yanked her arm free.

“Since when do you show charity to the freaks?” Jules asked.

“They weren’t doing anything to us. You didn’t have to be so mean.”

“I wasn’t being mean until they told Garrett they thought he didn’t know how to speak.”

“Garrett started it.”

“He was just making a joke.”

Why was everyone looking at me like they agreed with Jules? “Whatever. I thought we were going to change and go out.”

Claire hooked her arm in mine. “We are. Let’s go.”

I had just broken up a fight between my group of friends and Bec’s group before it got too heated. This kind of felt like being a better person. Too bad my friends weren’t on board with my efforts.

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