The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 2

I smiled. I couldn’t help it. He was actually wearing a suit—black, with a light gray tie. His glasses were gone and he was tall.

This was exactly what I needed. We’d be seen. He could break up with me at the end of the night. No smug looks from Jules, no pity sighs from Laney, and no just-tell-the-truth head tilts from Claire. And it would be close to the truth. My fill-in guy was just rearranging tonight’s order of events for me a little. There was no harm in that. Especially if it kept the quarter-evil Jules at bay.

“Hi,” I said, approaching his car, where he still stood by the open door as if he hadn’t completely committed to this idea yet. “You look great.” My eyes went to his hair that I could see better now that I was closer. It was a mess. A mess that he had tried to tame, it seemed.

“Sit for a sec.” I pointed to the seat of his car. He raised an eyebrow but obeyed. I fished out a small comb from my clutch and used it to style his hair. When it was off his forehead and shaped nicely I gave a satisfied nod. “You clean up well.”

He let out a sigh. “Let’s get this over with.”

He stood and offered me an elbow. I grabbed his hand instead and pulled him toward the gym.

“Whoa. Hold on there,” he said, my body jerking to a halt, which wasn’t very fun in my heels. “I need a little backstory here. You are trying to convince your friends we actually know each other, yes?”

“Oh, right. Let’s see.”

“A name would be a good start.”

I laughed. I hadn’t even told him my name. “I’m Gia Montgomery. Seventeen. Senior here at lovely Freemont High. I’m on the student council and don’t usually have to beg for dates. As in, I never have before today.”

“Noted.”

“And for the next two hours you are Bradley Harris. Junior at UCLA, which is why my parents disapprove, by the way. They think you’re way too old for me.”

“I am,” he said.

I wasn’t sure if he was talking about Bradley or himself. I thought he had implied earlier that he was in high school. “How old are you?”

“If I’m a junior that would make me at least, what? Twenty-one?”

He was talking about Bradley. I rolled my eyes. “Yes. But that’s only four years older than me.”

“Which wouldn’t be the end of the world if you weren’t still in high school. And underage.”

“I’m only in high school for five more weeks and you sound like my parents now.”

He shrugged. “They sound like good parents.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter anymore. At the end of the night you get to break up with me. In front of my friends, preferably. Try not to make a big show of it. Quickly and quietly. Then, like the real Bradley, you can walk away forever and this will be over.” A lump formed in my throat as I said that, as I pictured Bradley walking away from me as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do. I pushed the image away and offered him a smile.

“I can handle that.”

“Good. So what about your sister? Is she going to give us trouble in there? Run across the gym screaming your name?”

“No. My sister will not expect me to be in there, looking like this. And she’s really into her date. But if I see her coming, I’ll make sure to head her off and fill her in. She’s cool. She’ll play along.”

“Why don’t you text her? Just in case.”

“I would, but in my quick change, I forgot my phone.” He patted his pockets to show me he was serious.

“She’ll be cool?”

“She’ll be cool.”

“Okay, I think we’re set, then.”

He smirked at me like I was missing something obvious.

“What?”

“Nothing. Let’s go.” He had a slow, confident step as he walked with me to the gym. He didn’t even seem to mind holding my hand.

Just inside the door I handed over to the teacher behind the table the tickets I had purchased for Bradley and me and we continued into the main room. The music was loud—a live band—and not very good. The band was the winner of the auditions we had held for this event, so they were the best of the worst. Last year we had hired a popular local band, but with “more affordable” ticket prices, Mr. Lund said we didn’t have the budget for it this year.

I saw my friends and their dates across the room, standing around a high table. I closed my eyes for a moment and channeled every ounce of acting ability I had in my body, which wasn’t very much but would have to do. Beside me, my fill-in date didn’t even seem nervous. Of course he wasn’t—he had nothing to lose.

“My sister is dancing, so I think we’re good for now,” he said.

I followed his gaze to a girl dressed in blue—the skirt of the dress full of puffy layers. She was cute—long brown hair, friendly face. I’d never seen her before in my life so she must’ve been younger than me. Although he had said they just moved here, so maybe they’d moved here very recently. I didn’t recognize her date either, though, so I went back to the younger theory.

“Okay. So, will you try to look at me like you’re madly in love?”

“Captain America and you were madly in love?”

I opened my mouth—my first instinct was to say “of course”—but stopped myself because it wasn’t true. Bradley and I were . . . Well, we were happy. At least I’d thought we were before tonight. I put on my best teasing smile, glad that my feelings, which had tried to take over in the parking lot, were back in my control. “Do you not have a reference point for that emotion?”

He concentrated for a moment then turned a smoldering gaze on me. Wow. He was good.

“That may be a little thick.”

He softened the intensity of his gaze and for the first time I noticed his eyes were blue. Not good. Bradley had brown eyes.

“That bad, huh?”

“No. Your look is great.” Meaning he did know what being in love felt like. I was the one without a reference point. “Your eye color is frustrating.”

“I’ve never been told that before. Thanks.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sure girls tell you that they’re dreamy or whatever.” And they were. “It’s just . . .”

“Bradley has emerald green? No, melty chocolate brown?”

I laughed because he had grabbed his chest and said it in a melodramatic voice. “Yes. Very melty.”

He met my eyes. “Like yours.”

“Well, his are more chocolate, mine are more sepia, but . . .” I shook my head, trying to get back on subject. “Just try not to make eye contact with anyone.”

“Because that won’t be creepy. You think your friends remember the eye color of a guy they’ve never met? Did you really talk about his eyes that much?”

“No. I mean, well, they’ve seen a few pictures.”

“They’ve seen pictures?” His eyes widened. “And you think we’re going to get away with this how?”

“Well, they were from a distance. And one was of half his face.” Much to my frustration, he wasn’t a fan of having his picture taken. “It’s been a while since they’ve seen them. I think you look similar enough that it will work. But work on the non-creepy version of the no-eye-contact thing.”

He took my hand in his, kissed it, gave me his smoldering stare, and said, “Well, I only have eyes for you anyway.”

He was really good. I laughed. “I see my friends. Let’s go.”

“Why didn’t your friends think I existed if they’ve seen pics?” he asked as we made our way through dancing bodies.

“Because you went to UCLA and I was usually the one visiting you. When you did come up here, you wanted to spend our time together, not with my friends.”

“So I’m a snob. Got it.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“When you came to visit me, did we hang out with my friends?”

“No. We rarely saw each other. We didn’t want to have to deal with other people when we did.”

“Okay, so you were my secret.”

“No, it’s how I wanted it too. And besides, you just drove three hours to come to my prom, so you were obviously planning on meeting all my friends.” It was weirding me out that we were talking like he really was Bradley. I shook my head. “He was planning to meet my friends.”

“And yet he broke up with you in the parking lot before he actually did.”

I bit the inside of my cheek. Ten more steps and we’d reach the group, so I couldn’t explain to him that I had treated Bradley poorly. That the first thing I’d said to him after not having seen him for two weeks was that my friends were going to die. It was because he’d looked so amazing. But I should’ve said that instead. I shouldn’t have worried what my friends were going to think. It was hard not to, though, when I’d spent two months fielding questions about his existence, two months telling them all about him. All because of Jules. I shouldn’t have let her get to me like I did.

Claire noticed me first and her eyes seemed to light up in relief when she saw my date. We were the closest, so she was always the one defending me. “Gia!” At her exclamation everyone else turned around.

The look from Jules was priceless. It was a smug smile followed by a slight drop of her jaw. And for once, Laney didn’t have the pity face. I smiled a huge smile.

“Everyone, this is Bradley.”

He raised his hand in a small wave and I didn’t know if it was to be funny or if it was unintentional, but when he said “Nice to meet you all,” his voice was low and husky.

Claire widened her eyes at me like way-to-go-Gia was written in them.

Jules got her inner snob back quickly as she looked him up and down. I held my breath, waiting for her to say he looked nothing like his pictures or nothing like the guys I normally dated. Instead she said, “I’m surprised you wanted to come to a high school prom.”

He looked me straight in the eyes and slipped his arm down my back, hooking me around the waist. “It was important to Gia.” With the words he pulled me against his side. My back tingled with his touch. My first instinct was to yank away, but that wouldn’t have been my reaction to Bradley. I would’ve leaned into him. I would’ve sighed happily. I made myself do both.

Jules smirked. “Is that the theme of your relationship? ‘The importance of Gia’?” She actually did air quotes.

Garrett, Jules’s date, laughed but then stopped quickly when another one of the guys smacked him on the back.

“No,” my date said before I had a chance to respond. “But maybe it should be.”

With this, they all laughed. I was too busy glaring at Jules to laugh.

“We’re going to dance,” my date said. And as he led me to the dance floor, it hit me that I didn’t know his real name. Was that what the smirk was all about when we were walking toward the gym? So when the-guy-whose-name-I-didn’t-know put his arms around me, I leaned my forehead against his chest and whispered, “Sorry.”

Share your love