The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 20

“Don’t get any ideas.” It was the first thing Bec said to me when I sat down in Government the next morning.

“About what?”

“About you and my brother. He’s too good for you.”

“I have no ideas.” Well . . . maybe I was getting a few ideas, but I was trying not to let them linger. If Hayden was in my life for real, I had a lot of explaining to do to my friends. I had a lot of explaining to do anyway. I needed to come clean. Especially since Jules seemed be unwilling to drop her suspicions.

Bec blinked once, lowering her brow like she’d heard my thoughts, then said, “I’m going with you on Saturday to keep an eye on you. Not because I want to help you or anything.”

“I thought maybe we were friends now,” I said.

“I’m not friends with anyone who won’t acknowledge my existence in public.”

“You didn’t acknowledge me at the beach either.”

She laughed. “Not with the pleading stares you were giving me to keep my mouth shut.”

“That’s more about prom than anything. They can’t know it was you at prom.”

“Right. Keep telling yourself that.”

It’s true, I wanted to insist. If my friends knew it was her that Hayden had fought with at prom, the whole story would’ve blown up right there on the beach. In front of everyone. I wasn’t sure why I needed her to believe this. She really wasn’t my friend. I should’ve been able to brush it off and move on.

But I couldn’t. “Hey, I helped you out yesterday. They wouldn’t have left you alone.”

She let out a single bark of a laugh. “Are you for real? You really thought you did some sort of good deed, didn’t you? Saving us from the snobs you hang out with. You’re practically a saint.” With that she turned back around.

I couldn’t shake off the conversation with Bec all day, so when Claire and I were walking to the parking lot for lunch and I saw her, I said, “Hi, Bec.”

She did a double take then just shook her head with a smile. “Touché.”

“What was that about?” Claire asked after we passed. “Who was that?”

“That was Bec. She’s the one I was telling you about the other day who set me up with her brother.”

“Her?” she asked, obviously shocked.

“Yes.”

“She’s . . .”

“Really cool,” I said before she could fill in an adjective I didn’t want to hear.

“So are you two friends now?”

“I don’t think she wants to be my friend.”

Claire grunted. “Don’t you have that reversed?”

“No, I don’t.” My backpack dug into my shoulder so I shifted it to the other one.

“Is everything okay, Gia? You’ve seemed different lately. Distant.”

I took a deep breath and let it out in a rush. “I guess I’m just feeling reflective. We’re about to graduate and I’m wondering what I’ve really accomplished.”

“You are one of the most popular girls at school. When people look back ten years from now, they will remember your name. They’ll know who you were.”

How would other people know who I was when I didn’t even know that?

She nodded her head toward where Bec had been. “She won’t even enter their minds.”

“So, being remembered? Is that what life is about?”

“Better than being forgotten.”

“I guess I’d rather be remembered for something, though.”

“Like what?”

“I have no idea.”

I looked at Bec’s retreating back. Maybe a lot of people from high school wouldn’t remember Bec in ten years, but the people who did would remember she was loud and confident and sometimes mean but always knew exactly what she wanted.

We reached Claire’s car, where Laney and Jules were already waiting.

“Where are we going for lunch today, girls?” Jules asked.

Laney and Claire looked at me like it was my decision. “I don’t care. You guys pick.”

Claire and Laney exchanged a look like I’d never said that before. I was sure I’d let them pick our lunch spot before. Although now that I thought about it, I remember often declaring I was in the mood for certain things. I hadn’t thought that was a demand. More of a suggestion.

“How about Las Palapas? I feel like Mexican food,” Jules said.

For some reason, Jules picking made me want to make a suggestion after all but I didn’t. “Sounds good.”

When Claire drove, I sat in the passenger seat. When Jules drove, Laney sat passenger. It’s just how it worked, how we always did it. So when I rounded the car after Claire had unlocked the doors and I saw Jules walk straight for the passenger door and open it without a pause, I stopped in my tracks. Over the hood of the car, Laney looked at me wide-eyed. I smiled at her and climbed into the back. Claire gave me one confused look over her shoulder but then started the car.

“Ninety-six days until UCLA!” Jules screamed out the window. When had she started in on our countdown? She rolled up the window, reached forward, and turned on the radio. Then she started dancing and singing. Claire laughed and shoved her arm.

I sent off a text to Hayden: I’m having extreme patience with my frenemy. Does this count as being a better person?

The same frenemy I met?

Yes.

Being a better person doesn’t mean taking abuse.

She’s not abusive.

I respectfully disagree.

Is there any other way to disagree?

Many other ways, but I think respectfully is the most appropriate in this instance.

I laughed a little and Laney looked over at me. “Are you texting your blind date boy?”

I smiled and she squealed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look so happy over a boy before.”

That statement wiped the smile from my face. “What? Of course I’ve looked happy over a boy before.”

“I know, but you’re . . . I don’t know. It’s different. You had a shine in your eyes.”

Claire teased, “Were you glowing, Gia?”

“What? No. I hardly know him. He just said something funny.” I tucked my phone away. Of course I wasn’t letting a boy get to me. Especially not Hayden. Our story was way too complicated to turn into something real.

“I don’t think you ever told us his name,” Claire said.

Because of how hard it was for me to earn his name, I felt a bit protective over it. I wanted to refuse to tell them. But I knew that was stupid. “Hayden.”

“Hayden?” Jules said. I wasn’t sure if she said it with a disgusted tone or if she always used a disgusted tone so it was hard to know when she truly was trying to express that emotion.

“Yes. Hayden,” I said. “I really like his name.”

“Me too,” Claire said. She pulled into the parking lot and I was glad to be out of the car. Had there always been this much tension when I hung out with my friends?

I had waited half a week to ask my parents about driving to UCLA with Hayden and Bec but I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. The way my mom had said, “The decision has been made,” last time we talked about the ceremony was freezing me up. I rarely fought with my parents. I usually agreed with them. The more I thought of it, the more I realized that I rarely fought with anyone. I didn’t like fighting. I disagreed with people in my head a lot but rarely out loud.

But I couldn’t avoid it this time. I needed their permission. And the thought of a possible argument with my parents was making my stomach hurt.

We sat at the dinner table eating a Costco rotisserie chicken. This was a bad sign. It meant my mom had worked all day and didn’t have time to make food. And when she had worked all day, she was crankier.

“This is really good,” I said, picking the chicken off the bone with a fork, my stomach too tight to actually eat it.

“I’m glad you like it,” my mom said.

“How was work?”

“I spent all day with a couple and they still haven’t made a decision.”

“Buying a house is a big deal,” my dad said. My mom leveled him with a look and he added, “But they probably should’ve researched more online first.”

“Yes, they should’ve.”

I waited for my dad to come back with another counterargument defending the couple but he didn’t. He kept the peace. Both of them always kept the peace. I opened my mouth and the words, But it’s your job to show people houses, almost came out. They were so close to coming out that I had to swallow. Now was not the time to say something stupid. I wanted to go somewhere this weekend. I needed their permission.

“So . . . I was thinking and I know you two can’t go to Drew’s award ceremony but I was hoping I could go.”

“By yourself?” my dad asked.

“Remember my friends you met the other night? The girl that I studied with and her brother? They offered to come with me.”

My parents looked at each other like they could speak telepathically and were discussing their answer. My mom spoke first. “I thought we’d decided we were going to honor Drew’s wishes.”

“I think Drew just doesn’t want to inconvenience us. And you don’t have to go. It would just be me.”

“And your friends that we hardly know.”

“You can talk to their parents. I think you’d really like their mom. She’s very nice.” I pulled out my phone. “Let me just text Hayden and get her number.”

“Gia, we haven’t made up our minds yet.”

“I know but this will help you decide one way or the other.”

Hey, can I get your mom’s phone number?

My mom is already taken but I can see why you’d be interested.

Funny. No, it’s for this weekend. My parents need a little persuading.

My mom is really good at that.

He sent the number and I looked up, slowly. It took me a moment to realize I had a goofy smile on my face. I let it fall. “Got the number. Just think about it.”

“I don’t want to fight about this,” my mom said.

“We’re not, Mom. We’re just talking.” I understood Drew in that moment more than I ever had. I’d always thought he was trying to rock the boat when maybe really all he was ever doing was expressing a different opinion. Maybe it was time I started expressing mine.

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