The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 25

It wasn’t until after I hung up the phone and texted him the address that I realized I was not dressed appropriately for a date. Not that this was a date. But it was definitely an I-have-a-crush-on-this-guy-and-want-him-to-actually-like-me-and-not-continue-to-feel-sorry-for-me-so-I-shouldn’t-show-up-in-yoga-pants-and-a-tank-with-no-makeup kind of thing. It was too late, though. He’d have to see me this way unless I wanted to cancel.

I didn’t want to cancel. It didn’t matter anyway. He had seen my brother’s home video of me and I had looked—well, aside from dumb and shallow—awful. And maybe worrying about him seeing me look awful on top of dumb and shallow made me even more dumb and shallow, but it’s how I felt. And I really wanted to see him so I pushed those thoughts aside. I’d had a bad day and the idea of seeing him was the only highlight so far.

It was cold in the ice cream shop. I wondered if they had to keep it cold for the ice cream or if it was the workers’ preference. Because as the eater of the ice cream, I wanted a little warmth. I always ended up at the metal tables outside.

I looked at all the flavors again while I waited for Hayden, not sure if I should order without him or wait.

“Are you ready?” the guy behind the counter asked.

“I’m still waiting for someone,” I told him again.

“You go to my school,” he said. “Gia, right?”

My eyes snapped to his. Another person I didn’t know. Being in leadership lent itself to people knowing my name and me not knowing theirs in return, but I was feeling extra sensitive about that fact lately. “Have we met before?”

“No.”

“Good,” I said with a sigh, then realized how it sounded. “I mean, not that I wouldn’t want to meet you, I just thought I forgot your name.”

He pointed to his nametag, which said, Blake.

“Oh. Right. I just meant that I thought I should’ve known your name without having to look and . . . never mind.”

“Are you ready to order yet?”

I raised my eyebrows. Was I picking up that habit from Hayden?

“Oh yeah, you’re waiting for someone.” Why did he say that like he didn’t believe me? I hadn’t been waiting too long, had I? I glanced at my cell phone. I’d been here for fifteen minutes. Maybe Hayden wasn’t coming after all.

“I’ll just wait outside . . . is what I would’ve said a few days ago.”

A line of confusion formed between his brows.

“So . . .” My eyes went to his nametag again. “Blake. Are you a senior?”

“Yes.”

I nodded. “What’s your story?”

“What?”

“I mean, what do you like to do? Are you into sports?”

“I run track.”

“Cool.”

The door opened accompanied by a beeping noise and I turned toward it with a relieved breath.

Hayden greeted me with his easy smile. He had on glasses that I had almost forgotten he wore. He looked cute in them. How had I ever thought guys wearing glasses weren’t my type? I had a feeling anything Hayden wore at this point would become my type. “Hey.”

He didn’t even take in my outfit like I thought he would. He just walked to my side and peered in at the flavors along with me.

“What’s good?” he asked Blake.

“I don’t know. I’m not really an ice cream fan.”

“What?” Hayden asked, his voice incredulous. “How does a guy who doesn’t like ice cream end up working in an ice cream shop?”

“My parents own it.”

“That makes sense. How long have they owned it?”

“Twenty years.”

“So you grew up here?”

Blake pointed to the floor. “I basically grew up right here.”

“Raised by ice cream. I can understand why you might not like it.”

Blake laughed. “I loathe it.”

And that’s how you find out someone’s story, I thought. How did he do that so naturally?

Hayden smiled over at me. “What are you getting?”

“Um . . . I was looking at the Rocky Road but I’m not a huge fan of nuts.”

“Blake, Gia here likes the flavor of nuts but not the texture. Can you pick them all out for her?”

I elbowed him in the side. “Actually I don’t like the flavor either.”

“Then why would you even consider Rocky Road?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I like the other things in it so much that they almost outweigh the nuts.”

“Gia, you are weird.”

“Thank you. So what are you getting?”

“I was thinking about vanilla but then I thought, ‘That is so boring. Gia will think I’m the most boring person ever.’”

“It’s true.”

“So then I thought, ‘I bet Blake here will tell me what to order,’ but he was no help whatsoever. Thanks a lot, Blake.”

“No problem.”

“So now I’m thinking strawberry is my only option.” He nodded his head once to Blake. “This size.” He pointed to the middle cup then turned to me. “You’re still looking at the Rocky Road. Why are you still looking at the Rocky Road?”

“I don’t know. It looks so good and then I talk myself into thinking I’m going to like it this time and I never do.”

“I will save you from yourself, then. You cannot get the Rocky Road. Anything else . . . except vanilla because that’s so boring. Who would even think of getting that? I don’t even know why they stock it.”

I smiled.

“It’s actually the most popular ice cream flavor,” Blake said while adding a scoop of strawberry to a cup.

“Well, I feel validated now. I should’ve gotten the vanilla.”

My shoulders tightened with his word choice. Validation. The thing I was apparently unhealthily addicted to. Maybe I should ask Twitter what ice cream flavor I should eat. “I’ll have the Caramelo crunch,” I said before I started feeling too sorry for myself. “Same size.”

We each paid for our own ice cream and I led him out of the cold to a black metal table outside. He sat down then immediately stood back up, pulling something from his back pocket and dropping it to the table—a booklet that had been folded in half and was now slowly unfurling.

“You said you’d practice lines with me. I wasn’t kidding about needing to. I perform this tomorrow.”

“Oh, of course.” I grabbed the play, but my eyes lingered on him.

“What?” he said. “You’re looking at my hair like you want to whip out your little bottle of gel and fix it for the third time.”

I smiled. I hadn’t been thinking that at all. His hair was him and it was growing on me. “No, I like your hair and your glasses too, by the way. You look cute.”

He pushed them up on his nose. “My eyes were tired after all that driving yesterday.”

“Sorry.”

“No, please. I wanted to.”

I nodded and read the title of the play. “The Odd Couple. Is this that one where the one guy is a mess and the other is a neat freak?”

“Yes, it is.”

“And you are?”

“A mess.” Then he looked at the book in my hands. “Oh, you mean in the play? I’m the neat freak. Felix.”

“So wait, you’re a mess in real life?”

“Yes, can’t you tell?”

“You seem put together.”

“Oh, I’m tidy enough. I’m just a mess.”

“How so?”

“In more ways than we have time to discuss.” He pointed to the book. “Act two, scene one.”

“Well, if you’re a mess then I’m a natural disaster.”

“The cutest natural disaster I’ve ever seen.”

My cheeks went warm. “Okay, act two, scene one.”

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