The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 26

We’d run through the scene twice and I’d only had to prompt him once. “You make a really good slightly crazy guy.”

He bowed his head. “Thank you.”

“So who plays Oscar?”

“Just another guy in my class.”

“Is he as good as you?”

He met my eyes with a smile. “How am I supposed to answer that? If I say no, I sound conceited. If I say yes, you’ll think I’m nothing special.”

I stirred my spoon around my empty cup. “I wish I could go watch the scene.”

“You’d be bored.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Do you like to watch live theater?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never been.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

Hayden put his hand over his heart. “I’m shocked, Gia. I don’t know if we can be friends.”

Just as I was about to laugh, I heard a voice from behind me that stopped me cold.

“Gia?”

I closed my eyes for a beat then turned around to see Jules. “Hi.”

Jules smiled at Hayden. “Bradley, right?”

I cringed, took a deep breath, then said, “N—”

Hayden stood, and cut me off with, “Yes. And you are?”

Hayden knew who Jules was. It wasn’t apparent from the look of innocence on his face, though. I wanted to laugh but I managed to keep it in.

“Jules. We met at prom. . . . You probably don’t remember because you were busy with . . . things.” She looked between the two of us. “I didn’t realize you two were back together. Gia was just telling us about this other guy she was dating.”

“No, I’m not dating that other guy,” I said quickly, worried Hayden would think I was telling people we were dating. I pointed to Hayden. “And we’re not dating either. We’re just talking.” Was she trying to get me in trouble with “Bradley” by telling him I was dating someone else?

She looked me up and down. “Did you just come from the gym? You’re looking very . . . natural today.”

“You’re right,” Hayden said. “She’s a natural beauty.” Hayden had transitioned into his Bradley role well. He even reached down and took my hand in his, regardless of the fact that I’d just told Jules we weren’t dating. I shot him a look but didn’t take my hand back.

Jules zeroed in on the script sitting on the table. “Whose script? I thought Gia said you take business classes.”

“I take a drama class as well. It’s an outlet for me.”

“How fun.” She adjusted her purse strap on her shoulder. “You wear glasses,” she said to him, almost like she was compiling a list.

“When I’m not wearing contacts, yes.”

“Gia never mentioned you wore glasses.”

I could feel my forehead wrinkle. “Why would I?”

“That just seems like something you would mention. Well, anyway, I’m picking up some things for my mom. You know how she is. Call me, Gia.”

We didn’t call each other. She moved up the street. Hayden stood there next to my chair, my hand still clutched in his, staring after her.

“I’m not a fan of that girl.”

I squeezed his hand then let it go. I would’ve hung on to it for as long as he’d let me but his eyes were gleaming in that way they did after he had put on an exceptionally good show. I didn’t want to just be part of a role he played anymore.

He sat back down, picked up his script, and folded it in half. “Does she remember everything you ever say?”

“Only so she can use it against me in the future.”

“Why do you hang out with her, again?”

“Because my other friends like her.”

He stared down the street, where she was no longer visible. “Did I make it worse?”

“I don’t think it can get any worse. It’s fine.” I stirred my spoon around my empty ice cream cup again then bit my lip. “I was going to tell her, though.”

“I know, but I think you should tell your other friends first.”

“You’re right. I need to tell my other friends first.” I’d been trying to deny that fact. I’d been trying to pretend like I didn’t need to tell them at all. That we’d all moved on. But it didn’t work that way. I’d been keeping a secret from them and that’s not what friends did. I needed to tell them the truth.

A couple of minutes later I saw Jules emerge from the coffee shop up the street holding a cup. “I’ll be right back.” Claire’s words echoed through my mind. Just try to be nice to her. She’s been through a lot. I had told Claire I would. I hadn’t been trying at all.

“Jules!”

She stopped and turned. “Yeah?”

“I just . . .” I had no idea where to start with her. I thought back to the things she talked about when we were together with the group. She had an awful relationship with her mom. I had originally thought she was just complaining about her parents like we all did, but it was obviously worse than I realized. “Is everything okay? With your mom?”

“Did Claire tell you something?” She sounded angry.

“No. Last time we were all at lunch you mentioned you were fighting. Are you guys still fighting?”

She stared at the Styrofoam cup in her hand. “We’re always fighting.”

“About what?”

“She wants to move . . . again. I just want her to wait until I graduate, until I’m gone to college, but she’s running from man number fifty-one or seventy-five. I’ve lost count. She already has half the house packed.”

Wow. That sounded awful. I couldn’t imagine my mom picking up and moving every time there was trouble. I felt bad. “I’m sorry.” I remembered her saying something about how much her mom dated. Usually horrible men.

Her eyes snapped up to mine and hardened. “It’s no big deal. Claire said I could move in with her for a few weeks if that happened.”

“Oh. Well, good. That will help. I just wanted to see if you were okay.”

Her gaze went over my shoulder to where I’d left Hayden sitting. “Are you pretending to care because you’re worried about me or worried about what I know?”

“What?”

She smirked. “Watch your back, Gia, I’m getting warmer.” She started to walk away then over her shoulder said, “Ninety days.”

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