The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 3

“What are you sorry for?” fill-in Bradley asked.

“I don’t even know your real name.”

He laughed a low chuckle that I could feel through his chest. Then he leaned down so his breath tickled my ear when he said, “My name is Bradley.”

I looked up with a gasp. “Really?”

He shook his head no. “I’m a method actor. I have to become a person.”

“Are you an actor?” It wouldn’t have surprised me. He was obviously really good at it.

He looked up, thinking. “You didn’t tell me that about myself. Am I?”

I hit his chest with a laugh. “Stop.”

He glanced over my shoulder, toward where my friends were still standing. “Nice friends you got there.”

“They’re mostly nice. Jules is just constantly trying to oust me.”

“Why?”

“I have no idea. I think she thinks I’m the alpha of our pack and that there is only room for one without resorting to cannibalism.”

“I’m going to take your weird wolf analogy and assume you mean that she wants to be the leader of your group.”

I shrugged and watched across the room as Jules hooked her arm through Claire’s and said something to her. “It’s the only thing I can think of. She’s the main reason I needed you here tonight. She thinks I’ve been lying. I didn’t want to give her ammo. She already finds enough without me handing her some on a silver platter.”

He raised his eyebrows—he liked to do that, I was already learning. “So if she finds out you’ve been lying . . . ?”

“Yes. I get it. That’s exactly what I’m now doing and wasn’t doing before. But she thinks I was. And if I walked in here without you, I would’ve been gone.”

“You don’t trust that your other friends like you enough not to let her do that?”

“They like me. But for two months she’s been working on this. She really thought she had something on me. She thought I was hiding something. I needed tonight.”

“So if you really are the alpha, why aren’t you the one kicking her out?”

I’d thought about that question a lot. The main answer was that I really didn’t think I was in charge, as much as Jules thought I was. But the other answer, the one I admitted only on my darkest nights, was that I was worried if I made everyone pick, they’d choose her. I was worried that no matter how much confidence I’d shown on the outside, deep down people didn’t like me. And that maybe they were right not to. I was not going to tell him that, though. He’d already seen enough weakness tonight. “Because I’m only an eighth evil.”

“What?”

“I sometimes call Jules a quarter evil. But that’s the thing. . . . I guess I don’t want to be that girl. The one who needs to kick someone out of a group. I’ve been hoping we can work it out, sign a peace treaty, find neutral ground, I don’t know.” And regardless of the other reasons I was scared to cause trouble, these reasons were true too. I just wanted us all to get along.

“You like analogies, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. Words are powerful.”

He tilted his head as if intrigued by that answer. “So, I still don’t get it. If they’ve seen pictures of him, why don’t they believe he existed?”

I gave a humorless laugh. “Because there aren’t enough of them. But it’s not like we were together a lot to take pictures. We have . . . had . . . a long-distance relationship. So Jules thinks I asked some random guy off the street to pose with me.”

He laughed. “I don’t know why she’d ever think that.”

My cheeks flushed red and I looked at the ground. “Yeah. Yeah.” It was pretty pathetic that I had to bring in a fake date tonight. A date I wouldn’t have had to bring in if my very real boyfriend hadn’t broken up with me.

“Are you okay? Upset about the whole Captain America thing?”

I took a breath in through my nose, making sure my voice didn’t sound wobbly when I said, “Nope. I’ll be fine. We obviously weren’t that serious. It was a short, long-distance relationship. Nothing big.” I wasn’t sure if I was trying to convince him or me with that speech.

He was quiet for so long that I looked up to see if he was still listening. His eyes were on me, searching for something I wasn’t sure I possessed. The song ended and a fast one took its place. I took a quick step back. “So. Your real name is?”

“We can’t afford any slipups tonight, right? As far as you know, my real name is Bradley.” Finally he looked away and I could breathe again. He extended his hand to me and when I took it, he spun me around once then pulled me back into his arms, swaying with the beat.

“You’re not half bad at this,” I said.

“At what? The acting or the dancing?”

“Well, both, but I was talking about the dancing.”

“It’s because you’re the fifth girl who’s asked me to fill in for her date at prom. It’s forced me to brush up on my dancing skills.”

“Whatever.”

“So, Gia Montgomery.”

“Yes, nameless boy?”

He gave a breathy laugh. “I don’t believe you offered me money for this. Do you go around offering people money for random services often?”

“No, usually my smile gets me what I want.” I had actually been a little surprised he was so hard to talk out of that car.

“What kinds of things has it gotten you so far?”

“Besides you in a suit?”

He looked down at his clothes as if my mention of the suit reminded him he was wearing it. “This wasn’t because of your smile.”

“Then why?” I was very curious. He had gone from trying to roll up his window to agreeing to be my date in a single breath, it seemed.

“Gia!” I turned toward my name and a girl with long blond hair waved at me. “I voted for you!” She pointed up toward the stage where a sparkly tiara sat on a stool, waiting for its wearer. I smiled at her and mouthed thank you. When I looked back at my date, his eyes sparkled with amusement.

“What?”

“I didn’t realize I was dancing with royalty.”

“No one has been crowned yet, so that statement is completely premature.”

“Who was that?” He gestured back toward the blond girl.

“She’s in my history class.”

He took my arm in his and said, “Guess we better get back to your friends.”

The others had moved to an open table with chairs and were sitting around talking about leaving early and doing something more exciting. It was the “more exciting” part they were all trying to agree on. I glanced back up at the stage, knowing I couldn’t leave until the royalty was announced. Jules didn’t care about that, though. That’s probably why she wanted to leave early. She was bitter she hadn’t gotten nominated. It wasn’t something she admitted out loud—that would be too obvious—but I saw her lip curl every time someone brought it up.

Laney whispered, “Sorry,” when I reached her side. I wasn’t sure what she was sorry about . . . maybe the months of not believing me about Bradley? I slid around the back side of the table, still holding tightly to my date’s hand, and we sat down facing the dance floor.

Jules stood and held up her phone. “Everyone get closer together, I want to take a picture.” We did, and when she got to three, I felt my fake date move behind me a little more, probably using my head to block his face. Jules studied the picture but didn’t ask for a retake. Then she turned her attention to fill-in Bradley. “So, what do college guys do for fun? Aside from pick up high school girls, that is.”

He didn’t flinch at all from the comment. Probably because it didn’t really apply to him. “Well, Gia and I are going to a party after this, but it’s invite only so that’s not very helpful, I guess. Is there an arcade or something you could all go to?” He said this all in the nicest tone so it almost seemed like he was trying to be polite. But he squeezed my knee under the table and I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. I could’ve hugged him for saying that to her. “I don’t live around here, so I’m not sure what there is to do.”

I swear Jules was like a bloodhound, her senses perking up at the first drop of blood. She should be a detective when she grows up because she picks up on the slightest inconsistency of any story. “But if you don’t live around here, how did you get invited to a party here?”

Fill-in Bradley was just as quick with his response. “Who said the party was around here?” Then it was like a battle of wills because they both stared at each other. Jules looked away first and I took a small sip of air in relief. I just needed to get through tonight. If she was already sniffing around for trouble, she was bound to figure out that the guy sitting next to me wasn’t who I claimed he was.

My date must’ve seen the worry on my face because he leaned in close with that I’m-in-love look I’d told him to give me and brushed his lips softly against my cheek. My throat tightened. He was a really good actor.

“Don’t look so worried,” he whispered. “You’ll give us away.” He tucked a piece of hair behind my ear. “Now giggle like I said something funny.”

I did. It wasn’t hard to do, but that’s when I saw something on the dance floor that stopped my giddy laugh in my throat. His sister. Staring straight at us.

Share your love