The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 31

For the first time in as long as I could remember, I didn’t invite Claire and Laney over to help me get ready for my date with Hayden. If this was a real date. His sister had basically forced him to ask me to the play. She was most likely still working on her agenda of keeping Eve away from him. I even thought Bec might tag along with us, but when he showed up Friday night without Bec and kissed my hand at the door, I began to think that maybe it really was a date.

“You look gorgeous, as always, Gia.”

“Thank you. You do too.”

“You think I’m gorgeous?”

“I did handpick you out of a parking lot to play my date. You think I would’ve handpicked just any guy?”

“Well, now here’s where that sends a mixed message. ‘Handpicking’ implies there were many to choose from. There was just me. So yes, I think you would’ve picked just any guy.”

“Then I guess I was lucky you were gorgeous.”

“Yeah, you were.”

I shoved his arm and he laughed.

There was no other physical contact all the way to the theater, and when I had convinced myself again that he had just invited me along as a friend, we entered the low-lit theater and he linked hands with me. My heart gave a jump of happiness. He pointed out some seats in the middle section and we made our way there. We were sidestepping down the aisle when someone called his name.

We both turned toward the voice, and Spencer, his friend from the party, waved. “Is there an extra seat down there?” he asked.

Hayden nodded and Spencer joined us, taking the seat on the other side of Hayden when we sat down.

“Hi. It’s Gia, right?”

“Yes. Hi again.”

Back to Hayden he asked, “Did you see Eve?”

Hayden gestured with his head. “Yes, she’s a few rows back.”

Eve was here? Bec probably knew she’d come to this. So this was all another act?

No. I couldn’t let myself think that way. Just because I wasn’t sure of Bec’s motivations didn’t mean I couldn’t trust Hayden’s. He wanted me here. We weren’t pretending tonight. It was just a coincidence that Eve was here. Except . . . he’d pretended for me when we coincidentally ran into Jules in front of the ice cream shop. Was that what was happening now? Was that why he grabbed my hand? Even with that thought, I wasn’t willing to let go this time. I squeezed his hand harder. He caught my eye, and squeezed back.

Spencer craned his neck around. “Where’s Ryan?”

“You know how he feels about these things.”

“Don’t we all feel that way?” He clapped Hayden on the back. “Oh, right, except you. You actually like watching people sing and dance. I forgot.”

“You don’t have to be here, Spencer.” Hayden’s voice was light, but I couldn’t help remember what Bec had said about all his friends liking different things than he did. Why was Spencer here anyway?

“You know I’m just messing with you. You’ve conditioned me. But I’m not used to sitting next to you during these things. I’m used to watching you.”

Hayden said something I couldn’t hear to Spencer, who laughed. Then Hayden turned back to me. “You’re going to love this.”

“I’m sure I will.” I looked at the program Spencer held. “Into the Woods. Like the movie?”

He let out a growl. “It was a play first.”

“Is it scary?”

“It’s a fairy-tale mash-up.”

The lights went dark and the orchestra started to play. A spotlight lit up the curtains and they parted. Hayden flipped my hand palm up on his knee and began running a slow finger up and down each of my fingers. My nerves were so heightened that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I laid my head on his shoulder. He smelled amazing—like body spray and laundry detergent. If he was trying to make it impossible to watch the show he had brought me to, he was doing a really good job of it. By the time intermission had rolled around I was so caught up in the moment of being here with Hayden that I’d almost forgotten other people were watching the show with us. The loud applause brought me out of my daze.

When the house lights came on, I sat up. “That was awesome.”

Hayden smiled his full smile. “I’m glad you liked it.”

“So . . . why aren’t you up there?”

His jaw tightened and then loosened again. “There was a lot going on during tryouts.”

“Yes, being a recluse is hard work.”

His smile was back. “My sister has gotten in your head, I see,” he said, not denying the observation. “So intermission is only about fifteen minutes, but now would be the time for a bathroom break if you need one. They also sell cookies and drinks in the lobby. Did you want anything?”

“I think I’m good.”

“Okay, well, I have to use the restroom. I’ll be back.” His hand, which had found mine again, slipped free. I already couldn’t wait to be holding it again.

“Okay.” I took a few deep breaths, trying to return my heart rate to normal. I picked up the program and started leafing through it. There were pictures of each cast member, what role they played, and where they had performed before. Spencer slid into the seat next to me and I realized I was being rude. I quickly shut the program and smiled at him. “Hi again.” I stuffed the program under my seat and pointed at the stage. “So can Hayden sing like that too?”

“He can.”

“I can’t wait to see him perform sometime. How long have you and Hayden known each other?”

“For years.”

“Where did you meet?”

“At school.” He leaned a little closer and lowered his voice. “So I have a question for you.”

“Okay.”

“I have this baseball fundraiser coming up. I’m not trying to win back a girlfriend or anything but it would be so nice not to go stag for once. You know how guys are. They’re relentless with the jokes afterward. I don’t hear the end of it for weeks. But I don’t want to have to deal with actual relationship drama and expectations that come with asking out someone who I have to see all the time.”

Was he asking what I thought he was asking? “I’m . . . I’m here with Hayden. Your friend.”

“I know. But he told me your arrangement and it’s obviously working.” He nodded his head back and I slowly turned around.

Behind us, Hayden and Eve were talking. Her arm was hooked around his and she laughed at something he said. He had a big smile on his face too.

“He wanted her back. You helped him get her back. So, anyway, my thing, it would probably be three hours, tops. How much would you charge for something like that?”

I stopped cold. “What?”

“Just a date. Nothing afterward.” His eyebrows went up then down. “Unless you wanted to do something after.”

I slapped him so hard that my palm stung.

“Ouch. What was that for?” He cradled his cheek.

“You haven’t changed at all.” He was still the same guy who had taken Laney out two years ago and treated her badly. I stood and stumbled backward and away from him. I made it out to Hayden’s car only to find it locked.

I closed my eyes and counted to ten because I felt tears coming. I succeeded in keeping them at bay and sank to the curb. My phone showed a missed call from Bradley. I hesitated for one second, looked back at the empty theater entrance, then pushed Call Back.

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