The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 32

Bradley answered on the second ring. “That was the longest game of phone tag ever,” he said.

“It was.”

“How are you?”

I thought hearing his voice again would stir something in me, make me remember what we had. Maybe even make me feel better. But it actually made my stomach hurt even more. “I’m okay. How about you?”

“I miss you like crazy, Gia.”

“Really?” It was nice to hear that someone was thinking about me.

“You’ve handled this breakup way more maturely than I thought you would.”

“Um . . . thanks?”

“I just mean that I expected a million texts defending yourself but instead I got silence.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, that’s a good thing.”

Right. Nothing like silence to rekindle a connection.

“And I saw your tweet. You walked into prom and faced your friends alone. You showed so much maturity in that.”

“I didn’t. Not really. A friend of mine actually ended up going in with me.” But were we really even friends? Was what Spencer just said true? I was surprised Hayden had told Spencer at all about the fake-date thing without warning me. Especially after he’d come and sat with us. Hayden should’ve warned me that Spencer knew. When had he told him anyway? Tonight?

Bradley kept talking. His voice made me remember how easy our relationship had been. Uncomplicated. There weren’t ex-girlfriends to contend with or feelings to decipher or roles to be played. We had just been together.

Silence took over the line and I realized he was waiting for me to respond to something I hadn’t heard. “I’m sorry. What?”

“I want to see you again.”

“You do?”

“Yes.”

Hayden and the way he’d been standing so close to Eve, laughing with her, flashed through my mind. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“What did you like about me?” I was feeling very unlikable.

“You’re fun. We had a lot of good times together.” That was all he said. Then he stopped like that was profound and should be enough to send me running back to him. Not that I was judging him. I was pretty sure that would’ve been my answer if he had presented me with the same question.

“We did have fun but you were embarrassed by me.”

“I was not.”

“You didn’t want to meet my friends and you never let me meet yours. That hurt, Bradley.”

“Wow,” he said. “You’re . . . different.”

What was I thinking? Bradley wasn’t the answer to the hurt I was feeling over what Hayden had just done. “I think I am. I have to go.”

“Wait, Gia.”

“I can’t do this. I have to go.” I hung up the phone then looked toward the theater entrance. I wasn’t sure what to do. I guess I’d thought Hayden would come after me, but he hadn’t. He was too busy trying to win Eve back. Maybe I should’ve let him explain himself, but right now I was so angry and there was no way I was walking back in there with Spencer and Eve waiting in the wings.

I wasn’t familiar with this part of town, but I saw a bus stop on the corner, several people waiting indicating it might actually be coming soon. I slid off my heels and walked toward it. The bus took five minutes to arrive, plenty of time for Hayden to come looking for me. He didn’t. So when the bus came, the words Beach Front scrolling along its digital screen, I climbed on. I only had a five-dollar bill and the bus driver grumbled while he produced change for me.

I sat next to a woman with earphones in, hoping that meant she wouldn’t try to talk to me, and concentrated on not crying for ten minutes.

My phone vibrated with an incoming call from Hayden that I ignored. Next came a text. I was almost too scared to look but I did.

Where are you?

I didn’t answer, not sure what to say. A stupid tear dripped down my face. I swiped at it angrily.

That’s when the woman next to me decided to stop ignoring me. She took out her earbuds. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Did you know those two words make up the most-told lie in the English language?”

With those words I choked on a sob.

“Oh, sweetheart, don’t cry.” She awkwardly patted my arm.

“I’m fine,” I said again.

She laughed a little. “Please don’t add to the misuse of that phrase.”

My phone chimed again. I thought you were in the bathroom. And I started to think you were dying in there, so I sent someone in to look for you. She said the bathroom was empty. Spencer said you were upset when you left. Where are you, Gia?

The woman sitting next to me still looked concerned.

“Just boy problems,” I finally said, hoping she’d leave me alone. But that started her on a monologue about the problems with teenage boys today.

If you don’t answer, I’m going to call the police. I’m worried.

I quickly typed. Since you told your friend I was a hooker, I thought maybe you had the wrong idea about us. I didn’t realize that was the role I was supposed to play tonight. I found a ride home.

The phone almost immediately started ringing again. I didn’t want to talk about this on the phone with a woman sitting next to me who apparently thought boys should be issued shock collars when they turned thirteen. And besides, for all I knew Hayden was calling to tell me that I was reacting like a girlfriend and not a first date. I was reacting like a girlfriend. I was not his girlfriend.

“I can see I’m not helping,” the woman finally said.

“Thank you for trying, really.” The bus stopped and I stood and walked down the aisle. I smelled the ocean the second I stepped out. The breeze and the sound of waves crashing only served as a secondary confirmation of where I was.

It was only eight o’clock so I had four hours to pout on the beach before I had to figure out how I was really getting home.

I’d only been there an hour when my phone vibrated with a text.

Did you know your parents have a GPS tracker in your phone?

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