The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 33

I turned around and saw a figure walking down the beach toward me. It was too dark to make out his features from this far away, but considering the text I’d just gotten, I was sure it was Hayden. I steeled my emotions. There was no way he could know how much I was hurting.

“Do you think I’m creepy now?” he asked when he reached me.

“Maybe more than when you waited in the parking lot to make sure I was okay.”

“Understandably. This actually required effort and ingenuity. And convincing your parents that you weren’t lost while simultaneously asking them to tell me where you were.” He sat down next to me and studied my face. I wasn’t sure what he was looking for there but it took everything in me to make sure he didn’t find it.

“I want to hear your side,” Hayden said. “I want to understand what happened.”

“My side? What about your side?”

“My side is pretty simple. I went to use the bathroom. My ex-girlfriend pulled me into a conversation with an old friend. Then when I came back with a surprise chocolate chip cookie for you, you were gone.”

“That’s a pretty good side, but the side I was referring to was how exactly you explained us to Spencer.”

He looked up like he was thinking. “Oh. After Eve’s graduation party I told him how I’d met you and how you returned the favor.”

“Well, he got the wrong impression.”

“What do you mean? Does this have to do with the confusing hooker text you sent me?”

“I’m sure Spencer told you what happened.”

“Spencer told me that you saw me talking to Eve, got really mad, said a few choice words, then left.”

My jaw dropped. “That’s what he said?”

“That is what he said.” He took a deep breath. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes.”

“Had you met Spencer before Eve’s party?”

Oh no, this was not the right time for this to come out.

He closed his eyes for a moment as if he was disappointed by whatever shock I could feel written on my face.

“No. I mean, just once. Barely. I didn’t even think he remembered me. Listen, I didn’t even see you talking to Eve tonight until he pointed it out. And he only pointed it out after asking me if I’d go to some baseball banquet with him so he didn’t have to go alone. He said that you told him about our arrangement and he was wondering how much I charged.”

“He said that?”

“Yes, then he told me that he didn’t need any after-date action unless I was interested.”

“I did not ever tell him I paid you.”

“Well, then he formed that opinion all on his own.”

“That’s not what he told me happened tonight.”

“Of course he didn’t. I’m sure he didn’t want you to be mad at him.”

“He said the same thing about you when I asked him about your text. He said you were making up a story so that I wouldn’t be mad at you for acting jealous. He said you’re still mad at him for not asking Laney out for a second date two years ago.”

“Oh, please. I’m glad he didn’t ask Laney out again. He’s a jerk.”

Hayden still looked skeptical. He didn’t believe me. I could feel tears welling up and I bit the inside of my cheek. “Why would I make up a story?”

“Why would he?”

“Because he saw what happened to your friendship with Ryan when he betrayed you.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Are you trying to say this situation is the same as what happened with Eve, Ryan, and me?”

“No, not at all.” I wiped at an errant tear, angry I had let it escape. “I’m just trying to figure out why he would lie.”

“Me too. And I want to believe you, Gia. I really do.”

“Wanting to believe me and believing me are two entirely different things.”

“It’s just, his story matches up more than yours. If he did what you’re saying he did, why would you run out? Why wouldn’t you come talk to me? Come tell me?”

“Because after he said what he did, I told him I was there with you and he said that it looked like you were there with Eve. That’s when I looked back and saw you with her. And yes, I did get jealous. But then your friend told me he wanted to fool around with me so I slapped him and left.”

“I want to believe you.”

“You already said that.”

“Because it’s true.”

“Then believe me.”

He sighed. “It’s just he’s my best friend and you seem to have a history of . . .” He didn’t finish and it took me several long moments to realize how he planned on finishing.

My face went numb with disbelief. “Lying?”

He nodded.

I couldn’t stop the tears now and I hated them. I hated him for having this much power over my emotions. And I hated that he got to see that after what he was saying to me. I stood and pulled out my phone as I did, turning my back to him.

“Where are you going?” Hayden asked.

“Home.” I dialed the number and listened to it ring. Finally my dad picked up. “Hey, Dad. Can you come get me?” My throat burned with emotion as I successfully stopped the tears from flowing.

“Of course.”

Hayden said from behind me, “I’ll give you a ride home.”

To my dad I said, “I’m at the Beachfront downtown.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“Thank you.” I hung up and slid the phone into my pocket.

Hayden was beside me and reached out his hand. I took a step away. This hurt worse than any breakup I’d ever experienced before and we were never even together. We hadn’t even kissed. This is what it felt like to let someone in, I realized, and to really get to know them, to really let them know you. This is how it felt to genuinely like someone and to have him turn his back on you. I never wanted anyone to have this much power over my emotions again. It was safer to keep to myself, to keep things on the surface. Things ended better that way.

We stared at the ocean in silence for a long time. He probably just wished he could leave, but the gentleman in him would wait here until my dad showed up.

“For the record, I may be a lot of things—selfish, shallow, snobby—but prom night with you was the first time I’d ever lied to my friends. And when I wanted to tell them the truth that night, you kept it going. Not that I’ve been anxious to tell them since. And as for Spencer, he was such a huge jerk to Laney, but I hardly knew him. You liked him so I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt instead of tattling on him to you. My point is that I’m not a liar.” I gave a humorless laugh. “I guess I can’t even say that anymore after prom night, can I? I’ll just add it to the list. I’m a selfish, shallow, snobby liar with a strong need for validation.” Who had gotten extremely good at feeling sorry for herself lately.

“Gia, stop. You’re not any of those things. I’m just confused because one of my best friends is telling me one thing and you’re telling me the complete opposite. Can you understand why I might be a little conflicted?”

I finally managed to successfully control my emotions, to channel a calm, confident voice. “Yes, I can understand. And I’m sure you can understand why I can’t be friends . . . or whatever this was . . . with someone who doesn’t trust me. And what he . . . Spencer . . . did to me? That’s not okay.”

I heard my dad’s car before I saw it. He needed it serviced or something. “Please don’t call me.”

Hayden ran a hand through his hair, his face pinched in concern, and nodded. I climbed into the passenger seat. My dad hesitated, looking at Hayden.

“Go, Dad. Please.”

And he did. As soon as we rounded the corner, my shoulders fell and the tears I’d been holding back burst out of me.

“Honey?”

“I hate boys.”

“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” His voice was surprisingly angry.

“No, well, he just hurt my heart.”

“Oh, honey.” My dad reached over and, while still driving, managed to direct my head to his shoulder. “I’m so sorry. Just let it out.”

And I did. Apparently my dad was easier to open up to than I’d ever realized. That thought only made me cry harder.

Share your love