The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 34

“In case you were wondering,” Bec said, sitting down in front of me Monday morning, “I totally believe you and I told Hayden as much.”

“Thanks.” Not that it mattered. I never wanted to speak to Hayden again.

“Because Spencer is a slimeball. I don’t know how Hayden’s friends turned out to be such jerks. I think it’s because they all got to know each other as kids when they were only half jerks. I’m convinced if he had met either Spencer or Ryan in the last couple of years, he would’ve seen right through them.”

I didn’t trust my voice so I just nodded.

“Even if Spencer’s story was true, I would’ve fully supported you marching out of there in a jealous rage too. And I told Hayden that the only thing I would’ve done different if he were my date and was there talking to his ex was punched him before I walked out. Why does my idiot brother keep talking to that idiot girl? Especially when he’s on a date.”

“We weren’t on a date.”

“He told me it was a date. Did he tell you it wasn’t?”

“No.”

“He likes you, Gia. He’s just being an idiot.”

“It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t trust me and I definitely don’t trust him anymore. Considering that’s the basis of all good relationships, I think we’re out of luck.”

Bec put her hand over mine. “My brother is extremely loyal. Sometimes to a fault. His loyalty can outweigh his reasoning. His brain was telling him one thing and his heart was telling him another. One time when I was little, he watched me shove a boy to the ground and steal his Popsicle. I told Hayden it was mine, that the boy had taken it from me first, and Hayden believed me. He told this crying kid to leave me alone. Loyalty.”

“I get your point, but the problem is that in that story I’m the crying kid who got his Popsicle stolen. I’m not the one he’s loyal to.”

She let out an angry sigh. “I know, but my point is that he has it wrong. He should’ve given the kid back his Popsicle and told me I was a bully.”

I laughed. “Well, that means a lot to me.”

“Will you talk to him?”

“He doesn’t want to talk, Bec. He wants Eve back. I’m sorry I failed in your mission, but they can have each other.”

“My mission?”

“The whole reason you want me to talk to him again. You hate Eve.”

“I can’t deny that point. But no, I like you, Gia.” She grabbed my forearm and met my eyes with her black-lined ones. “No matter how much I tried to convince myself not to, I actually like you.”

Those words made me want to both laugh and cry at the same time. “I like you too but I don’t have to make up with your brother for that to continue.”

“I think you and my brother are good together. You make him more confident and he makes you more relaxed. When you find someone like that, you don’t let them go so easily.”

I gave a small laugh. “Well, thanks, Dr. Phil, but it’s over and I don’t do repeats.”

I didn’t feel like going out to lunch with my friends. I didn’t feel like doing anything but sitting in my fourth-period class and not moving ever again. Somehow I stood up, though, shouldered my backpack, and found Claire.

“What’s wrong?” she asked immediately. That morning on the car ride over I’d done a pretty good job of hiding my sadness. But somehow talking to Bec made everything worse. Her believing me made it even more sad that Hayden hadn’t. Made me realize even more that he should’ve.

“Bad day.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Is it Drew? Are you guys still fighting?”

“Yes—wait, how did you know Drew and I were fighting?” I hadn’t told anyone else because that would require them having to watch the most embarrassing video ever.

“Jules said she saw some video online or something.”

“She did? How?”

“I don’t know. Maybe your brother linked it on his Facebook page. Anyway, she said you were mad at Drew. I thought you told her that. I was surprised you hadn’t told me.”

“No, I didn’t tell her.” I couldn’t process what that meant. That she was still sneaking around looking for answers? That, like Claire, she thought my brother was cute and had friended him on Facebook?

“So is that why you’re upset?” Claire asked.

“No.” Maybe talking to Claire would help. “Remember that guy I went on a blind date with?”

“Yes.”

“We kind of broke up.”

“I didn’t know you were together.”

“We weren’t but I wanted to be.”

“I’m sorry, Gia. First Bradley and now Hayden. That’s not cool.”

“No, it isn’t.” We were in the parking lot now and I could see Jules and Laney waiting by the car. “Can we just keep this between you and me for now?” I asked, not wanting to deal with prying questions from Jules today. Especially since it seemed like she was doing just that—prying.

“Why? We’re all your friends, Gia. We want to help you through it. You need to stop keeping things from us.”

“I just can’t handle Jules right now. Please.”

“For the life of me I don’t understand why the two of you don’t get along.”

“Really? You don’t see how she is with me? She is constantly trying to pick apart my stories for some hidden agenda.”

“Yes, I can see how she does that sometimes, but she’s said the same about you before.”

“Well, she started it.” It sounded juvenile before it was out of my mouth. I didn’t need Claire’s eye roll to confirm it.

“Just try. She’s been through a lot.”

“I did try and she didn’t care.”

“Try more than once. She’s moving in with me for the rest of year because her mom is running from some guy again.”

I swallowed hard. “She’s moving in with you?”

“Yes, and I need my two best friends to get along.”

The one time I’d tried to do something nice for Jules by inviting her to my house for our pre-date ritual she ended up lying about it. I stopped, realizing what I’d just said in my head. The one time. There was the ice cream store attempt too, but that wasn’t me really going out of my way. Claire was right. I really hadn’t tried very hard. I rarely made the effort to reach out to her. If Claire liked her, then there must’ve been something I was missing. Something I wasn’t trying very hard to see. I hooked my arm in Claire’s, laid my head on her shoulder, and said, “Okay, I’ll try.”

“Gia gets to pick the restaurant today,” Claire said as she was unlocking the doors. “Her almost boyfriend broke up with her.”

Jules craned her head toward me. “Which boyfriend?”

“Hayden.”

“Is it because he saw you hanging out with Bradley?”

I took a breath to find some patience before I responded. From Jules’s side that was true. The last time she’d seen me, I was hanging out with “Bradley.” “No, that’s not why. His friend was being a slime bag and he didn’t believe me.”

“That sucks,” Laney said.

“Yes, it really does.” I got in the front seat and clicked the seat belt in place.

Jules placed a hand on my shoulder from the backseat. “I’m sorry about Hayden.”

I smiled. She sounded so sincere. Maybe when I’d chased her down outside the coffee shop, she realized I really was interested. Maybe it had been me all along who was holding our friendship back. I could try harder. I would. We’d be fine.

Claire started the car. “Where to?”

“In-N-Out.”

It took me a second to recognize him out of context like this, walking into the restaurant as I sat there with Claire, Laney, and Jules. I was facing the door and my first thought was, That guy looks familiar. Then I nearly spilled my chocolate milk shake as I got to my feet. “Drew?”

He smiled at me then headed over. When he reached me he gave me a hug. “I should’ve asked permission to make the video.”

That still wasn’t an apology but it made me smile. “What are you doing here?”

“I decided I needed to see you.”

My friends were staring at me so I said, “Drew, you remember Claire and Laney and this is Jules. This is my brother.”

“Good to finally meet you in real life,” he said to Jules.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“We met online a couple of days ago. She said I’d want her help with something.”

Why did that news send dread into my heart? “I thought you hated the internet.”

He smiled like it was a joke.

“Help with what?”

“You’ll see.”

“How did you know I was here?” I asked him.

“Mom and Dad have a GPS in your phone. Tell me you knew that.”

“I know. I just don’t know why they insist on giving that information out to everyone.”

“Because I brought you a surprise. A make-up gift. Something your friend assured me you’d be happy about.” With that he smiled at Jules and the dread in my heart turned to ice.

“A make-up gift?”

“A present to make up for my extremely horrible behavior.”

I smiled nervously. If Jules was involved, this couldn’t be good . . . or maybe Claire had been giving her the “try harder” speech too. Maybe she really was trying harder. Maybe she’d watched that video Drew made and realized my life was hard sometimes too. This was the first burst of hope I’d had in an otherwise awful day. My brother had come and was extending a peace offering. A peace offering from both him and Jules.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

He smiled like he was the one getting the gift, went back to the door, and opened it. In walked Bradley. Not fill-in Bradley. The real-life, honest-to-goodness, in-the-flesh Bradley. I’d forgotten how beefy he was. His arms seemed huge. Too big. Had I liked that at one point? His hair was perfectly arranged, his smile perfect and white, and he must’ve been to the tanning bed because his skin was darker than ever.

Drew was walking slightly behind him and had a big, proud smile on his face like he had just brought me a pile of money or something.

“Gia,” Bradley said, then scooped me up in a lung-crushing hug. He was going to break my spine with his comically large arms. Then he set me down and turned toward my friends. This was all happening entirely too fast and my brain was having trouble keeping up. So when he said, “I’m Brad—” my scream of “No!” was one second too late.

The flash of vindication in Jules’s eyes let me know this was the plan.

“Wait. You’re Bradley?” Laney asked. “UCLA Bradley?”

“That’s me. And see, Gia, I’m not embarrassed by you. I’m here to finally meet your friends. It’s long overdue.” He kissed my cheek and I had to physically stop myself from wiping it when he pulled away.

Claire had a look on her face like . . . well, like I had been lying to her for the last month. “Gia? What?”

“He broke up with me in the parking lot at prom. But he exists. See?”

“So, what? You just called a friend to pretend to be him?”

“You had someone pretend to be me?” Bradley asked.

My shoulders started to shake and I had to wrap my arms around myself to stop them. “I just needed to extend the night a little bit. You were there. You were supposed to go inside with me, not break up with me.”

Bradley closed his eyes like he had made the biggest mistake in the world coming here today. I really wished he hadn’t.

“Really, Gia?” Drew said.

I pointed at Jules. “She was trying to prove Bradley didn’t exist.” I had become a child. It was pointless now. I’d dug myself a grave and I was being buried alive in it. “She did this.”

“So you lied to us?” Claire asked.

“I’m sorry. I really, truly am. I didn’t mean to lie. Bradley exists. He just left me in the parking lot, so I felt like it really wasn’t a huge lie. I just rearranged the order of how things happened . . . with a fill-in guy.”

“So who was that fill-in guy?” Claire asked.

“She still called him Bradley when I ran into them at the ice cream shop the other day.” Jules was loving every second of this. She’d worked hard for this payday and it was probably going exactly like she’d imagined it.

“That was Hayden.”

“Blind-date Hayden? So that really wasn’t a blind date, then. You obviously already knew him.”

“Yes.”

“So that time did you mean to lie?” Claire’s words were ice cold.

“I messed up.”

“You think?” Laney said quietly.

“Why, Gia?” Claire asked.

“Because I was scared.”

“Of what?” It felt like it was just Claire and me now. Her icy stare from before turned sad.

“Jules didn’t think Bradley existed. I thought that . . .” I trailed off because it sounded so lame now.

“I’d believed you all along about Bradley.”

“I know. I just thought you wouldn’t that night. I thought it would be the last piece of evidence you needed from her to prove I was a liar.”

“You proved you were a liar pretty easily all on your own.”

My heart sank even further. “I know.”

“Why didn’t you trust in our friendship?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because my relationships have always been so surface. I haven’t really been myself. Ever. I never let anyone in.” I knew it was the wrong thing to say the moment it came out of my mouth but it was too late to take it back. “That came out wrong. I didn’t know they were only surface. I thought we had a great relationship until I realized what it was like to really open up.” I closed my eyes. I was only making this worse. “I’m sorry.”

Claire stood. “Glad to know how you feel.” With that she left. Laney paused for one brief moment and then went with her.

I looked at Drew, but he just shook his head in disgust. He was now probably very pleased with himself for making a video about how much I needed validation. “Really, Gia?”

“Please don’t judge me right now.” My voice wobbled when I spoke so I didn’t say anything else.

He tapped Bradley’s arm and jerked his head toward the door and they both walked away. Why didn’t I have a brother who would defend me even if I stole a Popsicle? I leaned my forehead on the table and decided I wasn’t moving until someone made me.

Someone clearing her throat made me look up. How had I not noticed that Jules hadn’t left with the others?

“What?”

“I’ve been to six high schools in four years. Claire was the only person who ever made me feel like I belonged.”

“So that’s what it was always about? You wanted to steal Claire from me?”

“I just knew she deserved better.”

Jules was right. Claire did deserve better than me. I put my forehead back on the table and listened as Jules clicked her way out of the restaurant on her high heels. For the second time in as many days, I realized I needed to call my dad for a ride home. I was stranded.

The problem with having the only person I could really talk to right now be the sister of the person I didn’t want to see ever again was that I was stuck in a car trying to figure out things on my own. It used to be that I could do that really well, back at the beginning of the year. And despite how many people had told me lately that I was different and better and changed, I sure felt lost and angry and alone. I just wanted my old self back. The one who could force a problem away until she could deal with it. But maybe that was the problem—I never ended up dealing with anything.

Something Jules of all people had said stuck in my head. Claire deserved better. She was right. Claire deserved better than a friend like Jules. And I truly thought I could be better. . . . I was better. Better than the stupid lie I’d told over a month ago. Better than the person I’d been at the beginning of the year who didn’t think much about other people aside from how they could help me. I hadn’t even realized I had been that person until now.

I started my car and drove to Claire’s house. I had to deal with this. I’d screwed up. I knocked on her front door, and her mom, who usually invited me in with a smile, positioned her body to block the way.

“I’m sorry, Gia. She doesn’t want to talk to you right now.”

I thought about that doormat her mom had bought for us that claimed it wasn’t a doormat and how Claire was applying its statement in this moment. I wanted to put a smile on my face, to pretend like everything was or at least would be perfect. Instead I said, “I’ve been a horrible friend. Will you tell her that? There’s no excuse for what I did. Will you just tell her I’m sorry and that maybe she can talk to me one day soon? And will you tell her ‘eighty-three days’?”

Her mom nodded then shut the door.

I wasn’t sure she would tell her all that so I texted it to Claire and my little thought about the doormat and how I was glad she wasn’t letting me get away with my bad behavior but how I hoped she’d forgive me one day. Finally I texted the amount of days until we would be roommates.

The only thing she texted back was We still have thirty days to change roommate preferences.

I stared at that text, standing on the front porch of her house, hoping she wasn’t implying what I thought she was implying. Jules had won. She’d wanted Claire and she’d gotten her.

I swallowed down the lump in my throat.

At home I thought it would be awkward. That my parents would be angry with me. But I should’ve known better. I walked into the house and found my parents and Drew sitting around the kitchen table and talking. I waited for the angry exclamations but all I got was my dad saying, “Gia, lying is never the answer.”

I waited for more. For anger. Drew grunted like for the last couple of hours he’d been trying to get them riled up over my actions.

“You should’ve seen how they defended you,” I said.

“We stand behind both our children,” my mom said.

“It’s easier to see our mistakes if you face us,” Drew said.

My mom smiled at him like it was a joke, like she thought he was so clever.

“I’m going to my room,” I said, knowing this was going nowhere. My parents were well set in their ways.

“You’re grounded,” Drew called after me.

“Only if you are.”

Share your love