The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 4

Her eyes squinted in confusion and then she said something to the guy standing next to her. He looked as well then nodded his agreement. With that, they both headed our way.

“Incoming,” I whispered.

Fill-in Bradley’s gaze followed mine and he smiled like it was no big deal. “I’ll take care of this.” He stood. I wondered if I should follow him or just sit here and watch. I went with the sit-here-and-watch option.

When he reached his sister she spoke first, pointing at his clothes. He said something back. Then her head whipped to me, a look of anger there. So much for being cool about this.

“What’s going on?” Jules hissed. Of course she was the first one to notice. This was all about to blow up in my face. I knew it. I probably deserved it too. I’d done something stupid and it hadn’t lasted for more than an hour. I should’ve just come clean right away: Bradley broke up with me. Claire and Laney would’ve understood. They would’ve believed me. They probably would’ve even taken me to drown my sorrows in ice cream like we did with Claire when she got dumped last year. But I was being insecure.

I stood, looked at Jules, and said, “Something I’m sure you’re going to be very happy about.” I didn’t wait to see her reaction. I just walked to where he was trying to direct his sister away.

“Come on, let’s talk about it out here,” I heard him say as I approached.

When I reached them she turned on me, her hands on her hips. Something about that look seemed vaguely familiar.

“No,” she said. “You do not get to use my brother like this. He’s a nice guy and has been hurt by way too many self-serving girls like you in the past.”

“Let’s not exaggerate, Bec. It was just the one.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, responding to his sister but looking at him. “I didn’t mean to turn this into a big deal.” I faced her. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have used your brother like this. He is a nice guy.”

She nodded once as though surprised I agreed with her so fast. “Yes he is and he doesn’t need to deal with someone like you.”

“Don’t generalize, Bec. You don’t even know Gia.”

Bec laughed at this. “Is that what she told you? That she doesn’t know me? Classic.”

“Do I know you?” I asked, confused, studying her face again.

“No. You don’t,” Bec said, but I got the feeling she meant the exact opposite. I tried to remember meeting her at school. Had I been rude? I met a lot of people because I was in leadership, but it was a big school, at least two thousand students. Still, I needed to try harder to remember names and faces.

I pointed back toward the table. “I’m sorry. I’m messing up a lot tonight, but I’m going to take care of this right now. I’ll tell them what really happened.” This was the moment of truth. I faced my friends, who by this time were all staring at us from across the room. They would either forgive me or they wouldn’t. I took a step forward but was jerked to a halt by someone grabbing my hand.

“No. Don’t do this. You were right. Jules is at least a quarter evil. She will crucify you.”

“It’s okay. It’ll all work out. My other friends will stick up for me. Thank you so much for your help tonight. You were such a good sport.” I stood on my tiptoes and kissed his cheek then whirled around before I changed my mind.

I went through everything I was going to say when I reached the table. I knew Jules would debate me on each and every truth I spoke, so I braced myself for that as well. I’d been deflecting her jabs for months now. I could handle this. I focused on Claire, her concern showing in her expression. I took comfort in that as I reached the table.

“Is everything okay?” Claire asked.

“No, I have to tell you something. Both of you,” I said, looking at Laney then back to Claire.

At that moment, fill-in Bradley rushed to my side. “Please, Gia, she means nothing to me.”

My mouth dropped open in shock.

“I know what this must look like, but please give me a chance to explain.”

If I’d known his real name right then, I would have said it loudly, in a scolding manner, but I didn’t. This wasn’t exactly the low-key breakup I had been hoping for. He had not only turned my boyfriend into a cheater but was breaking up with me in front of half the school. I felt my cheeks heat with embarrassment. “No, don’t do this. I’ll be fine.”

“Oh, really? You’ll be fine without me? Is that how you feel? You just want me to walk away like you never existed. Well, what about me, Gia? What am I supposed to do without you?” His voice had gotten progressively louder and by the end of his rant he was practically yelling. A lot of people had turned toward the commotion. I had to turn my back on my friends because I felt nervous laughter bubbling up in my throat and I was pretty sure that wasn’t the right reaction to this. Anyone else and that speech would’ve seemed over the top and fake. But he made it work. He sounded desperate. Probably a lot like I’d sounded earlier with Bradley.

I put my hand on his chest and said in a quiet voice, “Don’t do this.”

His stare was so intense that I forgot for a moment this was all pretend. “I can see your mind is made up. Call me if you’ll hear me out.” He lowered his head in defeat and then sulked off like I had really broken his heart. If he wasn’t in drama, he definitely should’ve been. I watched as his sister left the gym after him, glaring at me. She probably wasn’t trying to back up his story, but her actions only solidified everything he’d just claimed. I stood there, breathing heavily for several heartbeats, trying to will my hot face to change back to its normal temperature, when a pair of arms wrapped around me.

The familiar scent of Claire’s perfume assaulted my senses, bringing me out of my shocked haze.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “What a jerk. Was he messing around with that other girl?”

“No. He’s not a jerk.” And I didn’t even know his name.

“Don’t defend him, Gia. And don’t you dare take him back. You deserve better.” I nodded absentmindedly, having the strangest urge to go rushing after him. Instead, I turned on a watery smile and faced my friends. Why was I reacting like this? I didn’t even know him. So why did it feel like I’d been broken up with twice tonight?

I shook my head. I had my friends and that was what mattered right now. I wrapped my arms around Claire and glanced at Jules. Surprisingly, she wasn’t looking at me. Her stare was focused on the door that fill-in Bradley had just exited through. There was that familiar calculating look on her face, and I wondered what was going through her mind. I was sure of one thing—it wasn’t good.

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