The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 5

My parents were waiting up for me, per usual, when Claire and her date dropped me off. They’d tried to get me to go out with them after prom but I wasn’t feeling up to it. They thought it was because I hadn’t won prom queen. Maybe that was part of it. Or the fact that Jules had turned from grumpy to happy with the announcement. That could’ve affected my mood because I did not want to feel this way over a stupid boy.

My mom stretched up from her spot on the couch to look behind me. It took me a moment to realize she was looking for Bradley.

“He’s not here,” I mumbled.

My dad stood and yawned. I’d made it home. He could go to bed now. “He could’ve at least walked you up,” he said as he gave me a hug and kissed the top of my head.

I really didn’t feel like rehashing the night even though I knew my parents would’ve been happy if I told them that Bradley and I were finished. “I’m tired. Thanks for waiting up.” I hugged my mom and then disappeared into my bedroom. I unzipped my prom dress and let it puddle on the floor, not caring enough to hang it carefully. It wasn’t really a memory I’d be looking forward to reliving.

I changed into my pajamas then padded to the bathroom to perform my other nighttime rituals of washing my face and brushing my teeth. When I went back to my room and saw my dress, blue eyes flashed through my mind. I was surprised that was the memory my mind decided to give me with the dress. Why had he agreed to be my fake date anyway? He said it wasn’t my smile but we’d been interrupted before he’d answered what it really was. Curiosity burned in my chest. Maybe he thought I was cute? I did look great in that dress.

I gently picked it up and placed it over my desk chair. Why was I analyzing his motives anyway? It didn’t matter. My brain was tired. I needed sleep.

But my brain wouldn’t shut off. It kept analyzing. It thought about prom and how half the school had witnessed fake Bradley’s breakup performance. They’d all be talking about it tomorrow. I didn’t need anyone feeling sorry for me. How could I smooth that over? I pulled up Twitter.

Guess I’m single again. Who’s throwing me a party?

There. Now everyone would know I was perfectly fine. Because I was. Perfectly fine. I stared at the screen, an urge to delete that tweet rising up my chest. Sleep. I just needed sleep. Everything would be clear in the morning.

Except it wasn’t. My mind had chosen to fill the night with dreams of a nameless boy and his mysterious motives. A boy who, even if I wanted to talk to again, was only reachable through a girl who hated my guts. She’d never help me get in touch with her brother. He probably didn’t want to talk to me anyway even if the only reason I wanted to talk to him was to satisfy my curiosity.

I wandered downstairs to see my dad at the kitchen table with his sketchpad. I knew better than to disrupt him while he was revisiting a left-behind dream. He had once wanted to be an animator for Disney. Apparently that’s a nearly impossible goal. A dream not even close to where he had ended up as a CPA, sitting at a desk, only using the left side of his brain. His pencil glided over the paper with an ease he displayed in no other aspect of his life. He was really good.

The bowls were in the cupboard behind his chair so I opted for a banana and started to take it to my room when he stopped me with a “Good morning, Gia.”

“Hey, Dad. Mom at the grocery store?”

He nodded. Our house felt like a perfectly working clock. We all turned at the right time and said the right things and maintained the same rhythm day in and day out without ever deviating. It was nice to have that routine. To feel grounded in something. Safe.

“Sit and tell me about prom last night.”

“That’s okay, you’re in the middle of something.”

He waved his hand at his sketchbook, the relaxed state he had been in moments before replaced with a straight back. “I’m nowhere near the middle. More like way past the end.”

I sat in the chair across from him, knowing he wouldn’t give up until I gave him a summary. And besides, it was time to tell him what he’d been wanting to hear for two months. “Bradley broke up with me.”

His eyes went wide, then happy, then sympathetic, all in under a second. “At prom?”

I shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Do you need me to drive to UCLA and beat him up?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“You’re right, he’s way too big for me. I’ll have your brother do it.”

I gave him the laugh he was looking for then took a bite of my banana, knowing that even if my dad were being serious right now, Drew would never beat up anyone for me. We weren’t close enough for that.

My dad folded his hands on the table. “Chin up. There are other fish in the sea. It’s a big ocean. Sometimes we need to catch and release a few before we find the keeper. Just keep swimming.”

“I don’t think that last metaphor applies here.”

“I was on a water roll. I just went with it.”

I smiled then stood and threw away the banana peel. “All I ask is that you wait until I’m out of the house before you and Mom throw a party over this.”

He gave me an overly serious nod as I left the room. There. That wasn’t bad. I could now check off talking to my parents about the breakup from my list.

I went through the rest of the day in a haze, answering tweets about my newly single status and what parties were happening this weekend where I could celebrate. Bradley didn’t respond to the tweet about being single. He’d probably unfollow me soon. I wondered if I should unfollow him first. I didn’t.

That night I slept hard, thankful no dreams tried to remind me of prom.

School would be a good distraction, I thought as I jumped into the shower the next morning. I wasn’t sure how long I stood under the water and it was possible I’d conditioned my hair twice. I picked out an outfit carefully, knowing I’d be on the other end of a lot of staring today, and stood in front of the mirror to get ready.

By the time I looked at my phone, I realized I’d spent way too much time perfecting my look. I’d have to skip breakfast. On my way through the kitchen I grabbed a granola bar.

“Running late, Mom,” I called as her whole body turned to follow my path through the kitchen. Her wide eyes proved she was shocked I wasn’t eating breakfast with her like I normally did. “I’ll see you at five. We have a meeting after school.”

“Okay. Love you.”

“You too.” I let the door swing shut behind me and threw my backpack onto the floorboard of the passenger seat before climbing into the car after it.

“Wow, you look good.”

“Thanks.”

Claire pointed to my front porch where my mom waved good-bye to us. I smiled and waved back.

“I swear your family should be on some Perfect Family billboard or something. What’s it like to have the world’s best parents?”

“They are pretty great. They always seem to do everything by the book.”

“What book is that?”

“I don’t know, What to Say to Your Kids 101?” I took a deep breath and opened my granola bar.

“You didn’t eat breakfast?”

“No time.”

Claire backed out of my driveway. “You okay? I didn’t hear from you at all this weekend. I thought you’d want to go out last night.”

I shrugged. “No, I had homework to finish.”

“I’m sorry you didn’t win.”

“Win what?”

“Prom queen.”

I gave a little laugh. “You think me not wanting to go out had to do with not winning prom queen?”

“I don’t know, that or Bradley. I’ve just never seen you upset over a guy before.”

I started to deny that staying home all weekend had to do with Bradley but in a weird way it did. Or at least with the person who’d filled in for him. He’d taken over my thoughts and was making it impossible to concentrate. Why was that the case when I hardly even knew him? Maybe that was the point—that he had saved me the other night without knowing me at all. And I wanted to know why. “You’re right. It does have to do with him.”

“Is it because he basically broke up with you first by cheating on you?”

“What?”

“You’re just always the breaker-upper. He beat you to it.”

“I . . .”

She playfully punched my arm. “Don’t deny it.”

Bradley. He broke up with me. That tension in my chest was back at the thought of it. No, I was done with him. He’d left me in the parking lot at prom. He didn’t get to make me feel bad anymore.

Claire grabbed my hand. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make light of it. He pulled a jerk move. You should be upset. I should’ve taken you out for a milk shake or something.” She squeezed my hand. “But you can’t let a boy ruin your carefully crafted image. Pull yourself together and we’ll mourn in private.”

“Right. We wouldn’t want that.” Was this how I’d comforted her after Peter last year? “Did you guys have fun Saturday night after leaving prom? What did you end up doing?”

“We went over to the park and hung out. Tyler surfed on the swings.”

“That sounds fun.”

“It was funny. He almost ruined his tux.”

I smiled. “So, Tyler? Are you feeling like you know him better now? He seemed nice.”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s a solid B, but I still think I have a chance with Logan. He’s A material for sure. Don’t you think?”

Logan. I vaguely remembered telling her a month ago when no one had asked her to prom yet that Logan was someone she should aim for. He was a star on the football team plus did well in school. But then Tyler had asked her and she seemed to like him so I thought she’d forgotten about Logan. Apparently not. “Logan had his chance. I think if you had a good time with Tyler that you should go for it.”

“Not that it matters. We are leaving for college soon.” She bit her lip, containing a smile. “Then we will have our pick of college boys. College men. Ones that are way better than Bradley.”

“Right.” I finished my granola bar and shoved the wrapper in my backpack.

“Oh, speaking of, my mom bought us a doormat.”

“For our dorm?”

“Yes, I tried to tell her that our dorm was inside a building and it wasn’t like an apartment, but she insisted.”

“What does it look like?”

“Get this. It says, ‘I am not a doormat.’” She groaned.

I laughed. “Do you think she is trying to send a message to our future visitors or just trying to be funny?”

“I don’t think she gets the double meaning. I think she thinks the doormat is saying it’s not a doormat and she finds that amusing.”

“Your mom is funny.”

“My mom is annoying.”

“Between our two sets of parents, we’re not going to have to buy anything for our dorm room.”

She smiled and held up her fist for me to bump. “One hundred and three days until we’re officially roommates.”

“I can’t wait.”

We pulled into the parking lot at school. Right away I saw Laney and Jules heading our way from where they had just climbed out of the car. I braced myself. Jules had all weekend to analyze prom. Surely she’d come up with something incriminating.

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