The Fill-in Boyfriend

Chapter 6

Laney and Jules joined us at the car.

“Gia,” Laney said. “Tie breaker.”

“Okay.” I shouldered my backpack and shut the car door.

“Which building do you think is higher—the Holiday Inn or the Convention Center?”

“Um . . . what?”

“The boys were talking about rappelling off one. Hypothetically, of course.”

“Which Holiday Inn? Beachfront or Downtown?”

“Beachfront.”

“The Convention Center. Hands down. But Beachfront would be easier to rappel without getting caught.”

“See?” Laney said, pointing at Jules.

“You act like Gia is the authority on building heights.”

Great. I’d thought it was an argument between the boys. I hadn’t realized I was going against Jules. It was like she was always on the opposing side from me whether I knew it or not. “But I could be wrong,” I said. “I’ve never measured them.” I walked toward campus, the others following after me.

“I’ll Google it,” Jules said.

She was constantly Googling things to prove she was right. The problem was that when she wasn’t right she got all pissy, as if we had personally gone into Google and changed all the answers to go against her.

She pulled out her phone. “Oh, and while I’m online, I wanted to leave mean messages on Bradley’s Facebook page for what he did to you. What’s his last name again?”

Here it was—her play. I was surprised she had waited this long. “He isn’t on Facebook. Who goes on Facebook anymore anyway?” He actually was on Facebook, but there was no way I was telling her that.

“So Instagram? Twitter? You showed me them before but I don’t remember his handle,” she pushed.

“We broke up, Jules. I don’t want him to think I’m still hung up on him.”

“But the messages will be from me.” She held her phone poised like I was going to give her his social media information right there on the way to class. I wasn’t sure if she thought she’d find something on one of those sites to incriminate me or if she knew he wasn’t who I claimed him to be. “Did you see our prom picture I posted? It already has forty likes.”

“Yes, I saw.”

She handed me the phone anyway and I looked at the picture of the seven of us crowded around that table at prom. My date’s head was mostly hidden by my own and I found myself wishing it wasn’t. I held back a frustrated sigh over that thought and gave her back her phone.

“I’ve been thinking,” Jules said.

Never a good thing, I thought.

“It’s so weird that Bradley knew someone else from our school. Not only knew her but was having a relationship with her behind your back. What are the odds of that?”

Crap. Our story had holes. Big ones. Everyone seemed to analyze this statement because all their eyes were on me now to explain. One harmless lie. I thought that’s all I’d have to tell that night at prom. I was just changing the order of events. And now here I was, still lying. I felt myself building the web and I was afraid the only one who was going to get trapped in it was me.

“He used to live here before I knew him. Before he went away to school. He must’ve known her from then.”

“Who is she anyway?” Claire asked this time. “We should find her and talk to her. Tell her to stay away from Bradley.”

“I didn’t recognize her. Maybe she doesn’t even go to school here. Maybe she went to prom with a friend.” My anxiety was building, my heart racing. I didn’t like lying. Lucky for me, Daniel Carlson sidestepped into our group, draping his arm around my shoulder. I was happy for the interruption, knowing he’d change the subject to student council stuff that we had been working on for the last few weeks. Or at least that’s why I figured he was here. It’s all we ever talked about anymore.

“So, now that you’re single . . .”

Or maybe he wouldn’t change the subject. “I don’t do repeats, Daniel.”

He laughed. “Too bad for you.”

“Yes, it tears me up inside.”

“So,” he said. “Rally emergency. The sound system for the gym is down. Mr. Green doesn’t know if it will be fixed by Friday.”

“Okay, we’ll discuss it at the meeting today.”

“As vice president, I felt it important to report this immediately as I am just a servant to your authority.”

I hip-checked him. “Whatever. I’ll see you after school.”

“I’m dismissed, boss?”

I smiled. “Go away.”

He ran off, joining another group of girls ahead of us. Claire and Laney had fallen a few steps behind, talking about calculus homework, but Jules was still at my side.

“I thought he said he didn’t know our town very well. He asked if we had an arcade,” Jules said.

I blinked, confused. “What?”

“Bradley. You said he lived here before, but he said he didn’t know our town very well.”

Something in me snapped. I wasn’t going to put up with this anymore. I’d been trying to play nice for months now, thinking if I didn’t they might choose her over me. But right now, I had to take the risk because I was tired of feeling like I had to defend myself every time I hung out with my best friends. So in a voice as low and stern as I could manage I said, “I’m done with this. You met Bradley. He’s obviously real. If you continue to play whatever game it is that you’re playing, I will take my friends and you will be gone.”

My hands shook and I shoved them into my pockets so she couldn’t see how upset it had made me to say that. I was assuming what I had told fill-in Bradley the other night was true—that she thought I was the leader of this group. If she thought that, this power play would work.

She narrowed her eyes and her head clicked one notch to the side, like a lioness assessing her next meal. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about,” her mouth said even though her look said, “Game on.”

“Good. It was just my imagination, then.” I took the steps to the C building quickly, outpacing the group. “See you guys at lunch.”

A group good-bye echoed from the three of them and I ducked into the building while they continued on to the next one. I pressed my back against the wall, counted ten deep breaths until the shakiness was gone, then continued on to class.

I sank into my seat and the girl in front of me, a girl who normally sat on the other side of the room, turned around to pass me the quiz Mrs. Rios was already handing out.

“Thanks,” I said, annoyed Mrs. Rios had chosen to give us a pop quiz on the Monday after prom. I pulled out my phone and quickly sent off a tweet: PSA: Pop Quiz in Government. That should win me a few points with my followers. It made me feel better to do something nice after what I’d just said to Jules. I sighed and tucked my phone away.

“Bad day?” the girl in front of me asked.

I met her eyes lined in thick black, like they always were, and gasped. It was fill-in Bradley’s sister.

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