The Fine Art of Faking It
Fifteen years ago
The halls of Blue Moon High School were crowded with a sea of patchouli scented tie-dye. Long haired teens rocking Woodstock-reminiscent fashions meandered from class to class. The administration didn’t like to rush anyone and provided a full ten minutes for students to find their way to their next educational obligation.
Eden Moody stood out from the retro crowd with her purple highlighted pixie cut, vegan leather pants, and a flannel tied carefully around her waist. It had taken her four tries to get it just right. Her cousin Moon Beam yammered away in her ear about how by next year she’d have boobs and Beckett Pierce. Eden was newly seventeen and already had what boobs Mother Nature had been generous enough to bestow on her.
She popped her locker open and checked to make sure her eye liner wasn’t too smudged. Her eye makeup proudly skated the line between goth teen and grunge rock star. Her parents’ tolerance of it was annoying.
“So, it’s Beckett now?” Eden asked, only half-listening. Moon Beam Parker came from a long line of boy crazy women. Eden had a feeling her cousin would give Elizabeth Taylor a run for her money in the marriage department.
She traded her geometry book for a notebook and binder before slamming her locker door.
“He’s sooo sexy,” Moon Beam purred. At two days shy of sixteen and the freedom a learner’s permit would provide, Moon Beam was a danger to herself. Eden hoped that her cousin’s mother, Laura Beth, would make sure her daughter was immediately put on birth control.
Speaking of reasons for birth control, Eden’s focus narrowed to one figure strolling down the hall. He was tall and lean, with a shock of chestnut hair that always fell across his forehead. His eyes were the same warm brown as his hair. Davis Gates, in his vintage bell bottom jeans and handwoven hooded tunic, was walking in slow motion toward her.
It probably wasn’t actual slow motion, but that’s just how he moved, like he was the star of a coming of age movie. Girls swooned and guys followed in his wake eager to learn the secret to being cool. Davis Gates ruled Blue Moon High School. He was the nice guy, the good guy. His haikus made even their poetry teacher Mrs. Letchworth sigh. He was the guy who set school records for the 100-yard dash and gentle sheep shearing. And in art class? Gah. The man was a teenage DaVinci. While ninety percent of the class was smearing finger paints on canvas, Davis was creating masterpieces in non-GMO acrylics.
He was perfect in every way.
And Eden’s parents hated him.
“Hey there, Moody,” Davis said, lifting his dimpled chin in her direction. He had stubble, baby fine, patchy stubble on his sharp jaw. He was basically a man, Eden decided.
He stopped in front of her, those warm brown eyes studying her as if she were the only teenage girl in the hall. A thrill prickled the hair on her arms to standing.
“Gates,” she said, her tone blasé even though she could feel her heartbeat in her head.
He gave her that kinda shy, kinda sexy grin. “I saw that spin move you pulled on Birkbeck in gym this morning. Pretty awesome.”
Blue Moon High School spent nine weeks of the school year on ballroom and line dancing and two weeks on self-defense.
Eden felt a little thrill roll through her at the thought of Davis watching her during gym class. “He told me I hit like a girl.”
“So you kicked him in the chest.” Davis nodded his approval. “You’re pretty badass.”
Eden’s heart soared into the atmosphere. The cute guy she liked thought she was badass. This was better than getting her drivers license.
“Thanks,” her voice squeaked and she coughed to cover it up.
“I don’t want you to think that your bad-assedness wasn’t enough. But a couple of us wanted to make sure he learned his lesson. So we hid his clothes and replaced them with something a little more fitting.”
Just then Pond Birbeck, wearing a purple leotard with butterfly wings sewn to the back, stormed by. Apparently, the “something more fitting” was the school’s mascot costume.
“How’s it going, Birkbeck?” Davis asked slyly.
“Fuck you, Davis.” The Blue Moon Butterfly shot his middle finger into the air.
Eden and Moon Beam collapsed against her locker in a fit of laughter.
“Guess I better go apologize,” Davis said with a wink. “See you in class.”
“Cool.” Eden choked the word out on a laugh.
She and Moon Beam enjoyed the view as he walked away.
“Oh, my God,” Moon Beam purred. “He’s so into you! ‘See you in class,’” she said, mimicking Davis’s post-puberty baritone.
Eden tucked her hair behind her ear. “Do you think?” She needed a second opinion. All signs were pointing to Davis flirting with her. But there was always the possibility that her hormones were scrambling her brain. She’d had a front row seat to her sister’s high school hormonal parade.
“Totally.” Moon Beam’s sigh filled the emptying hallway with a cloud of longing. “I wish Beckett would look at me that way. So, when are you going to break the news to your parents that you are going to have ten thousand babies with Davis Gates, thereby destroying their souls?”
Eden had two excellent reasons for being attracted to Davis. The obvious: smart, sexy, funny, really, really, really good-looking.
But the bonus—the whipped cream, cherry, and sprinkles on top—was the fact that her parents enthusiastically detested his entire family. The Moodys and the Nuswings—now Gateses—had been feuding for approximately a million years over something stupid that none of them could remember correctly. Her parents took the feud so seriously, the only thing she’d ever been forbidden from doing was befriending Davis “Demon Spawn” Gates.
Her parents should have known better. Eden was a rebel starved for a cause. She now knew exactly how many seconds it would take her to climb from her bedroom window and shimmy down the birch tree to freedom despite the fact that she had no actual reasons for sneaking out… yet. But it couldn’t hurt to have a plan in place should an opportunity worth sneaking out ever present itself.
In Blue Moon, it was nearly impossible to rebel. Everyone was annoyingly accepting. Davis was the only forbidden fruit Eden had encountered. Her first recollection of him was their parents arguing over who got to the kindergarten registration table first. While her mother called his mother a sell-out yuppie and his father poked hers in the chest with an index finger, Eden had smiled shyly at Davis who, even at five, seemed immune to the drama.
“I have to get him to go out with me first. If I’m going to get in trouble, it’s going to be for something that I did, not just hoped to do,” Eden reminded Moon Beam.
“You’re so wise,” Moon Beam sighed.
“I’d better get to class.” Eden was in a hurry to slide into the seat next to Davis. When serendipity—and Ms. Charisma Champion—had assigned her to the stool at the beginning of the year, she knew it was a sign. Eden waved a cheerful good-bye to her cousin and clomped down the hallway, slipping through the classroom door a second before the chimes sounded.
Serendipity had not only put her on the stool next to Davis in Household Management and Partnerships it had magically paired them to be pretend life partners for a class project. Ms. Champion walked students through the boring everyday pieces and parts that made up an adult life in an attempt to teach teenagers how to navigate relationships. Unit chapters included: Developing a fifty-fifty division of household responsibilities, crafting budgets, strategizing conflict resolution scenarios, and creating “bucket filling” lists for both couples and the individual members of said couples.
It would have been a total snoozefest, except for the fact that she was in a fake domestic partnership with Davis Gates.
On paper, Eden and Davis were an unmarried—Eden approved the unconventional approach to a relationship—winemaker (Davis) and indie rock music marketing executive (Eden) who lived frugally, traveled extensively, and budgeted $65 a month for movie and concert dates. Eden liked that pretend grown-up partner Davis didn’t try to convince her to get a more realistic job or do the laundry. She felt it boded well for their future, real-life relationship.
Sure. Real life Eden would have preferred to find a smoky-eyed guitarist or a pierced-eyebrowed delinquent. But it was good-guy, do-right Davis who made her heart flip-flop in her chest.
Now, she just needed to convince him to ask her out.
“Now, if everyone will take a look at the scenario sheets I just handed out,” Ms. Champion droned from the front of the classroom. Her frizzy dark hair hung like the heavy velour parlor curtains in Aunt Nell’s dusty mansion on the outskirts of town.
Davis’s shoulder brushed Eden’s as he leaned in to read the handout. Eden’s body was already in overdrive, as was usual for the forty minutes they spent together in class. She could smell his deodorant, the yummy, store-bought kind.
“Hmm,” he said, skimming the paper. “It says here, we’re supposed to ‘enter into a conflict about one of us siding with their family and the other one holding grudges and refusing to communicate.’”
Eden wiggled a little closer to him at the lab table until her knee pressed against his.
“Sorry,” she said, pretending she’d invaded his space accidentally.
He looked at her, their faces so close she could have rubbed the tip of his nose with her own.
“It’s okay,” he said with that shy smile.
Eden cleared her throat. It wouldn’t be a good idea to throw herself into his arms and kiss the crap out of him in front of their entire class. Her parents would definitely hear about it and ship her off to Aunt Martha’s commune. “Uh, so which one of us is the grudge-holder and which one is the family pleaser?” Staring into those caramelly depths, she couldn’t imagine ever holding a grudge against Davis Gates, or choosing her family over him.
“Let’s flip for it,” he decided.
The quarter Davis fished out of his pocket determined that she was the grudge-holding poor communicator while he was the spineless mama’s boy.
They bickered and bantered, crafting their argument script—Ms. Champion was big on role-playing—and within thirty minutes Eden was satisfied that they’d created a believable argument.
“Sometimes I think freedom is wasted on adults.” Eden shook her head. “I mean, can you imagine us being together and actually having arguments like this instead of going to piano bars and taking spontaneous trips to the beach?” she scoffed.
Davis flipped his hair off his forehead. “If we were together, I doubt I’d be trying to convince you to not put up a fight when my mother refuses to let you be in the family Christmas picture.” His voice was husky and low.
Eden’s heart took flight in a triple axel in her chest. “And I definitely wouldn’t be giving you the silent treatment and slamming doors.”
Their bodies were aligned to each other, heads cocking, knees brushing, eye contact holding. She held her breath.
“Maybe we know more than the adults?” Davis breathed.
“Seriously.” Eden nodded. “Look at us. We’re the only members of both families mature enough to not feud.”
She watched his Adam’s apple work. Eden turned back to her notebook. “So, uh. Are you going to the HeHa dance Saturday?” she asked as casually as the adrenaline exploding in her veins would allow.
What she really wanted to know was: Do you have a date for the HeHa Dance?
“I’m planning on it,” he said. “You?”
She gave a little shrug of the shoulder closest to him. “Yeah. Probably.” Eden bit her lip, closed her eyes, and took the plunge. “Maybe we should go together?”
He rubbed his palms on his thighs. “That would really freak our parents out,” he hedged.
Eden rested her chin on her hand coyly. “Only if they knew.”
He nodded and stared at the lab table for nearly a full minute, during which Eden didn’t draw a breath. “You know I like you, right?” Davis blurted the words out.
Eden wasn’t sure which reaction to go with, the one where the doors to her vulnerable heart exploded open to reveal a heavenly choir singing, or the one that was skirting the edge of supreme disappointment and humiliation. He liked her. Yay! But he sounded like he was gearing up to let her down gently. Agony.
“I hope so, seeing as how we’re in a committed domestic partnership,” Eden joked, drumming her pencil on their role-playing script.
He gave a choked laugh. “I’m serious. I really like you. I just don’t want to piss off my parents. They still pay for my car insurance and the roof over my head. And they’re thinking about letting me apply to some East Coast schools instead of just West Coast wine country colleges…”
Eden let the words settle. West Coast colleges? She hadn’t factored that into her Eden and Davis Fall in Love plan. Him migrating the whole way across the country could be a problem. That wasn’t in her family’s budget. Heck, if she didn’t get her shit together in the math and science areas she was going to have to cook up a miracle to pay for a state school.
How were they going to start their life-long love affair on opposite ends of the country?
It was a problem she’d solve later. First, she had to convince him to be in a relationship with her right now.
“Do you want to go to the dance with me?” she asked finally.
Davis reached over to where her pencil had left a staccato splatter of lead dots and covered her hand with his. “I really do.”
Zing! “Then maybe no one has to know. My parents never go to the dance and neither do yours. We could show up separately, dance in the corner, maybe throw in a dance or two with other partners so no one’s any the wiser… It would be like a secret date.”
The only thing better than a relationship with Davis was a secret relationship with Davis. They would be like a modern-day version of Romeo and Juliet. Only smarter and with better communication skills… and fewer suicides.
“You’d be willing to do that?” he asked, perking up.
“Yes!” She said it a little too loudly and the neighboring lab table partners turned to stare at them.
He nodded slowly. “Yeah. Okay. Let’s do this. I’ll meet you there.”
“I’ll be your secret date,” Eden whispered. She was so excited she was surprised that she didn’t rocket right off her lab stool and into the stratosphere.
She was going out on a secret date with Davis Gates. Her dream was coming true.
All they had to do was make sure their parents never found out.