Silk and Shadows

By: Lauren Landish

I look at her expectantly, decidedly not liking the look of horror on her face and the way she’s not looking me in the eye now. “What, Erica? How bad is it?”

She takes a breath, fortifying herself, and then whispers, “Coach is concerned that even if you keep your mouth shut, there’s a risk that this could all be found out. Zach’s the star so people pay attention to who he’s seen with. So he wants a . . . cover story, if you will. I need you to basically be undercover as his tutor. It’ll be good practice for when you actually are an investigative journalist.”

She’s rambling a bit and I’m not quite following her train of thought. “And my cover would be . . .?” I prompt.

Her eyes meet mine. “Zach Knight’s girlfriend.”

My mouth drops in shock. “What the hell, Erica? Absolutely not! That’s ridiculous. I’ll just tutor him discreetly and it won’t even be a big deal. Happens all the time.”

But even as I protest, Erica is shaking her head. “No, Norma. You have to. Please. It’s just so no one will question you two hanging out together. Nothing more. People who date hang out together at the library for study dates. And just for a little while, until his grades are up. The faster you get his GPA in check, the sooner you can be done with the whole scam. But this is make-or-break for Zach, and probably for the school. And us too, if we can pull this off for Coach.”

She’s laying it on thick, guilt-tripping me while simultaneously digging at my school spirit. But my parents made sure that I was made of sturdier stuff than that and I won’t be forced into something this crazy. However, one thing I also know is that sometimes, the best opportunities come in really shitty plain-brown packages. And I think this might be one of those times. I’m willing to tutor Zach—that’s not an issue—and if I have to go to a few games and wear his jersey to sell the lie, what’s the harm? It’s not like I’m busy with a real boyfriend anyway.

And the potential rewards could be great. I’ll have an in with Erica and Coach Jefferson, and the undercover practice might help down the road.

I narrow my eyes. “Okay. I’ll do it. But this is a big favor and I want you to know that I recognize that.”

Erica looks relieved. “Thank you. I won’t forget this.”

I look her square in the eye, a lesson I learned long ago from my dad. “I won’t either, Erica.” I let a pause lengthen to add impact to my words before continuing, “So, when does covert operation ‘Save the Jock’ begin?”

“Today. Luckily, the team had today off from field practice so you’re meeting with Zach at five at the library. Be there and be square. Good luck. We’re counting on you.” Erica breaks out into a huge grin and I can’t help but feel I just got played a bit.

But I know that I’m new, and being agreeable, even when it’s something as crazy as being a fake girlfriend to hide the fact that I’m tutoring a football player, can only help me on my path. Helping Zach helps me.

I try to remember that as I search my brain for what I know about our football team and Zach Knight. Admittedly, it’s not much, but even someone as unaware of sports as I am knows of Zach. Erica called him gorgeous and she’s not wrong. Zach is nice eye candy, tall and broad-shouldered, with thick muscles that somehow don’t look bulky but are lean, and a face that has lit up our Jumbo Tron more than a few times. Blond hair that he’s usually running his fingers through from just taking his helmet off, blue eyes, and a square jaw. He’s the quintessential All-American guy, football god and all. And apparently, as of five o’clock, my new fake boyfriend.

Five o’clock comes and goes, and I feel like an idiot standing in the middle of the library foyer, looking for all the world like a girl who just got stood up on a study date. There’s no sign of Zach, and I decide not to waste time and to get some of my own studying done while I wait.

There’s a piece of me that wants to just leave, mentally telling myself that if he can’t even deign to show up on time for me to help him, then he doesn’t deserve the help. But this is helping me get ahead too, I remind my inner bitch, so I give in and wait. Looking around, I pick a quiet corner on the first floor where no one will see us carry out his first lesson. If he shows.

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