The Sweetheart Sham

By: Danielle Ellison

Will sighs heavily and turns to face me, his arms resting on his knees. “Never mind, this is dumb.”

“No,” I say. I’m quiet because I’m thinking. He’s not wrong. Everyone in town will buy it, especially his family. I point between us. “We’re literally the dream.”

We are the chance, one they all want, to finally unite the Monroe/Montgomery lines after decades, nay centuries, of “bad luck, bad timing, and birth order.” The Howells and Lexingtons are as inbred as they come, but us? Nope.

Will smiles. “You think it will work?”

“More than work. They’ll all be so tickled that we’re finally together that they will practically push us out of the house together. You know they would. They’d encourage us to be alone. They’ll want us to fall so hard for each other that there’s no turning back.”

Will looks at me, his eyes a dark shade of blue, which only happens when he’s worried. “It’s going to crush them when we break up.”

“If that’s the case, then you’ll crush them anyway when you come out,” I say. I don’t mean to be harsh about it, but it’s our job to keep each other grounded. Otherwise, other people’s expectations of him would carry him away. “One day you are going to come out, and until then you deserve the chance to go on a freaking date with Mystery Boy,” I say. “I’ll do it.”

He smiles his little side smile at me. “You’re really serious.”

“As a heart attack,” I say. “You’re my best friend.”

Will loosens up again, letting his smile spread across his face and those worry lines on his forehead disappear. I meant it when I said I’d do anything for him, just like he’d do for me. He’s never let me down, never not been there. This is the least I can do for him after everything with my momma and how much he helped us. Heck, this is the least I can do since he’s been mine every day of our lives.

“This is a great idea. I’m kinda shocked I didn’t come up with it,” I say. Momma texts me again and this time I pick up the phone to read it.

“You’re really doing this for me?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say, scrolling through Momma’s texts about place settings, stores to call, and seating chart colors, and why am I not answering her? “I’m yours for the summer.” It will be a much-needed break to get some time away from town.

“You’ll tell me if you change your mind for any reason.”

“I won’t change my mind,” I say.

Will smiles again, the same smile he had after the party. Unfiltered and rare. “Are you sure?”

I lower my phone. “I’m sure, but only if you ask me properly.”

With a chuckle, Will gets down on one knee and says, “Georgia Ann Monroe, will you be my fake girlfriend?”

I rest my hand against my chest. “Why, I’d be honored.”

That Summer—June


This is the worst End of the Year Party ever. I plop down on the Newmans’ porch swing, gathering the maxi dress up around my knees. I should’ve never let Momma convince me to wear this dress. Country music plays throughout the farm and some of the others are still dancing, some are making out. I try not to stare too hard at this one couple sitting on the porch, but his tongue is like halfway down her throat.

I don’t know where Will or the others are, and I can’t handle another minute around Shelby. How does Momma think I could be friends with her? I don’t want to be a Belle, or wear dresses, or come out to society.

The couple shifts and he presses her against the railing of the porch. That can’t be comfortable.

I look around for someone else, anyone else, and that’s when I see Beau. Thank Cheesus. I bolt off the porch as the boy’s hand disappears under the girl’s shirt. I do not want to see any more of that, thank you.

Beau runs a hand through his hair as I get closer to him. “What happened to you?” he asks when he sees me.

I pull up at the end of my dress, though at this point it doesn’t matter anymore since Momma is gonna kill me anyway. Not only is it ripped, but it’s covered in mud. I told her not to send me out here in this, but no. She had to have me in a dress. She even stole the jeans I planned to change into from my secret hiding place in the bushes. I’m never gonna be what she wants me to be. If she’d really wanted a prim and proper girl, she should’ve never let me hang out with the Montgomery boys.

I shrug. “Life, Beau. Life.”

“You really shouldn’t have worn a dress to a party on a farm.”

“Shut up. Momma practically forced me into it.” I use air quotes. “‘A Belle is always dressed properly for a party.’”

“Even on a farm?”

I shrug. “Even on a farm.”

Beau gives me a knowing look, meaning he feels for me because I don’t like dresses or Belles or anything proper. “So, she’s serious about this Southern Belles stuff then?”

I sigh. Momma wants me to follow in her footsteps, join her tribe of elite young women who make Culler what it is by “maintaining the rules of the South.” Whatever that means. I’d rather go fishing.

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