The Sweetheart Sham

By: Danielle Ellison

Will smiles. “Amigos.”

“Also, three.”

“Fine!” Will says with a pause, “Like Harry Potter and Ron Weasley.”

“And Hermione Granger.” I hold up three fingers. “They are a set deal.”

Will sighs. “Work with me here.”

“Then count better, or stop using analogies.”

He pauses, his face lighting up. “Starsky and Hutch, then. That’s their names, right?” I shrug. “Bonnie and Clyde. Romeo and Juliet. Bert and Ernie. Batman and Robin. Peanut butter and jelly!” He’s yelling by the end and I’m laughing.

“Good job!” I say, wiping some tears out of my eyes.

“Thanks. So you in, jelly?”

I freeze on the rim of my cup. “Why are you peanut butter?”

Will shrugs, this little smirk appearing on his face, and I know why all these girls want to love him. He’s lovable, generous, but he’s also handsome. Tall, strong jaw, short blond hair, puppy eyes, all sweet tea and Southern charm. How could anyone hate him for loving another person, even if that person is also a man?

“Because everyone loves me best.”

I shake my head, but even I can’t deny it. “I’m in.”

His smile radiates. I know I gave him exactly what he wanted, but I usually do. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for him, whether it’s as simple as promising a great summer or as major as giving him a kidney. For Will, I’d do it.

“Montgomery,” one of the football guys yells. Will looks at them, then at me, and I nod. “Be right back,” he says, and he runs over to the guys.

I sip my water and look around the farm. There’s a good turnout tonight. I hear laughter and glance over my shoulder to see Haley Howell, Abby Thomas, and Lyla Perry coming my way. They—along with Shelby and me—are the rest of the Southern Belles. We are all in charm classes together, prepped for cotillion together, and will be announced in society together in December. Abby is the youngest, so we have to wait for her to turn sixteen. I don’t think the world is ready for us to be thrust into it and declared suitable for marriage. If I had my choices, I’d be far from it. I don’t mind the tradition, but I only agreed because Momma was sick and I wanted to make her happy. Now she’s not sick, which is good, and I’m too far in it to quit, which is bad. At least the wedding will be keeping me busy so I don’t have to do any of the Belle events, one perk of Momma being the committee head.

“That dress is amazing, girl!” Lyla says. She’s always smiling, and I don’t know how she does it all. Between the Belles, the Dean’s List, and Humanitarian Club, you’d think an overachiever would fail at being friendly and social. Lyla makes it all look easy. She’s pretty no-nonsense, which I like, and she knows who she is, which I admire. The first time I ever talked to her, one of the girls in English asked her if To Kill a Mockingbird was offensive to her as a person of color. Lyla had a long response about the black community in the novel and how instead a better question was to ask what we could learn about fighting discrimination with each other’s support and the understanding of people like Atticus. After, I told her she was a better teacher than Mr. Brun and she smiled. She’s been my closest friend of all the girls ever since.

“Yeah, you look really nice,” Haley adds. She’s the sweetest one out of all of us, even me. She once cried in third grade because a bee died after stinging her.

But then Abby looks me up and down. Abby is nice too, but the Belles are life for her. Life.

Before she says it, I know what she’s thinking. Her eyes land on my feet—on my flip-flops—and her ears practically burn with steam like in the cartoons. Lord have mercy. I know she means well. She’s like Momma in that way, but I am not like either of them.

“Where are your shoes?”

I happen to like sparkly flip-flops instead of walking around in death traps all day. Especially at a party in the dirt. Your heel gets stuck in the mud and it’s all over. Trust me, I’ve done that before.

“Here you are, Georgie,” Will announces, sneaking into our little circle. Perfect timing.

The other girls practically forget I’m there and look right at Will, all smiles and heys and hair flips. Except Lyla, who rolls her eyes. There’s a moment when a girl is around Will where she turns into something else. It’s instinct, hot Southern boy radar. They all do it.

“Will, as I live and breathe, I didn’t know you were here,” Abby says, her voice all sugar.

“We just got here a few minutes ago,” Will says. “I had to help Georgie pick out her shoes.” A small smile appears on his face.

Abby’s face falls a smidgen, and then she smiles again. “Aren’t they the cutest? I was telling Georgie that they were adorable.”

Lyla sends me a look as she pulls up her long, black hair into a ponytail. She’s maybe the only girl, aside from me, who’s not into Will Montgomery. It could be considered a sign of the Second Coming.

“Aren’t you happy school is over? I’m happy. I love summer,” Abby says, her white teeth all too big under her molasses smile.