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Fake Dating in a Small Town - Chapter One

Updated: Jun 5, 2023


Dax Marshall stood behind the counter of Marshall & Sons Hardware, wondering what he did to find himself there.

It had been three days since Dax got a life-changing phone call from his mom.

Two days since he packed up his life, left the city, and had Callie Griffith blow into his life.

One day since their kiss that rocked his world.

He wasn’t a romantic. He didn’t believe in soul mates or fate, but he knew something must have been at play to bring them together.

Looking around the store, he didn’t know what God’s plan was bringing him back to the town—and the shop—he swore he’d never return to. But there he was.

The cell phone in his pocket vibrated, pulling him out of his thoughts.

“Mitch,” Dax said as he answered, not bothering to hide the annoyed tone in his voice.

“Going well in Cedar Valley, I see.” He chuckled.

“How are things back there?” Dax didn’t want to talk about what had happened since he left Vancouver.

“Same old. It’s all under control.” Mitch went off, filling Dax in about their clients and upcoming projects. Thankfully Dax could do his share remotely while he wasn’t at the store, but it would be difficult to manage the longer he was away.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll be able to finish those files this weekend and get it back to you with plenty of time left.” Dax grabbed a pen in front of him and started twirling it between his fingers.

The anxious feeling he’d become so accustomed to began spreading in his chest. He knew he was going to be spreading himself thin working alone at the shop all day and doing his actual job at night and on weekends, but it was what he was going to have to do during his time in Cedar Valley Falls.

“So what happened with your trip up? I heard most of the flights out of Vancouver had been cancelled when you left.”

“Uh, yeah.” Dax slammed the pen down harder on the counter than he meant to. Bringing his hand up to his chest, he began rubbing the fiery burn over his sternum. “It was no big deal. I just rented a car and drove.”

“That must have been fun,” Mitch said sarcastically. “Driving alone at night on the Coquihalla. I’m surprised you didn’t turn around and wait it out until the next flight.”

“I was going to, but my mom called as soon as she saw my flight was cancelled and, well, you know her.” Dax waited a moment before continuing. “And I wasn’t alone.”

“What do you mean you weren’t alone? Who did you drive with?”

“I sorta met this woman that was also flying to Kamloops and she talked me into giving her a ride when I took the last rental.”

Mitch was quiet for a moment. “And?”

“And…” Dax closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He wasn’t sure how he was going to explain this to his best friend. Everything about the entire trip home had been so out of the ordinary for Dax.

“Well, we got to talking, and I told her how McKenzie and Cal were going to be at the Winter Festival. I was planning to avoid it all together, but she talked me into going.”

“Why would she care about a small town festival? Is she from Cedar Valley Falls?”

“No, she’s from Kamloops, but she just got out of her own messy long distance relationship and she wanted to help me out.”

“Help you out, how? I’m not following any of this.” Dax pictured his friend and business partner pacing the floor of his office, like he did whenever he was trying to find the solution to a problem. Only now, Dax was tired of being the problem people were trying to fix.

“She’s…. Ugh, I don’t know how to say this.” Dax scanned the hardware store, double checking he was alone before he blurted out the next part. “She’s pretending to be my girlfriend and now the whole town thinks we are madly in love.”

The phone line was so quiet, Dax had to double check he didn’t lose his connection.

“You there, Mitch?”

“Yes, I’m just trying to process this. Did you hit your head somewhere on the trip? Are you feeling okay?”

“No, I didn’t hit my head.” Dax took his black-framed glasses off his nose, using the back of his hand to rub his eyes before putting them back. “Look, it just happened. It’s fine. We just need to get through the rest of the festival and then we’ll just ‘break up.’ It’s no big deal.”

“Why did you do this in the first place? I know you don’t care about McKenzie anymore.”

“No, I definitely don’t. I don’t know, Mitch. The thought of seeing her and her mayor husband. I’m back home with no one, working at the shop I swore I’d never run. It sounded like a good idea when Callie suggested it.”

“So her name is Callie, huh?” Dax could hear the smile in Mitch’s voice. He didn’t know which was worse, having Dax rile him up about dating Callie or encouraging it.

“Ugh,” Dax groaned, letting his head fall back. “This is why I don’t tell you things.”

“You tell me everything.” Mitch laughed. “But seriously, are you sure it’s just fake? I mean, this isn’t something you would normally do.”

“Yes, Mitch. It’s just fake.” I think. “Plus, she lives in Kamloops and I’m going back to Vancouver as soon as I can. It’s not like I’m going to start up another relationship, let alone a long distance once.”

“You can’t let your experience with McKenzie dictate your dating status for the rest of your life.”

“Are you one to talk?” Dax knew he was toeing the line of going too far, especially considering Mitch’s dating history, but he couldn’t help it. The remark slipped off his tongue and he couldn’t take it back. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

“No, you’re right. I’m not one to talk, but I’m your best friend. I want to make sure that you’re doing what’s best for you.”

“Can we quit it with the emotional talk? Nothing is happening with Callie and me. We’re not even friends. We are just two strangers helping each other out for a short time. I drove her to Kamloops. She’s helping me save face around town. It’s fine.”

“Hmph,” Mitch grunted.

The bell above the door chimed, drawing Dax’s attention away from his conversation. Callie walked in, looking beautiful in her grey parka with pink fake fur trim, dark denim jeans, and high black boots. Her blonde hair fell in soft curls around her face, free from the toque he had grown accustomed to seeing her in.

Dax couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Her bright blue eyes shone under the harsh lights and the smile she gave him took his breath away.

“Dax? You still there, man?” Mitch’s voice rang in his ear.

“Uh, yeah. Look, I have to call you back,” Dax said, not taking his eyes off Callie.

“She came in, didn’t she?” Mitch laughed.

“Not now, Mitch. I’ll call you later once I have the Tristar project completed.”

“Uh huh. Okay there, lover boy.” He continued laughing as he hung up.

“Sorry, did I interrupt something?” Callie asked, taking off her gloves as she walked toward the counter.

“No, it was just my business partner checking up on me.” He slid his phone back into his pocket, sneaking a glance at her over the tops of his glasses.

“So,” she started off, looking around the store, “this is the famous family store.”

“This is it.” He held his hands up. “If you need anything… hardware, we’ve got it.”

“I’ll have to keep that in mind,” she said, smiling up at him.

A silence fell between them as they smiled at each other. Dax’s mind reeled, trying to find something witty to say, but he couldn’t think of anything. All that ran through his mind was their kiss the day before. The way Callie felt tucked under his arm. Her hand in his.

The way his mom walked in on them and ruined the moment.

“So, where are we off to tonight?” she asked, breaking the silence.

“Oh, uh.” Dax rubbed the back of his neck. “The festival. Tonight is the toboggan race.”

“Sorry, the what?” She shook her head lightly, as if not hearing him correctly.

“We don’t have to enter. We can just watch. But everyone meets at the big hill just at the edge of town and people race down. The ultimate winners get a prize, or so I’ve heard.”

“We are so doing that.” Callie rocked on her feet in excitement.

“Are you sure? We don’t have to. I mean, if it’s not your thing.” Dax silently prayed she changed her mind because tobogganing was not something he found joy in. He didn’t like too many outdoor sports, which shocked most people, considering where he grew up. He was happy inside, at a desk, where it was warm and dry. “We can just get some cider and watch from the sidelines.”

“Are you kidding? It’s tobogganing, Dax! I haven’t done that since I was a kid. It’s going to be so much fun!”

“Sure, fun.” He looked down at his hands as they clenched and unclenched where they rested on the counter.

“Hey,” Callie said softly as she walked to him, placing her hand on his. “We don’t have to, but it would be fun. Plus, you wanted to show it to what’s-her-name.”

“McKenzie,” Dax added, looking down at their joined hands. Her fingernails were painted a soft pink, which matched the fur on her jacket. He didn’t know why, but that made him smile.

“Right, McKenzie. We’ll show her and her Mayor husband that you’ve moved on and you’re having fun. You know, with your girlfriend.”

He looked up to find she was giving him the brightest smile. He immediately found the tight sensation in his chest loosening; his heart rate began to slow.

Was this something he could do? While the idea of getting on a toboggan and throwing himself down a hill didn’t sound like his idea of a good time, there was something about Callie that made him want to step out of his comfort zone. He wanted to be with her. He wanted to make her laugh and be the one that put a smile on her face.

That’s why without putting too much thought into it, he turned his hand to lace his fingers with hers, and said, “Let’s do it.”

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