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"Surrender now or prepare to die!"
"Never! Ahhhh!" Eight-year-old Tyler's savage war cry pierced the empty house. He was engaged in a heated game of Flour Fight and the stakes were high. The rules of the game were simple. Each side was allowed one bag of flour, a pint of water, a cookie sheet, and a roll of paper towels. You could not cross the border dividing the two sides. In order to win, you had to hit your opponent a total of five times within a half hour timeframe.
Little Tyler had already nailed Charlie, ten years his senior, a total of four times. Charlie had only gotten evasive Tyler twice. As the tension in the air grew, Tyler knew he had to take his shot now. The analog display on the cooking timer glowed a nerve-racking four minutes and twelve seconds. He only had two wet-paper-towel-flour wads left while the enemy had over ten. His cookie sheet shield easily protecting most of his four foot and three inch frame, Tyler made his way closer to the center of the room. Charlie calculatingly looked on as the seconds ticked by. Tyler assessed how poorly the shield covered Charlie's body and decided on the right elbow as his target. In a matter of seconds, Tyler would win the game and relish in his reward.
With his arm raised and flour wad in hand, Tyler took aim. He swung his arm backwards to get maximum force and was about to send the lethal ball across the room when the deafening sound of the doorbell jarred his concentration. Charlie also reacted, but in a different manner. The sound managed to cause Charlie to briefly look away from Tyler and in that moment, Tyler released the flour wad. He watched in triumph as the crude bullet sliced through the air and finally landed with a satisfying "thud" on Charlie's elbow.
"I win!" he cheered. "You lose! And look, I've got over a minute to spare!"
Charlie rose from the ground in defeat and moved towards Tyler. "I guess you did. Good game. You're really getting too good at it. I think it may be time for us to change the rules and make it more difficult." Charlie smiled and ruffled Tyler's bushy blonde hair. "So what were the terms of the reward? A deluxe fudge sundae?"
"Yup," Tyler beamed. "With sprinkles, nuts, and a cherry on top!"
"Fine, fine," Charlie answered with a grin while moving towards the front door. "Winner gets what winner wants. I'll even offer to bandage any of your war wounds!" Charlie offered while pulling open the door.
"Does that apply to all types of wounds?" a smug voice asked.
Charlie squeaked before turning to fully face the open doorway. Charlotte Sullivan was many things, but easily embarrassed she was not. Or so she had thought until Aidan Hainsworth stood before her. He was a staggering six feet three inches. His sea green eyes were unnaturally hypnotizing and served as a pleasant contrast to his even more unusual dark brown, nearly black, head of hair. His lopsided smile and ever-present toothy grin made him a teacher favorite, while his trim physique made many female underclassmen amateur stalkers. All in all, Charlotte was in way over her head.
"Uh, I w-was talking to Tyler. He's over in the kitchen. Heh. We just finished a game of Flour Fight and I owe him a sundae," Charlie managed to stammer out. She hadn't expected anyone home this early. Mrs. Hainsworth had said she and Mr. Hainsworth would be out until midnight, but failed to mention the possibility of Aidan showing up.
"Oh? So the little man beat you again? I'm not surprised. He is my kid brother after all," Aidan spoke as he walked into the house and towards the kitchen. Charlie followed in silence as she tried to collect herself. A Saturday night with Aidan Hainsworth hardly seemed to fall in the realm of her reality.
"Aid! Aid!" the younger Hainsworth shouted. "You're home! Now Charlie can make a sundae for you too!" Charlie winced in response. The baby-sitter's handbook had never covered this type of situation.
"Hey Ty," Aidan smiled as he gave his kid brother a high five. "I heard you kicked butt tonight. Maybe you should ask for extra fudge." Tyler grinned as his brother winked playfully. "I'm sure Charlie here would be more than willing to oblige."
Hearing her name in a far-from-childish voice, Charlie snapped out of her daze as she continued to scoop ice cream out for the two of them. "Charlie's the best at making sundaes. She even gets the nuts to taste good. In mom's riztoto, the nuts taste gross."
Both Aidan and Charlie laughed at Tyler's scrunched up face. "It's called risotto little man, and mom only makes that once in a while," Aidan replied.
"Ya, but I don't like it. Charlie's sundaes are better."
"I'm sure they are," the elder Hainsworth said while sending Charlie a charming look from his seat at the kitchen island. Charlie offered a wavering smile in response as she proceeded to top the ice cream with hot fudge, nuts, and whipped cream. Making sure not to sacrifice the esthetics of the sundae, Charlie focused on swirling the whipped topping in a simple swirl. When she had finished, she looked up to see Tyler whispering in his brother's ear.
"Ty wants me to tell you not to forget the cherries. It's his favorite part you know."
"Ya, I know," Charlie surprisingly spoke. "I guess you want one too?"
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Aidan smirked as he leaned forward to rest his elbows on the island.
Charlie nodded and went to the pantry for the maraschino cherries. A minute later, both Hainsworth boys were enjoying their sundaes while Charlie looked on.
"Aren't you going to have any?" Aidan asked as he plunged his spoon into the dessert before him.
"Nah, there wasn't enough ice cream. I don't really like sundaes all that much anyway," Charlie answered. Would he buy it? Who, in their right mind, didn't like ice cream?
"You don't? A girl who doesn't like ice cream? Ya, right. I'm sure Ty will share some of his with you. Won't you, Ty?" The eight year old grumbled a negative in response.
"It's my sundae, I won it fair and square. If you want her to have some, why don't you just share yours?"
Charlie and Aidan both laughed out loud again. Little kids had a way with words, Charlie mused. Besides, it wasn't as if Aidan would actually offer up his sundae.
"No problem. Here's a spoon Charlie. Dig in." He held the steel utensil in front of her with twinkling eyes. Charlie hesitated before accepting the spoon and joining in the sundae savoring. "You know, Ty's right. You do make the best sundaes I've ever tasted."
About an hour later, Tyler Hainsworth was snuggled up in his bed. Charlotte Sullivan was nearly finished cleaning the kitchen while Aidan Hainsworth had yet to reappear. He'd gone to put his brother to sleep about twenty minutes ago. And in those twenty minutes, Charlie had decided to tuck away her fluster-y nature for the remainder of the night.
Freezing up had never worked in her favor. In the seventh grade, a younger Charlie Sullivan had stared at Jimmy Milton a whole two minutes before handing him her valentine. It was safe to assume that Jimmy had never approached Charlie after that incident.
"He's asleep. Or at least I think he is. The kid's getting a little too good at acting," Aidan said as he stepped into the kitchen.
"You could be right, but I think he's truly asleep. He was really into the game tonight," Charlie answered from her crouched position.
"Ya, I can see that," Aidan said as he fingered a clump of flour stuck to the tiled floor. "It's no wonder he asks for you all the time. You really are his favorite baby-sitter." Charlotte smiled. As an only child, she loved baby-sitting for the Hainsworths. Tyler was a great kid and completely worth five hours of her time.
"It's cool," Charlie spoke as she wiped the last of the flour wads off of the floor. "He's a sweet kid and a great Saturday night date," she said as she rose from the now clean floor. Her breathing hitched in her throat when she unintentionally raked her eyes over Aidan's frame. Leaning against the island, was an Aidan Hainsworth few had managed to see.
The Aidan of an hour before had swapped his dark blue jeans for a pair of green and blue flannel pajama bottoms. His crisp white button down had been replaced by a plain gray cotton t-shirt, and his formerly styled hair was now a sexily disheveled mess. And finally, to Charlie's great disbelief, Aidan's sea green eyes were staring back at her from behind a pair of rimless glasses.
"And this is why I wear contacts ninety nine percent of the time," he supplied. "I've got astigmatism to the nth power. Might as well be legally blind without them."
"I didn't mean to stare. It's just that it seems so…" What exactly was the word for it, Charlie wondered.
"Not me?" he laughingly answered. "I know what you mean. The Central Hamilton High me doesn't jive with the four-eyes version," he continued to joke. "My mom finds it endearing, so I guess that's all that matters."
"No, it's nice. I mean your glasses. They're nice," Charlie lamely responded.
"Oh. So now two women find them endearing. Maybe I should start wearing them to school," Aidan said as Charlie took notice of a red and blue lump in his hands. "It's Tyler's clothes," he explained. "The kid managed to get flour on every square inch of his clothing. I figured I would toss it in the wash and then help clean the kitchen, but you seem to have that covered," he finished sheepishly.
Charlie wanted nothing more than to reach out and give the boy a hug. She would not have imagined in a million millennia that Aidan Hainsworth would do the household laundry. It was beyond adorable. "Don't feel bad. I've got the Cinderella role down pat. At home, I'm the dish-washer, toilet-scrubber, carpet-vacuumer, floor sweeper extraordinaire."
"I'd say those are good skills to have. Not just for you, but for any person," Aidan stated. "So I guess I'll go give my laundry skills a test."
"Sounds good. I'm almost done here, but…could you wait a second?"
"Sure, did you want to toss in your clothes too? You did lose after all." Charlie felt heat rise to her cheeks as she surveyed her outfit. Yup, it was spattered with flour and easily the least flattering outfit she could possibly have on.
"Um, ya. I guess. I was actually talking about some towels and stuff Mrs. Hainsworth wanted me to toss in."
"Oh, ok. In that case, gimme a minute." With that said, Aidan left the kitchen and momentarily returned with a navy blue t-shirt and a pair of black track pants. "You can change into these, and then I can throw in your clothes too," he reasoned.
"Sure, sounds like a plan," Charlie answered as she took the clothes from his hand. Aidan turned around and made his way to the laundry room as Charlie went to find the nearest bathroom. The Hainsworth house wasn't big by any standards, but its layout was confusing—even for a frequent baby-sitter.
A minute later, Charlie found herself mumbling incoherently as she picked flour clumps out of her hair. The cherubs lining the walls of the bathroom seemed to look on in mirth at Charlie's situation. If someone were to have told her that she'd be wearing Aidan Hainsworth's clothes by the end of the night, she would have considered them legally insane. The surreal aspect of the night's events was not lost on Charlie as she attempted to tighten the track pants around her waist. Far from a perfect hourglass, she was seriously lacking in the curves department. Her ever-encouraging grandmother had once pointed out that a set of wide hips was the only way to snag a man. Charlie was doomed.
Pushing such negative thoughts aside, she slipped into the t-shirt only to find it even more difficult to keep on her body than the pants. Her narrow shoulders did little to hold up the garment. With the slightest movement of her arms, the shirt effortlessly slid this way and that. "Seriously?!" Charlie exclaimed as she continued to fuss with the uncooperative piece of clothing. Afraid Aidan would think she had drowned in the bathroom, Charlie somewhat cleverly stuck the shoulder edges of the neck hole underneath her bra straps. Her neck area was a bit more exposed than she would have liked, but it was better than flashing Aidan with her pitiful bosom.
After a quick pick up of the linens Mrs. Hainsworth had left, Charlie found her way to the laundry room. "It's about time. I was afraid you'd gotten murdered by those creepy cherubs."
"Oh, ya. Those things are freaky looking," she answered as she moved to the washing machine. Aidan patiently leaned against the dryer with a seemingly disinterested look on his face. "Here, I'll separate the colors and whites and you can…"
"What colors? All the linens are white and all the flour-y clothes are colored. Simple sorting," Aidan stated as he reached for the detergent.
"Right. Well, I guess we can throw in the linens then."
"I don't think there's enough to amount to a load. We could just throw all the clothes in together. I think that would be enough."
"Won't the colors bleed? I don't want to ruin your mom's sheets." The Hainsworths paid too well for Charlie to get fired.
"Just toss it all in. I'll take the blame if we end up with a tie-dyed tablecloth," he winked with assurance.
With a sigh, Charlie dumped all the washables into the front-loading machine while Aidan measured out the detergent.
"You know what I never understood?" he asked as he poured the detergent into the appropriate spot on the machine.
"Hmm?" Charlie responded with peaked interest as she moved to take a seat on the floor.
"Why do detergents come in fruit inspired scents? I mean, sure, I like apples as much as the next guy, but it hardly makes any sense."
"I guess they figure people would buy into the idea," she weakly answered while looking up at his standing form.
"Probably," Aidan continued as he took a seat directly across from her. "It's still weird in my book."
"Never thought it was that big of a deal," Charlie shrugged as she discreetly re-secured her shirt.
"You wouldn't. It's okay for girl's stuff to smell like fruit and flowers. But guy's stuff? You have to admit that it's pretty strange to have peach-mango scented boxers."
Charlie averted her gaze before speaking. "Ya, pretty strange…" she trailed off in an effort to suppress the blush she felt rising to her face.
"Oh no. I made you uncomfortable, didn't I?" Charlie smiled at his keen perception. 'He did that on purpose-the jerk' Charlie thought. "I'm sorry. We can talk about something else. Hey, did you do the assignment for Bruckner's class?"
Charlie was surprised at the mention of schoolwork as she continued the conversation. "No, I haven't. It's going to take me forever, I know it."
"You haven't? I thought that was the reason you brought your backpack over."
"No, no. I just use my backpack to tell a little white lie to your mom," Charlie smiled. "I'm actually lugging around bags of flour, paper towels, and other Tyler-oriented stuff."
"No way! You lied to my mom?" his eyebrows shot up in amusement. "I'm impressed, Sullivan. Didn't think you had it in you."
"Ya, well I'm no rebel, but I'm still a teenager," she fired back with a grin. "So, did you do the assignment yet?"
"I haven't finished it, but I'm about halfway done."
"What? You did half already?"
"Doesn't go with the socially glorified image I parade in school, does it?"
He shrugged in response. "AP Lit is the only class I actually like, so I try and apply myself more. Besides, I promised Ty I'd take him to the state fair tomorrow. Kid wants to win himself one of those oversized stuffed animals."
"Oh. That's sweet of you."
"That's me, sweet and nerdy. I was actually planning on finishing the assignment tonight."
"Your mom didn't say you were coming home early. Did your plans change?"
"You could say that. My date was too busy making doe eyes at the DJ. I guess I can't blame her, she was a bit tipsy."
Charlie felt her skin heat up as the topic continued to deviate from the safer domain of schoolwork. "How can you be sure she was making doe eyes at another guy?"
Aidan wasn't a god, but what girl would fawn over someone else when he was paying attention to only her? Crazies—the lot of them. "It was pretty obvious. At one point, she even winked at him."
"Maybe she had something in her eye!" The machine behind her droned on as she formulated more reasons for Aidan's date's unusual behavior.
"Right, and I'm a gold-hording leprechaun," he deadpanned. "Why are you so bent on defending my date anyway? I bet you'd think differently if you knew her name."
"I'm not defending her; I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt. I'm just saying you could be mistaken. It's not like she went up to that guy and completely ignored you. And what does her name have to do with it?" Charlie huffed back.
"Hey, I tried giving her the benefit of the doubt too. That's why I took her out. I don't like to accept rumors about people until I've actually talked to them," his nostrils flared as he spoke. "And as a matter of fact, right before I decided to call it quits, she went up and asked the guy for a dance. The girl's a compulsive flirt-I accepted it and took her home."
For some reason, the conversation had turned into an argument of sorts. "Oh? And what exactly are you? Aidan Hainsworth and flirting go hand in hand in this world, don't they?" Charlie said acidly. The fire fueling her responses was more alien to her than she could perceive.
"Honestly? No, they don't. I'll admit I overdo the charm bit every now and then, but I'm definitely not the flirt I'm made out to be. People at school just have nothing better to do," Aidan answered more calmly.
This was just so typical, Charlie thought to herself. Reed was the same way. Her first and only boyfriend had ended it when he perceived every glance Charlie gave as a flirt tactic. The over-possessive bastard was only scraping for an excuse. If Charlie flirted by the hour, Reed flirted by the second.
"So, you're saying you haven't flirted with me all night?"
"What? Oh, of course. You girls think smiling politely is flirting. If I was trying to flirt with you, you'd know it. There's no doubt," he shot back with more condescension than Charlie could bear.
"And that's not the least bit arrogant," Charlie rebutted while raising her arms in amazement.
Aidan stared her down for a few seconds before responding. "Who would have thought you'd accept stereotypical images so willingly, and yet you actually seem to believe that Rosemary Delgato is as innocent as they come." Charlie seethed. "Oh, and by the way, your bra is showing," he finished in a smug triumph.
Charlie closed her eyes in frustration, blushed deep scarlet, fixed her shirt, and refused to look Aidan in the face. In all honesty, there was nothing she could think to say. Rosemary Delgato was rumored to be the loosest member of the socially privileged at Central Hamilton. And given Aidan's recent date information, those rumors appeared to be true.
The mechanical humming of the washing machine was the only sound that filled the otherwise silent air. Aidan stared at Charlie's lowered head before looking behind her at the LCD screen on the washing machine. There was still another fifteen minutes before the load was finished. At this rate, it might as well have been a millenium. The silence carried on as Charlie shifted in her spot to uncross her legs. Much to her annoyance, both of her feet had somehow managed to fall asleep.
"You shouldn't sit in the same position for too long," he pierced the quiet.
"Your foot, it's asleep. You shouldn't have sat in the same position for that long."
Charlie scowled as she responded. "You don't have to be here. I can just finish the laundry myself. Go do something you usually do on a Saturday night." She was disgusted with herself for being thrown off balance by his arrival earlier that evening —the sooner he was gone, the better off she would be.
"And what do you think that is?" he inquired with mock-naivety.
"I don't know. If things had gone well, you'd still be out on your social experiment of a date," she answered. 'More importantly, you would not be here…with me.'
"But things didn't go well. So, I'm here. It is my house, by the way."
"Fine, whatever. I don't know why I care anyway. Up until tonight, I thought you were the same Aidan Hainsworth that freshman girls were referring to when they scrawled 'Mrs. Hainsworth' on their notebooks."
He chuckled as his eyes flashed with a reaction. "I've always wondered where and when that rumor was started. So what do you think of me now?"
"You're a bit of a jerk…" she started out, "but you're not all together a bad guy." Charlie sighed before she continued, "Tyler's always talking about you, so I guess you're a good role model…" Her eight-year-old charge adoringly talked about his brother every chance he got. Charlie wasn't too surprised when she found she was harboring a mild crush on the person Tyler had lovingly painted. She never let herself believe that that Aidan was truly real. "You seem to be putting on a façade at school; what's the reason for that?"
"You're right for the most part, but it's not entirely my fault. People at school just assume too much," he said as he scratched his forearm and kept talking. "I've got an idea. We should play a game of twenty questions!"
"Are you serious?" Charlie spoke with an empty look.
"Yes, I am. We should play, at least until the washing machine is finished. This way, I can try to prove that high school cookie cutter molds are entirely overrated. Ready?"
"Fine," she caved.
"Good, I'll go first. So tell me Miss Sullivan, have you ever willingly gone to a school dance?"
"Yes. Wait, what's the point of this. We probably already know all this stuff about each other."
"Okay then. We're not limited to yes or no questions. Now ask."
Charlie sighed. "Did you always want a little brother?"
"No, not always. After he was born, I was a bit jealous and attention deprived. But eventually, the kid grew on me. Do you like being an only child?"
"Not really. It gets lonely more often than not. That's probably why I like baby-sitting so much..." One question into the game and Charlie was out of interesting queries. "Do you like doing household chores?"
"That's it? You're already desperate for questions?" he laughed back. "I don't generally mind. But some chores are more fun than others. Like doing laundry, for example." Charlie smiled in response. Despite all the other misconceptions high school fostered about Aidan, he was definitely skilled at making girls smile. "Alright, so did you hear back from any universities, and if so, did you decide where you're going? I guess that's two questions; you can ask me two next."
"I've heard back, and I've decided where I'm going."
"So mysterious. You're not going to tell me where?" he asked as he raised his eyebrows.
"Nope," she curtly replied. "Did Rosemary willingly let you end the date?" Charlie knew she was being nosy, but that was the entire point of the game.
Aidan laughed good-naturedly. Charlie, somewhat shocked, assumed he had anticipated this question to arise sometime during the game. "Not exactly. She put up a bit of a fight. Said I'd regret taking her home. But, like I said, she wasn't completely sober so…"
"And you were?" Isn't that what guys like Aidan did? Reed had always shown an interest in the partaking of alcohol whenever Charlie was around. She had dutifully talked him out of it on many occasions.
"Is that so hard to believe? Did I seem drunk when I came home?"
"My turn. Is my personal life always such a topic of interest?"
"No, it's not that. I'm just trying to get to know the guy behind the name—so to speak."
"I'm a name?"
"Of course you are. And don't tell me you had no idea. I see the way you traipse around school."
"And how exactly is that? A bit of a swagger in my step?" he said facetiously. Leave it to him to swap the serious for the silly.
"Um, no. You just carry yourself differently," Charlie was beginning to blush again. How could anyone know so much about a person's walk unless they spent time staring?
"I'll take your word for it. I guess proper posture is overrated too. Okay, I don't know how many questions that was, but let's just say ten each."
"No way! You did all the asking just now. I've finally got a couple of good questions in mind."
"Oh, so now you're getting all Spanish Inquisition on me?" he smirked. "Fire away."
"Fine. Why don't you ever wear your glasses at school? Why are you in AP Lit? Have you decided on a college? How do you know I'm an only child?"
"Wow, Spanish Inquisition indeed," Aidan countered. "I don't wear my glasses at school becau—"
With a jolt, Charlie squeaked in her spot, effectively silencing Aidan, as the machine behind her beeped loudly. After a moment of hesitance, she got up to move the load of clothes to the dryer. "The 'normal dry' setting is good enough, right?" she asked as she continued to transfer the laundry.
"So you believed me when I said I did my own laundry?" Charlie turned to face his still sitting form. He was cleaning his glasses with the bottom edge of his t-shirt. Much to her dismay, Charlie found herself dumbstruck at his movements. He looked undeniably sexy sitting on the tiled floor with his tussled hair. Furthermore, the lifted portion of his shirt unfortunately revealed a toned abdomen that left Charlie mute. Only Helen Keller would be immune to the image before her.
Placing his frames back on, Aidan ended the noiselessness. "Normal should be fine. And to go back to your questions, I don't wear my glasses at school because they're more annoying than anything. I'm in AP Lit because I like it. I like to read, and AP Lit gives me an excuse to do that. I've decided on a school too, but I won't say where either. And finally, I know you're an only child because that's what I've heard at school."
"People talk about my being an only child?" Charlie asked with a confused expression.
"I don't know about people, but I remember Denton mentioning that once." Charlie winced mentally at the name. Hearing his name out loud annoyed the hell out of her. Reed Denton's relatively insignificant stint as her boyfriend had ended in a blur— a blur that somehow managed to find itself on the lips of one too many teenagers at Central Hamilton. "So can we call that an even ten/ten?" Aidan interrupted her thoughts. Charlie nodded as she shut the dryer door and returned to her spot against the washer.
"Good, what is one of your favorite movies?"
"I'd have to say The Princess Bride," Charlie answered slightly embarrassed.
"Alright," Charlie talked on. "What's your favorite dessert?"
"My favorite dessert? Well, not to sound too elite, but it's tiramisu."
"Really? I never would have guessed."
"There's just something amazing about it, but I like my run-of-the-mill fudge sundaes too, you know." Aidan did all he could not to throw another wink in Charlie's direction—
'That would be considered flirting,' he reminded himself.
"Riiight. Your turn."
"How did you come up with the idea for that flour game?"
"I used to play it with Reed's little sister when I baby-sat her."
"Oh," was thankfully his only response. The dryer hummed steadily as Charlie searched for a question. "What was the deal with you and Reed anyway?" Aidan added on.
"Excuse me?" Charlie knew better than to expect sleeping dogs to lie—especially wherever Reed was concerned.
"Nevermind. It's none of my business," he supplied as he scratched the back of his neck and looked down.
"There's not much to tell," she conceded. "We dated for a while, and then we split up. Relationships in high school are tricky stuff," Charlie answered in an effort to drive away the awkwardness of the situation. "What's the one place in the world you most want to visit?"
Satisfied with her explanation, Aidan replied. "You've probably never heard of this place, but it's called Petra."
Aidan's eyes widened in surprise, "You know of it? So you know how incredible it looks?"
"No, I've only heard of it. I've never seen a picture."
"It's unbelievable! It's entirely carved out of rock. Ever since I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I've wanted to see it in person." Charlie had never imagined that the same Aidan Hainsworth who all but paraded the halls of her school would light up at the mention of a stone building. "Okay, back to you. Is there a reason you're always available to baby-sit on Saturday nights?"
Charlie's eyebrows shot up at the question. "Do you know how well your mother pays? Besides, I already told you I love Tyler to bits and pieces."
He laughed heartily at her answer. "I'll have to tell Tyler you're only after his money." Charlie scrunched up her nose in amusement.
"Have you ever had a girlfriend?" Even Charlie was taken aback as she fought the urge to revoke the question.
"Not in the usual sense, no. The only girl I think I ever really liked didn't like me back. After that, I didn't see the point." Charlie had already known Aidan had never kept a steady relationship during his three years at Hamilton, but she wanted to know his reason for casual dating and nothing more. His answer was less than satisfactory.
"So how does dating a different person every week make sense?" Her attacking tone had resurfaced.
"Every week?" he asked incredulously. "I think the rumor mills have fully infiltrated your brain," Aidan stated in a feeble attempt to jokingly evade the question.
"So you're saying you don't go out with a different girl every Saturday?"
"I'm saying that my dating schedule is too insignificant to be the concern of you or anyone else for that matter," he retorted somewhat sharply.
"That's not an answer."
"No, then. I don't go out with a different girl every Saturday. Can I ask you a question now?"
"That's how the game works, doesn't it," Charlie stated with more malice than she intended.
"Why do you get angry every time we talk about my dating life. I asked you about Reed without biting your head off." His glasses were skewed on the bridge of his nose as he leaned forward for Charlie's answer.
"I'm not angry. I'm just trying to get an understanding of how guys think."
"Guys? You can't exactly lump all of us together like that. That would be like assuming all girls actually like it when guys hold the door open for them."
"We do. We just don't like to admit it."
"Oh, thanks for the heads up," Aidan returned. "So you wanna tell me the real reason for all the date-related questions? It doesn't have anything to do with Denton, does it?"
Charlie paled in affirmation. "Reed and I stopped dating because he called it off."
"Okay. Next question. What is—"
"He said he was bored," Charlie looked down in shame.
"Ouch. Well then, I guess you guys should have played this game from time to time. I have to say Miss Sullivan, you're more interesting than the rumor brigade makes you out to be."
She looked up with reassurance. His smile convinced her to abandon the issue and continue on. "Is it my turn to ask again?"
"Just five questions left. Better make them good ones."
"You'll regret saying that when you hear my questions," she stated with renewed vivacity. "What's your favorite chick-flick?"
"Shit, you're good," he easily admitted. "You can't laugh at my answer. It's entirely my mom's fault. She left it on with the tape still in the VCR, and I couldn't take it out. So…I watched it. And now, more than ever, I wish I had just turned off the television set."
"Stop stalling. Answer the question!" she was practically giddy with anticipation.
With a boyishly uncomfortable expression, Aidan spoke. "Sleepless in Seattle." As Aidan had expected, Charlie delayed about a millisecond before reacting.
"Awwww. If only your little fan club knew that. They'd be pudding in your hands."
"Moving right along, do you eat ice cream when you're depressed?"
"That's a weak question. I'll admit to that one hundred percent," Charlie beamed.
"So you lied when you said you didn't like ice cream?" he rhetorically inquired.
Charlie smiled with guilt and continued. "What were you most afraid of as a kid?"
"Okay, now this is just not fair…I'd have to say…those meet-and-greet cartoon characters at amusement parks. I didn't like how their faces didn't move or change." Charlie weakly attempted to suppress her laughter but Aidan heard her guffaws and spoke. "How about you just ask your last three questions together. I don't think my pride can handle many more blows."
Charlie politely stopped laughing before she nodded in agreement. The LCD display on the dryer indicated a total of five minutes left when she began to ask her final questions. "Which Disney princess is your favorite? What's the worst thing you did during your teenage rebellion phase? And lastly, at what age did you get your growth spurt?" Satisfied with her questions, Charlie perked up for the answers.
"Belle. She had the most guts. And as an added bonus-she's French," he spoke as he jokingly waggled his eyebrows making Charlie laugh. "My teenage rebellion was pretty limited. The worst thing I did was when I didn't go and pick up Ty from school out of spite. My dad had grounded me for talking back to him. But I'll admit, I was an ass," he nobly said as he realigned his glasses on their perch. "I'm not sure about this last one. You'd have to ask my mom to be sure. I think I was about fourteen—six inches in a year."
Charlie nodded in acknowledgment of his answers. "That's it on my end. You've got four left for me?"
"Ya. Let's just take the clothes out first. The cycle's about to end," he replied as he stepped towards the dryer and Charlie. Before she could voice her agreement, the sound of a key in a lock made Charlie stir. "That's probably my parents," he said calmly as he began folding the powder blue sheets. "Here's your shirt. I think your jeans are in there somewhere."
"Hurry and give them to me!" Charlie said with wide eyes. "I'm still wearing your clothes. Oh my god, how deep is this stupid dryer," she bemoaned as she crouched in front of the machine searching with fervor.
Aidan laughed out loud as he took in the sight before him. "Oh, look. They were here the entire time—hidden under the tablecloth." Charlie frantically leapt at Aidan, snatched the pants from his hands, and dashed to the nearest cherub-painted room. "I'll be right back. Stall your parents!"
"What's the big deal, anyway?" he shouted back as he made his way to the front door. Mr. and Mrs. Hainsworth had just stepped in when the sound of a slamming door sounded from the end of the hallway.
"Aidan, is that you?"
"Hey, mom. Dad. How was your night?"
"It went well. Your dad is quite the dancer," she smiled. "Where's Charlotte?" Elaine Hainsworth asked with mild concern.
"She's in the bathroom, I think," he supplied with an all-too-knowing look.
"When did you get back, Aidan?" his father asked as he tossed his keys on a nearby table.
"Not too long ago," he lied through his teeth.
"You weren't bothering Charlotte, were you?" his father continued. "I know—"
"Is Tyler in bed?" Mrs. Hainsworth cut off her husband as he shrugged and disappeared into the kitchen.
"Ya, he fell asle—" Aidan began to answer.
"Hi, Mrs. Hainsworth!" Charlie nearly shouted as she sprinted into the living room.
"Hi, Charlotte, there you are. And please, call me Elaine," she smiled. "Was Tyler any trouble?"
"Not at all. He's a real sweetheart."
"That's good. I won't keep you long; I know it's late," Mrs. Hainsworth said as she hung her coat in the closet. "Thank you for tonight; I hope you're available next weekend as well."
"I should be. Oh, and I'm sorry, I just finished the laundry and it's still unfolded."
"Don't worry about it. Thank you so much for doing it," she said as she handed Charlie an envelope and walked towards the kitchen. "I don't know how John and I would manage without you," she smiled back before leaving the room. It was easy to see where Aidan got his thousand-watt smile.
"It's no problem," Charlie called out. "Oh, and could I use your phone to call home? My cell phone died."
"Home?" Mr. Hainsworth had re-entered the room. "Aidan can drop you off," he said as he tossed the set of keys from the table to his son. Aidan, who had stood there idly for the last minute, jerked at the sound of his name and caught the keys just in time.
"It's alright," Charlie called after Mr. Hainsworth's retreating figure. "I'll just call home and—"
"Give up, Sullivan. I'm taking you home. Get your stuff, I'll be in the car," Aidan said as he swung open the door and disappeared down the driveway. Charlie exhaled loudly before she retrieved her jacket and grabbed her backpack.
"It's March and it's twenty-seven degrees. Does Mother Nature get some sick pleasure out of freezing us?" Charlie questioned. Despite the fact that the heat was on full blast, the Hainsworth's car was still a bit nippy.
"She is a woman," Aidan quipped from his post at the steering wheel. It was about a ten-minute drive to the Sullivan house. In the cold, however, Charlie felt as though each numbing second lasted the length of five.
"So, you still have four questions left," she remembered.
"Right, you set?" Charlie nodded as she rubbed her hands together to keep warm. "This wasn't one I had planned on earlier, but I have to ask. Why'd you get so excited when my parents came home?"
The car made a left turn before Charlie answered. "Because it's weird. Your mom would wonder why you're home, why I was wearing your clothes and not my own, and probably a bunch of other stuff," she supplied weakly.
"My mom's cool. She wouldn't have cared. But wait a minute, are you implying that my parents' minds would directly jump to one conclusion?" They had reached another intersection stop sign.
"I'm not implying anything," Charlie grumbled in frustration. "This whole night has been weird."
"But in a good way, right?" Aidan squinted from behind his glasses as he made another left turn.
"Three questions left," she replied, not answering his question.
"Okay, okay. Now that we've talked practically all night, would you talk to me at school?"
"Two hours hardly qualifies as all night, Aidan." The sound of his name spoken in her voice left Charlie with a strange feeling. "I'd talk to you in school, if you talked to me."
"Deal. I'll hold you to that. Your house is on Nelson Drive, right?"
"Ya, just make a right here," Charlie yawned out. At a quarter to twelve, she was unusually wiped out and completely consumed with thoughts of her bed.
"Tired already? It's not even midnight. I've still got two questions left," he all but whined.
"I was up early. And your runt of a brother keeps a girl on her toes," she supplied while trying her best not to nod off.
"Can't argue with you there," Aidan said as he pulled over in front of the Sullivan residence. He shifted the car into "Park" before turning off the engine and leaning back in his seat. Charlie, too sleepy to care, had nestled into the finally warm, leather seat. "Why'd you tell my mom you'd be available next Saturday to baby-sit Tyler?"
"Wha?" she asked with a muffle.
"My mom. She asked you if you were free next Saturday, and you said yes." With the car battery still on, the steady flow of heat from the vents slowly raised the temperature. Charlie opened her eyes to answer the question. "I said yes because I am free. As far as I know, my day planner has been free for every Saturday night since I started baby-sitting your brother. Your mom knows that," Charlie explained as she sat up in her seat and moved to grab her backpack from the back seat. "She just asked to be nice." Her new position put in her in a direct line with the stream of hot air coming from the central vent on the control panel.
Aidan didn't respond as Charlie retrieved her backpack and hit the unlock button on the passenger side door. "Was that one of your two questions? If so, you've only got one left, and I'm doing my best to stay awake." The strong howling of the wind could still be heard from the inside of the car, and all Charlie wanted was to snuggle up under a quilt with a soft pillow under her head.
"Do you prefer being called Charlotte or Charlie?" he finally spoke.
"I don't really have much of a preference. People generally call me by some variation of my name and I respond to them all," she said truthfully. "My family calls me Char, my friends call me Chuck, your brother calls me Charlie, and your mom calls me Charlotte. That's one of the perks of having such a nick-nameable name," she finished as her hand curled around the door handle.
"Ya, you're right. Can't exactly revamp my name that many ways," he admitted. "Only Ty calls me Aid, and just for the record, he's the only one that's allowed to," he mock threatened. Charlie offered a genuine smile in response while bracing herself for the cold. "Okay, Aidan. Thanks for the ride, and… I guess I'll see you on Monday."
"Wait, I'll walk you to your door," he quickly spoke as he pulled the keys out of the ignition. Before Charlie could react, he was already out the door and halfway to her side of the car.
"Um, you really don't have to." Walking girls to the door qualified as date behavior in Charlie's book. And to be frank, the events of the night hardly qualified as a date in that same book.
"But I want to," he said as they walked up the pavement path leading to the Sullivan's front door. "I decided the question about your Saturday night availability didn't count."
"Fine. So one last question then," Charlie stated as she continued to walk while pulling her jacket tighter around her frame. She turned to face Aidan, only to find he was standing several feet behind her.
She sighed for the umpteenth time that night, and shivered her way back to where he stood. "Please, please just ask already," she pleaded, "It's entirely too cold for us to stand out here in the middle of the night."
"Will you go out with me this Saturday?" he asked with unwavering composure.
Charlie looked up at Aidan with vacant eyes. Of all the questions he could have asked, Charlie was the least prepared to answer that one. Even so, she gathered her wits and spoke with a steady voice. "Are you sure that's your last question? You could have asked me one of a million other things. Maybe the cold is getting to you. Are you sick?" Without thinking, Charlie placed her hand on Aidan's forehead to check for a nonexistent fever. The icy feel of his skin surprised Charlie as she quickly retracted her wayward hand.
Aidan laughed heartily. "Is that a no?"
She cradled her arm as Aidan awaited her answer. "I'm just saying, you might want to rethink the question."
"Okay, I get it," he said with a shrug. The wind picked up when he turned to re-enter the car.
"Wait." In spite of Charlie's amazing rationalizing skills, she couldn't fully convince herself that she was doing the smartest thing. Through the course of a few hours, she had learned a great deal about the Aidan Hainsworth everyone, herself included, had pretended to know.
"Change your mind?" he hopefully asked as he took two steps towards her. Her heart involuntarily started to race. Due to the bitter cold, one's heart rate would normally slow down, but Charlie's was increasing by the second. The fault, as she well knew, lay entirely with Aidan. "Oh," he shook his head in realization, "you want me to wait until you get inside. Sorry, I forgot. I'll wait, go ahead," he misinterpreted.
His words took a few seconds for Charlie to comprehend. He looked at her with mild confusion when she noticed the state of his face. The arctic night air had caused his cheeks to pick up a rosy blush. And serving as a sharp contrast to the warmth of the car, the harsh cold had also caused his glasses to fog up. Charlie finally noticed this when she peered up at him. Lengthening the silence, she reached out and removed his specs. His confusion deepened as his eyes crinkled at the gale-like wind. "What are you doing?" Charlie didn't answer, but continued to use the sleeve of her thin jacket to wipe the fog from the lenses.
Understanding her movements, Aidan reached out to take back his glasses. Charlie ignored his outstretched arm and proceeded to place the frames back on. The intimacy of the action surprised both of them as Charlie fell flat on her feet, reestablishing their height difference. "Your glasses were foggy, so I…"
Charlie inhaled deeply before continuing. But before she could finish her sentence, Aidan hunched forward and pressed his lips to hers. The kiss, if one chose to call it that, lasted less than a second. To a well-read romantic, it was more of a chaste peck.
"Oh, crap," he started. "I'm sorry…" To Adian's dismay, Charlie didn't respond. She stood still and remained voiceless. It was a strange departure from the lively conversations they had had earlier. After a few more painstaking seconds, Aidan released a heavy sigh and turned his eyes away. Charlie, noticing his slight movement, grasped his left sleeve.
She moved her hand up his left arm and slowly to the back of his neck. By now, his eyes were firmly fixed on hers. And then, to her disbelief, she pulled his head down and pushed her lips onto his. The undeniable heat that surged through her body channeled its way through her arm and into his chest. The warmth of her lips and the chill of the air, a contrast unlike any other, put Aidan's senses on fire. His electric state leveled off when she pulled away and smiled back with newly reddened lips.
"Please don't apologize for that," he said as his face adjusted to the absence of her closeness.
"I wasn't going to," she replied with a slow forming smile. "Who should tell your mom?"
"What? Are you serious?" his eyes widened in amazement.
"Of course I am. It would be the responsible thing to do," she affirmed with her arms crossed. "What kind of person do you think I am?"
"I don't exactly know, Sullivan," he answered more calmly.
"Charlie. I prefer being called Charlie," she evenly stated.
"Okay…Charlie. I'll tell my mom if it really matters that much to you." He noted the mirth in her eyes as he talked on, "Never pegged you as the kiss and tell type though."
Unable to contain her amusement, Charlie let out a series of teeth-chattering laughs. "Fine," she said with another giggle. "You can tell your mom."
Aidan grinned uncomfortably as he shook his head and returned to the car. Charlie waited until he had started the engine to run up to the driver side window. As he shifted the car into drive, Charlie tapped on the glass.
"You still don't get it, do you?" she asked with the glass rolled down.
"I am beyond confused," he admitted, "one minute I kiss you and then apologize, the next you kiss me and I kiss back, and then you decide to tell my mom about it."
"I thought glasses were supposed to make you feel smarter," she jibed. "I want you to tell your mom I won't be able to make it on Saturday. For the first time, I'll be giving my attention to the elder of the Hainsworth boys," she finished with a full smile.
Aidan smacked his forehead in realization. "How could anyone find you boring?" he verbally wondered. "I'll see you on Monday?"
"Monday," Charlie answered. Aidan nodded before hitting the gas and heading home. Charlie replayed the events of the last few hours as she turned to finally enter her house. Who cared what anyone else said? Baby-sitting was definitely under-rated.