The problem with Aaron Aderholt was that he was just so…
"Obnoxious!" I spluttered, slamming my locker shut. "I mean, it's not like he ever thinks of anyone but himself—why should he expect everyone else to? A good deed my ass, Kelly. A good deed my ass."
Because Aaron was student body president, he had the right to organize things such as this. We lowly representatives of the Associated Student Body, of course, had no choice but to go along with whatever the hell it was he suggested. At today's meeting, for instance, he decided that ASB was going to do a good deed. "Your thoughts will be considered, as always," he'd said. "I'm thinking sick kids, maybe? They're the ones who, you know, could use a little goodness, I think. So, uh," at this point, he'd gotten a little uncomfortable because of the pretty debate club captain, Jane, watching him with the cutest expression on her annoyingly blemish-free face. Well. He knew he was good-looking, why should it make a difference that Jane Yee thought so too? "So, uh," he repeated, "come up with some ideas for what we could do, and tell everyone at next meeting. Adjourned," he'd closed.
Back in the present, my friend Kelly gave me a look that clearly told me she pitied my sanity—or, of course, lack thereof. "I don't know, Mia. Maybe he's you know, a good guy after all."
"He's not," I told her stubbornly. "He's only doing this for his college apps. That's all it is and you know it."
"He doesn't need more community service on his applications," Kelly retorted. "He did at least thirty hours back in freshman year with you and Jane and Jessica and them. That's more than enough for any college."
"Then it's a ploy to make people love him. As if they don't already. He's just annoying! Why can't anyone else see that?"
"Because it's not true," she suggested. "Okay, he was a bit of a tool back then, but that was ages and ages ago. Forget it."
"I will not forget the guy who freaking stood me up after he asked me out. I mean, I could understand if I'd been the one doing the asking; you know, he only said yes to be polite, and then needed to back out. I could respect it, sure. But he asked me on that lousy date, Kelly Pham, and I was the one who agreed, being polite. And then I was the one stood up with no calls or explanations."
"Aaron's not an idiot. He knew what you were like when he asked you out, Mims. He knew you'd agree because you hate being rude, and he knew you'd never take excuses if he backed out. He knew you'd never speak to him again if he stood you up because you hold grudges, and I'm assuming that, at the time, he was willing to risk that because he figured, on some odd off-chance, you might actually have fun with him."
"I guess that would make sense. If it was anyone but me with anyone but him. I don't understand why he couldn't have just told me what he was doing, though, if he wasn't just not going."
"I told you, Mia, it's because he knows you. You don't accept excuses; you never have. He had no reason to believe you'd accept his."
"Maybe I would have," I said fairly.
Kelly shrugged, her straight, dark hair falling over her shoulders. "And maybe you wouldn't have. Maybe he was just scared. When you think about it, there was a two-thirds chance that you'd end up never speaking to him again."
I rolled my eyes. Kelly and her statistics… "Elucidate."
"Well, I mean, he could've given you an excuse, you could've rejected it and never spoken to him again, he could've said nothing and you'd never speak to him again, or, on the off-chance, the one-third, he could've given you his excuse, you'd've accepted it, and you two could still be dating. But that was a slim chance. One third, if I haven't mentioned."
Confusing as that was, I could see how it might've been hopping about in Aaron's mind. "Coward," I said of the boy, very bitterly.
"Yep," Kelly agreed. "Completely and undeniably."
The problem with Aaron Aderholt was that he was just so…
"ADD, much?" I muttered, listening to Aaron's fingertips make pitter-patter sounds on the faux-wooden desktop in front of me.
He looked around, startled. "Sorry," he said. And he turned to face forward again, his hands pressed flat against the desk.
But now his knee was bouncing.
I'd always read in books about people and bouncing their knees, you know, when they were restless or bored or whatever. But I'd never actually seen anyone do it. So I laughed, just a little. He turned to face me again. "What?"
"You're bouncing your knee," I told him, giggling.
His eyebrows drew together. "Uh-huh," he said slowly.
"Skip the pills, or what?" I said, rather rudely.
"Yeah, actually," he said. "My prescription doesn't get renewed until next week."
I wasn't sure whether he was joking. But I figured it'd be less offensive if I just played along. "What do you need them for?"
"ADHD," he said, rubbing his eye tiredly. "It's damn annoying, you know. Everyone looking at me like I'm a freak. So stop, please."
I might've pulled my jaw off the floor right about then. But then I said, "People look up to you. They don't think you're a freak."
"That's while I've got Ritalin," he said, shrugging. "Once I'm off, though…" he trailed off. "I'm not so great anymore. I can't concentrate. Little things that used to be so easy suck real bad right now. Sitting through this, for instance," he gestured at the television at the front of the classroom, showing some movie or another on something supposedly scientific.
"Please, Aderholt," I whispered with an eye-roll. "I don't even have ADHD, and I still can't sit through this."
He laughed quietly. "True, true, Mia. Maybe you just haven't been diagnosed yet."
"Wouldn't that be great?" I said sarcastically. "Prescribed pills. That's just what I need."
"I will notify every doctor in the area never to give you drugs," Aaron vowed solemnly.
"What if I need them?" I asked.
Aaron thought about it. "Then maybe I'll let you see a doctor. Maybe. But you don't need them."
"How do you know?"
"I know you, Amelia Erickson. You don't need them. You might be unstable, but not pill-worthy."
I tried not to smile. "I'm not unstable."
Aaron's expression turned to one I couldn't quite place. If I'd felt it on my own face, I would've said I was sad, or maybe reminiscent. Maybe both. "Everyone's got their issues."
"What do you mean?"
Aaron appeared to think about it. "I don't know what I mean anymore. Random things just come out of my mouth, and I know that I mean them, but I don't know what I mean by them. It probably confuses me more than it confuses you."
"You confuse me a lot."
He met my eyes and we just looked at each other for a long time. I knew he knew what I was talking about. He tried to say something, I think, but he didn't. Couldn't. His face was troubled as he turned away.
I sighed. Fine, then. If that was how it was going to be, that was how it was going to be.
The problem with Aaron Aderholt was that he was just so…
"Smart, Aaron, really smart," I overheard Jessica Andrews telling him one day. "Why would you do that?"
"It was a long time ago, Jess. Forget it."
"I will not forget it. I was talking with Kelly Pham, and you know how they're like best friends." I froze. They were talking about me. "Kelly said that Mia was probably just pissed off 'cause you stood her up. Why would you stand up Mia Erickson? She's so cute, and she'd be perfect for you and everything! What the hell is wrong with you, Aaron? No explanations, no nothing!" I could hear Jess pacing, her heels click-clacking on the linoleum floor of the ASB office.
"She isn't pissed. She might've cared then, but she doesn't care now. She only thinks she does, because she's a girl and girls hold grudges even after the fact. If she's really still pissed about something that happened two years ago, then I'm glad I stood her up. I don't need another psychotic girlfriend."
"What psychotic girls have you dated? Oh my God, bad joke, Aaron. Bad joke." I stifled a laugh as Jessica realized that she'd been the only one to date Aaron Aderholt—ever. "That's lame. I'm the one who should be ashamed for dating you, not the other way around."
"Why would you be ashamed to date me?"
"Because you're a dipshit, Aaron. You make bad choices. And I made a bad choice in dating you."
I held my breath in Aaron's silence. Finally, he said, "Do you mean that, Jess? Was it really that bad?"
I could hear Jessica sit on what sounded like the top of a desk and sigh. I heard clicking, which meant that she'd taken off her glasses and was playing with them like she always did when she was thinking. "No. It was good. It was fun. Nice. You were nice—you are nice. But I shouldn't have dated you when you didn't even like me."
I should not have been listening to this. I knew that, and yet I couldn't bring myself to walk away. "I liked you."
"Not as much as you liked Mia."
Aaron said nothing. Finally: "She had nothing to do with our relationship, Jess."
"And yet you don't deny it! Every girl in the world loves you, Ace. Every girl except Amelia Erickson. Why waste your time on her?" Jess was off the desk now, pacing again.
"I'm not!" he shouted. "I'm not," he repeated, softer. "I was over her years ago. Before you and I."
Jessica sighed again. "Why is it that I don't believe you?"
"I don't know, Jess. Is it because you don't trust me? That's why we broke up, isn't it? Trust issues?"
"No, Ace. We broke up because you didn't love me."
"I did love you, Jessica! And sometimes… sometimes I think I still do."
"Trust me, Aaron. Just look at yourself. You're using lines from chick flicks, trying to be the hero everyone wants you to be. Just stop it. Take a minute, and think about how you really feel. Step away from your fucking podium, put your fucking gavel down, and stick your good-boy class-prez attitude on the highest shelf in your fucking mental closet! Now think about it, Aaron! What are you going to do?"
I felt myself holding my breath again, even though I knew they wouldn't hear me. Finally, Aaron said, "What I should've done two years ago."
The problem with Aaron Aderholt was that he was just so…
"Damn persistent!" I told Kelly as we walked to the ASB office for a council meeting. "I mean, honestly, he tried to talk to me at least ten times today, but then he's just like, never mind, then."
"You're scaring him away, Mia." Kelly shrugged. "I'd be freaked too, if you were looking at me like that."
"Hello, ladies," Jessica said as we entered. "Our president will be arriving shortly. He's been at the thing for band all day, and we don't know when he'll be back, but he'll be here. Grab an agenda and get out a pen, like usual."
"What do you mean? I'm not looking like anything! If he's got something to say, why won't he say it?"
"The same reason he didn't say it sophomore year, Mims," Jess said, walking past our table.
"What are you on about, Jess?" I snapped.
Jess rolled her eyes behind her tortoise-shell glasses and sat beside me at the table. "Look. He's got his reasons for not being there. I know; I talked to him. But it's easier for him the way things are. If you hate him because he did nothing, he can go on pretending that you're in the wrong, and everything will be fine. But if he tells you, you could still hate him, and then it'll be all his fault."
"I don't hate him."
Kelly and Jessica both looked at me like I was insane. "Then why are you such a bitch to him?" Jess asked incredulously.
"Why can't you just let it go?" Kelly then asked.
"Because…" I felt their eyes on me, one pair black and one pair green, both boring holes in my face. "Because even after that, I'm still in love with him! That's why!"
Their jaws dropped. The room was silent. There was no one there but Jess, Kelly, and I, but I felt as though a thousand people had heard what I'd just said. "You're…" Kelly tried.
"… in love…" Jess added.
"With Aaron Aderholt?" Kelly squeaked.
"ARGH! Yes! I don't know why it took you all so long! That would have been the freaking FIRST thing that came to my mind! Hate? HATE? What the hell is hate? You can only truly hate something if you care about it! You can't hate things like doorstops and postage stamps, because honestly, who the hell cares? But Aaron, ha! Thinks he's so beautiful and thinks he's so smart! Oh, pity-me-pity-me I have a chemical imbalance in my brain and I'm off my pills, woo-freaking-hoo! Look at me and my ASB presidency, look at me and my first-chair-trumpet-ness! Look at me and the beautiful girl I've dated and the beautiful girls I'm going to date! And look at freaking Mia Erickson, the girl I stood up! Isn't it just high-freaking-larious? Because I think it is, world, I really think it is!"
They stared at me as though I should be locked up in a room with padded walls. Hell, I thought I should be locked up in a room with padded walls. But I didn't care. I needed to say it; I'd needed to say it for a long time. "I've liked him since the moment I met him, and you know what? That changed. Soon it was like there was no one else in the world but Aaron Freaking Aderholt. If he wouldn't have me, I wouldn't have anyone. If he didn't want me, I was sure to die alone. And then he wanted me. And I was happy. Not like, take your magnetized mood-frame and mark the smiley face when you open your locker in the morning type happy. Think… think Maria-dancing-on-the-freaking-hills-of-Austria happy. Think tickle-me-Elmo happy. Think ten-year-old boy with a six-pack of Mountain Dew and a six-pack of Monster with no one to stop him from drinking it happy. That's how freaking happy I was!
"And then he didn't show up when he said he would. And he didn't speak to me at school on Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Wednesday or Thursday or any other day, ever, for the rest of the school year. And then he's dating Jessica Andrews. Prettier than me, smarter than me, and most likely a whole fucking lot saner than me. And it makes sense. It all makes sense, because why would he settle for this when he could have that? He could have anything. When he finally speaks to me again, do you know what he says? DO YOU?"
Kelly and Jessica shook their heads.
"He says, 'Watch where you're going.' WATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING! I bump into him in the freaking hallway because some JV football player thinks he's amusing everyone around him by throwing balls in the corridor, it hits me in the back and I turn to see who threw it so I can kill them. And then Aaron Aderholt tells me to watch where I'm going. And I decided I wouldn't care. I couldn't. Caring hurt too much; hating was easier. Only then, I discovered what I've just told you: You can't have hating without caring. It hurt to hate, still, because hating and caring come together. It was just easier to hide it now. But do you know what really pisses me off? The fact that everyone blames me. They blame me because he stood me up. He stood me up and didn't tell me why. And all this time, everyone's been going on about how I was just an impossible person, and how freaking perfect little Aaron Aderholt wouldn't explain himself to me because of this, when all I want is to know why he did it. Would I forgive him? Of course I would forgive him! How could I not forgive him? I loved him.
"And you," I said to Kelly, "and your statistics. Two-thirds chance I'd hate him, my ass. Statistics don't work when you factor in love. Yeah, maybe it was a two-to-one chance I'd hate him forever. But the fact remained that the one-third, the off-chance, was a hell of a lot bigger than the two-thirds. I don't care what the numbers say; I just know what I say. All this has been blown out of proportion, anyway. Maybe he was sick; maybe he was broke. I don't care if he thought I wouldn't believe him; I don't care if he thought I'd think it was an excuse. You know what? I don't even care why he did it. No matter what it was, I still forgive him. No matter what it was, I still love him. I can't help it. He's just so… Aaron."
Jessica stared at me, her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes. "I'm not prettier than you, Mia."
"After all that, that's what you have to say? Look, Jess, it doesn't matter." I smiled, knowing it was true. It didn't matter. "I just needed to say that. All of that. It doesn't matter how I felt then, or even how I feel now. What matters is that… it's over. Whatever the weird hatred was… it's over. He doesn't have to love me; hell, he doesn't even have to like me. I'll get over it, someday."
Kelly coughed lightly and jerked her head toward the doorway behind me. Jess and I turned around to see Aaron leaning against the doorframe. His light brown hair was mussed, and his tie from the band performance was askew. The sleeves of his white button-down shirt were rolled to his elbows, and his arms were crossed at his chest. "Good to know I'm get-over-able."
I felt my mouth open in surprise. "Um. Wow. How long have you been there?"
"'That would be the freaking first thing that came to my mind,'" he quoted.
"And how long did you know he was there?" I asked Kelly.
"'You and your statistics,'" she said sheepishly.
"Mia," Aaron said, walking to the table and leaning against it. "I didn't go on our date because my little brother was riding his bike, and he got hit by a car." I gasped. "He's fine now, of course. But I was in the ER all night. I imagined trying to tell you, and it sounded like a lie from a sitcom. An excuse. I tried to tell you so many times… but I couldn't do it. It was easier to have you hate me for not doing anything than to hate me for lying."
"But you wouldn't've been lying," I said. "I would've believed you. You should've told me. God. You're just so stupid."
"Did you mean all that stuff you just told them?" His green-blue eyes searched mine, as though the answer to his question was in them, somewhere.
"Mia." He smiled as he said my name. "Oh, God, Mia. I'm so sorry." I didn't know how it happened, but suddenly I was hugging him and crying all over his shirt, and he was holding me and kissing the top of my head and rocking me gently back and forth. "Shh," he said softly. "It's okay. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. Mia, just tell me you forgive me, please?"
"Of course I forgive you!" I sobbed. "Weren't you listening? I love you, you idiot."
"And I love you, too." He pressed my head against his chest, still hugging me tightly to him with his other arm. "Even though you're clearly very unstable."
I gave a watery laugh, smiling against him. "Still think I don't need pills?"
"Oh, Lord, Mia, you need pills more than anyone I know. You need pills more than I do."
"Shut up," I mumbled, still smiling.
"Gladly." And he turned my head up and kissed me, full on the lips. "You'll go out with me now, right?"
"I'll make sure my brother's bike is locked up tight."
"Oh, goodness, Aderholt. You don't need to do that. Jeez. You're just so…"
"Just so what?" he asked, when I didn't finish. Instead of answering, I kissed him again. "Oh. Just so that."