This is dedicated to my friend who despite being forty minutes away is still able to be one of my best confidants. Without her, this story probably wouldn't have even been concieved since she pushed and prodded me to write her this. I hope you enjoy it! Reviews and thoughts are always welcome.
Andrew McCarthy ruined my perception of teenaged love.
My mom had gotten me hooked on John Hughes movies, claiming that anyone in their right mind should enjoy the perfection that is the eighties teen angst genre. Of course her affinity for Mr. Hughes didn't discount Cameron Crowe's and Joel Schumacher's contributions. For whatever reason, out of the Jake Ryans and Lloyd Dobblers, I fell irresistibly in love with Andrew McCarthy's characters. He was utter perfection despite the fact that he's old enough to be my dad.
Growing up, before my life was horrifically ruined by the realization that boys are immature idiots, I dreamed of a day that he would one day come to sweep me off my feet. When I came to the conclusion that Blane and Kevin are fictional characters and Andrew McCarthy would never come to rescue me from horny bastards, I tried to give it up. It didn't work. I still have the hope that an adorable blue eyed, brown haired, sensitive rich kid would defy social odds, fall in love and live happily ever after with me. God forbid if something ever goes my way for once. I, Emma Walsh, send out a birthday wish every single year, hoping that it would happen. For now though, I content myself by having Andrew McCarthy be my fantasy.
I had Pretty in Pink on the brain as I sat in my chemistry class sixth period. Going over mole relationships made me want to poke my eye out so rather than risk being blind, I doodled in my notebook. I was carefully outlining the letters of "Andrew McCarthy" when I felt a gentle prod next to me from Nate, my best friend who was the only one who truly knew the depths of my obsession. He had long gotten past the point of teasing and simply laughs at it now. He tried to wean me from it multiple times but without much success. He ended the battle, knowing that it was futile.
"What?" I asked.
His brown eyes conveyed slight annoyance at the scene. "Stop fucking around. Pay attention."
I rolled my eyes. Moles were not important in the grand scheme of things. "You pay attention. I'm busy."
"That is stupid," he whispered, trying to reach over to grab my piece of paper. "Getting an A isn't."
"Stop patronizing me," I said, slapping his hand away.
"Give it to me!"
"Excuse me Emma and Nate," Mr. Johnson called out. Our bickering was louder than I had imagined. "What are you discussing that is so important?"
I sent a glare over to Nate who was crumpling up the paper in victory. "Nothing," I replied.
"Well then, be quiet please. There are those who want to learn this," he said before resuming his lecture.
I rolled my eyes. I knew the rest of the class was glad for the intrusion.
When the bell finally rang twenty minutes later, I walked out of the classroom and headed towards my locker. As I twirled the lock to open it, an unwelcome presence graced me in the form of Caden Matthews. The boy was Prince Charming if he were written by the Brothers Grimm rather than Disney.
"I heard about your little disruption, Emma," he said, leaning casually against the locker. "I have to say, I think you're slacking there. I wouldn't want you to fail Chemistry."
"Go away Caden," I said, trying to grab the books I needed for the next couple classes. I ran through the list in my head and once I was satisfied, I slammed it shut before walking away.
Unfortunately, he was in my next class which afforded him the chance to accompany me. "Aww," he taunted. The words were like some sort of potent mix of poison. "Are you really that willing to get away from me? I thought we had something going for us. I mean, you're always up for a good time aren't you?"
"Trying to add another notch to your bed? Then again, knowing you, it's probably another STD," I said.
He chuckled with an undertone of condescension. "Why would I bother you then? I wouldn't have trouble finding a willing participant."
Sadly it was true. Caden, while the complete opposite of a gentleman, always was rumored to be with a girl. James Spader would have been proud. Even in my distaste, I could see why he was popular. He was gorgeous physically. He stood at a hefty 6'2 which made it easier to intimidate my frame of 5'4. With blue eyes that sparkled and brown hair that was the perfect length of being neither too long nor too short, he was my ideal type. Unfortunately, his repellent personality ruined it.
If it weren't for the fact that this was a regular occurrence I would have slapped him by now. We had already reached the classroom and with the teacher there, I was no longer obligated to say anything to him. Choosing to be the bigger person, I calmly walked to my desk. He went to his and for the rest of the period, nothing was said between us. It was a relief.
I met Nate at the end of the day at my locker. He was already there, looking bored as he saw me approach him. He nonchalantly nodded his hello before staring off into the distance again.
I quirked an eyebrow. "Are you alright there? You look kind of dazed."
"Nothing," he said.
"Ok," I said.
A moment passed as I got my things together. He was still acting strange so I kept passing him looks to reaffirm his behavior. Things were definitely off kilter.
"Are you sure you're ok?" I asked.
A beat. "Yeah, I'm fine. Don't worry."
We departed from that location to make way to his locker. The routine had become so comfortable and regular that it didn't even register to either of us. As we wandered down the hallway, Caden passed. Nate acknowledged him with a nod, giving him a friendly pat on the back. Caden returned the gesture. I rolled my eyes.
"Ugh, he's such a tool," I muttered.
Nate laughed, used to my behavior. "He's not that bad. You have to get to know him."
"Yeah, ok, like I haven't known him enough. He's been in my classes ever since the fifth grade. I can't shake him," I said. It was true. Spring Lake only had one elementary, middle and high school so the majority of kids were placed in the same classes over and over again.
He shrugged. There was no point in continuing the argument. He opened his locker, shoving everything he needed into his backpack. It made my neat freak side cringe. I noticed the slight crinkle in his eyes. Of course he was doing it to bother me.
I sighed with annoyance at the couple who were trying to suck their faces off next to me. They didn't budge. PDA was disgusting and I vowed to myself that I would never become one of those people. It was such a show. Nate, noticing my discomfort, just smirked. Asshole.
Just as we were about to leave, Candy Smith came running up to us. She fit her sickeningly sweet name. Too much of her caused you to have aches and made you promise to stay away for at least a week. With her blond hair and blue eyes though, it was nearly impossible since she looked harmless.
"Hey Candy," I said.
Her eyes lit up. "Hey Emma, Nate," she said. "So what are you two doing for the weekend? Got any plans?"
"No, not really. Just planning on hanging out," he said.
"Oh together?" she asked, her eyes gleaming with potential gossip. She was obsessed with the two of us becoming a couple. Platonic male-female relationships didn't mean anything to her.
"Yes but not in the way you want. Why, what's going on?" I said.
"Well, I'm having a party tonight and I want you two to go. It'll be fun," she said, perking up after her initial disappointment.
I glanced over at Nate who seemed to be open to it. "Yeah, alright, we'll be there."
"Great! Just text me if you have any questions getting there," she said before walking away.
He stared at me, a smile threatening to break out across his face. "Debauchery for the evening? Interesting turn of events, I must say."
"It'll be another part of my teen experience."
He laughed and we walked down the hallway, dealing with the party when we got there.
It was exactly how I pictured it: a big drunken orgy. I had chosen to wear a tank top with a denim skirt since the night was unusually balmy and walking in there made it ten times worse. I looked around, seeing that some of the girls wore skimpier outfits that barely covered them. It was a party that a classic 80s movie would have been proud of.
Nate was next to me, taking it all in. He grinned wryly to me before heading off into his own direction. Leaving me there, I cursed angrily to myself. He left me for a girl who had beckoned her finger at him. He was such a typical guy. It was demoralizing.
I made my way to the kitchen, trying to get something to drink. I grabbed a bottle of water and sipped it. The hot air was making my throat dry. As I stood there, Caden wandered in and fixated him on me.
"Hey, I wasn't expecting you to be here," he said. He had a beer cup in his hand.
"It was a last minute surprise," I replied, determinedly not staring at him.
He took notice of it and let out a chuckle. "Oh Emma, what am I going to do with you?"
I faced him. "What?" I demanded. "Are you just upset that I really, truly do not think you're god's gift to women?"
He sidled up even closer, putting his hand around my waist. "Are you that conceited that you think I'm even talking to you because I want to be in your pants?" he said, his breath hot against my face.
I glared at him. "You're an ass."
"Tell me something new. I think that's been on repeat ever since you decided that cursing was actually considered ok."
"Why mess with a good thing?" I asked, stepping even closer to him until our faces nearly touched.
He stared at me for a moment. I waited for his comeback except it never came. He backed off from me and I watched him, confused. This never happened. He cleared his throat before taking another sip from his cup. The air was awkward now with his refusal to even meet my face.
I was about to leave when he said, "So why are you really here?"
"Candy invited me."
"I know," he said, playing with his beer, "but you're always with Nate. I don't think I've ever seen you at one of these things."
"I guess I decided to try something new," I said.
The gentle tone of our conversation unnerved me. After the multiple innuendo filled, sarcastic and mocking banter that we shared, it was a drastic change of pace. Then it all came crashing down when he abruptly asked, "You're not with him right?"
"What? No!" I said. The thought that Nate and I were a couple always filled me with a sense of annoyance. It was irritating since life was not a cliché.
"Alright, I'm just asking," Caden said, raising his hands in a surrendering motion. "I was curious since you two are always together. Besides that's not my real question anyways. I want to know why you're obsessed with Andrew McCarthy."
I couldn't believe I was having this conversation with Caden Matthews of all people with drunken classmates stumbling all around me. "How do you even know about that?"
He rolled his eyes. "I don't think it's a secret. But why him?" For his part, he seemed genuinely interested.
I shrugged. "I don't know. There's something about him."
"Explain it to me," he said, putting his cup down on the countertop. He leaned forward, ready to listen.
"I guess it's because he wasn't a jock or too perfect. I mean, Blane and Kevin were both smart guys who made messed up decisions but they did the right thing at the end. They both fell for the girl who wasn't perfect but loved her anyways. Who wouldn't want that?" I sighed.
He nodded intently, his blue eyes glazing over in thought. "Yeah, it makes sense."
The moment was interrupted when Candy ran hurriedly through the house, beseeching everyone to leave. Her parents were coming home earlier than she had imagined. So at eleven at night with Nate grabbing me to leave, Caden and I shared a moment.
Monday morning, I opened my locker to find a gigantic teddy bear stuffed into the top shelf. I took it out, the furry skin nuzzling my hand and its gigantic eyes staring longingly at me. I checked it for a note to see who it was from but it had nothing. I smiled to myself. It was a sweet gesture.
Nate approached me. "Hey, what's up?"
I turned to him, the bear in full view. "Do you know who's responsible for this little guy's existence in my locker?"
His eyes widened. "Nope."
I stared at him suspiciously. His eyes widened a little too much. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah positive," he said walking away. "I'll see you later in Chem."
"Nate, wait," I shouted but he didn't listen. I stared at the bear in confusion before stuffing it back into my locker. The bell rang anyways.
For the rest of the week, random gifts kept reappearing in my locker. One day it was a box of chocolates and the next was roses. When I found a mix CD composed of love songs, it was only then that I was completely and utterly charmed. I was charmed when the gifts were appearing in the first place but when I was listening to the songs and found that they were good, my heart literally went thump.
Candy went up to me after my latest mysterious present. Her face full of intrigue, she said, "Aww, that is so sweet. You're so lucky."
"Thanks. You know, this is so weird. Like I don't know who this guy even is and he keeps sending me all of these things," I said.
"Wait, you don't know who these are from?" she asked, stepping back to examine me.
"Am I supposed to know?"
"Well, I thought you knew," she replied, her voice dropping as if we were discussing a secret.
"Do you know?" I said, matching her tone.
"Yeah. It's Nate. I saw him Wednesday putting stuff in your locker. The whole school knows," she said.
She left me gaping in shock.
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. It's like every cliché coming true except I didn't want it to be true. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.
Great, now things are awkward. The kid that you used to play in the dirt with now had dirty thoughts about you. It's so screwed up.
I began to avoid Nate, trying to do everything to prevent the inevitable. I could see his face now, the crushing disappointment and the feeling in my chest that I was a horrible, horrible person. Eager to get around it, I stopped our routines even though we've had them for years. I canceled Movie Night Friday, skipped going to his locker before going home and even gave up communication altogether unless if it was absolutely necessary. Yeah, it wasn't subtle but I figured the ends justified the means.
Friday, exactly one week after I had found out about Nate, he cornered me at my locker. I tried to escape but it was futile. His brown eyes held an air of quiet command that kept me pinned to the spot.
"What is going on?" he asked.
"Nothing," I replied, not looking at him.
"Seriously, what the hell is going on? Why are you avoiding me?" he said again, his eyes still holding the penetrating stare.
"Nothing, I'm not acting differently at all. You're seeing things."
He kept giving me that stare. I was unable to stand my ground so I ended up blurting out, "Do you like me?"
Shock settled into his eyes. A moment passed where he searched my expression to see if I completely meant it. Seeing that I did, he said, "Why?"
Dread settled into my gut. My worst nightmare was actually unraveling before my very eyes. I tried to compose a sentence but I couldn't. I could tell that they would only have come out a jumbled mess.
He continued saying, "I don't. I'm sorry if you want me to but I don't."
Hallelujah. The words were like gifts from a god. I started shrieking up and down the hallways, my actions attracting some looks from people across the hallway. I happily grabbed his shoulders, wrapping my arms around him to engulf him in a bear hug. "Yes!" I yelled.
His eyes held amusement but also confusion. "What? What happened? What'd I miss?"
I couldn't answer him right away because I was jumping up and down in ecstasy. The relief I felt was sublime. "Oh my god, I was so scared. I thought that you liked me and since I didn't exactly return the feeling, I was so worried that we would have our friendship ruined which would be the worst thing ever."
Then he started laughing. I wasn't sure exactly why but I guess the combination of the ridiculous situation, and my extreme reaction probably caused it. I thought it would only last for a little bit but it continued. Then I started getting irritated because it wasn't that funny.
When he finally stopped, his words out of breath and ribcage bulging, he said, "Why'd you think I liked you?"
"Candy Smith said that she saw you putting the stuff in my locker and that the whole school knew," I said.
"What? You would listen to Candy Smith?" he said, incredulous.
My defenses were raised. "I had no choice! Besides, it was the only possible explanation since you're the only one who knows my locker combination."
"Well it was me," he said and then added as he saw the panic settle into my eyes again, "but I'm not your secret admirer. I know who it is since I did it for him."
"Who is it?" I asked.
"I can't say."
"Please?" I begged.
"Nope, scouts honor," he grinned.
"You have to tell me!" I said.
"Sorry, I swore," he said, walking away.
The rest of the day was spent trying to pry the information from his lips.
Life went on as normal with the only exception being that I stopped getting gifts. Then again, I don't think that was normal to begin with. I tried to figure who it was but was out of ideas. It was a futile effort. Spring Lake, while small, was teaming with boys who wouldn't care enough to give tokens of affection to girls who they liked. Even though I didn't know who or knew if I ever had spoken to him, I was beginning to have a special place carved out for him in my heart. I wasn't even sure Andrew McCarthy would have done it.
It was a compliment reserved to only the select few.
I walked into English and spotted Caden already there. It was strange since he usually stopped to harass me. Now that I thought about it though, he hadn't done that for two weeks. We didn't sit near each other so I brushed it out of my mind.
Mrs. Cryer settled the class into order by announcing a group work assignment. The class gave out a prototypical groan. She had a predetermined list of partners since it was a major project. My luck made me end up with Caden.
I strode up to him, rearranging a nearby desk so that we could comfortably collaborate. He didn't say much so I didn't offer much either. We stuck only to the topic at hand. It was strange to coexist with him peacefully. I wasn't sure if something was wrong.
When I read aloud the paragraph that we had written, he corrected me by saying, "No, that's not true."
I frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"Darcy wasn't what you're saying that he was. He was in love with a girl who wouldn't give him the time of day," he said.
"Elizabeth gave him a chance but he blew it," I said.
"He was a man of pride. When he realized his mistake, he tried to correct it but Elizabeth was too set in her ways to change her mind. That scene at Longbourn while Jane was sick? He tried to talk to her so many times."
"Why would she have given him a chance when he insulted her, dismissing her beauty as though she wasn't even a person?" I inquired.
Caden was at a loss for words. He folded, going deeper into himself. I sighed. The project was going to be a long one.
Days passed and when it came to our relationship, the world had gone topsy turvy. No longer were there sharp barbs thrown at each other. In a way, he was docile. It made me almost miss the former days.
When I went to my locker the first thing in the morning, there was an envelope taped there. I paused, wondering if I should even open it. It was plain and haphazardly sealed. I took it, being careful not to tear it in the process. There was a letter there and I unfolded it to read. Glancing at it, I realized it was written by a guy. The rough, cramped handwriting didn't allow itself to be anything but. It read:
Believe it or not, I first noticed you in the fifth grade when you were a gawky girl who didn't know what to do with her freckles and red hair yet. You sat in front of me when our teacher decided not to be boring and seated us randomly instead of by alphabetical order. I remember wanting to stroke your red hair since I was absolutely fascinated by it. Unlike the other girls' it was unusual and a true red, none of the orange stuff. My eleven year old self didn't realize that I had a crush on you then. I thought that you were some sort of specimen that had special powers to cause me to act stupid around you. In a way, I guess you do since you make me act like I'm still eleven years old: immature and stupid.
It's inexplicable why I like you. You're sarcastic, and have your head so far up above the clouds sometimes that it should be annoying but it's not. I like the way you doodle in class, your mind as far away from the subject as possible. I like the way your eyes always indicate whatever you're feeling. Most of all, I like the way that you seem to see me for how I am and give me a challenge somewhere in life. I'm not Andrew McCarthy even though we share brown hair and blue eyes. I don't know if you'll allow me to be your Prince Charming but I can promise you that I'll try if you give me the chance. I'll even take you to prom one day and kiss you in front of my car with the headlights on.
P.S. I asked Nate to put all those things in your locker for me.
I was numb when I finished reading it. Out of all the secret admirers in the world, he chose to be mine. The irony didn't escape me. I couldn't even form a coherent thought. Caden was the last person that I would have chosen.
I made a decision. I had to see him. Knowing where his homeroom was, I practically ran to get there. There wasn't much time left until first period began. When I reached the room, I stopped. It was a time where collecting one's breath was a necessity. I walked in, holding the letter up in front of me. He saw me with it, his eyes losing every last bit of amusement.
"You wrote this?" I asked.
"That's what it says," he replied, getting out of his seat.
I craned my neck to look at him, his tall frame dwarfing mine. I was at a complete loss for words.
He leaned forward, his hand trying to touch me but he held himself back. "Listen," he said, "you can ignore it. I'll understand."
I didn't say anything in response to that. I took a deep breath, my mind erasing everyone else's presence in the room. Stepping forward, I did the one thing that I thought I would never do: I kissed him.
I could hear the whistles and claps breaking out in the background. When we pulled apart, I touched his face. There was no way that we would have adequately described the moment.
Five months later, we were sitting on my couch watching Pretty in Pink. St. Elmo's Fire had already been played. It was fitting that we were watching them since they essentially started it all.
Watching the scene where Blane first made his move on Andie by talking to her online, I realized that my obsession with Andrew McCarthy was meeting its end. It was time. I glanced over at Caden who was intently watching it. I settled deeper into his arm, its weight providing familiar comfort.
Andrew McCarthy, thank you for providing something to dream about. It eventually came true.