Keeley avoided school for a week by pretending to have a terrible flu. She knew her father's aversion to illness—he was a sympathetic puker and incredibly squeamish over all.
All she had to do was put a baggie of hot water on her face for a few minutes each day to fake a fever and she was able to stay safely away from Aaron Hale.
In between makeup assignments her teachers emailed to her and watching a lot of bad reality TV (a guilty pleasure), she tried to think of ways to get Aaron off her back. She had nothing.
If he only wanted her to fall down and worship at his feet, why had he gone so far as to kiss her? Was he trying to get together only to dump her and show everyone how insignificant she was?
She wouldn't put it past him considering his classist nature. More likely than not, the whole thing was nothing but a twisted joke not to be taken seriously. But how should she react when she saw him again? She couldn't avoid school forever.
Keeley mailed the box of presents back to him using a fake name and address so his father wouldn't be able to investigate her. She preferred to avoid confrontation.
Maybe she could pretend nothing happened when they met again. As of right now, she had no plans to ever speak to him again. Having participation points docked would be far superior to interacting with that creep.
Luck wasn't on her side though. The day she came back, Keeley was dismayed to discover that an important partner project had been assigned that was worth a significant chunk of their grade and she was stuck with the last person on earth she wanted to work with.
They had to co-author a series of Shakespearean love sonnets to inanimate objects instead of people within the next three days.
Wouldn't this sort of writing assignment be better done individually?! Why did teachers always have to emphasize group work? Literally no one liked group projects!
"So when do you want to do this, partner?" Aaron asked coolly, looking over at her as she laid her head on the desk exhaustedly. "Lunchtime in the library?"
School was definitely out of the question. Too many people could spread gossip and incite Lacy's rage.
"No, I have something else going on at lunch."
"Why don't we do it at my place after school? My driver can take you home afterwards."
Keeley raised her head and bit her lip, torn. She didn't want to go to Aaron's austere house and risk running into her former father-in-law but she didn't want Aaron anywhere near her house either. His parents were probably working so his place was the lesser of two evils.
"Fine. Today works. I want to get this over with; I have a lot of makeup work to do still."
"You chose a bad time to fall ill," he said shrewdly, deducing the real reason for her absence.
"I can't control when I get sick," she sniffed, alluding to the fact that she hadn't wanted him to kiss her.
He went quiet after that. Point to Keeley.
At the end of the day, she was apprehensive as they sped towards the Hale family's townhouse on 75th street. It was as menacingly huge as she remembered and was one of the few places in the heart of the city that actually had a backyard.
Keeley had never felt welcomed there so going back now as no one of significance was even more daunting.
"Carlton, bring out the strawberry cheesecake for my guest," Aaron ordered as they walked through the front door into the expansive living room decorated with antiques.
Keeley was overwhelmed. She'd nearly forgotten how much she feared breaking or scratching anything in this house. Every single piece was worth more than her life.
Aaron sat down on a Louis XV sofa with ease but Keeley decided it would be safer to just sit on the floor.
She cleared her throat, wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible. "So. We need to write five of these, right?"
"Yes. Do you have any ideas for possible topics?"
No, she did not. She was about to say so when Carlton returned with two plates of strawberry cheesecake from Junior's, a famous New York institution known for its cheesecake.
She hesitantly took a bite, not wanting to spill on anything important, and moaned appreciatively. This was the best strawberry cheesecake she'd ever tasted!
"Why don't we write one on cheesecake?" she suggested with her mouth full so it sounded more like "Eye don ee rye un on keeskek?"
Aaron's lips twitched with barely suppressed mirth. "An excellent idea. Provided we can come up with fourteen lines only about cheesecake."
Keeley scowled at him. He was making fun of her. Just watch; she would come up with the whole thing by herself!
After several minutes and a bunch of offbeat clapping trying to stick to iambic pentameter, she felt confident enough to recite the first two quatrains she scribbled down.
"I cannot tell you how to choose a treat
Dessert is something not easy to buy
But if you happen to crave something sweet
Nobody praises cheesecake more than I
Graham cracker crust helps balance out the cheese
Though dense it also can feel very light
And toppings can be added as you please
Strawberry cheesecake is such a delight"
She tilted her head back proudly. "How's that for poetry on the fly? I find your lack of faith disturbing."
"…did you just quote Star Wars at me?"
"You know Star Wars?" Keeley asked, completely aghast.
The Aaron she knew hated mainstream pop culture and was proud of the fact that he had never seen a single Star Wars movie. Her dad was a huge Star Wars fan so she grew up on them and watched the original trilogy about once a year. Aaron always refused to watch them with her.
"I recently discovered them. The special effects are quite impressive considering the era they were made in."
"Yeah, they are," she said quietly.
If he had talked to her like this in her previous life she would have been over the moon. Right now all she felt was confusion and a desire to be done and go home.
"But let's get back on topic. I'm not done."
He gestured for her to continue. "Carry on, Shakespeare."
"Each bite I take still dances on my tongue
I wish for nothing more than to complete
This lovely cake so often found unsung
Which many more people should want to eat
The drawback of its popularity
Is that there won't be any left for me"
Aaron shook his head and smirked as Keeley grinned triumphantly up at him, a clear challenge in her eyes.
"I dare you to come up with something as quickly as I did on your own."