Run, Girl (If You Can)

Chapter 27 - Aaron's Tattered Pride

Aaron stared at the endless walls of stickers in the craft store and amended his earlier thought. How was he supposed to know what to get out of all of this?!

It was beneath his dignity to ask for help but the only other option he could think of was buying out the entire store. He would do that in a heartbeat if not for the fact that Keeley lived in a three bedroom apartment and it wouldn't all fit.

He pulled out his phone and dialed his driver's number. "Carlton, do you know anything about scrapbooking?"

"Is that why I'm parked outside a craft store right now?" he asked with an obvious smile in his voice. "I know a bit. My sister-in-law is quite fond of it."

That could have gone much worse. At least if Aaron had to embarrass himself by asking someone he asked the right person. He cleared his throat. "Excellent. What sort of things does one need?"

"My sister-in-law chooses themed paper for holidays or special events and uses patterned ones for regular photos. Plain colored paper is often used for accents… Stickers and stencils are common tools as well," the driver replied.

Aaron's choices were still overwhelming. There were hundreds of options for each of the items Carlton just described. "…should I get some of each?"

"That is the extent of my knowledge. I would recommend talking to a store employee. They would likely know specifics better than I do, especially since I can't see anything in front of you."

He had a point. With a sigh, Aaron swallowed his pride completely and flagged down a woman in her 30s wearing a store vest after hanging up the call. He tried to retain his usual commanding presence but it was difficult since he was asking for help in such a girly store.

"I need everything one could conceivably use when starting a scrapbook," he said as formally as possible.

The employee looked him up and down in disbelief before smiling.

"Sure thing. I recommend starting with combo packs. Halloween paper, Christmas paper, paper for each season of the year, and generic patterns and colors…they have combo packs for everything. You'll also want a stencil set for captions, fine tip permanent markers, plenty of alphabet stickers, and theme stickers."

Aaron was fluent in four languages but not that one. Nothing she said made a lick of sense but he nodded along as if he understood it perfectly and accepted every single one of her recommendations without a word. In the end, he only cleared out about half of the scrapbooking aisle as opposed to the entire store.

He considered having a box delivered like with his previous gifts but since those were all rejected he figured his best bet was to hand it over personally. He gave Carlton Keeley's address and instructed him to wait when he went upstairs since he wasn't sure how long it would take.

If he was extremely lucky, she might even let him inside. His pride was already in tatters for the day. What more could happen?

When Aaron knocked on the door he was greeted by the sight of a very casual version of the girl of his dreams. Her hair was in a messy side ponytail high on the right side of her head and she wore a white tee shirt that hung nearly to her knees (most likely her father's) and a pair of leggings patterned with cartoonish flowers. She froze when she saw who it was.

"Were you expecting someone?"

"I thought you were my neighbor," she stammered once she gathered her wits about her. "What on earth are you doing here?"

He held out the shopping bags in front of him, determined to remain aloof. This wasn't embarrassing. He was fine.

"I may have overheard your conversation with your friend about scrapbook materials during lunch. Here."

Keeley peered inside one of the bags before looking at him the same way one would a mental patient.

"You're telling me that you went to a craft store and personally picked these out because you heard I wanted to scrapbook."

"Yes." He wished it didn't sound so much like a question. Hopefully she didn't notice.

She ran a hand down her face in exasperation. "You…I don't understand you."

"What's so hard to understand?"

"You eavesdropped on me to buy me a present! Normal people don't do that!" she practically shouted. Confusion and exasperation mingled on her face.

"I never said I was normal," he said haughtily.

"Right, because you're better than everybody else," Keeley muttered angrily.

"That isn't what I meant."

"Then what did you mean? I'm tired of trying to figure you out." She rubbed her forehead wearily. "Look, you better get out of here before—"

"Keeley? Who's at the door?"

"Oh great," she said under her breath before smiling brightly at the middle-aged man behind her.

Aaron hadn't seen Robert Hall in decades and he was not prepared for the sight of him. "Dad, this is nobody. And he was leaving. Right?" she asked sternly, shooting daggers out of her eyes.

Aaron wouldn't back down so easily even if it meant having to see the man whose life he unintentionally helped cut short.

He held out his hand professionally. "Aaron Hale, Keeley's classmate."

"Nobody, huh?" Robert asked his daughter with a knowing look in his eye before accepting the handshake. "Why don't you come in and join us? Keeley was in the middle of making dinner."

"Dad!" she protested.

"That would be lovely, thank you Mr. Hall."

"So polite! What do you have there, son?"

A jolt went through him. He nearly forgot that Robert used to address him that way. It was far more affectionate than how his own father referred to him. His heart constricted.

"I brought Keeley some scrapbooking supplies for her project."

"Well, isn't that nice! Come on in."

Keeley gave off the vibe of a cornered rat as she hurried to the kitchen counter to continue preparing the garlic bread. Still so resistant.

Aaron would change that soon enough. It was already tremendous progress that he was inside her house. She couldn't return the gift now that her father knew about it. He should have shown up at her door ages ago.

"Tell me about yourself," Robert said as he settled into a chair at the kitchen table.

Aaron sat on the other side of the square table, insuring that whichever seat Keeley eventually took would be beside him.

"I'm a senior at Westwind Academy and plan to study economics at Harvard in the fall with the intention of taking over the family business."

Getting an MBA would be pointless since he already had nearly forty years of real experience under his belt. He already knew how to run his company. Extra school would be a waste of time that would keep him away from Keeley for longer.

"Harvard, huh? That's an impressive life plan. I was thinking more along the lines of hobbies and interests though."

Oh. He didn't really have time for hobbies he actually enjoyed. The ones his parents forced on him should be sufficient.

"I fence, play the piano, and speak Spanish, French, and Mandarin. Is that the sort of thing you're looking for?"

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