“Aiden, will you go with me to the homecoming dance?” We were running together like we did every night and I figured now would be as good a time as any. I didn’t mean to make him trip over his own feet.
Luckily Aiden is used to taking hits but they’re usually on the football field, not the jogging path.
“Are you okay?” I ran back and crouched beside him, trying to hoist him to a sitting position. Not an easy job. He may have trimmed down in recent weeks, but he was still a linebacker.
“I’m good.” Aiden met my concerned gaze. “You just caught me off guard, that’s all.”
“Well, gee, if that’s all it takes to knock a guy down, maybe I should ask out the entire defensive line on the opposing team.”
“We’d win every game.” Aiden hoisted himself to his feet and dusted himself off. “What made you decide to ask me?”
“Well, you and I jog together every night, and, ya know, I’m pretty comfortable hanging out with you.” We took off at a slower pace, one more conducive to holding a conversation.
“I kinda thought Jayce or Conner would have asked you by now,” Aiden said.
“I don’t know if either of them have figured out yet that there is a dance coming up.”
“Were you hoping one of them was going to ask you to the dance?”
“Aiden, if I’d wanted one of them to ask me to the dance, would I have gone out of my way to ask you?” I turned and punched him in the arm, harder than I should have but he didn’t flinch. We just kept running.
“I just thought maybe I was a second” —he faked a cough into his hand, “or third, choice. Like if one of them had asked you weeks ago you wouldn’t be asking me.”
“Aiden, stop.” I grabbed his arm, forcing him to a halt right there in the middle of the jogging path. “If I had wanted to go with one of them, I wouldn’t have waited for them to get their heads out of their butts long enough to ask me. I would have asked them. But I didn’t. I asked you.”
“Okay, okay.” He held his hands up in surrender. We continued our jog.
“I may have a little bit of ulterior motive in asking you,” I admitted.
“I figured there was something,” he said. “Lay it on me.”
“My mom always told me that if I ever got asked to a dance—which, prior to this year was highly unlikely—I was required to go out with the first guy who asked me, otherwise it would be rude. I couldn’t say no to the geeky kid in hopes that the hot guy would ask me.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Aiden said. “Am I the geeky kid or the hot guy?”
“You’re neither.” I realized my mistake immediately. “Oh! I didn’t mean you weren’t hot! You totally are! I just mean that I’m not choosing you for that kind of reason. I’m choosing you because I really like spending time with you. But also, because I don’t want to encourage either of them.”
“Okay, so you’re choosing me to avoid choosing one of them?” By this time, we had finished our five-mile triangle and arrived back in front of my house. We stood in my driveway stretching and continuing our conversation.
“No, I chose you partially because I was afraid one of them was going to ask me,” I said.
“And you would have had to say yes, because they would have been the first guy to ask.”
He pursed his lips and lowered his brows, shifting his gaze away from mine. I pulled his arm around, so he’d look at me.
“But also, because I enjoy spending time with you,” I reminded him.
“But only as a friend?” Aiden asked.
“I don’t want to mess up our friendship, if that’s what you mean.”
I was afraid of this. “I’m not really in the right mindset to like any of you right now.” I bit my lower lip and averted my gaze.
“I figured as much.” His tone of voice changed, and my head snapped up to meet his gaze.
“What do you mean by that?”
“He likes you too, you know?” Aiden raised his eyebrows.
“I-I don’t know what,” —I gulped. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yeah, right.” Aiden snorted. “This is classic. The first time a girl asks me out it’s to avoid being asked out by two guys who like her, because she likes a different guy who already has a girlfriend.”
Before I could form a coherent answer, Aiden patted me on the shoulder and walked away chuckling.
“God, you have a sense of humor!” Aiden called into the sky, then turned and spread his arms wide as he walked backward away from me. “Maybe I should be prepared with a nice handkerchief in my pocket and offer it to Amberlyn when she’s crying on my shoulder after the dance.”
“Very funny, Aiden,” I called back to him.
“That’s what I was thinking too,” he mumbled then called a little louder. “See ya at practice tomorrow.”