Maggie and Yuuki left fairly early so I could have a chance to catch up on my homework; it was all relatively easy and by six I was finished.  With Maggie’s warning about Matt’s growing infatuation ringing in my head, I decided that now would be as good a time as any to straighten things out.  I called Matt so see what he was up to and in less than an hour I was on my way over to watch Sunday Night Football and, I hoped, put an end to Matt’s delusions.

“Hey Lyla,” Matt greeted cheerfully as he opened the front door before I could knock, “glad you’re feeling better.”

“Thanks,” I replied as I stepped in and followed Matt into the empty family room, where the pre-game was already playing on the flat screen.  “So where is everybody?”

“Maggie’s in her room trying to catch up on her homework and my parents are on a date.”

“Really?” I asked, amazed, even after all these years, to hear that the Montgomery parents actually went on dates.  “I don’t think my mom’s been on a date since college.”

“Really?”  Matt asked as he flopped onto the couch.  “Not even when she and your dad were still together?”

“Nope,” I answered slumping into one of the overstuffed chairs.

“Wow, that must really suck.”

“You know, I don’t really think it does, for her.  After the whole thing with the jerk, she never really wanted to risk being hurt again and has kinda sworn off men.  Don’t get me wrong, she still likes looking, and I think that if the right guy ever came along she’d fall head over heels eventually, but he’d have to be perfect in pretty much every way and very persistent.”

“And what about you?”

“What about me?” I asked, suddenly wary of where the conversation was headed.

“Have you sworn off men too?”

“Not really,” I admitted, “though I am beginning to wonder if chivalry is dead.”

“Now that’s a sad statement, there,” Matt sighed as he turned his attention toward the game and the opening kick-off.

“Why’s that?”

“Because it means that you haven’t been treated well by guys in general.”

“Yeah, well that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”

“Oh, come on!” Matt yelled at the TV, suddenly absorbed in the game.

I’d been around the Montgomery family long enough to know that once a football game started, the chances of carrying on a normal conversation dropped drastically; every conversation was interrupted by random cheers or groans, depending on how well the Broncos played.

“So if this Ian guy is such a jerk,” Matt asked, during the next commercial break, “why do you still like him?”

“I’m not so sure that I do,” I reluctantly admitted.

“Well that’s good to know,” Matt grinned.

“Matt,” I sighed as I realized that now was as good a time as any to get this awful conversation out-of-the-way, “just because I’m not that fond of Ian at the moment, doesn’t mean that I’m interested in someone else.”

“I know,” Matt shrugged, “but a guy can hope, can’t he?”

“What?”

“Look, Lyla, I know you’re not interested in me, Maggie’s told me that about a zillion times, and since you are best friends, I figure she knows what she’s talking about, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t like you.”

“But why would you be interested in someone when they’re obviously not interested in you?”

“I don’t know,” Matt asked with one eyebrow raised and his eyes bright, “why would you?”

Ouch! 

“You know, you’re pretty insightful, for a freshman.”

“I know,” Matt grinned.  “So do you mind?”

“Mind what?  Mind that you like me?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know.  It’s a little weird.”

“Weird?”

“Um, unnerving?”

“Why?”

“Because you’re my best friend’s brother and you’ve been my friend for years and because I’m afraid that eventually you’re going to hate me.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because I’m not interested.”

“Not now,” Matt grinned.

“What if I’m not ever interested?  Aren’t you going to get tired of waiting?”

“That depends on how long I have to wait.”

“Matt, you’re a freshman, I’m a senior!”

“So?”

“So, I’m not Demi Moore!”

“Oh come on, you’re not that much older than me.  Besides, once we’re out of school, a couple of years isn’t going to make that much of a difference.  I mean, my mom is like five years older than my dad and they’ve been married for over thirty years!”

“So what, you’re just going to wait around for the next eight years?”

“Maybe,” Matt shrugged.

“Matt, please,” I begged, “please don’t waste your time on me!  There are so many other girls at school!”

“But only one that I’m interested in.”

“You really know how to make life more difficult.”

“Why?  Because I like you?”

“Because I don’t want to hurt you!”

“You can’t hurt me, I already know you like someone else.  So what?  No big deal.”

“No big deal?  Why?  Because Ian will never like me back?  Thanks a lot!”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Matt sighed.

“Then what did you mean?”

“I only meant that I’m willing to wait until you’re over him.”

“And what if I can’t get over him?”

“You will, eventually.”

“And what if he were to suddenly realize that he was madly in love with me?”

“Then I’d say that he finally had some sense; though personally, I don’t think he deserves you.”

“Deserves me?”

“Yeah, I mean, he’s been a jerk ever since that whole thing with that letter, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, then obviously he doesn’t deserve you.”

“I don’t think I’m the type of person that someone ought to deserve.  I mean, there’s nothing all that special about me, nothing out of the ordinary anyway.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with you there.”

“Yeah, well you’re biased.”

“Yup,” Matt grinned before turning back to the game.  “Oh come on!  Pass interference!  Stupid ref!  Open your eyes!”

“So then you’re determined, right?” I asked.

“Yup,” Matt nodded, not taking his eyes off the screen.

“Even though I’m not interested and not likely to change my mind?”

“Yup.”

“Then can you do me a favor?”

“What’s that?”

“Can you please keep your feelings to yourself?”

“Huh?  Why?”

“Because the entire school thinks we’re dating and to be honest, that’s not something I’m all that happy about.”

“Because of Ian?”

“Because we’re not dating!  Matt, look, I’ve already been the center of attention once this year, and that was more than enough!  I don’t want more rumors spreading about me, especially not about this!  You like me, fine, I can’t do anything about that, but please, stop making my life harder than it already is!”

“Sorry,” Matt grumbled, “I didn’t realize I was.”

“See,” I sighed in frustration, “this is why I don’t want you to like me.  I’ve hurt your feelings and I hate it!  Why won’t you just listen to me?”

“I am,” Matt insisted.

“No, you’re not and will you please stop being so stubborn?  You’re my friend, shoot, you’re practically my brother, but that’s all.”

“Ouch,” Matt sighed glumly, “a brother, huh?”

“Um-hum,” I nodded, “a brother.”

“Well, that’s kinda a bummer.”

“Sorry, but it’s the truth.”

“So you’re not going to change your mind?”

“No,” I insisted, “sorry.”

“Humph,” Matt sighed as he turned his full attention back to the game.

I could tell that Matt was more than a little disappointed by the way things had turned out, for him, and I couldn’t blame him.  I knew what it was like to be rejected by the one you liked, but at the same time, I refused to let myself feel too sorry for him.  Maggie had warned him more than once that I wasn’t interested and it seemed that my brutal honesty was the only way I was going to free myself from Matt’s obsession.  I only hoped that Matt would forgive me in time.

Maggie came in a few minutes later and the three of us sat in awkward silence until halftime when Matt got up to get himself a snack.  Once he was out of the room, Maggie turned to me to find out what had happened.  I quickly recapped the conversation I’d had with Matt and she sighed in sympathy and frustration.

“I told him he was wasting his time,” Maggie sighed.

“Too bad he didn’t listen.”

“Don’t worry, he’ll get over it.”

“I hope so,” I sighed.  “Augh!  This stinks!”

“Sorry.”

“So am I.  I’d really hoped I’d be able to straighten this whole thing out without hurting Matt’s feelings, but I guess that was really wishful thinking.”

“I’m sure the damage isn’t permanent.  He probably just needs some time to cool off.”

“Well, then I guess I should go.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Maggie sighed as she walked me to the door, “see ya.”

I drove home that night feeling both sad and relieved.  I hated the fact that Matt was mad at me, but at the same time, I felt better knowing that he knew where I stood.  It was far worse to have him pining for me when there wasn’t any chance of us getting together than for him to face the facts and move on.  I really hoped that someday soon another girl would catch his eye and he’d forget all about me.

 

With my conversation with Matt out-of-the-way, I spent the rest of the night trying to plan how I was going to get Ian to talk to me.  There was no doubt in my mind that things between us would be even worse than they had been, after that incident on Wednesday.  Why I had ever let myself get so carried away, I’ll never know, but I had and now I had to do my best to make things right.  My first thought was to try to talk to Ian before school, but the constant throng around him in the parking lot put an end to that plan.  I knew there wasn’t enough time between classes to apologize properly which meant I had to find a way to talk to Ian after school but before my piano lesson.  I suppose I could have talked to him at his house but I really didn’t want his mom to accidentally overhear the conversation.

I knew that anatomy was Ian’s last class of the day and since Yuuki was in the class too, it wouldn’t look too suspicious if I was spotted lurking outside the classroom after school.  The trick was going to be dodging Yuuki and catching Ian at the same time.  If Yuuki noticed me waiting I’d be forced to go with her, to avoid suspicion and my plans to apologize would be foiled.  Without any other brilliant ideas, that was the best plan I had; only time would tell whether or not it would actually work.

 

I pulled into the school’s parking lot Monday morning, dreading what lay ahead, not so much because I hated to apologize to a jerk like Ian, but more because I feared he would provoke me in my attempt to be the better person and I would end up losing it all over again.  The last thing in the world I wanted to do was give Ian another reason to hate me.  Events over the past month had shown me that there was no chance Ian would ever like me, but I still hated the idea of having him hate me.  It was that fear that spurred my determination to apologize, I just hated having the dreaded event hanging over my head; I would have much preferred to just get it over with.

Lost in my thoughts and fears, I trudged across the parking lot, only vaguely aware of my surroundings.  It wasn’t until I whacked my knee against the bumper of someone’s car that I realized I probably needed to pay a bit more attention to where I was going.  Wincing from the pain I was sure would lead to a very colorful bruise, I quickly glanced around to see if anyone had noticed my stupidity and inwardly groaned as I realized that it was Ian’s car I had just run into and he was sitting inside, of course.

As soon as I noticed Ian in the car, my first reaction was to just keep on walking; after all, the last thing I wanted to hear were Ian’s snide comments on the level of my intelligence.  I almost started to run away when I realized that this was my golden opportunity; I could apologize to Ian, without anyone else around and I wouldn’t have to spend the day worrying whether or not I could catch Ian after school.  Summoning every ounce of courage I had, I limped to the door, just as Ian was stepping out of the car, his blue eyes sparkling beneath his dark hair.

“Did you just run into my car?” Ian asked, trying to hide a smile.

“Yeah, so?”

“You might want to watch where you’re going, this being a parking lot and all.”

“Thanks for the tip.”

Ian kinda chuckled as he shut the car door and started to head for the school.  Not wanting to pass up, what might be, my only opportunity, I ran after him, calling as I went.

“Hey Ian?”

“Yeah,” he asked, turning to face me.

I could see the wariness in his eyes and figured I’d better talk fast if I wanted to apologize anytime in this century.

“Um, I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” I rambled, stringing my word together in one nervous and slightly terrified breath.

Geeze, why did Ian have to have such an effect on me?

“Sorry?” Ian snapped, his blue eyes flashing.  “Sorry for what?”

“For everything,” I sighed, “for the letter, for embarrassing you, for yelling at you, for calling you names…and I’m really, really sorry for letting my temper get the better of me last Wednesday.  I should never have hit you, it was very wrong of me and I’m truly and extremely sorry.”

Ian just stood there as I apologized, his brilliant azure eyes penetrated my own, holding me captive as I spoke.  My recent encounters with Ian made me feel like a rat, cornered by a cat, frozen in terror as I waited for the pounce I was certain would come.  I stood, mesmerized, for I don’t know how long, held captive by the eyes I had so long admired as Ian contemplated my apology.  I began to wonder how long I was going to stand there, transfixed by the guy who I both loved and hated, and then, without warning, Ian turned and walked toward the school, leaving me breathless and confused.  With no idea how I was supposed to interpret Ian’s silent reaction, I spent the rest of the day trying not to dwell on it.  I had hoped that getting my apology out-of-the-way before school would make things easier but my plan had completely backfired; instead, I spent the entire day distracted, wondering whether or not Ian had forgiven me.

I eventually came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter whether or not Ian forgave me, I had done my part, I had tried to be the better person and that, really, was all I could do.  Things might not ever change between Ian and me, but since there wasn’t anything between us anyway, what did it matter?  I did what I had to and the rest was left to fate, at least my conscience was clear.

 

A clear conscience didn’t help me any when I sat down with Yuuki and Maggie at lunch and noticed that no one else was sitting with us.  Confused, I scanned the cafeteria and found Matt and his buddies crowded around a table full of other football players.  An awful knot settled in the pit of my stomach when I realized why Matt had abandoned our table.

“I guess this means Matt’s upset,” I sighed as I plunked my lunch down next to Maggie.

“Yup,” she smiled.

“Why are you so happy?”

“Because now that Matt’s gone, Todd’s gone too.”

“Makes sense, so how’s Matt doing?”

“I don’t know, he hasn’t said much since you left last night.”

“Dang it!  I knew this would happen.  That’s why I told him not to like me.”

“Yeah, but you can’t expect Matt to be happy about your rejection,” Yuuki interjected.

“I know, but why did he have to like me in the first place?”

“Oh come on,” Maggie groaned, “as often as you’re over and as much as we hang out, it was bound to happen.”

“But why couldn’t he have fallen for Yuuki?” I groaned.

“He did.”

“What?” Yuuki and I cried in unison.  “When?”

“He was about twelve, I think,” Maggie grinned, “but he never had the guts to tell you and then he fell for some girl in his class and then he fell for Lyla.”

“He should have stuck with the girl in his class,” I groaned.

“Yeah, well, he’ll get over it.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“No big loss,” Maggie laughed.

“You are such a comfort,” Yuuki groaned on my behalf.

The rest of the week was sort of bitter-sweet; Matt avoided me like the plague, which hurt like crazy, but on the upside, Ian began to tolerate my existence.  I was finally included in dissection discussions during biology, I was no longer greeted by an icy glare every time I walked into German or English lit, and when Mrs. Hammond rearranged our kitchen groups, Ian refrained from audibly groaning when we were assigned to the same group.  All in all, I thought things were starting to look up.

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