Ian said nothing as we pulled out of the driveway and started for Denver and I wondered if the entire day were going to be spent in awkward silence.  Not wanting to spend the whole day in silence, I decided to brave his scornful looks and attempt a little conversation.

“So, what are you playing for the recital?” I asked, hoping my question would supply the answer to the question he had refused to answer earlier.

“What makes you think I’m playing anything?” Ian asked coolly.

“Well, you did say that your mom kept hoping you’d become the next Beethoven.  You couldn’t really do that unless you played the piano.  Could you?”

“Not really,” Ian admitted.

“So how long have you been playing?”

“Since I was old enough to sit on the bench without falling off.”

“Wow, are you sure you mom wasn’t hoping for another Mozart?”

“She would have been thrilled, I’m sure,” Ian groaned.

Silence settled between us once again and I decided that it was Ian’s turn to attempt any conversation.  When he said nothing I pulled my music out of my bag and began looking it over as my nervousness began to get the better of me yet again.  I played the pieces over and over in my head, my fingers dancing in my lap as I played the imaginary piano in front of me.

“You’re not nervous are you?” Ian asked as I played the final notes of Claire de Lune.

“What would make you ask that?”

“Oh I don’t know,” Ian sighed while his eyes sparkled.

“And I suppose you never get nervous before you play?”

“Never,” he grinned.

“Lucky you.”

“So why do you get so nervous?”

“I don’t know, maybe because I hate playing in front of other people.  Why is it you don’t get nervous?”

“Probably because my mom’s been shoving me into the spotlight for so long I’ve gotten used to it.”

“Let me guess, she made you play every year at her Christmas party.”

“And every other party she’s ever had.”

“I guess I’d be used to it by now too, if I were you; though I probably would have thrown up or fainted the first hundred times or so.”

“If you hate playing in front of people so much, why are you playing in this recital?”

“Because for some reason, I let my old teacher, Mrs. Hamilton, talk me into it.  She said it would be a great opportunity for me and that it would really help me and blah blah blah…and then next thing I knew, I was signed up for it and now here I am with a mind completely blank and fingers as cold and stiff as frozen fish sticks.”

“There are some Hot Hands in the glove box if you want them.”

“Really?  That’s awesome!” I grinned as I grabbed a pair of the hand warmers and shoved them into the pockets of my sweater.  “You’re my new hero.”

“Yeah, well it’s hard to play with fish stick fingers.”

“Tell me about it,” I grinned.  “I’ve played in so many recitals where my fingers were almost too cold to move.”

“I bet that was fun.”

“Oh yeah.  Between that and the leg that wouldn’t stop shaking it was a blast.”

“Seriously?”

“Would I lie about something as humiliating as that?  My legs shook so hard at the last recital I played in that I could barely use the pedal and I was pretty sure everyone in the audience could hear my tapping foot.  It was awful.”

“So tell me again why you’re playing in this recital?”

“I’m a serious masochist.”

“I guess so.  Maybe you need to do a little yoga or something before you play, you know, harness your chi and all that.”

“Yeah, I can just see myself doing a little downward dog before I step on stage.  I’m sure the judges would just love that.”

“Maybe you could picture everyone in their underwear?”

“Ew!  I’d rather not, thanks anyway.”

“You could imagine you were playing for your friends.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever once played for Yuuki and Maggie.”

“Never?”

“No.  Have you ever played for Cade or Jack?”

“I guess not,” Ian shrugged.  “What about for your mom?”

“I play for her, but it’s not the same.”

“Sure it is.”

“No, it’s not.  With her, I play show tunes or songs from our favorite movies, while she sings along, at the top of her lungs and usually very off-key.  It’s really not the same.”

“Alright, then imagine you’re at a piano lesson, playing for your teacher.”

“Which one?  I’ve had a few over the years.”

“Why have you had so many?  Do you think you’re too good for them or something?”

“No.  I had to leave my first teacher when my mom and I moved out here.  My second teacher, Mrs. Hamilton, moved to Florida after her heart-attack and your mom was my third teacher and well…”

“Well what?” Ian snapped.

“Things just didn’t work out, that’s all.” I shrugged, wondering why Ian sounded so upset.  Surely he knew the reason why I hadn’t gone back to lessons with his mom, didn’t he?       “But why?”

“Huh?”

“Why didn’t they work out?”

“Oh,” I sighed, not really wanting to get into this particular discussion, “you know…”

“Pretend I don’t,” Ian snapped.  “Enlighten me.”

“Well, I suppose things kinda fell apart after your mom accused me of…”

“Of what?” Ian groaned.

“Oh come on, you know.”

“Know what?”

“You have to know.”

“Know what?” Ian asked, impatiently.  “What did my mother accuse you of?”

“Of sleeping with you!” I blurted out, annoyed by Ian’s ignorance.

“What?!”

“You mean you really didn’t know?” I asked, shocked.  “I thought for sure your dad was giving you the same speech your mom was giving me while you were out shoveling snow.”

“You mean the morning after the blizzard?”

“Yeah, when else would your mom have accused me of doing something like that?”

“She really accused you of…?”

“Yeah and my mom was so ticked she wouldn’t let me go back to lessons and then she got swamped with work and needed my help and then I broke my hand and…”

“And that’s really why you didn’t come back?”

“That’s really why,” I sighed.  “What other reason would there be?”

“I don’t know, I thought maybe you were mad at me or something.”

“Why would I be mad at you?  You didn’t do anything.  Your mom just let her imagination get the better of her, that’s all.”

“She’s good at doing that,” Ian sighed.

“Yeah, well, it’s no big deal, I suppose.  I mean, I would have gone back to my lessons but like I said, my mom wouldn’t let me.  I think she took the accusation as a sort of personal insult, or something.”

“Huh,” Ian grunted as he stared at the road in front of us.

Ian didn’t say anything after that and I spent the time in silence looking over my music and wondering why Ian had been so snippy about my leaving.  I’d thought he’d known the reason why I’d left but his reaction to the news convinced me he was just as offended by his mother’s suggestion as I had been.  His ignorance of the situation would explain his present silence but it didn’t explain why he’d sounded so hurt when the subject had first come up.  Why should he care whether or not I kept coming to his mom for piano lessons?  Could it be possible he actually liked me coming over every Monday?  Was is possible that he looked as forward to my lessons as I had?  It would have been nice to let myself believe that was actually the case, but after suffering an entire year of Ian’s scorn, I just didn’t see how it was possible.  Whatever reason Ian had to be upset at my leaving, I was convinced it had absolutely nothing to do with any feelings he secretly had for me.  Dreamer as I was, I didn’t possess an imagination active enough to believe he ever felt anything for me but loathing and contempt.  At the same time, if he really hated me, why had he offered to give me a ride to the recital?  It seemed an awfully generous thing to do for someone you couldn’t stand.

“So are you ready?” Ian asked, pulling me out of my thoughts.

“Huh?” I asked, shocked to see that we were already at the university.  “As ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose.”

“Then we’d better get going, you’re on in about twenty minutes.”

“Oh crap,” I groaned as my stomach tied itself into a million knots.

“Don’t worry,” Ian grinned, as he grabbed his music from the back seat and stepped out of the car, “you’ll be alright.”

“You sound so sure about that.”

“That’s because I am,” Ian smiled as he opened my door, “now come on, I’ll see if I can find you a place to warm up.”

“How are you going to do that?” I asked as we crossed the parking lot and stepped into the university’s opulent music building.

“I have my ways.”

“Let me guess, you know the head of the music department.”

“Actually, I do,” he grinned as we wandered slowly through the dozens of other nervous looking students and anxious parents that milled around the building’s main lobby.

“Figures.”

“My mom is one of the professors.  That’s why she doesn’t do private lessons anymore, she’s too busy with work.”

“So your mom really doesn’t give lessons?” I asked, trying not to sound too shocked by the news.

“Not anymore.”

“How long has she been teaching here?”

“A couple years,” he shrugged as he led me down one of the many halls.

“Then she hasn’t had any students, other than you, I’m guessing, for the past two years?”

“Not until you came along.”

“And she just suddenly decided she’d take on another student?  Why?”

“I guess your mom was really persuasive when she called about lessons.”

“Sure,” I chuckled as the conversation I’d had with Mrs. Wallace that fateful morning came back to me.   Had Ian really stooped to subterfuge for me?  The very idea seemed pretty ludicrous to me.

“What’s so funny?”

“It’s nothing,” I grinned despite myself.

“So, how are your hands?” Ian asked, seeming almost a little too eager to change the subject.  “Are you fingers still fish sticks?”

“They’re alright, the Hot Hands really helped a lot, thanks.”

“No problem.”

“Can I ask you something?” I asked as we stopped in front of an empty classroom.

“I guess,” he shrugged as he opened the door and led me inside.

“How did you know my fingers always freeze when I get nervous?”

“You can run through your pieces, really quick, if you want to,” he answered, evading my question.  “But don’t take too long, you’re on in about ten minutes.”

“Really?” I groaned, my stomach churning violently as the news set my nerves on edge again.  “Then I should probably just run through my scales and go.”

Ian just nodded as I sat down at the piano and ran through my scales, my fingers slowly limbering up as they moved up and down the keys.

“Are you ready?” Ian asked when I let my hands drop into my lap.

“Let’s get this over with,” I groaned as I grabbed my stuff and Ian ushered me back into the hall.

Not knowing where I was going, I let Ian lead the way through the winding halls of the building, trusting that he knew where he was going.  Not two minutes later we were standing outside the room where I was to play, the butterflies twirling in my stomach as I paced slowly in front of the door.

“So would it make you any more nervous to have an extra person in the room while you played?” Ian asked as the kid inside finished his first peace and started in on his second.

“I doubt anything can make me more nervous than I already am.  Why?  Are you planning on coming in with me?”

“If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to; I’ve kinda missed hearing you play.”

At first I thought Ian was only joking, teasing me to get my mind off the fact I was about to humiliate myself in front of a panel of judges, but the sincerity I saw in his eyes quickly tossed that theory out the window.

“You’re serious aren’t you?” I asked, stunned.

“Well, yeah, I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t.”

“Okay.”

“So can I come in?”

“I guess if you really want to you can.”

“Good,” Ian grinned as the kid inside suddenly burst through the door, scaring me half to death.  “I guess that means you’re up,” Ian laughed.

“Oh man,” I groaned as I attempted to muster whatever shred of courage I could find.

“You’re going to be just fine,” Ian grinned as he grabbed my hands and gave them a quick squeeze before heading inside.

Stunned by such a sweet gesture, I stood dumbfounded as Ian disappeared behind the door, only to have him peek his head out a second later and ask if I was coming.  Nodding a quick yes, I found my feet and strolled into the room, suddenly feeling completely confident.  I don’t know if it was that one sweet touch from Ian that did it, or if it was just having him in the room, but for some reason, all of my nerves were gone as I handed the judges my sheet music and took my place in front of the baby grand.  As I began running through the required scales, I decided to dedicate my performance to Ian; knowing full well that if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be there.  Whether he wanted to admit it or not, I knew he was the reason his mom had taken me on as a student, and for that, as oddly as it sounded, I was truly grateful.  No matter how much I hated playing in front of other people, I really was grateful for the chance to play for a scholarship; it was an opportunity not many people got and because of Ian, I was one of the lucky few.  Wanting to show my gratitude, I poured my heart and soul into the music, playing with a range of emotion that I had never felt before.  With every note I tried to tell Ian how I felt, how sorry I was for the way things had turned out this year, how much I wished him happy and most importantly, how much I loved him.  I knew I would never had a chance to tell him, in words, how much he meant to me, so I decided to do it through my music, hoping it would leave some sort of impression on him that would last for years to come.

The room was silent when I finished playing and I sat there, my stomach churning once again as I waited for the judges to finish their evaluation.  It seemed like I sat there forever, the incessant scratching of the judge’s pens as they scribbled notes, the only noise that filled the room.  I wanted to glance up at Ian as I waited, but I was so afraid he’d know what I’d been thinking as I played, that I couldn’t do it.  Instead I sat, watching the judges as they finished their notes, wondering if I’d lose points for throwing up on the piano.  Just when I was sure I was going to lose it, one of the judges put down her pen and smiled.  A brief nod from the second judge told me I was free to go and the third judge handed me my music on my way out the door.  Ian met me at the door, a huge smile on his face and I just rolled my eyes at him as I stepped out into the hall, my heart pounding as I sank into a nearby chair with a sigh.

“Well that went well,” he grinned as he sat down beside me.

“If you say so,” I groaned.

“I do.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard you play so well.”

“Yeah well you haven’t heard me play since December, I’ve practiced a little since then.”

“I’d say so.  Nice job.”

“Thanks,” I groaned as my stomach slowly began to settle.

“I have to say, you didn’t seem very nervous while you played.  I didn’t even see your foot taping.”

“Yeah well, you need to blame yourself for that.”

“Oh yeah?  How’s that?”

“Well, I decided that with you sitting there, I’d better not screw up because if I did, I’d be giving you another reason to mock me and to be honest, you have way too many reasons to do that already.”

“So that’s why you played so well,” Ian grinned.  “That’s kind of a bummer.  I was hoping you playing so well was because I still had some sort of effect on you.”

“Don’t worry, you still do,” I groaned, too relieved to be finished with the recital to give much thought to what I was saying.

Ian just gave me a funny look as I sat there and I wondered why, when suddenly I understood the look and turned twelve shades of red.

“Obviously,” Ian grinned.

Embarrassed beyond words, I got up and started for the door, not caring where I went so long as I could get away from Ian.

“Where are you going?” Ian called out after me.

“To find some hole to crawl into and die,” I answered as I walked.

“Why would you want to go and do a thing like that?” Ian asked, suddenly appearing beside me.

“So neither of us will have to deal with my stupidity any longer.”

“Oh, well, I was going to ask you if you’d like to get some lunch and check out a bookstore or two before we go home, but if you’d rather go die, I suppose that’s your choice.”

“You mean you’re still willing to tolerate my existence, after what I just said?”

“Why wouldn’t I?  I’ve already put up with you this long, haven’t I?”

“Wow, you really know how to make a girl feel better.”

“That’s good,” Ian grinned.  “So whaddaya say?  Wannna get some lunch?”

“Don’t you have to play at this recital sometime today too?”

“I do.  In about five minutes, actually.”

“So shouldn’t you be worried about getting to the right room?”

“I suppose, but only if you’re coming with me.  I mean if you’re gonna go die, I’d better make sure I know what happened so I can tell your mom.  Of course, if you’d rather put off dying until after lunch, I’m more than willing to blow this whole thing off and take you out for your final meal.  It’s not like I really wanted to be here anyway.”

“And I’m sure your mom would be thrilled about that.”

“Ecstatic.”

“So then your mom would probably blame me for you missing the recital.”

“More than likely.”

“And then she’d hunt me down.”

“Nah, you’d already be dead, remember?”

“Right.”

“So, are you coming with me or are we leaving?”

“I’m coming,” I grumbled, “but I’m going to sit in while you play.  It only seems fair.”

“Excellent,” Ian grinned as he started off down a different hall while I trailed sluggishly behind him.

 

We got to the room Ian was scheduled to play in just as the girl before him was coming out.  She looked about as green as I had felt the entire morning and I gave her a sympathetic smile as Ian and I headed into the room.  It was immediately obvious that Ian had played in more than his fair share of recitals.  He handed his music to the judges while I found a seat in the back of the room and watched anxiously as Ian took his seat at the piano.  In all the years I’d know Ian, I had never once imagined that he played the piano, but seeing him sitting here, waiting for the judges to give him the go ahead, it just seemed to fit; he looked like such a natural.  Knowing how hard Ian’s mom drove her students, I was certain Ian was going to give a first-rate performance and I could hardly wait to hear it; in short, I was ready to be impressed.  A curt nod from one of the judges told Ian he could begin and immediately he began to play, first his scales and then his pieces.  A huge smile spread across my face as I realized Ian was playing one of my all-time favorite pieces, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

I sat in awe as Ian played, first Gershwin and then a piece I’d never heard before, both of them played so well, I had no doubt who would be receiving this year’s scholarship.  When he had finished, he sat waiting, as I had, for the judges to finish their comments and release him from the spotlight.  As he waited, he flashed me a brilliant smile and I just shook my head in response, knowing full well he was delighted by the awed look I’d had on my face only moments before.  Oh well, I sighed to myself, what’s one more thing to add to the already extensive list Ian had of reasons to mock me.

“You looked impressed,” Ian grinned after the judges had let him go and we were once again winding our way through the crowded lobby.

“That’s probably because I was.”

“Why?  You didn’t really expect me to suck did you?”

“No, once I found out you could play, I expected you to play well, I just had no idea you played that well.  You know, you really could be the next Beethoven, if you wanted to be.”

“I guess,” Ian shrugged.

“So, now I know why your mom wouldn’t let me play Gershwin for the recital.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

“No big deal.  Debussy is another one of my favorites and I’ve always wanted to be able to play Claire de Lune.”

“Well, you can now and I have to say, I don’t think Debussy himself could have played it any better than you did.”

“Whoa, that was a serious compliment.  What’s up with that?  Who are you and what have you done with the real Ian?”

Ian just chuckled as he ushered me out into the chilly air of a grey spring afternoon, the clouds overhead threatening rain as we made our way back to the car.

“So, are you ready for some lunch yet?”

“I guess,” I shrugged as we crossed the parking lot, a brisk wind blowing my hair and my skirt in a million directions.  “Are you sure you want to?”

“Absolutely,” Ian grinned as he opened the car door for me and helped me inside.

I sat there confused as I watched Ian circle the car and take his place beside me.  I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why he was being so nice.  At first I thought maybe it was just his way of dealing with nerves, but he was nicer now that the recital was over than he had been before we’d played.  With that being the case, it kind of blew my theory out of the water.

“So what do you want to eat?” Ian asked as the car roared to life and we slowly began to make our way out of the crowded parking lot.

“Whatever,” I shrugged, “I’m not really picky.”

“I’ve heard you like Thai food.”

“I do, but I’m not really sure I can handle much of anything yet.  My stomach’s still a little queasy.”

“Would you rather wait on lunch?  We can, I don’t care.”

“Are you sure you’re not starving?”

“Not yet anyway, we can go do something else for a while, if you want to.”

“Wouldn’t you rather go home?”

“So what, I could spend the day at home with my mom?  Um, no thank you.”

“Isn’t there someone else you could be spending the day with?”

“Not really,” Ian shrugged.  “Jack’s spending the day with Yuuki and Cade hasn’t spoken to me since yesterday so…”

“So, really, hanging out with me is just a convenient way to kill time?  A way of putting off the inevitable?”

“I don’t know that I’d say that…” Ian chuckled.

“It’s okay if I am, you know.  I know I’ve been nothing but a headache to you since September.  Really, I don’t know why you offered to give me a ride today.”

“I told you, it just made sense, seeing as how we were both playing and all.”

“Yeah, well I hope you brought some Tylenol or something, just in case I get to be too much for you.”

“You really are too hard on yourself, you know.”

“Maybe, but you can’t deny the fact that anytime we’re together, we either end up in an argument or the emergency room.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Ian chuckled as we wound our way through the busy Denver streets.  “Still, we have been able to tolerate each other’s existence fairly well these last few weeks, haven’t we?”

“I think that’s probably because you were so busy with Maggie you didn’t have time to give me a second thought.  I think we can co-exist quite nicely as long as one of us is completely ignoring the other or plotting the other’s demise.”

“I don’t think that’s entirely true,” Ian shrugged, “we did spend an evening at the movies together without any major incident.”

“And then you went back to completely ignoring me.”

“Alright, what about the night you spent at my house?”

“We ended the night with an argument.”

“That wasn’t an argument, it was just a little tiff.”

“A tiff?”

“Yeah, a tiff,” Ian nodded, sounding just a little defensive, “which is not the same as an argument.”

“Alright, it was a tiff.”

“Thank you,” Ian grinned.  “Now what about all the other times we’ve been together, they haven’t all been bad, have they?”

“Let’s see, there was the incident with the letter, the incident in the hall after the letter, the incident at the fall auditions, the incident after the fall auditions, the incident at the hop…”

“Okay, I see your point.  But we haven’t had any incidents since then, have we?”

“I don’t know, how about the one when you plot with my best friend to win her a man and break my heart?”

“I’m guessing Maggie told you then, huh?”

“Brilliant deduction Watson,” I grinned.  “She told me last night and apologized for everything.”

“And you forgave her?” Ian asked incredulously.

“Of course I did, she’s one of my best friends.”

“Even though she deliberately hurt you?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s amazing,” Ian sighed.

“Not really.  It’s just what friends do…they forgive each other.”

“That’s what you say but I don’t think Cade agrees with you.”

“I’m guessing that means he hasn’t talked to you lately?”

“Not since yesterday.  I tried calling last night and again this morning, but all I get is his voice mail.”

“Did you try calling his house?”

“Yup, the machine picked up.”

“Did you try going over there?”

“I had a game last night so I couldn’t make it and then this morning…well, Cade usually sleeps until noon on Saturday so…”

“So maybe you should try calling him again.  I know Maggie was going over to sort things out last night; maybe they’ve worked things out.  If they did, I’m sure Cade will talk to you.”

“Maybe I’ll try calling him later.”

“I think that’d be a good idea.  It’s nice to have your friends apologize when they’ve done something wrong.”

“Yeah,” Ian nodded, as we wove our way through traffic.  “So, I think I owe you an apology too.  I knew that Maggie’s plan wasn’t really the best but I went along with it anyway.”

“Do you mind me asking why?”

“You can ask, but don’t expect an answer.  I have my reasons, they’re not good, but they’re still reasons.”

“And that’s all you’re going to say?”

“For now,” Ian nodded.  “I am sorry for what we did to you and to Cade; it was a low thing to do, especially to friends.”

“It’s fine,” I shrugged.  “Maggie usually gets carried away with her schemes and ends up carrying everyone else along with her.  It’s no big deal.”

“I don’t know if I really believe you,” Ian grinned, “but thanks all the same.  It’s nice to know you’re not going to hold a grudge or anything.”

“Grudges are overrated,” I grinned back as we pulled into the overcrowded parking lot of Denver’s largest bookstore.

“So how about a little shopping?” he asked as he squeezed his car into a too-tight parking space.

“Are you sure you want to park here?  It’d be a shame to get a scratch on a car like this.”

“Does that mean you like my car?” Ian laughed.

“You’d have to have something seriously wrong with you to not like this car.  A classic ‘Stang is a thing of beauty in itself, but when you’ve got a ‘67 Fastback, well, what can I say?  Words just don’t do the car justice.”

“Wow, I had no idea you were so into cars.”

“Only a few,” I grinned, hoping my smile would hide my growing embarrassment.  I wondered how many times I could make an idiot out of myself in front of Ian.  Too many, I decided as the first few drops of rain splattered onto the windshield.

“I’m sure the car’ll be fine,” Ian chuckled as he opened the door, careful not to ding the massive truck parked beside him.

Following Ian’s lead, I managed to wiggle my way out of the car without damaging it or the hulking SUV I was sandwiched between.  We rushed into the store as the few sprinkles quickly turned into a downpour, just barely escaping a drenching as the doors closed behind us, our senses immediately bombarded by the delicious aroma of coffee and books.

“You do realize what you just gotten yourself into,” I grinned as I began browsing the numerous tables of bargain books, searching, as always, for anything that might catch my eye.

“I do,” Ian nodded as he perused a book of Keats.  “I think you’ve earned it.”

“If you say so,” I shrugged as I flipped through a book of Scottish castles.

We spent the next two hours wandering through the aisles of books, stopping to flip through anything that seemed remotely interesting.  I found quite a few books for Ian, the autobiography of David Beckham, a biography of Beethoven, an Italian cookbook, a book of classic cars, and the complete AstroBoy collection on DVD and he found several for me, Jane Austen’s Persuasion and two books on how to draw manga.

“Nice,” I chuckled as I flipped through the second “how to” book.  “Who needs school when you can buy a book like this?  I’ll be selling my stuff in no time.”

“Sweet,” Ian grinned.  “I guess that means you don’t have to worry about that scholarship after all.”

“Yay!”

“So, I know you’re not going to school now that you’ve found that amazing book, but where were you planning on going?  Just out of curiosity.”

“Oh, well I was planning on going to school here in Denver.  The art program isn’t bad and I didn’t really want to go very far from home, you know?  After all my mom and I have been through, it just doesn’t seem right, leaving her all alone.  Of course, now that I have this,” I laughed, waving the book in the air, “I don’t have to worry about leaving her at all.  She can have me with her forever.”

“Lucky her,” Ian chuckled.

“So, what about you?”

“What about me?”

“What are you doing after school?  Is college in your future or are you planning to go pro right out of high school?”

“I’d like to,” Ian sighed, “but to be honest, not very many get the chance.  I’ve been playing in the Rapids academy since I was five, but that doesn’t guarantee me a place on the team.  I’ve been applying to schools with good soccer programs, just in case things don’t work out here.”

“Have you been accepted to any yet?”

“Several,” Ian nodded, “but I’m not sure where I’m going to go.  As much as I’d like to get away from my parents, I’d really like to play for the Rapids or even the Pioneers.  I mean I’ve grown up watching both teams and I’ve played in their camps and I don’t know, I’d just really like to play for a Colorado team.”

“I’m sure you will; one way or another.  I know I’m no expert or anything, but I’ve seen you play and I think you’re amazing.  I’d sign you if I were a coach.”

“Well then it’s too bad it’s not up to you,” Ian sighed.

“So if you end up playing for the Pioneers, that means we’d be going to the same school.”

“Yeah, I guess it would.”

“Don’t worry, it’s a big enough campus you wouldn’t have to worry about running into me or anything.  You’d probably be spending all of you time on the soccer field anyway, and well, you’ve seen what happens when I get near a soccer field.  It’s a pretty safe bet to say that I’d probably never see you.”

“That’s good to know,” Ian sighed,“but really we don’t have to worry about that, now that you have that book and all.”

“Right, well, I guess you got off easy then.”

“I guess.”

“Of course, I could always put this book back…”

“You could,” Ian nodded.

“But that might mean we end up at the same school.”

“We might, but then again, we might not.  I haven’t decided where I’m going yet, remember?  You might end up at Denver on your own.”

“Yeah, well that’s no surprise.  I was planning on being there by myself anyway.”

“What about Yuuki and Maggie?  Aren’t the three of you planning to go to the same school?”

“No,” I answered, trying to suppress my laughter at Ian’s innocent assumption.  “Yuuki’s been planning on going to Harvard for forever and Maggie’s accepted a basketball scholarship from U-Conn.”

“So after this summer, you’ll be…”

“Alone, left behind, forgotten…yeah, I know.”

“I’m sure you won’t be forgotten.”

“Okay, so maybe not forgotten, but still, they’ll be gone and…and…well, to be honest, I just try not to think about it.  I don’t like to think that in just a few months my two best friends in the world will be gone.”

“You make it sound like it’s the end of the world.”

“And you make it sound like it’s no big deal.”

“No, it’s a big deal, I’m just trying not to be so melodramatic.”

“That’s funny coming from the school’s best actor.”

“I’m not the best.”

“Right, just like you’re not the school’s top student and the soccer team’s best player and apparently the school’s secret piano prodigy as well.  Geeze, is there anything you’re not good at?”

“I don’t think so,” Ian grinned as he shelved the book he was flipping through and disappeared around the corner.

“Wow, and so modest too,” I laughed as I put the “how to draw” book back on the shelf.

“I heard that,” Ian called from the next aisle over.

“Good,” I called back as I made my way toward the next section of books on the shelf.

“So what do you say we get out of here and grab some lunch?” Ian asked, suddenly appearing beside me.  “I’m starving.”

“Alright,” I shrugged as we started for the doors.  “What did you have in mind?”

“You’ll see,” Ian grinned.

“Oh wow,” I exclaimed as we stepped into the vestibule, “it’s pouring!”

“No kidding,” Ian groaned.  “I guess that means a picnic is out of the question.”

“You were planning on having a picnic?”

“No, but if I had been, I’d have to change my plans.”

“Okay, so I guess we should run for it?”

“Unless you want me to get the car for you.”

“No, that’s okay; I can run.  It’s not that far, right?  I mean how wet can we really get?”

“Okay,” Ian shrugged as we started our mad dash for the car.

Not two steps outside of the front door, Ian and I were completely drenched, the rain splattering in our eyes as we scrambled for the car.  I was half way there when my foot slipped out of the leather sandals I had decided to wear and I found myself falling.  Frustration, disappointment and embarrassment all vied for top billing as I pictured myself landing in the enormous puddle I was currently running through, my beautiful dress completely ruined by the fall.  I could already feel the tears start to well in my eyes as I steeled myself for the imminent disaster.

“Gotcha!” Ian cried, scaring me half out of my wits as his arms wrapped around my waist and I found myself flying across the puddle.

“What the…”

“You almost face planted in that puddle,” Ian laughed as he grabbed my hand and continued his sprint toward the car.

“You saved me!” I cried, too disoriented and surprised to say anything else.  “I can’t believe it!  You actually saved me!”

“Now we’re even,” Ian grinned as he opened my door and helped me into the car.

“So I guess running for it wasn’t the best idea,” I groaned as Ian slipped in behind the wheel, his dark hair hanging limply in his eyes as drops of water fell onto his thoroughly soaked jacket.  I was amazed at how handsome he looked, even when he was completely drenched.

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Thanks for catching me.”

“Well, I couldn’t let you fall into that puddle.  Looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon would completely ruin my lunch plans.”

“I see, so you didn’t really save me, you just saved your plans.  How very chivalrous of you.”

“Isn’t it?” Ian laughed as he started the car and backed out of his too-tight parking space.

The combination of cool spring air and being soaked through soon set my teeth to chattering.  I tried to clamp my jaw shut, to keep Ian from noticing how cold I was, but my blue lips must have given me away.  Without so much as a word, Ian grabbed a jacket out of the back and tossed it into my lap.

“T-Thanks,” I stammered as I shrugged out of my drenched sweater and curled up under the jacket.

“Don’t mention it,” Ian shrugged as he flipped on the heat and went back to driving.

I had no idea where we were going as Ian drove us past the state capitol and the library before pulling into a parking garage somewhere in downtown Denver.  I knew there were all kinds of places to eat downtown so I figured we’d be going to one of them.  What I didn’t expect was being led by the hand, through the rain, into Denver’s art museum.

“So what exactly are we doing here?” I asked as Ian stepped up to the desk and bought our tickets.

“We’re having lunch.”

“At the museum?”

“Of course,” he grinned, as if it were the most natural place in the world to have lunch.

“What are we going to do, grab a coffee and a scone while we wander through the exhibits?”

“You’re not allowed to eat in the galleries,” Ian grinned mischievously.

“I know that,” I grumbled as he grabbed my hand again and started pulling me through the Hamilton Building.  “I also know that when you go to an art museum, you usually stop to look at the art.”

“We can,” he smiled, “but not until after we eat.  I’m starving.”

“If you’re so hungry, why didn’t you stop some place to eat?  We passed about a zillion restaurants between here and the bookstore.”

“I know, but I wanted to eat here.”

“Where?” I asked as we crossed to the museum’s north building.

“Here,” Ian grinned as he pulled me to a stop in front of Palettes, the museum’s highly acclaimed restaurant.

“You’re joking, right?”

“No,” Ian grinned as he pulled me toward the restaurant.

“But we can’t eat here!”

“Why not?  You like art and I like food so I thought this would be the perfect place to go.”

“Yeah, but isn’t it really expensive?”

“I don’t know,” Ian shrugged.  “Does it matter?  It’s not like you’re going to be paying anyway.”

“I’m not?”

“No,” Ian scoffed as the concierge greeted us at the door before showing us to our table.

I wanted to come up with some snappy reply to Ian’s answer but I was too overwhelmed by my surroundings.  I’d been to the art museum a million times with my mom, over the years, but we usually opted to eat at Mad Greens, seeing as how it was just across from the museum and infinitely cheaper.  I’d always wanted to eat at Palettes, but my mom, always the penny pincher, refused to shell out twenty-five bucks a piece for lunch.

“So now I know why you didn’t want me looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon,” I grinned after the waiter had taken our drink orders.

“They probably would have still let you in but you would have been more than a little self-conscious, I’m sure.”

“You’re right about that,” I sighed as I let my eyes wander the room, taking in the bright airy space and the numerous pieces of art that adorned the walls.  “So what made you decide to come here?”

“I already told you.  You like art and I like food, it just seemed to make sense.”

“Yeah, but most people don’t just decided to eat at the art museum all of a sudden, a place like this usually requires a little forethought.”

“Maybe,” Ian shrugged, “or maybe I just come here a lot.”

“Sure,” I laughed as the waiter returned with our drinks and asked to take our order.

Ian knew exactly what he wanted and ordered without hesitation, the sweet corn soup and a burger with blue cheese, bacon, mushrooms, grilled onions and frites.  The way he ordered made me think that maybe he did eat here often.  Not knowing what to order myself, I decided to follow Ian’s lead, opting for a pear, walnut and gorgonzola salad, rather than soup and the macaroni and cheese, rather than a burger.

“You know, you really are missing out on the soup,” Ian announced once the waiter had gone, “it’s a house specialty.”

“So maybe you can let me try some of yours.”

“Maybe, but only if you let me try some of your macaroni.  It’s the one dish on the menu I still haven’t tried.”

“So you really do come here a lot, don’t you?”

“I told you I did.”

“I guess you did.  I just didn’t believe you; it’s hard to imagine anyone coming here often.  I mean it’s in a museum for Pete’s sake!  It’s not a place you normally think of when you mention going out for dinner.”

“I know, but what can I say, my…”

“Let me guess, your mom likes coming here.”

“How did you know?”

“Lucky guess,” I shrugged as Ian shook his head, a beautiful smile spread across his perfect face.

It wasn’t long before our food was sitting in front of us and Ian and I both dove into our food, my stomach growling loudly as it reminded me I hadn’t eaten enough to keep it happy.  With the food came conversation, Ian eager to dive into any and every subject.  We spent the entire time talking and laughing, swapping food and stories as the minutes flew by.  I noticed several couples in the restaurant and was amused by the women giving us knowing looks or warm smiles, sighing at the young couple in love, any time our eyes met.  I even overheard a “how sweet” from one of the elder ladies that glanced our way and I couldn’t help but smile.  If only they knew that I was eating lunch with the only guy in the world who would never think of me as anything more than an annoyance.

If Ian noticed any of the attention we were drawing, he never let on.  He was as cool and collected as ever, though a little more chatty than usual.  By the time we’d finished our dessert, vanilla creme brulee for me and sticky toffee pudding for Ian, we’d covered practically every major subject a person could discuss.  A scene from Ang Lee’s version of Sense and Sensibility popped into my head as Ian paid for our meal and I wondered if there were any subject we still had left to discuss; perhaps we’d exhausted our conversational resources and our relationship would soon be over.  Of course that fear quickly left me when I realized we didn’t have a relationship to being with; Ian was only being nice to make up for the way he’d acted with Maggie.  I had no doubt that once his conscious was appeased, he’d be back to his same biting self.  With a sigh I decided to enjoy the peaceful Ian while it lasted, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the jerky Ian decided to return.

 

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