With lunch out of the way, Ian offered to show me around the museum, which I let him do, trying to seem genuinely enthralled by the exhibits I knew so well.  It worked until we got to the Asian art and particularly the painting Lotus, by Zhang Daqian.

“I love this one,” I sighed as we stood in front of the painting.

“It is nice,” Ian agreed.

“I know.  This, the Ngil mask, Fox Games, and pretty much everything in the textile exhibit are my favorites.”

“I take it you have been here before then.”

“Yeah,” I grinned sheepishly.

“You know, you could have said something.”

“I could have, but you seemed so proud to be showing me around, I didn’t want to hurt your feelings or anything.”

“That’s so thoughtful of you,” Ian groaned.

“Isn’t it?” I laughed.

“So, since you’ve obviously been here more than once, would you like to go?  It’s not like the museum is open for very much longer anyway.”

“Is it really that late?”

“Yeah, why?  Do you need to be home soon or something?”

“Maybe.  I didn’t tell my mom how long I was going to be gone and I’m afraid she might start to worry if I’m out too late.”

“I’d hardly call five late.”

“True.”

“Besides, your mom knows what I had…” Ian trailed off, his face giving away nothing as I tried to decipher his sudden silence.

“What you had what?  Planned?”

“No.”

“Alright, then what?”

“Nothing.” Ian snapped.

“Okay, if you won’t answer my question then answer me this.”

“What?”

“How did my mom know you were going to give me a ride this morning?”

“I told her.”

“When?”

“At work.”

“Your work or hers?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not really.”

“Then why ask?”

“I’m just curious.  I mean I knew you volunteered at the hospital but I didn’t know you had a job too.”

“I do.”

“I kinda figured that.  Where do you work?”

“At a shop downtown.”

“And you have time for that?  With school and soccer and everything?”

“Yeah,” Ian nodded as he opened the door of the museum and together we started for the garage.  The rain, which had been falling steadily all afternoon, had finally stopped but the wind was still blowing and it looked as if it could start raining again at any second.  “I don’t work much, what with the hospital and practice and games and all, but I do what I can.”

“It must be nice to have such a flexible schedule.  Most places won’t hire you if you’re only going to work now and then.”

“I guess it pays to know the owner.”

“Yeah, it does,” I laughed, knowing first-hand how true that was.  “So when you told my mom you’d be giving me a ride, you also told her you’d be taking me out to lunch?”

“Something like that.”

“Did you tell her anything else?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Ian grinned.

“So why is it you’ve decided to be nice to me all of a sudden?  I mean, I understand the whole giving me a ride thing, saving on gas and all that, but why the trip to the bookstore and the museum and the fancy lunch and the saving me from the puddle?  Isn’t that all just a bit much?”

“I don’t know,” Ian shrugged.  “Saving you from the puddle was just a lucky catch.”

“But what about the rest?”

“What about it?  I already told you I didn’t want to go home.  Can’t you just leave it at that?”

“I guess.  It’s just a little weird, that’s all.  It’s not every day you look at me without some sort of evil glare on your face.  It’s kinda freakin’ me out a little.”

“Maybe that was the plan all along.”

“Well that’s a relief,” I sighed with a smile as Ian opened the car door for me.  “For a minute there, I was afraid the world was coming to an end.”

“Ha ha,” Ian groaned as he shut the door behind me shaking his head at me as he walked around the car and slid in behind the wheel.  “So, now that you know the world’s not coming to an end, is there anything else you’d like to do?”

“I don’t know.  You’ve already taken me to the bookstore and the art museum, I don’t know if there’s anything we can do to top that.”

“Then I should probably take you home.”

“I guess,” I shrugged, wishing I could think of some way to make my time with Ian last longer.  As weird as it was to have him being nice to me, it was also incredibly fun.  Ian was really a great guy, under his usually icy exterior, and I was beginning to feel that if I spent much more time with the nice Ian, I was in danger of falling even more in love with him than I already was.

“Too bad you can’t think of anything else to do,” Ian sighed as he started the car and headed for home.  “My mom’s having a dinner party tonight and I’d really like to miss it.”

“You could always go over to Cade’s and see what he’s up to.”

“I guess.”

“You don’t sound very excited about that idea.”

“I’m just not sure he’s gonna want to see me.  I still haven’t apologized, remember?”

“So go over there and apologize.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Not really.  Cade’s very good a holding a grudge.  I accidentally broke his Optimus Prime action figure when we were kids and he wouldn’t talk to me for a month.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it was awful. I told him I was sorry right away but it still took him a long time to get over it.”

“I guess going after his girl is gonna be worse.”

“Probably.  You know, agreeing to Maggie’s plan was a whole lot easier than backing out of it.  If I’d known it was going to cause this much trouble, I don’t think I wouldn’t have gone along with it.”

“Hind sight is 20/20, so they say.”

“Yeah, well, all I can do is hope that Cade gets over it sooner rather than later.  I don’t want to spend the few months we have left fighting.”

“That would kinda suck.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, maybe if things work out between him and Maggie he’ll forget all about your part in her plan.”

“Maybe.”

“Trust me, things will work out fine, you’ll see.”

“You’re so optimistic.”

“I have to be.  You’ve seen first-hand how bizarre my life is, if I let every bad thing get me down, I’d have killed myself a long time ago.  You just have to be able to see the positive side of things and have a little faith.  Even the worst scenarios have a way of working out in the end.”

“You really believe that?”

“Of course I do.  Things probably won’t work out the way you plan them to, but they will work out, one way or another.  Trust me, things with you and Cade will work out in the end.  I mean, he did eventually forgive you for breaking his Transformer, didn’t he?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I’m sure he’ll forgive you again.  It may take him a while to get over being hurt by his best friend, but he will get over it.  I’m sure of it.  Of course, it would help if you actually talked to him.  Making up lame excuses for not talking to him isn’t going to help anything.  You have to say you’re sorry if you really want him to forgive you.”

“Okay mom,” Ian sighed impatiently, “thanks for the lecture.”

“Sorry,” I muttered, my cheeks burning as I turned my attention to the freckle on my right ring finger.

“It’s fine.  You are right though, I am going to have to talk to him sometime.”

“I think it’d be a good idea.”

Neither one of us said anything for the rest of the ride home.  I could tell Ian was thinking about something, probably trying to figure out how to get Cade to actually talk to him, and I just let him think in peace.  I had no desire to be accused of acting like his mom again.  I spent the rest of the ride home staring out the window, watching the rain which had started again, leave thin streaks of water on my window.  It figured that spending a nearly perfect day with Ian would end in an argument or disagreement of some sort.  A day like that was just too good to be true.  I spent the ride home wondering if I would ever learn when to keep my big mouth shut.

 

Ian pulled into my driveway just as my mom walked out to check the mail.  She gave us both a wave and a smile as she passed and I could see the mischievous look in her eye.  I wondered what she was up to but didn’t think too much of it, she always had some sort of look in her eye.

“So thanks for the ride and all,” I smiled as I reached for the door handle, “it was very nice of you.”

“No problem,” Ian smiled back.  “I guess I’ll see you on Monday.”

Before I could answer, my mom appeared outside Ian’s door, knocking on the window.  I inwardly groaned as Ian rolled down his window and my mom greeted us with a very chipper “hiya!”

“Hey,” Ian grinned.  “Aren’t you getting soaked out there?”

“Yeah, but it’s fine,” my mom smiled.  “So, how was it?  How was the recital?”

“It was fine, mom,” I groaned.

“It was great,” Ian corrected.  “Lyla was amazing.”

“Hey, that’s great!” my mom grinned.  “Why don’t you come inside and tell me all about it.”

“Really?” Ian asked, sounding suddenly chipper.

“Yeah, why not?  I’d love to hear about it and I really am getting soaked standing here.”

“Mom!” I hissed.

“What?  I don’t like standing in the rain.” she grinned at me.  “Now come on you two, I want to hear all about it.”

Without another word my mom disappeared into the house, leaving Ian and I sitting stunned in her wake.

“You don’t have to go in if you don’t want to,” I told him as we sat there.  “I can tell her you had to go or something.”

“Why would you do that?  Don’t you want me to come in?”

“You can if you want,” I insisted, “I just thought you might be a little freaked out by my mom or something.”

“Nah,” Ian grinned, shaking his head, “your mom’s actually pretty cool.”

“And how would you know that?”

“I have my ways,” Ian grinned.  “So, is it alright if I come in?”

“Sure,” I shrugged, feeling a bit mystified by Ian and his mysterious ways.  “I guess this gets you out of going home right away.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Ian grinned.

I just shook my head at him as I started for the front door, Ian trailing behind with the bag and sweater I’d absent-mindedly left in the car.

“You forgot these,” Ian grinned, handing me my things as we stepped inside and were immediately attacked by a very excited Bills.

“Whoa!” Ian yelled, his eyes as big as dinner plates, as Bills danced around us, barking like mad.  “What in the world!”

“Bills! Chill, will ya!  It’s just me.  Relax!”

“Bills!” my mom barked from the kitchen.  “Come here!”

Immediately Bills set off for the kitchen, his pounding footsteps echoing through the house as he ran.

“Sorry about that,” I sighed, turning to Ian.  “Bills doesn’t usually get so excited when people come over.”

“Really?” Ian gasped, his eyes still wide.

“Yeah, usually he’s pretty calm.  He must really like you or something.”

“That or he wants to have me for dinner.”

“Nah, not Bills,” I grinned, “he may look like a monster but he’s really very mellow.”

“Sure,” Ian chuckled as he followed me hesitantly into the kitchen and settled ourselves at the bar, Ian eying Bills warily as he crossed the kitchen and settled at our feet, happily gnawing on his ginormous Nylabone.

“Hey Ian,” my mom grinned, “sorry about Bills, I don’t know what got into him, he’s usually so mellow.”

“See?” I grinned as Ian shook his head and gave me a wary look.

“Sure,” Ian nodded.

“So, how was the recital?  I want to know all about it.  You said Lyla did well?”

“She did,” Ian nodded with a grin, “very well, actually.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up winning that scholarship.”

“You really think so?” my mom asked eagerly, pride obviously welling in her eyes.  “That’s so great.”

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high,” I groaned, “I’ve got some pretty stiff competition.  Turns out Ian’s a freakin’ prodigy.  If anyone gets the scholarship, it’s going to be him.”

“Really?” my mom asked, trying just a little too hard to act surprised.

“Alright,” I sighed, suddenly tired of all of the knowing looks and subtle hints I’d been getting all day, “what’s going on here?”

“What do you mean honey?” My mom asked a little too innocently.

“I mean, what’s up with you and Ian.  You’ve both been up to something today and I want to know what it is.”

“Honey, you must be tired or something, imagining something like that.  I think you should think about going to sleep early tonight.”

“I’m not tired and I’m not imagining things!  You two are up to something and I want to know what it is.  How did you know Ian was going to be picking me up this morning?  Why weren’t you surprised when I got back hours later than what I had originally planned?  And you,” I snapped, turning to Ian, “how did you know my fingers always freeze when I’m nervous?  How did you know I’ve always wanted to eat at Palettes?  And the hat!  What’s with the hat?”

“What does the hat have to do with anything?” Ian asked, coolly.  “It’s just a hat.”

“It’s not just a hat, it’s the hat.”

“Do you have any idea what she’s talking about?” Ian asked, turning to my mom.

“Lyla has a thing for hats,” my mom laughed, “ever since she saw Penelope she’s always dreamed of dating a guy with a hat like yours.  She thinks they’re hot.”

“Mom!”

“Well, you’re the one who brought it up, I just answered the boy’s question.”

“Oh man!” I cried as I stormed out of the kitchen, mortified that my mom would say anything about the hat.  Humiliated, I slunk into the living room and slumped onto the couch, my face burning from anger and humiliation.

“Hey,” Ian called as he followed me into the living room, flopping onto the other end of the couch.

“Hey.”

“So, you like my hat, huh?”

“Oh geeze,” I groaned, throwing a pillow over my head.

“It’s alright you know.  I’m used to hearing things like this from you.”

“Oh man!”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m not here to torture you.  I’m here to give you an explanation.”

“An explanation for what?”

“You were right when you said something was up.”

“Alright, so what is it?  Are you conspiring with my mom or something?”

“Something like that,” Ian nodded.

“Great,” I groaned, “first you conspire with Maggie and now my mom; what’s next, conspiring with Yuuki and Matt?”

“Actually, Matt prefers to scheme on his own.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain in a minute.”

“Okay, so what’s up?”

“Well, first of all, you know when you asked me about my job?”

“Yeah, why?  What does that have to do with anything?”

“More than you know,” Ian grinned.

“Okay.”

“Well, I’ve been working for your mom for the past few months.”

“You have?”

“Yeah, I started about two days after you broke your hand.”

“Really?  Why?”

“Well, I went in to the shop to ask her why you hadn’t come back to your lessons.  My mom was acting really weird, well more weird than usual, and I knew something was up.  I tried asking her but she just blew me off and I couldn’t really ask you because, well, I just couldn’t, so I decided to ask your mom.  I caught her in the middle of her Valentine’s rush and somehow ended up helping with the chocolate as we talked.”

“That sounds about right,” I sighed, knowing only too well how easy it was to get roped into my mom’s chocolate frenzy.

“Anyway, she answered my questions and I volunteered to help out, at least until after the Valentine’s rush.  I felt bad that she was short-handed because of me and your mom thought my helping out was a good idea so she hired me.  I was going to quit after the rush but I liked having another excuse to get out of the house and the hours were great.  Really, your mom is the only person in the world willing to work around my schedule.”

“Yeah, she’s pretty good about that kind of stuff.”

“She really is.”

“So that’s why my mom wasn’t surprised when I told her you were here to give me a ride this morning?”

“That’s why.  Actually, she’s the one who suggested it.”

“I see.  And the museum?”

“It’s hard to say, really.  If there’s one thing your mom likes to talk about, it’s you.  She’s told me so many things about you…”

“Oh man!” I whined; terrified at what humiliating stories my mom might have told over the past few months.

“Don’t worry, she’s never told me anything too embarrassing.  Mostly she talks about how proud she is of you and how great you are.”

“I’m sure you enjoyed that,” I groaned.

“I’ve endured worse,” Ian grinned.

“So, you’ve spent the past few months suffering through my mom’s rambling about me while at the same time plotting my demise with Maggie?  Wasn’t that a little weird?”

“It was, especially once I started feeling like a total slime ball.  Your mom must have known something was up because she kept asking me if I was okay.”

“Yeah, she’s pretty perceptive when it comes to stuff like that.  I can’t keep anything from her for more than a day or two.”

“Yeah, well turns out I couldn’t either.  I ended up telling her everything.”

“You mean about you and Maggie?”

“I mean about everything, everything.  I hadn’t meant to but once I started talking, I just kept going.  I told her about the letter and how I reacted and about all of the things that had happened since then and how I was really, really sorry for what I’d done and how I’d behaved and…”

“And that’s when I told him to take you to the recital today,” my mom cut in as she sank into the chair next to me.  “Ian wasn’t sure it was such a good idea, what with the way the two of you carry on sometimes, but I told him I thought it would be good, for both of you.  Seems to me, I was right.”

“What?” I asked, not really sure what my mom was getting at.

“I’m going to go pick up some things for supper.  Ian, you’re staying right?”

“If that’s okay with you,” Ian shrugged.

“Of course it is.  I’ll be back in a bit.  You guys want or need anything?”

“No thanks,” I answered.

“Ian?”

“Nothing thanks.”

“Alright, see ya in a little bit.”

“Bye mom.”

“Bye Liz.”

“It’s so weird to hear you say that,” I sighed as my mom disappeared around the corner, the front door shutting not two minutes later.

“Say what?  Your mom’s name?”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry but at work she insists on everyone calling her Liz.”

“Yeah, I know, but it’s still strange.  You’ve spent the entire year ignoring me and yet you’re all buddy-buddy with my mom.  Really, it’s freakin’ me out.”

“Sorry.”

“So what were you saying about Matt and his schemes?  Don’t tell me that’s how he got his own girlfriend.”

“What girlfriend?” Ian chuckled.

“What do you mean ‘what girlfriend?’  The girl he met over Christmas break.  The one he’s been dating ever since.”

“Oh, you mean the girl who doesn’t exist.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I told you, Matt has conspiracies of his own.”

“And his girlfriend is a conspiracy?”

“It is.”

“And you would know this how?  It’s not like Matt has ever really talked to you.  To be honest, I don’t think he likes you very much.”

“He doesn’t,” Ian chuckled, “though that’s not much of a secret.  The secret was that he made up his ‘girlfriend’ to get you to talk to him again.  Maggie kinda spilled the beans one day while we were running lines.  Seems that after you told Matt you weren’t interested, he got all pouty and moody and stopped talking to you.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Well, he got tired of being mad at you but he couldn’t think of a way to get back on your good side without making it obvious that he was still into you.  He decided that by having a girlfriend you’d ease up around him and he’d be able to get things back to the way they were.”

“Well, it worked,” I grumbled.  “Here I’ve been thinking that everything was fine between us and now you tell me that’s he’s still pining.”

“Seems like you’ve had quite the following this year…Matt, Cade, that guy from your ceramics class.”

“What?”

“That kid, the one who sat next to you in ceramics, he was flirting with you all of last semester.”

“Who?  Jake?”

“Is that his name?  The kid with the red hair and the freckles?”

“Yeah.  He was not flirting.  He’s just a friend.”

“You’re so clueless sometimes,” Ian chuckled.

“I am not!”

“Whatever,” Ian grinned.  “So, I think I’m gonna call Cade before your mom comes back, if you don’t mind.  I really shouldn’t put it off any longer.”

“I don’t mind.  Do you want to use the phone?  There’s one in here, one in the kitchen and one in both the bedrooms.”

“No thanks, I’ll just use my phone, though I may go in the other room, if you don’t mind.”

“It’s fine, just make yourself at home.”

“Thanks,” Ian grinned as he disappeared down the hall.

With Ian gone Bills came into the living room and flopped down beside me on the couch, laying his head in my lap as I absently stroked his head.  I had a lot to think about.  Not only had Ian and Maggie plotted against me in an attempt to win Maggie a man, but Matt had lied about having a girlfriend and about liking me and on top of it all, it seemed like my mom was plotting some sort of “Parent Trap” in reverse.  It was all very confusing.  I understood Maggie’s “catch a Cade” plan and I understood Matt’s deception, even if I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t understand my mom’s plan.  Why would she do something like that?  She knew Ian was the boy I’d humiliated with my letter, she knew how I felt about him and apparently she knew how he felt about all of it.  Did that mean she knew something about Ian that I didn’t?  That didn’t really surprise me.  Ian was truly a man of mystery.  If he had any secrets, I’m sure I’d be the last to know but I really didn’t want to get my hopes up.  It just seemed too fantastical to believe that Ian might actually be interested in me.  Yes, he’d been nice today, nicer than he’d ever been, but that didn’t mean anything.  Well, at least not to him.

I was pretty sure that, to Ian, spending the day with me was some sort of penance for his most recent bout of cruelty.  What was a couple of hours at a bookstore, lunch and a quick stroll through a museum to him?  Probably nothing, I sighed as I got up, grabbed my bag off of the table where I’d left it and pulled my music out before shoving my bag into the closet, but to me, the past eight hours had been practically perfect.

A little sigh of contentment slipped past my lips as I crossed to the piano, absently flipping through the pages as I reminisced over the events of the day.  It wasn’t until I set the music on the piano that I realized something was up.  The pages of my music had been so flattened by the abuse of the past few months that they usually lay limply against the stand, as if they were tired and grateful for the rest, but for some reason, they were standing straight up.  At first I thought that maybe I had left some other music on the stand before I left, but then I remembered that I hadn’t played anything other than my recital pieces for the past month.  Curious, I flipped through the music and found the reason for my sheet music’s sudden revival.  There, sandwiched between the two pieces, was a third piece, clearly hand-written with “Für Lyla” emblazoned on the top.  Trembling, I set my original music aside and sat down at the piano, my fingers barely able to play the first few notes of the piece which bore my name.  I wondered why the melody seemed so familiar and then it hit me, this was Ian’s second piece at the recital, the one I hadn’t recognized.  Was it possible Ian had written this himself and had he really written it for me?

“I was hoping you wouldn’t find that until after I was gone,” Ian announced, appearing out of nowhere beside me.

“Oh geeze!” I gasped.  “You scared me!”

“Sorry,” Ian grinned sheepishly as he slid beside me on the piano bench.

“So did you really write this?”

“Uh-huh,” Ian nodded, pointing to the name clearly printed at the top right hand corner of the page.

“And it’s really for me?”

“That’s what it says, isn’t it?”

“Would you play it for me?”

Ian just smiled as his fingers began to dance over the keys, the sweet melody of the piece bringing tears to my eyes as I sat amazed that something so beautiful could really have been written for me.

“So?” Ian asked as the final notes faded into silence and his hands rested once more in his lap.  “What did you think?”

“Amazing,” I sighed, hoping Ian wouldn’t notice the tremble in my voice.

“Then it suits the girl it was written for.”

“I…I…don’t know what to say.  I…”

“You don’t have to say anything.  Look, I know I’ve been a jerk, a huge jerk, ever since Ashley read your letter to the class and I know that I don’t deserve to be forgiven and I understand if you hate me and never want to see me again, that’s fine.  After all I’ve put you through, you have every right to hate me but I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry, for everything, and I hope that someday you’ll forgive me.”

With a heavy sigh, Ian stood up, his eyes full of sadness and defeat as he headed for the door.  For a second I watched him go, unable to fully grasp what he had just said.  The music, the apology, the look in his eyes; did it really mean what I hoped it meant?

“Ian wait!” I called out as I jumped up and ran toward my room, “I’ve got something for you!”

“What is it?” Ian asked as he followed me down the hall.

“Here,” I smiled as I shoved my most recent comic into his hands.  “It’s not finished yet, but I want you to read it anyway.”

I could tell he was impressed by the drawings as he gave me a look that clearly said “you drew this?”  I just nodded as I watched him sink onto the beanbag in the corner, completely absorbed in the book.  I sat on the edge of my bed, watching nervously as Ian read, each turn of the page made my heart skip a beat.  I had no idea how he would react to the story but I was pretty sure he’d get it.

My latest book was a tale of unrequited love where the heroine, a super cute and yet somehow single girl, was madly in love with the most popular guy in school who, of course, had no idea she existed.  An unexpected and very embarrassing turn of events shoved the girl to the forefront of the guy’s attention and he reacted badly, turning him into a two-faced jerk whose normal to everyone else but a monster to her.  At first the heroine is mad at the guy and vows to be rid of him forever but a strange string of events makes her change her mind.  As the story progresses the heroine is able to catch glimpses into the life of the boy she’s loved for so long and she begins to see that there’s more to him that what everyone sees on the surface.  These glimpses into the real boy make her change her mind about him, and rather than hating him, she finds herself loving him more and more.

“So how does it end,” Ian asked he crossed the room and sat down beside me, handing me the book with a smile.

“I’m not sure yet.”

“Can I make a suggestion?”

“Sure.”

“They ought to live happily ever after,” he grinned as he leaned in his lips lingering just above my own for just a second before he kissed me.

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