Friday night’s show was a fairly successful performance, only two people fumbled their lines but they both recovered quickly.  Mr. Mertz gave his usual closing pep talk and shouted reminders to non-listening ears.  Thrilled by the relative success of the first performance, everyone was much more relaxed for the second.  The nervous chatter of the actors wasn’t quite so spirited, though the excitement from the audience could still be felt, wafting through the stage curtains.

Once again I found myself crammed into the make-up room with thirty other people, but unlike last night, I situated myself by the door and dared anyone to try to make me move.  Once again I began the transformation of my fellow students into middle-aged adults, though this time Cade was first in line, a huge smile plastered on his boyishly cute face.  We talked and laughed while I worked, which made getting things right a bit of a challenge, but I managed.  When I was finished with Cade, I set to work on the others, too busy to give anyone a second thought, though I did notice Cade hovering in the background, a time or two, which always provoked a dramatic eye-rolling from me and a cheesy grin from Cade.  When I had finished with the last of the “adults” who needed help, I started to clean, only to be stopped by the sudden appearance of Ian in my chair.

“Back again?” I asked, not really sure if Ian wanted my help or just my place.

“If you don’t mind,” Ian answered coolly.

“Alright,” I shrugged.

Without the scribbles of an infant on his face, my work was easy, though being so close to Ian was not.  Once again my stupid heart insisted on skipping a beat or two, especially when I got to stare into Ian’s ice blue eyes, as I applied the make-up.  I tried not to stare very often or very long, but something about those eyes kept drawing me back for another look.  I was amazed at how different those eyes could look; last night they had been a raging torrent of icy hatred but tonight they were a perfect sea of tranquility.  As I worked, I wondered if everyone’s eyes were as expressive as Ian’s and doubted than anyone’s could be as beautiful.  An impatient sigh from Ian knocked all thought from my head and I finished as quickly as I could.

“Finished,” I announced in relief, glad to be free from those bewitching eyes.

Once again Ian inspected my work in the mirror before thanking me as he sauntered out the door.

“You’re welcome,” I called again, smiling despite myself.

 

It was the same routine on Sunday, though the excited chatter of the previous performances was replaced by a relaxed hum. Saturday’s performance had been perfect and everyone was feeling good about the final performance. Once again Cade was the first in line for make-up and once again Ian was last.  I wanted to ask him why he didn’t just do his makeup himself, but the truth was, I was too glad he didn’t.  Despite his numerous insults, his cold demeanor and his infinite moments of jerkiness, the past three days had been quiet enough and the peace between us had brought back all my old feelings for him.  Frustrated with myself for being so weak, I had gone home every night that weekend, vowing to be better tomorrow, even though I knew that when tomorrow came, I’d be just as weak as ever.  My only hope for salvation from my own weakness was the ending of the play.  Once Ian was no longer available for me to stare at freely while I ran my fingers over his perfect face, I would surely be able to go back to forgetting all about him.  As I put the finishing touches on his face Sunday afternoon, I desperately hoped I was right; falling in love with a guy who hated you was stupid and I refused to do it.  Lucky for me, I had Cade around to distract me.  His excitement at being able to take me to the cast party was a bit overwhelming and, had circumstances been different, would have been fairly annoying, but as it was, I was grateful for the distraction.

The final performance was by far the best, and as the curtain came down, the audience erupted into rapturous applause.  Each member of the cast received various amounts of applause as he or she took their final curtain call but the cheers for Maggie were, by far, the loudest.  From backstage I could see her beaming as she received not only cheers but several flowers as well.  I tried to see who it was that threw the flowers but the stage lights made it impossible to see the faces beyond.  When the cheering finally died down, Maggie and the rest of the cast made their way back stage, the younger students beaming while the seniors all came back misty-eyed, Maggie included.

“I can’t believe this is the last one,” she sighed as she wiped her eyes with a tissue.

“I know,” I sighed, trying to be a sympathetic as possible for my over-emotional friend.

“You still have the spring musical,” Yuuki pointed out.

“I know, but this is still the last play.  I mean, who knows if I’ll ever be in another play, ever again!”

“I’m sure you will be,” Yuuki grinned as Jack and Cade joined our huddle.

“Good job tonight,” Cade told Maggie, grinning when he noticed the wad of tissue in her hand.

“Thanks, you too.”

“So, are we ready to go?” Cade asked the rest of us.

“Go?” Maggie asked.  “Go where?”

“To the cast party,” Cade answered as if it were the most obvious answer in the world.  “Aren’t you going?”

“Yeah, I just didn’t realize you were leaving already.  Are all of you going together?”

I could tell from the tone of Maggie’s voice that she was a little hurt at being excluded from the group and I quickly stepped in.

“We are and so are you.  Right?”

“I didn’t know I was invited.”

“Of course you are,” I insisted, nodding not so subtly to the group “right guys?”

“Yeah,” Cade grinned, “you didn’t think we’d forget the star of the show, did you?”

What a flatterer!  Cade certainly knew how to charm the ladies!  That one little compliment was all it took for Maggie to forget her injured pride and join us in our post-production celebration.  Jack, Yuuki and I mingled with other members of the cast and crew while we waited for Cade and Maggie to return to their normal selves.  Everyone was equally happy with the evening’s performance and we all felt a little sad, knowing it was over.  For me the sadness didn’t have much to do with the fact that it was my last fall play, but more to do with the simple finality of it being the end.  All of the long nights and hard work that had been put into making the play the success it had been was no longer important.  The sets would be struck, the dressing rooms cleaned out and the auditorium itself would be all that remained of my final fall production.  Despite my greatest efforts, I found myself getting a little teary-eyed as I wandered on stage to get one last look at the set I had helped create.

“Admiring your work?” a voice asked from the dark.

“Not really,” I shrugged as I tried to locate the body that went with the voice, “more like making a memory.”

“Why not take a picture?”

“I’m one of those people who always wants to take pictures but never remembers to bring a camera.  I’m sure to you that’s just another example of my stupidity, but to me it means I’m occasionally forgetful.”

“I suppose it could mean that, though in your case, I’m not so sure.”

“How did I know you’d say something like that?”

“Who knows?  So are you out here to avoid the tears or to hide your own?”

“A little of both,” I admitted.  “I hate it when good things come to an end.  You?”

“Hiding.”

“Because you’re afraid to let people see you cry or because you’re trying to escape your adoring fans?”

“I’d hardly call them adoring.”

“Oh, I know what you’d call them, annoying, stupid and insipid are more like it.  Am I right?”

“Although it doesn’t usually happen, in this particular case, you’re right.”

“Imagine that!” I teased, unable to pass up the opportunity.  “Does this mean you’re not going to the cast party?”

“I wasn’t, but Cade talked me into it.”

“You mean you’re coming too?” I squawked in a half-excited, half-horrified shriek that drew a chuckle out of the invisible Ian.

“Does that mean you’re mad or glad?”

“Neither,” I snapped.  “So how are we all going to fit into one car?”

“Cade brought his parent’s van.”

“Oh, well, I guess we should be going.  Maggie and Cade are probably changed by now.”

“Probably.”

“There you are, Lyla,” Yuuki cried as she rushed across the stage, “we’ve been looking everywhere for you.  Everyone’s waiting for you, aren’t you ready?”

“Yeah, I’m ready,” I sighed as I took one final look at the sets that would be gone by tomorrow.

As Yuuki dragged me out of the auditorium I wondered if Ian were still there.  It had been weird, talking to him as he hid in the shadows backstage but at the same time, it had been kind of nice; for the first time since the soccer incident, we’d actually had a normal conversation.  It was nice to know things could actually be civil between us, from time to time.

Yuuki hadn’t exaggerated when she said everyone was waiting for me, they were all huddled in the now empty rehearsal room, talking and laughing, when Yuuki and I walked in; the surprising thing, was that Ian was one of the group.  How he got there before me was a bit of a mystery but I didn’t have much time to wonder as Cade came bounding up to me the instant Yuuki and I walked through the door.

“There you are!” he cried, a huge smile on his face.  “Where were you?”

“Hiding on stage,” Yuuki answered for me.

“I wasn’t hiding I was just waiting for everyone to get ready.”

“Well we’re ready now,” Cade grinned, “so let’s go.”

“Shotgun!” Maggie exclaimed as we all started for the door.

No one contested Maggie’s claim to ride shotgun and as Jack and Yuuki claimed the backseat, I was left to climb in beside Ian.  For a second I wondered if Maggie had called shotgun for exactly that reason but a quick wink as she climbed into the front seat left me without a doubt.  I knew she’d be expecting a profuse expression of gratitude from me later, possibly in the form of my mom’s incredible chocolate covered strawberries.

“So where is the cast party?” Yuuki asked as we pulled out of the parking lot.

“Ashley Tucker’s house,” Cade answered.

“Oh geeze,” I groaned under my breath.

“What’s wrong with Ashley?” Ian asked.

“Nothing,” I sighed, hoping the subject would drop.

“Don’t listen to her, Ian,” Maggie insisted as she turned around to face us, “she’s just trying to evade the question.”

“Why?” Ian asked, sounding genuinely curious.

“I don’t know,” Maggie shrugged, “but I do know that Ashley Tucker is an evil, conniving, sadistic witch who’s had it out for Lyla since sixth grade.”

“Why?” Jack asked.

“Who knows,” I grumbled, wishing Maggie would shut-up.

“We don’t know for sure,” Yuuki answered, “but we think it’s just because she’s jealous.”

“Which is totally stupid,” I pointed out, annoyed, “since she’s been one of the most popular girls in school her entire life.  Why in the world would she be jealous of me?”

“Because you’re smart,” Yuuki answered.

“And funny,” Maggie added.

“And talented,” Cade chimed in.

“And pretty,” Yuuki continued.

“And dependable,” Jack added.

“And incredibly confident,” Maggie pointed out, “I mean, there aren’t many people who are as sure of themself as you are which is probably why Ashley hates you so much.  You make her feel inferior, which she hates, so she retaliates the only way she can.”

“By sticking gum in my hair, slamming my head against a wall, calling me names and humiliating me?”

“Exactly,” Maggie grinned.

“She’s really done all of that to you?” Jack asked in disbelief.

“That and more,” Yuuki insisted.

“Well I can see why you don’t like her,” Cade chuckled.

“Yeah,” I mumbled as I turned to look out the window, embarrassed by my friend’s profuse praise and Ian’s indecipherable silence as he glanced my way.

“So if Lyla and Ashley are mortal enemies, why are we going to Ashley’s house?” Jack asked.

“Good question,” Cade replied.

“We’re going because that’s where the cast party is,” I announced, hoping my voice had the tone of finality that my mom’s so often did.

“So?” Jack asked.  “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not really interested in hanging out with a sadistic witch and a bunch of sophomores.”

“Me neither,” Cade answered.

“I’m not either,” Yuuki and Maggie answered at the same time.

“What about you Ian?” Jack asked. “Do you still want to go?”

“I didn’t want to go in the first place,” he answered with a grin.

“Then I guess that means we skip the party and go straight to dinner?” Cade asked, his face beaming in the rearview mirror.

“I guess so,” Maggie answered for all of us.

It took us forever to decide where to eat, but eventually we all agreed on pizza.  There probably would have been another endless debate on which pizza place was best, but Ian pointed out that since we were going to watch a movie afterward, it made the most sense to pick a place closer to the theater.  I was afraid that once we got to the restaurant, we’d have another debate over what kind of pizza to order, but amazingly enough, that conversation was over in no time, sausage and mushroom for Ian, Jack and me and pepperoni for Maggie, Yuuki and Cade.  Our conversation over dinner was almost a bit too lively, as we garnered stares from several other patrons, but even the dirtiest looks couldn’t dissuade Maggie or Cade from their antics.  The funniest part was that the two of them seemed to feed off each other.  If one of them cracked a joke, the other was soon to follow.  The results were hilarious and more than once, were we in danger of shooting soda out of our respective noses.

As entertaining as Maggie and Cade were, I was more intrigued by Ian and his ability to appear completely normal.  Not once over dinner did he seem mean, cold or nasty; in fact, he was the complete opposite.  If it weren’t for the fact that he had proven himself to be a jerk on more than one occasion, I would have never guessed he was one.  He fit into the group as easily as the rest of us and supplied just as much conversation and humor.  Of course he addressed me directly, as little as possible but he was completely at ease with everyone else.  I spent half the time eating and the other half marveling at the many faces of Ian Wallace.

After dinner we drove to the theater, discussing first what to watch and then movies in general.  It was funny listening to so many different opinions at once, especially when Cade and Maggie were the two expressing their opinions.  Those two bickered over almost every movie we discussed, although they did finally agree that The Lord of the Rings was awesome.

The parking lot of the theater was surprisingly full for a Sunday night which meant we had to park about a zillion miles away, which wouldn’t have been a problem if not for the frigid wind that whipped around us as we trekked across the parking lot.  By the time we got to the theater, Maggie, Yuuki and I were shivering uncontrollably, which under the brilliant lights of the marquee, was impossible to hide.  Once the boys noticed our chattering teeth and blue lips, they insisted we wait inside while they bought the tickets.  It wasn’t until we had stepped inside that we realized that we still hadn’t agreed on a movie, which meant we would have to be subjected to whatever film the guys decided on.

“I hope they don’t pick anything stupid,” Maggie groaned as she stamped her feet and blew on her hands.

“I’m sure Jack will pick something good,” Yuuki insisted as she rubbed her hands together.

“He might, but he’s outnumbered two to one,” I pointed out as I jammed my hands into my pockets.

“We may be watching something really awful,” Maggie muttered as we watched the guys step up to the window and pay for the tickets.

“At least we’re not paying for the tickets,” I grinned as the boys stepped inside and started toward us.

“True,” Maggie and Yuuki laughed together.

“So are you guys ready for an awesome movie?” Cade asked as the guys joined our small huddle.

“I’m afraid to ask what we’re watching,” Maggie teased, “especially if you think it’s awesome.”

“Don’t worry,” Cade grinned, “I know you’re gonna love it.”

“Great,” Maggie, Yuuki and I groaned in unison.

“So what are we watching?” Yuuki asked Jack as we started to wind our way through the crowd.

“You’ll see,” Jack grinned mischievously.

“So you’re not telling?” she asked, concerned.

“Nope,” Jack grinned.

“It doesn’t matter,” I pointed out, “we’ll see what we’re watching once we get to the right theater.”

“No you won’t,” Cade chuckled, “you have to close your eyes before we get there.”

“No way,” Maggie laughed.

“Oh come on,” Cade whined, “why not?”

“Because if I close my eyes it means you have to help me to my seat and that’s not going to happen.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’d probably run me into a wall,” Maggie exclaimed.

“I would not,” Cade insisted, in melodramatic shock at such an accusation.  “A gentleman would never put a lady in harm’s way.”

“You, sir, are hardly a gentleman,” Maggie teased.

“Shows what you know,” Cade grinned, “allow me to demonstrate.”

Turning to me, Cade offered me his arm with a gracious bow and a courteous, “Mademoiselle.”

Reluctantly, I took Cade’s arm, grimacing to Maggie as I did so, which provoked a laugh from everyone else.

“You have to close your eyes,” Cade insisted as we started down the hall.

Against my better judgment, I did as Cade instructed and allowed him to lead me down the hall with my eyes closed.  Terrified of running into something or someone, the walk down the hall seemed to take forever.  I began to wonder if Cade weren’t just leading me up and down the hall, just for the fun of it, but before I could ask, the lighting and the carpeting changed and I could tell we were finally in the theater.

“Can I open my eyes yet?” I asked as Cade stopped me and we waited for the others to take their seats.

“In a minute,” Cade answered as he led me down a row of seats.

Once I had settled into my chair, Cade told me open my eyes, which I did, with much relief.

“See?” Cade grinned triumphantly at Maggie.  “I am a gentleman.”

“Oh, no doubt,” Maggie teased, “a true gentleman always makes his lady walk blindly through a crowded theater to her seat.”

“Oh shut-up,” Cade growled as Maggie burst into a fit of laughter.

Laughing a little myself, I took a second to look around and see where everyone was.  Jack had found the seats and he and Yuuki were the farthest down the row, Maggie was next to Yuuki and Cade, and I found myself situated between Cade and Ian.  Cade, still trying to prove his status as a gentleman, asked Maggie and me if we’d like anything from the concessions stand.

“No thanks,” I grinned, too stuffed from dinner to even think about eating anything else.

“Popcorn and a Coke would be great,” Maggie grinned.

“Alright,” Cade shrugged, “anyone else?”

“A Sprite and some Hot Tamales,” Yuuki answered.

“Alright, what about you, Jack?  Ian?”

“I’m fine,” Ian answered.

“I’ll come with you,” Jack replied.

With Jack and Cade gone, Maggie and Yuuki slipped into their own conversation, leaving me sitting next to Ian, feeling more than a little awkward.  Hoping the good mood Ian had seemed to be in all evening was still in effect, I decided I’d risk a little conversation.

“So, what are we watching?”

“I can’t tell you,” Ian grinned.

“Why not?” I asked, shocked by the genuine warmth in his eyes.

“Because it’s a surprise.”

“You’re as bad as the other two!”

“I know.”

“Well will we like it?”

“Jack and Cade think you will.”

“That’s not very reassuring.”

“If you’re so curious, why don’t you ask your friends?  They both know what we’re going to watch.”

I felt like such an idiot.  Of course Maggie and Yuuki would know what we’re watching, they hadn’t walk into the theater with their eyes closed!  I would have asked Maggie what we were watching but I felt too stupid to ask.  I could almost feel the silent disdain emanating from Ian as I sat there, regretting having ever attempting to hold a conversation with him.  Thankfully, Jack and Cade were back before I could loathe myself too much and the lights dimmed not long after.

As the previews began to play, a sinking feeling settled into the pit of my stomach.  Out of all the movies ever made, there was only one genera that I really couldn’t stand and if the previews were any indication of what was coming, I had a feeling this movie was going to be one of them.   My fear and trepidation only increased as the movie began and the theater filled with the eerie and atonal music of the opening credits.  Not five minutes into the movie, the first grizzly murder took place.  It was gruesome, to be sure, but if that’s all the movie had been I could have handled it.  Ten minutes later, the first zombie appeared and that’s when I flipped.  Terrified beyond all rational thought, I rushed out of the theater and sank to the floor just outside the door, covered in a cold sweat and trembling like a leaf.

Too afraid to care what anyone else thought of me, I just sat there as dozens of people walked by, each one heading to the other theaters that lined the hall.  I don’t know how long I sat there, hunched into a ball with my head resting on my knees, all I know is that the hall eventually became deserted and I was finally left alone in my misery, or so I thought.  Not long after the last few stragglers left the hall, I realized someone was sitting next to me.  There were only five possible people who might be sitting beside me and the shoes narrowed it down to three.  I knew Jack would still be inside with Yuuki, which meant that either Cade or Ian was beside me and neither possibility made me feel any better.  If it were Cade, I’d be teased and tormented until I finally agreed to return, which would never happen, and if it were Ian, I’d be taunted and tormented in a completely different way.  Either way, it was with great reluctance that I finally look up into the face of my silent companion.  My already frazzled nerves hardly knew how to react when my gaze was met by the intense gaze of Ian.

“Are you alright?” he asked without a hint of malice in his voice.

“I will be,” I answered, my voice as shaky as the rest of me.  “Before you say anything else, I just want to say, despite what you must think, I’m not an idiot.”

“I wasn’t going to say you were.  I just wanted to see if you were alright…and if there was anything I could do to help.”

“Seriously?”

“Um-hum.”

“Huh,” I sighed as I sat up and leaned against the rough wall.

“So I take it you’re not going back in there?”

“No and I’ll spare you the effort of the insult and just tell you, it’s because I’m a huge chicken, at least when it comes to zombies.”

“Really?  Just zombies?  Not werewolves or vampires or psychotic mass-murders?”

“Nope, just zombies.”

“May I ask why?”

“Only if you really want to know the answer.”

“Alright, then why just zombies?”

“I’ll tell you, but first I need to stand up; my bum’s falling asleep.”

I hadn’t meant to be so blatantly honest with Ian and I immediately regretted mentioning anything about my bum, but Ian must have found it funny because he gave a little chuckle.  I could feel my face turning red as Ian stood and offered me a hand up.

“Thanks,” I muttered as I hung my head, hoping to hide the flush in my cheeks.

“You’re welcome,” Ian chuckled as we started down the hall.  “So why is it you’re so afraid of zombies?  You don’t really seem to be the type that’s afraid of anything.”

“I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to take that, or why I’m going to tell you, but I said I would so here it goes.  Long story short, I once had a babysitter who loved horror movies and had no qualms about letting a four-year old watch zombies eat people.”

“No way.”

“Oh yeah.  I had nightmares for years.”

“Well that explains things.  But why did your parents leave you with such an irresponsible babysitter?”

“They were in a pinch and my brain-dead father was the one who hired her.”

“You don’t sound very fond of your dad.”

“Really?  You caught that?” I asked as Ian led me to one of the tables set up in the concessions area and sat down.  “Darn, I was trying so hard to hide it.”

“Sure you were,” Ian chuckled.  “So may I ask why?”

“Well aren’t you Mr. Curious.  Are you sure your name isn’t George?”

“Do I look like a monkey?” Ian asked dryly.

“I suppose not so much,” I grinned, “and to answer your question, it’s because he’s a schmuck and a jerk.”

“Oh, wow, tell me how you really feel.”

“I don’t think you can handle the unabridged version,” I chuckled dryly.  “Let’s just say my mom and I left him a long time ago and haven’t heard a thing from him since; not that either of us would ever want to, the guy’s a total loser.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?  It’s not your fault, unless you’re the one who convinced my dad to sthup every twit in Chicago instead of be the responsible husband and father he should have been.”

“No, that wasn’t me.”

“Then you have nothing to be sorry for.  My mom and I are both better off without him.”

“Maybe so, but it’s still got to be hard, not having a dad.”

“Not really,” I shrugged.  “Why would I need a dad when I’ve got the world’s best mom?”

“Good question,” Ian grinned.

“So what about you?  You must like your dad a lot, if you think I’m lost without mine.”

“I do,” Ian nodded.  “I know this is probably going to sound strange but he’s my best friend.”

“That’s not strange; my mom’s my best friend.  She’s been my best friend for as long as I can remember.  So, not to be nosy or anything, but what’s your dad like?  I mean, if he’s your best friend, he’s got to be pretty cool, right?”

“I think he is,” Ian admitted.  “He’s very laid back, easy to talk to, very encouraging and supportive.  No matter what I want to do or try, he’s always been there to cheer me on, even when I’ve failed.  He’s more than just a dad, you know, he’s a friend and really fun to hang out with.”

“So you hang out with your dad, huh?  Doing what?”

“What do you do with your mom?”

“Invent new candy for her shop, watch movies, dance, walk Bills, play the Wii…”

“Wait, what?”

“What?”

“You have a Wii?”

“Yeah, why?”

“No reason, so what do you play?”

“I’ll tell you but first you have to answer my question, what do you and your dad do?”

“Camp, hike, rebuild cars, go mountain biking, play video games, play Risk…”

Risk?  Really?  Which version?”

“You answer my question first, what games do you play?”

DDR, Guitar Hero, Mario Kart, Super Mario Galaxy, Twilight Princess, Wii Fit, Zack and Wiki, Big Brain Academy, Super Smash Brothers...”

“Wait, how do you play Galaxy, Twilight Princess and Zack and Wiki two players?”

“Oh, well those we don’t actually play together, obviously.  It’s more a vicious competition to see who can beat the game first.  I beat Zelda and Mario first but my mom creamed me in Zack and Wiki.  I’m terrible at catching fisticuffs.”

“So how good are you at DDR?”

“Answer my question first.”

“Usually the original version, though on occasion we play the Lord of the Rings version.”

“Is it just the two of you who play or does your mom play too?”

“Answer…”

“I know, your question first.  I’m pretty good, better than you, I’m sure.”

“Impossible,” Ian grinned, “and my mom never plays, she can’t stand the game.”

“Too bad for her and I could dance circles around you any day.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

“Fine,” I smiled as I jumped up and started for the arcade.

“Where are you going?”

“To the arcade, of course; that is, unless you’re afraid to lose to a girl.”

“Never,” Ian grinned as he followed me into the arcade.

It wasn’t hard to find where they kept DDR and as most movies playing were somewhere in the middle, the usual line for the game was non-existent.  With our pockets laden with tokens, Ian and I began the ultimate DDR dance-off.  I had to admit, he was good, but I was better.  A small audience gathered around us as different shows ended and others began, and by the final dance, we each had our own group of fans, cheering us on to victory.  Ian ended up winning the last dance, but I won more over-all and was declared the winner by our fans.  Grudgingly Ian admitted defeat and his poor sportsmanship cost him; he had to buy me an Icee and declare that I was the DDR champion of the world, which he did, with relatively good grace.

“How is it?” he asked as I relished my victory spoils.

“Excellent!  You want some?” I asked, more out of habit than anything.  As we wound our way through the crowded concessions lines I realized I was way too used to hanging out with Maggie and Yuuki.

“Sure,” he shrugged, his fingers brushing mine as he took the Icee.

My heart skipped several beats as the tingle from my fingers worked its way to my heart.  Never, not in a million years, would I have ever imagined spending an evening with Ian, laughing, talking, sharing Icees…it was all too much.  It took several attempts for me to calm myself as Ian handed me the Icee and continued the conversation.

“So what do you want to do now?”

“I don’t know,” I replied once my heart finally settled back into its normal rhythm.  “How long’s the movie?”

“About an hour and forty-five minutes.  Why?”

“Just wondering how much time we had.  If you don’t mind, I’d really like to go to the bookstore.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

“I think it’s only fair to warn you, I’m slightly addicted to bookstores.  Maggie and Yuuki usually don’t let me near them.”

“You’re that bad?”

“I once spent an entire day in one without realizing it.  My mom was furious.”

“Why?”

“I forgot to take my phone with me when I left that morning.  She was convinced I’d gotten into an accident or been mugged or something awful like that.  The stupid thing was that I’d told her where I was going.  She just never thought me capable of actually spending the entire  day in one store.”

“So I guess that means I’m going to have to be your alarm clock.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.  We can do something else, I don’t mind.”

“No, it’s fine,” Ian assured me as he ushered me out of the theater and into the vast expanse of the adjoining mall.  “So what do you look at when you’re there?”

“Where, at the bookstore?”

“Yeah.”

“Everything.  Cookbooks, travel books, maps, classic novels, fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, children’s books…”

“No romance?”

“Not usually, unless you consider Jane Austen’s books romance.”

“A fan of Jane Austen, are you?”

“Huge fan,” I nodded dramatically.

“Which is your favorite?”

Pride and Prejudice.”

“I should have known.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“That seems to be the typical answer to that question.  The thing I wonder is, is it because that’s the only book anyone knows about or is it because it’s really the best?”

“I think it’s because it’s the best, but I’m biased so my guess doesn’t count.”

“Out of curiosity, how many of her books have you read?”

“All of them.”

“Really?” Ian asked sounding impressed.

“Yes.  And you?  How many have you read?  Or are you too manly to read the works of Jane Austen?”

“For your information, the manliest men aren’t afraid to read Jane Austen.”

“And are you manly?”

“Very,” Ian answered seriously, though the sparkle in his eyes made me think he was teasing.

“So how many have you read?”

“All of them.”

“Liar!”

“No, I’m not.  Ask my mom at your lesson tomorrow, I’m sure she’d be happy to tell you all about it my prodigious amount of reading.  She’s so very proud of my accomplishments.”

“Hum, do I detect a hint of bitterness?”

“Maybe,” Ian shrugged, “but that’s beside the point.  The point is, I have read Jane Austen and I’m not afraid to admit it.  Just don’t tell anyone.”

I didn’t know if Ian had meant to contradict himself or not, but I found it hilarious and burst into peals of laughter.  Ian’s quiet chuckle was all the answer I needed and we wandered our way through the warmly inviting entrance of the enormous bookstore.

“So which is your favorite?” I asked once my laughter subsided.

“Persuasion.”

“That’s a good one.”

“I think so, but I have to say, Jane Austen isn’t my favorite author.”

“No, really?  I never would have guessed,” I teased.  “So, who is?”

“That’s a tough question.”

“It is, isn’t?” I asked as we started wandering between the tables of bargain books that lined the front of the store.  “How about an easier one?  What are some of your favorite books?”

“I don’t think I have time to answer that question,” Ian grinned.

“I take it you like to read?”

“When it’s something I’m interested in, then yes.”

“As opposed to…”

“When my mother crams books down my throat.”

“That must hurt.”

“It does.”

We wandered through the store, recommending some of our favorites to the other; though it didn’t take long for us to realize we’d both read most of the books worth reading.  After browsing the entire fiction section, we moved on to the non-fiction section, planning trips to exotic locations and menus full of bizarre food, before I got sidetracked by an end-cap of manga I had somehow overlooked.

“Don’t tell me you’re into that stuff,” Ian groaned as I flipped through the latest issue of Vampire Knight.

“It’s actually worse than that.”

“Is that possible?”

“Believe it or not, it is.  I actually want to write and illustrate my own manga-type books someday.”

“No,” Ian sighed in melodramatic shock.

“It’s true.”

“Wow that is bad.”

“I told you it was.”

“And I dared to doubt you.”

“How could you?”

“I will never doubt again.”

“There will never be a need…Buttercup.”

My obvious familiarity with the line Ian had just quoted made us both laugh, though I think, it was really because I had actually dared to call him Buttercup.

“So you actually like this stuff, huh?” Ian asked as he flipped through a copy of Bleach.

“I do.”

“Which are your favorites?”

Vampire Knight, of course,” I grinned as I set the copy I had been flipping through back on the shelf, “Meru Puri and Skip Beat, are my top three but there are so many others that I like, I can’t really pick just one favorite.”

“And you want to write your own?”

“Yup.  I really want to write comics for girls.  In mean in Japan they have manga written on every subject imaginable while here in the U.S. comic books are either superheros or Archie.  Not that I don’t enjoy a good super-hero every once in a while, I mean, who doesn’t love Batman, but I’ve always thought it would be nice to have comics written for girls.”

“So you want to single-handedly revolutionize the American comic industry?”

“If that’s what it takes to get my books publishes, then yes.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

“I guess I can always move to Japan and try my luck there.”

“Well it’s good you have a plan.”

“I think so,” I grinned.

“So if you want to write your own comics, what are you waiting for?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why haven’t you written any yet?”

“Who says I haven’t?”

“So you have?”

“I have.”

“Are they any good?”

“I don’t think I’m able to answer that question fairly, I’m kind of biased.”

“Well what does anyone else think?”

“My mom thinks they’re great.”

“Have you let anyone other than your mom read them?”

“Yuuki and Maggie.”

“Anyone outside your immediate friends and relations?”

“You mean like a publisher?”

“Yeah.”

“My mom won’t let me.  Not until after I graduate.”

“Because?”

“Because she’s afraid I’ll make it big and drop out of school.”

“She must think your stuff’s really good.”

“She’s my mom, it’s her job.”

“I suppose so.”

“So not that this subject isn’t riveting and all, but what time is it?”

“Why, are you tired of me already?”

“Yes, very,” I answered as seriously as I could.

“Time to go,” Ian announced with a chuckle as he checked his watch.

“So how long has the movie been out?” I asked as we would our way through the endless stacks of books and back toward the mall.

“A while.”

“I told you it was dangerous to let me go into that store.”

“You were right.”

“Of course I was,” I teased.

“So it’s alright if I blame you for our disappearance, right?”

“If you have to.”

“Great, then Maggie and Yuuki’s freak-out can be all your fault.”

“Do you really think they’ll be freaking out?  How long have we been gone?”

“About an hour and a half.”

“And when did the movie end?”

“About forty-five minutes ago.”

“No way!  Oh stink!  Maggie and Yuuki are gonna flip!”

“Yeah, just remember, it’s all your fault.”

“Wow, you’re a really great comforter, thanks.”

“Anytime,” Ian chuckled as we stepped through the entrance of the theater.

“LYLA!” Maggie yelled before we could take two steps inside.   “Where have you been?”

“We were at the bookstore,” I explained as Yuuki, Jack, Cade and Maggie gathered around us, “and I kind of lost track of time.  I’m sorry!”

“I knew we should have looked there,” Maggie hissed, her relief at finding me quickly turning to annoyance.

“If you were so worried about me, why didn’t you call?”

“We did,” Yuuki answered, “but you had your phone off.”

“Oh I did, didn’t I?  Sorry, I turned it off so it wouldn’t ring during the movie.”

“Which was totally awesome, by the way,” Cade announced.  “Why’d you leave?  You missed the whole thing!”

“Yeah, darn,” I sighed.

“So now that we’re all back together, what are we gonna do next?” Maggie asked sounding more than a little annoyed.

“I should probably get home,” Yuuki answered, “my parents didn’t want me out super late.”

“I probably should too,” Jack agreed.

“Me too,” Ian and I said in unison.

“Back to school it is,” Cade announced as he led the way outside.

Maggie called shotgun before we stepped outside but that was the end of our conversation; the walk back to the van was hurried and silent as the cold air seemed to suck all conversation out of us.  Once we were all settled in Cade’s van the conversation picked up a little, but mostly we all complained about how cold it was.  It wasn’t until the heat kicked in that things began to liven back up though they never reached the excited level they had been earlier in the evening.  The four that had stayed to watch the movie spent most of the ride back to school discussing their favorite scenes while Ian and I sat in relative silence.  Whatever chatty bug had bitten him earlier in the evening was suddenly gone and I spent the ride back to school singing Beatles songs in my head in a desperate attempt to ignore the zombie discussion going on around me.

 

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