I had no idea what to expect when I pulled into the school’s parking lot on Monday morning, especially considering the way the weekend had turned out. As much as I would have liked to believe things between Ian and me had finally changed, I had been disappointed too many times to hold out much hope. If history were any indicator of the future, at best Ian would continue to ignore me and at worst, he’d hand me another bill for “rescuing” me again. Knowing this, it came as no surprise when I walked into German Monday morning without any sign of acknowledgment from Ian. Despite my best efforts to let Ian’s cold silence roll off my back, I had to admit that I was still hurt by it. Frustrated by Ian’s coldness and my weakness for a living version of Jekyll and Hyde, I spent the rest of the day trying to convince myself to just let it go; Ian was what he was and the more I thought about it, the more I began to see that I was probably better off without him.
For the next few weeks, my newfound determination to be rid of Ian once and for all seemed to be working. Ian continued to ignore me at school and he was invisible at every piano lesson which made things easier for me. I was beginning to feel like I was making real progress when Ian suddenly appeared out of nowhere and sat down beside me at lunch, a place which, since the play, had been occupied by Cade. With Maggie on my other side, Cade was forced to sit between Ian and Yuuki, which, by the look on his face, was not something he had intended.
“So what are you guys doing over Christmas break?” Jack asked, completely nonplussed by Ian’s sudden appearance.
“Skiing,” Maggie answered, her eyes bright with excitement. “You?”
“My parents are dragging me to my grandparent’s house.”
“You don’t sound very excited,” I pointed out.
“They live in Kansas,” Jack grumbled. “What about you, what’re you doing?”
“Nothing really, just hanging out with Yuuki and my mom.”
“You’re not going anywhere?” Cade asked Yuuki.
“Nope,” Yuuki answered, “you?”
“Going to Colorado Springs, my aunt’s having a big family thing at her house.”
“Fun,” Maggie teased.
“Oh yeah,” Cade grinned.
“So what about you?” Maggie asked nodding toward Ian.
“Nothing,” Ian shrugged, “my dad’s on call this year so we’re kinda stuck at home.”
“That’s not so bad, is it?” I asked.
“It might not be,” Ian answered, his eyes catching mine for a brief moment.
Flustered, I quickly turned my attention to my lunch, yelling at myself for making so much out of nothing; the problem was, I couldn’t call those brilliant blue eyes “nothing.” The six of us spent the rest of the lunch period talking and laughing about anything and everything but never once did I let my eyes wander to the beautiful boy sitting beside me. It was hard, but I had to be strong if I was ever going to be free of the spell he was still able to cast on me.
That Friday marked the end of school for the year and the beginning of Christmas break. The idea of spending two whole weeks without Ian around to befuddle me was most welcome but then again, it wouldn’t really be two Ian free weeks; break or no break, I still had to go to my piano lessons. Two days before Christmas I found myself driving to Ian’s house, books and presents in tow. My mom had insisted I take Mrs. Wallace a box of her famous chocolate covered cherries and then she remembered that Dr. Wallace had been the one who’d treated my broken nose and she insisted I take a box of fudge for him. I felt a little funny, taking chocolates to a man I had only met once but that was nothing compared to the horror I felt when my mom insisted I take a box of assorted chocolates to the “nice boy” that had helped me that day at the hospital. Unable to escape my mom’s generosity, I walked up the Wallace’s driveway, juggling my books and three ornately wrapped boxes of chocolate.
Mrs. Wallace met me at the door with her usual broad, warm smile.
“Merry Christmas,” she sang as she ushered me in out of the cold.
“Merry Christmas,” I smiled as I handed her the box of cherries.
“Oh Lyla, you shouldn’t have!”
“It’s nothing,” I insisted as I shed my coat and tried to figure out what to do with the other two boxes. “Those are some of my mom’s best.”
“These are you mom’s?” Mrs. Wallace asked sounding a bit confused. “Really? I thought they were from the little shop downtown.”
“They are,” I smiled, a little surprised that she didn’t know what I was about to tell her, “my mom owns the shop.”
“Really! I had no idea! I just love that shop! Her chocolate cherries are my absolute favorite!”
“Then you’re really going to like your present,” I grinned.
“So what are those?” she asked when she noticed the other two boxes in my hand.
“Presents for Dr. Wallace and Ian. My mom wanted to make sure I thanked them properly for taking care of me during the whole soccer ball debacle.”
“Well isn’t that sweet. Dr. Wallace isn’t home right now but Ian’s up in his room if you want to take his present to him.”
“Uh, no, that’s okay. I can just leave it with Dr. Wallace’s. I don’t want to bother him,” I stammered, horrified at the thought of barging in on Ian in his room, of all places.
“Nonsense! Ian’s not doing anything important, go on up, he won’t mind. Up the stairs, to the right, the room at the end of the hall.”
My feet felt like lead as I climbed the stairs and headed down the hall while my heart flitted like a butterfly. Why, why, why, why, why did I have to feel like this? All I was doing was giving Ian a box of chocolates which my mother had made me bring and his mother had insisted I deliver; it wasn’t like I was trying to win him over or anything, a fact I had to remind myself of a thousand times as I walked down the hall. Ian meant nothing to me, I meant nothing to him and that was how it would be for all of eternity. But if that were the case, why was I so stinking excited to see him? Because I was being stupid, I told myself. Ian’s nothing but a cold, cruel, jerk who enjoys messing with other people’s emotions and I’d had enough of him. As many times as I tried to remind myself of that, the truth was that it wasn’t always the case, the fact that I had to give him chocolates at all was proof enough of that. Frustrated and confused I decided I’d wasted enough time trying to figure out what was going on in my wacked out brain and that I should just get this whole present thing over with; mustering my courage, I knocked lightly on Ian’s door.
“Come in,” the familiar voice called from the other side.
Hesitantly, I turned the doorknob and stepped into the last place on earth I ever thought I’d be. I don’t know what I was expecting to find as I stepped into Ian’s room, but the slightly cluttered desk, unmade bed, overflowing bookcase and various band and soccer posters on the walls made the room look like the room of any other teenager, a fact that, for some reason, caught me by surprise. Ian was lounging on the bed, a book in hand, when I walked in, a look of surprise marring his otherwise gorgeous face.
“What are you doing here?” Ian asked coolly as I stood stupidly silent just inside the room.
“Oh, uh, your mom told me to come up,” I stammered, “um, here, this is from my mom…and me…Merry Christmas.”
Ian just sat there, unmoving as I held the box of chocolates out to him. Not knowing what else to do, I crossed the room gingerly and set the chocolates on his desk. With my mission complete, I quickly turned around and walked out, closing the door behind me. Mrs. Wallace was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs, her face beaming.
“Did he like them?”
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly, “he didn’t say much.”
“Oh, that boy! You’d think I’d never taught him any manners.”
“Well, on Ian and Dr. Wallace’s behalf, I’d like to say thank you. Now shall we?”
Glad to have finally filled my duties as Santa, I followed Mrs. Wallace into the music room, more than ready to start my lesson. Mrs. Wallace had insisted I take a break from my recital pieces during the holidays to work on more festive pieces, a break I didn’t mind in the least. Christmas was, by far, my favorite holiday and Christmas music was something I really loved playing. The Wallace home filled with music as I poured my heart out into the pieces I’d been working on for the past month, when I had finished Mrs. Wallace was beaming.
“That was beautiful, absolutely wonderful.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, feeling slightly embarrassed by such exuberant praise.
“Lyla, I’ve had the most wonderful idea. My husband and I throw a little Christmas party every year, nothing too extravagant mind you, just a few friends and a couple of Colin’s colleagues. Why don’t you come as well? I’m sure Ian would enjoy having someone his own age at the party and I know you’d charm everyone with your music.”
“Oh yes, of course. We always have music at the party and you play those pieces so well, it’d be a shame for no one to hear them.”
“Your mother is invited as well, of course. Oh, do say you’ll come.”
“I’ll have to ask my mom. When is it again?”
“Oh, how silly of me, the party is tomorrow evening, seven o’clock.”
“I’m sure Lyla and her mom already have plans for tomorrow night,” Ian announced from the doorway, his sudden appearance making both me and Mrs. Wallace jump, “most people do, on Christmas eve.”
“Actually, we do have plans,” I announced as Mrs. Wallace gave Ian an icy stare very similar to the one he often gave me, “but thank you for the invitation.”
“Anytime, dear. I’m just sorry you won’t be able to make it, it would have been wonderful to hear you play. Colin would have just loved it.”
“Dad can hear Lyla play every Monday,” Ian stated flatly, “if that’s what he really wants to do.”
“Yes, but it’s not the same,” Mrs. Wallace pouted.
“Whatever,” Ian muttered, obviously annoyed at his mom. “So are you two finished? I was kind of hoping Lyla could help me with some homework before she left. If you have time.”
“Sure,” I shrugged.
“Well, I suppose we’re finished here,” Mrs. Wallace announced, “just don’t keep Lyla too long. I’m sure her mother will worry if she’s not home soon.”
“It’ll only take a minute,” Ian assured her as I gathered my books and followed Ian back up the stairs and down the hall to his room.
“So what is it you need help with?” I asked as Ian grabbed the book he’d been reading earlier and flopped onto the bed.
“Nothing really, you just looked like you really wanted to get away from my mom.”
“Was it really that obvious?”
“It was to me.”
“Don’t worry about it; I make that face a lot. So thanks for the chocolates.”
“Oh, you’re welcome. It was my mom’s idea, she felt bad about not thanking you properly when you helped with the whole nose thing. She sent a box for your dad too.”
“Dad’ll be thrilled, tell your mom thanks.”
“I will. So I guess I should be going. My mom’s gonna start to worry if I don’t get home soon.”
“Right, well, thanks.”
“No problem,” I grinned as I turned and started for the door. My hand had just closed on the doorknob when Ian spoke again, his voice sounding much closer than it had been a minute ago.
“Yeah,” I asked as I turned around to find Ian only inches in front of me, a discovery which immediately filled my stomach with frantically fluttering butterflies.
“Merry Christmas,” he whispered as he leaned forward and gently pressed his lips against mine.