Back at school everything quickly returned to normal, or as normal as they ever were.  The forced separation of Yuuki and Jack over the holidays had been torturous for them both so it came as no surprise when they became practically inseparable.  Maggie came back to school, relieved to be free of the “annoying twerp” and his “adoring fan.”  Apparently Matt had gotten himself a girlfriend while skiing with the family, a girl Maggie couldn’t stand.  I did my best to sympathize with Maggie as she whined for a week about Matt and his new girlfriend but in reality I was ecstatic; with Matt no longer interested in dating me, he was more than willing to be my friend.  It wasn’t long before we were back to the same easy friendship that we’d had for years and Matt even came back to our table at lunch which really made me happy; Cade came back from break, as exuberant as ever, with a fresh supply of stupid jokes and ridiculous antics. And for the first time in a long time, I felt as if life was finally getting back to normal.

I couldn’t deny that I was glad to be back at school, surrounded by friends once again, but at the same time I was very unsettled.  So many strange things had happened over break, and all of them had to do with Ian, that I was a little worried how things would be between us.  Had his mom confronted him about that night like she had me?  I hadn’t hung around long enough to find out.  If she had, did Ian blame me for his mother’s insolence?  I was pretty certain a conversation, like the one I’d had, between Ian and his mother wouldn’t go so well.  If that was the case, would Ian blame me for any rift that may have come between them?  If he did, what would that mean?  It wasn’t like he was ever very nice to me to begin with, but I had hoped that by spending that little bit of time with him over break might have brought about a bit of a change.

Of course it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had gotten my hopes up for nothing.  Walking into German the first day back was enough to let me know that, despite the events over break, nothing was going to change.  I was greeted, by Ian, with the same cold look he had given me all year and I was convinced that was how it would always be.

 

The best part about coming back from break, aside from being with my friends, was knowing that the semester was coming to an end.  Not that I enjoyed the frantic rush to finish projects and study for the myriad of tests that loomed ominously before me but with so much work to do, I had little time to dwell on Ian or the fact that I wasn’t allowed to go back to my piano lessons.  My mom had spoken to Mrs. Wallace a couple of days after the whole debacle but she still wasn’t ready to let me go back.  I tried to convince her that I was alright and that it had all been just a big misunderstanding but my mom refused change her mind.  When I told her I needed help on my pieces if I was ever going to be ready for the recital she just shook her head and told me I already played them perfectly and if I just kept practicing I’d be fine.  I didn’t agree with her on that one at all, but I knew better than to push the issue.  My mom had her reasons for keeping me from my lessons and I was pretty certain that if I left her alone, she’d eventually come around.

Of course my mom had a legitimate excuse from keeping me from going back to the Wallace’s (she could have never kept me from going if she hadn’t); Valentine’s day was fast approaching, and every free moment I had was devoted to helping my mom get ready for the big day.  For the next month I spent my evenings at the shop tempering chocolate, making ganache, filling bonbons, dipping strawberries and doing anything else that needed to be done.  It wasn’t often that I worked in the shop, in fact my mom usually insisted that I didn’t, for fear that she would push her dream onto me rather than let me live my own, but Valentine’s day was always the exception.  No other day of the year brought more customers in than Valentine’s day and my mom spent a month and a half preparing chocolate masterpieces that would be admired for a second and then devoured.  I often wondered why my mom enjoyed putting so much effort into something that would never be fully appreciated, but at the same time, I knew it didn’t really matter; she was doing something she loved and that was enough.

 

As difficult as it was, trudging my way through mountains of homework and tons of chocolate, the school’s annual Sadie Hawkins dance gave me something to look forward to.  It wasn’t that I was a huge fan of dancing, but the Sadie Hawkins dance was different; each year the dance had a theme and it ended up being more of a funky Halloween party than a formal event.  For the past three years Maggie, Yuuki and I had gone, simply because it was a legitimate excuse to dress up and have a little fun.  When the signs and posters started going up around school advertising the theme of the dance, I couldn’t help but feel a little excited; this year’s theme was a fifties sock hop.  A brief image of Ian dressed as Link Larkin flashed in my head and my heart nearly stopped beating.  Wouldn’t he look great dressed in a blue sweater with his hair all…Oh stop it!  I yelled at myself, You’re being stupid!  Flustered by my momentary lapse of sanity, I tried to push the image of Ian out of my head and focus on something else.  I spent the entire morning trying to think about anything other than the dance, but it didn’t really work; no matter how far my mind wandered, it always found its way back to Ian.

 

“Did you hear about the dance this year?” Maggie asked at lunch.  “Isn’t the theme great?  A sock hop!  How fun!  We can all dress like the Pink Ladies or something!”

“Oh, but I wanted to be Sandra Dee,” Yuuki whined.

“Do you think I could get away with being Amber from Hairspray?” Maggie asked.

“That’s more sixties,” I pointed out, more for my own benefit than for hers.

“I know, but her dresses are so cute.”

“You could probably get away with it,” Yuuki assured her, “after all, they did have a hop in the movie.”

“Oh, they did, didn’t they!  Oh yeah!  I wanna dress like Amber’s.  Do you think you can help me with that?” Maggie asked, flashing me her biggest smile.

“I guess this means you need my help too,” I grinned, turning to Yuuki.

“If that’s alright,” she grinned.  “Oh and do you think you can come up with something for Jack too?  Maybe he can dress like Link Larkin or something.”

Crap!  Why did she have to bring him up?

“I think he’d make a better Danny,” I teased, trying to get my mind off of Ian, once again.

“I think Cade would,” Maggie laughed.

“I would what?” Cade asked, suddenly plopping down beside me.

“Make a good Danny,” Maggie grinned.

“Danny?  Who’s Danny?”

“It’s from Grease,” I explained.

“Oh, right.  So why would I want to be like him?”

“For the dance!” Maggie exclaimed, “aren’t you going?”

“Of course I’m going,” Cade grinned, “as soon as Lyla asks me.”

“Asks you to what?” Matt asked, taking his usual place on my other side.

“To the dance,” Cade beamed.

“Oh, right,” Matt nodded.  “So, you’re waiting for Lyla to ask you?”

“Yup,” Cade grinned.

“And you’re going with Yuuki, right?” Matt asked Jack as he took his seat beside Yuuki.

“Do you even have to ask?” Jack chuckled.

“So I guess that means you’re the only one without a date,” Matt smiled sweetly to his sister, “unless, of course, you have some great master plan to get…”

“Oh shut-up!” Maggie snapped, “I’ll find a date.”

“I can get you one,” Cade grinned as he scanned the cafeteria, searching intently for a date for Maggie.

“Really, you don’t have to,” Maggie insisted, “I can…”

“Hey!” Cade called across the cafeteria, “Wallace!  Come ’ere!”

I sat in horrified silence as Ian wound his way toward our table, afraid that somehow he would know what had been going through my mind all day.  I quickly busied myself with the food in front of me as Ian approached.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“Maggie needs a date for the dance.  You interested?”

“Why don’t you take her?”

“I can’t, Lyla’s taking me.”

“Hey, I never said…” I began, suddenly looking up from my sandwich.

“Sorry,” Ian snapped, as our eyes met for one brief moment, “I’ve already got a date.”

My heart sank as I watched Ian walk away, though I wasn’t really sure why.  I had never expected to go to the dance with him, but it would have been nice to have him as part of our group.  I’d rather have him going to the dance with Maggie than seeing him there with someone else.

“Cade!” Maggie screeched once Ian disappeared into the crowd.

“What?”

“What were you thinking, asking Ian out for me?  Are you insane?”

“What?  You needed a date!”

“Yeah, but not Ian!”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s…he’s…” Maggie stammered as I glared at her, hoping my look would be enough to keep her from saying anything more.

“He’s already got a date,” Yuuki finished for her.

“Well how was I supposed to know that?” Cade cried, defensively.

“He’s your friend isn’t he?” Maggie grinned.

“Yeah, but…”

“Hey,” Mattie cut in, “what if we all just went to the dance together?”

“Together?” I asked, intrigued by Matt’s idea.

“Yeah, I mean, that way we can all be spared from another one of Maggie’s stupid schemes and we’d all have a date.  I mean, I could go with you and Cade could go with Maggie technically, but since we’d all be together…”

“That’s a great idea,” Maggie grinned.

“It is?” Cade asked, incredulously.

“Of course it is,” Yuuki grinned.

“Very good,” I agreed.

“Excellent,” Jack nodded.

“Perfect!” Maggie cried.  “Now all we have to do is figure out what we’re going to wear.”

“I think we need to do a little research,” Yuuki grinned, giving Maggie and me a knowing look.

“I think you’re right,” I grinned.

“Research?” Cade asked, looking a little worried.

“Don’t worry,” Matt chuckled, knowing exactly what it was Yuuki was hinting at, “it’s not as bad as you think.  Whenever these three talk about research, they mean movies.  So, who’s house would work best?”

“I think I can convince my mom to let me off for a day,” I smiled, “why don’t you all come over to mine?  Saturday, say around noon?”

“Works for me,” Yuuki grinned.

“Me too,” Jack, Cade, Matt and Maggie all answered in unison.

“So does this mean you’re working for your mom now?” Matt asked.  “When did this happen?  I thought you were still working at Stan’s.”

“I am.  I’m just helping my mom out until Valentine’s Day is over.  She’s a little shorthanded and since this is her busiest time of year, I told her I’d help out.  I go over to the shop every day after work.”

“Every day?  What about Monday’s?  Don’t you have piano lessons then?”

“Yeah, usually.  But I’ve kinda put them on hold so I can help out mom.  I’ll go back once things settle down at the shop.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because you’ve been taking lessons for as long as I can remember and you’ve never skipped out on them.  Ever.”

“That’s not true,” I insisted, wishing Matt weren’t so nosey all of a sudden, “I’ve missed lessons before…when I was sick.”

“Hey, isn’t Wallace’s mom your teacher?” Cade asked, unable to keep out of a conversation for long.

“Yeah,” I answered, wishing Cade would learn how to keep his big mouth shut.

“Wait, your new teacher is Ian’s mom?” Matt asked, shocked.

“Yeah.”

“And now you’re not going to lessons?”

“So?”

“Did something happen between you two?”

“No,” I lied; trying my best to look shocked by the question.

I had a feeling my lie had failed miserably but I was saved from any more of Matt’s prying by the timely ring of the bell.

 

If Matt caught onto my lie, he never let on, nor did he bring up the subject of my piano lessons.  The rest of the week passed uneventfully, though getting through my homework was something of a nightmare.  When Saturday rolled around, it brought with it, a much-needed break from the stress of the week.  All six of us looked a bit frazzled as we crowded into my living room that afternoon, but we all managed to unwind as we made our way through the movies Maggi, Yuuki and I had decided would be the best for “research.”

By the time everyone left that evening, we had our costumes pretty well decided.  Jack was going as George McFly, Yuuki decided that if Jack were going as George, she’d go as Lorraine Baines, Maggie was convinced she had to have a dress just like Sandy’s, Matt decided he’d go as Steve Bolander, just to mix things up and Cade had to be Danny Zuko.  I was the only one who still had no idea who to go as but Maggie soon decided for me.

“You have to have a dress like Amber’s,” she announced as I flicked off the TV.

“But that isn’t really the right time period and to be honest, I don’t have a whole lot of time to be making such elaborate dresses.  I think I’ll just stick to the basic poodle skirt and saddle shoes.”

“Oh but that’s so boring, everyone will be wearing that,” Maggie whined.

“Yeah, but I don’t mind.”

“But…”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make your dress and yours too Yuuki.”

“Are you sure?” Yuuki asked.  “You don’t have to if you don’t have time.  I don’t mind wearing a poodle skirt or something, if that’ll be easier.”

“No, yours should be fine and yours too Maggie, but I’m gonna need to start on them as soon as possible.  Do you think you and Yuuki could come shopping with me tomorrow?”

“Shopping?  Totally!  What are we shopping for?”

“Patterns and fabric to start with, I thought about checking out the thrift stores too, for the guys, but I’ll probably have to wait until someday next week.  Guys, I’m gonna need to know your sizes, in case I find something for you while I’m out.”

“Our sizes?” Matt asked, sounding a little concerned.

“Don’t worry about it,” Jack laughed, “Lyla’s just gone into production mode.  She does the same thing whenever she’s put in charge of costumes for the play.”

“Oh, right, well…”

“Don’t worry Mattie,” Maggie laughed, “no one thinks you’re fat.”

“So what time to do you want to go shopping?” Yuuki asked, quickly changing the subject.  “I can go any time after one.”

“Sounds good to me,” Maggie grinned.

“Great, I’ll pick you both up a little after one and guys?  I’ll need your sizes before you leave, hat and shoe sizes too, just in case.  Alright?”

“Right.”

“Sure.”

“Okay.”

With costumes settled on and homework hanging over all of our heads, the night ended relatively early.  I spent the rest of the evening doing homework and working on my latest comic.  Inspiration had struck over break and I had spent every free second I’d had since then working on it.  It was a story unlike anything I had ever written, a strange combination of seriousness and hilarity, with lovable characters and sometimes bizarre plot twists.  It was the most complex story I’d ever written and I wasn’t really sure how well it would turn out, but I was determined to write it anyway, though not for any of my usual reasons.  As fun as it was to work on, the longer I did, the more I came to realize that I wasn’t writing this book for me, it was meant for someone else.  I only hoped that once I finished, I’d have the courage to give it away.

 

The next few weeks passed in a blur of tests, chocolate and dresses.  At one point I was certain I was going to die from the stress, but once the semester exams were over, I was able to breathe, a little.  I still had to spend my nights at the shop helping my mom and I had six outfits in various stages of completion strewn about my room, but I didn’t have to worry about school so it made things a little easier.  Things got a whole lot easier once the semester grades were posted.  I was thrilled to see that my determination to beat Ian at every subject had paid off, my grade point average was higher than ever and it looked as if I’d be graduating with honors for sure.  My mom was ecstatic when my report card came home and she gave us both a night off to celebrate with Thai food and a movie.  Yay!

The end of the semester brought about the end of my ceramics and foods classes, which meant I had to say goodbye to Cade.  I was a little sad as I made my way toward the gym after lunch, knowing that I wouldn’t have Cade in class to cheer me up anymore.  Of course I did have Yuuki in my new class and I had to admit, she was far better at cheering me up than Cade.  I decided it was a fair trade and let it go.

I met Yuuki in the girl’s locker room and together we made our way to the gym, each of us a little excited about the prospects of a dance P.E. class.  We had both figured that after three and a half years of working our tails off, we deserved to have a little fun, though at the time we had no idea just how much fun the semester was going to be.  I had a pretty good idea when we spotted Cade standing in the center of a small circle of girls.

“Aren’t you in the wrong class?” I shouted to Cade from across the gym, as Yuuki and I made our way toward him.

“Nope,” he grinned mischievously.

“But I thought all soccer players were required to take strength training,” Yuuki announced as Cade left his fan club and headed toward us.

“They are, but since I’m not planning on being here next year, I didn’t really see the point.  I mean what are they gonna do, kick me off the team?”

Yuuki and I just rolled our eyes at him as the gym filled with students from each of the P.E. classes, Jack and Ian gathering among the throng.  It didn’t take long for Jack to spot us and take his place at Yuuki’s side, while Ian shot a quick glance our way before meeting up with some of the guys from the soccer team.  After warm-ups, the mass of students broke off into their respective classes, dance students were ushered into the gym’s foyer, strength training students filed into the adjoining weight room and the rest were split into different sections of the gym.  With all of the classes so close together, it was easy to watch what the other classes were doing.  Yuuki, naturally, spent most of her time trying to catch a glimpse of Jack in the weight room, a room I caught myself trying to peek into, on more than one occasion.  It wasn’t long before I gave up trying not to look at Ian, no matter how hard I tried, my eyes would always wander in his direction.

Each day I would watch as the class full of athletes would troop into the weight room after warm-ups, my eyes never wavering from Ian’s tall, dark figure, and it was the same when class ended.  I yelled at myself a million times for being a pathetic, hopeless, loser, but it never did any good, no matter how cold and cruel Ian was, there was still a part of me that refused to give up hope, especially on the several occasions I caught Ian looking my way.

 

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