I spent the time before dinner wandering around the family room admiring the collection of books which lined one wall and the collection of movies that lined the other. It was obvious that the Wallace family enjoyed not only a wide variety in literature, but an equally wide variety in their films. As intrigued as I was by the works of Dickens, Proust, Shakespeare and Austen, it was the collected works of Burton, Henson, Miyazaki and del Toro that really caught my eye. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t picture anyone in the Wallace household enjoying the work of such creative masters.
“Find anything good?” a voice asked, surprisingly close.
“Several,” I answered once my heart stopped pounding, “but I can’t imagine you actually enjoying them.”
“If you’re referring to my mom’s collection of workout videos, then you’re right, I’m not much of a fan,” Ian grinned.
“You mean you’re not interested in Pilates for Dummies?” I teased.
“Nah, I’m more of a belly dancing man, myself.”
“I should have known,” I laughed. “So, how bad is it out there?”
“For what? You didn’t make it snow.”
“No, but your mom made you go out there to move my car; I feel really bad about that, about everything, actually. I guess I should check the weather before I go anywhere from now on.”
“It’s fine. My mom’s apparently thrilled to have you here for the night.”
“Really? How do you know?”
“She’s making a cake for dessert. She never makes dessert, unless it’s a special occasion.”
“I’d hardly call being stranded by a blizzard a special occasion.”
“Yeah, well, that’s my mom,” Ian groaned. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she pulled out the china and crystal as well.”
“She wouldn’t really, would she?”
“With my mom, you never know.”
“Oh man,” I groaned, “I was really hoping to just blend in or even better, be forgotten.”
“Because I feel like I’m imposing and I don’t like it.”
“Well, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. If there’s one thing my mom loves, it’s entertaining a guest; you’ve probably just made her day.”
“Yeah, well what about the rest of you? I’m sure you and your dad would rather not have me here.”
“That depends on how useful you are.”
“Dad and I have been trying to play a game of Risk for most of the day without much luck but if you say you’d like to play…”
“Would that really work?”
“You’re our guest,” Ian grinned, “you could say you wanted to paint the house pink and my mother would probably let you.”
“Alright, I’ll see what I can do, but you do realize I’ll have to play, at least for a little while.”
“That’s fine. I’m sure you won’t last long anyway.”
“Probably not,” I agreed.
I did my best to hide the smile that kept threatening to emerge at the corners of my mouth as I imagined the shock Ian would get once we started playing, but I wasn’t very good at it; thankfully, Ian was too busy looking at the wall of movies in front of us to notice. Oh the shock he would get once the pieces were set and the game began; Risk was the only board game played at the Montgomery house and I’d spent enough evenings there over the years to become something of a pro at it. It may have been because Maggie’s brothers were more interested in beating each other than bothering to mess with a silly girl, but after several consecutive defeats, they began to take me seriously and after several more victories on my part, I became the target in every game. The possibility of playing a game of Risk without being the first one wiped off the board sounded fun and Ian’s doubts about my survival in the game assured me that I wouldn’t be taken seriously by either him or his dad, a mistake they would both come to regret.
“So who’s the main movie watcher in your family?” I asked, hoping the change of subject would bring my rebellious smile into submission.
“We all watch them but my dad’s the main collector. For some reason he can’t go to the store without bringing home at least one new movie. I think he might be a little OCD but he says it’s just because there are so many good movies out there.”
“I think I’d have to agree with your dad on that one.”
“I should have known,” Ian sighed, “anyone who can quote an obscure line from The Princess Bride has to be an addict.”
“Maybe I am, but if that’s the case, I blame my mom; she passed all kinds of bad habits on to me.”
“Obsessive movie watching, for one, an unhealthy addiction to music, chocolate and books, for another and the compulsion to express my creative side, to name a few.”
“And how, exactly, do you express your creative side, apart from painting sets, drawing comics and making dragon-shaped teapots?”
“How do you know about that?” I asked, stunned by Ian’s knowledge of my latest creation in ceramics class.
“I have art the same time you have ceramics, I can see what you’re working on from across the hall.”
“Oh,” I managed to sigh as my heart pounded double-time at the thought of Ian watching me while I worked. Did this mean he really was interested…in me? Was it really possible? Could he…
“So, you never answered my question…”
“Oh, right,” I stammered as I shook myself out of my daydreams, “well…I do a lot of things, I suppose.”
“Well, I knit.”
“Really?” Ian chuckled in disbelief.
“Hey, if you’re going to mock, I’m not going to answer any more of your questions.”
“Alright, sorry, go on. What else do you do?”
“Well, I also sew, cook and I’m working on my first quilt.”
“Is that all?”
“No, there’s also my painting, my drawing and my writing.”
“So what you’re saying is you’re basically a creative genius, right?”
“I don’t think I’d call myself a creative genius…”
“Alright, so maybe not a genius…”
“Hum, I should have known you’d change your mind on that one. So, before this gets ugly should we go upstairs and see if your parents need help with anything?”
“Do you really think things are going to get ugly?”
“With the way things go between us, I’d say chances are pretty good and since I’m stuck here for the rest of the night, I’d rather not wait and find out.”
“Fair enough,” Ian sighed, “let’s go see if anyone needs our help.”
Ian led the way up the stairs and into the kitchen where Dr. and Mrs. Wallace were discussing the best icing for a chocolate cake. The second Ian and I stepped into the room we were dragged into the conversation by a very excited Mrs. Wallace.
“What do you think, Ian? Which is better, chocolate or vanilla?”
“I think you’re asking the wrong person,” Ian answered coolly.
“Of course, Lyla, you’re the one with all of the chocolate expertise, which is better? Chocolate or vanilla?”
“Honestly, I don’t like either of them.”
“Really?” Mrs. Wallace asked sounding shocked.
“Then what would you recommend?” Dr. Wallace asked, intrigued.
“Well, it kind of depends on the amount of chocolate in the cake. If it’s a really rich cake, then I prefer whipped cream to frosting though some cakes might be better off without any frosting at all; a sprinkle of powdered sugar or a drizzle of raspberry puree and chocolate sauce do very well on top of the right kind of cake. Then again, if you really want frosting, I’d go for a ganache over an actual frosting. I think the rich creaminess of a chocolate ganache is highly superior to the sicky sweet of a buttercream, but that’s just my opinion. If you had to have a frosting, I’d say chocolate is better, but I’m kind of a chocolaholic so I may be biased in my answer.”
“Well there you go,” Dr. Wallace laughed. “Thank you Lyla.”
“No problem,” I answered as Ian tried to stifle a laugh and nearly choked to death.
“So are you two ready to eat?” Dr. Wallace asked as Mrs. Wallace disappeared into the dining room.
“I am,” Ian announced as he followed his mom into the dining room.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked.
“Well, since you’re offering would you mind carrying that bowl of salad into the dining room?”
I grabbed the salad and followed Dr. Wallace into the next room where I was immediately attacked by Mrs. Wallace.
“Oh Lyla, you didn’t have to carry that. Here, I’ll take that and you go sit there, across from Ian.”
Mrs. Wallace grabbed the bowl of salad out of my hands before I could stop her so I had no choice but to take my place on the other side of the massive dining table. I felt a little awkward, sitting in such a formal room with people I barely knew, but as soon as dinner began the four of us fell into very easy conversation thanks mostly to Dr. Wallace’s quick wit and easy-going attitude, and it wasn’t long before I began to feel right at home. As the conversation fell into an animated discussion between Ian and his dad, I had a moment to sit back and marvel at how much of a change I saw in them both. I would never have guessed that the smiling, laughing, joking man sitting beside me was the same no-nonsense doctor that had treated my broken nose in October; his manner was so completely different at home than it had been at the hospital. As I marveled at the transformation of Dr. Wallace I realized that his son really wasn’t any different; Ian had proven time and again that the person he was at school was entirely different from the person he was anywhere else.
As difficult as it was for me to understand why someone would want to be anything other than their true self at any given time, I decided it really didn’t matter. Didn’t most people in the world spend most of their lives hiding behind a mask of some sort anyway? What did it matter that Ian and his father did as well. I spent another second pondering the need to wear a mask when I realized that, at least in Dr. Wallace’s case, the different faces weren’t really masks, they were simply the faces demanded by different circumstances. At home, Dr. Wallace was free to laugh and joke as much as he wanted while at work, it had to be different; I didn’t think the victim of some near-fatal injury would really appreciate a doctor who burst into the emergency room laughing.
I only had a moment to ponder Ian’s duplicity before the conversation expanded to include everyone and my thoughts were forced to go another direction. When dinner was over, Mrs. Wallace began clearing the table and out of habit, I tried to help but was immediately told to stop what I was doing and go make myself comfortable in the living room. Unable to convince Mrs. Wallace that I was perfectly happy to help, I wandered into the living room and settled myself on one end of the couch and stared absently at the snow which swirled violently on the other side of the window.
“I think you managed to freak out my mom,” Ian announced as he walked into the room and flopped onto the other side of the couch.
“I did? How?”
“With your whole “what’s better on a chocolate cake” speech. She’s so worried about what to put on top of the cake, she may never get around to serving it.”
“Oh, oops. I didn’t mean to upset her. Do you think I should go tell her I’m sorry?”
“Why would you do that? She’s the one who asked for your opinion.”
“I guess I should have just said chocolate,” I sighed.
“Yeah, but then I wouldn’t get to see my mom freaking out over something that isn’t my fault. I’m kinda liking it.”
“Wow, some son you are,” I chuckled.
“I know,” Ian grinned.
Before our conversation could continue, Dr. and Mrs. Wallace walked into the room and settled into the arm chairs that flanked the sofa.
“So Lyla,” Mrs. Wallace began, “what would you like to do this evening? We have plenty of choices. As you’ve no doubt seen, we have plenty of movies, books, games…”
“Actually, I think I’d like to play a game.”
“Wonderful! So what would you like to play? We have Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue, Life…”
“Chess, Checkers,” Dr. Wallace cut in.
“Risk,” Ian suggested.
“You have Risk?” I asked trying to sound surprised and intrigued by Ian’s suggestion.
“We do,” Dr. Wallace answered with a surprised grin. “You wouldn’t be interested in playing, would you?”
“Only if that’s alright with everyone else,” I insisted as innocently as I could.
“I’m sure Colin and Ian would be very happy to play,” Mrs. Wallace smiled graciously.
“Won’t you play too?” I asked.
“Oh no, someone’s got to clean up the mess in the kitchen.”
“I could help you,” I offered.
“Oh no, you three go on and start your game, I’ll bring dessert in once it’s ready.”
“Are you sure?” Dr. Wallace asked.
“Of course I am, now go on or you’ll be up all night with that silly game.”
“That was brilliant,” Ian grinned as Mrs. Wallace headed for the kitchen and Dr. Wallace went to find the game.
“Thanks,” I chuckled. “So, are you ready to lose to a girl again?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already. DDR? At the arcade?”
“Hum…no, sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ian insisted as his eyes sparkled.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
“And you’re goin’ down.”
“So are you two coming or not?” Dr. Wallace asked as he popped his head into the room.
“Coming,” Ian announced as he stood and started for the door.
I followed Ian back into the dining room where the table had already been transformed into a massive battle ground. The opulent tablecloth and beautiful centerpiece that had graced the table at dinner had been replaced by the colorful game board and piles of little plastic armies. I settled into the chair I had occupied at dinner and immediately began to weigh the odds of my success. The condition of the board told me that this was a game often played, which in and of itself meant that I had my work cut out for me, but as Ian settled into the chair across from me and Dr. Wallace settled beside me, it suddenly dawned on me, I was about to match wits with a certified genius and his father. My confidence slowly ebbed away as I realized I probably didn’t stand a chance of winning this game, my only hope lie in the fact that most guys underestimated the skill of a girl when it came to strategy and war. Rather than get myself worked up over the fact that I was probably going to lose, something that I really hated to do, I decided to just let it go and do my best. Risk wasn’t all skill, after all the dice could roll in my favor just as easily as it could in anyone else’s. Knowing that, my confidence returned and I prepared my troops for battle.
The game commenced and immediately things worked in my favor. Ian and his dad were so used to playing on their own that they often overlooked my troops. Mrs. Wallace brought in desert somewhere in the middle of the game, which we ate between battles, and afterward she announced that she was going to bed. We all wished her a half-hearted good-night and went back to the game without a second thought.
After three hours of dodging attacks and blending into the background my mass of troops was ready to deploy. Dr. Wallace had successfully wiped out most of Ian’s troops and in one fell swoop, I wiped out the rest. Ian sat in shock as I threw the last of his pieces back into the box and claimed his cards for my own.
“I guess that makes you o and two,” I teased as I turned in a set of cards and began placing my new troops on the board.
“O and two?” Dr. Wallace asked, his eyes dancing with delight.
“Don’t pay any attention to her,” Ian grumbled, “Lyla’s delusional.”
“No, you’re just in denial,” I chuckled, “Ian and I had a little DDR competition a couple of weeks ago and I thinks he’s still a little sore over losing.”
“Is that so?” Dr. Wallace chuckled.
“I’m not sore,” Ian insisted, “and I even bought you an Icee to prove it.”
“That’s true, you did and you let me drag you around a bookstore; that was very noble of you.”
“So does this mean you two are dating?” Dr. Wallace asked as he decimated my troops in South America.
“No,” Ian and I insisted simultaneously.
“We were just at the movies with some friends,” Ian explained as I tried to keep from losing any more of my troops, “and Lyla decided she wasn’t interested in watching the movie anymore.”
“I really hate zombies,” I tried to explain as I attempted to gain control of Africa.
“I see,” Dr. Wallace grinned as every attack I mounted failed miserably.
With my troops in dire need of reinforcements, I devoted my full attention to the game while Ian looked on in delight. It was very apparent that he took some pleasure in watching me lose so spectacularly to his father. Not half an hour later the game was over, my last-ditch effort to keep control of Australia ended in bitter failure and Dr. Wallace was declared the Risk champion of the universe.
Once the game had been put away, Dr. Wallace announced that he too was going to bed and bid Ian and me goodnight. An awkward silence filled the room as soon as Dr. Wallace left and it wasn’t long before Ian announced that he too, was off to bed.
“Goodnight,” I replied as Ian climbed the stairs and disappeared into the dark.