A CHRISTMAS STORY
“Are you sure about this, Try?” My best friend Nikki asks me as we enter the school building along with a multitude of our classmates. We are both well aware that I’m not loved at school. Well known – yes, but for the completely wrong reasons.
I take a breath and nod decisively, asking her to take my books from my locker and wait for me in Mr. Tarley’s class. Then I head for the middle hallway with a stack of fliers in hand and begin handing them out. Most freshmen and some sophomores stop and take a flier, then scurry off to their first period classes. But the juniors and seniors keep away as if my presence alone could take away from their perfectly maintained awesomeness.
I smile and continue passing out the little, carefully cut silver pages, with printed red words and pictures in them. It goes better than I thought it would – several people even stop to ask me what the event is really about – until a shadow falls over me, making me freeze in sudden alarm.
“Well well, look who we have here fellas!” A deep, painfully familiar voice drawls from behind me, startling me so much I almost jump out of my . I know it’s Ledger Sullivan without even looking. At the same time, an arm reaches past my shoulder, passing merely inches away from my chest, and snatches one of my fliers. "Chocolate chip snowmen? Is that what you call ingenious, Hormones?"
I can feel my heart almost halt inside my ribcage, then pick up to a wild gallop as I turn around and scowl at the boy standing before me, unsure how else to react. Two of his buddies are flanking him as usual, their faces carrying their usual easy smiles, but I can’t remember their names. Weird, that, since I'd spent a lot of time hovering around Ledger back in ninth grade, like a puppy hungry for attention. That's also how I ended up with my horrible nickname.
For a moment I wonder how to react – do I confront him for calling me Hormones, or do I just ignore him? As the seconds tick, I look around for Stacy, Ledger’s girlfriend, hoping that she'd get me out of this in that special mean way only she can pull off. Then I remember she is now an ex. He’d broken it off with her just a week ago, right after he found out about the little affair between her and Bobby Sly. Yeah, trust me to know.
“What do you want, Ledger?” I snap at him, because I know that otherwise I would just melt in a puddle at his feet. Because unfortunately, Ledger Sullivan is more than the cumbersome, immature jock, who plays quarterback in our school’s junior varsity football team. He is sensitive, smart and honest, even though he prefers not to show it all the time. He’s also absolutely stunning, and just like every other girl at school, I’ve had a crush on him ever since ninth grade. Too bad that he would never see the real me; that he would always remember me as the girl who used to follow him everywhere through all of last year.
I have changed though, building up my character all through summer vacation, so I could return to school a self-confident sophomore. I am that now, though I still try to evade meeting Ledger in the halls. Not because I doubt my own actions, but because I’ve never been able to predict his.
So far though, and it's been quite a while since Christmas was only a week away, I'd been able to keep my distance. Or, in the few cases when that'd been impossible - to be as sarcastic as ultimately necessary.
His hand, the one holding the flier, is suddenly in my face as he points at the printed letters with a finger. His buddies snicker on his sides. “I want to know what this is about.” He says flatly, like his intentions are quite obvious.
Well, they aren't and as it happens, a clever comeback is building on my tongue and before I can stop myself, the words are already out.
"Oh, I'm sure you would be able to figure it out. Especially since a thorough drawing and explanation have been provided on the same flier you've been staring at for the past five minutes." I give him an icy smile, trying so hard not to show exactly how much his super hot looks affect me.
Dirty blond hair covers his head and ears in a messy, yet styled way that screams 'gorgeous' from at least a mile away. He has high cheekbones and his mouth is made up of two full, totally kissable lips. His blue eyes make him look even more dreamy. Which is how I know I can't have him. I need a real guy, not a fairy tale madness.
"Jesus, Hormones, that bile you've had for breakfast is spilling all over your chin and clothes." He replies, looking smug as his friends join in to have a laugh at my expense.
I glare at him and turn around ignoring him and his pretty face. "Just go away, Ledger. I don't have time for you right now." I say while handing a flier to a couple of passing girls. They barely look at it before throwing it away.
"You could've at least read it." I shout after them, and pivot on my heels hoping to get to my class no later than the first bell.
Only I happen to bump into a well built chest, crushing my face in the soft fabric of a blue sweater. The same blue I happened to notice on Ledger just a few minutes ago. I straighten up like a bow string, stumbling back to put some distance between us.
"What the hell are you still doing here?" I demand of him, thinking only of the solid feel of his chest. I guess that's what years of extensive practice do to a boy's body – and ultimately to a girl's heart. Looking around for his friends I notice that they're gone. It's just me and him now in the quiet of the almost empty hallway.
He points at the flier again. "Well? Are you gonna tell me about the snowmen?"
"Right. Like you'd really want to know." I say and begin to walk away but he suddenly catches my arm and makes me face him again.
"I'm serious, Trinity. You mention some sort of a charity, but nothing else. So, what's it about?"
I watch him for a full minute, fully aware that one: this is the first time he's ever used my real name, and two: his hand is still holding my arm and therefore bringing me threateningly close to him. "What's it to you, jockboy? You don't do charities." I manage to say, but my resolution to stay in my block of ice is slowly crumbling to pieces.
"Try me, why don't you?" He insists, staring at my eyes with his blue ones as if trying to influence me with looks. I am never going to admit it is working.
Finally, I give in - after all, sharing this activity with people was the reason for me passing those flyers anyway.
"My family and I organize a Christmas charity event every year. We bake cookies and have other people from our church prepare treats and all kinds of food and then we take it over to this orphanage off of Bridgewater Road on Christmas Eve. But due to some family thing, my parents and sister won't be able to help with the cookies, which means that I'll be in need of additional hands to fill in for them since I can't handle that many cookies on my own."
"How many are we talking exactly?" Ledger asks as if he cares.
I want to be suspicious, to squint my eyes at him and demand why the interest. But I don't. "A couple dozen batches or more?" I reply, unintentionally raising my voice like a question, while somehow finding a way to simultaneously bite my lip.
"Aha." He says and hands me back the flyer."Good luck then." You'll need it, he could've added, and I'm almost sure he mentally does so. Then he releases my arm and walks away.
I stare at him until he disappears behind the Social Studies corner. A second later the tardy bell rings.
When I get home, my parents are already gone. A pink sticky note hangs on the fridge.
There's chicken and some salad in the fridge. We'll call as soon as we land. Love: Mom and Dad.
I open the fridge and fill a plate of food to munch on while studying for finals. My cell rings a couple of minutes later, and I recognize Mom's number on the screen.
“Honey?” Mom says when I pick up.
“Howdy, Mom. Did you land alright?” I ask, though I'm well aware by the tone of her voice that something isn't quite right.
“One of our bags has gone missing and your Dad's trying to track its whereabouts.” She sighs, but I know she's more irritated than she cares to appear. “Anyway, how was school? Could you get enough people to help for the cookies?”
It's my turn to sigh, but I restrain myself. No need to stress her over things she can't control. “School's fine. Got to study for finals though. And the cookies will be taken care of.” Don't ask me how, I add mentally. Because I only received one positive answer and it came from my best friend Nikki, which had been a given anyway. A bunch of people said they'd think about it, but I knew exactly how well that would go. In the end, I would have to be baking cookies in the wee hours of Christmas Eve if I was to deliver them any time near Christmas.
“Great. I know you can handle these things Trinity. I'm so proud of you.” And she sounds so sure in me, I feel like the worst daughter on the planet. “I've left you a list of ingredients that you'll need, and some cash so you could buy everything.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I mutter, suddenly wishing that my sister Destiny didn't have to play in the University of San Diego's homecoming game. Or that I could be there cheering for her, instead of suffering through the first half of the Holidays on my own.
“Take care while we're gone, sweetheart.” She instructs then, and I can tell by the tone of her voice that she's worried about leaving me alone on Christmas. “We love you very much.”
“Okay, Mom. Me too.” I say. “And take pictures! I want my sister all over Facebook!”
“Sure thing, honey.”
Today is Thursday the 23rd. I have my last exam during third period World History, and am counting every passing second for the rest of the school day. But when I get to lunch, time seems to extend almost infinitely.
“I won't be able to help you with shopping today.” Nikki says, as she drops on the seat next to me, all grace gone from her usually elegant posture. “I'm really sorry.”
“What happened?” I inquire, because I know that she wouldn't leave me alone for no good reason.
Nikki takes out a plastic fork and pokes a carrot from her salad without looking at me. She looks kind of guilty, but I don't know why. “Josh asked me out.”
“Oh,” is all I say.
“I'm sorry, Try!” She almost shrieks then turning to face me, and her expression is so expressive, I know that she's telling the truth. But I also know that she's been swooning after Josh Hamilton for the better half of our high school years. Which is why I can't bring myself up to be angry with her. After all, if Ledger had asked me out, I might have forfeited the whole charity event altogether.
On the other hand, I might not have.
I try not to be judgmental, or to show exactly how betrayed I feel, but I'm almost sure she sees it in the tight way I hold my mouth. Can't help it, it's a habit. “It's alright, it's just shopping for flour and sugar. I'll manage.” I shrug, and manage a smile.
She hugs me then, like I'm her life-boat, and proceeds to tell me exactly how Josh had done the asking, while all I can think of is the overflowing cart with ingredients that I'd have to push around WalMart all on my own.
I check Mom's list again, making sure that I haven't forgotten anything.
“Flour, sugar, milk, eggs, icing, chocolate chips, cinnamon, butter, flavors – mint and vanilla, baking dyes, baking sheets, baking oil.. Oh, baking oil!” I exclaim a little too loudly, and push the shopping cart with all the strength I can muster, trying to turn it about, so I could go to the isle where they have the baking oil.
Unfortunately, pushing is one thing, steering – quite another. As I try to maneuver the overflowing cart, it slides over the tiled floor, and ends up bumping into a row full with plasticware, scattering packets all over the floor.
“Oh, for heaven's sake!” I hear someone call over my own internal row of curses, but I'm too terrified to notice who it is, or that the voice sounds suspiciously familiar.
I crouch down and start collecting plastic cups, forks and knives, all the while cursing my luck. Approximately three seconds later, another set of hands visibly larger and rougher than mine, join in the venture. For some reason I don't look up to see my helper, though I manage to mouth a “Thank you.”
“Don't make it a habit, Hormones.” The person says with a smile in his voice. My head snaps to the side suddenly and I gasp. My unfortunate helper is no other but Ledger Sullivan, the only person who makes my heart melt without even smiling. And he just used my nickname in a department store.
My eyes narrow down on him, even though my inner response is completely opposite. “No worries, I won't.” I spit back and rise to my feet, the last handful of separately packaged utensils clenched tightly in the grip of my fingers. “What are you doing here anyway? Don't you have your own WalMart to go to?” I ask bitterly, subtly removing myself from the topic of discussion.
He looks amused. As he opens his mouth to reply – another snide comment, no doubt – someone else beats him to it.
“Of course we do! But this WalMart has the best cheesecake ever! It's like homemade, with just the right amount of strawberry topping.” This is explained in the most matter-of-fact tone I've ever had the chance to hear. I can't help it, a smile spreads over my mouth as my eyes meet the green ones of a grade-school-aged boy who stands confidently on Ledger's other side.
“Does it now?” I say, taking in the boy's messy blond hair, the smart look in his bright eyes and the posture that clearly states 'I'm the man'. With Ledger only a foot away from him, I really don't need to wonder who the boy reminds me of. “Your brother?”
“Gee, woman! Of course I'm his brother!” The boy says in a mildly irritated tone, though I can't help but notice that he is glad I made that observation. Just the fact that I'd connected him to Ledger instantly, seems to make him proud, and I can't blame him one little bit.
“That's enough, Ronnie.” Ledger finally steps in the conversation, his hand ruffling his brother's hair. “Eight year olds... you can't help but love them.” He heaves an over exaggerated sigh.
The boy, Ronnie, scowls and quickly extracts himself from under Ledger's hand, showing his pink tongue at his brother. “Beatcha! Beatcha!” He chants from a few feet away, which I notice is a reasonable distance, should Ledger decide to pursue him.
Only he doesn't. He's looking at me with a weird expression on his face – like he's in some sort of pain, but he can't nail it down precisely.
“Are you alright?” I ask, unable to keep the concern from leaking into my voice.
“Of course.” He says and the easy smile is back on his face, leaving no trace of whatever he'd been thinking of previously.
After a second of looking at him and trying to figure out what I'd seen on that charming face of his, I give up. I shrug it off and walk over to my cart, which is still overflowing, and I know I'm still unable to steer it, but really – what choice do I have?
“See ya around.” I call out, not sparing a glance in Ledger's direction. Then I breathe in and out several times in mental preparation for what I am about to do, grip the handle bar of the cart and push with all my might.
And nothing happens.
“I honestly don't see you moving that thing anytime soon.” Ledger's slow drawl reaches me from much closer than he should've been, then he appears on my side.
“No worries, I'll manage.” I answer, even though I think that if I concentrate on pushing any harder, my face might actually explode from all the straining.
He snorts. “No doubt. And then if you don't mind, could you do our cart too?” He asks, jerking his head in a way that makes me look behind him.
My eyes grow wide at the sight of a cart more stuffed than mine. “How in the world do you navigate this thing?” I say, heavily tempted to rub my eyes, or pinch myself, just in case I am dreaming.
Ledger rolls his eyes at me. “Please, I don't lift weights for nothing.”
I sigh deeply, weighing my options. I must admit however – even though I don't exactly like it – that I have no other choice but to let Ledger push first one cart then the other to the cashiers and then out to the parking lot. The only thing he requests of me is to keep an eye on his brother who comes out to be one wicked little devil. By the time we're out in the parking lot, I'm worn out from trying to keep up with the kid, who thought it fun to play hide and seek with random shoppers. I don't even know how many times I had to apologize to people on his behalf.
All is well now that we're unloading my supplies into mom's SUV. Surprisingly, they come out to take up a lot more space than I'd anticipated. More surprising is that Ronnie is actually helping out instead of wrecking havoc.
Ledger hums under his breath the whole time, and I think he doesn't realize it, but it's cute so I don't mention anything.
“All done.” He proclaims when the last bag of flour is transferred to the car. Then he puts his hands in the pockets of his jacket and shifts around awkwardly, as if he isn't comfortable in his own skin and he doesn't quite know what to do with himself. I've never seen Ledger Sullivan be uncomfortable before. Then again – I’ve never seen him outside of school either. That makes me grin.
“Umm, thanks. For everything.” I say, very self-conscious, but not the least bit uncomfortable. I am used to more awkward situations. “I guess I'll see you after the Holidays then.”
“Yeah. I guess.” He says, then hurriedly adds. “Have a Merry Christmas, Trinity.”
“Thanks, you – ”
An unexpected squeak interrupts me from behind and then suddenly a little blond head squeezes in between Ledger and me. Not that we are standing that close to each other, and not that anyone but my silly heart cares.
“Whoa! You’re Trinity?” Ronnie demands, suddenly occupied with surveying me from head to toe with a calculating look in his eyes. Abruptly, I’m super conscious of my ordinary clothes – just some jeans and a slightly worn out jacket with a warm sweater underneath. A slow mischievous smile transforms his face after a moment, making me feel awkwardly nervous.
I nod at the same time as Ledger says, “None of your business, Ronald.”
I catch a note of warning in Ledger’s smooth voice, and my brows arch up as my eyes dart to his face. I notice a very thin line where his full lips were just a moment before, his eyes concentrated down on his brother’s face. For some reason, I think that I’m missing something important from this picture, but I don’t know what.
After watching them stare each other down (or up) for a full minute, I decide this is way beyond my level of comprehension. “Umm. I gotta go.” I mutter, my voice just above a whisper.
“Okay.” Ledger breaks the silence with a sigh of relief and finally looks up at me.
I look away quickly. My heart crumbles at the sound of that one stupid sigh, because it could mean only one thing – he can’t wait to be rid of me. Not that I’ve hoped otherwise – I’m not that big of a fool – but at least he could’ve made it more subtle. He could’ve pretended that I wasn’t a complete waste of space.
Feeling the hot angry tears burning behind my eyes, I mumble something for goodbye and hurry to get to safety inside the SUV. The dashboard is a blur of cold blues and angry reds as my eyes fill up with tears, but at least no one can see me here. I take my time to calm down. I know I’m not really upset because of his reaction – it was kind of expected. Rather, I’m angry at myself because Ledger still has that kind of influence on me.
And it’s absolutely infuriating.
I pull out of the parking lot some time later, but I don’t head home immediately. I don’t feel like closing myself in the confines of the empty house, where my only companion would be the TV. A more delicious idea comes to my mind, as I pass by “Nora’s ice-cream house” and find an empty spot to leave the car.
“Welcome to Nora’s!” The cashier – a girl dressed in a cute purple dress, and wearing a captivating smile – calls out cheerfully as soon as I enter.
“Hello.” I say, unable to restrain my own smile.
Nora's is the perfect place to chill. Not only because the menu consists of about three dozen different ice-cream blends, but also because the atmosphere is very relaxing and rejuvenating. I especially love the wall decors, which are different on each wall. For instance, there's the sports wall that has all kinds special sport events glued right over the purple wallpaper; there's the lovers' cove that features pictures of kissing couples, hearts and has lipstick-shaped nut shredders.
My personal favorite is around the counter and towards the back of the place, which is known as the readers' spot. Sometimes, Nikki and I come here, take out our books and just... well – read.
“What would be your flavor today?” The cashier asks, looking at me with enthusiasm. It must be fun to work at an ice-cream house, I think to myself while trying to decide whether the Yogurt Blend or the Strawberry Delight sounds better.
“Get the Pineapple Madness.” Someone says beside me, and I turn to see who it is. Not that I need to, I can recognize his voice anywhere.
My eyes squeeze into slits, as I stare into Ledger’s face. “Are you stalking me?” I demand, because the chances of us winding up at the same place are so close to zero they appear negative. Then again, the thought of Ledger stalking me sounds even more impossible.
“Not really.” He says, jerking a hand through his messy hair. I love it when he does that, but right now I'm too suspicious to enjoy the sight.
“It so happens that I promised Ron to bring him here after shopping.” He explains completely undisturbed by neither my poisonous stare, nor the cashier's longing one.
“Uh-huh.” I say contemplating whether I should just turn around and leave. But I don’t, because I have as much right to be there as anyone else. “I want the Strawberry Delight.” I order then and rummage my purse for my wallet.
“And two Pineapple Madnesses.” Ledger adds. “On the same bill.”
Now that’s completely out of the blue. It's also unreasonable because after all the help, I should be paying his bill not the other way around. Only, I know that I don't have enough money on me.
I shake my head.“No way. I’m paying for my own ice-cream.”
He ignores me and turns to the cashier, who is complitely smitten by his charm. I glare at him, but it's no use - he's already paid.
"You're impossible." I say, then take my Strawberry Delight and stomp off towards the readers' spot, where I know there's always an empty booth.
But Ronald is already there, waiting for his brother, and crap - all the rest of the tables are occupied. It's December, for Christ's sake, i'm tempted to yell at no one and everyone, but I only close my eyes to inhale, and walk toward a widely smiling Ron. Ledger's at my side by then, carrying two cups of a yellowish mesh that almost looks like puke. He shrugs off his jacket and takes a seat beside his brother.
I don't talk to either of them when I sit down in the red leather booth opposite Ron. I'm angry and nervous and confused, but I'm not about to ask questions. Whatever this is, I don't like it – even though my heart's behaving like an insane pump, hammering hard inside my chest. And even if this is like a dream come true.
"Cool, Pineapple Madness!" Ron exclaims and plunges into his cup of ice-cream, oblivious to the fact that both his brother and I feel uncomfortable.
When the silence becomes unbearable, and I make a point that I am not in the mood to chat, Ledger clears his throat. "So Trinity," he says, making me abandon my ice-cream and look up at him with a scowl, "did you find enough people for that charity event?"
I'm speechless for a second because i don't expect him to remember. But he does. "Umm, if by enough people you mean me myself and Nikki, then yeah."
Ron snickers, spraying ice-cream everywhere. "Sorry, it just sounds like that Jim Carey movie."
Ledger rolls his eyes and ignores him. "So you still need help?"
"Obviously." I mutter, not really understanding where this conversation is going. "Are you offering?"
One corner of his mouth quirks up in that charming way that only he can pull off, only it's lost its usual derisive edge and my breath catches.
"I've got an entire football team on speed dial." He states, as if that's supposed to impress me. It doesn't, because the whole team lives for Ledger. He practically owns their souls, and everybody knows it.
"I need help with making the cookies, not with eating them."
A rumbling laughter erupts suddenly from both boys, and after a second I join them, all the while unable to believe that this is happening. Ledger Sullivan is eating ice-cream with me and laughing at my jokes. No one would ever believe this – not even Nikki. Hell, I don't believe it and I'm right here.
“Incredible, Hormones, you have sense of humor! “ Ledger declares with a smile that quickly fades away when he realizes what he's just said. He abruptly stops himself, as if he has swallowed poison. When he looks at me, I'm sure I can read the apology in his eyes, but somehow it is not enough. Because he just ruined the moment, my moment. “I'm - “ He mumbles then, but it's no use.
“Don't.” I stand up with a start, finally realizing that I should've just left when I'd had the chance.
“Wait, Trinity, I – ”
But I'm already walking away and around the cash register, oblivious to everything and everyone. Because I've been the greatest fool of all. Because I've hoped, and loved and cared. And because no matter how much I try, to him I'd always be plain old Hormones.
I must have fallen asleep on the couch last night, because when my phone rings and jerks me awake, it’s already morning and I feel stiff all over. I hear sounds from the TV, but my brain isn't capable of distinguishing what they say. I stretch awkwardly, trying to remember why on earth I hadn't gone up to my own bed. Then the hazy mist disperses from my head and it all comes back to me. Ledger. WalMart. Ledger. Nora's. Ledger. Ledger. Ledger.
When I finally answer the phone, I do it without looking at the caller ID. “What?” I snap at the intruder, as if they're responsible for my aching back.
It turns out to be Nikki, and she sounds pissed. “Don't what me! You were supposed to call and wake me up at eight! Do you know what time it is now?” I hold the phone at an arms length and stare at the digital clock.
A bright green 10:34 stares back at me.
“Holy crap indeed. I'll be pulling up to your house in a couple of minutes. You'd better look nice, 'cuz I'm not alone.” And she hangs up.
“Shit!” I swear, and it tastes bitter in my mouth, because usually I'm pretty good at containing my emotions. But seeing that I have more than two dozen batches of cookies to make for tomorrow, and I don't exactly have a cake team on my disposal, I just can't help it.
In two seconds I'm up the stairs and in my bathroom, where I wash my teeth and face, and brush my bed-ridden hair. There is no time to shower, but I can still change my yesterday's clothes to something more comfy and appropriate. And fresh. Like sweatpants and a long sleeve T-shirt.
Sure enough, five minutes later I hear voices downstairs. I know one of them must be Nikki's, because she's the only person outside of my family who has a key to our house. But there's someone else with her as well. Then I remember she warned me about not being alone, and that makes me all the more self-conscious. What if she'd brought Josh? He was on the junior varsity football team.
“Trinity, are you upstairs?” She calls out, just as I run down the stairs. “Oh, there you are. Look who's come to help.” Nikki says wiggling her brows at me as I enter the living room and gestures behind her in what I can only call triumph.
I glance behind her expecting to see Josh. But it's not him. Familiar blue eyes meet mine and leave me breathless, even if only for a second. The moment my mind clears and I'm ready to think straight again, I'm furious.
“You have no right to be in my house, Ledger. Get out!” I say in a slightly raised voice and proceed to walk over to him with the intentions to shove him out the door.
“I invited him to come, because he wanted to help out.” Nikki intervenes, holding me in place with a tight grip on my wrist.
I glare at her. “You have no right to invite people in my house.” But my conviction grows less and less acute. Because, we do need all the help we can get, even if I'm too stubborn and hurt to admit it.
She rolls her eyes. “And you have no right to be so mean, since he's th – ”
“She has all the right in the world, Nikki, seeing that I owe her an apology.” Ledger interrupts then, surprising both me and her. We stare at him wide eyed, unable to believe he'd just admitted to be at fault. His gaze holds mine, refusing to let go. “Don't gape at me like that. I hurt you, and I can't blame you for hating me. But you still need help with those cookies, and we're wasting time.”
Like usual, he is right. “Fine.” I mumble at last, and stride to the kitchen. I rummage through one of the large cupboards under the sink where mom keeps her aprons, and find four clean ones. Taking out three, I hand one to Nikki and another one to Ledger, then tie the third over my own clothes.
“The eggs and butter are in the fridge. The rest is in the closet over there.” I say and point toward the door opposite the sink, then start pulling out pans, trays, mixing spoons and the like.
In no time at all, we've already finished one doze of snowman shaped cookies and I put them on two levels in the oven.
“I'll prepare the icing while they're baking.” I announce and proceed to grab an empty pan from the counter.
“Okay.” Nikki and Ledger say together, and it's so weird, I look up at them. They seem so concentrated on their work – adding ingredients, stirring and mixing, laying out the dough and pressing it with the rolling pin, and finally cutting the shapes – that I can't help but smile. It's unbelievable, having Ledger in my house, helping for a charity project that involves cooking!
He looks up just in that moment and grins back. “Everything alright?” But he knows the answer just from looking at my face, and there's no reason for me to hide how ecstatic I feel.
I nod, and look away shyly, because I know who I am, and who Ledger is, and I don't need to fall for him any deeper that I already have.
Then I go back to preparing the icing, but my mind's not on it. I feel hot waves running up and down my body, and my heart's pumping like mad in my chest. And what's more exciting – I feel his eyes on me, which makes me lose my concentration even more.
Consumed with thoughts about my racing blood, and the weird ringing in my ears, I trip over my feet on my way to the fridge, and Ledger catches me around the waist. I'm about to explode because he's touching me. Me! And he's smiling about it, in a pleased kind of way.
“Umm, thanks.” I manage to mutter as he rights me up.
“Pleasure.” And that extra special grin of his transforms his face in a way that makes me melt on the inside.
Nikki giggles on the other side of the kitchen , and I sort of gather my wits about. “Icing. Umm.. Gotta get the products.” I say in a very chopped up voice, pulling away from his grip. For a second he doesn't let go, but then the moment's over, and I'm free to move again.
I take a milk gallon and some butter from the fridge and place it at my area of work. Then I follow mom's recipe until the mixture is well blended, with no lumps.
Just then the oven alarm sounds and I abandon the frosting. When I open the oven door, I'm pleasantly surprised to see that the cookie snowmen have turned a nice golden color.
“I need some space to pull them out, you guys.” I say, looking around the kitchen. It's occupied with things all around the counters, the round table and even on the floor.
“Use the table in the dining room.” Nikki suggests, while rummaging for hot pan boards to place under the trays, as I carry one tray after another to the table in question.
When I empty the cookies, I bring the trays back to the kitchen, and Nikki and Ledger start loading them with the next dose. While they're so occupied, I frost the baked cookies, making them look like snowmen indeed. Then I add chocolate chips for eyes and buttons, and voila – chocolate chip snowmen. I grin at the cookies like a little kid, then place them in the special boxes that mom had had delivered before they left for San Diego.
Then I return to my place in the kitchen, and on we go without stopping – except for a short break for lunch – until we've filled up all fifty boxes, producing more than four hundred cookies.
We're exhausted, our entire bodies aching, but we're joking around as we load the boxes in mom's SUV.
“You’re sure you aren’t coming, Nikki?” I ask her one last time before she climbs in her car.
“Yeah, mom’s gonna need my help for dinner.” She says and I know she’s right. Mrs. Evans wanted me go help as well, since I’d be spending Christmas Eve with them, but I told her I’d go only after I deliver the cookies. “But we’ll wait for you to come before we sit at the table.”
“Sounds good. See ya later then.” I say and wave goodbye as she pulls out of the driveway and speeds down the street. When I turn to Ledger, he’s staring at me with a curious expression on his face. “What?”
“Nothing.” He shrugs innocently, but I don’t buy it and narrow my eyes suspiciously. “Forget it, Trinity. Let’s go deliver the goodies to the children, so we can go have delicious dinner as well.”
“You’re coming with me to the orphanage?” I ask incredulous. I’d thought I’d just be giving him a lift to his house before going to Bridgewater Road. This change of plan is completely new to me.
“Of course I am. Now let’s get going, or by the time we get to our respective homes, all the food will be gone.”
I just stand there, in the middle of the driveway and watch him climb in the passenger seat. And I wonder why he’s been so nice to me all day. He came and apologized for his insulting words from yesterday, and he helped with all the cookies without complaining even once. And now he’s even going to come with me. I either am the luckiest girl in the world – or the most doomed one.
When I finally make it into the driver’s seat and pull the belt to buckle up, I feel Ledger’s hand brush the back of my head. I turn around with a start, and suddenly I’m face to face with him. Then, stunned as I am, I don’t do anything to stop him when he leans into me and kisses me softly on the mouth.
But I do count. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three –
“What are you doing?” I whisper breathless after he pulls away.
He looks at me questioningly, one corner of his mouth pulled up in a half smile. “I thought I was kissing you.”
I shake my head, raking my mind for the right words. “I know what you’re doing, but I don’t understand why. I mean,” and I wave my hand in his direction, “you’re Ledger Sullivan, and I’m, well… I’m just Hormones.” I know it sounds lame, but it’s all I got.
“Yes, you’re Hormones.” He agrees, then places a finger over my lips, knowing that I’m about to argue. “But you’re my Hormones, Trinity. You’ve been playing with my hormones ever since I laid my eyes on you last year, and no matter what I do, or how hard I try, I just can’t get you out of my head. And lately, I can’t get you out of my heart either.”
And as sudden and bizarre this is, I know that it’s the truth, because I see it in his eyes. “This must be my best Christmas ever.” I say then and snuggle in his arms, across the gear shift, ready to finally live the love I’d been holding inside of me for so long.
The children and the chocolate chip snowmen could wait on hold for a little bit longer.