'Oh shit, please tell me she's not serious. She just can't be...do you think she is? Once again, Ash, tell me she isn't.'
Ash looked at the board at the front of the room and carefully read it several times.
'Seems like she is, Em. Sorry honey. Just do your best to try to get me, eh?'
With that she brushed past her friend and settled into a desk seat at the very back. Emma slunk into the nearest open seat and glaringly reread the board.
Everyone in class will have one person they'll buy a present for. It must be a real present, and must cost no less than twenty dollars. You must put EFFORT into selecting a gift. You must research your selection and pick an appropriate present. Along with your gift you'll include a note telling the person whom you selected what you've learned about them and how it may have changed your opinion of them for the better. Make it polite, people!
The day before break begins, we'll have a Christmas party. The presents will be left with me beforehand, and once the presents have been opened we'll see just how much effort you put into this project of ours.
Your presents WILL be opened in class, so remember to BEHAVE.
You WILL be graded on this."
Emma groaned inwardly and settled her head on her desk. This was one of the worst assignments her English teacher, Mrs. Raleigh, had ever given.
And she'd given some really bad assignments.
Of course, that was just Emma's opinion. She wasn't really one for the flashy projects that Raleigh liked to assign. She prefered traditional aspect of English classes; reports and oral presentations and extra credit for being the first to present. Raleigh gave assignments that involved making mixed tapes, singing, dancing, acting out and making a show of things. Though Emma knew the Secret Santa business was more mild compared to previous projects, she still couldn't stand the thought. Something about buying presents for people you didn't really know didn't exactly appeal to her.
With that, Raleigh charged in cheerfully, her jingle-bell hat rattling like mad.
'So, I'm sure you've all read the board. You will do EXACTY as it says. Now, if I could get a volunteer, I'll have index cards to you soon. You'll sign your names, fold it over, and then I'll come around and collect them. Then they'll go into my hat and you'll all come forward one by one to collect the classmate you'll be Santa for this year!'
Someone at the back of the room rose to pass out the index cards. Emma lifted her head up and glared when someone rapped her on the back of the head. She twisted it enough and shook her hair from her face to see who'd been so rude. Grinning down at her go-to-hell glare was Lawrence. His eyebrow quirked and his grin broadened.
'Couldn't stick your note card anywhere. You were taking up too much desk space. Need your pretty little John Hancock, deary,' he crooned. He chuckled when she snatched a card from his hand.
She watched him walk away and rolled her eyes. He was bordering on too tall and too skinny, but he moved with ease and grace. Emma shook her head, wondering why she'd noticed such a thing. She shuffled in her bag for a pen, pulled it out, and hastily scrawled her name across the card. After a quick fold, it was brought forward and deposited into the abhorred jingle-bell hat. Raleigh beamed at her, and Emma managed a small smile. Awful her assignments may be, Raleigh was one of the better teachers in school and it was impossible to dislike her.
Once everyone had turned their cards in, Raleigh stirred and shook the contents of the hat. Finally satisfied it was mixed enough, she walked down the rows, offering the hat up to her students. She reached Emma, and Emma took a deep breath before reaching in to take a card out. Eyes closed, she unfolded the note card and peeked...at Lawrence's note card.
She turned her head slightly until she could see him out of the corner of her eye. He'd just selected a card, and quickly opened it. His eyebrow quirked again, and he closed and reopened the card. He frowned a bit and shook his head. Emma giggled, glad that she wasn't the only one who'd drawn a name they weren't too pleased over. As if he'd heard her, Lawrence glanced over in her direction. When he saw her watching him, the eyebrow went back up and the corner of his mouth twitched into a smirk. Emma's eyes widened and she gulped. She suddenly had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. She turned away and exhaled deeply. This was going to suck.
Emma rummaged through her locker, looking for her chemistry handout. She had stayed late after school to finish gathering books from the library she'd need for work due over break, and needed a handout from one of her classes before she could finally go home.
'Where the hell is it...?' she wondered out loud.
Suddenly there was a pressure at her back, as of someone pressed against her lightly. An arm slid around her waist and a hand reached past her to push aside a few things. It withdrew with the handout she needed and held it in front of her. She stood frozen the entire time, barely breathing.
'I noticed it when you were rifling through. You overlooked it,' a voice murmured into her ear. 'Well? Aren't you going to take it, or is this not what you're looking for?'
Swallowing, she removed her hand from the locker to take her work. Emma noticed her hand was shaking, and she hurriedly swallowed again, trying to calm her nerves. Near her ear, she heard him chuckle, his grip around her waist tightening.
'Ooh, Emma, Emma Emmaline...' he crooned.
Her eyes closed and she shivered. His voice was peppermint hot chocolate, her favorite; warm and rich, sweet and tingly. It numbed her mouth after she drank it. His voice numbed her mind and body, whispering what she realized were old song lyrics. He nuzzled her neck as his free hand slid down her extended arm slowly until he was gripping her upper arm.
After she'd drawn Lawrence's name, Emma quietly gathered information on him. The high school grapevine is one of the greatest information sources in the world. The internet had only aided its growth and expansion. It was the internet she turned to in the end, as she couldn't go asking around school about him without revealing her project and starting some unsavory rumors.
At home a few nights later she found him on MySpace and perused his page.
Their common interests were alarmingly similar. Mainstream bands, obscure bands, television shows and movies...not that she'd ever admit to some of them, though. They were guilty pleasures. Emma wasn't the most popular person at school, but she didn't want to be branded as a geek if it got around that she had seen every episode of 'Star Wars' multiple times (especially IV-VI, the only ones that mattered), knew Zelda cheat codes by heart, and could quote entire scenes from 'The Princess Bride'. To some people that wasn't geek chic, but around her school it was. That's why she and Lawrence traveled in very separate circles.
She looked at his photos next. Emma's jaw dropped. The picture that caught her attention
was one of Lawrence, labeled as 'Taken by my brother', standing on a porch or balcony, watching the sun rise. He held a mug in one hand, and the other rested on the railing. He was shirtless, and his body was twisted enough that his torso could be seen. Lawrence didn't have a six pack, but he did have a very tight, toned abdomen. His arms were slender and muscular. Wiry...the thought came unbidden to Emma's mind. That would be the word to describe him.
His eyes were unfocused, staring off into the distance. His lips were slightly parted, as if he was exhaling. Emma found another thought creep into her mind; she suddenly wanted very badly to tangle her fingers in his curly hair. The light gleamed off the black curls, creating a halo effect, and made his rich mocha skin gleam in an intoxicating fashion between the shadows crossing his body. She wondered momentarily if all of his skin would glow like that before she bit her tongue, shaking her head at herself.
'Whoa, what the hell is my problem?'
She eyed the photo again and bit her lip. Emma hated to admit it, but Lawrence was hothothot. She wondered why she'd never noticed it before. Suddenly, she wanted very badly to impress him. To get him the best gift from a Secret Santa anyone could ever get. A dirty thought streaked across her mind and she blanched.
'Oh mercy, what the HELL is my problem!?'
Pouting a bit, chewing on her lip again, Emma closed her eyes and thought about what to get him. Suddenly, she had an idea.
She opened a new browser, and looked for what she wanted. She had plenty of time.
He nuzzled her neck some more, pressing closer against her. His hands caressed her body lightly. Her eyes rolled back as he brought his lips to her neck, brushing them across her skin. He exhaled, bathing her neck in warmth, before lips parted for him to lick from the top of her shoulder to her earlobe. She whimpered and did her best to keep her knees from buckling.
A few days later, she was silently cursing herself as she sat in English. Since she'd drawn Lawrence's name, she couldn't get him off her mind. It didn't help that she kept running in to him, and whenever she did he gave her this predatory look that made the blood drain from her face. To her horror, it drained from her face to pool elsewhere. Emma was certain they'd drawn one anothers names. She couldn't explain why, but she just knew.
She turned slightly and watched him from the corner of her eye. Emma absorbed the details of his face. Full lips, utterly kissable (blushblush, how could she think such a thing?), and a splash of freckles across his cheekbones. His long black lashes framed eyes she'd noticed were the color of honeyed tea. He'd caught her eye and held it the other day, and while she'd stood frozen in place he'd imprinted the color on her memory. She'd never forget it.
Emma licked her lips, realizing they were dry. As she did so, Lawrence noticed her looking at him. He smirked (that smirk!), winking at her. She blushed and turned away, shaken. The thought crossed her mind that she might like him, and she didn't bother denying it. Emma had fallen for Lawrence after she'd drawn his name and rashly selected a present. The more she watched him the more sure she was of her choice and the harder she fell.
'Two more days,' she said softly. 'Two more days and it'll be all over. Two weeks away from him and you can get yourself under control. Two weeks...'
Emma shut her eyes tightly against the sudden pang of sadness that brought. Even though she knew that she, short, curvy little Emma, would never stand a chance with him, it hurt her.
He nipped lightly at her skin, drawing circles on her neck with his tongue before hungrily fastening his mouth to it. His hands drifted and stroked, brushing her stomach under her shirt. She did her best to keep from panting. Panting like a bitch in heat, she thought, followed by, but I am, oh I am. The fingers of one hand traced the underside of her bra, while the other clutched at her hip, pulling her into the sizable bulge growing behind her. She whimpered, which made him pause. After a moment, he reached into her pocket and took out her cell. After a few minutes, he replaced it.
'I'll call you later.'
He kissed her neck one last time, then let her go and left.
Emma's heart caught in her throat. She was nervous, more nervous than she remembered ever being before over anything. It was the day of the party, and everyone sat on the edges of their seats in anticipation. The bell rang, and still they waited. Finally, Raleigh walked through the door, pulling a wagon full of gifts behind her. The class burst into cheers, and the mood lightened considerably.
'Alright, everyone! Let's get the center of the room cleared and gather around. If you'll all sit on the floor, I'll pass your gift to you. After that we'll get out the snacks you brought.'
Within minutes the room was rearranged, and everyone was sitting on the floor, anxiously awaiting their present. Raleigh looked around, and once she saw everyone was settled she picked up a box.
Ash jumped up and clutched her present to her chest as she scurried back to her spot next to Emma. Emma laughed at her, nudging her with her elbow. As she turned back to watch Raleigh give another present out, she caught Lawrence's eye. Her breath caught in her throat, and she swallowed, blushing like mad. Why did his eyes look so hungry? Emma had the feeling that if he could he'd drag her off and eat her alive...the thought of which she found very appealing. She licked her lips and chewed on the inside of her cheek. She looked away.
Emma froze when Raleigh called her name. She looked at the box and her eyes widened. It looked like a clothing box. She rose and collected it, puzzled by its weight, and as she went to sit down Raleigh called Lawrence up next. His eyes locked into her as she passed him and once again her blood drained from her face to pool further south. Unable to hold his gaze any longer, she dropped her eyes and dropped into her spot next to Ash.
'What was that all about?' Ash whispered.
Emma shrugged her shoulders, the blood returning to her face enough for her to blush. Lawrence walked back to his seat, carrying a small box neatly wrapped in silver paper. She smiled a bit, impatient to see him open it. Finally, everyone had their gifts, and were whining at Raleigh to let them open the shiny packages.
'Alright! Everyone get to tearing!'
With a cry of joy the class tore into the gifts they held. Emma hesitated, watching as Lawrence carefully pulled away the tape, leaving the paper intact. He folded it up and set it aside neatly, then stroked the hand-carved wooden box in his hands. He undid the latch and flipped the lid up, and she saw his eyes go wide in surprised pleasure. Lawrence set the box down and almost reverently lifted a first edition, original print of 'The Neverending Story' out. The dust jacket and hardbound book were in near-perfect condition, the red and green letters as bright as the day they were printed. Lawrence looked at Emma, emotions flooding his face and eyes. She noted that the hungry look had intensified to something almost tangible.
Emma blushed and looked down at the box in her lap, avoiding his gaze. As everyone continued exclaiming over their presents and the presents of those around them, she carefully undid the tape and removed the wrapping paper, folding it up and setting it aside. She'd been right; it was a clothing box. Slowly she lifted the lid and pushed aside the tissue paper...and her breath lodged in her throat.
Inside was a beautiful art set. Pencils, pens, chalk, paints, a pad of paper to paint on and a few mini canvasses...it was the very set she'd been admiring for months but hadn't ever had the courage to buy. She'd never considered her art good enough for it. Emma looked up at Lawrence, tears in her eyes, and he winked at her, the predatory gleam replaced by a softer, gentler look. The look, coupled with the fact that he knew so intimately one of her greatest longings, made her realize how much attention he must have been paying to her all this time...and she'd never noticed him.
'Don't forget to read letters! I hope you all wrote your letters! Now let's read them. You don't have to share; just show me that your Santa wrote you something.'
With shaking hands, Emma lifted the beautifully lettered envelope and opened it, withdrawing her letter.
'I've always admired you from afar. Everything I did to get your notice seemed in vain. And then, there was this project. It was as if the heavens had heard my plea, my plea that I be given a chance to grasp your attention. Grasp it I did, it seems. The heavens smiled upon me when we drew one anothers names. Since then I've watched you watched me, and it stirred me in more ways than I can ever express to see the fear and longing creep into your eyes when I caught you at it.
It's made me realize that, Emma, I love you more than I can properly express. I love how I know that, if I held you, you'd fit against me perfectly. I could tuck you under my chin and in my arms and never let go. I love how you are a natural beauty; you don't worry about painting yourself up and starving yourself down. You are like the starlets of decades past, the classic pin-up models that young men would fantasize over day after day. That I fantasize over. You are smart and funny, kind and beautiful. To me, there will never be a woman who will ever compare to you.
I love you, Emma, and I want you.
And I get what I want.'
After he left her, she felt cold, cold and more alone than she'd felt in a long time. She closed her locker, gathered her things, and ran out of the school to her car. Once there, she leaned against the steering wheel, and out of the corner of her eye she saw her art kit sitting on the passenger seat. Emma hesitated, then pulled it nearer and pulled out the sketchpad and a pencil. She flipped the pad open, and set to work.
What she drew, she drew from memory. She was silent the entire time, working quickly and carefully. When she was done, she put everything back where it belonged, and drove home. Once at home, she put all of her things up and collapsed onto her bed, and fell into a deep sleep.
The persistent chirp of her cell woke her, informing her she had a text.
'Get ready, and then meet me.'
Emma jumped out of bed and rushed around her room, gathering clothes before bolting into the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later she was showered and dried, attacking her hair with a blow dryer. After that, she paused long enough to take care of some important business before she dressed. Once she was clothed, she grabbed her cell and ran out of the room, calling to her parents that she was meeting up with friends and would be back later. Once in her car, she checked the address in the text message again, and started the car.
A half an hour later she was parked in front of a large brick house on the other side of town. Taking a deep breath, Emma got out of the car and walked to the front door. The text said it would be unlocked. She tried the doorknob; it was. The house was dark save for the flicker of candles. She followed them through them to a flight of stairs, which she walked up slowly, taking in the wavering candlelight and the rose petals strewn on the floor. These led her to a bedroom at the back. She walked in, and stood for a moment in amazement. Candles covered every surface, satin sheets were pulled back on a four-poster bed and soft longing music played to break the silence of the seemingly abandoned house. She lowered the shoulder bag she'd brought with her to the floor.
'I was afraid you might not come,' he said softly.
Startled, Emma turned to look at Lawrence. He leaned against the door frame, wearing only a thick red ribbon draped around his waist. He saw her looking at it, and grinned rather sheepishly. She laughed, kicked off her boots, and unbuttoned her long coat. Underneath she wore nothing but a thick green ribbon draped across her breasts and hips. Upon seeing her, Lawrence stepped forward and reached for her, and she moved into his arms.
'How'd you know that you're exactly what I wanted for Christmas,' he whispered.
'Wishful thinking, I'm afraid.'
He pulled back and tilted her chin up towards him. The big-bad-wolf look filled his eyes once again. She gulped slightly.