Would you believe it? I'm actually posting a new chapter! I wonder if anyone still reads this? My next project will be updating Steps which I hope to do soon. College takes a lot of my time! Enjoy!

Maria sighed in mock defeat as she led everyone to the Christmas tree. "Okay, okay, it's present time." A cheer went up and chaos erupted. Each person grabbed the gifts they'd brought and tried to give them to everyone else. Maria could only laugh; what else was there to do? Once all the presents were opened she grabbed a bunch of bags and handed them out to keep all the gifts separated. Then she headed into the kitchen one last time. "Hot chocolate time, me thinks." A loud cheer went up through the room as everyone followed her inside.

The Michigan people went upstairs and grabbed every sleeping bag, blanket and pillow they came across and brought it downstairs.

"Hey, Maria! We're setting up in the living room! We promise not to knock down the tree this year!" Tanya shouted from the steps. Maria laughed and gave her the okay sign.

Mel waited for Maria to explain, but it never came. Tira came to her rescue. "Maria, Mel is waiting for an explanation! Two years ago, we all slept in the family room in her old house. Well, Rochelle rolls a lot, and she rolled into the tree and knocked it over! Omigod, it was the funniest thing in the world! I tear up just thinking about it." She wiped her eyes and went back into the living room. Mel chuckled at the idea of the tree falling down and imagined the chaos that followed.

Maria turned to her and smiled. "Help me with the mugs, kay?" Mel grabbed some steaming mugs and followed Maria into the other room. The group was in the midst of singing Christmas carols, and not many of them could carry a tune.

"Blaah, that sounded horrible!" Ling said, "let's make Mel sing. She's got a great voice."

Mel grinned sheepishly and shook her head. "Not alone," she pleaded.

Amanda came to her rescue. "Maria can sing really well. She can sing with you," she said, with a pointed look at Maria.

Maria nodded. "But, I sing soprano. What do you sing, Mel?" Mel smiled. "Alto," she said softly. She couldn't figure out why she felt so shy all the sudden.

Maria smiled at her and began to sing. "Silent Night, holy night…." Mel joined in on the next line. They stunned their audience into silence with their harmony, and then got a thunderous applause.

They finally settled down for the night around 3am. Mel fell asleep between Maria and Ling, and was awakened by movement around four. Maria was sitting up in her sleeping bag, staring at the falling snow. She looked lost in thought.

"Maria?" Mel whispered, "What's wrong?" Maria put her finger to her lips and motioned for Mel to follow her. She got up and headed into the kitchen. Maria didn't sit down right away, while Mel sat in the closest chair. She knew that something big was up.

Maria was silent for a few minutes, and then looked at Mel. "I've got a secret, a big secret, that I can't keep to myself anymore. But, I'm not sure if I'm right about it."

Mel cocked her head to the side. "What do you mean?" she asked, "I'm not sure I'm following you." Maria sighed and began to pace the room. She paced for so long that Mel jumped up and grabbed her shoulders. "Stop, please!" Maria gave her a weary look.

"I'm gay."

Mel immediately let go of her and sat down again, stunned. She'd had no idea that Maria was a lesbian.

Maria continued talking, but now she wouldn't look at Mel. "I was dating Tanya, until a few weeks before I moved. She wrote me a letter explaining why long-distance relationships never work. Well, it devastated me and it took me a long time to get over it. This is the first time I've seen Tanya since we moved, and I surprised myself when I realized it didn't hurt. I just figured out why a few minutes ago." Maria looked out the window for a long time.

Mel watched her, her head spinning. How did Maria keep this from people and act normal all the time? Mel was instantly angry with herself. Maria was normal; being gay didn't make her a freak. It took her a minute to realize Maria was looking at her.

"I'm sorry," Maria whispered, "please don't hate me."

Mel shook her head. "I could never hate you," she promised, "but, what about Tanya? You didn't finish what you were saying."

Maria took a deep breath and twirled her hair around her finger. "Being friends with you was the best thing that happened to me. I wanted to thank you for that." Mel gave her a small smile, but her insides were churning. Maria pulled a piece of paper from her pocket. "This is Tanya's letter."

Dearest Maria,

        You don't know how much it hurts to write this letter, but I feel I must. With you moving so far away, I don't think we should continue our relationship. You and I both know how hard it would be, with the distance of 1500 miles between the two of us. Long-distance relationships have a habit of going sour, and I don't want that to happen to us. We have such a good thing to remember, and I don't want to have any bad memories of us to spoil it. Please don't be angry with me. We're both young, and I don't think either one of us want to be tied down to someone so far away. Remember always that I love you very much and I will cherish every second we spent together.

Love always,


        Mel looked up at Maria, who was looking at the letter with a wistful smile. "Eloquent writer, isn't she?" Mel nodded wordlessly. She handed the letter back to Maria. "This doesn't change us, does it?" Maria asked suddenly.

Mel shook her head. "No," she said firmly, "it definitely does not."

Maria hugged her, and then gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. "You're the best," she said with a smile.

Mel smiled, but inside her heart was going wild over the kiss. She came back into the living room and crawled into her sleeping bag, but she didn't fall asleep again. There were too many things going through her head. Mrs. Andersonne woke everyone up around 10am with the smell of her fabulous cooking. For the first time Mel noticed how Maria and Tanya seemed slightly distant from each other.

The Michigan people cleaned up their stuff and stashed it in the extra bedroom. "You are going to show us around today, aren't you?" June asked Maria with a smile.

Maria nodded her head. "Sure, if that's what you guys want," she said easily. Everyone cheered and began to fight over who got to shower first. Mel shook her head and made a quick phone call.

"Hey, my mom said a few of you can come and shower at my house!" she said a few minutes later. In the end Tanya and Charlie came with her to the house. Charlie claimed the shower first. Mel began to put her stuff away.

"Maria told you about us, didn't she."

Mel quickly turned around. Tanya was leaning against the counter, staring off into space. "I heard her talking last night. It's okay."

Mel sighed. "Yeah, she told me. You're a nice writer," she said.

Tanya laughed and brushed her short black hair out of her eyes. She crossed her arms and leaned back. "We went out for almost eight months. It was bliss; she's so cool. If only she hadn't moved…" She shook her head. "Anyway, she's falling for someone down here and now I know who it is." Mel looked at her. Tanya looked at her and smiled.

"She likes you, you know."

Mel had just taken a sip of milk; she sputtered and wiped her mouth. "What?"

Tanya laughed again. "You should see the way she looks at you. She wouldn't admit it, but I can tell that she's falling for you." Mel shook her head and sat down. There was way too much coming her way in too short a period of time.

They went back to Maria's around noon. Everyone was bundling up and grabbing money. "Maria wants to go to the pier," Ling informed the newcomers. Mel was all for it; Gretchen should have a new shipment of handbags in by now.

Mr. Andersonne got his keys. "Alright, I'll go start up the van. Let's pray for easy starting, yes?" The Andersonne's van, a 1988 Astro, was a little temperamental in the winter.

Maria looked at the group. "Are we all gonna fit in the van and the wagon?" Lara and Mark offered their van, and Ling's mother also had a station wagon not in use. Between four cars, they were able to fit everyone in. The pier was surprisingly busy on a snow-covered winter day. The group was given four hours to complete their shopping.

"Don't be late!" Mr. Andersonne called. Maria waved and promised to watch the clock. Everyone split into small groups and agreed to meet at the food court in two hours. Mel had agreed to go with Amanda and Rochelle in search of fashions.

"Come on, I know the best place." Mel led them straight to Gretchen's store. She wasn't surprised to see Maria already inside with June and Tira.

Gretchen waved to her as soon as she entered. "Hello, Melanie! Who are your new friends?"

Maria turned around when Gretchen spoke, and smiled at the girls. "I knew you would come straight here," she said to Mel.

"Best place on the pier," Mel said in response, smiling at Gretchen, who waved her hand. "Please, please! You give me too much credit!" she said with a laugh.

Mel browsed through the handbags and quickly found a rich blue one that she liked. "How much?" she asked Gretchen. "For you? $12," Gretchen replied.

Tira's jaw dropped open. "That's it? Why don't we have a pier like this in Detroit?" she complained. She bought three skirts and two shirts while she was in the store. Mel had to laugh as she watched the Michigan people spend money like it was water. This is what she'd looked like? Amusing.

But Mel's primary interest was watching Maria. Now that she had spoken to Tanya, she began to see little looks and glances in her direction. And strangely, that didn't bother her as much as she thought it would.