A/N: This is a story I wrote, featuring characters based on The 9 Symphonies, a novel I'm planning to write. This oneshot has nothing to do with the novel itself, though. I won't bored you with a lengthy author's note... Merry Christmas and enjoy!
Days To Christmas
Without knowing how, exactly, Aidan found himself heading for Joe's Café for the second time that week. And it was only Monday. Mentally he made up an excuse that he liked the coffee Joe made – only there was a more truthful part of him that knew Joe's coffee, good as it was, wasn't the main attraction.
Tisha was at the door, bouncing on her heels like something had excited her. He soon discovered what it was.
"Luc's coming home for Christmas!" She all but shouted in his ear.
Aidan couldn't stop the answering grin from spreading across his face. "That's great!" he exclaimed. And it was great. He liked Lucas Hawthorne; had looked up to Luc since he'd been a nervous, eager-to-please boy. Now at eighteen, he'd curbed the nervousness, but even so he knew he would never possess the self-assurance Luc wore like his own skin. Luc would always be an ideal Aidan strove to imitate but failed.
"Isn't it?" Tisha was practically glowing at the mention of Luc. Aidan pushed away the niggling thought that she only ever got so excited whenever Luc was involved.
"When's he arriving?"
Tisha wrinkled her nose. "I'm not sure…"
Aidan couldn't help but smile at that familiar habit of hers. "You mean there's actually something you don't know?"
Tisha laughed and stuck out her tongue at him. "I'll find out soon enough, just you wait!" Tossing her gleaming red curls, she sauntered in the direction of the kitchen with a call of, "The usual?"
"Sure," Aidan said, but she had already disappeared into the staff quarters. Her confidence of his affirmative answer was apparent, he thought with a shake of his head. Tisha hadn't changed that much over the past two years. Then again, neither had he. He was still the coward who couldn't find it in himself to fight for what he wanted.
He bit back a sigh just as Tisha reappeared with a mug of steaming mocha coffee in her hands. She put it down on the counter in front of him with a loud clatter. Then she started blowing on her hands with a grimace. "Whew, that was hot."
"Are you okay?" Aidan asked. She looked really cute puffing away at her hands like that.
"I'll live," she reassured him with a grin, then did a little twirl on the spot. He watched her in amusement. "Enjoy your drink!"
He dredged up enough boldness from goodness-knows-where to tease, "What, not going to entertain your customer?"
She rolled her eyes. "This is a café, not a strip bar," she informed him solemnly.
He almost choked on his mocha. If it'd been Luc, he would've taken her comment in stride and calmly said something along the lines of how he'd make sure he was her only customer if she were a stripper, in a way that was more flirtatious than offensive. As it was, he didn't think he could manage to pull something like that off. He could only hope that his face hadn't given him away.
From her reaction, it had. Tisha burst out laughing, stopping only long enough to chortle, "Look at your face! It's as red as a tomato." Still laughing, she headed for the kitchen, turning back briefly to throw him a cheeky grin. "You're real cute, Aidan." Then she stepped out of sight.
Aidan lowered his flushed face to his mocha, inwardly frustrated. 'Cute' was a word girls associated with homeless puppies and stuffed toys – androgynous and harmless things. He didn't want to be 'cute'. He wanted to be charming and confident. He wanted to be someone Tisha could see herself falling for. Someone like Luc.
Aidan was surprised when he got to his locker on Friday afternoon.
"Hey," Tisha said with a bright smile, pushing herself off the row of lockers she'd been leaning against.
"Hey," Aidan responded slowly. The three-year gap in their ages had more or less ensured that their association at school was minimum. After being in different schools for the past three years, Aidan had almost forgotten that Tisha was now a high school freshman in the same school.
"Where have you been?" Tisha asked in the cheerfully inquisitive way that only belonged to her, while Aidan opened his locker and dropped an armful of books inside.
With his head still inside the locker, Aidan asked, "What do you mean?" The lack of eye-contact was deliberate on his part.
Tisha's voice was impatient as she replied. "You haven't been to the café in forever!"
Not forever, just the past four days. Aidan sighed and withdrew his head before shutting the locker quietly. That position made him feel like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand. "It's not a big deal. It's not like I go there everyday."
"Uh, yes, you do," Tisha pointed out.
Busted. Aidan flushed, hoping she hadn't put two and two together and deduced that he'd only become such a regular patron of the café since the day she'd started working there. "I've been busy," he lied, his fingers creeping up to rub the back of his neck in a gesture of discomfiture.
"Are you avoiding me?" Tisha asked in a small, hurt voice.
"Of course not," Aidan rubbed the back of his neck harder. Staying away from Tisha had seemed like a great idea at the time. He'd heard that starved crushes die.
"I've missed you," Tisha said, a little offhandedly.
"Really?" Aidan grinned, then mentally scolded himself for being too obvious. He cleared his throat. "I've been busy," he repeated.
Tisha looked unconvinced. "What about today? Winter break's just started."
"Yeah," Aidan said, "yeah. I guess I'm free now." He smiled at her, deciding there and then he would never again put that hurt look on her face.
Tisha beamed, back to her usual lively self. "Oh, oh!" Her face lit up as she remembered something she had yet to tell him. "Luc's back!"
Aidan's smile dimmed a little, but only for a moment. "That's great!" It was great, he told that little green-eyed monster lurking at the back of his mind. Luc was back. Tisha was happy. It was great.
"Let's go visit him!" Tisha was so excited, she could barely keep still.
"Shouldn't we give him some time to get settled? It's probably been a long journey," Aidan said doubtfully.
"He won't mind!" Tisha argued confidently. She grabbed Aidan's hand and started pulling him in the direction of the carpark. "Come on!"
All else forgotten, Aidan followed in a daze.
Luc's response to their arrival on his doorstep was civil.
"Ah," he said when he was done opening the door.
Tisha had no such reservations. She swept ahead and stood on her tip-toes to throw her arms around Luc's neck. "Welcome back!" she exclaimed.
Aidan stood awkwardly aside until Tisha was done with her affectionate and very long hug. When she finally let go, he stepped up and offered his hand, partly because he didn't want Tisha to engage in another touchy-feely act with Luc, but mostly because he was truly glad that Luc was back. He'd worshipped the ground the guy walked on for most of his early teenage years, after all. Still, thinking back, he'd probably been nothing but a burden to Luc and his closest buddy Rett back then.
Luc was looking between him and Tisha with an odd half-smile on his face. "Thanks," he said as he clasped Aidan's outstretched hand in a firm grip."Come on in," he finally moved back in the doorway so they could enter.
Tisha squealed and ran on ahead. Aidan followed at a slower pace. "How's Adelle?" he asked, just to be polite. He'd never warmed up to Luc's longtime girlfriend all that much.
Luc grinned so suddenly that it gave Aidan quite a shock. The brilliant grin was gone in a moment, but the shine in the twenty-year-old's eyes remained as he said coolly, "She's fine." A pause. "How've you and Tisha been?" On the surface, it sounded like an innocent question, but there was a wealth of meaning in the tone Luc had employed.
Aidan found himself momentarily tongue-tied. "Uh…"
"She's grown up, hasn't she?" Luc commented, with virtually no expression at all.
"You mean Tisha?" Aidan felt like he'd been reverted back to his awkward, sixteen-year-old self. Everything he said felt like the wrong word.
"Who else?" Luc drawled.
Tisha chose this moment to rush back into the room. "I can't believe you live in such a mansion! Give us a tour, Luc!"
"Sure," Luc said smoothly.
Saved by the Bluebird, Aidan mused, following quietly behind them as Tisha chattered away about how much she loved the Hawthorne mansion. He didn't have a mansion to impress her with. He didn't have much; not really. Not even the self-confidence that Luc blatantly exuded even as he led them up stairs and through corridors, introducing the rooms to them in that dry, uninterested voice that he often used.
Aidan had always had the feeling that Luc saw Tisha's incessant chattering as a little annoying.
And then that belief was suddenly blown to pieces when Luc slung an arm over Tisha's narrow shoulders and bent down to speak to her in a tone that had, for no apparent reason, warmed several degrees. Tisha smiled up at Luc, and Aidan struggled to set his frozen brain back into motion.
What was with the uncharacteristic actions?
Luc already had Adelle. He hadn't been able to hold back that telling grin at the mention of her earlier. That meant he was still as head-over-heels for her as he'd been even before they'd both left for college… Right?
There was no way Luc's feelings for Tisha were of the non-platonic variety.
According to Tisha, Adelle was only due to arrive on Christmas Day itself. That meant five days before Aidan's worries regarding Luc and Tisha could be set to rest. He was sure there was nothing going on between the two. He was sure Luc wouldn't do that to Adelle. He was sure, but a part of him still needed solid proof to be fully convinced. That part of him made him feel guilty.
It was this sense of guilt that made him stay silent the Monday following his and Tisha's visit to Luc's house as he sat in a booth and watched Tisha and Luc have a slightly suspicious conversation on the other side of the room that involved a lot of talking and smiling on Tisha's part. Aidan stared into his half-empty mug and reminded himself that it was in Tisha's nature to be friendly and open to everyone. She was just being her usual self around Luc. Her usual self, plus a huge dose of pure admiration thrown in.
Not quite unlike his own admiration of Luc, actually.
Aidan looked up again, just in time to see Tisha scurry back towards the kitchen with a tray and Luc rise from his seat. It took Aidan only a moment more to make up his mind. He left a bill beside his unfinished mocha that settled both the bill and a large tip for TishaAidaA, then hurried out of the café not far behind Luc.
The guy in question was making his way through the two-inch snow, hands in the pockets of his coat. At the sound of Aidan's footsteps behind him, he turned and cocked an eyebrow. "Leaving already?" There was a dry note to his tone.
"Uh…" Now that he had given in to his first impulse, Aidan found himself at a loss for words. There was just something about Luc that made him feel nervous. He saw that Luc was slowly losing interest in standing around in the cold. It was a fear that Luc would simply get bored and leave that made Aidan blurt out, "Are you interested in Tisha?" The moment the words were out of his mouth, he felt an inexplicable urge to retract them.
The question took Luc by surprise, Aidan could tell. Then the surprise faded and disdain started to set in. Aidan could see the exact moment Luc's entire countenance shifted.
"What are you insinuating?" This was said in a quiet but dark voice.
"I…" Aidan was floundering all over the place. This was not good. He'd pissed off the closest thing to his idol. "I didn't mean that," he said lamely, finally.
Luc stared for such a long time that Aidan gulped. Then he said, "You know, Tisha is never going to make the first move."
The apology died on Aidan's tongue. "She seemed forward enough with you," was what came out instead.
Luc looked faintly sarcastic. "Maybe if you spent less time on jealous delusions and more time on winning the girl, things would be different."
Aidan bristled. "What are you––" He trailed off when he saw Luc's lips twitch, like the latter found the entire situation amusing.
"What?" Aidan asked.
Luc lifted one shoulder in a casual shrug. They stared at each other for a long moment, before Luc suddenly said, "Give her flowers, chocolates. She'd like those."
Still on the defensive, Aidan muttered, "Does Adelle?"
The ghost of a smile appeared on Luc's lips. "The first time I bought her a bouquet of roses, she threw them at my head."
Aidan was startled by that admission.
Luc shrugged again. "Ancient history," he drawled, turning to leave. He'd apparently had enough of this conversation.
Aidan watched him leave. Flowers, chocolates. Maybe it was time to take the initiative. Despite what he'd said about Adelle's reaction, any idea from Luc was bound to succeed. He'd gotten the girl in the end, hadn't he?
For the next few days, Aidan was the epitome of romance. Luc's words had given him the courage and drive he'd lacked on his own. It also helped that he'd taken to imitating how he believed Luc would act in the situation and using this as a guideline.
Aidan was going to woo Tisha, or die trying.
On Tuesday, he presented Tisha with a bouquet of daisies, her favorite flowers. Her reaction had been far better than Adelle's. She'd accepted them with an air of embarrassment and confusion and very real flattery. He'd been his best impression of cool and sophisticated, not divulging more than was necessary and walking away after flashing her an enigmatic smile.
Just the way Luc would've done it, Aidan thought with satisfaction.
On Wednesday, he'd popped in at the café, seated himself at the counter, and ordered a black coffee. He saw Tisha's eyes widen, even as she moved to bring him his order. Aidan downed the black coffee like he drank it everyday, even though he secretly winced at every gulp. Then he'd flirted with Tisha a little, using the lines he'd heard Luc use on a busty blonde – who, incidentally, had scribbled her number on Luc's arm in magic marker within two minutes – sometime two years ago. Tisha looked disbelieving, blushed, fidgeted with her hair, smiled nervously, then blushed some more. Aidan left the café feeling triumphant.
This continued for a week, until Tisha started staring at him with wide eyes and flushed cheeks every time he was in the vicinity. In the face of this, Aidan decided that Christmas Eve would be the grand finale – the day that he would wrap it all up with a big, successful bang. And it would succeed. His plans hadn't yet failed him.
The day had started off perfectly. Aidan picked a surprised Tisha up at her house in the evening and brought her to the park, where a huge Christmas tree had been set up in preparation of the festivities. Knowing it was something Tisha would love, Aidan had emptied his pockets to "persuade" one of the staff to light up the Christmas tree in advance. The lit-up tree hadn't looked as dazzling in the sunset as it would've done at night, but Tisha had been obviously delighted.
After that, Aidan had brought her to a classy restaurant for dinner. The prices on the menu had made him cringe, and he'd eaten less than usual so that he would have enough to pay for Tisha's share of the bill. To her credit, Tisha hadn't eaten much more than he had. At the end of the over-priced meal, he ignored her suggestion that she pay for her share and settled the bill without a word.
They were both silent on the drive back to Tisha's house. Aidan was reassuring himself that he could replenish the amount he'd taken out from his savings by getting a job the following year. Tisha was worth it.
When they arrived, Aidan walked her to the door. On the front porch, Tisha turned, and Aidan thrust a gift-wrapped box at her with less finesse than he'd shown over the past week. He was nervous.
"Merry Christmas," he said.
"Oh," Tisha breathed. "Thank you." Their fingers brushed slightly when she took the box from him, and both their faces grew red. "Yours is in my room… I could run up to get it––"
"It's okay," Aidan interrupted. "You can give it to me tomorrow." He couldn't take anymore of this dragging on. "Tisha…" He took a deep breath and released it in a flood of words. "Will you be my girlfriend?"
He fisted his hands to stop them from shaking as he waited for her answer.
She was in auspiciously quiet for a long time. When she finally spoke, it wasn't what Aidan wanted to hear. "Who's asking?" Her voice was soft, tremulous. He had never heard her speak that way before.
In the midst of gearing himself for a flat "no", Aidan froze. "What?"
"Who's asking?" Tisha spoke louder now. "You, or Luc?"
"What?" What did Luc have to do with this? "You…" Aidan swallowed the lump in his throat, "Do you like Luc that way?"
"No!" she burst out, biting her lip. "No! That's not what I meant at all."
Aidan stood silently, waiting. His throat had closed up. A simple "no" would've sufficed, and he could've gone home to lick his wounds in private. Now they were bleeding out in the open as the post-mortem was being dragged out far beyond its welcome.
"All this," Tisha seemed to be struggling for the right words, "it's just… not you."
Aidan felt like he'd been sucker-punched. Was this the classic "it's not you, it's me" excuse?
"You don't have to sugarcoat it," he mumbled, turning to go. A small hand on his elbow stopped him.
"No! That came out wrong," Tisha sighed. "What I meant was, you've been trying too hard."
At this point, Luc would've said, as opposed to not trying at all? Then again, Luc never would've gotten himself in a situation like this. Aidan said nothing.
"You've been trying to act like Luc," Tisha assessed with shocking precision. "I guess what I'm trying to say is––" she made an impatient noise –– "it's not you."
"It's not you," Tisha repeated, when Aidan turned around to look at her. Her eyes were wide, as if she was trying her hardest to communicate something of vital importance to him. He couldn't bear to look at those beautiful big eyes for one more second.
"I'm sorry," he said, because he didn't know what else to say. His plan had backfired, in the worst way he could imagine. "I guess I can never measure up to Luc."
"No!" Tisha shook her head violently. "Don't you get it? I don't want Luc. I mean, I had a crush on him two years ago, but––"
That was the icing on the cake. She'd been crushing on Luc since two years ago. Aidan had never stood a chance. Choosing the coward's way out, he turned and headed for his car as if his life depended on it. He needed to get away. And possibly never come back, ever again.
Christmas Day saw Aidan sitting in the park all alone. Amidst the Christmas dinner preparations at home, he'd found himself slipping out of the house to get some fresh air. And think.
He sat on a wooden bench, staring at that big Christmas tree that had made Tisha's eyes light up just the day before. She'd liked that, hadn't she? Just like she'd liked the flowers and chocolates and romantic gestures. So what had gone wrong?
At the sound of footsteps, Aidan looked up distractedly, then wished he hadn't looked up at all. For three feet away was Tisha, and she was walking towards him.
Aidan had been brought up to be polite, so he tried for a smile and said, "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," Tisha replied softly. She sat down beside him, leaving a space wide enough to fit another person between them. Aidan tried not to see that as a form of rejection. "This is for you," Tisha said, thrusting a gift-wrapped package at him.
"Thanks," Aidan said, barely able to conceal his surprise. "May I?" He gestured to the package, but Tisha was too busy staring at her hands in her lap to notice. She nodded.
He unwrapped the package and withdrew a hand-knitted red scarf.
Tisha suddenly began speaking very quickly. "I… I know it's stupid." Her cheeks were red, and not only from the cold. "But I've never seen you wear one, and I thought… Well… I'm not that good at knitting, but this is my best effort," she said, a little defensively, before turning anxious eyes on him. "You like scarves, don't you?"
Aidan didn't have the heart to tell her that her stitches were a little… well, it didn't matter. It was the thought that counted, and the warmth spreading within his heart felt wonderful. "Yeah," he said, smiling. "I do. Thank you."
Tisha ducked her head, but not before he saw an answering smile adorning her face. "Thanks for the necklace," she murmured. So she'd opened it. His Christmas present to her had been a silver necklace with a bluebird for a pendant. It had cost a small fortune, but he'd known it would be perfect for her. Only – Aidan's gaze dropped to the neck of her coat – she didn't appear to be wearing it. Maybe she hadn't liked the design?
"I'm wearing it, you know," Tisha said, correctly interpreting his look. "Under my coat."
Aidan felt heat rush to his cheeks at his embarrassment from jumping to the wrong conclusion, as well as at the thought of what was under her coat. He had to clear his throat before speaking. "Oh. I'm… I'm glad you like it."
"I like it a lot," Tisha said.
"I'm glad," Aidan repeated, feeling like a broken record.
They fell silent. Aidan stared into the distance, feeling wretched. "Silent" and "Tisha" had never before been linked in a sentence unless the word "not" was also involved. But here she was, sitting not-quite beside him, fidgeting in silence.
Maybe he'd ruined their easy-going relationship forever.
"About last night…" Tisha began, then seemed to lose her nerve.
"Just… just forget it," Aidan said hastily. Maybe if she forgot about it, they would be able to go back to how they used to be. Friendship was infinitely better than nothing at all, he reasoned. Friendship was enough. Anything was enough, as long as this terrible awkwardness went away.
Tisha turned and glared at him, shocking him silly. "No!" she said, her face screwing up in determination. "We can't forget about it."
Aidan blinked at her in confusion.
Tisha was blushing faintly, but she didn't back down. "My answer is yes," she announced.
"Yes!" Tisha moved her arms about wildly to convey her point. "Yes, I'll be your girlfriend!"
Aidan moved his jaw soundlessly for a while, then clamped it shut and tried again. "Then… what was last night about?"
Tisha bit her lip. "Last night was me trying to say that you don't need to try to act like Luc. I… I like you the way you are."
Aidan's cheeks grew hot as the words sunk in. Tisha was blushing profusely.
"I thought you had a crush–– "
"That was over a long time ago."
"You seemed really friendly with him," Aidan said doubtfully.
"I was asking him for advice on how to attract you!"
They stared red-cheeked at each other for a long time. Then Aidan broke out into a huge grin and Tisha smiled abashedly in return.
"So… You'll be my girlfriend?"
Sometime during the conversation, the space between them had diminished until they were side-by-side. Aidan reached an unsteady hand for Tisha's clasped ones. Their faces inches apart, Aidan whispered, "Can I kiss you now?"
Tisha giggled. "If you want to." Her nose was red-tipped from the cold, and Aidan thought she'd never looked cuter.
Aidan leaned forward and pressed a sweet, chaste kiss to Tisha's lips. When he pulled back, she was peeking up at him through lowered eyelashes.
"Merry Christmas," she whispered.
"Merry Christmas," he said, and jumped to his feet, tugging her along. She fell into his arms with a giggle. He held her tight, marveling at how small she felt even with all the thick layers of winter clothing. His girlfriend. He could still barely believe it. She reached up to wrap the red scarf around his neck. And they stood there for a long while, simply grinning at each other.
Then Tisha tipped her head back and declared, "This is the best Christmas ever!"