A Calderon Christmas

"I just wish, this year, it'll be different. No more lonely Christmas." - JYP NATION

"I can't believe you're staying here for Christmas break. That sucks." Rynn rolled her suitcase to the main doors of the dormitory. She fastened the buttons of her jacket, preparing herself for the chill of winter beyond the doors.

"I know, but what can you do?" I sighed in reply.

Like most of the students at Calderon Academy, I'd love to leave the gates of this place and go home for two weeks. But the fact of the matter was, I couldn't. My parents were off on a world wide cruise, traveling around the globe and making it impossible to spend Christmas with them. Not like we've ever spent Christmas together in the first place - they were always off somewhere on business. I spent Christmas at Calderon three years in a row. Though it's not the warm family Christmas that everyone else gets, it's better than it would be home alone.

"You're going to have to spend Christmas with my family one day, Amber. I hate leaving you here."

I smiled at her. "I'll be fine, Rynn. Go - your family's waiting."

Rynn released her hold of her luggage and attacked me with a hug. She squeezed me tight, her hold practically cutting off my blood circulation. "I'm gonna miss you so much!" she exclaimed as she let go. Rynn grabbed the handle of the main door and pulled it open, tucking her short mousy brown hair behind her ears as a gust of cold air slaps her cheeks.

"I'll see you in two weeks, Rynn," I smile.

She grins, waving at me as she rolls her luggage out the door. "Happy holidays, Amber!"

I close the door, watching through the window as Rynn loads her suitcase into a blue Nissan Altima and plops into the backseat. There were several other cars driving in and out of Calderon, families reuniting on the snow-covered plaza. In the back of mind I found myself hoping that it would be my parents who rolled up next - coming to whisk me away to a festively decorated home with a classic Christmas tree in the living room and the scent of gingerbread cookies wafting from the kitchen. But it was only hopeless, wishful thinking.

I turn away from the window and head down the hall towards my room. It was much quieter in the dorms now, considering the fact that a good chunk of the student body all went home for the holidays. I wouldn't be surprised if I was the only student still here. As I pull out my key to unlock my room door, I hear someone call out my name.

"Amber! You're here too?"

I look towards the sound of the voice. Jessie Woods had just made her way up the staircase at the end of the hallway. She lightly jogged my way, her long black hair bouncing with each step. I nod my head in reply. Jessie and I had third period algebra together. We weren't the best of friends, but she was cool to be around.

"Thank goodness. I thought I was going to be here alone. My parents didn't have enough money to pay for a round trip flight to Chicago, so unfortunately I can't leave Calderon this year." Jessie explained. She huffed, leaning her back against the room door adjacent to mine. "It's so empty here. What are you doing tonight?"

I shrug my shoulders. "Nothing. Probably just watch some old Christmas movies in my room and fall asleep."

Jessie wrinkled her nose. "That doesn't sound like fun." Her eyes lit up, as if an idea had just popped into her head. "Both our roommates are gone, right? We should hang out. How about we head over to Pearson Hall? I hear there's a Christmas tree set up over there and everything." She doesn't wait for me to reply, just grabs my arm and leads me down the hallway towards the staircase.

Pearson Hall was like Calderon's recreation center, a place where all the students gathered together. The cafeteria, game room, and anything else remotely fun could all be found there. Lucky for us, it wasn't too far away from the dorms. We didn't have to leave the building to get there - just had to weave through a couple corridors, which was great considering the fact that neither of us were dressed to face the chilly winter weather. Jessie wore a pink spaghetti-strapped top and yellow boxer shorts, and I wore a red camisole and black pajama pants.

"It's beautiful," I marveled once we finally got there.

The main room was festively decorated, just like Jessie said. Wreaths hung on the doors; garland was laced throughout the entire room, red bows tying the drapery together beside the windows. I could even hear the faint sound of Christmas music pouring from overhead speakers. In the left corner of the room sat a Christmas tree, tall and large. Several ornaments adorned it, bright lights strung around its limbs.

"It really is," Jessie agreed. We walked through the room, still taking in all of its decorations as we made our way to the game room. The game room would usually be packed on weekends during the school year, but since there weren't many people staying at Calderon during the break it was relatively empty. There were only about fifteen people at the max scattered around the moderately-sized room.

Rafael Mohr sat on the armrest of the couch, watching Kiel and Tolan struggle with dance moves to a video game flashing on the television screen. A small group of other teens sat in the corner of the room, playing a card game on the floor. Rafael glanced behind him toward the doorway, hearing Jessie and I walk in. Rafael jumped up, a grin lighting up his flawless caramel Latino face.

"Jessie, Amber - here to join us in the festivities?" he said as he headed toward us.

"You're not going home for the holidays either?" Jessie asked as Rafael spread his arms wide and engulfed the both of us in a massive hug.

Rafael shook his head. "Nah. Blizzard up north got my flight canceled." He waved it off. "I'm not gonna lie, I'm gonna miss seeing my fam' Christmas morning. But it's all good - I've got my second family right here in this room." He smiled.

"Kiel, what the hell? You cheated!" The three of us looked back over to the video game. The music had finally ended, and Tolan was picking himself up from the floor.

"So when I finally win, you think I cheated," Kiel says, his faint Australian accent modifying his words.

"You knocked me over!" Tolan practically shouts. He wiped his knees and glared at Kiel. Kiel, on the other hand, just smirked mischeviously.

"You tripped over your own two feet, Tolan. Not my fault you can't dance," Kiel teased, winning a couple chuckles from onlookers in the room. Tolan huffed.

"Hey, chill out. Christmas is in two days, man. Where's the love?" Rafael says, patting both Kiel and Tolan on the back. Tolan walked away from the two and took a seat on the couch, no longer in the mood to play the game anymore. Kiel and Rafael laughed.

"So who's next?" Kiel said. His dark brown eyes raked the room, looking for another opponent.

"I'll play you."

A tall, black-haired boy stood in the doorway. He wore gray slacks and a black tank top, showcasing his athletically toned arms. His hair was short and scenic, as if he had only put in half the effort of styling it. I don't think I've ever seen him on campus before. Kiel clapped his hands, looking across the room at the boy. "Alright. Ready to get beat?"

"I'm ready to kick your ass." The boy smirked, walking further into the room.

Kiel chuckled. "Big talk for a rookie. Alright, let's see what you got."

Kiel started the game, a fast-paced LMFAO song filling the room. The two boys were breaking out the dance moves with killer accuracy, completely mirroring the choreography on the television screen. The mystery boy's hair shook as he danced, a look of determination etched across his milky-white face.

"Who is he?" I asked Jessie next to me as I watch the two battle it out. Though Kiel was next to the boy doing the same exact moves as he was, I couldn't take my eyes off of the mystery boy. I could usually recognize faces around Calderon, even if I didn't really know the person. But this guy, I had no idea who he was.

Jessie shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. "Beats me. I've never seen him here before."

I turn my attention back towards the guys, leaning my back against the wall.

"Seems like you're interested in him," she teased as we watched them dance. She crossed her arms and watched the boy closer. "He is cute."

The song had finally ended, leaving both of them practically breathless. The mystery boy grinned. "Still think I'm a rookie?"

Kiel chuckled, shaking the guy's shoulders. "You're pretty good, I'll give you that. I'm Kiel."

The mystery boy bumps his fist with Kiel's in greeting. "Joel," he says. Kiel nods his head. He turns towards the room. "So who do you wanna play now? Choose your next opponent."

Joel's eyes survey the room, staring at everyone's face until he stops right at mine. His piercingly silver-gray eyes are staring into mine with such an intensity it's almost like he's trying to probe into my soul. "You," he breathes, eyes never once fraying from mine as he says it. "I want to play you."

Kiel follows Joel's gaze. He smiles, "Alright, Amber. You're up."

Jessie nudges me with her elbow and grins. I feel my heart thrashing in my chest as I lean off the wall and head over to them. "Good luck," Kiel tells me as he takes a seat on the couch. Joel focuses his attention on me, a mysterious grin on his face.

"Amber's your name, huh?" he says, eyes raking my body up and down. "Fits you."

I stare at him, not completely sure what he means. I try to calm my beating heart enough to say something to him, but it only beats faster. "I'll choose the song," I finally say, trying to divert my attention to something else other than his captivating smile.

"Taking charge. Cute," he grins. "Go ahead and choose. I want you to enjoy the song you lose to."

I stepped away from the screen and looked at Joel beside me, smiling a cocky little smile. An upbeat Cobra Starship song drowns the room, two avatars on the screen dancing in sync to the music. I followed along as best as I could, the couple years of dance class I took working to my advantage. Joel wasn't too bad either; his dance moves were swift and precise, even without trying. When the song is finally over, our scores pop up side by side on the screen. To my surprise, I won by three hundred points.

"Go Amber!" Jessie shouts from the back of the room.

I look over at Joel, feeling a slight surge of confidence shoot through me. "Did your self-esteem drop any?"

Joel laughed. "I let you win."

"Sure you did."

"Me and Rafael are next!" Jessie calls out, grabbing Rafael's arm and guiding him towards the television. I step away from the open space to let Jessie and Rafael play.

"I'm going to go get some water," I announce, excusing myself from the room. I walked into the main room, heading towards the vending machine to grab a bottle of water. I take the bottle of Dasani in my hand and plop into a seat by the bay window. The outside view from the window was beautiful. Outdoor lights were peppered around Calderon's perimeter, illuminating the heaps of snow iced around the ground. Snow continued to fall from the night sky, covering hedges and hiding pathways.

"You know, it's very damaging to my pride to lose to a girl." The voice catches me by surprise, and I find myself slightly flinching from the shock. Joel takes a seat across the table from me, smirking. "I think I'm gonna have to change that."

I cross my arms over my chest and grin. "How exactly do you plan on doing that?"

Joel leans across the table. "Me and you. Snowball fight." He jabs his thumb towards the bay window.

"Now?" I ask incredulously. I was not dressed for winter, and by the looks of his tank top and slacks, he wasn't either.

Joel nods his head, getting up from his chair. "Don't worry. It won't take me long to beat you."

I laugh, following his lead. "The last time you talked trash like that, I beat you. Miserably."

Joel chuckles, the sound a deep rumble. "By a couple hundred points! See, this is why you can't let girls win; they suddenly think they're champions."

"You're such a sore loser!" I laugh, punching Joel in his arm as we walk out the main room and down the hallway. It doesn't take us long to get back in the dormitory. Joel stops in front of a door and whirls around in front of me. "A sore loser that's gonna make you eat your words. Wait here." Joel unlocks his room door and disappears inside.

I lean on the wall, looking up and down the hallways for teachers on dorm patrol. Teachers, during the school year, would be swarming around the hallways and staircases on the look out for curious teenagers wandering on the opposite gender's floor. They surrounded the place like the police surrounded a drug spot.

The girls' dorm rooms were always upstairs. We weren't allowed in the downstairs dorms where the boys' rooms were. There was even a passageway upstairs that led us to the rest of Calderon just so we didn't have an excuse to be seen downstairs. I looked between Joel's door and the ends of the hallway nervously, fidgeting with my hands. I didn't really know what would happen if I was caught down here, and I didn't want to stick around to find out. Luckily, though, there wasn't a single teacher in sight. I guess they needed a break from us, too.

Joel finally emerged from his room. He carried two jackets in his hands. "Here - wear this," he says, handing me a grey hoodie as he slipped his arms into a black bomber jacket. Even in his plain slacks and jacket, the boy still looked amazing. Like a model. I looked away from him, trying not to let my hormones run rampant.

I pulled his hoodie over my head and stuck my arms through it. His scent instantly flooded through my nostrils, a mixture of cologne and spice. Joel's hoodie completely swallowed me, one sleeve large enough to fit three of my arms in it. Joel grinned mischeviously, looking at me with a amused sparkle in his eyes.

"What?" I asked, feeling self-conscious from the weight of his gaze.

Joel just shook his head, still grinning. "You look so small."

I huff. "Shut up."

Joel chuckled, leaning down to look at me on eye level. He pulls the hood over my head. "But it's cute."

Joel and I weave through the dormitory until we reach the main doors. The minute we step outside, the cold winter breeze bites at my nose. I shiver slightly, even in Joel's massive hoodie. Joel grins, running away from me without as much as a warning. I lose him in the dim light of the night and find myself gazing out at the bare, snowy Calderon plaza.

I walk farther away from the main doors, wondering where exactly Joel disappeared to. Not even two seconds before I take my third step, I feel something wet and fluffy slap me in the back of my neck. I flinch from the sudden contact and whip around in the direction it came from. Joel's standing several feet away from me, holding a second snow ball in his hands.

"You didn't say we were starting!" I yell out to him.

"We're starting!" he yelled back. Though I could hardly see the look on his face from this distance, I knew he was grinning.

I ran towards a row of hedges, trying to shield myself as Joel continually shot snow balls after me. I grabbed a heap of snow in my hands, mushed it together as best as I could, and threw. He ducked every single one of my makeshift snow balls, laughing loudly the entire time. He chased after me, already pinpointing my hideout.

"Is that the best you got, Amber?" he shouts, seeming to have an unlimited supply of snow balls already prepared to attack me with. I screamed in laughter, trying to make snow balls and throw them at Joel while I ran, but failing miserably. Joel was like a robot with impeccable aim, pelting me with every snow ball he threw. He was practically on my heels as I ran, making it hard to get away from him. I tripped over a wry vine, falling in a heap into the fluffy, wet snow. Joel, caught off guard by the sudden hault in my escape attempt, falls ontop of me. Joel and I laugh, staring up at each smiling despite the cold.

"I told you it wouldn't take long," Joel whispers, staring at me with a mysterious flame dancing in the pits of his eyes.

I'm almost at a lost for words, locked in the intensity of his eyes. A jolt of electricity pulses through my veins with Joel so close to me. "We should probably go back inside," I say in an exasperated voice. Joel breaks his gaze, pushing himself off the ground. I take his outstretched hand and Joel pulls me up from the snow.

Joel grabs two cups of hot cocoa from the self-serve machine, placing one cup in front of me as we take a seat at a table. I wrap my hands around the cup, trying to warm my hands. Joel sits across from me, sipping his cocoa. "You see what happens when I don't let you win?" Joel smirks, leaning back in his chair.

I roll my eyes. "You cheated."

"Whatever helps you sleep at night," Joel says, the smirk spreading to a full fledged grin. There's a pause in the conversation as I take a sip from my cup. He sits his cocoa on the table. "Other than the fact that you suck at snowball fights, I don't know much about you. So tell me, Amber, why are you stuck at Calderon for Christmas break?"

I sighed. "My parents are on a cruise, so I don't really have anywhere else to go."

Joel nods.

"So, what about you?" I ask. "Did you miss your flight like all the others? Is that why you're still here?"

Joel looked away from me, his eyes focused on something far into the distance. "No - um, I just don't want to go home."

"Why?" I ask hesitantly, watching him as he scratches his head. Joel lets a half-hearted smile spread across his lips, but it disappears quickly.

"My family's not the best to be around. It's - it's just complicated," he says. The playful side of Joel disappears, and I'm suddenly exposed to a more vulnerable part of him. I have more questions bouncing around in my head waiting to be asked, but I don't voice them. I didn't want to probe any information out of him he wasn't outright willing to share.

"I understand."

He glances at me, an eyebrow raised. "You do?"

I nod. "Me and my parents were always -seperate. They were constantly on business trips, or vacations together, doing whatever they could to stay away from me. And once they found out about Calderon, they were quick to send me on a plane clean cross the country to boarding school. I haven't gone home in years. I mean, sure, it's not a sob story chock full of abuse or rape or anything unspeakably horrible like that - but it hurts all the same, not knowing why your parents don't want anything to do with you."

I didn't know why I was confiding all of this into someone I had only met yesterday. It just poured out of me, and for some odd reason I felt like I knew Joel a lot longer than I really did. I felt so comfortable around him.

"My life would be a lot easier if my parents didn't want anything to do with me," Joel says. "They've got these high expectations, wanting me to become a thriving businessman like my older brother. They don't care about what I want, don't bother to listen. The second I mention being a film major in college, they tune me out. No matter what I do, they'll never be satisfied. I don't want to go home and hear how much of a disappointment I am to them, so I'm here."

Joel clenches his jaw, refusing to look at me. His silver-grey eyes are staring out the window for the longest time, as if memories are flashing through his mind. He clears his throat, trying to lighten the mood. "I guess it's a good thing our parents suck. I got to spend time with you."

I smile, trying to suppress the blush threatening to flood my cheeks.

"There you guys are!"

Jessie is running into the main room, her long black hair bouncing behind her. Kiel, Tolan, and Rafael lag behind her. She stops in front of me. "We thought you got kidnapped."

Joel laughs, getting up from the table. "In a gated boarding school?"

Jessie rolls her eyes, grinning. She loops her arm through mine, pulling me up from my chair. "Did we interrupt something?" Jessie asks me in a hushed tone. She looks between Joel and me, and waggles her eyebrows. I laugh.

For the first couple seconds the six of us walk down the hallways, Joel is walking by my side. But, it doesn't take long for Kiel and Tolan to whisk them into their conversation, talking to him about video games, cars, and other guy stuff, leaving me to talk with Jessie. But even as the guys talked behind us, I could still feel Joel's gaze boring holes into my back. When I looked away from Jessie, we'd lock eyes, finding ourselves caught in this strangely alluring stare contest.

When Jessie and I finally said our goodbyes to the boys, we headed upstairs. She grins, leaning on the door to her room as I unlocked mine. "You and Joel sure have gotten cozy quick. I wonder what you two were up to when you left the game room," she teases.

"Goodnight, Jessie," I grin, not telling her a bit of information. Jessie laughs, disappearing into her room.

As I jumped into my bed, all I found myself thinking about was Joel. The intensity of his silver eyes, the slight ripple of muscle down his arms, the subtle dimples in his cheeks everytime he smirked - it all seemed permanently etched into my skull.

I sigh into the air, closing my eyes and surrendering myself to sleep.

/_/_/

"Amber! Amber, are you awake yet? Wake your butt up and get dressed! It's Christmas!"

I awoke to the sound of fists banging on my door. It was probably Jessie standing outside of it by the sounds of her voice, loudly trying to urge me out of my bed. I grunted, glancing at the clock next to my bed. 10:34 AM. I yawned, hesitantly getting up from my covers. No matter how much I wanted to continue sleeping, I knew Jessie. She'd bang on my door all day if it meant waking me up.

I searched through my dresser drawer, grabbing my red beanie, long-sleeved white dress blouse, and black ruffle skirt to wear. I quickly squeezed into my clothes, combing my black bedridden hair out as I brushed my teeth. I slipped my feet into a pair of red flats. By the time I finished getting dressed, I could still hear Jessie banging on my door like a maniac. I swung my door open just as Jessie was about to rap her fists against it once again.

"You sure know how to wake somebody up," I say to her as I close my door.

Jessie was dressed in a cute, long, hip-hugging cashmere sweater-dress and tan ballerina flats, her glossy black hair cascading down her shoulders in tight, corkscrew curls. She giggles. "Gee, girl, you're a heavy sleeper. I've been banging on your door for like, an hour!" She engulfs me in a hug, exclaiming, "Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas to you, too!" I laughed, her overwhelming cheerful aura taking me by surprise.

She finally lets go, jabbing her thumb towards the staircase. "Everyone's all downstairs. There's coffee, cookies, and all kinds of stuff down there."

When we get to Pearson Hall, there's a table in the main room with trays full of gingerbread cookies, slices of sweet potato pie, sugar cookies, and brownies sitting on its surface. There are cups of hot cocoa, frappuccinos, and lattes sitting next to the sweets also. A couple of people are spread out across the room, talking and laughing among themselves.

I grabbed a latte from the table, plus a plate full of every sweet laid out before me. Jessie led me to where our friends were. Kiel, Tolan, and Rafael all sat at a table beside the bay window. "Merry Christmas!" I say as Jessie and I take our seats.

Rafael looked away from the conversation. He smiled brightly, "Feliz Navidad, mi amigo!"

Tolan took a bite from his brownie. "Sleepy head's finally awake, huh? What, were you hibernating up there?" I punched Tolan playfully in his arm. He laughed, grabbing my shoulders and giving me a side hug.

I can't help looking around the room for Joel, wondering where exactly he was. Was he still sleeping?

"These cookies just might taste better than the ones my mum makes," Kiel awes, munching on a gingerbread angel. Rafael laughs.

I continue eating my plate of sweets, trying to focus more on the conversation before me rather than Joel's whereabouts. I catch the tail end of the conversation.

"There's absolutely no way you can fit that much food in your mouth," Jessie says.

Kiel leaned across the table, holding out his hand. "Wanna bet?"

Jessie shakes his hand, a grin on her face. "Bet."

Kiel swallows the last of his gingerbread cookie, then begins devouring whatever was left on his plate in one huge, unbelievable gulp.

"Holy crap," Tolan awes.

Kiel chugs his latte, then pats his nonexistent pudgy gut. "So Jessie, I think you owe me something," Kiel says, his Australian accent stronger than ever. He taps his cheek with his index finger.

"That wasn't part of the bet," Jessie says.

Kiel smirked. "It is now."

Jessie leans across the table and kisses Kiel on the cheek. Tolan and Rafael make childish teasing noises. I laugh.

"Hey Amber - come here," I hear someone call out. I search for the sound of voice and I almost can't stop the smile from spreading across my face when I find it. Joel stood across the room. He's leaning on the doorway to the main room, hands crammed into the pockets of his jeans. He's wearing a black turtIeneck, black jeans, and a stud earring in his left ear. There's a small grin on his face, the slight appearance of his dimples digging into his cheeks. I feel my heart accelerate as I walk toward him.

"What's up?" I ask as I get closer, wondering what exactly it was Joel called me over for. In the back of my mind, I really didn't care. I was just excited to see him.

Joel nudged his head upward. "Look up and tell me what that is above your head."

I wrinkle my eyebrows at his request, but do it anyway. "It's a -" Right above me, hanging from the top of the doorway, was a mistletoe. I glanced back at Joel as realization struck through me. He smirked deviously, leaning off the wall and coming closer to me.

"What is it, Amber?" he probes into my ear, so close to me now my nostrils are full of only his scent - the faint trace of cologne lingering on his clothes.

"Mistletoe," I breathe out, my heart accelerating fifty miles a minute. Joel's smirk becomes a full-fledged grin. He grabs me by the loops of my jeans and pulls me closer to him, kissing me in a way I've never been kissed before. Neither one of us seem to break this kiss, too intrigued by the other to want to pull away. It wasn't until a chorus of whistles and cackles erupted from across the room that we seperated.

"Merry Christmas, Amber," Joel murmurs, his deep voice coming out raggedy and breathless as he leans his forehead against mine. He kisses me again.

"Get a room!" Tolan shouts with a smile, earning a couple laughs from Kiel and the others.

"Oh shut up," Joel says, snaking his arm around my waist as we walk back to the table. Tolan chuckles, shaking at Joel's shoulders.

"So who's up for a friendly game of Just Dance?" Kiel says, clasping his hands together.

"As long as you don't cheat again, I'm in," Tolan comments, looking at Kiel from the corner of his eye. Kiel punches him, laughing.

Jessie jumps up from the table, raising her arm up. "Me too!"

The six of us grab our drinks and plates of food and head to the game room. I sit next to Joel on the couch as Rafael sets the game up. Joel pulls me closer to him, and I rest my head against his chest.

On Christmas, I'd usually sit around my dorm room, watching whatever old Christmas movie playing on television and closing myself off to the rest of Calderon. I didn't want to walk around the boarding school's empty buildings, 'cause it would just make me feel that much worse being stuck here alone while everyone else went home with their family. But this year was different. I had Joel's arms around me, and I was surrounded by friends - in a room full of my second family.

Though I didn't have presents or my parents with me, I couldn't ask for a better Christmas.