This year was the first time I didn’t get Anna a Christmas present since we were eight years old. My mom used to try to help me pick stuff out for her when we were in elementary school. We’d walk down the toy aisle and she’d pick up a Barbie and say, ‘Wouldn’t Anna like this?’ and I’d shake my head because I knew Anna liked dolls more than Barbies. I always knew exactly what to get her. Last year, I got her this lame pack of gel pens. Instead of swapping it on Christmas Eve like we used to when her mom would invite me over, I just gave it to her the last day before Christmas break. I didn’t even wrap it. We stood at her locker, and she took it wordlessly. I could tell she was trying not to cry because she knew it meant I didn’t want to come over on Christmas Eve, but I didn’t even care because I was so pissed that she’d slept with Jordan.
Now, I wasn’t so sure she’d done anything with Jordan.
I replayed that day in my head from last year as I sat through the school’s Friday showing of A Christmas Carol. I wasn’t going to go, but Alex talked me into it because his girlfriend had a role in it. Plus Mom loved this kind of stuff, so she sat on one side of me, and Alex was on the other as Scrooge was a jerk to his employees and I tried to concentrate. But I kept wondering what Anna might be doing this Christmas. Did she have any new rituals on Christmas Eve now that I’d ditched her? Did her mom still make that thick, rich hot chocolate?
Was she going out with that Steven guy? He was on the lacrosse team and I heard a rumor going around that they were sleeping together. I didn’t believe that, but I did see them holding hands yesterday in the hallway.
I wonder what he was going to get her for a Christmas present.
I got up to pee because I was so bored. Hey, I liked drama just as much as the last person, but I’d rather be at home watching A Christmas Story. Dad said we could watch it once they got home and Mom tried to say it would be really late, but hey, I didn’t have school tomorrow. It was Christmas Break. Finally.
My steps in the hallway leading to the bathrooms slowed when I felt Anna nearby. Her presence was like a beacon of light, and the familiar grooves and emotions of her mind melted into mine. I used to feel this nearly every day—we were like Siamese twins in elementary school. I knew what she was thinking and feeling, and we’d whisper French in the back of the classroom. We’d pass all our tests because we could use each others’ knowledge. Now, I saw her in Band, and that was it.
She was sitting on a bench in the hallway, and Steven sat by her, leaning towards her like she was a magnet. She glanced up when she saw me, her smile fading a little bit. Her mind was this tornado of emotions—she wasn’t particularly happy to see me, but I didn’t feel any of the hurt she’d had for me in the past.
“Hey,” I said as I approached them. I wasn’t sure if I was going to stop or keep walking or what.
“Hey,” Anna replied. “Steven, you know Aaron, right?”
Steven looked me up and down. “Uh, yeah. You look kind of familiar.”
“He’s a junior. He’s in Band with me.”
“Oh, right, I saw you at Anna’s concert last night.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I play sax.” I’d stopped walking, my hands in my pockets, and now I was wondering why she was being nice to me. Not that I minded, but geez, it’d been months since we properly talked. I went to Homecoming with her friend, Sam, who was now my ex, and we’d kind of hung out then. Anna hadn’t had a date, she just went with our friend—her friend—Kaylie. I looked at Steven, wondering if he would be her date to Prom or if they’d even still be together when that came around.
Anna cleared her throat, narrowing her eyes at me. The sort-of-friendly emotions were now turning suspicious and defensive.
I should have probably left. Danger, Will Robinson! But I blurted out, “Are you doing anything for Christmas?”
“Uh, just the usual, I guess,” Steven said. He bumped his knee into Anna’s. “You?”
She shrugged and glanced over at him. “Yeah, the usual. I think my mom’s going to get me a new phone.”
“I got you something really cool,” Steven said, grinning.
She grinned back at him, her head tilting, a few curls falling out from behind her ear. “Oh, really?” This gushing, affectionate feeling ran through her that could only be described as pink. She spent about a week feeling like that towards Jordan, during which I avoided them as much as I could. But it didn’t take long for that relationship to start crackling and falling apart. Wonder how long Steven would last.
She snapped her gaze back to me. She really wanted me to leave now.
I always gave the ladies what they wanted. I cleared my throat. “Well, I’ll see you guys around. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, man,” Steven said.
Anna didn’t say anything as I left. This sadness trickled through my veins, and I wasn’t sure which one of us it belonged to.
Read more about Aaron and Anna’s friendship in Connection, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and pretty much everywhere ebooks are sold. I swear it gets happier 😉
Emily Ann Ward is the author of Le Garde series, The Protectors series, and Finding Fiona. One of her first stories featured a young girl whose doll came to life. The rest is history. When it comes to fiction, she writes mainly young adult, contemporary, and fantasy. Aside from writing, she’s also a content editor for Entranced Publishing. She loves reading, traveling, sociology, religion, and Reese’s sticks. Currently, she lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband Chris and their crazy cats.