Disclaimer: I don't own GMW. My use of the characters is just for fun.
Notes: This takes place the Christmas of Riley and co.'s freshman year of high school, and is written off the idea that when the love triangle was resolved, Lucas and Maya decided that they were solely friends. Lucas and Riley did not get together but they are back to having their unofficial thing.
It's no secret that Riley Matthews loves Christmas. She's a girl who likes to find the magic and wonder of every day life and the holiday season is so packed to the brim with beautiful little moments that it's impossible for her not to get caught up in the joy. She decorates everything, right up to adding a small tree to the desk in her bedroom and putting a string of battery operated twinkle lights in her locker at school. She binge watches every holiday movie that she can find, from the cinematic classics like Miracle on 34th Street to the made for Lifetime and Hallmark cheese-fests. Her ipod becomes a home for exclusively Christmas Music the week of Thanksgiving, and she bakes personalized festive cookies for everyone and anyone. Riley loves Christmas.
So she's thrilled when Lucas suggests they organize a Secret Santa, not just for their group of friends but for anyone who wants to participate, and she immediately sets to work getting everyone involved.
Maya comes up with the posters that they hang at Topanga's and a few other strategic locations to let people know about the event. Farkle and Zay work together to keep all of the sign-up forms organized and to find the best way to randomly give assignments. She works with Lucas to come up with a set of guidelines that will leave everyone happy and excited while still maintaining realistic expectations.
The idea is that rather than everyone being responsible for just one present, each Santa participant will give a minimum of three small gifts in the days leading up to the big reveal (a few days before Christmas due to everyone's travel commitments) and that when they reveal their identity they give one last gift that's not necessarily bigger or more expensive, but more thoughtful. That way everyone gets to have their excitement drawn out. Everyone gets to feel special and no one gets excluded because of budget (unique, handmade gifts are definitely encouraged).
On November 30th, everyone who signed up to participate gathers in Topanga's to find out who they'll be giving presents to. Riley can barely contain her excitement. The bakery is packed with kids who want to spread holiday cheer. To her it's just another example of Christmas magic, that so many people wanted to be involved when they had only been expecting a handful outside of their group.
Lucas has to clap his hands twice and whistle loudly to get the crowd to quiet so they can start. "OK, so we're about to get started on handing out everyone's assignments, but before we do, we just wanted to give everyone a few reminders about the guidelines of this Secret Santa. First of all, even though the idea is that you'll be giving multiple gifts, we don't want anyone to feel like they have to spend a lot of money to be a good Santa. You can if you want to, but we're encouraging everyone to use their talents to make gifts that are personal and meaningful."
"Right." Riley nods from her place standing next to him. "They can be as simple as a hand-drawn Christmas card or a batch of homemade treats. To that end, when you find out who you'll be giving to, you'll get some information as well, like their favorite part of the holidays and if they have any allergies."
"They'll also include the best places for you to leave your gifts before the reveal party. Does anyone have any questions?" Most everyone shakes their heads when Lucas asks this. "Well, if you do come up with any, you can always ask me or Riley or post them to the event Facebook page. But if there aren't any right now, I think we should get the drawing underway. Farkle?"
Farkle steps up with a large red and white striped button in hand. "Everyone who filled out a form was given a number and their information was put into one of these envelopes," Maya holds up a basket filled with silver envelopes, "that was also labeled with their number. When we call your name you'll come up, press this random number generator," Farkle shakes the button demonstratively, "and we'll give you the corresponding envelope. Lucas, would you like to go first as an example?"
When Lucas presses the button, a cartoonish Santa voice rings out. "Twenty-five."
Zay hunts down the envelope in the basket, presents it to Lucas, and the event really gets underway. Riley picks up her clipboard of names and puts a check next to Lucas' before moving back up to the top to call out the first name.
The Flower Crown
On the Monday morning after everyone picked who they would be playing Santa for, Riley opens her locker to find a gorgeous flower crown, made up of real flowers in various whites, powder blues and lavenders. A tag artfully tied on with a matching silk ribbon reads, "A beautiful crown for a beautiful girl. Your Secret Santa."
Her heart swells at the gift and the compliment. It's the exact sort of small, but meaningful gesture they were hoping people would go for as they organized the gift giving event.
Riley undoes her pigtail braids and starts doing her hair in an updo that will showcase the crown so she can wear it all day. It's too beautiful not to, and hopefully her Secret Santa will see and know she appreciates it.
"You should have told me we were going to Woodstock today." Maya comments. She arrives just as Riley is putting the crown on and using a few extra bobby pins to fix it in place. "I would've busted out my macrame vest."
"It's from my Secret Santa." Riley hands her friend the removed tag. "I love it."
Maya smiles as she reads the tag and then passes it back. "I'm sure they knew you would."
"I wonder who it is." It's the best part of doing a Secret Santa. The mystery and excitement that build until the final moment when everyone gets to share who they had.
"Obviously someone who understands that at heart, you're a beautiful flower fairy princess."
Riley wears the crown for the rest of the day. She doesn't stop smiling and proudly tells everyone who asks or comments that it's a gift from her Secret Santa. When her mom gets home and sees, she promises to show Riley how to press and preserve the flowers so she can have a keepsake of what would otherwise be a gift with a shelf life.
After her homework is done, Riley gets to work punching up her list of planned gifts for her recipient; even though it's unlikely that she is giving to the very person who is giving to her, she wants to make sure that she does everything in her power to make sure that her person feels as special as she did today.
The Edible Box (and the Treat Inside)
Riley stops off at her locker after lunch to pick up her English book to read during her study hall next period. They had their first snow day of the year yesterday, and she's hoping to claim the alcove in the library that overlooks the school's now snowy courtyard so she can enjoy the scene as she reads. She's surprised to find a cellophane bag sitting on top of her books.
The cellophane is printed with red and green holly leaves and there's a matching holly shaped card. Your Secret Santa wants you to have a sweet day. Inside the bag is a box about the size of her phone made of gingerbread, held together with and decorated by white icing accented by shimmering sugar sprinkles. The lid has a message written in frosting. Eat me for a special surprise.
Never one to turn down a gingerbread cookie, and with her potential study spot completely forgotten, Riley takes a picture of the box for posterity and gently breaks off one side to pop into her mouth. While she eats the cookie, Riley tilts the box to one side. A sparkling snowflake pendant on a silver chain slips out into her hand.
A beautiful piece of seasonal jewelry and a delicious container. Whoever her Secret Santa is, Riley reflects, they are definitely on top of their game.
The Snow Globe
Riley finds out that some people have been taking advantage of the Secret Santa System when Yogi approaches her three days before their winter break begins and asks if she wouldn't mind using her final gift for Darby (who he's not supposed to know about) to help make his gift idea for his girlfriend happen.
Apparently several people are doing this for their friends and significant others to be able to pull off gifts that they would otherwise be unable to do. It turns out that Farkle is a somewhat corrupt keeper of information. According to Yogi, for the low price of a candy cane and an explanation of what you want to do and why, Farkle will tell you who you need to approach.
She's not sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, the identities of the Secret Santas are still totally concealed from each recipient and the idea of these meaningful grand gestures is well within the spirit of what they were hoping to achieve when they came up with the idea in the first place. On the other hand, it feels a bit like cheating when part of the goal is for people to get closer to each other by coming up with these special gifts on their own.
She tells Farkle this when she lectures him on his bribability.
She tells him this after she agrees to help Yogi (his idea is adorable and romantic and it's pretty impossible to say no to when he and Darby are still the sweetest couple in the school and deserve every happiness).
Even after she promises herself to figure out an extra little gift for Darby to make up for taking the objectively easier way out for her last present, the vague corruption of the Secret Santa Project is still weighing on her mind by the end of the day. So Riley's a little distracted when she meets up with her friends after her last class.
"Your locker is singing." Maya informs as she approaches.
Sure enough, just over the noise of the other students, Riley can hear a delicate, metallic melody coming from inside her locker. She flings the door open and finds a snow globe showing a trio of ballerinas in white, dancing in a snow-coated pine forest. With the music still playing and the flakes still falling, she knows it can't have been in her locker for very long. She turns to Maya. "Did you see who put this in here?"
"Couldn't tell ya." Maya shrugs.
Riley narrows her eyes. "Because you didn't see or because it was my Secret Santa?"
Now she smiles when she repeats herself. "Couldn't tell ya."
"Isn't there usually a card or a tag?" Farkle asks.
Riley looks all around her locker, even lifting up the snow globe to check on the bottom, but finds nothing. It's not the end of the world. She knows it must be from her Secret Santa, although she has been enjoying their little notes and is a little sad not to get one this time. "No note." She sighs. "Too bad. There might have been a hint about what song it plays." It's a pretty little tune and she would love to hear it played by real instruments, but she has never heard it before and has no idea what it might be. "Do you think Shazam works on snow globes?"
"You don't need it." Zay says. "It's a part of the Waltz of the Snowflakes. From the Nutcracker. The girls in my ballet class love it."
Waltz of the Snowflakes. That's one mystery solved. Riley thanks Zay and is about to ask if anyone wants to study at the bakery over hot chocolate when Lucas asks, "What's this?" and crouches to pick something up. As he straightens he produces a postcard. "Your Secret Santa must have dropped it by accident when they were setting up the snow globe."
"Yeah." Maya nods emphatically. "Lucky it didn't get kicked down the hall or trampled."
Riley takes the postcard and looks at the picture on the front. It's a photo of her that she recognizes from Maya's Instagram. It was taken last Christmas when she spinning around, trying to catch snowflakes in her mouth. Someone has used several effects to make it look more like a painting than a photograph. When she flips it over, she finds the now familiar handwriting.
Because you dance through life, even when everyone else is walking. Your Secret Santa.
Riley forgets everything she was worried about.
"Where did this come from?" Riley asks, looking at the miniature nutcracker in red hanging from the family tree in the living room. She and Maya have been getting ready for the big reveal party at Topanga's together, and now that they're preparing to leave and looking at the tree again, Riley is sure she's looking at an ornament that wasn't there before, nor does she think it's not one of the family's collection.
"Where did what come from, Sweetie?" Topanga responds, slipping into her jacket. She'll be coming to the cafe as well, to help Katy deal with the influx of teenagers.
Riley points at the ornament. "This nutcracker."
Topanga smiles. "Oh that? Your Secret Santa dropped him off. They said they noticed an empty spot on the tree and thought you would be happier with it filled."
Riley's heart pounds a little when she hears that her Secret Santa was in the apartment while she was there. And she still missed them. She's past the point of merely being excited to find out who they are. They've been giving her incredible, thoughtful gifts over the past couple of weeks and she's desperate to know who it is that knows her so well to find such perfect items. Her first and strongest suspicion is still Maya—nobody has the kind of access to her like Maya and does and the gifts had so many little touches that seemed a bit like her (the photo on the postcard, the beautiful flower crown)—but there's no way that Maya could have put the ornament on the tree. It wasn't there when they went back to her room to change, and they had gotten ready together. Maya had never left the room.
Riley loves the mystery. She loves that it's filled her world with extra holiday spirit and cheer to make the best Christmas she's had yet. But she's ready for the mystery to be solved. She wants to share her joy with them and thank them, and she wants to see everyone else get to the same thing.
She grabs her coat and sets to work ushering Maya and her mother out of the apartment.
The reveal party isn't going exactly as planned. Everyone's having a wonderful time and with each person who tells their recipient who they are, that atmosphere seems to skyrocket up a bit more. So that part's going great.
But Riley feels ridiculously overdressed. When they were getting ready, Maya convinced her to wear a navy blue party dress covered in silver beads because it matched the snowflake necklace that her Secret Santa had given her so well. Everyone else is dressed nicely but fairly casually; only Maya comes close to her level of fanciness in her red dress and sticking out like this is awkward.
And Lucas still hasn't shown up. He texted her just before the party saying that he was running late, but that they should get started without him. They're over an hour into the party now, he's still not here and his replies to her texts are vague. It's not like him. It also doesn't seem fair. The Secret Santa exchange was his idea, and he's not here to enjoy all of the happiness.
Not to mention that she still hasn't found out who her Secret Santa is.
Riley's watched Maya give Smackle a beautiful painting, and Zay give Yindra a hand-knit scarf and hat set. She's given her final present to Darby in the form of taking her and Yogi outside and singing 'The Christmas Waltz' while the couple dances under a flurry of snow courtesy of a snow machine provided by Farkle (the weather, unfortunately, did not cooperate with the plan to give Darby one of her dream romantic scenarios but they had the backup plan ready). She's seen lots of people being extremely happy and grateful.
But she hasn't been approached yet and with things settling down a bit as most everyone has finished, she's starting to worry.
She walks over to Farkle since he's in charge of keeping track of who has revealed themselves and who still needs to. "Is anyone besides Lucas not here yet?"
He looks down at his list. "I don't think so...Why?"
"Riley!" Topanga calls out before Riley can give her answer. "Someone left this for you on the counter."
Her mom is holding up a wrapped gift, with an envelope attached. Riley abandons Farkle to rush over and see what she found. She starts with the card and finds a handwritten note. Not the handwriting from her Secret Santa gifts, but familiar all the same.
Riley, I'm sorry that I couldn't make the party, but I needed to make sure that everything was in place for your last present. I hope that once you see what it is, you'll be able to forgive and join me. If so, Farkle has agreed to finish running the party for you, and I'll meet you next to the coat check at 7:30. If not, I'll understand, and the next time we see each other I promise it will be like nothing happened. But I really hope that you'll come. There's a moment that I don't really want you to miss. Your Secret Santa.
Riley's hands tremble slightly as she realizes exactly what's happening. Lucas isn't at the party.
She reaches for the gift, and removes the paper revealing a wooden box, a deep cherry wood, intricately carved with a design of swirling snowflakes. Riley runs her fingers over the pattern, noting that each of the snowflakes is unique.
From their spot watching behind the counter, Katy and her mother prompt her to open the box.
Riley undoes the little golden latch. Sitting in the box, nestled on a cushion of forest green velvet, is a ticket for the 8:00 performance of the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. For a moment it's as though the room stops moving.
Lucas is her Secret Santa. Lucas has been giving her the beautiful gifts that she's been treasuring. Lucas has a moment that he doesn't want her to miss.
"I have to get to Lincoln Center."
Riley arrives at the Lincoln Center coat check with five minutes to spare. As promised, Lucas is standing right off to the side. He's in a suit, minus the tie, and holding a single rose. Riley's eyes flood with tears as she approaches. Even though she had figured it all out at the bakery, there was still a tiny part of her that didn't believe it was actually happening. She's been waiting for so long, she wasn't even sure that it was going to happen.
"Hi." She repeats, unsure of what else to say. Her shoulders begin to shake as she loses the battle to keep her tears at bay.
"Hey now," Lucas smiles and gently thumbs away the tears from her cheeks. The way he's looking at her, Riley forgets that they're not the only two in the bustling lobby. "If you're going to start crying now we won't even get to see the show."
"I just…I can't believe that you did all this for me."
"Riley...don't you know by now...I would do anything for you."
Riley's breath nearly hitches. Because this feels like it. The moment. It almost has to be.
Then a little girl in a frilly party dress careens between them, bumping into their legs as she goes, and the spell is broken.
They laugh together and Lucas puts a gentle guiding hand on the small of her back. "Let's check your coat and go find our seats."
Riley watches the ballet, completely mesmerized. It's one of the few Christmas experiences in the city that she has not tried before and she loves every minute of it. The dances, the sets and the costumes, the fact that Lucas holds her hand for the entire show. Riley wants to find a way to bottle every moment of tonight so she can look back on it every day.
After the final curtain falls and they retrieve their coats from the check room, they start the walk back towards Riley's apartment.
"Thank you so much. For all of this."
"So you liked it?"
"Liked it?" Riley twirls on her feet, completing a full spin before facing him and starting to walk backwards. "I loved it. The show was amazing! Beautiful and festive and-and every gift you gave me was related to it, wasn't it?" She can connect it all together now. A flower crown for the Waltz of the Flowers, gingerbread for Mother Ginger, all of the various snow themed things for the Waltz of the Snowflakes…
Her foot catches on an edge of uneven pavement. Lucas reaches out and catches her almost before she can start to stumble, and suggests that maybe they both face forward while they walk. "They were." As they continue to walk, they talk a bit more about the gifts. He tells her about how he had his mom write the notes so Riley wouldn't recognize the handwriting, and that he chose to take her to the Nutcracker because she once mentioned that she would love to see it, but that her family's holiday schedule is always so packed that they've never found the time, and how he tried to keep within the spirit of the handmade gifts as much as possible, from baking the gingerbread himself, to using his study halls to do extra work in the school's wood shop, carving out the box he had presented her ticket it.
Riley has felt special before. She's felt special to Lucas before. But she's never felt like this. Lucas had to plan so much to make all of this happen and spend so much time (and, she realizes, a fair amount of money) and it's all been for her. "I don't know how to thank you for all of this."
"You don't have to. It's Christmas."
Not too far from her apartment, Lucas stops walking and turns to her. "Riley, before things go any further, there is one thing I should probably tell you."
He's not smiling anymore and Riley's heart freezes. Has she been reading the whole night wrong? What would he have to tell her that makes him so serious? It can't possibly be anything good. She starts to steel herself, preparing to hear the worst. "Lucas, whatever it is-,"
"I know you were a little upset that people were going to Farkle to find out about who was giving presents to who," Lucas begins. He is at least still holding onto her hand. "So I think it's only fair to tell you that I had Farkle rig the drawing so that I would get you to begin with."
Well, that's not what she expected to hear. And it's the biggest relief. Riley smiles as she realizes that in addition to all of the planning that Lucas must have done, one way or another most of her friends and family had to be involved as well. "I think I can forgive you."
"That's a relief." The tension lifts from his shoulders. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to do this. Riley, you are the most beautiful person I know, and your kindness makes you shine brighter than anyone else in the city. You believed in me when I wasn't even sure that I could believe in myself, and I know I'm a better person for being around you every day. And we've been unofficial for a while now, but I don't want there to be any confusion anymore, so," he clasps both of her hands in between his, "Riley Matthews, I love you, and if you'll have me, I want to be officially yours."
He's still saying that he loves her when Riley pulls her hands from his. She cups his face and pulls him down into a gentle kiss. Unlike the peck on the subway several years ago, they don't pull apart for several seconds.
"I love you too."
He grins down at her. "So that's a yes?"
"That's the biggest of yesses."
They kiss again, and as they break apart a second time and start walking once more, a gentle snow begins to fall.