I got the epilogue done, and in doing so managed to find a huge mistake in my writing. One little tiny insignificant thing that'll drive me batty. I had this set up that Lilly's brother was working before he went to college, but I set the story at the end of November. Unless he's starting the in January, that doesn't make sense. I'm going to go cry in the corner. ...

As a side note -- I've started the sequel and it's already got me depressed. I won't be posting it until I have my previously started stories wound up, but it's going to be a bumpier ride than this was.

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To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides. - David Viscott

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Lilly stared at the little box in her hands, wondering if her gift would ever measure up. It was a small trinket, something she'd forgotten about until doing her laundry. In one of her pairs of water shorts she'd discovered a small pink shell, about the size of a quarter. After much consideration, Lilly had gone to a jeweler and requested a small hole be drilled through the top and a chain laced through it.

It was small, it was seemingly insignificant, but to Lilly it represented the day she realized that she did have feelings for Miley. She didn't expect Miley to understand it, but this shell was something special. It had been placed into a small padded box for safe keeping and wrapped in flashy green paper. Lilly had used a few strands of red ribbon to fashion a bow to tape on top.

One thing she really appreciated was that Miley had agreed with her on one key fact – their Christmas exchange wasn't going to be extravagant this year just because their relationship had changed. Miley expected nothing from Lilly, and Lilly expected nothing from Miley.

Lilly was spending Christmas Eve with the Stewarts, even going so far as to sleepover. Christmas morning she'd head home for Christmas morning with her family and then Miley, Jackson, and Robby Ray would join the family for Christmas dinner. That was the part Lilly was most anxious about – the group hadn't re-gathered after the nearly catastrophic barbeque and even now, Lilly walked on eggshells around her father.

Ed, for his part, was trying his hardest not to bring it up. If Miley came up in conversations, he'd duck his head or look away, not contributing his opinion. Lilly was grateful for his effort, but she couldn't help but feel it wasn't enough. It was nice he wasn't being verbally abusive of the relationship, but he wasn't accepting it, either.

Startled from her thoughts by her cell phone, Lilly picked up the annoying device and answered it was a wide smile and pleasant voice.

"Hey, Miles."

"Hiya, Lils. I can't wait for tonight!" Miley was sitting on her bed, staring at the small box in front of her. It was early December twenty-fourth and she was anxiously awaiting her time with Lilly. Her own gift was very small, but she hoped Lilly liked it.

"Well, it's almost three. I'll be over in like two hours." Lilly rubbed her fingers on her wrapped package.

"I just couldn't wait that long to hear your voice…" Miley chuckled. They'd come a long ways since dance. Since they'd chosen to become more open, there was a lot less tension between them. If one of them wanted a kiss, she got it. If one of them wanted a hug, she got it.

"You're sweet." Lilly sighed. "You know I'd be over there right now if I could be."

Miley switched the phone from one ear to the other, "I know, love. It's too bad that…"

"My mom is still hoping he'll get over it." Lilly set her gift down beside her. Mr. Truscott had been hard to convince about this whole holiday set up. He didn't want Lilly over at the Stewarts more than necessary; he especially didn't want Lilly sleeping over there. It seemed like he thought Robby Ray was just going to let them do whatever they wanted together.

"Does it bother you?" That was Miley's biggest concern. She had already accepted the fact that Mr. Truscott wasn't going to be supportive but she knew it was a strain on Lilly.

"Yeah, I think it always will." Lilly sighed. "But I can live with it."

"I love you." Miley murmured – her mood had plummeted slightly.

"You, too." Lilly returned. "I'm going to go hang with my mom for a little while. I'll see you at five."

"Okay… Bye, babe." Miley hung up moments after Lilly had responded with a goodbye of her own. She fingered her present and relaxed slightly. If only there was something she could do about Lilly's dad.

She tucked her phone into her pocket and got to her feet. A picture of Lilly grinned at her from her bedside table and it helped bring back some of her holiday spirit. Greatly cheered, Miley headed downstairs. The Christmas tree was perched by the piano. It was heavily laden down with ornaments hanging off every available branch.

A stack of presents sat at the trunk, ranging from golf-ball sized to almost tall enough to reach Miley's waist. Receiving gifts wasn't the reason she loved the holiday so much, though. She loved Christmas because of the togetherness that came with it. It seemed to bring the best out in people. Of the gifts under the tree were two small packages from Miley – one for Oliver, as usual, and one for Mikayla.

Robby Ray approached from the kitchen with a small plate in his hand. He opened the piano and set it down inside. Miley glimpsed a wedge of cheese on it.

"For Linda." Robby explained. "I thought we should include her. She's practically family, y'know."

Miley smiled and nodded, "I'm sure she thanks you for your kind present."

"So Lilly still set to come over?" Robby knew that the tension with Mr. Truscott hadn't diminished with time. It had dulled slightly, but it was no less damaging to Lilly.

"Yeah. Just got off the phone with her." Miley rubbed her pocket.

"Well, I hope she likes her present. Are you goin' to make her wait til tomorrow?"

Nodding her head, Miley blushed slightly, "I wanted to pull her aside privately tomorrow night. It's kinda personal, and all…"

"Don't worry about me an' Jackson. We'll leave you be." Robby had to wonder about what the gift was – Miley had been so secretive about getting it. He knew it was bound to be something special, but he couldn't guess as to what it was.

"Thanks."

Their conversation was cut off as Jackson laughed a little too loudly from his seat on the couch. Bits of popcorn dropped from his gaping mouth as he pointed at the television with one hand and slapped his thigh with the other.

"Dat's sho funny!" He cracked up. Miley glanced over his shoulder, trying to figure out what the heck he was watching. Jackson finished off the popcorn in his mouth so he could talk better. "That Charlie Brown! That tree isn't nowhere good enough!"

Miley rolled her eyes, "Jackson, you watch this every year. You know that it turns out alright in the end."

"Shush!" Jackson waved a wild hand at her, "You're ruining the end!"

"Leave the boy be," Robby chided her softly, "As long as he's watchin' that, he's outta my hair."

Chuckling, Miley obeyed. "So, Daddy, can I help you with anything? Need help makin' dinner?"

"No, bud. Why don't you go spend some quality time with your brother…?"

"Daddy!" She complained loudly, "Please… anything but that!"

He grinned at her and nodded before heading back to the kitchen. Miley went to the couch and plopped down next to Jackson. She smiled at him hesitantly, unsure of what exactly this would accomplish. He guffawed, completely ignoring her. Feeling so loved, she turned attention to the screen – it was a way to pass the time until Lilly arrived, she reasoned.

The movie ended and Jackson flicked the channel away from ABC – other than their Charlie Brown holiday specials, it held little interest for him. He let the T.V. Guide channel play as he waited for something to catch his interest. Miley stared blankly at the screen, knowing any suggestion she made as to what they watched would be rejected flat-out.

"Miles, can you set the table?" Robby called from the kitchen.

Grateful to be saved from Jackson's land of bad television, she hurried to the kitchen and took out four plates, four sets of silverware, and four glasses. She settled them down onto the festive green placemats at the table. As a finishing touch, she found placed a candle in the center of the table and lit it. Robby Ray set his dishes down on hot pads around the middle of the table for easy access.

"Lilly should get her any minute." Miley practically danced. Christmas just put her in such a good mood. Her mood brightened further as Lilly pushed the door open without bothering to knock.

"Hey Stewarts! Merry Christmas Eve!" She called, smiling broadly and throwing her overnight bag to the ground.

Miley ran to her and hugged her. Lifting slightly, she spun Lilly in a wide circle. Giggling madly, Lilly struggled against the hold.

"Just in time, Lilly." Robby called from the kitchen, "Dinner's done, table's set."

"I'd come eat if your daughter would put me down!" Lilly directed her comment more at Miley, who immediately set her down.

"Who am I to get between a Lilly and her food?" Miley shrugged her shoulders. "You remind me so much of Oliver sometimes."

"There's a difference." Lilly stated defensively. "He's a sloppy pig, while I am a dignified goat."

"So what's the difference?" Miley questioned.

"Well, pigs eat slop. Goats just eat anything."

"Goats eat garbage, you know that right?"

"So I'm a tiger shark?"

"They eat garbage, too."

Lilly fell silent, brooding. "Fine. I eat like a Lilly."

"I can accept that." Miley pranced to the table and pulled Lilly's chair out for her. Once Lilly was seated, Miley helped push her close to the table.

"Gee, Miley, such a gentleman."

Miley blushed, "Only for you."

"If you two are done with your little yuck-fest…" Jackson peered at them.

"Don't mind him. He's just upset 'cause he can't get a girl." Miley explained to Lilly, ignoring his indignant cries.

"Miley," Robby warned. "Let's start this dinner."

Miley took her seat and soon the large meal that Robby had painstakingly put together was gone. Plates filled and emptied quickly and half an hour later, Miley felt that she would burst if she had to eat even one more. By the end of the meal, it had turned into an eating contest between Lilly and Jackson – they both reached for the last scoop of pudding. Glaring daggers at each other, they tested the other's will. Lilly gave in, not because she was full, but because she didn't want to fight for a scoop of pudding.

Robby was the first to speak after Jackson shoved that last bit of food down his throat. "Wow, boy, I didn't know you had all that space in your stomach."

Jackson looked a little queasy, "I didn't either…"

Lilly cackled, "I could eat you under the table."

He ran for the bathroom as Lilly boasted her victory. Miley giggled nervously. For all Miley seemed to be the gentleman in the relationship, Lilly could sure put away food like a boy. Robby shook his head, unsure if he should be worried or not.

"Miles, can you and Lilly help with the dishes. I'd ask Jackson but—" The sounds of retching could be heard from the bathroom. "Well, it's just better if you two help."

Lilly got up wearily. "I feel like I'm pregnant."

Miley smacked her forehead, "Lilly, I've told Oliver so many times to use protection."

They set to work cleaning pots, pans, dishes, silverware, and every other dish Robby set before them. Getting bored, Miley splashed soapy water at Lilly who reacted by turned the spray nozzle on and blasting Miley. Grabbing the dish towel, Miley whapped Lilly on the arm and tried to get away. They collapsed on the counters giggling and wet.

Miley leaned forward, waiting for Lilly to meet her half way in a kiss; Lilly gladly complied. It was sweet and soft and Miley only drew back when she heard Robby returning to the kitchen.

"Merry Christmas, Lils."

Lilly smiled, "It's still only Christmas Eve, Miles. You do know you're going to have to step your game up tomorrow."

"I can do that." Miley promised.

"Do what?" Robby questioned. He spotted the watery mess and sighed. "You girls can set out the cookies for Santa while I dry this up."

Lilly scrunched her eyebrows together questioningly at Miley, "Santa?"

Miley shrugged – their family enjoyed the tradition. She pulled out a fresh plate and glass. Selecting a few different kinds of Christmas cookies, she set out four cookies and a fresh glass of milk on top of the piano.

"Daddy? Me an' Lilly are going to head upstairs okay?"

He nodded, "Don't stay up too late, girls. Remember, he knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake…"

"Can do, Mr. S." Lilly grabbed her bag from where she'd abandoned it earlier and pounded up the steps right behind Miley.

Once up in Miley's room, they both changed into pajamas and crawled into Miley's bed. They had no intentions of sleeping, though; instead, they nestled close together and chatted quietly with the lights out. Miley, for one, wasn't about to start anything romantic between them in the bed because she was fully intent on listening to Lilly's wishes to wait. When it happened between them, it would be when both of them were ready. Near eleven o'clock, Miley finally dozed off. Lilly smiled and yawned slightly. She snuggled closer and let her own eyes fall shut.

Morning light peeked through Miley's large windows, rousing Miley from a pleasant dream. She hugged her teddy bear closer to her body, enjoying the soft scent that it had clinging to it. It smelled oddly like Lilly's hair. Her eyes adjusted to the light and a smile crept onto her face – waking up next to Lilly was great, she had to admit. During the night she had managed to spoon Lilly, locking her knees behind Lilly's and draping a heavy arm over Lilly's side.

"Lilly… Lilllllly… LILLY!" Miley tried whispering. She tried using a moderate, but sing-song tone. And finally, in a last ditch effort, Miley let loose a loud yell. Lilly shot out of bed like a bat out of hell, eyes wide and body quivering.

"I swear! I didn't hide the rubber ducky!" She cried, staring around the room wildly. Her eyes settled on Miley and an intense blush started at her ears and filled her face, "Um…"

"Merry Christmas, Lilly!"

Lilly smiled widely, "Oh! That's right! Merry Christmas, Miles!"

"I hate to break it to you, Lilly," Miley sat up and pulled her covers aside, "But you'll have to wait to open your gift until later tonight. I need to give it to you in private."

Lilly pouted slightly, but nodded, "Well, you can just wait for yours, too."

"Should we head downstairs?" Miley asked, checking the clock. At seven in the morning, Jackson had probably already ripped through half his presents.

"Can't we just wait here for a little? It's not that I don't want to watch Jackson attacking his presents, it's just that I'd rather spend a little time with you."

Miley clambered on top of the covers she'd just pushed down and pat the area next to her, "Sure thing, jelly bean."

Lilly shot over to her, bouncing on the surface like a hyperactive kangaroo. "Man, I wish it would snow. I mean, we never get snow, but it would be so cool if I could see snow on Christmas."

"Maybe someday we'll take our winter holiday out in Colorado or something," Miley suggested, "We have time to visit everywhere, especially if I can talk daddy into getting a Hannah jet."

"Isn't that expensive and kind of pointless?" Lilly asked. "I mean, you could just as easily charter a first class ticket for much cheaper than owning and keeping up an entire jet."

Miley sighed, "I guess it's the thought behind it. I mean, London Tipton has a jet."

"She's also an airhead heiress." Lilly pointed out.

"But her jet is so cool." Miley wistfully remarked, "But I guess you're right, if you want to be practical… You should have seen her closet. I needed a map and I still got lost around Hat Land."

"She had an entire Land devoted to hats? And I thought Hannah's closet was impressive."

They chattered on for half an hour or so, mostly talking about people Hannah had met and the extravagant lifestyles many of those people had. Lilly envied them but decided that living simply had its advantages. After all, she wasn't chased by fans every time she stepped out the door. Being friends with a celebrity had taught her to value her anonymity.

"Girls! You up?" Robby hollered from downstairs.

"Yeah, daddy! We'll be down in a minute!"

"Good! Pancakes are getting' cold!"

Lilly's face lit up, "Oh! Pancakes!"

Miley leapt off the bed and thundered downstairs. At the bottom of the stairs Lilly brushed past her and took the closest seat. Miley contained her laughter, barely. It was becoming terribly obvious that she'd always take second place in Lilly's life, second only to good food.

"I'm glad one o'you likes my cookin'. I'd say she's a keeper, Mile." Robby joked, "Want some pancakes with your syrup, Lilly?"

She shook her head, "Ha-ha, Mr. S. Very funny. Like I haven't heard that one before."

After breakfast was inhaled – Jackson was feeling much better – Miley and Lilly turned their attention to the still wrapped packages under the tree. Robby Ray had added a few presents over night from 'Santa', along with a few small packages for Lilly. He felt that Lilly was a big part of their family so he and Jackson had gone shopping to pick a few things out.

The first thing the girls unwrapped were from matching packages – they both fell over laughing as they pulled out matching sheep sweaters, very similar to the kitty sweater Miley had received not horribly long ago. They pulled them on in the spirit of the moment and Miley pressed the nose on hers. It baaed obediently and the girls collapsed into giggles.

Several gifts later, Miley and Lilly were feeling all the more holly jolly. The underside of the tree was now covered in discarded paper, plastic, and bows. They'd managed to stick one of the giant red bows onto Jackson's head. He didn't seem to mind while he was in the house, but tore it off as he headed to work.

"I can't believe Rico's making me work on Christmas…" He complained as he rushed out the door. "I mean, who's going to buy hotdogs, water, or sunglasses on Christmas."

Lilly chuckled, "He almost convinced me to come down and buy a water. Almost."

Miley shoved her shoulder playfully, "Oh come on. We might as well. It's Christmas."

Robby gestured to the couch, "Are you girls going to watch some Christmas movies with me?"

Miley gazed at him doubtfully, "Please not A Christmas Story again… We watch that every year and it gets more and more boring every time."

He sighed, "Well, why don't you call Oliver and see if he wants to come over for a while. You have a gift for him, don't you?"

"Yeah. I wonder if Mikayla's with him." She went to the phone and dialed. A few moments later Oliver picked up.

"You've reached Oliver Smokin' Oken… I mean just plain old Oliver. Nothing smokin' here…"

Miley covered the mouthpiece of the phone and called to Lilly, "Yeah, Mikayla's there with him."

He laughed, overhearing her, "How'd you know?"

"Only she could break you of your habit of silly nicknames." Miley laughed. "Look, I was calling to see if you and Mikayla wanted to come over for a few minutes. I have something for both of you."

"Sure! We just finished breakfast over here. Give me a chance to change into something other than my pajamas and we'll be right over." He hung up.

Miley was suddenly struck by inspiration, "Daddy, do we have any mistletoe?"

He shook his head, "Jackson refuses to let any in the house. I guess too many girls broke tradition with the poor boy."

"Well, a sprig of green will have to do. They won't be able to tell." Miley ran onto the back porch and snapped off a few leaves of a nice green plant. She hurried to the front door and enlisted Lilly's help. "Lift me up, will ya?"

"Don't you need something sticky to make it stay?" Lilly asked.

"Good idea!" Miley darted to the kitchen and grabbed the scotch tape. Back at the door she waited expectantly for Lilly to raise her up. Lilly wrapped her arms around Miley's legs and lifted. Using one hand to steady herself on Lilly's shoulder, Miley placed the greenery above the door. Hoping Lilly would keep her safe, Miley took her hand off the shoulder and ripped off a few pieces of tape and stuck those leaves securely in place.

"Looks good." Lilly grunted as she set Miley back on the ground. "Guess what?"

"What?" Miley asked, though she knew what this was about.

"We're under the mistletoe."

Miley glanced at Robby Ray, "Well?"

"I'm going to go get the morning paper… I figure that's like thirty seconds…"

"Thanks, daddy." As soon as he was out the back door, Miley placed her hands on Lilly's waist and pulled Lilly in for a quick kiss. Robby's seconds were always three times faster than everybody else's. Her estimation was right – eleven seconds later, Robby came back in with the paper clenched in his hands.

Miley and Lilly fell on the couch a few moments before Oliver entered with Mikayla. Lilly cackled and pointed above their heads. Oliver spotted the trap first, but made no move to kiss his girlfriend. She stared at him, daring him to try something. He didn't dare.

"Oh come on, Ollie. Be a man." She prodded.

"It's okay with you?"

She rolled her eyes, "No. I don't want my boyfriend kissing me."

"Oh! I get it." He leaned forward and kissed her quickly.

When the initial attack was over, presents were exchanged. Miley was shocked to find that Mikayla had brought something for her as well. Each had given each other a C.D. Miley blushed slightly as Mikayla pulled the wrapping paper off.

"Wow, I've wanted this for a while. How'd you know?"

Miley jabbed a finger at Oliver, "I had him help me."

"That's comical." Mikayla retorted, "I had him help me, too."

Miley opened hers little package to find a C.D. that she had been wanting as well. "Oliver's such a good shopper."

"Well I do have three female best friends." He soaked in the admiration until Mikayla shoved him off balance.

The day continued in good fun and good humor until around six in the evening. Miley and Lilly had taken turns in the shower, cleaning up before heading out with Jackson and Robby to the Truscott residence. Lilly was terribly afraid that her dad was going to try something during dinner. She hoped he would just bite his tongue.

Outside the house, Lilly pulled Miley aside for a moment, "Miles… can we possibly keep the P.D.A. to a minimum in there?"

Miley nodded, "I totally understand. Hands off. Got it."

They entered the house to find Ellen cheerfully cooking it up in the kitchen. Will was in the living room watching football. Jackson joined him in there while the girls went into the kitchen to offer assistance.

Robby found Ed in the backyard, a water bottle clutched tightly in the other man's hand. He sighed – somehow he'd gotten the idea that maybe the man would have changed. Making his presence known, Robby settled down next to the uptight fellow.

"Hello, Ed."

"Robby." Ed stated coldly.

"Look, Ed, I'm not going to tell you what to think, but I'm going to ask you, man to man, not to make a fuss today. It's Christmas. Take a break and enjoy yourself. If it helps, pretend they're not dating, just for today. I know they've already decided not to touch each other in your presence."

Ed took a few deep breaths, "I'm trying. I am."

"I know." Robby waited to see if Ed would continue; Ed did.

"I hate that I can't look at my daughter anymore." He stated blandly. "I know that I'm wrong but I can't change the beliefs I've had all my life so quickly."

"Lilly knows that. She's waiting for you." Robby assured him.

"I just hope she'll wait long enough for me to come around. I know she can't wait forever."

"She would. You're her dad. She loves you."

"Boys, come and get it!" Ellen rang a classic triangle dinner bell, calling the others from their various places in the house.

The meal went well enough. Ed kept his temper in check and managed a few, tense smiles in Miley's direction. Robby's words stayed put in his head and he found that it did help to think of his daughter and Miley was just friends. Lilly couldn't have been happier. To her it seemed like Mr. Truscott was finally coming around. It didn't, however, give her the nerve to touch Miley at dinner. Ed was grateful.

As the evening faded to dusk, Miley pulled Lilly aside, "I think I'm ready to give you the gift now."

Lilly shook her head, "I want to give you mine, first."

"If you really want." Miley wasn't going to complain.

Handing her gift over, Lilly glanced away, filled with nervous energy. Miley would have no idea what this gift truly meant, but Lilly had a little monologue running in her head about how she was going to explain it.

"Lilly… it's beautiful…" Miley cradled the necklace in her hands. "Help me put it on?"

Lilly beamed, "I found it that day you met Jeremy on the beach. It was the day I figured out that I was really jealous of him, well of boys in general, and how they acted around you. I guess it's the day I really started figuring out that I love you."

Necklace in place, Miley placed a thankful kiss on Lilly's cheek, "My turn, now."

Miley dug the box out of her pocket and handed it over to Lilly. She hoped this would mean as much as the elegant shell necklace. Lilly stared at the box in confusion – it was a ring box.

"Miles, I know I said I'd marry you that day at the park, but aren't we a little young?"

Miley stared at her expectantly, "Just open it. And I haven't really proposed yet. That would come after college."

Lilly blushed, "I see."

She tore the paper off the box and flipped the velvet box open to reveal a small silver band, plain except for a small sapphire set in the metal. Curious, Lilly lifted the band free from it's case and stared at it.

"So… if it's not an engagement ring, what is it?"

"I call it a promise ring." Miley whispered. "I promise that I will always love you. I promise never to hurt you purposefully. I promise to support you, no matter what. I promise to always be there for you." She took the ring from Lilly's hand and slid it on Lilly's right-hand ring finger. "And I promise that I will always, always be yours."

Lilly threw her arms around Miley's neck, "And I promise I'll wear every day and never take it off."

Christmas, Miley found, was her favorite holiday. Not because of the gift exchange, but because of how it brought people together.