AN: I was so depressed in January when I realized that the chaos of moving had ruined all my hopes of finishing the Elf challenge during the 2008 holidays, meaning I'd have to wait until December 2009. Then I saw this prompt on the list and knew exactly what I was going to do. It still meant waiting, but it was worth it. I hope you all enjoy.

Timeframe: HSM2

Treat Every Day like Christmas

Derby Evans enjoyed meddling in her children's lives -- and not just because Sharpay's face scrunched up so hilariously when she was annoyed. That was why she decided to break tradition that year and have her anniversary party at Lava Springs, even though all the arrangements had already been made to have it in a hotel in Albuquerque.

She tried very hard, as she waited for Vance to return with her drink, not to laugh at the Wildcats. A particularly disgruntled boy with large hair had just passed, muttering about how he would never live this horror down. She decided not to compliment him on how adorable he looked in his Santa hat.

Though the hats may have been a problem. Usually, all she had to do to find Ryan was search for the boy wearing the hat, but with all of the servers wearing one it was problematic at best. She scanned the crowd, smiling at anyone who caught her eye, until she saw a dark blue fedora. Vance had been waylaid by one of the club's other governing board members and wasn't likely to escape soon, so Derby made her way through the crowd to her son, pausing every few steps to thank someone for coming.

He was sitting at the piano, playing a duet with the young girl who Sharpay had hired to replace poor Tiffany. The song ended and the girl transitioned easily into the next piece, leaving Ryan out. Derby smiled at her son's small pout and decided it was time he danced with her. As she approached Ryan reached up and flicked the puff ball on the end of the girl's hat. Derby froze, her eyes going wide, before she took two small steps, bringing her just close enough to hear the two, but not to be obvious should either turn back and see her.

"Stop it," the girl muttered when Ryan flicked the ball again.

"But it's a Santa hat," he said with a smile, "you're supposed to make it flop around."

"Not while Santa is playing the piano, you aren't."

"I've never heard that rule," he said, flicking it again.

The girl shook her head slowly. She had yet to stop playing and Derby was very impressed with her composure under such impish pressure.

"Why is it Christmas themed?" she asked abruptly, making Ryan pause. "I mean," she added, "it's over a hundred degrees out, it just seems weird."

He smiled as he said, "Mom always wanted a winter wedding, but Grandpa -- Dad's dad -- was sick and they didn't think he'd live long enough if they waited. So they had a Christmas themed ceremony in the middle of July. Every year since they've repeated the theme for their anniversary party. What?" he asked and Derby wondered what the girl's expression was that made his tone almost defensive.

"I think it's sweet," she said. "Having the wedding early, Christmas in July … it's nice."

She glanced at him and Derby couldn't help but smile at the way the two stared at each other. For a moment she wondered if her son was going to make a move -- she spent several tense seconds debating between turning away and stopping them -- before Ryan slid over on the seat, almost toppling the poor girl as he took over playing. The girl, balanced on the edge of the bench, stared at him in shock and burst out laughing. No one else seemed to notice the change in musicians and Derby turned back to the room at large with a smile just as Vance arrived with her champagne.

"I thought we had the party here to get Sharpay to spend more time with that baker," Vance said, glancing over Derby's shoulder at the piano.

Derby shrugged and took a drink. "So did I. It seems we missed a few things."

Vance nodded, leading her towards the dance floor. "She's cute though. Talented."

She handed her glass to a passing server before taking Vance's hand and adding, "She always wears hats, too."

The Evans smiled knowingly at each other as their son and the pianist began a new duet.


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