"Hi little girl," Gabriella Montez said to the little girl who hugged her legs tight. The little girl's blonde hair flew as the wind brushed through their skins. Gabriella smiled and looked at her joyful blue eyes.
"Hi Gabriella," said the girl. Gabriella pushed her lightly away to allow herself to sit on her legs and face the girl easier. The girl shyly sucked on her thumb trying to look at the teenager's eyes.
"Hey Jenny, how are you?" Gabriella asked removing Jenny's thumb away from her mouth.
"I'm good, Gabi. Mom just brought me here and I asked if I can see you," Jenny replied politely and glanced slightly at her mother who was on a bench next to a stroller. "Mom says hi as well"
Gabriella smiled at the young girl. "Is that your brother?" she asked and watched Jenny nod her head fast. Gabriella smiled once again. "Let's go. I wanna meet your brother." The tall morena girl stood up and took Jenny's tiny hand and they swayed their way towards Jenny's mother. The older blonde girl smiled at Gabriella as she approached her.
"Merry Christmas, Mrs. Robins," greeted Gabriella with real smile on her face and a hug as she reached Jenny's mom. Mrs. Robins accepted gratefully and greeted her most favorite teenager a very merry Christmas.
Yes, it was days before Christmas and as usual, Gabriella was out on the streets looking around like an observant young little girl. She would go out in the park, the mall, the orphanage to greet her neighbors and practically everyone a Merry Christmas and give children gifts. She didn't do it for popularity purposes, she did it because… well no one really knew. She was a sweet girl, so everyone assumed that it was in her personality. And everyone knew it's not just because it was Christmas it was every single day of the year.
Children would say she was their Santa on Christmas day. She had given them gifts over the past years since she moved from Los Angeles. Less was known about her mysterious life. The neighbors only know that she and her mom moved from LA, she's a science genius, she has brunette hair like her mom and she like purple. But that was just it. Her father was never mentioned. Her moving in Albuquerque was never mentioned. The reason behind her being so kind was never mentioned. Nothing was mentioned about Gabriella… and no one really invaded the privacy she had chosen.
So when she stood up and made funny faces to the little boy in the stroller before she kissed Mrs. Robins goodbye and Jenny on her forehead, greeted the Merry Christmas the last time, she had just ended a day around the neighborhood.
The sun was just setting and everyone's getting into their houses to prepare for dinner and bed. Gabriella, too, went inside their huge house. Her footsteps were heard through the empty house as she made her way up the stairs to her bedroom. But as she opened her door, her face was shocked at what was sitting on her bed. A box wrapped in violet paper with a pink ribbon. She looked at it as if it was an alien invading her bed, searched for a card making sure it had reached the correct room or should have been in her mom's. But confusion flooded her as she scratched her head trying to understand why the beautifully wrapped package was addressed to her.
She looked from the package to her surrounding as if she would see whoever left the box. Her curiosity brought her outside her room and to her balcony searching for anyone who could probably give her a package. Maybe a neighbor who was being kind? She wanted to believe it was from her mom, but she knew it would never be since her mom had respected her wishes to not give her any gifts on her birthday or Christmas. And most especially because she knew her mom wouldn't write "Just for you on Christmas, open it."
As she whispered it through the air, she stared at it blankly making her way through her balcony door and closed it behind her.
The next day, Gabriella went out their house as usual. Her perfectly pressed dress fitted her body and the weather completely. It wasn't a very hot Saturday morning and not as cold as it should have been. So the v-neck sundress she got a few years ago made her comfortable walking around the busy streets of the neighborhood.
"Hi Gabriella," she turned around with a smile to face the caller but suddenly looked puzzle as she made eye contact with the person.
"Hi," Gabriella blurted realizing she paused for a short while. "Troy… it's a surprise seeing you here? What are you doing here?"
"I…" he made a small laugh at Gabriella. He smiled before continuing with he had to say. "Live here. Unless you don't know, we're your neighbors."
Gabriella laughed; her heavenly voice filled the air. "Of course, I know, Troy. I was just surprised you're up on a Saturday morning talking to me. We never really talked since we moved and when your parents asked us to have you for a while when you were grounded." She laughed again. "And you're usually either at the park, your backyard or in school playing basketball."
Troy smiled. "I never realized you knew something about me."
"Please, Captain. Would I ever help not to eavesdrop when everyone on campus are talking about you?" She teased and he lightly turned red on the cheeks. He never knew how easily he could talk with Gabriella. It was as if they had been teasing each other for years when in fact it only had been minutes. "Well, I've been around town so it's not hard to see you and your friends."
"Point accepted," Troy said. "So anyway, I just wanted to say Merry Christmas."
Gabriella was puzzled a little bit. She narrowed her eyes at him thinking why of all the years they've known each other, he picked this year to greet her Merry Christmas. He wasn't even at their door whenever his parents would bring her and her mom a wine, or a Christmas cookie or something as a gift every year on Christmas Eve. She was confused. They weren't friends… or at least not really close friends. "I'm sorry but I only serve and give gifts to children. Seventeen year olds who have a complete family and great friends really don't count much. You should be lucky to have them. I don't see anything wrong with what you-"
Troy cut her of with a laugh. Gabriella tilted her head to the side and furrowed her eyebrow. She didn't know what had gotten into Troy… but then again, she couldn't make any judgment since they do not know each other.
Or so she thought.
"I know this is a bit of a surprise to you, but believe me, I've always wanted to greet you. It's just been hard 'cause-"
"I'm sorry Troy, I wanted to keep chatting but I've got things to do." She said and smiled at him before she turned to walk towards the other side of the street and to the orphanage, as usual.
Troy wanted to follow but it seemed as if his feet are rooted to the ground. He wanted to shout and ask her to wait but it seemed as if his voice ran away with her. He sighed, turned back towards his house. Why can't I just go and talk to her? He thought.
The next day, Gabriella was reading under a huge tree at the park. The noise from the basketball players, the skaters and chatting girls didn't disturb Gabriella from reading her book. She looked very comfortable under the tree peaceful in its shadows.
"Yoah Troy, look out, man. You've spaced out…" said a manly voice Gabriella could probably easily tell had belonged to Chad Danforth. His voice could be recognizable anyway as he was heard all over East High School, the only school in the district.
"Sorry, dude… I think… I think I'm gonna stop for a while," Troy said passing the ball he picked up beside him to his best friend.
He made his way outside the court and sat on the grass. His shirt was hanging over his shoulders letting the heat of the sun touch his skin. The girls had been giggling and trying to hold back their squeals as they looked at Troy's perfectly toned body. Although, they were simply ignored by Troy as he took a look at Gabriella's peaceful figure under the tree. He stood up and made his way towards the girl watching her as she tucked a stray of hair behind her ears.
"Hey," he said. Gabriella looked up at him after finishing the page and smiled.
"Hi, Troy," she replied with a smile. "Lost your way to the court? It's just behind you if you want to ask."
Troy laughed. He knew Gabriella have seen him playing basketball with his friends and like she said yesterday, she would have had expected him there. He also expected Gabriella to be in the park but not reading books. "I know I surprised you yesterday but uhm… aren't you suppose to be at the orphanage now?"
"Ah, well change of plans. I just went from… Wait, how'd you know about me being in the orphanage at this hour?" Gabriella wondered. She closed the fat book she was reading and stayed on the grass but looked at the tall boy more intently.
"Aren't you always in the orphanage at this hour? Everyone knows that." Troy lied defensively. Only he knew about her whereabouts. Everyone did know about Gabriella's constant visit to the orphanage but not when and what time, of course apart from the people in the home. Gabriella seemed to buy his answer and looked blankly away from the bright cobalt eyes of Troy.
"I finished everything I had to do in the orphanage yesterday. Gifts, food, encouragement… I already sent fliers to families to let them know about the increasing amount of children loosing families. You can't imagine how many lost children are being sent there not knowing what their past was." Gabriella said. She looked at the park smiling at the sight of every family having picnic, strolling around or just being with each other.
She looked at Troy and smiled sheepishly realizing she had not yet explained to him about not being in the orphanage. "Nope, I am not in the orphanage at the moment because I am going to the hospital in" – she paused to look at her watch – "twenty minutes."
Troy looked back at his friends knowing they were waiting for him although they were still drawn in their game. "Well, do you have a ride to the hospital?" Troy asked.
"No. I was planning on walking actually. I always do, anyway."
"Well, not today. I will take you there." Troy said. Not offered. He stretched his hands at her to help her on her feet, which Gabriella took it and stood up. Brushing grass away from her dress, she laughed a bit at Troy.
"Troy, the hospital is not that far from here, you can save your gas."
"Well then, I'll walk with you."
"No, you won't. What about your game?"
"I'm here everyday, as you've noticed. The boys won't mind."
"Ok…" Gabriella said puzzled at Troy's kindness. "I'm not sure why you wanted to accompany me. But I'm telling you, you're not on my list so don't expect a gift."
"Don't worry Santa. I haven't been good all year, anyway. Plus, it's you who needs a Santa." Troy said walking ahead of Gabriella as she stopped to look at Troy in puzzlement once more.
"Why, all of a sudden, you're talking to me now? We used to just say hi and walk off," Gabriella began as they made their way towards the hospital.
"I know it's too late, we're seniors and in months we'll graduate, but to tell you the truth since you moved here from LA I've always wanted to meet you." Troy confessed.
"Well, you did," Gabriella stated the obvious.
"No, I mean get to know each other. You know as friends."
"You know, Troy. Ever since your surprise 'Merry Christmas' yesterday you gave me confusion." Gabriella confessed. She didn't look at him in the eyes. Ever since they began talking when they reached the sidewalk and off the park, Gabriella looked straight ahead or on the road.
"I know. I was surprised myself. It's been years since I wanted to get to know you. You can ask the Wildcats, I can't stop talking about you."
"What?" This time Gabriella looked at Troy. Total confusion flooded her bright brown eyes. Her furrowed eyebrows demanded him to tell everything. And that was what Troy was planning.
Troy smiled as he searched his brain for a way to begin. He took a deep breath before starting. "Gabi, I like you… Ever since you said hi to me when you moved, I like you. But I was too nervous to even start saying hi, so I only watched you. At your house, when you talk with the kids, in the park, at school… Anywhere I can see you I wanted to talk to you but it was either I get too nervous or something came up. I know that was really lame, but it was the truth."
"What made you come to me now?" Gabriella asked still trying to get to the point.
"The reason you're going to the hospital," Troy answered. "I know, ever since you got here in Albuquerque you spent your money for gifts and your time for every children in the village, especially the orphanage and the hospital. You spent your Christmas only with your mom and never asked her to give you a gift. You once got mad at her when she did. But Gabi," he stopped. He placed his hands on her shoulder and made her look at her. "You can't just lock yourself into your own shell. You can't just tell yourself that Christmas is for family because it's more than that. Give yourself a little token to all the great things you're doing."
Gabriella looked at him intently but softly. She was fighting back her tears and he knew it. "I had never realized anyone would see that. How'd you?"
"From my window," Troy stated as if it explains everything. "I can see you from there. I sometimes listen… But you speak really soft so it's hard."
Gabriella gulped and looked away from Troy and made her way again towards the hospital. She kept her head down thinking of what to do next. Troy followed closely behind.
"I actually hated Christmas," Gabriella began explaining in a soft lonely voice. She still had her head bowed down and Troy could tell she was crying. "We moved here to Albuquerque because I asked mom to take me away from LA, away from Dad. And luckily, her company sent her here. Christmas is all about love and I still wanted to believe that, except I can't. That's why I work with kids a lot, every year it had been the same old speech that Christmas is a time for giving, a time for joy, a time for laughter. But I never mentioned it was a time for love. Christmas for me is Dad. He was my favorite person in the world. He was the best friend I ever had. He was my everything. But on Christmas Eve, he was held up and got killed. I started hating Christmas. I promised myself I'll change; I promise myself I'll be good. I promised myself I'll be just like before when we move here. So I did, but the loving Gabriella never returned. I wanted to listen to my own words when I talk to kids, but I never did. Every night I would lock myself in my room and cry."
"Yeah, I can tell." Troy said. "For a good-doer like you, they always have a happy journey and go back home with a smile on their faces. But you, it's like a work you never really loved. It's like you forced yourself to do it and now I can tell why."
"How long have you known?" Gabriella asked Troy after a long pause between them.
Troy didn't have to think twice about what she was asking about. He knew exactly what it was. "Ever since you found out. Cancer isn't it?"
Gabriella nodded her head. She finally looked up wiping off the tears that had soaked her cheeks. Her eyes were puffy and red, tired. "This is stupid. I shouldn't have cried. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry. I've been watching you cry ever since." He said soothingly. He offered a smile and was greatly accepted by the girl. "Want a hug?"
Gabriella hesitated, Troy could tell but he spread his arms outward anyway. She smiled before accepting his warm hug. He tightened his arms around her petite body and it was his first time ever hugging someone he really cared. It felt so right to have her in his arms and yet so wrong that she seemed really small. It was as if she had never eaten anything in a week. And for the first time, Troy realized how weak Gabriella looked physically even through all the smiles she offered everyone.
"Are you taking medication?" Troy asked when Gabriella pulled away.
Gabriella shook her head. "Part of me wanted to, though. But a huge percent wanted to go and be with my Dad. I was only worried about mom, that's why sometimes I wanted to adopt a child for mom's sake."
"You still have a lot to do, Gabriella. You're still young. Your cancer hasn't spread yet, it isn't too late to start treatment. Gabi, your dad will always be there for you. There is a reason why he had to go cruelly. It is for you to be strong. Gabi, if cancer is what you get as a challenge, accept it and fight. There are a lot of reasons to live, think of the children that have loved you over the years you've been with them. Think about…"
"You?" Gabriella finished, although that wasn't Troy was going to say. "Troy, we just met. I only know you as my neighbor, I can't…"
"The more reason to keep yourself healthy…" Troy reasoned and although he never saw it coming, he knew there would come a time when he had to admit it anyway.
Gabriella smiled. Troy felt his heart soar as he saw Gabriella's curled lips. He wanted to kiss them, he wanted to hug her. He wanted to give her the strength he had to face this challenge. All those years he had kept himself from telling her, he wanted to let things out. He was so stupid not to have taken all the opportunity that was given to him. And he guessed this was his perfect timing as he could lighten Gabriella up. Every child needed Santa.
"Come with me? I need strength to start my treatment."
"Sure, on one condition," Troy said taking Gabriella's outstretched hands. "I want to be on your list."
Gabriella laughed her, water filled eyes were now gleaming with joy. "Oh alright, whisper to me your wish after I finish my appointment."
"I'm so glad you decided to respond to the treatments, Gabriella." Dr. Stevens' muffled voice was heard through the door of his office.
"Yes, I just hope I can respond to the bills," Gabriella joked in fuzzy voice.
"Oh don't worry about it. It's been taken care of."
"You're guardian angel."
Gabriella looked stunned when she exited Dr. Stevens' office. She was holding a small rectangular box wrapped in a violet colored paper with a pink ribbon tied on it. Who was her Guardian Angel?
"Hey, how was it?" Troy asked when he wrapped his arms protectively around Gabriella's small figure.
"It was okay," Gabriella replied breaking out of her trance. "I… well, someone knows about my condition and had given me a gift."
"Who's it from?"
"My guardian angel," Gabriella was confused. It was written all over he face. She checked the package for a card. She easily spotted it and read it. Always take care, it said on the card.
Gabriella raised an eyebrow mystified by the note. Troy kept his smile on his face as he watched her. "Aren't you going to open it?"
"Because I don't know who this is from. Could be dangerous or something."
"Good point. But are you going to keep it?"
Gabriella shook the package and made a satisfied smirk. "It doesn't sound like a bomb so it'll be fine."
"Are you ready to go home, then?" Troy asked.
"Let's go," Gabriella said excitedly and grabbed Troy's wrists.
"Hi mom," Gabriella's excited voice was heard from inside the house as soon as she went inside. Troy walked with her from the hospital and they began to get to know each other. Questions flew from one another ranging from favorite movies, to favorite songs, to stories about their lives. Gabriella surprised herself when she comfortably mentioned her life with her dad multiply times to Troy. It was as if Troy knew her Dad that she wasn't afraid she'll get too emotional on him. Gabriella was glad Troy greeted her Merry Christmas that day. She had finally come back to the spirit of the holidays.
"Mom, guess what," she began. She sounded as if she was trying to stay calm from all the excitement. "I have accepted the treatment and someone is paying for everything."
"What?" Her mother said in shock.
"Apparently, my guardian angel has heard about my condition and he or she is helping me."
"Any idea about who this angel of yours is? We could at least invite this person over and give him or her great thanks."
"Honestly mom I have no idea. It could be anyone."
"It could be everyone. After everything you did to all the people here in the neighborhood, they could have donated and offered the money."
"Mom, it's impossible. No one knows about my cancer."
Gabriella went to her bedroom feeling more alive than usual. It was the first time she opened her balcony doors as if she was flying. The smile on her face was very visible it was as if she had just survived her cancer. She made a twirl around her huge room and eventually stopped when once again a violet wrapped box was seen sitting on her desk. Three times now, and she still hasn't got a clue on who was giving her these gifts. She searched for the card and read the message out loud: All I want for Christmas is you.
"Looks like guardian angel flew in to drop another package off," said a lovely voice from outside.
"Troy?!" Gabriella said, startled. He was leaning on the balcony railing watching her with a smile. "What are you doing here? How did you…"
"I used the tree," Troy answered. "What does it say this time?"
"All I want for Christmas is you," Gabriella repeated the message. "I still had no ide-a" she said the last part slowly when parts had been put together in her head. She looked at Troy knowingly asking him through her eyes if he was her guardian angel.
"Well, I was planning on giving that on Christmas Eve, but you said to whisper my wish after the appointment. I have forgotten about it when you got all excited about random stuff."
Gabriella looked at him intently. Guardian angel – he had always watched her everyday, he had given her strength when she needed it, and he had seen her apart from the Gabriella she allowed everyone to see. She smiled when suddenly her knees fell to the floor and Troy ran to her worried.
"Gabi, are you alright?" Troy asked lifting her off the floor and putting her on the bed.
"Yes I am," she said as she looked at Troy's blue eyes very deeply for the first time. "Why? Why me? Why do you want to help me? Why do you want to spend something for someone you only talk with you when you say hi? Why do you want to help someone you barely know? Why?"
"Because you have shown an awesome friendship and family to children and they needed you just as you needed them. I wanted to help you because you deserve to get back what you have given to others. I would spend for you even a million if it means you will save yourself from slipping away. I want to help because I…" he trailed off deciding whether to tell it now or if it would be too much for Gabriella to handle.
"What, Troy? Please let me know…"
"I wanted to help because I wanted to know you more than just my neighbor. I know you from what I see, but I wanted to know you even more. Gabriella, you have given me light. You don't know how much of a loser I was before you come here. Back then popularity was all that matters. Status quo was a huge deal to me. What my friends think was essential. When I first saw you that day mom gave you her famous apple pie, I wanted to score 'cause hooking up with all the girls on our grade would be the best reputation I could have. But that very first time I saw you, I already saw the hurt you had been hiding and I knew I couldn't play tricks on you. And ever since then it had bothered me 'til I realized I have changed. I began looking out for you and that's when I saw you crying every single day. I tried getting to know you through your mom but it was hard when she was only giving brief answers. And it took me years to realize what I was feeling for you. Gabriella it was odd but I do felt a connection between the two of us. I want to know you more. I want to be able to give you the love that you have lost. I wanted to show you love still exists."
"Troy, I…" Gabriella's voice trembled as she searched for words to match Troy's but she remained speechless. After a few moments with no movement from the two of them, Troy stood up and went for the balcony. When he turned to look at Gabriella, she was already sitting on her bed. Her brown eyes were leaking unstoppable waters looking at Troy intently.
"Gabriella, you don't have to say anything." He began as he watched her making her way out of her bed and walking towards him. "It was important for me to have said that and now I did. I don't mind what you wanted to do, but I do hope that you keep doing this treatment. Just for the sake of the children loving you so much and the family you have helped, keep yourself healthy. Gabriella, I'll always be watching out for you wherever you…"
"I know," Gabriella cut him off as she caressed her hands on the back of Troy's head. She pushed his head towards her and slowly pressed her lips on him kissing him gently. Troy accepted the kiss and followed the rhythm. His heart jumped happily like it was bouncing of his chest. He had always wanted to feel like exploding when he kissed a girl and he never knew it would be Gabriella. He smiled through the kiss and pulled away when air was needed.
Gabriella smiled at him and gave him a hug, "Troy, thanks for a lot of things. You can have me for Christmas."
Let's just say I had the best Christmas ever in my life. I constantly brought Gabriella to the hospital and although there were times when she felt bad and fainted, she recovered easily. Everyday she seemed to be getting a lot healthier than the day before. I went with her throughout the neighborhood and she welcomed me to her small little world with kids and I enjoyed the view of Gabriella's smile with the kids who love her. I love seeing her happy and it was great to feel that I was one of the reasons her face was lightened up in bliss. She was my angel and will always be. But I will always be her guardian angel looking out for her and will always be there whether she needed me desperately or just someone she could hold. Gabriella will always be in my heart.
"I love you," I finally said on Christmas day and brought her outside their doorstep to just enjoy the peaceful night away from the party noise in the house.
"I love you wildcat," she said to me and I love hearing it. She looked a lot healthier now and she fit more perfectly into my arms but treatment should still go on. I smiled at her and at the little ornament above our heads. "Guess you have planned this, I saw you putting it up."
I felt my cheeks heat up and nodded my head. She reached for my chin and I leaned towards her and placed a kiss on her soft lips as she kissed back. There's nothing like Christmas when you had your loved one with you. I wish you all a very merry Christmas.