All I Want
By Laura Schiller
Based on: Love Actually
Copyright: Storyline – Richard Curtis; Song – Mariah Carey
The spotlight blinded Joanna Anderson's eyes as she held on to the microphone stand, her hands cold and sticky with sweat. She was looking out at a sea of blackness instead of an audience; she could not even identify any of her friends and relatives.
As the music began, she stole one last glance at her mother's lovely, chocolate-skinned face at the front of the choir. 'The Great Jean Anderson' beamed with pride. She had organized the school band, the choir and even some of the teachers to accompany her precious daughter's solo debut at this, the West London Inter-School Christmas Pageant. This is your moment, baby, she seemed to say.
Joanna took a deep breath and began to sing.
"I don't want a lot for Christmas...
there is just one thing I need.
I don't care about the presents
underneath the Christmas tree.
I just want you for my own,
more than you could ever know...
Make my wish come true:
all I want for Christmas...
Her voice sounded foreign, as it always did with a microphone, and pathetically thin to her ears against the hush of the concert hall, only punctuated by one drumbeat at the end of each line. This slow beginning always made her nervous; it was a relief when the faster beat began.
Her stage fright blew away, as it always did, and she threw herself into the music, shaking her hips, feeling the waves of energy from her co-performers. The four backup dancers trooped onstage in their red hoodies and baggy jeans, transformed for the night from awkward pre-teens into wild hip-hop gangstas. Joanna knew quite well that at least two of them had volunteered just to be close to her; she could not decide whether to be flattered or deeply embarrassed, especially as there was only one boy she "liked" in, well, that way.
He was right behind her. Sam – Samuel Jones Aldridge, to be exact – playing the drums, his twilight-blue eyes narrowed in concentration, as she had seen it so many times during the past two weeks of rehearsal. She felt that she was facing in the wrong direction; by rights she should be singing every word to him, rather than to the shadowy mass that was her audience.
Sam wasn't like the other boys. He would never put a whoopee cushion on a girl's chair, pull on her pigtail or accuse her of having 'cooties'. He was quiet, sitting by himself at the cafeteria with his head in his chin and a dreamy look in his moon-white face. Not that he was a sissy, though; he'd even gotten into a schoolyard brawl with Jimmy Carter once and given the older boy a black eye. Nobody could pry Sam's motive out of him, not even the principal; rumor had it a girl was involved.
Sam was one of very few people in Joanna's year who paid no attention to her. She was pretty, talented, and had a celebrity for a mother; no wonder she was a magnet for the spotlight. Smile for the camera, baby. But Sam had never taken her picture, asked for her mother's autograph or cross-examined her about her family life; in fact, he never even spoke to her unless a teacher paired them up, and then he mumbled and stared holes into his desk. It was, by turns, a relief and a torment.
Why didn't he like her? What was wrong with her? Wasn't she pretty enough? Didn't he like the sparkly tops and grown-up-girl tight jeans she wore? Was it...maybe...because she was black? No. No, it couldn't be. Sam was a good person; he could never be prejudiced like that.
She sang for him. It was the simplicity of Mariah Carey's song that appealed to her; it might have been written just for her, for her secret wish to fly out through her mouth and sparkle in the air. Listen, Sam. This is me; this is what I'd say to you, if only I were brave enough... if only I had a reason to hope you felt the same.
"All I want for Christmas...is you!"
And with the impulse of a moment, she whirled around and pointed straight at Sam.
Time seemed to stop. The spotlights cast a greenish tinge on his white face and reddish-blonde hair; never had he seemed so remote, though he was only five steps away. She couldn't make out his expression. Was that a smile or a grimace of disgust?
Oh, no! What had she done?
Thinking fast, Joanna began pointing at her backup dancers, then into the audience: "And you...and you..." until her act of soul-baring became what looked like a harmless stage trick. It was an improvisational feat worthy of her mother.
The song ended with an abruptness that left her dizzy; as she made her bow and a storm of applause washed over her, she found she was trembling from head to foot.
The second curtain at the back of stage drew back, revealing a man in black kissing a woman in a red coat. Apparently they had been hiding back there, looking for some private time, and found some very public time instead. White confetti rained down around them like snowflakes; the applause reached a thundering crescendo, combined with laughter, as a dozen flashbulbs went off. Joanna glanced at them once and fled backstage, now embarrassed on their behalf as well as her own. To be caught out like that! How could they smile and bow as if nothing had happened?
What would it be like to kiss someone? she wondered as she made her way to the cloakroom. Slush spattered the floor under the harsh neon lights; she wrestled her fluffy pink coat out from among the hangers and shrugged into it, still seeing that beautiful couple in her mind's eye. For some reason, it brought a lump into her throat and she felt like hiding in this dirty room forever.
"You were fabulous – just fabulous!"
Her mother swept into the room and engulfed her in a tight, perfumed hug, followed by her father, beaming as if his face would split in two. "Well done," he said. "But girls, we have to hurry – the flight leaves in an hour."
The flight! Joanna felt as if she had been slapped. Of course – the flight to Las Vegas, where her mother had a three-year contract with one of the big casinos. She'd been trying not to think about it, but there was no escaping now. If only she were old enough to stay!
"Mom, Dad? Can I, uh...can I go say goodbye to...someone?"
The voice which had soared and swooped like a junior Mariah Carey's was worn down to a hoarse squeak. Her mother raised her eyebrows.
"I thought you already said goodbye to your friends."
But that's just it, she almost said, the words nearly choking her. He's not my friend at all. That's why it hurts so much to go.
"Oh," she said instead. "Right."
Her father glanced meaningfully at his watch; she trudged after her parents without a further word.
White and grey. Those were the words that came to mind as she entered the flight gate at Heathrow Airport. White walls, grey carpeting, steel railings and escalators. Only the signposts were yellow. People's faces were pale and worn, as if already anticipating airsickness, hard seats, long hours and plastic-flavored food.
Last call, said the announcer.
Joanna joined the lineup behind her parents, fumbling her passport and boarding pass out of her coat pocket. There was an almost dreamlike quality to the scene; the shadows of colors played across her eyelids, showing her how tired she was already, even before the flight. Or maybe it wasn't being tired; she felt like one big, throbbing bruise, but the pain did not seem to be in her body.
That was my last call back there. And I blew it, and I'll probably never see him again, and even if I had told him it wouldn't make a difference. He wouldn't care.
She turned around.
Impossible. Was she dreaming on her feet? Could this be Sam, breathing hard, his face flushed and shining, as if he had run across the terminal just to see her? Without a boarding pass, too?
"I thought you didn't know my name," he said softly.
His eyes were wide and dark, drinking in the sight of her as if committing her to memory. Making her beautiful just by looking at her.
"Of course I do."
Not to know Sam's name! Not to be aware of his existence, the way you feel the sun even with your eyes closed! The idea was absurd.
There was so much more she wnted to say, so much she wanted to ask him, and they could have stood there talking for hours in defiance of parents, flight schedules and all, if only the two black-clad security guards hadn't marched up behind Sam like cops come to collect a juvenile delinquent.
"Oh Jesus," he muttered, glancing over his shoulder, before they escorted him down the hall.
For the second time that night, Joanna followed her impulse. Her parents were already in the plane; the lineup was almost done; nobody stopped her as she took a wild dash after Sam. The guards, each with a hand on his shoulder, were marching him over to a pale, middle-aged man – his father – whose lined eyes were brimming with a triumph to equal his son's. Mr. Aldridge caught Joanna's eye and smiled, and she realized that he knew exactly what was going on. Let him; the world would know soon enough.
She crept up behind Sam and tapped him on the shoulder.
He turned around and simply looked. Everything she meant to him – all the sweetness and mystery of a young boy's first love – was reflected in his eyes, blue as the evening sky.
She kissed him on the cheek and whirled away, a song forming between the beats of her heart that was too beautiful for words.
Three years isn't forever. I will see you again, if I have to fly here all by myself. That's a promise!