Thursday, Dec. 19
Whoever thought that it was a good idea to have gym class outside was clearly not in their right mind.
At least, that was the thought of the entire sophomore gym class as they huddled out in the snow, glaring at both their instructor and the soccer ball he held in his palm. But, then again, they really shouldn't have been surprised. The coach always had them out on the field, rain or shine.
But this wasn't rain or shine. It was a week until Christmas. And it was Magnolia. Therefore, it was snowing.
"Come on!" One of the students yelled angrily. "We're dying here!"
The couch frowned, and threw the soccer ball at the student's head. It clonked his forehead, causing him to shriek like a girl and topple over backwards in the snow.
"Coach Dragneel!" A girl whined. "This snow is ruining my hair!"
"Suck it up, buttercup," Natsu told her. There was a wide grin plastered on his face, and he planted both hands on his hips firmly. "Come on, kids! Nothing gets the blood pumping like a good old play in the snow, right?"
"Used to be," grumbled the student who he'd hit with the soccer ball, as he clambered to his feet. "Back before they banned snowball fights!"
Natsu snorted. He had never once in his life agreed with the no-snowball fights rule. It was the best part of snow. And he disliked snow.
"Tell you what," he told the kids. "How about, for today's and tomorrow's class of gym, if you promise not to tell any other teachers...I'll let you have snowball fights."
Every face in the class lit up. "Really, Coach Dragneel?" asked the girl who was worried about her hair. She was already tying it back. Natsu nodded, and the class promptly screamed in joy and began their battle.
Natsu burst out laughing as the group of mature sixteen-year-olds was reduced to a group of screaming pre-schoolers. Now, this was what coaching gym was all about. It wasn't the grades or the athletic ability. It was about having fun.
Maybe that was why he always got in trouble with the school board, he wondered. If they had any idea he was letting the kids have a snowball fight, he had no doubts they'd flip some shit.
Watching them get clobbered with snowballs, however, was one hundred times worth whatever punishment they threw his way. Natsu ducked as one came flying his way, and jumped out to join the fray with a huge grin plastered on his face.
"Mira, don't you think we're just a bit too old for Secret Santa?"
The secretary punched a few keys into the board, frowning at her co-worker. "Too old for Secret Santa? Miss Heartfilia, I am ashamed of you."
Lucy rolled her eyes, sitting down in the wheelie-chair next to hers. "Be ashamed of me all you want. It doesn't mean I agree with your idea, Miss Strauss."
Mirajane looked sideways at her companion. "Don't you have class?"
"This is my block off, remember?" Lucy reminded her. "I usually spend it in the library with Levy, but today I wanted to see you. And clearly, it's a good thing I did, because you are planning something crazy!"
"Not crazy," Mirajane continued typing away, polished fingers clacking on the keys. "Perfect. Weren't you just complaining about how hard it was going to be buying everyone presents for Christmas on your teacher's salary?"
Lucy flushed. "That-well-"
"It'll be much easier this way," Mirajane promised her. "You'll only have to buy one gift! Twenty dollar limit! It's saving so much!"
Lucy bit her lip. All right, granted, it was a good idea, but... "You're only doing this to set people up."
Mirajane gave a scandalized gasp. "I am not!" She said, but Lucy didn't believe her for a second. "This is from the goodness of my heart!"
"The goodness of your heart wants to see us all married," Lucy said flatly. "Just so you can plan all our weddings."
The secretary's eyes took on a dreamy haze at the mention of weddings. "Lies, Lucy, all lies."
The bell rang, and Mira snapped out of her trance. "Well, now you have no more excuses. I know you have class this block."
"Yeah, yeah," Lucy sighed, hopping off the chair. "Time to teach some illiterate students how to read. Enjoy your day, Mira."
"Don't forget about the meeting after school!"
"Oh yeah." Lucy grinned sheepishly. "Forgot about that."
As the busty blonde left the office in search of her English classroom, Mirajane pulled up the document she'd been working on before she entered. It consisted off almost the entire school faculty, paired off. Oh yes, she was cheating. She was using Secret Santa as an excuse to set up her co-workers. But really, it was high time these clearly perfect couples settled down together. And if she managed to snag herself a handsome English professor herself in the process, well, what was the harm?
"Mira, what are you doing?"
She jumped as the voice of the vice-principal pulled her out of her thoughts. Sheepishly, she looked up. "Nothing at all, Mr Dreyar."
She pouted. "It's for the good of all, Laxus."
He rolled his eyes. "They are going to kill you if they ever find out."
"They won't find out," she said sharply. Laxus raised his eyebrows. "And besides, you want to see them all settled down, don't you?"
Laxus grunted in agreement. Leaning over, he asked, "Who do I have?"
"Your grandfather." Mirajane smiled sweetly at him, and he sighed heavily.
"I was going to buy him something anyway," he pointed out.
Mira shrugged. "Yes, but you already have a girlfriend, so I can't set you up with anyone. How is she, by the way?"
"Good. And I'm glad you're leaving her out of this. She's terrified of all my co-workers, and now I know why."
She chuckled. "Well, at least you don't have to worry about being alone on Christmas. But for the rest of us, we need a little push."
Laxus leaned over her chair, peering at the list. "How many couples have you thought of? Two, four...seven... holy crap, ten coulpes?"
"Ten weddings," she reminded him. "Eleven if we count yours. When are you going to ask, by the way?"
Laxus, completely lost for words, turned around and left.
Mirajane beamed. "Now, let's just stick Droy with Jet...can't have them ruining Levy's moment...oh, and Macao with Wakaba...and Kinana? Oh, that's right; she and her boyfriend are going on holiday." Still grinning like an idiot, she hit 'print.'
Levy stretched, trying her hardest to push the book onto the shelf. Growling a little in frustration, she jumped and smacked the spine, causing the book to slide into place but the entire shelf to wobble. Panicking, she grabbed the wood and tried to hold it steady. After a few seconds, it stopped and she let out a breath.
"Nice going, Miss McGarden," one of the students snickered at her. She waved them off faintly, too relieved that she hadn't caused a catastrophe in her own library to care about the teasing. Besides, she knew they didn't mean it. Everyone in the school loved their librarian; she was the best one in all Fiore State.
Having put all returned books in their proper place, Levy hopped in front of her computer to check overdue books. There were hardly ever any, but...
Aha. Apparently, Mr Jonathan Brooks decided not to return his copy of The Hunger Games. As much as Levy wanted to take pity on him – it was quite a good book – she had a reputation to uphold.
"Clary?" She asked one of the girls sitting and reading quietly. "Can you take over for a few minutes? I need to go hunting."
"Sure thing, Miss McGarden." The senior girl jumped at the chance to help. She slid into Levy's seat fingers poised and ready to help anyone who asked. Levy smiled; this wasn't Clary's first time covering and she always did a good job.
Before leaving, Levy checked onscreen what class Jonathan Brooks had. Her cheeks tinted as she read the class title. Jewellery and Metalworking 11. Oh, just perfect.
Thanking Clary again, Levy hurried out of the room and down the hall, around to the stairs that led down to the basement of the school. Magnolia High was not renowned for many things, but if it was something, it was their impressive auto and metal shop. This also, she figured with a blush, had something to do with their equally impressive auto and metal shop teacher.
Down in the basement, the sound of metal clanking and nearly overtook her ears. It was divided into two parts, the garage and the shop. Since Magnolia High was built on a hill, one side of the basement was actually on ground level, and giant garage doors were always open to accept new cars to be worked on. Auto class currently wasn't in session, but Levy still had to maneuver her way around the broken cars to get to the shop class door.
Sparks flew when she entered, quite literally. Someone had been cutting a piece of metal using a very angry-looking saw. Skipping around, Levy scanned the large room – it was more like a cavern, really – finally catching sight of the teacher over by the welding machines.
Gajeel Redfox looked intimidating, that much was for certain. Ninety per cent of freshmen who came to Magnolia were terrified of him, and the seniors loved spreading rumours about how scary he was. Even Levy herself had been rather unsettled by him when they first met. He was unconventional for a teacher; red eyes, long black hair, and piercings all over his face.
But as a bubbly blonde with her hair in a ponytail came bounding up to him, holding up her project for inspection, there wasn't a hint of fear on her face. "How is it?" She asked.
Gajeel took the silver ring from her hand, examining it from all sides. "Use the Dremel on the inside one more time, you missed a scratch. And then buff it again. Otherwise, it's A material."
The student beamed. "Thanks!" She took the ring back and headed off by Levy. Gajeel watched her go in amusement, his eyes finding Levy.
"What are you doing down here?" He asked as she came up to him, skirting past the rowdy-looking boys with goggles strapped across their face. It was odd to find a librarian in a shop class, that was for sure.
"One of the kids has an overdue book," she explained.
"The hell should I care?" Gajeel asked, turning back to his welding. There was a hint of a smile on his face, and Levy knew he was only baiting her. She fell for it anyway.
"School goes on break tomorrow!" She pouted angrily. "And if all the books aren't in the library by then, I could lose my job."
Gajeel snorted. "Oy, don't be so dramatic. Who's the kid?"
"Jonathan Brooks," she answered, still glaring at him.
The shop teacher perked up. "Brooks?" Then, a wicked grin spread across his face. "Oh, he's been asking for trouble the whole past week." Nudging her, he asked, "Wanna see something fun?"
Levy, cheeks suddenly on fire from the contact, nodded faintly.
"Brooks!" Gajeel called, voice ringing over the machines and clangs of the shop. One of the rowdy boys with goggles glanced up, taking them off and looking to his friends in worry. Trotting over, he attempted a brave face.
Gajeel crossed his arms. "Got something to tell us, punk?"
Jonathan Brooks gave a small 'eep.' Levy had to admit, she was impressed. There wasn't a hint of the gruff but kind teacher from a second ago. He was back to being the scary dragon that guarded the metal shop. Levy couldn't really blame poor Jonathan Brooks for looking so scared.
"Um..." his eyes darted from Gajeel to Levy. Recognizing her as the librarian, his face further whitened as he squeaked, "I have a book overdue?"
"That's right," Gajeel answered. "You have a book overdue."
"You wanna know something?" Gajeel asked. He picked up the welding torch, turning the dial. Grabbing the sparker, he clicked it a few times, causing a small flame to jump out every time. "Miss McGarden here has a job that depends on students handing in books on time. If the Christmas break comes and there are some unreturned books..." he gave the sparker a particularly hard click, and Jonathan flinched. "Well, let's just say she might not keep this job."
"I-I'll go and get it right away," Jonathan sputtered. Levy was fighting very hard not to smile.
"One more thing before you go," Gajeel stopped him, voice light.
Jonathan gulped. "Yes, Mr Redfox?"
In a split second, Gajeel raised both the welding torch and the sparker in front of Jonathan's face a clicked them at the same time, causing a large burst of flames to go off. Jonathan shrieked and bolted away, as the entire class burst out laughing and Gajeel gave a hearty chuckle.
"You're too mean," Levy scolded him lightly, but couldn't keep the grin off her face as a shaking and angry Jonathan handed her the copy of the Hunger Games. He stalked away, ignoring the way the class continued to laugh.
"He's been asking for it," Gajeel snorted. "Punk kid thinks he knows everything."
"That's still no excuse," Levy tried, but she too was giggling now. "Thanks, Gajeel."
"Not a problem," he answered, now focused entirely on his welding project. She grinned; was it the firelight or were his cheeks glowing? Turning on the spot, she nearly danced out of the classroom, book in her arms.
Now, if only he could just ask her out on a date, it would be the best Christmas ever.
The after-school meeting of teachers took place in the library, as per usual, as most of the faculty gathered around for their annual before-Christmas meeting. It wasn't as if they really had much to talk about. Usually teachers meetings lasted five minutes of Makarov, the principal, berating them for being shitty brats and two minutes of Mirajane telling them what was appropriate for Christmas parties and then they were on their way.
This year, however, Lucy had a feeling it would be different as she sat in the chair beside the other English teacher, Freed Justine. This year, Mirajane had to tell them all about her 'wonderful' idea.
"She's having a Secret Santa?" He asked in amusement, cheeks dusted red as they always were when the pretty secretary was mentioned. Lucy thought he looked like a Christmas ornament with his green hair and red jacket, and fought off a snicker.
"Yep. You'd think we were too old, but..."
"Too old?" Freed gestured around to the various staff members. "We're about as mature as the kids we teach."
Lucy looked out at the arguing group of adults. Well, he had a point.
"Everyone!" Makarov clapped his hands. The room fell to attention. "Well, haven't you been just the worst bunch of teachers ever," he grumbled at them. This, of course, caused them all to giggle and Makarov to roll his eyes. "I won't get on your cases too much because Mira has a big announcement. The floor is yours."
Lucy raised her eyebrows in surprise. She leaned in beside Romeo, her student teacher. "That didn't take long, did it?"
"He must be in the Yuletide spirit," Romeo whispered back, and she nodded.
Mirajane clapped her hands. "Right, everyone! As I'm sure Lucy's already spread the rumour, you should all know – this year the faculty will be engaging in a Secret Santa!"
There was a collective groan from the audience. "What are you trying to do here, devil woman?" Gajeel grumbled from the back.
"I'm trying to save you all money," Mirajane said matter-of-factly. The tactic had worked on Lucy earlier, so why not now? "This way you won't have to buy a bunch of different presents, just one!"
There were still complaints, but Mirajane wouldn't take no for an answer. She went around the group, holding out a hat for them to reach in to.
It seemed innocent enough, but Lucy wasn't fooled. She watched Mirajane with a careful eye as she went around the circle. Everyone else was broken off into different conversations, so they weren't paying attention at all, but...there. Lucy saw it; before Mirajane came to each person she surreptitiously dropped a name in the hat.
Lucy was completely outraged. There were not names in that hat at all, were there? Mirajane dropped one name in depending on who she came to, and so that was the only possible name for them to pull out!
Mira came up to Romeo next, winking. "You, too," she told him, and he stuck his hand in half-heartedly. As it came out, he checked and his whole face went red.
Lucy slunk down in her seat. She could read the paper from over his shoulder; it read Wendy Marvell, the apprentice of the school nurse. Looking over to where she sat, Lucy could see the young woman's face had turned a lovely shade of pink.
Come to think of it...as Lucy looked around, she saw almost the entire group with a face that was some shade of embarrassment. Then Lucy remembered her earlier assessment that Mirajane's only plan had been to set everyone up. She looked back to Mira with wide eyes. You wouldn't dare.
Mira's eyes were gleaming as she handed Lucy the hat. Oh yes, I would.
With a tentative hand, Lucy reached in. Feeling around, her suspicions were confirmed: there was only one slip of paper in the Santa hat. And whoever it was, Lucy was certain, was going to be the person Mirajane believed Lucy should be married to and have – if it was Mira's opinion – thirty children.
And if it was Mira's opinion, Lucy had a pretty good idea of what the name on the paper would be.
Pulling her hand back out and glancing down, Lucy felt her stomach plummet accordingly. Oh, yes, she'd been absolutely right. She glared up fiercely at Mirajane, who gave her an innocent look before moving on to Freed.
Lucy watched sullenly as he pulled the supposed 'last' name from the hat – which Lucy knew was none other than Mirajane's. She gave Freed one last flirtatious look and then swayed up to the front of the circle again to continue her announcements.
"Now, the limit on the presents is twenty dollars, no more, but preferably no less. That means no cheap dollar store trinkets, everyone!" Mirajane looked directly at Lucy as she continued. "We will swap presents on our annual Christmas party on the 24th. I assume everyone is free?"
"Where is it this year?" Macao, the Spanish teacher, asked.
"Yeah it better be at a bar!" His friend and Biology teacher Wakaba added on.
Mirajane laughed. "It'll be at the Renaissance Hotel this year," she said. "Sorry guys, no bars this time."
"But Wendy's legal drinking age now!" Someone hollered, and everyone laughed as said 22-year old went even redder.
"Doesn't matter," Mira shook her head. "I've already booked it! Remember everyone, have your Secret Santa presents ready to go! And dress nicely, as per usual!"
Ever since Lucy had been hired to Magnolia High, the faculty had thrown a large Christmas party on the 24th, and every year it was somewhere different. Sometimes at posh country clubs, sometimes at karaoke bars, and some, like this year, at hotels. It was fun to see everyone dress up fancy, and they always had a good time dancing and drinking.
Mira had now started going through her usual list of announcements. "Tomorrow is the last day of school before Christmas break!" She stated. "And I know most of you are going to be having parties in your classrooms, so let me go over what's appropriate and what isn't.
"Gajeel, Twisted Christmas Carols is not the right CD to play in class.
"Lucy, When Harry Met Sally is not an appropriate movie for any time of the year.
"Cana, no sneaking drinks into the art class. Bacchus, you may be new, but that goes for you, too."
Cana and Bacchus gave a simultaneous groan. Bacchus was a Latin professor from Quattro College, but this year the school had decided to open a Latin class due to popular demand and Bacchus had been the first person they hired. He wasn't used to teaching kids that didn't show up to class drunk.
Mira called the meeting to a close, and the group began to leave in groups or pairs. Lucy stayed behind, glaring at the small slip of paper between her fingers.
"Curse you, Mira," she mumbled under her breath.
"What was that, Luce?"
She jerked her head up to see one very tall, very handsome, very brightly grinning gym coach leaning on the table in front of her. She shook her head vehemently. "I didn't say anything."
He didn't believe her and she knew it. But... "So you still can give me a ride home?"
She cuffed him lightly on the head as she stood up. "Get your own car, Ferris Bueller!"
"But Luce!" Natsu whined. "You know I can't drive! I get motion-sick!"
"The take the bus!" Her arguments didn't matter; he was already following her out the door. Lucy tried very hard to ignore Mira's heated gaze.
All the while, Lucy clutched at the white strip of paper in her fingers with a name printed on it, a name of a person whom she was almost certain had a strip of white paper with her own name printed on it.
Friday, Dec. 20
Erza sat in her plush seat comfortably, hands folded on the desk and glasses perched on her nose. Soft Taylor Swift music played from the stereo. So sue her if she liked the singer. Her music was very catchy for someone like Erza Scarlet.
The councillor eyed the sobbing student in front of her. "What's the matter, dear?" She asked her. Erza had thought – oh, yes, she'd thought – that there would be no one in her office on the last day before break. And maybe, she would have time to sit down and eat her strawberry cake in peace. Apparently, this was not the case.
The girl sucked in a breath. "I think I'm failing physics," she said quickly, before bursting out into tears again.
Erza's eye softened. Not another one. "What makes you think that?"
She sniffed. "Well – Mr Fernandes is just so hard on me!"
Reaching over, Erza patted the girls shoulder. "Mr Fernandes only wants you to succeed," she promised the girl. "And besides, think of how hard it must be for him! Why, no one likes his subject. So maybe you just need to try a little harder, hm?"
The girl nodded. "Yes, Miss Scarlet," she smiled. "I'll try and do better."
"Good to hear," Erza sent the girl off, and settled back into her chair. Sighing, she made a mental note to talk to Jellal later about not being so harsh on the students.
Speaking of Jellal...Erza pulled out the Secret Santa slip. Of course she would be so lucky as to get her childhood friend's name. At least shopping for him would be easy. Erza had already thought about what to get him for Christmas anyway...perhaps a soap dispenser? Or a new toothbrush! Jellal would always be glad to receive a gift that was useful. Maybe some new socks?
There came a knock on the door, and Erza looked up from her musings to see Cana leaning on the doorframe. "Don't you have class?" Erza asked her sharply.
"They're watching a movie," Cana shrugged, entering without Erza's permission. "They don't need me for that."
Erza frowned deeply. "You should not be skipping your classes. You set a bad example."
"I am a bad example." Cana grinned wickedly. Almost everyone in the school was a little bit afraid of Erza Scarlet. Cana was not one of these people. She ignored Erza's heated glare as she plopped down into the seat meant for students. I wanted to talk to you about Secret Santa."
"Oh?" Erza leaned back in her chair. "What about it?"
"Well." Cana's grin was still wide. "I just happened to pull a certain name from that hat, and I was talking to Gray last night, and you'll never guess what certain name he pulled from the hat. In fact, I can warrant a pretty good guess at what name you pulled from the hat."
"Guess," Erza shot.
"Jellal," Cana shot back, and Erza's eyes widened. "See? I knew it! Gray got Juvia, and I got Bacchus." She showed Erza the slip of paper triumphantly. "It's another one of Mira's schemes."
Erza twisted some of the paper on her desk. "Why, that devil woman," she growled, anger coming off her in waves. "How dare she use such a sacred holiday for one of her match-making setups!"
"Are you kidding?" Cana's eyes were wide. "It's the perfect opportunity! Here I am, trying to figure out how to ask out Bacchus, and she provides me the perfect excuse!"
Erza was a little dubious at that. "You like Bacchus?" She asked. The last anyone heard, the two had been bar-hopping, Bacchus had out-drank Cana and stolen her bra as a trophy.
"He's an asshole," Cana answered. Seeing Erza's face, she leaned in conspiratorially. "I like that."
Erza groaned. "You are everything that is wrong with the world."
"You wanna know the full story?" Cana clapped her hands, ignoring Erza completely. "That night we went bar-hopping? Yeah. Didn't end there."
"It didn't?" Erza asked. Cana snickered.
"You wanna know why he really took my bra?"
Erza gasped, scandalized. "You didn't!"
"I did!" Cana cackled with glee. There was nothing she loved more than shocking Erza. "And it was great, too."
"Then why aren't you two..." Erza asked uncomfortably.
"An item?" Cana shrugged. "No reason. It was just one of those nights. But I've been thinking about it recently and I want it to be more than one of those nights, so..." she grinned again. "As I said, perfect opportunity!"
"And you think the same will work for Jellal and I?" Erza asked. Cana was also the only person who knew of her hidden feelings for the physics instructor. This was mostly because Cana knew Erza the longest outside of Jellal, and had figured it out for herself some seven or eight years ago.
"Yep!" Cana was beaming with glee. "Nothing can get two individuals together like Christmas spirit!"
Despite Cana's obvious glee, Erza was still apprehensive. "I still don't see how," she said finally. Cana blinked.
"You don't see how?" Sighing, the arts instructor crossed her legs on the chair. "Erza, gift-giving is a very crucial part of a relationship. It shows that you understand the other person, well enough to know what they want and go out of the way to get it for them. It's romantic. Also, a great pre-cursor to thank-you sex."
Erza choked on air.
"What? I'm just saying!"
Still sputtering, Erza shook her head wildly. "N-nothing like that!" She managed to gasp out. "I-I want no-none of that!"
Cana shrugged. "Your loss. But this is all besides the point, Erza. What were you planning on getting Jellal?"
Erza took a deep, calming breath. The redness wouldn't fade from her cheeks, though. "Socks," she said finally, and now it was Cana's turn to choke on air.
"S-socks?" She gaped. "You have the chance to buy Jellal something that could finally get your feelings across...and you think of socks?"
"It's practical," Erza argued.
"It's not supposed to be practical!" Cana began ripping her hair out, seething in anger. "Is that the kind of thing you've gotten him every year?"
"Yes." Erza still didn't see what the issue was.
"Oh." Cana folded her hands complacently. "Now I understand the problem. He thinks you're his mother."
"Well only mothers buy things like socks!"
Desperate, Erza flung at Cana, "Well what have you gotten Bacchus?"
"Well, I just so happened to get him not one, but two bottles of 12-year old Merlot," Cana said triumphantly.
Erza raised both eyebrows. "That must have exceeded the twenty dollar limit," she pointed out. Cana smirked deviously.
"Yes, but those extra dollars will be worth it when he takes me back to his place, and promptly begins to rip off my clothes-"
"Please leave now, Cana."
"-with his teeth."
A red-faced Erza pointed to the door. Cana snickered, heading out. "It's something to think about, Erza," she sing-songed. "Six days left. Find him something extraordinary." Sneaking a glance at the stereo, she added, "Also, T-Swifty? Really?"
"She provides an air of calm to the students in my office!" Erza yelled, but Cana was already walking down the hall, echoing laughter as she went.
Erza groaned, placing her head in her hands. That wasn't fair of Cana...but 12-year old Merlot? Gracious, even Erza would be astounded at a gift like that. And if Jellal managed to get her something that nice...
An image of him at the Christmas party, presenting her with a dazzling, beautiful and expensive gift flashed through her mind. "Erza, I have wanted to tell you something for a long time..." dream-Jellal said, and real-life-Erza squealed. Burying her face in her arms, she tried very hard to think calmly.
This was no time to lose her head. Cana was right, Mirajane had provided them all a perfect opportunity. All she had to do was keep calm and think it through. She had to be rational. Level-headed. Smart.
Then again, that version of Erza would probably end up with the soap dispenser.
Lisanna wandered the halls, for once her double duty as lunch-monitor starting to get on her nerves. Lisanna was a patient soul, but when it was this close to Christmas and you were still stuck in school, even teachers got impatient and annoyed.
This was why Lisanna was meaner than usual when she stopped a bunch of screaming freshmen girls running down the halls. Grabbing the backs of their shirts, she snapped, "Where are you running off to so fast?"
"Not off to," one squealed. "Away from!" The rest gave a collective shriek. It was grating on her ears.
"What were you running away from, then?" She asked. One of the girls pointed to the stairwell.
"It's the janitor!" she said. "He's so scary!" This caused the girls to continue running down the halls, all half screaming and half-laughing. Lisanna was too tired to deal with them. Grumbling in annoyance, she headed for the stairwell and climbed the steps to the basement.
Apparently he was fixing the lights, because it was darker than usual down on the bottom floor. Squinting, she reached the bottom of the stairs. "Hello?"
Nothing. Lisanna pursed her lips. She was not in the mood for this today. Taking a few steps forward, she was completely unsurprised when a figure burst from the shadows and shouted. "Boo!"
Lisanna did not even blink. "Hello, Bixlow."
He sagged. "Aw, it's you. I thought I was gonna get to scare some more kids."
Frowning in disapproval, Lisanna reached up and pushed the hood off his head. It fell away to reveal a dyed blue Mohawk and red colour-contacts. "Honestly, it's like you try and freak them out."
He grinned and stuck his tongue out, revealing the tattoo she always cringed at. "I got a reputation to live up to!"
Lisanna crossed her arms. She couldn't believe she'd gotten this idiot for her Secret Santa. Maybe she'd get him some noise-cancellation earphones. And then steal them back for herself. Bixlow caught her look, and pouted. "Ah, come on! They have fun, I have fun. It's all fun!"
"Yeah, it's all fun unless you're the monitor," Lisanna uttered darkly. "Just keep the Freddy Krueger stuff to yourself, okay?"
"Grinch," he told her, sticking out his tongue. She ignored him, walking back up the stairs.
Of course, in the low light, she misjudged a step and tripped forward. Strong hands wrapped around her forearms, preventing her from hitting the ground. "Careful," came a husky voice from next to her ear, and she froze.
Angrily, Lisanna swatted away his arms. "Just fix those lights already!" she squawked, and stomped the rest of the way up the stairs.
Curse that janitor for having an insufferably sexy voice.
Rather than dwell on that for the rest of lunch, Lisanna decided to visit someone else who would be having the same holiday gloom as her. Heading towards the Math department, she stormed right into the classroom of the biggest Grinch of all.
The math troll glanced up behind her glasses, snapping before she could even see who was there. "What do you want?"
Upon seeing it was Lisanna, however, she relaxed. Slightly. The social sciences teacher plopped down on a chair by Evergreen's desk, huffing. "I hate Bixlow."
Evergreen snorted. "No, you don't. You think he's sexy in a freaky way and don't know why."
Lisanna growled. "I like Bixlow about as much as you like Call of Duty."
"I actually enjoy FPS games," Evergreen said, a hint of a smile on her face. Lisanna narrowed her eyes, and decided to turn the tables.
"Who did you get for Secret Santa?" She asked, and watched in amusement as Evergreen's face reacted in several different colours and expressions.
"Your brother," she finally managed to spit out, and Lisanna's face lit up with glee. Maybe Mira's idea would work after all.
"What are you going to buy him?" She asked, all traces of annoyance gone. Lisanna enjoyed watching Evergreen deny that she had feelings for Elfman. It was like a bottomless source for entertainment. It was like watching a chick flick that was so bad, it was good.
"Something cheap!" Evergreen snapped.
"Buy him an engagement ring," Lisanna advised. "You already have the old married couple act down."
Evergreen hissed. "I'll buy him a hooker first!" Then she seemed to realize what she said, and cursed. "Well, not a hooker."
"Oho, so you'd get jealous?"
Lisanna snickered. "I'll give you a hint," she said. "Cindy Crawford's Buns of Steel would work."
Evergreen threw Lisanna out of her classroom with great gusto. Lisanna was still laughing as she leaned on the door, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. Ah, trust it to Evergreen to make her feel better. If only the students knew how to bait her like this.
Maybe she should start spreading some rumours.
The final school bell couldn't have rung any sooner for most of the staff. Never mind that a good twenty of them were preoccupied with what presents to buy for their Secret Santa; school stress was enough as it was. The second he was able, Gray Fullbuster breezed out of class faster that that stupid flame-brained gym coach could have said 'Aye'!
The cold afternoon air provided nothing but warmth for Gray as he headed over to his car. He enjoyed the winter season more than any other, mostly because he enjoyed the cold. It was the current theory that one of Gray's chemistry experiments had gone horribly wrong, causing him to be completely impervious to cold weather. Just because he wore shorts in the winter.
In fact, he was wearing shorts now as he waded through snow banks. The teachers' parking lot was at a higher elevation, sitting up on the hill, and therefore got an even heavier snowfall than was deemed normal.
Upon reaching his silver Bentley, Gray was about to open the door and hop inside when a few annoyed, struggling cries fell on his ears. Curious, Gray poked his head over the roof of the car and saw a woman dressed mostly in blue trying very hard to open the door to her car.
Gray sighed in exasperation. All he wanted to do was go home! But, he was a gentleman, and never one to leave a damsel in distress. Picking his way over the snow, he took a few crunching steps over. "Need some help, Miss Loxar?"
"Oh!" The woman jumped in surprise, lost her footing on the icy ground and buckled over, clutching to her car for balance. Unfortunately, she reached for the side mirror and, in her momentum, ended up snapping the whole thing off as she tumbled to the ground.
Gray bit back a snicker. He shouldn't laugh. But Juvia was kind of funny. As she cursed and spluttered on the ground, Gray took the few final steps towards her and reached out a hand. "Here."
"Thank you," She said gratefully, taking it. Juvia wasn't wearing any gloves, he noticed; maybe she liked the cold as much as he did. Either way, the contact of their bare skin felt nice.
As Juvia dusted off her dark blue skirt, she noticed the snapped side mirror. "Oh, dear," she sighed, wilting visibly. "That will be coming out of Juvia's insurance."
"What happened?" Gray asked.
"Juvia's car door wasn't opening," the gloomy woman gestured. Gray raised his eyebrows; the entire side door was frozen solid. He took in the maimed car and Juvia's melancholy air, and suddenly felt a bit of guilt. It was his fault, after all. He did startle her.
"Would you like a ride home?" He offered. Juvia looked up at him with wide; grateful eyes.
"Oh, Gray-sama, that would be wonderful."
As they sat in silence in his front seat, Gray cursed his own social ineptitude. He should be making conversation with her. But Juvia wasn't exactly the easiest woman in the world to talk to, and besides, she looked content enough sitting there and staring out the window.
She hadn't been working at Magnolia High for very long; this was her fourth year. It was actually Gray who had convinced the school board to hire her; he'd met her once before at a science convention upstate. Juvia had been part of a presentation on weather systems, with the geology department. Gray himself had been there strictly for fun. He'd remembered Juvia, the gloomy woman who had seemed to come to life when talking about the clouds and rain. He remembered thinking she would make an excellent teacher, and when Makarov stumbled across her resume Gray had insisted she be hired.
He guessed Juvia had somehow found out about it, because she always treated him with the utmost respect and kindness. She even called him –sama, which as he understood was some kind of Japanese honorific. He enjoyed Juvia, there was no doubt about that.
He still didn't see why that devious Mirajane waned them together. He remembered the sinking feeling when he'd pulled Juvia's name from the obviously empty hat – Lucy hadn't been the only one to figure it out, Gray was just much better at hiding his inner turmoil. He enjoyed Juvia, but that was it. There was no need for Mira to try and set them up.
Still, a Secret Santa was a Secret Santa, and Gray was – as previously established – a gentleman. So he vowed to get Juvia something nice, something she deserved. And not an umbrella; that was a mistake he was pretty sure Juvia's ex-boyfriend still regretted to this day.
She gave him quiet directions to her house, an apartment complex not too far from where his was. As she thanked him and made to get out, Gray cleared his throat.
"Um," he said, voice husky from lack of use. "Will you be all right without your car?"
She looked surprised. "Oh, Juvia will call the tow truck in the morning. It will cost money, but..."
Gray felt even worse. "I could give you rides. Or, you know, drive you. Until the frost melts and you can get your car back. So you don't have to spend any extra money," he finished lamely, wondering why he'd even bothered to speak in the first place.
Juvia was biting her lips, avoiding a grin. "Gray-sama wants to be my personal chauffer?"
There was a light teasing in her voice that made some of the tension evaporate. Juvia nodded her thanks, promising to call if she needed anything. Gray watched her as she bounded up the steps, to make sure she got inside safely.
Because he was nothing if not a gentleman.
Saturday, Dec. 21
"Ugh," Lucy frowned, glaring at the two heads of spiky hair sitting on her couch. "Why do I even bother locking my doors?"
Natsu did not remove his eyes from where they were glued to the TV. "The cable's down at my house! I had no choice. I need my yearly dose of Home Alone."
Indeed, the TV was playing the old movie. Natsu was grinning widely, enjoying it fully just like he did every year – and Lucy would know, because he'd also spent the last six Christmases on her couch watching it. Apparently the cable was always down at his house. Something to do with snow on the roof.
Finding it useless to argue with Natsu, Lucy turned on her other intruder. "And you! Romeo! Why are you here?"
Romeo craned his neck over the couch to look at her. "I followed Natsu," he said honestly.
Lucy threw her hands up in the air. "I give up!" She declared. Storming into the kitchen, she picked up the phone and dialled a number of someone she knew could sympathize. It rung a few times before, "Hello?"
"Bisca!" Lucy cried in relief. "Tell me something, is Alzack currently taking over your goddamn couch?"
Laughter came through the other line. "I take it Natsu's over?"
"And Romeo," Lucy grumbled. "You don't happen to have any pest repellent, do you? I'm all out."
"Aw, Romeo's over?" Bisca clicked her tongue. "Too bad. If he wasn't there, you could have put the moves on Natsu."
"Stop it," Lucy snapped. "This isn't about my maybe-slight-crush on my co-worker."
"That's exactly what this is about," Bisca sighed. "Lucy, dear, just tell everyone already. Okay? Make it easier on yourself."
"No!" Lucy wailed. "Bisca, you are the only one who knows."
"Not true," said Romeo, coming into the kitchen. "We all know."
Lucy gaped like a dead fish, as Romeo pulled out her box of gingerbread cookies. He caught Lucy's stare and shrugged. "What? It's true. Well, except for Natsu, he doesn't. But it's funny, because he has a – what did you call it? – maybe-slight-crush on you, too, and everyone knows except you."
Lucy shook her head. "Okay one: how did you know? Two: Are you sure, and three: How did you know to find my cookies?"
"Three: Natsu told me, two: Natsu told me, one: you just told me."
Bisca's laughter was clear through the phone as Lucy threw her frying pan at Romeo's head. It missed, clattering against the cabinets as Romeo ducked and ran. Seething, Lucy turned back to her conversation with Bisca. "That little twat."
"He has a point," the history teacher said reasonably. "And I thought you'd be excited to hear Natsu feels the same way."
Lucy sighed, leaning against the countertop. "Well, I guess. But I mean, what if it doesn't work out? How awful would that be, working in the same place as your ex and seeing them on a daily basis?"
"Probably about as awful as seeing them on a daily basis but never telling them how you feel," Bisca pointed out. "You're a grown woman, Lucy!"
"So are you!" Lucy argued. "And I've never once heard you confess anything to Alzack."
Bisca squeaked. "I'll have you know that I was planning to use this Christmas party as an opportunity."
Her blush was practically visible through the phone. Lucy smacked the side of her head. At this rate, Mirajane's plan was actually going to work. "What did you get him? And please don't say lingerie."
"No!" Bisca was half-laughing. "Gracious, Lucy, your mind works in strange ways."
"Well, you know what they say!" Lucy joked. "Desperate times call for desperate measures! Really, though, what did you get him?"
"A cowboy hat," she answered finally, after a long silence. Lucy raised her eyebrows. "Well, we were both born in Texas, see? And he's always talking about how he wants one – a real one, none of those white straw monstrosities. A real leather hat."
Lucy was impressed. "Well, I never would have thought of that. You really do know Alzack well, don't you?"
There came a noise at the end of the line, and Bisca gasped. "Speak of the devil! That's him at the door! Oh, I have to hide his gift – I'll talk to you later, Lucy!"
She bid her farewells, and hung up the phone. Huh. So Bisca was finally going to it! For as long as Lucy could remember, the two history professors had been giving each other sideways glances in the hallway. It was a brave thing for Bisca, using this opportunity to make her feelings known.
It was a scary thought, telling someone how you felt. Bisca was right, Lucy was a grown woman. She shouldn't be side-stepping around these urges. But she was just so afraid of getting onto a relationship with a co-worker. Since when had that ever worked? At first, Lucy had ignored her growing attraction to Natsu in the hopes that it would go away and she could forget about it.
But go away it certainly hadn't. Maybe Bisca was right. After all, she didn't want to end up forty and alone because she never acted on her impulses.
Maybe Mirajane's scheme wasn't such a bad idea after all. Maybe Christmas was the perfect time!
Quietly, she peeked her head around the kitchen wall to listen in on the living room. Natsu and Romeo were having a quiet conversation, and she had to strain her ears to hear.
"Girls are so easy to buy for," Natsu was saying. "Flowers, chocolates, jewellery. You can't go wrong!"
"Yeah," Romeo argued quietly. "But I want this to be different! Special, you know? I want her to actually get something from it."
Lucy felt her heart flutter. Oh, they were talking about Wendy. How sweet!
"So you mean you want to use her present as an excuse to ask her out?" Natsu teased. Romeo coughed.
Natsu gave a short bark of laughter. "I knew it. Mirajane is going to be foaming at the mouth by the end of the night."
"Well, what about you?" Romeo shot back. "Weren't you planning on doing the exact same thing with Lucy?"
She felt her stomach drop and her heart skipped a few beats. This was it. Her muscles clenched and she strained not to make a sound.
Natsu snorted. "Please. I can ask Lucy out any time I want."
"Then why haven't you?"
"You mean you're chicken."
"I am Natsu Dragneel, I do not get 'chicken'."
"Then ask her out!"
Natsu huffed. "Okay, fine! So what if I am nervous. Wouldn't you be?"
"Why?" Romeo was grinning. "Because she looks like a supermodel and you're maybe a six?
"Well, that and - hey!" Natsu poked him. Romeo yelped. "I am not a six. I am an eleven."
"Yeah, okay. Hey, at least girls are easy to buy for, right?" Romeo imitated Natsu from earlier. "Flowers, chocolates, jewellery. Can't go wrong!"
"But I want it to be something special..." Natsu furrowed his brow. "Oh. I see what you mean."
Romeo nodded sagely. "It seems we are in a conundrum, my friend."
"Don't talk like you're older than me. I am at least ten-"
"Five years older than you, so you don't get to act like Yoda. I do."
Romeo's voice took on a gravelly quality. "Find them something special, we must."
Lucy backed away, ears ringing. She leaned over the sink, staring at her distorted reflection in the cold metal. Natsu liked her. He liked her. And he wanted to ask her out, but was nervous because she was pretty? Lucy felt the tips of her ears turn red. Why, that idiot...
Unable to cage the butterflies doing loop-de-loops in her stomach, Lucy cleared her throat and called out. "Hey, do you boys want some hot cocoa?"
There came a resounding yes. Lucy grinned, mind spinning as she went to work. If Natsu was too nervous to ask her out, then she'll have to take the reins on this one. And Bisca had more than just a point. She had a hella good plan. A gift was a perfect way to ask someone on a date.
This Christmas party really might just end up the way Mirajane wanted, after all.
Part two will be uploaded tomorrow!
*People call me Ferris Bueller all the time because I constantly bum rides off people. If you don't get that reference, I pity your soul.