Christmas was just two days away and Leah had still not managed to make a trip to the mall. She hadn’t bought a single gift for anyone and she blamed it all on the project paper she had to write. Her University Professor had given her just a week to finish it as a result of which Leah had forgotten to differentiate between night and day.

The file lying on the edge of her desk fell down with a thud snapping her from her reverie. Tomorrow was the day of submission. Tomorrow she would go to the mall and get gifts for everyone. She started thinking about her family. All the people she loved. Thinking about them made her smile. They were a crazy bunch of people, just like her.

But what would she get him? She would surely give him something special.

Who’s this him you ask? Oh that’s easy. Carter Williams.

Leah still remembered the day she met Carter for the first time. It had been just another day at elementary school where she was being bullied by Wendy Taylor. Wendy had been making fun of Leah’s favourite pink frock all morning and she had bravely been ignoring Wendy. But Wendy had finally crossed the line and poured orange juice on her dress during lunch time. Leah had not been able to hold back any longer and had silently given way to the tears.

That was when she saw Carter Williams for the first time. Wearing a blue SpongeBob t-shirt, Carter strode angrily but confidently towards Wendy and poured his cup of Jell-O on her head. It was at that moment that Carter became her hero. His jet black hair, cute round face and the twinkling green eyes.

Leah Morgan was amazed. Nobody had ever stood up for her.

She remembered him coming up to her after that. He gave her a cute smile that showed his missing front tooth. He had offered her his lollipop and said-

“Hey Leah! Are you Okay? Don’t worry about Wendy. I taught her a lesson”

With that he had given her a reassuring hug and made his way back to his table full of friends. Leah had just stood and stared with the lollipop in hand.

She had later found out that Carter was new in town and had joined school just the previous week. He had been left to live with his aunt for a few weeks until his parents came back with all their luggage. Her joy knew no bounds when she found out that Carter and his family had moved into the house opposite to hers.

Slowly but surely Carter and Leah became good friends. As time flew by they grew up and their friendship grew stronger. By the time she was thirteen, Leah was sure that she was in love with Carter and she could not wait to tell him.

But Leah was never amongst the lucky ones. On the eve of her confession there had been a terrible accident and Carter had lost his mother. He had loved her the most and when he heard of her death, he had just fallen apart. Leah had no choice but to wait and wait she did.

As the days went by Carter became more and more of a recluse and shut everyone out, even his best friend Leah. She didn’t know what to do. But she never gave up hope. She would try to talk to him every day, but nothing would change. Carter just stopped talking. And slowly they grew apart. There was nothing Leah could do, but sit by and watch their friendship fall apart.

Leah wiped a tear as she remembered those times. It had been difficult and she had been hurt. But she never stopped loving him.

She gathered all the papers together and put it neatly into a file. She had finally finished that wretched project paper and would now be able to do the much needed Christmas shopping. With that in mind she jumped into bed and let sleep overtake her.

The moment she handed in her project the next morning, she made a mad dash towards the parking lot. She would have to get to the mall before all the gifts were sold out. She drove as fast as she could and made it to the mall in just under ten minutes. She had made a list beforehand. It would help her shop much faster.

After two gruelling hours of running about and fighting crowds in the mall, Leah stepped out victorious with ten different bags containing gifts for everybody she could think of. She drove back home fretting over the fact that she still needed to decorate the Christmas tree because her family would be arriving home from her aunt’s place, where they had been staying for the last three months, in two hours.

She spent the next hour decorating the tree and cleaning any amount of dirt present in her house.  By the time she finished, she felt like a dead body. Thank God she had ordered takeout. She would never be able to cook in this condition.

Just as she finished putting on her lip gloss as a final touch to her outfit she heard her family bursting in through the door downstairs.

She sighed. They could never act civilized.

She slowly made her way downstairs and was immediately tackled into a bear hug by her two younger brothers, while her mother and elder sister yelled at the top of their lungs in happiness. Her father just sat on the couch and watched it unfold with a grin on his face. Leah never felt more loved.

A few hours later, Leah sat on her couch listening to the stories of her family’s vacation at her aunt’s place. It seemed like they had thoroughly enjoyed the trip and had missed Leah dearly. They had already had dinner and all her family members sat with the gifts she had got for them. All her gifts had been received with utter joy and excitement and for that Leah felt content.  As the clock struck nine Leah stood up. It was time for her to go and give Carter the gift she had got for him.

She buttoned her coat and placed the gift box under her arm as she made her way to his house. Leah knew how much Carter loved his mother. So she had found a beautiful silver keychain and gotten his mother’s name engraved on it. She was positive that he would love it.

As she crossed the road she spotted a black car parked on his driveway. It was her car. Leah’s heart plummeted. She thought back to the day when she saw this car for the first time. It was the last year of high school and she had been crossing the parking lot to get to her class and the same black car had stopped right beside her and a girl stepped out of it. She was beautiful. Tall, slender and witty, Layla Winters was way better than what Leah Morgan could ever wish to be. Layla and Leah had become fast friends and it was during one of their gossip sessions in the cafeteria that Layla had spotted Carter. Leah knew that Layla had been taken in with carter the moment she laid eyes on him. Anyone would. Carter was amazing.

But Carter had become quieter now. Less lively. But Layla changed that about him in no time at all. While Layla and Carter grew closer and people started to see hints of the old jolly Carter again, Leah could do nothing but watch. Leah had got her best friend back but that was all.

Finally on the day of graduation, the inevitable had happened. Carter had asked Layla to be his girlfriend as Leah’s heart had broken into a million tiny pieces. But she never let them know.

Unknown to anyone, Leah had written Carter a letter. A letter where she wrote everything she had ever felt for him. She had planned to give it to him on the day of graduation. But that never did happen.

She had hoped Carter would go away to another city. But no. He had stayed back and gone to the same University as her and had made her life a lot more difficult. Layla had also decide to stay back for him. Leah’s life couldn’t get any worse. She would see them almost every day, hand in hand, so deeply in love and her heart would break all over again.

But still she tried. She would bring that letter with his Christmas gift every year, hoping that he would understand how much he meant to her. But she couldn’t. She would take it back at the last minute and he would never know.

As she climbed the last step and rang the doorbell she was acutely aware of the letter burning a hole in her pocket. She would give it to him today. She would not take it back.

As Carter opened the door to greet Leah with that same breath-taking smile with Layla by his side, Leah could feel the tears pricking her eyes. She gave him his gift and the little chain she had brought for Layla. She was Leah’s friend too you know. She could never hate her. Carter told her to come in, like every other year but she didn’t agree. She took a deep breath and said-

“Carter, I need to tell you something”

Carter looked at her, worried-

“Is something wrong Leah?”

She reached for the letter in her coat pocket, but at the last second pulled her hand out.

She took a deep breath.

“Nothing’s wrong Carter. I just wanted to say, Merry Christmas. I hope you like the gift.”

With that she turned around and almost ran back to her house and up to her room.

Carter loved Layla.

She couldn’t do this to them.

She couldn’t do this to them because it was wrong.

She couldn’t do this to them because this was love.

No matter how painful it was.