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Authors: Tracie Puckett

Tags: #Young Adult, #Romance, #Contemporary

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BOOK: Under the Mistletoe
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“I'd love-”

           
“Great,” he cut her off. “My house, five o'clock.”

           
“Wait,” she said. “I can't.
Curfew
...”

           
“Before five?”

           
“It's a long story,” she said. “But... I bet if I told my parents I
was staying with Steph--”

           
“Leave me out of this-”

           
“No,” she said. “I could tell 'em I'm spending the night with you.
That way, after dinner, I could just drive to your house.”

           
“Or walk,” Isaac told her. “Steph lives right across the
street.”

           
Gee, thanks a lot
, I thought. Now I'll never get her out of
my house.

           
“Bridge, don't lie to your parents.” I looked back at the paper
below me and continued answering a short-essay assignment.

           
“It wouldn't be a lie if you came too,” Isaac said. “The more the
merrier.”

           
“No,” I snapped. “I already have plans.”

           
“You do not,” Bridget stated matter-of-factly. “You never do
anything.”

           
“Well, I am tonight-”

           
“Like what?”Isaac asked.

           
“Yeah?” Bridge egged.

           
“I'm going... to...I have that...I promised... I have to go--”

           
“That's what I thought,” Isaac gleamed.

           
“She's coming to my house,” Nate said, happy to defeat Isaac.
“We're working together on a project in Spanish. Tonight was the
only night I could do it.”

           
I tried not to send too many questionable glances in Nate's
direction while Isaac was in eye-shot.

           
The bell rang and the class sprung out of the chairs and into the
hallway. Bridget was too busy hanging on to Isaac's every word that
she didn't notice me pull Nate aside.

           
“Why did you cover for me?”

           
“Forget it,” he said, trying to walk away.

           
“Nate--”

           

I saw you leave his house this morning, Steph,
” he said,
disapprovingly as he turned back.

           
“I can explain-”

           
“I don't want to know, okay?”

           
He started to turn again and I grabbed his wrist. “Nate, stop. His
brother is engaged to my mom. He's been going through some rough
things lately so I kept him and his grandmother company for the
night. It was just family taking care of family.”

           
“Family?” he scoffed. “Do you write love poems for everyone you're
related to, Steph?”

           
“Nate-”

           
“My lips are sealed,” he promised. “But I'd keep an eye on Isaac.
He seems to know more than he should.” I nodded in agreement.
“There's something weird about that kid, Steph. I don't trust
him.”

Chapter Six

Friday December 09

           
Christmas had never been a heavily celebrated holiday growing up.
Unlike Alex, I didn't spend my early childhood Christmases waking
up hoping the Big Guy had made a house call. Mom only entertained
the idea of Santa Clause for a few years; until I was four I
thought he couldn't find us because we moved too much. Somehow, I
understood. It was after I turned five that my mother finally told
me the cold, hard truth about the jolly, fat man of the North. I
began kindergarten knowing the one secret that most parents pray to
keep from their kids. I went into school...age six... never having
a Christmas present from Santa Clause.

           
Calvin started a new tradition in our house this year. A tree;
live, fresh, and ready for trimming. Mom refused to take any part
in the decorating, as it ruined her memories of the
Ghijk Girl's
Tradition
. While she soaked away in her tub, Calvin and I
strung the lights and hung bulbs of every color, shape, and size.
With an Elvis Christmas vinyl scratching along in the background,
Calvin did his best impression of The King singing 'Blue
Christmas.' And let me tell you, his best... was the worst I've
ever seen.

           
Still, despite an awful impersonation, decorating and humming along
with Calvin was the most enjoyable Christmas memory I had to
date.

           
“Gran had to fly back to New York this morning,” Calvin said,
taking a break to sit on the edge of the couch and flip through a
jewelry catalog. “She wanted us to keep an eye on Alex for the next
few days. You up to heading over for a bit or...?”

           
“I have a better idea,” I said, hanging the last of the ornaments
on the tree. “Can you take me to run a few errands beforehand?”

           
“Sure,” he nodded. “What did you have in mind?”

           
“Alex needs a good, stiff shove into the Christmas spirit.”

           
“Agreed.”

           
“You're in?” I asked.

           
“I'm your man.”

           
Two hours later the sun was beginning to set on a crisp, cool
winter day. Calvin had just finished securing a live, fresh
Christmas tree into the corner of his brother's comfortably small
living room. Trying to keep the noise to a minimum, as not to wake
Alex from his much-needed sleep, Calvin helped me unload the
shopping bags full of Christmas decorations from his car.

           
“You got it from here?” he asked, looking at his watch. “I have to
get to the restaurant and check up on things.”

           
“Go,” I said. “I can handle it.”

           
“I'll swing by and get you on my way back through.”

           
“Okay. Thanks for-”

           
“Not a problem, Steph. He needs this.”

           
I took twenty minutes to hang the lights, not doing too bad
considering I'd only ever decorated one tree in my life. I pulled
the boxes of ornaments from the shopping bags and, for the second
time that day, gave it all I had. I moved through the living room,
decorating the mantle and hanging a stocking above the fireplace.
The quaint cabin-esk house took on a much cozier feel. I couldn't
lie; I was pretty impressed with myself.

           
“Steph?” I turned and smiled. Alex stood outside his bedroom
squinting and rubbing his eyes. '
What did you
-'

           
“Don't get mad,” I said. “I know you said you didn't want--”

           
“I'm--”

           
“Calvin and I both agree that you need-”

           
“Steph--”

           
“Just try to get used to--”

           

Steph
!” He looked at me for a moment and then meandered
through the room. He ran his fingers across the tree, looking at
his reflection in a bright, red bulb.

           
“Are you mad?” I finally asked, unable to read his expression.

           
“Wow,” he said, taking another moment to look around the room.
“This was really nice of you, kiddo.”

           
“Don't hate Christmas,” I begged him. It takes too much effort and
energy to fight the things that should come natural-”

           
“Cookies,” he interrupted me.

           
“What?”

           
“Are you baking?”

           
“Nope,” I pointed at the candle on the mantle. “Christmas cookie
scented; tastes worse, but has less calories.”

           
He smiled, finally moving away from the fireplace. He took an
ornament from my hand, set it aside on the mantle, and wrapped his
arms around me in a tight hug. I returned the gesture, taking in
his scent and the warmth of his body against mine. He pressed a
kiss to the top of my head and gently pulled back to look at
me.

           
“You are... the
most
incredible... I don't know how to thank
you...” With each word, his face inched closer to mine. My palms
were sweating rapidly and my pulse was on the rise. “Steph,
I--”

           
“I'm back!” Calvin said, busting through the door with a bag in
hand. He stopped for a moment and stared between the two of us.
“Hey...what's going on, guys?”

           
Alex and I, caught in a compromising position, pulled apart and
looked away from the other.

           
“Here, man,” Calvin handed his brother a large, white paper sack.
“Thought you'd be hungry.”

           
“I was just thanking Steph for... well, everything,” Alex said, a
few seconds too late.

           
“You gonna look into my eyes all dopey and stupid too?” Calvin
asked. “I carried the tree in.”

           
I smiled, always a fan of Calvin's try-too-hard sense of humor.

           
“You ready Steph?” he asked, still standing next to the open door.
“Apparently Bridget is waiting for you at the house. Your mom
called and told me to pick you up at Nate's. She said something
about a Spanish project...”

           
I shook my head and turned to Alex. “Hang in there.”

           
“See you Monday,” he said.

           
“Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”

           
“I'll work on it,” he promised.

Friday December 09 8:30PM

           
Can one tree, two candles, and a countless amount of decorations
put someone in the Christmas spirit? I don't know, but I felt like
it was a good start.

           
I shot up the stairs and down the hallway, throwing the bedroom
door open to find Bridget strung across the bed.

           
“Oh my God, Steph!” She sat up immediately. “I swear I'm in
love!”

           
“...uh?”

           

Isaac
!”

           
“You went?”

           
“Well, yeah,” she rolled her eyes. “I couldn't
not
go,
Steph. How stupid do you think I am-”

           
“Not stupid,” I said, scratching my head. “Not incredibly smart
either.”

           
I've never considered myself a selfish person. In fact, I'm pretty
certain mom got all the selfishness our bloodline could hold.
However, I had trouble caring about Bridget's most recent crush
with the nonstop replay of the moments I'd spent in the arms of
Alexander Rivera rolling through my brain.

           
“How do ya figure?”

           
“Being alone in a house with two strange men, one of which you
don't even--”

           

Ugh, party pooper
,” she threw herself backward on the bed
to assume her previous position.

           
“I'm not trying to...I think you need to approach the whole Isaac
situation with caution, Bridge.”

           
“Yeah, yeah...”

           
“So, you were saying--”

           
“I'm in love,” she popped back up. “He's perfect, Steph. In every
way! And his dad is just...oh my God...
he's as great as his
son
!”

           
“I've only met him the one time, and I'm not sure his father--”

           
“Nick,” she said. “Who, by the way, looks just like
Harry-freaking-Potter.”

           
“Relevance?”

           
“None,” she shrugged. “Anyway, they moved here from North
Carolina--”

           

Where
?” I asked, distinctly remembering him telling me he
was from New York.

           
“You heard me. Nick said he can't discuss the details of his job,
but his work transferred him to Webster Grove last month.”

           
My cell phone buzzed on the window sill. I recognized the number as
the very one Alex had left for me on a post-it on Thanksgiving.

           
I answered the call without hesitation and held the phone to my
ear. “Hello?”

           
“Do you have a sec?” Alex said from the other end.

           
“Uh...
yeah
...”

           
“Nate calling?” Bridget butted in.

           
“No, Bridge,” I enunciated, for Alex's benefit. “I'm going to take
this call downstairs, though. I'll be right back.”

           
“Okay...” she rolled her eyes.

           
“What's up?” I asked him as I left the room and dashed for the
stairs and out of earshot.

           
“I won’t keep you long,” he promised. “I have some information I
thought you'd find intriguing.”

           
“Shoot.”

           
“I heard a bit of rustling around outside a few minutes ago. I
figured Cal came back... or maybe you forgot something. But when I
opened the door, I watched Isaac scurry away as if someone lit a
fire under his--”

           

Peyton
?”

           
“Yes. Anyway, I didn't think much of it until I noticed an envelope
taped to the door.”

           
“Okay?”

           
“A note. Eight words, simple as this:
break her heart and I
break your neck
.”

           

What
?”

           
“I'd like to see him try,” he laughed for the first time in weeks.
“Do you know anything about this?”

           
“No... why would I?”

           
“Well,” I heard him take a long breath. “You're the only
her
in my life--”

           
“Are you sure it was him?” I asked, hoping to cut him off in time.
If, and I mean
if,
Alexander Rivera had feelings for me, I'd
be damned if I was going to let him tell me over the phone. “I
mean, Bridget just left his house.”

           
I don't know why my instincts jumped to Isaac's defense. I know
very little about him, and the miniscule amount of knowledge I do
have may have been chalked full of lies. But still, he'd caught on
to my feelings for Mr Rivera the day he moved to town and, despite
beating around the bush, he never told anyone. I couldn't put my
finger on why, but I trusted him.

           
“Anything's possible.”

BOOK: Under the Mistletoe
5.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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