“That,” Andrew says, pointing at me with an elated grin, “is the best story I’ve ever heard. Goddammit, please let that be true.”
“And three,” I say without fully considering that my brother is sitting right here, “I broke up with my last boyfriend because he tasted like ketchup.”
Miles falls over as if he’s been shot, convulsing on the floor.
Both Theo and Andrew narrow their eyes thoughtfully.
“No way is that true,” Theo says, shaking his head. “He always tasted like ketchup? What does that even mean?
Number three is the lie.”
“Agree,” Miles moans from the floor. “Besides, I don’t think that’s possible because you’ve never kissed anyone before.”
I practically cackle. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
But Andrew just watches me, eyes still narrowed. “Toothbrush. That’s the lie. You wouldn’t ever do that, no matter how much you hate someone.”
I point at him, grinning. “You’re right. That was the lie.”
“Wait. I hope that’s not why you broke up with Austin,” Miles grumbles. “I liked him.”
“It’s one of the reasons. And you only liked him because he let you drive his car.”
I watch, surprised and mesmerized, as a pink flush works its way up Andrew’s neck and across his cheeks. He looks flustered and a little annoyed. Is Andrew Hollis jealous?
• • •
Once we’re done with our ridiculous game, and no one feels like actually playing cards or Clue or any one of the other fifty or so board games, the boys all file upstairs to get snacks, leaving me alone to curl up on my bottom bunk and succumb to the exhaustion of constantly whirring thoughts.
The craziness of the last few days catches up with me, and I nap like I’ve never slept before, so deep and heavy that it’s almost like a post-Thanksgiving slumber, or a Benadrylinduced blackout.
I come out of it slowly, thickly, at a vague, papery rustle nearby. It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adapt; the sun has set outside, leaving the basement window wells black. Across the room, another page turns; the sound of paper crackles through the cool stillness.
At my sharp inhale, I hear the book close. A click of the far floor lamp, and then the space is gently illuminated.
“She lives.” Andrew. Alertness comes at me like a shove.
My voice is thick and scratchy. “What time is it?”
He peeks at his watch. In his other hand, he’s holding a paperback. “Six. Dinner should be ready soon.”
I slept for two hours? Wow.
“Where is everyone?”
He looks toward the stairs, like he might be able to see from where he’s sitting at the card table. “The twins were making more popcorn garlands with your mom. It’s snowing again, so the dads are shoveling. My mom is, um”—he winces—“baking something.”
I make the eep face, and he nods in agreement. “I think this one is some sort of coffee cake.”
“I threw the cookies out.” I push off the covers and sit up, running a hand over the back of my neck. It’s warm under all the layers, and I feel groggy and overheated.
His eyes widen. “Rebel.”
I stretch, groaning.
I look up. “Just oddly exhausted.” Who knew time travel was so draining? No. Wait. Who knew time travel was real?
He turns the folding chair he’s on around and sits backward on it. “Maybe some ketchup would perk you up.”
I point a playfully accusing finger at him. “Are you stuck on that?”
“Maybe.” Quiet eats up the space between us until with a sly grin Andrew finally adds, “I’m just wondering if you meant—” He motions to his face. “Or . . .” He tilts his head to the side, winking.
Bursting out laughing, I say, “You are a pig.”
His eyes go wide in playful outrage. “I’m the pig?”
Upstairs, I hear a lot of pots banging and boys shouting, followed by Mom yelling something. “What is even happening up there?”
“Your mom was going to start dinner soon,” he says, “but Benny told Theo and Miles to do it.” He sees the surprise in my expression. “Benny said something about you wanting us all to help out more.”
“How nice of him to give me credit while I was taking a monster nap.”
Andrew laughs, his throat moving with the sound. Slowly, quiet swallows us again as he sets the book down. I want to ask him about the way he held me on the sled. I want to ask him about the foot-hug under the table. I really want to ask him why he seems jealous of my ex.
“What’re you doing down here?” I ask instead. “There are about seven hundred more comfortable places to read in this house.”
“I came down to get you,” he says, “but couldn’t bring myself to wake you up.”
“So you just hung out nearby while I slept?” I ask, grinning over at him in the dim room.
“You were cute. You kept smiling in your sleep.”
“I thought you were reading.” He shrugs, and I laugh. “How Edward Cullen of you.”
He frowns. “Who?”
“Oh my God, Andrew, no. We cannot remain friends.”
“I’m just kidding. I know the guy from The Hunger Games.” He bursts out laughing when my horror deepens. “You look so insulted! Is that your test to weed out the bad ones?”
Still laughing, he stands and waves me up. “It’s a good thing I’ve always been an excellent student.”
“Come on.” He takes my hand. “I told the twins we’d play Sardines before dinner.” In the darkness, his eyes shine wickedly. “I’m hiding first, and I have a killer spot.”
After the secluded, dark basement, it feels obscenely bright in the kitchen, like we’re walking onto the set of a salacious talk show. My guilt complex is behaving as though we were naked and rolling around on the scratchy basement carpet. Everyone looks at us expectantly when we emerge from the downstairs, and I’m sure it’s just my imagination but I can’t help but feel that a suspicious hush has fallen over the room.
I wave, like an idiot. “Hey. Sorry I fell asleep.” I point behind me, down the stairs. “After we were talking. And playing cards. You know.”
Miles screws his face up. “Thanks for the update.”
He tugs at the strap of a floral apron around his neck and picks up a can opener. Granted, it’s a sort of fancy version of a regular can opener, but my brother turns it around in his hands like it’s a complicated rocket engine part salvaged from NASA. Are we really entrusting this fetus with dinner preparation for thirteen people?
Andrew starts to explain to him how to use it, but I stop him with a hand on his arm. “No. He will learn through the suffering.” I turn to give the same warning look to my mom, but she seems perfectly content at the kitchen table with a glass of wine in one hand and a paperback in the other.
Miles looks like he would very much like to give me the finger, but then his expression clears and a smirk pulls at his mouth. “Dude.” He points upward. “You two are under the mistletoe.”
In unison, Andrew and I turn our faces up to the doorway overhead. Miles is right. The festive sprig is now hanging from a red ribbon pinned into the doorway.
“I didn’t know that was there,” I burst out defensively.
“I didn’t either.” Andrew looks down at me, and even when his mouth isn’t smiling, his eyes always are. Does the clock stop? It sure feels like it. Of all the times I’ve imagined luring Andrew under the mistletoe, never once did the fantasy include half of our respective families standing nearby.
“You guys could each take one step backward,” Theo says gruffly, but it’s pretty hard to take his anger seriously when he’s wearing Mom’s Mrs. Claus apron. “You don’t actually have to kiss.”
Except, I think we do. Let’s not break the rule.
Andrew lets out a nervous laugh, but his eyes hook to mine. Slowly, he bends. His lips—oh my God, his perfect lips—land on mine in the purest kiss, ever, in the history of time. Andrew straightens, and I focus on keeping my spine rigid so I don’t lean into him for more.
It was perfect, but it was nothing. Barely lasted as long as one of my agitated heartbeats.
A flash bursts nearby, followed by Lisa’s muttered, “Damn it. I missed it.”
Miles scoffs. “That wasn’t a kiss.”
I immediately regret all those times I told my brother he’s an idiot; very clearly he is a truth seer with the emotional intelligence of Yoda.
“Dude, it’s fine,” Theo growls.
But we’re in our own little bubble now. Andrew laughs quietly. “He’s right. It wasn’t really a kiss.”
Andrew. Kissed me. On the mouth. I shrug with feigned indifference, keeping my voice low. “It was fine.”
“I promise you,” he whispers, “my goal for our first kiss was not ‘fine.’ ”
“Okay, well,” I say, heart shoving itself up into my throat. “Try again.”
He quirks a brow, eyes darting down to my mouth and back up again.
“Are you gonna kiss her?” Zachary yells down the hall.
We turn to find at least six pairs of eyes watching us with vibrating intensity, and every cell in my body lets out an aggrieved groan. A chorus of conversation breaks out all around us.
Kyle laughs. “I think interrupting a mistletoe kiss is bad luck.”
“God, they’re so young,” Aaron stage-whispers. “I want to be that young again. Making out under the mistletoe. Staying up until three in the morning. Tying my shoes without getting winded.”
“They weren’t making out,” Dad scoffs, and then adds with less certainty, “Were they?”
Why do I like my family again? Even if Andrew was intent on doing the kiss over, the moment has been doused with several proverbial gallons of ice water.