I grab the jars of oregano, parsley, and some mix called Pasta Sprinkle and tuck a few unused cans of tomatoes under my arms, ducking into the walk-in pantry. Behind me, the water shuts off, and I turn just as Andrew comes in after me, wiping his hands on a dish towel.
“What are you doing?”
“Being sneaky.” When he closes the door behind him, his smile is swallowed by the shadows and still somehow the brightest thing in this small space.
“Do the Hollis men have some sort of closet fetish I should know about?”
“Isn’t this what the holidays are all about?” he asks. “Kisses under the mistletoe? Making out in a pantry?”
His mouth is only inches away when he laughs and slides his lips over mine. Like a dry-erase board swept with a cloth, I am wiped free of any other thought. There’s just the feel of his kiss and his arms coming around my waist, my own hands sliding up his chest and around his neck.
I want to ask him, the words are at the tip of my tongue—Does this kiss feel like the best kiss ever?—because to me it does. And it isn’t just because it’s Andrew, it feels clearly like the perfect kind of melting together; his mouth just seems to fit against mine. We kiss the same.
He moves from my mouth to my jaw, and lower, pressing these perfect sucking kisses to the sensitive skin just over my pulse, moaning against me. The sound puts me in a rocket ship and launches me to Jupiter. In a flash, I imagine the sight of his head between my legs.
The idea of watching him do that makes me both shy and ravenous; my libido has turned into a fanged monster. Andrew doesn’t seem fazed in the slightest by how I pull him closer and kiss him deeper, by my sounds and the intensity of my grip. Here in the dark pantry, I can pretend we’re alone, that there aren’t eleven other people in this house. I send my hands up under his shirt, seeking the soft, warm skin there, skating over his ribs with my fingertips.
“You feeling me up?”
He’s teasing, but the way his words have gone all raspy tells me he approves. “Yes. You’re yummy under here.”
“My turn.” His fingers play with the hem of my T-shirt and then his hand is on my stomach, my ribs, and his kisses don’t slow or lessen. I want to eat this sensation, to swallow it down and gorge myself on it.
“Do you think everyone would freak out if they knew what was happening in here?” he asks.
“Not everyone,” I say, “but certainly some of the more influential ones . . .”
His thumb sweeps under my bra, back and forth. “I think they’d be happy for us.”
The thought of this existing out there for everyone to see makes it both wonderfully and terribly real. Keeping it a secret from our families feels like keeping it a secret in general, and I can pretend that the universe isn’t watching, either. Yes, I’m happy, and I find myself believing that is the goal here, but what I don’t know is why, or how to hold on to it. Nobody can be happy all the time. What happens when I’m not?
His thumb slides beneath the underwire, pushing the fabric up over the curve of my breast. “This okay?”
I don’t care how desperate I sound when I tell him yes. I want his entire body touching me right there, each electron of his energy focusing on my skin.
His palm comes over my breast beneath my shirt, and we both let out these ridiculous moans in unison into each other’s mouth, and then pull away, bending in silent laughter. We are the same kind of idiot.
With an unfocused glaze in his eyes, he feels the shape of me, teasing, gently pinching.
“You’re perfect,” he tells me. “You’re so soft.”
I send a thousand thank-yous to the sky because, pressed against me, Andrew feels anything but soft.
This is the best kiss, my brain screams again when he puts his mouth over mine again, sweetly distracted by his hand.
A harsh white light lances across my field of vision and instinct whips us both away so that we’re facing the shelves. Andrew’s front is pressed all along my back, and my heart launches itself into my windpipe.
Holy crap, we need to find another place to make out; closets are not working well for us.
“Uh, up there!” I shout to cover, praying Benny was the one who opened the pantry door.
“Why was the door closed? Why are you in here?”
Oh God. My brother.
I grapple to pull my bra back down. “I was grabbing, um—”
“This.” Andrew stretches behind me, reaching over my shoulder for something on the top shelf. I have no idea what he’s getting, and frankly, who cares. His hips press against my backside and I feel him. I mean—wow. He is very, very hard. My brain melts.
Miles must be focused on what Andrew’s reaching for, and thank God because I am entirely focused on the feeling of Andrew pressed against my butt. I did that.
I want that.
He pulls the object down and hands it to Miles, somehow managing to turn me in the process so I’m facing Miles and still standing in front of Andrew. Covering him. I remember he’s wearing sweatpants, and from the feel of things down there, his status would be difficult to hide.
Miles studies the object in his hands. “You were getting this . . . ceramic sombrero?”
At my brother’s words, I actually look at what Andrew’s handed him. The chips-and-salsa dish is ancient. It is absolutely covered in dust. I haven’t seen this thing in at least a decade.
“Yeah, Mae was feeling snacky.”
Andrew gently pinches my waist when I don’t immediately play along. “I was!”
“You can’t eat some chips and salsa from a regular bowl?”
Miles, just let this go!
“I was feeling festive?” I try.
He blinks, and grimaces. “You’re all red.”
“She is?” Andrew asks with restrained laughter as he turns back to the shelves. “I’ll grab the chips, Maisie.”
We’re so busted. Oh God, poor Miles. First the ketchup-mouthed boyfriend, and now this.
When I emerge from the pantry, Miles pulls me to the side. “Were you two kissing in there?”
“Of course not!” Seriously, this is mortifying. Why won’t my brother just read the room and leave? “We were doing dishes, and I got the munchies. Just—go back to bed.”
With a final skeptical glance into the pantry, Miles grabs a cup of water and shuffles back down to the basement.
Once I’m sure he’s gone, I look over to Andrew, who’s adjusting his sweats and grinning at me. “Well, that was awkward.”
“The most awkward that has ever existed.”
There’s something in his expression: like a curtain has been drawn open, revealing the next phase of our night of adventures.
“Oh.” I point at him and grin. “I sense a transition.”
He leans in conspiratorially. “I was thinking—”
“A very dangerous thing to do.”
“—that instead of hanging out in the kitchen and getting busted by our siblings, perhaps the lady would like to return with me to the Boathouse for a nightcap.”
“By ‘nightcap,’” I whisper back, “do you mean kissing with shirts off?”
He nods with playful gravitas. “Correct. And in the interest of transparency, I should tell you I don’t actually have any interesting nightcap options out there.”
I pretend to think this over, but inside I am doing a thousand backflips. “I want to go out there, on one condition.”
Immediately his expression shifts. “We don’t have to do anything you don—”
“You walk me back here afterward,” I interrupt, voice low. “There’s no way we would survive our mothers’ inquisition if I got busted sleeping out there, but I don’t want to walk back alone.”
A knowing gleam sparkles in his eyes. “Silence of the Lambs flashbacks?”
“One hundred percent.”
Outside, the sky is full, a deep ocean blue overrun with tiny, glimmering silver fish. The air is so sharp it takes a few breaths for my body to adapt, to clear out the dry indoor air. Two steps off the back porch, and Andrew’s hand comes over mine, fingers threading between as if he’s done it a thousand times.
“We never get skies like this at home,” I say.
“I forget how much I love it up here until I’m outside at night, and then it’s like whoa, yeah, it would be hard to give this up.”
A tiny strangled noise escapes me, and I turn it into a cough. “Maybe try to convince your parents to keep it?”
His quiet pause tells me that he probably won’t do that. “I just want them to do what works for them, you know?”
I reach up, running my free hand through my hair. The strands that come away are wound around and around, and I finger-flutter them away.
“You have so much hair,” he says quietly. “It’s so pretty.”
“It’s a pain. You should see my brushes.” The deep brown is all Mom, but its sheer density is from Dad’s side of the family.
“Think of all the birds’ nests you’ve helped build out here,” Andrew jokes.
I laugh, but as we move forward through the darkness, over snow that is illuminated blue and so cold we can walk across it without sinking in, a fear hits me like a brick of ice.
“I just want to say,” I begin, “before we get to the Boathouse, that if this ever feels weird or wrong, please just don’t stop talking to me. I promise I’ll be okay if you decide this isn’t what you want to do, but I wouldn’t be okay if you ignored me.”
“Do you really think I would do that?”
In truth, no. I can’t imagine it. “You’re right.”
“And why are you assuming I’m the one who’ll change his mind?”
“I’m just trying to protect us and our families. It feels so good, but I know it’s a huge deal.”