Mistletoe & Memories Chapter 3
I slept peacefully, proud of myself for not hugging my phone to myself all night. That was a gesture of lameness I wasn’t ready for, but one thing I couldn’t control was the churning in my stomach. This time it had nothing to do with excessive alcohol. Truth be told, this was normal. Seeing Declan always came with a nervous tension. When I was younger, it was mostly because I was preparing for some kind of mocking. Now? I guessed I was preparing to be in close proximity for him for four hours with no escape, and little chance to hide the wave of emotions that continued to render me breathless when he said or did something I wasn’t expecting.
I didn’t have much time to prepare, but I did ensure I looked less scruffy than the night before. I unpacked my hair straighteners to make my hair wave-free and shiny, and did my impressive minimalistic make-up look. The dark circles under my eyes were gone which made the task a heck of a lot easier.
Declan arrived dead on ten o’clock. Lucas and Kara had left half an hour before, which was a bonus. I didn’t need them to see me pacing up and down the hallway until Dec showed up. I didn’t know what to expect from him. He wasn’t showing any signs of the interest he’d appeared to have in me after we kissed; he was actually a little quiet.
Nothing to worry about. It’s early, we’ve got a long drive ahead. I’m sure he’ll perk up on the way.
He didn’t. We travelled for forty-five minutes and the only words we’d exchanged were about the weather. We’d slipped into some strange pattern of politeness, as if we hadn’t grown up together, and he hadn’t offered to drive me home. Had I been with my mother, we’d have been belting out Christmas carols by now.
I chuckled to myself, and Dec swivelled his eyes towards me for a second.
“I was just thinking about the silence in the car,” I said. “My mum and I have a tradition. Whenever we go anywhere in the car together at this time of year, we crank up the Christmas music and sing along. Makes the journey go faster.”
“Yeah. Not happening in this car.”
“Ah, so you’re still a Scrooge, then?”
He must have heard the smile in my voice because his lips curled upwards slightly. “I’m not a Scrooge, I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. You buy a present for someone, and they buy a present for you. And money. What’s the point of giving money? I give my brother ten quid in a card, and he gives me ten quid in a card. We might as well have kept the money. In fact, we should all just keep the money we would have spent on presents, and buy stuff for ourselves. That way, I wouldn’t always end up with twenty pairs of socks and foul-smelling aftershave.”
“But then there’d be no surprises.”
“Surprises are overrated.”
“Like I said, you’re a Scrooge.”
Declan’s smile widened, slipping into teasing territory. “I bet your house looks like Lapland.”
“It does. We’re those horrid people who put lights in our windows to brighten up the street.”
“Urgh. I can’t believe I let you in my car.”
“Oh, come on now. Didn’t my gorgeous candy cane head boppers tip you off to the fact that I love Christmas?”
“Fair point. I’ll let you stay for now but if you start singing Christmas songs, I will make you walk the rest of the way home.”
“Fine.” I reached over to the radio, but pulled back before I touched it. I was entirely too comfortable all of a sudden. “Can I at least turn the radio on?”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
I turned the knob, and burst out laughing as All I Want For Christmas Is You blasted from the speakers. I risked glancing up at him, and he shook his head. Laughing harder at his grouchiness, I began to sing along, sneakily turning up the radio’s volume while his eyes were fixed on the road.
“You’re evil,” he said, as I danced in my seat to the festive favourite.
“Lighten up! I bet you know all the words.”
“Only because the song plays eight hundred times a day on the radio, and on the TV, and in every shop at this time of year!”
Again, he tried to hide a grin as I continued to belt out the lyrics but he couldn’t stop himself from smiling. Christmas-hating Declan was cracking in front of my eyes. When the song ended, I turned the radio back down to a more acceptable level, and said, “So what’s with you and this time of year? Why does it bug you so much?”
His eyes dimmed, not in a scary, back-the-hell-off kind of way, but in a way that suggested I’d hit upon something slightly uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing major or traumatising. I just don’t buy into all the forced happiness.”
I poked him lightly on the arm. “It’s not forced if you actually enjoy it.”
“I don’t enjoy the forced family time, either. Everyone crammed together in one house. Mum stressing over the turkey, Dad telling her she’s over-reacting and then shouting because my brother’s kids are running around and making too much noise because they’re overexcited.”
“You don’t like kids?”
The words flew out of my mouth accusingly, as if his desire to have or not have kids was the difference between him being a decent person and an asshole.
“I like kids, I just don’t like everyone being together all at once. Clashing personalities and too much wine leads to arguments, and the family asking me what I’m planning to do with my life.”
He shifted his eyes towards me again, then shuffled awkwardly.
“What do you mean by asking what you’re planning to do with your life? I mean, you work with your dad. If mechanics is good enough for him… ”
“According to my mum, it’s not good enough for me. Anyway, enough about that. What do you do on Christmas Day?”
The conversation continued, with him asking questions and me answering them, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how he’d opened up, albeit briefly. How was him working with cars a bad living? He earned decent money, and he was holding down a full-time job, something many people our age weren’t doing. It was more than what he said, though. I’d rarely seen him show any kind of doubt about himself and for him to do that in front of me was unexpected. He’d softened a couple of times in my presence, both before and after he kissed me, and I had no idea why. I also didn’t want to take up too much of my time trying to figure it out. If he was being himself - his real self - around me, maybe it was just because he’d finally grown up.
It can’t have had anything to do with the kiss. Or him calling me beautiful. Because that was just a joke, right? Based on what Olly said? Geez. This guy always got under my skin. Every. Single. Time.
I didn’t sleep too well the night I got home. I couldn’t blame Declan for that, though. The change of scenery, even if I was back in my own house, always messed with my head for a few days. I didn’t have time to be tired. Monday was my mum’s day off work, and we had plans to go shopping. I’d bought a few small Christmas gifts in York, but it wasn’t worth doing the main bulk there and then having to lug it all home. Besides, Christmas shopping with Mum was another of our traditions. Southampton was a treat to visit in December because, as well as all the usual shops, a gorgeous Christmas market was set up in the street, with stalls offering things you couldn’t get on the high street. Handmade gifts, baked goods, plus a large German-style pub serving German beers and snacks were all there for shoppers to enjoy.
And Mum and I always enjoyed it.
I was right in the middle of a festive glass of mulled wine when my phone bleeped in my bag. With all the sounds of Christmas music and chatter in the street, I was amazed I even heard it. Mum and I had stopped at a table set up near the mulled wine stall to have a quick drink and rest our aching feet. We’d already bought a bunch of gifts, and we hadn’t even started looking at the market stalls yet.
I dug my phone out of my bag.
Declan Fox: Hi. Are you enjoying your first day at home?
Instead of writing a message, I took a snapshot of my wine, and typed in a smiley face before hitting the send button.
“Who was that?”
I placed my phone on the table before looking up to find my mum peering at me over her glass. She hadn’t asked any questions when I told her it was Declan who brought me home. She’d quirked an eyebrow, and I’d babbled about how he’d been visiting Lucas, and offered to drive me back, and then I’d changed the subject. I wasn’t really ready to dissect my feelings with anyone yet. Mostly because I’d sworn I’d simply let things be and see what happened.
“It was Declan.”
Mum nodded, tucking a stand of her brown hair – the exact same shade as mine – behind her ear. “So… he drove you home from uni, and now he’s texting you.”
It wasn’t a question, but it sounded like she expected an answer. “Yes. Like I said, he was in town anyway so it seemed like the sensible thing to do.”
“I remember when you used to come home from school ranting about sharing a class with him, but now you’re okay sharing a car with him?”
“He’s not a serial killer, Mum. He’s a pain in the arse, but slightly less of one than he used to be.”
My phone beeped again. Declan Fox: Not fair! I’m stuck at work and your drinking during the day!
I laughed and replied: *You’re :p
“Are you going to see him again while you’re home?” Mum asked.
“I don’t know. I… Yeah, I expect I’ll see him sometime. I’m here for three weeks, so I’m sure I’ll bump into him.”
“Do you want to bump into him?”
“I guess so. He’s fun to be around sometimes.”
“Eden, you’re blushing.”
My hand flew to my cheek, where sure enough, the heat radiating from my face confirmed I was blushing. Not good.
“It must be the wine,” I said, pushing the glass away, even though I was suddenly desperate to down the whole thing at once. I never usually had an issue talking to my mum about guys, but this was Declan Fox. It was embarrassing to admit I’d even thought about him romantically, let alone kissed him and enjoyed it.
“Of course,” Mum said, smirking. “The wine.”
I fixed her with a glare. “Don’t say anything.”
A laugh slipped out of her mouth, and I glared harder. This is what happens when your mother is only nineteen years older than you.
As my phone’s message alert tone sounded again, I jumped, which really didn’t put any dent in her amusement. I ignored her and read the message.
Declan Fox: Alright, smart arse. You wanna go for a drink soon?
A buzz hummed through my veins, but, aware my mother was still watching me, I forced myself not to react. Sure. Sounds good. :-)