Merry Christmas, everyone! Just a little something for all of you, nothing great.
Ten Mistletoes of Christmas
I was dead.
No, seriously, I was dead. Not literally, but I think some sort of demon flew in my bedroom weeks before and stole my ability to feel any sort of emotion. Because, really, I couldn't feel the spirit of the most popular holiday. Christmas. I may as well have been dead.
I loved Christmas as a kid. My family used to have this tradition where we would set one full day as Christmas Shopping Day. When we arrived at the mall early in the morning, we would split up, but since I was too young to wander around the mall by myself, I would shop with my mom. Mind you, I didn't have a lot of money back then, so my gifts to my siblings were very simple. Nevertheless, at Christmas, nothing could dampen my spirit, not even the cold winter season, which I disliked.
At eighteen years old, I was struggling to feel happy. Instead of putting on a smile, I painted it on. Honestly, I thought it was an overrated holiday. The whole gift-giving thing and putting up Christmas lights…it was just silly. One night, three weeks before, I told my family that I wouldn't mind if we didn't put up Christmas lights or a Christmas tree that year. The stares they gave me were unbelievable. They looked at me as if I had turned into a green-skinned, saliva-spitting alien.
"Is something bothering you, Taylor?" my mom had said.
"No," I had replied. "I just think it's no big deal. I don't get why everyone has to be so hyped up about this."
"Scrooge," my nineteen-year-old brother had mumbled.
I remember my other brother giving me a look and saying, with that usual calm voice of his, "It's Christmas, Taylor. Trust me, when you're away from home, you'll appreciate spending time with your family more. I was looking forward to this break for weeks."
"Yeah, Taylor," Aaron had chimed in, "don't ruin it for poor old Jake."
Anyway, after that, I just shut my mouth. Why spoil Christmas for the rest of them? For the next few weeks, I kept my apathy to myself, while the others decorated, shopped, and had a good old time.
Now let's forward to a Christmas party, with me sitting at a table and staring contentedly at my mom's wine glass. The party was for workers of Trialtech Inc., the company my dad worked for. It was held every year, on December 22nd, and it was always a semi-formal party at some sort of beeeaaauitful banquet hall, with dancing, singing, drinking, and everything!
Hence there I was, dressed in a knee-length black dress and black heels, my brown hair tied in a sleek low ponytail.
I felt a nudge on my shoulder. I turned and gave my brother a look. "Shouldn't you be prowling around, hitting on any female who looks young and hot?"
"Nice, Taylor," he said with a smirk. "Nice to know that you're having a good time."
"A great time," I replied dismally. "Now go and be annoying somewhere else."
His smirk had not left him. "You know you want company—"
"—so I found someone for you," he finished. "See, he wants a dance with you. Isn't that just romantic?"
I raised a glass to my lips and took a sip of water. "No, thanks," I said flatly. I didn't care who it was. I seriously didn't.
"And why not? You really should get your ass off that chair, you know. It might get stuck there forever."
"Buzz off, Aaron."
"So who lodged up a candy cane up it, Taylor?"
No, it was not Aaron who said that. It was someone worse. I felt my back stiffen the moment I heard that deep voice, oozing with practiced charm. But no way did it work on me.I loathed him too much. I, Taylor Andrea Giles, despised Cole Mathias Highway, also known as son of billionaire tycoon Patrick Highway, or cheeky asshole. Personally, I preferred the latter, since I made up that one.
I turned around and plastered on a smile. I almost gagged when I saw his oh-so-perfect lips curved in a supposedly alluring smile. Yes, I could definitely see why girls went crazy for him, but I was not what you would call a "hormone-driven teenage girl", meaning I was not the type who would jump him, just because his green eyes were "soooo heavenly".
"Hi, Cole," I said with fake sweetness. "Your name states exactly what you will get this Christmas."
His smile did not leave him. "Oh, that's very clever, Taylor." He then leaned down and whispered, his warm breath tickling my ear in the process, "But you're right. I have been very naughty."
There was no way it could have been my fault when my hand met with the side of his head. It had a mind of its own. He should have been thanking me since I didn't hit him that hard. I think.
"That was low, Taylor," he muttered darkly.
"Then you shouldn't have been saying any sexual innuendos to me."
"Get your mind out of the gutter. I egged Mrs. Stevenson's house. She's a cranky old bat."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh, I'm sure. And no, I am not going to dance with you."
He snorted. "Don't flatter yourself. I'm not the one Aaron's talking about. I just happened to pass by and overheard your conversation."
I stared at him. "Oh." My face began to burn. I could feel the warmth start at the back of my neck and rise up to my forehead. I looked at Aaron, who was trying not to laugh.
"May I present," he said with pretend cordiality, "Fred Goldman."
I felt my body freeze the moment I heard that name. My mouth opened in shock as I watched Aaron summon the guy over, but no word or even sound of protest could I release. My throat had dried up too much.
The moment Fred came within a metre of me, I knew I was doomed. I didn't even try to hide the disgust on my face because I knew that he wouldn't be able to detect it. He was too blind and too…stupid. I watched with a shudder as he licked his fingers and ran them in his overly gelled up hair. I think it was supposed to turn me on or something. Ew.
"Hi, Taylor," he said with what he thought was a sexy voice. But, really, it sounded like he just came back from having his tonsils removed.
"H-hi…Fred…" I said uncertainly.
He obviously thought my voice shook because I was scared of being so close to hot stuff, because his oily smile widened, and he ran his saliva-infested fingers up my arm, as if to tell me, "It's all right, baby. I know you're intimidated by my good looks, but I'm here to make you feel beautiful."
"Come on, let's dance," he said, tugging my arm.
I glanced at Aaron and Cole. I could see that the former was enjoying the whole thing, for he was grinning from one ear to the other. The other simply had his arms crossed, surveying the scene with what looked like a blank look. Whatever. I knew I couldn't count on either of them to get me out of this mess.
I turned to Fred and smiled. "Why, I wish I could, Fred, but unfortunately I stubbed my toe this morning. You're going to have to dance with someone else."
"Hmm, I can just carry you while we dance."
I looked at his flabby, spaghetti-like arms. "Right. Of course."
He mistook my sarcastic reply for that of a genuine one, because he smiled, as if knowing the whole time that I couldn't resist him. He then pulled me up and literally dragged me to the dance floor. Hellooo? I stubbed my toe here!
Apparently he remembered because when we reached the floor, he flashed me a perverted smile and prepared to bear my weight.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I screamed mentally at him. This guy just has no common sense. I knew perfectly well that he couldn't carry me. Besides, we were at a freakin' party.
I stepped away. "You know what? My toe is a lot better now."
"Great!" he exclaimed, then quickly wrapping his arms around my waist. "Now let's dance."
Worse, it was a slow dance. Fred used this opportunity to be near me as much as possible. I tried to get away, but he held on real tight. I was almost impressed. Almost.
"I can't breathe, Fred," I told him.
He didn't move. Actually, he did. He moved by turning his head and sniffing my hair. Technically that was a move. "You smell good, Taylor."
My face contorted into an expression of revulsion. Obviously he did not see it, but this girl on the dance floor did, who shot me a look of sympathy. "Yeah, I hope so. I don't like smelly hair."
His hair was smelly. Really smelly.
"Oh, Taylor…" he whispered. "I want you for Christmas."
I almost burst out laughing. Seriously. My shoulders shook, and obviously he mistook this for something else. Yes, he thought I shivered because I was so turned on. The guy was unbelievable.
Then he did it. He ran his hands down. Straight to my ass.
Oh he did not just… The pressure on my behind proved that yes, yes he just did. I pursed my lips and counted to ten. One…two…
Oh, the hell with it—ten!
"Get your filthy hands off my ass, you sick pervert," I almost shouted in his ear. "If you still want to father children."
He froze. "You don't mean that, Taylor," he said. His hands had not left.
"Seriously, Fred. Release me now."
The dangerous edge he detected in my voice made him drop his hands and let me go. I whipped around and walked away, leaving him there on the dance floor. When I reached my table, I merely nodded at Aaron and Cole, who had seen the whole thing. Aaron looked shocked, as if he didn't think that Fred would have gone that far. Cole looked like his face was carved from stone.
"Thanks, Aaron," I said sweetly.
Aaron shook his head. "I'm sorry, Taylor. I didn't think—"
"Whatever," I said dismally.
"He's dead meat."
I gave him a look. "Down. Let it go. I mean it."
He said nothing. Instead, he did what he would usually do when chastised. He sulked. Satisfied, I looked at Cole. His face was blank. Whatever. I rolled my eyes and looked away.
The night had turned sour. The three of us sat there in silence. Aaron was still brooding, while Cole was just…there. I settled with looking around and watching people dance. Fred was seated somewhere very far, thank God.
Finally, the music stopped, and the MC called for everyone's attention.
"Hello, everyone! It is now time for the mistletoe auction!"
Ah, yes. The mistletoe auction. The beyond ridiculous tradition where ten mistletoes (each mistletoe would be accompanied with something else, like expensive Belgian chocolates or something like that) would be auctioned off, and anyone who bought one would present it to someone at the party, and that someone would have to give the presenter a kiss. Stupid? Yes, very. The first time someone explained that to me, I burst out laughing.
I was one among few who mocked this tradition. I seriously didn't see the romance in buying mistletoe and using it to pick up a woman. I rolled my eyes when the auction began. It wasn't surprising that only young, single men were bidding for the first mistletoe.
I froze. I knew that voice. I turned around and saw Fred, who was smiling at me. I gaped openly, screaming in my head, WON'T HE EVER LEARN?
I must have said that out loud because Cole followed my gaze, and when he saw Fred, a disgusted look appeared on his face. I smiled wryly. So he does have some sort of heart in there. I frowned when I saw him flip his cell phone open. I shouldn't have listened to what he was saying on the phone, but it proved to irresistible.
"It's me. Don't let Goldman buy mistletoe," he said quietly. "Tell that to the rest."
My heart stopped. I gave Cole a look, but he didn't even glance at me. I wondered what he meant by "Tell that to the rest."
Then it clicked. Trialtech Inc. was equally owned by seven businessmen, all who had at least one son in their late teens or early twenties; they were direct heirs to the company. Fred was not one. He wasn't even remotely close to being like one of them. These sons had the same characteristics: smart, talented, charismatic, and sinfully good-looking. Plus, they had an understanding amongst each other. They were friends.
No. I shook my head. It can't be.
I was proved wrong. Soon all seven (yes, including Cole), began to bid, blocking Fred from the race. I was amazed. Cole had asked them to bid without telling why, and they still did it. Now that was loyalty.
I looked at Fred and saw the worried look on his face. He seemed to be thinking: Surely not all of them are going to buy one? Maybe I still have a chance on the next one?
No, he didn't. Destin Zimmerman won the first one, and Isaac Forrester won the second. Then Cole took the third. All seven worked as a team, willing to give the mistletoe to the other, just as long as Fred was out of the game.
"Wow, folks! What's going on here?" the MC cried out excitedly. "Boys, boys, who have you fallen for?"
There was laughter. The guys smiled good-naturedly, but none answered. The auction continued. Camden Scott took the fourth. Fred, however, had still not given up. He was the first bidder for the fifth mistletoe. Cole, looking amused, topped the bid. Then Ian. Fred, determined indeed, topped it. Ian took it personally and doubled it. Fred, dejected, slumped in his seat. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
"Going once…going twice…sold, to Ian Harrison!"
The sixth went to Hunter Mills. The seventh, to Wilson Dane.
Then the eighth came. I saw Fred jump up in his seat, his eyes bright. He realized, like I did, that there were seven heirs. Three mistletoes were left. Our eyes met, and he flashed me a grin, as if saying, "Don't worry, Taylor, I'll win this one, and when I do, we'll make out for an hour and half!"
"Ten!" he screamed, his voice cracking. Some burst into chuckles, and even the MC chuckled before checking herself.
Cole snorted. "As if we can't buy more than one." He then announced, "Fifteen."
Fred's face fell. "Twenty…?" he finished uncertainly.
Cole smirked. "Forty." Forty was nothing to him, obviously. He could throw forty in the trash and forget about it the next day.
So, yes, in the end, the eighth went to him.
"Cole Highway!" the MC exclaimed. "Are you trying to win the hearts of two ladies?"
Cole flashed that famous charming smile of his. "No, ma'am. I'm trying to win two kisses from one lady," he replied smoothly.
That was it. He had won the crowd over. The women gushed over his romantic approach, while the men congratulated him. I rolled my eyes. I knew that Cole had had a lot of practice in this sort of thing. He could smooth talk his way out of committing arson if he set his mind into it.
The ninth mistletoe. I snuck a look at Fred to see if he had finally given up, but unfortunately, it wasn't sneaky enough. He caught my eye, and he misinterpreted my expression again.
Really, there should be courses on how to interpret looks correctly, I thought glumly.
Fred straightened his back and gave me a look which seemed to say, "Seriously, Taylor. I'm going to win this one for you, because I want you sooo much! Get ready to meet me in the janitor's closet!" I gave him a look of disgust and faced the front. Obviously he was blind to that look because lo and beyond, he began to bid. When he did, Cole slammed his hand on the table and turned around, shooting Fred an incredulous look. Fred, however, was too busy bidding against Laurence Dane, Wilson Dane's younger brother. He and I used to have a lot of classes together in high school, and I knew he wasn't the bidding-for-mistletoe type. Wilson must have told Laurence to do it.
The ninth went to Laurence, who stared at the mistletoe in confusion, not knowing what to do with it. When he looked up and caught my eye, he smiled and shrugged ruefully.
Finally, the tenth mistletoe was brought forward.
"Well, everyone, this has been a very interesting night! Nine mistletoes bought by eight very charming and, if I'm not mistaken, very single men! Am I right, gentlemen?"
All eight smiled and nodded. Three-fourths of the female population in the room must have sighed or giggled. I, on the other hand, rolled my eyes because I knew that these guys were single because they didn't want to be tied down to one girl.
All right, that was unfair of me. I didn't know these guys well. I had met all of them, yes, but they were only acquaintances—except maybe Cole, who was more like my enemy. But anyway, I guess I had no right to judge them like that. However, I doubted the possibility of me being wrong. These guys had everything, so why should they settle with just one girl?
The MC beamed at the crowd. "Yes, a very interesting night indeed. And now for the tenth mistletoe, which is accompanied by this beautiful sapphire necklace!"
There were oohs and ahs.
Fred made a bid for the tenth one. I smacked my forehead and groaned. When I snuck a peek at him, this time succeeding, I saw him lick his thumb and smooth it over his eyebrows. I shuddered and looked away.
No way in hell would Cole and his friends let Fred win now. The race was almost over, and it was time to fully bring Fred down.
"One hundred and twenty," Cole announced.
The crowd gasped. The MC gasped.
"Cole Highway! Two kisses not enough for you?" she joked.
"Not if they're from the lady I have in mind," he replied suavely.
Once again, the crowd was won over.
Then someone made a bid. Against Cole. "One hundred and fifty," said a deep voice.
I frowned. I knew that the voice wasn't Fred's because Fred's was more high-pitched. When I looked at Cole, I saw that his whole body had frozen and his eyes were much darker. They were fixed on something—or more like someone—at his left. I followed his gaze and saw a young man I swore I'd seen before, but didn't know from where. He had jet-black hair that was semi-messy, but for some reason, that added more to his appeal. I didn't know what the colour of his eyes was, but they could have been grey or blue. He was returning Cole's gaze, though instead of wearing an icy expression like Cole, he wore a complacent smirk.
Suddenly, his eyes flickered towards me. My heart stopped for a moment, though I had no idea why. It was probably because of the look those eyes sent. I couldn't interpret what it was exactly, but it was something along the lines of: "I know you, but you don't know me."
"Two hundred," Cole announced through gritted teeth.
The stranger's smirk widened. "Five hundred."
The crowd had been dead silent before, but now they broke into gasps and animated talks of: "I can't believe this!" or "Can they afford that? Jeez, what am I saying? Of course they can!" or "This is never going to end, they're equally determined!"
Apparently, the MC realized the same thing because she raised the microphone and said, a little shakily, "Umm, gentlemen, this will go on forever. Are you both going to bid on and on? Is the tenth mistletoe really that important to you?"
"Yes," they both replied, firmly and with authority. I frowned and shook my head. Who was that guy? No doubt he was rich, but he was not a Trialtech heir. So who was he?
The question was really beginning to bother me.
"Why not just give it to that gentleman over there? Poor chap's been bidding for one since the beginning."
My heart stopped, because the MC was talking about Fred, who had jumped up in his seat and cried out, "Yes! ME! Please!"
Cole crossed his arms. "No, thanks. I want that mistletoe."
"Mr. Highway, you already have two."
"Yes, Cole," the stranger said, the smirk remaining on his face. "And it's Christmas."
I could see Cole's muscle twitching in his jaw. "No."
There was a pause, where everyone exchanged either concerned or confused glances. I could see Cole's friends looking tense. Apparently they knew exactly what was going on, though they were the only ones.
The MC sighed and nodded. "All right. How about this: since this auction will have no end if you two keep going against each other, I will pick a number between one and one hundred, and whoever is closest to my number will pay one thousand dollars and win the mistletoe. Is that fair?"
There was silence. People's eyes darted repeatedly from Cole to Stranger, Stranger to Cole, and so on. Everyone must have been holding their breaths.
The MC breathed a sigh of relief. "All right, I'm writing the number on my hand right now." She took a black marker and wrote on her palm. Then she closed it and announced, "Now, whoever wants to start can start."
"Seventy-five," Cole said.
"Twenty-one," said the stranger.
No one was breathing. Everyone held collective breaths as the MC slowly opened her palm and held it up for everyone to see.
There was a pause as all the geniuses began to calculate, while the lazy or stupid ones waited. Of course, it didn't take long. A second and a half later, a woman shouted, "He wins!"
She was pointing at the Stranger. I looked at Cole. I thought he was going to burst. The vein throbbing on his forehead was frightening. His eyes were burning as they watched the Stranger walk smugly to the stage and take the mistletoe.
The MC plastered on a smile. "Now that the auction is over with, gentlemen, do any of you want to present your mistletoe to anyone?"
The girls giggled, swooned, and sat up eagerly. And because of their excitement and high hopes, they were too blind to notice that all nine were in very tense moods. None were smiling. Their faces had hardened to the point where even the MC could see from the stage.
"A-all right," she said shakily. "You boys can do it whenever you want…let's, ummm, go back to dancing…"
And the music played.
The party came to an end half an hour later. None of the girls gave the kiss they wanted desperately to give, because it seemed that none of the boys presented their mistletoe. Thus almost every female who came to the party went home in a sour mood.
My family was among the last to leave. But just before exiting the banquet hall, I went to the washroom. When I was walking back to my table, I think I halted and froze completely when I saw it.
Mistletoe. Right there, next to my purse.
No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no.
Yes, I was definitely very flattered, but who? Who gave it to me? It was just the mistletoe. The accompanied gift wasn't there; hence I didn't know who it came from.
I looked around frantically. Eight boys were still there, and they were still very uptight. The Stranger—I still didn't catch his name—was nowhere in sight.
None were looking at me. None were carrying their mistletoe. That was just perfect.
Slowly, very slowly, I approached my seat. When I picked it up, I found that it had a note tucked in it. With trembling fingers, I pulled it out and read.
Merry Christmas, beautiful.
Yes, I was very flattered indeed, but a part of me wondered if it was a joke. Who on earth would give this to me? Who, for God's sake! Then I froze again. Did he expect me to give him a kiss? I shook my head. No, no. It couldn't be. He didn't tell me who he was. But why would he give me mistletoe?
It wasn't making any sense. None of it was making any sense.
Frowning pensively, I tucked the note in my purse and wrapped my fingers around the mistletoe. Then, gathering up whatever courage I had, I walked up to Cole, who was sitting on a chair, staring at the floor. When he caught sight of my shoes, he looked up and gave me a questioning look.
Damn those eyes.
I swallowed nervously. "D-Did…did you give me this?"
I showed him the mistletoe. He stared at it for a while. The thick silence was enough to torture me. I shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other; I was too nervous to bolt. Really, he was taking too long.
Finally he met my troubled gaze. We were like that for a while, just looking at each other.
Then he answered. "No, Taylor." It was the quietest reply I had ever heard.
"Oh." My cheeks began to burn. "Okay. Sorry." Then, I didn't know what made me do it, but I glanced at the rest of them.
All of them were looking at me. And I still found no hint of the identity of my benefactor. Were they doing this to be cruel? I thought I was going to go crazy. I wouldn't be surprised if they saw the wheels in my mind turning and turning and turning and turning…
"Taylor! Hurry up!"
I snapped out of my reverie. Breaking my gaze from all of them, I clumsily tucked the mistletoe in my purse.
"Yeah," I told Aaron. "I'll be right there." I turned to them. "Goodbye. Merry Christmas." I didn't direct this to anyone in particular. In truth, I didn't look at any of them when I said this. I more like said it to the floor.
And with that, I walked away, my heels clicking on the dance floor.
I guess no demon stole my sense of feeling after all, because at that moment, as I walked away with eight blue, brown, green, grey or hazel eyes burning holes at the back of my head, I felt confused, happy, angry, hopeful, wry, flattered, bitter, pleased—all blended in one crazy mixture.
It's not as romantic as it sounds, trust me.
So who gave me the mistletoe?
I still don't know.