The doorbell rang again, and Stephanie rushed for the door to let whoever it was in before her mother could yell at her to do just that. "Hiya, Steph," Kirsten said, attempting to hug the girl without dropping the three pies she was carrying.
"Hi," she said.
"Stephanie?" her mother shouted from the kitchen. "Is that Kir and Ted? Kirsten!" she cried, dropping her oven mitts on the ground as she ran to her friend from high school—who had just handed Stephanie all three of the pies.
Stephanie laid them out on the dessert table as the other members of Kirsten's family filed into the already crowded house. Thanksgiving was a big deal in Stephanie's household. Friends, family, and neighbors were all invited. It was a good thing, Stephanie thought, that they had a huge house.
Jelly, Kirsten's youngest daughter, hugged Stephanie around the knees. "Hi Stephie!"
"How goes it, Jells?"
"Good!" she screamed, dashing after the cat. "Charlie, waiiiiiit!"
"Anjelica has a minor obsession with your cat," a voice from behind Stephanie informed her. She felt her face heat up and knew she was blushing.
"Braden." She said quietly.
"That's what they call me," he said, hugging her. "Haven't seen you guys in a while, huh?"
"S'pose not," she mumbled, wriggling out of his arms.
"Did you miss me?"
"Of course," she joked. Except that she wasn't joking.
"Well, I missed you too, so no worries, then," he smiled his perfect smile and mussed his short brown hair. "Those are good pies. I helped Mom make them—that one's pumpkin, that one's pecan, and that one's apple."
"Yum," Stephanie said, feeling more awkward the longer this conversation went on.
"Kids!" Stephanie's mother said, dashing past them to the kitchen. "Wash up! Dinner's almost done."
Stephanie washed her hands, glancing up a few times to meet Braden's eyes in the mirror. His reflection leaned against the doorway of the bathroom—the very small bathroom—and he didn't seem to take his eyes off of her the whole time. Stephanie swallowed. What did that mean?
As they all sat around the large table, Kirsten stood. "Everybody—what are you thankful for?"
"I am thankful," Jelly said immediately, "for Kitty-cats." People stifled their laughter.
"I'm thankful for this food, and…"
"I'm thankful for RockBand! And…"
"I'm thankful for my family…"
"I'm thankful for medical insurance…"
Finally, it was Stephanie's turn. "Um… I'm thankful for iPods and my parents, and also that we have a ton of great people to share this food with."
Braden, seated next to her, smiled. It was an approving smile, Stephanie thought, and she felt a little bit of pride swell in her chest. "I'm thankful for my parents and sisters, and Memory Sticks, and all the other awesome people in my life." As he said this, he bumped Stephanie's knee lightly with his, letting his leg rest, touching hers, for the rest of dinner. Needless to say she wasn't able to eat much.
When it was through, Kirsten proposed that Braden and Stephanie take the other kids up to watch a movie. So they herded the younger ones upstairs—Stephanie nearly slipping, due to her socks and her mother's obsessive overuse of Pledge on the wooden staircase. She heard Braden chuckle behind her and continued upwards, probably blushing again. Once all the others were settled down, Stephanie and Braden squeezed next to each other on the couch. Stephanie could barely breathe, let alone pay attention to the movie. She glanced up at Braden, sitting on her right, and he gave her a little amusingly exasperated look out of the corners of his eyes, a single eyebrow raised.
Her hand rested in her lap, but around ten minutes into the movie, he rested his on top of it, very lightly, as though testing her reaction. When she did nothing—except blush, of course—he grasped it firmly in his own. She let out a shaky breath. Thoughts were jumbled together in her head, cloudy and nonsensical as ever, but the one thing that kept coming back was what did it mean? Stephanie over-analyzed things. She knew this about herself. Did it mean a thing for a seventeen-year-old boy and a seventeen-year-old girl to hold hands, nowadays? Probably not. But it was Braden. With her. If it were any other two people, she'd've said they were just bored and that it was fun to mess around. She got that. It wasn't like she'd never done it.
But they weren't any other two people. They were Stephanie and Braden. They didn't do things like this. Stephanie broke out of this thought process to find that Braden was watching her, his expression indiscernible. "Is this alright, then?" he asked.
"Mmhmm," she managed.
He chuckled slightly. "Better than alright, then?" he grinned mischievously.
Stephanie muffled a laugh, not wanting to draw the young ones' attention from the movie and onto the slightly dysfunctional and possibly insane teenagers sitting near them. "I s'pose."
"Will you come with me?" he whispered, standing and tugging her hand.
"Um—" But he didn't give her a choice. Stephanie knew it was not because he was being forceful about it, but because he knew her, and he knew what her answer would be.
He pulled her into the upstairs hallway. "We've never been much for talking about—" he practically cringed— "feelings. But I thought you should… well, I figured you should know… that… well… you know."
Stephanie leaned against the wall, her eyebrows raised. It was true that they'd known each other since they were born, and they'd never really talked about what their relationship was. They'd been forced to be friends, but, as a child, Stephanie didn't mind. In fact, she rather liked Braden. He was practically her best friend. It wasn't until later that she started… you know… like liking him. They'd never acknowledged this friendship—it was simply how it was. So she just looked at him and said softly, "Actually, Braden, I don't know. Care to tell me?"
"I… don't do words, Steph," he pleaded, his expression resembling one of a man who'd recently been kicked 'where the sun don't shine.'
"Mmhmm," she said, rolling her eyes. "Look, I'm going to go back and watch the m—"
But she never got to finish, because Braden pushed her up against the wall she'd been leaning on, his lips covering hers. His hands grasped her hips, pulling her to him. She didn't actually know how long she'd waited for this. It couldn't have been that long. A few months? Maybe a year, at the most. But she knew that it didn't matter how long she hadn't had it before—what mattered was that after, she'd never be able to go without it again. "I was trying," he whispered, breathing heavily, "to say that."
"Ah," Stephanie said. "Point well-made." She leaned to kiss him again.
"Brady?" Jelly said, toddling into the hall. Braden shot away from Stephanie like a bullet.
"Yeah, Jelly?" he said, his voice slightly strangled.
"Are you and Stephie gonna come back and watch the movie?"
"Um. Yeah, Jelly. We are."
After five minutes of the insufferableness of not being able to touch each other properly, Braden stood, saying loudly, "I have to go to the bathroom."
"Shh," Alysone, Braden's other sister, said agitatedly.
"Hey, Stephanie?" Braden continued, quieter than before, but still loud enough for the others to hear. "I forgot where the bathroom is. Could you show me?"
Stephanie rolled her eyes and stood as well. "Yes, Braden," she said, mocking his fake tone. "I will show you now." And she pulled him by his wrist into the bathroom.
He shut the door and pushed her against it immediately. His hands were suddenly everywhere, and hers were also surprising her. He pressed his lips to her neck and she might have done something incredibly stupid and romance-novel-worthy like moan or whisper his name. She wasn't sure. She wasn't sure of anything anymore. The only thing she was aware of was Braden, Braden, Braden.
He lifted her by her waist and pushed her onto the bathroom counter, kissing her lips as he went. She wrapped her legs around him, and he laughed into her mouth, his hands sliding up her back. He pulled away, then, leaning his forehead against hers. "You look perfect tonight, by the way."
She blushed. "Thanks. You look pretty perfect yourself." She could barely make out his features in the dim light from the window and the nightlight beside her on the wall.
He kissed her again. "I'm sorry," he said. "You like words, don't you?"
"Jesus. I know you, Steph. You want me to say what I'm thinking, don't you? You don't like actions much. You like words."
"Your actions are just fine, thanks," she said, running her fingers through his hair to rest at the back of his head.
He looked up at her, perched on the edge of the sink, and said, "Yeah, but you like words better. Don't pretend it doesn't bug you. I've known you for nearly seventeen years, Steph."
"Well… I mean… it wouldn't hurt to have some words…"
He laughed. "I knew it. Thing is, though, I'm not good at words."
"It's okay, Braden."
"It isn't," he insisted. "How can I give you everything you want if I can't even give you the simplest thing in the world?"
"You're being overdramatic."
"I'm being truthful."
"You're being a chick."
"I didn't know you were into chicks, Steph, or I wouldn't've bothered."
She laughed. "Amusing. But the way I see it, you have two choices. Well, three, but only two that I approve of. Either you can say what you're thinking, or go back to kissing me. Or you can leave, of course, but that one just isn't preferential, you know."
"Uh-huh. Well. Steph, look, this isn't going to be pretty—"
"I didn't ask for pretty."
"It's not going to sound romantic—"
"Honestly, Braden, if I've liked you all this time, I can't have been looking for romantic."
"It's not going to be at all like one of those romances you're always reading."
"I don't care."
"All right then. I like you, Steph. That's all there is to it. Come to think on it, I might more than like you, but we'll get into that nasty L-word business when the time comes, I s'pose."
She smiled. "Was that so difficult?"
"I can feel my manliness leaving me."
"Who needs manliness when you've got a woman?"
A long time later, they lay on Stephanie's bed, their heads together and their feet facing opposite directions, laughing and joking like they always had before. Suddenly, Stephanie grew somber. "You're going to have to go home tonight."
"Yes," he agreed.
"Back to Sacramento," she continued.
"Three hours away."
"Without traffic," he confirmed. "Shit."
"I'll send you emails," he said adamantly.
"I'll call you," she concurred.
"I'll miss you," he added quietly.
They both rolled over so that they faced each other. He kissed her quickly on the lips. "We'll see each other in three weeks for Christmas."
"That's a long time. What if you don't even like me anymore?"
"Jeez, Steph. Insecure or what? Look," he said, sitting up and putting her head in his lap. He stroked her hair gently. "Look," he repeated. "Three weeks isn't going to change how I've felt about you for years."
"Oh, Braden, I knew you were a romantic."
"Oh, Lord, don't tell anyone," he said mockingly.
"Pinkie swear," she giggled as he poked her in the side.
"Do not mock me, young lady!" he said regally.
"I'm not!" she cackled as her tickled her. "Stop!" she gasped, laughing.
"Dysfunctional nervous system."
"Dysfunctional brain," she countered.
"Mm," he agreed. "Probably. Why else would I like you?"
"Oh, ha ha," she rolled her eyes, gazing up at him.
He leaned over to kiss her again. "I hear my mom coming," he whispered.
"Don't go," she moaned as Braden left her on the bed and settled in her desk chair.
Just then, Kirsten opened the door. "Hey, guys."
"Hey, Kirsten," Stephanie said just as Braden said, "Hey, mom."
"It was lovely to see you, Miss Stephanie, but we gotta go. The drive back to Sacramento is so not getting shorter the longer we hang around here. Say goodbye, Braden."
"Bye, Steph." He said, following his mother out of the room.
She sat alone on her bed for a full thirty seconds before Braden hurdled back into the room, onto her bed, and onto Stephanie herself. "That was not a proper goodbye," he murmured against the skin of her neck. "I don't need to read a romance novel to know that."
She smiled, kissing him. "Now that was a proper goodbye." But she followed him to the front door like her mother would like—"Always show your guests to the door, young lady!"—and said, "Happy Thanksgiving, by the way. Hey," she caught his elbow as he picked up a bag of leftover food from the ground at his feet. "What was that, anyway, at the table?"
"Oh," he grinned. "I'd've thought Over-Analysis Stephanie would've figured that out by now. The thing I'm most thankful for is you."
She threw herself into his arms. "Good," she murmured as he held her to him. "Only, I'm pretty thankful for you, too."
A/N: Not my best, I feel I have to add. But still, not bad, I think. In my time zone, it's an hour till Thanksgiving's over, anyhow, so I think I need to post this as-is.
I think this still merits reviews, though, don't you? Also, let me know if you'd like to see Stephanie and Braden at Christmas as well… I can't think of a plot right now, but if enough people want it, I'm sure I could think of something. Right, then. Thanks for reading. Please review.