She recognized the voice calling her name and frowned, lips tightening in irritation. She wanted to be home, damn it, and she was almost there. After that awful six hour bus ride from Pitt, listening to him babble the entire time, she just wanted to be in her house with her family, and she certainly did not want to have a conversation with him. Maybe if she just didn't turn around he would give up and go to his own house instead of following her the four blocks to her house.
"Audrey Lynch!" he called again.
Okay, so maybe he wouldn't give up. The guy was like a four year old near Christmas when it came to persistence. ("Mommy, I want a Transformer for Christmas! Mommy, I want that!") But maybe he would think that she was someone else, and stop shouting her name like she was a missing two-year-old child in the mall—
"Audrey, I know you're ignoring me," came the voice again, only this time it was much closer than before. Audrey turned, against her better judgment, to see Kale Kaplan striding along beside her, a duffel bag in his hand and a backpack slung over his shoulder. Being so tall, he had managed to catch up to her without any trouble at all, which only served to annoy her even more.
"Kale, go away," she said. She turned around, continuing to walk home, duffels and all, while pointedly ignoring the tall boy walking next to her. He sighed when she wouldn't look at him, so he hurried in front of her and began walking backwards so that she would have to look at him if she had any hope of getting home without mowing into him.
"C'mon, just listen to me for half a second, will you?" Kale asked, sounding genuinely hurt that she was determined to ignore him.
Audrey scowled and stopped walking. "Look, Kale, it's bad enough I have to deal with you on campus, but I don't want you pestering me over break too, okay? Just leave me alone and we'll be fine." She, Kale, and a busload of other kids who lived in the Lehigh Valley were relishing the freedom of winter break and the assurance of homemade food. No more Ramen for them! Better yet, no exams or papers to write!
Kale looked as though he was considering this proposition, but then he said, "Nah. I just wanted to ask you if you wanted to come to a Christmas party with me. That's not pestering you. Chill, Aud." He smiled.
"I don't like when you call me Aud. It's Audrey," she snapped, shuffling forward. Only three more blocks to go.
"Fine, Audrey. Will you come with me to that party I was talking about?"
Audrey didn't trust Kale as far as she could throw him. "Why, so I can be the only sober person in the room while you and your stupid little buddies get plastered? No thanks," Audrey said, shifting her bag and continuing to walk.
"Well, actually, it's a family party. So my—what was it?—'stupid little buddies' won't be there to get plastered." His expression shifted from annoyed to earnest. "Unless you want me to call them up and ask if they want to come?"
Audrey scowled. "No. And I'm not coming, thank you." She adjusted her bags.
Kale seemed to accept Audrey's refusal of his invitation, but she thought she detected some mischief in his tone when he said, "Okay, fair enough."
"Goodbye, Kale," Audrey said, and continued her trek towards her house. She opened her mouth to add another comment to their conversation but instead closed it and shook her head, ignoring him.
And behind her, Kale watched her walk away, wondering how to get through to her.
** ** ** ** **
"Audrey, where's the butter? We need butter!"
"Sandra, chill," Audrey said. She pulled a package of margarine out of the refrigerator. "It's right here. Does it need to be melted or anything?"
"I don't know," Sandra snapped. "Check the recipe."
"Uh, you're the one who wanted to make cookies, Sis," Audrey said, arching an eyebrow at her little sister's snarky attitude. Sandra scowled.
"I don't need any lip from you," Sandra grumped, and snatched the butter from her sister, the package of chocolate chips in one hand, already checking about the state of the butter. "Get three quarters of a cup of sugar, will you?" she demanded without looking up from the chocolate chips.
Audrey rolled her eyes. She loved her family, and had always been close to Sandra, two years her junior, but that didn't change the fact that Sandra was annoying as hell sometimes. As it was, the Christmas feeling in the air was the only reason her younger sister was still in one piece. Clearly, leaving for a few months to go across the state had meant that all the training she had done with her sister (i.e., not biting people's heads off when asked a question) had disappeared.
However, she did as she was told, carefully staying out of the way of Sandra, who was now trying to soften the butter which was much too hard to mix in with the rest of the batter.
Audrey was about to open her mouth to warn Sandra that if she was going to microwave the butter sticks, perhaps she ought to only put them in for a maximum of thirty seconds or so, but the doorbell suddenly rang.
"Who the hell could that be?" Audrey asked aloud, aware that no one was listening to her.
She glanced towards the front door, peering out of the kitchen, to where her rather portly mother had greeted the visitor. She recognized him even from across the house: Kale was almost a foot and a half taller than her mother, who was short even by normal standards.
Audrey said her best swear word and went to the front door, leaving Sandra to fret as she realized the butter was too melted.
Her mother was already calling her, but Audrey ignored her and said straight to Kale without worrying about polite greetings, "Kale, what the hell are you doing here?"
Kale grinned, a great big toothy grin that she recognized as a sign of mischief. That boy was up to no good and she didn't like it, not at all. Behind Kale, she saw her friend (their mutual friend, actually, since Kale was apparently quite the friendly person) Jenny looking guilty.
"Come in, Jenny," Audrey said tiredly, and ignored her mother's quizzical glance. "I got this, Mom," she said. Her mother shrugged and toddled back to her business.
Jenny stood in the doorway next to Kale, who edged forward and closed the front door so as not to let the heat dissipate. "So," Audrey said, eyes narrowed in suspicion. Jenny knew how she felt about Kale, so what was she doing fraternizing with him and bringing him to her house?
"Hey, look, Audrey," Jenny said, trying to head off any anger that might have been building up. "Kale was just—I mean, it's such a nice night..." She smiled, took a deep breath, and started over. "You should come to the Christmas party with Kale and I tonight."
"Kale and you?" Audrey asked, ignoring Kale completely and focusing her attention solely on her friend.
"Yeah. It's not a big thing, mostly family, but I got a few friends coming..." Kale said, choosing to employ Audrey's favorite tactic against her and ignore that she was ignoring his presense in her front hall.
"I don't want to," she said. "I'm making cookies with Sandra."
As soon as she said this, Sandra let out a wordless shriek of fury. "DAMN IT!" They heard her screaming, "Why the hell isn't this working?!"
Audrey closed her eyes. "It's fun," she said weakly.
Kale quirked an eyebrow. "Come on," he said, looking completely innocent, and not at all like he was plotting something—which of course he had to be, since he was so hell-bent on getting her to attend his stupid Christmas party. "Please, Aud?"
"What did I tell you about calling me Aud?" she snapped. "No!"
Jenny gave Audrey a once over, and said to Kale, "She looks good enough for a party, don't you think?"
Kale nodded, and then without further ado, grabbed Audrey, picked her up, and slung her over his shoulder.
"PUT ME DOWN, YOU APE!" Audrey shrieked, sounding much like her enraged little sister. "I mean it, Kale! You have ten seconds!"
Jenny went and grabbed a coat for Audrey and to quickly tell Mrs. Lynch that they were kidnapping her eldest daughter. Mrs. Lynch must not have been concerned, because Jenny joined Kale and the still cursing Audrey out on the sidewalk a few moments later.
Audrey was still yelling abuse a block later, and threatening Jenny with dismemberment if she didn't help her get free from Kale's clutches. Jenny dutifully ignored her friend, and instead trudged along alongside Kale, who was busy laughing his head off at Audrey's threats.
"You couldn't hurt a fly, Lynch," he laughed. "I mean it, Aud, how the hell could you disembowel someone like you claim? Can you even stomach that much blood?"
"If it were your blood, I could," she snapped from behind his head, further irritated. Didn't this kid ever take 'No' for an answer?
Kale laughed and stopped walking. They were in front of a little green car, much less sporty and flamboyant than Audrey would have pegged for a guy like Kale. "You're going to stuff me in the trunk, aren't you?" Audrey asked.
"No, only if you try and escape," he joked, and set her down. She stood still for a moment, and then tried to make a bolt for it. Kale grabbed her and enveloped her in his arms. "Look, if I have to hug you like this all night to keep you from escaping, I'll do it," he said seriously. "You're not getting out of this."
"Whyyyy?" Audrey whined, muffled from her face being pressed into Kale's coat. Truth be told, she was getting cold without her coat on, and Kale was pretty warm. And strong. And he smelled nice. She shook her head, and forced her way out of Kale's grip, grabbing her coat from Jenny and snapping, "Fine, I'll go to the damn party."
Kale smirked. "Knew you'd give in eventually." He opened the backdoor for Audrey, and she climbed in, contemplating ways to escape.
Kale slid into the driver's seat and Jenny into the passenger's seat. Kale flicked on the radio, and the three drove in silence for nearly fifteen minutes before Audrey spoke up again.
"Why do you want me to come to this stupid party so badly?" Audrey asked, glancing at Jenny, whom she felt might give her the most sane answer. Perhaps she could interpret Kale better.
"Oh, Audrey, you're so blind, aren't you?" Jenny said smugly. She snickered a little. "Boy, are you in for a treat," she muttered. Kale choked back a laugh at Jenny's words.
Audrey didn't like the sound of that at all. Just as she was about ready to consider prying open the door and jumping from the moving vehicle, Kale pulled up to the curb in front of a brightly lit house and announced, "We're here."
The entire street was lit up with lights, actually. Not a house on the street was without some form of Christmas cheer, and she could see their trees, decorated and lit up, from the windows.
Kale opened the door for her, and had Audrey known a little better where she was, she might have tried to make another break for it.
As if he sensed this, Kale gave her a pleading look. "C'mon, give me a chance."
Audrey scowled, but followed Kale and Jenny to the front door, trying to fathom what Jenny meant when she said in an undertone, not intending for Audrey to overhear, "I don't think your plan is going to work, Kale; I hate to break it to you."
Kale was resolute. "It'll work," he said, and opened the door. Inside, it was like an explosion of festive, Christmas spirit. The tree—all eight feet of it—was decorated impeccably, with perfect glass globes in various colors, tinsel, colored lights, and cutesy trinkets. It looked a damn sight better than their little tree back at her house. Besides the tree, there were snowmen on almost every flat surface of the house: on countertops, on the entertainment center she spied in the main room, on the tables. Fat Santas stood next to them, and miniature sleighs and towns were set up. It was an impressive display, and clearly, someone here desperately loved Christmas.
Kale turned around and smiled. "Welcome to the Kaplan residence, where every winter becomes an explosion of Santa Clauses, sleighs, snowmen, and other various decorations."
Audrey fought a smile at his mocking tone, and looked around. There were groups of people scattered about the enormous living room and still more in the dining room, where the table had been set with food (amidst the snowmen and Santas). "Here, gimme your coat," he said to her, and held out a hand. Audrey slowly took off her coat, still in awe of the decorations. Jenny handed over her own coat, and just as Audrey was about to ask Kale, once more, why he'd brought her here, a man with a spectacular handlebar moustache appeared in front of them.
"Kale!" the man said in a booming voice that seemed to match his booming moustache (Audrey tried not to notice how much it wiggled when he spoke). "Glad to see you finally made it back. This must be Audrey, I presume?" he asked, turning to look at her.
Audrey shot a glance at Kale, who was—unless she was hallucinating, which was possible, actually, given the rather sketchy cookies she'd eaten earlier from one of her sister's slightly more successful baking attempts—blushing. "Yeah, Uncle Stu. This is Audrey."
"Nice to meet you!" Boomed Uncle Stu-With-the-Magnificent-Moustache. "The whole family's heard lots about you, young lady."
"Oh, have you?" Audrey asked, smile freezing and her voice much too strained. Kale looked nervous.
"Come on," he said. "You must be hungry. I can't imagine your sister's cookies are actually edible, considering how much trouble she was having when we got you."
Jenny laughed. "You don't know the half of it," she snickered, having been Audrey's friend for far longer than Kale's and knowing all the horror stories of her sister (and her father)'s failed attempts at cooking. Her mother, meanwhile, hated cooking, so both Audrey and Jenny thought that it was amazing she had lasted this long and knew how to make more than Ramen.
Kale disappeared momentarily to dispose of their coats, returning to prevent the onslaught of curious family members, all wanting to know if she was the Audrey they had "heard so much about." Audrey's eyebrows continued to rise higher after each mention of Kale's incessant commentary to his family, so much so that she suspected they might soon disappear off the top of her head.
"Don't worry about it," Kale said, the second time she asked about it. He kept looking up, as if looking for something specific. She saw an older woman kissing a man who had to be half her age and wrinkled her nose.
"Who are they?" Audrey asked Kale, nodding discreetly at the odd couple.
Jenny's eyes flicked upwards and she immediately grinned. "I'm going to get some food," she said and clapped Kale on the shoulder.
"Oh, them?" Kale asked, steering them towards the now disbanded couple. "The guy is my cousin Aden. He's a year older than me. And the woman is my sister's husband's aunt."
Audrey nodded slowly, clearly trying to hide some of her skepticism that a creepy couple such as Aden and Kale's sister's-husband's-aunt would be kissing each other. Really, in retrospect, she should have seen it coming.
"It's mistletoe," Kale said, flicking his gaze upward. Audrey did the same and saw that what Kale said was true. And before she knew it, Kale's lips her on hers.
She'd been kissed plenty of times before, had had several significant boyfriends, so she knew from experience that Kale was a damned good kisser. Damned good, judging by the way her legs were turning to jelly and her hands were suddenly twining themselves in Kale's thick hair. Or, by the way that he made warmth spread all over her, making the lingering cold disappear. A few of the family members closest to them start to wolf-whistle and make lewd comments, but for once Audrey didn't care. Not if he was going to kiss her like this.
But she suddenly realized what was going on—this was Kale Kaplan. He was a clown, a slacker. And he didn't have the greatest track record with girls, either. She shouldn't be kissing him. So she pushed away from him, breaking the contact. She told herself she wasn't upset by the sudden disappearance of warmth, or the feel of his hands on her waist.
Most of the family members—she didn't even know these people—were watching now, wondering what was going to happen. She made her voice sound calm when she asked, "Would you please get my coat? It's time I left."
** ** ** ** **
Kale hadn't been the one to drive her home. Jenny drove her home, explaining that she had only driven over with Kale to her house to set the plan in motion. "That was his plan?" Audrey had asked, unsure how she felt about it. "Get me to the party and lure me under the mistletoe so that he could kiss me and blow my socks off?"
Jenny fought a smirk, slowing down for a stop sign. "Why? Did he 'blow your socks off'?"
Audrey coughed. "No. I, uh, just—that's not the point. The point is, why did he want to kiss me in the first place?"
Jenny tossed an incredulous laugh at Audrey. "Audrey, hon? He's been crushing on you for the past two years. Haven't you seen him pining after you?" She shifted into second gear.
"I—no—that—no!" Audrey spluttered. She thought guiltily of the hurt on Kale's face when she'd bolted from the house and the lame family Christmas party. Shit.
"It's the truth, honey," Jenny said. "Whether you want it to be or not. The boy's mad about you." The unspoken "God knows why" hung there.
** ** ** ** **
Suffice it to say that the rest of winter break passed slowly. Audrey kept thinking of poor Kale. Even if she didn't feel the same way about him—and she definitely didn't, and the whole thinking about his lips and his arms every five minutes definitely supported that—he deserved better than to have her run out on him. The poor guy had to explain everything to his family, all wondering what the hell was going on.
She very nearly called him several times. On Christmas she had been six digits through Jenny's number, intending to demand Kale's cell number, so that she might apologize and wish him a merry Christmas.
Instead, she kept quiet, feeling guilty through out the entire week. She saw many of her old friends from high school, whom she hadn't spent time with since summer or spoken to often since Thanksgiving. They all commented that she seemed spacey and asked her what was wrong. She shrugged them off. "Nothing," she said, and after one or two more repetitions of this, they believed her. Except Jenny.
"Go call him," she urged, oh so subtlety entering Kale's number into Audrey's barely functioning cell. "Seriously. Enough moping. Sandra says you've been like this since I dropped you off. What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing," Audrey replied immediately, although Jenny laughed.
"Tell it to someone who'll believe it," she scoffed, and continued on her quest to wear down Audrey enough until she called Kale or spoke to him. "Seriously. Talk to him."
Audrey burst out, "It's just—it was so nice to kiss him, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings like that. I didn't know he'd been 'pining' after me."
Jenny sighed. "Yes. Which is why you need to talk to him." She patted her friend's cell phone. "I gave you his number."
Audrey shook her head. "No. I'm not going to call him," she said firmly. "It doesn't matter."
Jenny looked disappointed. "Well, I mean...it's up to you..."
Audrey said fiercely, "It doesn't matter."
Jenny sighed. "Okay, Audrey, whatever you say."
** ** ** ** **
The end of break arrived, and with it, the time for Audrey, and the rest of the Lehigh Valley college students to board the bus back to the university. Audrey had been half-dreading it, wondering if Kale was going to say anything to her about the party and the mistletoe incident. She also wondered if she had been feeling guilty for nothing, and Kale would be with another girl, forgetting all about her.
She walked the four blocks to the bus station, where a small crowd had already gathered, mostly college students. Jenny was already there, and several other girls Audrey recognized from her dorm and her classes. She started chatting with them to pass the time, just waiting for the bus to be boarded.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kale, looking down-trodden and depressed. Immediately guilt welled up. He was so sweet, and she had completely crushed his feelings, hadn't she? She felt awful. Jenny noticed she was watching Kale and swiftly kicked Audrey in the shin. "Come on," she hissed.
"No," Audrey said. "Not now." There were too many people around.
The students started to board the buses, and Audrey took care to sit as far away from Kale as possible.
The entire bus ride was unbearable. She wanted to look at him, and see if he was okay. Why she cared so much was unfathomable, and when she voiced this to Jenny, as off-handedly as possible, Jenny pretending to hit her head off the seat in front of her. "Are you dumb?" she had asked her friend. "It's obvious. You like him, at least a little, and you feel awful for being stupid and hurting him like that."
"No," Audrey lied, knowing full well that Jenny was much too close to the truth. Instead, she dug out her iPod and cranked up the volume. She could easily drown out the guilt with La Roux or Jem.
When the bus finally reached the university, Audrey was one of the first off. She found herself loitering, however, while the rest of the students headed with heavy hearts back to their respective dorms. Classes would be starting up soon.
She knew why she was loitering, but she wouldn't admit it. Kale was one of the last off the bus. He grabbed his duffel bag and started to make the trek to his dorm, when she heard herself calling out, "Kale!"
He stopped and looked for who had called his name. "Kale," she said again and hurried to catch up with him. When he saw her, there was a flash of hope lighting his features before his face folded back into it's unsure, rather hopeless expression.
"What?" he asked.
"I'm sorry," she said.
Kale shrugged. "It doesn't matter. It was stupid to invite you to my Mom's Christmas party anyway. I just—"
"Knew that any decent Christmas party has to have mistletoe? And you wanted to kiss me?" Kale's expression remained stoic, but he didn't try to correct her.
"I'm sorry," she said again. "I just got freaked out. But then I realized: I wanted to kiss you too. I don't care if I have to take a chance on you. I'll do it."
It took a moment for her words to sink in, and then Kale's signature grin found its way back to his face. "Really?" he said. "You wanted to kiss me too?"
"Still kind of do," she murmured.
So of course, Kale took his cue. When they broke apart, Audrey whispered, "Merry Christmas. Sorry it's late."
"Well, you got me a pretty good gift," he said cheekily. He squeezed her shoulder. "Forgive me for being cheesy, but you're an awesome gift."
Audrey laughed. "Shut up and kiss me again, Kale."
So he did.
A/N: So here's a cheesy Christmas fic for you lot. :) Hope you enjoy. Please forgive any glaring errors or plot errors: it's nearly three in the morning here, and I should have gone to bed two and a half hours ago. I wanted to post this though, so it'll have to be edited later. Haha. Happy holidays to you guys. :)