A Harris Family Christmas

By Le Meg

I love Christmas. I don't say that in any casual, every person with a heart loves Christmas kind of way. I say it with conviction, with an eye for cutthroat sale shopping, with more decorative flair than most girls my age, with untold, heart-pounding enthusiasm for the neighborhood snowball fight, and with a genuine love for all the warm, fuzzy feelings of joy, rapture, and bliss that every scarf, mug of hot chocolate, and twinkling string of lights inevitably brings.

So yes, I love Christmas. But there's another day in December that I look forward to every year with equal excitement—one that occurs two days earlier. Every twenty-third day of this gorgeous, frosty month, there is an epic extravaganza in our little locale that puts every movie holiday party to complete and utter shame.

And this year, I spent an entire paycheck on the dress I will wear to that party. It's not the traditional red satin that the holiday usually calls for, but the moment I saw this dress I knew it was the one. It was a cashmere cowlneck, tasteful and yet sexy, and the light grey color meant I could wear it all year round.

Now if only finding a decent boyfriend was so easy.

My mother tsked at me from my bedroom doorway. "You're spending a lot of time on your hair, dear."

"Um, duh." I went through the loose curls one more time with the hair spray, determined to see them last the night. "It's the last epic Harris holiday party of my high school career, mom. I have to go all out, it's friggin' mandated and everything."

"Are you sure you don't want to wear some tights with that?"

I stepped away from the mirror and glanced at the hem of the dress. It wasn't so short to warrant real alarm, but it did make my legs look much longer than normal—obviously Mother had noticed. "Definitely not."

She sighed, but I caught the amused tilt to her mouth. "Adelaide, promise me you'll behave tonight? Don't drink too much? And please, for the love of all that is holy, avoid any and all doorways?"

I laughed. She was referring to the Harris family's notorious holiday prank—the over-abundance of mistletoe that littered the house. And the Harris residence was by no means a scant dwelling.

"I promise that if I do anything untoward, you won't see any of it."

"Brat," she huffed, smiling, and then waved her fingers at me as she turned. "We're leaving in ten. Get your things."

I might not have gone with the red dress, but I couldn't pass up the shoes. It was my senior year, after all, and I just knew Erin was going to bust out some fabulous couture nonsense via her mom's fashion connections. I had to look good, damn it.

My father took one look at me when I finally came downstairs and then looked at my mom. "What is my daughter wearing?"

I rolled my eyes and waved my hand in the air. "Hello? Standing right here! Ask me, I know this one."

Instead, he heaved a great sigh and headed for the door. "Why couldn't I have had a son? Boys don't wear dresses."

"Some boys do," I pranced after him, delighted. "Some boys wear them even better than I do!"

The Harris family residence barely qualified as a house. My father made decent money working as an HR rep for a local corporation and, supplemented as it was by my mother's teaching salary, it was enough to afford us a comfortable three-bedroom abode. We'd had fun decorating it, me and my mother especially, and were proud of the three trees (one real, two artificial) and the occasional bout of garland that littered our home.

But even our Christmas enthusiasm didn't hold a flame next to the epic celebration of lights and pine that was the Harris mansion. They had the outside professionally done, and before I'd even set foot in the door I knew that every available surface of wall, doorway, stair rail, and mantel would be covered in festive decoration of some kind. Last year they'd had twelve different trees set up.

The man who answered the door had been doing that job for as many years as I could remember and I flashed him a grin as he ushered us into the foyer. "Merry Christmas, Karl!"

"Merry Christmas to you, Ms. Adelaide. And Mr. and Mrs. Greene. How are you this evening?"

My mother smiled and kissed Karl's cheek, and my father shook his hand afterwards. They'd been coming to these things as long as I had, after all. "Doing great, Karl, doing great."

Erin poked her head into the hall then and beamed at me. "You're here! And oh my god, that dress."

I started towards her but my mother was quick to warn me, "I want a picture of you two at some point! You know, before you hit your fourth glass of wine."

Erin saluted her gaily. "Of course, Mrs. Greene!" But as she pulled me away, her mouth quirked mischievously and she muttered out of the side of her mouth, "I've already had one glass. One very big glass. Did you know the whole extended family is here tonight? Ingrid and her mother made it after all, and even my mother's sister and her wretched daughters deigned to join us this year."

"Ingrid! Oh, I love that girl. Where is she, I haven't seen her in ages." I started to look around for the tiny dark-haired Harris but quickly gave up—that girl could hide in a crowd like nobody's business. And it was definitely crowded in the Harris abode, despite the fact that it was only 8:30 PM.

"I don't know, let's find her."

Our search was short lived, however, because the eldest Harris child—Greg, a sophomore in college now—met us in the doorway between the dining room and the great room. His hair was by far the reddest of the bunch, and in true Greg fashion, it looked like he hadn't brushed it in days. Sometimes I wondered if he even knew what a comb was. We all did that awkward doorway dance before he thought to look up, and then his face quickly fell, a look of extreme brotherly annoyance turning his mouth down.

I knew what was hanging there above us without having to look, but because I hate myself, I did so anyway. The mistletoe was white and red with a striped green bow, glittering impishly down at us like it had planned this all along.

"No," I whined. "I haven't even been here for five minutes! Do you know what this means?"

Erin grinned. "The Curse gets someone every year, Addles, you know that."

The Curse has never failed. For as long as they've been doing this party, there has always been one unfortunate soul in attendance who ends up under the mistletoe twice as much as anybody else, from start to finish. It's been years since I've gotten stuck under one so quickly and it is not a good sign.

"Pucker up, Addles," Greg said, and made a fish face at me as he leaned in.

We kissed—quickly and painfully, I might add—and then both wiped our mouths like four year olds after the deed was done. As Erin laughed, I muttered, "Eww, gross."

Greg shuddered. "That felt vaguely incestual. I need to go wash my mouth out with something strong, and possibly acidic."

"Broseph, quick like, have you seen Ingrid?" Erin caught his arm before he could escape.

"Oh yeah, she's sitting with Mark and Charlie in the sun room," he gestured in that general direction, and then gave my shoulder a pat. "I hope I don't meet you again for the rest of the night. At least not without significant preparation via the wet bar."

"I couldn't agree more."

The sun room was almost all windows and was practically glowing, thanks to the dozen or so strings of lights that stretched across the cieling. My gaze went up first, searching for any telltale signs of mistletoe. I wouldn't put it past Mr. and Mrs. Harris to sneak a branch in somewhere like this where it would be camouflaged by the colorful lights.

"We already checked," Mark offered, smiling a little as we approached. "There's no mistletoe in here yet."

The "yet" part was a very distinct possibility—in addition to the fact that there were multiple mistletoes to be found every year, Mr. and Mrs. Harris were also known to move them around secretly so that no one could truly avoid making a spectacle of themselves. The pranksters.

Ingrid stood and greeted me with a hug, her wide smile the same Harris grin I was used to seeing on the rest of them. "It's been forever, hasn't it?"

"You started school, didn't you?" I asked, trying to keep my information straight. Ingrid was a year younger than Greg, but she and her mother lived in a different state. Last I heard she'd decided to attend college in Florida, of all places.

"Yeah, one of eight semesters, successfully accomplished," she agreed. "I love that dress, by the way."

"Me too," Charlie said from the couch, winking at me as I glanced at him over Ingrid's shoulder. Neither one of them had the red hair or the freckles that the rest of the Harris clan had inherited—both had darker hair, Ingrid's impossibly so—but they all had the same wide, easy smile and the long, aristocratic noses that clearly marked them as part of the family tree.

Charlie sat with his elbow propped on the arm of his chair, chin in his hand, and as I narrowed my eyes at him his smile only grew. "Hello, Addles."

There was something in that hello that made me pause. Unlike Ingrid, Charlie actually lived fairly close—maybe an hour away. Our football teams occasionally played each other and it always resulted in some kind of pre-game Harris showdown. I didn't see him all the time, but our paths crossed often enough for me to notice with some regularity that Charlie was beginning to grow into his looks. He'd grown his hair out, for one, and the dark chocolate locks were beginning to curl around his ears in a very flattering way.

Good hair was a weakness—always had been—but the fact that this was Charlie Harris we were talking about just made it weird. I mean, I was probably eleven the first time I'd seen this kid naked. I don't know how many times me and Erin had stolen the boys' clothes after they'd stripped down at the lake. You'd think they would have known better after a while.

"Charlie," I replied, and my brief acknowledgement made his grin impossibly wide. Something in my stomach responded and I decided then and there that I would ignore this other Harris cousin for the rest of the night, just to be safe. "Ingrid, where's your mom? I want to say hi."

"Probably by the egg nog," Ingrid mused. "Actually, I should probably make sure she's pacing herself. Coming home always makes her a little, um, edgy."

The reason why went unsaid, but we all knew it had something to do with Ingrid's parentage. Her mother had always been a free spirit and had gone to school abroad, had traveled most of the world by the ripe old age of twenty-three, and was the kind of person who would do anything, just for the sake of experience. She'd returned home briefly at twenty-five, pregnant and with no visible father in sight, and had left with Ingrid again once it was safe for her to travel. Returning to the city in which she'd grown up always made Anne Harris a little weird, and she never stayed for long.

What Ingrid thought about that, I had no idea, but I'd always wished she'd been around more. She was much quieter than any of the others, far more reserved, but the same mischievous streak was there, along with the same cleverness and the killer smile.

Anne Harris was indeed by the egg nog, but upon seeing the three of us girls she put her glass down and picked her camera up. "Stop right there! Oh my fucking lord, the three of you look so good! Damn, I feel old."

We posed for the picture like obedient little children, and then Anne quickly wrapped me up in a tight hug. If she was the most eclectic Harris, she was also the most outwardly affectionate one, and no one ever escaped the reach of her arms.

"Addles, you look so grown up! I can't believe you're both seniors now." She held me at arms length and looked me sternly in the eyes. "Stop growing. I demand it."

Erin snorted, and I couldn't help but grin. "I think I pretty much have, if it makes you feel any better. I've been 5'6" for like three years now."

"Good girl." Anne began glancing around the room again, searching for a new victim. "So where's Mom and Pop Greene, huh? Is your mother still teaching those snot nosed little brats?"

"Why yes, she is." I met Ingrid's eyes and she just shook her head and mimed shooting herself.

Shortly thereafter my mother appeared and more pictures were taken. The three of us made the firm decision that drinks would have to follow, and it was there that the last of the Harris brothers found us.

"Ingrid, grab me a beer, pretty please?" Justin cooed, dropping his chin on her shoulder.

Nice girl that she is, Ingrid complied. "What kind?"

"Great Lakes. That one. Yes." As he reached for a bottle opener, he asked, "So what's the tally so far? Who's been caught?"

I sulked. "Me."

"Who'd you get caught with?"

"Greg." I pretended to gag afterwards and Ingrid and Justin both grinned. "We've agreed to avoid each other for the rest of the night."

"Probably a good idea," Ingrid nodded.

"Fuck that." Justin began scanning the ceiling then, and after a few seconds set his beer down with a victorious flourish and grabbed me by the arm. "Come, darling."

"Um, what the hell—"

Erin realized what he was doing before I did and started laughing, clapping in amusement. "Oh my god, best Christmas ever!"

"Attention, room!" Justin waved to get everybody's attention, and then pointed towards the ceiling. "Oops! Look at that!"

I glared at Erin. "What kind of best friend are—"

Justin kissed me so I didn't really get to finish that thought. The boy was sorely testing my gag reflex. When it was over I began hissing like a cat, trying to get the taste of his tongue out of my mouth while everyone else applauded with enthusiasm. I think my mother may have even taken a picture, damn her. Like I want evidence of this floating around years from now. Nice display of family loyalty there, Mom. "You rotten bastard!"

"Okay, new game!" he announced. "Let's see how many times we can get Addles kissed this Christmas!"

I darted out from under the mistletoe and made a beeline back to the wet bar. "This isn't a Christmas party, this is a house of horrors!"

Justin followed, raising his beer to me. "Hey, I'm just trying to work the curse away from me. We're even right now at two, but I'm pretty sure the odds just tipped in my favor."

I was too busy washing my mouth out with vodka to reply.

Needless to say, the bastard was right on the money. I don't know how many people followed me from room to room, waiting for the opportunity to catch me unawares, but in the hour that followed Justin's proclamation, I was kissed another seventeen times. Seventeen! That meant nineteen total—a fucking Harris party record. Woo hoo.

I had been lucky in so far as Charlie was concerned. He'd circled back a couple times but if he'd planned on ducking under the mistletoe with me at any point he was always beaten to the punch by some one remarkably older and less attractive. This was lucky not because old scary men were using the game to their advantage but because as cute as Charlie Harris was, I wasn't too keen on thinking through the implications inherent there.

I met Mark on the stairs by the bathroom where there was a goddamn string of mistletoe waiting for every last party-goer who gave in to nature's urgent call.

"Sometimes I really hate your family," I told him.

He kissed his finger and then poked my cheek. "There. Let it not be said that we are all entirely merciless."

"You're a good man, Mark."

"Besides, Charlie would be pissed at me." He said that last part with a quick, flippant grin, and then held up a fist as he headed downstairs. "Good luck, Addles!"

I stared after him with what I'm sure was the most attractive bewildered expression ever to grace my face. "What the hell does that mean?"

True to form, he let the mystery live on. Mark was by far the subtlest of the Harris offspring, a trait I was beginning to believe was a genetic fluke. The fact that he was also the only one with pure blond hair sometimes made me wonder if the old milk man theory had some basis in truth. But then again, Camilla Harris was a classy woman with a devoted (if not slightly diabolical) husband, and really, who the fuck delivers milk anymore?

After I used the bathroom, I re-joined the party downstairs, stalling just at the end of the staircase so I could pick my path back to the bar carefully. From there I would find my parents and make my dad carry me for the rest of the night. At least then I would be safe from disgusting old men who couldn't be bothered to trim their old men whiskers every once and a while. The orange hair was not attractive.

When I told my father my plan, however, he just laughed. "I am not carrying you. Let this be a lesson—maybe next time you'll think twice about wearing skimpy little dresses."

My jaw dropped. "This is not skimpy! Go look at the Boettler twins and tell me this is skimpy!"

Helene and Penelope Boettler were also technically cousins, but they weren't part of the Harris family tree, and they were atrocious catty monsters, besides. Erin and I had spent most of our childhood making them cry, and only half of that was on purpose. They were a breed of girl I just didn't understand.

Mr. Harris smirked in amusement at me but wisely refrained from commenting about his sister-in-law's children. "Adelaide, perhaps you'll feel better if you avoid all four entrances of the dining hall, the sun room, the second story bathroom, the left end of the wet bar, the right archway in the foyer, and the two front entrances to the great room in an hour or so."

Thankful as I was for that information, I couldn't help my incredulous stare. "You guys are sick."

"Thank you, dear. Go have some wine."

My father winked at me.

Shaking my head, I wound my way back to the bar, careful to avoid the previously mentioned hotspots. Justin and Greg were both there getting their own refills, and when the former grinned at me I scowled. "Don't talk to me. Don't ever speak to me again."

"So what's the tally now, Addles?"

"Twenty, you dumb fucker."

"Oh, listen to that language," Greg whistled and pinched my chin. "Would you like us to announce to the rest of the party that you're off limits for the rest of the night?"

He looked so sincere, but he was a Harris—it was too good to be true. I knew that better than anybody, having grown up with all of them. My narrow eyed look of suspicion made his eyebrows rise. "What? Consider it an act of charity."

"You voluntarily being nice isn't charity, it's a Christmas miracle," I replied. "What's the catch?"

His Cheshire grin was quick and wide, and he and Justin shared a knowing glance before he answered, "Follow me."

I took Justin's beer. "Pinky swear."

Greg backtracked. "Come on, woman. Are you serious?"

"Hell yes, I'm serious! We both know you play dirty, so you have to pinky swear me right now that if I follow you to hell and back, you'll call this stupid thing off." I took a swig of the beer for good measure, despite Justin's protest.

The pinky swear was one of many sacred traditions from our childhood that had carried over. Even Greg, the big shot college man, didn't dare blaspheme the holiest of holy binds ever to have existed.

"Okay, you lunatic." As our pinkies curled around each other, he said, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

"Wrong oath, dumb ass."

He grinned. "It felt so good to say, though."

I rolled my eyes. "Justin, do me a favor and chug this bottle so I can beat your brother with it."

Justin chuckled. "You know what's really funny? I believe her."

"So do I," Greg shuddered. "Okay. I promise that if you follow me and do me this one little, tiny, itsy-bitsy favor, I will make it known in the Harris Kingdom that precious little Addles is no longer to be taken advantage of and all of her appearances under the mistletoe thereafter are null and void."

I smiled. "Good. Deal."

"One day you'll thank me for this," Greg told me. "Probably not now, but one day."

That wiped the smile from my face. Naturally I would remember any warnings against making deals with the devil after the deal was already made. "Let's just get this over with, Gregory."

He made a face at me. "Yes, Adelaide." With a crook of his finger, he began to lead me away from the bar and the main rooms towards the breakfast room. It was on the small side but it had a beautiful silver and red garland roped around the ceiling. The twins had retreated there, and I began to have terrible ideas of what Greg would make me do to them, but to my surprise he just waved at Pen and Helene. "Ladies. Just passing through, don't mind us."

At their inquiring and yet vaguely disdainful looks, I only shrugged my shoulders. "Peace be unto you."

"Whatever," Helene sniffed.

Greg shared an amused look with me once we passed through, but then continued his mysterious trek through the house. We walked in and out of a couple rooms more than once and I began to get the feeling that he wasn't leading me somewhere so much as looking for someone, and that weird feeling in my stomach started up again. "Greg, seriously, what are you doing?"

"Be quiet, slave."

"Don't 'slave' me, I'll kick your bony ass," I retorted. "If you were going to drag me on a fucking marathon, the least you could have done was gotten me some wine first."

He mimicked me—Greg might have been the oldest but he was the least likely to act his age—and then made a fist pump. "Here we go!" He grabbed my arm and began pulling me quickly back towards the parlor, the room we'd just left. In the doorway we literally ran into Charlie, and it was almost comic the way all three of our heads turned up to see another branch of mistletoe—this one black, red, and white—hanging above us like some sinister little cupid. Greg's conniving ways finally made sense and I literally lost the ability to speak. Oh, the ways that I would kill him—

"You know the rules," Greg chirped, entirely too delighted.

At last I found my voice. "There is something so indefinably wrong with you—"

Charlie grabbed my shoulders and kissed me. And he didn't just kiss me, he kissed me. His mouth was warm, even spicy, thanks to whatever he'd been drinking, and his full lips moved over mine with determined confidence. That he'd wanted to do this was clear.

But that I'd wanted it just as much was the real surprise here. I don't know when I started kissing him back exactly, but it happened. It might have been when he moved his hands from my shoulders and into my hair, or when I felt his tongue tread slowly over my bottom lip, flirting playfully with the inside of my mouth. Or maybe the first time I'd wanted it was in junior high when his mother made him take me to the Winter Ball and despite his complaints, he voluntarily got up with me and danced every Boyz II Men song ever created, or before that at summer camp when he shared his cookies with me, slipping them under the picnic table when no one else was looking.

It took a few minutes but I realized that we'd become an object of scrutiny. Greg's enthusiastic howling probably didn't help. I stepped back, as if shocked, and tried to make the fact that I was completely breathless a little less obvious. "Jesus, Charlie," I muttered, so only he could hear me.

It was hard to tell if he'd blushed in response because of the colored lighting in the room, but I thought there was a little more pink staining his cheeks than before. But what he said made me blush. "Hey, you kissed me back just as hard."

Greg decided to make his announcement then. "That, ladies and gentlemen, ends Adelaide's Christmas Curse! You may consider her off-limits mistletoe-wise for the rest of the evening. Next year, of course, is a different story."

There was some laughter and amused clapping, but the crowd dispersed shortly thereafter. Greg also left them to it, but not before sending Charlie a wink that made my head spin with unanswered questions. What had he said before—about this being a favor? Who was this favor for, exactly?

"Oh, fucking-a, I need a drink." I turned away, pressing my hands against my cheeks, alarmed at how warm they felt. Erin met me at the bar, practically singing with enthusiasm.

"What was that?" she asked, grabbing us both glasses.

"I don't know," I whined, miserable. "Your cousin just stuck his tongue down my throat, and I think I liked it. What the hell is wrong with me?"

Erin snorted, and then the snort turned into full out laughter. When I reprimanded her, she only laughed even harder. "Hold on, hold on," she waved at me, and then leaned over the counter for support. "Oh good lord, this is going to be such a memorable night."

I would have agreed, but I was too busy being angry that Charlie hadn't followed me. Seriously, what the hell was that about? Was that it? Could he really have the gall to do that number on my mouth and then leave it like that?

And why the hell did I even care? This was Charlie Harris. This should have been incest. I was practically raised with the entire Harris brood. That we weren't actually related was a moot point. Erin and I had been friends for as long as either of us could remember, and we'd spent years of our lives together, playing at each other's houses, going with each other's families to dinners, movies, even vacations. Greg, Justin, and Mark were all like my brothers—what made Charlie any different?

Erin held a glass out to me then, a smug smirk still playing about her mouth as she flicked her strawberry blond hair over her shoulder with practiced hauteur. "Cheers, bitch. To kissing cousins."

"Fuck you," I replied, with all of my inherent good nature.

My mother wandered over then, her camera in hand. Wordlessly, she showed me the picture she'd snapped of Charlie molesting me under the mistletoe and then raised her eyebrow.

"Don't look at me like that," I pouted. "You're my mother, I don't even know why you're taking pictures of that shit."

"I remember a certain daughter promising me that I wouldn't see any of this," she teased.

Erin grinned, lapping it up next to me as she leaned over the counter. "Isn't she incorrigible?"

I set my wine down so that I could sulk properly, hands on my hips. "Need I remind both of you that I was conned into this? And it's your family's fault! First Justin, then Greg. Charlie was just the last in a string of evil Harris-ness!"

"You said, and I quote," Erin began, but I quickly covered her mouth.

My mother only laughed. "Adelaide, I love you, but you're such a brat sometimes." She waved us off, clearly leaving us to our own teenaged antics.

Erin glanced at me after she was out of earshot, amused. "And they say the Nile is just a river in Egypt."

Somehow I managed to pull myself together. "Okay, so I kissed him. So what. I admit it. Your cousin's hot. It doesn't have to mean anything."

"Of course not," she agreed, but she was still smiling that Harris smile.

Mark approached then, on his cell phone, but once he was close enough he handed it to me.

"What the hell—" I began, but the voice on the other side silenced me.

"Addles, get your cute ass upstairs. Now."

My heart exploded in my chest. No joke. I didn't know if I should be angry or fucking swoon right where I stood. "You've got to be kidding me. What the hell is this?"

"Come upstairs and find out," Charlie replied, in a tone that was entirely too confident. "I'm in the library. Alone."

He hung up after, and I stared at the phone for a few seconds before Mark plucked it out of my hands. "What happened to mercy?" I asked him.

"Don't shoot the messenger," was his quick reply, but I saw the ghost of a smile around his lips.

"Fine." I took a big sip of my wine—for a little liquid courage and so that the burgundy drink wouldn't slosh over the rim as I walked—and began marching determinedly for the stairs. This was a challenge, after all, and the only way to meet a challenge was head on.

Once I was on the stairs I realized Mark was trailing me. When I paused and raised an eyebrow at him, he only shrugged. "You guys are ridiculous," I muttered, and continued up.

Miraculously, we passed no one else on the way to the library. I tried the door but it was locked, though Mark solved that problem a second later by rapping his knuckles against it five times. Charlie opened it and pulled me in, and then we were both alone in the library.

The lights were on a dimmer, and he'd already set them low enough so that no one would see them under the door and suspect anything. I sipped from my wine again to calm down before turning my eyes to him expectantly.

He took the glass and then my hand, and then pulled me farther in. The wine he set on the first side table he could find, but he only dropped my hand so that he could put both of his in my hair. Alone as we were, I couldn't help but put my hands on him this time, curling my fingers in his shirt to bring him closer. His mouth was as delicious as it was before, and the need was even greater. It was almost scary how much want suddenly came pouring out of me, and some part of me wondered where it had been hiding all this time.

Charlie backed me up to the couch, and before I could even blink he had me on it, hooking my leg over his hip so he could nestle comfortably between my thighs. It pushed my dress high enough for me to begin to worry. Even as his lips left a hot, searing line of kisses down my neck, even as my fingers tangled a little desperately in his hair, I couldn't help but wonder out loud, "Do you think this is a good idea?"

His mouth moved past my collarbone, slipping down to taste the stretch of skin and cleavage the cowlneck left open for view. "Fuck, Addles, I'm not really thinking right now."

"No kidding." I wanted nothing more than for his hands to inch up the inside of my dress and touch me in every place I could think of being touched in, but somehow I managed to pull myself back. "Charlie, seriously. What are we doing?"

He sighed and looked up at me. "I thought that was obvious."

His tone irked me. "Aren't you the least bit curious as to where this came from?"

"Hormones, I'd say," he replied, the little tart. At my flash of annoyance, he leaned forward and caught my bottom lip between his teeth playfully. "You know the answer to that as well as I do, Adelaide."

I kissed him so I wouldn't have to answer. I wasn't ready to go there—not first, anyway. If he wasn't willing to have the conversation, then I sure as hell wasn't. The fact that we were both seniors about to graduate and go to different schools in far off places made it even more unlikely. But maybe that was fine—maybe it was better if we just… you know, fooled around. What was the harm in that?

His fingers crept under the hem of my dress and he smiled against my mouth as my breath hitched. "Something feel good, Addles?"

I arched into him, rolling my head back against the soft leather. "Oh, shut the fuck up." His mouth moved down my throat obediently, but this time he didn't stop at the low neckline of my dress. As he hitched it up well above my hips, I pushed myself up to my elbows in some alarm. "Charlie—"

His lips pressed against my stomach and sent a frisson of pleasure rolling down my spine. The situation was spiraling out of control so quickly and I knew it was only a matter of minutes before I gave myself over entirely. "Now?" I asked, voice too breathy to be worth anything. "You seriously want to do this now?"

I felt his teeth next, even felt the growl that vibrated in his throat. He pushed himself up and glared at me, panting. "I want to kill you right now. I've had a hard-on since you walked through the fucking door, of course I want to do this now."

I realized the full extent of Mark's role in this for the first time—he hadn't just walked me up the stairs. He was on guard duty.

I should have been angry that Charlie just assumed this was a done deal, but I couldn't quite work up the initiative. But it also made me realize that as much as I wanted this to happen—as sudden and crazy as the whole thing felt—I didn't think I wanted it to be on a couch in the library while the whole damn family was downstairs frolicking through the egg nog. Shameless though I may be, even I have my limits, and I realized this was one of them.

Still, no sense in letting a prime opportunity for revenge go to waste.

I sat up, pushing him against the back of the couch, and slid into his lap. He was quick to put his arms around me, one over the dress, one under, and tilted his head up to get to my mouth. When my lips didn't immediately descend, he groaned and dug his nails into my skin. "Come on."

"Charlie Harris," I murmured, rolling my hips into his for good measure as my mouth traced his cheekbone, "What makes you think you're getting a piece of this tonight?"

He sucked in air at the movement but my words were what really got his attention. "Don't you dare."

I kissed him, hard enough and long enough to make him think that I wasn't going anywhere, and smiled at the enthusiasm with which he responded. He was too easy. And it made the look on his face when I pulled back and wiggled out of his arms a thousand times better.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, Addles," he groaned and rubbed his face. "Don't do this to me! You're so goddamn evil."

I smoothed out my dress, twisting a little to make sure the back wasn't too rumpled or stuck in my underwear or something equally heinous. "Don't act so surprised, Chuck. Birds of a feather, and all that shit."

He glared at me, and his sulking was so adorable I thought about climbing back into his lap. But this moment of pure retribution was simply too delicious to give up, and I enjoyed gloating a little longer. "How does my hair look?"

"When?" he demanded. "I'm not going to wait another fucking semester, Addles. Don't make me hunt you down."

The little thrill those words sent down my spine also sent the corners of my mouth curving up into a very satisfied grin. Before tonight I'd had no idea how bad Charlie Harris had it for me, but it was more than clear now. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little drunk with power. It was certainly going to make the rest of the Harris get-togethers a little more interesting. "I don't know," I teased. "What are you doing for New Year's?"

His answering smirk went even wider. "Don't you mean 'who'?"

I winked at him and picked up my wine glass on the way to the door. "Merry Christmas, Charlie."