Holiday Short Story Contest: Who Needs Mistletoe?

Who Needs Mistletoe?

            “Son of a beach bum!” Delia said, dumping a large bag of holiday decorations on the middle of our living room floor. She tucked her long auburn hair behind her ear, carefully inspecting the pile.
            “What?” I asked, the room suddenly looking like a Christmas tree just vomited on our carpet.
            Delia, in her usual overly dramatic fashion, gripped my upper arms and looked me dead in the eyes. “Tara, I have some bad news.”
            “What?” I asked again, not entirely unshaken by her histrionics. Delia was an actress, and she had a habit of making things a lot more dramatic than necessary. But knowing how important this evening was to me, knowing that she knew how important this evening was to me, I had to believe that my theatrical roommate might actually have bad news.
            “I forgot the mistletoe,” she said lowering her head in shame.
            “What!” I shrieked, throwing her hands off my arms and grabbing hers in return, abandoning my characteristic calm almost immediately. “You forgot the mistletoe! The one thing I absolutely demanded that we have? The one decoration that I absolutely needed to make this evening end in perfect romantic holiday harmony? How…how?”
            Delia knelt on the floor next to the heap of colorful garlands, ribbons, bows, ornaments and other festive paraphernalia. “I just got caught up in the moment. It was mania, Tara. Pure mania. You should have seen the place. People were grabbing singing Santas, dancing elves, and glowing reindeers like they were made of gold and platinum. Everyone was filling their carts with the kind of madness you’d expect to see in a street riot downtown. I was lucky to get out with my life.”
            I folded my arms across my chest in a huff. I was sure she was telling the truth. It was five o’clock on Christmas Eve, after all. However, I was also sure that her failure to make a list of the items needed, instead relying on the pneumonic memory trick she’d recently developed to help her memorize lines, was also a factor. It didn’t help, either, that she left the decorating to the very last possible minute. The party was going to start in a mere three hours.
            Silently, I cursed my foolishness in letting Delia handle this task on her own. But I could hardly leave the cooking up to her. She barely knew how to boil water. The kitchen was my domain, and I’d devised a fairly impressive menu of stuffed mushrooms, herbed goat cheese canapés and mini cupcakes with pink frosting. I had to stay behind and prepare the food. This wasn’t going to be the kind of party where you just passed around a bag of chips, set out a bowl of salsa and cracked open a beer. This was going to be a sophisticated cocktail party. The kind of party certain to elicit a kiss at the end of it.
Besides, Delia was the queen of shopping. Hardly a day went by when she didn’t come home with some amazing bargain she’d nabbed at a trunk sale or found sifting through thrift store castoffs. I was sure she would have been able to find a few festive baubles and some measly mistletoe. 
            “This is a disaster,” I sighed, plopping onto the sofa. I realized I was being as overly dramatic as Delia, but I needed that mistletoe. It was part of my carefully crafted plan to orchestrate an end-of-the-evening kiss from Quentin, the guy that I was currently dating. Or, at least, the guy I hoped I was dating.
            Quentin and I had gone out precisely three times. And at the end of each date, as it were, he’d given me a friendly, platonic hug. A hug. Not even a peck on the cheek. After the last one, I started to wonder if we were even dating at all. Maybe we were just friends
            “Listen,” Delia said, “you don’t need mistletoe to make it happen with this guy.”
            I twisted my mouth in disagreement.
            “There’ll be champagne, won’t there?”
            “Prosecco, actually.”
            “What’s that?”
            “It’s an Italian sparkling wine.”
            “Well, it’s alcohol, right?”
            “Of course.”
            “Then you’ll be fine. Just keep the bubbly flowing. That’ll loosen him up. And if it doesn’t, well, he’s probably gay. Or, just not the guy for you,” she said with all sincerity. I knew she had my best interests at heart.
            I sighed. “You’re right. I’m being ridiculous.”
            “Now, go finish cooking, and I’ll take care of decorating. This place will be Christmas on crack when I get through with it.”
Three hours later, the mushrooms were stuffed, the cupcakes topped in fluffy pink frosting and the prosecco was chilled. Delia had whipped our living room into holiday splendor with colorful garlands draping the walls and dripping with crystal ornaments. White Christmas tree lights twinkled and wound their way around the room, bathing the small space in a heavenly glow. Flickering candles topped practically every hard surface, and shimmering metallic stars were hung from the ceiling, glinting as they twirled and danced overhead. It was set decorating at its best.
“Worthy of Beyoncé, no?” Delia asked, her hands on her hips. She had an all out obsession with the singer, and it manifested in practically everything she did. Even what she wore, from her gold sequined dress to the coral nail polish on her toes. But I couldn’t deny that Beyoncé would love it. It was divine.             “It’s fabulous.”
“As are you, darling,” she said, “but you’re missing one thing.”
“A little sparkle.” She handed me a little box wrapped in red ribbon. “It’s not too early to exchange prezzies is it?”
“No,” I said, suddenly giddy. I hurried into my bedroom and grabbed the little bag I’d prepared for her.
We both gasped as we opened our gifts. Mine, a starburst-shaped crystal encrusted brooch, and hers, a pair of sparkly blue earrings I’d found at a quirky antique store.
“I love it!” we both squealed in unison and hugged each other.
Delia pinned the brooch at the top of my hip where my sapphire blue wrap dress gathered in a bunch. “I saw a picture of Liz Taylor wearing a brooch like this. It’s very you,” she said. “Very sexy.”
My roommate and closest friend in Los Angeles knew I had a thing for old Hollywood style. More specifically, Elizabeth Taylor. With my fair skin, dark hair, and blue eyes, I worked hard to channel the beautiful actress, circa 1956. Ever since seeing National Velvet at the age of six, I’d developed a girl crush to rival any pop star’s fan. It was probably the reason I’d moved to Los Angeles in the first place. Not that I wanted to be an actress, but that I wanted to be a part of the magic that made Elizabeth Taylor so special. 
Delia took the gold hoops out of her ears and pressed the new blue ones in their place.
“You are so Beyoncé,” I said in a mock tease, and she giggled.
“She would be proud,” Delia said, “of both of us.”
The doorbell rang, and I jumped with excitement. “Guests!”
“You get the music,” she said, bustling our discarded gift wrapping into the trash, and heading for the door.
I cued up the iPod to my carefully selected playlist of Christmas music, and of course, the first song to pour from the speakers was Beyoncé’s rendition of Silent Night. Delia just gave me a look that said, “Oh, girl.”
Unfortunately, my excitement ebbed when she opened the door and I discovered that our first guest was not Quentin bearing a massive bouquet of flowers that I’d silently hoped for, but Delia’s boyfriend, Trey. With a dozen long stem red roses.
They kissed, and as Delia left for the kitchen to find a vase for the deep red buds, she gave me a pout. I knew exactly what it meant. That she knew I wanted the same kind of romantic gesture from Quentin.
But I couldn’t compare the two. Trey had been dating Delia for six months. And I’d only gone out with Quentin three times. Still, I couldn’t help but dream of romance and roses. It was Christmas Eve, and I had high expectations. 
I met Quentin at the opening party for a new restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Like me, he’d used his boss’s invitation to get in. We were both executive assistants for television producers, only he worked at Warner Brothers and I worked at ABC. Ironically, his show ran on our network, yet we had never before met. It wasn’t that unusual in Hollywood, really. Scores of people worked at both studios, and even if we had met, we probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to actually talk like we did at the restaurant.
And talk we did. All night. It was as if we’d known each other since kindergarten, but without any of the embarrassing shared memories—like when I ate too many onion rings at lunch and threw up all over my favorite black patent leather shoes. If I had been seven, it would have been no big deal. What kid doesn’t throw up at lunch at least once? But I wasn’t seven. I was seventeen. And it wasn’t just any lunch. It was my high school graduation lunch. But that was ancient history, and Quentin had no idea how big a dork I was back in my home state of Illinois. I was an Angeleno now. And that came with balmy Christmas Eves and high expectations for glamour and romance.
But it was after midnight, and Quentin still hadn’t arrived. He’d texted me twice that he was coming, but was delayed. His parents were having a little get-together at their place in the Hollywood Hills. Unlike me, Quentin was born and raised in Los Angeles, and his family held some importance in showbiz. His father was a successful film composer and his mother was a party planner to the stars. So, he couldn’t just skip their party in favor of mine. I understood that. But my little soiree was winding down, and I feared that soon I’d be left with nothing but unfulfilled Christmas wishes.
As the last of the guests strolled out our door a little after one in the morning, I felt my heart sink. Delia gave me another pout, and I knew exactly what that one meant, too.
He wasn’t coming.
Delia and Trey retreated to her bedroom, and I snuffed out candles (the ones that hadn’t already melted away). Michael Bublé’s sultry voice crooned All I Want for Christmas is You on my iPod, and a single, silly tear formed in the corner of my eye. I wiped it away with a sparkly napkin and silently cursed my foolishness. This time for getting all worked up over a boy I barely knew and a Christmas Eve party with too much at stake. Namely, my heart.
I fingered the beautiful brooch at my hip and reminded myself that I had a lot of love in my life already. A great girlfriend in Delia, and the many friends who did show up to our party tonight.
As I scooped up dirty plates and smudged glasses, the doorbell rang. Immediately, my heart began hammering wildly. Was it Quentin, after all? I put the dishes in the sink, brushed some crumbs from my dress, and gave my lips a quick swipe of gloss just in case.
I opened the front door, and in the darkness, I saw no one. The courtyard was empty but for a few palm trees. Then, I heard a voice.
“Quentin? Is that you? Where are you?”
“Here,” he said, stepping out from behind a tree sheepishly. He looked dashing in his trim dark suit and silver tie, his brown hair falling over one eye.
“What are you doing?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I was afraid you might open the door and throw something at me. Something sharp or really heavy. Because I deserve it.”
One corner of my mouth lifted up, and Quentin braved a step toward me. I showed him my open hands.
“I bear no weapons,” I said. “But I think I do deserve an explanation.”
“And you shall have one,” he said, edging closer. “If you’ll join me for a coffee.”
“Where do you expect to get a coffee in the wee hours of Christmas Eve?”
“I know a place. And actually, it’s Christmas morning.”
Quentin moved to the bottom stair below my front porch and stretched out his hand. I stood there for a moment pondering all this. Part of me wanted to slam the door in his face. But a bigger part wanted to take his hand and see where it led.
“I don’t know. It’s awfully late, and I’m tired.”
“I promise to make it worth your while. And I won’t keep you up all night. I’ll have you back before Santa can sneak a few presents under your tree.” 
“We don’t have a Christmas tree, which you would know if you had shown up for the party on time. Or at all,” I said, deciding that I couldn’t just let him off the hook all that easily.
“I see. But I’m here now. Better late than never, right?” His voice was timid, not cocky, and my heart softened just a little.
“Okay, but this better be a damn good coffee.”
I grabbed my coat and purse and we were off, headed in the direction of West Hollywood. The streets were empty and the storefronts were dark. I had to wonder where the heck he was going to find this fabled coffee. That is, until I saw a beacon of hope on the horizon. A brightly lit diner called Swingers. Inside, it was bustling with activity, and like a freaking Christmas miracle, I smiled when I saw that hanging above every single booth was a bunch of mistletoe.
We parked and made our way to a cozy booth inside. The restaurant was buzzing with Christmas cheer as waitresses in elf costumes and Doc Martens took orders, and fry cooks in Santa hats flipped burgers.
After we got our coffees, served up with a peppermint stick for stirring, I asked Quentin, “So, what gives? Why were you so late?”
“I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I was helping my mom.”
I quirked an eyebrow at him. “Helping her do what?”
“Well, her party…at our house…it was a dud. No one showed up. Everyone had something better to do. Even me,” he said with a hint of shy insecurity. “Can you imagine? She throws parties for all these movie moguls, and when it’s her turn to celebrate, no one gives a damn. So, I couldn’t just leave her there with no one but my dad to sing songs with and drink eggnog. And I knew you’d have loads of guests at your party to keep you company. But I should have done better. I should have cloned myself and been at both.”
I smiled at his attempt to lighten the mood, but I was still hurt. “Yes, you should have. Or at the very least, communicated better. I thought you ditched me.”
“I would never do anything like that. I’m not that kind of man. But I’ll do better. I promise.”
And I believed him. I could hardly blame the guy for coming to his mom’s aid. I mean, clearly he was a good person. He didn’t want to let his mom down on her big night. And he did show up to my party, even if it was five hours late. But what I still didn’t know was whether or not he liked me.
I eyed the mistletoe above us. It was now or never. “Can I ask you something?”
“Do you want to kiss me?”
Quentin’s cheeks burned red and his smile spread wide. “You won’t be offended?”
“No,” I replied, silently chuckling to myself. It wasn’t that he didn’t like me, or that he was gay, or that he just wanted to be friends.
He was just a gentleman.
And with that, Quentin leaned across the table and planted a warm kiss on my lips. It tasted of peppermint and cream, and I knew in that moment that it would be the first of many.
And I thought, Who needs mistletoe? This was all me.