New series Suitable for all readers

 

Mistletoe

 

 

By Lydia Sheridan

 

Serena Lewis paused at the top of the stairs, her hand resting lightly on the banister. She could hear her mother singing in the kitchen. Taking off her high heels, Serena began to tiptoe down, heading for the front door and freedom. Missing the creaking third and twelfth steps, she managed to reach the bottom without raising suspicion. Careful not to disturb the silver tinsel hanging against the wall, she leant against it, slipping her shoes back on. A quick glance towards the kitchen showed that Charmaine had her back to her, fussing with some sort of Christmas cake, still belting out a song.

Almost made it. Almost there. Serena reached for the door handle…

‘Serena!’

She jumped, letting go of the handle as if it was red hot, and spun round. Charmaine was striding towards her, looking annoyed. Trying not to show that she had been surprised, Serena muttered, ‘You’re good at this.’

Charmaine frowned and put her hands on her hips. ‘You’ve been trying to sneak out of the house without me noticing ever since you turned fourteen, and you never succeed. Where were you trying to go this time?’ Charmaine looked her up and down, reaching one hand into her jeans pocket for her glasses. Putting them on, she rolled her eyes. ‘What are you wearing? Look at yourself!’

Serena looked down at her body. Low-cut purple strappy top, short black skirt with a split up the side and a glittery design around the hem, black high heels.

‘Looking.’

‘You’ll freeze!’

‘I won’t. Mom, we live in Pennsylvania. It’s not that cold!’

‘Well it’s not that warm either.’

‘I’ll take a jacket. And you don’t even know where I’m going. It may not be far.’

‘Fine.’ Charmaine folded her arms, tossing her head so that her long wavy brown hair flicked over her shoulder, and one gold earring swayed. ‘Tell me.’

‘I’m going to Claire’s Christmas party. I’ll be with Vanessa and Raquel, I’m meeting them at the end of the road. And I’ll also be with Mike.’ Serena threw in the last person and glanced up. Yes, she was winning her over. Charmaine was very fond of Serena’s boyfriend, Michael Davidson. She seemed to look upon him as a sort of adoptive son. He was at their house most of the time anyway.

‘He really will be there?’ Charmaine’s voice had softened. She looked enquiringly at Serena.

‘Yes, he really will. You can trust him. You know that.’ Serena walked over to Charmaine and slipped an arm around her waist.

‘Come on, Mom. I’m fifteen, I won’t be far away, you know where I’ll be. I’ll be with friends, it’s just a little party, I’ll leave my cell on - though I might not hear it over the music …’

She tried to think of more reasons. Racking her brains, she trotted out the old line.

‘I’m very responsible. I won’t do drugs, I won’t drink, much, and -’

‘Okay! Okay, you can go! Be back by half twelve and get Mike to walk you home…’ Charmaine started to walk back to the kitchen.

Serena smiled. ‘Really?’

‘Yes!’

‘Oh, thank you!’ Serena ran over and gave her a quick hug, before grabbing her jacket and practically bounding out of the door.

Charmaine was right. It was cold, bitterly so. Serena yanked her jacket on quickly, and ran the length of the road. Her feet were already aching. Maybe the heels were too high.

Stopping under a streetlamp on the corner, she took her right shoe off, and rubbed the ball of her foot . Where were her friends? She was supposed to be meeting them here…

Suddenly, someone jumped at her from behind, throwing their hands on her shoulders and practically roaring in her ear. She shrieked, brushing them off, and hitting them with her fists. The roaring turned to startled shouting, and she could also hear laughter. The truth sunk in. She felt extremely stupid. Turning properly and looking up, she saw Michael, a tall blonde boy with deep brown eyes, massaging his left arm. Raquel and Vanessa, black twin sisters, quite alike in appearance but very different in personality, were holding their sides and screaming with raucous laughter. She realised she’d hit Michael hard with her shoe. The heel must really have hurt. She now felt guilty as well…

Vanessa, who had shoulder-length frizzy black hair and an infectious smile, calmed down first, and managed to say, ‘We were only having fun, you moron!’

Raquel fell against her sister, taking her glasses off and wiping the lenses on her top. ‘Yeah, take a joke!’

‘That wasn’t funny! I thought someone was trying to abduct me or something!’ Serena could feel her face growing hot. She was embarrassed, but also very angry. To stop herself flying off the handle, she looked down, away from them, putting her shoe back on.

‘Here’s a tip. Don’t lean against streetlamps when you’re dressed like that!’ Vanessa gave her a gentle push, grinning. She hitched up the baggy khaki trousers she always wore, then put her hands on her hips. Serena straightened up, tempted to give a snappy comeback retort about them, but Michael spoke before she could.

‘Hey, hey, lay off her!’ He slid an arm around Serena’s waist. ‘You okay, princess?’

‘Yes, Mikey…you just scared me a little…’ Serena looked up through her eyelashes at him, while Vanessa fondly mimicked her.

‘Yes, Mikey… no, Mikey… anything you say, Mikey…’ She lisped quietly, just loud enough for Raquel alone to hear. Raquel doubled up with renewed giggles.

The sisters allowed Serena and Michael a few minutes to ‘apologise’ to each other, for the shouting and the hitting, then Vanessa gently pulled Serena’s arm. ‘Come on. Claire’s expecting us! She said on the phone she kicked her parents out!’

Michael let go of Serena, just holding one hand, and Raquel linked her free arm. Vanessa strode ahead, leading the way.

‘So…’ Serena swung Michaels hand. ‘You’ve got to walk me home, okay? I gotta be in by half twelve. Mom caught me trying to sneak out again so it’s punishment.’ She turned her head towards Raquel on her other side. ‘You guys can stay later of course.’

‘I don’t even want to go, I don’t like par-’ Raquel began, but Michael interrupted.

‘How do you know I don’t wanna stay late?’ He chipped in, tugging Serena’s arm. She looked confused. He smiled, leant over and gave her a quick kiss. ‘I’m joking. Wouldn’t leave a beautiful young lady like yourself all alone at night.’

Vanessa wolf-whistled loudly without turning round. Serena smiled, then said to him, ‘Young? I’m two months older than you!’

‘Yeah, but I’m a guy. And I’m strong!’ Michael dropped Serena’s hand and flexed his arms in a jokey way. Vanessa spun round.

‘I could take you on easily! You want to try it?’ She raised her fists, sparring for a fight. Vanessa was in almost every sports team available at school. Serena was on swimming and basketball, and Michael in soccer. Raquel, however, hated all sports, and, when she was required to attend a match of any sort, she usually ended up reading, occasionally glancing up to see what the score was.

‘Erm… no thanks. Don’t want to hurt you.’ Michael smiled at her. Vanessa rolled her eyes and turned to face front again.

Before too long, they had reached Claire’s house. There was a blare of loud music coming from inside, and coloured Christmas lights flashed through the windows. A few people were sprawled on the lawn, bottles by there sides.

‘Oh no…how many people did she invite?’ Raquel, never the most sociable of people, pulled back slightly. Serena smiled encouragingly at her, and coaxed her forward.

Vanessa was peering through the mailbox. ‘I count sixteen pairs of legs in the hall alone. Excellent! A real party!’

Michael noticed Raquel looking more cautious by the second. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll look after you.’

‘Yes, we will. Come on!’ Serena pulled her up the steps to the front door, while Vanessa rang the doorbell repeatedly. There was a clattering of heeled shoes from the other side, and the door was wrenched open by Claire, a thin blonde girl with very pale skin and big blue eyes. She smiled broadly, grabbed Vanessa’s hand and yanked her inside, without so much as a ‘hello‘. Vanessa shot a bewildered look over her shoulder, and Serena, Michael and Raquel followed.

Inside, it was heaving. People were dancing, swigging from bottles and laughing in large groups. There were tinsel and flashing lights strung from the ceiling, and a large pink Christmas tree in the corner of the lounge, decorated with tiny imitation icicles.

Raquel looked around, seemed to decide she didn’t like it, and started chewing the end of one of her long braids. Serena gently removed it, letting it fall back.

‘You’ll be okay. Claire’s a bit silly, yes, but she wouldn’t try and get you into anything. Mikey and me and ‘Nessa will be here…just try and enjoy yourself.’ She glanced up the stairs. The lights illuminated several couples, all of whom seemed extremely preoccupied, stuck together at the mouth. ’Just don’t enjoy yourself as much as them, I don’t want you getting knocked up. I bet half of them are drunk, and don’t realise what they’re doing anyway. Oh, well, Claire’s problem.’ Serena shrugged, and pushed her way through two squabbling girls.

Vanessa was chatting to Claire, half-heartedly holding a can of beer. Michael had found a friend of his, Bradley, a short black boy with a shaved head, and was currently slapping him on the back whilst he tipped a whole bowlful of peanuts into his mouth. Serena wondered whether several pints of liquor had already been consumed.

The little Christmas lights in here were mostly pink, Claire’s favourite colour. Raquel was looking up at the Christmas tree, seemingly confused.

‘I didn’t know you could get pink Christmas trees…’ She muttered. Serena smiled.

‘Claire’s parents would get anything for her. They found one somewh-’ Serena’s words were cut off as a squat red-headed girl with a ponytail deliberately ploughed into her, spilling her drink all down her top.

‘Oh, my God!’ Serena held her arms out, away from the dripping top. A large stain was starting to spread on it. Thankfully, because of colour, the marks didn’t show too much, but she could feel them, as they caused her top to stick to her stomach. Scowling, she looked up at the girl, who was scowling back.

‘Watch where you’re going, Serena!’ She tossed her hair and dropped the empty glass on the floor.

‘Me? You walked into me, Tina!’

Tina stepped closer. ‘Moody today, aren’t we?’

Serena turned away, trying not to lose her temper. She rarely did, but something about this girl always got to her. They were practically arch-enemies at school, and seeing her outside was not going to improve Serena’s mood. Tina Beech was a notoriously bad girl, who smoked, drank, and slept around. She’d been after Michael for a long time.

Raquel followed suit, making sure that her braids whipped Tina across the face. She was satisfied when she heard an angry shout from her. Tina didn’t retaliate with her fists, or anything like them. She was crueller than that.

‘Funny about Mikey, isn’t it?’

Against her will, Serena automatically said, ’What?’

‘You heard. Ignoring you. Talking to others…maybe possible for someone to steal him… if they could just grab his attention…’

Serena turned back to her, gritting her teeth, her fists clenched. ‘If you dare so much as-’

‘Watch me!’ Tina smirked, then proceeded to wiggle her way through the crowds towards Michael in a ridiculously fake way. Serena started after her, but Raquel grabbed her arm.

‘Don’t! That’s what she wants! Mikey will prefer it if you don’t interfere!’

Serena folded her arms over her sticky front. ‘But he’s my boyfriend! I don’t want that absolute tart thrusting at him or something! And why the Hell did Claire invite her anyway? It’s not like they even get on!’

‘Maybe she invited herself. Believe me, he’s not interested in her. It’s you he wants. He’s nuts about you, you know that…’ Raquel gave her a quick hug, ignoring the whistles of the most childish boys in the room. Serena looked over Raquel’s shoulder at Michael. He was looking amused at Tina’s attempts to flirt with him, which seemed to consist of posing with her chest sticking out, and twisting her hair around her fingers. When he saw Serena, he waved cheerfully, and started to come over. Serena grinned broadly at the look of shock and anger on Tina’s face, then gently pushed Raquel away so that she could embrace Michael instead. Raquel discreetly turned her back as they started to kiss. She watched her sister, who was chatting to Bradley - though she wasn’t sure Bradley was hearing anything she said; he looked pretty out of it - and occasionally hitting his arm. Raquel’s gaze drifted past them, and settled instead on Tina, who kept throwing furious glances over her shoulder at Serena and Michael. She saw Raquel looking and stuck out her tongue. Raquel did likewise. Tina gestured rudely with her hand and turned away. Raquel laughed.

‘She’s so childish, isn’t she?’ Serena had unstuck herself from Michaels face and seen Tina’s last sign. Raquel agreed whole-heartedly.

‘I just don’t get why Clairhead would ask her round…maybe she needed to make numbers up.’ Michael looked around. ‘I don’t know half these people!’

‘Don’t call her that…’ Serena poked him in the ribs. He grinned.

‘Well, she is. Thick as a brick, and vacant too. Claire the Airhead. Clairhead!’ Michael proclaimed to the two girls. Raquel smiled broadly, and Serena fought not to do the same.

‘Come on, lets get drinks…’ She said, to distract herself.

They pushed there way through crowds of unknown people to the kitchen. A wide variety of snacks and drinks were laid out on the kitchen top. They each grabbed some food, and Michael managed to snatch two drinks, for him and Serena from underneath another boy’s nose. The boy swore at him, and lurched forward, but Michael ducked under his arm and ran into the other room. Serena and Raquel followed. Serena glanced round.

A boy was trying to scale the Christmas tree, cheered on by his crowing mates. A younger girl was trying to prop another up, looking scared. A few people were sitting on the floor, empty bottles next to them, some laughing, others holding their heads.

‘Oh, my God…how much booze do you really think is here? Did Claire get it all for the party?’ Serena gasped as the boy clinging onto the Christmas tree fell, bringing several fake icicles with him. His friends leapt out of the way, but the boy got too his feet and laughed. They joined in.

‘No, I bet it was all brought with these guys.’ Raquel looked slightly scared. ‘Do you think there are drugs?!’

‘Look at her…’ Serena pointed towards a girl over by the sofa. The room was large enough for part of it to be designated a dance floor, and she was in the middle of it, dancing wildly, her dark hair flying around her utterly expressionless face, eyes blank, speeding up her dancing when another song came on, even though it was a slow one and several couples were around her. ‘That’s not drunk behaviour, is it? I think there are drugs…’

‘I’m not staying here another minute, me and Vanessa are going. Vanessa!’ Raquel threw her snacks down on a table and shoved people out of her way, looking for her sister. Serena decided this was a good idea, and started to search for Michael. She presumed he was with Bradley, who, last she saw of him, was over the other side of the room. She tried not to get too close to anyone who looked vaguely drunk, as though they could contaminate her. A large boy made a grab for her, but she turned round and slapped him sharply across the face. He looked stunned, but she was away before he could retaliate in anyway. This was getting too real and scary…

‘Mikey!’ She glanced him at last, struggling to help Bradley stay upright. Bradley was clutching a bottle, which Serena took from him and set down. He looked at his hands as though the bottle had simply vanished.

‘What’s he on?’

‘Don’t know. I’m not sure whether he’s taken something, I think he’s just acting normal drunk. Come on, love.’ He took Serena’s hand, and they reached the front door, Bradley in tow.

The cold air hit them hard. Serena pulled her jacket tighter around herself, watching as Bradley wavered. However, the clean, fresh air seemed to have brought him part way back to his senses, and he pulled away from Michael.

‘People will talk.’ He slurred his words, but seemed otherwise okay. Serena was extremely glad that her drug suspicions seemed wrong.

They went down the steps, and along the path. Several boys were crowded around the base of a tree, shouting encouragement. Serena saw the boy from earlier, the one who had fallen off the Christmas tree, attempting to climb a real one.

‘Wait!’ Raquel and Vanessa tripped down the steps after them. They both looked annoyed, and upset.

‘You wouldn’t believe what some of the people inside were saying. I’m so glad we’re going. If that’s the sort of party Claire throws, I’m never going again!’ Raquel sighed loudly. ‘Why is she so stupid?’

‘Clairhead… I think you’re right, Mike.’ Vanessa tugged her jacket on firmly, then strode along the street, leaving her sister behind. Raquel watched her go, then muttered to Serena, Michael and Bradley. ‘She’s going to be horrible for the next couple of days. That’s one Hell of a strop she’s got going…’

She hugged all three of them, then sprinted after her sister.

‘Come on. Got to drop Brad off. His parents will throw a fit, but it can’t be helped.’ Michael grabbed hold of Bradley again, who was starting to walk confidently towards the boys around the tree. Bradley stopped straight away, then turned round slowly, grinning at Michael.

‘You’re my best friend! I love you, man!’ He proclaimed loudly, causing almost everyone in the garden to look over. Michael looked startled, but answered, ‘Yes, I am. Now, in my capacity as best friend, I need to get you home. Come on, mate.’

Bradley willingly started walking down the street, Michael by his side in case he stumbled, Serena trotting behind. She knew it couldn’t be helped, but she felt it really should be her leaning on Michael’s arm.

Luckily, Bradley’s house wasn’t too far from Serena’s - he’d decided to go to the party early, and help Claire set up, that’s why they hadn’t met him - and they’d manage to get him home in Serena’s ‘time limit’ without going out of their way. When they reached his house, Michael nodded.

‘Stroke of luck. Lights out. Parents out or in bed. Give us you keys, Brad.’

Bradley fumbled for them in his pocket, extracting them after about a minute. He handed them over, then smiled in a dozy sort of way at Serena while Michael unlocked the door.

‘Right. Quiet as you like, mate.’ Michael yanked Bradley’s arm, and they disappeared inside. A second later, Michael poked his head back out. ‘Only be a min, darling. I’ll shove him into his room, then be down.’

Serena sat down on one of the low stone walls that flanked the steps, feeling the cold seep through her skirt, and began to examine her perfectly manicured fingernails. She really hoped everything would work out for Claire. Maybe she did throw terrible and out-of-control parties, but she was Serena’s friend, ultimately, and she felt guilty for running off and leaving her to cope on her own.

She checked her cell phone. One message, from Claire. She sighed and opened it.

 

‘Y U run off? I gt no1 2 help. All gone rong. Ccccc xx’

 

Now Serena felt even worse, but she tried to keep telling herself it wasn’t her fault. She messaged back…

 

‘So soz. Brad M drunk. Tuk im home. Soz agn. Sere xxx’

 

She sent it, and looked up. Michael was standing in front of her, smiling.

‘Ready to go?’

She hopped off the wall, straightened her skirt, then gestured to the door, which was wide open. ‘What you doing about that?’

‘Going to have to use his keys, and give them back when I see him again. Hang on a tick…’ Michael nipped inside, and came back out a second later, stuffing something into his pocket. He locked the door, put the keys in his other pocket and held out his hand to Serena. She took it, and they walked slowly down the path until they reached the street. Michael was being a bit too quiet for Serena’s liking. She didn’t like it. She started singing to break the silence, a love song from years ago that her mother had taught her.

Michael watched her, tripping over the curb as they crossed the road as a result. Serena had started to incorporate a few dance steps into it, just a few little ones, aware of Michael’s grin.

‘You have a beautiful voice, you know,’ he said suddenly. She turned girly, giggling and tossing her hair.

‘Really?’

‘Yeah. I mean, Charmaine’s voice is good, but yours is better. You could be a singer.’ He thought about it. ‘If the whole astronaut thing doesn’t work out.’

‘Can’t see why it wouldn’t! But if it didn’t, I want an intelligent job, where people actually think I have brains. Singers are, stereotypically, very…dumb.’ She laughed again. ‘Look at Charmaine for example!’

‘She’s not dumb! She’s taught me loads of things!’ Michael stopped, and grabbed Serena around the waist, pulling her close to him. She slid her arms around his neck.

‘Like what?’

‘Just…things. I mean, she is, sort of, like a mother to me.’

‘Her? Oh, come on, she thinks she’s about twenty! She’s more of a sister to me than a mother!’ Serena pulled away from him slightly. ‘Do you really mean that?’

‘Well, since my mom up and went, I needed someone to look to in that role. Charmaine fitted the bill.’

‘Which was?’

‘Older than me and a woman.’ Michael grinned in a twisted sort of way. ‘Wouldn’t it be creepy if my dad and Charmaine got together?’

‘Eww! No!’ Serena pushed him off, laughing. ‘That’d make us like brother and sister!’

‘I know, it’d be sick, but he does like her. Talks about her constantly. Maybe they should start dating!’

Michael was only teasing, and Serena knew it, but she decided to play the game. Tease him in return. She started to run up the sidewalk, ignoring the burning pain in her feet. Occasionally, she’s turn around, gesturing for him to run after her. He did, easily catching her up, stopping her under a streetlamp so that he could look at her. Her eyes were shining, her hair windswept, usually an offence, but she didn’t try to tame it. He kissed her forehead.

‘I love you, you know that, don’t you?’

She grinned, and gave him a hug. ‘Yes, I know. I love you too.’ She reached up to kiss him, but he put his hand against her mouth, stopping her. She looked bemused.

‘What?’

‘Here.’ He reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of mistletoe. ‘Nicked it from Bradley’s place, coz it makes me feel sick to imagine his folks kissing.’

He held it above Serena’s head, and kissed her.

It didn’t matter that the party had been rubbish, that Claire may very well be annoyed with Serena, that it was slightly past half twelve and Serena still wasn’t home. At that moment, it felt as if all that mattered was each other.

 

 

 

 

Well, that’s it! Second story done, just in time!

Although this story may not be particularly Christmassy, inspiration for an out-of-control party struck at that time, so it does have a slight Christmas edge to it.

I’ve decided for the purposes of this story that Serena and her mother moved to Pennsylvania a year after her fathers ‘disappearance‘, because it was painful to live in Houston waiting to see if the Endeavour would ever return.

It is mostly designed to show the sort of people Serena knew when she was in her teens. Some of them helped to make her the person she’d grow up to be, but more on that may be written in future stories.

Many, many thanks to Chris Bishop for the beta’ing, and the confidence boosting. Sorry to ask you when you are so busily writing your own stories!

Thanks also to one of my friends outside the forum, who gave me an excellent idea for one of the characters!

It’s a little late now, but I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

Lydia Sheridan

22nd January 2008

 

 

 

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