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  • Shelly Desjarlais

Under the Mistletoe

“How did I let you talk me into this, Jess?”


Carly tugged at the pointed ears on her elf hat. Before she could pull the entire thing off, Jessie smacked Carly’s hand. “Leave it. You look adorable.”


“I don’t want to look adorable,” Carly huffed. “I want to look normal. I haven’t seen these people in twenty years.”


Jessie reviewed her clipboard. The lights had been hung, the trees were decorated, and the welcome sign was finished. She looked at the bright letters with a smile: Class of 1999’s Christmas Reunion! She was thrilled. Carly was miserable.


“Come on, sis. No one ever thought you were normal back then anyway,” Jessie noted.


“That’s why I want to seem normal now. I’m sick of being the weird twin.”


“You can’t help who you are. Now, we have to set the tables in the gym.”


Unhappily, Carly followed Jessie through the hallways of their old high school. Carly wanted desperately to avoid the reunion, but Jessie was on the planning committee. There was no way she’d let Carly slide without making a minor appearance. Carly intended to keep her part very minor.


When they arrived in the gym, Carly paused by the door to the coach’s office. Once, mistletoe hung from that doorway. It was a Christmas dance from long ago, though it was one Carly could never forget. She always wondered what would’ve happened if she had leaned in just an inch.


“Carly, get the candy cane centerpieces ready!” Jessie called.


Grumbling, Carly went to work. She helped with the centerpieces and tablecloths. Afterwards, she got roped into connecting the sound system. If that weren’t enough, she was put on nametag detail. She had to write every confirmed attendee on festive stickers in alternating colors. Her hand was cramping by the time she reached the name:


Kat Strom.


“Jessie,” Carly said.


“What?” Jessie returned.


“Kat is coming?”


Jessie smirked at the question. “Aren’t you glad I forced you into this?”


“Have you spoken to her at all?”


“Not really. She didn’t say anything in her RSVP email except that she’ll be here.”


Carly nodded. Kat Strom. She could hardly believe it. They hadn’t spoken since their freshman year of college. After that, Carly transferred to a university far from home. Kat never contacted her again, and she often wondered why. Perhaps she’d finally get an answer.


With everything prepared for the party, Jessie and Carly took a break in the cafeteria with several other members of the planning committee. They talked amongst themselves, but Carly was not included. Carly was always one to go against the flow, which made the popular crowd a bit uncomfortable—even two decades later.


“Carly owns an art gallery in Philadelphia,” Jessie commented, hoping to bring her sister into their chat.


Margo, the head of the planning committee, forced a polite nod. “That’s nice. I always pictured you doing something really out there like interpretive dance.”


“I teach interpretive dance on weekends,” Carly answered.


“Oh. How nice,” Margo tried to grin.


“Remember that crazy dance number you did for the talent show? It was with Kat Strom, wasn’t it?” Stewart, the treasurer, asked.


Carly smiled at the memory. “Yeah, it was with Kat.”


“You two were always going against the grain,” Stewart recalled.


The main door abruptly slammed. The noise caught the attention of the committee. Jessie applauded with excitement. “I think our first guest is here. Let’s party like it’s 1999!”


As the first set of guests arrived, Jessie turned on the Christmas music. One by one, former classmates filed into the gym. Some danced while others reminisced. Carly hung back near the coach’s office. She couldn’t shake memories of the mistletoe.


“Carly?”


Carly saw the face approaching through the crowd. It was undoubtedly Kat Strom. Her youthful and beautiful features hadn’t changed. Carly anxiously waved.


“Kat,” Carly replied.


Kat came to a stop near Carly. “Love the hat.”


“Jessie’s idea. I feel ridiculous.”


“You feel ridiculous? Look at this sweater.”


Kat tugged on a string. Christmas lights on her sweater began to flash. Carly chuckled. “Tacky. I like it.”


“It’s all I could find. The store down the street is out of classy sweaters.”


An awkward pause filled the space between them. Carly cleared her throat. “So, how have you been?”


“Okay. I got divorced last year. Best thing that could’ve happened. I spend my days working at a wildlife rescue. My specialty is bats.”


“Bats?”


“Yep. I thought about specializing in raccoons, but that’s too mainstream.”


Carly smirked. “We wouldn’t know about mainstream, would we?”


“No. You still dance, right? You were good.”


“Thank you. I’ve kept it up.”


“That’s great. Are you married?”


“No. I don’t even have a girlfriend.”


Silence hit. They fiddled uncomfortably with their fingers and outfits, unsure of where to go next. Eventually, Kat glanced at the door to the coach’s office. A strange smile came to her puffy lips. Then, a giggle bubbled from her throat. Carly raised a curious eyebrow.


“This was the door,” Kat giggled. “The mistletoe.”


“You remember?”


“Of course. You ran like your heels were on fire.”


Carly felt herself laugh. “Yeah. I guess I did.”


“Hello, ladies,” Jessie joined them. She shook Kat’s hand gently. “Kat Strom, you look marvelous. I’m sorry to interrupt you two, but I think we need more cola out here. Do you think you can get it, Carly? I left it in the fridge in the cafeteria.”


Sighing, Carly nodded. “Okay, fine.”


“There are a few bottles, so maybe Kat could go with you,” Jessie suggested.


Kat shrugged. “Sure. I don’t mind.”


“Great. Take your time. The punch should hold out for now,” Jessie replied.


Carly and Kat started their journey to the cafeteria. The first few steps were quiet, but it didn’t last long. Memories began to surface.


“Remember how we roller skated through the halls after graduation?” Kat fondly said.


“You kept tripping on your gown,” Carly recalled. “Didn’t you bust your chin on the lockers?”


“Had to get stitches. Totally worth it, though. We had good times.”


Strength came to Carly. “Why didn’t you keep in touch?”


“I was trying to figure myself out. Here I am all these years later and I still don’t know.”


“Well, I missed you,” Carly snapped.


They ducked into the cafeteria kitchen. Kat could sense a shift in the atmosphere. She chose to comment. “You could’ve contacted me, you know.”


“I tried a few times. You never got back to me.”


“You shouldn’t have given up.”


“I didn’t want to be that desperate girl who chased after someone who clearly didn’t want her back,” Carly halted. She had admitted something she held inside for years. She took a shaky breath as she opened the fridge. “I was crazy about you, Kat.”


Kat couldn’t believe her ears. “Then why didn’t you kiss me at the Christmas dance? I gave you the perfect excuse.”


“What are you talking about?”


“I’m the one who hung the mistletoe that year. It was my idea to break into the coach’s office, remember? I put us in that doorway. You ran away.”


“I didn’t think you’d want me to kiss you.”


“You were wrong,” Kat forcefully said. “If you had just leaned in, I would’ve been yours.”


Carly took a moment to digest this information. She stared at her shoes, pondering how different their lives would have been if they got together. That was when she noticed the strange shadow on the speckled floor.


When she looked up, she saw mistletoe dangling from the foam tiles of the ceiling. Kat followed Carly’s line of sight. She smiled at their luck.


“Are you going to run again?” Kat asked.


This time, Carly did not flee. She took several timid steps forward. Kat reached to Carly’s cheek and pulled her into a brisk kiss. When they parted ways, they shared a smile and a light laugh. Another short kiss followed.


Kat had to say it. “Better late than never…”


In the gym, Jessie chatted with several old friends. Carly and Kat entered the room with the cola they were sent to collect. Jessie watched them laugh and bump arms. After Carly set the bottles on the table, she whispered something to Kat. Then, she headed directly for Jessie.


“Was it you?” Carly asked.


“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jessie responded.


“Thank you, Jess.”


“What are sisters for? Don’t leave your girl waiting. This music is perfect for a slow dance.”


Grinning, Carly returned to Kat. They joined other couples on the makeshift dance floor. Margo and Stewart joined Jessie by the punch bowl. Stewart gestured to Carly and Kat.


“Were they ever a thing?” he asked.


“No. But they should’ve been. Now, they will be. Just took a little Christmas intervention,” Jessie sighed. “If you two have any old flames you want to rekindle, there’s mistletoe in the kitchen.”


- Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! -

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