TW: for mention of deceased parent and grief
Note: This story is a prequel of sorts to events that will be explored in a longer novel. So all HEAs will be resolved then! Enjoy 🙂
The scent of the ham wrapped around Gale causing her stomach to growl with impatience. Her father refused to let her anywhere near the kitchen. She wasn’t even allowed so much as a pinch of the pineapple that would be speared to all the meaty deliciousness with the cloves.
Now more than ever she missed her mother. They used to be partners in delicious ham crimes. Her mother would always smuggle a piece of the ham while her father’s back was turned.
She blinked away the burn in her eyes. Now wasn’t the time. Not with the guests around, getting merrier by the second as they erupted into another tipsy toast with their glasses filled with ponche de crème, or sorrel for those who didn’t imbibe of the milky alcohol goodness. Not when the seven foot Christmas tree glinted prettily in the corner of the living-room.
Melancholy wasn’t welcome here.
The Christmas Eve party at the Royers had grown every year, which Gale loved. She loved people. She’d been mingling and chatting with the guests while her father had ghosted them for the ham prep. And there was an interesting mix of people in attendance tonight.
Her younger sisters were here with their band and their friends. Her older sister was being her usual grumpy self, glass in hand, scowling at one of her father’s chatty employees. Sky was the ultimate Grinch, and Gale snorted as her sister’s sigh carried over to where she stood. The clueless employee kept chattering on.
The rest of her father’s employees from the Hibiscus Bay Resort were either milling about, or chatting with their co-workers.
“So how much longer is your father gonna make us wait for this glorious ham?”
The voice sent a sizzle down Gale’s spine.
And then there was Anna. Her best friend. The woman she’d grown up with and had unfortunately developed an ill-advised crush on.
Gale steeled herself. She’d spied Anna when she’d arrived a few hours ago. How could she not notice her in that shimmery silver dress that showcased so much toned thigh, and cleavage, that Gale had nearly spilled her drink down her own festive gold dress?
Anna’s long black hair was loose tonight. She’d been growing it out awhile and the dark waves fell across her shoulder, almost to her waist. Temptation.
“Who knows?” Gale managed. “You know he’s gotta make his dramatic entrance.” She patted her belly. “My stomach’s ready to eat itself I swear.”
“Worth the wait, though.”
Facts. The rest of the spread was all well and good. The sumptuous array of mini pastelles—beef, pork, chicken and veggie variations—were swiftly depleting. The guests enjoyed the meat and veg filled cornmeal yumminess. The caterers had had to refill the gleaming platters twice already. The other fingers foods were being enjoyed as well but the ham…that was the main dish everyone was waiting on.
It was always the highlight of the Royer Christmas Eve shindig.
Even the sliced turkey breast with the different sauces on the side was no match for that ham.
Now if only her father would bring the damn thing out. Everything else was catered. The ham was her father’s domain, and he’d been sequestered in the kitchen most of the evening.
Gale refocused on Anna, the warm touch of her hand on her bare shoulder sent sparks down her arm.
“How’re you holding up?”
“I’m fine.” She was quick to reply and Anna’s sceptical stare televised she wasn’t buying it.
It was the first Christmas without their mother. Of course she wasn’t fine, but it was the easiest route to go. A brave smile to throw well-meaning people off the scent of the sadness that threatened to spill over.
She shouldn’t have tried it with Anna. Anna wasn’t just anyone, she knew Gale too well.
“Too fine for this to be of interest to you?”
Anna reached into her clutch and produced a flask with a simple candy cane sticker on it, and waved it around.
Gale shook her head. “There’s premium liquor here and you smuggle in a flask with who knows what in there? Could you be any more ridiculous right now?”
“Your daddy’s fancy wines and expensive ass Johnny Walker Blue ain’t got nothing on this brew right here. Besides, blame your sister for this. She made the damn thing and has her own flask stashed somewhere.” She jerked her head in Sky’s direction. Her sister was now off to the side scowling at the Christmas tree, as if personally offended by its presence.
Gale wasn’t surprised the flask was Sky’s idea. Which meant whatever was in there was potent enough to singe off nose hairs.
Her sister only seemed less grumpy when she was tinkering away at Elixir, their mother’s old brew shop. Sky had taken over the business when their mother had passed and had added smoothies to the menu that already boasted an amazing blend of teas and juices. She even sold the special, by request only, magic infused brews to a select handful of trusted locals.
It hadn’t been easy. The nostalgia was strong. Touches of their mother’s energy was all over the shop, but Sky was making do as only Sky could. Her always stoic sister knew how to push her feelings to the side and get the work done, but it had to be eating away at her like the rest of them. Even if she didn’t show it.
If her sister wanted to get bombed on some liquid high in alcohol content then Gale wasn’t about to stop her.
She stuck her hand out. “Gimme.”
Anna’s grip tightened on the flask, red lips curved into a wicked smile. “I might have added an extra dash of Exuberance to mine,” she warned.
“You should’ve added some to Sky’s. She’s scaring the guests.”
Sure enough everyone gave Sky a wide berth. Hopefully the lone Hibiscus Bay Resort employee who’d tried to hold a conversation with Sky had finally wised up. Her sister didn’t do small talk. That guy had probably been new. The older employees knew better.
“Sky would’ve known the minute her nose got near this. She might not use her magic much these days but she’s got the best nose for it on this island. And then she’d glare me to death.”
Gale chuckled. “True, but she needs all the Christmas cheer she can get. Just gimme the damn thing already. ”
Anna held onto the flask and Gale frowned. She’d been eager to give her the drink earlier, why was she holding back now?
“Let’s move away from prying eyes shall we?” Anna suggested and with a wink she moved towards the gallery doors. Gale’s eyes fixed on Anna’s swaying behind for a few amazing seconds before she snapped herself out of it. Pathetic. This was truly pathetic.
“Good evening merry makers!”
Her younger sister’s voice echoing around the room, thanks to the strategically placed speakers in their huge living room, drew Gale’s attention.
“So, we checked in with the ham. I mean with my dad.” The guests laughed and Lyric grinned. Her sister transformed completely when she got up on a stage of any kind. Her father had turned a portion of their living-room into one so she and the rest of the band were slightly elevated. “And he said twenty more minutes.”
Her words were met with groans and mock boos.
“I know, I know. Torture right? Hungry people out here, dad!” She twirled the gold tinsel she had draped around her neck like a boa. “But never fear! The Sirens are here to keep you busy while we wait.” She handed the mike to their other sister Zinnia who was lead vocals for the band and took her place behind the drum kit.
Zinnia nodded to their two friends who rounded out the band, then focused on the guests. “So first up we have our own take on a classic trini soca-parang by the one and only Sprangalang.”
The band started up the music and Zinnia launched into the opening lyrics of “Bring Drinks.”
“They’re so good!” Anna said into Gale’s ear. “I’m glad I convinced your father to have them play at the resort. The guests love them.”
Anna was the Events Manager at the resort and a loyal fan of her sisters’ band. The Sirens were really good and Gale sensed they were on the cusp of something great.
“Hey, I didn’t tell you before but damn G, that dress is perfect. I knew it would look amazing on you!”
The compliment made Gale flush. She knew she worked the form fitting gold dress. She’d seen herself in her full length mirror. The gold was perfect against her brown skin. With her hair worn in loose waves too, and makeup on point, she had no doubt of her hotness.
She’d gotten enough lingering looks tonight to be assured of that but Anna’s words had her grinning like a fool.
“You’re one to talk Ms. Silver Stunner.”
Anna twirled. “Mummy almost had a fit when she saw how short this was.”
Gale wasn’t surprised. Mrs Lee Lum was pretty conservative and Anna did push her mother’s buttons from time to time, on purpose.
“But anyhow.” Anna opened the flask open and took a sip. “Holy shit that’s…something. The shot of Exuberance really adds a nice kick.”
She wiggled the flask at Gale, brown eyes already over bright. The addition of the Exuberance spell would do that, heighten her excitement level. The sadness simmering beneath would disappear, for as long as the spell lasted anyway.
Gale hesitated. Did she want to pretend everything was okay? Her mother was gone. She didn’t have to, but it was Christmas. Her favourite time of year. She lived for the festivities, the music, the food and the gifts. She loved giving them and, of course, receiving them too. Who didn’t love getting gifts?
She was tired of feeling sad, but just that alone made her feel guilty too. She shouldn’t be tired of it should she?
But Anna was smiling at her, understanding reflected in her eyes, as if sensing the battle within. She withdrew the hand that held the flask. “It’s okay to not want to, you know? It’s okay to feel sad. I probably shouldn’t have offered you this anyways. Bad friend move.”
Gale inhaled, then exhaled slowly “No. I want to feel…not this. Please.”
Gale mustered her brightest smile. “Yeah. Tomorrow’s another day to feel all the feels, I think. Besides! It’s Christmas and we already got one Grinch in the family.” She nodded at Sky who as if sensing she was being talked about glanced over at them, typical Sky scowl firmly in place.
Gale took the flask and raised it in a toast. “To having an awesome night!” Then she took a healthy swig. “Oh shit indeed,” she gasped. The Exuberance spell mixed perfectly with the taste of the homemade wine. A non-witch might not have noticed the difference but whoo boy she felt that extra fizziness.
This spell didn’t wait to slowly trickle in. It came at her with a bang. Everything was extra sparkly right now. The garlands draped around the room with fairy lights nestled in them were glowing more than they had before. The lights bouncing of the ornaments were so bright.
The Christmas tree with its mix of expensive ornaments, handmade gems they’d crafted over the years, and multitude of colourful blinking lights was a delightful glowing monstrosity. Seriously that tree was huge.
She was the sparkliest thing in the room. In that silver dress, with her perfect shimmery eye makeup and glossy lips. Not to mention all that shiny hair. Gale itched to touch, but she reeled that urge in, aware the Exuberance was working overtime.
“Whoops.” Anna giggled. “I think I overdid this spell. Everything feels…”
“Shining, shimmering, splendid?” Gale offered.
Anna’s laughed so hard she snorted, then she covered her mouth, trying, and failing, to hold her over loud chuckles in. Gale thought it was the cutest thing ever. She was the cutest thing ever
“Oh no,” Anna intoned. “Grumpy Grinch alert.”
Sure enough Sky was stalking over to them. Anna didn’t even bother to stash away the flask. Why should she? Sky had given her the drink to begin with.
“You two are up to no good. I can feel it from all the way over there.” Sky glared at them both from behind her glasses.
Gale squinted at the tiny brooch pinned to Sky’s head wrap. She’d tied the blue wrap in a style to keep her massive curly fro out of her face, while still showing the hair in the back. Gale blinked at the brooch. It was a tiny Grinch with a wicked smile. Leave it to Sky to fully embrace her grumpy Christmas spirit.
Anna tilted the flask in Sky’s direction. “Want some?”
“Ugh. What the hell did you put in there? It smells like happiness and fluff.” She wrinkled her nose. “You ruined my drink.”
Gale took the flask and gulped down some more of the potent brew. “More for us,” she said. She and Anna fell into another giggle fit.
Sky folded her arms. “There’s way too much Exuberance in there,” she chided. “This won’t end well.”
“Blah blah blah. Take your doom and gloom elsewhere.” Gale stuck out her tongue. She didn’t need Sky trying to ruin this. Yes she was aware she was using the drink to force this Christmas cheer she was currently feeling, but so what?
“Everything’s so prettyyy.” Anna tilted her head back and Gale latched onto the curve of that neck. Oh yeah, pretty. Real pretty. The nudge in her side drew her away from all that yummy smooth skin. She raised a brow at Sky.
“This is a bad idea.”
“You’re a bad idea.” Gale shot back. That didn’t make sense but whatever it was what she could manage in her current “I don’t give a shit everything is awesome” state.
“Your feelings are showing.” Sky wrinkled her nose again and nodded at Anna who was still gazing up at the Christmas decorations and oohing. It was adorable.
“So what? I feel things. It’s not a crime.” Gale took another sip from the flask.
“You’re not thinking straight right now,” Sky insisted. “Not with that shot of E in your system.”
“Ha! Joke’s on you, I never think straight. You know I’m queer as hell, don’t act new.”
“Oh hey, is that mistletoe!” Anna said excitedly.
Gale followed Anna’s outstretched hand. Sure enough there it was, attached to the garland and tied with a festive red bow. How had she not noticed that there before? Or that she and Anna were right under the thing?
Anna turned to Gale, mischievous sparkle in her eyes. “Would be a shame to let this tradition go to waste.”
Gale’s grip tightened on the flask. What was Anna saying?
“It’s a foolish tradition. Who the hell put that thing there? I’m gonna take it down.”
Gale latched onto Sky’s wrist. “Leave it. Just go terrorize someone for fun and leave us be.”
She waved off her sister. She didn’t want to hear Sky’s concerns. Not now. “Merry Grinchmas, Sky. Now leave us merry makers to our fun.”
Sky shook her head and left.
“What are you saying, Anna?” She had to know for sure.
Her best friend grinned and moved in closer. “I’m saying…kiss me, silly. What else?”
It was obviously the Exuberance talking. Anna had admitted herself that she’d been heavy handed with the spell. This could go so wrong, but Gale’s eyes dipped down to Anna’s lips. Did she care enough right now to make objections?
“Just to be clear. You want me to kiss you.”
Anna took the flask and took a sip. “Sure. Christmas kisses! Sounds fun right?”
“Hey I’m all for kisses. Regular kiskeedee over here but I don’t think friends share those kind of kisses?”
Gale’s heart thumped in her chest. She wanted this. Badly. But even with the magic and alcohol coursing through her veins some common sense was trying to prevail here.
“But I’m a…” Gale lost all her words as Anna moved closer. Oh shit.
“You’re a what? A woman? I’ve kissed my share of those before.” Anna shrugged like it was no big deal. It wasn’t, really, but what? Gale had never known this.
She blinked at Anna. “You kissed ladies? You never said anything!”
Was Anna even closer now? When had that happened? She was now inches away from Gales face and had somehow gotten a string of tinsel from somewhere and was wrapping the scratchy shiny decoration around Gale’s neck. What was even happening right now?
“Did you just conjure this tinsel?”
Anna grinned. “Maybeee.” She pointed to the stage where The Sirens were now covering Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. Her sister was now sans her gold tinsel boa from earlier. “Anyway, me kissing women isn’t a big deal is it?
It was and it wasn’t. It wasn’t. Because Gale didn’t have a problem with Anna being queer, hell she was too. But it was a big deal too. It gave her some hopes that she had a chance with Anna which…no. Didn’t mean that was true at all.
And Jesus could The Sirens sing any other song but this one right now? And where the hell was her father with the damn ham?
“You really gonna let this mistletoe go to waste?” Anna tugged on the tinsel boa and licked her lips. “What’s a kiss between friends? Are you scared?”
“Hell no!” What a lie. “I’m just worried you’d be so dazzled by my kisses I’ll never get rid of you. You know how I do.” Gale joked. She liberated the flask from Anna and finished off the drink. “Let’s do this.”
Two could play at this game. She was a boss at seduction. She could regain the upper hand here. She placed her hand on Anna’s waist and drew her in that final step so their bodies were flush against each other. She gave her bestie one last chance to abort this, but Anna raised a brow.
“So this is how you do it huh? I’m seeing the legendary seducer live and in action.”
“You know it babe.”
That last mouthful of the Elixir Fixer, as she’d dubbed the potent drink, obliterated her doubts. She didn’t dwell on her mother not being here, or how awkward this would be after all this merriment wore off. She wanted this and Anna had tossed the opportunity right in her face. No going back.
The first touch of their lips was electric. Gale had kissed lots of people. She loved kissing but this was Anna. Her best friend. Holy shit she was kissing Anna under some mistletoe while hyped up on a magic infused beverage and if this wasn’t the weirdest Christmas Eve she’d ever had, but also the best because yeah…that was Anna’s tongue thrusting against hers.
Gale moaned into Anna’s mouth as the kiss turned heated. She savoured the fruity taste of the wine on Anna’s tongue. Felt emboldened to do more. Spells like these were dangerous. The heady feeling of excitement tended to mask inhibitions. But, Gale knew the effects would wear off soon and she didn’t want to waste this moment. Kissing Anna like this was a damn Christmas miracle and she needed it to last for as long as the magic did.
She cupped Anna breast through her dress and kneaded at the soft flesh.
“Oh shit.” Anna groaned against her lips. She turned them around and pushed Gale closer towards the doors, taking them further away from prying eyes, not that anyone was paying them any mind. They were busy dying of ham hunger and listening to The Siren’s music.
Anna thought she was running this show? No way. Gale spun them around again, pressing Anna’s back to the gallery door she slid her hand down her hips until she got to the hem of her dress. This was just supposed to be kissing. Just kissing. Just…
Ignoring the tiny voice of reason she slipped her hand under the dress. Anna’s hips pressed into hers. “Sweet baby Jesus,” she whispered.
“Hopefully baby Jesus averted his eyes cuz he’s about to be scandalized.”
The manger set up was a family inside joke. The non-witchy citizens of the island thought they were hard core Christians and they went along with that façade. They cackled over the manger display every year.
Anna pulled back, eyes wide and shiny, her leg had somehow gotten wrapped around Gale’s waist. Gale’s hand was still under her dress, ready to cause havoc. “Jesus, Gale. I get it now. The stories back in school are true. Damn girl.”
Gale grinned. “I know how to use my tongue and not just for back talk. I been saying this for years.”
Anna licked her lips. “Mmhmm.”
They stared at each other, lost in the hold of the spell and the wine and everything. Were they going to continue this or…?
A cheer from the crowd and the sudden chant of “Ham!Ham!Ham!” answered that question. Anna pulled away, her leg slipping away she tugged her hem down.
“Well that was nice. We should go…eat?”
Gale stepped back. “Right. Sure. Eat. Of course.”
The buzz was fading. Awesome timing, really. She’d give anything to not have the doubt and tension creeping in now, but there it was. Anna was still smiling at her but the energy of before was waning.
“Well, thanks for a memorable Christmas. First kiss under a mistletoe too. Imagine that!”
“Happy to help.” She tried to crack a smile but she felt like her heart was about to shatter instead. Anna was treating this like another day. When for Gale it had been everything.
“Hey.” There was that hand on her shoulder again. “We’re good right? That was fun. Just fun.”
“Of course, duh. What? You think I caught some of those feelings Sky’s always adverse to?” She scoffed. “Nah. I mean you a good kisser and all but let’s not get big heads hmm?” She tapped Anna on the nose. Their usual teasing back in full force. There, she could act natural.
Anna playfully pushed her finger away. “Good. Now let’s go get some of that ham.”
“I’ll be there in a sec.”
Anna stared at her for what felt like the longest seconds of her life then waved and went to join the rest of the hungry party goers.
Gale exhaled heavily. Fuck this. She glared up at the mistletoe. Fuck you too. Damn thing. Damn drink. Damn spell. Damn everything! She willed the emotions trying to drown her to dispel. Her eyes burned and her heart ached and this was not her. She was Ms. Fun and Games. Always had been. And Anna could be no exception…ugh what a mess.
As she continued to glare at the offending shrub the thing started to emit smoke. What the hell? Then it just burst into flames entirely.
“Shit.” She jumped back as ash rained to the ground.
“I told you to lemme get rid of the damn thing.”
She spun on Sky. “What are you doing? There’re muggles here!”
Sky rolled her eyes. “You know that’s not a real thing. Whatever, non-witchies are too busy devouring the ham to care. Here.” She shoved a plate at Gale. Pieces of the delicious ham with pineapple and Chow Chow—the homemade condiment they were usually gifted by their neighbour—beckoned.
The plate trembled in her hand. Dammit. She hated when Sky was right.
“Eat,” Sky instructed. “Let that damn spell out your system. Then go find someone else to kiss who won’t have you looking like your favourite pet just died, or whatever.”
Gale stabbed at the ham. “Our mother just died you asshole. The look is warranted.” As if any of them needed reminding.
“Yeah, but that’s not why your face is doing that thing right now is it?”
“I hate you.” Gale said between bites of the ham. God that was some good meat. Tender. Juicy. Perfect. Her father was on point as always. So worth the wait.
Sky draped an arm around Gale and steered her towards the crowd. “I don’t care. Merry Fucking Christmas, Gale.”
Right. It was after midnight already. She stared down at the disintegrated mistletoe, watched as the ashes blew away. Sky working her magic again. It was the most she’d used it since their mother had passed.
Her eyes burned again, threatened to betray her but she sucked it up and gave Sky her best dazzling smile. “Yeah. Merry Fucking Christmas to us all.”
She was fine.
It was time to get her usual Christmas flirting on.
And if her eyes sought out a silver dress in the crowd a few times so what?
The Royer sisters—and Anna!—will return 😀
Copyright © 2017 N.G. Peltier