earth to matty

"Christmas time. What a nuisance."

I regretted those words the moment they left my mouth. Shiloh and Colt turned on me, their glares haloed with golden light from the Christmas tree. Like five year olds, they sat hand in hand in front of the tree. Colt's long legs stretched to the edge of the tree-skirt, and Shiloh leaned against him like a dutiful golden retriever, her hair on fire from the mellow crystal lights. And  both their glares could make babies cry.

"What?" I shrugged, trying to throw them off. "It's true. Commerciality is not my cup of tea."
"But Christmas isn't all about the commercial, Matty," Shiloh moaned, rolling her eyes as far back into her skull as sarcasm could allow. "It's more than that."

"He knows that, idiot," Colt whispered breathily into her ear. I did some eye-rolling myself then. Those two were incomprehensible; insults were exchanged on a daily basis, I'm pretty sure they'd broken up twice since Christmas break began and made up three times since then (I'm not sure how they made up without breaking up, but Shiloh said it all made sense to them and I guess that's what matters), and Colt was constantly calling her an idiot. I guess he got that from me. Then again, she called him dork 24/7--and not as a pet name--so they were even somehow. It still boggled my mind that they were together. I accepted it when Colt broke the news to me...that didn't mean I liked it. There were still days that I wanted to boot him off his newly acquired spot on our couch, and when mom set the table for five instead of four--not because Colt was coming over, she would say, but because Shiloh's boyfriend was coming over--I often considered going back to my room and eating there. Your best friend dating your sister was weird, no matter how you sliced it. It just was.
"Hello?" Shiloh waved a hand in front of my face. "Earth to Matty?"

I half-heartedly kicked at her, losing one of the slipper's mom forced me to wear in the process. "I'm listening, child. Tell me all about the true meaning of Christmas." Like I didn't know it already. Christmas to me was a interesting phenomenon, where peace on earth was supposed to take place and instead all the extended family flooded into our house. I don't know about you, but that's not my kind of peace on earth.

She huffed and turned back to the tree. "You won't listen anyway. Besides, you're a grown up, you can think whatever you want."

"Thank you for your permission; I greatly appreciate it."

She snuck a glare over her shoulder. It was just as venomous as ever. "Matt...you suck."

"Thank you once again." The corners of my mouth tugged upwards, threatening to break out in a smile. I loved my sister. Teasing her was incomparable.

Well, not quite incomparable.

I looked down at my phone, even though I'd checked it twice in the past ten minutes and there was still no new alerts or notifications. Outside, snow was drifting down, not in inches but in feet, and I knew that the road had to be "slicker than snot," as dad had so eloquently summed up this morning.

Still...I was holding my breath.

"Isn't he cute?" Shiloh nudged Colt, turning around again. (I swear, that girl could not make up her mind for the life of her. Or sit still, for that matter.) "Waiting for his lady friend to call..."

Colt chuckled as I turned red slowly, like a lobster being cooked alive in a long and painful process. "I would hardly call Sam a lady, Shi..."

"But he hates it when I call her his girlfriend. It makes him turn purple. Lady friend is diluted; it only make him a nice shade of crimson." Her eyes twinkled evilly in from the flashing lights she and mom hung around the room. "The exact color of St. Nick's jolly old suit."

"I'm leaving," I said hurriedly, grabbing my phone and half-running to the kitchen. Shiloh's shrill laugh and Colt's throaty chuckle followed me. Luckily, Mom had heard none of the conversation, because when I stepped into the kitchen, she just glanced at me in surprise and said, "Is the fire too hot? You look kind of flushed."

I ran a hand through my hair and tried to clear my throat. "Nah, it's this sweater you made me wear. It's too warm." And had too many smiling snowmen on it. I was just lucky Dad had the honor of wearing the Sweater of the Bells, as Shiloh and I had entitled the monstrosity. I think mom made him wear it so he couldn't sneak off to his office with her not knowing. I leaned against the counter, setting my phone down where I could easily see if I got a text.  "Something smells good."

She wrinkled her nose at me and slid a sheet of rolls into the oven. "What do you mean, something smells good."

I rolled my eyes. "Okay, EVERYTHING smells good. Except for maybe the cranberries. Those I can do without." I leaned a little closer to her, almost putting an elbow in the green bean casserole, and whispered, "I think Shiloh and Colt are kissing in the living room."

Mom-radar instantly went up, flashing lights and everything. She shucked off her bright red oven mitts--they matched the cranberry sauce and the tips of my ears--and stormed over to the living room door. "Shiloh Catherine North, if you are doing anything indecent in front of my ceramic nativity scene--including the innocent Lord Jesus, thank you very much--I will make sure the mashed potatoes never come to your side of the table ever again."

I snickered behind a hand at the squawk of indignation that came from the other room. A lot of heated conversation followed, because mom stepped into the room and voices were raised, and I'm sure the innocent Lord Jesus had yet another interesting show to watch. I, on the other hand, busied myself with picking off the french onion from the green beans and quickly eating them before mom returned. Shiloh loved french onions.

Double paybacksies.

Mom came back quicker than I thought she would, so I tossed a handful into my mouth and chewed as silently as possible as she picked up her mitts and said, "Shiloh says you're being childish again. Is that true?"

I swallowed. "Mom. It's Shiloh. Think about what you're saying."

She laughed, shaking your head. "Of course, silly me." Then a conniving look spread across her face. "So...when should your better half get here?"

I choked on my own saliva, and Mom had to thump me on the back before my throat fell back into place. "W-what better half, mom?" I looked down at my snowman sweater and holey--holy--jeans and shook my head. "Pretty sure all of me's here--including my left half. I honestly think it's my best side."

She thwacked the side of my leg with an oven mitt. "Quit being clever and answer the question. Is Sam close?"

I looked at my phone for what felt like the millionth time today and bit the side of my lip. "I...don't know." I hadn't heard a word from her or Jade since last night. Since the snow started. Possibilities zoomed through my mind all day as I waited for a text or a call. The power was out, so they could get a hold of me. They were snowed in. They'd slid off the road and the snow was cover them up in an icy, terrifying death.

I shouldn't have invited them. It was too big of a deal, too long of a drive. Besides, Sam and I weren't technically dating. At least, I didn't think we were. Honestly, the whole dating idea of things confused me and I really didn't want to go there. Especially if it meant breaking up twice and making up three times in the space of less than ten days. But mom had insisted and had held a spatula to my head, threatening to slap me with it, until I caved and called Sam. Just remembering that phone call made me shudder. Sam and I texted. We never talked on the phone. Phone calls were pretentious and awkward, whereas texting was simple and meant less awkward pauses. But no, mom said the polite thing was to call. I wouldn't have been surprised if she'd tried to make me send an embossed invitation with my monogram and curly ink. Sam was just Sam; she didn't need a big to-do.
But then again...she'd sounded awfully happy when she picked up the phone and said, "Hello?" And I would be lying if my heart hadn't stepped up a beat at the sound of her voice in the first time in months. I didn't get shivers in my stomach, like Shiloh reported after Colt came back from college for Thanksgiving, but it was definitely a good feeling. I'd missed her more than I realized.

And now that stupid invitation might mean she was lying in a ditch, freezing to death.

Mom snapped her fingers in front of my nose. "Hello? Son? This is your mother speaking. Earth to Matthew."

I knocked her hand aside and smiled despite myself. "Funny, mom. Need any help?"

She surveyed her kitchen--pots and pans piled sky high in the sink, soaking in graying soapsuds, and the counters were covered with mysterious casseroles and stones. I almost didn't want to know all that she'd made; health was the newest to-do in the North household, and I could've sworn I saw her smuggling in tofu yesterday. Not to mention the fact that I could smell spinach in the midst of the other delicious aromas filling the room. "I don't think so," she finally said. "You could  go back and chaperone your sister."

And my best friend, which is awkward times a billion. "Nah, already tried that." I picked up my phone and gave her a side hug. "I'm gonna go try and sleep for a little while. Don't burn the rolls."

She stiffened with surprise at my uncommon affection, then leaned into it with a content sigh. "I like Christmas. It makes my son hug me."

I let her go with a laugh. "Christmas has nothing to do with it."

"Ah, and the sixteen pounds of mashed potatoes I made at your request do." She shook her head with a playful scowl wrinkling her forehead. "I swear, you never tell me you love me unless I make you food." Then her scowl took a turn for the worse and became real. "And what did you mean, don't burn the rolls? Do you doubt my cooking abilities?"

I threw my hands up in the air in submission. "And that's my cue to leave."

Her irate squabbles followed me just like Colt and Shiloh's voices had earlier as I momentarily stepped back into the living room--they WERE kissing, the little stinkers--and I headed down the hallway to my room. Across the way, Dad's office doors were open in an invitation for visitors--the one day of the year he willingly did so--but I had no desire to talk business or be interrogate about the eminence of Sam's arrival. Plus, my pillow was calling me. I hadn't slept much last night. Something about the fact that Colt slept over and snored from dusk to dawn. My best friend was such a keeper. The only thing that kept me from strangling him was that someday, if they made it through all the break-and-make-ups, Shiloh would have to deal with him and his whistly nose. That made it a little more bearable.

The floor of my room was so cluttered with clothes and books and Colt's random articles that he never remembered to take home that I could barely open the door enough to squeeze through. A snowman's carrot nose caught on a splinter, leaving a trail of orange thread behind. I didn't care. The snowman could melt or unravel or whatever, for all I cared. With practiced skill, I navigated my way to the bed and collapsed there. A textbook--one of Colt's, I thought--jabbed under my lowest rib. Even so, it was comfortable. My heavy eyelids slid shut, even without me trying. I was so tired. Not even school tired me out like this. Family had a major draining factor to it.

And yet, even though my eyelids felt like they had lead weight sewn in, I still cracked them open and checked my phone every half-second.

This relationship thing was a curse.

Finally, I tossed the phone into a lump of dirty laundry and rolled over, burying my face in my pillow. No more worrying about Sam. No more worrying about if I was remembering her wrong, or if I'd forgotten some vital information about her and was going to embarrass myself in front of my family and Colt. No more worrying about what I would say if she showed up. No more worrying about if she actually showed up. Sleep was priority number one right now, not Summer Carpenter.

It took every ounce of me not to pull my face out of the pillow and search for the phone.

Every. Single. Ounce.


One of mom's cool hands on my forearm woke me up. I knew it was her because of how gently she held me, even though her fingernails dug a little into the soft flesh of my arm. My eyelids gritted painfully as I tried to pull them open and in the end failed. I pulled the blanket tighter around my neck. "Let me sleep a little more; Colt snores too much."

"As much as I know that to be true, I think you should probably get up," said Sam, her sentence starting with a chuckle and ending with a full-blown laugh.

I flipped over and sat up like a hyperactive lizard, clutching the blanket to my pounding heart. Sam sat on the floor by the bed, leaning one elbow on the mattress and smirking at me like she was made to smirk. I gulped, not sure whether I should scream, smile, or pinch myself.

I had a million speeches I'd planned out in my head. One began with me swooping in romantically to hug her, another ended with a tight hug. A few had the words "I missed you" scattered throughout them.

But of course, in the black moment, all my words fled from me, and all I could do was sit there with a mouth hanging open and my eyes glued to her red-turning-brown hair and freckle constellations and her green cat eyes and my mind filled with the throbbing thought that I'd really, truly missed this girl and I never wanted to let her out of my sight again.

"You have hands like my mom," I blurted out.

She raised one more brown than red eyebrow. "Not what I thought the first words out of your mouth would be, but it'll do."

My face went back to the changing color thing, but this time it was different. There was no purple or crimson, but it alternated between the icy cold of shame and a warm glow of happiness, because this was Sam. She was sitting less than a foot away from me, and she was being sarcastic. Gosh, how I'd missed her snippy words and playful banter. Colt just didn't cut it, even on his good days.

"Technically," I said, lowering the blanket and slouching a little, "the first thing I said to you was 'Let me sleep more; Colt snores too much.'"

She lifted herself onto the edge of the mattress and grinned at me like a Cheshire cat. Her freckles folded up on the bridge of her nose, and only slivers of green peeked out from her eyes; her cheeks covered too much of them. "Technically, I missed you. A lot."

And then she hugged me.


Hugs never made any of my lists of favourite things. I've always hated them, as a rule. But as my chin rested over Sam's shoulder and her fingernails dug into the sweater and my t-shirt beneath, as her pulse in her throat throbbed next to my ear, as I could smell her shampoo and hear her breathes, hugs suddenly had a better appeal.

That is, Sam hugs. If Colt tried to bear hug me, I would revoke his best friend rights.

She pulled away, and I almost followed her because I didn't want it to end. Instead, I cleared my throat and rubbed my neck with an awkward hand, not sure what to say next. When had talking to this particular girl become hard? Was it because of the distance since we last talked in person?

Because texting was so much different than our actual voices?

No. It was because this was Sam. And I was me. And somehow, we were linked together in a way that I really didn't understand at all.

"So." She gave me another smirk. "Snowmen?"

I groaned. "Mom."

"Enough said." She gestured to the mess surrounding the bed. "Clean much?"

I shrugged. "Colt's stayed over more this month than I thought possible."

"So you're saying that clutter and dirty t-shirts follow Colt wherever he goes?"

"Pretty much."

"Seems feasible," she said with  a twinkle in her eyes. Not evil or artificial, like Shiloh's had been earlier, but genuine and sparkly. It made my eyes want to sparkle (but since my eyes were Matt eyes and not Sam eyes, they didn't.) "How's Shiloh liked that?"

My thought trail leaped back from twinkling eyes to Colt's constant presence to my house. "She loves it. I didn't know mascara existed before nine o'clock in the morning."

She chuckled at that. "That's what comes of having a boyfriend in the house." She narrowed her eyes at me and shook a playful finger my direction. "Don't expect anything on my part, though."

Boyfriend.

I hated that word.

"Wait, are you guys staying tonight?"

"Have you looked outside, boy? It's coming down in snowbanks. There's no way we'll get on the roads later."

I swallowed and looked at the ceiling. "I didn't even know if you guys were gonna make it."

She leaned closer, trying to catch my eye with her fish hook of a smirk. "Awwww...were you worried about us?"

I rubbed the back of my neck again.

Mom's sweater was really warm. And itchy.

She sat back, folding her legs on the bed Indian-style, smiling like a cat. "That's really sweet."
"I can honestly say I've never been called sweet before." I barely said that without choking on my own tongue. All my words dithered together into a chaotic mass. She was way too close after too much distance. The room walls were closing in.

"I'm surprised." She leaned in again. "You, sweet? It's practically synonymous."

I rolled my eyes and made a move to stand up. "Don't use big words you don't understand."

She jabbed me in the ribs as she stood up beside me. "I've missed you."

I looked down at her, and I realized I'd forgotten how short and tiny she was. Even compared to me, who wasn't that tall, she was a twig with muted red hair that was wavier than I remembered. And her eyes flashed with excitement and happiness and something that screamed "Matt's here Matt's here I'm here I'm here," that I was pretty sure mirrored in my eyes.


The words almost choked me. "I missed you too." And I took her hand and squeezed it.

That almost killed me.


Comments

  1. IT'S OFFICIALLY CONFIRMED. You are super duper amazingly talented and I can not even believe that you're not published yet and you better get published soon or I'll be really mad because you need to be. K bye.

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    1. awwww your comment made my day (actually, it's kinda helped keep me going over the week, since I'm uber-behind in answering comments, lol...). And about the publishing thing...heh. One kinda has to have a completed book for that. But I'll get there. I wouldn't want you to be really mad, because who knows, maybe you are Bruce Banner in disguise and if you get angry you'll turn into the Hulk and things will just be crazy and I don't want to be responsible for that potential damage...

      er....I should probably get more sleep tonight because my thought train is obviously all over the place... XD

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  2. Oh my goodness! I love this so much! Matt's perspective is the best. And I like Sam too. She's totally awesome. Them together is good too, not too mushy or gushy, but plain adorable. I love it! You must write more. You must. And then publish The Great Ones. And I will buy it and tell the whole world (I am incredibly shy, but I think I could tell the world if it was about your book, because it is amazing and I love your writing style). Okay, I'm done now. I'll be done before I go on forever. But- this is AMAZING!

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    1. yay, I'm glad the dynamic between my two babies is like that to you--that's exactly what I was aiming for their relationship to come across as! *does happy dance across the room* And yes, I will write more. And I will try and publish. Someday. *crosses fingers* And I'll probably buy it too and hug it and stalk it in the stores because this story is my baby and I kinda actually get jealous of people who read it for the first time--I wish I had that ability to go into it with a brand new perspective. I'm a weird author-person. :D Thank you so much for your sweet comment! <3

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