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Most people would be disgruntled after being shuffled to another family for the holidays while their parents went on a cruise to the caribbean. I suppose I was a bit jealous at the thought of pearly beaches and an endless supply of sunshine at first, but the feeling didn’t last long. Sophie and I had been best friends for nine years, and I had spent most of my childhood at her house anyway. The kinship I had developed with the Delaney family through years of sleepovers and childhood shenanigans could not change, even after a semester of a college three hours away. Despite my mother’s worry that I would feel abandoned, I had very few qualms with spending Christmas with my second family.
Well, there were two concerns.
The first was the Delaney’s rigorous devotion to their holiday traditions. For the most part, the traditions were fun and harmless. The gingerbread house competition had been pleasant, even though the roof to mine had collapsed after I had piled on a generous amount of peppermints and frosting for shingles. No one would dare argue against Mrs. Delaney’s sugar cookies, even as they started to pile up and take all the counter space. Even Grandma Acosta’s tendency to ambush people with a sprig of mistletoe hadn’t been a problem, even though it had caused me to wipe off quite a few slobbery cheeks and become a bit apprehensive around doorways.
No, all that I could handle. It was the tradition her family had dubbed “Sweater’s Eve” that had me currently fidgeting on the couch, trying suppress the urge to throw the article of clothing before me into the fire.
The idea of “Sweaters Eve” had seemed harmless enough. The concept was that everyone in the family would draw a name, and then buy the ugliest sweater possible for their recipient. The night before Christmas Eve, the anonymous gifts would be opened.
It was all fun and games until I had ripped open the wrapping of my package to see the happy character that overtook the entire front of the green sweater, with his old silk hat perched mockingly on his head, a corncob pipe balanced in his conniving smile, and two eyes made out of coal glinting maliciously up at me.
Which leads me to the second concern, who was currently gazing at me from the couch, not even trying to hide the smug grin that adorned his face.
Seymour Lucas Delaney Jr. Twin brother to Sophie and the bane of my existence ever since I had set foot in this house.
“What’s wrong, Spills?” He asked smoothly. Innocently. Yep, my secret sweater giver was definitely him. Sophie wasn’t mean enough to inflict this sort of emotional pain on me and no one else knew about my Frosty the Snowman hatred. “Afraid it won’t fit?”
“It will fit just fine,” I spat through gritted teeth. Trying not to think about it too much, I yanked the sweater out of the package and tugged it over my head. The material felt itchy against my skin, but it wasn’t because of the fabric. “Just what I wanted, Seymour.”
Even the use of his self-loathed first name wasn’t enough to pull Lucas from his glee. He leaned back and crossed his arms over his yellow and olive green striped sweatshirt, taking in the confused glances that his family was giving us. “Evelyn just loves Frosty,” he explained as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
As his family gave nods of understanding and moved on to watch Mr. Delaney open his parcel, unaware of my struggle not to tremble in rage, Lucas met my eyes with his dark brown ones and winked. The sleeves of the Frosty sweater crumpled in my hands.
For the first time, I wondered what I had done to my parents for me deserve this.
“SEYMOUR LUCAS DELANEY!” I slammed my fists against the door. It rattled under the force of my rage but refused to open. “WHERE DID YOU HIDE THEM?”
It took a few seconds, but finally a disgruntled Lucas opened his door. If his dark, tousled hair hair and rumpled clothes were anything to go by, he had just woken up. He blinked at me blearily a few times before giving an unintelligible grunt. “What?”
“My sweaters,” I growled, letting the loathing seep into my voice. “Where are they? I woke up this morning and they were gone. I know you have them, now where did you put them?”
Lucas scowled and ran his hand over his face. “Your sweaters? I don’t-- hey! Evelyn!”
I pushed past him and surveyed his room. It was surprisingly clean for a guy’s, and at first glance it was obvious that my sweaters weren’t in plain sight. Of course, Lucas was smarter than that.
I headed towards his dresser and pulled open the bottom drawer.
That seemed to wake Lucas up. I could detect the slight panic behind his voice as he spoke. “What are you doing? I don’t have your sweaters. Stop that!”
He tried to grab my hands as I closed the drawer after a fruitless search and moved on to the second one. I brushed him off and started to rifle through his t-shirts. “I’ll stop as soon as you give me my clothes back,” I stated crisply.
I could sense Lucas’ scathing eyes on my back but it didn’t deter me from my pursuit. “Evelyn, I promise you I didn’t take them. Why would I want your sweaters anyway?”
My hands froze and I raised my eyebrows at him. As if he didn’t know. “So that I would have no choice but to wear this.” I gestured to the Frosty the Snowman sweater hanging off my frame before turning back to the drawer. I froze again as I looked at the t-shirt in my hand. “You kept this?”
Lucas cut his retort short to look over my shoulder at the white t-shirt with a light pink stain down the front. I considered smelling it to see if it would still smell like strawberries, but after deciding that would be a little weird, I settled with placing it in my lap instead. “This was from the eighth grade picnic, when I--”
“--spilled strawberry ice cream all down my front? Yeah, I remember. That was my favorite shirt, too,” Lucas pouted, but the corner of his mouth pulled into a grin.
“Oh, please,” I snorted, folding up the shirt and placing it carefully back into the drawer. “You weren’t the only one to make it out scathed. It was because of that event that I became stuck with that horrid nickname.”
“D’aww, but I thought ‘Spills’ was a cute name,” Lucas teased, tugging at a strand of my light brown hair.
I smirked at him, trying to ignore the fluttering in my stomach. “You think I’m cute, Lucas?” I said sweetly and batted my eyelashes.
It was hard to tell with his naturally tan skin, but Lucas almost looked as if he might be blushing. “No,” he coughed as he turned his attention to something on the ceiling. “You flatter yourself, Spills.”
He didn’t stop me as I made my way up through the dresser drawers. I reached the second to last without a sign of my sweaters. Refusing to believe he wasn’t the culprit, I wrenched open the top drawer only to close it just as quickly with a strangled squeak. Top drawer. Underwear drawer. Right.
Lucas raised an eyebrow at me and I fixed him with a glare, although the effect was ruined by my flushed cheeks. “Not a word,” I muttered. Lucas was blissfully silent for once.
I moved on to his closet. The stench of too many soccer games and not enough washed socks wafted over me and I gagged, but continued to persevere through the large mountain of shoes and sports equipment in front of me.
The search of the rest of Lucas’ bedroom proved to be just as pointless as the search of the dresser, and it was thirty minutes later that I collapsed against the bed, sweaty and tired and still without my beloved sweaters.
Lucas, who had been strangely quiet the whole time, finally spoke up. “You know, Evelyn, if I had known you would be so upset by the sweater I wouldn’t have gotten it for you. It was supposed to be a joke,” he shrugged, and I could see the discomfort behind his eyes.
“Oh, like the orange hair dye sophomore year was supposed to be a joke?” I drawled sarcastically.
Lucas chuckled. “You have to admit, that was pretty funny.”
“They called me ‘carrot-top’ for three weeks until it wore out!”
“Well, that was only because you had strung my jersey up on the flag-pole!”
“Because you told everyone I had head lice over the morning announcements!”
“That was retaliation for pasting boy band posters and Hello Kitty stickers all over my truck!”
“Only because you--” I cut off and my brow furrowed. “Well, I can’t remember what it was, but you did something”.
We were silent for a moment. Finally, I let out a sigh. “How did this even begin in the first place?”
Lucas shrugged before sitting down at the opposite end of the bed. “I don’t even know. It was so long ago. We were what, ten?” He hesitated. “Do you ever think it’s time that we maybe stop and act like adults?”
I studied him carefully. That was an interesting idea. Losing nine years of rivalry wasn’t something that could just happen, but even I had to admit that I grew tired of it at times.
“Nah,” I said finally with a wry smile. “Life would be too boring; I would miss having to watch my back every second.”
He rolled his eyes but returned my smile. “Me too.”
I stood up and headed towards the door, stopping once I reached the frame. “A truce every now and then wouldn’t be too bad,” I admitted. I gave him a pointed look. “Taking into account that we could follow it.”
He laughed. “No promises,” he sang-songed. His gaze fell to the large Frosty the Snowman on my sweater. “I really am sorry about the sweater.”
“I know. It might seem like an irrational hatred to you, but trust me, after being locked in your grandmother’s house for a weekend where that is the only movie she insists is appropriate for kids, you would have some contempt for it as well.”
“I can imagine.”
I started to move into the hall, but stopped long enough to call over my shoulder. “And don’t you think you’re off the hook. I will find my sweaters, and you will pay for it.”
He had moved to doorway with his arms crossed in front of his chest. His irritating smirk was back again, but this time it didn’t ignite as much annoyance as it usually did.
I tried not to dwell on it. My sweaters still needed rescuing.
“Is that my sweater?”
Sophie froze as she entered the room and took in my shocked expression. Her whole family stopped opening their presents to glance up at us.
“Maybe,” Sophie said apologetically in a tone that told me she wasn’t sorry at all. Lucas gave a gloating laugh beside me.
As I struggled to overcome the shock of my best friend’s betrayal, Mrs. Delaney broke the tense silence. “Evelyn, dear, could you go grab some more cookies out of the kitchen? They are starting to get low.”
The heaping plate on the coffee table told me otherwise, but I obliged anyway. As I grabbed one of Mrs. Delaney's many cookie trays and made my way back to the living room the beginning of a revenge plan was already starting to form in my mind.
I collided with Lucas in the doorway and barely managed to keep the cookies from sliding off the tray. I gave him a puzzled look. “What are you doing?” I asked.
He shrugged. ”Grandmother Acosta told me to come help you with the cookies.”
“It’s a plate of cookies. I think I can handle it,” I scoffed. I started to push past him but calls from the living room stopped me. I glanced at the mistletoe hanging above us.
We stood there awkwardly as the Delaneys started to chant. Lucas fidgeted, looking as uncertain as I felt.
With a sigh, I grabbed his sweater and yanked him down to my short height. His unease was admittedly adorable, and as past experience had taught me, neither of us would be moving until it happened.
The kiss was brief, but still long enough to warrant whoops and hollers from Sophie’s uncles and enthusiastic clapping from her grandmother.
“Keeping this truce might be easier than I thought,” I whispered before pulling away, leaving him with a slack jaw and pink cheeks which most likely mirrored my own.
I entered the room with as much nonchalance I could muster, almost managing to keep a straight face until I heard a familiar thumpety-thump-thump ringing from Sophie’s phone. She shrieked a few seconds later as frosted Santas and reindeer rained down around her.
Lucas might not be on my hate list anymore, but Frosty the Snowman still had a long way to go.