“So…the redhead is coming to dinner. Christmas dinner,” Derek said into the phone, voice flat and unrevealing as ever.
Laura sighed. She knew it was only the first of many sighs of the holiday season, especially if she kept getting phone calls from Talia, Derek, Cora, and Peter about her new girlfriend who Laura sort-of-accidentally-on-purpose neglected to tell them about until the twenty-first. She busied herself with unpacking the shopping bags one-handed, pulling out cheap tinsel and Dollar Tree Christmas knick-knacks to spice up her and Lydia’s lackluster apartment.
“Yes, that would be the dinner. And don’t give me any shit; you’re bringing your girlfriend, why shouldn’t I bring mine?” Laura glanced across the apartment to Lydia, who sat at the tiny kitchen table, hunched over a textbook. She pulled the phone away and said, “Oh, Lydia sweetie, my darling brother is on the phone, say hello.”
Lydia gave her a saccharine-sweet smile and flipped the bird before pushing her reading glasses up her nose and returning to her book. Laura returned the gesture and replaced the phone back between her shoulder and ear just in time for Derek to end his grumbling rant.
“Maybe because none of us knew you even had a girlfriend before three days ago, nonetheless a Lydia Martin-type girlfriend.”
“And why do you think that is?” Laura rolled her eyes with enough force that she knew Derek could practically hear it. She draped a piece of blue tinsel over the never-used stone fireplace where they stored Lydia’s undergrad textbooks and Laura’s badminton set.
Derek sighed. “You’ve brought boyfriends home and we’ve never cared.”
“Yeah, boyfriends,” Laura snapped. “I’m not exactly looking forward to Uncle Peter’s ‘so tell me about your lovely lady’ creepy eyes.” Lydia looked up from her homework, nose wrinkled. “Don’t worry about it,” Laura mouthed away from the phone.
“If he makes a big deal out of it, you know Mom will put him in his place.”
“She always does,” Laura agreed dryly.
“Thanks for sending me pictures, by the way. I love seeing my sister kissing people on my phone. It’s great, thank you for that.”
“You never quite mastered that sarcasm, Derek.” Laura knew he was just being a tool—the pictures were sweet and tame, and she loved them. It was all her and Lydia at the beach in floppy sunhats the previous summer, her and Lydia driving a rented convertible down the canyon, her and Lydia snuggled on the couch drinking hot chocolate. Derek wouldn’t know sweet if it bit him in the dick.
Derek ignored her. “Seriously. Lydia Martin? The banshee?”
“Goodbye, Derek. I’ll see you—we’ll see you in a few days. Love you.”
The second Laura hung up the phone, she groaned and face-planted into the couch, burying her face in the pillows. “My family sucks.”
Lydia scoffed, closing her textbook and folding her reading glasses back into their case. “Please. Your family is totally fine. At least your mom didn’t ask you if it was because you never had a strong male figure around the house like mine did.”
“Well, my dad did die when I was a baby,” Laura said with a shrug. “Maybe that’s the reason.”
Lydia rolled her eyes and walked over to the couch, leaning over the armrest to look down at her girlfriend. “Oh, I’m sure. Daddy issues. The number one creator of lesbians since the beginning of time.”
Laura stifled her laugh in a pillow. “Come on, you know I was kidding. It isn’t about the girlfriend thing, it’s about the not-telling-them-about-the-girlfriend thing.” She peeked out from behind the fabric and looked up at Lydia. “Does it piss you off?”
Lydia sighed and sat down on the floor next to the couch, idly playing with a strand Laura’s long dark hair. “Does what piss me off?”
“The fact that I didn’t tell them. The fact that they didn’t even know we went to the same college, or that we even talked to each other, or that we’ve been living together for six months.” Laura rolled over onto her stomach, facing Lydia. She pressed her cheek into the itchy fabric of the couch and let Lydia smooth her hair back like a mother wolf. “Werewolves are tight with their families. And I know you know that because you know more about werewolves than any werewolf I know.”
Lydia smiled, beaming. “Damn right I do, even though that sentence was a mess. And no, it doesn’t piss me off. Not at all. It does concern me, though.”
“Uh-oh,” said Laura, and laughed when Lydia poked her in the side.
Lydia sat down on the bare floor of their small loft apartment, ignoring the cold cement against her butt. Her usually-perfect hair was tied in a messy bun with a pencil sticking out of it, and her pink sweater (Laura’s pink sweater, actually) had a coffee stain on the front. “You love your family, and you love me. It worries me that…well, it worries you.”
Laura sat up a little, resting on her elbow. “Don’t let it worry you. Werewolf families are tricky. We get, like, intense. Fast.”
Lydia gave her a wary look. “Did you get me pregnant with some weird werewolf magic?”
Laura dove back into the pillows with a groan. “Oh my god, that would actually be a lot more easy than what they’re expecting.”
Lydia barked out a laugh and joined Laura on the couch, sitting primly on the small of her back. Laura let out an oomph when she crossed her legs. “Now I’m very concerned. What’s on your mind? Why are you so nervous about taking me back to Beacon Hills?”
“Aren’t you nervous?” Laura reached up for Lydia’s hand and felt calmer when she squeezed back, fingers dry and cool.
“Of course I am,” Lydia said honestly in the sort of way Laura never heard her speak in Beacon Hills. “It’s been years. I mean, we see the pack and everything, but I’m so used to being scattered all over. It’ll be weird being so close to everyone again.” She gently tugged Laura’s hair like a petulant child. “Tell me what’s going on. What is your family expecting?”
Laura sighed and curled her hand up to rest beneath her cheek, something she used to do as a little girl when she was stressed. “There’s this thing. A werewolf thing.”
“For once, I wish there was a banshee thing. Why can’t I ever just have a banshee thing?” Lydia got up and shoved Laura aside to sit next to her on the couch. “Let’s hear it.”
Laura bit her thumbnail. “Do you know what a common law marriage is?”
Lydia thought for a second and shook her head.
“It changes, depending on the place…but it’s like, if you’re with someone for a certain amount of time, and both parties consent to it, you can be married without a ceremony or any of that shit. It just happens.” Laura exhaled. “It’s a mating thing for werewolves.”
At the word married, Lydia looked over at Laura slowly, her eyes steely. “Oh, Laura.”
“I didn’t even remember it! Nobody in my family has ever done this!”
It was Lydia’s turn to flop onto the couch like a ragdoll, her stocking feet in Laura’s lap. “And I’m guessing it doesn’t involve a cohabiting period of three years? I’m going to shoot for six months?”
Laura rolled her eyes. “Lydia, you totally knew what a common law marriage was! What the hell?”
Lydia sat up, distressed. “I wanted to see if you knew what it was! I was hoping you made some sort of mistake!” She balled her fists in frustration.
Laura pressed her fingers to her temples. Being an alpha was harder than she gave herself credit for. “It isn’t official. Like I said, it involves consent. But the thing is…”
“They expect it,” Lydia deadpanned. “Six months of cohabitation is pretty much a lifelong mating bond for werewolves.” She huffed and crossed her arms. “I read books, I know how you work.”
Laura leaned back on the couch. “Hey,” she said, nudging Lydia in the shoulder. “Hey, come here Little Red.”
Lydia screwed up her face in distaste but cuddled into the warm circle of Laura’s arms, resting her cheek against Laura’s shoulder. “You know I hate that nickname.”
“Would you prefer Riding Hood?”
“I prefer Lydia, or soon-to-be Dr. Lydia.”
“Of course,” Laura laughed, pressing a kiss to Lydia’s hair. “We’ll figure this out, I promise,” Laura said. “You may be stuck with me forever, but not because of some stupid mating ritual.”
“It’s because I sort of like you,” Lydia said.
Laura nodded. “I like you too.” They sat in silence for a little bit, both of them thinking hard about the next step.
Lydia got up and brushed her yoga pants off, untying her knotted hair. “Does your family like pie? Like pumpkin and that shit? I’m going to make a pie. Do mates make pies, is that a thing?”
Laura returned to floppy mode and went face first into the pillows. “This is going to be the weirdest Christmas dinner ever.”