Laura had told Matteo her brother went to their school, and he’d heard David’s last name before, in attendance for the class they’d had in common sophomore year. But he hadn’t made the connection. Matteo felt extremely dumb, staring at him now. Schreibner wasn’t exactly an overly-common last name.
David glared at his sister.
“Shut up, David,” she said.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You’re being rude.”
“I didn’t say anything!”
She rolled her eyes. “Sorry, Matteo. He’s just a Grinch. Don’t take it personally.”
Was it personal? Matteo looked between the two of them, his brows raised. He didn’t really get what was going on. The telepathic sibling-speak was intense.
“I’m still driving,” David said.
“Did I ask?” Laura crossed her arms over her chest. “Matteo’s gonna sit in the passenger seat.”
“I don’t mind sitting in the back,” Matteo offered.
“Don’t be generous, Matteo.”
He really wasn’t. If David didn’t want to sit next to him, he didn’t want to sit next to David.
He couldn’t believe he hadn’t made the connection. It wasn’t like he knew David all that well, but he did know him. It was obvious David had not been given a vote in the ‘inviting Matteo home for the holidays’ scheme. If he’d known Laura’s brother didn’t want him to come, and if he’d known Laura’s brother was David, and David didn’t want him to come, he most definitely would not have agreed.
It was too late now, anyway. Matteo put his bag in the back and slid reluctantly into the passenger seat. Laura sat in the back and immediately leaned forward to mess with the radio.
“If you’re going to do that, you should just sit in the front,” David said.
“Shut up, David.”
“You need new material.”
Matteo fiddled with the bottom of his sweater. This was going to be a long drive.
The first time Matteo had seen David was across the quad freshman year. He’d been sitting under a tree, drawing, and he’d looked up just as Matteo had stepped out of the cafeteria. He probably hadn’t looked at Matteo— from that distance he easily could have been looking at anything nearby. But it felt like they’d locked eyes, and Matteo’s heart had done the whole bit— skipping a beat, racing, the whole nine yards. He’d immediately turned and dashed in the other direction.
His roommate, Jonas, knew all about Matteo’s unrequited, unavailing, arguably unfounded crush. They’d barely spoken two words to each other— everything they had said had been in the context of a single group project in their single shared class two years ago. It wasn’t even really a crush, though. Matteo just thought David was hot, and got flustered whenever he saw him or tried to talk to him or heard his name.
Jonas knew all about it. Laura, however, did not.
He was regretting, now, his total refusal to tell her who Jonas was always teasing him about.
This was not an ideal situation.
The Schreibner house was immediately noticeable, even before Matteo knew it was theirs. There were enough lights and decorations to illuminate a small village. There were three separate blow-up Santas. One was on a tractor. One was in a rocket ship.
“Wow,” Matteo said.
“Right?” Laura said, grinning wide as she leaned forward in her seat.
The driveway had been cleared of snow— David pulled in and was out of the car before Matteo could even get his seatbelt off. Then he’d opened the back, grabbed his suitcase, and slammed the front door closed behind him all while Laura and Matteo got out.
“Don’t take any of his crap personally,” Laura said. “David’s just weird about the holidays.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “My cousins will be here in a couple days, and they always give him a hard time.”
When Matteo made a face, Laura shook her head.
“They’re not transphobic or anything. Kind of the opposite, actually.”
“Yeah. Ever since he came out they’ve been, like, making up for lost time, making fun of him him and smacking him around and going on about his love life. Or lack thereof.” She pulled both their suitcases out at once, handing Matteo’s over as they carefully made their way from the icy driveway to the door.
Matteo leaned close to whisper before she could turn the knob. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that David was your brother.”
She quirked a brow. “I didn’t realize you knew each other.”
Matteo straightened as she pushed inside. “We don’t. It’s just—” He dropped off as he followed her, stunned into silence by what he saw. The house was like one of those mini Christmas villages set up in malls. Every available surface was decorated with candles and baubles and glitter and Santa hats. The smell of cinnamon and pine was so strong he nearly had a coughing fit. Then he followed her into the living room.
“The pièce de résistance,” Laura said, holding out an arm in a displaying gesture, as if what was in front of them needed any assistance in being seen.
Between two couches and an arm chair, on top of what was presumably a coffee table in other parts of the year, was a ceramic Christmas village so sprawling and elaborate that Matteo imagined it probably took longer just to set up than his family had ever spent on decorations for their entire house in their life.
“Uh,” he said, “wow.”
“Our father’s pride and joy.”
Matteo felt his brows raise despite himself.
Laura laughed. “I know.”
“Literally no one has ever not been surprised. But my mom actually hates it. She kind of hates all of this, to be honest. If she had it her way we would probably have a plastic tree and stockings at most.”
Matteo walked closer to the very large tiny village. “It’s kind of amazing.”
“Make sure you tell dad that.”
“Tell me what?”
They turned as a tall man with a thick white beard came into the room, beaming wide. Laura grinned and ran into his arms. The man laughed. He held out a hand to Matteo when Laura let him go. “You must be young Mr. Florenzi.”
“Hi,” Matteo said, shaking his hand.
“Welcome! I’m so sorry you couldn’t get home to your family for the holidays. But we’re thrilled to have you here!”
“Thanks for having me,” Matteo said.
David appeared from what was presumably his room and walked behind them to get to the kitchen, ignoring all three of them entirely. Yeah, Matteo thought, he seems thrilled.
Laura caught his eye and nudged him with her elbow. “Come on. Lemme show you your digs.” She led the way toward the stairs.
The attic was warm and shockingly free of cobwebs and dust. A soft white rug sprawled over most of the floor, and though there wasn’t any other furniture, the bed pushed up against the little window looked comfortable. Matteo smiled at Laura as she watched him expectantly.
“The wifi password is legalizelambs. Long story with no real punchline. You can just dump your stuff here for now and we’ll go stuff our faces.”
Matteo nodded, dutifully dropping his bag and following her back downstairs.
He nearly ran into David in the hallway. He backed up; David backed up; Laura kept walking, missing the whole exchange. Matteo felt himself staring but didn’t know what to do, and couldn’t think of what to say.
David stared back at him for a moment before dropping his eyes to the floor. He cleared his throat. He shuffled his feet.
“You’re blocking my door.”
Matteo felt his face go hot as he stepped back so fast and far that he hit the opposite wall. David didn’t say anything. He just went in his room and closed the door.
“Matteo?” Laura called.
“Coming.” He let himself close his eyes and breathe for three seconds before starting off again down the hall.