...all they do is harm
-"Labels", Rachel Platten
“Tell me again why we’re even bothering to put up mistletoe in the first place?” Allie asked, leaning against the wall as Kate hung the sprig in the kitchen doorway.
“Because it’s Christmas, and for Christmas, we put up mistletoe,” Kate explained, tying a tight knot in the red ribbon and giving it a yank to make sure it wouldn’t come loose. “It’s tradition.”
“Yeah, when we had men to kiss,” Allie grumbled. “What’s the point of mistletoe if we’re don’t have anyone to kiss under it?”
“Who said we don’t have anyone to kiss?” Kate’s eyes sparkled mischievously as she stopped Jennie in the doorway and gave her a peck on the cheek. Jennie returned the gesture, smiling.
“See?” Kate quirked an eyebrow. “Not a man in sight, but I’m still getting my mistletoe kisses.”
“Cheek kisses don’t count,” Allie argued. “Mistletoe is for real kisses, not the kind you give your kids. No offense, guys,” she addressed Jennie and Chip.
“None taken,” Jennie said with a shrug as Chip scrunched his face with a disgusted “Ewww!”
“I’m outta here,” Chip declared, grabbing his jacket and heading toward the door. “You can talk about gross kissing stuff once I’m gone.”
The three ladies chuckled, shaking their heads.
“Boys,” Jennie proclaimed with an eyeroll. “So immature.”
“Must run in the family,” Kate said pointedly. “Your mother isn’t exactly handling this mistletoe situation in the most adult way either.”
“Au contraire, my dear Kate,” Allie countered with an air of grandiosity. “The very issue at hand is that you think it’s acceptable to give cheek kisses under the mistletoe when everyone knows it’s only meant for lips on lips. I’d hardly call that childish.”
“So what you’re saying is that the only way for mistletoe kisses to count is if they’re on the lips,” stated Kate.
“Yes,” Allie repeated emphatically. “Am I not being clear?”
Kate cocked her head to one side oddly, scrutinizing her. “If you insist,” she said nonchalantly, pulling Allie into the doorway and planting a kiss squarely on her lips.
It lasted only a second before Allie pulled away, sputtering. “I- you- you- you- why?” were the only fragments she could get out before running up the stairs covering her face with her hands.
Kate looked at Jennie, perplexed. “What just happened here?”
“You tell me; you’re the one that just kissed my mom,” Jennie pointed out.
“Well I wasn’t about to deprive her of her ‘real’ mistletoe kisses,” Kate scoffed.
“So you had to kiss her on the lips?” Jennie quirked an eyebrow skeptically.
“Because she was being ridiculous about this whole mistletoe thing!” Kate exclaimed shrilly. “She kept going on and on about how it didn’t count if you kissed someone on the cheek and I just wanted to show her how silly she was being!” She finished with a sharp exhale, color rising in her face.
Jennie regarded her thoughtfully. “And that’s all it was?”
“What do you mean?” Kate asked guardedly.
“Well, you and Mom get into some pretty ugly disagreements, but it’s usually not over anything as minor as mistletoe,” Jennie observed. “Little things you let blow over, even if they’re annoying. Usually you only get heated if something’s a big deal, even if you don’t want to admit it.”
“What are you getting at?” Kate crossed her arms defiantly.
“Why did you even hang up the mistletoe in the first place?”
“Because it’s a nice holiday tradition that both your mother and I happen to enjoy,” Kate maintained stubbornly.
Jennie sighed. “You know how traditional Mom is about everything. You can’t possibly have thought she’d actually want mistletoe up without a man around, let alone go for cheek kisses. Not when she makes such a big deal about anyone messing with the way she’s used to doing things. And yet, you put up the mistletoe anyway and picked a fight about it. So why’d you do it?”
Kate’s cheeks flushed a delicate shade of pink.
Jennie raised her hands and stepped back. “Look, you don’t need to tell me anything. Just be honest with yourself.”
Kate nodded rapidly, swallowing hard.
“I’m gonna go talk to her. You stay here until we get this whole situation straightened out,” Jennie instructed.
“You got it.” Kate slumped, completely deflated. “I didn’t ruin everything, did I?” She asked apprehensively.
Jennie clapped a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t think so, Kate. Just let me deal with Mom and get her through her sulk so you can come out of this unscathed.”
Kate shuddered. “She really can sulk, huh?”
“Yes she can, so let me handle her for the time being.” Jennie gave Kate a sympathetic smile. “It’ll be okay, I promise. Once we get everything figured out, everything’s gonna be just fine. Or better.” Her smile grew warmer.
Kate returned the smile hopefully. “Thanks, Jennie. I just hope I didn’t screw things up completely. I can’t imagine losing Allie.”
A fleeting expression crossed Jennie’s face before settling into a tight smile. “I know, Kate. I’ll be down soon. Stay tight.”
Jennie knocked on Allie’s bedroom door, waiting for a response.
“Go away!” Allie’s voice sounded muffled.
Jennie knocked again, cracking the door open a little. She saw a flurry of blankets as Allie sprang out of bed and strode toward the door.
“Kate, I am in no mood for you to gloat about how my opinions ended up biting me in the a-“ She stopped suddenly, realizing that it was Jennie who stood in front of her door. “Oh, hi, Jennie.”
“Can I come in?” At Allie’s nod, she entered and sat down in the chair next to the bed.
Allie followed her, crumpling back into bed and tugging her blankets up to her chin. She let out a long groan and squeezed her eyes shut.
“Are you okay, Mom?”
The question sounded ridiculous. Allie responded with a derisive snort. “Well, my best friend just kissed me on the lips out of nowhere, so I’m about as okay as you can be under those circumstances.”
“Oh come on, she can’t be that bad a kisser.”
Allie shot her a death glare.
“Sorry, just trying to lighten the mood.” Jennie threw up her hands in defeat.
“It’s not funny. I don’t want to be thinking about what my closest friend, whom I have known since we were in middle school, is like as a kisser. It’s not an experience I chose to have and would much rather not dwell on it.” Allie sat up and fixed Jennie with a frown.
“That’s understandable. I just don’t want you to be mad at Kate over it.”
“And why shouldn’t I be?” Allie demanded, her eyes flashing dangerously. “What she did was completely unacceptable!”
“…Kissing a friend platonically under the mistletoe, which we have all established is only for ‘real’ kisses is unacceptable?” Amusement tinged the question.
Allie hmphed. “I don’t see why you think this is a laughing matter, Jennie. Women shouldn’t be kissing other women on the lips.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little narrow-minded, Mom?” Jennie tilted her head to one side. “I’d think you would be a bit more open, especially having met Miriam and her partner.”
“Okay yes, they’re perfectly lovely women,” Allie assented. “And I suppose it’s fine for them, but I’m not like them. I’m not g-“ The word caught in her throat.
Jennie nodded solemnly. “I know you’re not gay, Mom. All I’m saying is that maybe things aren’t as black and white as you see them.”
“What’s not black and white about this? I’m not gay! I don’t want women kissing me, not even Kate!” Allie’s voice fizzled out on a high-pitched squeak, her throat having seized up.
“Not even Kate…interesting choice of words there, Mom,” Jennie noted.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Why put Kate in a separate category from other women?”
“Oh it was just heat of the moment wording. Don’t read too far into it.” Allie exhaled heavily. Blotches of pink spread across her cheeks.
“If you say so, Mom,” Jennie said, sounding thoroughly unconvinced.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” Allie accused, her brows furrowing in suspicion.
“Why are you so hung up on this, Mom? Sometimes people kiss each other on the lips and it doesn’t mean anything. Or it’s entirely platonic. You kissed us on the lips when we were really little,” Jennie reminded her.
“That’s completely different, that is family,” Allie insisted.
“Is it too far a stretch to believe that it can happen between friends too?” Jennie challenged.
“Yes! That is just entirely inappropriate!” Allie’s face grew warm as the blush spread.
“Whatever you say, Mom.” Jennie stood up to leave.
“That is what I say!” Allie interjected.
“But remember, things mean whatever you want them to. You don’t have to read anything into this you don’t want to. You can just take it as a funny moment between friends and nothing more. And if you do read something into it, that’s your decision and you have to figure out how to deal with that. Just, Mom?” Jennie turned around in the doorway, her boldness gone.
“Please don’t be mad at Kate. She didn’t mean any harm by it. It was just a silly joke.”
“If you say so,” Allie parroted back childishly.
“She’s your best friend. You can’t stay mad at her forever.”
“Wanna bet?” Allie’s nostrils flared as she stared Jennie down.
“You’re better than this, Mom. At any rate, you’re gonna have to come downstairs sooner or later to eat and she’s going to be there, so the sooner you work through this, the better.”
“There’s nothing for me to work through. Kate did something highly inappropriate, and I need her to recognize that.”
“She was just kidding around. If she’d known it was going to upset you this much, she wouldn’t have done it.” Jennie tried to comfort her.
“Oh, I think she would have! Sometimes I think she just likes to rub it in how easily she can get people to like her! We get it, Kate! You’re the pretty one and men like you better! No need to beat a dead horse!” Allie ended her impassioned speech a little winded, breathing rapidly.
Jennie’s eyes widened in alarm. “Whoa, Mom, slow down! No one said anything about dating being a competition.”
“But we both know it is, don’t we? After all, how many nights has she had dates and I haven’t? Everyone likes Kate, no one likes me.” There was a sad resignation to her words.
“This isn’t like your usual sulk. Where are all of these thoughts coming from? A lot of people like you, Mom. You’ve been on plenty of dates. And, again, no one is keeping score. So what if Kate goes on more dates than you? It’s not a big deal.”
“So you admit it too,” Allie said bitterly.
“Why is this such a big deal to you, Mom?” Jennie asked desperately.
“Is it so terrible to want to be liked? To want someone to care about you and want to be with you?” Her words were feverishly plaintive.
“Of course not, Mom.” Jennie scrutinized her mother. “Just…make sure you know who you want to feel that way about you.”
“What on earth is that supposed to mean?” Allie asked, bewildered. Her hair had flown everywhere in her frenzy and her throat was growing hoarse from yelling.
“If you don’t know, I can’t tell you. I’m going to let you think about that one. Just…don’t let this ruin your Christmas, okay? Enjoy it with your family.” Jennie called up the stairs as she headed down.
Allie snorted. “Thanks for the chat!” She yelled down the stairs.
“I take it that didn’t go as expected,” Kate said, nursing a cup of coffee at the table.
“She needs time, Kate. You know how she is. Let her wade out of it by herself.”
“Wade out of what?”
“The river she’s in.” At Kate’s confusion, Jennie clarified. “You know, denial.”
“Ha ha,” Kate replied dryly. “Wait, does that mean…”
“I think so,” Jennie confirmed. “Just…don’t push her. Let her come to it in her own time. It’s a lot for her to take in.”
Kate nodded, giving Jennie a wan smile. “Thanks, Jennie, you’re a great kid.”
“You’re welcome, Kate.” Jennie got up from the table and leaned over Kate’s shoulder to tell her, “I’m rooting for ya” before heading out the door.