“Okay,” Skye says, dusting Grant’s bicep with what seems like way too much baby powder. “Hold still.” She shakes a can of hairspray and fires at his arm, sealing the permanent marker in with a strong-smelling burst of stickiness.
He doesn’t like the feeling of it at all, but the payoff is going to be worth it. “Should you wash the baby powder off?” he asks, watching Skye admire her handiwork.
“Right,” she says, almost sheepishly. “Stay right there,” she says.
Like he’d ever move away from her. He hasn’t told Skye he loves her yet. It’s only been a month since they met, and dropping something that big would definitely scare her off. She still refused to live in the spare room in his apartment, instead opting to spend three nights a week in her van. He gets it. She’s independent. And while he doesn’t really see it as ‘moving in together,’ he totally gets why she does. It’s his apartment. His space, technically.
Though she’s still taken up almost all of it.
She returns to his side with a wet paper towel, lightly mopping off the excess hairspray and powder from around his new, fake tattoo. “It’s beautiful,” Skye coos, in mock awe.
“Mother might actually have a heart attack,” Grant says, staring down at his arm. Skye had written her name there in black sharpie, and while it looked kind of sloppy, he figures that just adds to the whole look of things.
“Merry Christmas Eve to you, then,” Skye teases. She leans in to kiss the fake tattoo. “Bleh,” she says, almost instantly after her lips meet his bicep. “Hairspray.”
He laughs, and reaches out to ruffle her hair. “Christian’s bringing Anna, you know,” he says, as ruffling turns to something more intimate. He curls her strands around his fingers, savors the feel of her soft hair against his skin.
“Oh good,” Skye says. Without warning, she slips her hands under Grant’s wifebeater. He shudders as she scrapes her nails along his stomach. “More fun for us.” She leans in to kiss him. He gladly accepts, until he slips his tongue against her lips.
He pulls back. “Bleh,” he repeats. “Hairspray.”
Skye makes a face, pulling him close and nipping at his jaw. “We should go,” she says.
“Yeah,” he sighs. “I guess.” She slides away from him, pulling her red flannel off the couch and slipping it over her arms. He finds his matching one and does the same, then buttons it all the way up.
Skye looks him over and snickers. “You don’t button it all the way,” she says, undoing the top three buttons. “Trust me.”
“You are the flannel expert,” he tells her, and he means it.
She gives him a winning grin. “We look ridiculous,” Skye says.
“It was your idea, though,” Grant replies, running his hands over her arms. Flannel is so soft, and on Skye, it seems softer still. He’s not really sure how. It’s just the effect she has.
“It’s a great idea,” Skye says. “And if your mom dies of a heart attack, you’re gonna buy one of those super luxurious RVs to live in, right?”
“I’ll buy you anything you want,” he says, leaning in for another kiss.
She puts her hand on his chest. “You know that was a joke, right?” Skye says. “It’s not my money. It’s not for you to use on me.”
He blinks. “I know that,” he says. “But if you wanted something, I’d be happy to help you get it.”
She still looks a little uneasy. “I, um-” She sighs. “Okay,” she says. She stands on the tips of her toes and kisses him.
This time, he ignores the taste of hairspray completely.
Skye doesn’t put on as much of an act this time, when they pull up to the house. She gives the decorations a slow once over, grins slyly to herself. “Only white lights?” Skye asks.
“Red and green are gauche,” Grant says, quoting his mother. “White lights are elegant and clean.”
“Naturally,” Skye says, swinging her legs out of the car. He’s happy she wore Converse this time. He’d been perpetually worried on Thanksgiving that she was going to snap her ankle.
Grant comes up from behind her, wraps his arms around her waist. “It’s kind of weird that you went from my fake girlfriend to my actual girlfriend,” Grant says.
Skye leans her head back against his chest, lets him rest his chin on her hair. “Weirder things have happened,” she says.
“Not in this family,” Grant says.
“That’s a lie,” Skye says. “Are there christmas cookies?”
“Piles of them,” Grant says. “But you’re not supposed to fill up before dinner.”
“Uh, fuck that,” Skye says, rather decidedly. “Come on,” she says. She takes him by the hand.
He takes a deep breath. Home for the holidays, once more.
How did he ever survive without Skye there?
“Party’s here!” Skye declares, the second they step into the sitting room. She throws her arms up, almost knocking Grant in the mouth. “What’s up family???”
Mother stands by the fireplace, nursing her drink. She barely moves, but Grant knows she’s taken in the matching outfits. “You made it,” Mother says.
Grant extends the wine that Skye had grabbed beforehand. It’s the two-buck Chuck she’d promised at Thanksgiving. A pinot noir. “Merry Christmas Eve, Mother.”
Skye takes the wine from Grant and walks it over to Mother, before smiling and throwing her arms around the older woman. “Merry Christmas Eve, Mom,” she says. “I’m so glad to be back.”
Mother looks at Grant like she’s going to murder him with a salad fork. “Yes, well,” Mother says. “Welcome.”
“We brought wine,” Skye says, beaming. She breaks the hug, presents the liquor.
“You shouldn’t have,” Mother says. She quickly motions for one of the servants to take the bottle away. Like the very sight of it makes her ill.
Behind her, Christian clears his throat. He hasn’t starting drinking, yet, though the night’s only begun.
“Skye,” Christian says, still standing so tall in his tailored suit. “You match my brother.”
“It was my idea,” Skye says, turning to face him. She looks so proud. “Nothing says Christmas like flannel, you know?”
Christian gives her a once over. Grant knows that his brother must’ve liked the dress better, but he has the good taste not to say it.
“This is my wife,” Christian says, introducing the pretty woman beside him. “Anna, this is Skye.”
Anna offers her hand, and gets a full on hug. “You took him back,” Skye says, squeezing Anna tight. She takes a step back, holds Anna by the shoulders and studies her face. “Why?”
Anna almost flushes. “Well-”
“It’s because he’s loaded,” Skye says, nodding her head in understanding. “Isn’t it?”
“Good to see you too, Skye,” Christian says, brushing Skye’s hand off Anna’s shoulder.
“Where’s Rosie?” Skye asks.
“We got her something,” Grant says. “Left it in the car, but if she’s not here-” He tilts his head back towards the doorway. He can hear footsteps coming down the stairs. “If Rosie isn’t here, then I guess she doesn’t get her present!” Grant says.
“I’m here!” Rosie calls, bursting into the sitting room. Thomas follows closely behind. She looks up at Grant. “Present?”
Grant blinks down at his sister. “Rosie,” he says. “When did you get here?”
Rose giggles, wrapping her tiny arms around Grant’s neck. “Merry Christmas,” she says.
Grant pets her hair. “Merry Christmas, Rosie.”
Skye waits her turn to hug Rose. Grant almost sees Skye try to surprise-hug her from behind, before remembering that she shouldn’t. He’s so thankful for Skye. He’s so glad she’s smart and that she knows and that she doesn’t make this weird.
Thomas taps her on the shoulder while she waits, and Skye quickly greets him with a peck on the cheek.
“Hey there,” Thomas says to her, as Grant holds his sister to his chest. “Been busy?”
“Oh, super busy,” Skye says.
“Rosie,” Grant offers. “Why don’t you say hello to Skye?”
Rose kisses her brother on the cheek before spinning around. She’s wearing a pretty skirt that flares when she spins, and she’s pulled Skye into a hug before the skirt’s even properly settled.
“Skye!” Rose says.
“Hi, baby,” Skye coos, kissing Rose’s forehead. “Merry Christmas Eve.”
Rosie presses her nose against Skye’s collarbone. “You smell nice.”
“Vanilla body spray,” Skye says. “Which reminds me. Ward? Car?”
“Oh!” Grant says. “Thomas, help me get Rosie’s presents?”
Thomas grins. “Sure thing.”
Skye winks at Grant as he heads to the door. “We got you something really great, Rosie,” she says. “You’re gonna love it.”
“So what did you get Rose?” Thomas asks.
Grant unlocks the trunk of his car. He smiles. “Scented body wash, a stuffed animal, this mega makeup kit that Skye said she’d like.”
“You’re a good brother,” Thomas says. Grant hands him the box of body washes, wrapped in gold paper. “And Skye gets along with Rosie really well.”
“Can I tell you something?” Grant asks, putting the stuffed pink bear on top of the makeup kit.
“Of course,” Thomas says.
“I think she might be the one,” Grant says. “Like, the One. Capital O and stuff.”
“You’ve known her for a month,” Thomas says. Not rudely, or anything. But Grant knows he’s concerned.
“Yeah,” Grant says. “But she’s just like… She’s perfect, you know? I really feel like she gets me.”
“That’s gross,” Thomas says.
Grant gives his brother a look, which Thomas replies to with a cheeky grin. Grant retaliates with a quick shove. “Jerk,” Grant says.
“Grant’s in looooove,” Thomas teases. “Grant’s in looooove with the girl from Craigsliiiist.”
“Shut up,” Grant says. “What are you, twelve?”
“You’re the one that’s madly in love with a girl you’ve known for a month,” Thomas says.
“I’m not ‘madly in love,’” Grant bristle. “I’m just… I think there’s potential there.”
Thomas makes a kissy face at his older brother, and Grant can only roll his eyes.
“Real mature,” Grant says, slamming the trunk shut. “Come on, idiot. Let’s get these to Rosie.”
“Grant and Skye, sitting in a tree-”
“You’re twenty six years old!”
“So anyway, I pull the dime back out of my, you know, lady parts, because when the cops strip search you, they really, really mean-”
“Skye,” Grant says, interrupting what he’s sure was a colorful and emotionally scarring story. “Want to give Rosie her gifts?”
“Gifts!” Rose says, eying the boxes in her brothers’ arms.
“Yep,” Skye says, getting up from her spot on the couch. “First, we got you this wittle guy.” She takes the bear from Grant and hands her to an eager Rose. “Do you like him?”
“He’s perfect,” Rose says. “Pink’s my favorite color.”
“We know,” Skye says. Grant watches his baby sister hug her new bear, and it makes him feel kind of warm and gooey inside. But just a little bit.
“And we got you some soaps,” Skye says. “They’re really nice to use in a hot shower, yeah? It smells great and it makes your skin soft.”
“Oh,” Rosie says, unwrapping the box. “That’s nice!”
“And, my personal pick,” Skye says. “Here.”
Rosie eyes the box like it might be full of puppies. Grant kind of suddenly wishes they’d gotten Rose a puppy, too. But she should still love this.
“Makeup!” Rose says, pulling the paper off the box. “A lot of makeup.”
“So we can have makeovers,” Skye says, grinning.
Rosie gasps with delight. “Makeovers?”
“Mm-hm,” Skye says. “We could start right now, even.”
“You want to give me a makeover?” Rose asks, beaming.
“Well, you,” Skye says. “Or your brother.”
“Thomas?” Rosie asks, laughing. “You want to put makeup on Thomas?”
Skye turns her head towards the eldest brother. Grant should be less attracted to the smirk she’s making. He isn’t. He’s so attracted to her.
“I meant Christian,” Skye says.
Christian sours almost immediately. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“Christian,” Rosie says, her tone pleading. “Please?”
It’s almost weird to watch, the way Christian tries to soften. But Anna’s there, and Mother’s watching. “Rosie, I shouldn’t.”
“Oh come on,” Anna says, taking Christian’s drink and nudging him towards the couch. “I’ll make sure it doesn’t end up on Twitter.”
“Ruin your spotless Republican career,” Skye says. “Knowing that you dared to let your lovely baby sister put makeup on you.”
“Christian,” Mother says. There’s a warning, there. Grant hopes, for the life of him, that Christian doesn’t listen.
It’s probably Rosie’s big eyes that do Christian in, actually. Grant doesn’t know anyone that can say no to that. “Fine,” Christian says, loosening his tie. He slides it through his collar, hands it to a smirking Anna. Rosie is vibrating with delight, more in the holiday mood than Grant’s ever seen it.
And really, it’s funny. Grant had expected Anna to take Mother’s side. He’d thought she’d liked Mother. Then again, could one really ‘like’ mother? Grant’s pretty sure that’s impossible.
“Don’t get makeup on my shirt,” Christian says.
“Why?” Skye asks, smartly. “Is it Armani?”
Christian gives her a deadpan stare. “Prada,” he says.
“Excuse me, Senator,” Skye says.
Anna snickers at that. Behind her hand, of course. But everyone can still hear it.
“Honestly, Anna,” Christian says.
“Do you really want to start?” Anna asks, oh-so-sweetly.
Christian clears his throat. “No, darling,” he says, kissing her cheek.
“You fucked up,” Skye notes. “What’d you do? Cheat on her?”
That earns her dual glares.
“So…yes?” Skye says. She smirks, holds up a blush brush. “Come on, Chris. The makeup’s getting cold.”
“First,” Christian says, begrudgingly taking a seat between Skye and Rose on the couch. “Don’t call me Chris. And second-”
“Is ‘Tan okay?” Skye asks.
“I hate you,” Christian tells her.
“Nah,” Skye says. “You want to bone me. But you clearly have a problem with that, so….”
“Shut up,” Christian tells her.
Rosie shoves him on the shoulder. “That’s mean, Christian,” Rose says. “Don’t tell people to shut up.”
Christian looks up at Grant with pleading eyes. Grant’s never actually seen Christian be ‘pleading,’ before. He wonders if Skye did this to him. If she’s just made for deconstructing the Wards. Maybe that’s why she’s the One.
Or maybe Grant’s just projecting.
Except then Skye, for just a moment, catches Grant’s eye from the couch. She winks at him, and he’s certain it happens in slow motion. She’s so beautiful. And kind. And smart.
He loves her a lot.
And then her gaze is back to the makeup and Christian and Rose, but Grant’s still holding his breath.
“Do you know how to put on eyeshadow?” Skye asks.
Rosie nods. “I want Christian to wear blue,” she says.
“Blue eyeshadow?” Christian says. “Like a-”
“Like a hooker, yeah,” Skye says. She takes one of the smaller brushes. “Some of my best friends are prostitutes, you know. It’s not dirtier than being a senator, really. At least they’re honest about what they’re doing.”
“True,” Grant and Thomas say, at the same time.
“Children,” Mother warns.
“Sorry, Mother,” Thomas says. But he isn’t.
Rose has ignored the entire exchange, instead opting to spread blue powder across Christian’s eyelids. Christian grumbles, but closes his eyes as she puts a darker blue in the creases.
“You’re pretty, Christian,” Rose says.
Grant watches Christian let out a sigh. “Thank you, Rosie.”
“You’re welcome!” Rosie happily responds.
“You’re doing a really great job,” Skye says, patting Rose’s knee. “You’ve got a knack for this.”
“Well, she’s an excellent painter,” Thomas says.
“You paint?” Skye says. Rosie nods, blushing from the sudden praise. “You’ll have to show me.”
“Um,” Rosie says, softly. “Okay.”
Grant’s hand is on Rose’s shoulder, before he fully registers moving. “Unless it’s too much pressure, baby,” Grant says.
He looks at Skye, who quickly nods. She reaches across Christian to take Rosie’s hands. “No pressure at all, okay?” Skye says.
Rose nods. “Okay,” she repeats, less nervous. “I’m glad Grant loves you,” Rose says, squeezing Skye’s hands. “I love you, too.”
Grant feels the air leave his lungs. Oh. That’s not- Skye is going to think he’s weird, and she’s not going to want to be with him, and-
“Thank you, Rose,” Skye says. “You’re the best family I’ve ever had.”
“I’m touched,” Christian says. Maybe Grant’s imagining things, but it almost feels like Christian’s trying to cover him.
“Quiet,” Skye says, gently hitting Christian on the chest. “You don’t count. I meant Thomas and Rose and Grant.” She looks over her shoulder. “And mom and dad, of course.”
Mother takes a heavy sip. “We’re flattered,” she says.
“And I’m so proud Grant got my name tattooed on his arm,” Skye says.
“What?” Christian says.
“Show them, Grant,” Skye says.
Grant smirks at her. “Hold on,” he says, unbuttoning his flannel. Skye’s practically buzzing with unspoken laughter and anticipation.
“I was there when he got it,” Skye says. “Held his hand the whole time.”
Grant pulls off his sleeves, and there it is. “SKYE” written in Skye’s own sloppy handwriting, in black sharpie across his bicep. Except they’re pretending it’s ink.
Mother frowns into the next century. “Lovely,” she says. “Excellent.”
“It suits you,” Christian adds.
“I want a tattoo!” Rosie decides. “Of Skye’s name.”
Thomas just laughs, kisses Rosie’s hair. “Slow down, little rebel,” Thomas says.
“It didn’t even hurt,” Grant says, puffing out his chest.
“Aw,” Skye says. She folds her hands over her heart. “I actually have one of Grant’s name, too,” Skye says. “Except it’s on my buttcheek, so I don’t think you want to see that.”
“No, we’re all fine, thank you,” Mother says.
Skye grins. “I love you guys.”
Grant wants to say something clever in response, but he’s at a small, small loss for words.
He’d say ‘I’m glad I replied to your ad,’ but that would blow her cover in front of Mother and Father. And also, ‘glad’ doesn’t really cover it. It’s more like ‘I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if you hadn’t come to Thanksgiving.’
Rosie climbs over Christian’s lap to hug Skye. It’s kind of the perfect scene, actually. Grant wants Skye to come to every holiday. Grant wants Skye to be in his life every single day. Oh God. He didn’t mean for this to happen, but he’s here and he’s got it bad.
“Skye,” he says, without meaning to. Softly. Sweetly.
Skye looks at him. Christian looks at him. Everyone is staring at him, actually.
And then, as if by some bizarre Christmas miracle, The doorbell rings.
Mother looks at Grant. “A friend of Skye’s?” she asks. Since everyone that should be here is already present.
“I have no friends,” Skye says.
“You said your friends were prostitutes,” Christian tells her.
“So you do listen,” Skye says, stroking Rose’s hair. “Weird.”
The doorbell rings again. “Would someone please get that?” Mother almost snaps, and with a sigh, Thomas goes to the door.
“Guys!” he calls, from the foyer. “Carolers!”
“Oh!” Skye says, excitedly, practically picking up Rosie as she gets off the couch. “Let’s go watch them sing!”
Rose lets Skye take her by the hand. “C’mon!” Rosie says, to Christian and Grant. “Let’s go!”
“I can’t face strangers looking like this,” Christian says.
“Sure you can,” Anna says, already pulling Christian up. “You look fine.”
Something crosses Christian’s face that Grant can’t quite read. He looks touched, in a way. Apparently, ‘fine,’ is a compliment between Christian and his wife.
Grant tugs his flannel back on, and heads for the door.
And Mother, despite her utter distaste for the situation, has no choice but to follow. With Father in tow.
Which is how the whole Ward family ends up practically crammed into the front doorway, staring down at a bunch of pink-cheeked carolers. Their hats are flecked with the snow that’s just begun to fall, and they look far too earnest to be within a 100 foot radius of this house.
“Well,” Mother says, arms crossed. “Are you going to sing?”
The carolers blink at her, stunned. “Um,” one of them says. “What would you like to hear?”
“Surprise us,” Skye says.
One of them clears her throat. “Okay,” she says. She has a little pitch pipe, and when she blows into it, Mother wrinkles her nose.
They sing anyway.
“That,” Skye says, grinning ear to ear. “Was beautiful.”
“Thank you,” they reply.
“You guys should come in,” Skye says. “Have some hot chocolate and dinner. There’s plenty of food.”
Mother only frowns for a fraction of an instant. Grant knows as well as she does that Skye’s trapped her. To retract the invitation offered would be (clutch the pearls) rude. And Mother would sooner go to Wal-Mart than be rude.
Well. She’d sooner drink bleach. Even so.
“Yes,” Mother says, that smooth, WASP smile taking over her harsh features. “Please, come in.”
“Oh, wow,” says one of the carolers. “Really?”
“Of course,” Mother says.
“Come in, come in,” Father says. “Welcome to the historic Ward Estate.”
And of course, they get to brag about the family name for upwards of an hour, if they let the carolers come in. Everyone wins.
There’s clamoring amongst the group before they all smile. “Okay,” the tallest one says. “Thank you.”
As they file into the house, Grant hears someone mention that she’s ‘never been in a mansion before.’ He’s going to offer to put hot chocolate on the stove for everyone, but a small hand is pulling him outside and the front doors are closed before he gets the chance.
Skye stares up at him, waiting. “Hey,” she says. “I thought you might want to talk.”
Snow catches in her hair the way Grant feels his breath catch in his throat. “About what Rose said?”
“If you want,” Skye says. She pauses. Shuffles her feet against the snowflakes on the asphalt. “Was it true?”
“It’s,” he sighs, his breath coming out in a cloud. “It’s complicated.”
“It’s really early in the relationship,” Skye tells him. “But I like you a lot. So I wanted you to know that.”
“Thank you,” he says, because he’s not really sure if there’s anything else he can say. “For everything.”
“I’m not leaving,” Skye says. Teases. “You don’t have to sound like I’m about to wander off into the night. It’s fucking freezing.”
Grant laughs. “Christian’s makeup, by the way? A stroke of genius.”
“I have many,” she says.
“The carolers, too,” Grant says.
“Well, it was a nice song,” Skye says. Grant notes that she’s moved closer to him, so that the toes of her shoes poke into his. “And I thought they could use some hot chocolate.”
“Rosie wasn’t wrong,” Grant says, as Skye brushes snow off his cheek. “About how I feel. But you’re right. It’s early. And I don’t want to pressure you or ruin things.”
She cups his jaw in her hands, stares at his lips. “Don’t worry about that now,” she says. “It’s Christmas.”
He would point out that it’s Christmas Eve, not Christmas day. But he’s not that awkward. Or at least, she kisses him before he can be. She warms his entire body. He feels like she’s melting the snow off him.
That wouldn’t actually be possible. But Skye makes it feel like it might be.