Decking the Halls
"I swear, Im going to deck the Halls if they dont leave me alone," Danielle groused at the dinner table. Chin in one hand, and a fork in the other, she absently chased peas around her plate and wallowed in her teenaged misery.
"Its not nice to deck anyone, dear," her mother responded as expected.
"Who are the Halls?" Her father flipped a page in the local evening newspaper, addressing his question to the family without even looking up.
"You remember the Halls," his wife chastised gently. "Theyre the twins from a few blocks down. Andrew was the little drummer boy that summer Dani started the band."
"Please, mother, were not twelve anymore."
For that, at least, Janet Golding was thankful. Now that her son was in college and her daughter was old enough to drive, she could finally enjoy some time for herself. As much as she loved her children, raising two rambunctious kids was a lot harder than it looked in the movies. Unconsciously, Janet checked everyones plates to make sure they included all the food groups.
"Hey, didnt you tell me Andrea Hall is your chem lab partner this year?" Jason asked from across the table, between shovelsful of mashed potatoes.
Dani petulantly sunk her lean six-foot frame further down into her chair. "Dont remind me."
"Did you see this?" Mr. Golding exclaimed, suddenly waving the newspaper wildly. "Santa Claus is coming to town hall! Havent these people ever heard of the separation of church and state? Im going to write a letter."
Janet barely kept from rolling her eyes as her husband started working up his annual head of steam.
"Thats fine, dear, but can you put the paper aside for tonight? This is Jasons first night home for the holidays!"
"So whats the problem with Andrea?" Jason pursued, ignoring their parents exchange. Dani wrinkled her nose in a display of irritation.
"Nothing, except she keeps bugging me about whether or not I like her brother."
"Well, of course you like him. Youve been friends for years," Janet interjected.
"Not like that, mom," Dani hissed, amazed at how naïve adults could be.
"He hasnt been bothering you, has he?" Jason set down his fork and leaned over intently. His sister shook her head. "Good. If he does, you just tell me and hell find his chestnuts roasting on an open fire, if you catch my drift."
The phone rang, and with a quelling glance at her son, Mrs. Golding headed for the living room to answer it.
"If thats Andrea, tell her Im not home," Dani called over her shoulder. "She wants to study together tonight, but I dont think I can take much more of her today," she added for her brothers benefit, before reapplying herself to her meal.
"I know what you mean," her brother commiserated. "I remember how clingy Becky always was."
She glanced up sharply, but Jason had returned his focus to his dinner.
"Dad, may I be excused?"
"What?" asked her father, glancing up and wondering when his wife had left the table. "Oh, sure." He made a shooing motion with his hand and went back to the local news.
Dani took the steps to the second floor two at a time, then slowed to a safer pace when reaching the rickety attic stairs. The third floor wasnt much, but ever since Jason had left for college last year, it had been hers.
Although there was no door at the top of the stairs, the space provided all the privacy Dani needed, since neither parent wanted to risk the trek up there. The room looked much the same as it had when Jason left it, except that the athletes in the myriad posters exuberantly tacked up over the walls had all undergone sex changes. There was a bed, a desk, a dresser, a footlocker, her guitar. Brightly colored throw rugs protected Dani from the threat of daily splinters. A pair of small casement windows punctuated the wall opposite the stairs. No curtains blocked the view to the spacious backyard because there was nothing nearby tall enough to allow peepers.
Dani stood on the furniture below the windows and opened one casement that wasnt painted shut. With strong hands that could palm a basketball, Dani reached out and gripped the top of the window frame, then slid her right leg through. With a little leverage and a lot of flexibility, her left leg soon followed and she carefully shimmied the rest of her body through and onto the second floor roof.
Up on the housetop was Danis favorite place to think. She wondered if it had been Jasons, too, but had never asked, preferring the fantasy of its being her very own.
The silent night enveloped her, and she willed away the stress of the day.
The day had started out innocuously enough. It wasnt stellar, but how many days of high school really were? Dani could only count a few.
Todays Spanish test hadnt been as much a disaster as it might have been. Lunch had been surprisingly edible macaroni and cheese. And although she and her friend Tanya had received a number of stern looks from Mrs. Cronin during study hall, detention had been happily averted.
Dani slid into eighth period chemistry with a false sense of security. When she arrived at her stool at the high black lab bench, Andrea was lying in wait. Sure, she looked innocent enough, but to Dani she exuded devious intent. As tall and physically commanding as Dani was, somehow the slight strawberry blonde could make her feel like a mouse just being toyed with before the kill.
"What?" asked Dani curtly, skipping a greeting.
"Your hair looks different. Its nice."
Dani ran a hand through her long locks, which were curlier than usual. "I didnt have time to dry it this morning. Is it really that bad?"
"I said it was nice. Why dont you just say thank you?"
"Okay, class, lets get started. Grab your beakers from the counter and when I call you, come over to the analytical balance and weigh the filter paper with the precipitate."
Their beaker was already perched neatly at the corner of the table, thanks to Andrea, so Dani took the time to consider the girls request. Well, she decided, she could be sincere this time.
"Thank you," she conceded.
Dani nodded and picked up her chemistry text to turn to the current lesson.
"Has Andrew seen it yet?"
Thats it. She was seething now.
Dani could not take a second more of Andreas infernal matchmaking. "Your brother is my friend," she almost shouted, "and nothing more!" For emphasis, she slammed her text on the table, completely oblivious to the other students and to her surroundings.
Realizing her mistake a second before the book slammed down, Dani found herself powerless to stop it. The beaker jumped from the impact, and in a futile attempt to keep it from a hard landing on the table, Dani reached for the glass, only to misjudge and send it crashing to the floor.
"Miss Golding, Miss Hall Id like the pleasure of your company after class."
"What took you so long?" Andrew inquired after Dani had received her sentence and was finally leaving for the day.
Since they could no longer finish their own lab project, the teacher had given them a choice of taking an "F" on it, or writing up conclusions based on another groups data for a "C" score at best. Andrea had hustled off to find a group she could negotiate with, but Dani was too angry even to make the attempt. And missing her highly anticipated basketball game with Andrew would not have improved her mood.
They walked together in companionable silence to the Halls split-level. The two made an attractive pair. Both tall but no longer gangly as they neared adulthood, Andrew was fair with blond hair, and Dani was fair, but with black hair. The two were varsity athletes, Andrew in swimming and Dani in softball, but had found by accident one day that they were almost evenly matched in a different endeavor: basketball. Since then, they had gotten together every few weeks to shoot hoops and talk trash. Leave it to Andrea to think its a date.
"Think fast!" Andrew called, just after releasing a rocket pass aimed directly at her head.
Dani caught the pass and started dribbling. After a feint combo Andrew should have known better than to fall for by now, the girl slipped past him and put an easy lay-up into the basket.
"Well, at least you can handle the ball better than you can a beaker," her friend teased her as he scooped up the rebound and tossed it to his opponent. Dani stopped on a dime.
"What did you hear?" she asked, returning the ball harder than she had intended.
"Nothing. Just that you and Andrea were having a girl fight, and you started throwing the dishes." Dani stood stunned, gaping at him. Taking advantage of the momentary lack of defense, Andrew made an easy jump shot from where he now stood.
"Ha ha. It was an accident." Dani shagged the ball and resolved to concentrate harder. "Two, two."
She shouldnt have given him that basket so easily, because now Andrew was all over her. She kept her back to both him and the basket, dribbling low and devising a strategy. Deciding to go for broke, she took a quick step forward and turned to try a jump shot from there.
"What were you fighting about?" he asked, just as the ball was leaving her hands, and she hoped briefly to land on his foot. No luck there, or with the shot, which bounced off the rim. Andrew quickly rebounded the ball and immediately put it in the basket. "Four, two."
He caught the ball and tossed it to her, while jogging back her direction. She bounced the ball twice, then executed a standing jumper.
"Nothing. Everythings cool. Five, four," she announced as the ball sailed through the net.
Dani extended her arms with a flourish and looked dramatically down at her feet, which were clearly beyond the crack in the driveway they had designated as the three-point line.
"Damn, youre good."
"Remember that, Hall."
Andrew retrieved the ball and dribbled back out. "Well, Im glad its cool between you and Andrea, because otherwise I wouldnt hear the end of it."
"Ever since you two got assigned to be partners, you are all that girl talks about."
Dani effected a calm demeanor, but she felt her blood racing. "What about?"
"You know. Youre funny, youre pretty, blah, blah, blah. I dont know who she thinks needs convincing. Dont go getting a big head now." Andrew barreled past her and sunk a lay-up. "Six, five."
Dani chuckled. "Dont worry. With you around, theres no chance of that."
In retrospect, she swore to herself that she felt rather than heard Andreas presence when the girl poked her head out the back door. Dani wondered if shed been watching them through the window for very long.
"What?" she asked, using her usual greeting.
"Andy, Mom needs your help inside for a minute."
The boy rolled the ball off his fingertips into his friends waiting hands. "Back in a flash, Flash."
He bounded over to his sister with his characteristic high energy, and nodded at her comment as they passed each other in the doorway.
Dani dribbled the ball rhythmically. She could have done it successfully blindfolded, but instead watched its path with care. Through the raven curtain that hung down the sides of her face, she could just make out Andrea stepping outside and perching herself on the stoop. Ignoring her was hard work.
Youve got to stop dribbling some time, Golding. You look like a doofus.
She gripped the ball, lined up her target, and threw the ball about a foot short of the basket. It hit the garage door with an echoing bang, as if to broadcast her complete incompetence whenever she was in the vicinity of Andrea Hall.
Wincing, Dani turned to the girl to take her lumps, but amazingly, Andrea wasnt laughing. She was sitting down patiently, seemingly waiting her turn to speak. I just dont get her.
"What?" Dani asked again, briefly wondering what it was about the strawberry blonde that also rendered her monosyllabic.
"I got Kelly to give us their data so we can at least try for a C." Dani shook her head in order to properly align the non sequitur. The girl had acted as if she hadnt even noticed Dani miss a shot she hadnt screwed up that badly since she was ten years old.
"What did she want for it?"
Andrea smiled and Dani noted how pretty she looked when she did so. Far from being the little girl in pigtails and braces who played dolls and cried to her mom every time Dani and Andys band had been too loud, Andrea was growing into a fine looking woman. She had obviously changed after getting home from school, because she was now sitting in cut-off shorts and a tank top that showed off definite adult proportions. Gotta love Christmastime in southern California.
Andrea stretched out her golden legs and crossed her bare ankles, and Dani caught herself wondering what color the girls toenail polish was. Would you call that tangerine?
"I have to help her decorate for the winter formal."
"Huh?" Dani asked, bringing her eyes back up to meet the other girls.
"You know. Hang snowflakes, cut out a million silver bells, wrap the doors in pretty paper to make them look like presents turn the place into a veritable winter wonderland."
"And what do I have to do?"
"What do you mean?"
"You have to decorate the gym. What do I have to do to earn my half of
Andrea looked confused. "Nothing. I only told her I would help. You just have to write up a report as usual." The girl paused as if to consider a new idea. "Why dont I bring the data over tonight after I get it from Kelly, and we can work on ours together?"
Dani meandered over to the ball to give herself some time to think. The idea of Andrea in her house was too much for one day.
"No, thanks," she answered, scooping up the ball and capturing it between her arm and one hip.
"Ill take the F." Dani wandered back to her imaginary free throw line, and started dribbling again, wondering if she should risk another humiliation. Where the hell is Andrew?
"I see," replied Andrea slowly, although she obviously didnt. Their business done, Dani hoped Andrea would take the hint and go back inside. Unfortunately, she looked comfortable enough to sit there all day, so Dani kept dribbling.
"So, do you think Andrews going to ask you to the winter formal?"
The dribbling stopped abruptly, but the other girl continued, undeterred.
"I bet I could convince him to ask you, if you want."
I will not throw the ball at her. I will not throw the ball at her.
Every nerve ending screamed "Fight!" but Danis rational mind chose the alternative.
"Tell your brother Im leaving." Abandoning the ball, she turned on her heel and stalked down the driveway.
"Andrew!" Dani heard her tormentor call, and the screen door slamming shut. By the time she reached the end of the driveway and turned toward home, she was literally seeing red. I swear, she tries to piss me off on purpose.
Size twelve feet pounded behind her, then overtook her, and Dani stopped short to avoid barreling right into her friend. "Damn it, Dani, what is with you?"
She quickly shuffled through the possible answers to that question and discarded them all.
"Nothing," she replied sullenly.
"Then what did you do to my sister?"
Dani was incredulous. "What did I Nothing."
"Then why does she come home moping every day from school, and why can I not leave the two of you alone together for five minutes?"
The irony of the line of questioning brought a feral chuckle to her throat.
"Dani, seriously, why cant you guys get along?"
Hearing no response, Andrew shook his head. Women. "Maybe you both need to get boyfriends. It might help chill you out."
Blood pounded in her ears and she knew she needed to get away before she did something shed regret.
"I dont like being double teamed," she warned, then brushed past him as shed do on the court, leaving Andy staring after her.
On the roof, Dani crossed her arms in front of her chest to conserve warmth. She hadnt changed after getting home from the Halls house, and although her jeans and hightops were still appropriate for the weather, now that the sun had gone down, her t-shirt wasnt quite up to the task. She suppressed a shiver and decided it was time to head back inside. Turning toward the open window, Dani was distressed to notice a strawberry blonde head poking through.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"Wow! Usually I only get What?" Bracing her hands on the windowsill, Andrea tried to lift herself out, and ended up dangling halfway through the window. "Dont just sit there. Help me up!" she panted.
Without considering the consequences of her actions, Dani grabbed the girl under the arms and pulled her forward on the lightly sloped roof until Andrea could get a knee over the sill. Then, Dani grabbed her around the thigh to keep her from falling head first off the roof.
Andrea sat down abruptly, virtually on her hosts lap, and swung her legs around. She propped her elbows on her knees and braced her feet against the pitch of the roof, mirroring Danis pose. Shoulders and thighs touched lightly. Andrea was now in jeans and gym shoes as well, and wore a light windbreaker. In the moonlight, Dani could see the other girls cheeks were flushed from what she presumed was a brisk walk over.
"I thought I told my mom to tell you I wasnt home."
"Oh, she did," Andrea assured her, cheerfully, "but I knew she was lying."
"She said you were visiting at the hospital because your grandma got run over by a reindeer."
Dani chuckled. Leave it to her mother to get in the last laugh.
"Gee, what ever made you suspicious of that?"
"Well, I figured if it were true, shed have been there, too." Andrea deadpanned, but her eyes danced with laughter.
"Lucky me, getting assigned such a smart lab partner." Dani waited for Andrea to pick up the cue and get to the point of her visit.
"Can I ask you a personal question?"
Okay, thats not where the conversation was supposed to go next.
Andrea plunged ahead without waiting for an affirmative response. "Why does your family have a blue Christmas tree?"
Okay, good, an easy one.
"My dads Jewish. When Jason was born, Mom apparently insisted on a tree. Buying a tree in a color from the Israeli flag was my dads subversive protest. I like it, though. Its different."
Andrea nodded in agreement.
"Thats cool. So, do you get presents for both holidays?"
"Wow." Andrea considered that for a moment. "You get, like, the twelve days of Christmas!"
"Not exactly. Chanukah is only eight days, and youd give my father a coronary if he heard you refer to it that way." Dani bumped her shoulder against that of her companion, then wondered why in the world she had allowed herself to make such a familiar gesture with the girl.
"So, when is Chanukah?" Andrea was now more firmly molded against the brunettes side, and Dani guiltily drew additional warmth from her body heat.
Dani cleared her throat. "Um, you just missed it." She glanced over and caught the girls disappointed frown. Beautiful when she smiled, Andreas down turned lips and lightly furrowed brow did nothing to diminish her attractiveness.
"So what do you want for Christmas?" Andrea inquired.
Dani considered for a moment, but was uninspired. "I dunno. I havent given it much thought."
An uneasy silence descended between the girls.
"Have you given any thought to what I asked earlier?" the smaller girl asked, nervously.
"Um, no. About Andrew. You know, the dance."
Through the light nylon of her jacket, Andrea felt the muscles in Danis upper arm flex as the girl turned to her and pinned her with pale blue eyes, made translucent by moonlight.
"Ive changed by mind," Dani purred dangerously. "All I want for Christmas is you not bugging me about your brother ever again!" She punctuated her last words with an index finger Andreas eyes had to cross to keep in focus.
"Why?" Andrea gamely pressed forward. "Is there some other boy you like better?"
"There isnt any boy I like, period," Dani hissed.
Oh, God. As usual, in one sentence, Andrea had gotten her so discombobulated she had acted without thinking.
"Argh!" she cried to the stars, then defeatedly dropped her head against her folded arms, which were resting upon her knees. Dani kept her eyes closed to hold back her emotions as the ultimate truth of her announcement echoed into the ether for the first time.
"I have something I want to give you for Chanukah," Andrea said, softly, and once again the girls non sequitur tilted Danis world. She turned her head and rested her cheek on her forearms and gazed at Andrea in amazement. Just like this afternoon when Dani had shot the air ball, she was surprised to see nothing but openness in Andreas gaze. Is this girl just utterly dense?
"Bullshit," Dani replied, upon digesting the girls claim. "You didnt even know when it was."
"Yes, well," Andrea stammered sheepishly, "Im sorry it it look so long. I just wasnt sure youd like it."
Dani narrowed her eyes. "Its not "
"No!" Andrea raised a hand to cut her off. "Nothing to do with Andrew. Cross my heart." She did a quick demonstration.
Dani raised her head and allowed her gaze to travel up and down the girls form, slowly. "What is it, pocket lint?" She noticed Andrea was flushed again, or still.
"No, not that, either. Close your eyes."
"If its pocket lint, Im gonna be really mad."
Even as she was obeying, Dani wondered why she ever listened to this girl.
Andrea moved away from her briefly and Dani shivered at the loss of warmth. Suddenly, though, hot breath caressed her face and she felt gentle fingertips graze her cheek a microsecond before Andreas velvety lips covered hers. For the second time that day, Dani could literally hear her blood pounding in her ears as every cell in her body erupted in celebration of a day it hadnt thought would come.
Andrea pulled back slightly after the initial contact, but Dani moved forward, loathe to break a kiss so long in coming. Eyes shut tightly, the dark-haired girl trailed her hand to Andreas waist, up her back and behind her neck as she sucked lightly on the girls lips. Holding her firmly, Dani pressed harder against her, desperate to feel as much of her as possible.
A whimper escaped Andreas throat, and Dani broke the kiss abruptly. Eyes still closed, she leaned her forehead against the other girls and lightly massaged the back of her neck, where she continued to hold on, possessively. She realized she must have been holding her breath, because now she was gasping like shed just played four quarters. But oh, this was way better than basketball. All the nerve endings that had been on high alert every time she saw Andrea were blaring their sirens now, and for the first time, she gave free rein to them.
"Youre beautiful," Andrea whispered, and Dani opened her eyes to see the same open, waiting expression.
Please, God, was she waiting for me?
"Youre going to make me fall off the roof."
"I unbalance you, do I?" Andrea asked, insouciantly.
"In the best possible way," Dani confessed, bringing her hand around to caress the girls rosy cheek. She had never allowed herself to imagine indulging in a gesture so intimate, but was thrilled when Andrea leaned into the touch as if drawing sustenance from it. "Inside with you," she smirked, with a teasing tug on Andreas earlobe.
Reluctantly, Andrea turned away to face the window and Dani took a moment to compose herself.
"Is there any graceful way to do this?"
"Why do you suppose I put the bed under the window?"
Andrea sighed. "Here goes nothing!" She somersaulted through the opening and landed with a bounce.
"Okay, there was a more graceful way that that!" Laughing, Dani crab-walked toward the open window and got in position to execute her previous maneuver in reverse. A half hour ago, she had relished the solitude of her secret space. Now, her secrets were all laid bare, yet she found herself feeling comforted, not exposed. She shook her head in wonder as she lowered herself inside.
"Showoff," Andrea teased her from her perch on the corner of the bed. Dani sat next to her, and studied the girl intently. "What?" Andrea asked nervously, twirling a lock of hair.
"You owe me seven more days."
Andreas smile lit up the room. They drew toward each other, and two old souls united once again.
1-All I Want For Christmas Is You
3-Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire
4-Deck the Halls
7-Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
8-Home For the Holidays
14-Little Drummer Boy
19-Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
22-The Twelve Days of Christmas
23-Up On the Housetop