The Mistletoe Pact by Jo Lovett


Then – 23rd December 2013


Evie’s mother pouted at herself in the hall mirror, applied another coat of glossy red Chanel lipstick, pouted again, and scrunched her fingers into her long blonde hair for a bit more volumising.

‘You look gorgeous, Mum.’ Evie smiled at her. ‘Very glamorous.’ Her mother was a lotmore glamorous than all Evie’s friends’ mums, and not just because she was a good ten years younger than most of them. Evie was pretty sure that she was the kind of woman who’d still be glamorous when she was in her seventies and eighties.

Her mum turned round and smiled back at her. ‘You’re gorgeous. I am so proud of myself having given birth to you. Look at your beautiful eyebrows. Honestly, who doesn’t ever need to pluck? Only my perfect daughter. And your amazing hair. And your beautiful brown eyes. I can’t actually believe you’re twenty-two tomorrow. It’s only five minutes since you were a baby.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘Evie. I do like that top, and it looks great with your jeans, and you have the perfect figure for what you’re wearing, but I’m thinking if you just undid another button, or maybe even two more, you’d look a lot more available.’

‘Honestly.’ Evie took a step backwards and batted her mum’s hands away from the buttons on her blouse. ‘Available is a grim word.’

‘You are available, though. And I’m not sure the boys realise that.’

‘Mum. Honestly.’ Evie couldn’t say that it didn’t matterif no-one realised straight off that she was available, because what she wanted was a serious relationship, with someone very sensible, who she could eventually get married to and have children with and stay with forever. That might hurt her mum’s feelings, given that it was the exact opposite of all her relationships.

‘I just worry about you, that’s all. You’re turning twenty-two, not sixty-two. You should be having fun.’

It was lovely that her mother cared so much about her, but Evie could really do without the constant questioning – in person, and by text when she was away in Birmingham at uni – about whether she was sure she was happy and whether she thought she might have more fun if she ‘let her hair down’ a bit more, specifically with regard to boys and big nights out. It wasn’t like she didn’t enjoy a little drink; she just didn’t like spending the morning after with her head over a toilet bowl. And it wasn’t like she didn’t like boys, just not too many of them and not ones who’d make her cry after they’d slept together once. ‘Maybe you’ll meet someone nice this evening.’

‘Honestly,’ Evie said again, trying really hard not to sigh loudly and roll her eyes.

‘Maybe just one button?’ Her mum was looking at her top again. ‘You have such gorgeous skin and such a fab cleavage. You should be showing that off. Especially in the winter when everyone else is so pale.’ Oh, God. Cleavage. Any minute the conversation would be veering in the direction of actual sex chat. Evie adored her mother and she loved spending time with her, but, if she was honest, she could do without all the openness. She was pretty sure that there were zero sex discussions between her best friend Sasha and her mother, for example. ‘You know your boobs probably won’t be this amazing forever. They lose a bit of bounce over time,’ her mum added.

‘Fine. One button.’ Anything to stop the conversation. She could do it up again in a minute.

Her mum reached forward and tugged Evie’s blouse down away from her shoulder and adjusted her camisole top. ‘Perfect,’ she said. ‘Now, while we’re on the subject…’ No, no, no. This was where her mum was going to start on some advice about sex.

‘We should go,’ Evie said, taking her coat off the hook next to the front door and putting it on. ‘We’re going to be late.’

‘Better to make an entrance than to be boringly on time,’ her mum said as they stepped out of the front door of their cottage.

They walked arm in arm down the little lane from their house to the green in the middle of their village, Melting Bishop, and then round the edge of the green – Evie’s mum didn’t want to ruin her heels on the grass – and up to Sasha’s parents’ wide Cotswold stone house in the middle of the opposite side, arriving at the same time as another family from Melting and a couple who Evie thought she recognised as friends of Sasha’s older sister Lucie.

Sasha’s mother, Fiona – wearing a knee-length, velvet dress, nude court shoes and pale-pink lipstick, and holding a full champagne glass – opened the door. ‘Welcome, everyone. Happy Christmas.’

Two hours later, Evie’s dancing companion gave her one last twirl, let go of her, boogied himself a couple of steps backwards, and started some impressive arm-popping, his eyes locked on hers the whole time. Evie pushed her tinsel headband out of her eyes, smiled at him and decided to stick with some bog-standard swaying and hand clapping. There was a time and a place for pulling serious moves on the dance floor, and that was not here, at her best friend’s parents’ annual Christmas party, with her mother only a few feet away.

Because whatever moves Evie produced, there was every chance her mother would join in and go one better, like she had last year. She’d dropped into the splits, pulled a hamstring, fallen forwards in agony, landed hard on her arm and broken her wrist, and Evie had had to cart her off to A&E in Cheltenham.

The arm popper was very good-looking. Light-brown skin, similar to Evie’s, a lot of dark curly hair, and nice eyes. He was still smiling at her. Evie clapped herself round in a little circle, firstly to give her face a break from smiling back at him, and secondly to check whether her mum had noticed that it looked like she was on the brink of pulling.

If Evie publicly snogged a good-looking stranger this evening, she’d hopefully get her mum off her back for at least the next month or two. Evie would have to make sure there were witnesses, so that her mum heard about it on the village grapevine if she didn’t see it with her own eyes. She could kiss him just outside as they were leaving. She should probably start chatting to him now.

It would be nice to know his name. She wasn’t big on snogging anonymous strangers.

Her mum was right: Evie wasn’t always very good at spontaneity when it came to men.

She clapped herself a little closer to him, widened her smile and said, ‘I’m Evie.’

‘Well, hello, Evie. I’m Jack.’ Jack looked her up and down, very deliberately, from head to toe, which, if she was honest, made her a bit uncomfortable, and then, with a slow smile, started to bend his head towards hers. Oh, okay, the kiss was going to happen right here. Under bright lights. In front of lots of people. In Sasha’s parents’ house. Well, at least her mother would definitely see, and it was definitely spontaneous. And she did know his name. It was definitely the right thing to do.

She inched closer to Jack.

God. She hoped her mum couldn’t actually see her now. If she could, there was every chance that she’d have some tips for Evie on kissing technique tomorrow.

Evie looked at Jack. His gaze was roving up and down her body again. She really wasn’t up for this. She kind of just wanted to do her blouse buttons up to her neck, fold her arms over her chest and glare at him.

No, it would be fine. It would probably be nice.

She moved even closer to him, and he moved closer to her, so close that she could smell the beer on his breath. They were going to kiss, any second.

And then, they did not kiss. Because Jack lifted his head and smiled at someone beyond Evie. He took Evie’s hand, lifted it high above her head and spun her until she was breathless, kissed her cheek, said, ‘Thank you for the dance,’ and strut-walked himself over to speak to the person who had clearly caught his eye just as he’d been about to kiss Evie.

Which would have been kind of a relief, really, had it not been for the fact that that person was Evie’s mum.

Evie’s mum did a serious shimmy, adjusted her gold, ruched boob tube, pouted her still very scarlet lips – that lipstick was good – and twirled her hair with her finger and then did a cringe beckoning thing with the same finger. And Jack, who Evie had been about to kiss, followed her, very closely, right into the middle of all the dancing, with a mega shimmy of his own.

Evie was pretty sure that his crotch connected with her mum’s bottom at the apex of the shimmy.

‘No way,’ she said, out loud. The only saving grace was that she was pretty sure that her mum would never have realised that Jack had binned Evie for her because there had been tall people in between them and she wouldn’t have been able to see that Jack had been dancing with Evie before he spotted her.

‘No way what?’ Sasha’s older brother Dan put a glass of mulled wine into her hand. Evie downed half of it in one and started coughing. Dan whacked her on the back. ‘Are you okay?’

‘There are a lot of cloves in there.’ Evie’s eyes were still watering. She wasn’t totally sure that all the watering was due to the near-choking – it was seriously humiliating realising that you were so bad at spontaneously snogging people that, when you’d finally decided to go for it with a stranger, the stranger in question ditched you in favour of your own mother – but Dan wouldn’t realise that. Thank goodness. She didn’t need her gorgeous secret crush to know about her humiliation at the hands of a different man.

What was actually wrong with her? Jack had danced very enthusiastically with her for three songs running. Her mum was beautiful and glamorous and lively, but she was twenty years older than Evie, and Jack was quite young. How square-looking was Evie?

‘Who’s the man my mum’s dancing with?’ she asked Dan.

‘Old friend of Lucie’s from uni. Moved to Cheltenham recently for work. Seems like a nice guy.’ Lucie was Sasha and Dan’s older sister. Evie was pretty sure that she was about twenty-seven, which presumably meant that Jack was a similar age. Five years older than Evie and fifteen years younger than her mother. And much more attracted to her mother than to her. Right.

There had to be a lesson there somewhere. Like, don’t decide to snog someone just to keep your mother happy. Evie downed the rest of the contents of her glass and started coughing again.

Dan hit her on the back again. ‘Still too many cloves?’


‘So how are you doing? Apart from nearly choking to death?’

‘Good, thank you.’ Evie nodded, still coughing slightly.

‘Hello, hello, two of my most favourite people.’ Sasha had danced over to them with a plate of mince pies. ‘Wow. Look at your mum. Is that Lucie’s friend Jack?’

‘Yep.’ Evie finished coughing and took a mince pie.

‘I know I’ve said it before, but your mum’s got amazing legs. And great boobs.’ Sasha put the mince pies down on a side table. ‘I’m bored with handing these round.’ She grabbed Evie and Dan’s hands. ‘Let’s dance.’

‘Maybe not right next to my mum.’ Evie eye-swivelled and head-indicated towards where her mum and Jack were slow dancing with hands going in far too many places for Evie’s liking.

‘Oops, yes. Love you, Evie Green,’ Sasha told her as the three of them moved to the opposite edge of the dancing group.

‘Love you too, Sasha Marshall, but are you pity-loving me because my mum’s pulled and I haven’t?’ Evie dodged round one of Sasha’s uncles and into a space next to the holly-and-berry-decorated fireplace, where four stockings were hanging neatly in a row, despite the fact that Sasha, the youngest in the family, was turning twenty-two in April. Sasha’s mum kept the house in a state of permanent perfect tidiness and preparedness for any given holiday festival. Evie loved all the tidiness and preparedness.

‘No pity.’ Sasha went for an all-the-way-down-to-the-floor-shaking-her-thing move and Evie joined in, safe in the knowledge that her mother definitely currently had eyes only for Jack and would therefore not also be joining in. ‘Just appreciation for my oldest and best friend and your adorable mother.’

Evie’s mother was adorable. Just slightly different from everyone else’s mothers. Good job that Sasha didn’t know that Evie had had plans to kiss Jack herself this evening. Her pity would be off the scale.

A lot of dancing later, Evie and Sasha flopped onto a sofa at the far side of the double reception room as people put on coats, gloves and scarves and hugged Sasha’s parents goodbye. Only about twenty minutes ago the room had been full to bursting but then one of the guests had noticed that it was midnight and had gathered up their family of five and left, and that had started a domino effect of departures.

‘I should get going too,’ Evie said. It’d be nice to get a good night’s sleep so that she enjoyed her birthday tomorrow.

And then her mother and Jack emerged from the door at the end of the room and walked past Evie and Sasha, holding hands, eyes only for each other, very joined-at-the-hip. And thigh… and chest. They stopped under the mistletoe at the front door for a quick smooch, and then giggled themselves out of the house.

‘He’s going to stay over with us, isn’t he?’ Evie said, trying to pull her face out of a disappointed ruck.

Sasha nodded. ‘Looks like it. Want to stay here tonight?’

‘That’s such a lovely offer but I’ll be fine at home. More than fine. I’ll have a birthday lie-in and he’ll be gone by the time I get up.’ Evie really wanted to be in her own bed tonight with her own pillows and duvet. And to have her traditional birthday breakfast with her mum. Which would definitely happen. Her mum would kick Jack out at about nine; she was like clockwork when it came to men staying over. She never wanted them around during the day and she definitely wouldn’t want someone else there on Evie’s birthday. ‘And we’re seeing you for lunch tomorrow. I might stay here for another half hour, though.’ That should definitely give her mum and Jack time to have the bedroom door firmly closed behind them.

Two hours, the rest of the mulled wine and two coffees later, Evie pushed her chair back and told the others round Sasha’s parents’ kitchen table – Sasha, Dan, Lucie, their brother Max and a couple of other village friends – that she had to go home.

‘Nooooo. Stay.’ Sasha reached out to pull Evie’s arm but missed and banged her own arm on the table. ‘Ow. That table’s hard.’

Evie nodded. Sasha had made a good point there. She was clever. ‘Tables are hard. And I know that because I’m old. It’s after midnight. I’m twenty-two today. Two little ducks.’

‘Did you say duck?’ Sasha asked.

‘Bingo speak for twenty-two,’ Evie said. ‘You know Mum’s last partner owned a bingo hall in Cheltenham and we went a few times. I love it, if I’m honest.’

Sasha nodded. ‘Happy birthday,’ she said.

‘Happy birthday,’ the others chorused.

‘Thank you.’ Evie beamed at them. ‘And I am going to go now and get some sleep because I don’t want to spend my whole birthday feeling awful.’ She pushed her chair further back, and somehow it knocked some spoons on the floor and they landed with a really loud clatter. ‘Whoops.’ She put her finger on her lips and shushed, twice, to make sure everyone heard her. ‘We might wake your parents up.’

Sasha’s older sister Lucie stood up too and went over to the sink. ‘I think we should all have some water first. Just to make sure you actually make it across the green in one piece and so that you don’t spend your birthday with a hangover.’

‘Everyone should take two paracetamol with their water,’ said Dan. ‘Or three. Tried and tested anti-hangover.’

‘Let’s definitely do that,’ Evie said. ‘Doctors know everything about paracetamol.’ Dan had recently finished medical school.

‘Okay, so I’m definitely going now.’ Evie finished hugging everyone a few minutes later and they all followed her towards the front door.

‘I’ll walk you back,’ Dan said, joining her on the doorstep.

‘Oh, no, honestly,’ Evie said, suppressing a little shiver of pleasure at the idea of a moonlit walk with Dan. ‘I’m not going to get lost between here and home.’

‘Nope, I’m coming.’ Dan shrugged into a Puffa jacket. ‘Dad was saying yesterday that there’ve been a couple of attempted burglaries in the village recently. And it’s very quiet at this time of night, no-one else up except us. You don’t want to bump into a burglar on your own.’

‘Well, thank you, that’s very kind.’ It was slightly surprising that Sasha wasn’t having a go at Dan about not being feminist but, if there were burglars around, Evie would definitely rather not be on her own when she bumped into them, and Dan was a lot larger than her. Bugger feminism, frankly, if there were burglars out and about.

As Evie started to step through the front door, Sasha pointed upwards and squealed, ‘Mistletoe. Dan and Evie. You have to kiss now.’

Evie stopped and turned to look at Dan, in a bit of a panic, which was definitely a mistake, because it clearly made it look as though she wanted Dan to kiss her. Which, in a very secret way, she might do, but not in front of people. Although you didn’t kiss kiss under mistletoe. You peck kissed. Oh, God, she was still looking at him. Like she totally wanted to do the mistletoe-kiss.

Dan smiled at her, rolled his eyes in the direction of Sasha, and leaned down and brushed his lips to Evie’s lips, not her cheek, or anywhere else, but her lips, very fleetingly. His lips were warm, but not too warm, and nice and firm, but not too firm. And Evie felt the tiny kiss all the way to her centre. What would a proper kiss from Dan be like?

Shit. She had her eyes closed. She pinged them open, fast. Hopefully no-one would have noticed because Sasha was clapping and happy-birthdaying again.

‘Let’s go.’ Dan started walking and Evie followed.

‘So have you decided what branch of medicine you want to specialise in?’ she asked, fast, to prove that her mind was totally off the fact that their lips had just touched.

‘I’m pretty sure I want to do emergency medicine.’

‘I think you’d be great at that. You’re very good at staying calm. Remember when Sasha got her head stuck between those railings and all the rest of us were panicking but you got her out.’ And he was fantastic with people, which would have to help.

‘You weren’t panicking, you were laughing.’

‘Well, yes, because it was hilarious.’

‘What about you? Did Sasha tell me you’ve started teacher training?’

‘Yep. Hoping to be a secondary school geography teacher.’

‘I think you’ll be a great teacher.’ Dan stopped. ‘What’s that?’ He bent down to pick something up. ‘Someone’s dropped a scarf. Maybe someone who was at the party. I’ll hang onto it and Mum can ask around tomorrow.’

Evie peered at the scarf in the moonlight.

‘I think it’s actually mine.’ She took it from Dan. Yep, pink and gold faux fur. Her mum had borrowed it this evening. She’d probably dropped it mid-passionate al fresco embrace with Jack. Not what Evie wanted to think about. She kind of felt like she was never going to want to wear it again herself. She was imagining the scarf being involved in the embrace in some way. Maybe her mum had flirtatiously twirled it round both their necks at once.

No, no, no. She needed to stop with the imagining.

What had they been talking about?

‘So, yes, I’m planning to be a teacher.’ Bugger. Now she sounded like she wanted Dan to elaborate on why he thought she’d make a great teacher. That was what he’d been in the middle of saying. She would like him to elaborate but she would not like to look like she was fishing for compliments. ‘It’s cold. Do you think we’ll get a white Christmas?’

‘Doubt it. I mean, you never know. Maybe. But also, we never do, so no.’

‘That’s very pessimistic. Although probably right. Oh. My. Goodness.’ Evie stopped in the middle of the lane opposite her house. The sitting room curtains were open and her mother and Jack were in the middle of the room, wearing not nearly enough clothes. And doing stuff.

Neither she nor Dan moved for far too long, very rabbit-in-headlights, and then Dan said, ‘Right, so here’s a plan. You’re going to go back round the corner and I’m going to knock on the door and shout “Oo-er” – they won’t recognise me, I’m sure, given that they’re, um, busy – and then we’re going to walk round the green for a few minutes and then I’m sure when you get back they’ll have gone upstairs.’

Evie nodded. ‘Thank you. That’s an excellent plan.’

She’d just got round the corner when she heard Dan knock and shout, and then his footsteps sprinting down the road. She was already sniggering when he got to her and when she saw his face she full-on snorted, and then Dan laughed too, and then they were both doubled up, staggering around, almost crying with laughter.

‘My eyes,’ Evie said when she could talk. ‘I can’t believe we saw that.’ Did it make it better or worse that her mother was in seriously good shape body-wise? ‘Why did you decide to shout Oo-er? I mean, why not just Good evening or something?’

‘I was too overcome to think straight.’

‘Yeah. Oh God.’ And they both started sniggering again.

‘This is so ridiculous,’ Evie said, when they’d finally recovered. ‘It’s like we’re naughty kids. But my forty-two-year-old mum was practically having sex in full view of the whole village.’

‘Well, not really. I mean, it’s two thirty in the morning. No-one’s around.’

We’re around. Anyway. I love my mum. She’s amazing. I don’t want to sound like I’m criticising her, but, when I’m a mother, I’m going to be a boring mother. No sex in the sitting room. I say when. If. Obviously I might never have kids.’

‘I reckon you’ll totally have kids. If you want them.’ They’d reached the bench in the middle of the green. ‘Want to sit here for a few minutes to give them time to get to bed?’

Evie nodded and they sat down.

‘I know it’s not something everyone would say at twenty-two, but I would like kids one day. Once I’ve established my career, obviously. But I feel like I’d much prefer to have children within a serious relationship.’ She didn’t fancy being a single mother like her mum had been – it looked very difficult – so, man-wise, she was going to need someone solid. She did keep trying but they never worked out. Which you could also say about her mother; she definitely kept trying and the men definitely never worked out. ‘So there’s every chance it will never happen.’

‘Yeah, I mean, you’re already twenty-two. You only have about twenty-odd years left to start a family and then that’s it. No chance of meeting someone and having kids. I mean, you need to rush. You’re so old.’

Evie shook her head. ‘You mock, but, you know, time passes quickly. One of those famous facts of life. Anyway, I want to have at least two kids and I want to have them well before I’m forty. So I need to meet someone by the time I’m thirty.’

‘Well, shit. Only eight years to go. That’s a tight deadline.’

‘I’ll remind you of this if I’m single on my thirtieth birthday. Which, now I say it, I probably will be.’

‘Evie Green, you will not be. But if you are, I’ll marry you myself. If you’ll have me.’ He nudged her in the ribs.

‘Dan Marshall. That’s a lovely offer.’ She nudged him back. ‘I will totally have you if we’re both still single in eight years’ time.’

Dan held out his hand. ‘So that’s a deal then. We’ll get married on your thirtieth birthday if we’re both still single.’ Evie put her hand in his and they shook.

‘I’m genuinely excited to have a fallback pact,’ she said. ‘You know I’m going to hold you to it.’ A part of her registered that in a parallel universe where they hadn’t known each other forever she’d genuinely like to hold him to it.

‘You’ll be coupled up with a baby on the way by then, but, if you aren’t, I’ll be there like a shot.’

They both laughed and then Evie felt something on her face and looked up.

‘You were wrong,’ she said. ‘It is snowing. Look. And look at that.’ She pointed upwards. ‘Isn’t that mistletoe growing on this tree? I’ve never noticed it before. Mistletoe and snow. The perfect Christmas scene for the perfect fallback pact. A mistletoe pact.’ She looked back at Dan, at his eyes and his cheekbones and his mouth, and suddenly her own mouth felt dry. She wished she hadn’t spotted the mistletoe and mentioned it. Awkward. ‘Good job Sasha isn’t here to make us kiss.’ Oh, for God’s sake. Way more awkward. She stood up. ‘The coast’s probably clear at home now.’

‘Yep.’ Dan stood up too.

‘Goodnight, then.’

‘Hey, no. Remember those possible marauding burglars. Come on.’ He held his arm out and she took it.

‘Well, thank you.’

They didn’t say much as they crunched their way across the frost that was already starting on the green, Evie getting serious butterflies every time their hips bumped as they walked.

She glanced up at Dan and he looked down at her at the same moment, half-smiling in the moonlight, which made her want to smile too.

What was it about him that made all the other men in any given room seem less? His hair was what some people would call red and Sasha, whose hair was the same colour, called strawberry blond. He had blue eyes and fairly average features. But the combination of them all was just so sexy, basically. Maybe because of his personality. Kind. Capable. Very funny. And the fact that he wasn’t that much taller than average but he was satisfyingly solid and nicely in shape – she’d seen him in sports kit a few times, and he looked good.

She felt herself smile more. She looked up again and saw that he was watching her and his smile was growing too.

Neither of them had said anything for ages now. Evie should probably speak, except she was having a mind blank.

She licked her lips and Dan’s eyes went to her mouth.

Oh, wow.