The Mistletoe Pact by Jo Lovett
Now – Christmas Eve 2021
The water was so cold. So bloody cold. Evie was going to freeze to death. Why had she on autopilot shampooed her hair? Why? And why had the water gone so quickly from manageable to tepid to painfully freezing just after she’d rubbed all the shampoo in?
Her headache was getting better, though. Maybe she should tell Dan about this. No need for paracetamol, just take a freezing shower.
Dan. Gaaah. It was going to be so embarrassing seeing him later. Sleeping with someone you’d known and liked for so many years was completely different from sleeping with someone you’d met recently.
Soembarrassing, especially given how extremely vocal she remembered having been last night about how much she was enjoying things. She was pretty sure she was blushing just thinking about it. To be fair, he’d been pretty vocal too, even if he hadn’t seemed that happy this morning.
She took the hand-held shower attachment off the wall and turned her head upside down to wash the shampoo out of the underneath of her hair.
Ow, ow, ow, freezing. It was like the water was stabbing her. Why had she even had a shower here, actually? It was because Dan had mentioned it, so she’d just hopped in. She was too suggestible. She should have just dragged her clothes on and gone back to her actual hotel where all her stuff was.
She screeched as the water got even colder, if that were possible. So unpleasant. Not as unpleasant as her thoughts, though.
She was basically Rachel from Friends. She was thirty today and she had a broken engagement and a failed one-night marriage under her belt. How. Bloody. Ridiculous.
And, again, embarrassing. How was she going to face Dan later? She kind of wanted to just jump on a plane and escape home today. No, she was being ridiculous. She and the others had all saved up for this trip for over a year, and she couldn’t leave. And this had just been a one-night stand – only with a marriage thrown in. And the fact that it had been with her best friend’s brother, who was her long-term crush. But no-one knew that. It would be fine. They’d be a bit red-faced around each other briefly and then that would be that; they’d move on and Evie would accept that clearly they’d never really been going to come good on their fallback pact.
Right. It was too cold to carry on washing shampoo out of her hair. She was going to leave it, towel it dry as it was, walk-of-shame herself back to her hotel and have a nice hot shower there.
Last night’s clothes back on, she folded the velour bedspread that Dan had wrapped himself in this morning into four and placed it at the bottom of the bed. The staff were obviously going to strip the bed, but she could never actually bring herself to leave a hotel room anything other than tidy.
There was something on the floor half under the bed. She bent down to pick it up. Dan’s boxers. Black, stretchy trunks, which she remembered had fitted him very well. They were nice ones, Calvin Kleins, but no way was she going to give them back to him. That would be one step too far on the rising-above-their-one-night-stand thing. She took them into the bathroom and binned them.
Right. Time to go.
Except – disaster – she had no idea how to get back to her own hotel. No. It was fine. She could Google-Map it.
She opened the clutch that she’d brought with her and took her phone out.
It was stone-cold dead.
Okay, not a problem. They’d be able to give her directions at the hotel reception downstairs.
‘Yeah, we can’t help with directions. Where’s your new husband?’ Susan looked around the hotel foyer like Dan might be hiding behind one of the large pot plants, or the cardboard Elvis.
‘Not really my husband. Just a drunken joke.’ Evie winced as she said it, even to a woman who she’d only met briefly last night and who she would never see again. And who was mean.
Susan shook her head sorrowfully. ‘You seemed great together,’ she said. ‘I thought you were one of the for-real couples. Anyway, yeah, I can’t help you. I’m very busy.’ She picked up an emery board and started filing her nails. ‘I can offer you a charger so you can use your phone. Five dollars for fifteen minutes.’ She pointed her nail file in the direction of a charger hanging out of the wall beyond the desk.
‘Right. Thank you,’ Evie said, actually mildly impressed at Susan’s hard-nosed business instincts. To be fair, right now she’d have paid a lot more than five dollars to get her phone working.
Evie plugged the phone in and sat down on the floor next to it, put her arms round her knees and closed her eyes. The positive physical effects of her cold shower had worn off. Now she felt sick, headachy and tired, and really miserable, and she just wanted so muchto be back in her own hotel room.
Gaaah. Her alarm was going off. No, it wasn’t her alarm, but it was definitely her phone making that noise. Oh, okay, she’d nodded off and, now that the phone was slightly charged, about a billion messages and calls had pinged through. Probably birthday messages. She wasn’t going to read them right now. She was too hungover and shellshocked about last night to have the capacity to send lots of Thank you replies at the moment.
‘Your phone charged enough yet? You gonna call your husband? Try to patch things up?’ Susan’s cackle was loud.
Evie rolled her eyes, which hurt her head, and typed her hotel’s name into Google Maps, which told her that it was only a fifteen-minute walk from here. Yesssss.
It was the most immense relief to get back to her actual room in her actual hotel. Evie put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the handle outside and double-locked the door, put her phone – still without having read any of her messages – on her charger and then sank down into the room’s armchair.
Before another shower, she could really do with a lot of coffee and a lot of water and some breakfast. There was a menu on the bedside table and, yes, thank goodness, they did room service at any time of day.
While she was on the phone to Reception asking for an all-day pastry breakfast, her phone carried on pinging periodically. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d received so many messages. Thirty was obviously a big milestone age, but she didn’t actually know hundreds of people. Were her friends sending multiple messages or was it possible that they’d got wind of what she and Dan had done last night?
Okay. Deep breath. She was going to find out.
She opened up her messages. There were literally hundreds. Yeah, a lot of them were of the ‘OMG you got MARRIED’ and ‘Details NOW please’ variety. People had found out from the photos that she and Dan had apparently posted on social media. Eek. She’d better check them.
Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. They’d posted a lot of photos including selfies.
Oh God. They’d posted semi-naked photos.
Evie closed her eyes and leaned back in the chair as a wave of nausea washed over her.
When her stomach had settled, she opened her eyes and took another look.
Wow. She and Dan had been active on social media last night. They’d slapped ‘Married tonight’ stuff all over Facebook and Instagram. Everyone, literally everyone that Evie could think of, had seen, loved and commented on the posts.
Some of the photos featured Dan looking devour-me-now sexy in only his jeans with no top. He did have a very nice six-pack. Some of the photos featured Evie sprawled across the bed with the skirt of her dress up high – not quite showing her pants, thank goodness – and her neckline down low – showing her bra – and looking like she was about to have sex. And some of the photos – oh God – showed the two of them in various poses, apparently at various stages of the night. There were photos of their bare legs tangled together. There were photos of them with their heads very close together with both of them with bare shoulders. There were photos of them kissing.
They’d also carefully photographed their marriage certificate and posted it.
The one positive thing about the photos – and given how trigger-happy they’d been on the posting-suggestive-photos front, it was clearly a genuine win – was that none of them were actually pornographic.
The other positive thing was that neither of their mums were on social media.
Dan had already, thank goodness, been back on this morning and had slapped a lot more posts on, all basically saying Joke, ha ha. Evie posted some Joke messages of her own. Then she messaged Sasha and their schoolfriends Anita, Tola and Millie, who they were on this thirtieth-birthday mega-trip with, telling them she was totally fine but wasn’t going to manage to meet them for sightseeing this morning because she was too hungover but would see them at lunchtime. Then she googled how to get a divorce in Vegas. Yep, totally doable but a lot of hassle and quite expensive.
Once she had an almond and raisin croissant, a pain au chocolat, two cups of coffee and some painkillers inside her, Evie spent a very long time in the shower, and then a lot more time drying her hair and doing her make-up. It felt like she needed to look as good as she could manage for facing Dan and the world today. Dan, mainly, actually.
Obviously pretty much anyone in her position would be feeling embarrassed. But they wouldn’t necessarily be feeling like someone had taken their heart out, screwed it up and stamped on it, and then put it back in slightly the wrong place.
The thing was, though, when you’d slept with someone who you’d had a big thing for, since basically forever, and it had been amazing, but obviously a one-off, it felt like it might take a bit longer than it ought to to get over it.
And in the meantime, you wanted to avoid them, or look good for them if you did have to see them.
‘Happy birthday!’ Sasha swept Evie into a huge hug as she arrived in the hotel foyer to meet the rest of their group of friends for lunch, and whispered in her ear, ‘Are you okay?’
‘Thank you,’ Evie said, as chirpily as she could. She returned Sasha’s hug and whispered back, ‘Yes, totally fine.’ Utterly ridiculous that her eyes were pricking in reaction to Sasha’s concern.
‘So Angus, Dan and Rav are playing golf all day while we’re at the spa,’ Sasha said as they walked over to join Anita, Millie and Tola. Angus was Sasha’s truly lovely boyfriend – they were both vets, working in the same practice, and had been going out for years now – and Rav was Anita’s husband. They’d being planning this trip for a good year and a half to celebrate all their thirtieth birthdays happening over the next few months. Another schoolfriend had been coming but had unfortunately broken her leg last week and Sasha had persuaded Dan to join them instead because they couldn’t get a refund.
‘That sounds nice,’ Evie said. And a great relief, frankly. This evening, they’d booked to go to the Fremont Street Light Show in Vegas’s downtown, which hopefully would distract them all and mean that she and Dan wouldn’t end up having to talk to each other at all today. Evie felt like she needed a bit of time to process what had happened, and she didn’t want her first post-sex proper chat with Dan to be in front of all the others.
‘Happy birthday,’ chorused Anita, Millie and Tola.
‘Good night last night?’ Tola asked as they all piled in for birthday hugs.
‘Thank you. Yes, thanks. I mean, you know, too much to drink.’ Evie emerged from the hug and stood back and looked at the others. When you’d known people for a good twenty years, you knew when they had stuff they wanted to say. Especially Millie. She always looked as though her cheeks were going to burst when she was trying to be tactful. Her cheeks were sofull-looking now. ‘So I’m quite hungover today,’ Evie said. ‘But I’m powering on through with coffee, carbs and painkillers.’
‘You have to tell us everything,’ Millie said, having clearly given up on tact. ‘About Dan, not your hangover.’
‘Nothing to tell.’ Evie went for a nothing-to-see-here shrug. ‘I mean, beyond what we posted on Facebook. We got married for a joke and now we need to get divorced. That’s it.’
‘How was the sex?’ Tola said, waggling her eyebrows.
‘Noooo.’ Sasha put her hands over her ears. ‘One, Evie never really wants to talk about sex and it’s her birthday so we should leave her alone, and two, Dan’s my brother and I do not want to know. Please don’t tell us, Evie.’
‘There’s hardly anything to tell and you’re right, I really don’t want to. I mean, I can’t even remember most of it because we were so drunk,’ Evie lied.
‘Okay, great,’ Sasha said. ‘So no more Evie-and-Dan chat then.’
The other three nodded, with some eye rolling.
It would probably be best to stick to Sasha like glue for the rest of their stay so that the others wouldn’t ask her anything else. Evie was never going to want to talk about last night. Because it was Dan.
Against all the odds, she really enjoyed their afternoon getting massages and pedicures together. She did stick glue-like to Sasha, and through a lot of gossip none of the others mentioned Dan more than about five times each. Evie ignored them every time and Millie continued to look as though her cheeks were going to burst.
Evie had a lot more messages on her phone when she checked it again as they left the spa. One of them was from Dan saying maybe they should have a quick chat about getting an annulment or a divorce. And happy birthday again. Evie was so physically relaxed after her last massage that she just kind of thought, Yep, when she read his message.
* * *
Evie was the last down to meet the others in the hotel foyer in the evening because she’d been on the phone to her mum for a long time – it had taken ages to move the conversation on from the OMG you did WHAT exclamations about the Vegas marriage thing – plus she had to re-do her make-up because she was seeing Dan this evening. And it was actually always better to arrive last to a tricky group situation, so that you could choose who to stand with.
She stepped out of the lift and immediately saw Dan on the other side of the foyer, waiting with all the others. Either he was much more noticeable than every other person around, or she had some serious Dan-radar going. She also had serious butterflies going, the ones she always got when she saw him for the first time after a while, except now massively magnified by the memory of last night.
She smoothed her jumper down and, pretending to have her attention drawn by the extravagantly decorated Christmas tree next to the reception desk, started to walk towards the others. The tree’s baubles were genuinely very striking, if not tasteful, in various neon shades. It wasn’t that hard to find it interesting.
Aaargh. Her heel caught in something and she went flying.
Dan, Rav and Anita all dived forwards at once to catch her, so they ended up in an awkward four-way hug. And, weirdly, it was like she knew, without looking, that Dan was the person holding her arm and waist.
‘Thank you,’ she said, moving towards Anita and away from Dan. ‘Don’t know what happened there.’
‘I think you were stunned by the tree,’ Anita said.
‘Yeah, or still ridiculously hungover,’ Sasha said. ‘Come on. I think our taxis are here and the light show starts in half an hour. Happy birthday again, lovely Evie.’ She put her arm round Evie’s waist and gave her a squeeze.
Evie managed to manoeuvre herself into a taxi with Sasha, Angus and Millie, definitely helped by some similar manoeuvring in the opposite direction from Dan, and they were on Fremont Street about ten minutes later.
The light show was amazing, actually, and Evie would have been completely absorbed by it if she hadn’t spent the whole time being far too aware of Dan, standing on the opposite edge of their little group.
They took taxis back in the same two groups as before, and got back to the hotel just before eight thirty, in time for the table they had booked in the hotel’s restaurant.
‘Your birthday dinner,’ said Sasha as they got out of the cab. ‘We have to have something sparkly.’
Evie’s stomach rolled. There was no way she was drinking this evening. Hair of the dog never worked for her.
The others’ cab pulled up next to them and Tola, Anita, Rav and Dan spilled out. And Evie’s stomach rolled some more, but this time because her entire mind and all her senses seemed suddenly to be filled with Dan again.
Right. Enough was enough. It was her birthday. She didn’t need this torture. What she needed was a little break from Dan and the others this evening and a lot of sleep, so that she could pull herself together and get over last night. She was going to pull a social sickie.
‘Last night was my real birthday dinner, and I’m feeling rough,’ she told the others. ‘Turns out thirty’s too old for getting reallyplastered. I think I need to go and crawl into bed and watch TV with a room service sandwich, and then sleep for a very long time. As a little birthday present to myself.’
‘You can’t do that on your birthday,’ several of the others said at once.
‘I really can.’ Now she’d thought of it, Evie really wanted to do it. She held her arms out to hug her friends goodnight. ‘I’ll see you in the morning for Christmas Day and Secret Santa. Don’t eat and drink too much tonight. Make sure you save space for your Christmas lunch tomorrow.’ She gave Tola and Millie, the two nearest to her, a final squeeze, and started a purposeful walk towards the lift, watching where her feet went this time.
Up the escalator and inside her room, with the Do Not Disturb sign on and the door double-locked for the second time that day, she sank into her armchair and put her head in her hands.
Her phone rang about ten seconds later. It was Dan. She stared at the screen for a second and then swiped. She was going to have to talk to him at some point.
‘Hi,’ he said. ‘I’ve left the others to it as well. Do you have time for a quick chat about next steps now? I totally understand if not, obviously.’
Evie looked longingly at her bed and the TV and thought about the awkwardness of talking to Dan. It would probably be better to get the chat out of the way, though, to get things back to normal.
‘Yep, great,’ she said. ‘Want to come to my room? Number one-thirty.’ They didn’t need to have this talk in the bar and risk the others joining them.
‘Cool, thanks. There in a couple of minutes.’
Evie sprinted into her en suite, re-did her hair and finished applying more lipstick just as there was a knock on her door.
‘Evening again,’ she said as she opened it. Dan’s eyes went straight to her lips. So stupid of her to have put more lipstick on for him. He’d clearly noticed. Maybe she should mention it. No, she’d sound ridiculous. ‘Drink?’ she said. ‘From the minibar?’ Drink? She’d actually just suggested that they drink alcohol again. In a room just the two of them. When she’d clearly just reapplied her lipstick. And he was looking jump-me-now gorgeous and all she could think of was how much she’d like to jump him now. ‘Or tea or coffee?’
‘A coffee would be great, thanks.’
‘White, three sugars?’
‘Nope. I’ve gone on a health drive recently. Only two sugars.’
‘Ha.’ Evie filled the kettle and switched it on.
‘That’s a really loud kettle,’ Dan said.
‘Yeah.’ They stood in silence for a moment and then Evie said, ‘Why don’t you sit on the chair? I’ll take the bed.’
When she’d made Dan’s coffee and a tea for herself, she sat down on the edge of the bed and said, ‘So I was going to google how to get divorced this evening. Really not how I imagined spending my thirtieth.’
‘No. We were supposed to be on our honeymoonthis evening after coming good on our fallback pact.’
‘Exactly.’ Evie loved how expressive Dan’s eyes were. And mild jokes were clearly the way forward here. ‘And then have our two point five kids,’ she said, and then gasped. ‘Oh my God.’ What if she’d got pregnant last night?
‘No, I think it’s okay. I mean, I’m sure it is. We were definitely careful.’
Evie thought back and hoped she wasn’t blushing. ‘Yup,’ she said. ‘Pity we couldn’t have been a bit more careful when it came to avoiding wedding chapels.’
‘Yeah.’ Dan nodded.
‘Bloody Susan,’ Evie said.
And then they stared at each other for ages and then Evie sniggered and then Dan did and then they both properly laughed until Dan was leaning back in the armchair snorting and holding his sides and Evie was lying on her side on the bed gasping and honking.
Eventually they were both sitting up straight again, and Dan said, ‘If I’m honest, that’s not normally the effect I’m hoping for when I sleep with someone.’
Evie looked at him and smiled, but not a lot. That didn’t seem so funny, actually. Right now she didn’t want to think of Dan sleeping with other people, or the fact that it didn’t seem like the two of them would sleep together ever again.
‘Yeah, too soon for jokes,’ Dan said. ‘Sorry.’
‘No, don’t say sorry.’ Evie picked her cup up from her bedside table. ‘My tea’s gone cold. I’m going to make more for both of us. Have you managed to do any divorce googling yet? I did a little bit this morning but nothing concrete because my head hurt.’
‘Yep, same. I’ve done a bit. What I’ve gleaned so far is that an annulment would be better than a divorce because then legally it would be like the marriage never happened, and that you can get an annulment based on being completely off your faces but you have to have evidence. And the sooner we do it the better. And I think we’ll need to pay an attorney because there are a lot of forms. But I think it’ll be okay. Although quite expensive.’
‘Yes, that’s what I thought too. So annoying,’ Evie said, stirring their milk in. ‘Why couldn’t we have just stolen a couple of road signs or something? Why did we have to get married?’
She handed him his new coffee and sat back down on the bed. ‘So maybe we should both do a bit more googling and come up with a shortlist of attorneys and check them out and then approach the best one. I’m pretty sure it’ll be okay to do it once we’re both back in London and we won’t need to stay on longer here.’
‘Good plan.’ Dan took a sip of coffee and shook his head. ‘Not enough sugar. What kind of a wife are you?’ He looked up at her and said, ‘Still too soon for jokes?’
Evie rolled her eyes. ‘I’m a great wife. I’m trying to stop your teeth falling out. Want to spend ten minutes googling now so that we have a plan? And then we can try calling them on Monday?’
Ten minutes later they had a shortlist and their plan. Dan drank the last bit of his coffee and stood up.
‘So, good,’ he said, ‘I think it’ll be okay. Just a very expensive and admin-heavy experience. Maybe not one to repeat in a hurry.’ He moved over to the door. ‘Happy birthday again. Goodnight.’
‘Night.’ Evie waited for him to close the door behind him before doing an enormous sniff to try to get rid of the tears that had suddenly formed. She really shouldn’t feel sad now, or bereft that Dan had left.
This was going to be fine.
She was totally going to get over last night; she just needed a little bit of space to process it, that was all.