A Stepbrother for Christmas:The Hard and Dirty Holidays(3)

By: Celia Aaron

Clearly, she’d wanted to sit in the shop for a while, but my mere presence was about to drive her back out into the cold again. I couldn’t blame her. I’d been a total wanker to her the entire time I’d lived with her and her mom in Dallas. I was in a bad head space at that time in my life. My mom had died two years before. I couldn’t forgive my father for remarrying. I took it out on Annalise. I knew that now. I’d thought so many times about how I might try to apologize, to make it up to her. But we were strangers now, more or less, and I didn’t want to reopen old wounds.

By the way she cringed away from me in the coffee shop, it appeared the wounds had never fully closed. And going three years without an apology from me? I was the biggest tosser this side of the Atlantic.

I stood and took a step toward her. She leaned away even though I was several meters from her. This was going to be slow going. Getting closer to her was clearly not an option. I resume my seat. She eyed me like I was a particularly loathsome rodent. I rubbed my hand over my jaw, desperately trying to figure out how to rectify a five-year mistake in five minutes over coffee.

When her order was up she thanked the pretty barista and took her drink. She gave me one more acidic glance and headed toward the door.

“Annalise,” I called.

She stopped.

“Please, I just want to talk is all.” I tried to give her my most winning smile.

She grimaced.


The barista watched the scene with interest. She perked up at my accent. All the American women did. Except Annalise.

She seemed caught in a fight or flight instinct. Was I really that bad?

One look in her eyes told me yes, I really was.

“Please?” I dropped the smile and just tried to straight up grovel.

She relaxed a bit, her stance not quite as tense. The door opened, sending a blast of cold air onto her. She shied away from the chill, back toward the dining area. Back toward me.

She squared her shoulders, as if she were about to take on an entire rugby team, and approached. The frown on her face told me I was barely the winner in the Niles versus hypothermia battle.

She eased into the chair opposite me and continued her skeptical perusal.

“You’ve gotten big.”

She arched an eyebrow.

Good one, Niles.

“I mean, you’ve grown. Not that I’m saying you’ve grown like big. I mean, like, you’ve filled out and …” Stop, just stop talking.

She crossed her arms over her chest, which only made her breasts look bigger. Mayday, mayday.

I took a gulp of my too-hot coffee to avoid having to make any more sounds with my mouth. It burned like the fires of hell, but I didn’t make a peep. Christmas music piped through the speakers and did a poor job of covering the uncomfortable silence.

She’d sat with me. It would have to be enough. Besides, just busting out an apology with no explanation or build up didn’t seem to be the best move. Or did it? I couldn’t tell. All I knew was she was giving me a death glare I wasn’t sure I’d ever recover from.

She took a small sip of her coffee and her gaze slid to the door. I was losing her. I couldn’t stall. It was now or never.

“I’m sorry.”

Her eyes opened wide and she set her coffee down so hard it geysered from the lid and landed with a slap in the floor.

“Sorry?” she hissed. “Sorry for tormenting me, calling me names, embarrassing me, spreading lies about me at school, getting other kids to call me ‘assless Anna’? I could go on, Niles.” She put a lethal dose of venom into my name.

She was right. I had been a rotten prick to her.

“I know. And you’re right to be angry.” I didn’t think she’d still be this angry, but I supposed what I thought didn’t matter at this point. “I was having a hard time with our parents’ marriage and I did and said things I never should have. I’ve wanted to apologize—”

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