Their group of friends’ annual holiday party is at Hero and Ursula’s new flat this year.
Which, for Bea and Ben, means a very long car ride with a very fussy eighteen-month-old baby, and tempers running high. Between sniping at each other and trying to keep Olivia calm, they’re both in foul moods. By the time they actually get there, neither of them is entirely sure what they’re even angry about anymore. All Beatrice knows is that Ben is definitely wrong, and that this is one of those days where absolutely everything he does is incredibly annoying to her. Apparently, the feeling is mutual.
Thankfully, once they arrive, Hero swoops down upon the bleary-eyed Olivia almost instantly, giving her parents a bit of a break. “I hope the drive wasn’t too awful,” she says apologetically, adjusting the little red bow in the baby’s thin dark hair and kissing her forehead before looking back up at Beatrice, who just sighs exasperatedly.
“I’m just glad we’re here now. Some people are being absolutely insufferable today.”
“Yeah,” puts in Ben, equal parts irritated and amused, as he takes their offerings of an appetizer and a housewarming bottle of wine through to the kitchen. “Some people are.”
“I am not the one who actually likes Baby It’s Cold Outside, okay?” she snaps, following him.
“Look, I never said I liked it. All I said was, I’ve heard other interpretations. I was playing devil’s advocate!” He argues back as he hugs Ursula hello.
“I don’t want to know,” Ursula laughs, moving to greet Beatrice with a smile.
“You have an amazing place here,” Beatrice says, looking around. “Thank you for hosting. Don’t let Dickface spoil the fun with his terrible taste in Christmas songs.”
“I never said-” Ben starts again, then thinks better of it. “Oh, who cares? You’re right, we shouldn’t be arguing, it’s a party! I’m not going to let you provoke me anymore.”
“You started it- Oh, come on, seriously? Mistletoe? That’s the best you can do?” Beatrice says disgustedly, noticing the sprig of white berries and green leaves overhead. They’ve stumbled into the doorway to the living room, somehow, and ended up right underneath it. She’s pretty sure she just heard Peter whistle at them from the next room, and makes a mental note to glare at him when she goes in there. “I am not going to change my mind because of a ridiculous supersition.”
“I didn’t do anything! The fact that we both happen to be underneath this mistletoe right now is a complete coincidence, I promise,” Ben insists.
“Well, either way, I’m definitely not going to kiss you. Hero! How could you allow me to get stuck under the mistletoe with this asshole?” Beatrice appeals to her cousin, but Hero just laughs, exchanging a knowing look with her girlfriend and putting a very squirmy Olivia down so she can try to walk around a little.
“By ‘this asshole’, I assume you mean your loving, supportive, totally babein’ husband? Father of your child? Love of your life, who is very, very sorry for getting us lost on the way here?” says Ben, stepping even closer to Beatrice.
“Talk yourself up all you want. I suppose I forgive you… but I’m still not kissing you,” laughs Beatrice. Suddenly, she’s kind of enjoying this, teasing him as he’s smiling down at her, pushing a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear and letting his hand linger, gentle against her cheek. She and Ben haven’t had much time or inclination for romance, not for a while, and though earlier she was willing to hold onto her sour mood for as long as possible, she can’t deny that being so close to him can still set her head spinning, on occasion. Her hand comes up to rest against his chest, intent on putting him off, but their lips are just millimeters apart now, and it is holiday tradition… And then she notices the mischievous glint in his blue eyes.
“Who said I was going to kiss you?” Ben asks, raising an eyebrow, leaning away from his wife at the last second.
“Of course you were going to kiss me, dickface,” Beatrice rolls her eyes. “Come here.”
“Ohhh, no. No way. I apologized, love. Now, it’s your turn.” He winks, tripping backwards a few steps until she’s standing under the mistletoe alone. Beatrice licks her lips, trying not to let it show that she’s more than a little disappointed. She glares at her husband, resuming her anger. He’s still smiling. Of course.
“My turn? Today was completely your fault, and you know it. I have nothing to be sorry for,” she declares haughtily, crossing her arms in defiance.
“You just keep telling yourself that, Bea,” he says, and turns away to head out into the living room, where all their friends are waiting.
It isn’t until nearer the end of the night, softened by good company and a little of the eggnog Peter and Balthazar brought with them, that Beatrice considers letting go of her pride. She’s gotten the grand tour of Hero’s new place, gotten to catch up with all their friends- it’s been a wonderful party, such a relief to do something simple and fun. And Olivia’s been blessedly calm all night. Right now, Meg is bouncing the tiny girl on her knee, and Olivia is giggling happily. Beatrice smiles at the two of them and returns to her conversation with Freddie, which is starting to taper off, as conversations do. Bea realizes she’s thirsty, and offers to get Freddie something, but the other woman declines, holding up a half-full glass, so Beatrice wanders off to the kitchen in search of a glass of water by herself. It’s only on her way back out to the main party that she bumps into a familiar figure in the doorway.
“Oh, there you are,” says Bea, smirking up at him. “Perfect timing. I never got my mistletoe kiss.”
“I had no idea you were expecting one,” Ben teases.
“Look, I’m sorry if I was mean earlier, but I just can’t find it in me to apologize for hating Baby It’s Cold Outside. It’s not happening, you’re just going to have to deal with it. It’s not even actually cold outside!”
“I have to admit,” says Ben seriously, meeting her eyes. “I honestly don’t care about Baby It’s Cold Outside. I was just messing with you.”
Beatrice groans, but it turns into a laugh. “Could you not have saved the pointless bickering for when we weren’t already miserable and lost and overtired?”
“Beatrice. We have a kid. We’re always overtired.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” she sighs. “Today was just as much my fault as yours, and I really am sorry.”
“I’m sorry too. Truce?”
Beatrice nods, then leans forward until she’s resting her head on her husband’s shoulder, and allows her eyes to drift closed for a moment. She feels his arms come up to wrap around her, and she draws back a touch to open her eyes and look at him.
“Hi,” she says softly.
“Hey,” he responds, as she snakes her arms around his neck and rocks up onto her tiptoes, her eyes finding the small green parasite hanging overhead.
“Oh, look,” she breathes. “Mistletoe.”
He kisses her then, soft and sweet and so worth the wait. She presses closer, deepening the kiss, and as he enthusiastically responds, everything else- the party, their argument, the whole awful day- just falls away. Beatrice doesn’t notice anything apart from her husband’s arms around her and his mouth against her own, until finally, she pulls away, remembering herself, and suddenly distracted by a tugging on her leg. She and Ben, still a little dazed, laughing, both look down to see Olivia sitting on the floor, looking curiously up at them.
“Hi, baby,” Beatrice says fondly, as Ben leans down to scoop Olivia up into his arms. Olivia, blue eyes bright, reaches for the mistletoe, her arms too short to grasp it.
“No, no, you don’t want that, love,” says Ben to the baby, kissing her on the cheek. “It’s poisonous.”
“It has its uses,” Beatrice points out, pressing a kiss to her daughter’s other cheek and taking her little hands to keep her from grabbing at the decoration.
Ben laughs at that. “Yeah, I guess it does.”