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Good Girl Complex: Chapter 34

MACKENZIE

Well, it’s not winter in Jackson Hole or Aspen—the weather’s been in the seventies all weekend like Carolina’s stuck in autumn—but shopping for a Christmas tree with Cooper and Evan has thus far been an adventure. Already we’ve been chased out of three tree lots because these ruffians are incapable of behaving themselves in public. Between challenging each other to see who can bench press the biggest tree and holding a jousting contest in the middle of a grocery store parking lot, we’re running out of options to find a tree without crossing state lines.

“What about this one?” Evan says from somewhere in the artificial forest.

To be fair, one of the lots we got kicked out of was for Cooper and I getting caught making out behind the Douglas firs. Proving he hasn’t learned his lesson, Cooper sneaks up on me and smacks my ass while I try to navigate my way toward his brother.

“Looks like your eighth-grade girlfriend,” Cooper remarks when we find Evan standing next to a round spruce that’s big on the top and bottom but noticeably naked in the middle.

Evan smirks. “Jealous.”

“This one’s nice.” I point to another tree. It’s full and fluffy, with plenty of evenly spaced branches for ornaments. No gaping holes or apparent brown spots.

Cooper sizes up the tree. “Think we can get it through the door?”

“Can bring it in through the back,” Evan answers. “Pretty tall, though. We might have to poke a hole in the ceiling.”

I grin. “Worth it.”

I’ve always been a big-tree girl, though I was never allowed to pick out my own. My parents had people for that. Every December a box truck would show up and unload a mall’s worth of decorations. A huge, perfect tree for the living room, and smaller ones for nearly every other living area in the house. Garlands, lights, candles, and the whole lot. Then an interior decorator and a small army of help would transform the house. Not once did my family get together to decorate the trees; we never looked for the perfect branch for each keepsake ornament like other families seemed to do. All we had was a bunch of expensive, rented junk to accomplish whatever motif my mother was interested in that year. Another set dressing for their life of parties and entertaining influential people or campaign donors. A completely sterile holiday season.

And yet despite that, I find myself a bit emotional at the idea of not seeing my parents for the holidays. We’re still barely speaking, although my father did courier over a stack of Christmas cards and order me to sign my name under his and my mother’s. Apparently the cards are being delivered to hospitals and charities in my father’s congressional district, courtesy of the perfect Cabot family who cares so much about humanity.

That evening after dinner, the three of us scrounge for decorations and lights in the attic, buried under years of dust.

“I don’t think we’ve decorated for Christmas in, what?” Cooper questions his brother as we carry the boxes to the living room. “Three, four years?”

“Seriously?” I set my box on the hardwood floor and sit in front of the tree.

Evan opens a box of tangled lights. “Something like that. Not since high school, at least.”

“That’s so sad.” Even a plastic Christmas is better than nothing.

“We’ve never been big on holidays in this family.” Cooper shrugs. “Sometimes we do stuff at Levi’s house. Usually Thanksgivings, because every other year for Christmas they go see Tim’s family in Maine.”

“Tim?” I ask blankly.

“Levi’s husband,” Evan supplies.

“Partner,” Cooper corrects. “I don’t think they’re actually married.”

“Levi’s gay? How come this is the first I’m hearing of it?”

The twins give identical shrugs, and for a second I understand why their teachers had a tough time telling them apart. “It’s not really something he talks about,” Cooper says. “They’ve been together for, like, twenty years or something, but they don’t flaunt their relationship. They’re both really private people.”

“Most folks in town know,” Evan adds. “Or suspect. Everyone else just assumes they’re roommates.”

“We should’ve had a dinner here and invited them.” I feel glum at the lost opportunity. If I’m going to be living in Avalon Bay and staying with the twins, it might be nice to form deeper connections.

It’s strange. Although we grew up in two opposite worlds, Cooper and I aren’t that different. In many ways, we’ve had parallel experiences. The more I come to understand him, the more I realize that our shared language is deeply influenced by the ways we’ve felt neglected.

“Dude, I think some of these ornaments are from Grandma and Grandpop.” Evan drags a box closer to the tree. The guys dig into it, pulling out little, handmade ornaments with photos inside. Dates from ’53, ’61. Souvenirs from trips all over the country. Evan holds up a little cradle that must have belonged to a manger set at one point. “What the ever-loving fuck is this?”

He shows us a swaddled baby Jesus that more closely resembles a little baked potato in tinfoil with two black dots for eyes and a pink line for a mouth.

I blanch. “That’s disturbing.”

“Didn’t even know these were here.” Cooper admires a picture I can only guess is his dad as a boy. Then he tucks it back in the bottom of the box.

Once again, a lump of emotion clogs my throat. “I wish I had boxes like these at home, full of old pictures and knickknacks, with interesting stories behind them that my parents could tell me about.”

Cooper gets up to heave one of the larger boxes back to the hallway. “I don’t know … Having a bunch of servants to do the heavy lifting can’t have been all that bad,” he calls over his shoulder.

“Not to mention waking up to a ton of presents,” Evan pipes up.

“Sure,” I say, picking out the ornaments that are still in good shape and appear the least emotionally detrimental. “It sounds great. It was like waking up in Santa’s workshop. Until you get old enough to realize all the cards on your presents aren’t written in your parents’ handwriting. And instead of elves, they’re actually people your parents pay to keep as much distance as possible between them and anything approaching sentimentality.”

“Bet they were sick presents, though,” Evan says with a wink. We’ve moved well past the how many ponies did you get for your birthday jokes, but he can’t always resist getting in a jab.

I shrug sadly. “I’d give them all back if it meant my parents would want to spend time together, even just once. To act like we were a family rather than a business venture. My dad was always working, and Mom was more worried about her charity functions—which, yeah, I know, she wasn’t boiling puppies or something. There are worse things than raising money for a children’s hospital. But I was a child too. Couldn’t I have gotten some of that holiday spirit?”

“Aww, come here, you little shit.” Evan throws his arm around my neck and kisses the top of my head. “I’m messing with you. Parents fucking blow. Even rich ones. We’re all screwed up, one way or another.”

“All I mean is, doing this, the three of us, means a lot to me,” I tell them, surprised at myself when my eyes start stinging. If I cried in front of these guys, I’d never hear the end of it. “It’s my first real Christmas.”

Cooper pulls me on his lap and wraps his arms around me. “We’re glad you’re here.”

Evan disappears for second, then returns with a small box. “Okay. So I was going to sneak this in your stocking later, but I think you should have it now.”

I stare at the box. He’s done an absolutely awful job of wrapping it, the corners all uneven and held down with way more tape than anything the size of my palm should require.

“Don’t worry,” he says, “it’s not stolen.”

I crack a smile as I tear into the present with all the grace of a petulant preschooler. Inside, I find a plastic figure of a girl in a pink dress. Her hair is colored black with a permanent marker and a tiny, yellow crown cut from paper is glued to her head.

“I swear I looked in six different stores for a princess ornament. You have no idea how fucking hard it is to find one.” He grins. “So I made my own.”

My eyes water. Another lump lodges in my throat.

“I wanted to get you something. To celebrate.”

My hands shake.

“I mean, it’s supposed to be funny. I promise I wasn’t trying to be a dick or anything.”

Doubling over, I start laughing hysterically. So hard my ribs hurt. Cooper can’t hold me, and I tumble to the floor.

“Is she laughing or crying?” Evan asks his twin.

It’s honestly the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me. All the more meaningful that Evan put so much effort into the perfect gift. His brother’s going to have to step up his game if he wants to compete.

Once I’ve collected myself, I get up and hug Evan, who seems relieved that I’m not kicking his ass. I guess there was always the chance the gift would backfire, but I think Evan and I have reached an understanding.

“If you two are done, can we get this damn tree finished?” Apparently feeling left out, Cooper pouts behind us.

“Keep that attitude up and you’re not getting your present tonight,” I warn him.

“Please,” Evan says, hushing us with his finger over his mouth. “Baby Potato Jesus can hear you.”


A few days later, after the most low-key—and best—holiday I’ve ever had, I’m with Cooper in his workshop, helping him dust, polish, and wrap some furniture. I think watching me manage the hotel renovation gave him a kick in the butt to push himself harder with his own business venture. He’s been pounding the pavement and making inquiries, and this week, he received a couple calls from boutique stores that want to sell a few of his pieces. This morning, we sent off new photographs for their websites, and now we’re getting everything ready for transport.

“You’re not selling my set, right?” I ask anxiously.

“The one you never paid for?” He winks, coming up to me covered in the sawdust that clings to everything in here.

“Things got a little hectic. But you’re right, I owe you a check.”

“Forget it. I can’t take your money.” He shrugs adorably. “Those pieces were always yours whether you bought them or not. Once you laid hands on them, it would have felt wrong to let them go anywhere else.”

My heart somersaults in my chest. “First of all, that’s one of the sweetest things you’ve ever said. And second of all, you can totally take my money. That’s the thing about money. It works everywhere.”

“Spoken like a true clone.”

For that, I smack him with my polishing rag.

“Hands, Cabot.”

“Yeah, I’ll show you hands, Hartley.”

“Oh yeah?” With a smirk, he tugs me toward him, his mouth covering mine in a possessive kiss.

His tongue is just slicking over mine when an unfamiliar female voice chirps from the open garage door.

“Knock, knock!”


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