“Grandma was pretty upset with me and said I hadn’t tried hard enough with Harry. She accused me of not letting the ‘magic of the mistletoe’ do its work. I had to remind her that one obligatory kiss under the mistletoe does not constitute destiny or even a relationship. I think my grandma is getting loony in her old age.”
“Eliza, I hate to break it to you, but your grandma has always been a little loony—in the nicest way possible of course.” Jen gave me a sideways glance as we hurried down the hall. “I believe it may be a family thing,” she deadpanned, jabbing me with her elbow.
I rolled my eyes and stopped as we came to my door.
“What I want to know,” Jen continued, “is what you really thought of Harry.”
I mulled it over. I had been so focused on Grandma that I hadn’t actually given him much thought. Harry seemed easy going and had been pretty funny as the three of us had chatted in the kitchen. He’d been able to turn what I was certain would be a weird and difficult conversation into something actually pleasant. Harry said that he was happy to be in town to spend time with Ralph and his family. The architectural firm he had been designing with had just been sold and he had decided it was a good time for a change of scenery and some down time to focus on some pet projects he hadn’t had time for with his firm’s hectic schedule. Harry could be easy to like. But, I hated when things were forced instead of just happening. I was tired of running after love and wasn’t going to bother unless it came after me. “I don’t think he’s knocking down my door,” I told Jen.
“Well, you have to kiss a lot of frogs . . .” Jen began. I gave her a murderous look.
“What is up with that phrase?! That’s how Grandma threatened me as I left her house yesterday. She told me if I wasn’t willing to work with the magic of the mistletoe, that I’d be destined to be kissing frogs forever.”
The bell rang and students flooded the hallways. “She may have a point,” Jen called over her shoulder as she ran to class.
At my lunch break, I scurried down to the teachers’ lounge with a million things on my mind—sustenance being at the top of the list. As I floundered with the heavy door, an armful of papers, and my lunch, I literally ran into Bradley, one of our science teachers and a friend, heading out of the room. Bradley and I had briefly played together on a trivia team that made a circuit of area cafes and pubs. Even if I was a literature expert, it didn’t take me long to learn I was out of my league with the trivia team. But Bradley and I had always had a good time together.
“Hey Eliza,” he said, blocking my way. He pointed up to where a ball of mistletoe hung as you walked out of the teachers’ lounge. The music department was selling the mistletoe, wreaths and garlands as part of a fundraiser. Someone must have tacked one up as a joke outside the lounge.
I shook my head in disbelief. How could I have been caught by the mistletoe for the second time in as many days?
“I can’t believe they’re letting the students sell mistletoe,” Bradley lamented.
“I know,” I responded. “It’s dangerous for all these unsuspecting teenagers to accidentally be stuck underneath it,” I said, thinking back to yesterday’s embarrassing drama with Harry at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
“Dangerous is right! Poinsettia gets the bad rap as far as Christmas flora goes, but a 50 pound child would have to consume 500 bracts to even get a mild stomachache. Mistletoe, in contrast, really is poisonous. Of course the white berries are a dead giveaway.” Bradley paused and heh hehhed quietly to himself, repeating the words ‘dead giveaway.’ He smiled at his private joke and then returned to his lecture. “You see,” he explained to me, “in nature, white berries typically indicate poison, black or blue berries generally denote non-toxicity and a red berry could go either way. I wouldn’t mess with an unidentified red berry unless it was a survival situation. And then only if I experimented with small amounts to test its toxicity and perhaps build up immunity.” I genuinely liked Bradley and even his science lessons were pretty interesting usually, but I only had a half hour for lunch. I needed to wolf down some food, run my 5th period’s tests through the scantron, and try and get Gary our tech guy to figure out why my projector screen suddenly stopped projecting in the middle of last hour’s lesson on Much Ado about Nothing. “Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. It can poison its host tree—kill it outright. Human consumption of mistletoe can cause decreased pulse, acute gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea . . .”
Apparently, Bradley knew a lot about mistletoe’s scientific properties, but he was completely ignorant as to its social and cultural legacy, seeing as how he was orating and not osculating.
I broke in. “I think we can trust our students not to consume any ornamental plants. I know the cafeteria isn’t going to win any awards, but I think most of them would choose it over munching on mistletoe,” I joked trying to get past him and into the lounge.
Bradley looked thoughtful for a split second and then launched off on another tangent. “I don’t know Eliza. The human brain is the last organ to develop. It’s not fully formed until well into the 20’s. We judge these kids according to how we would react, but they just haven’t fully developed their decision making capabilities yet.”
There weren’t too many ways that my coworkers and I had found to keep Bradley quiet once he got going with a subject he was passionate about. And there were many subjects he was passionate about. With my mind on my waning time, I made a split-second decision. Ignoring about a decade of workplace sexual harassment training, I shifted my armload, quickly grabbed his collar and firmly, but oh so briefly, kissed him square on the lips. “Merry Christmas, Bradley.” I pointed to the ball above our heads in defense. My actions immediately succeeded in shutting Bradley up.
“Merry Christmas, Eliza,” he croaked as he wandered dazedly down the hall, leaving me to my lunch break.
Come back tomorrow for more of this fabulous story!