Foto bij 551. - Lucien

The pile of wood next to the fire is as high as it can go without toppling over. The last three stacked rows had nothing to do with me, however, because I have been assigned a spot on the couch with my foot propped up on a stool and a bag of frozen peas draped over my toes - forced onto me by a slightly panicked Nancy after Daniel accidentally dropped a log on my toes. As it turns out, it's not a good idea to haul wood around wearing loafers.
It took ten minutes for Daniel to stop apologising, but it seems that Nancy needs a little longer: every time I make a move that might even suggest I'm about to get up, she glares absolute daggers at me from the dining room table, where she got roped into making place cards with Selene, Beth and Eschieve. Phoebe is there too, colouring a picture of Santa and his elves that Dan printed for her.
I've stopped trying to do anything without Nancy's permission, even though I was fine five minutes after the whole thing had gone down.
"She's just happy she's got another child to mother." Emma chuckles when I get another well-intended death glare. "Selene and Eschieve are far too well-behaved."
"Are you saying that I'm not?" I raise my eyebrows, amused. "I'm not the one who dropped the log, you know."
"I told you I'm sorry!" Daniel complains from behind his phone, and Emma and I laugh. Emma, next to me on the couch, kisses my cheek.
"It's not really Christmas without someone getting injured. The fact that it's you just means that you're officially part of the family. Can I get you anything?"
"I'm all good, thank you, love." I catch her lips in a quick kiss. It immediately gets me a gagging sound from both Beth and Daniel.
"You - are - both - adults!" Emma exclaims, tossing a pillow at her brother's head. It's misses its target by a few centimetres, skidding over the hard wooden floors. "God, you'd think you two still believe you get cooties from kissing."
"Not cooties, more like h-"
"I dare you to finish that sentence, Daniel Middleton." The low voice from Reginald Middleton suddenly comes between. I don't think he even looks up from his book. It shuts us up very effectively. Not for long though: Beth snorts a laugh, Daniel grabs the pillow from the floor to bury his face and his laugh in it, and Emma hides hers behind her hands. The conversation is definitely over though, so when they have calmed down I lean towards Emma, who's already eyeing me curiously because I didn't join in their laughter.
"I'm not sure if I'm missing a family joke or something, or if I'm about to ask a really stupid question, but... What are cooties?"
The question clearly surprises her. "You don't know what cooties are?"
"Else I wouldn't have asked, would I?" I grin awkwardly. "I've heard it in movies, I think, but I've never really... understood."
Her look of surprise morphs into a bright smile, one that says 'you are the most adorable thing right now'. It's usually Frank who gets looked at that way, but I'm not complaining that it's now directed at me. "Well, like I said, it's something you get when you kiss girls. You get red spots, you start itching, and when it gets real bad, you become blind!" She keeps her voice hushed, booping me on the nose at the last statement. I can only stare at her in utter confusion, worse than before the explanation. She stares back at me for a few seconds, lower lip caught between her teeth, and then she lets out a short, airy laugh. "I'm sorry, I had to. It's a fictitious disease. Word on the playground was that when a boy kissed a girl, she'd give him cooties. The worst thing to ever get, obviously."
"Huh." Suddenly the whole exchange makes a lot more sense. "French kids didn't make up diseases. The British are weird."
Emma raises a single eyebrow at me, gesturing around the room. "Is that really a statement you want to make in a room where eighty percent of the people are British?"

There comes a time where Nancy finally lets me walk around again. I accidentally use my first steps to test my limits; when I head to the kitchen, curious to what's going on there, I am immediately banned. Daniel slaps my shoulder sympathetically, laughing. "Don't mind her. She finds it hard enough to accept help from her own kids, much less the guests. The only reason Selene was allowed to help earlier, is because it was an excuse to be between ladies."
"You make that sound very ominous."
"Are you kidding? Between ladies is where wars get plotted and perfect murders get planned. Most dangerous conversations on the planet." Despite him being twenty-three, his grin is still very boyish. "Different question: I noticed you brought you Vanquish again." He makes a very non-subtle look in the general direction of the street. In a reflex, I look that way, even though I know exactly what he means. Since last summer, I've gone back to leasing the same car I did during my year here - be it an upgraded model of this year. Even with me being gone for long stretches of time, now that Emma has her license a car is a useful addition.
"That is not a question." I note with a grin. He rolls his eyes at me.
"Well, you know what I mean!"
"Do I?"
"Emma neglects to mention that you're this annoying." He grunts. I peek over his shoulder to make sure the coast is clear: Emma is deeply engaged in conversation with Selene and Charles.
"I'm dating Emma. What else did you expect?"
His mouth falls open slightly in shock, and then he laughs. "Touché, rich boy, touché. I promise I won't tell her you said that if you take me for a spin in your car."
"Since I don't know how much your mother can take from me, why don't make you sure we have enough time to do that and if the answer is yes, I'll take you."

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