The Naughty List


I obeyed while he gathered my personal items strewn at my feet. Setting my purse on the table, he helped me stand again. But my legs wobbled, threatening to give out on me. My eyes misted over when he pulled me toward him. His arms tightened around me, and I gasped for breath once more. A single tear escaped when I blinked, the coldness of its trek down my cheek making my lower lip tremble.

"It's okay to cry, Holly," his deep voice whispered reassuringly in my ear.

And with those words, I let go. Grasping onto him, I sobbed against his shoulder. Oblivious to everything else around me except his warm embrace and his whispered words of comfort in my ear. It wasn't until I felt the cold chill of the winter wind against my cheeks that I grasped he'd walked us out of the coffee shop.

He led me toward a beat-up green sedan and helped me into the passenger side. Buckled my seatbelt. Closed my door, cutting off the wind.

I sniffled at the loss of his arms around me. I ran the back of my hand across both eyes, watching Chris walk around the front of the car and slide into the driver's side. Then we were moving.

"Wait. Where are we going?" I managed, my voice croaky.

"The hospital."

Yes. Of course. How silly of me.

We were both silent on the ride across town. I was breathing normally by the time he pulled into the lot at St. Margaret's. But I was unable to get out of the car when he came around to my side and opened the door.

Without a word, Chris unbuckled me and took my arm, helping me stand and walk toward the ER bay. Inside, the lights were so bright, I cringed. He led us up to the front desk and pulled something out of his pocket. I recognized it as the napkin from the coffee shop.

When the nurse behind the counter turned to us, Chris said, "We're looking for Mr. McGregor. I believe he's in the ICU? He came in after a car accident?"

The woman glanced between the both of us. "Are you family?"

"Daughter." I started to say more, but a soft sob escaped, and Chris's arm around my back tightened.

"Her mom is already here," he offered.

The nurse nodded. "Elevators are down to the left. Fifth floor. Just follow the signs."

Then we were moving again. Once the elevator doors closed behind us, Chris turned and pressed my face against his chest. His other arm wrapped around me, his chin resting against my head.

"No matter what happens, I'm right here, Holly."

"I-I just met you. You don't have to do this."

"I want to, okay?"

I nodded. I didn't have the energy to argue logic with him at the moment. I resolved to just be grateful that he was with me.

As soon as the doors opened again, I stepped out into an alternate reality. I walked beside him, but I wasn't the one in control of my body. Everything I saw or heard seemed distorted, as though from a distance. After we entered the ICU wing, I gripped Chris's hand tighter and let him guide me while we followed a nurse down the hall.

We stopped in the doorway of a room, and I shrank back at the sight of my dad in the hospital bed. He was covered in scrapes and already-forming bruises on his face, and he seemed much paler than normal against the white sheets and pillows. Wires and tubes ran from his arms, under his hospital gown, and his mouth and nose to various machines arranged around him. My mom sat in a chair on one side, her arms folded on the side railing of the bed.

"Mrs. McGregor?" the nurse said softly.

When my mom turned her head, she looked like she had aged ten years since I'd seen her two weeks prior. Her pallor matched my dad's, and her eyes were bloodshot as they met mine. She looked so...fragile.

"Holly?" She rubbed her hand at her forehead and slowly stood, using the railing for support.

"Mom!" I approached her, and we kind of fell into each other, our hug firm but our bodies shaking. "How is he?"

She released me and sat down again, this time using the arms of the chair to aid her. "It's too soon to tell if there will be any long-term effects. He's stable, but he's still in critical condition. He hasn't woken up, yet, either. The doctor was just in. He said your father's seatbelt saved his life. The other man wasn't wearing his and didn't make it. Another car hit him after he hit your father."

A strangled cry made its way up my throat. Someone had lost a family member today. I tried not to think that I could lose my dad as well, especially with Christmas so close. The holiday would never be the same for us again if he was gone. Fresh tears clouded my vision, and I resisted the urge to wipe at them. "What can I do, Mom?"

"Just having you here is enough." Her voice was a little croaky, as though she'd been crying recently, too. She sighed and gave me a sad smile. "Who's your friend?"

"Oh! Um..."

"Chris, ma'am." Chris stepped forward and offered his hand, which my mom accepted.

Her smile seemed to brighten a little. "Ma'am. Don't I feel old now? It's nice to meet you."

"I'm sorry about your husband."

"Thank you, Chris." My mom held my gaze. I feared she would start her usual 20-questions about how we had met and such, but she just turned back to my dad and resumed her stoic position on the side rail, her folded arms cushioning her chin now.

I let out a shaky breath while Chris led me to a second chair on the opposite side of the bed. I was suddenly exhausted. I didn't object when he rolled the doctor's stool over to sit down, too, and put his arm around me. Or when he told me to close my eyes and get some rest...that he would wake me if my dad's status changed. I mumbled some form of thanks, to which he just said, "Shh."


Knowing there wasn't much else we could do but wait, I had Chris run me back to get my car from the coffee shop after I woke from a short rest. I tried to thank him, but I got choked up. He pulled me into his embrace, and then we got in our respective cars and went our separate ways.

I made stops at my parents' house and my apartment to get a few things. After I filled Jolie in on what was happening, she clasped my hands and whispered what sounded like a heartfelt "sorry" before she disappeared back into her room. I could hear Dirk calling out, asking what was taking her so long. I rolled my eyes and grabbed my overnight bag. Some things would never change.

I swung by work. My boss said to take as much time as I needed but to keep him updated after the holiday when the gym reopened. I wasn't sure if I wanted to kiss him or cry. I chose to hightail it out of there before I did either.

Back at the hospital, I found Chris sitting with my mother. I blinked away my surprise, especially at the empty fast-food wrappers crumpled on the rolling table/tray that had been pushed against the window. My mother was in her chair but leaning forward across the bed, her arms folded beneath her head as she rested against my dad's leg. She appeared to be sleeping.

The scent of grease and French fries masked the medicinal smell of the room. It also made my stomach growl. My eyes honed in on a white, paper bag sitting on my chair, the top rolled closed in an apparent attempt to keep some residual heat enclosed. I gave Chris a quick glance, to which he just smiled and gestured with his paper cup to eat.

I mouthed, "Thank you."

For two days, my mom and I stayed with my dad. Chris remained by my side—in a real chair he'd somehow convinced the nurse to relinquish as we'd been told they were precious items with only two to a room—when he wasn't getting us food or coffee or something to read. I grew accustomed to using his shoulder and chest as a pillow. It didn't hurt that he smelled really nice, or that he lightly caressed my arm or back, helping me drift off.

Every time I started to question his presence...his desire to help out a stranger—which I still considered him to be—he'd gently shush me and reiterate that he just wanted to be there for me. I gave up on the second day and took comfort in knowing he cared, though I wondered how long it would last. He seemed too good to be true, for as little as I knew of him.

In the afternoon, my dad finally opened his eyes and responded to various stimuli that the doctor said was encouraging. Although the breathing tube was removed, it was difficult for him to speak since his throat was so dry from being intubated. He was extremely weak, and the doctor insisted on keeping him in the ICU.

The morning of the third day, Chris offered to take me home to get a shower and sleep in my own bed. My mom had gone home for a few hours last night but was back before the sun rose. I was wearing the same clothes as when I'd met Chris in the coffee shop, so I was sure I was a little ripe. Still, I protested.

"No, I need to be here with—"

"You need to take care of yourself, too," Chris insisted, brushing my hair away from my forehead.

I watched my dad's sleeping form for a moment. Listened to the soft beeping of the machines.

"He's right, Holly," my mom said when I didn't move. "I'll call you if anything changes."

Chris took my hand before I could say anything else and led me out the door.

The walk back to the elevator and the ride down to the main floor seemed long. Neither Chris nor I talked, and he held my hand until we got to my car. There, he stopped on the driver's side and held out his hand.

"I can drive," I said defensively, pulling my keys out of my pocket.

He just wiggled his fingers at me.

I held my ground this time. "Why are you doing all this? Not that I'm ungrateful. I just don't understand."

"Holly... Sometimes, it's okay to let someone do something nice for you. Especially, on Christmas Eve. It's the season of giving."

I clenched my eyes shut for a moment. All of the days had blurred together this past week. Christmas Eve? It couldn't be... But no...he was right. Again. My face was flushed despite the crisp wind blowing around us. "You just shouldn't feel obligated—"

"It's adorable how your cheeks have pinked up, but it's kind of cold out here. You've barely slept in the past few days. So will you please just give me your keys?"

"Fine. You win."

Chris chuckled. "It's not a game. It's called chivalry."

I snorted and slid into the passenger side when he unlocked the doors. It was strange sitting on the wrong side of my own car, but I was kind of glad I didn't have to maneuver the snow-covered streets. I buckled up and watched him start the engine, turn on the defrost, and then walk around the car, scraping the thin film of frost off the windows.

Once we were on the road, I adjusted the heat settings and gave directions on how to get to my apartment complex. Traffic was heavy, being the holiday, and I settled into my seat for the long haul. What was normally a ten-minute trip took thirty. I was just drifting off by the time Chris pulled into the parking lot and found my spot in the carport.

"Just a little bit further," his voice said in my ear, his arm guiding me up the three steps of the front stoop and then through the main door.

We stood in the hallway for a moment before I realized he needed to know which one was my apartment. I pointed down the hall. "Number three."

I thought I heard him mumble something about how he was glad I lived on the ground floor, and then we were walking again. At my door, he unlocked it and let me enter first. Light flooded the space.

I was shrugging off my coat to put it on the back of a dining room chair when I noticed something was off. I blinked and looked around. Everything seemed to be in its place. I turned back to see Chris watching me with one eyebrow raised.

"What is it?"

"I don't kn—" I started to shake my head, but then I laughed. It was the silence. No squealing or feet pounding on the floor while being chased around. No doors slamming. And no loud grunts and cries as the result of sex. "My roommate. She must not be here."

"Gone skiing with Dirk. See you after Christmas."

"Huh?" I scrunched up my nose.

Chris held up a slip of paper. "It was on the table. I'm guessing Dirk is not your roommate?"

"No, Jolie is. It's eerily quiet around here." I tilted my head to the side. "Huh, I think I kind of like it."

"All the better to help you rest, I say. Now, shower first?"

I started to nod but yawned.

He frowned. "Do you think you can manage to stay upright long enough?"

I managed a complete nod this time then led the way to the back of the apartment to the door with a red-and-green striped, wooden 'H' hanging on it. Across the hall, Jolie's door had a similar 'J' but in green with gold polka dots. I stopped and turned in the direction of her room, still amazed that there was absolute silence.

"But I want to sleep," I pouted, looking back at Chris.

"You'll feel better after you get cleaned up." He opened my bedroom door and ushered me inside. Then he walked right back out, closing the door behind him.

I stared into the semi-darkness, feeling a bit like a child who had been sent to her room, although she had done nothing wrong. Yawning, I stripped down and pulled on my robe. Everything was still silent when I opened my door and turned left and walked the few paces into the sole bathroom between mine and Jolie's bedrooms.

As soon as I stepped under the hot streams of water, I groaned and silently cursed Chris for being right again. It felt wonderful to scrub away the sweat and wash the oiliness out of my hair. I made quick work of toweling off and combing out my hair before weaving it in one, long plait. I didn't think I could keep my eyes open long enough to dry it.

Back in my room, I tossed my robe and crawled beneath the piles of blankets I kept layered on my bed. The softness was a cocoon against my naked body. I started to think of my parents, and then there was nothing.


"Mmm," I moaned softly at the lightest touch on my forehead and rolled onto my back.

"Did you sleep well?"

My eyes shot open to stare up into a familiar, masculine face, my breath and voice trapped in my throat. His silhouette was outlined by the soft glow from my bedside lamp.

"It's okay, Holly." Chris brushed his fingers across my brow again, moving through the strands of my hair before repeating the gesture, his eyes searching mine.

I licked my lips and swallowed, my voice a whisper when I could speak. "What are you doing here?"

"Checking on you to make sure you're all right."

I started to sit up but remembered I didn't even have my bra and panties on. I scooted away a little instead. "How long have I been sleeping?"

He glanced at his watch. "About four hours."

"And you've been here the whole time?"


I gulped. "As in, right here on the bed watching me?"

"No. As I said, I came to check on you. You were moaning. Did you know, you talk in your sleep?"

I closed my eyes for a moment. Oh, God.

"It's nothing to be embarrassed about, Holly. It's quite endearing."

When I returned my gaze to his face, there was that prize-winning smile again. I started to sit up, struggling to wrap one of the blankets around my body. "I-I need to go. My mom is waiting on me."

"She texted me while you were sleeping."

He had my mom's phone number? I opened my mouth, but he held up a hand.

"I thought it better to let you get your rest. Your mom said the doctor encouraged her to go home, and you didn't need to come back tonight. Not on Christmas Eve."

I pulled the blankets tighter around me. "I-I don't have a joyful spirit this year. Not with Dad..."

"I understand."

I sniffled and prayed I wouldn't lose it in front of him. Again. I frowned. God, he must think I was a blubbering, emotional mess.

"I didn't mean to upset you. I just wanted—"

"Yes, I know, you were concerned."

Chris stood slowly. "Holly—"

I pressed my hand to my eyes. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you. You've been nothing but a blessing these last few days. I think it's just the stress of the situation. And I didn't expect to see you sitting on my bed."

"I've outstayed my welcome. I should go."

He walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him. I quickly pulled on my sweater and jeans, sans underwear, then followed him. He was at the front door when I caught up.

"Chris, wait!" I touched his forearm then pulled my hand away.

He stopped but didn't turn around.

I tried again, letting my hand linger this time on his shoulder. "Stay. Please."

His hand fell from the doorknob. Still, he kept his back to me.

I glanced at the living room window. White swirls blustered about under the dim light from the street lamps outside. "You don't have your car. It's snowing harder. I-I don't like driving in this weather. I can't take you back to the hospital for you car."

He hesitated—still not facing me—before saying, "I can get an Uber...or a cab."

"I-I'm sure that will be almost impossible. It's Christmas Eve, remember? The few that are running will be backed up with the snow. It could be hours. And they'd be sure to gouge you on fees, too." I wrung my hands, bouncing a little on the balls of my feet. Why was I so adamant that he stay?

"Are you saying I'm your prisoner?" He glanced sideways at me.

My body flinched. "Uh..."

"I'm teasing, Holly." But the low tone and the glint in his eyes when he finally faced me told me he might not be opposed to being held captive by me. Or at least stranded together.

I gulped and then nodded. "Okay."

"Do you have food in the house?"

His question left me blinking at him. He took a step closer to me, and I found myself retreating. Another step forward, another step back. Again and again, as though we were doing a strange, silent dance. Then suddenly, I backed into the refrigerator.

The corner of his mouth turned up when he lifted his right hand toward my head and I inhaled sharply.

My eyelids were heavy. I licked my lips. Told myself to breathe.

I huffed out a breath when his hand didn't touch me. Instead, I felt the refrigerator shake slightly and a blast of cool air hit my face. I looked to my left to see that he'd pulled open the other half of the two doors.

"It's not much, but that should be sufficient for twenty-four hours."

"I-I was supposed to go to my parents' house for dinner tomorrow." A resurgence of tears threatened my eyes. I would probably be spending Christmas Day in the ICU. No turkey and dressing this year.

The door closed, but I was still staring at his arm that was in my direct line of his hand that was pressed flat against the door. He had a thin layer of hair on his forearm, a shade darker than what was on his head. Long, thick fingers spread out from his large palm, their ends capped with clean, trimmed nails. God, even his arm and hand were attractive.

I gulped, slowly sliding my eyes to meet his. I let out a small whimper, my knees suddenly feeling weak. The heat in his gaze was so intense. And then I was staring at his back while he walked away.

"I'm going to take a shower, if you don't mind."

I silently followed him back towards the bedrooms. He continued on to the bathroom and shut the door between us. I stared at the grains in the stained wood, hearing the sound of the water being turned on. Then my eyes dropped. For a moment, I held my breath, studying the handle while my brain processed the pros and cons of turning it.


In the end, my conscience won out. I sat on the edge of my bed, my hands in my lap. I told myself to breathe in and out slowly. When that didn't work, I knew I needed a distraction. Anything to get my mind off the fact that Chris was standing buck naked in my shower. That he had watched me sleeping. Heard... Who knew what he'd heard me say? Jolie had always said it was ramblings. Nothing coherent to her. I had nothing to fear, right?

What could I focus on...? Facebook. Yes, that usually worked. And music. Good.

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