The Mistletoad

Julie has been single for 19 out of the last 20 Christmases.

Just when she's about to have her first boyfriend for Christmas, he breaks up with her. Now, she's known as a Mistletoad with a reputation for being absolutely awful.

But when a snowstorm leaves her stranded outside a tree farm on Christmas eve, she meets the one person in all of Montana willing to give her a kiss.

That is, if she lets him.


1. One-shot


The last time Julie stood under the mistletoe, her boyfriend broke up with her.

Well, that's not entirely true.

Her lying, cheating, worst-thing-that-ever-happened-to-me troll of a boyfriend told her he'd suddenly grown a conscious and he couldn't do this anymore. He couldn't see Diana in private. She didn't deserve to be sneaking around.

Under the mistletoe, surrounded by dozens of happy children eating pancakes with Santa for charity, (while an apparently not-so-single Diana poured them juice) Julie twirled a lock of his blonde hair around her fingers. She thought about how Ryan was her first. First boyfriend, first kiss (hey, some shy girls don't get kissed in high school), first ...Everything.

And a couple weeks ago she'd called her parents to tell them that that he was going to be the first boyfriend she ever brought home.

In the moment, confused and angry and indigent, that's what came out of her mouth.

"Guess you won't be showing up to my house Christmas eve," she whispered, fidgeting with the hem of the green skirt all Santa's female elves (aka crying, syrupy child magnets) wore.

He cupped her face, staring deep into her eyes. "Babe, you live out of state."

Julie looked at all the happy children at their decorated cafeteria tables.

Then she rolled back her arm and punched Ryan square in the jaw. For what he'd done to her, for what he'd taken, and for the terrible Christmas she was going to have when everyone asked her where the handsome man was Mom had been telling everyone about since Thanksgiving.

Ryan didn't see it coming.

Neither did this year's volunteer Santa, whom he landed on.

Santa's face smashed into his half-eaten stack of pancakes.

The children were silent, then Ryan spat blood into a little girl's plate. The little girl screamed into his ear and squirted maple syrup into his face. Ryan lay motionless on the table, red nose covered in syrup, for just a moment.

"You toad. You ugly little toad!" he screamed, lunging across the table to get to Julie.




Needless to say, Julie got banned from that charity.

To make matters worse, Ryan was a societal king as far as college went. He was the leading scorer of the university's nationally ranked soccer team, he was the first invited to parties, the Homecoming King, the stunning model in all the "welcome, new college student!" brochures.

He recovered from his busted lip and wounded pride by spreading rumors about Julie the Mistletoad.

That was easy, when you were forgettable like Julie.

Julie was a Medium. Medium sized shirts. Medium sized pants. Medium length, medium-brown hair and brown eyes. She was a perfectly medium height, had a perfectly medium complexion and maintained perfectly medium grades. And no one ever seemed to know who she was except for her lab partners, and they forgot after the semester ended, too.

Julie the Mistletoad had a tramp stamp buried underneath her chunky cable-knit sweaters. She wore her stringy hair in double buns that looked like frog's eyes. Her lips were cold and always moist, and her breath reeked of swamp water. She sprinkled crickets on pizza and croaked curses under her breath. She worked all day in an amphibian bio lab.

That last part was true. Frogs were awesome and a professor had chosen her to help him work on a study about toxicity in poison dart frogs.

She'd tried to punch Santa once, but Ryan heroically sacrificed his face.

By December 9th, Julie the Mistletoad was a sinister, Christmas-destroying legend who lived in apartment 25C on Faldron Drive.

One night when coming home, a group of Ryan's friends surprised her at the door and egged her. Another night, someone broke in and stole her laptop. Once, before she got his key back, she'd walked in on Ryan and Diana, half naked on her bed.

And then, maybe because of stress, maybe because of how much dairy she was inhaling in her misery, the Great Breakout of 2015 happened.

It lasted straight through finals and into the semester's end. She'd take an exam, grab some ice cream and zit reducer, and head for the comfort of a down blanket and Netflix, just praying not to get tripped or shoved or egged along the way.

She just wanted to go home.

And finally, that day, December 23rd, arrived. The skies were laden with grey clouds and snowflakes. Wind funneled blasts of arctic air through the deserted streets of a college campus shut down for the winter. Only a few students, ones like Julie who had to work (live frogs need someone to care for them over break), remained.

But she got Christmas off. And she paid a fortune for plane tickets.

It was about six-am, when her bags were packed and she was printing her boarding pass, that the notification came on her phone.

A snowstorm in Minnesota grounded all flights to and from Minneapolis. The next rescheduled flight out of Montana was Christmas day, and that was IF the storm subsided.

Julie didn't want to stay one minute more. She stuffed her car full of suitcases and presents and left.

She actually got pretty far before the storm hit. Far enough to not know where the bloody hell she was when the wind became a wall of white and the afternoon skies turned to murky twilight.

Even with the headlights on high, the storm grew turbulent and the roads too dangerous to drive on. She took the nearest exit and drove down the empty street at a whooping 5mph, bent double over her steering wheel, eyes peeled for a shelter or hotel or kindly elder's home that might take in a nearly-broke college student until the storm ended.

Antique boutique. Toy store. Pizza parlor...Typical small town stuff. All of it was bundled up for winter in cheery lights and flashing signs.

But all of it was closed.

"Come on, really? Not even a church?" she mumbled, pulling her cell out to call Mom. "Mary and Joseph had better luck finding an inn than me."

Mom's advice amounted to an exasperated "Where are you?"

"I don't know," Julie admitted. "Somewhere off exit 39."

"Oh! Near Uncle Teddy?"

"Um, yeah, I think." She glanced out the window toward a yellow and white striped home converted to a restaurant. "There's some shabby little diner called Lou's."

"Lou's? We ate there for Cousin Jim's sixth birthday, remember?"Julie did not. "Well, stay off the road and I'll call your Uncle Teddy to come get you. He'll be there in an hour, maybe more. Be safe. Stay warm. Love you."

"Love you, too." Her breath fogged the window. She pressed her fingers into the vents to warm. The phone needed to charge and the heat in the car had never been all that spectacular. Such was fate when you could only afford to pay about $800 for a piece of gas-guzzling junk. An hour was a long time to sit in a cold car when the temperatures outside read 10 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind brought a significant, snowy chill.

With a resigned sigh Julie hopped out of the car, pried open the trunk, and pulled out one of her suitcases, the one with all the sweaters. She danced from foot to foot in the biting snow, hustling and cursing before finally slipping back to the driver's side.

And then, with her gloves on the door handle, she saw it. Across the lot, past the dilapidated shack that was Lou's- a flashing Open sign.




With a few extra sweaters and two hats layered on, she shuffled her way up the entrance to the sign. A red trailer sat parked in the snow, outlined in white lights. Beside it were stacked a few dozen shabby Christmas trees (it was, after all, the day before Christmas) and plenty of saws to go out and cut your own if you were of the mind to do so.

"Hello?" she called, peeking around a pile of fraser fir. No one. Just a little, animated reindeer, lifting its head up and down, up and down, as it grazed. She turned for the entrance of the trailer.

"Can I help you?" A male voice asked, loud and just behind her.

Julie spun, hand raised, and felt her gloved knuckles connect with something hard. A man not much older than herself had caught her fist in the palm of his hand. She gasped, almost tumbling backward over the reindeer if it weren't for his strong grip. "Don't you know better than to sneak up on strangers?"

"Apparently not," he said, exchanging her fist for her elbow to help her away from the lighted fixture. He was covered up from the cold in all but his face- and what a face it was! He had a healthy look about him, strong jaw and angular features, shaved maybe a week ago, just enough for a nice scruff to develop that snowflakes clung to. His eyes were the color of lake-water at night, deep and dark and still. A gray beanie hid his hair, but she could see just a bit of textured, cropped mahogany hair. If her cheeks weren't hidden under three scarves, he would've seen her blush. He lifted an eyebrow. "We're closed."

"Sign says 'open.'"

"I say closed."

"Fine. Whatever," Julie said, hopping to keep her toes from going numb. "It's not like I want a tree."

"So you're here because...?" He leaned his arm against the stacked trees and flashed her a charming grin. "Your car broke down and you need a handsome stranger?"

"I'm waiting for someone."

"Really, now? Hate to break it to you, but the only Someone here is me."

She rolled her eyes, trudged to the trailer's steel door, and kicked her foot gently against the base. "This yours?"

"Technically," he said, following.

"Even my boogers are freezing," she sniffled, cringing inwardly at what'd slipped out of her mouth. Oh God, did I really just bring up snot? "Let me in and I'll tell you all about my dilemma."

He stared at her, then sighed and tossed her the keys. "Only because I don't want a lawsuit on my hands." The door opened into a tiny, messy office space, with a portable heater and several stacks of paperwork and snacks. Icicle lights had been strung about the ceiling.

Julie reveled in the blast of heat while he closed the door behind her. Was it warmer than her car? Yes. Was it better? She wasn't so sure. Peeling her excess layers off, she spoke, "You sounded all prepared to help a damsel in distress."

"I've never heard a damsel describe the state of her nose," he said, tossing her a box of tissues.

Fair enough.

"Hot chocolate?" He next asked, holding up two mugs and elbowing at a microwave. She nodded and perched on a stool beside the office's desk. Soon the fragrant drink was in her hands, and the man had collapsed in the desk chair and spun to face her. His eyes were striking in the trailer's twinkling light, and she wished she had kept the scarves over her face.

He was a lot cuter than the grungy, dirty old man she'd envisioned upon first setting eyes on the place. Nothing against anyone working in the tree business, of course, but Julie didn't have this kind of dumb luck to just stumble upon a sexy stranger. Ever.

"So let's start with names," he said, leaning back into faux leather with a noisy squeak of protest from the chair.

"I'm Julie."

"You don't have a last name?"

She shrugged. "That's for people who know me." All, what, three of them? I could really use some new friends.

"Well we certainly aren't on a first name basis, are we, Miss Julie...?" His low tone was a purr through dark forests. "Not yet, anyway."

This hot chocolate was making her sweat. Yes, the hot chocolate she hadn't even taken a sip of. She brushed her static-ridden hair with one hand, trying to be subtle about it. "Julie Peters."

"You lying to me, Jules?"

"Wouldn't dream of it."

His smile was bright, cheerful, and altogether a lot cleaner than she expected for someone who sold trees for a living. Her shoulders relaxed- relaxed then tensed because something about that smile made her want to see it again. "Ah, see, not so bad, is it?"

"Better than this hot chocolate," she teased, sticking out her tongue. "Where'd you get this stuff, a dumpster?"

He held up a hand in self-defense, and Julie tried not to admire the muscular form his plaid button-down concealed. Between that and dark, boot cut jeans, he was a regular lumberjack. Not that she knew any, but in those late night fantasies, he was everything she could imagine and probably more. Not that she should. She had enough heartbreak to deal with right now.

"Blame the packet, not the chef," he said.

"So what's your name, anyway, Mr...?" He told her. He told her and she laughed. "Baldur Frost? And you asked if I'm lying about my name?"

"Believe me, if I've tried to change it. Alas, I remain the proud son of Jack Frost, king of the north and all you see before you." He tapped a dirty window pane. Outside, a bulb on the Open sign flickered out. Julie's eyebrows rose. Baldur shrugged, offering a sheepish grin. "Well, he's more proud of me than I am of him."

"Isn't Baldur supposed to be some dude who got stabbed in the heart by mistletoe?"

"Something to that effect," he admitted. He took a sip from his mug, undeterred by the cheap taste. "But that's just a story. What's yours, Miss Peters?"

She started to explain why she'd come.




At the end of it all, which sounded sillier and stupider by the minute, Julie thought, Baldur was quiet. He'd watched her with all the intensity of a snow leopard, distant, observant, perhaps seeing more than she wanted him to. She found herself nervous in the silence that followed, and hummed a little tune to herself to stay calm now that the cocoa was cold and even more foul.

"So he called you the Mistletoad? What is he, twelve?"

"Well, I did punch him." She winced. "Pretty hard. My knuckles hurt for a week."

"Loosened a few screws in his skull, I'd wager." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I've gotta admit, you don't look the part."

"That's how us clever ones get away with it," she agreed. "Maybe I am the Mistletoad."

"No, I don't think you are." There was a depth to his pause, a whisper of something more as his dark eyes studied hers. "You can't hide that kind of ugly. And you, you're not ugly at all."

She brought a hand to her cheek as if that'd block her blush from view. "So what's your deal? This is your dad's company. Are you the heir apparent?"

A bit reluctantly, Baldur gestured to the storm outside. "He's a bit busy at the moment, or he'd pop in and tell you himself."

"Busy doing what? It's practically a blizzard."

"He's a snow mover. Lots of business up in these parts this time of year."

"Of course. He is Jack Frost after all. You tell him to lay off on the snow for the rest of my trip." A smile flitted across her lips at his laugh. "And you...Are you in college?"

He shook his head. "No time. This is my profession. Trees and lumber. Not flashy, but peaceful."

"And you and your dad...Don't you go anywhere for Christmas?"

"If we had family, maybe."

She cringed, embarrassed about asking. "I'm sorry."

He shrugged. "It's alright. We've been everywhere. We sell Christmas. We bring it down from the land folks dream about."

"You sound like a marketing major to me. You sure you aren't going into advertising?"

"With this body do I need to?" With an impish grin he ran a hand down the buttons on his shirt, buttons Julie caught herself picturing undoing. He seemed aware of her thoughts, leaning forward and resting that same hand on her knee. "Hey, you said you punched your ex under the mistletoe. Did you ever kiss him under it?"

She stared at the hand on her leg, feeling her body burning up. She wanted to take it into her own and pull him to her, but she was a lady, first and foremost. "No," she breathed, trying to ground her thoughts. This was a bad idea. A very bad idea. You're going to get yourself hurt.

"So technically being kissed under mistletoe is still a first for you?"

She nodded.

"You want a do-over? I've got an empty doorway and a half crate of the stuff laying around somewhere." He stood and dug through a couple boxes. With a triumphant "See!" he yanked a sprig of mistletoe from the depths.

Julie's butt eased to the edge of the stool and assessed the situation. Cold winter's night. Good looking man. Kind. Gentle. Friendly. "You don't have a girlfriend?" she asked suspiciously.

"This isn't the job you take to meet women," he told her, cutting a length of red ribbon to tie around the stem. "So you up for it?"

"I don't know..." Yes, I do.

"I'd hate for you to have no good Christmas memories this year."

"My uncle's gonna be here soon..." Too soon.

He fished for tape, and Julie took the opportunity to admire his behind. He filled those jeans out well. She jumped as he turned around, inches from her. "Are we going to break out into 'Baby it's cold outside' now?" he asked.




Julie thought about tonight. She thought about every night since Ryan had stunned her with the truth. They were all one blurry, tear-stained mess she wished she could forget.

Tonight, although the weather had left her stranded, was infinitely better than what'd come so far.

And it couldn't get any worse, right?

"Alright." She jumped off the stool and smoothed her sweater with a shaking hand. "Let's do it. You can't break my heart if you don't have it."

"Yikes." Baldur grimaced on his way past her to the door. "He did a number on you, didn't he?"

"I've got a sucky Christmas ahead of me and then it's back to my old routine of class, homework, sleep. This is the most excitement I've ever had in my boring life."

"C'mere," he drawled, leading her by her fingertips. She took a few slow steps to the door, watching as he rested a hand on the door. "It's gonna get cold. I have to open the door so we can stand under it."

Bracing herself for the temperature, she waited. Snowflakes streamed into the trailer. Baldur propped the door in place with a weighted bucket of snowmelt and duct-taped the mistletoe to the door.

"You think you live a boring life?" he asked. "Don't you have a passion, something you excel in? Passion's not boring. Passion's what keeps you warm." His hand fell gently on her back, supportive, confident, leading her beneath the snow-covered mistletoe.

"I think I'm good at a lot of things, but great at nothing," Julie said, instinctively stepping against his body. She liked the way they fit together, the way her head came only to his shoulders, the way his belt buckle pressed into her stomach, the way his arms wrapped around her like they'd done it a thousand times before. She never felt this at home with Ryan. This was warm and cozy and...No. No. She couldn't think like this. This was just a kiss. This is just a product of the lights and snow and feeling vulnerable.

"Julie," he said, drawing her face into his calloused hands. The air in her lungs disappeared. She was convinced he'd feel her heart pounding against the soft flannel of his shirt. He called her name in that low purr and she wanted to see it roll off his lips again. "You are destined for a great love, the kind they write stories about, the kind most other women dream of."

His lips were one winter's breath from hers, so close the scruff of his chin rubbed against hers. He stared into her eyes like there was nothing else in the world. She caught herself counting, savoring the moment, One, two...Screw it. She lifted her heels up and pressed her mouth onto his.

His hand was firm on her back, holding her in place, a sweet devotion to their cause. He welcomed her like it was his last kiss on earth, wanting, hungry, conveying without a word what he desired from her.

And then he was two feet away and icewater dripped from the trailer door onto her nose.

"I-I, um," she stuttered, wiping her face with a sleeve. Wow. Wow!

He pulled his hat off at last, running a hand through messy locks of hair. "We're all special in different ways, Jules. We're all special to different people. It's not always the ones who get the fame and the fortune who have it all. That little package that's you, you've got some unwrapping to do still, but you're special. "

She held a hand over her beating heart, trying to calm. "That's very Hallmark of you."

"I've had a long time to think of it," he said matter-of-factly, drawing her hand onto his own chest. She landed tentative fingertips first, then flattened her palm. His heart raced faster than hers. "You did this. No other woman has moved my heart like you."

"I just met you. This is like, the rebound effect or something," she argued, tucking wet, snow-flake hair behind her ear. "And you just need to get out more.

"Listen, Jules. You spend your time waiting for Santa...I've spent my time waiting for you." Voice and posture took on a serious tone as he spoke, clear and direct. "You feel it, don't you?"

Julie rubbed her arms. "Yeah; it's freezing."

His bemused smile dipped to something sad. "I wasn't supposed to meet you tonight, but you were in the area. I felt your distress like someone held a flame under my hand. I- I don't expect you to understand. My father will be back soon and there's work to be done. White Christmases to give and all." With a tired sound in the depths of his throat, he draped one of her excess sweaters over her shoulders. "You should go."

"You can't just say that," Julie demanded, suddenly more hurt by the sendoff than anything Ryan had said or done. "What do you mean, you weren't supposed to meet me tonight?"

Those dark eyes seemed a thousand years old now. "What if I told you I'm more than a man?"

"I'd say I want whatever you spiked your cocoa with, because it must be damn strong."

He let her dress for the weather in silence then, and it wasn't until he'd walked her past the Open sign that he spoke again. "I'm cursed."

She whirled on him, furious as the weather. "You're what?"

"In the magical sense."

"You don't have to pretend to be crazy for my sake," she insisted, kicking at the snow. "I know this can't be anything more than a kiss."

"Those legends about Baldur..."

"Stop. Just stop. I'm a little kid. I don't believe in that sort of stuff."

He twisted his hat in his hands, unbothered by the storm. "I'm glad you gave me a good memory about that which is to kill me."

Julie stepped into his body, peering up at him through the swirl of night. "You're serious."  He nodded. "What you said about meeting me..."

"There's more to fairytales than what you hear." His head turned sharply to the right, as if hearing something in the wind Julie couldn't. He seemed rushed then, gathering her into his arms. His lips brushed her forehead. "I know you think maybe I say this to ever pretty young thing that passes through, but I swear I'm only here for you."

"I believe you," she said, reaching up to stroke his cheek. She could've sworn she heard him purr. "My brain says I shouldn't, but I do. Can I have your phone number or email address?"

"No." He leaned into her touch. "I can promise you the greatest love you'll ever know, I can promise that I will love you to my dying breath, but I can't promise you a happy ending. Happy endings take hard work and commitment, and that's hard enough to handle without a curse. Curses require sacrifice. Not the 'I want to watch Star Wars but he wants to watch the Walking Dead' kind. I mean  friendship, family, love. Blood and tears and pain you couldn't even imagine. I won't ask you to give up anything on my part."

"Even if I don't believe some ancient Norse god is going to stab you with a sprig of this," she pulled out the mistletoe she'd stolen from his door on the way out (a nice keepsake of the night). "Since the day Ryan broke up with me I felt cursed. You freed me. I'll owe you."

"You don't," he said, and she got the feeling he meant it.

Her phone's alarm sang jingle bells. "Oh, I've gotta get this." She fumbled with her pockets. He nodded and stepped away.

"Uncle Teddy? Hey," she said, pressing the phone to her ear.

"I just pulled into the lot. Where are you, Julie?"

Baldur pressed a pewter snowflake ornament into her palm. It was so cold she almost dropped it. "Hang this on your tree next December and I'll come for you when the first flakes start to fall on Christmas eve," he whispered, and those dark eyes were filled with appreciation. "Tell me your answer then."

"Julie?" Uncle Teddy asked.

"Sorry. I'm waiting by the Open sign for the tree seller. A guy there gave me a drink to keep warm."

"I hope that's all he gave you..."

"Don't worry, I'm fine."

"Hun, I don't see Christmas trees near Lou's. Are you sure you got the right lot?"

Julie looked toward Lou's to confirm. When she turned back, she found herself beside her car, with no Baldur or trailer in sight. "Oh, nevermind! I thought the diner's bushes were trees," she lied, staring hard into the swirling snow until she spotted the headlights of her uncle's green pickup. "Stupid storm. I see you! I'll be right over."

She tucked the cold ornament into a coat pocket and felt her heart grow warm. Maybe being the Mistletoad was a blessing in disguise.

Unbeknownst to her a leopard, whiter than snow with handsome spots and eyes that cradled the night, watched the woman and her uncle load presents into his truck. He would always protect her, always. Even if she couldn't protect him.

The End.

Happy Holidays, everyone! <3


If you were Julie, what would your answer be next year? Would you help him with the curse? Would you risk loving him when there's a chance he might not be able to be saved?

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