I had mixed feelings about spending the traditional Christmas at the Parnell family cabin this year. Sure, it was tradition and a chance to see some of the extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma Parnell, and a bunch of my cousins’ kids whose names I couldn’t remember. The weather was usually snowy, which turned the pines and frozen lake into a winter wonderland. Oh, and the food was typically great and plentiful. No, now that I’d started college, the idea of going up to the cabin felt quaint and perhaps a bit claustrophobic. Worse, it was so remote as to have no cell service. Three plus days of no service, not even internet. I’d need counseling by the time we were done.

Speaking of cell service, I’d just lost the last of mine. Avery, my twin sister, and I had taken advantage of dad’s driving to chill in the back and get our fix in on the drive upstate. Judging by her scowl, she’d just lost hers as well.

I leaned across the back seat to speak low enough not to be heard by the parentals up front. “Are we bored yet?”

Avery, her thin face hidden in the depths of the oversized hoodie she wore, gave me a quick smile. “And we’re not even there.”

I patted her on the knee through her skin-tight jeans. “Don’t worry, I’m sure the kiddos are sugaring up for you already.”

Avery rolled her eyes and brushed away an errant wisp of dirty blond hair. “Yeah, great. But you get Jorgie.”

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes and groan. My cousin Beth had remarried two years back and her new husband had a son of eight or nine. For the last two years, the kid had stuck to me like glue, convinced I was the coolest guy on earth. He wasn’t terrible, but a little went a long way and I’d ended up spending a great deal of effort finding ways to hide or otherwise be away from him. Avery, meanwhile, had been the darling of the under-five crowd.

“At least you have Kaia for relief,” I said.

Avery’s lips tightened and she gave me an unreadable expression, then turned to face out the window. “I guess,” she said softly.

What the heck was that? Kaia was the same age as us, making her the only cousin who’d be at the cabin and within five years of our age. The other guys in their late twenties were both married and had kids, which as far as I was concerned pretty much bumped them up into the same weight class as my uncles. Sure, we’d talk a bit, but that was probably the end of it. With Kaia, however, we’d grown up living in the same town and spending most of our Christmas and summer vacations together with the extended family. As we’d reached our teens, she and Avery had bonded as close as sisters or BFF’s while I got subtly nudged out of the picture.

Had something happened between the two girls? Nothing that I’d heard of. Maybe with the move on to college, they’d simply drifted apart. Whatever.

Thoughts of Kaia quickly brought me back to last summer’s vacation on the beach. It’d been impossible to miss how my cousin had filled out, not when she spent most of the entire week in one revealing bikini after another. Sure, she was my cousin, so I couldn’t go there, but she’d fueled my fantasies through that entire trip and most of the six months since.

I looked out my window, taking in the endless miles of snow-covered pines. My mind kept going back to my cousin in her bikinis. It was a damn shame it was too cold to expect another dose of such eye candy.


The sun had just dropped below the horizon when dad pulled the Explorer off the country road and onto the gravel drive to the cabin complex. Snow crunched under the tires, despite someone’s earlier effort to plow it clear. I couldn’t help but feel a little buzz of nostalgia when the cabins came into view — warm yellow light pouring out of the windows while strands of Christmas lights festooned the porch and dozens of smaller trees in the yard. A handful of other vehicles were parked out front.

Before we were even out of the truck, two of my uncles and a cousin came out to greet us and help carry stuff in. I grabbed my suitcase and a bag of presents and followed the train inside where warm air infused with cinnamon from baking cookies hit me with another shot of nostalgia and reminded my stomach it was dinnertime.

As expected, we were mobbed by the little kids, at least four of them, while my aunts and uncles and cousins all greeted us and offered to take the food and gifts off our hands. I shook hands, hugged grandma, and gave the little ones their obligatory hair mussings. Avery got the same treatment and did a convincing job of acting like she was happy to be there.


I looked up and saw Kaia standing at the end of the hall, just out of the fray and looking amused. My cousin was tall and lean, mussy shoulder-length brunette locks framed her warm smile and twinkling eyes. While she wasn’t in a bikini, the black tights and figure-hugging red sweater were more than sufficient to ping my libido. I tried not to stare or be disappointed that she’d homed in on Avery and not me.

“Hey cuz!” Avery said, slipping out of her boots just in time to accept Kaia’s engulfing hug.

“Thank god you’re here,” Kaia said in Avery’s ear. I was just close enough to hear it over the din of the other reunions.

“To your rescue?” Avery said with a smile.

“You have no idea,” she said.

Kaia then broke the embrace, turned on me, and gave me the same bear hug treatment. I was completely caught off guard, since I couldn’t ever recall getting such attention from my cousin before. Certainly nothing in the last few years. I did my best to hug back, silently cursing that my hands were full.

“Good to see you too, Alex,” she said as she pulled back and gave me a once over. “You’re looking good.”

I was? I felt myself flush a bit under the compliment, all the while hoping she couldn’t sense some of the wildly inappropriate thoughts I’d been having about her over the last hour.

“Thanks. You too.”

“C’mon,” Kaia said, this time to both me and Avery. “Let’s get you settled. We’re all in New House this year.”

It was a relief to get out of the press of bodies and noise. There were so many helping hands, I didn’t feel any guilt about not sticking around to unload the rest of our stuff from the truck. In minutes, they’d have gifts under the tree and food sorted and packed away.

“We’re both in New House?” I said, falling in behind the two girls as they went through the living room and headed for the side door. I was a little surprised as historically the unmarried boys and girls had been split up between the Old House and New House, the two main buildings of the “Parnell Cabin Complex.”

“Yeah,” Kaia said. “Mike and Jenn wanted to keep their kids all together this year, so it works out better if they’re in the Old House. Don’t worry. You were going to be stuck with Jorgie, but he ended up leaving this afternoon to stay with his biological mom or somesuch.”

“Gee, that’s a shame,” I said, allowing the sarcasm to drip out once I was sure no one else was close enough to hear.

Kaia turned, walking backward, and gave me a knowing smile. “So you get the Observatory to yourself, you lucky dog.”

The Observatory was the New House’s finished attic. Having it to myself would be nice, though it was one of the coldest rooms in the complex. I’d just need more blankets. The privacy and view of the lake would make up for any shortcomings.

“You’re in the Duck Room,” Kaia said, flipping back around to talk to Avery. “Leaving me the Red Room. Your parents have the first floor bedroom.”

Most of the rooms in the complex had earned nicknames. The Duck and Red rooms were named, respectively, for their wallpaper and paint. Both were ugly by modern standards, yet had a certain quaint history to them. And, more importantly, the girls weren’t sharing rooms with anyone else, either.

“Who’s all doubling up, then?” Avery said.

“Oh, I think this is the first year our numbers have declined,” Kaia said. “Some of the cousins are off with their significant others’ families. Was bound to happen.”

I chuckled. “I think we could drop a dozen before I’d start to notice.”

Kaia snorted. “No shit.”

Kaia led us through the breezeway — a glassed-in room that connected the two buildings. The floor was tiled and cold, and two tables in one corner held the fridge overflow. On the other side of the room was the Christmas tree, lit up cheerfully in the darkness, with a staggering number of wrapped gifts around it. The room was usually opened up in the summer, screens allowing for a nice cross-breeze without the bugs, and suitable for hanging towels and swimsuits. In the winter, it was usually only heated on Christmas Day while the rest of the time it tended to hang just above freezing from heat bleeding off the houses.

The New House was new only in the sense it had been build after Old House. It was still older than the three of us by a wide margin. It was, however, the quieter of the two thanks to the dearth of little kids. I had to admit, our stay was looking better than I’d expected. On entering, it had the feel of being completely empty.

I followed the girls up the stairs, shamelessly checking out Kaia’s legs and ass. Her tights showed both to good effect, though her legs definitely stood out from a somewhat flat butt. If there was one thing my sister could claim over Kaia in the body department, it was her perfect butt. In her tight jeans, it was no contest. And why was I also checking out my sister’s backside? Because it was there and I was bored and that’s where my idle male mind went.

Kaia stayed with Avery as we passed her Duck Room and I headed for the stairs to the attic at the end of the hall. Kaia called out to me that dinner was ready as soon as we were. I acknowledged and resigned myself to diving into the frenetic fray of family.


Dinner was like all other meals here — a buffet-style free-for-all with people rotating into seats at the dining room table or wherever else a plate could be set. The little ones went first, then the adults cycled in as opportunity permitted. I was half-done before the girls got there and by then I was busy talking college life with one of my uncles. Afterward, I got roped into playing a game with the kids followed by a few party games with the adults that went well into the evening.

Kaia and Avery played for a bit but somehow managed to slip out between games. I was a little jealous but was having a good enough time that I stayed, showing the flag for my niche of the generational spectrum. When things finally wound down around ten o’clock, I called it a night and retreated to the New House. Upstairs, I saw Avery’s room dark and Kaia’s with the light on but door closed. I was naturally curious as to what they were up to, but didn’t want to barge in on them. Probably just catching up and talking about college and boys.

I walked quietly past, slowing as I approached. If they were talking, it was in a whisper, which seemed odd. Then I heard some giggling. Whatever. I rolled my eyes and went upstairs to the Observatory.

The room was long, narrow, and smelled of old wood. It had a low ceiling, but not so much that I couldn’t stand upright in most of it. Several single beds lined one wall, all but one destined to be empty this Christmas. Times were changing. How much longer would the families come here for the holiday? Would it last after grandma passed? Given her good health, that might be a long way off.

I grabbed my toothbrush and went back to the second floor to use the bathroom across from the girls’ rooms. I heard another brief outburst of giggling. They had to know I was here now given the squeaking of the stairs. Again, I just sighed and got ready for bed.

I won’t pretend I didn’t take advantage of having a room to myself that night. I needed some relief to fall asleep and fresh visions of Kaia in those tights and sweater was all it took. I know, bad cousin.


The girls’ doors were closed and quiet the next morning. I grabbed a shower and still saw no sign either was up. I dragged things out for a bit before finally going over to Old House for breakfast. Unsurprisingly, the young kids were early risers. Thankfully, they’d talked uncle Joe into talking them outside to play in the snow. By laying low while eating my plate of waffles and bacon, I didn’t get recruited to help.

My dad, however, caught me and asked if I could help dig through the Closet for some old yard decorations that hasn’t been used in years. The Closet was like a mini-attic over the breezeway, used more for storage than either of the real attics.

By help, he meant I could do it myself. I was fine with that as it kept me busy and away from the crowd. The only downside was that it was chilly in the Closet, but I figured if I kept moving I wouldn’t need my coat.

The Closet, I discovered, was far messier than I’d remembered. Granted, it had probably been a few years since I’d been up there. Boxes were everywhere and most unlabeled. I spent the first fifteen minutes just clearing paths through the mess.

I heard footsteps coming up the stairs and assumed it was my dad coming to check on my progress.

“There you are,” Kaia said, surprising me as she looked in.

“Hey! Here to help?”

This morning, Kaia was again in leggings, but these were gray with stripes. She wore another form-fitting sweater, this a gaudy green and red Christmas one that had the word “Naughty” across her chest. And speaking of chests, I couldn’t help noticing just how conspicuous her nipples were. Damn! When she walked into the room, there was a certain bounce to her breasts that screamed braless. Seriously? That was bold, especially in the family setting.

“That depends,” she said. “On whether I have to lift anything heavy or touch anything dusty.”

I looked around at the room and sighed. “Guess not, then.”

Kaia chuckled as she wandered around looking at the old junk. Fuck, definitely braless, and fantastic handfuls. I’d be seeing this again in my imagination for years. Then she turned and I got a nice view of her thigh gap. I almost thought there was a hint of camel toe going on, but forcibly ripped my eyes away before getting caught.

“Well, I can lend moral support,” she said. “Cheer you on, run for help if you get crushed beneath something.”

“Sure,” I said with a laugh.

Kaia was actually cool, chatting like an old friend. We caught up with each other’s school experiences and swapped a few good stories of life as college freshmen. I enjoyed just talking and learning more about the woman she’d grown into.

As we talked, she did lend a hand with some of the searching. I kept stealing glances at her every chance I got, especially her chest. I knew I shouldn’t, but there were limits to one’s resolve as a guy my age.

“Fuck, it’s cold up here,” she said, pausing to rub her arms. “Gonna poke holes through my sweater at the rate.”

Had I heard that right? I looked at her eyes, using all my will to avoid looking at her nipples. She met my gaze and then burst out laughing.

“What?” I said. I could feel the heat in my face, though, having a pretty good idea what she was talking about.

She smiled. “What what? You know exactly what I’m talking about. I mean, you haven’t stopped sneaking glances since I got up here.”

I could feel my face burning, despite the fact she seemed more amused than bothered. “Sorry.”

“Why?” I could feel her challenging. I wanted to look away but couldn’t.

“Just, I don’t know, not polite I guess.” Smooth answer, dork. But what was I supposed to say to that?

Kaia shook her head, smiling the whole time. “If I was worried about anyone looking, I’d have worn a bra. Believe me, I’m used to getting checked out. If it bothered me, I’d be one miserable bitch.”


“Still nothing. And I’m just messing with you because it’s easy and you’re cute when you blush.”

Cute? I’m sure my face turned even redder.

Kaia walked over and took my hand, cold fingers wrapped around my equally cold ones. “I’d be a shitty cousin if I didn’t mess with you once in a while. Besides, I needed to get you back for last summer.”

Warning bells went off in the back of my head, despite not being sure where she was going with that.

“Last summer?”

She grinned, almost evilly. “Yeah. At the beach. I think you spent most of the entire week staring at me.”

I could feel sweat trying to break out on my face, I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t even really deny it. Had I been that obvious?

Again, though, Kaia didn’t seem too upset.

“Who could blame me? You were easily the hottest girl on the beach.”

Kaia’s eyes widened a bit, as did her grin. “Why thank you, cuz. But I think you meant to say, ‘hottest girl on the beach besides Avery.'”

I blinked at that. “Wait, what?”

My cousin grabbed my hand more firmly. “It’s okay to admit it, she’s got the better body. And wearing that thong? Ha! Like I could compete with that for eyeballs?”

I was floored, first for the direction this conversation had gone and then in trying to figure out if she was being serious. Had they been trying to outdo one another for people’s attention on the beach? I wouldn’t have thought either inclined to do that, especially my sister. Then again, as Kaia pointed out, Avery had worn that thong bottom for several days. It covered little from the front and was invisible from behind as it disappeared in her butt crack. I’d certainly noticed and had caught more than a few guys checking her out, including at least one other cousin and uncle, which was a little creepy. I know, pot meet kettle.

“I…wow. I don’t know what to say. I mean, I’m family and really shouldn’t be judging and all, but I always thought you had the better body.”

I couldn’t believe I was saying it, but it almost sounded like she needed some validation, absurd as that seemed.

“Thanks,” she said, voice softening a bit. “I’ll have to tell Avery that.”

“What!? No!”

Kaia’s evil grin returned. “What, so I’m not hotter than your twin sis?”

“I…no…I mean, you can’t…”

“Oh my God, Alex,” she said, now grabbing both of my hands. “You’re absolutely adorable when you get all flustered. Relax. I won’t tell her what you really think, as long as you do one little thing.”

I gulped. “What?”

Kaia bit her lower lip. “Tell me what you like best about my body.”

I gulped again. “Uh, we’re kinda like, you know, cousins. Not sure that’s a great idea.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. Just between us. I already know you’ve been checking me out. Just tell me.”

I sighed. “How about everything?”

She shook her head no. “Very kind of you, but I want specifics.”

Was I really going to answer? Was I going to answer honestly or give some safe answer like her face or legs? Not that those weren’t good and true answers, but she’d probably know.

I took a deep breath. “Fine. Let’s just say that last summer, I’d have probably given my left nut just to see you topless.”

Kaia took a few moments to process that. Then her smile returned, sweet more than evil.

“So you’re a boob man?”

I shrugged. “I’m a holistic man. Different things on different girls can attract me.”

She nodded, accepting that surprisingly mature answer. “Very well, I accept your terms.”


She held my hands tight and looked me straight in the eye. In her, I could see a mix of mischief and nerves. She was outside her comfort zone and trying to hide it.

“I said, I accept your terms.”

“What terms?”

“I show you my tits for your left nut.”


A lot of things went through my mind in a very short span after my cousin uttered those words. At the top of the list was the belief that she couldn’t possibly be serious and was just messing with me…more than she already had been. Hell, I wouldn’t put it past her to have schemed this up with Avery, all to get a good laugh at my expense. They’d teased me in the past, but nothing like this and it didn’t really feel like a trick.