Authors: Robin Roseau
We had a lovely Christmas. The middle of December arrived with no snow in sight, but I knew there was snow in Bayfield. Two weeks before Christmas, after Rebecca and Celeste were in bed for the night, I curled up with Lara in front of a fire downstairs.
"I love you so much," I said. "I'm sorry I've been so much trouble for you."
She kissed the top of my head. "I love you, too, Little Fox. And you're not that much trouble."
"You haven't heard the trouble I'm about to cause," I replied, pulling more tightly to her.
"Oh?" she asked. "Should I be worried?"
"Yes," I said. "I was wondering how you might feel about Christmas in Bayfield. There's snow. I don't know what trouble that makes for you politically."
She lifted my lips for a kiss. "Who would we bring?"
"I don't know if it's a good idea," I said. "The enforcers all have families. So if we invited Angel and Scarlett and several enforcers, then we'd have to also invite Francesca and Gia, which is fine, but also Serena's brood and I don't know who else. It might get unwieldy. I just wish we could have snow at Christmas. All this brown and gray is depressing."
Lara squirmed around and dug out her phone. She hit a speed dial, and I heard Serena answered. "Is it too late for you and Emanuel to stop by, Serena?
If not, it can wait until tomorrow."
"No," she said. "Now is fine."
Then she called Elisabeth and Francesca, inviting them to stop by as well. Angel and Scarlett came with Francesca. Soon we had a little party going. Francesca served drinks, and then once everyone was settled, Lara said, "Christmas with snow is more fun than Christmas without snow."
There were a few grins.
"There's snow in Bayfield," Serena said.
"Family should be together for Christmas," I declared. "We'd have to bring half the compound."
"Why stop with half?" Elisabeth asked.
"It's too cold to camp out," I said.
"We don't have enough housing for everyone yet, unless we're a lot more intimate than one little fox enjoys."
"Then we'll stay at the resort on Madeline Island," Lara said.
"We'll never get reservations on this short notice. I'm sorry, you all came over here for nothing," I replied.
They all grinned at me.
Every single one of them.
"You're right," Lara said. "We'd never get reservations on such short notice. However, if someone had made reservations six months ago, she might just have been able to reserve the entire resort."
I pulled away and looked up at Lara. She was grinning at me. "Merry Christmas," she said. "We have the resort from the twenty-first until the second of January."
I pulled her into a fierce kiss,
then pushed away. "Then why did you make everyone come over?"
"We wanted to be here when she told you," Scarlett said. "Thank you, Alpha."
"You all knew?"
"Yep," said Angel. "And you didn't have a clue. We got you."
"You did," I agreed. I snuggled against Lara and smiled at all of them. "And I don't mind."
I closed my eyes and thought about it for a minute, mentally ticking off what I would need to do before we left. I opened my eyes and said, "I sure am glad I got my Christmas shopping done early. I glanced into the corner, where we had a tree set up. The wrapped presents were spilling out everywhere. I had checked through them daily, but I didn't find any from Lara to me. Nor had I found any when I searched the rest of the house. I even searched her office, which was tricky to get away with. Nothing.
I narrowed my eyes at Elisabeth, then schooled my features. I hadn't searched her house, and I was sure she would happily hide presents there.
"What did you get us?" Scarlett asked me.
"You? Who said I got you anything," I replied.
"Is it a pony?" she asked.
"I most certainly did not get you a pony," I told her. "I was going to, but your mother forbade it. Blame her."
"I could keep it at Francesca's," she said. "Couldn't I, Francesca?"
"No," Francesca said. "If I let you keep one, then Angel and Gia will both want one. I might be willing to suffer one pony, but three would be too many."
I kissed Lara's neck and asked, "Do you have everything planned, or did you want me to plan things?"
"I have it all planned," she said. "But everyone here is assigned the task of inventing a new, winter-friendly game, and I want all games to be fox friendly. You may team up if you want." She was looking at Angel and Scarlett when she said it.
"Does fox-friendly mean she has to win?" Elisabeth asked.
"No," Lara said. "Just not too rough. Kaylee and Thomas will want to play, too."
* * * *
A week and a half later, we were on our way. Due to the amount of people and equipment going, we drove up in a long convoy, trading around every couple of hours. Lara and I through unspoken agreement split up and moved around vehicles at every stop. I started with Scarlett and her family: father Nick, mother Tara and little brother Thomas. In spite of the amount of time Scarlett spent at our house, I hadn't actually spent enough time with her parents. We told embarrassing Scarlett stories for part of the ride.
At the break, I found myself with my student, Catherine.
Her parents were Faith and Brendon, and she had a little sister named Monique, who was twelve. It was Faith's turn to drive, and Brendon offered me the front passenger seat.
"Don't be silly," I said. "I'm much smaller than you and will be perfectly comfortable in the back seat with the girls."
"I wouldn't hear of it," he said. "But I don't mind if you pull the seat up a notch or two."
I laughed and climbed in.
Catherine looked a little nervous, perhaps wondering whether her parents were going to embarrass her. I wouldn't have allowed it. Instead, as soon as we were going, I told them how proud I was of their daughter. I think I embarrassed her with the praise I offered, as I went on for a while, but her parents were beaming. When I finally wound down, Brendon reached over and messed Catherine's hair.
"Dad," she whined, but she was smiling.
I asked Brendon what he did for a living. "Computers," he said. "Boring, I know."
"Not at all," I said. "Faith?"
"I'm Brendon's boss," she said, grinning.
"Oh," I said. "Is that true at home as well."
"Yes," Brendon said immediately. "All three of my women have me wrapped around their fingers."
I looked at Monique, sitting quietly while watching me intently. "So, Monique," I said. "Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?"
"Yes," she said. "I want to be an enforcer."
Her parents didn't seem to be put off by it. "Do you?" I asked. She nodded.
I glanced at Faith and asked just loudly enough for her to hear, "Is that something I should encourage?"
She nodded just once then said, "We want to get her into your school, but her academics aren't like her older sister's."
"Is she serious?"
"Yes," Faith said.
"Why do you want to be an enforcer, Monique?" I asked.
"I'm really good at sports," she said. "And it's an important job. It's like being a police officer, sort of. " She looked down. "I'm probably not smart enough."
"Nonsense," I said. "Do you work hard in school?"
"Yes," she said. "But school is hard for me. I'm not smart like Catherine."
"You're already bigger than me," her sister said. "And you kick my butt at half the sports we play."
"She gets good grades," Faith said. "But not straight A's."
"Math is hard," Monique said. "I like social studies though."
For an enforcer, I bet social studies is a lot more important than math. Do you get along with the kids at school?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "Most of them." She smiled. "I go to a human school. I have to hold back at gym, and Mom won't let me play any of the team sports with the human kids."
"What sports do you get to play then?"
"There's a wolf league in town," Brendon said. "Soccer in the spring and fall, basketball in the winter, and cross-country and track in the summer."
"The compound would be a little far to do all those every night," I said quietly to Faith.
Faith looked at me. "Is there anything you can do to get her in?"
I began asking Monique about math and science, and it was clear she hated them. She wouldn't be remotely interested in my program.
"I know what you're doing," she said. "You're interviewing me for the science program." She looked down. "I'm not doing very well."
"No," I said. "You're not. But I am a very clever fox, and perhaps we can do something else."
She looked up. "I'd be real good at the kayaking," she said. "And other stuff."
"That's good," I said. "If you're one of my enforcers, you'd have to be very good at kayaking." I paused. "How are you with little kids?"
"I started baby-sitting this year," she said. "I really liked it."
I studied her for a minute, thinking furiously. I didn't want to lead her on. She was ill-suited for my science program, but with some small alterations, she could join on some of the other classes, such as the camping skills and water skills classes.
"Do you like to swim, Monique?"
"Yes," she said. She glanced at her sister. "Please, Alpha, I know I can't take your science classes, but would you let me take your other classes, like the camping and stuff?"
I glanced at Faith, and her look was one of pleading. "Is that what you want?" I asked very quietly, and she nodded.
"Honey," I told Monique. "I don't know. I think I can say 'yes' to some of them, but I need to talk to a few people, and probably more with your parents."
"Please, Mom!" she said immediately.
"You heard the alpha," Brandon said immediately. "She has to see if there's a spot for you. But if you go, you have to promise to do whatever your big sister says."
"That's not a problem," Catherine said immediately. "She can come as far as I'm concerned. She's always good."
And that was about the best praise I could have wanted.
"I am going to be rude and make a phone call," I said, turning to the front. I gathered my phone and called Elisabeth. "Do you know Monique Simpson?"
She paused. "Catherine Simpson's mother?"
"Little sister," I said. "She's twelve."
"No," Elisabeth said. "Should I?"
"I think you should meet her," I said. "When we switch cars."
"All right," she said. "Any particular reason."
"I think she may be curious about what it's like to be an enforcer. I thought you should be the one to tell her."
"Oh really," Elisabeth said. "Yes, I think I would like to meet her."
I hung up and said quietly to Faith, "Elisabeth will ride with you from our next stop."
Faith looked over at me and smiled. "Thank you."
"She's too young to decide this," I said.
"It's all she's wanted for years," Faith said.
I turned to Catherine and asked her, "What did you like most about fall term?"
* * * *
For the final segment to
Bayfield, I rode with Lily, her parents, James and Joan, and her little brother, Max. James drove and insisted I sit up front. I asked him what he did for a living, and he went on for ten minutes talking about his middle-management position for one of Ron Berg's companies. He name-dropped a lot.
Lily offered an apologetic look.
I tried to decide if he was always like this or just nervous. I had met Joan when interviewing Lily but hadn't spent any time with James before. When he wound down, I asked Joan what she did.
"She's an accountant," James answered immediately. Joan opened and closed her mouth. I saw a look of annoyance flash across her face, but she smothered it.
I was annoyed as well. I tried again. "Do you like your job, Joan?" I asked.
"It's a boring job," James answered for her. "But she's good at it."
If looks could kill, James would have been dead.
I wondered if he would let his son speak for himself.
"Max," I asked. "How old are you?"
"He's nine," said James immediately.
I had just about had it. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "Joan," I said. "I've never asked Lara this. Do wolves suffer PMS like humans do? Because I swear, I feel bloated right now."
"Oh, I hate that feeling," Joan said immediately, flashing a grin. Joan went on for a minute or two with her main complaints,
then went on to talk about her recent exam.
looked between the two of us then grinned. "I hate the cramps," Lily said, getting into the swing of things. "But I'm so glad I don't break out like some of the human girls do."