Christmas Party: Day 2

December 23, 2047; 41 Ruhn, 2799

Morning in a house with small children brings its share of unique hazards. The patter of little feet and giggling in the hallway downstairs only briefly roused Tarioshi; cheers of delight woke her only long enough to turn over and bury her nose under a pillow. Sleeping in was proving to be difficult.

What finally pushed away the heavier fog of sleep was the scream.

Tari sat up immediately, finding a young boy staring at her. Cries of ‘werewolf’ echoed up the stairwell as he dashed away to find an adult. Drowsiness dulled her reactions; it wasn’t until she scratched her chin that she remembered she’d transformed the night before. A passing thought solved the issue of her appearance; dealing with the child would prove more of a challenge.

At least it wouldn’t be a dull week.

It wasn’t two minutes later that she heard the door open at the bottom of the steps. “A monster in the attic, you say?” Jolene questioned from down below. “Let’s go up and see if it ate Uncle Lenny in the night.”

“Moooooom!” he wailed.

“Come on… You don’t expect me to confront the monster alone, do you? I might get scared. I need you to protect mommy.”

“Ooga-booga!” Tari called, sticking her now-human head into view from her position lying on the floor. The child screamed again, running back into the hall. “O valiant knight, bravely run away.”

Jolene snickered, glancing up the steps. “You aren’t helping.”

“I have that monster look in the mornings.”

“Hope he didn’t wake you.”

“I was sort of half awake, but Len slept through the whole thing.”

“He’d sleep through a tornado. Has, for that matter… Cameron! Come on, it’s just Auntie Tari.”

Cameron peeked slowly around the corner. Tari waved; he timidly stared up the steps.

“Auntie Tari’s not a monster… see?”

“There was a monster!” Cameron insisted. “It was white and furry and had big teeth and it was there, mommy!”

“I think your scream scared it away, kiddo.” Tari looked around. “Nope, no monster up here. You saved us all.”

He looked unconvinced. Tari hopped to her feet as mother and son ascended into the attic to further the search. Lenard finally rolled over with all the extra commotion, sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.

“Good morning, sunshine!” Tari singsonged. Lenard grunted a response, looking across to his sister.


“Monster hunt. Cameron says there was a werewolf up here this morning.”

“Really?” Lenard frowned, eyes flicking to Tari. She made a non-committed shrug as she dug through her bag.

“Yeah, you two just missed getting eaten alive.” Jolene smirked. “Cameron? Do you see a monster?”


“You ready for waffles now?”


“That farm tour still on?” Tari asked.

“Temperature’s down to minus fifteen and the wind is supposed to come up again soon. I’d rather not take the kids out in that any longer than I have to. Can still show you around if you care to dress for it.”

“I’ll happily stay where it’s warm.”

“Thought so. Really did get nice up here, much better than last night. Just that little heater?”

“Yeah. Enough to cut the chill. Waffles, you say?”

“When you’re ready. Most everyone else is still asleep. Including Lenny, again.”

A snore escaped his throat to reinforce the point.

“I’ll just let him snooze. He had a long day behind the wheel yesterday.” Tari yawned and followed Jolene down the stairs. “I hope plaid pajamas are appropriate attire.”

“For breakfast at a farmhouse? For sure.” Jolene paused at the bottom of the main floor’s steps, giving Tari a quick glance. “Honest question. What do you see in Lenard?”

“Honest answer? He’s cute, intelligent… He’s a caring guy, once that antisocial veneer is peeled off… and he’s not too shabby in the sack.”

“I so did not need to hear that about my brother.”

“You asked.” Tari grinned as they walked into the kitchen. “I spilled my guts out to him one night and told him a bunch of terrible stuff about my family that I should have kept to myself. He was really understanding about the whole thing. That’s when I knew.”

“I think he’s the best listener of our entire bunch. Cameron, honey, come and sit down. It’s not nice to stare.”

“Hm?” Looking to the doorway, Tari saw the young boy watching her. “Sorry about scaring you. I really don’t bite. Much.”

The old cast-iron waffle griddle sizzled as thick batter poured out over its surface. “Lenny’s always been such a shut-in. I’ve been worried about him ever since high school. He never really went to any school events, dances, even prom… Not that our folks need any more grandkids or anything, it’s just… I felt bad that he was all alone so much of the time.”

“The runt of the litter?”

“Kind of.” Jolene helped Cameron into a chair - he’d chosen the one furthest away from Tari - before sitting down herself. “His friends were books, the cats and dogs, and the computer. A few ‘real’ friends here and there, but no one he really could get close to. Hell, I don’t think he’d ever even been on a date.”

“And then suddenly, he comes home with a girl on his arm.” Tari smirked. “The big sister is feeling protective of her little brother.”

“I really am. It seems irrational, you know? I just can’t get over the fact that our little Lenny has finally found himself someone. It’s like something’s wrong with the world.”

“My older sister is in the same boat with me. I’ve had a bit more experience than Len has in the dating world, at least. Not all of it good, but experience none the less.”

“The only life lesson we need: Men are pigs. Isn’t that right, Greg?”

A short, dark haired man in sweatpants and a sweatshirt stepped into the kitchen, giving Jolene a peck on the cheek. “Absolutely. The problem is that women appear to enjoy the taste of pork.”

Tari chortled. “I am totally loving this family. Your husband?”

“The one and only. Greg, this is Tari, Lenard’s girlfriend.”

“Nice to meet you. Heard you had a rough drive.”

“It wasn’t the worst storm I’ve been through.”

“Well, you made it. At least if we get snowed in here we’ve got a roof, four walls, plenty of food, and a fireplace. You want to leave the kids here when you run in, hon?”

“I think so.” Jolene hopped up and popped open the waffle iron, grimacing as a very dark set of waffles fell out. “It’ll give me time to talk to ‘Santa’ and make sure he knows what to bring on Christmas morning. An automatic waffle maker, for one.”

“Does someone need to drop him a hint about a cookbook, too?” Tari teased. “They’ll be fine, Jo. They soak up way more butter that way.”

“You sure? I haven’t set fire to the kitchen yet. I can still try again.”

“Let’s save burning down the house for another time.”

“I think Lenard mentioned that you work for the Secret Service?”

“Used to.” Jolene peered through a row of dolls, digging into the back of the shelf to see what was left. “I took one of the first transfers I could get into the Office for Outer Space Affairs when the UN created an Interplanetary Security Section just after the Commonwealth made contact.”

“So you’ve met them?”

She smirked. “You could say that.”

“What do you actually do, then?”

“Mmm… I’ve been assigned primarily as protection to the two Commonwealth representatives doing most of the negotiations. Anytime they’re out and about, I’ve been with them. I’m sure you’ve seen them on TV? The blue-furred fox-man and the tortie cat-woman with wings?”

“Mm-hm,” Tari confirmed, feeling a pang of jealousy. “How’d that go to you and not someone older?”

“You mean, someone with more experience? They - the aliens - interviewed all the candidates personally. As much time as we spend working together, it helps if we can stand each other. Came down to myself and a slightly ‘more experienced’ agent, so they agreed to both of us.”

“What are they doing in your absence?”

“There’s a temporary agent filling in for me so I could come home for Christmas. I’ve got to work New Year’s Eve, though. Aha! Here we go.” Jolene fished out two identical dolls, depositing them in a basket. “He and my partner have worked together before, so they’ve already got good synergy. Jadyn didn’t entirely hate him either, so that was a plus. Er… That is, Captain Tzeki.”

“First name basis, too?”

“We’re entirely professional during public events and such. My duties are more than just protection, though. I’m assigned by the UN to work with the Commonwealth reps on any security concerns, but for the most part they’re the ones giving me directions and not the UN. I’ve helped coordinate efforts between their own security teams and ours, making sure everyone has the same plan in their head when we’re preparing for an event. I wind up spending a lot of time with them in a week - and the Captain really hates being called by rank and title outside of the public eye. Speaker Jubah - the cat - doesn’t seem to mind one way or the other at first glance, but she obviously prefers leaving her title at the door if you watch her body language. They’re really fascinating people. If it wasn’t for the way they look I’d swear they could blend right in here on Terra - that is, Earth. Damn… I’m even starting to sound like them.”

“Gary and the kids must manage okay with you being gone a lot, then.”

“Eh… It’s hard on him. We took a look at finances when the twins were on the way and decided he’d be the stay-at-home dad since my benefits package was better suited for the family, even though I’m not quite making as much in take home-salary as he did.”

“What’d he do before?”

“Loan officer at a bank. Was actually pretty good for us - we put away a nice nest egg to help pay the kids’ college when they get older. It’s not growing so much now with just me working, but again, the benefits package will help pay some of it too. With Cam going into first grade next year, Gary should be able to work part-days again. I know he’s missed having his own income.” Jolene grabbed a random beast-like action figure off the shelf and wandered to the checkout. “You need anything for anyone?”

“I don’t know any of your family well enough to even guess what to get them.”

“Don’t worry too much about that. It’s more for the kids, anyway. I think Lenny addressed the things he brought as from both of you.” She swiped her debit card, picking up the now-bagged toys. “You must have gotten him something, though?”

“I’ve been sort of at a loss. I don’t have the foggiest idea what I could get him for his computer that’d help with anything, and buying any sort of college supplies seems… overly motherish. About the only thing I could do is set fire to his furniture and replace it all with something that doesn’t look like it came out of a landfill.”

“He still has that ugly junk? Ugh. Well, if you want to browse around the mall for a while and see if anything leaps out, I’m game.”

What a find… And the only one like it? Luck is shining on me today… Tari grinned to herself, closing the small black jewelry box. “Thank you very much.”

“You are quite welcome, madam. And once more… Please accept my most profound apologies -“

“No! I won’t! If you’re so serious about making amends, put that jerk somewhere he won’t insult your customers when they ask a simple question. It’s not so good for repeat business.” Slipping the box into an inside pocket, she snatched her debit card out of the manager’s hand. “Good day.”

Jolene stood up as Tari wandered out of the store and into the food court, waving her over to the table where the rest of their loot waited. “You finally find something? Let me see!”

“I’d rather not…”

“Oh, come on. I won’t tell him. Show me?”

Grimacing, Tari withdrew the box and opened it a crack. “Satisfied?”

“Holy hell… That couldn’t have been cheap.”

“He’s worth it.”

Jolene frowned as the box disappeared back into Tari’s pocket. “You really think he’ll like that? He’s never been the jewelry type, not really.”

“I just have this feeling, you know? I think he’ll love it.” Tari peered around the food shops, sticking out her tongue. “Did you want to get something to eat before we leave? Nothing even smells good…”

“Not really. Plenty of better food back at the farm. Should be almost suppertime by the time we get back.” Jolene scratched the side of her nose as they walked toward the shopping center’s doors. “What, ah… What were you arguing about in there, anyway?”

“The first clerk I spoke to said if I had to ask the price, it was out of my range - something, he added, he could tell by the way I dressed and talked. I took it a little personally.”

“How much was it?”

“Doesn’t matter. His attitude was completely uncalled for. It’s the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought for someone - but to be told I shouldn’t even inquire because I don’t meet a lofty and imaginary dress code for a store in a shopping mall?

“I get that… But -“

“I’m not going to tell you what it cost,” Tari stressed, grinning. “There are things on this earth that have a value above and beyond a few bits of currency.”

“That shopping bag is far too pink to contain anything intended for me,” Lenard quipped, following Tari up the steps.

“Silly. Have a good afternoon?”

“Yeah, helped feed the livestock and had an interesting chat with dad.”

“About what?”

“His long-missing dog.” Lenard sighed, scratching his neck as Tari knelt down beside her backpack. “I think I told you I shot him by accident?”

“Yeah, you mentioned that in passing.” Loosening the drawstring of the small pack, Tari pressed the pink plastic sack through the opening. After a good shake to settle everything, she stuck her arm inside to the shoulder, fishing around. “You thought he always knew what had happened.”

“He… Er… That’s not a normal pack, is it?”

“Word of advice, don’t stick your head inside to look around. It’s likely to get bitten off and I really don’t need this thing getting a taste for human flesh.” Lenard’s mouth fell ever so slightly slack; Tari grinned. “Kidding. It’s just a bag that’s bigger on the inside. Turning it inside-out is a spiritual experience.”

“I bet.” Lenard sat down on their bed, watching her struggle with the backpack. “So… Yeah. I don’t really know how it came up… He was asking about my plans, and what I’m going to do after graduation, and how you fit into it all… And somehow we got to talking about Remy and it just sort of came out from there. He didn’t know what happened… Thought he got hit by a car somewhere and just never found the body. I showed him the spot where I buried him, along with the cross I’d staked into the ground next to him.”

“A cross?”

“It seemed like the right thing at the time.”

“Hm.” Tari felt a canvas strap brush her fingers and gave it a yank, pulling a very large duffel bag from the small pack. “Everything okay now, though?”

“Yeah… We had the closest father-son talk I’ve ever had with that man after that. I’m still not sure it actually happened.” He pointed at the new container. “What’s in there?”

“Change of clothes. This stuff I’ve got on absolutely reeks of the greasy smoke in the food court. Thing is, none of you will smell it. It’s not at a level that would remotely bother you. One of the pitfalls of having our sense of smell.”

“Thought you said you had normal human senses in human form.”

“I usually bring slightly enhanced versions into the shapedance. It’s not as good as I have in kitsune form, but it’s way better than I should have for appearing human.” Drawing out a clean pair of snow-white jeans and a green wool sweater, Tari proceeded to shed the sweatshirt and pants she’d worn to town. “There an evening plan?”

“Not really. Supper, maybe a movie or some video games in the basement. Something to keep all the kids entertained until bedtime. After that it’s really hard to say.”

Tari’s nose twitched to the smells in the room as the heavy stench of greasy food finally slid out of the way. A slight grin played at her mouth as she scanned the room and saw a flash of movement; she immediately relaxed her self-control and let her foxen form emerge. Lenard glanced up, giving a little flinch as he noticed the change.

“I could keep them busy,” she purred, sitting in his lap. “Or at least just one of them.”

“Mm.” Lenard kissed her on the cheek, his fingers scratching through the fur on the back of her neck as her tails drifted beside him. “While I’m certain that particular young man would appreciate the distraction, the rest of his family is expecting you - and him - to be down for supper in a few minutes. I don’t think this particular outfit would make the right kind of impression.”

“Maybe not.” Tari inhaled deeply, letting the smells around them soak into her mind. The musty haze of old heirlooms and cardboard boxes, the sweet, nutty fragrance of aged pine lumber in the rafters. Meaty scents of supper - a pork roast, by the smell - rising up from downstairs…

And the sweat of a very young and familiar child, fear oozing from his pores as he hoped he wouldn’t be noticed behind a stack of boxes.

Giving Lenard’s earlobe a lick, Tari resumed her human form and slid to her feet. “What do you think about the kids?”

“They’re kind of annoying.”

“You think so?” Pulling on the clean clothes, she gave her hair a fluff. “I don’t know… I think the little monsters are a cheap source of entertainment.”

“Maybe. Upkeep is kind of expensive.” Lenard smirked, giving Tari a hug from behind. “Ready?”

As they descended the steps, Cameron peeked over a box and watched in silence as they closed the attic door behind them.

2 Responses

  1. Tsunari says:

    Seems like you skipped a story or two, so she hasn’t made contact with Jadyn yet?

  2. hans44 says:

    I’m waiting for Tari to say something like:

    “Tell Jadyn that Tari says hi.”

    …or something like that. Should really freak out Jolene.

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