Sunday, December 25, 2016

BONUS STORY: "Herne's Four Hundredth Christmas" Part 3

And so we come to the end of our little holiday treat. We both hope you enjoy what we came up with, and that you and yours have a wonderful holiday and a happy New Year!

And get ready for Valentine's Day 2017 when we release our third book, Five Boys!

* * *

"Good morning."


Herne felt a gentle kiss against his temple. "Merry Christmas."

"Mrr... Chrm?" He rolled over onto his side, ending up nose-to-nose with Iris. Her eyes were bright and wide-awake, shining with excitement.

"So I'm guessing I won't need to make coffee," Herne commented.

Iris giggled, sitting up and pulling Herne up after her by the arm. "Come on. Let's go downstairs and see what's under the tree."

Herne stumbled after Iris, confused. "But don't we already know what's under the tree? It's just us."

"You don't know what I got you. And you don't know what else is under there from everyone else."

"Everyone... else?"

The two descended the stairs, Iris dashing ahead of Herne to plug in the lights on the tree. The living room, lit only by the thin, pale light of morning coming through the window, was soon bright with the tiny warm fairy lights of the Christmas tree.

Iris looked up at Herne, holding up a small wrapped box. "Come on. Time to open presents."

"Presents under a tree," Herne muttered, following Iris into the living room and sitting down on the floor next to her. "What else is knew?"

"Oh, shush." Iris batted him gently, but noticed he was smiling sleepily. "Do you want some coffee?"

Herne shook his head. "I'm fine."

"Good, because I'm getting started." She pulled out a flat, thin box wrapped in the same paper as the small one she was already holding. "These are from the Nakabitos."

"Stormy got me a gift?"

Iris was already tearing into hers. "I don't see why not." She opened the box, revealing a small, cut-crystal owl ornament. "Oh, Herne, look!" She held it up on its delicate gold cord.

"Is that meant to be me?"

"Not unless you've been telling Stormy things behind my back." She grinned, hanging the ornament on the tree. "There we go..." She looked over her shoulder at him. "How about that? Our first ornament together."

Herne smiled; his eyes glowed warm gold. Usually that only happened when he had trouble keeping himself in check -- was he overwhelmed with emotion?

"Don't cry, dear, it's just an ornament."

"Not crying." Herne smiled, but Iris noticed him covertly wiping his eyes. "Okay, let's see... huh." He pulled a pair of jeans out of the box. "I got... jeans."

Iris looked at them. "They're really nice. Huh."

"They're probably also a subtle hint that your drifter boyfriend doesn't have many clothes." Herne folded the jeans neatly back into their box. "And probably why she was asking me awkward questions over the last few weeks."

"Oh, I thought she was just messing with you." Iris reached farther back under the tree and pulled out a gift bag. "From Ms. Waters." At Herne's confused expression, she explained. "The lady I cat-sit for?"

"Oh, right."

Inside the bag were his and hers hand towels embroidered with little owls.

"She's not subtle, is she?" Herne said with a smirk.

"I think she ships us."

"She... what?"

Iris bit her lip. "I... erm... I'll try to explain later. Here." She made one last reach under the tree and came back with something soft and fluffy wrapped carefully in red paper sprinkled with a white snowflake pattern. "And this is from me."

"I didn't see you buy me anything."

"I know." Iris beamed. "The magic of Christmas."

Herne pulled the paper open gently, revealing a forest-green knitted scarf. "Oh... this is..." He ran a hand over it. "It's soft."

"And warm. Which I know doesn't matter much to you, but it's still nice to have something cozy to wear in the winter." She looped the scarf around his neck, tucking it tight at the front. "What do you think?"

"I don't think it matches my boxers."

Iris giggled, pulling him closer by the scarf and planting a kiss on his nose. "But you like it?"

"I love it." And he smiled genuinely.

"Excellent. Then I think it's time for breakfast."

"Wait." Herne watched her get up and stroll into the kitchen. "What about your present?"

Iris looked back, genuinely surprised. "I... wasn't expecting you to get me anything. I told you that already."

"But what if I did?"

"Then that's very sweet." Iris smiled.

Herne got up, taking the scarf off. "Breakfast first. Then you can have it."

* * *

"You've hidden it in the forest?"

The two walked across the now-familiar bridge, Iris in a long coat over her pajamas, Herne in a T-shirt, his new jeans, and the scarf. The scarf looked a little odd without other cold-weather accouterments, but Iris was glad he liked it enough to go on wearing it.

"Had to make sure you wouldn't find it."

They came to the live oak, which had a few Christmas-y items scattered around the base from the preceding weeks. Herne jumped up, grabbing the lowest limb, and pulled himself up into the tree. He scrambled up a few more branches and began rooting around in the hollow of the trunk.

"Don't rip your new jeans," Iris shouted up. "Stormy will never let me hear the end of it."


A small leather bag dropped down from the branches. Iris dashed forward and caught it in her hands.

"Don't open it until I get down," Herne's voice called down, and a few moments later his sneakers hit the forest floor. Iris stood still, waiting expectantly with the leather bag in her hands.

"All right." Herne smiled, breathless from the leap down. "You can open it now."

Iris raised her eyebrows, looking down at the bag, and pulled the little drawstring open. Inside was... something shiny. Shiny and old. She took it out. A pocket watch?

"This..." She opened it up. The inside was adorned with Roman numerals and delicately filigreed hands, which -- unsurprisingly -- weren't moving. "This is an antique."

"Not as antique as me," he said with a grin. "I got it when I was... two hundred and... seventy... something. Around then."

"Someone gave it to you."

Herne nodded. "And now I'm giving it to you."

Iris shook her head. "I can't... I... it's too nice. And if this was a present from someone else..."

Herne cupped Iris's hands in his, the watch between them. "Then it's mine to give. What it is, and what it means... are for you now."


"You don't like it?"

"I do, but..."

Herne smiled. "Then it's yours. And I want you to have it."

"If you're sure..."

"Oh, no, still waffling. Just hid it in my tree for two hundred years and didn't let anyone near it but just figured I'd drop it on you today..."

Iris rolled her eyes. "Okay, okay. I get it." She got up on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. "Thank you. So much. It's beautiful."

Herne beamed. "So..."


"Now what?"

"Now we do whatever we want."

Herne glanced back in the direction of the house. "Wrap up in blankets and have coffee and cookies for the rest of the day?"

"Perfect." Iris tucked the watch back in its bag, and the bag in her coat pocket. "Race you back!" She dashed off toward the house.

Herne was about to follow, but stopped. Something under the tree caught his eye: a small wooden box. He knelt down and picked it up. It opened easily. Inside, wrapped in a handkerchief that smelled slightly of herbs and dust, was a piece of jade carved in the shape of a stylized owl. Next to it was a note:

I'm so happy for you, Herne. Look after each other.

"Ne..." Herne covered his mouth. He closed the box gently, then jumped up into the tree and tucked it safely away.


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