Sunday, December 18, 2016

BONUS STORY: "Herne's Four Hundredth Christmas" Part 2

We hope you're enjoying our little Christmas present to you this year! Here today is the second part of our three-part bonus installment... last one is next Sunday!


“So what do you think of when you think of Christmas?“

Yukon – the larger of the two guinea pigs – stretched himself up tall, his front paws on his food dish. Shiny things.

“Oh, yeah?”

Shiny things Mom won’t let us eat.

Russet poked his nose out of the hutch. Loud paper. Loud paper we can’t eat.

Herne shifted in his seat. “Anything else?”

Do you food?


Both pigs ran to the front of the cage, reaching their noses over the bars as far as they could. Food? Food?

“Ah… just a minute.” Herne got up from the chair he’d been sitting backwards in, dragging it back to the kitchen as the pigs shouted after him.

“That was a waste.”

“What was?” Iris had her sleeves rolled up past her elbows, washing her hands with a level of care generally only reserved for surgeons.

“Ah. Consultation.” Herne looked around the kitchen. Baking supplies and cookware were strewn across the counters and kitchen table; it looked almost like Iris was preparing for one of her long baking nights, holing herself up in the kitchen and experimenting with recipes for the shop. “Asking the guinea pigs for some perspective.”

Iris chuckled. “You won’t get much out of them but requests to be fed.”

Herne looked up suddenly. “I thought you couldn’t understand—”

“No translation necessary with them.” She took an apron from a hook on the wall and threw it around Herne’s neck. “All right, put this on and we’ll get started.”

“Started on what?”

“Christmas cookies.” Iris gestured to the table. “We talked about this last night, remember?”

Herne nodded slowly. “Right… I think… I don’t remember much after you started doing that thing with your fingers in my hair.”

"Ah. Right. Well. That would explain why you were monosyllabic."

Herne and Iris had baked together before, so he wasn't quite sure why there was a special Christmas Sort of Baking to be done. But she insisted there was.

"There are just, you know, certain things you make this time of year."

"Like the special things you make for the shop?"

"Well... yeah. But it's more... the principle of the thing. It's the doing rather than the result." She shook a bottle of green sprinkles idly. "Not that there's anything wrong with the result."

Herne still didn't quite understand... but he didn't mind spending a Sunday morning in the warm kitch with Iris, baking and talking and occasionally getting distracted. By the middle of the day, they were sitting down and decorating cookies.

"Your hand is so steady."

"Years of practice," Iris said casually. She had put tidy white stripes on a bell-shaped sugar cookie, and was now filling the spaces in between with equally tidy stripes of green. Herne looked down at his Christmas tree. It was drowning in green frosting, with his attempts at red garlands and baubles sunk blurrily into the background.

"Not sure I've quite got it," he muttered.

Iris took a look at his cookie. "Ah, it's just a matter of technique. Here, we'll do one together."

* * *

The afternoon passed quietly, Herne's cookies becoming progressively nicer looking as time went on. Iris's all still looked like the sort of thing he saw in those sped-up instructional videos she liked to watch online, but he took at least some pride in his later results.

Once they were all done, Iris put aside two and put the rest on a large covered plate on the kitchen counter. "Think we can make these last 'til the big day?"

She turned to see Herne already brushing crumbs from the corners of his mouth. He shook his head sagely. "Mm-mm," he observed around a mouthful of cookie.

Iris giggled. "Once a dumb baby, always a dumb baby." She dropped a kiss on his nose before taking a bite of her own cookie.

"So, what now?" Herne asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, we've done the tree, we've done baking..."

"It's..." Iris flattened her lips together. "It's not a checklist." She paused. "Well, okay, I do have a Christmas checklist, but enjoying Christmas is not about filling out a checklist. It's... there are things to do, of course, but it's not like you have to check everything off or else."

Herne walked over to the covered plate and reached for another cookie. "Unless it's business."

"Unless it's business." Iris hopped up and slapped his hand away playfully. "Leave some for later, would you?"

The rest of the evening was calm... at least for Herne. Iris was hunched over her laptop, clicking away at various sites in away that indicated to Herne that something was awfully important.

"What's the rush?"

"Christmas presents."

"Oh." Herne glanced at the door. "We could... shop for them?"

Iris laughed -- not a mocking laugh, but a good-natured one. "I wish. For Stormy and Ms. Waters and a couple other locals, sure. But for, you know, out-of-town families, gift baskets for business partners..."


"You know. To show you like them. And keep them liking you. That's the bit I'm doing now... trying to figure out a nice gift basket for the company I buy all my coffee from."

Herne put on the most serious thinking face he could muster. "I recommend... not coffee. As they'll have a lot already."

Iris snorted. "Excellent call. Look, why don't we go shopping tomorrow? You and me. We can pick out a gift for Stormy from both of us, and you can help me find something for a lady with lots of cats."

"I recommend not a cat."

Herne grinned as he dodged Iris's hand.

* * *

Iris fell asleep almost as soon as she hit the pillow that night. Or rather, almost as soon as she hit Herne's shoulder. She cuddled up to him and he wrapped his arms around her.

Unusually, though, he was having trouble sleeping for the first time since he'd started sleeping. He looked down at Iris, stroking her hair gently as she murmured in her sleep.

Christmas presents.

She talked so easily about them. But...

What in the world was he meant to do for her?


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