The choice of Christmas music for this afternoon was unconventional, to put it charitably.
When their son volunteered to select the holiday music, Graham’s parents figured that he had maybe some Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole in mind. Instead, he had gone the rockabilly route with the Reverend Horton Heat’s We Three Kings.
Despite the somewhat frantic, last minute nature of their holiday trek back to New England, things were remarkably sedate at the nondescript house Graham once called home. Anippe was helping Sakaali wrap up some presents (while the younger Anubis’ gifts were still carefully concealed), Graham’s mother in law was mixing cookie dough while Graham and his father were watching football, with Graham getting up every few minutes to tend to the fire. The two had been working through some beer and ‘enhanced’ egg nog throughout the afternoon.
“Jeez, Pops- you cut down a telephone pole or something?” he asked as he used the poker to rotate a large and curiously symmetrical log in the fireplace.
“If they didn’t want me to burn them, the phone company would’ve put in poles that weren’t made outta wood.” Edgar quipped, not bothering to turn away from the game.
“Don’t look, Grandma! We’re going to wrap your presents next.” Anippe cautioned.
“Anippe, dear- you’re not supposed to tell her that.” Sakaali said, although she sounded more bemused than upset.
“Why not? I trust Grandma not to look.” the little Anubis explained to her mother.
“It’s OK, love- I’ve got my hands full at the moment.” she spoke up. “But thank you for the vote of confidence.”
This was the calm before both the proverbial and literal storm. During halftime, the weather forecast was promising at least six inches of snow overnight from a snowstorm that was barreling in from across the Great Lakes and into northern New England.
Arriving ahead of the snowstorm and due in at any moment were some guests of the Jinko persuasion. Cots and inflatable mattresses had been pulled out of storage and set up for the arrivals. Graham and Edgar had earlier brought in armloads of firewood that should last them through the snowstorm.
As it turned out, Art had won the grand prize for a raffle at work a few months ago- a trip to a ski resort in Vermont for him and the family. When he was telling the good news to Graham over some celebratory beers, his friend remarked that particular resort was only a two and a half hour drive from his hometown. That set some wheels in motion- between his accumulated paid days off and the fact that work slowed down around Christmas and New Year’s, Art quickly decided that Christmastime would be the best opportunity to take the family to Vermont. It turned out Sakaali wasn’t that difficult to persuade and began deftly juggling appointments so that she, her husband and Anippe could spend Christmas on the other end of the country.
Things seemed to be falling into place for all parties so far, but the approaching snowstorm would be the wild card. All their planning would be undone if Art, Vanesa and the cubs had to turn around because of the winter storm bearing down on the region. But last she had heard, they were on their way and ahead of the storm so far.
Sakaali was taking a break from her immediate task of wrapping gifts to take in her relatively tranquil surroundings. Graham and Edgar were each clutching a beer and arguing over whether a player should’ve been called for pass interference on the football game they were watching, Graham’s mother looked like she was getting ready to but the first batch of cookies in the oven and Anippe was trying to extricate some Scotch Tape from her paw-pads.
Suddenly, the Anubis mom’s jackal-like ears twitched, with one of them now almost completely parallell to the ground while the other stood straight up.
“Someone’s at the front door.” she announced quietly.
Anippe seemed to lose all interest in the Scotch Tape that was confounding her attempts to be removed from her paw-pads.
“Eva, Gabby and Layla are here!” the Anubis pup announced excitedly upon hearing her mother’s words as she sprang up from the table.
Not even a second later, there was a loud knocking on the door, but Sakaali’s daughter was already off like a shot.
By the time Graham had got up from the sofa to get the door, Anippe’s paw was already on the door handle.
“You guys made it!” she yelled out excitedly as she threw open the door. A second later, she was tackled by the trio of young jinkos.
“Merry Christmas, Anippe!” Gabby called out between chuffs. Apparently it was starting to snow outside, and the snow that had clung to the cubs was starting to melt and form large drops of water now that they were inside.
“Is that who I think it is?” another voice called out.
The cubs looked up to see Sakaali walking up to the little pile of chuffs and wags.
“We made it, Auntie Sakaali!” Eva said triumphantly as she sprang back to her feet. In the blink of an eye, the adult Anubis was set upon by the giddy trio of cub siblings with the four of them tumbling down in a heap.
The normally fussy Anubis didn’t seem particularly upset at the cubs excited display as she gently peeled Layla from off of her legs.
“Did you girls have a good trip?” she asked as she pulled Eva off of her belly.
“Mm-hmm!” Layla nodded.
“I think I hear chuffs- that can mean only one thing.” a male voice spoke up from around the corner. “I wonder who that could be….”
“Uncle Graham cracker!” Eva said as she got up and wrapped Graham up in a flying hug with the twins quickly following suit. It was enough to knock Graham off-balance a bit, but he remained upright after reaching out to steady himself against the wall.
“Thanks for letting us stay here.” Layla said almost bashfully.
“You should be thanking my parents, really.”
“Girls- see if you can help your mom with some of our suitcases.” another man called from the doorway. He was covered in snowflakes and carrying a large bag filled with wrapped gifts in one hand and a bag slung over his shoulder.
“Uncle Art!” Anippe called out before giving him a hug, her tail wagging furiously.
“Can I help you with that?” she asked, pawing at the bag of goodies.
“Anippe- don’t be greedy! You’ll get to open your presents on Christmas morning like everyone else.” Sakaali rebuked the eager pup.
“Sounds like our guests are here.” Edgar said as he got up from his comfy recliner to greet his newest visitors.
The girls began slowly detaching themselves from their Uncle Graham so that they could help bring in the last of their luggage and goodies while Art introduced himself to Edgar.
“Thanks for having us.” he began. “Graham’s told us so much about you…”
“None of it good, I bet.” Edgar half-seriously groused.
“You’d be surprised. These three little bundles of stripes and energy here are my pride and joy.” he said as the cubs started to walk past. “That’s Gabby, this one is Layla and here is Eva.”
“H-hi…” Layla began bashfully.
“Well now- any friend of Missy Paw Paws is a friend of mine.” the older man gushed as he shook each of their little grabbers. “You girls make yourselves right at home.”
“Thanks.” Eva said as her father handed her the bag of gifts to put under the tree.
“Here- let me show you guys to your room.” Graham offered.
The slightly less laden Art began following Graham up to the guest room
“Whew! It’s really starting to come down out there.” Another voice spoke up. Edgar, Sakaali and Anippe turned to see Vanessa standing in the doorway, frosted in a light coating of snowflakes and clutching a couple of suitcases.
“Auntie V!” Anippe called out as she latched onto the jinko’s leg and giggled. “You look like a snow jinko.”
“Hey there, kiddo!” Vanessa said as she used her free paw to tousle Anippe’s hair.
“Well hello- I don’t believe we’ve met before.” Edgar said to the jinko.
“Oh- hi! I’m Vanessa….I’m a friend of Sakaali’s.” she extended her paw, which Edgar took.
“Well, I’m Graham’s Dad. The name’s Edgar, but I also go by Pops or Gramp Gramp.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Pops.”
Anippe looked beyond the tiger woman in the doorway to see the snow really starting to come down.
“Woooow….” she marvelled quietly at the swirling white tempest beyond the doorway.
“That’s right!” Sakaali realized as she went to greet Vanesa. “This is going to be your first snowfall, isn’t it my treasure?”
The little Anubis pup nodded eagerly as Vanessa gave Sakaali a big hug.
“Thanks for coming out here tonight.”
“Can I go out and play, momma?” Anippe asked with wide eyes.
Before Anippe could get her answer, Layla stuck her head around the corner.
“Mom! Can we help Uncle Graham Cracker’s mom make some cookies?” she asked Vanessa.
“I don’t know….” Vanessa began.
“Oh girls- that’s very nice of you to offer, but that won’t be neccesary.” Graham’s mom said reassuringly. “But I may have something for each of you….”
This had the cubs undivided attention. On a little sheet of wax paper were four little round balls of cookie dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
In almost no time, Graham’s mom was overwhelmed with the boisterous jinko cubs clamoring over each other and saying “Oh boy!” and “Thank you!” between chuffs.
Sure enough, a sweet little ball of raw cookie dough was in each of their paws before the girls made quick work of it.
“Anippe- would you like one?” her grandmother asked.
The little Anubis pup looked uncertainly back and forth between her mom and grandmother.
“It’s all right, dearest.” Sakaali told her daughter as the younger Anubis scooped up the little sphere of snickerdoodle dough and began nibbling.
“Graham and I have been trying to minimize her intake of sweets, but lately we haven’t exactly been setting the best of examples ourselves” Sakaali admitted to her mother-in-law rather sheepishly.
“But it’s Christmas, love…” Graham’s mom said as she passed out little candy canes to the trio of jinko cubs. “This time of year, there’s usually there’s so much good food, it’s almost impossible to say no.”
“Jeez, ma….those had better be cleverly disguised mint-flavored horse tranquilizers.” Graham said as he came back down the stairs and saw Eva, Gabby and Layla with confectionary in their little grabbers. This earned a melodramatic pout on the faces of each of the younger jinko guests.
“Don’t be such a Grinch, Grahmmy-poo.” his mom teased. “After all, Christmas comes but once a year.”
He could see that Vanessa and the cubs were sniggering at his mom’s pet name for him.
“Can I go outside in the snow?” Anippe asked again, her query directed at whichever of her parents would answer first.
“I’m not sure I want you going out in a storm by yourself, sweetness….” Sakaali began.
“Tell you what, my little wag-a-muffin…” Graham started. “Why don’t we let the girls unpack and if they want, they can join you? That sound alright?” He turned to Sakaali and the cubs.
“As long as she’s not out there by herself.” Sakaali said.
Vanessa was on board with the idea, seeing as how the trio of energetic cubs had been cooped up for a two and a half hour car trip and were being plied with sweets by their hostess. Any chance for them to burn off some excess energy would be a godsend. And if they could romp around in the snow with their friend, all the better.
“Alright girls- you and Anippe can play in the front yard for a little while, but only after you unpack.”
“I’ll show you girls your room!” Anippe said, her tail swishing back and forth.
The three girls nodded in unison before dashing upstairs after the Anubis pup and past Art, who was on his way back down.
“Say- Art….” Edgar began. “Do the girls have some sort of allergy? I thought I heard tiny little sneezes from them just now.”
Art chuckled. “Oh- those noises you heard are called chuffs. Jinkos don’t really purr, but they’ll often chuff when they’re happy. And it isn’t just the little ones who will do that…” he said before slipping his hand under his wife’s shirt and rubbing Vanessa’s belly.
The large jinko let out a surprised gasp before she found herself making the chuffing noise involuntarily. The tiger girl had a slight blush on her face as she saw Graham’s parents watching the display and playfully smacked away Art’s hand.
“I-I’ll go help the girls unpack.” Vanessa said sheepishly as she headed towards the stairs. She made it all of two steps before she smacked her head on the doorway leading down the hall.
“I’m going to check on the chowder and start the first batch of cookies.” Graham’s mom said as she excused herself.
“Well, Art.” Edgar said. “You must be pretty tense after such a long drive. Wanna join my boy and me for some ‘refreshments’ in my workshop?”
“It’s not like you gotta worry about driving tonight anyway.” Graham added.
“Well….twist my arm.” Art chuckled as he followed Edgar and Graham out to the garage.
“How was the drive over?” Graham asked.
“Oh- not too bad. The girls were getting kind of antsy after awhile.” Art said.
“How was the weather?” Edgar asked.
“Pretty good until the last 10 miles or so- I’m glad we left when we did. Thanks for the flawless directions, by the way.” Art said to Graham’s dad.
Edgar was beaming upon hearing that, since Art and his family not getting lost was indeed high praise for the directions he gave him.
“Here- while we’re waiting for the first batch of cookies, why don’t I show you girls something special.” Graham’s mom offered as she led Anippe and the cubs to the tree.
Once there, she fished something out of the pocket of her apron. As the girls drew closer, they could see that it was a piece of dollhouse furniture.
“Oh goodness…” Anippe’s grandmother mused. “Hard to believe it’s been….what? Six years already?” she mused.
Anippe nodded quietly as the cubs could see that it was a crib she held in her hands.
“But six years ago, your mommy gave me this little thing wrapped up in a box with a pretty little bow. My first thought was that Graham-ey Poo must’ve told her I had a dollhouse when I was younger, but it looked like she had something else to say.”
The cubs and Anippe are wide-eyed as they listened to Graham’s mom reminisce.
“She seemed a little nervous, and when I asked her if there was something else on her mind, she and Graham told me that I could have that little tiny crib for as long as I wanted, since they were going to be needing a much bigger crib of their own.”
The Anubis pup’s tail was droopy and seemingly lifeless until her grandmother got to that part of the story- now it was wagging and beginning to pick up speed.
“That’s so cool” Eva marveled quietly.
“So after you were born, I held on to this little crib- a little reminder of when your mommy first told me I was going to be a grandma. And I decided to make it into an ornament, so I can always look at it and think back to that very wonderful Christmas. But….” she paused.
Anippe, Gabby, Layla and Eva were hanging on her every word. Art and Vanessa also seemed to stop what they were doing so they could listen in.
“This is going to be our first Christmas together, Anippe.” she continued as she handed the wide-eyed pup the dollhouse crib turned Christmas ornament. “And this year, I want you to be the one who hangs this from the tree.”
The little pup looked on at the tiny crib in her paws in wonder. This clearly meant so much to her grandma, and she was entrusting it to her. Anippe cautiously moved around the tree, hoping to find an open spot big enough to accomodate the little crib ornament.
“Is this good, Gran Gran?” she asked as she hung it from a branch that came up to her head.
“That will do quite nicely, dear…” she said before she began going through her purse. “Ah- here we are!” she said as she pulled a little slip of paper out.
Anippe and the cubs could see that it was a little roll of photos from a photo booth. Specifically one from the farm Anippe visited with her parents that fall- only a few short months ago. The little werejackal girl was smiling in the first couple although in the last two she looked like she was contemplating making a face but ran out of time. Gently placing it in the crib ornament, Anippe’s grandmother turned to the little Anubis.
“I think they go great together.” she observed.
“All right, fellas…..I figure that’s enough estrogen for now. You made it, so might as well celebrate with something in the ‘spirit’ of the season, so to speak.” Edgar said to both men.
Without another word, Graham’s father gave both men a pair of shot glasses and started pouring an amber liquid into each of them.
“Ah- sweet nectar of the gods.” Graham said in anticipation.
Art downed the contents of his glass in one gulp while Graham took a couple of sips before following his lead. Edgar raised his glass in a quick, wordless salute before emptying his.
“Well- whaddaya think?” Edgar asked.
“Pretty smooth. Burns like whiskey, but tastes like maple syrup afterwards. Not quite drinking your breakfast….” Art observed.
“Well, Pops says its from a craft distiller over in Coos county. I think it’s very important we support out local American businesses.” Graham insisted as he poured himself another shot.
“I never would’ve thought about putting the two together. Seems a bit strange at first, but it somehow works.”
“Seems like the next logical step after cinnamon whiskey.”
“Yeah- I blame Canada for that one.” Graham interjected.
“By the way, Art.” Edgar said. “Your wife looks familiar- have I seen her around before? Maybe TV commercials…”
“Well, she’s done some modelling recently, but…..” Art trailed off and was giving Graham a ‘Should I tell him?‘ look. Edgar’s only son simply shrugged.
“She and I did an adult video together.”
“Oh.” Edgar began before he finally realized what Art was telling him. “OHHH…I get it now.”
“Holy shit, Pops….you’re a little old to be watching porn, aren’t you?” Graham said in equal parts amusement and disgust.
“Shut up, son.” Edgar snarled. “I was told I could find out more about jinkos if I searched online and that movie was one of the links that came up.”
“Suuuuuure….” Graham taunted.
“Well- it’s not like me and Vanessa were getting any royalties from that.” Art pointed out.
“L-look! I’m sure you’re a very lucky man and I’m sorry I even brought it up with this wiseass in the same room.” Edgar jerked his thumb towards Graham.
“It’s all right- to this day I have mixed feelings about it.” the jinko’s husband said. “I’m not really proud of what I did, but I can’t deny it led to something wonderful.”
Father and son seemed to nod in quiet agreement as Edgar poured his son and their guest another shot.
“Plus I’m kinda amazed you’re still not in traction.” Edgar quipped
“We should probably check on the girls before we’re one of those parents people call Child Protective Services on…” Graham said as he finished off another shot.
Emerging from Edgar’s garage workshop/bay, Graham was a little surprised Sakaali wasn’t out there trying to drag the girls back in, given her worrywart tendencies. Instead, she was talking with Vanessa and said she be right out with Vanessa as soon as the two of them got layered up.
Art headed out with Graham.
“OK girls- time to come in!” Graham called out.
Sure enough Vanessa and Sakaali followed the two men outside. The front yard seemed to be crisscrossed with the girl’s pawprints, but the snow was rapidly filling them in. There didn’t seem to be any tracks leading away from the property or back inside, either.
“Girls?” he called out.
Well….nothing aside from some movement by what looked like a little snowbank by the driveway. Wait- was that snowbank always there?
Graham ventured closer to investigate with Art close behind. The cubs’ father had probably played enough hide and seek to figure out what was happening.
The movement Graham saw was something black and white swishing back and forth. Like a little Anubis tail. It wasn’t quite as easy to spot, but he could now see a pair of little striped tails sticking out of the ‘snowbank’.
“Oh geez Art….don’t tell me the girls ran off. They could be miles away by now.” Graham said, his tongue firmly in cheek as he told Art that.
Art saw what Graham saw and followed his lead. “We’ll never find them in this weather.” he said melodramatically.
For a moment, Graham thought he could hear giggling. Then there was a small explosion of snow as a little black blur was getting ready to run past him.
“Gotcha!” he said as he lunged and scooped up the Anubis pup.
“Aww….” Anippe pouted as she wiggled in her dad’s arms.
No sooner had Graham scooped his daughter up then the three cubs burst out of the ‘snowbank’.
“We’ll only come in if you can catch us!” Gabby challenged as she broke into a sprint.
Gabby got maybe a half-step further than Anippe did before Art deftly managed to scoop her up. Eva looked back, only to bump into her mother.
“Where do you think your going?” Vanessa asked her oldest daughter.
Layla looked as though she was in the clear until a pair of black fuzzy paws reached down and scooped her up. The cub was startled to look up and see Sakaali clutching her.
“A-auntie Sakaali? How did you-?”
“Ho ho…” the Anubis chuckled. “You don’t think I spent all that time working out with your mother without picking up a thing or two from her, do you?”
“Hah! Look at you, the jinko wrangler!” Graham said to his wife with a certain amount of pride.
“Better saddle up, buckaroo.” Sakaali grinned as she used a free hand to tip an imaginary cowboy hat to her husband, Vanessa and Art.
Anippe was no longer thrashing in her father’s arms, but instead was now nipping at some of the individual falling snowflakes.
“All right girls! Who’s ready for some homemade chowder?” Graham asked his daughter and her friends. Art and Vanessa couldn’t help but smirk a little at how their friend pronounced ‘chowder’.
“Did your mom make it, Uncle Graham?” Eva asked.
“Of course! Best potato, bacon and ham potato chowder this side of the Androscoggin.”
This had the little jinko cubs’ undivided attention. The Anubis pup didn’t say anything right away, but snapped at a few more snowflakes.
“Don’t ruin your appetite, my little wag-a-muffin.” Graham playfully rebuked his little girl as he set her down.
The prospect of some piping hot homemade potato chowder was enough for the cubs to almost march back inside single file.
“There they are!” Graham’s mom gushed as her guests tromped in. “The chowder’s almost ready and the first batch of cookies are in the oven.”
“And the Pats just recovered a fumble.” Edgar said from his recliner, although Graham seemed to be the only one reacting to his announcement.
“Uh-oh.” Layla said. “I think I left one of my mittens outside. Should I go back and get it?” she asked her mother.
Vanessa nodded. If it kept coming down like this, it would be impossible to find after dinner. “Be quick about it.” she urged as Layla ventured out into the snowstorm.
Instead of gathering everyone at the table, Graham’s mom was ladling out the chowder from a big pot on top of the kitchen stove- a stack of bowls and a little basket of saltines were there on the counter for the guests to grab before making themselves comfortable at the kitchen table, a little card table in the living room by the fireplace or a couple of stools.
Gabby, Eva and Anippe made themselves comfy at the card table, basking in the warmth being thrown out from the fireplace after Graham threw on another log.
Sakaali and Vanessa stayed in the kitchen and were talking with Graham’s mom while Art, Graham and his father were seated next to each other watching the game midway between the kiddie table and fireplace.
“Hey girls…” Edgar spoke up after a moment. “You seem to be missing one.”
“Yeah…” Gabby pondered. “I thought Layla would be back by now.”
No sooner had she said that than Layla had opened the door with some snow blowing in. She was clutching something much bigger than an errant mitten, though.
It was a chubby orange housecat, his coat dotted with snowflakes. The missing mitten was between her clenched teeth.
“I thought you said you were looking for your mittens, not ‘kittens’.” Graham quipped as he saw the latest feline visitor.
“I…I found your kitty cat.” Layla said to Graham’s mom after spitting out the mitten.
“Oh no, sweetie…” she said, a hint of panic creeping into her voice for a moment.
“We don’t have a cat.”
“Really? But…but I found him wandering the front yard.”
Graham’s mom calmed down a bit as she got a closer look at the cat. He had a collar and nametag and she seemed to recognize him.
“It’s all right, though.” she reassured the Jinko cub. “I think I know who’s this is.”
Sure enough, the name tag said PUMPKIN. That meant the cat belonged to the Bouchers- one of their neighbors.
Pumpkin didn’t look too distressed in Layla’s arms. Instead, he seemed to be taking in his surroundings with wide-eyed wonder.
“That’s our neighbor’s kitty. He must’ve gotten out earlier.” Graham’s mom explained.
Finished with their first helping of chowder, the Eva and Gabby went to investigate the newest arrival with Anippe in tow.
Pumpkin was now the center of attention from as three jinko cubs were giving him headpats and gently scratching behind his ears- although the chubby orange cat seemed a little wary of Anippe.
“Who’s a big pumpkin kitty?” the girls cooed.
“What are we gonna do with him, grandma?” Anippe asked.
“Well- we can’t just send him back out in the cold.” she contemplated.
“Why not? It’ll be fine, he has his own fur coat.” Edgar grumbled, clearly nowhere near as enchanted with this newest arrival as the girls were.
However, Edgar’s fatal mistake was looking up from the TV, only to see Gabby, Layla, Eva and Anippe staring back at him with puppy dog eyes.
“Pleeeeeease?” the girls implored.
Vanessa was about to intervene, reminding the girls that it was Edgar’s house and they were guests of his, but she could see Graham’s father slip a hand to his chest- a poor imitation of Redd Foxx’s running gag.
“Th-this is too much….Damn!” he called out before turning back to the girls. “All right- he can stay the night.”
“Yaaaay!” the girls said, with Layla giving Pumpkin an affectionate squeeze.
“We can only hope that someday the girls use their sad puppy-dog eyes for the power of good.” Graham mused as he finished off his bowl of chowder.
After a few more minutes of the girls doting over Pumpkin, Graham’s mom re-emerged from the kitchen.
“Girls, I just talked to Mrs. Bouchet.” she began. “That’s Pumpkin’s owner. She said thank you and she would like to have him back.”
Gabby, Layla and Eva looked crestfallen.
“However…” she continued. “She understands that we’re in a pretty big snowstorm and said that Pumpkin can stay put for now.”
“Yeah!” Layla said as she finally set Pumpkin down.
“What’s that sound he was making, though?” Gabby asked.
“I think he was purring.” Anippe explained.
The cubs look bewildered until Eva spoke up.
“Oh! You mean the happy noise smaller cats make?”
“That damn cat was probably using our yard as its litter box.” Edgar groused.
“Look at the bright side.” Art offered. “At the rate its coming down, that cat poop will be as good as buried until spring.”
The girls paid Edgar’s grousing no mind and instead were following Pumpkin as he was tentatively exploring his new surroundings.
“No, Pumpkin! Those are ornaments, not cat toys!” Eva scolded as the cat was making his way around the Christmas tree.
“I’m afraid to look.” Edgar mumbled.
“I’ll look.” Art volunteered as he craned his neck over. “It’s probably not as bad as you think.”
“I’m sure it’s much worse.” Graham added cheerily.
Fortunately for Edgar, Pumpkin seemed less interested in batting at some of the low hanging Christmas ornaments on the tree and more interested in the warmth that the fireplace was throwing out as the girls went back for another helping of chowder from the kitchen. Graham and Art quickly excused themselves and followed the girls’ lead.
Graham wasn’t kidding about his mom’s potato chowder, and this seemed like the perfect thing for a cold snowy night like tonight.
“No! Stupid cat! Get down….you’re not supposed to be there!” each of them heard Edgar angrily call out from the other room. All of them rushed into the living room to see what all the commotion was about, half expecting to find Pumpkin sitting amidst an armload of shattered Christmas ornaments or shredded tinsel.
Instead, the plump orange kitty was now contentedly curled up on Edgar’s lap, purring as he let out a hearty yawn and stretched out his two front paws.
“Aww….you made a new friend, Pops.” Graham observed.
“Can someone get this dumb cat off of me?” Edgar groused.
“I don’t know….he looks pretty happy there.” Vanessa said.
“Quit being such a Scrooge, dear. Pumpkin’s just being affectionate.” Graham’s mom said.
“I think he likes you, Gramp Gramp.” Anippe commented as she gave the little space behind the sleepy cat’s ears a gentle scratch.
“He seems really relaxed.” Layla added, also gently patting Pumpkin’s head.
Edgar could see that the jinko cubs were milling around his recliner, each petting or lavishing attention on the uninvited guest who made himself comfy in his lap.
“Well- I seem to be popular with the ladies now, so I guess having this stupid cat up here isn’t the worst thing in the world.” Edgar conceded.
“See? It’s good being popular.” Art said.
“Hey- while you’re entertaining our guest, want me to get you another helping of chowder?” Graham asked his Pops.
“I’m all set here- still working on my first bowl. But take as much as you and the girls want- she made plenty” he said as others began filtering back towards the kitchen. Not too surprisingly, the cubs and Vanessa made quick work of their first bowl with Graham following shortly thereafter.
The cubs had a second helping of chowder and moved a little closer to the fireplace with Anippe. Art and Graham could see that they were starting to slow down a little and would be ready for bed shortly.
The football game the men were watching ended on a missed field goal attempt from 46 yards. During the postgame show, Graham offered to take Art, Edgar and the cubs bowls out to the kitchen.
Vanessa was finishing her third helping of chowder when Graham’s mother offered her and Sakaali some mulled wine as the three of them chatted.
“They called this Glögi in the old country….warmed up wine with spices like cloves and cinnamon added. They said it was to keep messengers going through some of the harsh winter conditions, although not necessarily in a straight line.” she chuckled.
“It’s good.” the jinko said after taking a sip.
“Careful Vanessa- don’t you have a pretty low tolerance for wine and spirits?” Sakaali teased.
“I seem to recall holding a certain Anubis’ long, lustrous black hair back so she wouldn’t be puking into it.” the jinko was pretty quick to reply.
Sakaali didn’t have a witty rejoinder handy.
“So Vanessa, dear- how did you and Art meet?” Graham’s mom asked her guest.
Graham’s eyes went as wide as saucers. He could only imagine his mother’s horror at having an adult film star under her roof and began frantically waving at Vanessa from behind his mother’s back. The odds of his mom freaking out over their guest’s prior appearance in a pornographic film were quite low, but it was a pleasant Christmas eve and Graham didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
“Well, true story.” Vanessa began. “I met my Art during this adult-” she abruptly stopped when she saw Graham gesturing at her.
The tigress paused.
“We met during a dull temp job…” the she continued, getting a quiet nod and thumbs-up from Graham. “And seemed to hit it off. Once we were finished with that temp work, we agreed to meet up for some coffee.”
“Oh how nice! It starts out with some pleasantries over coffee and love blossoms from there.” Graham’s mom gushed. “It always begins with the little things.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘little’…” Vanessa chortled as she demurely brought up a striped paw to her mouth.
“Shh….you’re terrible.” Sakaali nearly chortled as she gave her friend a the kind of playful smack with her paw that was normally reserved as a response to her husband’s wisecracks.
“I almost forgot- Before everybody gets settled in, I thought we could all have some hot cocoa before the girls went off to bed.” Graham’s mom offered. “I even got those little marshmallows.”
No sooner had she said that than the three of them were greeted with pitter patter of little paws and claws scrambling on the kitchen’s linoleum floor.
“I guess ‘little marshmallows’ was a deal-breaker” Graham mused out loud and the cubs and Anippe rumbled past him on his way out of the kitchen.
“Are you making hot chocolate Gran Gran!?” Anippe asked eagerly, her tail wagging a mile a minute.
“Can I have some….please?” Gabby asked as the other cubs were speaking over each other.
“No need to fuss, girls. I made enough for everyone. Plus the first batch of snickerdoodles are ready.” Graham’s mom reassured them.
“Girls- one at a time.” Sakaali scolded them, although she couldn’t fault them for being so eager.
“These are so good!”
“Thanks, Gran gran!”
The girls spent the rest of the night sipping hot cocoa and munching on cookies by the warm embers of the fire while Eva borrowed Vanessa’s phone and showed Anippe some pictures of their trip to the ski resort in Vermont so far.
It wasn’t long before the girls were sent off to bed after wiping the little hot cocoa moustaches off their faces and changing into their pajamas- Anippe’s featured little pyramids on hers while Eva, Layla and Gabby had paw prints on their. Even though they had been discussing over dinner whether or not they were going to try and stay up to see Santa, they didn’t really raise too much of a fuss- especially the cubs since they were still a little tired from their lengthy car trip.
“You girls get to stay in the guest room- I hope that will be comfy enough for you.” Edgar reassured them.
Somewhere along the way, Pumpkin lost interest in keeping Edgar’s lap warm and made his way upstairs, deciding that the guest bedroom was the place to be- almost as if he knew that’s where he could find the girls.
Art went to fetch his pajamas from his suitcase and noticed the three women crowded around the entrance to the kids room.
“What are you girls doing?”
Graham’s mom pressed her finger to her lip and beckoned Art closer. Art peeked through the door and saw the heart melting scene the women were so engrossed in. Gabby and Layla had Anippe sandwiched in between them while Eva slept off to the side on a cot. She might’ve looked cold and lonely were it not for Pumpkin resting comfortably on Eva’s chest. All four of them had little grins on their faces and the chubby cat sounded like he was snoring.
“That’s alot of boogying sugar plumbs.” Art smiled before continuing on his way to his suitcase.
Sakaali took one of her paws off of her chest and wiped her eye. “Are you crying?” Vanessa asked.
“So what if I am?!” Sakaali retorted “My little girl’s tucked in warm and snug on Christmas eve in a snowstorm.”
“Oh- by the way, girls. You’ll be sharing Graham’s old room.” Graham’s mom told the jinko and Anubis matter-of-factly. “Art- you and my son will be sleeping downstairs- I have some blankets and pillows on the sofa for you while Graham gets the air mattress.”
Sakaali looked up from her book as Vanessa entered Graham’s room, a small smile formed on the corner of her lips as she let out a small giggle.
“What’s so funny?” The jinko asked
“Oh nothing, it’s just your PJs”
“I just figured given your size and stature you’d have something more… Intimidating on them”
“This is my favorite pair, I was wearing these when Art spent the night for the first time”
“Aww, how sweet”
As Vanessa took her place in the bed, the frame let out a loud creak and she looked down at her legs hanging off the end. Vanessa let out a little groan and rested her head on the pillow
“Are you sure you don’t want me to sleep downstairs with Graham?” Sakaali asked
“Nah, Art was pretty adamant about sleeping on the couch and giving me a real bed to sleep in, I’ll deal.”
“Well if you insist”
Sakaali laid her book on the bedside table and wrapped her paws around Vanessa’s arm and rested her head against her shoulder.
“Sakaali… What are you doing?”
“Seeing if you’re really as comfy as you look. Indulge me for ten minutes at least, my big fuzzy space heater-esque friend”
Vanessa sighed a little bit and took a sip from her glass of water before flicking off the light
“Alright, but ten minutes only, and keep those paws where I can see them!”
Sakaali chuckled a little .“Don’t worry, Graham’s mom has unnaturally good hearing so you’re safe.”
Vanessa stayed silent for a minute
“Hmm?” Came a sleepy reply
“When Graham was growing up and sleeping in this very bed you think he ever could’ve imagined that a beautiful anubis and jinko would be sleeping in it together someday?”
“Psst, hey Art?”
Art cracked open his eye and looked at the air mattress next to the couch
“Can you believe that I’ve got a pair of beautiful MILFS are sleeping in my bed?!”
Art shut his eye “Graham please, I’ve been driving all day with 3 rambunctious jinko cubs…” he began.
“Alright, alright. G’nite then!”
Art awoke to a rough tongue lazily lapping at his cheek, a drowsy smile formed on his face “Oh Vanessa I don’t know, what if the kids hear us?”
The licking continued and Art smiled wider “Alright tiger, but it’s gotta be a quickie ok?” Art groped for his wife but heard purring instead of her signature chuff. Art opened his eyes and found his vision obscured by a big orange blob. Art pushed the cat off of him and rolled on his side- Just in time to see a jinko crouched by the tree.
Eva was gently sniffing and shaking her presents, trying to get the smallest hint of what might be in them. Art smiled a little bit “Psst! Hey! What are you doing?” Art said in a loud whisper.
The cub jumped a little and looked back at her dad with an innocent smile. “N-nothing dad. I…I was just looking for Pumpkin.”
Art shut his eyes “Eva- I’m not even awake and I’m not buying it. Go back to bed and get a little more sleep, we’ll open presents soon.”
“Okay, merry Christmas dad.” Eva ran up to her father and gave him a little kiss on the forehead.
“Merry Christmas sweetheart” Art gave his daughter a little pat on the back before she headed back upstairs.
Vanessa awoke to something soft and warm in her arms. Only half awake Vanessa squeezed the object a little tighter. “Oh Art, this reminds me of our first Christmas, I really gotta find that apron…” Vanessa took a few sniffs and realized the thing she was holding didn’t really smell like Art. Her suspicions were confirmed when she placed her nose in the things hair and was greeted by a pleasant fruity scent. Vanessa opened her eyes and saw that the thing in her arms was in fact Sakaali.
The jinko huffed a little “Force of habit I guess…”
As Vanessa tried to remove her paws from her friend, she felt something gently grab her wrist. Sakaali stirred a little.
“Where do you think you’re taking those?”
“Umm off you?”
“Nuh uh, you’re keeping these warm, fuzzy things on me for as long as possible”
Vanessa sighed and slipped her paws back into place, she could feel Sakaali’s tail lazily thump between her legs.
“Whats this about an apron?”
Sakaali chuckled a little
“Art’s lucky that he gets to sleep with such strong arms wrapped around him”
“And Graham’s lucky that he gets to sleep with such a fantastic ass pressed up against him”
Christmas morning came and everyone took their place.
Anippe and the cubs sat by the tree and arranged their gifts into little stacks next to themselves. The adults each held steaming mugs of coffee and smiled at the excitement displayed by the youngest members in the room.
“Can we start opening our gifts dad?!” Layla asked excitedly. Art look a quick peek around the room and got little nods from each adult present.
“Sure! Be sure to open the ones from me and mom first.” The cubs frantically tore into their gifts, through the shredded remains of the wrapping paper they were each holding little stuffed T-bone steaks. Tied to each one with red ribbon was a little bar of chocolate. Eva squeezed hers tightly while Gabby tested to see if it would work as a pillow and and Layla took a curious bite. Vanessa put her Arm around her husband and took a small sip of coffee.
“Alright girls now it’s time to move on to the ones from my parents!” Graham said excitedly. The cubs hurriedly tore through the wrapping paper with ease and found little six packs of birch beer.
“You might be playing with fire, giving them that much sugar” Vanessa commented.
Anippe opened up a present from her grandparents and found a set of detective Neboo and Sesuha bookmarks. The little pups tail started to wag as she looked up at her grandfather.
“Your mom told me that you were all caught up with the series so I figured why not get you a few bookmarks.”
“That way, Neboo and the others can be with you when you start a new adventure.” Graham’s mom told her.
“This is for you two.” Edgar said as he handed Art and Vanessa a small, flat gift wrapped box.
Vanessa eagerly tore into it and was speechless when she saw two gleaming silver coins against a backdrop of black velvet. One side featured the design of a roaring tiger and some Chinese characters, while the other side had a portrait of the Queen of England and said CANADA and 15 DOLLARS.
“Year of the Tiger….” Edgar sheepishly explained.
“Oh wow- Edgar…..this is beautiful.”
“Well- I thought I’d get the girls a savings bond or something for college, but it turns out they don’t even do paper bonds anymore. But I found these in a coin shop a few weeks ago…” he continued.
“It’s perfect- of course, with us, every year is year of the tiger.”
Vanessa took a small box wrapped in solid black and handed it to Sakaali. The Anubis carefully unwrapped the box and lifted the lid, she let out a small gasp and removed the object from the box. A silver ankh bracelet with a flawless sapphire gem in the loop.
“Oh Vanessa, you’re too kind! This is just beautiful!” She said, pulling her friend into a small hug before she produced a small scroll of paper and placed it in Vanessa’s paw. It was tied together with a festive-looking red ribbon. Vanessa studied it for a moment then unrolled the paper. A little trinket fell out of the paper as Vanessa unrolled it fully.
“Oh, how did that get in there?” Sakaali asked with mock surprise. Vanessa smirked
“You’re such a bad liar”
The jinko mom chose to ignore the item in her lap for the time being and instead read the paper in her paws.
“A stock certificate?” Vanessa asked.
“It’s actually from Victoria- she wanted me to be sure to give it to you in time for Christmas. Look at the company name”
Vanessa took a quick glance and sure enough the company was “BT&T”
“Twenty shares?” Art asked, looking over his wife’s shoulder.
“What’s the etiquette regarding checking the closing price of your Christmas gift from the last trading session?” Graham pondered out loud.
“She really wants us to come back and do that re-shoot.” Sakaali told her jinko friend.
“Well- I’ll have to be sure to thank Victoria the next time I see her. Maybe at a re-shoot….” the jinko said coyly before she turned her attention to the object in her lap. It turned out to be a necklace of sorts, upon closer inspection the pendant was revealed to be a cork, complete with a red stain on the bottom.
“Now, What’s this?”
“It’s the cork from the first bottle of wine we shared!” Vanessa looked at her friend
“Y-you saved it?”
“But of course, not to put too fine a point on it but…” Sakaali rubbed the back of her head “That was a day I made a very good friend. A friend who has done nothing but help me improve my life, both directly” Sakaali flexed her arm then pointed to Anippe comparing gifts with the cubs “And indirectly.” Sakaali sighed a little “But now I feel a little bad that you got me this amazing bracelet and all I got you was…” Sakaali was stopped dead in her tracks by a bone crushing hug. She could hear Vanessa sniffling between chuffs.
“Don’t you dare start you amazing Anubis! It’s beautiful because it may look like just a used wine cork to others, but we know that there’s so much more to it than that….something you can’t put a price tag on…”
“Are you OK, Vanessa?” Art asked his wife upon hearing her sniffle.
The jinko nodded wordlessly as she wiped her eyes, releasing Sakaali from her vice-like grip.
“That’s my Wan with the Plan.” Graham said with some pride. “She’s all about the details.”
The rest of the gift exchange flew by in a flurry. Graham got some deluxe headphones from Sakaali so that she and Anippe wouldn’t “be subjected to those awful twanging noises you call ‘music'”. The girls also got him a tin full of deluxe imported licorice which Anippe was encouraged to cross out the brand name and write ‘COAL’ across the tin- although the way she wrote her ‘A’, it almost looked like it said ‘COOL’ until you looked at it real close.
Graham gave Sakaali a gift basket of high-end perfumes, shampoos and bath oils, telling his wife that “My empress deserves nothing but the best” before giving her a surprisingly chaste kiss.
Graham’s mom gave everyone board games- Art and Vanessa got Trivial Pursuit, the cubs got Parcheesi, Sakaali and Graham got Scrabble while Anippe got Pyramids and Plunder.
Art and Vanessa got a little capsule of ‘husband activated body paint’ from Sakaali- thankfully Graham’s parents assumed it was some conventional cosmetics. Graham’s gift to Art and Vanessa was a bit more offbeat- it was a pair of glossy 8 X 10 photos of an orange ’74 AMC Matador station wagon. It was something he encountered in the desert on his work-related travels and found out it was in pretty good shape, despite four decades worth of desert sun turning the factory red paint into an orangish hue. The second photo had a caption that read ‘Chuff Wagon 2.0’ and was photoshopped to show the vehicle depicted in tiger stripes.
Edgar got a new leafblower and a year’s membership in the Deluxe Bacon of the Month Club from Graham and Sakaali while Graham’s mom got a digital picture frame that was pre-loaded with pictures of her and Anippe visiting the farm and corn maze back in the fall. Art brought Edgar some small batch whiskey from a craft distillery not too far from the ski resort he and his family were staying at. Graham’s mom recieved a tiger-striped scarf from Vanessa and the cubs.
As the adults finished up their gift exchange, the Gabby, Layla, Eva and Anippe began changing into their little snowsuits. When asking for permission to go outside, it didn’t hurt to already have the hats, mittens and scarves at the ready.
Edgar excused himself to brew some more coffee and get started on breakfast- scrambled eggs, hash browns and pulled pork for his family and their jinko visitors.
The adults watched their daughters romp and play outside, enjoying the freshly fallen snow. Sakaali admired the bracelet around her wrist and Vanessa delicately held the cork around her neck while Art took periodic glances at the photo of his soon to be new car. Graham saw Anippe be tackled into the snow by Eva and then leap straight to her feet, his daughters seemingly limitless energy never ceased to amaze him. Graham smiled and looked over at the other parents. “I don’t think there’s another Anubis on this planet that’s as happy as that little bundle of wags out there.”
Vanessa smiled a little “That sounds like a challenge”
“Well then, husband….challenge accepted” Sakaali said as she grabbed her purse.
“You’re telling me that you can find an Anubis that’s happier then one who’s spending her mom and dad, her grandparents AND has her best friends here as a bonus? Good luck” Graham said.
The Anubis fished around in it pulling out various objects before she found the one item she was looking for… A little clam shell mirror. Sakaali opened the mirror and smiled at her reflection
“Found one. ”
“Is that so?”
“Of course- and she’s a beauty. This one not only has a happy daughter who gets to see her best friends for Christmas, but also gets to spend this special day with her husband, her husband’s family, her best friend and her best friend’s family.” she snapped shut the compact mirror. “I’d say that puts her in the lead for the Happy Anubis Grand Prix.”
Graham tapped her shoulder and pointed out the window. Sakaali looked up and saw Anippe being held in one of the cubs signature group hugs. “You sure about that? Cause I still think she’s got you beat.”
Sakaali felt a pair of arms wrap themselves around her and a cheek rest itself against the top of her head.
“Nope, this one is still the happiest” Vanessa said between a chuff “And this is the one who’s planning made it all possible for both us and my little girls.”
Graham felt Vanessa’s paw slip around his waist as she pulled him into the group hug.
“Think we should call the girls in for breakfast?” Art asked as he watched the girls continue to romp in the snow.
“Let’s give ’em a few more minutes.”
The girls were (ironically) playing freeze tag when their parents called them back in. As Anippe was taking off her boots and snow suit, she heard Gabby mumble something.
“I….I wanted to say that we’re sorry for not getting you any presents or anything for Christmas.” the jinko cub said apologetically.
“But that’s not true…” Anippe said. Now that she was out of her snow suit, the others could clearly see that her tail had resumed wagging.
“What do you mean?” Eva asked. She thought that perhaps her mom had put their names on one of the gifts the Anubis pup had recieved.
“Being able to spend Christmas with Gran Gran, Gramp Gramp and you guys at the same time was maybe the best present I could’ve gotten!”
“Oh yeah…” Layla said. “Just because you can’t put it under a tree or in a box doesn’t mean it’s not a good present.”
“You’re right!” Eva said as realization crept across her face.
All four pairs of ears began twitching as Edgar stuck his head around the corner.
“Hope you girls are hungry!” He began. “I’m making my special double decker pulled pork omelets this morning.”
His announcement was met with wags and happy sounding chuffs. None of them ever had that omelet before, but it sounded very promising.
With that, the girls were ready to come in from the cold.