North Woods Christmas

Vanessa didn’t know much about structural engineering, but she knew enough that something about this gingerbread house looked a bit off.

If she had to guess, it would probably be entire chunks of the gingerbread house’s wall missing. Curiously, she could swear there were what looked like little fang marks around this missing gashes in the gingerbread wall.

Fang marks seemingly consistent with at least three of her daughters.

“Girls? You wouldn’t know anything about this….?” she asked while absently bouncing little Claire on her knee. The jinko mother was quietly grateful that her youngest wasn’t old enough to snatch stuff off of tables when they thought nobody was looking.

“About what, mom?” Eva asked innocently. Gabby and Layla were by the Christmas tree doing a rather poor job of trying to stifle their giggling.

“Try as I might, girls- I can’t figure out how this gingerbread house ended up with so many holes in it. I was wondering if you could maybe tell me….”

“I’m saving room for one of grandma’s pies.” Eva said nonchalantly.

Vanessa deemed that plausible and turned her attention to the twins.

The incredibly guilty looking twins, as it turned out. Gabby and Layla’s little tiger-striped grabbers each had a light coating of gingerbread crumbs. This was pretty clear for all to see as each pointed an accusatory paw at the other.

“You tattletale! You were gonna sell me out to save your own sorry tail!” an angry Layla snarled at Gabby, conveniently overlooking the fact that she was willing to do the exact same thing to her twin sister.

“Just so you know….” Vanessa grinned “…the two of you can still fit inside Roscoe’s cage.”
This caused Gabby and Layla to gulp nervously while Roscoe the siberian husky perked up his ears at the mention of his name.

“You are not putting my sweet little granddaughters in a cage!” Jess called out from the kitchen.

Vanessa frowned. It was one thing for her mother to play ‘Good Cop’ to her ‘Bad Cop’ when it came to disciplining the girls, but she was starting to wonder if she was undermining her authority in front of them.

Of course, she didn’t really plan on locking them up in her mother’s dog’s cage, but wanted to give them a pretty good scare for snacking on the gingerbread house without permission.

“You’re right, mom. Their crying to be let out would probably ruin dinner for the rest of us.” Vanessa countered. “I’ll just have to get creative…”

Before she could seethe any further over the matter, her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Is that Anippe, Aunt Sakaali and Uncle Graham Cracker?” Eva asked.

“Coming! Coming!” Jess called out in a sing-song voice as she made her way from the kitchen to the front door.

A blast of cold air buffeted the older jinko as she opened the door, but she didn’t seem to mind.

“Hey….you must be Jessica.” the girls heard a familiar voice call out.

Graham didn’t get a chance to say anything else before he was pulled in to a tight bear hug by Vanessa’s mother.

“Oh! Welcome…welcome…” she gushed. “Any friends of my daughter and granddaughters are welcome in our home anytime!”

Graham returned the hug as best he could, although he was left speechless at the familial resemblance between Jess and Vanessa.

“Heh….good to be here.” He managed to wheeze while in the more senior jinko’s grip.

“I certainly hope we aren’t an imposition on you.” another voice spoke it. It was Sakaali, who was quietly making the same observations as Graham was.

“Oh nonsense! I’m so glad I get to meet one of my daughter’s best friends…” she said it was Sakaali’s turn for a big bear hug. “You must be Sakaali…Oh my! You look so radiant.”

“I think I can credit your daughter’s workout regimen for that. Pleased to finally meet you.” Sakaali managed to utter while being tiger-hugged.

“Oh my stars! Who’s this little cutie-pup right here?” Jess asked as she saw Anippe.

“Hi! Are you Gabby and Layla’s grandma?” the Anubis pup shyly asked.

“You betcha!” jinko grandma affirmed proudly. “Are you their little friend?”

Beaming, the little Anubis nodded ‘yes’.

“Oh wow….what smells so good?” Graham asked.

“That’s just my wife’s pasties.” another voice spoke up. It was Vanessa’s father- a thin wiry man clad in red flannel.

“P…pasties?” Graham managed to stammer.

“Not those kinds, you naughty boy.” Jess teased her newly arrived guest. “It’s a savory meat-filled pastry that came over from England and Wales. it’s real popular in this part of the country.”

‘This part of the country’ was the upper midwest, and as the Anubis and her husband would discover, their hosts were quite knowledgeable about local lore and traditions.

“My wife makes the best beef pasties around for miles- just the thing for cold days like today.” Alex beamed proudly. “And you’re timing is perfect- this batch is ready to come out of the oven any second now.”

“Oh wow….sounds great.” Graham said, almost drooling. He wasn’t too hungry until he smelled the aromas of Jess’ savory pastries cooking away.

“How was the drive out, you two?” Vanessa asked Graham and Sakaali as Jess began fawning over Anippe.

“A little long- but not too bad….” Graham said as he slipped out of his jacket. “Oh my goodness….who do we have here?” he asked in baby-talk as he leaned in and gently booped little Claire on the nose.

In reply, the tiny Jinko reached out towards Graham with both arms as though he wanted to be picked up by him.

Sure enough the Anubis’ husband scooped her up as the tiny jinko’s mom continued talking

“Only my best behaved daughter…” Vanessa said, her exasperation somewhat evident. “Just look at what my daughters who supposedly know better did to this gingerbread house we were supposed to put together.”

“Well now…that looks like it won’t pass an inspection from the gingerbread home inspector.” Graham observed.

“Guess it’s more like a gingerbread shanty now.” Art observed as he emerged from the kitchen with a steaming mug in each hand.

“Hey stranger! Fancy meeting you here….” Graham greeted his friend.

“Well….you know- this is just about the only place around that will put up with our little travelling troupe of misfits.” he chuckled as he handed Vanessa one of the mugs. “Looks like that gingerbread house is a complete writeoff after getting worked over by Hurricanes Gabby and Layla.”

“Just as well- those Gingerbread Homeowner’s Association fees can be a real…..begins with ‘b’, rhymes with ‘witch’.” he said- unusually mindful of his language with little Claire present as he handed the little Jinko off to her father.

“Hi Uncle Graham!” Gabby waved, glad that the arrival of her friend had also taken Vanessa’s attention away from disciplining her for snacking on the yet-to-be-completed gingerbread house.

“Heya kiddo- you been behaving?” Graham said.

“Long story, but no….not really.” Vanessa interjected as she blew on the contents of the mug. She could hear her mom speaking.

“And this is my husband, Alex…” she said to Sakaali and Anippe.

“A pleasure to meet you two.” Sakaali said as she shook Alex’s hand.

“Likewise.”

“Oh my stars, little one…..your paw pads are so chilly!” Jess mused as Anippe extended her paw. “But don’t you worry- I have just the thing to warm you right up. Is it all right if I borrow her for a little bit?” Vanessa’s mom asked Sakaali.

The older Anubis nodded and in the blink of an eye, Anippe was following Jess into the kitchen to watch her work some magic.

While the previous year’s trip was made possible by a slowdown at work and Art winning a ski vacation at a resort a fairly short drive from Graham’s family, this trip to the Midwest was made possible by Sakaali’s attention to details and adherence to a strict schedule. Even though she was fairly certain they wouldn’t be able to make it, Vanessa had extended the invitation to spend Christmas with her family. And at first, Sakaali could think of a million reasons why they couldn’t make it- but she remembered how happy Anippe was that her friends were able to visit her at Christmastime and decided that she was going to make this trip happen. And even though the Anubis mother outwardly didn’t appear outwardly sentimental, she was quietly thrilled that her jinko friend and her family had made an appearance last year and wouldn’t pass up a chance to return the favor and meet Vanessa’s parents in the process.

As she was watching her little girl with Vanessa’s mom, Sakaali felt something brushing up against her backside. She was sure it was Graham and was willing to let it slide until she heard sniffing and panting that seemed to coincide with her butt getting rubbed.

“Graham….stop it.” the Anubis quietly admonished her husband through clenched fangs.

“Did you say something?” her husband asked from across the room as he was putting Christmas presents under Jess and Alex’s tree, still talking to Art and Vanessa.

If Graham was all the way over there, then who was-?

The Anubis let out a startled gasp as she turned around and saw a rather large husky sniffing her tail.

“Oh! I see you’ve already met Roscoe.” Alex chuckled. “Sorry- he can be a bit troublesome at times.”

“You certainly are forward…..” Sakaali said to the panting dog. “Perhaps its my imagination, but you remind me of someone…” she pondered after a moment.

“Jess and I have been kind of lonely ever since our baby girl moved out- empty nest and all that. So since I retired, I sometimes volunteer at the animal shelter. Sure enough, I show up one day and they tell me this rascal here needs a foster home- and ever since, we’ve been as thick as thieves.” Alex told his Anubis guest as he scritched the husky’s ears.

“Roscoe can be a bit cheeky, but he’s a good boy- aren’t you?” Jess cooed at their dog while handing Anippe a pasty.

“How is it?” She asked, turning to the Anubis pup.

“It’s toasty….” Anippe remarked as she looked down at the hearty pastry warming her little grabbers.

“It’s a pasty.” Jess began to explain. “When you cook them, they stay warm for a really long time. Back in the old days- before microwaves or refrigeration- miners could take them down below for work and they’d still have a warm and filling lunch.”

“It smells good.” the little Anupis marvelled as she sniffed the hand-held pie. True to Jessica’s description, the ‘pie’ had almost as much in common with a calzone as it did a pie.

“That’s a chicken and veggie one.” Jess pointed out. “I work at a little bakery in town part-time and some days this is all I make.”

“Wow….you work in a pie factory?” Anippe marvelled.

“You could say that.” the older jinko chuckled.

“That’s so cool! I love pies and cakes and…..um…..Ensenadas?”

“Ense-what now?” Jess asked.

“Oh….mommy and I sometimes have them. They’re much smaller than this, though.” Anippe said.

“Ah! You mean empenadas?”

“Yeah- I think that’s it!” Anippe said, sounding much more certain.

“I’ve heard of those. They’re usually served in many Spanish-speaking countries. They’re not as big as our pasties, but they also have meat and veggie filling and can be served three or four at a time.”

“Wow- you’re like….the Google Translate of pastries!” the pup marvelled.

This earned a hearty chuckle from Jess.

“Tell you what, little one. If it’s ok with your mommy, that one right there can be all yours.”

Sakaali didn’t say anything, but with no less than two sets of eyes on her, she gave an affirmative nod before Anippe tucked in to the savory pastry in her grabbers.

“No way!” Graham marvelled as he looked out the window. “You guys got a caboose in your backyard!”

Alex chuckled, no doubt pleased with Graham’s enthusiastic and childlike reaction.

“Alex told me he wanted one of those toy trains around the Christmas tree one year, but I did him one better- only problem was it was too big to fit under the tree.” Jess spoke up.

“Really?” Layla asked.

This was the first she heard of such a thing.

“No, sweetie.” Alex said mirthfully. “I used to work for the railroad. Around the same time I was getting ready to retire, they were pulling those from service and getting ready to scrap them. Imagine my surprise when they gave me one as a retirement present- even arranged to have it brought out here on a low-boy trailer.”

“That’s so cool!” Graham said- still looking out the window, but hearing Alex’s tale.

“Yeah- started out life as the Lake Superior and Marquette #114. Now it’s my man-cave.”

“I want one.” Graham said, turning to Sakaali.

“We have no room to accommodate something that size.” the Anubis mother replied.

“But we already have one caboose that I love playing around with…” Graham began to say while caressing his wife’s backside before he was cut off by a balled up Anubis fist bopping him.

“Out of the question, husband.”

He pouted, even though he knew she was right.

“What’s a caboose?” Anippe spoke up.

“It’s like a little steel cabin that used to go on the end of trains so the conductor could keep an eye out for problems from the rear.” Vanessa’s dad explained. “Some of the railways around here still use them for long backup moves when they’re running to one of the iron mines.”

“I’m sure Alex would love to give you the grand tour.” Art spoke up.

“Oh! Good idea….I already got the space-heater going.”

 


 

“Gentlemen…..be advised that this area- while estrogen resistant- is still not 100% estrogen proof.”

“I suppose this gives the girls an opportunity to wrap up our presents without having to worry about us walking in on them.” Art observed.

“Sakaali seemed pretty adamant that I was getting coal this year.” Graham said, taking in his surroundings. The caboose was certainly more spacious than it appeared from the outside, and Alex had stocked the interior with old vinyl albums, shelves of books about local mining, ships and railways, a duck hunting decoy and even a little freighter in a bottle. Somehow he managed to pull it off without the space looking cluttered or in disarray as well. Vanessa’s father certainly was a man of eclectic tastes.

“What about spending a night out here?”

“If you were able to visit in spring or summer, I would’ve been glad to let you and your wife sleep in here.” Alex said to Graham. “But this time of year, you gotta have the woodstove going at all times. It’s kind of a pain, really.”

“Is that the original stove?” Art asked.

Alex nodded.

As impressed as Graham was with having a piece of railway rolling stock in their backyard, he had to admit that spending winter nights cooped up in a compact metal box with some windows in the upper midwest with just a woodstove for warmth this time of year was less than ideal.

While regaling Graham and Art with tales about some of his misadventures while in the Navy, Alex poured his son-in-law and new guest a shot of ouzo.

“This is years before I met Jess. We get into Athens for shore leave on a weekend, and I’m sure the next 72 hours is gonna be me and my partner dragging sloppy drunk sailors from shore leave. Instead, this thick fog moves in and blankets the whole city for the next two days. Unnaturally cold and damp for that part of the world.” He reminisces as he pours himself a shot of the Anise-based liquor before resuming with the tale.

“So we actually have nothing to do while on Shore Patrol- it’s two in the morning and there’s this amusement park that’s still open, but nobody else around. We decide to check it out- the guy running one of the booths doesn’t speak any English, but convinces us to try our luck knocking down some bottles, and my buddy does just that. Instead of a teddy bear or a walkman, our prize is this little flask of ouzo. Then it’s my turn- takes a few tries, but I get the hang of it, and sure enough the guy gets me this bottle of ouzo.”

Alex pauses and chuckles while reminiscing. “And before you know it, me and my partner are heading back to our vessel with about a half dozen bottles each clanking together under our coats. And wouldn’t you know it- waiting for us when we got back was the ship’s XO.”

“No way….what happened?” Graham asked.

“Oh- he knew what was going on. We figured he was going to read us the riot act and write us up for bringing contraband on board. Instead, he just says ‘Gentlemen- I’m sure you don’t need all those bottles’. So my partner hands him one and that was the end of the matter…”

Art had never heard this story from his father-in-law before.

“Wait….these bottles aren’t from that night, are they?” he asks.

“Oh no- there’s a specialty liquor store over in Ashland that sells ouzo.” Alex quickly explains.

 


The ‘problem’- if you want to call it that- with having a jinko doing the baking or cooking is that they’re usually used to preparing food for themselves and other jinkos, which almost always meant portions much larger than what humans were used to.

And certainly more than Anubis pups could eat in a single sitting.

Ever the gracious hostess, Jess seemed a little worried that Anippe hadn’t even gotten halfway through her chicken and veggie pasty before she no longer appeared hungry

While Alex was plying Graham and Art with anise liquor stories of his Navy days, Sakaali was watching as Anippe was nibbling on the chicken pasty Jess had given the pup.

“Would you like to save the rest of that for later?” Sakaali asked her daughter as she was wrapping up stocking stuffers for the boys alongside Vanessa.

Anippe nodded and her mother paused in her task long enough to track down some aluminum foil, deftly wrapping up part of the pasty and putting it in the fridge before resuming the task at hand.

Dinner was quite informal, with the new arrivals eating Jessica’s home-cooked pasties while the Jinko contingent was availing themselves of leftovers.

After dinner, Sakaali and Graham continued to unpack when Alex took it upon himself to show their guests to their room

“As you can imagine, sleeping arrangements are a bit tight with all the guests we have, but we do have a place set up for you guys.” Alex explained sheepishly as he led Graham and Sakaali upstairs. “We figured your little one can sleep with the girls. As for the two of you…” He paused while walking down the upstairs hallway. Instead of pointing to a room, he simply looked up at rectangle in the ceiling with a string dangling down from it.

With one pull of the string by Vanessa’s father, the ‘rectangle’ came down at an angle with a set of narrow but sturdy-looking wooden stairs folding out.

“It’s like our own secret hideaway.” Graham mused as he looked up.

“The wind can get pretty loud some nights, but don’t let that bother you any.” Alex explained.

“It’s pretty warm all things considered.”

 


 

One day to go until Christmas.

Graham could hardly suppress a childlike glee as he woke up and got out of bed. Sakaali stirred a little before rolling over and going back to sleep.

Still weary from their long journey, Sakaali and Graham quickly went to bed after climbing into the attic. Far from being musty or unpleasant, the sleeping area featured rustic decor complete with a bed framed by a white wrought iron headboard and footboard that looked like it belonged in a victorian setting. Graham felt his drowsy wife’s grip on him tightening whenever the two of them heard the wind outside blowing through the trees outside. He felt so warm, spooning and cuddling with his wife. For a species more at home in the desert, Graham mused that both Sakaali and Anippe were being good sports about spending time in the snowy weather.

Quietly humming, Graham descended the staircase and took a quick shower before heading down to the kitchen. It appeared that he was the first one up. Alex had shown him where they kept the coffee and Graham set about brewing a fresh pot.
.
As he set about pouring himself a mug, he felt a pair of eyes on him.

“Morning, Daddy….” the sleepy little Anubis said, stifling a yawn. “Can I have a cup?”

This elicited a chuckle from her father. He had to admire the fact that she had managed to stealthily untangle herself from the sleepy jinko twins while they were half-snoring, half chuffing.

“C’mon pumpkin. You’re still a little young for that…..” he said, shaking his head.

Coffee was for grown-ups, and he was in no hurry to see his little wag-a-muffin grow up. Out of all the kids, Eva in particular seemed to be growing like a weed- looking a bit more like Vanessa each day. The twins were still fairly small- especially in comparison with Eva’s growth spurt- and Claire was just getting started.

“Darn- it was worth a try.” Anippe pouted.

“Tell you what, though. If you want something to wake you up, wanna join me for a little walk? Alex showed us a couple of trails along the lake and I figured I should get some fresh air and do some exploring.”

The young Anubis nodded.

This pleased her father since not only would he be spending some quality time with his wag-a-muffin, but Anippe’s sense of smell would come in handy if it turned out the trails were poorly marked and they ended up getting disoriented.

“OK- How about you get your snowsuit on?”

It didn’t take long for the little Anubis to get bundled up in her pale lilac colored snowsuit and join her father outside.

As awesome as it was to snuggle under the sheets with Sakaali, he spent much of yesterday sitting, so some fresh, crisp winter air and a stroll with Anippe would do him some good.

Graham trudged through the woods at a fairly steady pace while his energetic daughter would take off ahead of him for a bit and then bound back excitedly, reporting some wildlife she had seen up ahead- usually a crow or squirrel.

‘The last thing in the world that girl needs is any form of caffeine.’ Graham mused as his daughter came running back for at least the fourth time since they departed Alex and Jess’ home.

Dad! Dad! There’s some crows flying over the lake!” Anippe gushed as she almost bounced down the path back towards her father.

“Man….must be nice to have all this wilderness in your backyard.” Graham marvelled as he and Anippe continued to make their way along the shore of the frozen lake. “And a caboose to boot.”

“Hey daddy?” Anippe asked.

“What is it, pumpkin?”

“Can you tell me what I got for Christmas?”

“Ha ha…no.” Graham teased.

“But daddy….” the little Anubis began to whine.

“Your mom is gonna tell you the same thing.” Graham reminded her, hoping to head off any further pouting from his normally well behaved daughter. “If your good, me and mom might let you open one of your stocking stuffers tonight.”

Graham was steadfast regarding many things that his daughter wasn’t supposed to do- drink coffee, whine about opening presents early. Still- there was one thing she was confident she could get from him.

“Daddy, can I….?”

“What? No….”

“Daddy….please?” Anippe pleaded. “Helicopter ride?”

The Anubis pup knew her father’s greatest weakness and wasn’t above mercilessly exploiting it- the dreaded sad puppy dog eyes.

“Jeez…I dunno, wag-a-muffin.” Graham wavered.

Although her efforts to get coffee and open up presents early were in vain, Anippe could almost sense her dad getting ready to capitulate on this one thing she was asking of him.

“We hadn’t done this for awhile.” Anippe reminded him.

The guilt trip combined with the puppy-dog eyes was too much for her father.

“OK….get ready, wag-a-muffin.” Graham relented.

The two of them stood facing each other with Anippe’s paws in Graham’s hands. From a distance, It almost looked as though they were getting ready to slow-dance.

“Ready!” Anippe called out in anticipation,

“All right….here we go!” he said as the two of them began spinning, Graham now tightly gripping his little girl’s forearms.

Their spinning picked up to a dizzying pace, but the Anubis was certain what was going to happen next.

“Ha ha….Helicopter!” She giggled as the world on all sides was a dizzying blur with only her father immediately before her to keep pace and maintain focus. She could feel her father’s grip and then…..weightlessness. The centrifugal force of their spinning had literally swept Anippe off of her feet.

They had done this many times before, much to Sakaali’s chagrin. The little Anubis pup felt like she really was flying whenever her father did this with her.

Graham had to admit that even though Anippe was getting a little too big for this, it was alot of fun to twirl his daughter around like-

Suddenly he wasn’t holding on to anything more than some plus size mittens, watching in quiet horror as Anippe literally flew away from him. He could see his little girl frantically clawing at the air before colliding with and disappearing into a nearby snowbank.

“Oh no! Anippe!!” He heard himself call out as he stumbled towards where his daughter had landed.

Once he got a few paces closer, he could see something dark sticking out of the snowbank. Dark, fluffy and moving back and forth.

Anippe’s tail. It was wagging.

Little bits of snow could be seen cascading as the bundled up Anubis pup managed to unbury herself from the snowbank.

“Oh my gosh!” Anippe marvelled, clearly still a bit dizzy from her unexpected flight. The Anubis heartily shook some of the snow off of her. “Dad! That was so cool!!”

“Sweetie- are you OK?” Graham asked as he started brushing snow and pine needles off of his daughter’s snowsuit.

“Yeah…..can we do it again, Daddy!?” Anippe asked nonchalantly.

“You gave me a pretty good scare, sweetie.” He said as he kissed his daughter’s scalp. “That could’ve been bad- what if there was a rock or tree?”

“I’m fine, daddy! Let’s do it again….please!?” she implored.

“I don’t think so. Let’s not tell mommy what happened just now- daddy doesn’t want to spend Christmas in a shallow grave…”

“Oh my goodness!” a voice behind the two of them spoke up. Their hosts had caught up to them. Those tiger ears weren’t just for decoration as it turned out. “Are you alright little sweetie pup?” Jess fussed as she moved in and examined Anippe.

“I’m fine, Grandma Jess. You don’t need to worry.” the little Anubis tried reassuring her. For some reason Anippe was reminded of her own grandmother as Jess was doting over her.

“I wouldn’t want you to catch cold out here…”

Right behind Jess was Eva, Gabby, Layla, Art, Alex and Vanessa with Claire in a little harness. Roscoe was close behind, sniffing at everyone and wondering who would be giving him the most attention.

“Hey you guys!” Anippe waved.

“Anippe- we didn’t hear you get up this morning….we wondered where you might have went.” Gabby said, sounding a bit more worried than usual.

“I’m sorry guys. I heard daddy walking around and I got up to join him.” the little Anubis explained as she patted Roscoe’s head. “I thought maybe you guys would still be in bed by the time we got back, but I guess not…”

As Anippe continued talking to the twins, Graham sensed an opportunity.

“Hey Jess- I was wondering if you could do me a solid and watch Anippe for awhile. Me and the wife still gotta wrap a couple of gifts before they do under the tree.” Graham quietly whispered into Jessica’s ear.

“You mean you want me to spend more time with this little cutie pup right here?” Jess asked with mock incredulity, hands on hips.

“Well yeah….she’s got energy to burn.” Graham said.

“Don’t worry about it, I’d love to.” Jess reassured Anippe’s dad.

“Where ya goin’, Uncle Graham Cracker?” Eva asked with a little smirk. Chances are her ears were even better than Jess’ or Vanessa’s and heard the whole exchange.

“Oh….y’know. Gotta go to the bathroom.” Graham lied.

“Well, there’s a bunch of trees right here that you can mark. We won’t look….promise!” Eva suggested, that smirk still on her face.

“Eva!” Art chided his oldest daughter.

“Sorry, no yellow sno-cones today, kiddo.” Graham called out as he already began doubling back to Alex and Jess’ place. “This is something requires a Farmer’s Almanac or some back issues of Reader’s Digest…”

 


 

By the time Graham returned to Vanessa’s parent’s home, Sakaali was up and pouring the last of the coffee he brewed into a ceramic mug.

“Hey you..” she said upon seeing him tromp through the front door. “Where did everyone go?”

“Ah…Anippe and I went for a little walk, and we ran into everybody else on the way back here.”

“Where is she now?”

“Jess bravely volunteered to spoil her some more while I went back to take care of our Christmas presents.”

“I see.” Sakaali said with a cocked eyebrow. She quietly had to concede that was pretty good thinking on her husband’s part.

“Have you had a chance to get started on anything?” He asked her.

“Nope, I just got up.” Sakaali said as she took a sip of coffee.

“Well c’mon, lazybones….let’s get to work,” he teased.

 


 

“We’re baaaaack!” Jessica announced in her sing-song tone.

Although they had finished up with their gift wrapping, Graham and Sakaali had lost track of how long their hosts had been out with the rest of the family.

“There’s our little wag-a-muffin.” Graham said as he spied a barely awake Anippe riding piggyback on Jess.

“Oh….you’ll have to excuse her, she’s all tuckered out.” the older jinko said apologetically as Graham gently grabbed the sleepy little Anubis from off of Jess’ back.

Right behind Jess, Graham and his wife could see Art carrying Layla while Vanessa had Gabby riding piggyback and Claire in her little harness….both younger jinkos almost sound asleep. Roscoe quietly plodded inside after everyone else.

“Hey you guys….” Graham greeted them. “Wait- where’s Alex?”

“Dad said he had a couple of errands to run in town. Eva went with him too.” Vanessa sighed. “But on Christmas Eve that probably means he went to Hextahl’s Pharmacy to get some last minute gifts. And by ‘some’, I mean pretty much ‘all of them’.”

“Now Vanessa….sometimes your father prefers to leave things until the last possible minute. He says he does better under pressure…”

“Plus you gotta figure last minute shopping at a smaller pharmacy is nowhere near as stressful as last minute shopping at one of the malls…”

“Hey now…wakey wakey.” Graham said gently to his daughter. Anippe wearily raised her little grabber to rub the sleep from her eyes.

“My treasure? Are you hungry?” Sakaali asked her little girl.

Anippe wordlessly nodded.

“Go ahead and wash up. While you’re doing that, I’ll re-heat that pastry Jessica was nice enough to make for us the other night”. When all was said and done, Anippe only got a third of the way through the chicken pot pie pasty Jess had given her the night before. Sakaali wisely wrapped it in foil and kept it in the fridge knowing there would be enough to go around later.

“Okay…” she said quietly as she hopped out of her dad’s arms.

“If it’s OK with your mom, I can warm up some soup and hot cocoa to go with that.” Jess offered.

Sakaali gave the older jinko a quick, approving nod and the younger Anubis was swift in noticing this as her tail was wagging slightly.

“Thank you for keeping an eye on her…” Sakaali said to Jess.

“I should be thanking you. She’s a sweetheart and the twins love playing with her. That’s how they got so tuckered out….” Jess said as Vanessa set Gabby onto the sofa in the living room.

 


The rest of the day felt like some sort of countdown as it flew by. Alex and Eva returned from town, Vanessa, Art and Graham were playing Christmas Present feng shui under their host’s Christmas tree and Sakaali was volunteering to help Jess in the kitchen as she was seasoning and preparing a good sized pork roast.

Talk at the dinner table was mostly about the girls classes, their favorite subject and many compliments to Jessica on a flawless pork roast from her appreciative guests.

The girls were so full from dinner and tired from earlier that they forgot all about opening up one of their stocking stuffers before heading to bed.

The grown-ups were making a few last minute preparations of their own when Art noticed something while upstairs.

“Hey everyone…check it out.” Art said quietly to the others.

While Eva might’ve looked lonely at one point, she fell asleep reading a paperback book with Roscoe curled up next to her. Claire was in a little travelling size crib and out like a light.

Although sound asleep, Anippe’s tail was gently wagging- brushing up against Layla in the process. Layla was sound asleep too, but would sleepily reach out and grab the little Anubis’ tail when it hit her and hang on to it for a moment only for it to slip away. This process repeated itself three or four times with Layla letting out a small chuff each time.

 


Christmas morning- the girls could hardly contain their excitement.

The biggest difference among the girls was that besides the addition of Claire, Eva’s tastes seemed to be changing. She was getting more and more into high performance and muscle cars and this was reflected in her Christmas list when asking for various publications.

Meanwhile, Claire was having a grand old time playing in a veritable mountain of discarded wrapping paper, occasionally shredding it with her newly developing claws.

Roscoe was wandering to and fro in search of headpats and doggie treats from the gathered families- a quest that was at least partially successful.

Gabby and Layla’s tastes remained mostly unchanged from previous years, although the t-bone steak lip balm from Graham and Sakaali made an impression. Vanessa and Art gave Anippe a lovely brush for her tail, since it was becoming more and more lustrous and fuller by the day.

There was one present for Anippe that Graham and Sakaali were saving for last. They handed a little pup a box about the size of a breadbox. She eagerly unwrapped it, tearing the wrapping paper to shreds with her small but sharp claws before opening up a cardboard box.

A smaller box complete with a folded piece of cloth tucked inside. The little Anubis hastily removed the cloth and unfurled it to reveal a shirt that read ‘WORLD’S BEST BIG SISTER’.

Anippe looked perplexed for a moment before it looked as though she had just realized something.

“Oh- Eva. I think my mommy and daddy put my name on this by mistake.” she said as she held up the shirt for the jinko to see.

“I dunno, squirt…” Eva mused. “Looks a little small for me.”

Anippe held up the shirt and quickly realized the older jinko cub was right- it wasn’t given to her by mistake.

“Mommy? Daddy?” the little Anubis asked, her eyes wide.

“You’re going to have a little sister, sweetie!” Graham said, unable to conceal his mirth.

Anippe looked stunned and remained speechless for a moment.

“Anippe? Treasure?” Sakaali asked.

The little Anubis suddenly bolted to her feet and in the blink of an eye she had her arms wrapped around her mother.

“You mean it, mommy?” she asked, looking up with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’m gonna be a big sister?”

Sakaali nodded as she kissed her daughter’s cheek and returned her embrace.

“Of course.”

“I bet you’re gonna be such a great big sister.” her dad spoke up.

“Y-you think so?”

“Sweetie….we know it.” Graham said as he playfully ruffled his daughter’s hair. He was surprised to see that his daughter was still crying.

“Oh, my wag-a-muffin…is everything all right?” he asked his little girl.

Tears streaming down her cheeks, Anippe nodded.

“I…..I….I’m just….so happy.” she sniffled. “Oh my gosh. A sister? Wow….I just…gosh..” the pup trailed off before standing on her tiptoes and giving her dad a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh wow! That’s so cool….” Eva spoke up before turning to her baby sister. “Just think, Claire…you’ll have a little Anubis playmate in no time.”

AAAAAAHHHH!!!! I’M GETTING A KID SISTER!!” Anippe suddenly shrieked as she bolted towards her friends. Gabby and Layla didn’t even wait for her as they got up and hug-tackled the Anubis pup, chuffing all the while.

The three of them were giggling, bouncing and almost dancing this curious jig where Anippe clutched Gabby’s paw in one grabber and Layla’s paw in the other while hopping back forth in unison with the cubs.

“Oh my gosh….so many questions. What are we going to name it?” Anippe pondered as she caught her breath.

“When are we gonna get her caught up on Detective Neboo!?” Gabby asked.

“Yeah….you’re right.”

“Congratulations!” Vanessa said as she flew to her feet while still cradling Claire and making her way past Anippe and the twins. Before Sakaali knew it, the jinko was heartily squeezing her albeit with one arm. “I guess this means it’s my turn to pamper you- and I have an army of little helpers who can’t wait to meet Anippe’s baby sister- right girls?”

“Oh….Vanessa- thank you so much, but it’s really not necessary-” Sakaali began.

“I insist!” the jinko cut her off.

Before Sakaali could protest any further, the three smaller jinkos were taking turns hugging her and chuffing.

“That’s so cool Aunt Sakaali!” Layla chuffed.

“Oh girls….thank you.” The Anubis said, her tail gently wagging as she gently ruffled Gabby’s hair.

“Do you have a name picked out already, Uncle Graham Cracker?” Eva asked.

“Not yet, but we’re in no rush.”

“When did you two find out?” Art asked his friend.

“Beginning of the month.” Graham replied. “Oh man…I was so happy, I’m surprised I didn’t blab to everybody right away, but Sakaali wanted me to keep it on the down-low until Christmas.”

“You’re getting a little Anubis cousin, Claire.” Sakaali cooed to the infant jinko. “Yes you are!”

Jess and Alex had been unusually quiet as all this was unfolding, but nobody seemed to notice until the older Jinko spoke up.

“You get all that?” she asked her husband.

“Sure did, even though the last few seconds was just a blur of stripes and chuffing.” Alex said as he was still holding onto the camera-phone.

As they were talking, the jinkos and Anubis girls suddenly heard a familiar voice.

No foolin! Missy Paw Paws is getting a kid sister?” the voice asked loud enough for everyone to hear.

“I got you on speakerphone, dad…” Graham said loudly.

“Oh? Oh…well….Hi everyone, I guess.” Graham’s dad said a little uncertainly.

“Hi grandpa!” “Hi Edgar!” “Hi Dad!” a chorus voices called out upon hearing Graham’s father- although Jess and Alex had never been introduced.

“Oh- that’s just wonderful news, Grahammy-poo!” another voice gushed- Graham’s mom.

Her son didn’t even seem excessively bothered by the despised pet name this time, although that still got a chuckle from the girls.

“I knew if we gave you and Sakaali enough time together alone….” Graham’s mom continued.

“Is little Missy Paw Paw there?”

“I’m here, grandpa! Merry Christmas!” she spoke up.

“Well hey there, little lady. I know that being a big brother or big sister can be a pretty big task sometimes, but your grandma and I want you to know we think you’ll be ready for it.”

“You think so?” Anippe asked.

“We know so!” her grandmother chimed in. “You have so much love in your heart, sweetie!”

“You better believe it, kiddo.” Edgar seconded.

Anippe scooted onto her mother’s lap as they all gathered around Graham’s phone to talk to his parents.

“So dad….when are you coming out to visit?” Graham needled his father.

Edgar sputtered for a moment before regaining his composure.

“I couldn’t tell you when, exactly….but now your mother and I have twice as much reason to get out there, don’t we?”

“You certainly do.” Sakaali said- her tone more encouraging than reproachful.

“Please do.” Vanessa added. She remembered Sakaali telling her how reluctant her father in law was to travel all the way out to Arizona and could only think of her own mother’s stubbornness.

“Oh- I can’t wait to tell the girls in our book club about this.” Graham’s mom gushed.

“Well….just wanted to give you guys the good news on Christmas day.” Graham said. “Give my best to Uncle Billy, Aunt Patty and the cousins!”

“Will do, Graham. You just keep on taking good care of my granddaughter!” Edgar replied. “Or granddaughters…” he emphasised the plural.

“Bye Grampy!” Anippe called out before everyone else was saying goodbye to Graham’s parents.


 

Things had calmed down considerably by the time the phone conversation had ended.

“Well now.” Alex spoke up, addressing their guests. “I just wanted to say thank you for including us on what’s obviously a big day for your family.”

“Alex, Jessica- thank you for having us.” Sakaali began.

“Don’t give it a second thought.” Jess began as she asked around. “Who’s ready for a bite to eat?”

“I guess we all are.” Art said.

“Well- let’s not forget the lovely lady here is eating for two.” Graham said as he playfully nudged his wife.

“So mom…” Vanessa spoke up as everyone started making their way to the kitchen. “When can we expect you to come out and visit us?”

Not surprisingly, the older jinko didn’t answer right away. This morning had given her a lot to think about.

“I think when you guys are ready to have me….” Jess said after some contemplation.

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