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by Kamau
Kamau -- all rights reserved

A gust of cold wind rushed by me as I quickly entered the antechamber of the Blind Pig. Taking a moment to shake the snow from my foot paws, I unzipped my coat and loosened the scarf that protected my fur and mane from the zippers teeth and the cold itself. Moving toward the bar, Donnie signed a familiar welcome to which I signed a reply then slipped the scarf into my pocket.

"A nippy day out there," I said, taking a seat. "Do you happen to have any of that ginger tea left?"

The bovine nodded and turned to prepare my beverage. Glancing around the bar, I could see it was mostly empty except for a handful of the regulars. Still, it was early and the bulk of the people wouldn't be in for a couple of hours.

"Father Ted," came a voice from behind me. "What brings you here on a cold day like this?"

I turned to see a leopard morph moving toward me, his ears still flicking snow free as he moved. "I might ask you the same thing at this time of day, Nick," recognizing a former client of mine. "Things getting slow at work?"

"Not at all," he replied, moving to the bar. "Just had a delivery down this way and finished up sooner then I expected. I figured I'd spend a bit of time with some friends before heading home."

From the corner of my eye, I saw Donnie place a steaming mug on the bar. The warm spiced smell was already caressing my muzzle as the bull turned to Nick, who ordered a beer. "How have things been down at the shelter?" he asked, brushing a bit more snow from his fur.

"Busy as usual for this time of year," I replied placing my paws around the mug, its warmth running through them. "The cold makes it hard for those who would normally live on the street. It just makes me wish all the more that I could get them off the street permanently."

"Even before the Flu, we had street people," replied the spotted cat. "I guess it's just one of those things we'll always have. As I recall, that's somewhere in the Bible isn't it?"

"Yes, 'the poor you will have with you always'," I said, citing the scripture Nick had recalled. "Still the scriptures also call us to do what we can to help them. The hardest part is some of them have just given up."

"But you haven't," Nick replied, a thin smile perhaps recalling his own life's journey. "Every time I hear St. Francis shelter mentioned, I hear how successful it is. So why sound so glum?"

"Oh, I'm not really," I told him with a small grin myself. "I've been pleased with what we've done over all these years. It just pains me to see anyone suffer." The sound of loud talking caused us both to turn toward the door as several others entered the bar. One, an elk morph, called out a greeting to the leopard.

"If you'll excuse me, Father," Nick said rising from his stool. He quickly moved to his antlered friend, threw a paw on his shoulder, and they walked together to a booth in lively conversation. It was times like these that I couldn't help but chuckle at the strange predator-prey friendships that often developed at this place.

As I took a sip from my mug, more patrons drifted in. A particularly strong gust of wind blew a familiar scent to my leonine muzzle. As I turned around, I spied a young lion morph shaking snow out of his mane. The young feline was visibly shivering despite a coat that reached well down his legs. I recognized him as Hallan, who had been introduced to the Pig by accident early in the spring.

"Hallan," I called out, waving to the teenager. The youth spotted me and moved in my direction. "Hallan, you look absolutely frozen," I commented, his body still trembling.

"I-I-I am," he replied through chattering teeth. "I ha-ha-hate winter."

"Well, lions like us weren't exactly made for this type of weather," I told him. "How about something warm to drink?"

The youth nodded, clenching his teeth to stop their chattering.

"Orange decaf tea okay?" I inquired, to which he nodded. "Donnie, another ginger tea and an orange decaf," I said turning toward the Auroch bartender.

A few minutes later, Donnie placed two mugs on the bar and I suggested that we move to a booth where there'd be more heat. As we moved, I noticed Hallan's tail was protruding from his long coat, dripping wet. The young feline wrapped his paws around the cup and lowered his muzzle to it. Drawing the steam in with a deep breath, he raised it to his lips.

"Thank you, Father," he said as another shiver ran through him. "That feels so good."

"Nothing like hot tea to take the chill off," I replied holding my own cup before my muzzle. "But the best thing is not to get chilled in the first place."

"How do you manage to stay warm in this weather?" the young lion asked, sipping the warming liquid again.

"I didn't always do well with the cold either," I admitted as I looked up at my young friend. "I lived in upstate New York when I got SCABS. The first two years, I froze."

"What did you do?" Hallan asked, his ears tipping forward with interest.

"I had a parishioner who was a very good seamstress," I explained, closing my eyes and leaning back into my seat. "She spent hours trying all kinds of designs to keep me warm. Custom pants, coats, tail sleeves."

"I can't stand most tail sleeves," the youth said wrinkling his muzzle in disdain. "Rubs my fur the wrong way."

"Exactly the same thing that happen to me," I agreed. "What we finally found out was that the tail wasn't the important part to keep warm."

"But that's always what feels like it's going to freeze off," Hallan said, his whiskers tipping back in disbelief.

"That's because you get it wet," I told him. "If you can keep it dry or only damp, it does just fine. The bigger problem is really to keep the cold from getting to the base of your tail and your body."

"But I've got a good long coat," objected Hallan.

"The long coat is the problem. At least unless your wearing warm pants," I began to explain. "With a long coat, your tail just draws the cold air up underneath when it moves. It's almost like a vacuum with your tail providing the power. Not only that but the coat pushes your tail down into the snow, getting it wet."

"So how did you solve the problem?" the youth asked.

"Actually, the solution ended up being just the opposite of what you'd think," I said. "A shorter coat with a tail hole and a bit of extra padding."

"I don't get it," the young lion said, his brows furrowing in confusion. "How can that keep you warm? I freeze my butt off with a short coat."

"That's why the extra padding," I said, removing my own coat and showing the inside. "This slit snaps closed, so you don't need to thread your tail through a hole. Which, in turn, keeps your fur from getting rubbed the wrong way." Then I pointed to the extra thickness just above and below the opening where the tail went through. It added a good three inches to the coat in those areas. "The extra insulation keeps the jacket heat-sealed, while the thin band near the opening keeps it from irritating my tail, something we discovered on an earlier attempt."

Hallan leaned forward, reaching out to feel the claw-resistant fabric. "Where do I get something like this?" he asked excitedly.

"I still get them from my old town," I explained. "It's the daughter of the woman who came up with the idea who makes them now but she's as good as her mother was."

"So I can't get one," the young lion said, his entire body seeming to droop.

"No, they're not available commercially," I answered, noting the disappointment that covered the young feline. It was then that I got an idea. It would require a bit of work and hunting down Hallan's mother at the hospital where she worked but it was doable.

Hallan took a long sip of his tea and sighed. It didn't take a mind reader to know he was cursing the problem of having the body of an African cat in a cold northern climate.

"I'm sure there are people working on better clothing that doesn't have to be custom made," I assured him. "Considering how far we've come over the years, I'm surprised more companies aren't doing it already."

The angle of his whiskers and ears told me that my words had done nothing to raise his spirits. Before I could continue, the sound of a familiar voice drew both of our attentions to the entrance of the Pig. It was Wanderer and some of the lupine boys making their way in with great enthusiasm.

"If you'll excuse me, Father Colbert," Hallan said as he slid out of the booth. "I need to talk to Wanderer. He promised to give me a hand with some of my English homework."

"Ah. Well, if it has anything to do with plays or the theater you couldn't do better," I told him. "Don't forget to take your tea with you."

"Huh? Oh, yeah," the youth said, grabbing the mug and his notebook.

As my young friend met up with the wolf, I began planning out what needed to happen. If I was able to pull this off, I might just be able to turn this into a winning situation for more than one SCAB with a problem. What I liked most of all was that the timing would be perfect for Christmas.

It was just a few days before Christmas when I was once again at the Pig. As I chatted with Ellen across the bar, I spotted Hallan making his way in. Once again, he looked chilled to the bone. I had recently learned from his mother that the kid was a chocoholic, and I knew Donnie stocked some hot cocoa that was safe for felines like us to drink. I asked Ellen to ready a cup of it, then headed to intercept him.

"Hallan, good to see you," I said, my deep voice somewhat startling the younger lion.

"Good evening, Father Colbert," he said as he removed his gloves.

"You looked absolutely chilled," I continued as I ushered him away from the door. "How about some hot cocoa?"

"Sorry, but no," he replied, ears and whiskers drooped in disappointment. "I love the stuff but ever since my change it makes me sick."

"Then I think I have a very pleasant surprise for you," I told him as Ellen placed a steaming cup of dark liquid on the bar.

Hallan's eyes opened wide as the smell entered his muzzle. He looked at the cocoa like a real lion would look at fresh meat.

"What?" he asked confusedly, lips actually twitching back for a more savoring sniff.

"It's safe," I assured him. "I've had it on more then one occasion. Believe me, if you've got a sweet tooth for chocolate, this is just what the doctor ordered."

He didn't need any more persuasion than that and lifted the cup to his lips. His eyes closed in deep contentment as the warm liquid filled his mouth, both warming him and treating his tongue to a long-missed taste. After another sip he turned to me, a brown stain in the lighter fur just above his mouth.

"Thank you," he said in as near a purr as a lion can muster. "Where did you find this?"

"Donnie has a knack for finding all kinds of SCAB-friendly food and drink," I told Hallan with a smile that might have frightened a non-predator. "I just happen to know he had it. So what brings you here tonight?"

"Christmas Break started today," he began, then took another sip of the cocoa. "So Mom said I could spend a bit of time here tonight. I think the way Wanderer helped me with that English project might have something to do with it as well."

"Eccentric or not, the old boy does know his craft," I assured the young lion, then added with a bit of an English accent. "You don't become a good actor without a command of the English language."

I thought Hallan would spit out the mouthful of cocoa he'd just taken as my poor imitation of Wanderer's speech struck him, but he held it in check. Looking over his shoulder at where the lupine boys were seated, he nodded.

"I should go over and thank him for all the help," he said. "It was the highest mark I've gotten on an English paper all year."

"Why don't you do that?" I agreed, seeing an opportunity for me to slip out for a moment. "I'm sure he'll be pleased to hear how well you did. There is one thing you need to do first however."

"Ah, what's that?" he asked, unaware of the brown stain that had grown above his lip. I pointed to the front of my muzzle, but this only increased his puzzlement. I briefly licked my own muzzle to wordlessly indicate what needed to be done. His eyes fell to the cup. "Oh. Thanks. " With a quick swipe of his tongue, he cleared the tasty smudge from his muzzle fur. Picking up his cocoa, he headed off toward his tutor.

Once he was in conversation with the lupines, I slipped out to my car and retrieved a bulky package that had been waiting for just this moment. Once back inside, I made my way to the resident wolf pack and stood behind Hallan, who had not seemed to notice my approach.

"Ah, my good Reverend," Wanderer said in his usual flowery manner. "I am delighted that you would join us."

"I take it Hallan has told you how successful he was under your guidance?"

"A most excellent student," the lupine actor replied. "He has indeed proved his mettle on the field of academia."

"Would you say his performance is worthy of a reward?" I asked, bringing forth the package I had retrieved.

"T'would seem appropriate," the wolf replied.

"Well then," I continued. "I think this is something you might find useful."

The young lion's mouth dropped open and his eyes darted repeatedly from the package to Wanderer and me. Hallan mechanically took the package in his hands and froze, too shocked to do anything else.

"Dear boy, don't just stand there," Wanderer said. "Be so kind as to end the suspense for all here and open it."

The teenager hooked a claw into the Christmas paper and tore it back, revealing a bundle of royal blue cloth beneath. As he turned it over, a sleeve fell free revealing its true nature. Taking it now by the shoulders, Hallan held up the coat, his eyes wide in amazement.

"But, but. I thought you, ah," the youth stammered still holding the garment before him.

"It shan't bite you," Wanderer chided him. "Come, be a 'model student', and show us the new addition to your wardrobe."

Hallan opened the coat and began to slide an arm in only to stop about halfway down. Pulling his arm back, he drew out a knitted scarf that had been stored in the sleeve.

"Put that on first," I counseled him as he examined it. "It will protect your mane from the top of the zipper."

Hallan nodded, saying, "Okay, that makes sense," and wrapped it about his neck. He then slid the coat on and fastened the lower part of the zipper before somewhat awkwardly snapping the rear slit closed around his tail.

"It will take a little practice," I told him as he fumbled with the last snap. "But the warmth is well worth it."

Finally he pulled the zipper up over the scarf and was securely wrapped in a coat not far different from my own. I pointed him toward the window, which with the darkness outside served as a mirror. For a moment, he just stood there looking then turned about to get a look from all sides. Just as with my own garment, the back sloped slightly outward toward the bottom. It was closed with a roll of padding beneath thus allowing the tail to stay clear of snow and slush while not allowing air to be channeled under the coat.

"Wow, this is really nice." Hallan murmured, his tail's motion saying much more than his words.

"This is the first piece of clothing a resident at our shelter has made. She use to be in the fashion business until she came down with SCABS. I've been trying to convince her that she could apply those skills to a different type of clothing."

"My dear Padre," Wanderer joined in. "If this indeed is but her first attempt, I declare she has a bright and bountiful future in such a craft. The coat is a magnificent work."

"Now I don't think I'll see you shivering quite as much when you enter any more," I said, feeling very pleased at what I saw.

"I don't know what to say," Hallan said still in awe of what he was wearing.

"I think there's only one thing to say," I replied with a grin. "Merry Christmas, Hallan."

"Merry Christmas," he replied, his own smile mirroring my own. "And thank you. Thank you very much."

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