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by Wanderer
Wanderer -- all rights reserved

Gently, I sidled in through the door of the Blind Pig, being careful to shake the snow off onto the towels spread out inside the entry. The city had been blanketed for days. Looking around the sparsely- populated room, it was easy to see the inroads made by the weather. Though I wasn't the only lupine in the room, I was certainly a rare breed tonight. Oren had made it, of course ... I could hear him chattering up a storm in the bridge game ... thanks to the natural insulation of his lutrine hide. There was even a polar bearmorph sitting in the window booth, where he was no doubt a great deal more comfortable than I would have been. I smiled as I unwrapped the plastic bags from around my feet, where they had been standing in for the winter shoes that tended to get caught in my winter coat.

It didn't matter. The bar could've been empty, just me and Donnie. It could've been standing room only. It could've been closed. I was just ... just ...

I laughed giddily and spun around on one footpad.

"Hay", I heard a voice even rougher than mine call out. "Look who's been in the eggnog again!"

I turned to Jack and wagged a finger at his shaggy-eared visage. "I have not", I replied with a wicked grin, "and you know it! Or should I accuse you of gin-o-cide?"

"Aha", he responded, "soda punfight begins, eh?"

"Yes, it ... hey!", I retorted as I stumbled onto the joke. "Put a coke in it, you!" I could hear groans and chuckles riffle through the bar. I smiled inside. If you think you're groaning now ...

"No Barq's gonna stop me from taking you on, mister."

"I think you and I are the only ones who got that one. Feeling Sprite-ly?"

"From the age of 7-Up."

I could feel my lips ripple as they tried, however unsuccessfully, to pucker. I grabbed for the next pun. "Maybe alc'hol for backup."

"Sake to me."

I winced, since I'd been planning on using that one later. "Vodka revoltin' development."

His lips did pucker, I noticed. "I think that was a Guinness record."

"Really?", I replied with a trace of my British accent. "I thought it was ale-ing."

Suddenly, I heard, "Get him, Jack! You're a stout fellow!", from a table in the back. As I peered into the dimness, I could just make out the familiar shape of Posti.

"Two against one, eh?", I replied, growing more melodramatic about it. "Well, I shan't ek-whine about it."

"Does that mean I can call you a pike-er?"

"Careful, Bob. That one was so obscure, only Doctor Derksen got it", I replied in a normal voice ... well, normal for me. "I'd quote him, but I don't use roach quips."

The groan was overwhelming ... as was the hail of cheez doodles, pretzels and popcorn that fell upon me from the offended patrons.

"Okay, okay!", I cried, sheltering behind my cape. "Enough already! Uncle! Aunt! Second cousin!"

As the material review eased up, I walked closer to the piano. "Ready for my Christmas song?"

"Sure", said Jack. "Just so long as it isn't a ballad." He snickered ... or was it whickered?

"Ver-ry funny. You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"

He shook his head.

"Oy ... "

"Hay, I thought this was a Christmas song!"

I waved a finger in his direction, then moved on. "Do you know, 'It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year'?"

"Well, that's what I hear ... "

"The song, Jack."

"Ohhh, that one." A brief piece of the tune rolled out in answer.

"Well, that makes one of us", I replied, and accepted the laugh. "Give me two verses, with a bridge between them."

"And you'll burn it on your way, of course."

"Of course", I retorted with a grin ... and then scrambled to catch up with the already-underway intro.

"It's the most ... wonderful time ... of the year", I intoned as loudly as I could get away with on a subtle piece. I rocked from side to side with the tempo.

"There'll be much mistletoeing And hearts overflowing With love and good cheeeeer.

It's the most Wonderful time Of the year."

I grinned and turned to my limited (and slightly captive) audience and bore down hard on the bridge.

"There'll be chestnuts for roasting, Marshmallows for toasting, And caroling out in the snow.

There'll be scary ghost stories And tales of the glories Of Christmases long, long agoooo ... "

I breathed more easily, the accidentals behind me. They'd always been a problem, even before I developed a permanent growl in my tone. As I prepared to release the long 'o', I noticed a flash going off. That was going to make an interesting picture ...

"It's the most Wonderful tiiiime Of the yeeeeeear ...

There'll be much mistletoeing And hearts overflowing With love and good cheeeer!

It's the most Wonderful time ..."

I signaled for a repeat.

"It's the most ... wonDERful time ... "

And again ...

"It's the most ... wonDERful tiiiiime ... of the yeeeeeeeeeeeeear!"

I smiled and blushed at the applause, then turned at Jack's comment.

"I thought you said you knew two verses."

"Nope", I replied. "Just how to sing one verse two different ways. For a finale", I continued before he could say anything else, "how about 'Home for the Holidays'?"

"Fast or slow?"

"Slow", I half-growled as my throat complained of hitting high notes this soon after being out in the cold. I coughed. "I feel like singing something sweet and sappy."

"O-kay", Jack said as he turned back to the keys. "One sugar- coated Christmas tree coming up."

I turned back ... but he was already going at it.

"Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays", I intoned as I sent a speculative glance toward Jack ... who was ostensibly ignoring me.

"And no mat-ter how far a-way you roooooam When you pine for the sun-shine of a friend-ly face ... For the holidays you can't beat home sweet home ... "

I smiled at the entire room, feeling even happier that before.

"I met a man in Lou'siana ... and he was headin' for Penn-syl-van'ya and some home-made pump-kin pie ... From the snows of Min-ne-so-ta to Mi-am-i's sunny shore. From At-lan-tic to Pa-cif-ic, Gee", I chuckled, "the traf-fic is ter-rif-fic ... "

I heard a few people chuckle at the obvious comparison with the holiday shoppers, but forged ahead.

"No, there's no, place like home, for the holidays ... And no mat-ter how far a-way you rooooam ... When you pine, for the sun-shine of a friend-ly face ... For the hol-i-days, you can't beat hoooome ... Sweeeet ... Hoooooooooooooome ... "

I bowed gratefully and headed for the bar. With the window seat taken (and freezing) and most of the Lupine Boys staying out of the cold and wet, the bar was the best place to be. And Donnie's such a good listener ...

I held up a paw as he reached for a familiar carton. "No eggnog, thanks", I told him. "I prefer it for dessert. How about no-pulp orange juice?"

"Someday", said a voice as Donnie pulled up a different carton, "you're going to take an actual drink, and the world will end from the shock."

I turned. "Oh, hi, Brian", I said to our own fur-eared eye doctor. "Well, it didn't happen the last two times, so I wouldn't bet on it."

Brian blinked. "Two times?"

I smirked. "I'll try anything once. One beer, one champagne, one answer: No, thank you."

Brian smirked in return. "You seem amazingly cheerful for the weather", he began as I received my orange glass from Donnie. "Is it a wolf thing?"

I couldn't help it. I laughed. For a few minutes, I lost all control, and with my head thrown back, my teeth bared, and my eyes tight shut, I laughed. Loud, long and hard.

As I came back down from that high, I noticed that my procyonid pal and I were now at the center of an even clearer radius than before. I snickered as I thought of what it must have looked and sounded like.

"Okay", said a now-chuckling Brian, "give. When'd you start taking happy pills?"

I sighed, feeling a blissful grin stretch across my muzzle. "Oh, Brian", I sighed, "I wish I could explain it. It's just that ... well ... it's Christmas!"

A long pause. "And ... ?"

I began to giggle. "Nothing! Absolutely nothing else!" I wiped away a tear. "Oh, it doesn't make any sense to me either", I went on, slipping easily into my British accent again. "Every year about this time, I just feel ... feel ..." I laughed again. "Mag-nif-icent! AH!"

That last was occasioned by a hard yank on my tail, a sensation devoutly to be missed. I turned quickly, and saw a thick-tailed behind retreating under the tables. Not really thinking about what I was doing, I dropped to all fours and followed.

By the time I caught Oren and licked his nose wetter than the snow outside, the bar looked like a disaster area. My clothes were now a half-sodden mess tangled around my hind legs. Tables and chairs were scattered hither and yon, along with pieces of dropped glassware.

How did I see all this?

Well, being held at arm's length by a not-overly-pleased bullmorph helps ...

Once I returned from straightening my clothes, I began straightening the room, chuckling as I did so. Finally, I sat down at the bar again, chortling.

"I am sorry, Donnie", I said half-contritely. "I just wasn't thinking. If you'd like me to pay for the glasses ... "

He waved me off. No deal.


He cocked his head at me, which he knew I'd take as A general question. I beckoned him closer ... closer ...

Suddenly, I threw my arms around him in a hug, my damp shirt pressed against his dry one. "Thanks. Thanks for being here, for being you, and for being the wonderful person you are. Thank you."

Donnie tensed, and then politely hugged me back.

Before I left for home, I hugged everyone who'd let me ... even that polar bear.

Then, finally, I went to the door and stopped.

"Merry Christmas", I said to the whole grand menagerie of friends. "I wish I could get you all gifts ... but all I can do is wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and more joy than even I'd know what to do with. Thank you. Thank you all."

And with that, I rewrapped my feet in their protective plastic and walked home, enjoying even the cold bite of the snow as it stung my nose.

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