The Nature of Christmas. (a free #paranormal #romance short story)

Mira

Loneliness is a beautiful thing. I think anyway. But the outside world has a way of invading your space. Especially this time of year. It’s all about being with people. Indulging people with your company. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to donate money to worthy causes. And I do. But to be around people on a frequent basis? I don’t know how else to put it except it just isn’t in my nature. Bah humbug.

Even with those whose company I desire. I thought sadly.

I’d finished my last hour of sourcing winter running shoes in the dark of my upstairs office. Business had really picked up over the holiday season, but tonight was the night when everything went quiet. Christmas Eve.

Night fell a couple of hours ago. Switching off the screen I closed my eyes and inhaled the cold winter air. I had an unusual tolerance for cold. Mainly due to the fact that my ‘inner animal’ is a mountain lion. I still can’t say cougar shifter in my mind. It makes me giggle. Not that I have any issues with age gap relationships. Some people might assume that I despise relationships period. It’s not true.

I just don’t want to give up those moments that are mine. Like now, I am one with my new environment. I’ve got acres all to myself. Just how I like it. I only moved here a few months ago.

Suddenly, my limbs got all restless and I had the urge to change. I couldn’t do it. Not now. Staying away from others for now would be doing other living creatures a favor. To say I’m moody being cooped up like this would be an understatement.

The wind howled outside. I could smell the fresh blanket of snow as well as sense the brightness of it beneath the moon. From my office chair I knew how beautiful it was. I ached, more than anything to make fresh prints in the snow. But it was too dangerous. Especially on my own. I shook my head.

I had no choice but to leave my last residence in rural Northern Wisconsin. Of course word got around about the ‘incident with the mountain lion’ on my front lawn over a year ago. After it all died down the hunters started turning up.

I came out and did the ‘do you think you will catch it?’ thing. I even put my hand over my mouth and did my best worried face. But it was time to leave. It wasn’t natural to hibernate but let’s just say I’ve been less active.

Maybe another couple of months and I will get the opportunity to go after my favorite prey. I did enjoy finding them. Just thinking about it made me hungry. My mouth started to water and that experience made me think of the only other living creature whose company I relished.

Daniel. I hadn’t seen him since I’d moved. We weren’t together every week or even every month. In fact, he had been quiet since the last time I saw him at my old place. I didn’t tell him about my decision to move of course. Then, I didn’t have to. If he wanted to find me, he could. And I would let him. It had become like that between us.

I grabbed a box of matches and shook them gently as I walked down the stairs in the dark. I did get one festive item since December hit. A big red cinnamon scented candle. Right in the middle of the, now that I think about it, rather barren looking table. Striking the match and inhaling the spicy scent, I closed my eyes. When I opened them again I had a perfect view of fresh prints in the snow. The cinnamon mixed with another fragrance now.

Another shifter

The carpet barely had time to flatten beneath my feet before I was at the door. The golden handle was cold, the chill of the snow was welcome on my bare feet. There was this grunt as I grabbed a handful of blonde hair, a couple of slender limbs and pulled the female shifter into the house.

I dragged her inside, letting her know who was boss.   My territory.  Shoving the woman’s body onto the floor in front of the table my heart dropped into my stomach. Then I dropped to my knees in front of her.

‘Diann?’ I said.

She was crying. I suppose I might cry too. Well, maybe not but I still felt bad. The last time I saw this young lady, (my on and off companion’s niece of all people!), I was in Florida. She had a sense of what I was, and singled me out.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I…didn’t know where else to go.’ she said.

‘Where is your Uncle Daniel?’ I asked, this new level of concern and feeling of connection was freaking me out. Strangely enough instinct was telling me to relax and go with it.

‘My grandparents died. Natural causes.’ she held up her hand in response to my open mouth after the word ‘died’. ‘I mean…they were almost all I had, even though we didn’t spend every waking second together. I kept an eye on them. Uncle Daniel was alright, he said it was just their time. But I was the one who found them. In each other’s arms. It was…’

Then Diann winced and shook her head, like she was in some sort of agony. I felt a piece of it too and placed my hand on her shoulder.

Then, her arms were around my neck and she sobbed against me. This really wasn’t what I expected doing on Christmas Eve. Not that I had any particular expectations at all. But if I did this certainly wasn’t one of them. Comforting a weeping young lady who I’d just roughed up, having mistaken for an intruder.

The human part of me was a piece of crap. Wouldn’t it have been nice if, just for one night she could have walked into a warm house lit up with decorations, a nice meal and…oh Mira you old Scrooge…

‘Shhh’ I said, stroking her hair. ‘You…’ I paused and inwardly chastised myself before continuing ‘You can stay here for as long as you want. It’s okay.’

‘Thanks. I picked up your scent and…I really don’t want to stay more than a day or two. It’s just…you know…tonight. And Uncle Daniel is great it’s just I don’t know…I wanted to see you again. I really don’t know any other adult female shifters. I don’t trust many who are my age. And as for the males well…’ she made a gagging motion.

I totally understood her. I used to make that gagging gesture (inwardly at least) about most males until I met Daniel. I never really trusted, or wanted to be with anybody. But looking at her, we really got each other. I was at least fifteen years older, so I could technically have been her mother. In this strange sort of way, I wanted to be. You know, I wanted to care for her.

‘I like your candle.’ she sniffed and wiped her nose with her dirty sleeve.

‘Thanks. How long have you been on the road?’

‘They passed just after Thanksgiving. So, since then. Uncle Daniel tried to find me a couple of times but…I just didn’t want to talk yet.’

She actually sought me out. Because she valued my companionship above others. Wow.

If she were any normal younger female creature I’d be chastising her for going out on her own like that. But Diann wasn’t normal.

Then both of our heads snapped in the direction of the door, which I’d left unlocked.

There he was, and he didn’t look happy. He’d be in for a shock if he thought he was going to get away with any aggression. I wondered if he’d lost his temper with Diann at any point.  Maybe that was why she avoided him. I stood in front of her, my body ready for anything as I faced him.

‘Merry Christmas, Daniel.’ I said, arms braced.

You might be bigger but I’ve handled much meaner bastards than you. I smiled and well, I couldn’t help it when my eyes lingered on his jugular. He really was beautiful. And he smelled nice even when he was angry.

Daniel

‘Merry Christmas.’ I replied through gritted teeth. I was fuming. Diann, my only niece runs off after my folks die, giving me something else to worry about while I sorted out their affairs. Poor kid, she took it hard. We aren’t exactly all close. But she didn’t want to admit, not to anyone, not even herself how she felt. So, she did the adolescent thing (fair enough seeing as there was still a teen at the end of her age) and ran off. She wanted to deal with her pain alone. And despite that being in our nature, sometimes it wasn’t the healthiest course of action. I sighed. These two ladies in front of me had a lot in common.

Then, in between work and trying to find Diann I was trying to track where Mira went. I missed her, and that wasn’t easy for a guy like me to admit. I missed her smell, the sight of her tawny, brown and golden hues. I missed her limbs being wrapped around me, the vibration of her voice through her body and just..everything. I gave her my everything. My respect, my knowledge and my love. I’d been like a lovesick cub since she left. I felt used.

So when I stumbled across not one but two female scents, part of me wanted to just go in there and tear the place apart. How could they do that to me? Yes, I could track them but why not just tell me something? But then Mira’s look reminded me of what we are.

Given the common culture of our kind, she wouldn’t have exactly been waiting around for me to get down on one knee and present her with a ring. And we had talked about how wherever she went, I would find her. I remember the conversation well.

‘So…would you let me come to you, wherever you are? You would let me be welcome with you?’ I’d finally gotten to run my fingers through her gorgeous golden brown hair.  And if mountain lions purred, she would have.

Yes. Track me, find me. Wherever I am. Because I won’t always stay in the same place’.  That’s what she said.  And I knew it was the truth. In a way, that was as good as her saying, I am yours. I mean, that got into my bones.

So, messed up as this all is, I shouldn’t have been surprised when she moved and didn’t tell me. Still, it hurt. Really hurt. In a vulnerable, achey and miserable human way. The price of connection is that when someone denies you that connection, you…feel like brutally killing something and screaming out into the night thus terrifying the local population. It’s a special type of pain.

Now, seeing her in front of Diann in a protective stance, ready to fight me off if need be, my anger subsided. My need to connect to her in the most human way possible intensified.

‘Relax. I said, breathing out, surprised at the relief. ‘You, young lady could have talked to me. I am here for you, and I wouldn’t laugh or find your emotions anything but natural.’ I said to Diann.

‘You help me with the cat side of things but…not the human one.’ she replied. ‘I wanted to talk to someone else okay? Anyway I found her this time before you did.’ Diann crossed her arms and looked up at me. I have to admit, her tracking of Diann was pretty cool. I blame my failure on the distraction of having to track not one but two.

‘And you…’ I said, looking at Mira who kept turning her body so that I had no chance of being behind her.

I swallowed. Did she have to stare at my neck like that? I knew what she was capable of.

‘I guess the man in me wanted you to tell me about the move.’ Mira’s stance relaxed before she spoke.

‘I know. I’m sorry, Daniel. I’m also so sorry to hear about your parents. I wish you would have found me and told me when that happened.’

I kept my eyes on hers. It did suck when they passed. I had a lot of respect for my folks. Not that I’d spent tons of time with them, but still. We shared a familial connection of a sort.

Then before I knew it, Mira’s arms were around my neck and she was kissing my face, squeezing me, breathing my scent in and stopping the embrace milliseconds before Diann would begin making her gagging face.

Mira stood back. Even from that small embrace (compared to others we’ve shared) and those tiny kisses, I could still smell her woodsy fragrance on my skin. That and her cinnamon candle.

‘Wow, you’ve really gone all out for Christmas haven’t you?’ I said, looking around her barren, save for the one flickering flame, apartment.

Mira laughed and so did Diann.

‘I’m hungry.’ I said. Only a statement, but I meant it.   I’d hardly eaten for a month worrying about and tracking these two.

Then her lips were on mine for way too short of a time. Mira took my hand and led me to the fridge. When she opened it, I smiled. Enough steak for one extremely large person for a week. Enough for us for tonight. A little bit of salad, and loads of meat. And bottles of water. Mira did love undercooked beef.

Diann inhaled and exhaled loudly.  Without even seeing the contents of the fridge, she commented ’I’ll take mine as rare as possible please. I’m going up to take a shower if you guys don’t mind.’ And the girl disappeared up the stairs.

Mira and I waited for the door to close and the shower to run before our lips found each other. My fingers were in her hair, my arm around her waist, pinning her to me. Oh Mira….

Her hands were roaming over my back and sides.  Then she began to claw and pull at my jacket.  Suddenly, she drew away with a quizzical face.  I grinned in response when I realized what she’d found.   I’d almost forgotten what I put in the inside pocket.  Last time I wore this,  I’d just been with her.  It had not been Christmas but I couldn’t resist the symbolic plant when I saw it.

‘What’s this?’ Mira said through her breaths when she pulled out the bundle of dried leaves and little berries.

‘Mistletoe. ’ She beamed from ear to ear.

‘Well, that’s the only Christmas decoration I’m interested in.’ I said.

We made a promise to each other with our eyes before she began preparing the meal. That mistletoe was going to help me make up for some lost time.

‘Merry Christmas, Mira.’

‘Merry Christmas, Daniel.’ she replied. I couldn’t have felt happier.

Mira

As soon as the words left my mouth a feeling of shame welled up inside me. I was quite prepared to spend Christmas alone and just see Daniel or Diann whenever was convenient.
I carried on laying out the plates.

The more Daniel followed my movements and did his best to help out, the sadder I felt. I had to say it. Out loud.

‘Daniel, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you where I moved…or when. And I feel that…I should have taken more of an interest in Diann. Even though she isn’t mine I…’ Then I don’t know I just choked up a little. Crying wasn’t really my thing so this was hard.

‘Mira, it’s okay.’ he replied. ‘I know what you are like. I know what, we are like. Diann wasn’t your responsibility. But, I think she sought you out because…’ Then Daniel paused before he continued.
‘She wants to be part of another female’s life. Someone she can talk to. My parents died as humans, bonded together. Something about the sight haunted her.’

I nodded. Who wouldn’t have felt sorrowful over discovering loved ones having departed this world forever? I felt a little better, but looking around my new place, I recalled something else that was missing.

‘I feel so awful I don’t have any presents. Ummm…I can get you guys some killer running shoes?’

Expecting a chuckle and acceptance of the offer, I turned to see a very serious Daniel. He moved towards me. I didn’t alter my movements to counter him, which surprised me. I knew what he was doing. I had to trust him. The smell of cinnamon and barely cooked thick chunks of beef was in my nose.

I placed the bloody meat onto a plate to rest a little. The foil crinkled below my fingers as I covered it loosely. I felt Daniel at my back and no alarm bells rang. His lips were at my ear, his big hands squeezing the sides of my shoulders.

‘I think the biggest present for all of us is going to be waking up in the same house together. Tomorrow of all mornings.’ he whispered.

‘You were working last year.’ I barely managed to say.

‘You were hunting.’ he replied.

‘It doesn’t mean that I don’t…’

‘I know, I love you too.’ He finished my sentence.  My knees were weak.  I stumbled a little.  He caught me and we embraced until we were no longer alone in the kitchen.   All was silent for those few moments, except for the euphoria singing inside me.

Diann came down, her hair wrapped in a towel, having taken full advantage of all my toiletries. We all ate together. I’d never seen another female eat as much steak as I could. She was so amusing. I’d never laughed so much in my life. Okay, there were no decorations, no presents, no distinctively festive foods. But we were together. It didn’t feel suffocating or demanding. Just natural and magical.

It was the highlight of my year. Looking into Daniel’s twinkling green eyes and smelling the cinnamon, my heart fluttered. Looking at Diann’s smile, seeing her contentment after weeks locked in lonely grief, I wanted to give her everything I could. I wanted to make sure she never again endured such pain alone.

The snow and the woods were still out there and Daniel and Diann were here, inside with me. It had cost nothing, yet I still didn’t deserve it. But as of tonight I would make sure I did. Because it was the best gift ever.

Merry Christmas

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