Freeze Frame: A Christmas Tale
The rest of term flew by, the final few days of lectures and various Christmas activities making it a blur of lessons and wild parties. It kept me distracted enough that I didn't have time to dwell on my family meeting Caitlyn when they came to get us come the end of term.
Instead it crept up on me and suddenly I realised they would be coming the next day. As a result I lay awake in bed at night panicking. My mind was running through all sorts of fanciful scenarios of what could go wrong and how I would singlehandedly ruin everyone's Christmas.
I eventually fell asleep but even so I was not at my best the next day. Simply put I was tired and full of foreboding for what was going to happen. I packed my clothes and various essentials I would need plus some study stuff I had to do. It was more distractions to keep me from thinking about my parents showing up at any moment and how I would go about introducing my girlfriend.
I was so distracted I didn't even hear the bell go and someone else must have gone to answer it as I was in the middle of packing some jumpers when I turned around to find Mum and Alice standing behind me.
“OH!” I cried and nearly fell down.
“Oh sorry darling did we startle you?” Mum asked. “Natalie's boyfriend Shaun let us in and showed us the way up.”
I would have to have words with Shaun about warning me when he was sending up visitors. I could have been doing anything in here. “Hello, I'm just busy packing.”
“Well no rush dear, traffic was fairly light so we made good time coming down. Your father is at a match today so we left him to it and Alice volunteered to come and help.”
I looked at Alice incredulously. She wasn't usually one for volunteering to help me with anything, she must have had some other reason for coming down with Mum.
“So where's your girlfriend!” Alice asked revealing immediately the real reason she had come down, she wanted to get an early look at Caitlyn.
“She's dropping off some books at the library so she doesn't get a fine for holding them over Christmas,” I said.
“She's at a library,” said Alice pulling a face, “Don't tell me she's boring like you.”
“Alice don't be rude,” Mum admonished her, “Besides when you get to university level the library becomes less of a place you can avoid. As you'll find out when you go there in a few years.”
Alice shrugged dismissively and began to examine the room around her. She was currently in the lower sixth at school having got some fairly good exam results. Alice seemed to view academic achievement as merely a way of getting into sports clubs and I wondered if the only reason she was still in school was so she could be on the school teams.
“Why don't I get you two a cup of tea while I finish off packing,” I said.
“That sounds lovely,” Mum replied.
“Tea is a stimulant!” Alice retorted.
“Well then you can just have water or something else dear,” Mum said rolling her eyes. Alice pouted but followed me down the stairs and into the kitchen.
I put the kettle on the looked for something that might meet Alice's constantly shifting standards. She was forever reading articles in health & fitness magazines then following their often scientifically shaky and sometimes contradictory advice. It seemed one must have told her tea was bad for her.
I looked through the soft drink selection, “We have some orange squash, some diet cola and some milk,” I suggested.
“I'll have a diet cola,” said Alice.
“So you don't drink tea because it's got stimulants in it but you drink cola?! You know that has caffeine in it right?”
“Yes, but it's the free radicals and tannins in the hydrous solution that attack the cells and cause lack of energy when you drink tea. It disaligns your biorhythms due to its antiphase cycle energy waves,” she replied as I poured her a glass of cola.
I frowned then said, “That was just a bunch of random words strung together,” and offered her the glass.
“A top TV fitness expert said it! It's to do with biomorphic fields kakras and dineural tones things your stupid scientists have rejected. Dr Mack Nugget is a renowned expert in the field, way beyond the realms of stuffy science and his work will enable me to get fitter than ever,” Alice said snatching the glass from my grip looking angry.
“I wouldn't waste your breath dear she's not going to listen to reason,” Mum said putting a hand on my shoulder.
“I know,” Alice said thinking Mum was talking to her, “She been brainwashed by the scientists. Just because Dr Mack Nugget publishes his research in mega fit magazine rather than a peer reviewed journal doesn't mean it's not the truth. The world conspiracy of bicycle manufacturers wants to keep this amazing work suppressed so people can't run everywhere at the speed of a racing bike making their products redundant.”
Mum leaned closer to me and whispered in my ear, “She's been unbearable last month she would only eat white foods after reading some dodgy story in one of her magazines, which basically meant she would eat nothing but certain fish, tofu, rice, and cauliflower.”
I shook my head, I suspected me and Alice would be arguing about her crazy new dietary ideas over the course of the holidays. It would be a bit like old times again. I poured Mum a cup of tea and then showed Mum and Alice to the living room.
“There's the TV if you want to watch something, I'll just finish off the rest of my packing,” I said offering the remote to Alice who snatched it and was soon switching the TV to a sport channel.
“Are you sure you don't need any help dear?” asked Mum
“No, I need to work out what I'm taking first of all. Once I've got that done and packed up then I can load it into the car.”
I rushed back upstairs and continued
to try and sort through all my stuff to work out what I needed to take
and what I could leave. Some more frantic packing later I had bagged
up most of the clothes I would need and all the other necessary things.
I had also packaged up the various books I would need over the holidays
for the work I needed to do or just to read for interest. I was just
giving my stuff a final look over to quell the nagging feeling I'd forgotten
something when I heard voices downstairs. Caitlyn was home.
Bursting out of our room and, nearly falling down the stairs, I ran to head her off so I could warn her about my mother and sister, silently cursing myself for not thinking to call her earlier.
I came skidding to a halt at the bottom of the stairs just in time to hear Mum say, "You must be Caitlyn."
I cursed my slowness and tried to calm my breathing so I could introduce my girlfriend. My heart was racing from the rush down the stairs and the sudden, probably irrational, fear this meeting caused.
"Hello, you must be Mrs Owens," Caitlyn said holding out a hand to my mother just as I got into the room.
Mum shook her hand smiling, "Please call me Joanna, It's so good to finally meet you. Emily has told us so much about you. This is Alice, Emily's younger sister."
"Pleased to meet you," said Caitlyn holding her hand out to Alice who seized it and began vigorously shaking it.
"Hi, so how long have you been dating Emily?" Alice asked.
"Well it's been nearly ..."
"The longest I've had a boyfriend was three weeks, they always seem to get boring over time. There was this one guy I really liked, we went together for two weeks and after he left me we got back together for another two weeks so I guess total it was four weeks. Though I dumped him after that and never talked to him again."
"Well I guess ..."
"I don't like girls I like boys. I guess Emily takes after Auntie Mary though, she likes girls too. Did you always like girls or did you try boys first like Emily?"
"Well when I was..."
"I've only tried going out with boys. So what are you studying?"
"I study ..."
"I want to study some sort of physical education maybe be a fitness trainer or sport scientist or something when I get to university. I'm good at sports but not so good at numbers and things. Emily was always the one good at that. I take more after Mum, she runs a gym and did competitive sports. Do you play any sport?"
"I ... "
"I play Netball, basketball, hockey, football, rounders, volleyball, swimming, tennis, and gymnastics. I'm trying to get into more clubs but there are only so many I can do and still have time for school work."
Alice paused still shaking Caitlyn's hand and looked at her quizzically for a short while, "You know you're a lot like Emily really quiet," she said and finally stopped pumping Caitlyn's hand.
Caitlyn stood there speechless for a bit and looked like she was about to offer some response but before she could do so the match Alice was watching picked up. My sister turned back to the TV completely tuning out Caitlyn's presence.
"I'm afraid you'll have to get used to Alice she can be a little ... forceful," said Mum to a still speechless Caitlyn. Then Mum spotted me, "Ah there you are Emily, we were just getting acquainted with Caitlyn."
"Yes, I see," I squeaked still a little out of breath from my charge down the stairs.
"How's the packing going? Are you sure you don't need any help?"
"No, no, I'm nearly done, just a few more bits."
"Well do let me know if I you need help."
I nodded and then turned to head upstairs. The talk of packing distracted me from the fact that my girlfriend was still standing there talking with my Mum.
I heard Caitlyn say "Well I better get packing too, are you alright for drinks and so on?"
"Yes Emily took care of us dear, where is your bathroom though I wouldn't mind freshening up after the trip down here," Mum replied.
"Here it's just up at the top of the stairs I'll show you."
I headed into our room and resumed sorting through my stuff and shoving it into bags. Having multiple arms was a help here as I could hold multiple bags for different things and then shove items in them simultaneously. It was the sort of feat of coordination I couldn't have managed back when I first changed but now it was almost second nature. It still required some extra concentration to not make a huge mess or tangle my own limbs but it did speed things up enormously.
"Your Mum and sister seem nice," Caitlyn said walking in, "I don't know what you were worried about."
"Oh well you know me, I get worried over all sorts of things I probably shouldn't," I said with a shrug.
Caitlyn smiled, "Well it's just one of those little things about you that makes the whole package so adorable."
I smiled back at her, she always knew what to say.
"Now then, packing time," Caitlyn said and threw open the wardrobe she used for her clothes. She reached in, pulled out two large duffle bags and plonked them on the floor, "And done!"
I looked at her confused, "Done?"
She smirked back at me, "I packed yesterday while you were at lectures."
"Oh for the free time of an arts student," I complained.
Caitlyn just giggled and hefted her bags towards the door. Having nothing to say to that I resumed my packing. It didn't take me long to finish and I did a quick mental run down of what I had got and what I needed so I didn't forget anything.
Clothes ... check, I had enough clothing to suit most situations including all sorts of possible Christmas gatherings. Books ... check, the course books I needed were packed up with the relevant notes and I also had some reading material for my free time enjoyment.
I had my tablet and assorted bits and bobs I needed as well as my bag of presents. So I was pretty sure I was ready. As I lifted the multiple bags of stuff I tried to place the nagging feeling that I had forgotten something vitally important that I couldn't leave without. I couldn't think what it could be so I made my way downstairs walking carefully with my multiple bags trying not to knock anything over or trip on something.
"Okay I think I'm about ready," I said wandering into the living room.
Alice was the only one there watching some sort of water sport with rapt attention. Without even turning to look at me she said, "Mum took your catgirl girlfriend to the car to pack her stuff."
"She has a name you know," I said a little annoyed.
"Huh?" Alice said obviously not really paying attention. I sighed and headed out into the street looking for the spot where Mum had parked. I saw Caitlyn loading her bags into my mum's car down near the corner. Parking was very hard to get on our road. None of the houses had off street parking so everyone parked on the street meaning it was pretty packed. Mum must have gotten lucky to get a space that close. I wandered down to where they were.
"Here she is, didn't take her too long," grinned Caitlyn and gave me a kiss.
I smiled and blushed a little not really sure how to act in front of my mother. Mum took one of my bags off me and shoved it into the boot of her car next to Caitlyn's then I loaded the rest neatly in front of them.
"Well we had better round up Alice and then we can be off," Mum said bliping the car to lock it.
We walked back to the house and found Alice still engrossed in the TV.
"We should say goodbye to Shaun," Caitlyn suggested.
"Yeah good idea," I replied and we both headed upstairs.
Nat was out but we had already said our goodbyes earlier. The door to his and Nat's room was open and he was sitting at the desk working on some piece of course work or something.
"Hey Em, hey Cait," he said looking up, "You two setting off?"
"Yep, we're just about to leave so we've come to wish you Merry Christmas and say goodbye," I replied smiling.
"Cool, well you have a great Christmas too and I'll see you both in the new year."
"Yep, you too," I replied with a smile then something occurred to me, "Oh before I forget."
I dashed back to my room and grabbed the bag I had put aside and then forgotten about when I was packing earlier. Having done that I dashed back to Shaun.
"Here, there's a little something in here from me and Caitlyn to you and Nat. We meant to give it to you both earlier but with all the rush we just forgot," I said presenting the bag.
"Wow thanks you shouldn't have. Makes me feel like an arse for not getting you and Cait something. I'm touched, I really am," he said.
"Nat already got us a gift and signed it from the two of you so you don't need to feel guilty," Caitlyn grinned back.
"She saved my bacon again," grinned Shaun.
"Yeah she does that, well have fun I'll see you in the new year," I replied.
"Indeed, Merry Christmas and
We shared a hug and kiss and then left him to his work.
"I'm going to do one last check," Caitlyn said and disappeared into our room as I headed downstairs.
There mum was cajoling Alice into shifting herself from the sofa, "But it's just gotten to the semi finals!" she whined.
"Well I'm sure you can watch the rest when we get home dear," Mum replied switching off the TV.
Caitlyn entered the room with another bag.
"Ready to go?" I asked.
"Yep, nearly forgot my school bag with my notes in it," she said with a grin, "Would have meant starting that essay from scratch again which wouldn't have been fun."
"Lucky catch that," I agreed. She had been slaving over that essay for the last week trying to get it out of the way before the holiday so she could enjoy herself. That was one good thing about my engineering classes, they didn't give as much homework as in the arts department. You mostly learnt all the stuff in the lessons.
We got down to the car and when mum reopened the boot I found out that one of my bags hand come undone revealing some of my more frilly knickers which I hastily stuffed back into the bag feeling a bit embarrassed. I didn't use to wear a lot of frilly stuff, going more for as plain as possible, till Caitlyn explained how much she liked the fancy stuff and indeed promised to make it worth my while to try some on.
"Oh that reminds me," said Caitlyn "I'm going to need to get some more underwear, some of the stuff I've got is starting to fray a little"
As the thought of Caitlyn and new underwear ran through my head several things occurred
I didn't put them with the other presents because I didn't want Caitlyn to stumble across them while packing. As a result I had completely forgotten to pack them.
"Oh ... OH!" I cried.
"What is it?" asked Caitlyn looking concerned.
"I forgot something! I'll be right back," I answered and rushed off before she could ask me what I had forgotten not being sure what answer I could give her.
I scrambled back into the house and up the stairs nearly knocking Shaun, who was coming the other way, down as I raced back to my room.
"Woah! Forget something important?" he asked steadying himself on the wall.
"Caitlyn's present!" I cried.
"Oh blimey! Lucky you remembered that. Having to get something at the last minute to replace it would have be hard. You'd probably have ended up having to get something like a bag of charcoal from the garage," he said and I suspected he was speaking from experience rather than picking items at random. I wondered who had been the lucky recipient of the charcoal.
I scrambled into my room and grabbed the bag containing the two packages I had gotten for Caitlyn. Now the question was how to take them back without arousing too much suspicion. I needed to take something back with me to hide them in that wouldn't seem like it was unusual for me to need to bring with me.
Then I saw my coat hanging on the back of the door.
'Perfect! I'd freeze to death without that,' I thought grabbing it.
I shoved Caitlyn's gifts securely into the pockets and then dashed back down the stairs. Mum, Alice, and Caitlyn were all waiting for me and I held up my coat by way of explanation. Caitlyn's eyes fixed on it and for a moment I thought her presents had come loose or something.
"Good point a coat, I'll freeze my tail off!" Exclaimed Caitlyn and rushed back towards the house a red headed blur.
"Is there anything else to go in? Anything large?" Mum asked.
I was still focussed on Caitlyn's behind as she ran back towards the house, "Huh?" I asked distracted.
"I said is there anything else to go in, if it's just a coat we can slip that on the parcel shelf."
"Oh, ah no, I think that's everything," I said blushing some more.
Mum closed up the boot and locked it, "She seems like a very nice girl."
"Yes," I replied not meeting her eyes, "Yes she is."
Caitlyn returned with her coat looking a little sheepish and we all climbed into the car and began the journey to my parents' house.
The car journey wasn't too long, we
listened to some comedy program on the radio and watched the countryside
go by. Caitlyn and I sat in the back of the car next to each other, she reached
out and took my hand and smiled at me. I grinned back for all my worries
I was glad she was here, Christmas was beginning in earnest now and
my Caitlyn was here to enjoy it with me.
We soon pulled up at my parents house and I could see the traditional Christmas lights twinkling in the windows. My dad had a thing about Christmas tree lights and he would cover the house with them inside and out when we were younger. One year he used so many he blew the fuses on the mains and mum put her foot down limiting him to just the tree and the living room. As we began unloading the car the front door opened and dad came out to help. He was wearing his usual casual wear of a rugby top and blue jeans.
"Daddy!" I cried seeing him then rushed over and threw my arms around him.
"Hello sweetheart, how's my little engineer doing?" he replied hugging me back.
"Good, come, I want you to meet Caitlyn," I said leading him over to the car.
"Ah yes, the girl who's stolen your heart, led on I'm anxious to meet this mysterious seductress whose taken centre place in my little girl's affections," he said winking roguishly.
"Oh daddy stop," I said giving him a mock slap on the arm. I took him over to Caitlyn, who was helping to get the bags out of the car.
"Caitlyn this is my dad, dad this is Caitlyn."
"Pleased to meet you Mr Owens," Caitlyn said holding out her hand.
"So you're the little minx that's been leading my pure and virtuous daughter astray," he chuckled and gave her a firm hand shake.
"Well she didn't take much leading," grinned Caitlyn
"Ah no doubt," laughed dad, "She takes too much after her mother."
"Someone's going to be cooking their own supper at this rate," mum put in.
Dad smiled and put his arm round mum giving her a kiss. "I was just complimenting you by saying that's where Emily gets her strong personality from," he replied.
"Ever the charmer taking a miss and turning it into a hit," she said returning the hug.
"Can we go inside please I'm freezing!" Complained Alice.
It had been getting quite cold of late and while we were way off a white Christmas it still wasn't the weather to be out wearing nothing but lycra.
We all grabbed hold of the various bags Caitlyn and I had brought and headed inside. Alice almost immediately threw her burden down in the corridor and went racing into the living room to try and catch the end of whatever sport event she had been watching. I used one of my spare arms to pick up what she had left and carry it further into the house.
"We've got the spare room ready for you, it's got a bigger bed than yours so it should be more comfortable for the two of you," Mum said.
I was a bit bewildered by the fact that my parents seemed fine with Caitlyn and me sharing a bed, I had been vaguely thinking we would have to sleep separately. I had never brought a girlfriend or boyfriend back to stay before so this was unknown territory.
I showed Caitlyn the way to the room, put down my burdens and took off my coat leaving its secret packages carefully hidden. I would have to remember to come back later and properly hide them to be safe but for now they would be fine where they were.
"Well I guess I should give you the grand tour," I said turning to Caitlyn.
"Cool, show me your room first!" she said excitedly.
"OK, this way but I think I left it in a bit of a mess."
The guest room was downstairs it doubled as an office for Mum when she needed it. The rest of the bedrooms were upstairs, mine especially so as it was in the attic. I took Caitlyn by the hand and led her up the stairs pausing on the landing to pull the cord that made my stairs fold down. Then I took her up into my bedroom. When I was younger and beginning to feel the need for my own room away from Alice, my parents had gotten the loft converted. I had been given the majority of the space thus available except for a small area in the less accessible parts of the attic reserved for storage.
It was just as I had left it with piles of stuff covering the floor. Caitlyn squealed with delight and ran over to my bed and began jumping on it.
"So this is where you grew up hidden away in your own secret rooftop hidey hole," she said with a grin, "I can just picture you here reading or watching a film."
I thought back to the many quiet evenings that I had spent in this room. I hadn't really had many friends at school so I hadn't really gone out much or done any of the usual things teenagers did. Caitlyn's assessment was fairly accurate I had spent many of my evenings up here alone.
"What's all that noise!" Alice's voice called from downstairs.
"Caitlyn's jumping on my bed," I called back.
"Gah, in the middle of the day
stairs down! Don't you have any shame!" Alice shouted. ,
She must have misheard me or thought we were doing something naughty instead, "But we're not doing anything."
"Whatever I don't want to know what games you and your catgirl are playing up there! Mum just asked me to ask if you wanted some tea."
I was going to give her an answer but heard her run off down the stairs without waiting for me to reply.
"Sounds like there is tea downstairs," I relayed to Caitlyn.
"Cool, I'm parched!" she replied leaping up and racing off down the stairs before I even had a chance to tell her where the kitchen was.
I followed a little more sedately closing up the stairs to the loft area behind me so they didn't get in the way. When I got to the kitchen area I found Caitlyn chatting to my parents with a cuppa in hand.
"Well I was always good at languages at school so I figured taking them on at university would be fun. I didn't really think about the job prospects afterwards. Hey Em, there's a mug for you over there," she said waving to the counter-top.
I gave her a smile and grabbed my tea taking a long sip and glancing out at the garden. The kitchen had been combined with the dining room a while back to make one big fairly open room taking up most of the back of the house. Big sliding doors opened onto the garden giving some nice views. The garden was not very large but it was a welcome bit of greenery. My parents had various bird feeders set up and it was nice to sit and watch them come and go.
"It's probably wise to be trying to enjoy your time at university, too many people just see it as a step to a job in something and miss out on what it offers," observed Mum.
"Yeah, I know what you mean, at the moment I'm just happy to be learning interesting things and when the time comes I'll look at the options. Who knows maybe I'll go the academic route or something," Caitlyn replied.
"What about you sweetheart? Have you thought about what you want to do after you finish uni?" Dad asked me.
"Oh, well I don't know maybe get a programming job or something," I said not having given it much thought.
"You could go work for Charlie programming her clothes-making robots," grinned Caitlyn.
"Well maybe. She has actually talked to me about helping her out with some part time work. With the shop going from strength to strength and her machines in almost constant use she needs more capacity as well as daily maintenance work. With all the paper work she has to sort out she doesn't have as much time for tech stuff as she used to. I was going to talk to Nat about that, maybe we should try to do it as next year's project," I replied.
"Cool, you've already got your foot in the door there, the employee discount for your clothes would also come in handy."
"Can you see yourself and Natalie working together as a business then?" Mum asked.
"I guess, we work fairly well together our skill sets and interests are complimentary for this sort of stuff. I don't know how she'd feel about it as I haven't had time to put it to her."
"I'm sure she'd be thrilled, she likes a challenge," said Caitlyn.
At this point Alice wandered back into the room carrying an empty glass, "What are you talking about? What challenge? Like a marathon or something?" she asked.
"More like a science project dear," Mum explained
"Blurrr!" Alice said pulling a face as she deposited her glass in the sink, "That's not a real challenge."
"Not everything is about running or jumping or throwing things," I said.
"Since when?" Alice said incredulously and without waiting for a reply left the room again.
"Your sister's going to get a nasty shock when she gets to uni," Caitlyn observed.
"Nah, she lives on planet Alice where non-sports things don't exist," I replied.
"I think she's already had a bit of a nasty shock at A-levels," Mum said, "Still if she wants to stay on all the school sports teams she has to do the work in other subjects and you know how she is, anything to get into a team of some type or another."
"How is it you two ended up so completely different?" asked Caitlyn.
"Wonders of genetics," I replied with a shrug.
"Yeah it is a wonder you turned out so well," she giggled giving me a hug.
"That's more down to terrorists and genetically engineered viruses," I replied.
"Well, who wants natural when you can get super-natural."
We followed my parents into the living room and sat on the sofa next to Alice who was channel surfing.
"If we could have the news please Alice," dad asked nicely.
"I hate them," muttered Alice trying to find the news channel.
"What about the sport results they carry?" asked Caitlyn.
Alice opened her mouth, looked confused then closed it again and shrugged, finally finding the elusive channel she switched to the news. It was mostly filler, nothing important was happening, the majority seemed to be lots of heart warming fluff pieces about schools and their Christmas activities.
After the news we switched over to some afternoon action film Nat would have heartily approved of. We just relaxed drank our tea and snuggled up on the sofa.
It turned from a lazy afternoon to a quiet evening, a nice meal and some good wine and I went to bed happy and sleepy.
I was woken by what felt like an earthquake but turned out to be Caitlyn jumping on the bed to wake me up.
"Wake up Em you need to take me shopping," she said.
"Wassit? Eh?" I replied eloquently rubbing the gunk out of my eyes.
"Your mum says the shops around here get really busy this time of year so I have to hurry and I need your help to pick out some gifts for your family."
"I need coffee."
Twisting around Caitlyn reached behind her and then turned back holding a steaming mug of the good stuff. I took a deep slurp of the dark brown liquid, "Ahhhhh you're the best girlfriend."
"I know, now up and about with you Em we've got shopping to do!"
Grumbling I dragged myself out of bed quaffing down the coffee to try and wake myself up. I pulled on my dressing gown and padded over to the bathroom for a quick wash. With that out the way I pulled on some clothes and grabbed my coat. I could feel something in the pockets which turned out to be Caitlyn's private. Not wanting to drag that around town I swiftly concealed it in a storage box under the bed. As an extra precaution I zapped the bag with a stasis field which would keep out of prying eyes until I chose to release it.
With that out of the way I staggered after Caitlyn. She led me to the kitchen where breakfast was in full swing and shoved a piece of toast in my mouth.
"Chew!" she commanded. I obeyed.
"Good morning sweetie," Dad said eyeing me over the morning paper, "Sleep well?"
I still had a mouthful of toast so instead of answering I settled for a vigorous nod.
"Good good, well do let us know if you're too cold or need more pillows or anything like that," he said going back to his paper.
I finished my toast, "Right then, we're all set for shopping," Caitlyn said taking me by the hand, "Anyone else want to come?"
"You two have fun," Mum said and dad just waved.
Just as we headed out the door Alice appeared out of nowhere, "I'm coming," she said.
"The more the merrier," said Caitlyn and surprised us both by grabbing her with her other hand and pulling us down the street.
It was a crisp day, cold enough that our breath made little puffs in front of us. The sky was clear and brilliantly blue. Everyone we saw was bundled up tight in warm clothes little kiddies in their bobble hats and mittens racing around, their harried parents in tow.
We made our way down the street and off into town. The place was covered in Christmas decorations, all bright reds greens and silvers. Blinking lights in every shop window advertising their holiday wares there was even a group of carol singers going through their traditional set probably for charity or something. There were also people everywhere. We made our way through the crowds.
"So where to?" I asked.
"Well, I want to get something for your parents, so maybe a gift type shop? How about you Alice, where do you want to go?" Caitlyn replied.
Alice shrugged, "Mum and Dad said I should go with you to get some quality time with you two."
"Okay," said Caitlyn, "Well maybe some booze for your father would be a good starting point, he likes wine right?"
"Alcohol dulls your senses and makes you dizzy!" cried Alice.
"Ah yeah, does it ever," grinned Caitlyn, "But it brought us together so it's all good in my book."
Alice sniffed and went back to watching the crowd, I led the two of them over to an off-licence just out of the main drag. It was a bit quieter than some of the shops so we had a bit more room to move about.
"So what do you think, Red, White, Rose?" Caitlyn asked glancing round the rows of bottles stacked to the ceiling.
"I'm not really an expert on wine, maybe we should ask," I suggested.
"Sounds like a plan, Excuse me?" Caitlyn said waving to the guy behind the counter. He was a middle aged gent with a balding head and small half moon glasses perched on his nose.
He peered at us over the lenses and after a moment replied, "Yes how can I help you Miss?"
"Well I'm looking for something as present and could use some advice."
The man shuffled his way over to the edge of the counter and flipped it up and made his way over to us.
I noticed his clothes seemed to pull oddly and as he moved he kept adjusting them. When he reached us I realised he had a hole for a tail cut fairly poorly in the back of his trousers. It had been positioned badly so that the clothing pulled as he moved and got tangled.
"So then what sort of thing does the recipient like? Wine, Spirits, Beers?" he asked.
"He mostly drinks wine these days," I provided, "Usually red I think wouldn't you say Alice?"
Alice was glaring suspiciously like she expected the bottles to leap off the shelves and attack her at any moment, "Huh ... oh yes red," she replied.
"And what sort of price range are we talking," the shop keeper asked.
"Not too expensive, I don't want some cheap rubbish but I don't want to have to donate a kidney. Something nice but affordable," Caitlyn said.
The shop keeper smiled," I have the very thing," his tail whipped out from behind him curled around a bottle and swung it forward where he presented it to Caitlyn, "This is very popular at the moment a relatively new but well respected vineyard run by a plant elemental. The stigma attached to the manipulation keeps the price down a bit but given how good the wine is I suspect that won't last."
"Wonderful that'll do nicely," grinned Caitlyn.
"Would you like it in a nice box? It's a few pounds more but it makes for a nice present," the old man suggested.
"That would be ideal thanks."
As the shop keeper wrapped up the bottle placing it first in protective tissue paper then in a nice wooden box I felt around in my wallet looking for one of Charlie's cards. I had been recommending her enough that I had begun carrying a stack of them.
"Excuse me for saying this Sir, but I couldn't help and notice your problem with your tail," I said.
"My tail?" he replied.
"Your clothing is not particularly adapted to it."
"Ah yes, it's so difficult to find well made clothes when you have a tail."
"I quite agree," Caitlyn said waving her own tail at him which caused him to smile.
"Well I don't have the tail issue but I know what needed customised clothing is like," I said spreading my arms, "A friend of mine runs a shop that makes things for those of us who need custom clothing, she does mail order as well. I thought you might like her card. As you can see she makes good products."
"I'm also wearing something she made but I can't show you as it's a more ... intimate type of garment," Caitlyn said sporting a blush.
"What does she mean?" asked Alice.
I whispered in her ear and she went bright red.
"Well, I'll be certain to take a look I'm no seamstress and some of the off the shelf stuff can be very shoddy," the shop owner said taking the card.
"At Charlie's place all they do is stuff for MORFS survivors which means they put good fit and quality first while trying to remain competitive pricewise," Caitlyn said.
"Well I'm much obliged to you both, now then do you need a bag for your wine?"
Soon we had the wine and were heading out, "Why don't we stop for a break and have a coffee or mineral water," I said glancing at Alice, "My treat."
"Ooo, then I want cake!" cried Caitlyn.
"Hehe ok, cake for everyone as well. Does your diet allow you chocolate cake Alice?"
Alice looked at me shocked, "There's always room for chocolate cake. If you can't have your luxuries sis life isn't worth living."
I guess even Alice had her limits and ruling out our beloved chocolate cake was one of them. We stopped at a cafe in the shopping centre and I ordered me and Caitlyn coffee, a bottle of mineral water for Alice and a slice of gooey chocolate cake for each of us. My multiple hands gave the girl behind the till quite a shock as I used them to grab my various purchases the cut of my coat concealing them most of the time. I shrugged an apology for startling her and then took the coffee, water and cake back to our table.
"Here we go coffee for you, water for you, and cake for everyone," I said distributing the various plates cups and bottles.
We enjoyed out cake mostly in silence, Alice wolfing hers down like it would evaporate if she left it standing for long. It made me wonder if she was getting enough food on her crazy diets, plenty of people got sick from following bad diets that were lacking some important food stuff and what with her being so active she needed a complete selection to fuel her running about. I wasn't sure how to broach the subject to her and not cause her to clamp down and go stubborn on me.
"Why did you give that man clothing advice?" Alice suddenly asked as she was licking her plate clean like a cat.
"Huh?" I replied.
"The old guy in the wine shop."
"Oh well, he looked like he was really uncomfortable with the way his clothes fitted his tail," I said.
"But it's just dead weight, isn't it? You can't really do or feel anything with it?"
"Oh no, it's quite a sensitive appendage," Caitlyn said, a blob of chocolate icing on her nose.
I leaned close and quickly licked it off causing her to burst out in giggles.
Alice was pointedly ignoring us but continued her line of inquiry.
"I was told it was just dead flesh."
"The degree of control varies a lot but for the most part tails are like my extra arm, sensitive to touch, heat, cold the works. Having them pinched in bad fitting clothes can be very painful."
"Oh boy yeah," said Caitlyn, "You think the muscles in your arm going to sleep is bad, getting it in your tail is much worse."
"But why? What's the point of it? I thought it was just some looks thing," Alice asked confused.
"Well, it's a hybrid thing, so it usually derives its function from whatever animal it came from. Tails are often used to improve balance, animals also use them for signalling, or just brushing away flies. It varies depending on the animal and where they live," Caitlyn replied.
"Who told you they were just dead weight?" I asked curious where she had got this idea from.
"Judy at school told me," she replied.
"Judy the daughter of the anti-MORFS preacher, that Judy?"
"Well that explains it then, those anti-MORFS types say all sorts of lies about us," snorted Caitlyn.
"How did this come up in a conversation?" I asked.
"Well, we were recruiting for a team and one of the girls had a tail. Judy said she'd be in the way because she had all that dead weight behind her," Alice replied.
"And you agreed?" Caitlyn asked a little frostily.
"No, she was the best in the tests so she had to be on the team," Alice said simply.
This was more the Alice I knew. With her teams she didn't care about personalities or race or beliefs so long as you were the best she would have you. Because she didn't really care about people only about winning no matter what. It made her a strangely equal opportunities person but for her own reasons rather than any great moral stand. We finished up our coffee and Caitlyn once again looped herself between us and we were on our way again.
"So where to next? I need something for your mum," she said. "What did you get her?"
"Oh some socks," I replied.
"Socks!?" Caitlyn responded quizzically.
"Well they are fancy socks," I replied defensively, "Some new kind of running sock supposed to be engineered to be more comfy."
"Not Bachenmaur Neo Silk Grade 5 Composites!" Alice said suddenly stopping, causing people behind us to nearly fall over her.
"Yeah I think so, they're pink," I replied Alice was still staring at me with a sort of shocked awe, I couldn't believe that talk of socks had made her react this way.
"They're the best running socks ever designed! The pros use them all my magazines recommend them but I can't afford them. They were developed for MORFS survivors who can run faster than normal humans to avoid the problems standard ones caused them but they also work great for normal runners."
Caitlyn was looking at Alice's shocked features with a calculating look in her eyes.
Alice was still going on about socks and didn't notice when Caitlyn sneaked round to my other side and began whispering in my ear.
"Did you get them for Alice too?" she whispered.
"No, I got her this book she was after," I replied.
"They don't wear out like regular socks yet they keep you warm and dry while preventing blisters," gushed Alice obvious to our side conversation.
"Where did you get them from? Were they really expensive?" Caitlyn whispered back and I realised what she was up to.
"Oh no, not that pricey, well for socks I suppose they were, but affordable. Charlie had a load in for speedsters, as Alice was saying they're designed to survive super speeds without wearing out or heating up or causing blisters. They're also hard to get as the people that make them are US based and often only deal with retailers ordering bigger stocks. Individual customers from outside the states have slight chance of ordering them by postage as the local demand there is huge," I told her.
"I wonder if Charlie would have some she could gift wrap and send to me," grinned Caitlyn.
"I'm sure she would," I smiled back.
"Bah you two are off in your own world again not listening to a word I'm saying. It's very rude you know," Alice said finally noticing our little chat.
"Well let's see if we can find something to get for mum and we'll be all set," I replied.
Alice glanced between Caitlyn and me looked momentarily hurt then nodded and quieted up suddenly. I wondered if she had been hoping for a gift herself and felt a little left out, hopefully Caitlyn's plan for mail order socks would do the job of convincing her otherwise nicely.
We wandered the shops for a bit longer eventually picking up a film for my mum that Alice assured us she didn't have. It was a comedy which I suspected the whole family could enjoy when Christmas TV turned out to be even worse than the years before. We pushed our way back through the crowds and out of the chaos of the town centre at Christmas. We got back home a bit frazzled and tired.
"Tea?" I asked as we entered the front door.
"Oooo please," Caitlyn smiled.
"Would you like something Alice? Squash maybe?"
"Yeah thanks," Alice responded diving into the living room.
"Let me take those bags off you sweetie, I'll get them stowed away, give me your coat too," Caitlyn said taking my coat and bundles while I went off to the kitchen.
I put the kettle on and then poured Alice some squash than took that to her in the living room. She was watching some sort of Saturday afternoon film and didn't even look at me when I handed her the squash just murmured thanks.
I wandered back to the kitchen and filled the teapot letting it brew, I hadn't seen my parents anywhere but I was sure we could get through a pot of tea easily even if it was just Caitlyn and me.
Caitlyn came stalking back into the kitchen like she was on the prowl, "Have you got Charlie's number? I want to see about getting a set of those socks for Alice."
I grinned and handed her my phone, "She's in there as Charlie W&T," I said.
She prodded the buttons for a bit finding the entry then, glancing nervously at the door leading to the living room, put the phone to her ear.
"Hi, is this Charlie? ... Hi it's Caitlyn, Emily's girlfriend here, ... Oh she's fine," She turned to me, "Charlie says Hi."
"Say hi back," I replied and set about pouring the tea.
"She says hi back, hehe, yeah we're at her parents' place in Haverstone. Cool. Listen the reason I called was I was wondering if you had any of those fancy socks left? The neo silk back something wotsist, ... Yeah that could be it, hang on I'll ask. Little help Em, what were they called again?" she asked holding the phone up.
"Bachenmaur Neo Silk Grade 5 Composite Running socks," I replied leaning into the mic.
She put the phone back to her head, "Get that? Cool so have any left hanging about? Great stuff, any chance you could mail me some? I can give you my card details for payment and such."
"Damn," Caitlyn said sounding depressed, she turned to me and said, "We missed the last postal slot, chances are it won't reach us by Christmas."
"That's a pain maybe we can get mum or dad to take us down there?"
Caitlyn held up a hand and turned back to the phone, "What's that? You would, oh that'd be super! Let me get you the address."
She handed me the phone, "Charlie is going to be driving past on the way to her parents in a day or so, so she can drop off the socks then."
"Cool," I replied taking the phone, "Hi Charlie."
"Hey there Em, you drumming up business for me again, getting your girlfriend to buy her socks from me?"
"Hehe not quite, it turned out my sister is madly keen on that brand so Caitlyn wanted to get her a pair," I replied.
"Well, they are unaccountably popular with the running peeps even though they were designed for MORFS survivors first and foremost. But they are very well made so I can see the attraction. So, where am I going Haverstone right?"
"Yep, we're at 45 Long Meadow Ave HC34 8PE," I replied reeling off the street and postal code.
"Righty ho, I'll give you a bell tomorrow when I get there," Charlie replied.
"Thanks a bunch Charlie you're the best," I replied.
"No problem Em and to keep the present a secret I'll just pretend I'm stopping by, see ya tomorow."
"Yep see you tomorrow, bye."
And she rang off.
"Oh I didn't give her my card details!" exclaimed Caitlyn.
"Well I guess you can sort it out tomorrow," I replied handing her a cuppa and following her into the living room.
We sat down together on the sofa and drank our tea. I put my left arms around Caitlyn who snuggled up to me as we watched TV. A while later my parents returned, judging by the shopping bags they had been to the supermarket.
"Hiya," I greeted them, "would you like a cuppa?"
"Ooo, that'd be just the ticket Em," Dad grinned taking off his coat. Mum nodded to me as she walked into the room.
"Cait? Alice more squash?" I asked.
"Yes please," Caitlyn said holding up her cup, Alice held her glass over her shoulder not even looking back.
I collected the various cups and made my way into the kitchen. There was just enough tea left for everyone so I poured that out added milk and was just adding the water to Alice's squash when she walked in.
"Em I changed my mind I wanted ..." she stopped dead when she saw me diluting the squash, "Did you use the tap water last time?"
"Yeah of course, what else would I use?" I replied.
"OH I feel sick!" Alice said clutching her chest," There are poisons in the tap water! It's why I only drink hyper demagnetised iso pure water!"
"Oh my vision is going! I'm seeing spots!" she staggered about like she was about to fall down.
I raced over and grabbed her before she did herself an injury, "Don't be silly tap water is perfectly safe."
"Oh, the shakes have got me now I can feel my organs shutting down! My own sister poisoning me!"
"What's going on in here?" Mum said as she came storming into the kitchen to see what was wrong.
"Emily has killed me!" Alice wailed.
"I gave her tap water," I said.
"Oh," Mum sighed and rolling her eyes walked over to Alice, gripped her by the shoulders and gave her a swift shake, "Snap out of it Alice, it's all in your head."
Alice's eyes went wide like she'd been slapped, "But!"
"You've drunk tap water for 90% of your life and it hasn't harmed you in the least bit, now you are just panicking about imagined toxins some quack made up to sell magazines and his own brand of water."
Alice sat in the chair stock still for a few moments then went storming off, her face angry and bright red.
Mum sighed as she watched her go, "She's going to be in a mood for days now."
"I'm sorry I didn't realise she wanted special water," I said.
"It's not your fault dear she should have mentioned it if she wanted you to use her very expensive tap water. It's my own fault for indulging her eccentricities a bit too much," Mum looked around then dropped her voice, "Just between you and me the magic water ran out months ago, I've just been refilling the bottles from the tap anyway. So far she hasn't noticed at all."
I couldn't help a small laugh that burst out from my mouth before I could stop it.
"Shussh," said mum putting a finger to her lips," Our little secret. Now then can I help you with the cups?"
"I can manage," I said with a grin hoisted up my three of my four occupied hands to show off while using the other to hand her tea to her.
We wandered back into the living room where Caitlyn spun to face us, "Was Alice alright? She stormed off upstairs."
"I gave her tap water," I replied distributing tea.
"Apparently she only drinks special bottled water," I said eyeing mum who concealed a smirk.
"Oh well she should have said," Caitlyn replied. "I thought tap water was supposedly better than bottled water anyway. There were all those scary stories about nasty chemicals getting in it."
"Wouldn't surprise me," replied mum, "A lot of these sorts of fads are just about making money, nothing to do with the quality of the products, I see a lot of that at the gym."
"Anyway did you manage to get all you needed when shopping," Dad asked.
"Yeah I think we're pretty much set," Caitlyn replied.
"Excellent, it's always good to get the Christmas shopping out the way, it leaves more time to relax and enjoy the holiday," Dad replied.
"Since when have you worried about the Christmas shopping dear?" Mum replied raising an eyebrow.
"I think the last time was a Tuesday back in 2015," he grinned and kissed her hand, "I'd be lost without you my dear."
"Ever the charmer," Mum said rolling her eyes, "Well I guess we should make a start on lunch, will you girls give me a hand."
"Sure," Caitlyn said leaping to her feet, her tail giving me a tickle as she passed. She was often the one for short periods of rest followed by bursts of activity. I wondered if she was always like that or if it was something she got from her cat DNA. I levered myself up of the sofa and followed her into the kitchen.
A short time later we had the table set up with salad, soup, sliced bread, and various sandwich components. We gathered round the table for lunch and Alice came down shooting me dirty looks every now and again. If history was anything to go by she might well stay mad at me for the rest of the holiday.
I knew from experience there was nothing I could do but try and be nice to her and hope she forgot this incident. Maybe the fun of Christmas would make her more eager to forgive or make it easier for her to forget. I tucked in to lunch enjoying the nice thick soup which was the perfect sort of thing for this sort of weather, rib sticking food as my grandma would say.
Satisfied we stacked our plates in the dishwasher and retired to the living room to watch the telly. Caitlyn curled up next to me and dozed as we watched some old Christmas special they were showing. Every now and then she would start gently purring, which caused my mum and dad to smile at us in that "aren't they adorable" way. We had a nice quiet afternoon together, towards tea time we were getting a little bored of the telly so Dad broke out the board games. We played various things into the evening, even Alice joined in after a while. After that we finished up eating pizza and drinking red wine while watching a film.
We headed off to bed happy and tired. It seemed like my family was getting along with Caitlyn just fine and my fears had been unfounded. I snuggled up under the covers avoiding the winter chill hoping tomorrow would be as nice a day.
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/