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A New Father

Happy_Dragon Dec 24th, 2019 (edited) 776 Never
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  1. A New Father
  2. [;canine; ;siruean;][;intimacy/romance; ;third person; ;short story;]
  3.  
  4. Summary: Small towns don't have a lot of singles, and kids make it more challenging.  The right weather evens life out.
  5.  
  6.   "Johnathan, come in!  Please close the door and sit down."
  7.   He did so, and lowered into the mostly gray institutional office chair, and going even more gray with age since taxpayers didn't buy new furniture for schools unless it'd been completely wrecked.  The rest of the small office matched; a hint of wood paneling that had been a decade out of style when the school had been built thirty years ago, paint that had never been in style over cinder block, and third-hand carpet worse off than the furniture.
  8.   "Has there been a problem, sir?  I know the interim reports for my students had lower marks than their first report cards."
  9.   "Expected.  You're a first year teacher.  Now, granted that you're older and teaching on a waiver because we needed a competent math teacher for the eighth grade classes, but even if you had ten years under your belt you'd still have students that let things slip during the holidays.  Expect a number of sad faces after the new year, once those second nine week report cards get mailed."
  10.   Principal McNenney sat forward, so Johnathan Reader stopped assuming the worst.  The older man's sparse hair might have been the result of years of stress from kids, their parents, or the dread of those two things shredding his simple vision of polite society.
  11.   "Nothing bad then?"
  12.   "Hardly.  How would you feel about adding some coaching to your resume?"
  13.   A puzzled thought took the next right behind a poker face.  "I did tell the school board when they hired me that I wasn't looking to be a career teacher."
  14.   "Any particular reason?  Looking for work in your field?"
  15.   "More or less, yes.  I moved here with my daughter to be closer to family, but not so close to be paying three times as much for a house or right next door to relatives."
  16.   "Understandable.  They're closer to Lincolnsburg?  Well, I've never been the big city type myself.  How long?"
  17.   "House buying takes far too much time, so it's possible that I could go back to my old job at the end of the school year.  If I stay here, until I find a new job and an acceptable house."
  18.   "There's no Mrs. Reader?"
  19.   "Passed away, two years ago."
  20.   "It's never too late to sympathize with someone's loss.  Jonathan, you're making me feel bad now about offering you this.  A man of your age, and in good enough shape, is going to have an awful lot of moms looking at him.  Some of the married ones, too."  His chuckle came straight from the Old Boy Network catalog.
  21.   "What's the position?  Assistant?"
  22.   "We normally have three coaches.  Linda's out for the year; she tore her knee last week.  Two would be enough for most periods, but having an extra person would be nice twice a day.  Granted, I'm asking you to give up your planning period, and to help with the teams.  But if you're willing to help, when you decide to leave I'd have a much harder time coming up with negative things about you.  Even now I'd struggle."
  23.   "Consider it done.  Tell me when and where."
  24.  
  25.   "John."  He turned at the sound of the siruean woman, her canid features tired of the responsibility of teaching and adulthood.
  26.   "Angelica.  Coffee?  Just finished brewing this pot."
  27.   Her ears moved from slacked to joyfully attentive.  "Goddess bless you, John.  Between my students and my son, I can't decide which drives me crazier.  Is it the kids that have memory problems with the grammar of participles, or is it a kid that I'd put an electric shock collar on if that became legal overnight?"
  28.   Dark green pants and a plain high-collared white blouse gave her the budget look that flashed teacher in foot-tall letters, hand scribbled with markers on pasteboard.  She filled the green and white steel travel cup, then plopped onto one of the two couches against opposite walls of the teacher's lounge.  It creaked like most other things in the school.
  29.   "Dare I ask how they mangled or made weapons of gerunds and dangling participles?"  Violet eyes cautioned against that path.  "I'll stop the grammar jokes.  They're bad, and make me sound like my grandfather."
  30.   "They make you sound obtuse at worst, and square at best."  Her hand patted the couch, offering a chance to end the war of words.
  31.   He took the offer after putting away the coffee and emptying the basket.  "They should have asked you to fill in for the math classes.  With a tongue that sharp, you'd keep those kids in line.  Mostly."
  32.   Her fur softened from a burnt umber to lighter redwood towards the throat.  She ran fingers through hair that failed at looking washed out under a battalion of fluorescent lights, the strands darker and more saturated.  The bitter smell of strong coffee formed a umami with the sweeter perfumes combed into her fur.
  33.   "If you hadn't noticed, I'm like my namesake."
  34.   "And you haven't noticed that I'm not the average poorly read citizen that hasn't seen the inside of a library in a couple decades.  I think you're just enjoying someone new to verbally spar with."
  35.   "There's that.  What's your excuse for midday coffee?"
  36.   "McNenney asked if I could help with the phys ed classes, and coaching.  I'm going to regret it."
  37.   "He must have been thinking of all us divorced, single, and widowed moms.  How soon do I get to whistle at you running by in a tiny pair of shorts?"  She maintained an air of schoolgirl innocence despite the pun.  "Please don't tell me spring."
  38.   He got up for a second cup, considering.  The petite woman only came to his chin, and he wasn't a true giant to the kids in the manner that Coach Liddell was.  
  39.   "I've got a better idea.  Rather than worry about your humor, it could be stopped at the source."
  40.   "Ohh.  Do tell.  Whatever it is, I'll enjoy it."  Her ears twitched, the students set aside for a while.
  41.   "Are you sure you aren't secretly Kadisi, and that I didn't drop a bag of mint leaves in the coffeemaker?"
  42.   "I'm waiting."
  43.   "Tomorrow morning, get here early."
  44.   "Name the time."
  45.   "An hour will do."
  46.   "With pleasure-"
  47.   "And bring a pair and a shirt for yourself.  I'm going to need to get in better shape than I am now, so thanks for volunteering."
  48.   Her ears slowly turned back to flatten.  "And here I was, thinking I'd taken the wind out of those proud sails."
  49.   "Everyone gets what they need, and I'm sure you look better in a tiny pair of shorts than a blouse and plain slacks."  She didn't laugh, but accepted the goose and gander.
  50.   "Of course I do.  The only reason I never made the track team in highschool was I was too short at a large enough school.  Just remember this will be a one-way street.  I get to stare all I want at your ass, but it's a sexual harassment case if I find you looking at mine."
  51.   She ended the teasing threat with a flick of her tail as she got up, refilled the cup, and returned to her classroom.
  52.  
  53.   "Sweetie?  I'm home."
  54.   Gloria came out of her bedroom with a confused look.  "You said you wouldn't be home until dinnertime, daddy?"
  55.   "I've got some news.  Daddy's going to be coaching at the school from now on.  Do I have the support of my littlest cheerleader?"
  56.   "Oh."
  57.   "I need your help, sweetie.  They haven't told me when and what they need me to do, but-"
  58.   "You're always spending time there."
  59.   "It's my job now.  I can't take you out of school and have you with me all day.  This is different.  Go wash up.  We need to make a grocery store run."
  60.   She shuffled off with a scowl.  The bathroom door closed and water splashed in the sink.
  61.   The apartment had been advertised as a townhouse.  Master bedroom, two small bedrooms, one of which he'd made into an office to do gun-for-hire work in the evening, and a cozy kitchen.  After this many weeks, it still looked half moved-in.  Johnathan checked the fridge and scribbled a list with planned meals in the margin, then added a line for anything to distract Gloria from her funk.  His mother would have deemed it bribing for good behavior, regardless of whether it was effective on rare occasions.  She'd use that as the introduction to how her granddaughter needed more playmates and deserved a nicer place to live.
  62.   The crash from the bathroom dragged him back to fatherhood.
  63.   He threw the door open to shards of mirror and pottery covering the sink, and globs of liquid soap everywhere, Gloria included.
  64.   Tears streamed down her face, and small hands smeared the fruit-scented pink soap over her face, into her hair.  The girl needed a spanking, but not now.
  65.   Johnathan cut off his mother's voice, and used his own, calmer, to restore the peace.
  66.  
  67.   The morning air gave a new definition to crisp, with the temperature barely above freezing.  Angelica waited at the track's curve closest to the old redbrick gym building in pink sweatpants, a windbreaker in the school's blue and silver, and faded black running shoes.  She pulled the sweatpants and breaker off as Johnathan strolled up from the back parking lot, little more than grass and a fenceline, to reveal her even brighter pink shorts striped in white and a plain white tee.  Her backturned ears, crossed arms, and bristled tail all failed to communicate effectively with him.
  68.   She resorted to glares and gently growled words.  "How are you not cold?  It's not even forty degrees out here.  Did you have the heat on high all the way here so you could play polar bear?"
  69.   "Says the woman with a layer of fur to keep her warm.  Three laps?"
  70.   "I'm not going to care how hot my coffee is during first period.  Freezing my ass and tail off isn't worth getting a free pass to tease you later."  She poked him square in the chest.
  71.   "I never said you'd get one.  Let's go, unless this is about seeing why I'm not shivering."  They started at a slow pace, picking up until a quarter of the way around.
  72.   "This has got to be some man thing."
  73.   "Nope."
  74.   Her voice telegraphed the the annoyance of a woman that felt deceived.  "I might be the same body fat percentage as you, or lower, and this cold is cutting through my coat.  If you say going fast will warm me up, I'll sacrifice the first cup directly on your lap."  A short gust of wind blew hair and fur sideways.
  75.   "It's be crass to be unvague, but body mass equals warmth."
  76.   "Jerk."
  77.   "At least I know a intimate secret about the reserved Ms. Moraine.  She likes to huddle in front of a crackling fire with a hot mug of something.  Maybe soup and chocolate."
  78.   "You forgot the socks.  Thick, knee-high wool socks until my toes feel crispy warm."
  79.   "Like a kid getting up before dawn on Christmas morning."
  80.   "Don't remind me.  Cold and snow is only fun when you're a kid, or haven't ever seen it.  My kid has been bouncing in the cold like you.  Men.  He's got too much energy for eight years old, but at least I've got him doing his chores without much prodding."
  81.   "Eight?  Gloria turned eight back in September.  She's been one trial after another since her mother passed."
  82.   "How long?"  Ears unflattened into sympathy.
  83.   "Two years."
  84.   "Three since my ex-husband ducked out of the responsibilities of fatherhood."
  85.   "Acrimonious?"
  86.   "Complicated."
  87.   "We've got two more laps."  They passed the starting mark and increased the pace.
  88.   "He left to work a trucking job out towards the PNW.  Three months later the money stopped coming, and he left a message that he was staying there.  Two months after that the divorce finalized.  Kyle was too young to understand, and I'm dreading the day he starts asking the hard questions."
  89.   "I had full health coverage at my last job.  Counselling helped Gloria."
  90.   "The closest child psychologist is in Lincolnsburg, and I still can't afford that out-of-pocket.  He knows his father isn't coming back.  It's scary that he doesn't seem to be affected by it.  I try to be there for him..."  Her eyes challenged the track, or anyone else, to dissent.
  91.   "The worst part for me was the first date I had after Gloria's mom passed.  They're psychic about events like that.  Or any other change in routine."  He recounted the smashed mirror from yesterday.
  92.   "Kyle's routine is to stare down any guy that acts friendly to me."
  93.   "He's protecting his woman.  He's got to learn to be a man from somewhere."
  94.   "We're in the same boat.  Raising kids as single parents, and not many romantic options around here."
  95.   "Lincolnsburg isn't that far."
  96.   Angelica scoffed, then coughed over the mistake of too much cold air.  "An hour drive?  Unless there's a childsitting service on Friday nights for the lovelorn, I'm stuck asking someone down the street.  You're the freshest meat in town, and I think we've got less than a couple dozen unattached singles here.  Sienna married Charles this spring, and he was the last of the guys my age."  She left off the qualifier of her species.
  97.   "So now you've got the choice of me, or...what?"
  98.   "A handful of guys ranging from twice my age to teeing up the bucket."  The lesson-plain voice had no affect.
  99.   "You're making me feel bad about dragging you out here."
  100.   "Sooner or later I'd have some wizened old granny yanking my tail.  At least this way I can stare them in the eye and say I'm giving you a chance."
  101.   "By staring at my ass, which you haven't done this morning."
  102.   "It's too cold to think about that."
  103.   "True.  Kind of.  It's helping me not broadcast my opinion of you ass in those..."
  104.   "Cold helps scents stand out.  Nice try, Mr. Cold-Isn't-Affecting-Me."
  105.   "Busted?"
  106.   "From the moment you walked up.  You going to ask, or am I just for staring?"
  107.   He waited a few dozen steps.  "Casual with the kids, or serious?"
  108.   "We'll take the kids out this weekend.  If we get along, the second will be less pitiful than another night alone in pink sweatpants."
  109.  
  110.   "Is she nice?"  Gloria had been scrubbed into presentable, but her face still twisted as if punished with undiluted lemon mouthwash.
  111.   "Ms. Moraine is as nice as any other teacher.  Best behavior, because I'm certain she's telling her son the same."
  112.   "Oh."
  113.   "Oh, what?"
  114.   "Oh.  Yes, sir."
  115.   "That's better.  It wouldn't matter if Ms. Moraine was three years younger, as blonde and white as you, and human.  When I was your age, my grandmother would have said the same thing.  Basic respect and civility becomes everyone."
  116.   Gloria smiled, knowing her father's tone.  "Is that why Nana is always saying manners every other word?"
  117.   "And she's right.  One day, you'll be griping at your kids, and I'll be laughing the minute you leave."
  118.   She gave her father the stare she'd inherited from her mother and his.  A pickup passed on their left as they turned onto a side road, then left to a narrow residential road with small houses.  Quarter acre lots each featured a what had been a different bright color at the last painting.  Bikes and basketballs rested under trees bare for the winter, at least until the parents demanded they be brought out of the cold for the next snow.
  119.   "Third on the right.  And here we are.  Remember, glorious Gloria."
  120.   The house had a scrap of porch with a little twinkling Rudolph at the doorside, one red light blinking among the strings of clear.  He knocked, and heard Angelica deeper inside and a boy closer to the door.
  121.   "Hello, I'm Mr. Reader.  This is my daughter, Gloria.  You must be Kyle."
  122.   "Yes, sir.  My mom said you can come in and sit down.  She's almost ready."
  123.   "Thank you.  I'm sure that you're glad to be brushed up and in nice clothes.  Can't be cleaning the place once you're ready to go out."
  124.   Kyle's words had been the flat of polite male challenge.  He had his mother's color, except for hints of gray along the muzzle.  And the fragment of living room had all the touches of organized femininity.  An unlit candle filled the room with a floral scent, a militia of pillows guarded the couch against people sitting back too far, and a book held a lacy doily to the sidetable.
  125.   "Gloria, how about you thank Kyle for tonight?  I doubt either of you would be enjoying pizza and the movie theater if Ms. Moraine and I hadn't made up this excuse to get out of the house on a Friday night.
  126.   Kyle hopped back to avoid Gloria's outstretched hand.  "He's fluffy."  Johnathan stopped his daughter from a second attempt.
  127.   "Mom!"  Pinned ears and clenched fists broadcast Kyle's position on girls, romance, and being judged on his physical features.
  128.   Angelica came out, doing up the last button of her cream and russet dress.  "Well, if you'd have gone for a trim earlier this week, you wouldn't be that way."  She stared at the stubborn-faced human girl being whispered to by her father, down on one knee.
  129.   When he got up, ready to apologize, she raised an eyebrow to stop him.  He caught the hint and ran with it.
  130.   "Gloria Marie Reader, you forgot what I told you on the way here.  Right now, young lady, you will apologize for that uncouth comment about Kyle.  And Kyle, you will apologize for whatever revenge crept into your head.  I was your age once and I'm not too old to have forgotten the less smart things I did."
  131.   They did so, barely to their parents' satisfaction.
  132.   "If you've got them behaved, I'm going to finish up.  Five minutes, everyone."
  133.   "You, there.  You, beside me."  Johnathan took a seat on the couch, close to the chair, Gloria beside him, and Kyle in his mom's chair.  "I'm disappointed, because I got exactly what I expected.  You two will start to get along.  There will be more nights like this, and I'm not one to resort to spankings.  You can either be miserable, or choose to have fun.  Understand?"
  134.   "Yes, sir.  I'm sorry, sir."
  135.   "Yes, daddy."
  136.   "You will continue to be on your best behavior, young lady.  Accepted, Kyle.  I hope you're OK with us getting to know each other better."
  137.   He was spared answering by his mother coming back out with her hair done and pinned up.  "I think it's a lovely idea.  You two boys can go off and do man things, and Gloria and I can have girl talk time.  It'll be pleasant having new friends."  Neither kid looked enthusiastic.
  138.   "Well, let's go.  Pizza's waiting for us."
  139.  
  140.    Reynold's sat in a strip mall several streets away from the theater.  The three buffets stayed busy.  Angelica had started with a salad graced liberally with chicken chunks.  The kids dove into the pizza, united over the choice of food but arguing over whether pepperoni or sausage was the ultimate topping.  Johnathan went for a small steak side.  By the time he finished that, he'd pulled off the impossible.  They couldn't get into trouble if they found common ground.  Both kids were laughing over his comical small supreme pizza, everything except pineapple, anchovies, and spinach.  The result was an inch and a half thick.
  141.   "See?  They can get along.  All I had to do is make a fool of myself."
  142.   Angelica laughed as well, tail audibly brushing the chair's back legs.  "Better you than me.  I have to mother the rapscallion."
  143.   "Mom!"  He looked to Johnathan for support, but got a shrug that translated to get used to that.
  144.   "Well, you're my rapscallion.  Eat up.  Have you two decided on the movie?"
  145.   Gloria had decided that Angelica wasn't a villainess, and safe to ask random questions.  She put down the slice and picked up her best behavior voice.
  146.   "Ms. Moraine, what's a rapscallion?
  147.   "It's one of those grades of trouble kids get into.  You're still lovable, but tearing yourself down faster than building yourself up."
  148.   "Oh."  They argued over why they weren't trouble, and likely would have continued if allowed.
  149.   Kyle turned out to be the messier eater.  Gloria belched loud enough for the next table to stare.  Both of them forgot the pleases and thank yous when the waitress came by to refill drinks.  Kyle went for dessert, and stared down a human boy three years old after being pushed.  Gloria slapped a siruean girl after being told something that her father wouldn't be comfortable with for another decade, then loudly said that Ms. Moraine would tell her to behave as well.  Or feed her soap for dessert.
  150.   The adults shared a look of dread as they walked out with the kids.  The ground rules, going forward, would eventually be voluminous.
  151.  
  152.   A week later, they'd ironed out the worst of the kids.  Mrs. Overmarch, from down the street, agreed to look after them for the evening once the movie was done.  The kids had been a handful again, starting to learn each other's tactics and the importance of teamwork.  Since it required little more than tucking in two worn out children, Mrs. Overmarch called them dear angels.
  153.   "I can't believe that."
  154.   "It's on my driver's license.  That's what you get when your mom wants to give you her maternal grandfather's last name."
  155.   "No wonder why you go by Johnathan."
  156.   "Her paternal grandfather.  I've been told the two men flipped a coin."
  157.   "Storey.  Your mother must have had one hell of an epidural."
  158.   "So you can see why I went with a classic name for her.  Highschool doesn't need any extra challenges."
  159.   "Gloria is going to be a horror when she hits her teens.  You might want to guard the neighborhood against your mini-Medusa."
  160.   "Is that so?  Kyle's going to go full Don Juan between fourteen and eighteen."
  161.   "They learn by example.  We're horrible parents for teaching them advanced flirting while they're still in elementary school."
  162.   The bedroom door closed, and Angelica reached to pull Johnathan down into a kiss.  He returned the favor, making slow circles on her hips that threatened to eventually reach her ass.
  163.   "I didn't take you for the type at first.  Are you a tailchaser, or a whatever wants to take the stallion out of the stable?"
  164.   "Like you said, not many choices.  You, Mrs. Peyton..."  He kissed her again, but she cut it short.
  165.   "Danielle's old enough to be your mother and then some.  Then again, if you're into me, maybe she's got a shot.  Guys develop all kind of fetishes."
  166.   Clothes started peeling off.  "Been doing research?"
  167.   "Can you blame me?  Cold nights, warm socks and pajamas under a blanket, wondering what fetish I fall under."
  168.   "Last time I checked, teachers are still a mainstay, alongside nurse, secretary, and seamstress."
  169.   "I laughed so hard that I woke Kyle up."  Johnathan stopped at her bra, and snuck a hand under to pinch her nipple.
  170.   She yipped at his teasing fingers.  "The tribulations of parenthood.  Knowing that they're going to figure it out eventually, you do it anyways."
  171.   "My last serious relationship was almost two years back.  It's a small miracle Kyle never walked in on me getting knotted."  She snuck a hand into his underwear, sizing up things to come.
  172.   "At least you didn't end up with two."
  173.   "I get to have you fucking me as much as I want, at least now that we have test results."
  174.   "So what's the first thing you wanted to try?"
  175.   "Besides making fun of our recent porn that each of us has watched?"  She pushed closer into him, bra discarded.  "You'd laugh."
  176.   "It can't be that bad."
  177.   "The only reason I clicked on it was that the girl tried to read Shakespeare while having a Hitachi do its duty.  Macbeth will never be the same for me."
  178.   "I've heard of the less experienced doing the alphabet.  Would I get extra credit for the bard?"
  179.   She signaled that would be acceptable if he did that while massaging her tail's base.  "Sonnets, yes.  Romeo and Juliet, I'll think about it."  They settled into position, her on top and leaning forward to increase the literacy challenge.
  180.   "I'll start with `Two of the fairest stars...`"
  181.   Johnathan's left hand caressed her ass as his right gently worked the long-ignored erogenous zone.  Two velvety and slow licks of her long tongue defeated the first words by taming the sword.
  182.   "I'd rather be Cleopatra.  Start with `Hear me, queen` if you know the speech."
  183.  
  184.   The holiday crowd in the mall jostled even in the widest corridors and walkways.  Ten different Christmas carols competed against the muzak version of an eleventh.  Johnathan had promised Kyle a trip to the sporting goods store after for something he could reveal to his mother before the twenty-fifth.
  185.   "This is taking so long."  The kid had trouble masking his feelings, and had become OK with letting his ears be anything but happily forward.
  186.   "That's why we reserved the whole day.  Even when you call ahead, it takes time to navigate crowds."
  187.   The kid shrugged, trying not to scratch.  "Mom says that if she could afford it, all my presents would be bought online."  
  188.   "Stop that.  She'll quiet down for a couple of weeks, and it makes both of us look good.  Me, haircut; you, fresh trim."  Kyle stopped, then laughed as Johnathan itched the nape of his neck.  "First, she can afford it; second, never let her hear you say that; third, the woman is faking you out.  Doesn't matter how old they are, the color of fur or skin, or whether they have a tail.  They all love to confuse men."
  189.   "What about you?  Guys lie to kids all the time."
  190.   "That's different.  Guys lie to each other, only because tossing a ball indoors gets looked down on.  Girls talk about their feelings openly around other girls, and say anything but to their guy.  Guys lie their asses off to other guys, and tell nothing but the truth to their lady.  Getting them to listen is another challenge."
  191.   "She's always talking bullshit about guys, then she met you."
  192.   "Language, Kyle.  Even if it's bullshit, you're too young to have the gravitas for stark truth."
  193.   "What's gravitas?"
  194.   "Means you're old enough to know better, and not senile enough to have forgotten what it's like to be a kid."
  195.   "That's bullshit too."
  196.   "A lot of things are."
  197.   The kid seemed to like that.  Johnathan allowed things that Angelica wouldn't, and didn't require him to be perfect.  As long as Kyle didn't act out too much, there weren't many rules to forget and get punished over.
  198.   They passed by one of the holiday displays in the intersection before the anchor department store.  Johnathan led Kyle inside, past housewares and home, then left to mens and boys.  The bright primary colors of in-store advertising muted themselves to neutrals and darker colors.  Ladies?  Packed like a interstate with an accident ahead.  Girls?  The same, but more shouting.  The rattle and squeak of overworked carts were audible here.  Plump grandmothers could take their time on this side of the store choosing the ideal shirt for holiday pictures, and the lack of a line allowed Johnathan to interrupt a girl refolding items left in the fitting rooms.
  199.   "Ma'am?  A bit of assistance?"
  200.   Her brindle coat gleamed brighter than the metallic threads in her obscenely Christmas-y sweater.  "Yes?  How can I help?"  She had the smile of a woman barely out of highschool and desperate for a second paycheck while the work was available.
  201.   "Kyle's mom wanted him to get a few extra pairs of pants.  I've got to go around the corner and pick up something for her.  OK if someone looks after him for a few minutes?  I'll leave my card if he finishes early."
  202.   The girl's smile went wider, and led Kyle into the land of practicing his skills.
  203.   Johnathan set an alarm on his phone for twenty minutes while walking to the shop across the intersection.  Delicate Dreams had bought out the corner, and the shops to each side.  Mannequins in the display window modeled the most discrete wares available, standing in front of signs carefully mentioning that Delicate Dreams not only stocked for a broader clientele than Victoria's Secret, but had the services of a custom seamstress.
  204.   Regardless of their regional presence, DD used many of the same tactics.  Lighting lowered subtly, and with a pale red tint.  Gentle piano music came from no distinct point.  Potted plants and little nooks reduced the open floorplan to a less intimidating experience.  A trio of female voices chattered about the merchandise.  He ignored the ambiance and went straight to the counter.
  205.   "Hello.  I called a few days ago.  Was looking for something specific in a siruean fit.  Name was Reader."
  206.   The woman had librarian gray hair swept up in a bun to frame a plain face.  "Yes, sir.  Hannah, Mr. Reader's order?  Number is 9576412.  Just a minute.  It's a lovely piece."
  207.   Hannah emerged from the back with a glossy cream-white box, the DD logo stamped in gold foil on top.  She kept her face cordially neutral while opening the box to its red silk lining, displaying the black chemise and robe set.  Red lace trim that would be a near exact match for Angelica's coat edged the hems of the robe, and accented the sides of the otherwise black lingerie.  A fully lace pair of panties completed the set.
  208.   "It's perfect.  Thank you both for your suggestions."  Both smiled graciously, the younger lady forgetting herself for a moment before stilling her tail.
  209.   Hannah closed the giftbox, and replaced it in the slip sleeve.  "Will there be anything else, sir?"
  210.   "Yes, actually.  I wanted to see what else you had, more casual.  Angelica's a bit of a sucker for bundling up in her socks and a blanket.  A medium length robe?"
  211.   "Let me show you.  We've got a nice selection of colors.  Mrs. Vivian?"
  212.   The human woman checked at the small details required for customer service.  "Go ahead.  I'll watch the counter for a few minutes."
  213.   The display had a tailed mannequin in a medium gray, wearing a lacy and near transparent robe.  Johnathan sampled the material before shaking his head.
  214.   "A bit less sexy than this.  Maybe something nicer than Walmart terry cloth, but not so see-through."
  215.   "There's this.  First thing I used my employee discount on."
  216.   The piece had a back that split open, with the whole hanging to just past knee length on the mani.  It'd been cut of thinner fabric, but felt sensuous enough to be the treat a woman gave herself after a hard day and a relaxing bath.  Without anything else under it, the robe would cling revealingly.
  217.   "If you have this in a white or cream?"
  218.   "Let me look.  By the way, it holds scent like a dream."
  219.   She came back in a couple minutes, added the robe to his bag, and rung him up with a gift card added in for his custom order.
  220.   The bag still smelled of perfumes when the department store saleslady was rescued from Kyle's first attempts.  His nose wrinkled, but the kid had wised up since morning.  A well-earned bribe was paid, and men did two of the things that bonded them, exactly as planned.
  221.   Kyle even forgot what he could tease Gloria about for the next week.
  222.  
  223.   "Mom's never gotten us a real tree."
  224.   "We get one every year.  Usually we get it earlier."
  225.   Gloria's teasing didn't work, so she tried her favored tactic of petting Kyle.  Instead of snapping at her, this time he leaned into it after she'd made contact.  When she realized he was enjoying having his ears rubbed, she pulled away as if shocked.  Angelica pointedly ignored the latest of many firsts in the children's forays.
  226.   "There's no reason for us to have two trees.  I just wish we would have had time sooner.  The week before Christmas is busy."
  227.   "As long as you promise to keep it up past the holiday, Kyle will be on better than best behavior.  Won't you, young man?"
  228.   "Yes, ma'am.  Are we going to decorate it tonight?"
  229.   "I think tomorrow morning will be OK, right kids?  That give you and your mom time to dig out ornaments.  We'll get the tree in the stand, skip breakfast, and have nothing but Christmas music and cookies until we're done."
  230.   "Kyle's going to be the happiest little man watching the two of you discover my Christmas cookie recipes."
  231.   "McNenney looked sad at the staff party.  You must have brought the rejects, and those were some of the best there."
  232.   "Mom's like one of the best at cookies!"
  233.   "You helped.  Just remember that."  Kyle shrunk down at his mother's praise.  "Stop that.  Some men are absolutely useless in a kitchen.  The girl that you marry one day will be thanking me for the skill you have in preparing a romantic dinner for two."
  234.   "Eww.  Icky kissy."  Gloria's taunt received three pairs of dissenting eyes.
  235.   "Considering you like what's on your plate night after night, you're partly to blame, Gloria Marie Reader.
  236.  
  237.   The snowfall had started less than an hour after they'd gotten the tree inside.
  238.   When morning came, the temperature had fallen below sixty inside.  The maintenance man shone his flashlight in, checked electrical connections, and swore despite two kids listening.  Kind of.  The kids had fallen into habits worse than before with no one available for discipline.
  239.   "Damned if I know.  Looks like the unit is shot, head to toe.  Sorry I've got to tell you that with Christmas in a few days."
  240.   "I'm glad you could at least come out."
  241.   "Let's step outside.  I know it's colder out there, but let me lay down the facts."
  242.   Angelica followed as well, in close-fitting denim and a thick knit sweater with a prancing reindeer.  "How long?"  Her purple eyes narrowed.
  243.   "About two to three weeks.  You have to understand that freight is all fucked to snowy hell this time of year, and into January.  Then there's getting the electrician here to do any rewiring necessary, haul out the old one, all the bullshit."
  244.   "So what are you recommending?"
  245.   "You're not married yet?  Still got another place, yeah?  That's good.  You could buy a few space heaters for this place, but all it would take is one really cold night.  Insulation only does so much."
  246.   Johnathan tried staving off the headache starting behind his eyes.  "But I'm going to need to put a few space heaters in here anyways to keep the place above freezing."
  247.   "The warmer you can keep it, the better.  This isn't as bad as six years ago, but that vaulted ceiling is what's driving you out.  No heater, that's what'd fuck your electric bill faster than IRS after a bad accountant.  If you did, and I'm not recommending it with those kids, put towels at the bottom of every door and reachable window.  Run the space heaters as much as possible, and have the kids sleep with you.  But like I said, a bad storm could drop the temp into the teens or lower."
  248.   "Goddamned all cocksucking motherfucking hell!"
  249.   "Johnathan!"
  250.   "This place isn't a month-to-month lease, Angie.  We're getting a pro-rate on this."
  251.   "Not arguing with you, man.  I'd say the same thing.  I checked before I came out here, and all the maintenance was done before you moved in, verified and then again.  This shouldn't have happened.  I can't do anything else, so I hope me not sugar-coating the frozen shit isn't too blunt."
  252.   "Just fine.  Really.  I'll call the office tomorrow after I calm down."
  253.   "At least you have options.  I'll go kick some asses for you.  I'm not promising miracles, but the sooner I get started the sooner you'll be back.  Let me get your number.  If I've got word on Christmas morning, I want to get started the next day.  Merry Christmas, for what it's worth."  He packed up and drove off, leaving Angelica and Johnathan outside.
  254.   "My place is maybe half the size of yours, and I doubt we want to force Gloria to share a bedroom with Kyle every night for a few weeks."
  255.   "Can we make it work?"
  256.   "You didn't get a monster tree, but that thing's barely going to fit.  Let's get you and Gloria packed.  I was looking forward to this.  So much for easy.  Either we get along under stress and two half-tame kids, or we give up."
  257.  
  258.   "Are we opening anything tonight?"
  259.   Gloria had hugged her father tighter as the credits rolled on Miracle on 34th Street.  The couch barely fit two adults sitting normally, but Angelica had pushed into Johnathan's side in a completely unplatonic way.  The children had cuddled into their parents, an extra large bowl of popcorn nestled between the two adults.  The tree hadn't lost a single needle, and soaked every bit of air with the odor.
  260.   "Tomorrow morning."  Both children awwed, and Angelica reached over to boop the girl's nose, then behind for the same with her son.  "Santa will be delivering presents tonight, but only after children are asleep.  I will be able to hear you, young lady, so the both of you better go right to sleep.  No fighting.  Do I have to review all of the do-nots?"
  261.   "No, Ms. Moraine."
  262.   "And you, young man.  I trust that we will not have a repeat of tickling."
  263.   "No, mom."
  264.   "Since you've got the elves all tamed, one more movie, then bedtime?  A Christmas Carol.  Which version?"
  265.   Kyle popped over his mother's back, tail wagging.  "Die Hard!"
  266.   Angelica turned enough to stare her son down.  "No.  I don't care if it takes place at Christmas-time.  Tiny Tim does not get a machine gun."
  267.   "Don't blame me.  He asked."
  268.   "I guess I have accept a few moments of testosterone-fueled bad decisions.  Either I hear some good ones, or it's off to bed."
  269.   "Muppets!"
  270.   "Scrooged!"
  271.   Her purple gaze didn't upset Johnathan.  "You said he could go outside earlier, and now you're unhappy about the consequences.  Pick, or we can all go outside again until we're sleepy."
  272.   The kids repeated their choices, this time louder and inches away from their parents' faces.  Popcorn was tossed into mouths, and a few alternate selections were shouted.  Another story with guns was rejected, as was a a diabetes-causing Hallmark movie.  Johnathan ran a finger along the reddish outer edge of Angelica's ear after choosing and a splash of green felt warbled onto the large TV.
  273.  
  274.   Two hours and some later, the bedroom door closed.
  275.   "While I do appreciate you bringing that monstrosity over, and getting the company to transfer your net account here for a couple weeks, having that many options...we should have made this like the movies.  Three choices, take it or leave it."
  276.   She sat on the bed's edge to pull the sweatshirt off.  Heather gray clashed with her color, but the design hadn't.  A cartoonish siruean female in a seasonal white-piped red overcoat stared down a bunch of kids causing a mess around a tree with chaotic present opening, one child held up by his neck.  Text arced above and below.  Always listen to Mrs. Claws.
  277.   "That must have been a gift from Kyle.  I can't see you buying that for yourself, nor letting the giver live if it had been anyone else."
  278.   "Two years ago, and he said I needed it when we were in the Walmart.  They'd never have stocked that here.  Lincolnsburg is a bit more liberal.  And I still can't figure out how he managed to get away long enough to have it bought and wrapped without me noticing."
  279.   "The kid took a bonus on his sneak skill?"
  280.   "Which has had my ears twitching.  You're good for him, but ohh the bad habits you've taught him."
  281.   Johnathan stripped down to his underwear, only to get smacked with a removed shoe by Angelica.  The man pushed her back on the bed, grabbed by her ankles, and tickled the soles and pads of her feet.
  282.   "Admit you'll take the bad with the good, and I stop."
  283.   Her stifled laughter ended when she tapped out, hand slapping over a group of elves.  Some had tails, but all had the requisite pointy ears and dwarf stature.  He released her, waiting for her to peel off jeans that would be unsuitable for the classroom.
  284.   "Yes, the good.  I don't have to worry as much about no male influence for Kyle, even if I did pick a human.  The bad, I'm not used to having a man leer at me undressing anymore."
  285.   "Adore and cherish.  That's what I'm about to do to that ass."
  286.   "Men.  At least you're literate."
  287.   She peeled off the faded, old denim, not making a striptease out of it.  A clipped shout came from the other bedroom, followed by a murmured argument audible to both adults.  They restrained laughter, Johnathan turning to lean against the closet door and Angelica rolling back on the bed to bury her muzzle in a pillow.  When they turned and saw each other's reactions to the kids, they had to start over.
  288.   "That almost broke the mood.  Good that I have something to restore it."
  289.   She hmm'ed as he opened the shallow closet, reaching up to the top and in a corner.  Boxes shuffled, and Angelica leered at the smooth skin covering the muscles of his back, the firmed hamstrings of his legs, and the tightened ass beneath dark boxer briefs.  She erased the crime's evidence as he found what he'd hidden and dropped from tiptoes.
  290.   "Something for me, early?"
  291.   "I can't imagine you opening this in front of the kids."
  292.   "Must be good."
  293.   He turned with a medium-sized box wrapped in a creamy white paper, the semigloss reflecting light differently than the thin lines of gold leaf stamped onto it.  Angelica's purple eyes alternated between box and man until he stepped forward to place it on her lap.  One finger wandered over the tracks of gold.
  294.   "You're going to open this, and say I shouldn't have."
  295.   "Wrong.  You shouldn't have, and now I'll open it."
  296.   The folds of the paper were perfect, and the tape likewise.  Her nail pierced one of the clear strips with a pop, and the wrapping peeled off.  Ears fell into sentiment, shaking as the logo of the box within revealed itself.
  297.   "Should I get you some tissues?"
  298.   Angelica's hands removed the rest of the paper unsteadily, then rested on top of the giftbox to frame the calligraphy of two intertwined letters and the flourishes around them.  She snatched the whole box of tissues from Johnathan as he sat beside her.  One arm hugged her to him as she teared up.
  299.   "When I was little, my grandmother told me the perfect gift, and there wasn't just one, was something that made my mother tear up and lose her words.  You've been something that's been missing from Gloria's life for a couple years.  And before you ask how much, it's only money.  It's not a house, it's not a new car, it's not a new heater unit.  It's been a while since a man's seen you like this, yes?"  A single, near imperceptible nod.  "Not just a piece of meat to possess, but an imperfect breathing person that sometimes needs someone to hold onto?  Then you toss the kids in the mix.  Makes finding a little you time, completely you time, difficult?  We've got a good start.  Here's to doing this again in a year."
  300.   Angelica lost it for enough time to have half the tissues balled up on the floor.
  301.   "If there's a ring inside this box as well, you're driving yourself to the ER on Christmas Eve."
  302.   "I'll know when you're ready.  And when I am.  Until then, open it."
  303.   She set aside the tissues, and unclasped the tiny lock.  Fingers rubbed the satin and lace between, pulling the top piece from its bed of bright red silk.  The robe waterfalled over her fingers, the lace trim a undeniable match to her color.  She set that down, and lifted the chemise.  The black and redish lace would allow so much of the wearer's body to be framed in sensuality.  And at last she examined the delicate panties.  All three were returned to the open box, and the box set to her other side.
  304.   Two adults kissed in the manner than no romance movie could duplicate, and no child would understand until grown and wishing to end the loneliness.
  305.   "I suppose you want me to try it on."
  306.   "Guess I have to wait outside?"
  307.   "You put the presents out, I'm brushing myself before I put this on.  Take your time."
  308.   There was more than one box for the kids, not to mention the stocking-stuffers.  The kids must have fallen asleep at some point during the unboxing.  Johnathan slipped on shoes and a jacket to grab the things from the car that couldn't fit in Angelica's scrap of closet, making a visual treat of the floor sheltered by the tree's meaning.  He readied a bottle of wine and two glasses for the bedroom.
  309.   She summoned him back, and posed against the doorway with the satin robe loosely belted to entice him better.  He raised the bottle and glasses, receiving a toasty grin.
  310.  
  311.   They'd long since exhausted the wine.  The glasses sat on the dresser's top, the chemise over a drawer's edge, and one light all they needed to see by.
  312.   A pillow wedged under Angelica's ass made the position less athletic, and the angle of Johnathan's cock more suited for deeper penetration.  Her ankles pressed high on his backside to time his pace.  She whispered to prevent moans that would wake both children.
  313.   "That's it, stud.  Fuck mommy good and deep.  Drill her so that she can't wipe the smile off her face in the morning."
  314.   "Going to turn you into a slut if I keep fucking you like this almost every night.  Should have gotten you a collar."
  315.   "By Valentine's day, I'll be your personal puppy pornstar, collared and begging.  You fucking love it.  You'll dress me up in the most whorish clothes and take me to the city, to those despicable clubs.  You'll take me into the sleazy strip clubs and have me get onstage.  And then on Monday I'll be back in the classroom, being the perfect buttoned-up teacher."
  316.   "Someone has a few fantasies."
  317.   "Call me something dirty."
  318.   "Going to tie you up, fuck your brains out, and have you moaning around a gag like the feral bitch you are.  You love that human cock, don't you?  Pretty little lapdog begging for her master's cock."
  319.   "Uggghhhhh.  Deeper."
  320.   Johnathan leveraged himself onto one hand, the other clamping around her muzzle.  She tried moaning, the sound emerging dampened and linked to the sounds of the bed shaking.
  321.   He turned his head slightly at the sound of the door brushing the carpet.
  322.   The mirror, plus the small cosmetics mirror next to the bed, formed a chain of reflected images.  Two eyes shone low, watching the man's thick and pale cock pistoning into the woman.  The watcher was locked to the spot as his mother's cunt gripped the man's organ back, slick with her juices that also matted the fine surrounding fur.
  323.   She twisted, and Johnathan's hand lost its grip on her mouth.  "Fuck me, daddy.  Make me your girl."  The words were louder than their earlier whispering.
  324.   Angelica had been so involved in the sex that she didn't hear the door close, and a hand reclamped her muzzle.  The man's cock found a deep and sensitive spot, breaking the last barrier between her and orgasm.  The deep caresses bought his, and the pulsing of his cock eventually slacked into lazy touches over the body before they found sleep themselves.
  325.  
  326.   The kids were engrossed in the movie.  They'd been promised that the presents would get opened right after breakfast, but only if they gave the adults no trouble.  The sounds of a dark take on a Dickens story was punctuated by a toaster oven smacking the scrooge.  Angelica had treated Johnathan to another pair of tight jeans, paired with a longsleeve.  Cursive writing, in snowflakes, declared that the wearer was always on the good list.  Promise.
  327.   He poured four more from the bowl to the griddle.  "I'm telling you, Angelica, he must have gotten up to go to the bathroom and the door must have slipped open.  I was trying to keep you quiet."  His dark tshirt had dozens of faces, and the message that not all Santas had beards.
  328.   The kitchen made conspiratorial talk intimate.  "Well, at least he didn't hear me using less polite words.  Though I'm certain he's never heard me say fuck."  She'd pinned her hair up and was slicing up fruit for the toppings.
  329.   "You're taking this OK.  Must be that smile I plastered on last night."
  330.   She turned and poked him square between the shoulder blades.  "If he asks, I'll talk to him.  Can I count on you?  He might feel more comfortable doing the guy talk thing."
  331.   "How direct do you want me to be?  Reiterate the birds and bees?"  He peered over his shoulder, his face with just as much of a guilty look as hers.
  332.   "You'll be better at it than me.  My parents were super embarrassed when that time arrived.  I was such an inquisitive little girl."
  333.   "Settled.  If he doesn't ask later today, we'll do a guys only walk so he has the opportunity.  Best we confront this before, and give the kids time to adjust.  They're probably going to anticipate it, but..."
  334.   "Finish the pancakes.  Are we going to your family later?"
  335.   "This evening."
  336.   "Am I going to be a shock?"
  337.   "Not at all.  I told them you're a teacher as well.  They'll be too careful about being offensive, unless there's been more wine than usual earlier.  Gloria will pout all of five seconds about the attention Kyle's going to get.  Two little rapscallions with a trained co-conspirator, aka my mother."
  338.   "Look nice, be polite, let them be the drunken relative."
  339.   "It's my cousin and his family I'm concerned over.  At least they're consistently abrasive to everyone."
  340.   "The great American holiday get-together.  I'll leave the teacher voice at home."
  341.   Johnathan flipped the last few pancakes.  "So you don't get embarrassed too much, there's a second box from Delicate Dreams under the tree.  It's not see-through, so tell me if you don't want to open that in front of them."  She smacked his ass muttering about men, and he reveled in the moment.
  342.   The movie cut as the kids heard plates and food being placed at the table.  Both ran in, the girl in green pajamas with red reindeer, the boy in gray ones with little wreaths.
  343.   "Sit."
  344.   Angelica's sterner parenting voice, and willingness to resort to the very occasional spanking, had reduced the worst of Gloria's attention seeking.  And Johnathan's less hierarchical manner had given Kyle a space to grow into that was the kid's own.
  345.   "Your place.  You want to do a grace?"
  346.   "I'll go first.  Hands everyone, and please no interrupts if I go weepy."  She waited for her son to take her right hand, and the human girl her left, then for them to take Johnathan's.
  347.   "We're ready.  Bow your heads, and let her start."
  348.   "Lord God and Mother Goddess, we thank you for the day, and the people.  Whether or not we keep coming to class, you make sure the lessons get sent home.  And sometimes you assign some bonus homework.  I hope that we're getting it right.  Shelter us under Sun and Tree.  Amen."  
  349.   Everyone kept heads down, waiting for Johnathan.
  350.   "Lord, I don't know there's much else.  I don't think anyone sitting at this table would have imagined kind of Christmas morning, but here we all are.  We've got a roof over our heads, food on the table, and we're going to spend time with friends and family.  If you forgive the shouting and singing off-key, I hope we do good enough.  So, all of the above, and a bit less snow this coming week.  Amen."
  351.   The kids giggled to that before the command to dig in.
  352.   As plates were getting washed prior to presents, Johnathan's phone rang.
  353.   "Hey, Mr. Reader.  Had to let you know this, and thought this morning would be suitable.  They've got your new heater on the dock, ready to get on a truck tomorrow.  A few days to get here, and I'm hoping to have that in by New Year's.  It was one hell of surprise when they called me yesterday before I hit the door.  So don't you worry.  You and the lady have a happy Christmas."
  354.   "And you as well.  Thanks."
  355.   "No sweat.  She's a good one.  All my kids have had her as a teacher."
  356.   He put the phone on the counter, surprised that the dishes were done and everyone had gathered on the floor around the tree.
  357.   "Good news."
  358.   "Today's the day for it."  She patted the floor next to her.
  359.   Kyle didn't wait, and got up to lead Johnathan to an open spot in front of the tree.  "Are you going to be my new daddy, Mr. Reader?"
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