“You’ll love the cabin.” Alison assured me for the millionth time today. “It’s rustic, and peaceful, and about as far away from holiday TV specials as you can get!” “Plus, there are no sharp objects lying around, so there won’t be a repeat of last year!” I agreed cheerfully. I know it was a really bratty thing to say, and I was sorry the moment it was out of my muzzle. “Not funny.” Alison glowered “Not even a little bit.” “I’m sorry.” I soothed “I’m just tired. We didn’t really have to be out on the road at the crack of dawn, did we?” “It’s tricky enough finding the turnoff in broad daylight.” She laughed “I don’t particularly want to try it in the dark this year.” “It sounds like there’s a story behind that.” I observed. “Not really, it’s just that my dad gets us lost more often than not when we come up here.” “So getting lost is traditional then… We should do it, to go along with your traditional winter solstice plan!” Alison could tell I was mostly kidding, so I avoided the ‘look of doom’ on that one, but only just barely, before she announced that “Maybe I should drive for a while…”
“That might not be a bad idea.” I agreed. It was getting in to late afternoon, and I’d done most of the driving while Alison had been napping in the back of her large SUV. I really didn’t like driving ‘the tank’, but I’ll be the first to admit that the extra spaces comes in handy sometimes.
I had just settled in on the reclined passenger seat for a nap when a massive jolt almost bounced me off the roof of the car. “What the…” I growled, snapping my head back up to look out the window. “Road construction.” Alison sighed, slowing the car to a crawl “So much for getting there before dark.” The good news was that there wasn’t anyone working, the bad news was that the road had been torn up enough that it might as well have been a dirt track. And the really bad news was that according to the map it was going to be a long time before we turned onto a different road.
“Up and at ‘em!” Alison encouraged “I swear, it wouldn’t surprise me if you could sleep through the end of the world.” “When did I fall asleep?” I yawned, mildly confused. The sun had gone down, and I found us sitting in the parking lot of one of those mega-truck stops. “It’s been a couple of hours.” Alison explained “You were kind of drowsing there for a while, but after you wet it was apparently naptime. I’m kind of surprised you don’t remember that, it ended up being tickle-induced…” “You could have just pulled over and woken me up…” I laughed as I stretched the stiffness out of my back. “You needed your sleep.” She shrugged “Besides, this way is more fun!”
“So where are we, anyway?” I wondered. The idea of getting lost out here now that the sun was down did not appeal to me at all….I was a fur from the hill country, mountains were a bit out of my realm of expertise. “We’re almost there, this is just kind of the last chance depot before we hit the back country.” “It gets more back country than this?” I wondered aloud. “That it does!” Alison nodded seriously “Now let’s get you changed and then we can go get some snacks!”
“We could just wait until we get to the cabin for changing.” I suggested nervously. Ten feet away from the fueling islands at a gas station, even a largely deserted one in the middle of nowhere wasn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a discreet location. “There’s nobody around out here except way over at the rig islands, and if you go inside like that someone is going to notice.” Alison explained logically “So unless you want to forgo getting a snack…” “Now let’s not be hasty.” I nodded getting out and moving into the back of the SUV.
Alison’s ‘tank’ was one of the newer models that have the fold-flat back seats, so we had a nice large flat space in the back, which now that I think about it would probably have been a much more comfortable place for me to have taken a nap… “Right then.” Alison nodded after I had settled down a bit. I’d not bothered to put my shoes on after we’d switched drivers earlier and she quickly had my pants unfastened and off. The wet diaper was a little bit trickier, but with a little teamwork was soon taken care of as well. “There we are!” Alison grinned, rustling around in her bag for a package of wipes.
Having retrieved them, Alison began cleaning up my diaper area. “See, if we had taken your car like you wanted, we wouldn’t be able to do this, would we?” “No mamma.” I conceded, settling a debate that had been running off and on all day. “And a few weeks back when we went camping and got rained out, we had room to sleep back here… Or the time in the mall parking lot when you…” “Okay! You win!” I blushed. (I remembered the time in the mall parking lot…oh boy did I remember the time in the mall parking lot!) “Speaking of which,” Alison grinned, trailing a finger down my chest “Since you’re already mostly ready for that anyway, and it is empty around here, we could…aw, damn it!” A car had pulled up to the nearest of the fueling islands, nipping that idea in the bud.
Sighing morosely, she instead slid a fresh diaper under me and fastened up the tail-hole before applying a good bit of powder and taping everything up again. “Well, you may as well see about snacks while I gas up.” Alison sighed, ruffling my headfur. The cats in the other car probably never noticed the dirty looks directed their way, but I’m pretty sure it scientifically ruled out Alison possessing the evil eye of myth and legend. Had she, they would have been just another greasy layer on the fueling island’s concrete… Shaking the thought from my still fuzzy mind I sprinted through the cold wind of the parking lot to the welcoming beacons of light sent out by the super-stop’s large plate glass windows. Stepping through the first of the two sets of automatic sliding doors I was met by the traditionally time honored custom of the super-stop: over pressured climate control, keeping whatever undesirable atmospheric feature-of-the-day out in the day and not in the truck stop.
MegaStops all have similar layouts: up front an expanded version of what one would encounter at your neighborhood corner store—food, drinks, maintenance and small impulse and personal hygiene buys to facilitate the ‘in and out’ traveler in a hurry. Continue back from where the travel and snack supplies end and you will get in to selections of curios and local souvenirs—shot glasses with regional motifs, local arts and crafts, and various other things that may or may not be of interest. Then you start getting in to the trucker equipment section—CB radios, electronics that run on DC current, chrome and lights—big boy toys mostly, and the tools that keep them running. Then the far side is usually restaurants and seating areas. This particular one being no exception to the rule.
Alison was probably going to be a while fueling up the car, so I was in no particular hurry as I wandered around the store. A common occurrence, apparently—the extremely bored looking equine at the counter didn’t seem particularly inclined to look up from her magazine, or really do much of anything else for that matter. I could sympathize, she was probably the employee who came up short on the coin toss to see who would get stuck with the solstice-eve shift: I wouldn’t be enthusiastic in her position either… Snack selection could wait anyway, I would just end up carrying them around with me until Alison made it inside, so instead I found myself looking at the collection of random merchandise offered for travelers’ consideration.
It didn’t take long for me to get bored wandering around in the ‘truck accessories’ section, something about not having a cab-over to put shiny things on kind of puts a damper on the whole process…. Consequentially I pretty rapidly ended up looking at the collection of odds and ends lumped together in the ‘impulse buy’ section. One really only needs so many little souvenir spoons and key rings with one’s name on them, and I had pretty much lost interest here too when I noticed a wire rack of hats in the far corner.
Most of them looked like refugees from displays past, an impression furthered by some can sleeves and the occasional bandanna mixed in apparently for the sake of asymmetry, filling space, or just sheer lazy obstinance on the part of the clerks. Slowly spinning the rack I was again quickly losing interest when there, in between one with a tractor logo and the innocuous beer can helmet was a leather bush hat with a band of little silver coins.
Now there are two annoying little facts of life furs with good eyesight never have to deal with. The first and lesser issue is having to send a scope back to the factory to be adjusted for your particular flavor of blind. That’s just a matter of time and money. Far greater is the problem of precipitation. Rain or snow on glasses is a kind of annoyance that just has to be experienced. The excellent timing of the hat in question was obviously fate ordering me to buy it. Still, just to avoid potential ‘I told you so’ episodes I went ahead and tried it on. To my delight it fit quite well, but then fate would see to that too, wouldn’t it?
A brief once over of the rest of the shelf revealed nothing of interest, so I went to bother the horse at the register. “I’m pretty sure that’s been here longer than I have.” She laughed as I ran my debit card through the scanner. “I guess I shouldn’t charge you extra for it being an antique!” “Only if you have a vest and boots to go with it.” I agreed seriously as I picked the little price sticky tag off, then deposited it smartly atop my head.
“What have you got there?” Alison asked, having come up behind me while I was checking out. “A hat.” I explained literally, getting out of the way so she could drop an armload of snacks on the counter. “Did you want one too?” “I’m fine.” She declined politely, pretty obviously humoring me. “I wouldn’t want to deprive you of it.” “You don’t like the hat, do you?” I questioned suspiciously. “No, you like the hat, so I like the hat. I’m happy for you and the hat. It’s just that I don’t need a hat myself.” Alison explained patiently as she paid for our pile of goodies. The horse at the register, meanwhile, was watching the whole exchange with amusement. I guess we were more interesting than ‘empty gas pump theatre’ on the CCTV network…
Rounding up our bags of stuff we got back to the car with a minimum of fuss and I took over driving again so the fur who actually knew where we were going could keep an eye out for the place in question. Once we turned onto a more rural but less construction-plagued back road the going sped up quite a bit and we were soon turning onto a dirt path that some might charitably call a driveway.
“And here we are!” Alison announced cheerfully as we ground to a halt in front of a rustic looking little three room cabin that appeared to have been made by hand out of the local timbers. Without lights and with the windows shuttered the place looked less than inviting, but Alison’s enthusiasm as she jumped out of the SUV and scampered around the side of the building to turn on the power was more than a little contagious.
Rooting through her pockets he produced a key, and in short order we were inside with the lights (and heater) up and running. After we had drug everything in and settled down some I had to admit that it was a pretty nice place. The interior of the cabin was made of smooth-planed cedar, with river rock floors and a large fireplace which dominated the whole northern wall. A bedroom and small bath branched off from the eastern and western walls, along with a kitchen nook, and the main room had an open, second story loft across from the fireplace. All in all the kind of place that gives one the feeling that if they didn’t stay vigilant there would always be the risk of slipping backwards to a much earlier time. I’ve always loved places like that, sort of the ‘beauty in desolation’ kind of thing.
“You were right, I love this place.” I nodded to Alison as I hung my hat on a peg by the door. “Told you!” she grinned “Now do you think you could get a fire going while I make up the loft?” “Sure, I can do fire.” I agreed before a thought hit me “But you do know there’s a bedroom, right?” “There is.” She explained “But my parents always got it when we came up here, so I’m used to the loft. Besides, it’s fun up there, like a cross between a tree fort and a bunk bed…” “I’m sold.” I laughed. “Good, now get to work you fuzzy little pyro!”
In short order we were snuggled up in the loft watching a cheerfully crackling fire and eating candy canes. “You’re quite easy to placate, you know that, right?” Alison yawned idly “Just keep that oral fixation satisfied and you’re good to go!” “Well, you can’t say it makes me hard to shop for…” I agreed cheerfully. “Oh, I’m not complaining.” She nodded, feigning the deepest seriousness “You know how much I hate shopping for stuff.” “Really. Well that does kind of explain the big pile of boxes in the back of your car…” I agreed. “Some of those are yours.” Alison grinned “Which loses you the right to complain about not being able to see out the back window.” “I suppose it does, at that.” I nodded.
After finishing the last of my candy cane I reluctantly climbed back down the ladder to the first floor, then made my way to the little bathroom for my regular nighttime routine. I ended up taking up the shortest shower in recorded history: we hadn’t had the power on long enough for the water heater to have made more than a cursory attempt at warming up, and by the time I got out things had only evolved from ‘tepid’ to ‘lukewarm’.
“Be sure to do a good job brushing your teeth…” Alison reminded me as she took a turn in the shower “I don’t want to regret giving you candy this close to bedtime!” “I will.” I agreed, digging through the little overnight bag of bathroom stuff “Or at least I would if I could find the…oh, there it is!”. As usual the thing I was looking for had found its’ way to the bottom…
After the frigid shower I was in a hurry to be back under a quilt or at least within range of the fireplace, but I made myself slow down and do a better than minimally acceptable job. Typical of my luck, the water heater seemed to catch up slightly after I had gotten out, and Alison was enjoying a nice, warm, lengthy shower. So, for lack of anything better to do I found myself drawing in the condensation on the mirror. It was a pretty good game, but the moisture reforming on the glass made it a somewhat less than satisfying pursuit until I drew out a squiggly little track and started racing the water.
“Nick! You’re gnawing your toothbrush again…” Alison chided, having ducked out of the shower for a second to see what I was up to. (Oftentimes, me getting quiet was a sign of having found trouble to get into…) “Oh!” I blushed, looking at the now-mangled toothbrush before sighing and tossing it in the trash bag. “It’s okay, that’s why we’ve got extra ones…” Alison shrugged mildly. “Yeah, but if I can stop doing that I’ll finally be able to own some decent pens for once.” I grumbled in exasperation. “You only type things out on the computer, it doesn’t really mater that much, does it?” Alison pointed out. “It’s just the principle of it, I guess…” I sighed “It sort of annoys me, having a tic like that…” “Yeah, but on the bright side nobody steals your pens!”
I decided to let it slide at that, Alison has a pet peeve about furs walking off wither her writing instruments, and I had learned quite early on that it was a subject which didn’t have a safe answer. And as the wise ones say, ‘If you can’t win you probably shouldn’t play in the first place.’ “You’ve always had a way of finding the bright side in anything.” I smiled despite myself “It’s really quite endearing.” Blushing happily, Alison suggested that I “Maybe go sit in front of the fire until I’m out…you kind of got the short straw with the shower, and it wouldn’t do for you to take ill right before you meet the family.” Not bothering to fight down a yawn I nodded my agreement and shuffled off to the other room.
The fireplace, it turned out, made a functional substitute for the furdryer that we had neglected to bring with us, and I was just beginning to doze off when Alison migrated in from the shower, flopping down with a big sigh. “Drying out, little guy?” she yawned, settling down next to me on the thick woolen blanket covering the stone floor. “Uh huh.” I nodded sleepily, wiggling my toes idly at the fire. “That’s good.” She nodded seriously “We’re going to have to go bedtimes here really soon…Santapaws won’t come if we’re awake!” “Yes, mamma.” I agreed, for all practical purposes already pretty much ‘gone bedtimes’ anyway.
The next little bit was spent with me basically already asleep, and Alison rapidly getting there, only staying awake enough to move a bit every now and then to let the heat of the fire have a go at a different spot of wet fur until eventually the fire had finished it’s work, and Alison announced that it was finally time to retire to the loft for the night. Helping me to my still rather sleepy feet, Alison and I shuffled over to the ladder, and on the second try I managed to find my way up to the little nest she had made for us earlier. (Climbing a ladder when you are for practical purposes asleep is rather a challenge, and I felt a little burst of pride that I had managed it upon reaching the top.) Settling in to our spot with a little grunt, I was sound asleep before Alison had even finished pulling up the covers.
Solstice day dawned to the sound of snow driven against the loft window. “M’up…” I mumbled, not even pretending to actually be up until the realization of what day it was poked its way through my subconscious… Then I was out of bed like a rocket. “Alison! Alison! It’s morning! Get uuuuup!” I whined encouragingly, nearly tripping over the loft railing before settling down just a little bit. “I’m getting up, I’m getting up…” she assured me “Just give me a minute. Why don’t you go make some coffee and by the time it’s ready I’ll be up…” “Okies!” I nodded excitedly, scurrying down the ladder. “And don’t get the fire going again! It has to be burned out before we can go!” Alison shouted over the edge after me, not wanting us to be late to her family gathering
Luckily, there’s a universal law that says that if there is electricity there’s probably also a coffee maker, and Alison’s family cabin was no exception. I had made a point of packing an airtight little jar of good pre-ground: lacking a furdryer was one thing, but braver furs than I had shrunk from telling Alison there would be no morning coffee. After rinsing the whole thing out I dug up some distilled water and the coffee maker was soon chuffing industriously, as if relishing the chance to excel at its long-awaited task. I appreciate that kind of work ethic in my equipment: it’s always nice to see something take pride in its work. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee was soon inundating the cabin, and not long afterwards Alison made herself known. “See.” She explained fondly, pouring herself that first cup of morning coffee “This is why you’ll always have a special place in my heart.” “Because I’m thoughtful and considerate of your needs?” I laughed, playing in to her joke “Hell no. Because you’re the only fur on the planet that doesn’t drink coffee, but will still make a fresh pot first thing in the morning without being asked.” “Yeah, love you too…” I grumbled, feigning a disappointed pout for a minute before breaking out laughing.
“Happy solstice little guy.” Alison sighed happily, putting an arm around my shoulder and staring out the window at the picturesquely snow covered landscape outside the cabin. “You too, mama.” I hugged back. Breakfast today would be oatmeal, since we both really wanted hot food, but didn’t have the time nor the inclination to clean up any more dishes than absolutely necessary. With a minimal amount of fuss we had the essentials finished up and were settling down on the rug in front of what was left of last night’s fire for breakfast. My oatmeal, I discovered, involved rather a lot of chunks of orange along with the cinnamon and brown sugar. “There’s fruit in my food…” I mused aloud. “Yes there is.” Alison explained “Your new year’s resolution is to eat healthier, and I thought it might not be a bad idea for my little boy to practice some first, to get the hang of it.” “Do I have a say on the matter?” I wondered aloud, suspecting the answer. “Not really, no. We’ve been having this discussion since the day we met, and the situation hasn’t changed much since then, so do we really need to have this argument again?” Getting ready to argue the point, a thought struck me: she wouldn’t be so concerned if she didn’t want to keep me around for a long, long time. Which means she isn’t planning on going anywhere, ever. Because…because…she loves me back as much as I love her! “Well?” Alison asked, tapping her foot. “No we don’t mamma.” I said, trying the words on for size in an almost delicate way “You just want what’s best for me because you…love me, and want me to be around for a while.” “Of course I love you! And I want you to be around as long as I am!” Alison smiled radiantly, as if I had stumbled across something most important.
Looking up from my breakfast, I noticed with a start that Alison was crying. “What’s the matter, what did I say?” I asked a little panicky, jumping up and rushing over to her side “How can I make it better, I’m sorry!” “Honey, honey, settle a second!” Alison smiled, in a most melancholy way “You have made me so happy today, I’ve been trying to make you see that since those days back in the hospital after we first met, that I love you more than anything and don’t want to spend any more time without you. You finally seeing it is the best solstice present I could possibly hope for!” “So I can take yours back?” I asked dubiously. “Now let’s not get hasty…” Alison laughed “Maybe we should go do presents right after breakfast so I know what I’m agreeing to…”
Presents actually turned out to be almost last in the order of the morning’s operations. For the sake of making good time and keeping appointments, Alison insisted on packing the car back up and being ready to hit the road before we opened presents. It wouldn’t have been my preferred way to do it, but compromise is important in a relationship. Especially when your partner can send you to time-out. After several eternities (okay, maybe 45 minutes, I’m not known for having a long attention span) we were finally getting to the critical business of the morning. I dug into my little pile of packages almost ravenously, while Alison selected a few of hers far more sedately, revealing several nice leather bound books and a really nice silver pen and pencil set with her name engraved on them. “It’ll keep them from growing legs and walking off.” I explained, noting with intense satisfaction that they found their way into Alison’s shirt pocket in a very rapid fashion. “Mine.” She grinned, patting her pocket protectively after noticing my amused look.
“So what do you have there?” Alison prompted, turning my attention to the half opened mess of wrapping paper in front of me. “Hmm…” I mused, looking at the tag “It would appear that Santapaws brought me…coloring books!” Looking through the pile, I was in for a real surprise. Rather than the typical subject matter one would expect they consisted of intricately detailed collections of landscapes and some of history’s more renowned painters. “Spiffy!” I laughed, having never considered that such things might even exist “Where in the world did you find these?” “Me?” Alison grinned innocently “Santapaws brought you those, I don’t have a clue where they came from…” “Santapaws must have scorched his tail something fierce getting in here last night.” I observed, equally innocently as I wadded up some scraps of wrapping paper and tossed it in a high arc over Alison’s head and into the still smoldering fireplace behind her. “He has his ways…” she explained loftily, turning her attentions to her next package. I liked her version better anyway.
My next box turned out to be a rather extensive artist’s set of colored pencils, also from our late-night trespasser. “That’s good.” Alison nodded cheerfully “Coloring books don’t do a whole lot of good without something to color with…” “That’s true.” I agreed as I opened the foot plus long box to reveal about the same selection one would see if they opened the color palette of a superior grade computer display adapter. “Yeah, but where’s green?” I joked, having to seriously resist the urge to abandon opening presents and just sit down to color for a while. Taking her turn at opening, Alison revealed a jewelry box containing a understatedly magnificent necklace with a large teardrop cut sapphire pendant. “It’s beautiful.” Alison said, drawing in her breath in surprise before following up immediately with a reproachful “How much did you spend on this?” “Don’t worry,” I explained mildly “It’s a lab created stone. Very pretty, but about as valuable as a nicely colored marble. (It wasn’t, but I wanted her to keep it, and as far as I’m concerned a little fib is just fine if it meant she could enjoy it without reservation.)
Taking it from her, I scooted behind her and fastened it around her neck before coming back around for a look. “Very nice.” I decided “It’ll never be as beautiful as the vixen who’s wearing it, but it’s pretty all the same.” Alison rewarded me with a deeply pleased blush, then as I was turning my attentions back to my last remaining box I found myself pounced and brutally assaulted by a barrage of kisses. “Have I told you I love you today?” Alison asked from her perch on my chest. “I got that impression.” I replied seriously “But you know I am bad at interpreting these kind of things…” “No, no. You got it right this time.” She informed me, tapping my muzzle gently before rolling off me and handing me the last box. “Almost seems like a shame to open it.” I sighed, admiring the neatly folded edges of the metallic foil paper and contrasting ribbon of the box in my palms. “In some Eastern cultures it’s not the gift which has significance in some situations, but rather the aesthetic of the presentation. I always found that to be an admirable tradition really.” Halfway through Alison’s sentence the siren song of the box had overcome my interest in what she was saying, and by the time she finished speaking the mortal remains of the presentation’s aesthetic had been scattered across the floor. “On the other paw, those situations probably very rarely involve young kits…” she sighed, eyeing the wrapping paper scraps scattered across the cabin.
“It’s a teething ring.” I observed curiously. “For saurians.” Alison agreed “If a dragon hatchling can’t chew through it I’m willing to bet that you won’t be able to damage it either.” “You know” I decided “I think I really like it.” “Plus, if we’re lucky having something to gnaw on might cut down on our toothbrush expenditures!” Alison nodded. “Well, I suppose the last thing is to get all this cleaned up and head on down the road.” I sighed, stretching as I stood up and wandered into the kitchen to get a garbage bag. “Ideally yes. I’m pretty sure my father would have something to say if the place looked like this next time they come out here to use it!”
It really didn’t take too terribly long to beat the mess into submission, and we were on our way to Alison’s parent’s house well before lunchtime. Alison had insisted on driving this morning, something about me yawning more than she was comfortable with (what did she expect, I hadn’t gotten my morning soda yet—no caffeine, no wakies) so I had ended up folding the armrests flat and made a nice little nest across the front seats out of the bedding we had brought along. I passed the time dozing off and on with my head in her lap, which while it provided only a mediocre view of the underside of the steering column had the advantage of being intimately cozy and putting me in the perfect position to utilize the lower heater vents. Not quite a space heater or furdryer, but still acceptably cozy given the situation.
We hadn’t been driving for a particularly long time when Alison tapped me on the head. “We’re nearly there, you should probably wake up…” “I wasn’t asleep.” I sighed as I sat back up in the passenger seat “I was just kind of thinking about things.” “Like what?” Alison pushed gently, sensing the melancholy in my tone. “Just about solstices when I was growing up and about my family.” “Oh. I’m sorry little one.” Alison sighed, knowing that being reminded of those we lose can be especially hard during times of family togetherness. “It’s just that it’s been a long time since I’ve had a family to spend the solstice with…it’s just kind of a lonely thought, that’s all.” I explained.
Pulling the car to a stop, Alison took my muzzle in her paw and gently turned my head so that I was looking out the front windshield. A cheerfully decorated house stood before us at the other end of the driveway, smoke puffing merrily from its chimney. In the front yard several kits were industriously engaged in building a snow fort, and through the bay window behind them several generations of adults sat around in the living room engaging in what looked to be a lively conversation. As we watched an older vixen came out to check on the kits, then noticed our SUV at the end of the driveway. Breaking out in a radiantly happy grin she began waving, beckoning us up the driveway. Patting my head gently, Alison informed me that “There’s plenty of family here for everyone.”