Timeline: December 24th, evening, 2007
Rey finished rearranging the candles on the table for the fifth time. This was the first time she’d officially invited people over for a party, and it was her first Christmas party, and she wanted it to be perfect. There were a number of people coming over, but it was only for a couple of hours. She hoped nothing went wrong.
Rey turned and tried not to run over to the door to answer it. She opened the door and smiled brightly when she saw Daniel. “Daniel! Welcome. Come on in.” She stepped back to let him in. “You’re the first one to arrive.”
The cabin was decorated festively, and the smell of mulled cider and baked goods drifted out into the night air.
Daniel, unaccustomed to his name being uttered in such excitement, stepped in and cautiously handed a bottle to Rey, “I wasn’t sure what you were serving, so I brought some dessert wine. Usually I’m not the first to arrive, but change can do one good.”
“Thank you very much,” Rey said, her smile widening. “Why don’t you hang up your coat over there.” She indicated an old fashioned peg coat rack. “While you’re doing that, I’ll get you something warm to drink. I’ve got mulled cider, coffee and chai. Which would you like?”
Daniel answers, “Coffee sounds good.”
The sound of Sleighbells came from outside, then John’s voice. “Hello the cabin, where should I park my horse.”
“Hi John!” Rey waved. “You can tie her up out back. There’s a lean-to kind of thing there. It’ll give her some shelter from the wind.”
“Ok, let me unload first.” John pulled out a big, big bag that looked like it was full and carried it inside. Then went back outside and moved the horse and sleigh. “Smells good Rey, Hi Daniel be back in a bit.”
“Hello John, see you inside.”
Rey looked at the bag in surprise, then looked back at Daniel. “Okay. Coffee it is. Did you want something with it? Cream, sugar?”
Daniel answered, “Just black thanks. You have a nice place here.”
“Thanks,” Rey said, handing him a filled mug. “It’s small, kind of out of the way, but I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. The Bucks gave me a good deal on it because I’m fixing it up and restoring it as best I can. It used to be the original cabin on the farm, but the Bucks weren’t able to maintain it like they used to. They’d almost given up on finding a buyer.” She didn’t add that it was close enough to the woods that a wolf could come and go with nobody the wiser.
“Have you found a place in town yet, or are you still staying at that hotel?” she asked.
“When the snow lets up we’ll be finishing my place. I bought some land down by one of the small woodland lakes and began building when I decided to stay. It’s a long process and with winter, a process currently on hold. For now, I’m staying at a bed & breakfast. I was tired of the motel, couldn’t get any work or studying done.”, said Daniel.
“What are you studying?” Rey poured herself a mug of chai, sweetening it with some sugar and added milk from a small earthenware pitcher.
Daniel answered, not really knowing Rey’s involvement in anything (other than that first mission, which few remembered in detail), “Amongst other things, I have the New Hampshire and Vermont Bar in January. I’m working on a waiver at the moment. Shouldn’t be a problem though.”
“That’s good to hear,” Rey replied. “I hope you do well.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem. John is taking a long time. What is he doing?”
“The lean-to out back hasn’t been used for anything for quite a while. It’s probably taking him a bit to get the horse settled and the sleigh covered or something,” Rey said. She smiled a bit wistfully. “I’d love to have a horse. It’d be ideal for living out here, but I probably couldn’t afford one.”
“It certainly is ideal, I’m going to have to get one, even though I have never, ever ridden one in my life.” He paused, “Don’t you work for Lyla? Hmm. Do you want to make some extra money, perhaps enough to cover your horse?,” Daniel asked.
Daniel answered, “I need someone to help out in my office. An assistant. Funny enough all the jobs in the city are filled and unemployment is not an issue. I need someone who can be reliable, discreet, and more than just a coffee and typing person. I am ready to go out of town to find who I need. I have a legal assistant coming, hopefully, in the spring; but they are for research mostly. A Girl Friday, legally speaking.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I don’t think I’m cut out for that kind of thing. I’m not an office kind of girl,” Rey said with a smile. “I’ve also promised Ramiel to help out with his shop once he gets it going, both working in it as well as making stuff to sell there.”
Daniel shrugged lightly, “Good help is hard to find. If you are already set, then that’s okay with me.”
Rey and Daniel could hear the crunch of the snow outside due to heavy footsteps. A few moments later the footsteps stopped at the door to Rey’s cabin, followed by a knock.
Outside Michael waited for someone to open the door. Michael smiled as he thought, I hope Selene is already here, cause I would hate to wait for her.
Rey opened the door. “Hi, Michael. Come on in!”
Michael stepped into the warm cabin, “Merry Christmas Rey. Where should I put my coat?”
“You can hang it there,” she said, pointing out the coat rack. “I’ve got hot drinks ready. Coffee, mulled cider, and chai. Would you like something?”
“I’ll take some mulled cider, please,” Michael said as he hung up his coat.
“Coming right up.” Rey filled a mug and handed it to him. “Selene’s going to show up later, then?” she asked.
Michael smiled hearing Selene’s name, “She told me that she would meet me here. I thought she would already be here when I arrived. I take it that she is not?”
Rey shook her head. “Neither is Grey, Lyla or Ramiel. They all said they were coming.” She frowned for a moment, and then forced it off her face. “They’re probably just going to be a bit late.”
John came in brushing snow off his shoulders, “I take it no one else uses the lean to?” There was a smile on his face and his cheeks are red. “Hello Micheal when did you sneak in? When is everyone else getting here?”
“I don’t know when they’re going to arrive,” Rey said. “Ramiel said there was a chance he might not come, but it was very slim. But the rest of the pack, except for Ironclaw, said they’d be here.”
“Well do we start the party with out them or sit and stare at each other, I brought my guitar and my bag of tricks.”
“Bag of tricks?” Rey asked.
“I didn’t know you were a magician,” said Daniel.
“Well not as good as some among us.” John nodded in Michael’s direction, “but I was actually thinking more along the lines of Felix the cat. I brought presents and I brought some games. A card game called Three Dragon Anti and word game called buzz word, and I brought my guitar. If we really get bored I can start telling war stories. So hopefully, we will all have a joyous noel. What do you have planned for this evening, Honoré? What is the order of events?”
“Well, I didn’t have a specific agenda,” Rey admitted. “It was going to be drinks and talk, then dinner. After that, more talk, or whatever. I hadn’t planned on a games kind of party. Just something that people could show up at for a while, then leave if and when they wanted to.”
“Oh… I see…” John looked somewhat disconcerted. “Ummm okay.” In a more subdued tone, he asked. “Who would like their presents now”?
“I feel somewhat embarrassed. I didn’t know who exactly was coming so I only got wine for the host, ” said Daniel.
“Don’t worry about it, Daniel,” Rey said. “I didn’t know if anyone was interested in exchanging gifts. Not everyone celebrates this time of year. Why don’t we wait on any gifts until the others get here. John, can I get you something to drink?” She told him what she had to offer in the way of hot drinks.
“I didn’t want to track everyone down tomorrow because I have to work so I brought the gifts I got everyone because this is the only time we are all going to be together as far as I know. Besides I don’t give gifts to get gifts, Daniel, I give them because it makes me happy. And not to put too fine a point on you, you haven’t seen your gift yet.” John Laughs, maybe a bit too loud trying to ease the moment of yet another phobia.
“I will go the cider route. Please and thank you.”
Rey filled a mug for him from the pot simmering on the stove and handed it to John. “If you have gifts for the others and they don’t show, you can leave them here. I’ll make sure they get them.”
Daniel took a sip from his coffee, then looked at the door and said, “When do you suppose the others will be here?”
“I don’t know,” Rey said, looking out the window. “Ramiel said he would definitely come. Lyla and Selene said they’d be here too.”
John, Daniel, Michael and Rey sat around in front of the fireplace, chatting and getting to know each other a bit better, but as time wore on and the others hadn’t made an appearance, the mood started to get a little tense.
Rey got up and went over to the window to peer out into the dark. “I’m starting to get worried. Did any of you see Ramiel, Lyla or Selene today?”
“No, I haven’t. I thought they were going to be here,” Daniel answered.
“Yes, one of us did and that man was …bom bom bom don Dr. John Beckett.” John said with a grin. “I saw them earlier in the day and then a while ago Ramiel and Lyla went out, I thought they were dressed a little strangely to be going to Rey’s party but to tell you the truth I wasn’t paying that much attention.
“They said they would be. Do you…” she looked at all of them in concern. “Do you think something could have happened?”
“Rey, they are old enough to take care of themselves and if they thought they might need our help they would have asked us and if Ramiel needed our help he would call Daniel’s cell phone or ask the dispatch to contact Micheal. So if they aren’t here I am sure there’s a good reason. Maybe their “other” friends had some sort of winter ceremony.”
“Other friends… do you mean the pack?” Rey shook her head. “No, there’s a full moon tonight, but there’s no special observances. If there was, they wouldn’t have left me out.” She looked back out into the night. “No. Something must have happened. If they knew they were going to be late, or weren’t going to make it, they would have said something to me.”
Seeing the worry or concern on people’s faces, Daniel concentrated for a moment, “I don’t sense anything. More accurately whatever they are doing hasn’t happened yet or I’m not involved enough to get a clear vision. I did hear some wolf howls on my way up here though,” said Daniel.
“Rey, this is Ramiel and Lyla we are talking about maybe they ummm, got distracted? I remember once in this restaurant Ramiel went to wash his hands and Lyla … well lets just say I got to finish the book I was reading before they came back.”
“I thought for sure Grey would be here though, did he stop by earlier? Hey wait a minute why wouldn’t the pack have left you out? Do they need a bartender at their official functions?”
“I’m more than just a bartender, John.” Rey frowned. “I am pack.”
“What??? You mean your a werewolf? When did that happen? Why am I always the last to know these things? That’s it I am going back to indiscriminate mind reading.”
“Oh no you don’t!” said Daniel jokingly. “Anyway you aren’t the last to hear about these things, I am. And I’m the guy who sees the future! Hell, I don’t even understand this whole pack thing anyway, except that the werewolves, of which there are many it seems, don’t talk about it. They have their world and we have ours. Some of us, like Ramiel, Lyla and I guess Rey are heavily involved. I’m not. And once that bothered me, but now, as long as everyone shows up and does their part, I don’t care what they do in their private lives. However, I am a bit worried about Lyla and the others.”
“Should we just skip the next 5 minutes of whada we do, whada we do and have me go hitch up the horse? ‘Cause the mood is pretty much ruined now. We don’t know where to find them or where they are as far as I know.” John paused to look around. “That being said we wouldn’t forgive ourselves if we didn’t check. That about sum things up? And of course no one has any way to track them, except Daniel whose talent says that right now they aren’t in danger.”
Daniel quickly responded, “No John, I didn’t say that. They could be in danger. I simply cannot see it. Whatever they are doing, it is in flux and for some reason I can’t tell. My gift isn’t perfect.”
“It’s not a good idea to go wandering around out there in the dark,” Rey said, remembering Ironclaw’s and Lyla’s warnings to her. “None of us know the area well enough, and I wouldn’t even begin to know where to look.” Her eyes fell upon the gifts on the mantel. “Presents. That’s we’ll do.” She retrieved three small, hand embroidered cloth bags from the mantel and handed them out.
“Actually Rey, I have been pretty much walking and riding all over the area for 6 months now and its not like it’s a blizzard out there. The problem isn’t getting lost or hurt the problem is knowing where to go. Not to be a party pooper but how come when I mention presents everyone is against it and when Rey mentions presents it a great idea. Its because she has bigger boobs isn’t it?” He sighed. John looked up with a shy grin, “Thanks Rey, its wonderful. I will treasure this bag always now when we go camping I can always tell which bar of soap is mine.
Hey theres something in mine.” John opens the bag. “Oooo pretty, and a sachet. I will treasure this sachet always, or is this some sort of herbal tea.”
“It’s a dream bag,” Rey said. “You put it under your pillow to help ward off nightmares. I made them myself. The necklace is to ward off the Evil Eye, and hostile spirits.”
“Thank you for the gift Rey,” Michael said.
“You’re welcome, Michael.” Rey smiled happily. She hadn’t been sure if they’d have liked such simple, handmade gifts.
“That was very thoughtful gift Rey.” John said.
“Thank you,” said Daniel.
“You’re welcome. They’ll work if you have faith. No, not faith in God or whatever,” Rey explained, “but faith in me, and faith in the charms and talismans.”
“Well if you can give yours I can give mine.” John reached into his sack and rummaged.
“Here Daniel.” John pulled out some packages and handed them to Daniel. “Open them, whenever you want. I hope you enjoy them and get some use out of them.”
“Here Michael, I bet you can’t guess what it is…” It appeared to be a rifle with wrapping paper covering it.
“This is a wonderful gift, John,” Michael said as he unwrapped the broken Winchester model 1873. “It will take some time, but I believe that I can get this back into shape.”
“Yeah I made sure I left all the rust on. I didn’t want to decrease it value by cleaning it up the wrong way and I figured that you would want to do it yourself.” John said.
“Now Rey Here is your present. For your protection close your eyes. ” John tried to block the view from Daniel and Michael, but he didn’t try too hard.
“Okay, you can open your eyes now. ” John was holding a heavy cast Iron skillet and a rolling pin, each of which had a bow on it. The skillet looked huge. Rey would almost have to use two hands if anything was in it.
“I hope you never have to use them in anger,” he said as he tried hard not to laugh.
Rey’s delighted laughter filled the cabin. “Dear god, I’m going to have to hide that skillet from Grey. If he uses that to cook, I’ll be bigger then the Goodyear blimp in no time.” She took her gifts from him and put them on the table. “Thank you so much, John,” she said, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
John’s face turned really red but he turned around and said, “I got something else for everyone too,” John said as he turned around. “I picked up some trees from the local nursery and I would like to give one to everyone. Since we are all symbolically putting down roots here I thought maybe we could literally put down some roots. I figured to let everyone pick what they wanted.
“I have little three by 5 cards for now and when the weather gets better we can plant them. I have Ash, Oak, Rowan, Aspen, White Pine, Cedar, and Yew. Anyone have one they would like to call?
“I’d like the rowan, please,” Rey said.
“A tree? Well I don’t know, I suppose I will take the Yew,” Michael said.
John wrote the names on the 3 x 5 cards, Rey on Rowan and Micheal on Yew then looked up and said, “Daniel do you want to pick now or later?”
“I suppose Ash?” responded Daniel.
“Don’t ask me,” said John, “it’s going to be your tree. An Ash is a good tree though.”
After 10:00 John looking worried said. “Well, it looks like the others are a no show or at least I can’t wait up for them any longer. I have to work tomorrow. Does anyone want a sleigh ride back to town?”
“I’ll come,” said Daniel reluctantly. He knew he should go.
“You guys go ahead, I prefer to walk,” Michael stated.
John went outside and hooked the horse back up to the sleigh, then pulled around front and went inside to get his stuff and for Daniel. “Hey Daniel your rides here, thanks for the party Rey.” John slung his bag over his shoulder, and headed back to the sleigh.
“You’re welcome, John,” Rey said. “Have a safe trip home.”