A Lullaby For The Lost

Chapter 11: Vampire Wonderland (Christmas in the Cavern)

Chapter 11: Vampire Wonderland (Christmas in the Cavern)

Paul was murdering Christmas carols again. He had made definite progress on the guitar he’d bought over the summer, and in some cases, he was able to add musical accompaniment to the songs he belted out.

‘Bats on Wing, are you listenin’?
Vampires land, their eyes are glistenin’
It’s a scary-assed sight
For mortals tonight,
Walking in a Vampire Wonderland.

In the store, there is Betty,
Her little veins are like spaghetti,
I hold her real tight
As I suck and I bite,
Walking in a Vampire Wonderland…

On the beach, we can make a snowman,
But in Santa Carla, he’ll be made of sand,
We’ll make a feast of all the Christmas shoppers,
Come along and join us, it’s so grand…

If there’s a mortal I desire,
Maybe I can be her Sire,
I’ll finally get laid
With the fledgling I made,
Walking in a Vampire Wonderland.

Yeah!

Walking in Vampire Wonderland!’

David gritted his teeth at all of this holiday cheeriness, but the others hooted and hollered in appreciation of Paul’s skills. Leah obviously adored Paul and Dwayne by now. She was busily coloring Christmas cards for them.

Why shouldn’t she? Those two loved having the kid around. Now that she knew the truth about their vampirism, they capitalized on it in ways that made her feel less afraid. In the dark hours of the morning, they sometimes escorted the child to the upper portions of the cavern, past the ever watchful Thorn. The clearance from floor to ceiling there was ideal for a nice game of catch, where one would fly up with her, and then toss her to the other. By now, Leah was utterly fearless. She had no idea that these two same vampires had taught an eight year old fledgling to fly in the same manner twenty years ago.

Even Marko was loosening up some. He didn’t pay much attention to the girl’s babble, but he wasn’t above joining in the game of ‘Catch the Kid’ from time to time. One night, he even came back from his shift at the Seafarer with something hidden under his jacket. David could only guess that it was a Christmas present for their guest. Finally, Marko had approached David, fastening his soulful hazel eyes on his Sire.

“Bah-Humbug, Scrooge! When’s the last time we ever had Christmas around here? I kinda miss it.”

“Those two are getting attached to a kid that isn’t staying. If she wolfs out around the New Year, she’s dead meat. If she doesn’t…”

“She’ll be hanging around for an awful long time, right? Like Laddie. So, why shouldn’t the kid have a good time this Christmas, regardless of whether it’s her first with us, or her only one…”

“She won’t be staying with us, like Laddie,” David told him.

“What? You mean you’ll send her home?”

“No. She’s dead meat either way.”

The sincerity in David’s tone made Marko back up a bit. He was not one to question his Sire, but David was obviously hiding something. Marko didn’t like to be kept in the dark.

“Why would you kill her if she doesn’t go to the dogs?”

A sick sneer lit up David’s face.

“I’m sure Paul already has a clue. She made a couple of slips one night while you were working and Dwayne was out hunting. She was babbling like she always does; only she mentioned two people whose names I’m sure you’re familiar with.”

“Who?”

“Aunt Star and Uncle Mike. Get it? I’m surprised I’m the only one that knows who this kid is. Her disappearance hit the papers pretty big. Obviously, I must be the only one that reads the Sentinel.”

“Aunt Star and Uncle Mike? She’s related to….well, which one?”

“Michael is her blood uncle. His snot bag little brother is Leah’s father. Now do you get it?”

“Christ, David, that’s twisted, even for you,” Marko muttered.

“Marko,” David stated, his eyes filled with that icy calm and sincerity that told his Childe that he’d better listen up, “Sam Emerson was one of the three boys that wormed their way into our sleeping cavern and staked you while you slept. Maybe he wasn’t the one wielding the wood, but he was in on it, so he’s just as guilty.”

“Granted, he was. But Leah had nothing to do with that. Hell, she wasn’t even an itch in his pants back then. If I ever see Sam Emerson, I won’t hesitate to suck him dry. Then, I’ll spit out his blood….”

“You may just get your chance, too. Leah’s the bait. I just have to know how it will go down. If Leah wolfs out, I’ll have to prevent her from chowing on Daddy. She’ll be ready to put the bite on any mortal, regardless of who it is. I’d like to offer him up to Dwayne. See if Emerson’s blood doesn’t set his mind back to rights. After all, the memories contained in my blood are also contained in Emerson’s. Dwayne sucks him dry, gets his revenge, and will always have those memories in his mind again; thanks to Emerson….”

“Okay, sounds like a plan. Then, what?”

“Do you really think that little Leah would find us too friendly after we used her as bait to lure her father? Her days of Dwayne Worship would be over. It would be a mercy to drop her in the grave with her old man.”

Marko sighed. David’s plan was twisted; probably one of the most twisted ones he’d ever conceived of. Sometimes, Marko wondered about David’s sanity.

^..^

Holidays were hard for Gabe. He had no family to spend his time with anymore, except a great aunt and some distant cousins that lived out of state. Still, his great-aunt, even if she seldom talked to him all the rest of the year, never failed to send him a box of her homemade goodies and a Christmas card. She was getting up there, he knew; she had to be nearly 80. Yet, from the few times he’d ever remembered seeing her, she was always in the kitchen baking something. Right on schedule, three days before Christmas, Gabe had his box. There were homemade chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, peanut brittle, walnut brownies and a tin of Chex Mix. He made certain his Great Aunt had gotten her Christmas card, too.

Auntie’s package had taken up almost all the room in his mailbox, but there was another envelope wedged in there, too. He took it in with his goodie box, and opened the envelope while munching on a sugar cookie. It was a Christmas card from Star and Michael; one of those photo ones that people can have made. On the outside, it read ‘Happy Holidays from the Emerson Family’. The family was wearing shades of green and red; Michael a dark green sweater, and Star a red one. The boys were dressed accordingly, the eldest, Ryan, and the youngest, Brett in green, and the twins, Christopher and Zachary in red. They looked cheerful and happy, but usually, pictures like these had to be taken well in advance, prior to the holiday season. They’d probably sat for the photo in November, before Leah had gone missing.

A letter in Star’s handwriting was contained inside the card. Naturally, she knew of Leah’s disappearance, and was distraught. The only thing stopping them from making the trip to Santa Carla was the amount of kids they had, and the fact that there was little they could do but hope and pray. She said in the letter that she had spoken to Lucy, and that Lucy had assured them that there was nothing they could do. Michael had offered to come out alone, but apparently, Sam told him it wasn’t necessary. He’d rather Michael wait until there was a concrete reason….

Like a funeral.

Which Gabe knew there was no need for. At least not yet.

Guiltily, he set the card aside. He had always been close to Star, and wished he could tell her where Leah was; or at least assure her that she was safe. Christmas really had to be sucking hard for the Emerson’s.

At the very least, he knew he could make things easier on the kid. With the ghost of a smile, he loaded up most of his cookies and whatnots, and sealed them in a Ziplock bag. He knew of one little girl who’d probably like them even more than he did. He wished he could take the card to her, too. Some internal instinct advised him against it, though. No doubt, David would get a hold of the photo, and it would set him off.

Alex woke up around six o’clock in the evening to find Gabe wrapping a box in Christmas paper. She hadn’t officially moved in with him, but she did stay over quite often.

“What’s that?” she asked as she measured scoops of coffee into a filter to prepare herself an evening blast of caffeine.

“It’s goodies. Here, I saved some cookies for you, but I thought I’d take these to the Boys, so they could give them to Leah. My Great Aunt sends me a goodie box every year,” he answered.

“Wow, that’s awesome! What a great idea! I promised them some of my Tia’s tamales, so if you want, we can take everything together when I’m off tomorrow night,” she suggested.

“Great. Listen, if you’re up to it in the morning, maybe we could…”

“We could what?” Alex asked, a devilish grin shining in her pretty hazel eyes.

“Well, that too…but we could get the kid a couple of things. I remember how the Boys used to win me prizes on the boardwalk some nights, and if it wasn’t for that, I’d have no toys to play with. Leah must be kind of bored…”

Gabe had only told Alex on one occasion that the teddy bear he still kept in his room had been given to him by Dwayne.

“You’re so sweet. I’ve been saving some money since August for Christmas….”

“You’ve been saving money? Really? Every time I turn around, you’ve got some new teddy bear or little outfit to give to your Mom for the baby!” he laughed.

“No, I mean it. I cut way back on stuff I don’t need, because I wanted to…you know…buy some stuff for….”

“The Boys?”

“Yeah. I know it sounds kind of dumb, since they probably don’t celebrate Christmas, but…”

“It’s not dumb at all. It’s actually really sweet. We’ll pool our money together and get something for everyone. That way, you’ll still have some shopping money left to buy for your mom and what’s his face…”

“Dean?”

“Yeah, him. You should probably get him a little something since he’s going to be your step father.”

Before Alex left for work that night, she was favored with lots of affection. Gabe couldn’t help it. He’d been thinking his Christmas would be lackluster and dreary, but he should have known better. With Alex and her positive attitude around, nothing was ever dreary for long. The thought of Christmas shopping filled him with a joy he’d been missing all season. Now, he just debated two questions: Would Alex like what he’d already bought her?

And what in the hell should he get David?

^..^

Gabe quickly learned that women had shopping skills that far excelled most men. Even though she was tired from a long shift at work, and the sunlight wreaked hell on her energy levels, Alex could not deny the inbred call of the shopping mall. They departed for their expedition as soon as they knew the mall would be open. Once inside, the lack of direct sunlight in all of the stores invigorated her some. An iced coffee at the Pavilion did the rest. Together, she and Gabe knocked over the toy store first. Children were easier to buy for. Then, it was time to debate over what to get each of the Boys.

“I know what David wants. I just can’t afford it on my own,” Alex sniffed over her coffee.

“That’s why we’re pooling our money, darling. And, maybe we can bargain hunt. What does he want?”

“A digital camera. I heard he’s been playing with Paul’s camera phone lately, but he’s pissed because it doesn’t have a flash…He wants a real camera,” Alex replied.

“Oh, that shouldn’t be too hard. We can’t afford one of the high end ones, but we should be able to take care of that for him,” Gabe replied. He was so relived that Alex knew what to get. In fact, he’d be willing to spend almost about any amount of money just to have the right idea jump out at him.

“But one question. He doesn’t have a computer to download the images on. What good would a camera do him?”

“I’m afraid that’s where you come in, Gabe. He knows you do. Maybe you could teach him how to download and print stuff from your computer when he comes to visit…”

“Well, it’s not like he doesn’t spend lots of time surfing the web anyways when he visits. Shouldn’t be a problem…Now, what about your old man? What are we getting him?”

Alex smiled triumphantly.

“I already know what he wants. I bought it last month when it went on sale,” she replied.

“Oh, yeah…I remember what you got him. I’m just wondering what I should get him…”

“He’s easy, babe. We’ll just hit the music store. I’m having trouble with Dwayne….he’s so quiet, y’know? I have no idea what he likes,” Alex sighed.

“He has three passions; skateboarding, painting and jewelry making,” Gabe replied.

“Oh, yeah, right. And he has a thing about Zombie movies. He’s always asks you if you have any when he comes to visit.”

Gabe smiled.

“See, you know him better than you think…but what about Marko? He’s your Sire. Any idea what he’d want?”

It was Alex’s turn to smile. She then opened up a sale ad from a flyer she’d picked up at the mall’s entrance, and pointed out a couple of things. Gabe gave her the thumbs up.

Neither of them mentioned the gifts they’d purchased each other. Alex had a new leather bomber jacket hidden away at her apartment for him that she’d just gotten out of layaway last week. Gabe had found a nice pair of designer sunglasses for Alex that he planned to give her with along with another small gift.

Once they got back to Gabe’s house, they had quite a load of gifts to wrap. They spent the rest if the afternoon eating popcorn, watching ‘A Christmas Story’ on TV, and wrapping all of the presents until Gabe had to leave for his swing shift.

^..^

Alex had traditional family plans scheduled for Christmas Eve that Gabe knew were important to her. It could possibly be the last Christmas she would spend with her family as a mortal. She had been spending a couple of days a week for the last couple of weeks helping her aunt prepare tamales, which was one of her family’s traditional holiday foods. She would spend Christmas Eve in Watsonville with Maria, Dean, and her mother’s family. They would enjoy tons of food, open gifts, and attend midnight mass together. Some of Maria’s extended family would be meeting Dean for the first time. An invitation was also extended to Gabe, who’d likely be spending Christmas Eve alone, and he was flattered (and nervous) at the idea of being included in Alex’s family’s Christmas celebration. Sadly, since he had to work on Christmas Eve, he would only be able to stay a little while.

The day before Christmas Eve, both were scheduled off. Early that evening, Alex called Paul and let him know that they were planning on dropping by. Paul sounded overjoyed, and made plans to ‘suddenly get sick’ so he would not have to work. Marko would be pulling a Christmas Eve shift at the Seafarer, and was given the night before off. Therefore, the timing was perfect for their impromptu Santa Claus act, even if they’d be delivering their gifts a full twenty four hours before Jolly Old Saint Nick usually did.

Climbing into the access tunnel was not an easy thing while burdened with a heavy duty trash bag loaded with wrapped presents. Worse still, Alex had a Tupperware container stuffed full of tamales from her aunt’s house. Despite the obstacles, Gabe and Alex managed to unload their haul without damaging their cargo of gifts or getting dirt in the food.

To their surprise, the ballroom actually looked a little festive. Hand colored rings of paper had been linked together and glued and then strung around the cavern. Leah had obviously been busy. In addition, she and Paul had made stars out of Popsicle sticks, glued and glittered them, and made a couple of hanging mobiles out of them. A Christmas tree of sorts was even present. Leah had drawn one on a large piece of sketch paper from Dwayne’s pad. Then, she’d colored it in and glued real beads that Dwayne had given to her from his jewelry making supplies as ornaments. Then, they’d tacked the ‘Christmas Tree’ up on one of the walls. Beneath the tree, there were already a few clumsily wrapped gifts.

“Ho, Ho, Ho!” Gabe called cheerily.

“Where’s the ‘ho? Did you bring me one for Christmas?” Paul asked. He was making a desperate attempt to comb down his hair, which was still a little damp, as he’d just returned from the YMCA, where he’d taken a shower.

“You wish! Sorry, I couldn’t fit Blow Up Betsy in the bag; otherwise I’m sure she would have liked to tag along,” Gabe joked.

“Ah, don’t worry about it. I’d have her deflated in ten seconds flat if I got too frisky with my fangs…”

“Ah, ewww!” Alex moaned, rolling her eyes.

“I smell food. Where’s the grub?” Marko asked from his customary spot in his beanbag chair.

“It’s in here, and no, it’s not Chinese. Its tamales,” Alex told her Sire with a wink.

Dwayne was seated on his velvet drawing room chair, fixing one of the wheels on his skateboard. In the rocking chair next to him sat Leah. She was wearing a pair of headphones and listening to a personal CD player, which was likely Paul’s. When she saw Alex and Gabe enter the room with the bag of presents, her mouth dropped. Then, she pulled the headphones off.

“Where’s David?” Gabe asked, looking around fruitlessly.

“Oh, Scrooge is in the back, reading some stuff. He’s been a real shit head lately and he spends most of his time by himself, cramming his head full of who knows what,” Paul offered.

David in a bad mood was not a festive thought.

“He’s in a crappy mood? What else is new? He always acts like someone pissed in his Cornflakes,” Alex said, unloading the container of tamales onto the small, antique coffee table.

“He’s been especially testy lately,” Marko said.

“Well, we have something to cheer him up, so maybe he’ll chill out and get happy,” Gabe replied. Then, he started stacking the presents beneath the ‘tree’.

“I hope so,” Marko answered. He shoved himself out of the beanbag chair and disappeared through the double wooden doors to fetch his Sire.

Dwayne finally gave up on the skateboard and uttered a string of words under his breath. Only someone fluent in the language of the Ojibwa tribe would understood what he’d just said. His skateboard was at least 15 years old and had seen the best of its days.

“What, are you being a Scrooge too?” Gabe asked, shooting his Sire a bemused look.

“Nah. Just frustrated,” Dwayne replied sheepishly, “So you two are playing Santa Claus, eh?”

“Yeah, you could say so. Why don’t you come get some tamales before they all get eaten by Paul?” Alex told him.

Dwayne rose from his seat and motioned for Leah to follow him.

“Ever had tamales?” he asked her.

“I don’t know. I think so…” the girl answered.

“Well, try one out. Alex makes some tasty grub,” Dwayne urged.

“Yeah, and if you eat your dinner, we brought dessert,” Gabe promised.

The child looked immensely pleased, and accepted a loaded plate from Paul, who’d dug up a stash of paper plates from somewhere in the room.

“What is this, Christmas dinner?”

Alex and Gabe looked up when David entered the room. Marko was right, it seemed. It looked like David had been having a couple of bad nights. His face was drawn, and it looked like he’d lost a little weight.

“Yeah, this Christmas Dinner, Mexican style,” Alex told him.

“Don’t Mexican people eat turkeys?” Leah asked innocently.

“Yeah, of course we do. But we also eat tamales…lots of them!”

“Mmmm, this is better than the grub at Tia Maria’s!” Paul complimented. His mouth was still full, as it seemed he barely started chewing one bite before he’d load more food in.

Marko loaded up two plates; one for himself and one for his Sire. Once everyone else was served, Alex and Gabe helped themselves. Then, they all found seats. Each of the Boys had their favored chairs, and Leah had temporarily taken residence in Alex’s rocking chair. She didn’t mind however; since she’d much rather sit close to Gabe on the couch tonight. Before Dwayne made himself comfortable, he grabbed a couple of tamales from the tray and took them to the upper chamber where Thorn sat guard. Even the dog would enjoy some Christmas dinner.

“Check out that stack of presents, David. Those two have been busy,” Paul said, indicating what lay in wait beneath the picture of the tree.

“Great. Pretty soon, this kid will be able to open her own toy store right down here,” he replied sourly.

“Who said they were all for Leah? We went shopping for everyone,” Gabe said, narrowing his eyes at David. He was careful to keep his tone respectful, but he couldn’t help the bit of annoyance that slipped into his gaze.

“Can I play Santa?” Leah asked excitedly.

“Looks to me like those two already did,” David told her.

“No, she means she wants to pass out the presents. It’s just an expression,” Alex explained.

“Can I?” Leah repeated.

“Ask them. It’s their loot.”

“Sure. Of course you can,” Gabe affirmed.

She jumped up to start giving out the gifts, but David ordered her back to her seat.

“Finish eating. When everyone’s done, you can pass out the presents.”

His tone was strict and no nonsense. Leah obeyed without question. Alex and Gabe first gazed at each other, and then to the other three Boys. No one said anything. It seemed to the couple that perhaps David was tiring of babysitting. Maybe he’d let the girl go soon…

“I figured we’d be having some sort of Christmas around here. I’ve got a couple of things to bring out,” Dwayne commented once he’d finished his dinner.

“Yeah, me too,” Marko added.

“Well, I kind of thought someone around here was in the holiday spirit, since there was already a few presents under the tree,” Alex said.

“Those are mine. I got my shopping done early,” Paul said with a toss of his messy hair.

Dwayne and Marko returned to the ballroom with their arms full. Neither of them had wrapped their gifts in Christmas paper. Dwayne had his gifts in boxes wrapped in plain brown paper that he’d fashioned from discarded shopping bags. Marko hadn’t wrapped anything at all. He added his contributions to the pile, still stored in the plastic bags they’d been carried home in from the various shops he’d visited. David made no move to add to the pile, but somehow, this surprised no one.

“Is it time yet?” Leah begged. In her excitement, her eyes were taking on a silver sheen that no one commented on.

“Yes,” David sighed, “It’s time.”

The girl wiggled out of her seat and pranced over to the pile of presents. Meanwhile, Gabe set up a platter of all the goodies his great aunt had baked. When David eyed the selection, if finally seemed as though his mood would brighten. By the time Leah had stacked a few gifts over by his chair, he actually looked like he was in a good mood. When he unwrapped the digital camera that Alex and Gabe had chipped in and got him, David finally shed the last vestiges of whatever had been eating at him. Immediately, he set about reading the instruction manual.

“It’s fully charged, too. When you need to recharge it, you can pop it by my place,” Gabe offered, “and then I’ll bring it back when it’s done.”

“Well, let’s see how this works,” David said, pointing his camera around the room and randomly taking pictures of everyone.

“There’s still more presents to open,” Marko called out to his Sire.

David responded by snapping a picture of Marko; making sure that the flash would go off in his eyes. He wore a mischievous grin as he did so. Marko rubbed his sensitive eyes and then playfully flipped David the finger.

Gabe looked over to his Sire and saw that he was staring wordlessly at the new skateboard he’d just unwrapped.

“Wow, Laddie. You shouldn’t have,” he whispered.

“Hell yah, I should have. Your old one is falling apart!”

Paul was hooting in his corner, holding up his ‘Monsters of Rock’ song book that Alex had given him.

“Somebody’s been learning to do some mind reading,” he cried joyfully.

“No, more like somebody’s been pissing and moaning for that song book for the last three months,” Alex laughed.

Marko was thrilled with the Nintendo DS games that Alex and Gabe had selected. Now, he wouldn’t be complaining about not having any new games for some time.

As for Leah, she was tearing through her packages with abandon. Suddenly, she had a horse puzzle, her own sketch pad, a Bratz doll, a couple of pairs of pants and two new T-shirts, some decorative hair accessories, and several ‘Baby Sitter’s Club’ and ‘Goosebumps’ books.

Unbeknownst to Gabe, Alex had clued her Sire in on their plans after their shopping spree, while Gabe had been at work. Marko had gotten the lowdown on who was getting what (except for his own presents, of course), and had gone to Wal-Mart later that night. When he selected his gifts, he chose ones that, in most cases, would compliment the ones Gabe and Alex had chosen. Since tips had been excellent this month, Marko had the money to splurge a bit. Soon, Dwayne was excitedly chattering as much as anyone else when he unwrapped the portable DVD player Marko had sprung for. Then, he was in horror movie heaven when he got to the gifts Alex had purchased. She had found ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and ‘Night of the Living Dead’ for him, intending for him to be able to watch them at Gabe’s. Now, he could watch them whenever he wished.

David was similarly stoked when he unwrapped his gift from his Childe. Marko had found him a boxed set of the Highlander television series. To watch the DVD’s in the ballroom, he’d need to borrow Dwayne’s new player, but watching TV or movies was such a novelty to them, it was suddenly like the whole pack had good things to watch without having to go to Gabe’s house. Marko had also gotten his Sire a digital picture frame. David could transfer his favorite pictures from the camera to the frame, and be able to view them without requiring a computer or a printer. Paul was gifted with a new ‘rock box’. This one was the first he’d ever owned that played CD’s. Immediately afterwards, he opened his gift from Gabe and was rewarded with CD’s from Rob Zombie and Disturbed. Marko gifted his Childe with a South Park hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with ‘I Killed Kenny’ on the front. Alex always laughed whenever Marko wore his South Park hoodie, and now she had one of her own. Gabe received something in an envelope.

He opened it up and revealed a gift certificate to ‘Think in Ink’, the local tattoo parlor.

“Whoa…dude!” he cried happily.

“You can’t get it done unless I’m there. I wanna see that bad boy,” Marko told him.

“You’re getting a tat? Awesome! Lucky you!” Paul said. His eyes were unable to hide a moment of envy. Vampires could not get tattoos. They’d heal over as soon as they were applied.

“Now would be a good time to get one if you want one,” David said ominously.

Gabe’s next gift was from Dwayne. Most of his gifts to everyone were ones he made himself, since he didn’t have much money, but no one thought any less of them. Dwayne had found another wolf’s tooth (or he’d been saving it), and fashioned Gabe an earring of it that matched his own.

Finally, Alex and Gabe swapped gifts with each other. Alex watched nervously as Gabe unwrapped his new jacket.

“Holy shit! This is awesome!” he cried as he tried it on. Alex had chosen wisely and the jacket fit him perfectly. Of course, she’d used the size of his old, fleece lined denim jacket as a guide.

“Well, look who’s finally decided to dress like he belongs,” David remarked, taking in the sight of Gabe in his new leather bomber with the wolf tooth earning dangling from his earlobe.

“It’s not a work night. I can get away with it,” Gabe laughed. Then, he presented Alex with her gift. There was only one box, but two things were packed inside. The first was a pair of designer label sunglasses. Nestled beside them was a velvet pouch. Alex opened that to reveal a filigreed Black Hills Gold heart charm on a gold chain.

Her jaw dropped in surprise, and then she threw her arms around Gabe and gave him a hearty hug. While he unfastened the clasp of the necklace and put it around her neck, Alex was bouncing lightly on the couch in excitement, much like Paul often did. Once the necklace was in place, Gabe leaned in for a kiss. Neither of them was expecting a flash to go off in their faces.

“You two should really see how disgusting you look doing that,” David smirked, handing Gabe the cameral. On the digital readout, he could see the kiss that he and Alex had just shared.

“You just wait. The first chick you bring down here, I’m going to be here with a friggin’ video camera!” Gabe threatened in mock.

“Promise? That could be kinky,” Paul commented.

“AAAAaagggghh!”

The moan that echoed around the ballroom was a collective one, and soon, Paul found himself being playfully bombarded with crumpled up pieces of discarded wrapping paper.

Finally, Leah stood up. She had made a hand drawn Christmas card for everyone. Alex and Gabe’s had been finished just before they’d arrived. With an air of importance, she passed them out to everyone. Even David got one. His attitude towards Leah softened considerably for the rest of the night.

At last, before the festivities drew to a close, Thorn was given his gifts. A brand new rawhide chew bone was presented to him, while Dwayne held on to the box of dog snacks he favored. Thorn barely raised his head when his bone was given to him. Then again, Christmas wasn’t exactly the high point of a dog’s life. It wasn’t the high point of a fear demon’s either.