Every year, in addition to DOING ALL THE THINGS editorial and writerly, Rhonda Parrish organizes a December blog tour to benefit Edmonton’s Food Bank. This year we’re doing an Advent theme, and twenty-four participants will each post one story during the next twenty-four days.
The stories will mostly be hosted at the blogs of the people who’ve written and donated them, so we’ll be spreading the love around. I’ll put a list of links further down in the email, but my story–“Gift of the Werewolf”–will be going up on December 5 at my website. And yes, that’s a Circle City Magic Christmas story!
Here’s where I ask you for money.
Each dollar donated to the food bank can buy three meals. Our goal this year is $750, which means if we reach our goal we will have helped provide 2,250 meals to hungry people.
Rhonda is offering Christmas cards and other awesome stuff to donors. There will also be a Rafflecopter giveaway with tons of awesome prizes available to residents of the US and Canada. For all the details, check out organizer Rhonda Parrish’s blog post.
And all of that is on top of the story-a-day schedule!
At the end of today’s story, I’ll post the Rafflecopter giveaway and a schedule of all the places you can find a new story. Yesterday’s story was by Michael Tager and tomorrow’s story will be by Pamela Fernandes.
And now, without further ado…
Gift of the Werewolf – A Circle City Magic short story
A Circle City Magic short story
The building PA system was playing “All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue” by Over the Rhine as Braxton Wolfe and his best friend Elliott walked out of the downtown building where they’d attended the Safe Neighborhoods Alliance meeting. Braxton tugged his coat collar up and shivered. Werewolf metabolism kept the worst of the cold away, but temperatures were well below normal for December in Indiana.
“How is Christmas only a week and a half away?” Elliott grumbled. “I can’t even get an answer from my sisters if they’re coming back home for the holiday or not.”
Braxton’s eyes widened. “A week and a half?” That wasn’t possible. He blinked at the huge snowflakes that danced down on the slight breeze. He’d spent the past few weeks trying to end a rash of stranger-on-stranger gun violence, which explained why he’d lost track of time, but it couldn’t be that close to Christmas, could it? Then again, the chill in the weather and proximity to the holiday season was why stranger-on-stranger violence was unusual; at this time of year, the violence was usually committed against family members.
Hence the Safe Neighborhoods Alliance meeting.
Elliott laughed. “Last I checked. You haven’t waited this long to buy your girlfriend a present, have you?”
“Uh.” Braxton coughed, guiltily aware that Elliott would hear the way his pulse sped up at that question. “No…not exactly.” He’d bought Chloe a green scarf that would look good with her hair, and he’d picked up the concealed carry holster she’d been eyeing in the catalog. But, although practical, neither of those seemed like good romantic gifts for a woman who knocked you sideways and made you reconsider everything that used to matter in your life.
“You have!” Elliott cackled. “You’re gonna be in the wolfhouse if you don’t find her something, man.”
Braxton glared at him, knowing Elliott’s keen werewolf senses would pick up his sudden flare of anxiety. “Chloe isn’t like that.”
Chloe was a lot of things, but petty wasn’t one of them. She was tall, good-looking, no-nonsense—despite her penchant for seeing ghosts—and probably a better marksman than Braxton, but she wasn’t petty. And Elliott had known her years longer than Braxton had, so he ought to know that.
Elliott snorted, but a moment later he sighed. “Well, no, she probably isn’t. But still, don’t you want to knock her socks off with your gift?”
Braxton looked sidelong at him. Of course he wanted to knock her socks off. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t think of anything good—really good.
Elliott shook his head, grinning. “You seriously have it bad, dude. I mean, good for you, but wow.”
“Shut up,” Braxton said, and turned his back on his best friend to get into his car.
Braxton was still thinking about the alarming approach of Christmas the next day as he left work at the Indiana State Police headquarters. He’d had so much trouble finding a good present for Chloe—a really good present, one that would be meaningful for their first Christmas together—that he’d shoved it into the back of his mind while he helped the interagency volunteer group work to end the rash of violence.
It didn’t hurt that Chloe was a cop, too, though she worked for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department instead of ISP. She understood how easy it was to get wrapped up in a case and lose track of personal stuff, so she cut Braxton a lot of slack for working long hours.
Then again, she was also the reason Braxton was doing a better job of actually leaving at quitting time instead of spending extra hours at headquarters. He’d intentionally made special holiday-related dates with her, including Lights at the Brickyard and the traditional Circle of Lights Tree Lighting at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the day after Thanksgiving.
Still, none of that counted as a Christmas present. It was the sort of things couples did. And even though Chloe was the kind of person who would be happy with practical gifts for Christmas, Braxton couldn’t help wanting to wow her. He wanted to give her something that showed how much he cared about her, how he relied on her, how much better she’d made his life.
Maybe, he thought, he wanted to give her something like that because he was hoping she would give him something that meant the same things.
“Face facts,” he muttered as he started his car and switched the heat to defrost until it warmed up. “You’re ready to change everything for her, and you’re only hoping she feels the same.”
He hadn’t dared admit it to himself until now, but Chloe had been so hesitant about their relationship, so slow to trust him, that he still sometimes feared she would break their relationship off just when he wanted to take things to the next level.
And what’s the next level? whispered a voice in the back of his head.
Braxton pushed it aside.
He’d already exhausted the options at two Indianapolis malls, but he hadn’t been down to the Mass Ave shopping district. And if worse came to worst, he could try the Fashion Mall at Keystone at the Crossing. He winced and hoped it didn’t come to that.
But at eight-forty-nine, he was forced to admit the only places he’d lingered on Mass Ave were the jewelry shops. And he didn’t have any idea how Chloe would feel about him giving her jewelry. She wore a St. Michael’s medal every day, but their job didn’t lend itself to bracelets or anklets—at least, not wearing one yourself instead of putting them on a perp—and for the life of him, Braxton couldn’t remember if Chloe had pierced ears or not.
He sneezed, trying to get the clinging odor of patchouli out of his nose. As a werewolf, his senses were much sharper than a human’s, but he’d never been able to understand how anyone could possibly like the smell of patchouli.
“You’re a shitty boyfriend,” he muttered to himself. “What kind of boyfriend doesn’t know if she has pierced ears? What kind of boyfriend waits until December eighteenth to go shopping?”
“A normal one,” said a skinny guy who was passing him on the sidewalk. Braxton forced a laugh, knowing he was trying to be funny, but he really wanted to trip the dude instead.
Braxton’s life had upended since meeting Chloe in September, and even though they’d only been dating for three months, he already felt more comfortable with a woman than he ever had. They both liked cats, they were both in law enforcement, and her ability to see ghosts meant that—after the initial shock—she’d been more than happy to overlook the fact Braxton turned furry once a month.
Chloe had more faith in God than he did, but Braxton had more faith in people than Chloe. Losing her parents so young had made her more independent, but she had been incredibly understanding about his grief over the fairly recent loss of his father. She was less open to the supernatural until it was shoved in her face, but once she believed in it, she accepted Braxton’s supernatural nature without flinching.
Braxton sighed and headed for his car. His parking space would expire in the next twenty minutes, and most of the stores on Mass Ave were closing, anyway. He wasn’t sure if the Fashion Mall had extended hours, but he still had a few days. He would head up to the northeast side tomorrow, as long as he didn’t get any new gun violence emergencies.
“No,” he muttered, jerking his car door open. “Emergency or not, you’ve got to finish the Christmas shopping.”
He was used to shopping for the werewolf pack, his parents, and his cat. The pack was easy—meat and booze—his parents had always said they had all they wanted, and his cat was happy with canned chicken, catnip, and a box. A girlfriend was completely new territory for Braxton.
Territory that didn’t come with a map.
“Too expensive,” Chloe said, snapping her seat belt in place. “I mean, I could afford it, but I object to paying that much on principle.”
“It’s a nice location,” Braxton said. It was Saturday, and he still didn’t have a present for Chloe, but he’d agreed to go apartment hunting with her. An arsonist had burned her house down three days after they met, and she was apparently tired of living with her brother in Broad Ripple, even though Braxton had never seen siblings who were more devoted to each other than Chloe and Martin Cole.
“I just have too many other things I could spend that money on.”
He recognized the tone that meant Chloe was done arguing about something. For whatever reason, she’d decided against this apartment complex. If it were closer to Braxton’s house on the west side, he might try to change her mind, but he really didn’t want Chloe living clear over on the southeast side of Indy anyway.
He started the car. “Okay, what’s the next place on the list?” He liked that Chloe had asked him to help her find an apartment. The first time she’d gone looking, she’d taken one of her female friends. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but it was nice that she valued his opinion, too.
“Well, there are a couple of places up on the northeast side,” she said. “Elliott’s been talking about how great his apartments are.”
Braxton fought to keep his expression blank. It took him forty minutes on a good day to get from his house to his best friend’s apartment, and that was inconvenient enough. If his girlfriend moved to that area as well…
It isn’t your decision to make, he reminded himself, but he wished she would quit looking at places so far from his house. “All right, let’s go see what they’ve got available.”
But the apartments on the northeast side were “too hipster” for Chloe, and the apartments in Nora were “too dated.” One of the places had the lingering scent of someone—or something—Fae, and even though Chloe didn’t smell it, she trusted Braxton’s instincts. She said she didn’t even want to think about renting in Broad Ripple, because she might as well stay at Martin’s place if she was going to do that.
By dinner time, Braxton had almost decided Chloe didn’t really want to find a new apartment.
They were settled in at Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza with an order of breadsticks and Jockamo’s addictive creamy Parmesan sauce. Braxton tapped his fingers against his glass and tipped his head to one side.
“What are you thinking?” he asked, smiling at Chloe. There was a tiny line between her eyebrows, which were drawn down in concentration.
“Uh.” She looked up from the napkin she had been folding and refolding. After a moment her expression smoothed out into something that felt too carefully pleasant to be true. “Oh, I don’t know… I just don’t really love any of the places. The ones that come closest are the downtown apartments along the canal, but…”
“You didn’t like the price,” Braxton finished when she trailed off.
Chloe hitched one shoulder in a shrug, though he caught a sudden tang of uncertainty in her scent. “Yeah. I know it’s not really that bad, but…” Again, she let the sentence dangle unfinished.
Braxton was still searching for the right question to ask when their waitress appeared, pizza in hand. “Here ya go, guys,” she said. “Can I get you anything else?” When they both shook their heads, she left.
Chloe sighed. “I just can’t decide. I think I’m going to wait until after New Year’s.” She frowned at the file folder of apartment floorplans and applications sitting on the table next to the breadsticks. “It’s…” She shook her head. Braxton detected a strain of the cool, foggy scent he associated with nostalgia, or maybe wistfulness. What was going on in her mind? He couldn’t decipher it and he didn’t know how to ask.
Chloe huffed and shook her head. “I just can’t. I have too much going on to think about this right now.”
“Martin isn’t rushing you to move out, is he?” Braxton asked, though he didn’t really think that was the case.
Chloe shook her head and took a bite of pizza. Then she hissed and sucked air around the mouthful. “Still too haah,” she gasped, and gulped her beer.
Braxton’s chest twanged like he’d been punched in the solar plexus or zapped with a stun gun as the thought hit him. I love her.
It wasn’t the first time he’d thought it. They’d both even said it aloud before. He wouldn’t have been able to explain why that particular moment hit him wish such force, except that it made him realize all over again that Chloe wasn’t afraid to be silly with him, to be vulnerable with him, to be angry with him. She didn’t hide herself from Braxton—and Braxton didn’t hide from her. Didn’t even want to hide himself from her.
“You okay?” he asked, and he knew he sounded winded, but Chloe was coughing and fanning her suddenly bright red face.
“Fine,” she croaked, and Braxton nodded.
They ate their pizza in relative silence. Braxton’s heart hadn’t stopped thudding hard in his chest since his epiphany. He felt like Chloe ought to be able to hear it and had to keep reminding himself that she didn’t have the preternatural hearing of a werewolf.
When he dropped her off at her brother’s place, he was afraid she would call him on how preoccupied he’d been for the last hour. He wasn’t sure whether to be worried or grateful that she seemed just as preoccupied as he was. He brushed her hair back from her face as she leaned in for a goodbye kiss. Underneath the crisp, leather-and-vanilla-and-gunpowder scent that was uniquely Chloe, Braxton could detect the acrid tang of anxiety.
When she pulled back with a smile and would have turned to go, Braxton tugged her gently back, wrapping his arms around her and pressing his cheek against hers. “Hey,” he whispered. “I love you. Whatever’s making this decision a difficult one, we can figure it out.”
He heard her rapid heartbeat slow a little as she drew in a deep breath. She kissed him again and pulled back, studying his face. Though she caught her lower lip between her teeth as she looked at him, her expression cleared.
“Thanks,” she murmured. The smile she gave him was as genuine as he’d ever seen. “I know we will.” She leaned in for one more kiss. “And I love you, too,” she whispered as she pulled away.
Braxton poured two mugs of coffee and glanced at the clock. It was eight-thirty on Christmas morning, and he’d woken up with his heart trying to hammer its way through his chest wall. It was natural to be nervous at a moment like this, he kept telling himself. But he really hoped Chloe would get here soon so he could get it over with.
When she texted that she was on her way, he started heating the griddle. By the time Chloe showed up in the kitchen, her brown hair twisted into a braid, Braxton had a short stack of pancakes ready.
Chloe yawned and came up behind him, brushing a kiss against his jaw as she took her coffee. “This is already my best Christmas morning in years,” she whispered. He could hear the smile in her voice.
“Me too,” he said, turning to smile up at her. When he was in high school and finally had to admit he wasn’t going to get any taller than five-foot-eight, he’d resigned himself to dating girls taller than him. He had never expected to actually fall in love with such a tall and strong woman, though.
“What?” Chloe said, lifting a hand to touch her hair.
“You’re beautiful,” Braxton said. His heart wasn’t pounding quite as hard, but it felt swollen with how happy and anxious and excited he was.
Chloe laughed. He knew she still wasn’t used to accepting the compliments, but he’d decided he was going to keep giving compliments until she did get used to it. She’d never told him she didn’t like them, after all.
“I’m starving,” she replied, and kissed him again.
“Let’s eat, then. The pack will be here at ten, and we need time to do our presents first.” Braxton carried a plate of pancakes to the table, where everything else was set out.
Over breakfast Chloe told him about Christmas Eve Mass, which she’d attended with her brother. Braxton had planned to go, but he’d ended up on the work rotation for Christmas Eve. After Chloe finished, she asked him about his work shift, which had involved two domestic disputes—including a sixty-something-year-old man who had stabbed his forty-something son with a turkey fork when they disagreed about how to cook Christmas dinner the next day.
Braxton relished how well Chloe knew his kitchen as she put away the clean dishes from the drainer and helped him wash the breakfast dishes. Their lives just fit together in ways he had never anticipated. Just as they finished cleaning up, a wave of anxiety swamped him, leaving his mouth dry.
He hoped he wasn’t about to make a huge fool of himself.
Chloe got a fire started in the fireplace as Braxton went to get his gifts from the office, where he’d hidden them from his cat. Fuzzy had come to a tentative peace with the ornaments on the Christmas tree, but he tended to chew on wrapped presents.
They settled on the couch, where Braxton couldn’t help noticing Chloe had four wrapped presents next to her. He let out a short breath. At least he hadn’t gone overboard by buying three for her. Then again, maybe Chloe’s four presents meant she’d had as much trouble deciding as Braxton had.
He held out the package with the scarf first. He needed to work up to the important present. Chloe laughed and draped it around her neck after she opened it. “This one first,” she said, setting a medium-sized box on his lap. When he got it open, Braxton had to laugh, too. It was a blue and brown plaid scarf. He grinned and put it on.
“Great minds,” he said.
She smirked. “I bet the next ones won’t match.”
She was right. The concealed-carry holster he’d bought her was nothing like the special edition Joshua Tree CD set Chloe had given him. Braxton’s heart sank. Should he have done something less practical?
“You’ve been paying attention,” Chloe said, and she looked and sounded delighted. There was no tang of pretense or disappointment in her scent.
“I do try,” he said, attempting to sound modest. He had a feeling he sounded more relieved than anything, though.
Chloe kissed him. “You do a good job.”
Braxton gave in to impulse and pulled her closer, pleased to feel her relax against him. He pressed his nose into her hair, enjoying the grapefruit scent of her shampoo. His heartrate was slowing gradually. They sat that way for a while before Chloe shifted and sat up. “There’s more presents.”
Braxton heaved an exaggerated sigh, making her giggle. “All right, but I hope you’re not disappointed,” he said. “Your last present is pretty small.”
Braxton licked his lips and held out the box, which was intentionally too big for her to guess from the outside what was in it—or what the intent behind it was. It might be a physically small gift, but it was huge. He just hoped it wasn’t too huge too soon.
Chloe wasn’t a werewolf, but she was a damn good cop. She slipped a fingertip under one flap of paper, then paused and looked up at him. She opened her mouth, her gaze searching his, then closed her mouth again. She could tell he was tense, even if she didn’t have access to the scent of anxiety that had to be pouring off him in waves. Braxton offered her the best smile he could drum up, hoping it would reassure them both.
Finally she smiled at him and turned her attention back to the box. When she opened it, she didn’t say anything. She didn’t suck in a breath, didn’t burst into tears; she just went very still for what felt like a very long time. Only Braxton’s sharp hearing told him that her pulse had just jumped.
It had taken Braxton three trinket shops that were aimed more at teenagers than grownups, but he’d found a keychain shaped like a big diamond ring. On the keychain was a key to his house.
Braxton had faced down bank robbers and killers, but in the face of Chloe’s silence, he caved.
“It’s just—you’ve been looking at apartments for so long now, and nothing was quite right, and I got to thinking, maybe you didn’t really need to get an apartment,” he blurted. “I mean, if you want to, that’s great. I just thought maybe you’d—you know, maybe you’d rather live here. With me,” he added, and then felt his face get hot.
Smooth proposal, dumbass, he thought.
After what felt like weeks, Chloe chuckled. It was an odd sound, but somehow it soothed some of the tension from Braxton’s shoulders.
As he watched, Chloe reached behind her for the big, flat box—the one that looked like a shirt box from a department store. “Open this,” she said.
Braxton swallowed. He wanted to protest, to ask for an answer first. But instead he tore the paper from the shirt box and lifted the lid.
Inside the box was shredded paper. Braxton sifted his fingers through it, looking for whatever she’d hidden in it… and then he realized the paper was the present.
She’d shredded her apartment-hunting file.
A jolt of heat went through Braxton and he looked up at her. Chloe was grinning at him. “You mean—” he began, and she laughed.
“I was going to propose to you this morning,” she said, her brown eyes dancing with happiness. “Damn you for beating me to it.”
Braxton grinned and kissed her. “I guess that’s a yes, then,” he said.
“Good detective work, as usual,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around him.
Giftmas 2018 — Advent Schedule
- SG Wong — https://sgwong.com/blog/
- Alexandra Seidel — http://tigerinthematchstickbox.blogspot.com/
- Chadwick Ginther — https://chadwickginther.com/
- Michael Tager — http://www.michaelbtager.com/news-and-updates/
- Stephanie A. Cain — https://www.stephaniecainonline.com/blog/
- Pamela Fernandes — https://www.pamelaqfernandes.com/category/uncategorized/writing/
- S. Watts — http://www.jswatts.co.uk/
- Amanda Wells — http://www.wellsaj.com/blog/
- Randi Perrin — https://randiperrinwrites.com/blog/
- JB Riley — https://jbriley.com/
- Julie E. Czerneda — http://www.rhondaparrish.com
- Steve Toase — https://stevetoase.wordpress.com/
- Premee Mohamed — http://www.premeemohamed.com/
- Kurt Kirchmeier — http://www.rhondaparrish.com
- Tiffany Michelle Brown — https://tiffanymichellebrown.wordpress.com/
- C. Bell — http://www.eileenbell.com/blog/
- Laura VanArendonk Baugh — http://lauravanarendonkbaugh.com/blog/
- Beth Cato — http://www.bethcato.com/
- Jennifer Lee Rossman — https://jenniferleerossman.blogspot.com/
- Amanda C. Davis — https://amandacdavis.wordpress.com/
- Lizz Donnelly — https://lizzdonnelly.com/
- Cassandra Weir — https://cassandrawriter.wordpress.com/
- Kevin Cockle — http://www.rhondaparrish.com
- Cat Rambo — http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/
- [Top Sekkrit Surprise]
We know that money can be really tight around the holidays, and we aren’t here to shame anyone who can’t donate. That’s part of why we’ve set up the Rafflecopter–so everyone can help out, even if you can’t help monetarily. Help us by sharing #Giftmas2018 on any social media network you’re a part of. If you use the hashtag, the bloggers will be able to see your shares and help signal-boost.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
And just in case you somehow missed the link earlier, here it is:
Thank you so much for being a part of this great event and helping us help others. I hope you enjoy all of the stories offered to you this month.