Chapter Two: Housemates
Bernard sat on the steps leading up to the workshop, surrounded by boxes he and Curtis had carted down from his old office and quarters. The first thing he had done upon receiving his undignified notice was call up his sister to help him move out. Myrna had said she would be by a little later with her truck.
Now, it’s a lot later. And there’s still no truck.
He regretted his decision to wait outside for her. In the cold. His huff of indignation came out as a small white poof.
“Excuse me? Are you Bernard?”
A voice he did not recognize pulled him from his self-loathing. He looked up. It came from an elf he also did not recognize. She wore a red, festive looking trenchcoat that must have been warmer than it looked, coke-bottle glasses the size of softballs, and a disheveled blonde bun held up with a pencil. She was also holding Myrna’s car keys.
“Yes, that’s me. I take it Myrna got tied up with something.”
“Normally I would say ‘yes,’ just to cover for her, but this time, yes, she really did. Something about magic fluctuations and covers being blown and a lot of Scout Elf jargon and expletives I don’t understand. So she asked me for a favor. I’m Juniper. Nice to meet you.”
She held out her hand, which Bernard gladly took. At this, Juniper looked down at it in shock.
“You’re freezing. How long have you been out here?”
“Well, I had parked over in the parking lot, but I’ll go pull it around so you don’t have to stay out in the cold carrying boxes.”
“No, it’s fine.”
Her eyebrows raised.
“Really,” he emphasized, “It’s deceptively hard to get into this roundabout, and the exercise should warm me up just fine.”
She shrugged. “If you say so. I’m just not gonna be the one making you soup if you catch a cold,” she said, grabbing an unsteady pile of boxes. Bernard, seeing the strong sway in the towering pile, decided it would probably be safer to just take one at a time.
“What do you mean?” he asked, catching up to her.
“About making me soup?”
“Like chicken soup. ‘Cause it’s supposed to be good for when you’ve got a cold.”
“No, I mean, why would you be the one making it?”
“I just said I wasn’t going to!”
The stack of boxes hid Juniper’s face, but Bernard glared in her direction nonetheless.
“No, I mean why would you be in a position to not make me soup?” He stopped walking for a second to process whether he said what he meant to or not.
When she noticed, Juniper laughed. “Don’t worry, I got it. I take it Myrna didn’t mention she had a roommate.”
“No, she didn’t…wait a minute.” They had reached the truck, and Juniper had already crawled onto the bed, organizing her boxes. “That apartment only has two bedrooms. Where am I going to stay?”
“Okay, one,” she turned, counting off on her fingers, “how do you know how many rooms our apartment’s got, and two… I don’t know, the couch probably.” She reached down and took Bernard’s solitary box, “We didn’t exactly have much of an opportunity to discuss anything before she left.”
“We shared that apartment when we first came to the North Pole,” he answered, looking at the disorganized back of the truck. It was full of Victorian costumes and old, battered furniture. It all had that lingering musty smell that storage tends to impart on things left alone for too long.
“What’s all this for?” he asked, as Juniper jumped down from the truck.
“Just some stuff I gotta drop off at the Borealis later. We’re doing a production of Scrooge, and we need this for dress rehearsal later this week.”
They started walking back.
“So I take it you’re a director, then?” he asked.
“Director, actor, stage manager, radio personality, ‘The Boss’,” she punctuated this last label with scare-quotes, “Basically whatever anyone needs me to be. It can get exhausting, but someone’s gotta do it.”
Bernard could sympathize. “And what is it, exactly?”
“I think the official term is ‘Head Entertainment Elf’, but nobody actually uses that.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“That’s not surprising. Most elves haven’t.”
“I’m pretty sure I would have.”
Juniper snorted a tad more derisively than intended. “Why?”
“I’m the… I used to be the Head Elf.”
Her brisk pace faltered a little. “Really?”
Bernard nodded, not really wanting to talk anymore.
“Huh,” she said, letting the conversation end there.
They gathered and loaded the rest of the boxes in terse silence. Bernard was both confused at the change in demeanor and thankful for the quiet. Neither attempted another semblance of conversation until Juniper was starting up the truck. The radio roared to life alongside the engine, blasting them with Wham’s Last Christmas.
“Could you turn that off, please?” she asked, driving the truck out of the lot.
He obliged. They both slipped back into the uncomfortable silence and stayed there for the remainder of the trip.
Curtis felt simultaneously excited about his promotion, guilty over said excitement, and overwhelmed at the future laid out before him. Especially with the challenges of having Jack Frost as Santa.
In short, he felt like he was going to be sick.
Not sick as in the “please move or my lunch is going to be all over your lovely living room rug” sick. Sick in the draining way a low-key cold can sap the energy from your bones.
Placing the handbook on a nearby desk, he leaned against its sturdy wooden surface as the wave of mental exhaustion hit. Sweet sugarplums, he was not ready for this.
“Ho ho ho and Merry Christmas and all that saccharine deliciousness!”
He certainly wasn’t ready for this right now.
It was Jack, of course, bursting through the apartment’s open doors and nearly tumbling over Curtis’ scattered belongings. His old room was just down the hall from this one, so most of the boxes they had had left with Bernard. He’d barely begun to cart his belongings over and stick them wherever they fit. And a lot of them happened to fit right next to the front door.
“Geez, this place is a health hazard!” Jack said, theatrically dusting himself off with his free hand. The other was busy holding what looked like a book and a thin bottle of cream-colored liquid.
“Yes, sir,” Curtis answered.
“You should really tidy this place up.”
After a beat too long of silence, Jack said, “Yes. Well… Good.” He walked over to Curtis and handed him the two objects he held. “The small lady elf with the absolutely delicious hot chocolate informed me of your attention to handbookly detail. So I thought you might want to have a peek at this.”
The book was a bright sky blue, with silver lettering reading “The Jack Frost Handbook”. It looked like a color swapped version of the Santa Handbook.
The bottle was nothing more than Blazing Snowflake Eggnog, the Strawberry Hill of the North Pole. Curtis stared at the chintzy label, trying to puzzle out why his new employer was, apparently, giving him a bottle of cheap alcohol.
“Um, sir? What is this for?”
If Curtis didn’t know any better, he could have sworn Jack was genuinely taken aback at his question. It was certainly a more underplayed reaction than usual.
“Why, my dear… er…”
“My dear Curtis. It’s a housewarming gift! Surely you elves have housewarmings.”
“Um, sir, we just finished moving Bernard out. I’ve barely moved in.”
“Well, what are you standing around for? Chop chop, let’s go!”
It wasn’t until Jack was halfway through his dramatic exit when Curtis remembered something he meant to give him anyway.
“Wait! Sir, the handbook!” he called after him, snatching it up from the desk behind him.
“Yes, what about it?”
“The Santa Handbook.” Curtis held it out for Jack to take, but he just stared down at it in response.
“So it is. Well! Best be on my way-,”
“Sir, you’re supposed to read it.”
Jack blinked at him. “Why?”
Curtis felt as if he was just asked why people bothered to breathe. “… because you’re Santa, sir.”
“Aren’t you the one who already knows this book inside and out?”
Curtis flushed. “Yes, sir.”
“And you are my ‘right-hand elf’, so to speak?”
“Yes, sir, but-,”
“Then why would I bother reading it?” Jack smirked, pushing the outstretched book back towards the giver, and escaping during his stunned silence.
There are times when someone says something so unbelievably stupid, that the mind pauses for a moment to make sure they heard it right. Because most sentient creatures assume other, similarly sentient creatures habitually use more than just their lizard brain. Curtis may not have thought very much of Jack Frost, but he assumed there would be some awareness of the responsibilities he’d insisted he take upon himself.
None of which involved firing the Head Elf on a whim or handing out housewarming alcohol.
He looked down at the bottle. Curtis didn’t drink, and from what he had heard, Blazing Snowflake was not a very good place to start. It wasn’t meant to be enjoyed. It was for getting drunk and playing grown-up. Given what the probable future held, he didn’t think alcoholism was the wisest path forward.
That didn’t mean he’d never need a stiff drink, especially if this interaction was anything to go on. He tucked the bottle away in the back of the fridge and resumed his tedious task of moving in.
AN: I hate the song Last Christmas.
Credit for the names “Borealis” and “Blazing Snowflake Eggnog” goes to my mom.
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