Chapter Four: Jack of All Trades
After throwing their new guest’s boxes out the back of the truck, and leaving him with only her keys and the apartment number, Juniper sped away in a vain attempt to make up for the lost rehearsal time she was late for. She was pretty sure she was breaking the speed limit, but this early on Christmas morning, most elves were asleep, so the roads were empty. Even if she did hit something, it was more likely to be an inanimate object.
Also, it’s not my truck, so if anyone catches me, Myrna will be the one to deal with the mess later.
… Now I kinda hope someone will catch me.
She was fully aware that about 90% of her energy was anger. She needed to vent. Badly. And the sooner she could get to the Borealis’ phone, the sooner that need could be alleviated.
She was still stuck in her funk cloud when she pulled up to the moderately full back-lot of the Borealis. Making sure she slowed the car down, she backed it up to the loading platform where some backstage elves were waiting for her. As soon as the engine died down, they sprang into the back of the truck and began to maneuver the furniture out.
“You’re late,” one of them commented as she slammed the driver-side door.
“Theo’s starting to worry.”
“Rehearsal’s started already.”
“Good,” she said, slipping through the “Cast Members Only” door leading directly to the wings of the theater.
They were in the middle of the Father Christmas number. Without the costumes or full orchestration, it looked a bit like a group of shorter elves harassing a slightly taller one, chasing him up and down the stage with lyric heckles as the piano played away from the right wing.
It was about time. This group was way too polite. It took her forever to get them to the point where they were comfortable with fake-insulting one another on stage.
Theodora, the stage manager, wasn’t in her usual spot by the door. Probably because I wasn’t in my usual spot in the audience. She decided to check in with her after making her phone call. She slunk away to the exits leading to the foyer, nodding at the few elves she passed. Once she reached the tucked away door to the main offices, she stepped inside as silently as the ancient hinges would allow and closed the door behind her.
Nothing else exciting happened that night at Scout Elf HQ. The few noteworthy events that followed the M.S. shutdown disaster were far more sedate in nature.
An elf past her three-hour deadline mixed up the cocoa dispenser with the coffee machine and got a bitter mouthful that woke her up pretty quickly. More than a few elves ended up falling asleep at their keyboards. If they were close enough, Myrna might lean over and poke them awake with a ruler or pencil or whatever she happened to have on hand. Otherwise, she just let them sleep until the next shift arrived to send them home.
Quintin had come as soon as he was notified of the situation, and he was still over in his corner running diagnostics. Neither he nor Myrna thought they were going to find anything, but she insisted he at least go through with the motions. Just in case.
Myrna yawned for the fifth time in the past ten minutes. Damn, that was a big one. She willed her arm to bring her mug up to her face. It was then, for the fourth time that night, that her phone rang. The slow pace of her sleep-deprived state kept her from spilling lukewarm coffee down the front of her shirt. After about the third ring, she gathered the required energy to answer it.
“Hello, Scout Elf HQ, Myrna speaking.”
“What the frostbite, Myrna‽”
“The Head Elf‽“
“Well Merry Christmas to you, too.”
“What the hell, Myrna‽”
Holy shit. That was a pretty heavy curse coming from Juniper.
“I take it you have a problem with Bernard.”
“Oh, no. No problem at all,” the sarcasm oozed from the speaker, “I just found out that the bureaucratic mistletoad responsible for making my job a nightmare is going to be bunking with us for who knows how long!”
“If it helps, he isn’t Head Elf anymore.”
“He’s still in our apartment.”
“How do you even know this dim bulb anyway? I swear if you used to date this guy—,”
Myrna took a deep breath before answering. “He’s my brother,” she said, before yanking the phone out to arm’s length.
“Look, I know what you’re—,”
“And you never told me‽ What the hell‽“
“Well I knew you would react like this!” Myrna snapped, still holding the phone like it was a hissing kitten.
“So you thought your best course of action was to wait until he was moving in to tell me?” Silence followed Juniper’s huff of indignation. Myrna tentatively brought the phone back to her ear.
“Look, Juniper, I know I should have told you earlier. In all honesty, I never thought it would be relevant.”
“But he is my brother, and I need to be there for him.”
“Then you can help him unpack. I already dropped him off at home.”
“You just dumped him at our apartment‽”
“Yes, because I’m busy. With my job.“
“No, you’re busy with your hobby. You’re paid to sing.”
Myrna knew she had crossed a line as soon as she said it. The soft static of dead air permeated the line, lingering far more than was comfortable.
“Well, you can thank your brother for that when you see him,” Juniper said. The line cut to a dial-tone. Myrna groaned and dropped the phone back on the receiver.
“Douglas!” she called, massaging her forehead with her free hand.
Her secretary ran in. “Yes, sir?”
“Can you get me another cup of coffee, please?” she asked, holding out her half-empty mug.
“Right away, sir,” he answered, taking the sludge-filled cup with him out of the office.
Jack looked disappointedly at the bottom of his empty cocoa mug. The radio playing from some unseen corner of his office momentarily dwindled down to station identification.
“You’re listening to KPOL Community Radio, playing 24 hour Christmas music all through Elfmas.”
The next song started playing as he swung his mug down onto his desk with a whining sigh. He had just gotten comfortable and really didn’t want to move until it was absolutely necessary. And that was hopefully a whole year away. He did the big Christmas Eve bit. What else was there to do?
Well, glaring at his mug and willing it to fill with cocoa isn’t going to accomplish anything. Maybe there’s a “call hot cocoa refill elf” button somewhere. He shuffled papers around on his desk in the glimmer of hope there was one.
“Geez, how is anyone supposed to get a refreshment in this place?” he muttered, quickly dropping the search.
He was about to start yelling for whoever could hear him, when, lo, and behold, the elf in question finally slipped into the room.
“Ah! There you are! I was just wondering how I was supposed to call you.”
Abby responded by silently closing the door behind her.
Jack lazily held out his empty mug. “Refill, please.”
“Um,” her eyes fell to the papers she held to her chest, “alright.”
“Thanks,” Jack grinned, placing the mug down on his desk, and resuming his comfortable position. In the background, the radio transitioned to another song.
Abby’s movements were so fluid and subtle that he almost missed when she swapped the mug for the papers.
“Hold on there,” he said, stopping her as she spun around to leave. He held up the problematic pages. “What are these?”
When Abby turned back to him, she looked like a child caught with incriminating dishes covered in purloined cake crumbs.
“… Forms,” she said.
“For you to fill out. I was going to go over them when I got back.”
Jack started leafing through them. At first glance, they seemed like order forms and requests for supplies. He looked back at her, confused.
“Because the Wood Shop needs more—,”
“No, I mean why are you bringing me these?”
Abby blinked back at him. Now they were both confused. “Um…because that’s part of your job?”
“Oh, right… I see,” Jack said, not seeing the relevance at all. He pretended to pore over the forms with great interest as Abby gave a tiny curtsy.
“Please excuse me,” she said, “I’ll be back in a minute with some more cocoa for you.”
And with that, she left. The moment the door closed behind her, he tossed the boring documents back onto the desk. He was pretty sure that was actually the head elf’s job, anyway, whatever his name was. He couldn’t blame the hot cocoa elf for getting confused. It was probably above her pay grade.
Do they even have pay grades up here? he wondered.
“And that was The First Noel, by none other than our very own Juniper,” the radio announcer cut in. Jack decided to pay attention to that instead.
“Quite the talented elf, if I do say so myself. And folks, don’t forget to swing by the Borealis this Elfmas Eve at nine o’clock sharp to enjoy an evening of festive entertainment.”
Jack glanced at his desk clock. It was almost eight-thirty.
“I believe the production they’re putting on this year is the 1992 musical Scrooge, directed by, you guessed it, Juniper. I’m certainly going to be there and I hope all you lovely listeners will be able to make it too. Up next, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.”
But by that point, Jack had already sped out of the room, leaving the song to play to empty air.
Juniper was trying her hardest to properly do her job, but given that her phone call had done nothing but exacerbate her funk cloud, it was very difficult to see anything past it. Even if said thing was a full musical production right in front of her face.
“Um, Juniper?” Theodora said, managing to break through the mental fog. The seats were not very well lit, and Theo was wearing the solid black garb required of anyone working backstage. It was easy to forget she was right there.
“Mmm?” Juniper answered, her gaze still half focused on the stage.
“Is everything alright?”
Juniper took a deep breath. She didn’t want to dump this on her friend right now. “Well enough, why?”
“You’re scowling at everything.”
“Dang it, really?”
“Yeah, it’s starting to get a bit weird.”
“Sorry. Just… there’s a lot of stuff happening at once.”
“Well, yeah, it’s a big number.”
“No, not the play. That’s been fine so far… I think.”
“Nice to know you’ve been paying attention.”
“Um, I’m sorry to interrupt, ladies, but we have an… unusual situation out front,” a security guard, who hadn’t made a sound prior to this statement, startled them both.
Theo rolled her eyes. “Great.” She turned to Juniper, “Do you want me to take care of this, or—?”
Someone slammed the main entrance doors open. Hard. Juniper winced. You could hear the dull, painful thud over the cacophony of voices spilling into the room after it.
Despite falling on the relatively quiet end of the loud noises scale, the whole theater heard it and stopped what they were doing to watch.
Because they all knew that the Borealis was effectively Theodora’s baby. And everyone, except, apparently, the newcomer, knew how Theo tended to react to mistreatment of her baby. And it was always worth watching.
“Sir, I am going to have to ask you to leave,” Theo shouted as she stormed off towards the intruder.
It was never Theo’s particular choice of words that made her a force to be reckoned with. She could be reciting The Itsy Bitsy Spider, for all it mattered. But if she kept the tone of a disappointed English teacher with the volume of a construction worker, it didn’t really matter. You still wanted to leave and never do whatever it was that lit her fuse ever again.
And since the performers on stage had reneged their positions as the center of attention, Juniper decided to join them. She squirmed around in her seat for a better look.
As soon as she caught a glimpse of who exactly this sorry soul was, she froze.
Theo was in the initial stages of verbally tearing apart the new Santa.
And here Juniper was, like everyone else, watching the spectacle go down, but unlike everyone else, within Santa’s line of sight.
This was not good.
She needed to do something.
AN: The insults “mistletoad” and “dim bulb,” and the name “KPOL” are credited to my mom.
Fun fact: if you add “/watch?v=UtqGKVESEN4” to youtube [dot com], you’ll get a link to the song they were performing above.