Jack reacts to a play. Myrna and Juniper have a talk. Curtis and his mice are interrupted.
Chapter Twelve: Elfmas Present
As the applause and cries of “encore” started to die down, Jack managed to codify his reaction to the play.
That wasn’t what I was expecting. At all.
It had nothing to do with the production itself. Everything from the sets to the performances was great. The applause was warranted. It was the story that was tripping him up. And he couldn’t quite pinpoint why.
“That was so awesome!” squealed his box-mate, compressing in on herself in a hug, as if squeezing to get the sound out, “Wasn’t it awesome‽ I thought it was awesome!”
“Uh, yeah. It’s certainly…something…”
“I mean, I’m always gonna have a soft spot for the book, but it can get so long-winded at points and the music in this is so good-,” she devolved into yet another squee.
Right. This was based on a book. Maybe the stuff he’d been expecting had been cut for time. That happened with this sort of thing sometimes, didn’t it? What was the name of it again?
Not wanting to admit ignorance, he unfolded his program. Surely this referenced it somewhere. Under the title of the show, in small italic type, it read:
The adaptation of the adaptation of the world-renowned classic!
Well, that answered none of his questions. He remembered his box-mate mentioning the title earlier, so he knew it wasn’t Scrooge. Maybe it was on the posters outside.
“Theo!” Korina’s voice jolted him from his reverie. She darted past him straight into a hug with a vaguely familiar figure. The “flesh” colored bandaid on her forehead stood out like a spotlight to the eyes.
She glared at him over her sister’s embrace.
The elf I tripped. Fantastic.
“It was really good, sis!” Korina said into her sister’s shirt.
“Glad to hear,” Theo said, breaking her glower to beam down at her.
“Yes, it was all utterly delightful,” interrupted Jack. Theo’s eyes flicked back to him, wary.
“I know, right?” squeaked Korina.
Jack cleared his throat, “Thanks for reserving a seat for me.”
Theo shook her head, “Don’t thank me, thank Juniper.”
He could clearly hear everything she left unsaid after that statement.
“Ah. I see.”
Korina had stopped vibrating with excitement, picking up on the taught threads of tension strung between the two.
“Hey, um…” Jack said, motioning towards his forehead, “Sorry about the…um…”
Korina gasped, “That was you?“
Something in Theo’s expression ticked. Jack didn’t catch if it was the corner of her mouth or something around her eyes, but he could sense a re-appraisal in process.
“It’s fine,” she said, revealing nothing of whatever new judgment she may have come to, “Wasn’t that bad of a cut, to be honest.”
Jack cleared his throat again. Why do I keep doing that? “Well, congratulations on the show and whatnot. I just remembered I have a…thing to attend to. Tell Juniper thanks for me. Merry whatever.” He continued to ramble, even after sidling past them and into the hallway. As his voice dwindled away down the hall, Korina looked up at her sister, confused.
“He’s weird,” she said.
After slinking her way through well-meaning congratulations, brushing them off in a way she hoped came across as apologetically busy, Juniper found the office light was off and the door was closed. Odd, but not unreasonably so. What really clued her in that something else was at play here was, despite Theo’s insistence of an urgent call from KPOL that required no less than immediate attention, it sat cradled in its chassis and not lying in wait off its hook. That, and the small vased bouquet on the desk that hadn’t been there before the play.
Maybe “bouquet” was the wrong word. That implied a huge poof of flowers cinched together with a deceptively strong ribbon. This just had one star-shaped white flower she couldn’t place, surrounded by a hazy cloud of winterberries and baby’s breath. She also couldn’t think of a time she’d heard of a bouquet intentionally covered in glitter before, although in this case, the light gold dusting complimented the bright yellow middle of the centerpiece flower.
??? and Theo’s gonna be really upset about the glitter, competed for dominance in her headspace.
A note stuck up awkwardly from the vase’s ribbon. Despite her best efforts, it knocked even more of the craft cancer onto the desk when she removed it. She recognized it as Myrna’s handwriting before she’d unfolded it enough to read it.
Congrats on the show! It’s really really good, as usual.
We need to talk.
Juniper could feel herself scowling at the note, but didn’t have the energy to maintain it once she realized she was doing it. She let out an exhausted sigh as her shoulders returned to a lower, more natural position. It’s Elfmas Eve and keeping up the silent treatment for this long taxed her already limited energy. Taking one of Theo’s pens from the cup on her desk, Juniper appended one word:
After replacing the pen to its cup, she gently tossed the note into the air where it dissolved into a shower of sparkles. She may not have a lot of magic in her reserves, but she had enough for this.
She didn’t have to wait long for a response. In a matter of seconds, Myrna walked in. She was wearing the deep purple dress Juniper had gotten her for her birthday a few years ago. The almost black fabric shimmered at the slightest movement as the tiny beads and sequins dotting it always found ways to catch the available light. It looked nice on her.
The sound of the crowd milling about outside filled the air between them.
Juniper spoke first. “You said you wanted to talk.”
Even accounting for Myrna’s unusually long conversational pauses, it was clear nothing else was coming. “I assume this is about your brother?” Juniper prompted.
“Among other things.”
Juniper waved her hand sanctimoniously, signaling her to continue.
Myrna’s mouth tightened. “You need to stop with the silent treatment.”
“I’m here. I’m talking. What more do you want?”
“You need to talk to Bernard, too.”
“Like frostbite I do.”
“Juniper-,” Myrna cut herself off, pinching the bridge of her nose. “He doesn’t even know why you’re mad at him.”
“That’s part of the problem,” Juniper muttered.
“Yeah, and you’re supposed to tell someone when you have an issue with them. You tell me that all the time. What happened to ‘communication is key to a good relationship’?”
Juniper scowled, “Bold of you to assume I’d want any kind of relationship with him,” she snapped.
“Well, I don’t have much of a choice, so could you at least put up with him while he’s with us for me?”
“I have been.”
“Dammit, Juniper, you know that’s not what I meant!”
“Well, what did you mean, then?”
“At this point, I’d be happy with basic speaking terms. You have every right not to like him, but he also has the right to know why.”
“Oh, thank you for your permission to be mad. What I don’t get is why I have to be the one to tell him. He’s your brother, which, fine, we don’t get to pick our relatives. Whatever. But given that I thought you gave a hobby-horse about the chronic lack of support for my sector, I wonder why you’ve never mentioned this to the elf in charge of distributing those resources. You know, given that he’s your brother and all. So if he doesn’t even know my sector exists, much less why I might be angry about that, that’s not on me. There.” She flung her arms out in front of her. “Is that enough communication for you?”
Myrna’s jaw strained with holding back an unhelpfully harsh comment. Juniper had seen her do this before while she was on duty. Once it had subsided, Myrna sucked in a deep breath, straightened her stance, and answered, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry,” she repeated, making piercingly direct eye contact, “I haven’t been as open with you as I should have and I’ll work on that in the future. I have broached the topic several times with Bernard, but we don’t see each other all that often and what he decides to do is his business. Not mine. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you any of this sooner. It won’t happen again.”
Juniper’s anger short-circuited. Holy ginger snaps. Myrna had just apologized. Out loud. To her face. Sure, she’d ‘apologized’ before, but usually, it took the form of little gifts or small favors, like the flowers on the desk or a box of Juniper’s favorite tea appearing in the cupboard after a spat. This was the first time she had heard the words coming out of her mouth with any level of sincerity behind them.
For some reason, Juniper’s face felt very hot.
“Uh…thank you. Apology accepted,” she said, looking at a particularly interesting chair leg to her left. “Sorry I’ve been such a butt.” She continued her perusal of the leg, waiting for her face to cool off before looking at Myrna again. “I’ll…um…I’ll be sure to talk with Bernard after Elfmas.”
“Okay,” said Myrna, shuffling in Juniper’s peripheral vision. “Your parents waiting for you backstage?”
“Yeah, I left them to take a phone call. I take it you asked Theo to help trap me?”
Juniper could feel the corner of her mouth quirk. She turned to pick up the flowers from the desk. “Thank you for these. They’re really pretty.”
“You’re welcome. Happy Elfmas.”
“You too,” Juniper said, quickly giving her an awkward one-armed hug on her way out the door. “See you later.”
“Yeah,” said Myrna, waving goodbye to her roommate’s back.
When Curtis opened the door of his apartment to find an oddly deflated Jack, he’d been partway through setting up a new enclosure for his mice. Berry, the coppery-brown one, sat on his shoulder, sniffing curiously at the air in Jack’s direction, while Pax, the silvery-white one, scurried continuously across his rotating hands. Jack had the gall to look perplexed at the rodents as if he wasn’t the one knocking on people’s doors at 10 at night.
“Can I help you?” Curtis prodded when Jack did nothing but stare transfixed at Pax.
“Huh? Oh, right, yes. Um, do you have a copy of…” he pulled a crumpled up playbill from his pocket and turned it sideways to read the note scribbled near the spine, “A Christmas Carol?“
“Can I borrow it? All the bookstores are closed.”
“Right this second?”
Jack wilted like a child who’d forgotten he’d had homework due that day. “They all said they’d be closed tomorrow too…” he mumbled.
Curtis raised an eyebrow as he looked his boss over again. This was getting weird. As far as he could see, this was the same Jack desperate to get out of dealing with mold two hours earlier. He was just acting so… floaty. What the heck had happened since then?
“…Are you feeling alright, sir?”
Jack placed the back of his hand against his forehead. “I think so. Why?”
“No reason,” said Curtis. He’d used up his energy that day dealing with both his job and Jack’s reluctance. If he said he was fine, he was fine. “Let me just grab that for you, one sec.”
He went over to place the mice in the half-completed enclosure first. “Stay put,” he instructed, “I’ll be right back. I promise.”
Pax squeaked a confirmation before heading off to his mouse wheel. Berry, on the other hand, sat upright where she was placed, twitching her whiskers up at him.
“Yeah, I don’t know either,” Curtis whispered. Berry continued to watch him as he hurried off to retrieve the requested book from his newly filled shelves.
“Here,” he said, holding the book out to Jack with one hand. “You can keep it if you want. I’ve got another copy.”
“Thanks,” Jack said, haltingly accepting the book. He turned it over and over as if trying to find a part of the battered old cover that fit his expectations. “See you tomorrow,” he mumbled, starting to shuffle away.
“Day after tomorrow,” Curtis corrected. Jack stopped to look back at him, eyebrows still scrunched together.
“Tomorrow’s Elfmas,” Curtis explained, realizing he must not have heard his warning from earlier, “Like, Elf Christmas. Everything shuts down for the day. It’s why all the bookshops are gonna be closed.”
Jack blinked at him as the information fought its way past whatever brain fog clouded around his head. “Oh,” he said, “I see. Merry Elfmas, then, I guess.”
“Happy Elfmas, sir,” said Curtis. He stayed in the doorway, watching for just long enough to make sure Jack cleared the end of the hallway before closing his door and returning to his mice.
A/N: Thus we reach the end of the current section. I’m currently in the middle of working on the next one. Once it’s finished, that’ll be uploaded in a similar manner to these past few chapters. Thank you all for reading!
Please note: the sudden new chapters are me splitting up Chapter 7: Ripples into smaller, more manageable chapters. Sorry for any confusion.