by Peter Conrad

Chapter 1

© 2020-2021 Mark&Peter

This story was originally published in German in a web forum over the course of 60 days with daily installments. A reader asked us about an English translation, but it was simply too long for doing that manually. Not happy with Google translator we gave up on it for a while, but lately we learned about DeepL which works much better in our eyes. We used DeepL for the basic translation and then went over it until we were happy with it. Please keep in mind that English isn't our native language, though :-)

The story is taking place in Germany, so you might stumble over a few unfamiliar things. The currency here is the Euro (1 Euro is worth somewhere in the range of US$1), temperatures are measured on the Celsius scale (0C equals 32F, -10C equals 14F). Distances, lengths and heights are measured in the metric system, in this story only centimeters and meters are used (1cm equals 0.39inch, 1m equals 3.28 feet). We celebrate Christmas from Dec 24th to Dec 26th (Holy Evening, 1st and 2nd Christmas Day), gifts are usually given in the afternoon or evening of the 24th.

Oh, and this is very much a PG story, there will be no sex at all.

And now, have fun.

I was just buttoning the second strap of the overalls when there was a knock on my bedroom door and the next moment my sister entered. My twin sister, Lia, to be exact. With a rather indignant expression on her face.

"What did she put out for you... Oh, I see. My cute little brother in cute overalls. Oh man."

Little brother. Not really, we were exactly the same height. However, I was seven minutes younger than her. By the way, Lio my name, and please no comments about our parents' creativity in choosing names! * She * was our Aunt Paula, with whom we had to stay over Christmas and New Year, because our parents had won a Christmas cruise in a contest. For two people only! Without us! Unfair! And so we found ourselves in the snowy mountains instead of under the Caribbean sun. Let's not get it wrong: Aunt Paula was okay, but she hadn't really understood yet that Lia and I had long escaped the puppy age and were already 14 years old. And stupidly, she even thought she had to pick out the clothes for us to accompany her to the Christmas party of her rummy club sisters. And to be exact: she hadn't just picked out the clothes but even bought them for us - and at least for me she didn't exactly meet my taste. Dark blue bib jeans, bright red hoodie with Christmas motifs, and equally bright red Christmas socks. But I guess I was to find out what had brought on my sister's outrage.

"Amnotcute! And what did she get for you?"

"Yes, yes you are. And here, look for yourself."

Lia held out the clothes donated to her. Same hoodie. Same bib jeans. Stop. No. Not really, right? I burst out laughing, which didn't go over so well with my sister, earning me a hearty peck on my upper left arm.

"Menno, don't laugh so crooked!"

With great effort I managed to calm down a bit. What had Lia been holding out to me? Quite simple: instead of bib pants, she had been given a bib skirt. In order to understand this gift, one had to know that my beloved sister never, ever, ever wore skirts or dresses! Lia was rather boyish, which was probably one of the reasons why we got along so well. We were not only siblings but also real buddies. Which of course didn't stop me from being amused by her indignation about the skirt.

"Hehe, sorry, but I had to laugh! I'm sure Aunt Paula had no idea what she would do to you with that."

"Hmph! Yes, she did know! Remember last Christmas when she came to visit us and we all went to the ballet to see the Nutcracker. She was surprised that I was wearing pants and not a dress or at least a skirt. Mom and Dad told her that I haven't worn anything like that since first grade."

Hmm, I couldn't remember a conversation like that.

"Or wait, you weren't even there, that was when you were flirting with That ballet boy at the entrance. We had to wait forever for you, and that's when Aunt Paula had nothing better to do than discuss the subject of my wardrobe with Mom and Dad."

Oh, yes, the cute boy in the nutcracker costume who greeted visitors. Sigh, he had been really sweet. Unfortunately, I never saw him again, and he wasn't that cute that I would have taken up ballet myself just to be close to him. Which made it clear that both Lia and I had a thing for boys. Which everyone in the family also knew and fortunately no family member had any problems with.

"Anyway, she knows my opinion on skirts and dresses very well."

"Funny, and yet she gets you a skirt?"

"Maybe that's why. At That time, she thought a girl should look like a girl for a change."

I chuckled quietly to myself, which earned me annoyed looks from Lia.

"What am I supposed to do now? I don't want to wear this thing, but if I don't, Auntie might be offended."

"Or at least sad, you can't do that to her. Oh, I got it!"

My sister looked at me with some hope in her eyes.

"What, come on, tell me!"

"Just look at the thermometer. It's a few degrees below zero, you can't walk around in a skirt, you'll freeze off your legs."

"Wise guy. Sadly, she thought of that, too. Here, have a look."

I was presented with the next article of clothing, and sure enough, Aunt Paula had factored in the winter temperatures as well. Instead of the Santa socks I had received, Lia held up an equally festive pair of thick footed tights in front of my eyes. P oor sis, haha.

"Well, I guess you won't be able to avoid actually putting on the nice clothes then. But hey, at least the hoodie is fluffy and the same as mine."

"Whoa, just great…"

Suddenly her indignant expression turned into a kind of mean grinning one.

"Say, Lio..."

"Um... Yes?"

"I'm your favorite sister, aren't I?"


"Well, you're my only sister, so the title of favorite sister comes automatically."

"Hehe, whatever. You probably want to do your favorite sister a little favor, right?"

"Hm... You want me to be the one to tell Auntie that you reject her gifts?"

"Haha, that would help, but I'm sure it would make her sad."

"Ah yes, and what favor would you like from me then?"

"Easy, you switch the clothes with me."

"Huh, forget it!"

Where did she ever come up with such crazy ideas!

"Come on, you've probably always wanted to try on my clothes."

"Nah, I never had that urge. After all, our clothes never differed much. Except for bikinis and stuff like that."

"Oh please, please, Lio bro!"

"No, it wouldn't do any good anyway, Aunt Paula wants to see YOU in a skirt, not me."

"Well, she doesn't have to know it's you. If we put the hoods over our heads, she can't tell us apart."

In a way that was true, we really did look a lot alike, even though we were fraternal twins. Lia wore her straight blonde hair just a little bit longer than I did mine, and there wasn't much in the way of boobs on her yet either. As I said, she came across as quite boyish overall. Still, such a deception would only fool Auntie for a very short time.

"Maybe at first and second glance, but we're going to spend a few hours with her like this, it won't work. And she won't allow us to walk around hooded all the time anyway."

"Oh come on, Lio, it'll be cool! Maybe then she'll realize that the old role clich é s and dress guidelines are completelyoutdated by now. Then maybe she'll leave me alone with those ideas in the future."

"You're being very optimistic again. Remember, we're talking about Aunt Paula."

She was in her mid-forties, had never been married and had no children. At least none of her own, but she was a self-employed music teacher and had to deal with a lot of other people's offspring. She mainly taught classical music to them on the piano, which suited her preference for old-fashioned gender and clothing norms.

"They say you never stop learning. Maybe it'll work out for Auntie. So come on, let's swap, brother dear! Admit it, you think it's a cool idea too. Think back to sixth grade, that trip to the cookie factory."

Hehe, yeah, that had been hillarious. Our class was visiting a cookie factory, and it had been decided ahead of time that the boys would "help out" in the production area while the girls were allowed in the test kitchen. I didn't feel like doing any physical work, while Lia didn't want to bake, so we had swapped identities. No one, but really no one, had realized that Lia was Lio and Lio was Lia. Now, three years later, such a stunt would be a bit more difficult for us, at least with people who knew us better or who had more than a passing glance at us. Aunt Paula would quickly see through us, the only thing we could manage would be to shake her old role models a little. Was it worth to me to walk around in a skirt in front of her and her rummy ladies and their relatives? Hmm. Why not, actually. Wordlessly, I reached for the straps of the overalls, which elicited a satisfied grin from my sister.

"Cool! Thanks, little brother! Or should I say sis?"

"Grrrr! If you do that, you can forget about swapping clothes right now."

"Okay, okay, favorite brother."

"Well that's better..."

I slipped out of my pants, took a quick look at my feet, and then pulled off the Santa socks I had put on just a few minutes ago as well.

"Here you go. I think we'd better hurry up a bit, in a few minutes Aunt Paula will be popping up here and push us because she wants to get going."

"Right. Here, the skirt and the tights."

Tights. Ugh. I grabbed the thing, which felt really thick and warm. As I mentioned, bright red, plus a white Norwegian pattern with reindeer, sleds, flakes and stuff like that. I sat down on my bed, wagged the tights, and looked questioningly at my sister who was already putting on her socks.

"How do you even put on one of those things?"

"How should I know, the last time I put on something like that was sometime in kindergarten, just like you. Had them put on, I never did it myself."

In the mild climate of our Rhineland home, we never had to bother with such things as thermal underwear. Sighing, I struggled with the tights and actually managed to pull them up properly on my lower body after only one twisted tights leg.

"Fits. Where did she get our sizes, anyway?"

Lia shrugged her shoulders, over which the straps of the overalls were located by now. The straps of MY overalls! Sigh.

"Well, there's enough of our stuff in the closets, she just had to look."


I got into the skirt, and shortly thereafter my shoulders were adorned with the bib straps as well. Luckily the skirt wasn't too short, it at least went down to my knees. Well, Auntie certainly wouldn't hand out miniskirts, especially not to minors!

"Looking chic, Lio."

I wanted to see for myself before commenting on that and went to the mirror in the corner of the room. Lia came along and stood next to me.

"Come on, put on the hood."

I did as she asked and saw that she was doing the same with her hoodie. Then when we looked in to the mirror I had to admit that probably not even our parents would be able to tell which of us was which right away.

"Hehe, that's really totally cool! Isn't it, little brother?"

I looked at us in depth again, then nodded.

"Yeah, I can't deny it."

Before Lia could say anything back, our aunt's voice rang through the house.

"Kids, please get ready, we're leaving!"

Okay, I c ouldn't get out of this now even if I wanted to. Which, to be honest, I didn't anymore. Now I found Lia's idea really hilarious, and maybe it would really have the desired effect on Auntie. And since no one here knew me anyway, and we were unlikely to run into anyone from our circle of friends back home by chance, I could go through with it safely.

"Want to go, Lio?"

Want was such a strong word, hehe. In any case, we had to.

"Let's get going before I change my mind after all."

"No way, bro. Come on."

Lia grabbed my left hand and pulled me out of the room with her, I just had time to grab my cell phone and stuff it in my bib pocket.

We were in the converted attic, on the second floor directly below our aunt had her private rooms as well as the general living room, while on the first floor was the kitchen and Auntie's office and workroom for music lessons. Apparently we were ready to leave sooner than she expected, we had already put on our fur-trimmed blue boots behind the front door and had slipped into our equally blue quilted jackets when Aunt Paula came down the stairs.

"Oh, you guys are here already! And Lia, that skirt really looks great on you, you should wear something like that more often!"

I just grumbled quietly to myself, while the real Lia struggled not to burst out laughing.

"Don't laugh at your sister, Lio, Lia looks really chic! You do too, of course. So, please go out already, I'll just put on my shoes and jacket too, then I'll close up the house. You don't have to close your jackets, we'll get into the car right away anyway."

So Lia and I left the house and stepped out into the cold, gray afternoon. Fortunately, it hadn't snowed since yesterday, so the roads would be passable. Here th ey had a real winter road service, not like in our home area, where a real panic broke out if a single snowflake dared to fall from the sky without having announced it three months in advance with a triple carbon copy.

"So what is it like, Lio?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

"A little weird and unfamiliar."

"Are the tights warm enough?"

I nodded after asking my legs how they felt.

"They have been so far. How that will be if it gets even colder and maybe with wind on top I can't say. I don't really want to find out either!"

"Hehe, it 's only today and for a good cause."

I couldn't answer to that anymore, because now Aunt Paula also left the house, locked up, opened the garage and shortly after drove her Suzuki Vitara out.

"Get in already, kids, I'm just going to close the garage. Get in the back!"

Grrrr. Well, maybe she just wanted to avoid us fighting over the co-driver's seat. Whereas we always negotiated something like that fairly, one on the way there and one on the way back. Oh well, we climbed in on the back seat, after we had deposited our jackets in the trunk. Because of the garage, the car wasn't totally chilled out, so our backsides didn't freeze to the leather interior.

"Do you guys have your seat belts on? Yes? Great, then we're ready to go."

Aunt Paula started the engine, and shortly thereafter we drove off her p lot, leaving the automatically closing gate behind us.

"You won't need the hoods in here, and please refrain from wearing them at the Christmas party, too."

I looked at Lia and grinned at her. Lia grinned back, and we pulled the hoods off our heads.

"There you go."

For the next few minutes, Aunt Paula focused on driving while Lia and I looked out of the windows. Outside, everything looked very small-town ish, and Christmas decorations were everywhere, which looked quite nice along with what must have been 20-25cm of snow. At what felt like the only traffic light in the area, we had a red light, of course, and Auntie looked back at us through the mirror.

"Are you excited about the Christmas party, kids?"

Kids. Sigh. I just shrugged, sensing more than seeing it that Lia was doing the same.

"You guys are going to love it. Our rummy club Christmas parties are always really nice, there will be lots of good stuff to eat and drink. Though, if you hope for mulled wine, forget it! But there will be children's punch, too."

"How many poor children must have lost their lives for that..."

"Lio! You know exactly what I mean!"

Lia and I laughed, and Aunt Paula also joined in the laughter.

"You won't be the only kids there either, though most of them will probably be a little younger than you."

Lia and I could live with that; we were very popular babysitters in our home neighborhood. I was a little surprised that Aunt Paula hadn't seen through our clothing swap yet, but then I remembered that she probably hadn't seen which one of us had gotten in on the left or right, and sitting like that she couldn't tell who was wearing what on the legs.

Meanwhile, the traffic light had changed and we tackled the rest of the way. A few minutes later we turned into the parking lot of the C ultural C enter, where the rummy club was playing its hobby along with many other clubs. There were already a few other cars there, the Cultural Center itself and the open space around it were decorated and lit up for Christmas.

"Go on then, out of the car, and don't forget your jackets, if you want to get some fresh air later you'll need them."

We did as our hostess had requested and shortly after stood behind the car, which Aunt Paula was now locking up.

"Well, here we go. Co... Oh."

Aunt Paula took off her glasses and looked to see if they were dirty or fogged up, but they were not. After cleaning the glasses anyway and putting them back on, she gave us a long look. Lia giggled softly.

"Lio, I think we're busted."

I giggled too and just nodded, Aunt Paula on the other hand shook her head.

"Well... I didn't expect that! Why are you wearing the skirt and tights, Lio?"

Before I could answer, Lia took care of that for me.

"Because he's my favorite brother and he knows I don't like skirts."

"I didn't think you were that consistent and serious about that topic, Lia. That's wh y I went with a denim bib skirt specifically because it doesn't really look girly and I thought you might be okay with it."

R eally? A ny skirt looked girly, except maybe for Scottish kilts.

"I really don't like skirts or even worse, dresses, Aunt Paula, and Lio thought the idea of just swapping the things you got for us was funny, too."

Aunt Paula sighed, but had a smile on her face, so she didn't seem to resent the maneuver too much.

"Well, if that's the way it is, I guess that's the way it's supposed to be. I had thought I'd buy Lia another skirt or two if she was okay with the first one, but now I'll just buy them for Lio. Not much of a difference."

Wait a minute!

"I don't need any more skirts either, Aunt Paula! This one is just for today. Lia said it might make you realize that the old clothing standards don't necessarily apply to everyone anymore."

"Oh, of course I understand that now. And I won't stand in the way of your desire to wear skirts after all, young man."

Whoa! That was nasty, not even being called a 'young man' for the first time changed that! And Lia laughed at that too, which earned her my stuck out tongue.

"But now we should go inside, otherwise they'll end up eating all of the cake without us."

Well, that wasn't acceptable at all, so we dashed after Aunt Paula, after all, we had our priorities correct. America... no... food first!

The Cultural Center was well heated, so we hung up our warm jackets at the wardrobe. This was not attended, but nobody would steal here, right? Apart from the cake at the coffee table.

A little later we entered the banquet hall, which was appropriately decorated for the event. There was not one but several strategically well placed Christmas trees, it smelled of three pointnine dozen incense candles, in the center of the hall stood lengthwise a long table with candles and fir arrangements, parallel to it on both sides were narrower tables, on which a highly inviting looking cake buffet was placed. Unfortunately, this was still taboo for us for the time being, because our aunt first wanted to show us off to her rummy sisters. And there the first one came marching up to us, about the same age as Auntie, only about twice as large.

"Paula, my dear, who have you brought us here?"

"Hello Iris! This is Lia and Lio, my little sister's children."

"Those two are just cute! Riona, come over, look, Lia is wearing the same tights as you! Riona is my granddaughter, by the way."

With that, two things were clear: a) this Iris was not an iron maiden like our aunt and b) she had not yet seen through our skirt- swapping game. But the latter could be changed.

"Um, Mrs...."

"Just Aunt Iris, my little lady!"

"Umm... As you like. But I'm Lio, not Lia, Aunt Iris."

Immediately I was gawked at with wide eyes, not only by 'Aunt Iris' but also by a girl of about ten, probably the summoned Riona. The latter giggled softly but not in any negative way, while grandmaaunt Iris stuttered a little.

"Oh... Aha... I'm sorry... I just thought... Because of the skirt..."

Aunt Paula laughed out.

"Oh Iris, you know how young people are these days. Girls wear pants, so why shouldn't boys wear skirts."

Wow, I didn't think Auntie would jump on this bandwagon so quickly!

"So, Lia, Lio, this is Iris Lombard, she runs the rummy club, and the girl wearing the same tights as Lio is Riona."

That concluded the first round of introductions and greetings, but we were immediately passed on to the next. There were about a dozen card shark ladies between 30 and 70, some of whom had their husbands with them, plus perhaps 20 children and grandchildren between the ages of 8 and 12 scurrying around the room. And a dog! But he was not scurrying, he was the calmest of all present and just lay lazily on a chair at the edge of the room. And we were introduced to all these people - without being able to fortifyourselves at the cake buffet beforehand! About half of our new adult acquaintances looked back and forth between Lia and me, the other half expressed their amazement verbally, and each time Aunt Paula pointed out that this was just normal with the youth of today. The kids actually seemed to see it that way, too, at least there were no stupid comments from them, while some of the adults looked at me somewhat judgmentally. I myself refrained from more detailed explanations, after all, we wanted to be finished with the presentation at some point and bring the delicacies to their destination!

Finally the time had come, all present were called to the table, whereby we had to give up the protective closeness of Aunt Paula, as the adults were placed at one end and the kids at the other. The final seat at the kids end was set but remained empty, so Lia wanted to sit there, but this was immediately stopped by 'Aunt Ilona'.

"Leave that chair empty please, it's for Alexander so he can get up quickly and take care of his dog if he has to."

Lia nodded and instead sat down across from me at the last seat in the row, I, on the other hand, searched my memory for Alexander, but was quickly sure that no bearer of that name had been introduced to us yet.

"My grandson will be here soon, I had forgotten my homemade cookies and he was kind enough to dash out to get them."

A cookie-bringing Alexander would be welcomed by me to the table with open arms, of course!

"Ah, there he is already! Come on, Alexander, I've kept the place at the end of the table available for you, so you'll always have a good view of Micco."

Micco must have been the dog, which was just jumping from the chair with a mighty leap and dash ing to his master, who was on his way to our end of the table.

"Grandma, Alexandre, not Alexander! Are you going to learn that someday?"

Aunt Ilona laughed and ruffled her grandson's blond curls as soon as he reached her.

"Nah, then I wouldn't be able to tease you about it anymore! Alex, this is Lia and Lio, Aunt Paula's niece and nephew."

Oh god, that Alexander/re was really cute! Maybe a year older than Lia and me, with sparkling blue eyes that he unfortunately turned away from us the next moment to cuddle his dog first. Wanttobecuddledtoo! The dog was also cute, quite big, long brown fur, shiny black nose, so you could at least see where the front was, hehe. Though the fiercely wagging bushy tail at the other end also made orientation easier.

"Did you miss me, Micco? Good boy. Here, I brought something for you."

The dog grabbed the chew ing bone, then was sent back to his chair seat by Alex, where he moved to immediately.

"He sure is well behaved!"

Alexandre turned back to the table, and thus to Lia.

"Yes, he has to be, Briards need a consistent hand."

Hmm, I had never heard of this breed.


Ha, I guess my sister hadn't either!

"French herding dogs. Though nowadays they're more used in dog sports, as therapy or rescue dogs."

Interesting, definitely a very cute version of a canine. I guess I shouldn't leave all the conversation to my sister.

"So what do you do with him?"

Alex turned his head toward me as he settled into his chair.

"Well, for me he started out as a kind of therapy dog, but now we ' re on the rescue dog squad with the Red Cross."

"Therapy dog?"

I probably should have held back That question judging by the pained look on Alexandre's face.

"My mother was killed in an accident four years ago, and I had totally withdrawn from the world at that time. My father tried everything, psychologists tried everything possible, but nothing helped, I just holed up in my room. Until someone came up with the idea of entrusting me with a dog. Well, with Micco I just couldn't stay a couch potato anymore, he practically dragged me out of my shell on his leash."

"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to bring back any painful memories."

"It's okay. Lio, right?"

I nodded, Alexandre probably had no problem recognizing Lia and I as who we were. Though he probably hadn't even noticed how we and especially I were dressed yet because of our table-sitting position.

"As I said, that was four years ago now, it still hurts, but I've made my peace with it."

I feverishly considered how to elegantly steer away from this sad topic, but my sister beat me to it.

"And your name is really Alexandre? Not Alexander?"

"Hehe, yes, even though my grandma has never called me that. For her it's either Alexander or just Alex. She doesn't mean anything bad by it though, it's kind of a running gag between us."

"Hmm, are you French? Or how did your name get that spelling?"

"Half, my father is from France but has lived in Germany on and off for many years since his birth. My mother was German."

"Cool. So now you're visiting your grandma?"

God was Lia curious! Thank goodness! I didn't have to ask those questions myself then!

"No, Grandma, Grandpa, Dad and I all live in a house around here. After Mom died, we moved here to live with her parents. Dad is an emergency doctor and has stupid working hours, so it was good that my grandparents were willing to help tak ing care of me."

I guess that really was a good solution. I didn't even want to imagine what it would be like to lose mom or dad!

Suddenly, a clang sounded from the other end of the table, followed by a loud "Oops!".

"Now this damned glass has broken. Oh. Did I just say damned glass? Kids, forget about that real quick! You don't say things like that!"

Lia, Alex, the kids sitting next to us and of course me were giggling to ourselves, Riona's grandma had probably wanted to announce a speech by the good old spoon vs. glass clink - and this time the spoon had won.

"Oh what the heck! So, dear rummy friends, dear guests old and young, on behalf of the club, I welcome you all to our Christmas party this year! I am very happy to see that everyone who attended last year is still here with us this year - may it be the same next year! I better skip the rest of my prepared speech, the kids are already looking so hungry, I don't want to risk them starting to nibble on the plates, one broken glass is enough, thank you. The waitresses of the Cultural Center will now distribute coffee and cocoa, the cake please get yourself from the buffet. Well then, I wish everyone a good appetite! Santa Claus will come afterwards."

Santa Claus would come too? I wondered if I could get him to wrap up Alexandre as a present and give him to me? Oh well, with the great distance between his and my place of residence, that would probably make no sense anyway. Sigh. I decided to stop thinking about it and to make sure that I would get enough cake! Pushing back my chair, I rose and dashed with the others to the assembled baked goods.

The cake buffet was really very well filled, all kinds of delicious things were standing around, from the traditional Stolle n in different variations to fruitcake, pancakes, puff pastry, rainbow cake, gingerbread and cream and fruit tarts. If this was always the case here then I was no longer surprised by the physical size of some of the rummy sisters.

While I was still trying to get an overview, my sister was already hard at work filling her plate. Suddenly, Alex approached me.

"Hey, Lio, you wear skirts?"

Hmph, in the rush for the sweet delicacies I had forgotten how I was walking around! But that was a topic I didn't want to delve into right here at the cake buffet.

"Not skirts, just one skirt."

Alexandre chuckled.

"Well, that's what I thought, I meant it in more general terms."

"In more general terms, I'll explain it to you at the table, we should see about filling our plates first."

"Oh, right again. Wait, I have an idea."

"You do?"

"Yes. I actually want to taste from as many varieties as possible, you too?"

"With all that different stuff? S ure! Why?"

"I suggest we pick out together, take just one piece of everything and then share it at the table, that way we can try more."

That sounded like a really good idea, so I wholeheartedly agreed, and we spent the next few minutes filling our plates in the half- N oah system, meaning just ONE piece of each kind. A little later, we were back at the table, where cups of steaming hot chocolate were waiting for us by now. There we dismantled our pieces of cake and started to fill up ourselves. It would take at least two and a half pieces of cake before we would be able to concentrate even rudimentarily again on other topics than the stuffing of our mouths.

When this point was finally reached, my hope that Alexandre might have forgotten the topic of Lio- in-a-skirt vanished. Well, it would have been too easy, right?

"Okay, now tell me why you walk around here in a skirt. So in general terms."

While I just sighed softly, my sister choked on the hot chocolate and spluttered it onto her plate, as she fortunately looked down quickly, otherwise I would probably have gotten the hot broth in my face.

"Oh man... cough... couldn't you have... cough... waited... cough... until I was done... cough... drinking... cough?"

As Lia stammered this out she grabbed a napkin and began to clean up the biggest damage, still she would probably need a new plate and new cake. And the tablecloth a good washing.

"Haha, sorry, no."

Cheeky brat, hehe. I liked it! Still, I turned to my sister.

"Are you okay?"

Lia took a deep breath once or twice, then nodded.

"It's okay. I hope you appreciate that I didn't yell that cocoa right in to your face."

"Hehe, yeah, thanks, I'll take it in good grace."

"All right then. Now you should answer Alexandre's question, though."

Oh. Yeah. Would be appropriate, I guess. So I told him how Aunt Paula had schemed against Lia - and how we had beaten her at her own game... um... own clothes. Alex listened with a grin and laughed appreciatively at the conclusion.

"That was a great idea! I don't know if I'd have the guts to walk around here in public as a boy in a skirt and tights. You don't seem to mind at all."

I shrugged my shoulders.

"Some people have given me stupid looks, but why should I care. I know what I'm doing and why, and that's good enough for me."

"Cool! Looks really cute on you, by the way."

My sassy sister chuckled softly.

"That's what Aunt Paula told him, too!"


"She said that when she still thought it was YOU in the skirt!"

And now Alex was giggling too, for real!

"True though!"

"Well then, you might give it a try, too, Alex. "

"Hehe... No, thanks. Skir ts aren't my thing. "

"Oh well, maybe at least tights then?"


"I thought so. Coward!"

Alexandre stuck his tongue out at me, causing Lia to nearly fall off her chair laughing. Luckily, this time she wasn't holding a cocoa cup or any other hazardous material.

"Just to clarify, I do wear tights when it's appropriately cold. Only under long pants, though."

Hmm. I wonder if I could get him to drop his pants in front of me? One can dream, right?

"Seriously? Let me see!"

Grrrr. Now Lia was competing with me! Funnily enough, she now got to see the tongue of our seat neighbor.

"Yeah, seriously, before we moved here to live with Grandma and Grandpa, we lived in a much warmer area. We weren't used to temperatures like this - and I still haven't fully gotten used to it."

Ha, he felt the same way we did. But if he really had tights on, they were covered by black jeans. And to complete the theme, on top he wore a red turtleneck, but unlike our hoodies, without Christmas trim.

"And no, you don't get to see that, especially not here."

"Oh, where then?"

Scrap, had I just said that out loud? Alexandre, however, just laughed.

"We'll see..."

Ah yes. Sounded... interesting! It was also interesting that we had actually managed to work through our plates of cake to the last crumb. The cocoa cups were also empty, though Alexandre and I had refrained from spreading their contents around the table.

"Are you still hungry, boys?"

I looked at Alex, who shook his head, and I was actually full as well. At least for the next hour or so.

"Nope, Lia. You?"

"Me neither. What's next?"

Hm, there had been talk of a Santa Claus, but for now the dog owner's grandma came to our end of the table.

"Alexander, are you done eating?"

Alexander again, haha. With some effort I managed to suppress a giggle, and Lia held her left hand in front of her mouth to cover her grin.

"Yes, Grandma, why?"

"Santa called, it's going to be a while before he makes it here, and I thought you might want to take advantage of That and go for a little walk with Micco?"

"Oh, yeah, that's a good idea. Lia, Lio, would you like to come along?"

Out in to the cold? Seriously now? Hm. Out into the cold with Alex. Why not, actually.

"Okay, I'm in. Lia?"

"Um... No, I'd rather stay here in the warm th."

F ine with me.

"Can we come along?"

We? Who we? Ah. I guess we'd be going out with dwarf escorts. Riona and two maybe ten or eleven year old boys weren't going to miss out on the dog walk. Sigh. But oh well, I actually liked little kids. Their guardians also agreed with this idea, it probably saved them some questions about when Santa would finally come.

"Well, come on then, put on your jackets, don't forget your caps and gloves."

Oh. Caps and gloves. I had a hood on my shirt, but I didn't have gloves. Or so I thought - but Aunt Paula had planned well ahead. I found this out when I went to sign out with her for the walk.

"Ah, that's a good idea, get out in the fresh air. Lia doesn't want to go?"

"No, we'll take three kiddies instead."

"That's good too. Wait a minute, I have something here in my bag."

She rummaged in her "aunt's handbag", which I guess could more accurately be described as a "great aunt's handbag" given its size, then held something woollyout to me.

"Here, as if I had guessed that you would go out wandering in the cold. Gloves for you, I don't want you to freeze your fingers off. You don't need a cap, you have the hood on your shirt, so you won't freeze your ears off. Although you don't use them to listen to what others say anyway."

Oh no!

"Aunt Paula! I'm really not that bad!"

What would Alexandre think of me? But well, I guess I should show some gratitude for the warm clothes.

"Thanks for the gloves."

"You're welcome. Now go on, so the others don't have to wait for you. And zip up your jacket properly!"

"Jawo l l, Sergeant Major!"

Auntie laughed, and I quickly made my wayout of her reach before I might catch a set of hot ears without needing a hood to warm them up. Just kidding! Auntie would never think of hitting Lia or me! Don't want to start spread ing Fake News.

Outside the banquet hall, the other two- and four-legged outing participants had already gathered, so I quickly grabbed my jacket, slipped it on, pulled the hood over my head, closed the jacket, put on the gloves, and I was ready to face the cold. The three kiddies and Alexandre were also dressed according to temperature, although the latter seemed to fear really bad things, wearing a full-blown balaclava. I wondered what it was doing to his curls? The little boys wore bobble caps, Riona a woolly slip-on cap that only left her face open to the weather. Gloves were on all hands, only Micco would have to endure the cold without additional protection. Oh well, his fur looked warm enough anyway.

Alexandre looked questioningly around.

"Ready to go?"

The kiddies nodded enthusiastically, and what appeared to be the oldest boy squinted at the dog leash.

"Can I take Micco, Alex?"

"Okay, Loris, you know you have to hold him tight, right?"

"Ow yes, I don't want to be dragged around like a doll again!"

Ah, someone probably had already gain ed experience with the light brown giant. Good, I was forewarned, just in case.

Loris took the leash from the dog owner, I opened the door of the Cultural Center and we stepped out into the dark cold.

"It's best to go around to the right, we'll come to a field where Micco can let off some steam."

So off we marched, and although Loris held the leash really tight, he was still pulled ahead a bit by the dog. The other two kiddies hurried to keep up, while Alexandre and I walked leisurely behind them. The dog and his followers wouldn't take off, Micco stopping every few meters to see if his master was really following him.

"Your doggie seems to be pretty attached to you, the way he always stops and looks around."

"Typical Briard, they were originally herding dogs, and they still herd. If there aren't any sheep around, their family will do."

"Cute. What kind of name is that anyway? Micco? Never heard that one before."

"Hehe, I'm not surprised. It comes from a Native American language, Seminole."

"Oh, then it must have some meaning, right? Don't all Native American names? Something like 'guardian of the family' maybe?"

Alexandre chuckled to himself beside me before answering.

"Close, but no cigar. Micco means something like chief."

"Ha, so 'chief of the family' or something like that!"

Now the person next to me laughed out loud.

"Yeah, that's about right, that's how he acts sometimes."

"I thought he was so well behaved?"

"He is. When he realizes you mean business, he follows your word. Otherwise, he's a wee bit playful."

Alex looked with a grin at his four-legged partner-in-crime and the three kiddies, who by now were all hanging on the leash and letting themselves be pulled.

"And he loves kids!"

"Good for you, then you'll always have your Minions to take care of him."

"That's right, Micco is known around here like the proverbial multicolored dog."

We walked side by side in silence for the next two or three minutes, then Alex resumed the conversation.

"Lio, does your name have any meaning, too? "

"Yes, it does. Lio is just another form of Leo."

"Ah, Leo? The lion?"


"Hehe. Lia too?"

"Yes, though in her case lioness. Which doesn't mean she's tamer than me, though! "

"Cool. How old are you guys anyway?"

"Fourteen plus four months, and you?"

"I'll be sixteen next May."

"Old geezer."

"Pfffffff! Cheeky little boy!"

Giggling, we walked on and soon reached the kids-plus-dogs group that had stopped. Riona looked to Alex.

"Can we let Micco off the leash now?"

"Yes, in a minute, I just have to do something quickly."

Alexandre walked over to his dog, fumbled with its collar, and suddenly green and red lights appeared on it. An LED collar, cool!

"There, now that we know exactly where Micco is at all times, you can unhook him."

Loris fiddled with the leash, and the next moment Micco dashed away into the darkness.

"Give him a few minutes to do his business first, then you can play with him a little. But try not to roll around in the snow too much, you're not properly dressed for that, and you certainly don't want to meet Santa completely soaked."

I wasn't dressed appropriately for snow either, so I guess I'd better hold off on that as well.

Waiting until the dog was ready for them gave the kiddies the opportunity to ask the inevitable question of me.

"Lio, why are you wearing a skirt, you're a boy, aren't you?"

That was Ben, I just remembered. Wasn't so easy to remember all those names from the introduction marathon earlier in the afternoon.

"Of course I'm a boy!"

"Are you sure about that? Boys don't wear skirts! And no tights!"

Before I could take out my justified indignation on Ben, Alexandre took over to set the record straight.

"Well, I wear tights too, and when I checked in the shower this morning, I was clearly a boy. And Lio is wearing the skirt because he and his sister wanted to tease their aunt, who had picked out the skirt for Lia. Although she knew that Lia doesn't wear skirts or dresses."

With that, I guess my standing with Ben was restored, he gawked at me with wide eyes, then laughed.

"That's cool! And brave! I'll have to try that sometime, maybe my sister will lend me a skirt."

"I don't think that would work for you, you and your sister aren't twins, Nelly is three years older than you and besides she has red hair."

Ben, on the other hand, was a straw blond.

"It worked so well on Lia and Lio because it's hard to tell them apart under their hoods."

"Oh. Yeah. Right."

A further deepening of the topic was now put to an end by Micco, who came running up to us barking loudly and started to jump around us. He really had a powerful voice, not like some little yapper! Of course, our kiddie trinity immediately understood what was being asked of them, and shortly thereafter, children and dog were romping through the snow. Alexandre watched with a grin, and I decided that I was much too old for such childish frolicking. After all, one had a reputation to keep up as a teenager! I kept the fact that I would actually also love to tussle with the furball in the snow to myself.

For Alex this was now the opportunity to return the curiosity that had had been directed at him at the cake table.

"You and Lia are visiting your Aunt Paula?"

"Yes, until after the New Year."

"I see, and where are your parents? I hope there's not some dramatic reason for them not being here with you."

"Ha! The reason we're here and our parents aren't actually is kinda dramatic!"

"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to bring up any bad feelings."

I chuckled softly.

"Don't worry, you didn't. Well, not really. Our parents won a cruise in a lottery, to the Caribbean. Over Christmas and New Year's. Stupidly, it's only for two."

"Ah okay. And they couldn't add you guys? Or would that have been too expensive?"

"I don't know what that would have cost, but the barge was completely booked out anyways. Holidays."

Alex nodded.

"Sounds logical. Although I couldn't imagine spending Christmas on a ship anyway. Especially somewhere where you can walk around in shorts in what should be the deepest winter."

Now it was me who was giggling.

"Well, you can do that here, too. "

"Huh? What?"

"Walk around in shorts. You j ust have to put on thick tights underneath. You've got something like that, by your own admission."

The dog lord laughed out.

"Haha, that's right! But I only do that for soccer when we have to play on snow or frozen grass."

"You play soccer? Micco too?"

Alex snorted.

"Well that would be fun! He wouldn't let anyone else touch the ball. And the ball wouldn't stay a ball for long, so far he's taken apart every air-filled specimen in a matter of minutes."

Bad d oggy.

"And yes, I do play soccer. But just for fun, I'm definitely not going pro. Do you play any sports?"

"Lia and I are in a shooting club."

"Ouch, you guys are really dangerous!"

"Hehe, not really. We're still too young for real guns, we only shoot air pistol and air rifle."

"Ah well, you won't be really dangerous for a few more years then."

"True, but we will definitely aim well by then."

"Oohhhkayyy. I'll keep that in mind and be careful!"

"Don't worry, we won't shoot at nice guys."

Not with guns, anyway...

Alex wiped his arm across his balaclava-covered forehead in relief.

"Whew, lucky again!"

We watched a bit more of the two- and four-legged little ones, whose position could be tracked mainly by Micco's LED collar, then Alexandre put an end to the wild action.

"Guys, come here. We need to head back."

The kiddies were not enthusiastic at first, but when Alex pointed out that they certainly didn't want to miss Santa Claus, the grumbling was quickly over, and we made our way back to the Cultural Center in a reasonably orderly fashion.

Arriving there Alexandre and I were happy that both the kiddies and the four-legged companion had stayed relatively dry. Micco gave himself another good shake, and most of the snow flew away - we humans had to thoroughly stomp our boots and then rid ourselves of jackets, gloves, and caps. When that was done, we re-entered the banquet hall, where Alex first sent his dog to the dog chair, which he did without complaint. At least for the moment he was well worked out, and from the chair he had a good view of the assembled crowd.

The kids dashed off to report back to their parents or grandparents, while Alex and I ran into Aunt Paula on the way to our seats.

"Well, there you guys are again. Has little Lio been behaving well, Alexandre?"

I don't know what the addressed found more amusing, the question itselFor my indignant snort, in any case he had trouble answering over his giggles.

"Oh, the little one actually behaved quite well, Aunt Paula. No more strenuous to supervise than the other three dwarfs, either. Ouch!"

The half-Frenchman had honestly earned the slap to his head! Little one! Dwarf! How dare he!

"I take it all back and claim the opposite! Lio is really violent! And I thought that someone who runs around in a skirt must be tame and well-behaved!"

Only a stern look from Aunt Paula kept me from following up with a second slap.

"Wrong thinking! All I'm saying is, Scots! They wear skirts and are defensi bl e and maintain quite violent manners when disprespected, so you better be nice to me!"

Alex laughed out.

"All right, all right, I'll remember that! But Aunt Paula?"


"Well, if Lio's going to go all Scotsman, you might want to get him a real kilt. And then a pair of plaid tights to go with it, completely without anything under the kilt would probably be a bit too cold at this time of the year."

Now I had to laugh too, while I shook my head vigorously.

"No. No. And no!"

Questioningly, both Aunt Paula and Alexandre looked at me.

"No, Aunt Paula doesn't have to get me a kilt. No, no plaid tights either. And no, I'll be damned if I'm going to walk around without something under a skirt, no matter what time of the year it is."

Alex laughed, but Aunt Paula tilted her head and looked at me with a grin. I think I preferred not to know what was going on in her head right now! Fortunately, at that moment, a little bell rang and Aunt Iris took the floor.

"Santa has just arrived! Would you all please go back to your seats? Then Santa can start the gift-giving."

Hopefully I wouldn't regret looking forward to the gift-giving later.

Alexandre and I dashed back to our end of the table, where we were already awaited by Lia.

"Well, how was it outside?"

Pretty dumb question.

"Cold and dark!"

My sister narrowed her eyes and looked toward the ceiling.

"I already knew that! What else?"

I shrugged.

"It was quite nice to move around and get out of the incense-smoke -filled air in here for a change."

I did like incense, but at some point there should be an airing out to replace the stale air. That would give a big boost to the odds of those present today living to see next Christmas, too.

"Were you freezing?"

"Nope, why?"

"Um... skirt?"

I could do that, too.

"Um... tights?"

"That was warm enough for you?"

"Well, we were on the move most of the time. It wasn't colder than pants without thermal underwear, either."

"Well, if you say so..."

We couldn't (or didn't have to?) go any further into the subject, because at that moment the lights dimmed, the door to the hall opened, and a tall guy in a hooded red coat entered. The face was almost completely covered by a thick buzz beard, which I could only hope was artificial and therefore removable - otherwise you could really only feel sorry for the man wearing it.

"Ho Ho Ho! Am I in the right place at the local poker game?"

Aunt Iris, of course, jumped at it immediately.

"You must have had too much of the mulled wine already, Santa! Here we play rummy, we're not gamblers after all."

Well, poker had at least as much to do with skill as with luck. I had learned that myself by playing online poker, but psssst! Please don't tattle on me, otherwise I could forget about Christmas presents at least until I was of legal age!

"In that case I'm at the right place, woman! I just wanted to make sure my reindeer didn't dump me at the wrong address. Ever since I fed them bitterweed once last year, I've just been waiting for them to take their revenge on me."

Well, those were nice conditions at Santa's! And expecting us to always be good! Hypocrite.

"Sooo... I do see some children here. You've all been good, I hope?"

Didn't I just say that? Hypocritical canaille!

"Y esssss!"

The assembled gaggle of kiddies chorused, while Lia, Alex and I just nodded reflexively.

"Alright, then I'll take your word for it. It's better that way, believe me!"

Some of the very small ones now looked a bit scared, but Santa just laughed.

"Because I forgot the rod..."

As long as he hadn't forgotten the presents, I didn't give a damn. Santa Claus walked along the table, and at our end of it turned towards a small stage on which a throne-like chair had been placed, on which he now sat down, placing his gift bag beside him.

"Ah, finally sitting again."

Had he booked a standing place only in his reindeer sleigh?

"Soooo... Here we go then. I hope I brought the right gift bag, not the one I have to take to the retirement home later."

That would be better for him! Although I had to admit that I liked this Santa Claus better than the usual serious characters who only reeled off the same program over and over again. The guy here in the costume was easy-going and funny, and that suited me very well.

Meanwhile, Santa had opened the gift bag and pulled out a first little colorfully wrapped package.

"Let's see who this is for."

He stared at the little card hanging from the package, stared, and stared some more before holding the card close to his eyes. Then he sighed.

"I'm afraid I forgot to put in my contact lenses, too. Luckily, I still have my emergency glasses with me."

T hose he now parked on his nose, then he could finally start.

"Ah, here we are. Is there a Benjamin Wagner in the room?"


"Well, come on up here to me, boy."

Already one of our dog handlers was dashing to the stage, up the three steps, and standing in front of the coat carrier.

"I'm Ben Wagner!"

"Ben Wagner? Sorry, I just have a gift here for a Benjamin Wagner, so I guess this isn't for you, unfortunately."

"It is for me! I'm Benjamin Wagner, but everyone calls me Ben!"

"Hmm, I'll take your word for it then. Do you know a little poem or song for Santa?"

Fortunately, Ben had probably been well prepared for what would be expected of him, and he was able to satisfy the fuzzy beard and receive his gift shortly thereafter. I, on the other hand, was getting a little nervous. Poem? Song? ME? Lia also looked a bit dazed out of her hoodie, but Alex just grinned.

The next few minutes trickled past me like the snow that had fallen the day before, one child after another was called up and allowed to pick up their gift for a little something in return. But then I heard my own name!

"Lio Wa ss er. Lio? Interesting name, never heard it before!"

This happened to me quite often. I rose from my chair and wandered to the front, where Santa was once again carefully studying the name tag on the gift before looking up at me.

"Oh, did I say Lia? Sorry my dear, either I misspoke or you misunderstood me, this is for Lio for now. But well, since you're here already, wait a minute, I'll get your present out of the bag."

And THAT happened to me more and more often especially today! Sigh...

"Uh... Mr. Santa Claus? I AM Lio! My sister Lia is still sitting down there."

Puzzled, the gift-giver looked at me askance.

"Um... you're Lio? Are you sure about that?"

"I definitely am!"

"Oh. With all the newfangled names, I can't quite keep up. I had thought Lio was a boy's name, sorry."


"That IS a boy's name. And I AM a boy."

Hopefully he wouldn't demand now that I prove that here on stage in front of the assembled rummy brigade and their appendages.

"Ah yes... Well, in that case... However, I'm afraid I don't have a Barbie doll for you, sorry."

Grrrrrrr! What were the consequences for ripping Santa's beard off his face, whether it was real or just glued on? Fell that under 'assault on a government official '? The same now bent to me and whispered conspiratorially.

"Sorry, just kidding! Besides, the presents were wrapped by my elves anyway, so I don't really know what's in all of them. But don't tell the other kids, otherwise what will they think of Santa?"

Ha! Blackmail material! There better will be something really good in that package for me, hehe.

"There you go, Li-O! Stay a good BOY."

Now THAT I had to think about very carefully! I accepted the gift and made off in a flash before the gentleman in the red coat noticed that he had completely forgotten to ask me for a poem or even a song due to his gender confusion. Aunt Paula's clothes selection and Lia's swap idea thus had quite positive consequences.

Next it was actually my sister's turn, who in return for her gift blew a short poem dripping with snow around Santa's ears and sat opposite me again a little later.

"So... Only one gift left in the bag, well that went pretty fast."

Santa looked at the name tag, looked again, shook his head, then looked down the hall.

"Sorry, I think I'll have to send my elves to summer school again. But maybe they just can't handle the newfangled tablets. Nothing decent can come out of all that s wiping and touching. Anyway... Do we have an Alexander LaGrange here?"

Alex narrowed his eyes in annoyance, but stood up and marched to the stage, where he stood in front of the gift distributor.

"They actually wrote 'Alexandre' on the name tag, I'm sorry, son. Usually I have to pay close attention to the correct name when handing out gifts, but this is clearly just a mistake now, so you shall have your gift."

Were those smoke signals coming out of the ears of the so rightly misnamed dog owner? Hehe.

"Your elves spelled that just right, Santa! My name really is AlexandRE! With 're' on the end!"

"Oh. Well, I'll be. I guess I'll have to apologize to my elves then."

Maybe he should apologize to Alexandre first! Well, possibly he considered the now presented small gift package as apology enough. Also Alex was spared just like me to have to recite a poem or a little song. I guess that was worth something.

When Alex sat down again with us at the end of the table, my sister giggled cheekily at him.

"If even Santa thinks your name is Alexander now, maybe you should change your name after all."

"Ha. Ha. Ha! He knows perfectly well that my name is Alexandre, after all, he's my grandpa."

Probably startled at himself, the misnamed boy held his left hand in front of his mouth and looked along the table at the younger children. These had probably not even noticed his statement, because they were more busy unpacking their gifts and examin ing them. Good, their faith in Santa Claus should not be shaken. Although most of them probably at least suspected that behind the fuzzy beards usually Santagrandpas, Santadads, Santauncles or in the worst case Santacollegestudents were hidden.

Talking about unwrapping presents, we should probably tackle that too. So we grabbed the little gifts, and as the oldest, Alex was of course first with unpacking. After all, he had the most strength to shred the wrapping! And one more Christmas of experience.

"What did you get?"

Grinning, Alexandre raised a small black stick that quickly revealed itself to be a brightly shining LED flashlight.

"Can come in handy when I'm out in the dark with Micco. What about you guys?"

Lia had also made it and unpacked her gift. Satisfied, she presented us with a silver necklace, on it a pendant in the shape of a shooting target. I laughed out loud.

"Shotgun girl!"

"Haha, you're just jealous because I shoot better than you!"

"But only with a rifle, I'm better with a pistol."

"You just are better with shorter things. You're my LITTLE brother, after all."

Whoa, such a cheeky thing. Alexandre, on the other hand, was royally amused byour sibling squabble.

"Hehe, you're older than your brother, Lia?"

"Of course, can't you tell?"


"Could be seven years, same difference."


Laughing, Alex rose from his chair and looked at Lia.

"Do you want me to put the necklace on you?"

The addressed nodded delightedly.

"Yes, please."

Alexandre grabbed the necklace and put it around my sister's neck. I wonder if he would tug hard if I asked him very nicely. In a Strangler-of-London way?

"Great, thank you very much."

"You're welcome."

"And what did you get, little brother? Come on, let's see it."

I turned my attention back to my little gift package and removed the last of the wrapping. What appeared was a wrist band for my watch. Exactly the one I had wished for. After the necklace for Lia, the second clear sign that our parents had made a deal with Santa Claus. That was fine with me. Grinning, I held the wrist band up to be seen by the others.

"Cool! Are you going to put that on now?"

Why not. Unfortunately, I didn't need the helping hands of Alexandre, who was also more or less frozen like a pillar of salt as I took off my Apple Watch, removed the black plastic band and put on the rainbow-striped textile band. I put the watch back around my forearm and quickly activated the matching watch face that was already installed.


"Looks good, Lio."

I thought so, too. However, I also thought Alexandre had become suspiciously quiet. Questioningly, I looked to him and saw him staring at me with wide eyes. Lia also noticed that he probably wasn't really present, so she waved a hand wildly in front of his face.

"Hello, anyone home?"

With that action my sister managed to snap our tablemate out of his trance.

"What? Oh. Yes. Sorry."

"Is something wrong?"

"I... uh... no... well... um... Lio?"


"Uh... are you... I mean... are you gay, too?"

Oh. Yes. Alex hadn't known that, but with the telling wristband I had now outed myself to at least everyone over twelve and under fifty. Hopefully that would go well now! Not that in the end I would fall victim to a strangling attack from him!

"Yes, I am. You got a problem with that?"

"Um, brother dear?"


"Calm down, Lio."

What? Oh. I guess I had reacted a little aggressively.

"Say, I guess you didn't really listen to Alexandre's question, did you?"

"Huh, why?"

Lia giggled softly.

"He asked, quote, 'are you gay too?" ' TOO '. Does that ring a bell in your empty head?"

Oh. My. GOD!

Now it was me who was staring. Namely at Alexandre. The latter grinned back.

"Seriously now?"

Alex nodded, continuing to grin, then pulled up the right sleeve of his turtleneck. Underneath, a three-strand leather bracelet was revealed, with beads embedded in it, suspiciously similar in color to my new watch band.


Again, Alex nodded.

"Yeah, too. Isn't that cool?"

Now I nodded.

"It sure is! I really wasn't expecting that now."

"You think I did, Lio? If I had even suspected it, I would have worn my bracelet in the open from the start."

At least that would have avoided a misunderstanding and my overreaction. But it didn't really matter now, did it? Before we could prattle about the topic any further, though, we were interrupted by one of the rummy sisters.

"Okay, now that Santa's through, there's still punch and cookies! No alcohol for anyone under 18 of course!"

Since I wasn't into alcohol anyway, I had no problem with that. Shortly thereafter, there was a steaming cup in front of each of us, as well as a large plate with various cookies strategically placed between the three of us. Yummy!

We munched on the cookies, sipped children's punch (in which, at least, there were no discernible child particles floating around), and I gathered my courage to ask a question that perhaps I should have asked before my public wearing of the rainbow watch band.

"What is it like here, Alex? I mean, being openly gay? Here in small-town land?"

Alexandre paused in his cookie munching and chewed down as he seemed to consider.

"Well... Quite tolerable, actually. Sure, this isn't Cologne, but if you're afraid someone will ambush you in a dark corner and beat you up: no need to worry."

Sounded logical, otherwise he probably wouldn't have outed himself. Though I didn't know if that had happened voluntarily. Before I could ask the appropriate question, my sister beat me to it.

"Everyone knows about you?"

"Yes, I came out on my last birthday. I mean at school, my family knew for a year or so longer."



"Why did you come out?"

"Ah... Well, how many other gay teenagers do you think I knew here?"

I looked at Lia, Lia looked at me, we looked at Alexandre and shrugged our shoulders in perplexity. Our tablemate nodded.

"Exactly zero. How was I supposed to find a suitable boyfriend? And how was a potential suitable boy friend supposed to find ME if he had no idea that I was a potential suitable boy friend? So I figured I could possibly drag a cute gay boyout of the closet if I came out myself."

"Did it work?"

Sighing, Alex shook his head.

"No, Lio, unfortunately it didn't. Not a single one followed my example. For that, I see exactly three possible explanations."

Tensely, Lia and I looked at him.

"Possibility 1: I'm really the only gay teenager here."

Hm, even here in the hills and forests I estimated the probability of that to be rather low.

"Possibility 2: I'm not attractive enough to dra g out another gay boy, or even get him to at least sneak a peek at me."

Alexandre not attractive enough? Had the guy ever looked in a mirror in the last few years? Well, that was at least as unlikely as option 1.

"Or possibility 3: there are other gay guys, but they don't dare to even be assumed of being gay."

Yeah, that sounded the most understandable to me.

"Well, I personally tend to option 3. Okay, in general, I've only had very few problems here so far, once in a while a few stupid words, but overall it's gone better for me than I thought it would. Apart from the missing boyfriend. But that says nothing about the personal situation of potential candidates. I mean, it's all well and good to know that there wouldn't be a huge fuss at school, but growing up with homophobic parents that doesn't really get you anywhere."

Luckily, our parents had taken away that fear before I even realized what was going on with me. Which might have been because our dad's best friend from schooldays was also gay, and both he and his husband had been addressed as 'uncle' by Lia and me since when we were still in diaper s.

"Sounds logical. My little brother never had to worry about that, thankfully."

I nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, I was lucky."

"Me with my dad and grandparents too, otherwise I wouldn't have dared to do it at school."

Understandable. As if on cue, all three of us were now silent, and for now we continued to fight our way through the mountains of cookies, which were washed down with children's punch. We stopped only when the cookie plate was emptied and our greedy glances at the other such plates on the long table also found only even smaller crumbs.

Empty plates, full kids, that was probably the sign for the adults to slowly bring the event to an end, in any case, children were gradually collected by their guardians. Those who knew each other said goodbye to each other, but many just trotted away lazily and with full bellies. Alexandre's dog also sensed that it was time to go home and ran to his master, laying his big head on his lap and letting him pet it.

"Say, do you guys have any plans for tomorrow?"

I looked at my sister, but she probably wasn't aware of any plans either, at least judging by her counter question.

"Not that I know of, why?"

"Well, do you feel like going to the Christmas Market with me tomorrow afternoon? That's the last day it runs."

By now it was December 21 st, and I wasn't really surprised that the local small-town Christmas Market wasn't open until the actual day of Christmas.

"Is it worth it?"

"Well, there's yummy stuff to chow on, some entertainment, rides on the horse-drawn sleigh, and anyway, everything's decorated really beautifully with all the colorful lights. I really like it, I'm just a Christmas freak. At least as long as my grandpa isn't playing Santa!"

We all three laughed, Lia and I looked at each other and nodded.

"If Auntie doesn't have any objections, Lio and I would love to go to the Christmas Market with you."


Alexandre's eyes lit up as if he had received another Christmas present, this time bigger.

"What time do you want me to pick you guys up?"

"What are you going to pick them up for, Alex?"

"Oh, hello Aunt Paula. I wanted to show Lia and Lio the Christmas Market tomorrow afternoon, is that okay?"

"That's a nice idea, of course it's okay. Look, if you get to our place around three, I'll drive the three of you to the market, then you wont need to ride the bus."

"Great! And I'm sure one of my folks will drive us back."

Aunt Paula nodded with satisfaction.

"I'd really appreciate that, because it'll be dark by then."

"That will definitely work."

"Very nice. Lia, Lio, you still have ten minutes, I have to quickly discuss something with Iris, then we'll make our way home. I'll meet you at the exit. Have a good evening, Alex."

"Thanks, you too, Aunt Paula."

She was gone, and Alex couldn't stop grinning. I had the silly feeling that it was the same with me, and also Lia looked around quite contentedly. Suddenly Alexandre's happy grin changed into a... cheeky one?

"Are you going to wear that skirt again tomorrow, Lio?"


"Uh... no..."

"Oh come on! Why not?"

"We told you why we're walking around today the way we are. That was a one-time action, quasi pedagogically, for advanced aunt training. The topic is through now, so why should I repeat it tomorrow?"

"Well... Maybe because I'm asking you nicely?"

Oh man, Alexandre's begging puppy dog eyes really rivaled his fuzzy four-legged friend! And Lia was laughing! Now it was time to stand firm!

"Uh... No, sorry!"

My sister laughed again, then turned to Alex.

"Maybe you could make a deal with Lio?"

Well, sure, I wonder what that deal might look like?

"What kind of deal?"

Suspiciously, Alex looked at my sister, but she just shrugged.

"Well, I don't know what you could offer him."

Alex frowned thoughtfully - and at that moment it occurred to me what I could ask of him in return! Something that would make it worth my while to walk around in a skirt in public one more time.

"If you want to see me in a skirt at the Christmas Market tomorrow, I want to see you in shorts. With tights underneath, of course, I don't want you to freeze your legs off..."

Bam, that was a good one! With his eyes wide open and his mouth open ing and closing a couple of times, Alexandre stared at me, while my sister couldn't stop laughing.

"I... haha... I think... I think you broke Alex, bro!"

"Hihi, looks like it, doesn ' t it? "

"Wha...what? Ahem... Really, Lia, your little brother is a pretty tough negotiator!"

Grinning, I looked at the half-Frenchman.

"I don't negotiate. Deal or no deal? You have to decide now!"

"Oh man! Are you serious?"

I nodded my head vigorously.

"Of course. You want me to do something I wouldn't actually do, you'll have to do something yourself for that in return."

"Hm... But not shorter than your skirt!"

"Agreed, knee length is fine."

"Alright, you've got your deal. Shake on it!"

Alexandre extended his right hand to me, which I grabbed with my own and shook, whereupon Lia followed through with the handshake.

"And I bear witness!"

"God, did I really just get into this right now?"

"Yes, Alex, you did, and I don't think Lio's going to let you back out of it. And I won't neither."

Our new friend probably couldn't quite believe himself yet what he had just agreed to, he was still shaking his head in disbelief.

"My people are going to kringle up laughing."

"Hmm, yummy, Christmas kringle s!"

"Christmas Market kringles. Christmas Market visitor kringles! And you did say you were a Christmas freak."

"Hehe, yeah, I am. Alright, so be it then! But Lio?"


"If I show up at your house like this tomorrow, I expect you to hold up your end of the deal!"

"I will, you can count on it."

"And if he tries to get around it, I'll set his head straight, I promise."

Big sisters could be so bossy!

"Okay, I believe you. But I think you guys need to get going, your aunt just left the hall."

Then I guess we really should, not that she left without us and we had to hitch hike home.

"Right. See you tomorrow at three then? You know where we're staying?"

"See you tomorrow at three, and yes, I know where to go."

Lia and I said goodbye to Alexandre and his dog, then dashed out of the ballroom. Aunt Paula was already waiting at the wardrobe.

"Ah, there you are, I was afraid I would have to go back in and get you. Now come on, put your jackets on and get out."

We did what Auntie had asked us to do, and a little later were sitting in the car.

"Well, how was it for you, did you have fun?"

I nodded, and Lia answered for both of us.

"Yeah, it wasn't too bad. The cake was great!"

"It sure was, and it seems that you guys did hit it mighty hard."


"What do you mean, Aunt Paula?"

"It's simple, Lio, the car doesn't really pull off anymore, it must be the extra weight you added..."

Wow, how mean!


The driver laughed.

"It's okay, I didn't mean it that way. I'm glad you guys enjoyed it. It was really nice that Alexandre was there too."

Yes, Alex had been a lucky hit! And not because of anything he and I had in common, but mostly because he was cool and nice to be around. And he had a cute dog, hehe.

"Anyways, getting back to your full bellies, what do you think, do you need dinner tonight?"

I looked at the clock, it was already after six, and at least for the moment I didn't feel any void in my stomach.

"Well I'm stuffed, at least for now. Lia?"

My sister seemed to feel the same way, she just burped softly, then giggled.


"That's no way for a young lady to behave, Lia!"

It was probably a good thing then that Lia was anything but a young lady, hehe.

"If that's the case, then I won't bother cooking anything. If anyone gets hungry later, we still have apples, gingerbread or sausages in the house."

That sounded reasonable to our ears, so we agreed on the plan. Shortly after, we turned onto Auntie s property, the gate had opened for us as if by magic.

"Kids, if you don't have anything important to do, will you please come with me to the living room for now? I would like to discuss something with you."

I wonder what that was going to be again!

"I have to go to the bathroom real quick, and then I'll be right there."

Oh, yeah, that was a good idea, I should take care of that too.

"Me too!"

"Good, then I'll meet you in the living room in a few minutes, I still have to drive the car into the garage first and close everything up there."

So it was done, Lia and I got out of the car, went into the house, rid ourselves of jackets and boots, visited the localities, and a few minutes later gathered in the living room, where we sat down next to each other on the couch.

"What do you think Auntie wants us for?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

"I don't know. I hope she doesn't want to warn us about Alexandre, will she?"

"I don't think so, little brother. After all, just now she said herself that it was nice that he was at the party with us."

"Hmm, that's true. I guess we'll have to wait and see."

Lia nodded, and we got comfortable in the couch cushions. Shortly after that the lady of the house also appeared and took a seat in one of the armchairs.

"Ah, that feels good. The chairs in the Cultural Center are a little uncomfortable for my old bones in the long run."

"But you're not old, Auntie!"

"Thank you, Lio, you're a real gentleman, but I'm heading straight for 50, and compared to you I'm not just old but ancient. But the chairs in the Center are even older! I've told Iris a thousand times already that new ones are needed there, but she doesn't want to mess with the board. Well, we'll see. She was complaining mightily herself earlier."

Lia and I giggled, and Aunt Paula couldn't help smiling either.

"While we're on the subject of age. Kids, I want to apologize to you. Especially to you, Lia."

"Apologize? To me? Why?"

Auntie sighed.

"Oh, like I said, I'm not the youngest anymore, and I guess I'm a little too old-fashioned in some things. I shouldn't have tried to force a skirt on you, Lia. What you want to wear is entirely your decision, and I must not try to force you into the rules of my own youth. Though, back then, I would have been happy if my tights had been that soft! I only ever got terribly scratchy ones!"

Lia and I laughed uproariously, and I had to agree with Aunt Paula.

"Well, these tights are really nice and soft. And warm!"

"Well, that's good then. Lio, I half expected your sister to fight tooth and nail against the skirt, but I never thought you two would put on such a show!"

Tilting her head, Lia looked at our aunt.

"Are you mad at us?"

Aunt Paula laughed out.

"Mad? At you? No, absolutely not! Rather, I'm mad at myself. I shouldn't have needed such a wake-up call."

"It's okay, Auntie. Everything went well, and my little brother proved that he's got what it takes. I don't know any boy who would have dared to do what he did. Ha, I wouldn't have believed him to do it myself before, I was completely surprised that Lio actually agreed on the swap."

I pinched Lia's upper left arm.

"Finally you see what a cool sock I am."

"Nope, you're not!"

"I'm not?"

"Nope, if anything you're a cool pair of footed tights."

Now all three of us couldn't help laughing, and it took a moment for Aunt Paula to be able to speak again.

"Anyway, I've learned my lesson. Lio, you don't have to protect your sister from my stupid ideas anymore, when you take the skirt off later, it will end up in the closet, and I'll give it to the Red Cross C lothing Chamber at the next opportunity. I'm sure they'll find someone there who will like it."

The fact that Lia now laughed out even louder than before amazed our mothers sister a little.

"What are you laughing at, Lia? That's actually a nice skirt. Well, if you like skirts. Isn't it?"

"Yes, yes, Aunt Paula, it is! It's just that someone who likes it has already been found. Not as much on himself, more so on my little brother."

Astonished, the lady of the house looked at me.

"What does Lia mean? Someone who likes the skirt on you, Lio?"

I shrugged.

"Alexandre thought it looked good on me."

"Oh, that's right! I guess I'd better not give it away yet, then?"

"No, Aunt Paula, Lio needs it again tomorrow at least."

"Oh? Tomorrow?"

Sighing, I nodded.

"Alex has asked me to put i t on again tomorrow when we go to the Christmas Market together," I said. "He gave me a downright begging look, and I couldn't say no to him."

"Haha, he must have learned that look from his dog! But is it really that bad? I mean, you made it through today just fine, didn't you, or did anyone give you a hard time about it?"

I shook my head.

"Nope, there were only weird looks from some of the adults. The kids we were on the dog walk with wanted to know why I was walking around like that, and when I explained it, they thought it was cool too."

"Well then everything is okay, right?"

"Yeah, I guess..."

My sister didn't let that stand, though.

"Well don't act all annoyed, it's not like you didn't tickle something out of Alex in return!"

Hmm, tickle Alex. Nice idea!

"A case of quid pro quo?"

"Yes, Auntie."

"Well I'm dying to know, tell me all about it! "

Lia laughed, then started to answer.

"Well, it went like that..."

For the next two or three minutes, Lia told our aunt about the actually not-so-hard negotiations that had taken place between Alex and me just before we left the Cultural Center. Auntie's face got longer and longer, she didn't know if she should believe it or not. In the end, she shook her head in disbelief.

"Okay, slow down again, so my poor old mind can come along too. Lio, Alexandre really wants to see you in a skirt tomorrow on the Christmas Market trip, and you told him you'd only do it if he showed up in shorts and tights?"

"That's right, Aunt Paula. I guess he doesn't have a skirt, but I still wanted to see how serious and important his wish was to him."

"Ha! Apparently quite serious and important! But how did you know he owns tights? I mean, he doesn ' t have a sister who he could ask to get some. "

I shrugged.

"He probably has several, actually; after all, he told us he puts some on when it's cold. And he gave me the idea of 'shorts plus tights' himself."

This my sister wanted to know as well.

"How so?"

I turned to Lia.

"When we were out with the dog, he wanted to know why we were here without our parents, so I told him about the cruise. He then said he couldn't imagine Christmas on a ship, and even more so in temperatures where you can walk around in shorts. That's when I said that he could do that here and now, he would just have to wear tights underneath the shorts."

Both females present laughed out loud, and Lia wanted to know how exactly Alex reacted.

"What did he say about that suggestion?"

"Well, at the time he still said that he would only do that for soccer. He's since changed his mind, as we all know now, hehe."

"Looks like it, Lio. I'm just surprised he still wears tights, he's almost 16."

"Um, Auntie, I'm almost 15 and look what I'm wearing right now!"

Aunt Paula laughed.

"Almost 15? More like almost just turned 14! Besides, as far as I know, this is your first pair of tights in many years, isn't it?"

Giggling, I nodded.

"I thought so. But m e thinking that only teenage girls still wear tights is probably one of my weird outdated ideas, too. Now I have to confess something to you two."

Oh? What would that be?

"But first, back to the skirt. Lio, I'm afraid tomorrow will be the last time you'll be able to wear it."

"Why is that? I mean, I don't really plan to wear it again after tomorrow anyway, but still?"

"Because it will soon be too cold for such a short skirt, even with tights. Tomorrow it should be around minus 5 degrees, but then it will get colder and colder, and on the 25th it will be minus 10 degrees at the most. And that's in the midday heat!"

Ouch! That really sounded cold as hell! Or rather cold like the north pole.

"Ohhhkay... I guess I wouldn't be able to convince Alex to wear shorts and tights then either."

"Haha, right! But tomorrow it should still be warm enough for that combo. Barely."

I was hoping so, now that I already was mentally and morally committed to it.

"But that brings us back to my confession. The tights I gave Lia today aren't the only ones I bought. With the weather prophecy, I knew you guys would need something for underneath your jeans."

"You bought us tights?"

"No, Lia. I bought YOU tights. I got leggings and warm socks for your brother."

Seeing Lia's outraged face, I had to laugh out loud, which didn't really go over well with her.

"Hmpf! You're welcome to the tights, little brother!"

I continued to laugh, which earned me the stuck out tongue of my sister. Well I didn't want to be a bad little brother and decided to suck up to her again, who knows what it would be good for at a later time.

"If Aunt Paula doesn't mind, then I'll take the tights and you can have the leggings. And the warm socks!"

Both Lia and I looked at Auntie, who just raised her hands defensively.

"I'm so not going to get involved in your clothing decisions anymore, I've learned my lesson! All I care about is that you dress appropriately for the temperatures. You're in the mountains here, it's just different weather than what you are used to on the Rhine."

I nodded in agreement.

"Don't worry, I don't want to freeze."

"Neither do I, Aunt Paula. So thank you for the leggings! And for the tights for my little brother."

Grumbling, I looked at Lia.

"Can we at least agree on younger brother? I'm not really smaller than you."

"Hehe, well, let's see, maybe every other time."

"Just Lio would work too!"

"Okay, just Lio."

"Grrrr. You're not at the paper here, you don't get paid by the character count."

"No? Crap. And anyway, I get paid?"

"Of course! With the honor of being my not-bigger-but-older sister. Have you actually noticed that you're already getting the first wrinkles? It's not really surprising at your advanced age, Lia."

"And you're to blame for every wrinkle and gray hair I get!"

I eyed Lia closely.

"Now that you mention it, there really are a few gray spots already, you need to dye some more."

"The cruel destiny of the older and wiser siblings. Stuck with a naughty little brat that you can't just throw out of the door because of family obligations."

"If you're already realizing that, then you should really be with Santa by now."


"Well, he did say earlier that he had another appointment at the retirement home, that would fit your advanced age. "

Aunt Paula laughed uproariously.

"N o matter which one of you is older or taller or not, you both dish it out mighty fine! I hope you don't eve r have a serious fight with each other."

"Don't worry, Aunt Paula, we love each other way too much for that, don't we, Lio?"

I nodded in agreement, but that wasn't enough for Lia, and the next moment I got a big wet smack on the cheek from her.

"Ieeeehks! Girl germs!"

I frantically searched my pockets for a tissue, and after finding it, extensively wiped the infection site.

Auntie continued to shake in laughter, and it took a little while for us all to calm down.

"With some luck, you'll survive your sister's kiss, Lio. If you want to be completely safe, I'd recommend a hot shower."

Ha! Auntie could dish it out too! Luckily it wasn't against me, hehe. But wait, what did she say about a shower.

"Well, actually, I'd love to get in the tub. A really nice warm bubble bath would be great, I saw there's pine scented bubble bath sitting around."

Showering was reserved for body cleansing in my case, for relaxing I preferred a real tub bath.

"You're welcome to do that. When were you planning on doing that?"

"Well, since we had agreed on 'no dinner,' I was thinking of right now after ending this cozy round of conversation."

"As you wish. Then you'd best put on your pajamas afterwards, it's not worth putting on day clothes again. I suppose you two won't be getting very old today anyway."

Another good five hours we would be getting older today, but I knew what Auntie meant.

"Will do, good idea."

"Very nice. And what do you have planned, Lia?"

My sister just thought for a moment before answering.

"I think I'll keep Lio company in the tub, that thing is big enough for both of us."

This was bound to happen. Not a quiet minute did I get from her. Twin fate. Aunt Paula looked at us questioningly.

"You two are going in the tub together? I mean, yes, it's big enough, but I'm a little surprised. Or is this another case of my advanced age versus today's youthful mores?"

Lia and I laughed, then I shook my head.

"I don't know how it is with other teenagers, but we're twins, we've been used to bathing together for ages. As long as we each have enough space for ourselves in the tub it's not a problem."

"Besides, we grew up between a nud e beach and a sauna, and we shared a room for years. To look away every time the other is naked? We would have wasted a lot of time doing that."

"Well, if that's the case, I don't care. Will you check in on me again after the bath? To say good night?"

"We will, Aunt Paula. Maybe we'll get a little hungry after all and get a snack."

Auntie nodded.

"But then hold off on brushing your teeth."

Yeah, snack with toothpaste taste didn't sound too appetizing.

"Well then run off, I've said what I had to say. And please don't swim out too far, there are no lifeguards on duty at this time of the year."

We laughed, got up, and left our aunt in her living room....

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead