by Peter Conrad

Chapter 2

Lia and I dashed upstairs to our rooms to get our pajamas.

"I'm going to take off my skirt and hoodie, that stuff would just be lying around in the bathroom anyway."

"Good idea. But don't forget your pajamas or you'll have to race upstairs as a streaker. Auntie might catch an eyeful."

Oh God, that I really didn't need. Naked in front of my sister? No problem. Naked in front of my aunt? Ugh! With this incentive it was impossible to forget the pajamas, and at the last moment I thought of my fluffy socks, which I abused here as slippers.

One floor below, I was in the bathroom before my sister. Well, girls were known to take forever when it came to clothes. Oops. Luckily I hadn't said that out loud, hehe.

Before I took off the rest of my things, I turned on the water in the tub and poured some bubble bath into it. Hm... pine scent, wonderful! The bath room was also well heated, the rfloor heating in the whole house was brilliant.

Just as I pulled my t-shirt over my head, Lia also appeared in the bathroom.

"Ah, you're already here, cool. And the water is already running."

"Sure, I'm not such a slowpoke as you, old sister."

Which earned me a slap to the back of my head. Ouch. Old and violent!

"Older sister! Not old sister! Got it?"

"Yeah, yeah, all right, got it."

"I sure hope so! "

Over the next few minutes we got towels and stuff ready, then got undressed and were in our birthday suits at just the right time to get into the now well-filled tub. This one was really big enough that each of us could sit at one end without getting too close to the other, even though we were actually submerged in water almost to the tip of our chins.

"Ah, that feels good!"

"True. That was a good idea, Lio."

One thing was missing, though.

"We just need to get Auntie to replace that tub with a whirlpool of the same size."

"Hehe, yeah, that would be the icing on the cake. Still, this one is great too."

For a while we just enjoyed the warm water and pine scent, then the silence was ended by my sister.

"This has been a crazy day."

"You can say that louder!"

"Better not, or Auntie will come running to see what's going on!"

"Hehe yeah, better not. But the day was really crazy."

"Crazy but also kind of cool."

"More like cold! And it's supposed to get a lot colder!"

Lia giggled softly, then looked at me questioningly.

"Say, since we're talking about temperatures..."


"You were serious about that? About you taking the tights? I mean, if you want, we can share them. As long as no one sees me wearing them I'm sure I'd survive one of those."

Oh how generous. But in this case, not necessary.

"That's okay. Just think how many have already seen me in tights today. And tomorrow there will probably be a lot more. Besides, that thing was really nice and warm and soft."

"Hehe, no one would have known you were wearing them today if you hadn't told them."

"Why? Everyone saw them!"

"Nah, they only saw that you had something long on under the skirt. No one could tell exactly what it was because of the boots, so you could have just said they were leggings and socks."

Oh, crap. I hadn't even thought of that idea! Though Riona and her grandma had recognized the tights. But I could have said that these were leggings with the same pattern.

"Gee, you could have actually told me that in time, couldn't you!"

"Could have, would have, doesn ' t matter. It might have come out sooner or later anyway."

Hm, maybe. But how? A part from Lia and Auntie nobody would see me stripping.

"Anyway, you can keep the leggings for yourself, sis."

"Thanks, bro."

I shrugged.

"Alex is a good year older than me and still wears them too, so there seems to be nothing to it. At least here in the country in the mountains, where a winter is still a real winter, and real men are still real men. In tights!"

Lia slid deeper into the water laughing and even swallowed a bit of it before resurfacing, snorting.

"Hahaha, that was a good one! Which actually could work at home too. Remember how some of the guys were running around in the Queerio."

Oh yes, that had been a bit extreme. To each his own, but I was probably a little too normal for some of the outfits there. The Queerio was an alternative youth center, and Lia had dragged me there after my coming out, into a youth group, but that hadn't really been my thing. I had the impression with some of the people there that they defined their whole life only by their being gay. As I said, if that was their thing, okay, but for me, my first visit there had also been my last. I found it reassuring, however, that there were also quite a few such superficial characters among our heterosexual peers at school and from the neighborhood.

Chuckling, I nodded to Lia.

"Yes, that would certainly work. Preferably pink hot pants, with neon green tights underneath."

"They'd have to have holes in them, though, Lio!"

"Of course. Tights without holes are out of the question! Heck, may be even fishnet tights. "

Now we both laughed loudly, the idea was totallyout of our own way of thinking!

"Let in some warm water again, please."

Yes, the water was cooling off a bit, so I turned on the faucet to heat up our mini pool a bit again.

"Good warm brother. "

Warm brother? Oh yes. In earlier times it was thought that gays had a higher body temperature than straights and therefore often were called warm brothers. But not me!

"I'm not warm, I'm hot!"

"Hehe, or that. By the way, Alexandre is really cute, isn't he?"

I could literally feel my eyes taking on a dreamy expression. Which, stupidly, Lia also noticed.

"Ha, you don't have to answer. Could it be that you're about to fall for him?"

Sighing softly, I nodded.

"I think so. He's not only cute but also really nice. I had a great time with him on the dog walk."

Now my sister sighed too.

"I believe you, little brother, but please remember that in the new year there will be a few hundred kilometers between you two again. So even if he were interested in you I don't really think there's a future for it. A long distance relationship at our age? Where no one can just get in the car and drive to the other's home?"

"You're right, that's what I've been telling myself already. I think I'm just going to enjoy his friendship over the next few days, having someone my age who feels the way I do."

"That's right, little brother."

"I thought we agreed on 'younger brother'?"

"Hehe, suit yourself, just Lio."

Which managed to turn the slightly depressing trajectory of the conversation back in a friendlier direction.

"If you're that realistic about it, at least I don't have to worry about interrupting your date tomorrow. Though it's not even a date."

"True, it really isn't. Just a Christmas Market visit among friends, sounds good too, doesn't it?"

"Yes, it does. I can smell the waffles already!"

"Waffles. Roasted almonds. Steaks on the grill."

Lia grinned at me.

"I think once we're out of the tub, we will really need a little evening snack."

"Definitely, bathing makes one hungry."

"Yep. And after all that sweet stuff at the Christmas party, I could use something more savoury right about now. Even though there probably won't be any steak on the grill here."

Ha, yeah, that would probably have to wait until the Christmas Market.

"Auntie did mention sausages, I could live with that."

"Sounds good..."

We spent the next ten minutes or so in silence, just enjoying being warmed up. That was also something I liked about Lia: you could spend time with her without constant chatter. One of our classmates had a sister a year younger than us, for whom it was a horror if there was silence for more than three seconds. She had already yapped more in her thirteen years than Lia and I would probably get together in a lifetime. I praised my twin sister for that! But then it was Lia who broke the pleasant silence.

"Okay, I think I'm warmed up enough. Shall we get out, Lio?"

"Yeah, I think so. Do you want to wash your hair?"

My sister shook her head.

"Nah, I don't feel like it today, then I'd have to blow it dry."

"Well then, out we get."

I pulled the plug, then we rose at the same time, and as a nice brother, I took on the task of rinsing the bubble bath foam from both of our bodies with the shower hose. Then each of us grabbed one of the fluffy giant bath towels and began to rub ourselves dry. Now, of course, each did himself! That far to do that with Lia, my brotherly love didn't go.

"The bath was really a good idea, little brother. I feel so really nice and warm and relaxed."

"That's exactly how I thought it would be."

I tossed the bath towel over a towel dryer, then slipped into my pajamas and fuzzy socks. A glance at Lia showed me that she was about to do so as well.

"Are we ready?"

She put on the last sock, then nodded.

"Ready to go. Let's raid Auntie's kitchen!"

"Just a minute, our laundry still has to go into the basket."

"Oh, yeah, that's right. You've got another fresh pair of tights for tomorrow."

"Right, hehe."

W e threw the worn clothes into the designated bin, then left the bathroom.

"Let's go to the living room first and tell Auntie we're out of the water."

I followed Lia into the aforementioned room, where we found Aunt Paula consuming a news program.

"We're back, and none of us drowned."

"Hehe, that's good then, I don't need to give my sister any bad news."

"My younger brother just Lio and I are pleased to have been of assistance. But now we have become a little hungry again, can we find something to eat?"

"Go ahead, you know where to look."

We were about to leave, however at that moment Aunt Paula looked away from the TV and towards us.


Huh? Had we done something wrong? I looked questioningly at Lia, but she also just shrugged her shoulders.

"Come a little closer and let me look at you."

Still puzzled, we followed Auntie's instruction. She was now looking at us closely, and it slowly dawned on me why she was doing this.

"Are these your pajamas?"

Yes, I was right. And it occurred to me that she actually hadn't seen us wearing them before. We had always said good night to her in the evening before getting ready for bed, and in the morning we had met her at the breakfast table already dressed for the day.

"That's them, A unt Paula! Aren't they brilliant?"

"I'm not quite sure about that yet. Let's have a good look at you. Lio, turn around."

I did as I was told so that our hostess could look at both the front (on Lia) and the back (on me) of our pajamas.

"Interesting! Where did you guys get those things?"

The things were loose-fitting, bright red onesies made of a medium-weight fleece fabric, with lots of zippers, pockets, and a hood.

"Do you know Pearl, Aunt Paula?"

"Hmm, no, I don't think so, Lia. What is it?"

"It's an internet mail order company, they have mostly electrical and electronics stuff, but also these onesies. They regularly send you e-mails with special offers, and a few weeks ago the onesies were on special offer for only 9.99 euros. Mom ordered them for us as house suits and pajamas, especially for the time in your cold homeland."

In the meantime, the lady of the house had stood up and walked around us, look ing at us intensly.

"Well, they look warm, and since no top can slip out of any pants, there are no cold spots when you sleep fitfully, I guess. But are they practical? I mean if you ever need to go to the bathroom?"

Now I took over the explanation.

"They are, Aunt Paula. You can see the long double zipper in the front, and there's also a zipper-operated flap in the back. It takes a little getting used to it, but it works just fine."

"Hmm, yeah, I can see it. Well, and at your age you hardly ever have to go out at night anyway."

My old... uh... older sister was now giggling softly.

"Lio already spent an entire weekend in his from Friday night to Monday morning, and that worked out for him, too."

Puzzled, Auntie looked at me, and I hurried to set the record straight.

"I had a nasty cold with a fever then, so I stayed in bed day and night anyway."

She nodded in understanding.

"Then that's understandable, because otherwise I wouldn't have pegged you as such a homebody."

"Hehe, just you wait, when it drops below minus 20 degrees during the day, I'm guaranteed to become a couch potato quite voluntarily!"

Poor Alexandre, he would have to leave the house even then because of Micco! Sometimes no dog was better than one dog, I guess.

"Exactly, and I'll keep him company then!"

"Well we'll see, if snow falls I'll still shoo you out into the cold!"

With wide-open eyes, we gawked at Aunt Paula.

"At minus 20 degrees?"

"At minus 20 degrees, Lia. It must be good for something to have two strong teenagers at my disposal. Besides, exercise in the fresh air is healthy, and a little snow shoveling won't kill you."

Oh boy! I hope it didn't get that cold! Or if it did, then without fresh snow, please!

"But you don't have to worry yet, the forecasts so far are talking about minus 15 to minus 20 degrees at most, and even that only at night. During the day it will certainly be rather summer ish at minus 10 to minus 12 degrees."

Summer ish. Minus 12 degrees. I wonder if that could be submitted for election as "Un - word of the Year."

"Lio, please turn around again and stand close to your sister. I'll quickly take a photo with my cell phone and send it to your parents."

Cool idea! Lia and I lined up next to each other and each put an arm around the other's waist.

"That's right, just a minute!"

Aunt Paula grabbed her cell phone, and a moment later it flashed briefly, the picture was done.

"Here, it looks good, doesn't it?"

We looked at the photo and had to agree. If onlyour parents could see what kind of place they had condemned us to, where you needed warm fleece suits to survive sleeping!

"Well, let's face it, when you're standing next to each other like that in the same clothes, it's really hard to tell you apart. Even more so in those wide cut onesies. If I didn't know the little things to look out for, I'd probably confuse you more often than recognize you correctly."

In fact, we looked extremely similar in the photo. Well, it certainly wouldn't work for much longer, eventually Lia would start to develop a more feminine shape - and I probably (hopefully!) wouldn't.

"Okay, now march into the kitchen, not that you starve in the end. Bypassing drowning and then starving to death, how could I explain that to your parents."

Lia and I giggled, then we departed, promising Auntie beforehand that we would say good night to her after our snack.

In the kitchen, we took stock of the situation, there was really a good selection, in the end we decided to each have a cup of instant noodles.

After we had watered our pot s we squatted down at the kitchen table and waited for the time necessary to finish the quick meals to get ready to eat. Slowly a pleasant tiredness overtook me, and I yawned heartily (with my hand in front of my mouth, of course!).

"Tired, little brother? It's not that late yet."

I looked at the clock, it was just a little before eight.

"Yes. Exercise in the fresh air may be healthy, but it's also tiring. And while you were lounging lazily with the rummy ladies, I was trudging through the snow with Alex and Micco and three kiddies."

"Well, you could have stayed inside, too."

And miss out on time with Alexandre and Micco? No way!

"No, it was better that way. I certainly won't have trouble falling asleep tonight."

"Probably true. And you really didn't freeze?"

"Nope. At most a little on my ears."

"Despite the hood?"

"Yeah, it's not as warm as a real cap."

"Hm, then I guess we'll have to get caps after all. We also have sweaters without a hood, anyway."

"Yep. But first ask Aunt Paula, maybe she has already bought them for us. She had already bought gloves, too."

Lia nodded in agreement.

"For not having kids, she's pretty knowledgeable about how to take care of them."

"Yeah, even Mom didn't think of winter gear like that."

"That's right, she forgot the tights for her little boy!"

I wanted to stick my tongue out at my sister now, but in the meantime my noodles were ready to be eaten, and I needed my tongue for more important functions. Lia's pot was also ready, so we spent the next few minutes eating our snack.

After that was done, we put the spoons in the dishwasher and the empty pots in the trash, then we wandered back upstairs to the living room. There 'Farmer wants a Wife!' was on TV - was Auntie interested in a strapping farmer as a husband? Somehow I could not imagine her with a man. Nor with a woman, for that matter.

"Ah, there you are again. Did you find something to eat?"

"Yes, Aunt Paula, we each had a cup of instant noodles."

"Good. Do you have anything else to do now? A part from brushing your teeth?"

"My little brother is dead tired and is about to go to bed, so I might do some reading."

We had brought our iPads for that, but mine would go unattended tonight.

"Okay, good night you two then. Don't leave the windows wide open over night or the rooms will cooldown too much, even your sleep suits wouldn't do you much good against that."

We promised to keep that in mind, wished Aunt Paula a good night as well, then disappeared into the attic with a quick stop in the bathroom to clean our teeth. In the small anteroom between our rooms, which also contained a cozy sitting area complete with t v, I gave Lia another good yawn.

"Well I'm off then, Lia, sleep tight and sweet dreams."

"You too, Lio. But make sure you don't dream too extensively about Alexandre."

"Oh? Why shouldn't I?"

"Because you don't have a diaper underneath!"

No dia... Oh. Naughty girl! In this situation the tongue was no longer enough, I showed her a certain finger, then, amidst her laughter, I retreated to my room, where a little later I disappeared into the warm feather bed....

When I slowly woke up the next morning, it was already daylight in the room, and a glance at the clock showed me that it was already shortly after ten. I hadn't slept that many hours in a row in a long time! I worked myself out of bed and went first to the window, which was only minimally tilted, but even through this narrow opening cold winter air came in. I q uickly closed it!

I glanced out and realized that it had snowed a little, but no more than one centimeter, just enough to lightly sugar previously snow-free zones. Shoveling snow was certainly not necessary. The weather station claimed that it was minus 8 degrees outside, but it had dropped down to minus 13 degrees at night. If the temperature continued to go up like this, it wouldn't be too cold during our planned Christmas Market stroll. Christmas Market in a skirt! Sigh. That had sounded cool yesterday, today I wasn't quite so sure of my decision anymore. But there was nothing I could do about it if I didn't want to spoil it with Alexandre. And with Lia! She would always rub in such cowardice. Ah yuck, what the hell.

More important than the afternoon plans was for now a visit to the toilet! Next to the room door was the control unit of the heater for my room, and I turned the desired temperature up a bit before leaving the room.

Lia was already sitting on the couch, and when she noticed me, she looked up from her tablet and grinned at me.

"Well, finally slept enough?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

"We're on vacation, they're supposed to be for really sleeping in."

"Right. Shall we go downstairs and hunt for breakfast?"

"In a minute, I have to go to the bathroom first."

"Then hurry up, my stomach has been rumbling for a while."

Without further words I dashed into the small bathroom which was on our floor. In addition to the toilet, there was a sink and a shower stall, but no bathtub - but the one on Auntie's floor was proven to be perfectly adequate for our needs.

I did what needed to be done, then I ran a washcloth dipped in cold water over my face, which immediately perked me up a few notches. A few moments later, I was back with my sister, looking at her questioningly.

"Is that how we're going to get down to the kitchen?"

"Sure, why not? Aunt Paula saw us like this yesterday already."

"Right. I just thought because until now we've always gotten dressed before going downstairs."

"Well, 'until now ' has been exactly two days, so that's not enough to call it a tradition and hav ing to follow it."

I laughed out.

"Right again. Let's go. Oh, how long have you been sitting here waiting for me already?"

"Only about ten minutes, so you didn't keep me waiting too long."

Ah yes, so Lia had probably needed the sleep as much as I had.

We wandered down to the first floor and made our way to the kitchen, where we expected to find the lady of the house. But fiddlesticks. At the kitchen table sat a girl, perhaps sixteen or seventeen years old, reading the daily news paper, with a cup of steaming brew standing beside her. Our aunt, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen. Who was that now?

Apparently she had noticed that someone had come into the kitchen, she looked up at us and started to smile.

"Good morning! You must be Lia and Lio!"

Wow, she had looked at exactly the right bearer of each name! My sister was probably as stunned as I was, but managed to turn her amazement into a question.

"Um, yeah, that's us. But how did you manage to tell us apart? Aunt Paula said last night that even she had trouble with that."

The kitchen squatter laughed out.

"My little brother told me about you, and also told me how to tell you apart. You, Lia, have slightly longer hair than your brother."

Ah yes. I should find out who had been spilling our little secrets!

"Your little brother? Who's that?"

"You were on a dog walk with him yesterday. Loris. I'm Franzi, by the way."

"Okay, that explains your ability to tell us apart. But what are you actually doing here?"

"Loris is taking piano lessons with your aunt, and I accompanied him here. Normally he doesn't need a chaperone for that, but he has a haircut appointment afterward, and our parents thought it better if he didn't go there alone. Not that he'll show up for Christmas with a mohawk or something like that."

Lia and I started laughing, that would be a cool but most likely unwelcome haircut!

"That would certainly look good, Franzi. But maybe better in a season when the mohawk isn't constantly being crushed by a cap."

"Ha, yes! Another good reason to talk him out of it if necessary."

Hm, with haircuts already being on topic, something else occurred to me.

"Say, Lia, aren't we going to get a quick haircut, too?"

"Why? Do you want to go bald?"

"Nope, but you could get your hair cut a bit shorter so it's the same length as mine. Then people wouldn't be able to tell us apart anymore by the length of our hair."

"If you do THAT, I'll give one of you a little bell, on a lockable collar!"

Unnoticed by us, Aunt Paula had come into the kitchen, accompanied by Loris, who, funnily enough, was walking around in a gray t-shirt and gray... tights! Hmm. When Ben made his statements about boys and tights at the dog walk, Loris hadn't uttered a word. His current outfit was a good explanation for that.

We greeted Auntie and her piano student, then Lia wanted to know more.

"Why are you walking around here so … underdressed, Loris?"

But before the little guy could answer, Auntie interfered.

"Quite simply, the classroom is even better heated than the rest of the house. Piano is hard to play with cold fingers. And to keep him from getting too hot in his thick winter clothes, Loris took off his sweater and pants."

That was understandable. Aunt Paula, however, added.

"And why are you two walking around here in your pajamas? Now THAT is what I would call underdressed."

"Well, first of all, they're not only pajamas but also house suits, secondly, you had already seen us in them yesterday, and thirdly, Lio and I didn't expect anyone else to be in the house besides you."

"Oh? I thought I mentioned last night that I had a student here today at nine."

"Um, no you didn't. Or did you hear something along those lines, Lio?"

I too shook my head in denial.

"Well, never mind. I guess you'd like something for breakfast?"

I thought that was a very good idea by now, before my growling stomach started to digest itself from hunger.

"Well then, I'll take care of that. Franzi, Loris, would you like something too?"

"I'm all set, thank you, Aunt Paula. Loris, how about you?"

"Uh... I don't know... a hot chocolate or something? And a cookie?"

"Hot chocolate it is. Lio, would you make up three of those, please?"

I nodded, that wouldn't be hard for me to do, given the technology at hand.

"Good. And are you sure you just want cookies? I'll bake up rolls for Lia and Lio, and we can have peanut butter or something like ham or cheese to go with them."

"Thank you, Aunt Paula, but cookies are enough for me."

"Whatever you say. Lia, run up to the living room and get the cookie jar from the coffee table, please."

My sister disappeared, and while I took care of preparing the sweet hot beverages, Auntie threw three rolls into the oven.

"Lio, I guess you and your sister just need sweet stuff with the rolls again?"

"Yes, Aunt Paula, we don't like cheese or ham for breakfast."

Funnily enough, this was only true in our homeland, when we were on vacation in Florida with our parents, we had eaten typical American breakfast there, with ham, bacon, scrambled eggs and all such things. Back home, however, we had quickly switched back to our usual sweet breakfast.

It didn't take long and my sister came back into the kitchen with the cookie jar in her hand. She placed it on the table in front of Loris, I added some hot chocolate for him, then I served Lia and myself and sat down at the table next to the little piano player. Our rolls would take a few more minutes, but that didn't stop me from sipping some of the hot chocolate already.

Loris grabbed a cookie, then in a chewy pause, he turned to Lia and me a little meekly and almost fearfully.

"You're not going to tell Ben, are you?"

I looked at him in surprise.

"What are we not supposed to tell Ben?"

Apart from the fact that we probably wouldn't meet him again any time soon, Rummy sisters' Christmas party was only once a year, and otherwise we lived in a galaxy far far away.

"That I... well... that I 'm wearing tights... "

Ah, that's where the wind was blowing from.

"No, we won't do that, I promise."

"Cool, thanks!"

"But anyway, I think he changed his mind a bit about boys and tights after Alexandre made him realize that even older boys like him wear them. There's nothing wrong with it. Especially here in the cold!"

Loris chuckled softly and looked at me reassured.

"Could be, hehe."

But now Aunt Paula interfered as well.

"Ben Wagner? Was he making fun of boys who wear tights?"

I shrugged.

"Well, at least he wondered about me wearing them. And asked if I was even a boy. Though I think the skirt confused him even more than the tights!"

"Oh yeah, I can relate to that. I just think it's a little strange that something like that would come from Ben of all people."

"Why is that?"

"It's simple, Lia. After all, I drive by the Wagners' property regularly, and when his mother has done laundry, there are always relatively small footed tights hanging on the line there in the fall and winter. And Ben is the only one in that family whom such a small size would fit..."

Now it was Franzi who laughed out loud.

"That's typical again! Those with the biggest mouths have the biggest secrets."

"Well, maybe he was hoping that no one would suspect him of being a tights boy himself if he denied it so blatantly."

"Quite possibly, Lio. Still, not the nice thing to do."

"I'll have to ask him that the next time I see him!"

"Loris? Please don't do that, you'd be no better than him."

"Hm... Okay... But Aunt Paula, what should I do if he somehow finds out about me and then makes fun of me?"

Now Auntie's face showed a dangerous grin.

"Then, and only then, you may ask him who the tights in his size on his mother's clothesline belong to. Preferably in front of all your friends!"

Hehe, Auntie could be really mean! My little tights mate's big sister also agreed with this tactic.

"That's exactly how you do it, Loris! But now for something else, while we're on the subject of clothes anyway. Where did you guys get those cool pajamas?"

Lia and I grinned happily at her, and my sister explained to Franzi how we had gotten the red onesies. Gratefully, Franzi looked back at Lia.

"Thank you! Pearl did you say? I'll have to check on those later at home to see if they're still around."

I could reassure her that they still were, since I surfed around there regularly.

"They still have them, even in different colors. Not for the extra low price anymore though, they're like 25 or 30 euros now. Still a good deal, if you ask me."

"Yeah, right. I'll order two, one for me and one for my boy friend."

Now it was her little brother who laughed out loud.

"Marcus is either going to kiss your butt or spank it for this!"

Franzi joined in the laughter, then nodded.

"That's right! But I guarantee he'll put on the onesie. After all, he's always whining in bed that he's cold. Heck, he's always whining about the cold winter, period. Maybe I should see if I can get him some tights, too."

Now the whole table, or rather those sitting at it, laughed. Loris was totally into the idea.

"If you manage to put Marcus in tights, then I can send him to Ben if necessary, if he makes fun of boys in tights again! Ben would get very quiet very quickly, after all, he adores your boyfriend!"

Franzi nodded and hurried to explain to the rest of us the reason for this idolization.

"Marcus is a super skater, and Ben would love to be like him. In his eyes, Marcus can do no wrong."

That would be really helpful for dealing with Ben if necessary.

"But now we need to get to the barbershop. Have you finished your cocoa, Loris?"

"Yes, I have."

"Very well, then go to where your other clothes are and get dressed. When you're done, come back here and let me know that we can go."

Loris dashed off while Lia and I were finally served our rolls and put lots of sweet stuff on them. This is what breakfast had to be like! We spent the next few minutes putting these things to their intended use, only briefly interrupted when L oris reappeared fully dressed and he and his sister said goodbye to us. Franzi was almost out of the kitchen when Aunt Paula called something after her.

"Franzi? Could you please tell the hairdresser something for me?"

"Sure, Aunt Paula. Do you need an appointment?"

"No, I'll make it into the new year without any problems. But it would be nice if you could let him know that under NO circumstances he is to match Lia's hairstyle to her brother's! Just in case the two jokers here actually want to take their confusability to the extreme."

With a lot of effort and a fair amount of luck, I managed not to spread the contents of my mouth around the kitchen despite laughing, and even Lia was able to restrain herself this time. She had learned something at the Christmas party! Franzi, on the other hand, laughed out loud.

"Okay, I can do that. Shall I add some sinister threats in case of violation?"

"Go ahead. Maybe tell him that while I don't know how to do someone's hair with broken fingers, he'll get to try it out in person if he messes with Lia's hair."

Franzi giggled softly, then threw another "Bye!" into the round before she disappeared from the kitchen. A little later, the clanging of the front door revealed that the siblings had left Auntie's house.

"Okay you two, I'm supposed to forward greetings from your parents, we did some texting last night."

I looked up at Auntie.

"Weren't they going to call? Or talk to us via FaceTime?"

"They will, but not until Christmas Eve. Phone and Internet on a cruise ship are expensive as hell."

Oh. Yeah. I'd heard that before, too.

"Did you send them the photo of us?"

"Yes, Lia, I did, and they were thrilled."

And probably happy not to have to go to bed dressed so warmly, too.

My sister nodded in satisfaction, and we made short work of the rest of our breakfast. Aunt Paula looked questioningly around.

"Well, are you guys full for now?"

We both nodded, breakfast would keep us going for at least sixty-three point four minutes. Maybe even thirty-seven seconds longer!

"Very nice. Since you found your wayout of bed so late, I think I can take my time with lunch until one or half pas t. Then you'll still have plenty of time to get ready for your visit to the Christmas Market. You can stay in your onesies until then and read or watch TV or whatever."

Lia and I looked at each other for a moment, then agreed to the suggestion.

"Sounds good to me, Aunt Paula. What's for dinner?"

Sighing, Auntie looked toward the ceiling.

"Teenagers! A herd of nine very hungry caterpillars would be cheaper to feed. But to answer your question, Lia: fish fillet with mashed potatoes. Agreed?"

"Agreed. Oh, do you have another piano student today?"

"No, don't worry, the house is all ours for the rest of the day. Now off you go. But before you do, please put your dishes in the dishwasher and the groceries back in to the refrigerator."

We did as our hostess instructed, then climbed the stairs to the attic. At the top, Lia grabbed her iPad, which she had placed on the coffee table before breakfast.

"I don't know what you're doing, little … younger brother, but I'm going to go back to reading the news paper for now."

"Hmm. I'm going back to bed."

"What, you still haven't slept enough?"

"Hehe, I said I'm going back to bed, there was no mention of sleeping. I want to see if I can catch Yuki online, and if I do then we'd just be disturbing you with our chatter while reading."

"Oh what a considerate brother you are, bro ther."

"But of course, sis. Have fun, see you later."

Lia gave me another quick wave before she delved into her newspaper and I retreated to my room. It had become survivable temperature-wise there by now, so I grabbed my own iPad and made myself comfortable in bed, the crumpled pillow in the back making sure I could sit reasonably upright. I opened FaceTime and dialed Yuki. At this time of the day, even my long-sleeping friend should have started to wake up. Sure enough, the call was answered.

"I hope you have a good reason for calling me at the crack of dawn!"

Laughing, I looked at the sleepy face on my tablet's monitor.

"I should be able to call my best friend at any time without a special reason, shouldn't I! Besides, it's almost eleven, if I didn't wake you up you would sleep through Christmas!"

"That's two days away, I could have easily slept through another 48 hours without missing anything important."

However, my ( artificial ) blond friend of Japanese descent didn't seem to be really angry with me.

"Ah what the heck. How are you and Lia doing down there with the lederhosen tribe?"

I grinned at the camera.

"Hehe, we haven't seen anyone in lederhosen yet. That being said, it's pretty nice here. Cold and snowy, but nice. Kind of goes well with Christmas."

"Hmm, yes. I'd like to have a white Christmas, too. It's raining cats and dogs here."

"You can keep the rain."

"I was just about to send that to you through the wire. Well. By the way, you're still in bed, too, why are you making fun of me?"

"Small correction: I'm not still in bed, but again."

"Again? Do you have to take naps now or what?"

"Ha. Ha. Ha. Nope, Lia and I just got back from breakfast, which was so exhausting, we need to recover from it before we can have lunch."

"Sounds like a very full day. What do you guys have planned after lunch? More d igestive naps?"

"No, we're going to eat quite late, and then at three a friend is coming over to show us the local Christmas Market."

"Oh, Christmas Market! We had actually planned the same for today, but in this rain? That would totally dilute the mulled wine."

I laughed out.

"As if you'd get mulled wine. And even if you did, even diluted, two sips would put you under the table."

"Details, details. Back to you. A friend wants to show you the Christmas Market? Friend or boy friend?"

Sighing, I narrowed my eyes....

"Since I'll be back in school next to you in two weeks, but Alexandre will be here in the mountains doing his schooling: friend only. Unfortunately."

"Is he gay?"

"Yes. And cute."

"Tell me more. How old? What does he look like?"

"A good year older than Lia and me, 10cm or so taller, blond curls, cute face. And a cute dog he has too!"

"Hm, you seem to have it bad."

"I would have it bad, if my reality module in my brain hadn't kicked in."

"Poor little thing. But..."

What was to come after the 'but' remained hidden, however, because just at that moment a second East Asian whirlwind launched an attack on my best friend. Since the tablet slipped out of his hand, I could only follow the action acoustically for the time being.

"Yuki! You're awake!"

"If I wasn't before, now I would be! Nori! Do you have to jump on me like that?"


Thus the identity of the attacker was revealed, it was Yuki's eight-year-old brother Nori. Noriaki, actually. Three guesses where he got his first name from! And he could jump well, too, at least on his big brother, hehe.

Noriaki Kasai, famous ski jumper from Japan

"Didn't you see that I was just chatting?"

"Oh? With who? Hannah?"

Slowly the Nakamo brothers seemed to settle into the bed, because shortly after that question I caught sight of two heads side by side where before there had only been Yuki's.

"Ah! That's Lio! Hello Lio!"

"Hello Nori. How are you?"

"Gooooood! And you? You're in Siberia now or something?"

I laughed out.

"Who told you that?"

"Yuki did! He said you were going to the cold for Christmas!"

"But I never said anything about Siberia!"

Hmm, I wasn't really sure about that, Yuki tended to exaggerate a bit sometimes.

"I'm not in Siberia, Nori, but it can get cold here in Germany too."

"Oh. How cold?"

I glanced at the weather station display before answering.

"Well right now it's minus 6 degrees, below minus 10 at night, and it's supposed to get colder every day now. Then it will be double digit cold during the day too!"

"Hmm. Sounds like Siberia to me! I hope your mom bought you long johns!"

I snorted, and Yuki giggled too.

"Nonsense, Nori, she gave him and Lia tights!"

And just when I had calmed down slightly, I had to laugh again before get ting a word in.

"Nope, our parents sent us here totally unprepared. "

Nori on the other hand had better news for his brother.

"Mom wanted to buy tights for me and you, but then Dad said that maybe that's not for boys, and she should rather buy long underpants."

I couldn't help laughing, especially since now Yuki was looking at his little brother half confused and half horrified.

"Huh, tights? Long underpants? For you and me? What would we need something like that for?"

"Well, for our ski ing vacation!"

"I don't understand. What kind of skiing vacation do you mean?"

"Well, we're going to the Alps on the 25th! And then stay there until after New Year's!"

Yuki continued to stare at his little brother, completely perplexed.

"This is the first time I've heard of that! You must have only dreamed that, Nori."

"What was Nori dreaming, Yuki?"

And again, a new voice in the conversation. Older and female. Definitely Mrs. Nakamo.

"Mom, Yuki doesn't believe me that we're going on a ski ing vacation!"

"Ah yes. Yuki, you can believe your little brother."

" mean, I had no idea that something like that was even planned!"

"It came as a surprise, your dad's boss had booked a winter vacation for his family, but now suddenly can't take it because of a family emergency, so he offered dad the trip. And Dad of course gladly accepted, especially since we only have to pay what we have to spend there. And the trip itself. Room and board is all paid for."

"I see, and how come I don't know about this, but Nori does?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought your dad would have told you, too. Well, now you know. On December 25 th, we're leaving first thing in the morning for Oberstdorf. There we will have two rooms in a ski lodge, which we will share with three other families."

"Hm. But you do realize that none of us can ski, right?"

"Haha, yes, but the trip includes a ski course for beginners. That's why after lunch we all have to go to town together, to at least buy ski suits. Skis and boots are available for rent there."

Now it was time for me to have my say, too.

"Remember gloves and caps too, Mrs. Nakamo. And don't forget the tights!"

"Huh? Yuki, who do you have on the line? Lio, is that you?"

Yuki turned the tablet so that his mother could see my face on it, and when I saw her, I waved at her.

"Yes, it's me, Mrs. Nakamo."

"Hello Lio. Are you okay?"

"Yes, thank you for asking, I hope you are too."

"Ha, I'll be fine once the four of us are all in Oberstdorf and haven't forgotten anything important at home. Thanks for pointing out gloves and caps, we're no experienced winter vacationers."

"Well, Lia and I aren't experts either, but when you're cold you learn fast!"

"Yes, I can imagine that. But what did you mean about tights? I mean, that's what I was actually planning to do, but Matsuhito said that might not be the best choice for older boys. That they might embarrass Yuki and Nori."

"Ms. Nakamo, we're going to the Christmas Market this afternoon, and I'll wear tights there quite voluntarily. And so will our native guide, and he's almost sixteen."

Now my best friend interfered again.

"Huh? Didn't you just say that your parents sent you out into the cold completely unprovided for?"

I nodded to Yuki, who had by now been recaptured by the tablet camera.

"Yes, I had. But our aunt, who we 're staying with here, knew what we would need and provided for us."

"And she got you both tights?"

"No, just Lia. For me, she bought leggings."

"I'm all confused now. You just said YOU were going to wear tights!"

"I will! You know that Lia doesn't want to wear girly stuff, so we switched, she got the leggings and I got the tights. We're the same size, after all."

"And you played along with that?"

I shrugged.

"Why not. Warm is warm. And so she owes me a favor next time."

Yuki and his family wouldn't hear about the 'Lio in a skirt' issue for now!

"Ah yes, so tights with ulterior motives."

"Sure, you have to see how to keep the upper hand, especially with siblings."

Yuki laughed up and tickled his little brother, who jumped out of bed shrieking and thus out of Yuki's reach. At the same time, their mother spoke up again.

"Lio, I'm sorry, but I have to take Yuki away from you now. We'll have lunch early and then go on the shopping spree."

Shopping spree. Well, the good woman probably knew what she was talking about.

"No problem, Mrs. Nakamo. Have fun shopping. And Yuki?"


"You can send me a picture of you in tights later."

"Boah, forget it. Maybe one of Nori."

Promptly, the short guy crowed in between.

"No problem, I'm already a big boy like Lio!"

To that everyone present burst out laughing. Shortly after, we ended the chat and I glanced at the clock: just three quarters of twelve. More than enough time to read the daily newspaper, which I immediately did. Recently, you could also solve the daily crossword puzzle in the app, so I was busy for the time being.

At some point, there was a knock on my bedroom door, and a few moments later Aunt Paula entered. Quietly and carefully peeking around the corner.

"Ah, you're awake."

Astonished, I looked at her.

"Sure, why wouldn't I be? Did you expect me to be asleep? It's... a little after one."

"That's just it, Lio. Just the time for little boys in a onesie to take their naps."

I went through my options in a flash. Bummer. Laying on the pillow, I couldn't throw that. And the iPad was a little too precious for that. So once again I stuck my tongue out. Auntie, however, only laughed.

"Complain to your sister, I found her outside wide awake reading, and when I asked her where you were, she just told me that you' ve gone back to bed."

I sighed softly.

"Now that's what you get for being a considerate brother. I had a FaceTime chat with my best friend, and because I didn't want to bother Lia with it while she was reading, I went into my room."

"Uh-huh, she didn't say anything about that. Well anyway, lunch will be ready in ten minutes, so please work yourself out of bed and come down, we'll eat in the kitchen."

That's where we took most of our meals, since the living room, which also had a large dining table, was one floor above the kitchen. Although there was an electric dumbwaiter, it was still more convenient to just eat right in the kitchen, which was also big enough for at least six people to chow down. Speaking of chowing down, my stomach wasn't growling yet, but could definitely use a little filler.

"Okay, I'll be right down, just have to use the bathroom real ly quick."

"Do that. See you in a bit."

Auntie left my room, I left my bed, fixed it up a little, then I too disappeared from my bedchamber …

In the kitchen I found the two female inhabitants of the house setting the table.

"I'm here, ready to eat."

"Lazy sod. You better take care of drinks."

Crap. I should have dawdled for three more minutes and that job would have passed me by.

"Hmm. What do you guys want to drink? Would OJ be okay?"

Auntie and Sis looked at each other for a moment, then nodded in my direction. Okay, that was easy. A little later, I had placed three appropriately filled glasses on the table, and the girls were handing out well-filled plates.

"Well then you two, bon app é tit."

Lia and I wished Aunt Paula the same, then dug into the fish fillet and mashed potatoes. Yum. And with my sister firmly seated, I was able to ask her the question that had been burning on my mind for some time.

"Old sister of mine, why did you tell Aunt Paula I'd gone back to bed? She actually thought I was asleep again! "

My sister grinned cheekily at me over her filled fork.

"What, that was nothing but the truth! You went to bed, didn't you? I didn't say anything about sleeping, so you can't blame me if she gets to the wrong conclusion."

Hmph. And the mentioned adult person was also amused.

"Don't argue, kids."

I refrained from further biting remarks, or rather I chose the fish fillet as the target of my biting remarks, at least that didn't talk back.

When we were fed a while later, Auntie looked at her watch.

"Okay, it's getting close to two o'clock, I think you should get ready now for your afternoon at the Christmas Market. Through the bathroom you go and then get dressed enough so that you only have to put on the top layer when Alexandre shows up here. And Lia, I would recommend you to wear leggings underneath today as well, even though you'll be wearing long pants. Or are you going in short s too?"

"Hmph! Since I don't have a skirt or shorts here, that's out. And I wouldn't want to dispute my little brother his big appearance anyway. I think I'll put on the overalls again. Do you really think I need anything underneath them?"

"I can only suggest it, but I'd do it if I were you."

"Hmm, is it that cold?"

"It's still okay, but as soon as it gets dark, it's going to get colder. You wouldn't want to stay at the Christmas Market for just an hour, would you? If I know Alexandre well enough, he'll want to take you for a sleigh ride, too. Besides, it's been announced that a first cold front will pass through starting tonight."

"Ah okay. Is there actually any dessert?"

Hehe, Lia had her priorities straight too. Aunt Paula, however, shook her head with a laugh.

"No, not today! After all, you'll need some room in your gluttonous bellies for all the yummy stuff you'll be devouring at the Christmas Market."

"Oh. All right. Lio, I'll go through the bathroom first, okay?"

"Go ahead, girls have been known to take forever to get beautified."

"Whoa, old chauvinist!"

I grinned and she gave me the finger and disappeared. Aunt Paula looked at me.

"If you're ready too, let's go to my office, there I have the rest of the purchases for you. Tights and stuff."

I gulped down the last bite, rinsed with the last sip of OJ, and rose from my chair.

"I'm ready."

"Very well, let's go."

I followed Auntie into her office, where she opened a cabinet and reached in.

"There, let's see. Here, for now, are the leggings I bought for you that you so brashly refused."

Giggling, I accepted the stack. Okay, they felt warm and soft too, but Lia would need socks in addition - I would do without those things.

"And here we have your tights, young man. For today, I'd recommend the top one."

I looked at the stack and discovered that this top one came in the same Christmas pattern as the red one I had worn yesterday. Only this one was white in the base color and the patterns were dark blue. Okay, that fit well for wearing openly under a blue denim skirt and with blue boots. Underneath I saw two more pair s of tights, red and bright yellow, each solid color but with a thick cable knit pattern.

"I'm sorry if those are rather girly colors in your eyes, but after all, I thought your sister would wear them."

I shrugged.

"It's okay, at least there's none in pink."

Although I could have done without the bright yellow one. Well, not many would see them.

Auntie laughed and ran her hand over my head, then looked at me a little thoughtfully.

"Tell me, didn't you wonder why your parents sent you here so unprepared?"

Now that was really a good question!

"Hmm, kind of, yes. I mean, you obviously knew exactly what we were going to need here."

"True, and I told that to my beloved sister as well, recommending that she stock up on long underwear, for example. She, however, said that you teenagers wouldn't even look at something like that, let alone wear it."

Then it was almost a miracle that she had gotten us the onesies.

"Um, it's freezing as hell here, and as far as cold goes, Lia and I are wimps. We almost never have frost, usually winter for us means 5 degrees, and that's on the plus side of the thermometer scale. I was talking to my best friend at home earlier, and his little brother called this place 'Siberia' - and he wasn't all that wrong!"

Aunt Paula giggled softly and mumbled something into her non-existent lady's beard, which sounded something like 'This could turn out really interesting with the two of them'. I couldn't ponder that, though, because she had already moved on to the next item.

"Your gloves are already at the coat rack by your jackets, I got a pair of finger gloves and a pair of mittens for everyone, you'll have to tryout which you prefer."

I nodded, and another point occurred to me.

"Do you have any caps for us? It's not like we only have hoodies."

Grinning, Aunt Paula reached into the closet again.

"Your wish is my command. So, here you have the everyday models for now."

She handed me a blue knit cap with a white winter pattern, pom-pom and earflaps, which could be tied under the chin with a cord. The same model was available again in a reversed color version. These things were thick and warm, and if these were the everyday models, I was starting to get scared of what would be meant for un-everyday weather conditions - and what those un-everyday weather conditions would be like!

"And just in case you go out in really cold weather, maybe hiking or walking the dog with Alexandre, or even to shovel snow around my house, you get the hardcore version."

I unfolded the bright blue piece of fabric Aunt Paula handed me and realized that it was made of thick fleece fabric, and looked very similar to the balaclava Alexandre had worn the day before.

"These caps are ideal for outdoor activities when it's snowing and windy. The whole head is warm and also the neck is protected extra, depending on how you wear them only an eye slit is free. And don't worry, here in the mountains not only little kids wear them, but also many skiers and snowboarders. And all the young people who even in winter ride their bicycles, mopeds or quads."

"It's okay, Auntie, Alex wore one of those yesterday. Luckily, Lia and I have cap -suitable hairstyles."

"Haha, right. Look, I'll take the caps to the wardrobe, that's where they belong anyway, and you take tights and leggings up to your place. Oh, and here are some warm socks for Lia."

"Sounds good. Did you get anything else?"

"Not yet, we need to see what else you might need first. Snowsuits for example."

Snowsuits? What was Auntie planning for! Was the next ice age coming and they had forgotten to tell us? Would we end up getting snowed in?

"Aunt Paula, after New Year's we'll go back home, we don't need full north pole gear for those few days."

"Well, we'll see. So, move on and if necessary, push your sister a little. You guys should be down here about ten to three so Alex doesn't have to wait too long for you."

I nodded and grabbed the leggings, socks and tights and marched off. As I stepped into the stairwell, I heard another auntly murmur behind me, but wasn't sure if I had heard it correctly. If so then I should probably begin to feel really worried, because then she had muttered 'If only they knew...'

I dashed upstairs and first dumped the clothes for Lia on her bed, then went back to my own room, put away the tights I didn't need for today's outing, grabbed some fresh boxer briefs and a long-sleeved white T-shirt, then headed over to the bathroom. Knocking wasn't necessary between Lia and I, so I just stepped in and found my sister rinsing her mouth out after brushing her teeth.

"Here I am, will you need much longer?"

Lia was wearing underwear, so she had certainly done the main work already. Due to the extensive bath the night before, there was no need for a general cleanup anyway.

My sister shook her head, then she had her mouth free to answer.

"No, just one more minute, you can get naked already."

With any other girl I would have protested, with Lia, however, I had no qualms about following her request. I pulled off my fluffy socks and worked my wayout of the onesie, then walked over to the sink and nudged my sister aside a bit.

"Minute's up, move over."

And already her right hand was landing hard once on each of my buttocks.

"Ouch, violent old girl!"

"Remember, you're not supposed to push your older sister around! Besides, your naked butt was an invitation, after all."

"Yeah, yeah, all right. I 've put your leggings and socks on your bed."

"Okay, see you soon."

I spent the next fifteen minutes freshening up, brushing my teeth, and then putting on my boxer briefs, tights, and T-shirt. Finally, I grabbed the discarded sleeping clothes and left the bathroom. Outside, Lia was lounging around on the couch.

"Ah there you are. Cute tights!"

"Thanks, likewise. Cute leggings, I mean."

My sister was wearing a dark blue t-shirt, albeit the short-sleeved version, along with light blue leggings and dark blue socks.

"Ha ha, you can tell Auntie actually intended these for you. Baby blue!"

"Hehe. I would have thought you might wear one of the gray ones, or the black one."

Lia shrugged, and I quickly went to my room and put away my sleeping clothes. I then returned to my sister.

"I think we still have a little time, don't we?"

"Yes, little brother. Did Auntie give you any other things?"


And I told her what all Auntie had brought for us, despite our mother thinking that we wouldn't need such stuff.

"Hmm, the Christmas cold wave can come."

"Yes, but that's not all. Aunt Paula said a few things that made me nervous."

"Oh? Tell me!"

"Well, she said that we might need snowsuits. And then she mumbled some things under her breath that I guess she thought I wouldn't overhear. Once something like 'this is going to be interesting with the two of them', which clearly meant you and me. And then when I was almost out of the room it sounded like 'if only they knew'. What do you think, is my imagination run ning wild, or do I have a reason to worry?"

Pondering, Lia stared ahead.

"You're right, it is a little weird. And mommy dear didn't want to give us long underwear?"

"Hehe, yeah, she said as teenagers we would never wear something like that."

"Well, that proves that mothers aren't all-knowing either, Lio."

"Thank goodness!"

"Haha, true again. Hey, I have an idea. Shall we shock mom and dad?"

Suspiciously, I looked at Lia.

"Shock them? How?"

"We take pictures of each other. Now, just as we are in the long underwear. And send our parents the photos."

I laughed out.

"Ouch! And add the text 'Thank goodness Auntie took better care of us than our parents!' or something like that."

"Exactly, we'll talk them into such a nice guilt trip, that they will want to make it up to us. They deserve it! They could at least have asked us."

Though I was not one hundred percent sure whether we would have agreed to thermal underwear without personally experiencing the local cold before.

"Okay. I'll take a picture of you with my phone, you take a picture of me with yours, and we'll each send the photo to Mom and Dad."

"Cool! Go get your phone and we'll take the picture in my room, it's brighter there than here."

I just nodded and dashed to my room, where I grabbed my phone and hurried to Lia's room with it. There she already had her iPhone ready to go in her hand and pointed to a spot in front of her bed.

"Stand there, I'll take your picture, then we'll switch places."

I quickly placed my phone on the nightstand, then posed. I decided to look as indignant as possible, so I propped my hands on my hips and looked sternly into the smartphone camera. Lia giggled briefly, then triggered the camera. One look at the display later, she laughed out loud.

"Brilliant idea, little brother! Here, have a look. Now if those two don't feel guilty from that photo then I don't know what could do the trick."

I went over to Lia, who showed me the display of her cell phone. From it, a really very annoyed-embarrassed looking Lio stared back at me.

"Hehe, good shot. Now you."

We switched places, and I took a picture of Lia with my own phone. She made an effort to appear similarly indignant as me, and she succeeded very well in this endeavor. Well, we were twins, after all! I showed her the photo, and she grinned with satisfaction.

"Very good. Now let's send the photos to our parents."

"Just a minute. Just so there's no doubt about who's who, we should name the photos accordingly."

"Oh, yeah, right. I don't want them thinking that I'm wear ing tights!"

Laughing, I nodded, can't have them get that weird idea. Moments later the photos were appropriately named.

"We should also use the same text. Watch out, I'll write, 'Thank goodness Aunt Paula took good care of Lio, otherwise he'd have to freeze at the Christmas Market later!' You write the same thing, just with my name."

"Okay, that's how we' ll do it."

I wrote the email and put the photo of Lia as an attachment to it.

"I'm ready, should I send it?"

"Yes, I'm ready too. On three: one - two - three!"

And already the emails were on their way. Satisfied, we looked at each other.

"I can't wait to see how they'll react, Lia."

"Well, they at least should double our allowance now."

"Ha, that would be brilliant. Hey, look at the time, it's already quarter to three, I think we can get fully dressed now and then go downstairs."

"Yeah, I think so too. I'll meet you outside."

I nodded and ran back to my room, where I threw on a white turtleneck and then slipped into my bib skirt. A glance at the closet mirror: acceptable. Quickly I turned down the heating a bit, then I left my bedroom. Practically at the same time, Lia also stepped out of hers, looked at me closely, then nodded contentedly.

"Looking good, little brother. Smile please!"


"Smile I said!"

Again, Lia held her iPhone in her hand, and I realized what she was up to.

"Nah, not this, Lia!"

"Oh yes, Lio."

Sighing, I posed, not indignant this time, and managed to force a smile onto my face. The smartphone flash flashed, and my sister grinned cheekily.

"Good boy. There, now we can go down."

"Wait a minute! You're not sending that photo to our parents!"

"Who knows. It depends on whether you're always nice and sweet to me."


I saw her typing away on the screen and tried to take the phone away from her, but she turned so I didn't have a chance.

"Take it easy, bro. I just send it to you, okay?"

Oh. Well, that was acceptable. But there was one important thing to do.

"You can delete it from your phone now!"

"Forget it, hehe, I'm keeping that. And before you get any ideas, I've already uploaded it to my cloud, so it wouldn't do you any good to delete it from my phone."

Grrr. Now she had blackmail material to show around at home. I desperately needed to come up with something to have something on her as well. Sadly, photos of a girl in rather boyish clothes weren't really extraordinary enough to be useful for this purpose.

"Well, come on then, let's go downstairs. Alex should be showing up any minute now."

With that Lia already was on her way downstairs, and I hurried to stay close on her heels. Once on the ground level, we went into the kitchen, where Aunt Paula was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee.

"There you are. And how smart you look! Do either of you have your cell phones handy? I'd love to take a picture of you guys."

Another photo! W hen you still needed film for that, no one would have thought of taking pictures so much. But already Lia was handing her cell phone to Auntie.

"Here, you can take mine."

Of course, then she had another photo of me in my skirt on her device. Aunt Paula, of course, had no idea of Lia's ulterior motives and thanked her, then had us line up next to each other and snapped the photo.

"That's it. Will you please send it to me right away, Lia? And to your brother, too. And maybe to your parents."


I started to regret that there was no uncle Paul around in addition to Aunt Paula. Some male reinforcement in the house might be helpful against the intrigues of the assembled femininity!

"Of course, Aunt Paula. It will only take a moment. Like this. And already done."

Did I really want to know who all she had sent the photo to now?

"Who did you send it to?"

Looks like Auntie really wanted to know.

"Well, to everyone you suggested."

Where could one actually emigrate to as a fourteen-year-old? All alone, without parents who would only ask stupid questions about their offspring's outfits anyway? Aunt Paula, however, just laughed.

"Well, looking at your brother, he would have preferred it if you had sent it only to him and at most to me."

Now where did she get THAT idea! But Lia just laughed, too.

"I don't understand why Lio is so upset. He looks so chic and elegant after all. Soon all the boys will be walking around like that."

"Exactly, Lia. And after all, someone has to buy and wear the skirts that modern girls like you reject."

Blah, blah, blah. I was relieved of a retort, however, by the sound of the doorbell ringing.

"Oh, that must be Alexandre. Right on time. Could you open the door for him, please, Lio?"

Model, fashion avantgardist, door opener - what would I be next? But well, it was Alexandre, so of course I was happy to open the door for him. Which I did immediately. And it was really him standing out there, grinning at me first doubtfully and then happily.

"Hi Lio! Wow, you're really wearing that skirt again."

"Sure am."

I looked at our visitor and grinned back.

"And you're wearing what we agreed on, too. Which is actually a cheeky trick."

"Huh. Cheeky trick? What?"

I pointed at Alex's feet.

"Moon Boots?"

Alexandre looked down at himself and laughed.

"Well, sure, moon boots! After all, it's COLD!"

"Of course. The fact that this barely shows any of your beautiful blue tights is not at all intentional."

In fact, between the knee-length pants and the nearly knee-high Moon Boots, virtually nothing of the tights was visible, and what was visible would simply pass for knee-high socks at first, second, and probably third glance. Heck, even from his pants hardly anything was to be seen, because his long quilted jacket ended just a hand above the end of the pants legs. He wouldn't look much different without any pants, hehe.

Meanwhile, Lia had also joined us and had examined Alexandre. Laughing, she put a hand on my right shoulder.

"What do you want, little brother? Knee-length pants were agreed upon, and his pants fit that one hundred percent. It's just a good thing you held up your part of the deal now that Alex followed his part that strictly."

Hmph. If I ever make another deal with Alexandre, I'd have it checked out by a lawyer first. Well, the deal, not Alexandre! I reserved the latter for myself.

"Hello Alexandre, glad you're on time. As soon as twins are done getting dressed, we're ready to go. If you want, you can already go out with me and get the car from the garage."

"Gladly, Aunt Paula, then I won't have to take off my shoes and jacket."

He was already holding his cap in hand.

"Very well, out you go then. Lia, Lio, please hurry up, get dressed and lock up the house behind you."

We knew an order when we heard one, so my sister and I completed our outfits with boots and jackets. Then Lia looked at the wardrobe.


"Sure, or do you want to freeze your fingers off? Here, Aunt Paula got finger ed ones and mittens. Which do you want?"

"Hmm, mittens are warmer, so I'll take those. Are those caps for us, too? "

I nodded and grabbed the knit ones, it wasn't cold enough for the balaclavas yet.

"Do you want blue with white or white with blue?"

Lia looked back and forth between the two caps for a moment, then grabbed one.

"I'll take blue with white, the white with blue pattern goes better with your tights, little brother. Sorry, younger brother."

I nodded and grabbed the other one.

"We ' re ready I think. Will you lock up?"

Nodding, I grabbed the set of keys and pushed Lia out of the house. After turning off the light I pulled the door shut and locked it, while my sister was already running to the car, which was parked with the engine running in front of the already closed garage. In the Suzuki only the back seat was empty for Lia and me, Alexandre had made himself comfortable on the passenger seat. We got in and buckled up.

"Is everyone buckled up? Can we go?"

Auntie got three confirmations, and shortly thereafter we rolled off the lot.

"Alexandre, will someone from your family drive my two home when you're tired of the Christmas Market?"

"Yes, Grandpa has promised to take care of that."

"Good. I just hope his car doesn't break down. Mine had quite a bit of trouble getting the two stuffed backseat passengers moving after all the cake and cookies at the Christmas party yesterday."

Alexandre laughed out loud while Lia and I looked indignantly toward the driver's seat. What a mean thing to say!

"Don't worry, Aunt Paula, Grandpa's car is a real all-terrain vehicle for heavy conditions. Inside and out."

I looked at Lia, she nodded, I nodded, then I reached for the pom-pom on Alexandre's stocking cap and pulled it off his head. The now exposed thinking ball got a proper slap from my sister. Aunt Paula might get away with such impertinences perhaps, but not Alex!

"Ouch! Attacking from behind, not fair!"

"Well, it's bad karma to make fun of people who sit so conveniently behind you."

"Menno! Aunt Paula started it though!"

"Now now, Alexandre, don't drag me into this."

The fact that Aunt Paula giggled at this defused her words considerably. Alex grumbled to himself, then looked over his left shoulder at us in the back.

"Can I have my cap back, please?"

I handed him the bright red knit cap and he put it back on. However, he had something else to say.

"You're mighty lucky that Micco isn't here. He would have defended his poor innocent master!"

Hehe, yes, remember for the future: keep an eye on the presence or absence of the four-legged protector.

"Where is he anyway, Alex? Why didn't you bring him?"

The capped again head on the passenger seat was shaken negatively.

"That wouldn't have been any fun for him. Dense crowds around him, tantalizing or repulsive smells from all directions, noise. And if we stopped somewhere to eat or drink something he'd have to sit down in the cold. No, Micco is better off with grandma and grandpa. To make up for it, I'll take him for a nice long walk afterwards."

Hm, okay, was probably better that way, even though I would have liked to see the fuzzy dog again. Well, we would stay here for a few more days, maybe that could be arranged. To spend time with Alex and Micco together, that would be really nice!

A few minutes later we had reached the drop-off point, Aunt Paula let the car roll out in a parking space.

"Well, here we are. Alex, when do you think I can expect them back?"

"Hmm, we'll be busy for a while, we want to do the big sleigh run, after all."

"I don't have a problem with that, I'd just like to know if I need to schedule Lia and Lio for dinner."

"Oh. No, you don't have to, Aunt Paula. There are so many yummy things at the Christmas Market, we'll eat lots and lots there."

Auntie thought for a moment, then nodded and turned to the back seat.

"All right, here's some money for you, I don't want you to live off Alexandre."

She handed Lia and me a twenty-euro bill each, and since we weren't running around completely broke anyway, that certainly was enough for a couple of hours on the Christmas Market.

"Thank you, Aunt Paula."

"No problem, Lia. You have your cell phones with you? Yes? Good. If there's anything you need me for, just call. And if you realize it's going to be later than 7pm, please let me know, too, so I'm not sitting around worrying about you."

We promised her we would, then we got out of the car. Out there we put on our caps and closed our jackets, but then we were surprised to see that Auntie had gotten out, too. I looked at her questioningly.

"Do you want to go to the Christmas Market too?"

"Hehe, no, I just thought of something else. Please stand next to each other there in front of that beautiful Christmas tree. Alexandre, you too."

I guess that meant that the next photo was due! Not again! But Auntie was going to have her way, so we lined up as requested. Lia and I took Alex in the middle, and shortly thereafter the smartphone flash flashed as a sign that the shot was saved. The photographer looked at the display with satisfaction.

"Very nice. Alex, I'll send the photo to Lia and Lio, have them send it to you."

"All right, Aunt Paula."

And with that, it was time to say goodbye, Aunt Paula wished us lots of fun, then she got back into the car and drove off shortly after. Alex grabbed Lia's right hand and my left and took charge.

"Shall we? Yes? Well, let's go!"

Alexandre started pulling us down the street, that was a bit too forceful for me.

"Don't tug, we're on our way to the Christmas Market and not running from zombies."

Lia noticed it too. Well, maybe Alex thought that at the high speed, no one would notice what he was wearing. Hmm. Maybe we'd better not slow him down, that might work for me, too? On the other hand: nobody knew me here, probably I wouldn't even be recognized as a boy by the people around us. If my two companions would then address me as Lionie, I would certainly be safe! But no, I was Lio, not Lionie, whether in a skirt or not.

"Hehe, all right, sorry. I just can smell the waffle booth already, and my nose is speeding up my legs."

Waffle booth sounded good, but not good enough to be dragged around like a dog on a leash. Though, with Micco I think it was usually the dog doing the dragging around.

We walked on at a more leisurely pace, and the surroundings became more and more Christmassy. In the windows of the houses were burning candles, the most diverse and sometimes wildly flashing festive pictures and even a few candle arches were there, although these were actually native to another area. In the front yards were trees decorated with fairy lights, which looked especially great when there was also snow involved.

After two or three minutes, we turned a corner and there it was, the small-town Christmas Market. Bigger than I had expected, there were clearly more booths than I had imagined. Of course, everything here was festively decorated, too! And it really smelled like waffles! My mouth watered, and I turned to our local guide.

"Did you borrow your dog's nose? I love waffles too, but I can only smell them now."

"Haha, no, my own nose is sensitive enough for that, because I love them too. Wanna grab some first?"

Lia and I had no objections, so we followed the increasingly irresistible scent and a little later each had a large vanilla - cream-filled waffle in our hands.

"Oh, I forgot, do you guys want a drink too?"

I pondered for a moment, then shook my head.

"Not me, we're going to be here for a while and I don't want to fill my bladder just yet."

"Good idea bro, let's stay dry for now. But Alex, if you want some, go ahead."

But our companion was also convinced.

"Sounds reasonable, so just waffles for now."

We stepped aside and set about eating the sweet pastries. On this occasion, I let my eyes wander over the Christmas Market and realized that it really was one. I had seen some Christmas Markets that were more like a carnival. Here, there really only seemed to be booths selling Christmas things. Or at least things that fit the season, like caps and gloves - with which we were already well supplied, though. No business to make with us, sorry.

Lia, meanwhile, had spotted something else.

"He y, Alex, is that your grandpa there again?"

We followed her pointing finger and saw a small stage on which a Santa was busy handing out small presents to equally small children.

"Haha, no, he only does that on a smaller scale, for family and friends. That there should be Mr. Roland, our math teacher from high school, he does it every year."

"Ah too bad, so no more personal gifts."

My sister laughed out.

"Be glad, Lio, with this Santa here I don't think you'd be able to get away without a poem or song."

Oh God, anything but that.

"Let's scrap Santa! I mean at least this one. "

Alexandre agreed, too.

"Yeah, really wouldn't be worth it for us. But the little kids love him and the little presents he hands out."

I chuckled softly, and my companions looked at me questioningly.

"Well, they don't suspect yet that he'll be facing them as a math teacher in a couple of years!"

"Ha, that's right, if they knew they might forgo his gifts too. Or recite a very nasty diatribe to him!"

That would certainly cause a solid scandal in the little town, so we'd better not spill the identity of th is Santa to the kids.

"Alex, dude, what are you doing here?"

Alexandre looked up, apparently recognizing the questioner.

"Chowing down on waffles as you can see, Sebbi."

A boy about Alexandre's age had joined us, next to him a girl of the same age with a looooong blond ponytail.

"That was a really dumb question, honey."

"Blah, don't you stab me in the back too, Anni."

"Then don't ask such silly questions. Hello Alex, nice to meet you."

"Hello Anni. Still haven't given that dork the boot?"

"Oh well, I would, but since the cutest boy here isn't into girls, I'll just stick with the one I have."

"Whoa, I definitely won't be helping you with your English homework again anytime soon!"

Alex laughed and looked at Lia and me.

"Aren't they cute? Almost like an old married couple. By the way, that's Sebastian or Sebbi and Annita or Anni. They go to my class and are among my best friends."

"Don't count on it too much, Alex! You don't call your best friend a dork."

"NOT? Where does it say that?"

Sebbi just sighed and looked annoyed to the sky, Anni, however, now curiously eyed my sister and me.

"Who did you bring to the Christmas Market, Alex? I do assume that the two little ones are with you."

"Hey, we're not little! We're just about a year younger than you guys!"

That's right, Lia, tell her!

"Alright, alright, sorry, hehe."

"This is Lia and Lio, Aunt Paula's niece and nephew. They're spending the holidays with her."

"Cool, twins! And who's who?"

"Gee, Anni, can't you tell? Lia's wearing a skirt!"

The resounding laughter from three throats that now followed stunned our new acquaintances.

"Did I say something wrong?"

I nodded, trying to control my laughter for the purpose of a reply.

"You certainly did, Sebbi. This here is Lia - I'm Lio."

"Oh. Wow. I really wasn't expecting that right now."

Still giggling softly, my sister interjected.

"Trust me, Lio wouldn't have expected this a good 24 hours ago either."

And once again we had to relate how we had dragged our scheming Auntie out of her outdated clothing concept. As a result, the grins on the faces of the two who had joined us grew wider and wider.

"Cool! Did your Auntie get mad at you guys?"

I shook my head.

"Nope, Anni, she didn't. I think she has now accepted that teenagers of today don't fit into dress schemes of anno agesago."

"Then your plan worked out perfectly. But you seem to like it, Lio, otherwise you wouldn't be wearing a skirt again today, would you?"

"Well that's Alexandre's fault!"

"That again is nothing new, Alex is always to blame for everything."

"Sebbi! Don't paint them a completely false picture of me! I'm at most to blame nine times out of ten!"

"Well, but in this case you really are the one to blame, Alex."

I turned to the older couple.

"When he saw me like that yesterday, he seemed to like it, and then when he invited us to go to the Christmas Market today, he wanted me to show up like that again."

"Hmm, well I can understand that, it looks kind of cool. And cute. Suits you. And you didn't seem to put up too much of a fight, hehe."

Lia giggled up again.

"No, Annie, my younger brother didn't really fight back, but he did coerce Alex into a deal."

"Oh? What deal?"

Hadn't the two of them caught on yet to how their friend was running around? Hmm. Yeah, it was possible. The three of us were standing at a high round table with a massive stand, Alex between Lia and me, and thus somewhat protected from view on three sides. But that could be changed! I stepped aside and pulled Alexandre into the field of vision of Anni and Sebbi. Alex resisted a little bit, but Lia helped me by pushing him out of the cover.

"Here, this deal."

"What my... Oh! I see what you mean! Look, Sebbi, isn't this cute?"

"Um. Tights, Alex? Really now? Or are that leggings?"

"Well, first of all, you already know that I wear tights in the winter, and secondly, it wouldn't matter anyway, you can't tell what it is with my Moon Boots."

"Right. And Lio demanded that you show up in shorts and tights in return for him putting on the skirt again today?"

Alex nodded.

"Yes, he did. And because he looks so cute in a skirt, I went along with it."

"Amnotcute! And anyway, you set it up so you can barely see any thing of your tights."

Anni laughed out.

"True! And Alex, you could have done without the shorts, your jacket is almost as long as them."

So I was not the only one who had realized that.

"Pah, I'm not walking around without pants."

Cheekily I grinned at him.

"Why not, I do it."

"Yeah, but you're wearing a skirt!"

"And without pants it would look like you're wearing a dress, Alex!"

"Hmph! Lia, say something too!"

The addressed, however, shook her head.

"I'm not going to interfere with your wardrobe plans at all. Although I have to say that your outfit looks cute too, Alex."

"True! Sebbi, what about you? Wouldn't that be something for you, too?"

"Forget it, Anni! I don't even own tights."

"Now that's really a weak excuse. First of all, you have leggings, and as Alex so correctly said, that would be indistinguishable in such an outfit anyway. A nd secondly, I would be happy to help you out with a pair of tights, if you insist on them. I mean, I wouldn't want you to miss out."

"No way. And I don't have any Moon Boots either."

"All the better, then more of your strong soccer player calves would be on display, honey."

Sebastian seemed to be starting to panic, it seemed as if Anni was the one making the calls in their relationship.

"No, no, no! Won't happen at all!"

"I didn't know you were such a little wuss, just over a pair of tights. "

"Sorry, but I'd rather leave that to you, Alex. Not everyone can be as fashionable as you. Or as Lio."

Oh yes, I was just someone very special.

"Can we now turn our attention to something other than boys in skirts or tights? Have you been at the Christmas Market for long already?"

"No, Anni and I just got here. What about you guys?"

"The waffle booth was our first stop."

"Great minds think alike. Anni, what would you like on your waffle? Cream? Sugar? Nutella?"

"Cream. Knowing you, you'll have Nutella."

"Sure thing. Be right back."

Sebastian disappeared, his girlfriend staying behind and looking at us questioningly.

"So what are you guys up to?"

"Moving from booth to booth to the stage, filling up on yummy stuff, walking back from booth to booth on the other side, filling up on yummy stuff, going for a spin on the sleigh, and of course, filling up on yummy stuff."

Anni laughed out loud.

"That sounds like a good plan, but I think you guys need to change it up a bit."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I'd recommend starting with the sleigh trip, there's already some waiting there, and they only have three or four sleighs. You don't want to have to wait forever or end up not catching a tour at all."

That would be sad, and Alex seemed to think so, too.

"Crap, then we should really get this started right away. Lia, Lio, are you done with your waffles?"

We were, we just had to use napkins to clean our faces a bit of errant vanilla cream. Hm. E rrant vanilla cream.

"Alex, hold it right there."


"Stand still! "

"But what..."

"No buts."

I gathered all my courage, stepped close to Alexandre, pulled his head down a little and licked the white blob of cream off the tip of his nose. In the next moment, "Ohs!" and "Ahs!" rang out from several throats, because not only Lia and Anni were amazed at my courage, but Sebastian had also reappeared at the table, complete with waffles. Alex, on the other hand, just stared at me for a while. Had I made a huge mistake now?

"Uh... Sorry, but you wouldn't have gotten there with your own tongue."

And napkins were so impersonal. Fortunately, the corners of the cream-nose owner's mouth twitched upward now, and he smiled happily at me.

"Thanks, Lio!"

"Was that okay?"

"Haha, just look how blissfully he's staring at you, bro. That was more than okay for Alex!"

"Menno, that was sweet of Lio! Surprising, but sweet. And of course okay, too, little guy."

Hm. Little guy. Again. But Alex I would forgive. For now. Later, maybe I would borrow the rod from his Santa Claus grandfather! Unfortunately, my sister now spoiled the romantic mood.

"Weren't we going to go for a sleigh ride?"

"Yes, that's right Lia, we really should get on our socks."

"On your tights you wanted to say, dude."

"On those too, but in Lia's case the socks are correct, she isn't wearing tights. "

"Hehe, true. Well then, off you go, maybe we'll meet again later. "

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