by Peter Conrad

Chapter 4

"May I come in, Alex?"

"Of course, Aunt Mireille."

"Thank you. Ah, and this is where my two trouble makers are. I should have known, then I could have saved myself a visit to their room."

Noël and Joël jumped up and disappeared from the camera's view, but Alex quickly moved the tablet so I could see them pouncing together on a medium-sized, youthful-looking woman.

"Maman! We're talking to Alexandre's petit copain right now!" one of them said. I couldn't tell them apart now since I couldn't make out their necklaces.

"Yes, and he is quite sweet and nice. And cool! He wears skirts!"

The mother of the twins had to process this double rush for a moment, then she looked at her nephew.

"You have a boyfriend now, Alex? One who wears skirts?"

Alex chuckled softly.

"Yes, I do. And well, he wore a skirt yesterday and today. But that's a longer story, I'll tell you about it later."

"Ah yes, just as long a story as why you were at the Christmas Market in shorts with tights?"

"Ha, yes, and the two long stories are even related."

"Well, I'm curious about that. Do you have a picture of your friend?"

"Sure, Aunt Mireille, several, but you can also see him live and in all his glory, we're talking via FaceTime."

Interested, the twin' s mother came wandering over to the couch, where Alex presented her with the tablet, from which I waved amiably.

"Hello Mrs. LaGrange! I'm Lio, and as I learned, in French I'm Alex's petit copain."

She waved back cheerfully as she eyed my picture.

"Pleased to meet you, Lio. Interesting name by the way, really Lio and not Leo?"

I shook my head.

"No, really Lio. Has the same origin as Leo, though."

"Ah, I see."

"Aunt Mireille, Lio also has a sister, her name is Lia. Twin sister, to be exact."

"Oh, that's cool! I just don't know whether to congratulate or commiserate with your parents. Twins can be very exhausting, can't they, Noël? Joël?"

"We're not exhausting!" one of them indignantly said.

"We're always well-behaved!" his extremely identical brother followed up.

"Yeah, yeah, you guys keep telling yourselves that. Though, your sister is even worse. But anyway. Alex, if you don't mind m e saying so, you really got yourself a cute boyfriend."


"And Lio, you're welcome to call me Aunt Mireille, since you're more or less family."

Grinning, I nodded.

"Thank you, Aunt Mireille."

"Not for that. Okay, I'm going to take the twins from you, I'm going to put them in their beds now."

"But Maman, we're not tired at all!"

"Yes, it's still ear… early! "

The fact that the second twin was interrupted by his own yawn made their statements seem somewhat implausible.

"Well, sure it is. Your grandma will make a hot chocolate for everyone, then you'll quickly brush your teeth again and then it's off to bed. After all, you'll want to have fun again tomorrow, especially with all the snow here, right?"

"Oh yeah, snow! Good night, Alex. Good night, Lio."

The second twin also wished Alex and me a good night, then they both let their mother take them away. Suddenly it was very quiet in the room.

Alex made himself comfortable on the couch again, alone this time, then took a deep breath.

"Well, Lio, in case you haven't noticed, Aunt Mireille is right: twins are really quite exhausting. These two, anyway!"

I chuckled softly.

"I don't understand what's wrong with you. Those two are just so cute. Even more so, so outgoing and open-minded with their ten years. And apparently pretty smart, too."

"Oh yes, they are smart, any victim of their pranks can tell you that. And they stick together like peanuts."

Well, that didn't really surprise me. It was the same with Lia and me, at least when it got serious. Our little squabbles were only meant to be playful. I really didn't believe the two ten-year-olds would play any pranks! And of course I still believed in Santa Claus. The real one, not like Alexandre's grandfather. My boy friend had however already arrived at the next topic.

"Lio, would you really like such a footed sleeper? I don't want to get it just for you to put it on once to make Joël and Noël happy. If that even works out with the slumber party."

"If you get one of those things in my size, I guarantee you that I won't put it on just once. It's not much different from my current onesie anyway, and I already love that one."

"Well, it comes with feet on it."

"So what? There are feet on my tights, too. And on yours too. Only Lia would have to get used to something new, as a typical girl she only wears footless leggings."

Alex snorted and needed a moment to get himself under control again.

"Right, and no skirts, as you know only boys wear them."

I stuck my tongue out at Alexandre before replying.

"Only brave boys like me!"

"Haha, yeah, that's true too, you're really brave. Much to my surprise."


"Okay, okay, never mind, of course I wouldn't put anything past you! So a onesie with feet for Lia and one for Lio."

"Sounds good to me. And with a nice pattern, please, just maybe a little more age appropriate than Paw-Patrol."

"I'll see what I can find. If I find anything. And you will put it on no matter what I pick out for you!"

"Ohkay, I promise. Just maybe not on a class trip."

"Not so brave after all, Lio the lion."

"There's a fine line between braveness and cockiness."

Then I remembered something else I had pushed to the back of my mind a few minutes ago.

"Alex, what did Noël mean earlier when he said that the sleepers would hide something well?"

Alexandre suddenly made a serious face and seemed to consider whether or not to answer my question.

"Hm... I don't know if I should tell you or rather not. Hmm. I can trust you not to tell anyone else, and that you won't make fun of them, right?"

That sounded a bit mysterious, but I was a little annoyed with my him.

"Do you really think that I would seriously make fun of someone? And especially of your adorable twin cousins?"

"No, sorry, I really don't believe you would. It's just that they're both really embarrassed about it. Well, let's make it short, those two still wear diapers at night."

Oh. Diapers. Okay, in that case I understood that they were both embarrassed, and glad that the sleepers hid them well. Which they actually did, I hadn't noticed anything unusual on their midsections anyway.

"The two of them are bed-wetters?"

Surprisingly, Alex shook his head.

"No, only one of them. The other one puts on diapers out of solidarity. And other than their parents, their family doctor, and my dad, no one knows which of the two is the 'real' bed-wetter. As I said, the two of them stick together like peanuts. On school trips or when they spend the night at friends' houses or friends spend the night at theirs, the diapers can't be totally hidden, but that way the real bed-wetter is never identified."

Wow, that was really intense. Not that one of them still wet the bed when he was ten years old - that did happen, as I knew from my own experience - but that the other actually went so far as to wear diapers himself to make his brother feel better. I wondered if I would do something like that for Lia. I had to admit to myself that I couldn't guarantee that.

"Apparently they're not twins but super-twins!"

"Hehe, right! But like I said, I'm counting on you not to make fun of them."

"I promise you that I won't do that. And to make sure that you believe me: I still wet the bed when I was eleven and I wore diapers because of it, too. Though Lia never even thought to wear them, too, to make me feel better. "

"Oh! You were still wetting the bed even at eleven? R egularly, not just once in a while?"

"Well, until I was ten it happened to me almost every night. Then when I was eleven it got less pretty quickly, only once or twice a week, and then by twelve it was history, thankfully. Bad?"

"Idiot, of course not! I'd be hypocritical if I thought it was bad, after all I've said to you about the twins."

I nodded in agreement, I would have been very surprised too, but I just had to ask That question. After all, this was one thing in my childhood that I had always been very embarrassed about. Even though my family had never made any drama out of it. Since the medical profession als found no organic causes, they assumed that I would grow out of bedwetting on my own - and that's exactly how it had turned out.

"Cool, thanks."

"Did people make fun of you because of it?"

"Well, I didn't have a onesie then, not even a simple red footless one like now, so hiding the diaper wasn't so easy. When the chance to be discovered was especially high, like on school trips or sleepovers with others, I did put on a pull-up diaper. With a little skill at putting them on and taking them off in secret I was reasonably safe."

"No one ever caught on to that?"

"Almost no one. A friend of mine noticed, and called me out on it the next time I stayed over at his place."

"Ouch! Just talked to you or made fun of you for it?"

I shook my head.

"Just talked to me, but I was about to start crying, grab my stuff, and run home in the dark. When he noticed, he wordlessly pulled his pajama pants down a bit - revealing a pull up diaper underneath."

"Ah! You were really lucky there!"

"I was. But look, most of the time you just imagine that everyone would immediately recognize when you're wearing a diaper. In reality, it's probably only someone who knows exactly how something like that looks, usually from their own experience. At least if you don't want for the whole world to notice it at first glance and dress accordingly."

"Hehe, yeah, you could be right. Seems to work with tights too, somehow it was obvious to me what you had on at my first glance at your legs."

Chuckling, I nodded.

"Sure, first of all, you wear them yourself, and second of all, the mental jump from 'That guy's wearing a skirt! ' to ' That guy's wearing tights! ' wasn't really that big, was it?"

"Hmm, probably true. Well anyway. Lio, I'm sorry, but I've got to call it a night, I want to take a shower, preferably before my eyes fall shut. Will we talk again tomorrow? Maybe we can even get together."

"That would be cool! But we'll have to discuss that with our guardians, there's a lot to do before Christmas."

"Right, like buying footed sleepers for you!"

"For all of us, you mean, right? For me, Lia, and for you."

Laughing, Alexandre nodded.

"Well let's hope they really do come in our sizes!"

"That would be really cool. But a little warning: remember that Lia doesn't like girly stuff, so nothing with 'My Little Pony' or with unicorns for her."

"Noted. 'My Little Pony' just for Lio, not Lia."

I flipped Alex the bird.

"Don't you dare! And while I'm on the subject of warnings, no PINK!"

Defensively, Alex raised his hands, which resulted in his tablet falling into his lap and me just hearing him for now.

"Okay, okay, I don't want to mess with you!"

Better for him. Shortly after, Alexandre's face reappeared on my display.

"Good, then stick to that. So, are we calling it a day?"

"Yes *yawn* we should. Otherwise I'll fall asleep in the shower. See you tomorrow, little one, good night."

I decided to let him get away with the 'little one' this time, I was in a generous mood.

"Same to you, Alex."

"Turn off on three?"

I merely nodded.

"Okay. One, two, THREE!"

Sure enough, I managed to close the app. Regrettable, but I had to admit to myself that I was getting tired, too. I put the iPad aside and was about to pick myself up to go to the bathroom again, when there was another knock on a room door, this time mine.

So much for a quiet evening, I could hardly take a breath!

"Come in!"

The door opened and Aunt Paula poked her head into the room.

"Hello Lio, am I interrupting anything or do you have some time for me?"

"Interrupting what? No, come on in."

Pushing the door open wider, Auntie stepped into the room, a small box in her hands. I wonder what was in it? How did the old saying go? 'Beware of aunts who come bearing gifts!'? I'm just saying skirt and tights!

"Well, it could have been you talking to Alexandre right now."

I shook my head.

"You're like half a minute late for that, we just stopped. Alex was so tired he almost fell asleep during the conversation. And I feel the same way, to be honest. "

"Ah, I would have been surprised if you hadn't called him. And the fact that you're tired isn't surprising either. Do you mind if I sit down? Or will you fall asleep on me?"

"Ha, don't worry, I'll hold out a little longer, have a seat, but I have to leave you alone for a moment, I have to go to the bathroom really quickly before I flood the bed."

Laughing, my visitor settled down on the small two-seater that was part of the room's furnishings.

"Well, you better hurry up, Lio! If you're not back here in five minutes I'll assume you've fallen asleep on the throne and I'll come to wake you up."

Laughing, I jumped up and dashed to the bathroom, where I let nature take its course. A little later I returned to my room and got comfortable in bed again.

"Better, Lio?"

"Much better, hehe!"

"Good, then I hope you're a little receptive."

Astonished, I looked at her.

"Receptive? For what?"

"Well, first of all, for the cookies I baked myself this afternoon. Here you go, but you don't have to eat them all right away."

Crap, that last part wasn't necessary! But I had to find out if the cookies were worth being eaten by me first anyway. I took the small box from Auntie and opened it. Immediately a wonderful smell rose to me, and I grabbed the first cookie. Hmmmmm yummy!

"These are really good, Aunt Paula!"

"Glad to hear it. By the way, you don't have to give any to your sister, she already got her own ration."

Good to know! I wouldn't put it beyond Lia to pretend she didn't get any.

"So, we can move on to the next item."

I guess it would once again be about the problem with Alexandre and me getting close.

"Thanks to your sister, I now know that I have a little hero sitting across from me."

Huh? Oh.

"But even if Lia hadn't told me, Alois Schaffelgruber called me earlier. He wasn't that sure anymore whether he really should have just let you go like that."

"Why not, nothing really happened. Except for some property damaged, and that only affected the person who caused the incident."

Auntie nodded.

"Max Hämmerlmeyr. In earlier times, someone who attracted misfortune like him would have been banished from the village."

"Hehe, yes, but in the other accidents Annita told us about, nobody got really hurt either, right? "

"Right, but this time it was really damn close, if I can believe Alois. And the poor policeman later was frightened that this time there was more than just property damaged. He feared that you might have suffered at least a shock or something. Did you?"

I shook my head.

"No, don't worry, I'm really fine. I did get a mighty scare twice, but that's about it. And anyway, you would have noticed that earlier when we came home. And now again. Am I acting like someone who's in shock?"

"No, you're not, Lio. And that's exactly what I told Alois, I hope I was able to calm him down a little. He's only been the district commander here for a few weeks, and he's still a little nervous and afraid of making some mistake that will bite him in the butt later."

"Haha, I think for the peace of mind of the Police Boss, it would really help to reintroduce the banishment tradition."

Auntie chuckled to herself.

"Maybe locking him up permanently would do the trick, too."

That only sounded like a good idea to me at first glance.

"Better not, the guy manages to accidentally rip the window bars out of the wall."

"Okay, I think someone should write a book about Max."

"Or a screenplay, Aunt Paula. For the Comedy Channel."

"Or that."

Auntie leaned back and regarded me closely.

"You don't have to look like that, Auntie, I'm really fine. And I even ended up with a decent f oo d allowance."

"Ha, I heard that too! But to be honest, I was already thinking about the next topic."


"Alexandre? Or more specifically, Alexandre and I?"

"That's exactly it, Lio. I take it you two were talking about that topic earlier, too?"

"Yes, we did, and before you have to ask, we decided to tryout the whole boyfriend thing over the holidays. And yes, we realize that it can turn problematic in the new year."

Auntie continued to study me in depth, then nodded.

"Good, I'm happy for you guys and glad you didn't just give up. For now, see what the next few days bring."

"That's exactly what we plan to do. Oh, about what the next few days will bring: is it true that tomorrow will bring a Christmas tree?"

The landlady stumbled briefly because of the abrupt change of topic, but then realized that this was intended by me and probably for the better.

"Yes, it will be delivered tomorrow morning. I hope you'll help me put it up then, but we won't decorate it until the day after tomorrow."

"But not a cripple pine, right?"

"If Anton knows what's good for him, then no cripple pine!"

"Well, that's all right then. I don't waste my tree decorating skills on lost causes."

"Your tree decorating skills? Should I be excited now - or rather scared?"


"Always these doubters! My poor vulnerable kids soul!"

"Oh you poor little boy. But at least I brought you cookies, they should make up for a lot, right?"

I quickly grabbed the nearest cookie and popped it into my mouth.

"Hm... Yes... For some... Whether for all I can't say yet."

Auntie rose from the two-seater.

"Well then, I'll leave you to the task of testing the compensation potential of the cookies even further. But don't forget to brush your teeth later. I'm off now, I'll see you again tomorrow at the breakfast table. Good night, Lio, sleep well."

"You too, Aunt Paula, see you tomorrow."

She nodded to me once more, then she left my room and I was alone again. I almost expected another knock or the cell phone to ring, but no, this time I was left in peace. And what did that tell me? Quite simply: I should destroy someone else's peace! Grinning, I got up, closed the cookie box, then left my room, only to knock on the door to my sister's room.

"Come in if it's not a brother."

Well then, no t. I stuck my tongue out at the closed door, then turned back around, however I wasn't even really through the door to my own room when Lia's door was yanked open.

"Come on in, you dork, I wasn't serious."

"Really? It's not like I want to mess with my big bad sister. Wait, with my old bad sister."

"Ha, call me old again and I'll show you how bad I can get. Come on, get in here."

I followed Lia into her room, where she sat down on her bed and I sat down on the twin of the two-seater Auntie had abandoned minutes before in my room.

"Go ahead and shoot then, Lio."

"Go ahead and shoot, what do you mean?"

"Well, you knocked on my door, so I assume you want something from me."

"Oh, yeah, sure. Aunt Paula came to m e and said she gave you some freshly baked cookies, and that I should pick up my half from you."

After all, one could give it a try, right? Maybe she really would fall for it.

"Hmm... She didn't say anything about sharing, but I don't want to be nasty for once, after all, I have some responsibility as a big sister. Here, take some."

Home Run! I reached into the cookie jar and grabbed three right away. Hm, maybe I should do a little more spinning the tale.

"Are they good, Lia?"

"Oh yeah, they're great, just try them."

Well, if she asked me so nicely....

"So, did you get Alex?"

After chewing down I replied.

"I got Alex. He got me. We got each other."

"No kidding? Oh. You're really together now?"

"Until further notice, yes. By the way, the cookies are really good."

"That's right, they are. And now I want to know everything in detail!"

Lia was not curious at all. But well, we never had secrets, so I started telling her about our long conversation....

But I didn't get far before my sister interrupted me for the first time.

"Wait a minute, that cousin, that Michelle, she's really that vicious?"

"She sure is. Let's face it, ridiculing your own relatives on the internet? That's a total no-go! "

"True. Wouldn't do that to you, bro."

"I hope so."

"You can count on it. I'll post the picture of you in the skirt on Facebook, but I'm definitely not going to add nasty language like faggot."

Now I almost threw the last cookie from my hand at her head!

"Don't you dare to post that picture of me!"

"But why, I don't want to embarass you with it, I want to show off my brave brother!"

"Yeah sure, to all our friends and classmates! And there will be a printout on the bulletin board on the first day of school after the holidays."

Lia looked at me seriously.

"Why not, Lio? It can't shock anyone anymore after you c a me out anyway."

And that had been quite undramatic, after all. All right then.

"But only on one condition."

"And what's that?"

"You also write in detail about how I got into the skirt."

My sis nodded.

"Agreed, I'll write that your boyfriend really wanted it that way."

"Menno, you know exactly what I mean! The Auntie C onspiracy!"

"Hehe, okay, if you feel that strongly about it."

"I do!"

"Alright. But back to Alexandre's cousin. Her parents really grounded her? Social media - wise?"

"Alex said they deleted her Instagram account and collected all her electronic toys."

"Great, hopefully they'll stay that consistent."

"Alex hopes so, too. So, may I continue now? I'd like to get to bed at some point tonight, you know."

"Just come over and sit next to me and you'll be in bed."

"Haha, yes, but in yours, and not to sleep."

"Details, details, but fine, go on."

I briefly considered what had happened next, and then related how we had decided to try being boyfriends. When I remarked that, yes, Aunt Paula had sort of recommended it, Lia interrupted me again.

"Wait, I was going to tell you about that later, but this is so convenient right now. May I?"

I nodded encouragingly at her.

"You're right, she really is acting kind of weird. When she brought me the cookies earlier, she was talking to me a little bit too, asking weird questions."

"What kind of weird questions?"

"Well, like how we like it here and stuff."

I shrugged.

"That's not weird in my eyes but rather logical, after all she is our hostess."

"True, but then she started talking about how nice it is to live here, how peaceful everything is, that she's glad not to live in the hectic big city and so on. That it would also be a wonderful area for children, where they can experience so much."

Now that sounded really weird.

"It almost sounds like she's trying to sell us this area as a place to live."

"That's exactly what I thought, Lio. But how would that work, mom and dad would miss us a bit, wouldn't they?"

"Haha, I hope so. And to be honest, I would miss them too."

"True, little brother. But with all of Aunt Paula's comments and innuendos, I think we should keep our eyes and ears wide open."

"Yes. Maybe we should ask her about it directly?"

My sister thought a bit before answering.

"Not yet, we'll save that for a later time."

"Okay, whatever you say."

"So tell me more, Lio. What happened after you guys agreed to give each other a try? Hot cybersex?"

Annoyed, I looked up at the ceiling.

"What you always have with cybersex, is that all you can think about? I think you need a boyfriend even more than I do!"

"Hmph, please don't remind me of my non-existent relationship status."

"Then you better stop thinking about cybersex or sex in general every time you think of Alex and me."

"Okay, okay, I'll try. Now get on with the story."

I liked that, first getting me off topic and then pushing. Girls!

"Hmm, what came next... Oh yeah, if at all possible, we should try not to ride with Alexandre's grandpa. I guess he's a pretty impetuous driver."

"Oh yeah, how did you guys get to that topic?"

"Alex told me that his twin cousins were already getting ready for bed because the long drive had been so tiring. I then told him that I always sleep on long drives. Alexandre can't, neither can Joël and Noël, and I said that I just trust the driver. That's how we ended up with Santa Grandpa."

"Hehe, okay. Moving on."

"Hm... Ah yes, I then confessed to him that I'm also already in bed in my pajamas, and he then really wanted to see that. So we switched to FaceTime, before that we had only texted. And now if you start with cybersex again, I'll take the rest of the cookies and leave you to your dirty imagination."

Lia raised her hands defensively.

"Just don't do that, the cookies stay here! But I promise to hold back."

I wondered if I could believe her. Well, I would at least give it a try.

"Okay. Alex then saw me in the onesie and at first thought it was one of those things complete with feet on it. I set that straight, and then showed him the photo of the two of us in the twin onesie look."

"Hmph, you're showing me around in my sleep wear? Really!"

I stuck my tongue out at Lia.

"That Loris and Franzi saw us like that this morning didn't bother you either. Alex thought it was cool, by the way, that you can't tell us apart at all when we're all dressed up like that."

"Hehe, yes, that's right. Unfortunately, it won't work like that for too much longer."

"You mean when you finally get some bust?"

"Nah, I mean when you r baby face finally gets a beard!"

"Sorry, I can well and truly do without that."

"I'm afraid biology won't make it that easy for you."

Sighing, I nodded.

"I'm afraid so. But let's move on. At that point, Alex brought up the twin boys, and told me that the two of them really are absolutely identical, and dress absolutely identically, too."

"Ah... Then apparently they're not yet at the stage when identical twins do everything they can to be different from each other."

"Right. On the contrary, they've gone so far that their parents had to give them necklaces with name tags. And watch out: to avoid them to just just swap them around with each other, they have pad locks on them."

Now Lia burst out laughing.

"Now that's genius! Those two must have really taken it too far if their parents resort to such means."

"I would think so, hehe. Alex said that Joël and Noël stick together like peanut s. They don't even tell HIM which one of them is the older one. Or who of them is the real bed-wetter and who only sleeps in diapers out of solidarity. Oops, maybe I shouldn't have told you that one."

"I won't tell on you, bro. I'm guessing you're super empathic to them in that regard. And just to make this perfectly clear: I wouldn't have gone THAT FAR for you!"

Pouting, I looked at my sister.

"I knew it! You just don't love me!"

"Sorry, but even sibling love has its limits! Besides, you were doing just fine as it was."

"I just got lucky."

"That's right, you were. You know what, I can't wait to see the dwarfs ."

I laughed out.

"Dwarfs, funny, that's exactly what Alex called them when they came storming into his room, but in French."

"Huh, since when do you know French?"

"Well, I don't, but I was able to figure it out since Alex told them to only speak German here in Germany."

"Ah, okay, I would have been surprised. But that means you've already seen them?"

"Yes, I have, and my God, they are just as cute as can be. I really want kids later on, and I want them to be just like the twin dwarfs."

Against all expectations, my sister was now looking at me totally serious ly.

"They'd be very lucky to have a dad like you, Lio. I mean it, I'm good with kiddies too, but you're another whole notch above me."

"I just love kids."

"Then I hope that's true for Alex, too. In case you're still together when you're that age. "

"Well, that's still a long time away, really. But the talk with Joël and Noël showed me again very clearly what I want in my life."

"Cool! And they're really that identical?"

"Totally. And they did actually try to trick me, but luckily the camera picture was good enough to decipher their name tags."

"Haha, they're probably cursing them!"

"Quite possibly, but I'd say they brought those things on themselves. It's not like their parents just put them on them for nothing."

"That's right, little brother, something like that comes from something like that."

"Yep. But let's move on. Those two were totally surprised to hear that I'm a twin too, but then a little disappointed that I have a twin sister and not a twin brother."

"Disappointed? Why is that?"

"Well, they said that we can't confuse other people. That's when Alex showed them the picture with the two of us in our onesies in our confuse-the-aunt look."

"So, did the confusion work on those two, too?"

"Yes, it did. Because you couldn't see which one of us had the bust. Said Joël, anyway."

My sister snorted.

"Did he really say 'bust'?"

"That was a literal quote. Lia, the dwarfs are ten years old, what's more, German is not their native language, the word is less common, but it's still correct. Even though you probably don't use it much except when talking about a 'bra'. But hehe, you don't even wear a bra, you bustless female."

"Boah, remind me tomorrow to give you a good butt-whupping, please! Being that sass y to your own big sister!"

I chuckled softly, then continued.

"But both dwarfs were even more confused when Alex showed them the picture of the three of us at the Christmas Market."

"Why is that?"

"Um. Lio in a skirt, Lia in pants?"

"Ah sure, logical."

"Well, in the end Alex and I conspired against them and suggested that they should ask their mom if she could get them skirts. I'm sure they'd look even more adorable in them than they already do."

"I guess that suggestion didn't go over well."

I shrugged.

"They only wanted to do it if their big cousin would go along with it too, but they had no luck with him."

Talking about luck, I should make good use of mine, so I immediately bit into another cookie. The chewing gave me the opportunity to briefly think about whether I should also tell Lia about the twins' footed sleepers, but then decided against it. After all, I didn't want to take the risk of telling her about a possible Christmas present. And since I had been talking my head off for the last few hours anyway, and was also quite tired, I decided to declare the conversation to be over.

"Okay, I've had enough for today, I want to go to bed. I'm going to brush my teeth real quick and then I'm off to dreamland. Good night, Lia."

"Good night, Lio, see you in the morning."

I grabbed one last cookie and stuffed it in my sister's mouth as I left her in her room. Once in the bathroom, I first used the bio-wastewater disposal unit, then took care of my teeth, and shortly thereafter I was back in my bedroom. There the cookie box caught my eye s, probably it would be better and safer for my health to hide this from potential sisterly discovery, so I stowed it away in my bedside cabinet. Last but not least, I opened the window a tiny crack, then I lay down in bed, tucked myself in, and although it wasn't that late, I was asleep shortly thereafter …

When I woke up the next morning it was a) cold and b) still dark. I had probably slept long enough anyway, because I didn't manage to doze off again, so after a while I decided to get up and make my way through the bathroom, even though it was just half past seven.

In the bathroom I did what needed to be done, and back in my room I decided to put on my clothes for the day. Hm. I had only worn the white tights with the blue Norwegian pattern for a relatively short time, so they were still good for another day. I added a white long-sleeved T-shirt. Good enough. White, the color of innocence. So very much me! Just depend ing on who you asked, hehe. I pulled the fluffy socks aka replacement slippers over my feet and I was ready to start the morning.

Since it was a bit cool in my bedroom and I saw no point in turning up the heating, I grabbed three cookies from my secret box and then wandered to Lia's room. I knocked softly, got no answer and carefully opened the door. I couldn't see much because of the darkness, but a soft snore told me what I needed to know, so I closed the door again and made my way downstairs.

Auntie's living room on the second floor was dark and empty, but I refrained from knocking on her bedroom door. So down another flight of stairs, but the first floor was also completely deserted. Lio home alone! Well, at least awake alone. What should I do with this freedom? I could make breakfast, but who knows when the rest of the housemates would find their wayout of bed. I'd rather not do all the work for nothing. But a hot chocolate couldn't hurt.

Before I set about preparing it, I first turned on the small kitchen TV and zapped it to a news channel. While I was preparing the hot chocolate, I noticed with relief that at least there was no breaking-news ticker running reporting on my adventure on the Christmas Market.

Three minutes later, I settled down at the kitchen table and dipped the cookies I had brought with me into the hot chocolate. On the TV screen, news stories about the Christmas shopping frenzy alternated with commercials for that very shopping frenzy, and I was glad I was spared from that this year. Our parents did take it upon themselves every year to shop ahead of time and avoid the last-minute chaos in the final days before the holiday s, but it never worked out the way they thought it would. In the end, they dragged Lia and me through department stores and supermarkets - a drama that we felt we shared with 98 percent of the population. That this mostly went off without major injuries was probably only due to the fact that Uncle Murphy was shopping, too. In a different supermarket.

By now it was shortly after eight, and I was a little startled when I was suddenly approached from behind.

"Good morning, Lio. What are you doing in the kitchen so early? Is your sister already awake, too? I would have thought you'd be in bed until mid-morning again."

I gulped down the last sip of now not-so-hot chocolate before answering.

"Good morning, Aunt Paula. Lia's still asleep, but I woke up around seven-thirty and couldn't get back to sleep, so I got up and went right through the bathroom."

"But you slept well, didn't you?"

"Yeah, like a baby. It's so dark and quiet here, no helicopters at night, no planes, no police or fire sirens."

"That's right, Lio. Are you missing that?"

"No. It was a little unusual the first night, but now I'm totally used to it. At home I'm startled at least twice every night by some noise, here I can really sleep through the night. Very restful. I always enjoy that when being on vacation."

Auntie nodded as she rummaged around in a kitchen cabinet.

"Yeah, you can get used to that pretty quickly. Though you won't find it so easy to get used again to all the noise when you're back in the big city."

"Hmm, yeah, maybe I should try earplugs. Mom's been sleeping with those things for years."

"That's what she told me. So, how about it, you've already had a drink, but would you like some real breakfast now?"

Since she asked so nicely...

"I think I could do with two Nutella rolls right now."

Aunt Paula laughed out.

"Why did I expect such an answer. Hot chocolate with that, too?"

"Hmm, will you drink some, too? "

I mean I just had one already.

"Well, actually, I was going to make myself a Christmas tea."

"I'd like to have one of those, too. Should I go wake up Lia?"

My breakfast provider thought for a moment, then shook her head.

"No, I think we'll let your sister sleep a little longer."

I wondered if she realized that 'a little longer ' could well be measured in hours. Well, shouldn't matter to me.

"Do you want me to help you with anything?"

"Yes, set out the dishes and silverware already, please. And you might as well take the butter and jam out of the fridge, and get your chocolate stuff out of the cupboard. I'll take care of the tea."

That's exactly how we did it, and a few minutes later we were sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, starting to make short work off our breakfast.

"Do we have any plans for today, Aunt Paula? Is there another piano student coming for you?"

"No, no more piano lessons until between Christmas and New Year. But between nine and ten Anton Bruchmann, the ranger, will come and bring us our Christmas tree."

Ah yes, I had forgotten that again. What a luxury, the Christmas tree was delivered to the house! And it was guaranteed to be fresher than the specimens usually put up at our house.

"Apart from that, I have nothing else to do today, and I don't really need you guys either. So you can start thinking about what you want to do with the long day. After all, your sister might sleep through it completely."

I'd rather not tell Auntie that this was well within the realm of possibility! Hm. A day off. Maybe I would be able to do something with Alex?

But it was still too early for that, I didn't want to wake Alexandre up - and if he was already awake, I didn't want to keep him from convincing someone in his household to drive him to the footed sleeper source. I would just spend some more time with myself for now, which wasn't a bad thing as rare as it was.

"I'm going to get my iPad and then sit in the living room to read the paper and other things. Is that okay, Aunt Paula?"

"Go ahead, make yourself comfortable there. You know how the TV or radio works, turn up the heat a little more if you have to, the room probably did cooldown a bit overnight."

I nodded, then rose from the kitchen chair.

"Anything you want me to help you with before I leave?"

"No, thanks, Lio, go ahead."

I did just that, and a little later I entered the living room on the second floor. It was actually a bit chilly, so I turned the floor heating up a bit. There was also a fireplace, but it was more for cozy evenings. As I looked around, I discovered a corner of the room that had changed somewhat. Where there was usually a flower bench, there was now plenty of space, disturbed only by a Christmas tree stand. Thus, it was clear where the green fellow would stand. Auntie seemed to have big plans for it, at least she had created a LOT of empty space!

But there was still time until it would be delivered, so I settled down in a comfortable TV armchair and began to read the newspaper from our home town. Sighing, I picked up that once again an illegal car race had claimed an innocent life. There had been a fire in a shisha bar. At the train station, two drug dealers had put their knives into each other. On the Ring Street, an SUV driver tried to avoid the usual traffic jam at the end of the day by taking a shortcut across the tram tracks - and used this great idea to get stuck on the tracks, which then also blocked the public transport system for a long time. The most positive news was that two children had been freed from a neglected apartment and had a chance for a hopefully better future.

Let's see what the weather report said. At home: 7 degrees, mind you, 7 degrees on the plus side, plus rain showers, which were followed by more rain showers. I q uickly compare d it with the local weather prophecy: about 15-20 degrees colder, and before the 'shower' was this time the word 'snow'. That sounded much more Christmassy.

I spent the next hour reading my eBook, I rarely had so much peace and silence. And then happened what I had not managed in bed: I fell asleep again!

"In here and there in That corner please. Lio, can you help?"

Help? Help with what? I jolted up and just managed to keep my tablet from crashing off my lap onto the floor. I should probably get that to safety first before turning to the noise makers.

Once the device was safely put down, I stood up and looked around. A man and a teenager, both in work clothes and boots, were struggling with a large conifer. In all her efforts to make a decent-sized area for the Christmas tree, Auntie had neglected to clear a path to that area as well, making it difficult for the delivery men to get the not-so- little tree to its destination.

"Hold on, I' ll clear the way!"

I quickly pushed aside my TV chair, coffee table, and a regular chair, which I hoped would be enough.

"Is that okay?"

The man looked around, then nodded.

"It'll fit, thanks. Can you just take the tree stand away, please? Then we'll put the tree down and attach the stand properly before we put it up."

I hurried to comply, and shortly thereafter the tree was on the ground. The two delivery men seemed to have practice in setting up such Christmas symbols safely and straight, in just a few minutes everything was done, and completely without having to tie the tree down anywhere. Aunt Paula had chosen and prepared the place really well, there was enough space to decorate the tree from all sides. The ranger turned to my aunt.

"Is this okay, Paula?"

Auntie walked around the tree once, then nodded with satisfaction.

"Just as I had imagined, and you have really picked out a beautiful tree, thank you very much."

"You're welcome. Do you need any other help?"

"Help no, but do you have a few more minutes, Toni? I'd like to talk to you about something, it's about your Minnie and her piano lessons."

"No problem, we just need to drop off one more tree at the school principal 's home, and there's no rush."

"Great. Do you feel like a coffee or any other beverage?"

"Coffee sounds good, Paula."

"Fine, then we'll go down to the kitchen, meanwhile the boys can stay here and get to know each other."

"That's what we'll do. Pascal, I'll come get you when we need to go."

"Okay, Pops."

A little later the adults were gone, and I took a closer look at the teenager. Blond hair with blue highlights, it looked cool. Work overalls over a flannel shirt. About half a head taller and a year older than me. And as I eyed him, he did the same to me, and a grin spread across his face.

"Are you related to Alex in any way? Alexandre LaGrange, that is? Oh yeah, I'm Pascal by the way, Pascal Bruchmann."

"I'm Lio Wasser, and why would I be related to Alex?"

That would be kinda stupid to be related to my boyfriend, even though some say that incest is best.

Pascal settled down in an armchair and giggled.

"Because he walks around like that at home, too. T-shirt and tights. I mean, that's tights, isn't it? Or is that leggings, maybe?"

Before I could answer, this was taken away from me by a newcomer.

"Leggings? My little brother would never wear something like that. No, of course it's really tights."

So I guess I better explain that real quick.

"Well, actually the tights were meant for my old sister, but I was kind enough to let her have the leggings that were meant for me. By the way, old sister: her name is Lia. Lia, this is Pascal, the son of the Christmas t ree ranger."

Actually, I had expected loud protests about being called 'old sister', but when I looked at Lia, I found her standing rooted to the spot. Her gaze was fixed on Pascal. I turned my eyes to him and found that he had stood up again - and was staring at Lia as much as she was looking at him. Oh man!

I watched this scene for about 33 minutes (okay, more like 33 seconds, but it seemed longer) without either of them moving or even saying anything. I waved a hand in front of Pascal's face, but he didn't seem to notice. Sighing, I went to Lia and repeated the same game before her eyes, with the same result. That was probably love at first sight. Or maybe just lust at first sight, hehe. I was sure that Alex and I hadn't behaved like that the first time we met!

Okay, I guess I had to resort to harsher measures here. I stood behind Lia and then carefully pushed her in Pascal's direction. When the two of them were directly across from each other, still without any movements or even words of their own, I stepped aside, then clapped my hands loudly.

"WAKE UP AND KISS, and hurry up with it!"

And indeed, it worked, even if they limited themselves to waking up for the time being and refrained from kissing. For now. Hehe.

Giggling, I settled into the TV chair and watched as both my sister and the object of her desire turned bright red.

"About time, I was afraid I was going to have to douse you guys with cold water, and that would have been a bit impractical here in the living room."

"Grrrrr. Pascal, just don't pay attention to Lio, little brothers can be so annoying."

I laughed out loud, and Pascal finally got a few words out, even if he could have held back THOSE words.

"True, I only have a little sister, but I guess that doesn't make much of a difference."

"Shall we sit down?"

Without even waiting for an answer, Lia pulled our visitor over to the couch, where they both settled down close together. Well, at least that had the advantage that they couldn't stare in each others eyes anymore. It was probably good that I was present as a chaperone, too!

"Who are you two actually? I caught your names, but what are you doing here with my sister's piano teacher?"

"The piano teacher is our aunt."

"Real aunt, Lia? I only ask because a lot of kids and teens here address adults they know as 'aunt' or 'uncle'. I guess it's a small town thing."

"Yes, Aunt Paula is our real Aunt Paula. We're spending the holidays with her because our parents won a cruise."

"Ah okay. She seems like a nice lady, Minnie likes her a lot anyway."

I couldn't agree more.

"Yeah, Auntie is really okay. Especially after we educate d her a bit."

Lia laughed out while Pascal looked back and forth between us in wonder. This time I left the further explanations to my sister and leaned back comfortably in my armchair....

"...And so we managed to teach Aunt Paula not to tell us what to wear. I mean, we don't tell her what to wear either."

Though she still dressed quite chicly for an old maid en... hm... pardon... for a single middle-aged lady. Nice she was, intelligent she was, funny she was - I didn't really understand why she was not only unmarried but also single. In any case, Pascal laughed after he had hung on Lia's lips during her explanations. Which he probably would have liked to do literally!

"Well that was a brilliant tactic, you have to come up with something like that first. And Lio, that was brave, I don't think I would have done that for my little sister."

"Ha, you wouldn't fit into a skirt of her size anyway, so you'd have a good excuse. Brave? Possibly. I just liked the idea of showing off Auntie a bit, in front of her rummy mates to boot. That being said, Lia and I are leaving in a few days, so I didn't really care that people got to see me in a skirt."

"Brave, though. Or did your sister make you do it?"

"As if Lia could make me do anything! No, that was my free choice."

My twin interfered again.

"I can't force Lio, but I know he can be challenged reasonably easily. Though he manages to get the challenger to also do things that the he actually not wanted to do. Alex can tell you a thing or two about that."

Of course, Pascal immediately jumped at this name! After all, he had brought him into the conversation himself only a few minutes ago, when Lia had come into the living room.

"Alex? Tights boy Alexandre?"


"Yes, tights boy Alexandre! And it would be nice if you didn't call him that."

"Sorry, no offense meant to you or Alex. Actually, he's one of my best friends, and we regularly tease each other about some things. He calls me 'wild sow whisperer ' most of the time."

Wild sow whisperer? Hmm. I wonder if that qualified him as a friend of Lia's? Hehe. Of course, my sister wanted to know for sure.

"What kind of name is that? Is there some interesting story behind it?"

Pascal nodded with a grin.

"Oh yeah, there is. I have no idea if you guys know this already, but Alex has a dog, some giant furry bundle on four legs."


"Ah yes, so you already know the puppy, Lio. Anyway, he was taking him for a walk in the woods one day when they suddenly stumbled across a pack of wild boars, complete with wild sow and cubs. This wild sow was quite angry about the disturbance, and Alex barely managed to climb a tree. His dog, of course, couldn't do that, so he sent him away to get help."

I had to chuckle, the image of Alex sitting in a tree looking down at an angry wild sow was just too funny. Though I was sure it hadn't seemed funny to Alexandre at the time!

"Well, the tail wagger is pretty smart, he actually found help, namely me. Micco literally forced me to go along with him, though of course I had no idea what to expect. If I had been expecting a wild boar horde, I think I would have tried to get some other help."

Yes, I wasn't sure if it was smart to return with the dog that the wild sow just had chased away successfully. Pascal, however, was already continuing to tell the story.

"Fortunately, I realized what was going on from a distance, and the dog was smart enough to listen to me and sit down a hundred meters away, while I slowly approached the tree and its occupant. As I got closer, I then very gently and in a whisper addressed the assembled boars, hoping to calm them down a bit."

Pascal had called me brave for wearing a skirt, but this now showed real courage in my eyes!

"I don't know why, but somehow my voice actually seemed to have a calming effect, and fortunately Alex kept his mouth shut up in the tree. Fearful shouting or howling would have guaranteed little sympathy of the horde. Anyway, after a few minutes of my whispering propaganda, the pack slowly moved away, and only three hours after the critters disappeared, Alex dared to come down from his tree again."

Lia and I giggled, "That went well, it would have been a pity for him to get messed up by wild boars. Micco I mean. Hehe, of course Alex, too!"

"I guess Alex hasn't dared to go into the forest since then, right?"

Pascal shook his head, however.

"Yes, he did, he went back into the forest pretty soon, only he's been avoiding this one spot ever since. Would be silly, there's forest all around here, avoiding it would be pretty hard. I just recommended that he always wear a diaper underneath from now on!"

Huh? Why is that? Lia jumped at that, too.

"A diaper? Why... Oh..."

This time, Pascal nodded with a grin.

"Yeah, oh. When he climbed down his pants were soaking wet. Well, I didn't laugh at him, maybe I shouldn't have told you that at all, please don't make fun of him either. I mean, an angry wild sow like that is pretty intense, you can really get scared."

"Don't worry, we won't make fun of him. Lio would definitely take offense if I made fun of his boyfriend."

Eyes wide, Pascal gawked at me.

"Boyfriend? You and Alex?"

I nodded with a smile on my face.

"You knew he was gay, right?"

"Yeah sure, it's not a secret around here. But he has a boyfriend? Wow, cool! But what happens when you guys go back to your place?"

Shrugging my shoulders, I pointed first at him and then at my sister.

"Probably the same thing that will happen with you two."

Now Lia and Pascal were glaring at each other, which wasn't so easy sitting next to each other. In the end, my sister broke the silence.

"With us? What do you mean? We're not a couple!"

Laughing, I shook my head.

"You're not? Well you guys could have fooled me! Forget it, Lia, that was obvious. When two people become so engrossed in the sight of each other that they're oblivious to their environment, even when that environment is flailing around in front of their eyes, there's just been a spark. And a powerful one."

Pascal and Lia momentarily lapsed into silence until it burst out of the ranger boy.


Huh? Well, I didn't need to understand that now, did I? But since I wanted to understand, I asked.

"Why yuck? I mean, okay, Lia is just Lia, but she's not quite so bad that you'd have to say that."

"Grrrr! Thanks a lot, bro!"

"Not for that, sis."

"Seriously, Pascal, why yuck? Do you have something against me?"

The addressed teen raised his hands defensively.

"No, of course not! But I'm just thinking about how this is going to work. Both between us and between your brother and Alex."

Okay, so I could understand that, after all, it had already caused plenty of musings for me as well.

"Well, I guess that Aunt Paula will get more frequent visits from us in the future. If need be, we'll have to enter every travel sweepstakes available to send our parents on a round-the-world trip for two."

My sister laughed out loud.

"Good idea, Lio! And Pascal, I think with cell phones and the Internet we could keep in touch, if we really wanted to. But anyway, we should get to know each other a little better first, right?"

Her brand new lover nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, good idea. Oh, do you have any plans for this afternoon?"

Lia looked at me, and I shook my head.

"According to Auntie, we won't decorate the tree until tomorrow, so we are free. "

"Cool. Pascal, my private secretary says I don't have any plans. Why?"

"Haha, good! Do you feel like going on a snowmobile ride with me? Through the winter forest? And I promise we'll stay away from angry wild boars."

"Oh man, that sounds awesome! I'll just have to ask Aunt Paula if she's okay with it. Oh, what do I have to wear for it? We don't have real snow clothes, we've never needed anything like that before."

"Hmm, do you have a warm jacket?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Good, under that a thick sweater and if you have a long sleeved undershirt. Maybe your brother will lend you a pair of his tights!"

Naughty forest boy! And h e giggled at that! And Lia giggled along with him!

"He doesn't have to, Pascal. Like any real girl, I have leggings for situations like this."


"Good, what kind of pants do you have? Just jeans?"

"Yes, just jeans. Why?"

"Well, they're not ideal. If your leggings are not too thick, better put two on top of each other. Thick socks and boots you have? Yes? Good. Don't forget gloves. If you have a thin cap, put that on. We'll be wearing helmets, so a really thick wool cap isn't so ideal either."

"Pascal, Lia and I also have balaclavas, would those be good?"

Pleased, Pascal nodded.

"In fact, they would be ideal! Equipped like that, you'll not only survive the ride but actually enjoy it, Lia."

"What kind of ride will my niece enjoy, Pascal?"

"I've invited Lia for a ride on my snowmobile, Aunt Paula."

"That's right, may I, Auntie?"

Pondering, the lady of the house looked to the papa ranger.

"Is it dangerous, Toni?"

The addressed shook his head vigorously.

"No, really not, Paula. Pascal is a very good driver, he's been driving for years and has never had an accident."

Pascal laughed out.

"That's right, unlike you, Dad!"

"Pssssst! Cheeky brat! Do you have to tell everything about your old man?"

Pascal, however, just kept on laughing, this didn't seem to be the first time he had teased his producer on this subject. Aunt Paula, on the other hand, was reassured.

"Well, if that's the case, then I have no objections. However... What about Lio? Surely there's only room for one passenger, right?"

Before anyone else could beat me to it, I jumped at the question.

"Aunt Paula, Lia and I are fraternal twins. Not Siamese twins. We're not conjoined anywhere and can easily survive without the other for a while."

Sometimes even better than together. Somewhat. Not always. But sometimes!

Auntie looked questioningly at my sister, who nodded in agreement.

"Lio is right. We do things at home without each other, too. I love my little brother, but not so much that I have to spend every minute with him."

Although I totally agreed with her on that, I stuck my tongue out at her just in case, which she replied to in kind.

"So don't worry about me, Aunt Paula, I'll find something to pass the time with. I want to check in with Alexandre after lunch anyway, maybe we can do something together."

"Well, in that case. You're old enough to decide for yourselves what you want to do."

I was glad that she accepted that!

Lia and Pascal grinned at each other. Satisfied and... kind of smitten. Haha. I had to pull myself together not to cheer loudly at the sudden huge potential for teasing. My sister would definitely think twice in the future before teasing me with or about Alexandre.

"Can I have your cell phone number, Lia? Then we can arrange exactly how we want to do it later."

Poor Pascal could barely type the number Lia was literally shouting out into his own cell phone fast enough.

"Cool, thanks!"

I looked sternly at the ranger's son.

"Young man, I hope you won't send dirty text messages to my sister! Or even worse, lewd pictures!"

Pascal's jaw dropped, and Lia contorted her face indignantly.


"Now, Lia, you don't say things like that to your brother who's only concerned about your mental wellbeing."

Exactly! After all, it was my job as the male sibling to look out for my sister. Even if this one was seven minutes older! Hrhr.

"Also, I kind of feel like you brought that comment on yourself. I'd rather not know how you teased poor Lio about Alexandre."

Now before this could get out of hand, the head tree supplier interfered.

"We really have to go now. Pascal, say goodbye, then off to the car with you. You've got Lia's cell phone number now, so you can talk yourselves silly later. As long as you pay your cell phone bill yourself, of course."

"Jeez, Dad, I have a flat rate! We don't live in 2010 anymore!"

How fitting, after all, Lia had a flat chest! But I didn't dare to say that out loud in this round! In any case, the new couple now really said goodbye to each other, and even managed a very short, kinda chaste kiss. Ah yes, young love.

Pascal's father also said goodbye, then he left the living room together with his son and our aunt. Lia looked longingly after them. Well, not them, but only one. Sighing, she settled back on the couch. I decided to be a little nicer and not to tease her anymore. For now. But postponed was not canceled, hopefully she realized that!

"Oh man, that guy is so cute!"

Grinning I nodded, must be a twin thing that she talked about her adored one the same way I talked about mine.

"I didn't think you'd fall for a strapping forest lad. In a split second at that."

"Why not? You couldn't see much through the clothes, but Pascal seems to have a great body. And funny and intelligent he is too. And that blond hair with the blue highlights!"

"And he has a snowmobile."

"Hehe, yeah! And I plan to take full advantage of it."

"Huh, how so?"

"Well gosh, I'm going to snuggle up really, really, reaaaaaallllly close to him during the tour!"

"Oh! Good idea! I really need to ask Alex if he has one of those, too."

"Well, I'm your older sister, of course I have such good ideas with my greater life experience."

I flipped Lia the bird.

"Greater life experience? Greater ego maybe, but that's about it."

My sister giggled.

"Believe what you want, but then don't come to me telling me that as big sister I'm supposed to help you somehow."

"Me ask you for help? About what? Not in love matters, surely? Remember, Alex and I have been together longer than you and Pascal."

"Pffff... A single day. Heck, it's still morning, so not even a whole day, more like 16 hours!"

"That's considerably longer than the seven minutes you're older than me. And that's what YOU keep harping on, as if it's a time span of historic proportions."

At that moment, fittingly, Aunt Paula came back into the living room.

"Make up, you two! Lia, I think you should start getting cleaned up for the day, your brother has been through the bathroom and out of his pajamas for a long time already."

"His pajamas...oh damn! I've been walking around in front of Pascal in my pajamas the whole time! Lio, why didn't you warn me?"

"Well first of all, you came in here before I even had a chance to stop you. And from the moment you noticed Pascal and he noticed you, all my efforts would have been in vain anyway. Look at it this way, he didn't run away screaming. Rather the opposite!"

My sister, who had just been startled, relaxed again and smiled happily.

"That's righ t. He seems to have liked myoutfit, after all."

I was about to say that it must really have been the outfit, the person wearing it would certainly not have left such a positive impression - but I rather refrained from doing so because of Aunt Paula's presence.

"Anyway, Lia, you should start getting rid of that outfit now."

"Can I have breakfast before I go through the bathroom? I don't want to brush my teeth beforehand, then I'll only have the taste of toothpaste in my mouth for half an hour."

"Hmm, all right. You won't get much anyway, since it's not that long until lunch."

"Cool, thanks. What's for lunch anyway?"

"Something quick. What do you guys think about rice pudding with sugar and cinnamon and applesauce?"

My sister and I agreed and Auntie nodded with delight.

"Good. Lia, I have something to discuss with your brother, you can go ahead and go to the kitchen, I'll be right there to make you breakfast."

"You don't have to, Aunt Paula, I can do it myself. I'll bake up a roll and make myself some hot chocolate."

Aunt Paula thought for a moment, then nodded.

"All right, have it your way. Bon app é tit."

"Thank you. See you soon."

With that, Lia disappeared from the living room, while the lady of the house settled down in the armchair opposite me.

"Say, Lio, what actually just happened here? I mean, last night, to my knowledge, your sister didn't have a boyfriend! Did she already know Pascal, maybe you met him yesterday at the Christmas Market?"

I laughed out.

"No, the two of them just now saw each other for the first time in their lives. And it was probably love at first sight, they were looking at each other and didn't even notice when I waved my hands in front of their eyes. I had to scare them to wake them up."

"Hmm, then it happened even faster with those two than it did with Alex and you, Lio. I hope Lia knows what she's getting into."

"Um... Aunt Paula... we're talking about my sister."

"Ah, right. So I guess not, after all she is your twin."


"What's this Pascal guy like, Aunt Paula? How well do you know him?"

"How well do I know him... When his sister was younger, she's 13 now by the way, he used to bring her to her piano lessons. He's actually always quiet and polite. Very close to nature, logically, his father is a ranger and the whole family lives in the ranger's cottage."

"What's he like with girls?"

"Are you worried about your big sister, Lio?"

"Oh yes, I just can't get out of my skin, someone has to look after her."

Aunt Paula laughed, then became serious again.

"Well, I can't tell you much about that, but I've never seen him with a girl before."

"He said that he and Alex are good friends."

"Yeah, that's true. You could ask your boy friend a little bit about your sister's boyfriend."

Hmm, I wonder if Alexandre would say anything negative about the wild sow whisperer, even if there was anything negative to say? After all, you don't speak badly about your lifesaver. But well, I could try.

"I guess I will, thanks for the idea."

"You're welcome."

With these words, the lady of the house rose from her chair and turned to the door of the room.

"Okay, I'm going to go downstairs and make sure Lia doesn't burn down the kitchen."

"As long as she doesn't try to bake a ready- to-bake cake batter in a cardboard baking pan, nothing bad should happen."

"Oh, I remember that! You guys had to sleep on the balconies for three nights after that, didn't you?"

"Yeah right. Okay, it wasn't her fault, that baking pan that came with it leaked, but the whole place reeked of major fire for days."

Aunt Paula laughed.

"You guys were lucky it happened in the summer, in the winter it probably would have been a little too cold on the balconies to spend the night."

"Oh yeah, dad said that in that case he would have sent his lawyers after the makers of the 'ready to bake cake' to pay for hotel rooms. Which he really should have done anyway, the apartment was not only smoky but also sooty."

"All right, I'll keep that in mind. When you're in the house, be doubly careful when baking. I don't want you to call your lawyers on ME!"

"Oh, Auntie, as long as you always bake like the cookies you brought me last night, there's no danger of me suing you."

"Well then, that's good! So now I'm really off, don't go back to sleep or you'll wake up extra early again tomorrow."

Hm, right, that I would rather avoid. Getting up once before waking up was enough for me for now.

Aunt Paula left the living room, and I thought about what I could do to pass the time. I decided to give the t v a chance. While zapping through the channels, which fortunately were available in abundance even here in the Pampa, I realized once again that Christmas was not a good time for movie junkies. It was like with fashion: everything that was on tv had been on before. Especially last Christmas. And the one before that. And before that one, too. Sigh.

In the end, I ended up with a Christmas perennial that ran at least a dozen times a year on all third programs of the German PBS, but which I had never watched, even though it was supposedly cult: Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella! And this time I would probably have zapped briskly over it again, if there would not have been to see something to which I suddenly could relate a bit : there were young men rav ing around in the snow. And they were wearing... white tights! And not really with anything above them, hehe. I wouldn't go out of the door like that and even less in the snow, that had to be cold! Well, those were probably princes or something like that, maybe they had to be tough guys. Or at least behave as if they were.

But I didn't stay long on that channel, I kept zapping and ended up at the end of another Christmas classic: Kevin a lone in New York. And strangely enough, there was also something that suddenly piqued my interest. In the scene where the assembled family woke up at the end in the hotel on Christmas morning - did one of the smaller boys also wear a red onesie like Lia and me, only without the hood? I couldn't tell exactly. Riddle after riddle.

In any case, time passed and I kept finding something while zapping that kept me hooked for a while. This peaceful morning activity came to an abrupt end, however, when suddenly a wild fury in the shape of my sister stormed into the room.

"You scoundrel!"

Huh? I turned my head and saw a furious Lia rushing toward me.

"What's the matter? I didn't do anything!"

"Didn't do anything? He claims he didn't do any thing!"

And I honestly meant that, I actually had no idea what she was ranting about.

"What the hell do you mean? Enlighten me!"

Lia stood in front of me with her arms crossed.

"I was just having a little chat with Aunt Paula, and she asked me how I liked her homemade cookies."

Oh. OH! I suddenly anticipated the drama rolling toward me.

"They were really yummy, and I told her so. And I also told her that, of course, I had shared them with my brother as she had requested."

Yeah, that's exactly what I was afraid of, hehe.

"Can you imagine my surprise when she told me that you had gotten your own cookie box? And she had never told you to claim your share from me?"

Now only sibling impudence might help.

"She didn't? I must have misunderstood her somehow. I'm sorry, sis."

"Yeah, you'll be sorry, bro!"

I shrugged.

"Remember the old rule: anything goes when food is involved."

"Menno, we haven't used that rule in years!"

"But we never did away with it either. So I guess you'll just have to live with it."

"Hmph! Do you have any cookies left?"

"You don't?"

"No, of course not!"

"Well, I do, I'm not as piggy as you, Lia."

"Sure, you've been feasting on plenty of MY cookies."

Haha, yes I had! And I was really proud of myself! But okay, maybe I should be a good younger brother for once.

"Look, tonight you can come over to my room and you can have some from my box. Okay?"

Doubting, Lia looked at me.

"Seriously now? I wouldn't be surprised about you eating them all before tonight."

"I promise I'll leave at least one cookie for you."

"Ha! Better make that five, otherwise it means war."



"Okay, four, we have a deal. But I'm warning you, they are counted, not that you'll sneak into my room and open up a self-service restaurant."

Judging by the caught look on my sister's face, she had probably already planned just such a heist. Of course, I hadn't counted the cookies, but Lia didn't know that! And you're not going to tell her either, got it?

My sister seemed to have used up her powder for now, anyway, she settled down on the couch again. This time she was wearing gray leggings with equally gray socks, the whole thing completed by a gray long-sleeved t-shirt.

"I never knew you were such a gray mouse, Lia."

"Well, not everyone can be as colorful as you, Lio."

I guess that was true, I was just really special, hehe.

We spent the next hour or so continuing to zap through the tv stations. At one point we ended up back at Cinderella, and I called Lia's attention to the aristocratic young men in their white tights.

"Look at those high rulers and what they have on their legs!"

My sister laughed out.

"Do you now expect me to address you as 'Your Highness' because of your tights?"

"That would be a good start, young maiden. For that, you should start learning a proper court curtsy."

"Dream on, Lio. The only one you might, and really only might, be a prince to is your Alexandre. Though, when I think of your skirt, I guess you're more like a princess."

She got a sofa cushion thrown at her head for that, such a cheeky wench!

"There is no 'my skirt', I retired that thing last night. I would throw it away, but I'll save it for a bit. Just in case you might want to wear it for Pascal, sis."

Lia shook her head vigorously.

"Not even if hell freezes over! And that's not likely to happen in these days of global warming."

"Well, according to the weather report, we won't see much of global warming here in the next few days."

"Is it going to be cold?"

"It's going to be as cold as at the North Pole! Ten degrees below zero and even less."

"Ouch! Do you know what the weather is like back home?"

"Yeah, I read the paper earlier. Positive temperatures and rain. Then some rain on top of that. And it's going to rain, too."

My sister laughed out loud.

"Sounds like typical Christmas weather t here. How come we've never c a me here for Christmas before?"

"Ha, can you imagine Mom in the cold? She'd never volunteer to go on a winter vacation."

"Hehe, probably true. But dad is even worse!"

Hmm, she was probably right about that.

"True again. But maybe it's better that it's just us here."


"Well, would you like to see dad in long johns?"

Now Lia almost choked on her own laughter.

"You're right, I don't need to see that! Not everyone can look as cool in long underwear as we do."


"But seriously, Christmas here is kind of a lot nicer than at home."

Nodding, I agreed with her.

"Not just Christmas, winter in general. And I guarantee it's not as hot in the summer here as at home, either."

"Oh man, don't remind me of last August! That was murder."

It certainly had been. 35 to 40 degrees! We could hardly stand it even at the pool, even though we had not worn a single piece of clothing. Our old neighbor had really got ten giant eyes. If our parents had noticed that, they probably would have called the police on him.

"There are downsides here, though, Lia."

"Oh? What are they?"

"No McD. And no Mediamarkt. No 3-D movie theater. All that kind of stuff."

Lia thought for a moment.

"Hm, true. But at least the Internet here is fast, right?"

"Yeah, I was totally surprised. Auntie said you could even get a gigabit connection here."

"Well there you have your alternatives. Online shopping, Netflix, YouTube."

"Sure, but I haven't come across a BigMac yet that you can have sent to you through a cable."

Lia laughed out loud, but we couldn't delve any further into the topic because at that moment Aunt Paula stepped into the room.

"Ah, you're both here, very nice. Turn off the TV and get out of your chairs, we're having lunch."

W e followed Aunt Paula to the kitchen, where she served us the promised rice pudding, complete with accessories. Lia and I did our duties as teenagers and started to make short work of the food. The cook just shook her head and checked whether she still had hair or whether we had eaten it off her head already. Finally, she also began to empty her bowl.

"Has Pascal called you yet, Lia?"

Lia quickly gulped down the next load of rice pudding before moving on to answer.

"No, I think that's going to take a while. After all, he had a Christmas tree to deliver with his dad first, then go home and have lunch."

"Yeah, and I'm sure he wants to jump in the shower and get all dressed up for his date with my sis. You might want to do the same, Lia."

"Like I need to, I'm not you. Just thinking about your makeup case, Lio..."


Auntie was once again amused byour sibling banter. Ever since she realized it was all but serious, she seemed to be having great fun with it. Hm. She would probably miss that when we were back home and she was alone again in the big house. I imagined that she had to feel pretty lonely. Okay, she was definitely too old to have children of her own, but maybe she could adopt? Or find a man who already brought some offspring into the relationship? Of course, it would be hard to find adequate replacements for the two of us!

"By the way, your parents have sent me an email and were very surprised about the photos they have received from you and me in the last few days."

Mesmerized we looked to the lady of the house, and Lia put our curiosity into words.

"Were they shocked?"

"Hmm, no, I don't think shocked really sums it up. Surprised, amazed, yes, but not shocked."

Okay, that still sounded tolerable.

"Well, they're probably used to a lot from you."

Suddenly the kitchen became several levels brighter - due to the halos that formed above the heads of Lia and me.

"Don't even try to look so innocent! Anyway, they're going to send each of you emails, and you'd better answer them today. Tomorrow they will contact you via FaceTime. Is that okay with you guys?"

My sister and I looked at each other, then we both nodded.

"Sure, we can do that tonight. That is if Pascal doesn't crash the snowmobile into a tree and he and Lia end up in the hospital."

"Lio, don't joke about that! Toni assured me again that his son is really a good driver. And Pascal promised to be extra careful with Lia in the back seat."

"Well, hopefully. The idea of Lia lazing around for weeks with broken bones and me having to service her back and front is kind of daunting. And all the household chores we'd otherwise divide between us would all fall on me, too."

I could see that already with my inner eyes - and hear it with my inner ear s. 'Lio, get me something to drink!', 'Lio, I can't reach my iPad!', 'Lio, help me to the bathroom!' Forget it! I'd be ready for the loony bin afterwards.

"Well, remember leave some time for those emails tonight. Lia, Pascal should bring you back here by 7pm at the latest. And Lio, if you're doing anything with Alexandre, that goes for you too, of course."

"Hm, if I do anything with Alex, Pascal should bring me back here by 7pm at the latest?"

It worked behind Aunt Paula's brow for a moment, then she threatened me with her spoon, laughing.

"Lio! You know exactly what I mean!"

Giggling, I scraped together the last bit of rice pudding on my plate, only to deliver it into my mouth opening moments later. Hopefully, there really would be an opportunity to do something with Alex. And with Micco. And maybe with the twin dwarfs, too.

A few minutes later everyone was fed, and Aunt Paula broke up the merry circle.

"Okay, you can leave again. Lio, if you need me to drive you to Alex's, let me know, I should be able to do that."

That sounded good, and I thanked Auntie before following Lia upstairs. Once there my sister made herself comfortable in the sitting area while I decided it was time to give Alex a try. Call-wise, that is! To get me some peace, I went back to my room, where I made myself comfortable in the armchair this time. I grabbed my tablet and sent a message to the dog lord.

-- Lio: anyone home?

It took two or three minutes before I finally got a reply.

-- AlexLG: hi lio! how are you?

-- Lio: great, especially now that you answered. and you?

-- AlexLG: also great, thanks. did you have lunch yet?

-- Lio: we just got up from the kitchen table, why?

-- AlexLG: well, we just finished that too, and i was thinking... well... maybe we could do something together?

Yes yes yes! That's exactly what I was hoping for!

-- Lio: sure, that would be cool! did you think of anything in particular?

-- AlexLG: first another question: would it bother you if the twins were with us?

That would depend on what Alexandre had in mind for me! Bad Lio, hehe.

-- Lio: nope, i like the dwarfs. wait, the nains.

-- AlexLG: great! i guess you've noticed that they're very attached to me. and to micco too, by the way, hehe. i thought we could go out into the snow. take a walk in the woods. maybe build a snowman. romp around with micco. would you like to do something like that?

B uild ing a snowman? Running around in the snow with minikids and a dog? As a teenager? Seriously! Of course I would like to do that! Especially with my Alexandre!

-- Lio: sounds great! when do we want to go?

-- AlexLG: hehe, don't be in such a hurry. as i said, we just finished eating. i was thinking that maybe we could leave around two? then we'd still have some time with daylight.

-- Lio: agreed. do you want me to come to your place?

-- AlexLG: hm, yes, that would probably be best. would that be okay?

-- Lio: sure, aunt paula already said she would drive me.

-- AlexLG: great! oh, one more thing. you don't happen to have a snow or ski suit or something like that?

Shoot, something like that seemed really to be mandatory around here.

-- Lio: no, i don't, sorry. can i do without? i only have the quilted jacket you've already seen me in.

-- AlexLG: well, you'd have to be a little careful then, but i have a better idea.

-- Lio: what's that?

-- AlexLG: i got a new snowsuit three weeks ago, i outgrew the old one within a year. but it's still in perfect condition, and it just so happens that we haven't passed it on to the Red Cross yet. it should fit you easily. that is, if you want to wear something that someone before you has already worn.

T hat didn't sound so bad.

-- Lio: i have no problem with that, you didn't have an accident in it, right?

-- AlexLG: accident? what do you mean?

-- Lio: wild sow whisperer.

Oops, might have been better to not mention that one, it took Alexandre a bit to answer.

-- AlexLG: pascal the son of a bitch, i'm going to feed him to micco!

-- Lio: sorry... he was here earlier and delivered the christmas tree with his dad, and we had some time to talk to him. that's when the story about your piggy encounter slipped out.

And it slipped out of me, too. Hopefully Alex didn't take it badly.

-- AlexLG: you don't have to be sorry - pascal, however, should be! micco is already licking his teeth.

I guess I should try to smooth things over a bit, after all, I had my sister's love life to think about too.

-- Lio: could you possibly let him live? lia would certainly be very grateful.

-- AlexLG: lia would be very grateful if i let pascal live? why is that?

Grinning, I typed my answer.

-- Lio: the two of them fell for each other in a split second. it was surreal, they were facing each other, staring into each other's eyes and not noticing anything around them anymore.

-- AlexLG: ouch! you must have long-distance relationships some where in your genes.

-- Lio: we're twins, what's good for one can't be bad for the other.

-- AlexLG: hm, well. i guess i will find something else for micco to eat.

-- Lio: cool, thank you, also in the name of my sister.

-- AlexLG: don't thank me too soon, you owe me for this.

-- Lio: menno, i am your boy friend!

-- AlexLG: yes, you are, that's why, hehe.

-- Lio: okay, okay, what do i have to do to pay off this debt?

-- AlexLG: well, first of all, it would be good if you got here a little early, because you still have to put on the snow suit.

-- Lio: that sounds logical, it's a deal.

-- AlexLG: good, and then i hope you still have that skirt, because you'll be coming here wearing it.

What the hell!

-- Lio: why that! i don't want to wear it again!

-- AlexLG: yes, you do. Noël and Joël want to see you live and in color wearing it, not only on a photo.

-- Lio: oh man, do i really have to? besides, it's much colder today than yesterday!

-- AlexLG: yes, you have to, after all, i'll let pascal live. and you'll get my old snow suit. the cold doesn't matter, since you'll be brought here by your aunt anyway. and someone will drive you back home, too.

Shoot, Alex really had an answer for everything, and I was running out of excuses.

-- AlexLG: so, how about it, do we have a deal?

Sighing, I typed my answer.

-- Lio: as if i had a choice. I'll be at your place around half past one, okay?

-- AlexLG: good little lio, and yes, that's okay. see you later, i still have to tell the twins what we're up to.

-- Lio: see you later, blackmailer.

-- AlexLG: chuckle chuckle and bye.

We ended the chat, and I couldn't get over what I had gotten myself into once again...

So let's be honest, Alexandre seemed to have some kind of power over me that I let him talk me into such things! Or did that just go under 'madness in love'? But well, I should probably first inform Aunt Paula that I would need a driver soon. I got up from my chair and left my room. In the anteroom, my sister was on her cell phone, and although Pascal seemed to be on the other end, she was even able to talk in complete sentences! I was very impressed!

"Okay, I'll get ready then so we can leave as soon as you show up."


"Yeah, me too!"

I made a kissy mouth towards Lia, who narrowed her eyes in annoyance and made shooing away gestures with her free hand.


"What, yeah, sorry, I just had to chase my little brother away, he's being a total pain right now."


"Right. Wait a minute..."

My sis looked at me sternly.

"Go away, don't you have anything better to do than to annoy me?"

Laughing, I raised my hands as a sign of my surrender, then made my way downstairs. I didn't have to go far; I found the landlady in her living room on the second floor, holding an ancient magazine that was actually still printed on paper.

"Aunt Paula?"

"Yes, Lio, what is it?"

"I just texted with Alex, could you drive me over? I should be there around half past one?"

Auntie eyed me curiously.

"Sure I can, I had already offered it to you. What are your plans?"

"We want to go to the forest with his little nephews and the dog. Maybe build a snowman, and things like that."

"You want to get some fresh air? Very nice, I was afraid you guys were going to hole up in his room."

I shook my head vigorously.

"That would be downright sinful, with a winter wonderland available. It's five degrees plus at our home and raining cats and dogs."

"Ha, yes, I'm glad you're making good use of our nice winter. But I guess I really should have gotten you some more suitable clothing, Lia doesn't have anything proper for her snowmobile ride either."

"Pascal has already recommended that she put on two pairs of leggings on top of each other if necessary. For the top, she has the warm quilted jacket."

Auntie nodded.

"That's a good idea, you might want to do that too. T wo pairs of tights, of course, leggings are out of the question for a teenaged boy. At least that's what your mother said. Although she would have never thought that it was totally okay for a teenaged boy to put on footed tights instead."

I could barely restrain myself from flipping Aunt Paula the bird. That might have a negative impact on future cookie deliveries!

"One will do for me, I' ll get Alex' s snowsuit from last year, he's outgrown it."

"Oh, that's good to hear. And yes, Alexandre had a mighty growth spurt last year. All right, you'd best be downstairs at 1:15, you want to be on time to see your sweetheart."

"Great, thank you, Aunt Paula."

"Do you know if your sister has worked anything out with Pascal yet, too?"

"When I came out of my room, she was on her cell phone talking to him. I didn't hear much, she scared me away."

"Haha, alright, I guess she'll let me know. When you come back down later, just let her know I'm out of the house for a half hour or so."

"Will do. See you later."

Auntie turned back to her magazine, and I headed upstairs. I wouldn't tell her about my next appearance in the skirt for now, she'd find out soon enough. Shoot, Lia probably would too. Sighing, I put one foot in front of the other. Upstairs, downstairs, no wonder that Lia and I ate so much, that consumed a lot of energy! Maybe the landlady should think about a stair lift.

Upstairs, my sister had just finished her phone call with Pascal and was gazing around happily.

"Everything okay? What time is the wild sow whisperer picking you up?"

Lia was probably too happy to continue being annoyed by me.

"He wants to be here by two. And what about you?"

"Auntie is driving me over to Alex's around half past one, so it could be that you're alone in the house when Pascal arrives. You should tell her that right away."

My sister nodded.

"Right, I'll go down and see her in a bit."

"Do that. And while you're at it, ask her if she has any condoms in the house."

"Whoa, dumbass! Where are my promised cookies anyway?"

"In my cookie box, where else. You can come get them when you get back upstairs."

"I definitely will, so make sure there really are five cookies for me."

How tragic, that young and already such a bad memory for numbers.

"We agreed on four cookies, and not a single one more."

"Okay, okay, it was worth a try. See you in a bit."

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