by Peter Conrad

Chapter 5

Lia walked off and I shifted back to my room. I took a look at my mailbox, but there was still nothing to be seen of the announced parental email. Instead, a Ludmilla claimed that she was extremely sorry, but she had recorded me with my webcam during certain... activities, and if I would not meet her financial demands, she would send the videos to my employer. Hm. Employer also meant salary. So far I had not gotten one, I should probably sue my employer! Or sue Ludmilla to tell me who my employer was! If only I had one. And already deleted...

I surfed around on a few news sites, but was soon interrupted by my sister.

"Okay, Auntie knows. Bro, I brought you the overalls, you're welcome to them. It's not really my style."

I thought about it for a moment, then shook my head.

"Better keep them for today."

"Why is that?"

"Well, you don't really have snowmobile riding clothes, so overalls are definitely better than regular jeans. There's more of the body covered and nothing can slip out that easily."

Lia didn't have to think about it for long.

"Sounds logical, but then what about you? I mean, Aunt Paula told me that you want to go in to the snow with Alex, Micco and the twins."

"That's no problem, Alexandre still has a snowsuit from last year, it should fit me. And besides..."

Oops, I almost gave myself away now. But maybe I had already said too much, my sister already jumped at it.

"And besides what? Speak up, brother dear!"

Sigh. This is what I was afraid of. Lia was hearing everything. At least everything she wasn't supposed to hear. Was there actually something like a two-factor authentication for one's own mouth? That would be really useful sometimes. Double sigh. I guess I should try to get out of this self-made dilemma as best I c ould.

"And besides, through extreme personal effort, I saved your loved one from a tragic fate."

"Huh? What do you mean? What tragic fate?"

"Alexandre had already made firm plans to feed Pascal to his dog in the near future. In the interest of your happiness, I worked hard to dissuade him."

"Oha! Why is that?"

"Why did I dissuade him?"

"Stupid! Why Alex wanted to feed Pascal to Micco!"

"Because your sweetheart told us about Alexandre's wild sow adventure. Including wet pants."

Now my sister was giggling softly.

"It just slipped out of his mouth. And anyway, why does Alex actually know about it."

"Quite simply because it just slipped out of MY mouth. Including the wet pants."

"Well, if that's the case, then it was your damned duty to save Pascal. But what kind of extreme personal effort are you talking about?"

Crap, she hadn't forgotten.

"I'll put on my skirt one last time, one very last time today when I go to Alex later."

Astonished and doubtful, my sister looked at me. Well, I was also surprised at myself.

"Ha! You know, I'm getting the impression that you actually quite like to put on That skirt! You're really taking every opportunity and every excuse not to get rid of it for good."

"Menno, that's not my fault! Alexandre said that the twins would like to see me like this. For real, not just in a photo. And then he demanded that I do it in return for sparing Pascal' s life. "

"Hmm, keep telling yourself that, little brother. But isn't it a little too cold for the skirt today?"

"Yes, Lia, it would be. If Auntie wouldn't drive me to Alex, and then someone would drive me back home later. For the outdoor happening, I'll put on Alexandre's old snowsuit. In the skirt I just have to shuttle from house door to car door."

Lia laughed out loud.

"Well, you're lucky, otherwise Auntie certainly wouldn't have let you out the door like that."

"She doesn't know about the next Lio skirt performance yet."

"She's about to find out, because you should start getting dressed and report to her. Don't be late for your sweetheart."

Okay, I really didn't want to risk that! Every minute with Alexandre was precious and irreplaceable. I put on a blue turtleneck, considering the expected snowsuit a hoodie would not be practical. I turned to the closet to grab the next piece of clothing, but Lia had already beaten me to it and held it in front of me with a grin.

"Here, little brother, your skirt."

Menno! That was sheer envy talking! Well, considering the clothing preferences of my sister probably not, she just wanted to tease me again. I grabbed the skirt and slipped in. And once more I became a photo motif!

"Don't you have enough skirt photos of me yet? Are you going to start a whole collection or what?"

My sister grinned cheekily at me.

"Of course! After all, you're wearing something different in addition to the skirt every time, so that's proof that the photos weren't taken on just one occasion. T his is the third day in a row now, Lioline."

Okay, this time Lia had failed to get out of my range in time, and accordingly she cried out when my knuckles met the back of her head.

"Ouch, brutal brat!"

"And you're a naughty brat, so it balances out nicely. Don't take my picture, and you won't catch any more head shots from me."

"It's just as well that you're gay, Lio, you have no idea how to treat girls."

I stuck my tongue out at her before replying.

"You're not even a real girl, you don't even wear girl clothes. And besides..."

I ran my right hand over my flat chest with a grin, and I had been nimble enough to dodge the sisterly slap that now followed.

"Menno, you're mean!"

Well, I guess I should be a little bit nicer for now, so I quickly went to my nightstand, took out the cookie box, and held it out to my sister as a peace offering.

"Here, poor girl, you may even take five. You still think that I don't know how to treat girls? "

Still pouting, Lia reached over and counted out five cookies for herself.

"At least that's a start, Lio. There, now move on, you guys really need to get going."

I looked at the clock, crap, I really should hurry now. I stowed the box with the pitiful cookie remnants back in its place, then nodded to Lia.

"Have fun with Pascal, and don't fall off the snow mobile."

"Hehe, I'm going to snuggle up really close to him like I said and hold on tight. Have fun with Alex and Micco. And the twins."

I waved at Lia one more time, then left my room and dashed downstairs, where Aunt Paula was already waiting for me in the kitchen.

"I'm ready, we can go!"

"Ah good, I was about to come up and give you a push. Oh. Skirt again?"

Sighing, I nodded as I slipped into my boots.

"Yes, skirt again, I'll tell you about it when we are on the way."

"Hmm, alright, at least you won't have to get out in the snow like that."

I grabbed my jacket while Aunt Paula put hers on as well.

"Don't forget your cap and gloves, Lio."

I grabbed the aforementioned items, but didn't put them on just for the short walk to the car. We stepped out of the house, and I looked toward the sky in surprise.

"Has it been snowing for long already?"

"No, it just started, look at the road."

In fact, not much new snow had hit there yet, so surely there was still a little time before we would have to start shoveling it. We got into the car and were on our way to Alexandre's house.

"Now tell me why you're walking around in a skirt again, Lio. I'm beginning to think you actually like wearing it, and I'm going to have to get you a few more. If I do it on the way home, it'll work out just in time to pass for Christmas presents."

"Nooooo, Auntie! You really don't have to do that! The thing is..."

I used the time it took to reach our destination to explain to my chauffeur why I was going pantsless again. This time I even managed to refrain from mentioning his wet accident when telling about Alex' s adventure with the wild sow, after all I was capable of learning. In the end, Aunt Paula was once again having a great time.

"It's very honorable of you to so selflessly save the life of your favorite sister's boyfriend! That ought to turn your skirt into a badge of honor, so to speak."


"A little less honor and a little less skirt at the same time would be just fine, Aunt Paula."

Of course, she immediately jumped on it and literally twisted my own words around in my mouth.

"Oh yeah? Just a little less? Let's see, you've had your skirt on for three days in a row now. What would 'just a little less' mean? Wearing a skirt only every other day? That would still mean you'd need at least one more to switch between them, Lio."

I decided that I could significantly thin out my list of Christmas gift recipients. Unfortunately, that came a little too late, for this year at least, but I would keep it in mind for next Christmas!

"Okay, young man, we're here, hop out and say hi to everyone for me."

Not to everyone. I would stay away from Michelle, and even if an encounter could not be avoided, I would definitely not say a word to her. I unbuckled my seat belt and opened the car door.

"Will do, Auntie. And please drive carefully, it's snowing more and more."

"Yes I will, looks like Alexandre will have to take you home in the horse drawn sleigh later."

Hmm, did his family have something like that? That would be nice too, the Christmas Market sleigh ride had been cool, now with snowfall added to the mix it would be almost kitschy romantic.

I climbed out of the car, threw the door shut and made my way to the front door of Maison de LaGrange. Just as I brought my hand to the bell button, the door opened and a man I didn't yet know with curly black hair stood infront of me.

"Bonjour, tu dois être Lio. Oh, pardon. Good afternoon, you must be Lio."

"Oui!", I replied, using most of the French I knew. I knew what a dwarf meant in French, but the man facing me bore no resemblance to such a small fellow, on the contrary, he was probably almost two meters tall. And was laughing at me now.

"Oh, Alexandre hadn't mentioned that you speak French. Come in, it is warm inside."

Laughing as well, I entered.

"I don't, except for a few words. Alex called Joël and Noël nains, so I know what nains means. And I know a swear word, which I prefer to refrain from using in the presence of adults."

"Ha, yes, that's probably better! I'm the father of the dwarfs, by the way, so you're welcome to call me 'Uncle Jacques'."

"Okay, thank you very much."

Meanwhile, the un-dwarfly daddy had closed the front door again.

"Leave your jacket, cap and gloves down here, and please take off your shoes, too. Then you can go to Alex. Do you know where to go?"

I shook my head as I followed the discarding instruction.

"No, this is my first time here."

"Okay, you need to go up the stairs then, to the second floor. Then to the right, Alexandre's room is at the very back of the house. Or you could just follow the noise of the twins."

Hehe, yes, I could imagine that the two energetic guys were quite lively!

"I will, thank you very much."

"You're welcome. Oh, and That skirt suits you really great! I had not wanted to believe Alex before he showed me the picture, but really, here in the village an example of haute couture! Very beautiful! With this you could also score in Nice."

Great, soon I would be sent to the catwalks of the world! But being a polite young man, I thanked him for the compliment before Uncle Jacques disappeared and I made my way upstairs to Alexandre and then ains.

Surprisingly I didn't get any acoustic help in finding Alexandre's room, it was quiet in the house, but luckily Uncle Jacques had described the way so well that I found it without any problems. Once there, I knocked on the door, on which hung a large picture of Micco with an almost grinning, pointy-toothed open muzzle, along with the text 'If you can't run faster than me, you better be nice to me!' What a warning! Maybe I should have brought a few dozen doggy treats, but I didn't have any of those. Bummer. They were definitely going on the next shopping list!

"Come in!"

Hopefully the dog had understood that I was invited! I opened the door and stepped into Alexandre's room.

"Bonjour, or however you pronounce that."

Alex, who had been sitting in an armchair, jumped up and came sprinting to me, the next moment I had his lips on mine. Only briefly though, but still very welcome!

"Hi Lio! And yes, that's how you pronounce it, but don't spoil the twins, they're only supposed to speak German here."

"Since my French is extremely limited, you don't have to worry about then ains."

Alexandre laughed out loud and stepped back a bit, as the fiercely tail-wagging quadruped had just squeezed between us. He seemed to remember me and be in good spirits, as I noted with relief when I leaned down and scratched him behind the ears.

"Hey you, did you miss me?"


Smart furry guy! I straightened up again and looked to the doggie master, who was now holding a little curly head under each arm. The twins looked at me with a mixture of nervousness and curiosity. Amused, I looked at the pack of three. Alex in the middle wore dark gray tights with a cable knit pattern, along with a black t-shirt. Joël and Noël were more colorful, of course also in tights, but these were - funnily enough - pink, in addition there was a plethora of narrow stripes in all possible colors. Their long-sleeved t-shirts were white.

"Twins, this is Lio. Lio, this is the twins."

None of us would have guessed that! Though Joël seemed to have doubts.

"Alexandre, are you sure your boy friend didn't send his sister?"

My friend laughed and ruffled the dwarfs curly hair.

"Hehe, no he didn't! And you know why I'm so absolutely sure of that?"

"No, why?"

"Because his sister would never wear a skirt or even tights!"

"Oh, yes, you had told us that."

With that, Joël's curiosity was quenched for now, but his extremely identical brother immediately jumped into the breach.

"But Lio, why are you wearing the skirt again today? You had said that it was only because of your aunt. And then once because Alexandre wanted to see that again."

Oh, and Alex had told me that the twins really wanted to see me in the skirt in real life - but now they knew nothing? I jotted that down on my mental list of all the things I wanted to return the favor for when the opportunity arose.

"Your cousin was of the opinion that you would like to see me like this. Not just in a little photo on the iPad."

Now both dwarfs grinned and nodded vigorously. They also dared to come out from under the arms of their protector and wandered around me, thus looking at me from all sides. After they had circled me, I looked at them challengingly.

"Well, how does it look? Wouldn't that be something for you too?"

"Non! Uh... No, Lio!"

Strange, and I had thought that in their native France this would be a normal outfit for the sophisticated young man.

"Why not, Noël? It would look good on you too, and your dad said to me that I could easily fit in wearing that outfit in Nice. He even called it haute couture!"

"Papa is weird!"

Alexandre laughed out, then grabbed both twins and tickled them thoroughly, which they let him do without much resistance. The attack didn't last long anyway, after all, we still had something to do.

"Okay you two, go to your room and get dressed, we want to go out in the snow. Or would you rather stay at home? Micco is going out with us though."


And off they dashed, the dog on their heels, leaving Alex and me alone in his room. Unfortunately, we couldn't take advantage of this, as we also had things to do.

"You have a snowsuit for me?"

"Yes, it's already there on my bed, it should fit you."

We'd see about that in a minute.

"Just try it on, I have to put mine on too."

Nodding, I freed myself from my skirt, then took the inherited garment of the bed. It was a royal blue jumpsuit with white sleeves, color-wise it matched my boots and cap just fine. That it fit me also size-wise I noticed soon, when I had climbed into it and pulled up the zipper.

"Fits. And it is WARM!"

"Hehe, that's the whole point of these things."

I looked over at Alexandre and realized that his new model was a two-piece one. He had already put on the overalls, but the jacket he probably wasn't going to add until he got to the front door. The pants came in a dark purple, while the jacket was as white as the sleeves of my suit.

"Then we're ready to go. You brought your cap and gloves, too, I hope?"

"Sure, they're downstairs at the coat rack."

"Very well, then we'll be on our way."

That's exactly what we did, we left the room and marched downstairs, where the twins were already waiting for us, along with their four-legged protector. Joël and Noël were wearing bright red one-piece snow suits, with black boots peeking out from underneath on their feet.

"What took you so long, we've been waiting forever!"

"They're just old, Joël!"

Cheeky bunch! Alex, however, seemed to be used to it, just laughing as he put on his moon boots that just fit under the legs of his overalls. It was easier with my regular boots, and shortly after I was ready to face the winter too. I packed the cap on my head and tied the cords under my chin so that the earflaps were tight. I was sure I would still hear enough. Alex put on the balaclava again, while the identicals wore red stocking caps that only left their faces exposed. Micco didn't have to bother with any such things and was already prancing around behind the door in anticipation.

"Ah, I see you're ready to go?"

I turned to the voice and recognized Uncle François.

"Yes, Papa. Do you want us to bring you anything? A load of snowballs, maybe?"

The house owner laughed and shook his head.

"Thanks, but no thanks. I'll be fine with the snowballs Micco will drag into the house in his fur. Well then, have fun, and don't stay out too long. If you start to freeze you come straight home, got it? And Alex, watch out for the twins, at that age they 're the last to notice when they freeze."

"I will, dad, don't worry. See you later."

With that all was said and we rushed out into the now fairly dense snow flurry.

"Cool, it's snowing!"

Joël and Noël dashed off, dragged on by Micco, who jumped around them barking loudly. It would probably take both little boys to hold his leash!

"Just a quick heads up, Lio: this is how it's going to be all the time. Micco and the twins are worse than the Energizer Bunny on steroids."

I laughed out.

"It's nice to see the three of them having their fun."

"Hehe, I hope we'll have our fun too!"

"What are we actually going to do now?"

"We're going to walk across the big pasture at the edge of the forest first, there's lots of space, Micco can romp around there and the dwarfs can build a snowman. And maybe we can too, or is that too childish for you?"

Too childish? Nah. As long as nobody posted a video of me doing that on Facebook or TikTok or wherever!

"Nope, it's not! I'm like your cousins, I think it would be great to experience a real winter for once. With snow. And snow. And some more snow!"

"Haha, well we really have more than enough of that! And it seems like there's another load coming down right now. C ome on, let's get going. Micco! To the pasture!"

The dog seemed to know exactly where to go, and effortlessly pulled his two anchor dwarfs along with him. At least the two of them slowed the woofer down a bit, allowing Alex and me to follow the trio at a more leisurely pace.

The way to the promised open space was not far, at home we would have had to take a bus to get to such a place. The twins had quite a time staying on their feet, Micco probably would have made a very good sled dog as well, as easily as he could pull the weight of the nains.

"Did your doggy save his strength all day to be able to outpower the dwarfs now?"

Alexandre chuckled softly.

"Nope, the three of them have been playing and frolicking all morning. Will be interesting tonight to see who falls asleep first."

Now that question was easy to answer!

"Me, because I'm already getting tired just from watching them."

Now my friend laughed out loud.

"Right again! We're probably already too old to keep up with the kids."

A little later we had arrived at the edge of the forest along with the associated pasture, where Alex let the dog off the leash, whereupon it immediately dashed off. And the twins also dashed off as if freed from a leash. Nevertheless, they had to do without their four-legged playmate for the time being, as Micco raced across the pasture in huge rounds.

"Alexandre, can we build a snowman?"

"Go ahead, have fun, whoever you are."

I realized that the wintry disguise was a huge disadvantage: the name necklaces were no longer visible, making it completely impossible to tell the twins apart.

"I think I'll have to persuade Aunt Mireille to embroider their names on the snowsuits."

"That wouldn't do much good, they could just switch the suits."

"Oh, shoot, that's right. I got it, we could get their names tattooed on their foreheads!"

Laughing, I agreed with him.

"That would really be the safest solution, except I have my doubts that their parents would be okay with that."

"Hmm, maybe if we used a nice color and a pretty font to go with it?"

"Hehe, you can suggest it to her sometime, Alex."

"I'll do that! Just for fun, of course, but believe me, Aunt Mireille and Uncle Jacques have had their share of grief with mixing them up."

"Well, that's what's so fascinating about identical twins."

"But it can also be the most unnerving thing."

"Are they really that bad?"

"Worse! One time one of them ran in front of a car while playing, and the driver just managed to swerve out of the way, but crashed into a tree and got hurt badly. And this after Uncle Jacques had already warned the twins several times. Well, his father first hugged the twin with relief because nothing had happened to him - and then put him over his knee. Later, at the pool at home, both twin's buttocks were gleaming red, the innocent twin had let himself get spanked by the guilty one. Out of solidarity, but also so that no one could tell them apart. But don't ask me which of the two was the culprit, as usual the two are keeping absolutely tight."

"Oh man, those two are crazy!"

"Who's crazy, Lio?"

Unnoticed, the twins had snuck up on us and overheard my last sentence.

"You and your brother, of course!"

"We're not crazy! Alex, tell that to your petit copain!"

The big cousin, however, did no such thing.

"Yes, you are crazy. But it's a cute crazy. "

You could literally see it working behind the dwarfs ' foreheads, but then they seemed to accept that label.

"Okay... Can we go find a stick in the woods and play with Micco?"

Weren't they just trying to build a snowman a few minutes ago? Well, such a cold guy was probably less interesting than a hot-blooded herding dog.

"You don't have to, I brought his bringsel."

Huh? What was that now?

"His what?"

Alex pulled a... um... a sausage of some textile material out of his jacket pocket, like 20cm long and bright green.

"His bringsel. A toy to play fetch with. It's better than a stick, if a stick splinters in the dog's mouth when he chews on it, the dog can hurt himself."

That sounded logical, and the next moment the thing flew through the air, and the dog chased after it, barking loudly. Behind this the twins followed, thus Alex and I had some peace from them again for a while.

"Now look at the poor snowman, the twins stopped at the belly."

In fact, there was only one snow globe lying around so far, this one, however, had turned out quite large considering the size of it's little creators.

"Well, we have to blame Micco, he is much more interesting than a snowman. What do you think, should we finish this one?"

Alex thought for a moment, then nodded.

"Sure, why not. After all, the heaviest part is done already!"

"Hehe, right. Let's do it then."

Now while the dwarfs took turns chasing the dog through the snow, Alexandre and I finished building the snowman. We were so busy with that that we didn't really notice that the snowfall was getting thicker. When we were done, the snowman was standing taller than Alex! Unfortunately, some things were still missing.

"Crap, now we would need something for the face. Eyes, nose and mouth."

"Who says we don't have something like that already?"

Astonished, I looked at Alex, who now pulled out of the unfathomable pockets of his snowsuit first a carrot and then various smaller things. The carrot immediately landed in the middle of the snow face, for the eyes there were two black barbecue briquettes, and for the mouth Alexandre crumbled another barbecue briquette and placed the generated fragments in a grinning arc under the nose.

"Well, what do you think? Does that count?"

"Ha, absolutely! Are you in the Boy Scouts or what?"

"Why that?"

"Well, isn't their motto something like 'Always Prepared!'? "

The always prepared one laughed out.

"Ha ha, no I'm not, they don't have matching tights to go with the uniform, just scratchy knee socks."

I just barely managed to keep myself from going down laughing.

"That's just about the funniest excuse I've ever heard!"

"Hehe. Seriously, no, there is a group around here, but when we moved here a few years ago, I had enough on my plate with myself and Micco, and I didn't want to make a commitment like that, you have to go to meetings and stuff regularly. Well, and now I'm in the rescue dog squad, so I hardly have time for any other hobbies."

Okay, that was understandable, and this work was, after all, extremely commendable.

"Do you really go on rescue missions with Micco?"

Alex looked at me seriously.

"Yes, I do. Mostly we just train, but this fall our squad was searching for an old man who had gotten lost in the woods while looking for mushrooms. When he hadn't returned to the vacation home in the evening, his wife called the police, we were alerted and deployed the next morning as soon as it light ened up."

"Wow, did you find him?"

"Micco tracked him down."

"Clever guy! Was the old man all right?"

"Yeah, the ancient one didn't have any sense of direction, but had managed to build himself a little shelter for the night."

"Cool! You guys are real lifesavers there!"

"Just like you did with little Nicky Blaugold in his stroller."

I guess we really did have a few more things in common!

"Didn't the old man have a cell phone?"

"Yes, he did. However, he had forgotten it in the vacation home, where it was of rather little use to him."

Cell phone forgotten, direction forgotten, I didn't even want to think about what kind of mushrooms the good man had collected! Ha, maybe his wife should be happy that the mushroom dinner was cancelled!

"Does this happen often?"

"That grandpas get lost? Yes. Grandmas, too. We have a retirement home in one of the neighboring towns, and it often happens that one of the old folks goes missing. But usually they're found before we have to be called."

"Hm, maybe they should be given smartphones and smartwatches. After all, some can even detect if the wearer has fallen and can automatically call for help."

"True, but especially at that age, only a few still manage to make friends with such 'newfangled stuff'."

Unfortunately, Alex was probably right about that, a real shame.

"Okay, go stand next to the snowman."

I looked at my companion, who suddenly held his own smartphone in his hand - probably pulled out of another of his many snowsuit pockets. I did as I was told, and once again a photo was taken of me. Afterwards, Alex stood on the other side of the cold guy, held the phone far away from him with his arm outstretched, and snapped a selfie with all three of us.

"Now one more with the dwarfs, if they can tear themselves away from Micco for a moment."

"Just let them have the dog in the picture, too."

"Hehe, right, good idea."

However, it didn't come to the execution of this good idea, because before Alex could even call the twins to him, they already came running up shouting loudly.


What was happening now! The clarification however followed on the foot, or more correctly on the paw. On four paws! But not the paws of Micco!

"Alexandre, look, we found another dog!"

Or rather the dog had found them. I looked at the black fuzz that was standing dutifully next to Micco and realized that he was wearing a strange harness. Alexandre seemed to recognize the dog immediately.

"Shit, that's Branko!"


"Yeah, Elias's dog! Actually, his guide dog, Elias is blind!"

Ohhhkay... Then it probably wasn't a good sign that this guide dog here was walking through the snow completely without the one he had to guide!

"Branko! Where's Eli?"


Ah yes, now we knew more. Not! But we had to do something.

"Lio, take Micco on his leash, I'll take Branko. Let's see if he'll lead us to his master. Twins, you stay nice and quiet with us now."

I grabbed the leash Alex held out to me, bent down to Micco and clipped the leash to his collar.

"Ready to go."

"Good, Branko, take us to Eli!"

As if the dog understood exactly what was being asked of him, he set off with purpose. My boy friend let him lead, I followed at a distance of two meters with Alexandre's own dog, who had probably also noticed that the time for playing around was over for now, he walked quite demurely and without tugging at the leash next to me. On the left and on the right of us we had a twin each. The one on my dog-free right side hesitantly pushed his left hand into my right and looked at me delightedly when I did not push him away but took him firmly by the hand. On the other side, dwarf number 2 held on to Micco's collar. So we walked through the increasingly dense snow fall, which, together with the onset of dusk, slowly but surely made visibility worse. Hopefully we would find the blind boy quickly! And hopefully nothing serious had happened to him! How did I get the idea that the missing person was a boy and not an adult? Quite simply, Alex had only called him Elias, not Uncle Elias.

We hadn't been walking for long at all when Alexandre seemed to spot something.

"I think he's sitting over there!"

Now even the guide dog, who had been walking obediently until then, started to pull a little; he certainly wanted to get to his master. Alex let it happen, and our whole group speeded up a bit. A little later we arrived at the dark figure in the white snow, who was sitting on a boulder at the side of the path and the first thing he felt was the long red tongue of his dog in his face.

"Ieeehks Branko! I guess you found help!"


"Yeah, Eli, he did. Smart guy."

Elias instantly recognized who he was dealing with.

"Oh, hi Alex! Have they alerted the rescue dog squad already? I just fell a few minutes or so ago, didn't I?"

"Hehe, no, we were just out in the snow with Micco."

"Ah okay. I had heard some barking. Who's we?"

"My little cousins from France, Noël and Joël, and my friend Lio."

The seated boy waved to the area.

"I'm glad you found me."

"Like I said, your dog found us, only because of him we found you. Why was he out all by himself anyway, and what happened to you?"

"I tripped over something and crashed. When I tried to get up, my foot hurt so much that I dropped right back down. Branko led me to the stone here, I more or less crawled over and sat down. Then I tried to get help with my cell phone, but it seems to be broken. Can you have a look at it, please, Alex?"

"Sure, let me see it."

Alexandre looked at the cell phone handed to him, then nodded.

"This thing is busted, Eli, you must have landed right on it."

"Yeah, my hip hurts too, probably from that. Well, anyway, I realized I had a real problem. But then I heard a dog barking, and I figured that Branko could find it, and hopefully the people with the dog were smart enough to realize that someone needed help. Now that Micco was the barker was a lucky coincidence that I certainly won't complain about."

"Hehe, yes. So, now we should figure out how to get you out of this mess. You can't walk at all?"

"Help me up, please, and I'll try again."

"Okay, but very carefully."

Alex handed Elias his right hand and slowly pulled him upright by it. At first everything seemed to go well, but as soon as the blind boy put weight on his left foot, his face contorted in pain. By the way, boy. Elias seemed to be Alexandre's age, at least they were about the same height. Eli lowered himself back onto his stone.

"Shit, that hurts."


Alexandre once again rummaged around in one of his snowsuit pockets, then brought out something that looked familiar. The little flashlight he'd gotten from Santa! He turned it on and pointed the bright LED light at the wounded foot as he knelt down in front of Elias.

"Don't be alarmed, I want to take a closer look at your foot, to see if anything is broken."

"Fine, but please be careful, it hurts enough already."

"I'll try."

At first there wasn't much to see in the light of the flashlight, the boot totally obscured the foot.

"I'll try to get the boot off you. Tell me if it hurts too much. Lio, hold the light for me, please."

Silently, I accepted the flash light and pointed it at the surgical area.

"Don't worry, you'll be the first to notice!"

"Hehe, but don't kick me!"

Carefully Alex opened the boot, which fortunately was only closed with zippers. Well, they were probably easier for a blind person to use than laces.

"Ouch, careful!"

"I'm trying my hardest, Eli, but I can't completely avoid it."

Tentatively, Alex pulled the boot off Eli's foot without causing any more sounds of pain, then set it down to carefully palpate the damaged foot. To my relief, there was no blood to be seen, nor were any pieces of bone spearing through the skin and sock.

"Doesn't look like a fracture at first glance, Eli. I'll move the foot gently, let me know if it hurts."

Alex didn't have to wait long for the pain to show.

"Ouch, that's enough, okay?"

"Okay, all right. Seems sprained pretty bad to me, that can hurt more than a fracture. Let me pull your sock down and cool it with some snow for a minute. Not for long, just a minute or so."

Elias laughed out.

"Sorry, Alex, I can understand you wanting to see me naked, but I can't do a striptease for you here."


Hehe, my boy friend was a bit slow, but I was able to help him out.

"Alex, that's not a sock, it's a pair of tights, and they don't come off that easily."

"Oh. Hehe. That's right, can't do any cooling in that case, the snow would make the tights wet, and that wouldn't be good either. All right, grit your teeth again, I'll put your boot back on."

"Will do, but you better be really careful, you don't want to have Branko clench HIS teeth around YOUR arm."

"Haha, he better understands that I'm just trying to help."

A little later and without cries of pain or an attacking guide dog, the injured foot was booted again. Alex rose and looked down at Elias, pondering.

"Okay, now what's the best way to do this. I could use my cell phone to call for help, but that would take a while, and it's starting to snow more and more, and it's getting dark fast now. D o you think you can walk if you can lean on me? Only as far as my place, which is much closer than your house."

Elias shrugged his shoulders.

"No better way to find out than to try it. Can one of the others take Branko?"

It was probably time to lend a little help.

"I'll take that one. dwarfs, you take Micco, he's already used to you."

"But we're not dwarfs !"

"Yes, you are. Here, take his leash."

Elias chuckled despite his pain at the dwar f en protests, then allowed himself to be pulled back up again, leaning on Alex, and our procession began to move very slowly. Hm, this way it would take us quite a while to reach Alexandre's home, but at least this way of moving seemed to be bearable for Elias. His dog walked obediently by my side, even though he periodically looked around for his master. Micco, too, behaved well and did not overpower his twin leash holders for a change.

We were walking in silence for a few minutes, it seemed to be quite exhausting for both Elias and Alex. It was actually getting darker very quickly now, and soon my boy friend was using his flashlight to light the path in front of him. It would be pretty stupid if both of them were to crash right now.

"Is it still okay, Eli?"

"It has to, I'll survive. At least I can't see my pain."

Hehe, I liked this guy, he could joke about himself too. Or maybe it was just gallows humor.

Suddenly, Alex pointed his flashlight to the right.

"Lio, please check if that door is open. If it is, we can cut across the garage yard, it'll save us at least three hundred meters."

I turned with Branko towards the door, sent a short prayer to heaven and pressed down the handle. Sure enough, the door opened! Still, there was something else to sort out.

"Shine the light inside and see what the snow situation is like. Not that you'll have to trudge through deep snow with Elias."

"Oh, yeah, that wouldn't be convenient."

Alex carefully led Elias to the door and then let the beam of his flashlight wander across the garage yard ground. What we got to see was a nice surprise.

"Cool, someone must have been swinging the snow shovel already."

That's what it actually looked like, and we were able to take the shortcut. I was still interested in one thing, though.

"Say, nobody can get their car through that door, right?"

"Hehe, that's right. There was actually just a fence here, but some of the garage owners didn't always want to take a detour, so they put in a door. The actual driveway is on the other side."

"Ah. I hope that's not locked."

"I'm sure it is, they have an electric gate. But there's a contact plate on the inside that opens the gate automatically. It's supposed to respond only to cars, but it's enough to bounce around on it a bit to trigger the opening."

"Sounds good to me, Alex, as long as you don't expect ME to bounce on it."

Alexandre chuckled to the person next to him.

"Why not, single leg bouncing should do the trick, too, Eli."

"Boah, don't be so cheeky with a wounded friend!"

Alex, however, just kept giggling, the twins, on the other hand, immediately jumped into the breach.

"We can do that! Joël and I are very good at bouncing!"

While I had no doubts about that, their cousin wasn't sure it would work.

"You guys can try, but I don't know if dwarf hopping will be enough."


In Stereo. The two had already learned quite a bit of everyday German.

"We'll see. Okay, Eli, ready to move on? Let me know if you need a break."

"That's okay, I don't need a break. But what about you? You're the one half carrying me through the snow all the time."

"Thanks for asking, but I can handle it. It's not like I'm a dwarf like Joël and Noël."

Joking like this, we slowly wandered across the garage yard and were indeed soon standing in front of a large gate. Alexandre pointed the beam of his flashlight at a spot about 2 meters in front of it.

"Okay you two, give it a try. If possible, jump at the same time. And most importantly, land at the same time."

The twins rushed to the indicated spot and started jumping around violently. However, they lacked coordination, actually strange especially with twins, and nothing happened with the gate. Even the fact that Micco was prancing around them, probably wondering about the strange behavior of his leash holders, did not help.

"Boys, I told you to jump and land at the same time!"

"That's what we're doing!"

"It doesn't really look like it from here. Come on, try again, if that doesn't work, Lio will have to jump in."

Ah yes, jump in in the literal sense, hehe. The twins pulled themselves together and actually managed to hop almost in sync - but it didn't seem to be good enough for the gate yet, it didn't open. Sighing, I made my way to the jumping spot, but suddenly the gate squeaked and slowly slid to the side.

"Hourra! Noël et moi l'avons fait!"

"Joël! Alex says we can only speak German!"

"Oh okay, we did it!"

"We all got that. Come on Eli, we have two minutes before the gate closes again."

Then I guess we really should hurry up a bit, who knows if the gate would let itself be outwitted by the gaggle of dwarfs again.

Soon we had left the garage yard, and now I could already make out the house of Alexandre's family. The fact that we were now in the area of the street lights helped a lot, even if the visibility was still limited by the heavy snowfall. It looked like 15-20cm of new snow had come down in the last two or three hours, and it didn't seem like the snowing was going to stop anytime soon.

A few minutes later we had reached our destination, the twins had rushed ahead and rung the front doorbell, so when the casualty and his human walker arrived, the front door was already open and the in-house uncle doctor was waiting for us. How fortunate that he wasn't on duty at the hospital right now!

"Dad, can you help me, Elias kind of twisted his ankle badly and can't walk by himself."

"Sure, I'll take him off your hands."

Uncle François changed places with his son and led Eli into the house. There, Alexandre's grandparents were already waiting to take the dogs off our hands, both of which needed some de-icing and de-snowing. Dogs with long fur in the snow, they almost bring their own body weight in snow from the walk into the house!

"Oh, two dogs! I'll quickly get a second towel!"

Aunt Ilona dashed off while Uncle Rolf threw a big bath towel over Micco. Dog number 2 had sat down dutifully and was waiting for things to come. Meanwhile, Alex, the twins and I were already busy getting rid of our boots. Alexandre's father had set Elias down on the shoe bench and was now crouching in front of him.

"Hello Elias, you know I am a doctor. I'm going to take your boots off now, first the one from the uninjured foot. On the right, correct?"

"Yes, Doctor LaGrange."


That was quickly done, then the good doctor turned his attention to the wounded hoof.

"Okay, now the other boot. I'll do it as carefully as I can. Oh yes, 'Uncle François' is formal enough, or should I address you as Mr. Schlender?"

Elias laughed, probably forgetting his pain for a moment, which his medic took advantage of to relieve him of his left boot.

"Elias is just fine, Uncle François."

And already the boot was off and Alexandre's father eyed the foot that had come to light.

"Dad, I already looked at the foot, there was no blood and there were no bones poking through the skin."

"Very good. Did you possibly cool it down a little with snow? The foot feels warm and is also a little swollen."

Both Alex and Elias chuckled softly, then Branko's master enlightened his attending physician.

"Alex wanted to do it, but failed because he couldn't get all my clothes off out in the snow. I'm wearing tights."

"Ah yes, I would have been surprised if my son hadn't thought that far ahead. Look, we'll take your jacket off now, then I'll take you into the living room and lay you down on the couch. But then you won't be able to avoid dropping your clothes."

Elias chuckled again.

"No problem, at least I won't have to see Alexandre staring at me."

Now we were all laughing, and I decided to clear the air.

"I would see him staring at you, though, and that wouldn't sit well with me."

Elias thought for a moment, then grinned.

"Alex introduced you as his friend, and I'm starting to get the feeling that this is more than a simple friendship."

"True, and I can get a wee bit jealous."

"Hehe, you don't have to because of me, I'm into girls, and only girls. You'll have to keep your Alex under control yourself though."

"I will, don't worry."

The object of my desire indignantly propped his hands on his hips.

"I'm not that bad! And even if I look at pretty boys once in a while, only you are my boy friend, Lio."

"Alright, I ' ll take your word for it."

During this conversation, both Elias and Alex had gotten rid of their jackets, the twins and I didn't have it quite as easy because of our one-piece snowsuits.

"Dad, can we leave you alone with Elias for a minute? We need to get out of these warm clothes."

"Yes, do that. But it would be good if you and Lio came right back down afterwards, I could possibly use some help. And I'm sure Elias would like to have a friend around."

Alexandre looked to the wounded boy.

"Do you want us there, Eli?"

The latter nodded briefly.

"Yes, that would be nice. But someone will have to take care of Branko, too."

Alexandre's grandpa had heard that and immediately had a solution.

"Don't worry, Elias, I'll take care of your dog. He already knows me anyway."

"Thank you, Doctor Heinrich."

"No problem, let my son-in-law help you now and don't worry about Branko. He even has a playmate here."

Relieved, Elias nodded, then turned to Uncle François.

"Ready to go, will you help me get up?"

"Sure thing."

The doctor pulled his patient upright and led him to the living room, the dwarfs, Alex and I dashed upstairs to get out of our warm clothes.

Once upstairs Alex took charge.

"Dwarfs, take off your snowsuits and put them in the bathroom, I'll hang them up to dry."

"Oui, mon capitaine!"

"If anything then 'mon general', and all that in German, recruit!"

The twins giggled, and while one gave his big cousin the famous finger as he marched off, the other quickly saluted him.

"Yessir, my general!"

"There you go."

And off they went, and Alexandre pulled me into his room.

"Come on, let's get out of these warm clothes too."

Which is exactly what we did, and Alex eyed me appraisingly.

"Did the snowsuit keep you nice and warm?"

I nodded as I sat down on his bed to comfortably step out of the one-piece snowsuit without risk of falling.

"Yes it did, I didn't freeze at all."

"Great. Did it get very wet?"

By now I had worked my wayout of the thing and was feeling it up.

"Well, not very wet, but a little. I didn't roll around in the snow with the twins and Micco, but just because of the constant snowfall, it couldn't stay completely dry. Not to mention the snowman building."

"Hmm, yeah, that's right, so I'll hang up our suits too."

"Do you have enough space in the bathroom for that?"

"Yeah, don't worry, I could fit more in there if needed."

Hmm, that gave me an idea.

"Maybe you should hang Micco and Branko over the line then, too? I'm sure they got really wet from all that running around in the snow."

"Haha, I'll have to suggest that to my folks, it's really always a problem with Micco in the winter. Especially when someone comes home with him and there's no one else there to catch the dog and dry him off. I usually put one foot on the leash and hope Micco is tired enough to not take me down."

I could vividly imagine that! In my mind's eye I saw Alex, balancing one leg on the leash while lifting the other to take off a shoe. Now that would make for a fun video!

"There we go, Lio. Do you want to put your skirt on?"

I looked at Alex, who was walking around in just a t-shirt and tights, and shook my head.

"If you're going to walk around here like that then I can do that, too. I won't put the skirt on until it's time to go home."

"Sounds good, we'll have to discuss that with my people anyway."

With these words we left Alexandre's room and went to the bathroom, where we found no twins, but their snowsuits. Alex pulled an inconspicuous handle on a strange device hanging on the wall, and the next moment several clotheslines, or rather laundry rods, appeared.

"Hang up your snowsuit please, just put it over one of the bars."

I did what he had asked of me, and a little later our gathered snowsuits were hanging over the bars of the clothes dryer, for as such I had by now recognized the device on the wall. Alex looked at the laundry, then nodded.

"That will work, I'll turn on the blower now."


"Yes, blower. Didn't you wonder about the rods being so thick and having holes in them? There's warm air coming out of them, and the suits will be really nice and dry again soon."

Brilliant, I was afraid the drying would take a few hours.

"Alright, let's see what the twins are up to."

We left the bathroom and Alexandre went to another room door, which he opened after a quick knock. He stuck his head into the room and then shook it.

"They're probably downstairs already. We'd better go down, too, and make sure they don't get on Dad's and Elias's nerves."

That was probably a really good idea, so we made our way down the stairs. Even from a distance we heard loud laughter mixed with the barking of two dogs. The noise s didn't come from the living room, though, which was a good sign. We followed the barking into the large kitchen, where Joël and Noël were rolling around on the floor with both dogs, half-wrapped in several large bath towels. The fun, i.e. playing with the dogs, was combined with the useful, i.e. drying them. Neither the two- nor the four-legged guys noticed us, only Alexandre's grandmother smiled at us and pointed wordlessly in the direction of the living room. Following this finger pointing, we reported to the family doctor and his patient shortly after.

"We're back, Dad. Is there anything we can do to help?"

Uncle François looked up and nodded.

"Alexandre, please run upstairs again quickly and get a pair of pants and socks for Elias. Preferably loose sweatpants."

Alex glanced at the patient, then, grinning, obeyed his old man's command. I, too, looked at Eli and found him lying on the couch in just a T-shirt and boxer briefs. And the blind teenager was anything but ugly! But the doctor had a job for me, too.

"Lio, please take Eli's overalls and hang them up in the bathroom, his and Alex's jackets are already there."

Hmm, I hadn't seen them there at all, but Uncle François recognized my astonishment and specified his request.

"The bathroom down here, Lio. Out to the right, second door on the right."

Okay, that settled that, and I set off with the black overalls. The downstairs bathroom was quickly found, and it had the same clothes dryer as the upstairs one. In fact, there were already two jackets hanging on it, one of them the same black as Eli's pants, with bright red contrasting elements. I hung up the garment, made sure it was well blown through, then headed back to the living room, where shortly after me Alex reappeared.

"Here, Dad, is this okay?"

Uncle François looked up, grabbed the gray sweatpants and nodded.

"Yes, that will work. Elias, let me help you into your pants."

"Thanks, but I can do that on my own."

"Not today, young man, we should be careful not to add to your injured foot. So do what I tell you, I'm a doctor!"

The scolded boy swallowed briefly, then nodded. He of course couldn't see that Alexandre's father had looked anything but angry.

"Sorry, I usually try to do everything myself as much as possible."

"I believe you, and that's a good thing to do. But right now you're in special circumstances. So swallow your pride for now and let us help you, agreed?"

"Agreed, doctor. Sorry again."

"No need to apologize, I understand you. So here we go."

It wasn't long before Elias was back in long pants, and his uninjured foot also had a sock on it. The other one, however, was still naked and now looked quite swollen.

"Dad, what's wrong with Eli's hoof?"

"Just as I thought, mighty sprained."

"And what do we do about it?"

"Cool it down and take it easy. And that's where you come in, son."

"Oh yeah? How's that?"

"You get the task of cooling Eli's foot. Your grandpa will bring a cooling compress in a minute, and you'll make sure it gets to the right place and stays there."

Alexandre nodded.

"I can do that, no problem."

No sooner had he said that and Grandpa Santa Claus showed up to hand his grandson a cooling pack and two small towels. Papa Doctor gave the exact instructions.

"Watch out, Elias, I'm going to move you a little bit so I can put your foot up. Tell me if I hurt you."

"Okay, I'm ready."

Uncle François turned Elias a little so that he was now lying lengthwise on the couch, then he lifted the leg with the injured foot.

"Lio, slide two pillows under that foot, please."

I dashed to the couch and complied, whereupon the doctor slowly lowered the foot and then turned to his son.

"Here, Alex. First a towel, then the cooling compress, then fix it with the second towel."

Alex followed the instructions to the point, then looked questioningly at his father.

"Is that okay, Dad?"

"I think so. Elias, how is it, too cold? I want it to be nice and cool, but I don't want you to get frostbite either."

Ah yes, that's probably why the cooling compress didn't go directly on the skin.

"Yes, that's fine, thank you very much."

"Good. Do you need anything else for now, Elias?"

"Hmm... A phone! I need to call home and let my folks know what happened and where I am."

"Ah, yes, of course. Alex, get him the phone, please."

Alex dashed off again, he was kept busy, hehe. Eli, however, still had something on his mind.

"What about Branko?"

On that subject I was able to calm him down.

"He was busy rolling around on the floor with Micco and the twins just now. I don't think you need to worry about him."

"Hehe, all right then."

Alexandre reappeared, landline phone in hand.

"Eli, your dog is still hard at work a t having fun."

"Cool, thanks for the info."

"What breed is that anyway, I've never seen a dog like that."

"It's a Labradoodle, Lio, a cross between a Large Poodle and a Labrador. Hard working like a Labrador, smart like a Poodle. And most importantly, not as greedy on food as a Labrador!"

Ha, yes, I had heard about that! A neighbor at home had a Labrador and was constantly in panic because his dog ate everything that seemed even remotely suitable for him to eat. And some things that weren't suitable at all!

Laughing, Alex handed the cordless phone to the wounded guest.

"Here, Eli, the phone. Can you work it, or do you want me to dial for you?"

"I don't need any help with that, thanks anyway."

"Okay. Do you want us to leave you alone to make the call?"

"No, you don't need to, I don't plan on telling any secrets."

While Elias now began dialing, Alexandre and I settled into a two-seater, Uncle François meanwhile left the living room.

Alex and I snuggled together, and Elias seemed to get lucky on the first try.

"Hi Pops, it's Eli."


"Yes, this is the number of Alexandre's landline phone, my cell phone is history."


"I crashed it when I fell on it, it didn't survive."


Elias sighed.

"Yeah, I really fell down. Tripped over something Branko didn't see, it's no wonder with all the snow, he isn't to blame. "


"I'm okay, just sprained my left foot. Alex and his snow gang helped me, and now I'm at his house. Doctor LaGrange took a look at my foot and prescribed cooling and resting for now."


"Yes, I know, I was lucky. Can you please break it to mom gently?"


"Hehe, good. Listen, I have to get home somehow, can you get in the car and pick me up? I don't want to put this job on my rescuers too."


"Um... Excuse me?"


"Damn! Hold on a second, please."

Elias turned his head in our direction, no idea how he knew where we were sitting. Well, maybe his hearing was so acute that he had overheard our cuddling.

"Alex, can you ask your dad to come back here, please? "

My cuddling partner was a little surprised, but immediately rose.

"Sure, j ust a moment."

"Okay, Pops, I'm back. Alex just went to get his dad real quick, then I'll see if I can switch the phone to loud speaker mode."

Hm, it seemed that Eli's father had something important to announce! Luckily Uncle François was already coming back into the living room, so I didn't have to wait for long.

"What's wrong, Elias, do you need help? Are you in a lot of pain?"

Elias's head turned to the house physician.

"No, Uncle François, but I got my pops on the line and was going to ask him to come get me, and he said something you should hear too. Can the phone be put on speaker?"

Alexandre's father stepped over to the couch and took the phone from Elias' hand.

"Yes, it does, just a moment."

He typed around a bit, then put the phone on the coffee table.

"Mr. Schlender? This is François LaGrange, you're on speaker now."

And then we heard the voice on the other end of the connection.

"Ah, good afternoon. Well, how good it is, I'm not so sure. First of all, thank you so much for helping Eli. Why don't you pass that on to Alex and his 'posse' as well?"

"That goes without saying. Alex and his friend Lio are also in the room listening in, by the way."

"Great, then thanks to you too, Alex and Lio. Okay, back to the problem. Elias has asked me to get in the car and take him home. I'd like to do that, but have you looked out of a window lately?"

Promptly, everyone except the foot-sick boy moved to the nearest window and looked out. Where it was snowing. And storming. Wow. It had built up to a real blizzard, you could just see the closest streetlight, the light from that was just enough to see that you couldn't see a thing because of all the snow. In any case, the road was a single white expanse, and snowdrifts were hard at work piling up to unimaginable heights at all the smaller and larger obstacles.

"Merde! Oh, pardon me! I see what you mean, Mr. Schlender."

At that very moment Alexandre's grandpa came marching into the living room at a quick pace, and all eyes turned to him.

"François, a message just came in on your cell phone, you should see it right away."

He pushed said device into his son-in-law's hand, who looked at it, then sighed and turned to his son.

"Alexandre, the Emergency Control Center just went on standby alarm. You better check and see if your dog squad is meant too."

"Oh yuck. I'll be right back, my phone is still upstairs."

Alex stormed off, while his father turned back to talking to Eli's father.

"Mr. Schlender, you probably overheard that, but I see what you mean now. In this weather it would be irresponsible to send anyone out on the street."

"Yes, that's what I thought, too. While I am reluctant to have Elias be any more of a burden to you r family, would it be possible for him to spend the night with you? Then in the morning we can see how the situation has developed."

"Of course, we have a full house anyways, we won't even notice one more guest. And his dog is also taken care of, Alex has Micco, so enough dog food is also available."

Alexandre, who had already come scurrying back, had overheard what it was all about and now spoke up as well.

"And my clothes should fit Eli, so that isn't a problem either."

"I guess that was Alexandre now. Thank you all so much, it's a huge weight off my mind. I do have an SUV, but the only thing I would venture out with in this weather would be a tracked vehicle."

"Don't worry about that, Mr. Schlender, we will take good care of your son. With a little luck, you'll have him home safe and sound by Christmas Eve tomorrow."

"Let's hope for the best. Elias, you please behave yourself with your hosts."

"Whoa, I always behave myself!"

"Yes, you do. The only question is how!"

"Always on the little ones! Say hi to mom for me - and behave yourself with her while I'm not home."

Eli's father laughed through the phone, then wished us all good evening before saying goodbye. After Uncle François turned off the phone, he looked to me, and I already suspected what was about to come.

"Lio, we should call your aunt now, I'm afraid you're stuck here for now too. Is that okay with you?"

Sighing, I nodded.

"Yeah, definitely better than anyone having to take a risk just to get me home."

"Indeed. And I guess Alexandre won't be upset about it either."

"Hehe, I definitely won't! And my clothes should fit my little one reasonably well, too."

"Very well, then everything is settled for now, we'll talk about the sleeping arrangements later. Do you have your aunt's number memorized, we should call her soon, not that she's on her way here already."

That really wouldn't be good, she would have enough to do with calming down my twin sister. Oh man, Lia was on that snowmobile trip with Pascal! Hopefully there were no problems for them!

"I have the number stored in my phone, and it's upstairs."

I was about to get up to get the device, but Alexandre, sitting next to me again, stopped me.

"You can use mine, I have your aunt's number stored, too."

This surprised me a bit, but when he handed me his iPhone with the number already activated, I grabbed it without further questions and started the connection. I didn't have to wait long before Auntie answered.


"Hello Aunt Paula, it's me, Lio."

"Oh, Lio! Good to hear from you, but what phone are you calling from?"

"I'm calling on Alexandre's cell phone, we're in his family's living room, and mine is upstairs in his room."

"Ah, good, I guess that means you guys are safe in the house, I was starting to get worried."

"Yes, we've been back for a while. Auntie, Mr. LaGrange would like to speak with you, let me give him the phone."

"Do that, please."

I passed the phone, and in the next two or three minutes the scenario that had already played out between Uncle François and Elias' father was repeated. No, it really didn't pose a problem that I would be spending the night with the LaGranges and Heinrichs, I wouldn't have to starve either. And so on and on and on....

"Okay, I'll give you your nephew again, have a good evening."

Alexandre's father pushed his son's cell phone back into my hand.

"It's me again, Aunt Paula."

"Lio, it's all arranged with Mr. LaGrange, you'll stay there overnight. We'll know more in the morning. And you behave properly, please, don't disgrace me!"

I knew that she would say something like t hat!

"Don't worry, Auntie, you can count on me. But something else, what about Lia? Is she still on the road too?"

"No, Pascal cut the tour short in time and dropped her off here fifteen minutes ago. Now your sister is waiting for him to call when he gets home safely."

"Well, with a snowmobile he should still be able to get through reasonably easily. Will you say hi to Lia for me, please? And tell her not to mess with my cookie box?"

Aunt Paula laughed and promised me she would do so, then we said goodbye to each other and I ended the call.

So it was settled that Alexandre's family's house would become emergency quarters for stranded teenagers plus a four-legged companion. On the one hand this sounded quite funny, on the other hand tomorrow was Christmas! And with the prevailing snowstorm, I had my doubts that the drama would be over within 24 hours. Well, I couldn't change anything about it anyway, so I should probably try to make the best of it. And at least I would be able to spend more time with my boy friend than I had hoped for! Hm. Even the night. But I didn't want to think about that for the time being. And just at that moment Alexandre's grandmother came into the living room with a full tray, accompanied by the twins and both dogs.

"I have Christmas tea and cookies, I think we can all use a little strengthening and warming now."

This was really a good idea, and a little later everyone had found a cozy spot and was munching on the good stuff. Joël and Noël had squeezed into an armchair and let Micco warm their feet, while Eli's guide dog sat in front of his master, resting his head on the couch and enjoying Elias' petting. There were also enough chairs for the adults, only Michelle was missing - and was probably not really missed by anyone.

A few minutes later, food and drink were mostly consumed and we all felt much better. This was apparently the sign for Uncle François to start the planning phase for the coming night.

"Is everyone fed for now?"

He earned satisfied approval all around, so he continued.

"Good. Now we need to figure out how we're going to do this tonight with the sleeping."

"Micco and Branko can sleep in our room!"

"You should probably ask Alexandre and Elias about that, after all, those are their dogs."

I looked at the person sitting next to me, but he just shrugged.

"Micco likes the dwarfs, so that wouldn't be a problem. But I would think that Elias needs his dog."

The boy who continued to lie sprawled on the couch with his limp foot up, shook his head as best as he could while lying down.

"That's not a problem, I don't need Branko at night. If he wants to spend the night with the boys and Micco, he's welcome to do that. But if he wants to stay with me, please bring him to me."

After the twins jubilantly promised that, their uncle took over the conversation again.

"Well, now that that's settled, we still need to decide where Lio and Elias will sleep."

"François, I don't think Elias should be left alone. The house here is completely foreign to him, and he will probably need some help. So no offense to your desire for independence, Elias, but what do you think?"

The blind teenager didn't have to think long.

"Yes, that would be better. I don't want to be a burden to anyone, but I'm really going to need help. Especially since I can't walk around right now and get to know the house by doing that."

Oh yeah, I hadn't thought that far ahead. Things as simple as going to the bathroom would be hard for Elias. He could only walk in pain and with assistance, and to make matters worse, he couldn't see where he was going.

"Lio and Eli can sleep in my room. I have a wide bed and a couch that can also be turned into a bed. That way Eli would always have someone to help him if needed."

That sounded good, but my friend seemed to have forgotten something.

"Um, your room is upstairs though, how is Elias supposed to get there?"

The answer to my question came from a laughing doctor.

"That's not a problem Lio. Aside from the fact that I would carry him up if I had to, we also have a small elevator in the back of the house."

Oh! Okay, I trusted Alexandre's father to carry Elias, who was probably not overly heavy, but there was even an elevator here? Astonished, I looked at Uncle François, who hurried to provide clarification.

"Ilona and Rolf designed the house themselves, with great foresight."

Before he could continue speaking, Grandpa Rolf took over to explain further.

"Lio, we want to grow old here in this house, and not have to move just when we need a quiet home the most because we can no longer manage to get around in the house. That's why we had a small elevator put in, big enough for two people or even one person in a wheelchair."

Wow, that's what I call planning for the future! And when I thought about Auntie's house, I realized that she would probably need a stair lift at some point. That c ould certainly wait for many years, but it just showed how far into the future Alexandre's grandparents had thought.

Now it was Uncle François again who turned to the rescued houseguest.

"How about it, Elias, would that work for you?"

And again it became apparent that this one not only had a sense of humor but also had no inhibitions about using it.

"Hm... That depends... How long have Alex and Lio been a couple?"

Huh? Why did he want to know that now?

"Two days, Eli. Why?"

Elias swayed his head back and forth, pondering.

"Huh. Two days. That should still be bearable."


"Yes, bearable. I don't suppose you'll be ready to start jumping each others bones in the night and keep me from sleeping that early in your relationship."

Uncle François snorted a sip of now-cold tea across the table, while Alexandre's head turned so red that it would certainly have been unrecognizable against the dwarfs' snowsuits. To be honest my face suddenly felt very hot, too. One thing, however, Elias had probably not considered.

"What do you mean by 'jumping each others bones,' Eli?"

Exactly. The twins. The ten years old (or young) twins.

"Duh, Noël, Lio is Alexandre's petit copain!"

"Oh, yeah right. Hehe!"

That probably settled the question of whether the dwarfs had been enlightened yet. Someone else, however, had a new question.

"Petit copain?"

Alex snuggled even closer to me before answering.

"Boyfriend, Eli."

"Ah, okay, thanks. So like I said, if I'm not a burden to either of them, I'll be happy to sleep on Alexandre's couch."

"Very well, that's settled then. However, I suggest you don't move upstairs until after dinner, that way we won't have to bring the food stuff up there."

"Sure, as I said, I want to be as little of a burden as possible."

"There's no way to totally avoid that, Elias, but this is an exceptional situation now. So please don't suffer from unnecessary pride, if you need help with anything, let someone know. No one will hold it against you."

"Okay, I get it, Uncle François."

"Good, and while we're on the subject of help: Alex, make sure Elias gets a new cooling compress, please. There are two left in the top freezer, so replace the one on his foot please, it shouldn't have much cooling effect left by now."

"No problem Dad, I'll be right back!"

Alex escaped from my arms and dashed off towards the kitchen, while his father turned to Elias once more.

"Do you need anything else for now? Maybe a painkiller?"

Eli, however, shook his head.

"Thanks, but if I keep my foot still, it doesn ' t really hurt."

"Okay, but for the night I'll give you something, maybe a light sleeping pill. Not that you'll go up the wall in pain if you make a wrong move in your sleep."

"Sounds good, thank you, doctor."

At that moment, Alex reappeared as well and replaced the cooling compress. My wandering gaze lingered on his cell phone on the coffee table, and something occurred to me.

"I'm going upstairs real quick and grab my phone in case my aunt calls again. Or Lia."

"That's a good idea, Lio. I guess we should also prepare for the possibility that the power might go out. Ilona, can you get some candles ready? I'll take care of flashlights. Everyone walking through the house should always have one with them from now on, just in case it suddenly goes pitch black in the middle of the stairs."

Ouch, I hadn't even thought of that possibility! And the telephone, Internet and cell phone network could also fail! That would make being snowed in a lot more romantic - but also a lot less practical.

I got up, and before I left the living room, Alexandre's grandpa handed me a flashlight.

"Here, turn it on for a moment to see if it works."

I did as I was told, and a glare of light bathed the floor in front of me in glistening white.

"Very good. Go on then, get your phone."

I nodded and walked upstairs. In my friend's room, I found the cell phone I had put on the desk after the snowyouting. When I lifted it, the display activated, and after I unlocked it I realized that in the meantime I had received a message from my sister.

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