Outside of the Exelaire's home, the wind howled loudly and carried a million tiny snowflakes on its icy breath. It was certainly beautiful to look at, especially because Christmas was so near, but that beauty couldn't distract from the cold. And even inside the house, Elphira was freezing. All bundled up on her bed, wearing a long dress, two pairs of stockings, a coat, a scarf, and a hat, she looked like a tiny eskimo who was caught inside the perfect world of a holiday snowglobe. Except she only looked sweet and tiny to the naked eye. In truth, Elphi's little body was filled with rage from her head all the way to her toes. It boiled and bubbled inside of her, until she just couldn't stand to sit around any longer. She had to deal with it. So she got up from her bed and marched out of her room, right into the kitchen where her brother was standing at the table amid test tubes, burners, and at least a dozen strange looking substances that she couldn't identify. "Alpha!" she called to him, stomping her foot on the ground and crossing her arms about her chest, "Alpha! Where's the tea and cake? It was supposed to be done an hour ago!"
"Don't worry, Elphi, I've got everything right here." Alpha smiled warmly at his little sister and moved a few liquid filled beakers aside to reveal a small, china tea set on which sat three enormous slices of chocolate cake. He knew, even as he was baking it, that the little girl and her stuffed animal friends would never be able to finish all of it, but he always found himself going above and beyond her demands. Ever since the day she was born, Elphi was his little pet. He treated her like a princess, if only because he loved to see her smile. "This is what you wanted, isn't it?"
Elphira half walked, half danced to the edge of the table, where she got her on her toes and craned her neck to inspect the goodies that her brother had laid before her. She took a whiff of the cake and her nose immediately scrunched in protest.
"Well, I did want strawberry frosting, but I guess this is okay." She crossed her arms. "And can't you ever cook something the normal way? You know, in a stove? This molecu- er, gastro-thingy science, is so nerdy. My friends would laugh if they came in here and saw you like this!"
"It's called molecular gastronomy and it's much quicker this way, Elphi. I've explained that to you before." Alphira frowned, shaking his head. "And I'm sorry, I thought for sure that you said chocolate. Forgive me?"
"I guess," his sister replied, "but you should listen harder next time."
"Yes, of course. I'm very sorry."
"You should be." Ever so carefully, Elphi took the tiny tea set into her hands and she began to carry it to her bedroom, where her fluffy guests were waiting. Once inside, she set it down on her little table and glanced back at her door, to see that her brother was waiting in the doorframe. "What?"
"Oh, nothing. I just think your little tea parties are so cute."
Elphi rolled her eyes. "Are you looking for a thank you, or an apology, or something?"
"An apology?" Alpha raised an eyebrow in confusion, and he took a few more steps into the room. "What do you mean? You haven't got anything to be sorry for."
"Okay," she shrugged, "I just figured you'd be annoyed because I made you stay here and cook for me when that girlfriend of yours is in the hospital."
"Nazura?" Alpha stood in the center of the room, looking more puzzled than concerned, and even Elphi wondered how his reaction could be any less appropriate. "In the hospital?"
"Yes! Here we go with the listening thing again, Alpha. Really, do you not pay any attention to me at all?"
"Yes, sorry." He shook his head. "What is she in the hospital for?"
"I don't know. The flu, or something. Her folks called her a little while ago, said she passed out." Elphi shrugged, showing no more concern for the matter. She walked over to her tea table and poured herself a cup, and then one for each of her animal friends. It wasn't until after she'd gone through with the usual greetings of 'Yes, how are you, Mr. Giraffe?' and 'Oh, it's so lovely to see you, Miss Merrywood!' that Alpha came over to her and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Come on, Elphi, get your coat. We're going to visit Nazura."
"No way! Not a chance!" In a flash, Elphira was standing, facing her brother with a look of familiar rage. He'd seen that face before- it was a signal that a tantrum was near- so he chose to be silent. He could deal with her better after she was finished screaming. Elphi crossed her arms. "Look, I am NOT wasting my day on your girlfriend, who is probably perfectly fine! I've got plans that I cannot break, and if you haven't noticed, Mr. Genius, I'm already wearing a coat!"
"Please, Elphi?" Alpha frowned. "When someone you love is in the hospital, the proper thing to do is go and visit them. I would do it for you."
"Yeah, but once again, Genius, I'm not sick."
"How about this then: I'll make it up to you." With a small smile, he took her little hands in his. "Whatever you demand, Princess, I'll do it. Just name your price."
Elphira took a moment to think, and Alpha smiled as he watched her. He found the way that her brow furrowed and nose twitched so adorable, and he had to bite down on his lip to stop himself from laughing. But after a few moments of serious thought, his sister had come to a decision. A little smirk played across her face as she said, "You have to get me two Christmas presents this year, and you have to let me open one early."
Alpha laughed, and gave a little nod. "Done, now go grab your coat."
Elphira produced a little scream and she stomped loudly out of the room, Alpha could hear her yell, "I'm already wearing one!"
When Alpha was just outside the door to Nazura's room, he placed some coins in his hand and bent down to offer them to Elphi. "Here," he told her, "Why don't you take this and go get yourself something out of the machine we passed in the hall. A candy bar, or maybe some chips."
"You're just trying to get rid of me," Elphi replied, though she didn't hesitate in greedily scooping up the coins. "You just want to be alone with your girlfriend, and you don't want me around."
"That's true, but I was trying to say it in the nicest way possible." He smiled.
Elphi gave a loud 'hmpf,' and crossed her arms. "Well, fine!" She said, "I'll go, but only because you're so boring and you don't appreciate me!" She stomped off.
Alphira sighed softly and took a moment to himself before gently rapping his knuckles on the doorframe. He didn't really know how to feel about the situation he was in; nobody he cared about was ever sick enough to be in the hospital, and he'd never had to go on a visit like this before. The only examples he had of how to react were those that he'd read in books or seen on television, and he was sometimes told, often by Nazura, that they weren't entirely accurate. Still, he knew that he couldn't waste all day standing outside of the room when his girlfriend was already expecting him to be there. So with a determined stride, Alpha entered.
"Heeeey, Alpha!" Upon seeing him, Nazura sat up in her bed and gave him a wave, gesturing for him to sit in the chair beside her bed. She didn't know what it was about that boy, but she was always happy to see him. Even when she was in the hospital, feeling miserable from a fever and drowsy from medication. She smiled brightly at Alpha. "I was beginning to think that you weren't coming. Mother kept telling me to just go to sleep, but I knew I had to hold out for you. How are you?"
He stared at her for a moment, tilting his head to one side. "Aren't I supposed to ask you how you are? That's what they do in the books, even though it's a pointless question. It's obvious that you're not doing well, because you're in the hospital."
"Actually, I'm fine!" Nazura giggled. "I feel much better now that I have someone to talk to. It was so boring, being here alone. Why don't you come and have a seat?"
Alpha nodded, but before he took the chair beside her bed he leaned down and kissed her. Her lips were pink and soft and before he knew it, he was kissing her again. And again. But when he went in for the fourth, he felt two small hands upon his chest, pushing him away. "Alpha!"
He blinked. "Did I do something wrong?"
"Yes, you silly boy!" Nazura shook her head. "Don't you know that you're not supposed to kiss someone when they're sick? You could have made yourself sick just now. I don't want that."
"Oh. Uh, sorry? I just like kissing you."
"Well, please don't." Nazura frowned, and then she sat back onto the bed, snuggling into the mountain of pillows that she'd asked the nurses to bring in for her. Now that the high she had from seeing Alpha was gone, the physical pain she was feeling really began to register. She was suddenly aware of little aches in all of her limbs, and her head was pounding. Still, she didn't want to worry anyone, so she didn't say anything.
"So, uh, I heard you passed out."
"That's right," Nazura nodded, "I was doing some Christmas shopping with friends, and I hadn't eaten anything, and I suppose my body just sort of failed. But before the ambulance came, I did manage to get your present." A little grin played across her face, and she giggled. "Of course I won't tell you what it is, but I think you're really going to like it!"
Alphira tilted his head to one side at this, partly because he didn't understand her, and partly because he just realized that he had yet to even think about what he should be buying her for Christmas. "You do know that it isn't possible for your body to have failed, right? If it had, you'd be dead."
"Oh, Alpha, you always take things so literally." Again, Nazura giggled. Then she gave a wave of her hand, a gesture signaling that she wanted him to come closer. "Come here, sit on the bed. I have something that I want to tell you."
"All right," he said, getting up and going to perch himself on the edge of her bed,
"But I don't see why my position in the room should matter. You can speak to me
regardless of where I'm sitting."
"Yes, I know. Just listen, Alphira." She took a deep breath, and then she sighed deeply. Her eyes were looking straight into his, and although he couldn't really understand why, he somehow knew that this was not going to be a normal conversation. He was wondering just what she was going to say to him, when she began to speak. "I want to thank you for coming here today. I know that you probably had better things to do, like looking after Elphi."
"That's right, I did."
She ignored him and continued. "You do so many nice things for me, and I don't think that I really show you just how much I appreciate it. I'm so, so lucky to have you, Alpha." Nazura bit her lip, and when she released it, she smiled. It was the biggest smile that he had ever seen on her. "I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that... well, I love you, Alpha."
Just at that moment, the curtains that separated Nazura's side of the room from the currently unoccupied other side of the room gave a rustle, and a little voice gave a very large "hmpf". It was Elphira, red faced with fury, just seconds away from having oneof her famous rages. "Are you done in here yet, Alphira? I'm getting tired of waiting!"
Alpha slowly turned to face his sister, and he struggled to find the words to answer her. But he could only stare, wide eyed, with his jaw lying on the floor.