I can't put together Christmas presents for all of the Shelf at this point, but the dolls are actually a lot less obsessed with the Giftmas aspect of the holidays than we in my family are (maybe because they are the gifts). They have begun creating their own traditions--feasting, caroling, the Gathering of the Juniper, the brewing of many boozes, Crimbo tales of terror, and so on. At this point, the Middle-earthians (who have been with me the longest) think of presents as something "for the kids," by which they mean Ellowyne, Lyra, and the Twilighters (have you heard my new band, Lyra and the Twilighters?). So, as long as we have enough pie and games and booze, everyone's happy. And I'm definitely not giving out any weapons this year (Tonner Bella has already been supplied with the means to defend herself). I am, however, giving Lyra some marzipan, and a new hat from tinyplasticmeat; rienna_the_red and her sewing circle sent aprons for both The Littlest Bella and Tonner Edward (as my housekeeper, he does get a bit dusty on the job).
However, the biggest present of all is for Clarice:
Galadriel watched me stuff more tissue into the gift bag. "Why is your solution to a problem always 'get more toys'?"
"Because it's fun to get more toys. And also, it works."
She sighed. "Do you really want to go through this again? Again-again?"
"Nothing ever happens the same way twice. Even when it does, it doesn't."
"That's not half as deep as you think it is."
"I don't know about you, but I think Clarice is going to love this."
"No, you do know what I think, because I just said--"
"Hey, you know what? There's a real easy way to settle this." I looked up to the desk shelf. "Hey! You got a moment? We need a reading."
A hand waved to us from behind the advent tree. "I will after Bella knocks over the nutcra--oh, there it goes."
I shook the bag at Alice (the bag made a disgruntled rumbling sound). "I'm gonna give this to Clarice. Is the world gonna end?"
"Not because of that, no!" she said brightly.
So Alice has, in fact, given us the go-ahead on Project Sheep Appeasement, but the results of that are a story for another time. She hasn't even been with us for two weeks at this point, having arrived on my birthday (another story for another time), but I'm already counting on her to help me and Galadriel keep everyone--including her not-brothers--in line. Tonner Edward, nonetheless, has been in a mood. When last we checked in with the dolls, "his" Bella had only recently arrived; in the months since, he's bought ("WITH MY MONEY?" "THEN STOP SAVING YOUR PAYPAL PASSWORD IN THE BROWSER!") two gifts for her that I took away and gave to her myself, because they were actually very thoughtful and useful and entirely inappropriate coming from him. Now circumstances are such that he wants to give her something (reasonably) suitable--himself, in person--and he is incredibly nervous about being rejected. Bella sent him a note earlier in the fall that he still keeps in his jacket pocket--a memento that he regards with a measure of terror, and which leaves him eternally uncertain of himself.
He is also deeply irritated that the surviving Ellowyne is still harassing him. I made the mistake of giving both her and Tonner Bella new dresses for Christmas--well, the dress for Bella was on Alice's advice. She just pointed to the product picture and said, "You're going to need this."
"We're going to have a doll prom?"
"And bid on the second auction. You'll get outbid on the first."
I also managed to get a really pretty dress I had always liked (and on sale!) for Ellowyne One--who has never had a ~*gown*~ before, and is thrilled with her new finery. Such a magnificent outfit almost made up for not being Edward's chosen murder victim, it seemed... except that she still has ambitions in that regard as well. And so she has taken to tossing her curls in his direction, swanning about throatily,
and--on one particularly unfortunate occasion--lassoing Edward with her shawl under the plastic mistletoe. Edward was able to duck out of her wannabe-prey clutches that time, although he did come to me and demand that I put a kitty bell on her, too.
"You say this like you can't mind-hear her coming."
"She's gotten really good at not thinking about it until she POUNCES."
"No, you're just always too busy staring at Bella to pay attention."
"This is a serious complaint!"
"Maybe I can convince her that bells are like SO the hot thing this Christmas."
He gave me a golden topaz amberscotch stink-eye.
So Alice has been trying to calm him down by fixing his hair (mercifully, because it had been taking on an alarming mushroom shape) and playing vampire speed chess (she foresees his moves, he reads her thoughts: IT'S CANON) with him, but it's not helping much. His attention inevitably drifts, and he starts trying to read the other dolls' minds, looking for Tonner Bella in their thoughts--
"If you get up and go look for her now, you're just going to run into Ellowyne. I mean, the one you didn't kill."
"You're just pretending you see that!"
"Alice! Tell me the truth!"
So we have a number of dolls who tend to get in trouble when they're together, and I've ended up up separating the gang so as to avoid civil unrest. Little Bella (the Maker of All Tasty Things) and Purple Arwen (the Keeper of Pie) have been busy in the kitchen, of course; Galadriel is pitching in to help them make fresh batches of miruvor and lembas for the ever-growing Shelf family, and she's offered to use her elven fire so Little Bella can make a Christmas pudding that won't result in her untimely adoraklutz death. Eowyn and Faramir One, meanwhile, are perfecting Eowyn's family recipe for mead. Lyra volunteered for decoration duties on the perilously high shelf over my desk, because: Lyra. So, while I was wrapping Clarice's present, Serafina, Iorek (who was constantly declaring how very not afraid of heights he is), Alice (as you have heard), and Tonner Bella went with her, although I was not sure of this last candidate.
"She's only going to nearly fall once, and Iorek will grab her before it's too late. It'll be fine!"
But it really was best for Tonner Bella to go, because I've had to keep her away from Little Bella (or anything Little Bella considers hers, if you get my meaning) after her shifts at the ranch are over if peace is to be kept. So I assigned Little Edward, White Arwen, and the once and future Ranch Hands of Gondor the job of decorating the Sparklerosa's growing estate, the Aragorns humming carols while Clarice glowered at the festive yipyipyipyipyip of Dot and Dash. She's figured out how to bark at them when they start trying to herd her again, since that's the only thing that scares them off, but mostly, she just hides under the pony grass and mopes.
If it's not one Bella, it's another, and if it's not a Bella, it's a Bella's dogs. Honestly, when you think about it, you can hardly blame her for picking on Tonner Bella. But I've still had to keep the principal anti-Tonner Bella conspirators, both human and ovine, away from both each other and from the target herself.
Anna, of course, nearly had a meltdown when Alice arrived not quite two weeks ago. And that was after the Sweater Drawer Incident (another story, etc.). I've finally figured out how to divert her energies, but it's required a lot of plums, let me tell you. But it seems to have saved both her sanity and her relationship with the increasingly frustrated Lizzie, which is worth all the overpriced winter plums in the world to me.
Faramir Two, however, has not been so fortunate. Well, I mean, everything is moving along fine--it's just that Legolas isn't here for Christmas. He went out into the wilds of suburbia to trade lembas for pipeweed with the university raccoons, as he does, but also to look for Skippy, who should have come home for the holidays by now. I mean, the actual-fact squirrels will be hibernating, so, in theory, Skippy could just slip on back to the house and they'll never know the difference; I have a whole jar of Nutella for him and everything. But we haven't heard from our double agent in a while, and Legolas has been getting concerned ("It is gonna be so harsh if anything's happened to the little dude"). So Legolas said he was going to go looking for Skippy on his way back from the trading post, and... he hasn't come back yet. Faramir Two is trying not to worry--
"Legolas is a most capable woodsman," he said to me, his calm belied by an anxious gaze piercing the woods behind the house (my window has frequently been a scene of angst these last few months). "He may well have stopped on his way to... do... something Legolas."
"Yeah," I said sympathetically. But I wasn't feeling too good about it myself.
I think what Faramir Two did next was motivated by a need to not let on to the others that anything might be wrong; his warriors, particularly the other Middle-earthians, would have noticed if he'd gone looking for Legolas himself. Instead, he went to the only other doll with any squirrel-fighting experience--a dusty sparklepire who was busy cleaning and decorating Ellowyne Two's haunted Strawberry Shortcake house. This year, the midnight stories are going to be hosted by an actual ghost, which is the highlight of Crimbo as far as Lyra's concerned. We have to keep this a bit quiet, though, because Tonner Bella isn't allowed to go into the attic--and she isn't allowed to spend Christmas Eve with the adoring ponies, either, because of Little Bella.
"Yeah... things are kind of complicated around here," Tonner Bella said wistfully. "But, I mean, I understand--I wouldn't want my tiny boyfriend spending Christmas with another girl who was also me, either. What's going on in the attic?"
"Nothing, nothing!" I said quickly. "Just--it's one of--Lyra's things, she--she likes to tell ghost stories on Christmas, you know--the darker and colder the better, and I know you don't like the cold--really cold, you know, because she's got all those furs, and--"
"It's not going to be as fun as the sleepover I planned for us!" Alice chirped, putting 1) an arm around Bella and 2) my babble out of its misery. "Go get your pajamas--the little Bella's making a big plate of cookies for you!"
"How'd you manage that?" I whispered.
"I told the little Bella I'd keep our Bella away from her Edward if she'd pay me off in baked goods." She shrugged. "Everyone wins!"
I honestly think that The Littlest Bella's jealousy is the real problem, rather than any true leaning towards infidelity on her Edward's part. Even so, you can't really blame The Littlest Edward for being fond of Tonner Bella, since she is--in theory--the same person as Little Bella. So, it's... weird. The Littlest Bella has very cannily made a number of concessions regarding residence at the Paradise Estate, and if she wakes up every morning to find Clarice glaring at her through her bedroom window, it seems to be worth it to her to know that her Edward isn't left alone all day with THE GIANT WOMANLY WILES OMG of her larger self.
But I digress (often, and at length. I blame it on the Tubercular Death Blarg). The fact remains that Faramir Two chose to seek aid from Tonner Edward--perhaps because he sensed a fellow sufferer, kept apart from the object of his affections. And, indeed, Edward stuffed something shiny that he had been contemplating into his pocket when he heard Faramir approach.
"How soon do you need me to go?" he asked, leaning on his Dustbuster.
"Now, if you could. I thought you might like to leave--all this."
Edward looked over his shoulder at Ellowyne Two, who was serenely, translucently polishing her new tea set in a thin winter sunbeam. He still faithfully, dutifully has tea with her every afternoon, although I don't think he will ever get over the fact that she's dead and he killed her. You know. That. "I can go tonight, after the ghost stories are done."
"But that won't be until after midnight--are you sure you'll want to go into enemy territory so long after dark?"
Edward showed his teeth in something that was not quite a smile. "What do I have to be afraid of?"
And so that is where things stand this Christmas Eve--Purple Arwen is setting the table while The Littlest Bella grumbles about the pudding not being figgy enough; Anna and Lizzie are hauling in their plumtastic contribution to the feast. Clarice's gift bag is rumbling; The Littlest Edward is putting the ponies to bed, so the Aragorns have taken their carols down to a soft croon. Ellowyne Two is singing to herself in the attic, waiting for the midnight hour; Tonner Edward stands in the half-lit doorway, his work finished, turning something over and over in his hands, not sure when he'll be back to give it to Bella even if he wants to. And Faramir Two stands at my window, gazing into the secretive night as the snow clouds gather.
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