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Title: A Furry Merry Christmas

Author: Rita (dittypiddler)

Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King belong to Shoot the Moon Productions and Warner Brothers. No infringement intended.

Thanks to Cheryl and Nancy Y for the beta.

Summary: Christmas at the Stetson house can be a bit hairy. The third installment in the "Scooter" series.

Timeframe: December 1991

Rating: PG

Feedback: Always


A Furry Merry Christmas


"Oh, my God, not again!" Lee threw down his newspaper and shrank back into the sofa cushions, clapping his hands over his ears. As the racket behind him continued, he sprang to his feet and marched down the hall to the kitchen. "Amanda, please." He held up his hand. "Enough!"

She whirled and looked at him with startled eyes. "Enough what?"

"That song! You’ve been singing it all morning!"

"How could you even hear me over the TV? What are you watching, anyway? ‘Lassie’?"

"I’m not watching--"

"I thought you liked my singing." Her lower lip jutted out. "You sing, or at least you call it singing, when you dry your hair, so why can’t I sing when I dry the dishes?" She crossed her arms over her chest. "I see nothing wrong with singing Christmas songs at Christmastime, and if you weren’t such an old Scrooge . . . and just what’s wrong with my voice? I may not be another Rosemary Clooney, but I’m not that bad, and I fail to see--"

"A-man-da!" Lee held up both hands. "I never said I didn’t like your singing. I do. Very much. I love your singing. But do you have to sing the same song over and over again? Can’t you sing something else?"

"I happen to like this song! And I repeat, if you weren’t such an old Scrooge--"

"I am not an old Scrooge!" He leaned against the counter and studied the pattern of the linoleum, scuffing the toe of his shoe on the braided throw rug in front of the sink. "It’s just . . . well . . . you’re upsetting Scooter." He glanced at her and flashed a sheepish grin.

Amanda fisted her right hand on her hip and stared at him. "Stetson, did I hear you right?" Her eyes narrowed. "Did you just tell me that my singing is upsetting the dog?"

"Ahhh, let me rephrase that." He cleared his throat. "It’s not that your singing upsets him. Maybe that’s the wrong word." Oh, man. Just keep digging that hole deeper, Stetson. "You know, dogs have sensitive ears, and every time you sing that song--"

"So you’re telling me I’m giving Scooter an earache or a headache?" She quirked an eyebrow. "Which is it?"

"Honey, I’m not saying . . . Oh, hell. Come on, I’ll show you." He took her arm and led her down the hall and into the living room. "Scooter, come on out, boy!"

Scooter belly-crawled from behind the couch and rested his muzzle on his front paws, his tail thumping on the carpet.

"Okay, go ahead and sing." He nodded to her and rocked back on his heels, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Lee, this is silly."

"Just do it. Please?"

"Oh, all right." She cleared her throat and sang, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire--"

Scooter jumped up and planted his paws on her waist, stuck his nose in the air, and joined in. "OOWOOWOOWOOWOOWOOOOO."

Amanda’s eyes widened, her cheeks reddened, and her mouth gaped open. She sucked in a deep breath and pointed a trembling finger at the dog. "Are you telling me I’ve been upstaged by that . . . that . . . Luciano Puparotti!"

Lee ducked his head and covered his mouth with his hand, trying to swallow the laugh that bubbled up in his throat. "I believe he thinks you make a great duo, honey. With your contralto and his tenor . . ." Unable to contain himself any longer, he clutched his stomach and doubled over with laughter. "Maybe . . . maybe you should take your act on the road," he choked out.

"Humph! Well, that fickle caterwauler will have to do his own arrangement of ‘Jingle Bells’ then. Count me out!" She scowled at Scooter and stormed out of the room, mumbling something about "canine critics."

With a sigh of relief, Lee settled back on the couch and unfolded his newspaper. Ruffling the paper, he turned to the sports section and glanced at Scooter, curled up at his feet. He adored his wife, and he loved the sound of her voice. But he could do without the doggie duet.


"Scooter, will you get your nose out of my ear?" Lee shrugged his right shoulder, dislodging the dog’s cold nose, and steered the Wagoneer past row after row of spruce, pine, and cedar, hunting for a parking space. It seemed like half the population of Rockville had chosen today to buy a Christmas tree. Spotting an empty niche, he eased the car between a pickup truck and a station wagon and cut the engine, then turned and studied his wife’s subdued expression. During the drive to the lot, her usual cheerful chatter had been missing.

"Honey, are you sure you don’t want to wait until the boys come home for semester break? Phillip and Jamie have always helped pick out the tree--"

"Jamie called just before we left. They won’t be coming until Christmas Eve." Her voice held a note of sadness.

"And why the hell not!" He shoved his fingers through his hair. No wonder she looked so gloomy. They’d both been looking forward to spending time with their sons.

"It’s not their fault, sweetheart. Phillip has to take his make-up chemistry final--the one he missed when he had the flu--and the only time he can take it is on the twenty-third. He’s catching a ride with a classmate the next morning. But with the holiday traffic, it’ll probably take them half the day to get here."

Lee laid his arm across the back of the seat. "And Jamie? What’s his excuse?"

"Hormones, I guess." She sighed. "Mary Ann asked him to go skiing. Her family has a cabin in the mountains, and he wanted to go so badly, I just didn’t have the heart to say no." She bit her lip and stared at her clasped hands. "They’re not little boys anymore, sweetheart. They have other . . . interests."

"Yeah. Girls." He tilted her chin and caressed her cheek with his thumb. "I’d bet a month’s pay that Phillip’s classmate is a girl. Am I right?"

"Uh-huh. Her name is Darlene. According to Phillip, she’s groovy."

"Darlene? What happened to Amy or Anna or Abigail, or whatever her name was?"

"Angela. And that was last month."

"That kid changes girlfriends faster than he changes his socks!" Lee whacked his fist on the dashboard. "He reminds me of me, playing Russian roulette with his social life."

"Gosh, not that bad, I hope!"

"Me, too." He grimaced. "I don’t want him wasting half his life like I did."

She smoothed his hand, entwining their fingers. "Oh, come on, sweetheart. They’re college students now. It’s only natural for them to want to test their wings a little. We were the same way when we were in college, remember?"

"Yeah, I guess you’re right. Boys will be boys." He grinned and winked at her. "Until they become hen-pecked husbands." He laughed and dodged his wife’s swat. "Come on, let’s go find the best tree on the lot." After giving her a quick kiss on the lips, he got out and circled the car to open the passenger’s door. "I guess it’s just you and me this week, huh?" He opened the back door, and Scooter hopped out.

She giggled and pointed to the tree-lined walkway. "And our furry friend."

Lee turned to see the pooch lift his hind leg and water the nearest pine. "Aw, Scooter," he groaned. He snatched the leash from the car and strode toward the dribbling dog.


"Down, Scooter! And quit yapping." Lee kneed his bouncing pet aside and wrestled the six-foot blue spruce through the front door, while Amanda held the storm door open. "For what this thing cost, you’d think they could’ve delivered it, set it up, and decorated it--all part of the service."

"Careful, sweetheart. Don’t break any limbs--yours or the tree’s."

"Ugh, I’ve got it," he grunted.

Scooter bumped against the back of his knees, tipping him headfirst into the evergreen.

"Scoot--" He staggered, his arms flailing, just before the tree hit the floor and he sprawled on top of it with a sickening crunch. "Oof!" Lifting his face out of the prickly branches, he pinned the hovering hooligan with a menacing glare. "Are you trying to kill me, you hairy demolition derby!"

"Oh my gosh!" Amanda knelt beside him. "Oh, sweetheart, are you hurt?" She ran her hands up and down his body.

"Just my pride. And, as much as I’m enjoying your examination, Dr. Stetson, I’m fine." He rolled over and flexed his arms and legs.

"Thank goodness." She let out a long breath. "The tree doesn’t seem to have fared too badly, either."

Scooter clamped the top branch in his teeth and tugged, growling at an imaginary enemy.

"I guess he thinks he’s attacking my assailant." Wincing, he put his arm around Amanda’s shoulders, and she helped him to his feet. "I hate to tell you, pal, but you were my assailant. You may technically still be a puppy, but you’re not lap-dog size anymore."

Shaking his head and flapping his ears, Scooter slunk over to Lee and rolled onto his back, tucking his paws into his chest--the picture of remorse.

"Okay, fella, I forgive you." He bent and scratched his clownish friend’s tummy. "Just stop jumping like a frog, huh?"

With a happy yip, Scooter leaped to his feet and chased his tail. His gawky body careened into the entry table, setting a vase filled with poinsettia wobbling.

Amanda gasped and lunged for the teetering crystal, catching it just as it toppled over the edge. Clutching the vase to her chest, she cocked her head at Scooter. "Sweetheart, how long did the book say puppyhood lasts?"

"Two years, honey." Lee sighed. "Two very long years." He hefted the tree and maneuvered it into the living room.


"Damn it, Scooter, give me that!" Lee yanked the extension cord out of the dog’s mouth and tossed it into a box. "When are you gonna learn to stop chewing on cords, huh?"

Scooter wagged his tail and ambled over to check out a pair of skis leaning against the wall.

Stepping over cartons filled with ornaments, tinsel, and colored lights, Lee scratched his head and surveyed the cluttered attic. "Amanda, are you sure you put the mechanical Santa up here?"

"Sure, I’m sure." She wiped her brow and lifted another box down from the shelf in the corner. "Besides, I saw it when I was looking for Mother’s suitcase. She called today, by the way. Uncle Herman should get the cast off his leg before Christmas."

"That’s good. I miss her." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, old jelly belly’s not here now. We found everything else." He started shoving the boxes toward the door. "Do you really need the Santa?" She already had enough doodads to decorate half of Macys. But if she asked him to put antlers on Scooter’s head and hitch him to Phillip’s old sled, he’d probably do it. He could never say no to her. Especially when she looked at him with those big brown eyes--the way she was looking at him right now.

"But, sweetheart, it wouldn’t be the same without ‘Old Saint Nick’ standing by the tree and waving his hand." She blew a lock of hair off her forehead. "It’s not very big. Maybe it fell down behind something." She tugged at the cedar chest sitting next to an old bookcase.

"A-man-da!" Lee crossed the room in three long strides. "Here, let me do that. I’m much too fond of your body to let you strain something." He heaved the chest away from the wall and peeked behind the bookcase. "Nothing there."

"Well, it couldn’t have just walked away." She sank down onto the chest and leaned her elbows on her knees, cupping her face in her hands.

"Why not?" He winked. "After all, it’s mechanical." He settled down beside her and gently squeezed her shoulder. There must be another waving Saint Nicholas somewhere between here and the North Pole. Maybe one of the specialty shops had them in stock.

"Very funny, Stetson." She stuck out her tongue at him and swatted his arm. "I guess you’re right, though. It’s not here. Maybe it’ll turn up later." She grimaced. "Probably after Christmas, when I don’t need it."

"Well, if we don’t--" He vaulted from his seat as Jamie’s old bicycle crashed to the floor. "Damn it, you hairy hound! Will you stay out of this stuff?" He pulled the bike from under Scooter’s snuffling nose and righted it, then shooed the blundering buffoon out the door. "Go downstairs and chew on a bone or something."

Amanda snickered. "Too bad he isn’t a hound. He could track down my missing Santa Claus."

"Unfortunately, he’s a retriever, not a Bloodhound." He grasped her hand and pulled her to her feet. "As I was saying, if we don’t find it, I’ll buy you another one. Deal?"

"You’ve got a deal, big fella." Her lips spread into a wide grin. She slipped her arms around his neck and hugged him. "You know, you’re a very satisfactory husband, and I love you very much."

"I love you, too, honey." He furrowed his brow. "But I’m only satisfactory?"

"Umm, how about exceptional?" She ran her fingers through his hair. "And extraordinary." Her fingertip traced his lips. "And amazing."

"Ahh, that’s more like it." He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her deeply, then drew back and gazed into her sparkling eyes. "How about we take these boxes downstairs, and then I’ll show you just what an exceptional husband I am, if you get my drift?"

"Oooh, sounds like a plan, Stetson." She wiggled against him.

"On second thought, we’ll get this stuff later." He scooped her up in his arms and carried her out of the attic and down the hallway to their bedroom.

~ ~ ~ ~

"Honey, did you hear something?" Lee tucked his shirt into his jeans, tilting his head toward the bedroom door.

"It’s probably just Scooter. You know how he hates to be shut out." Amanda finished tying her shoe and straightened the comforter.

"Yeah, well, there’re times when three’s a crowd." Suddenly he heard a thunk, followed by a whine, then a yelp. "What the hell!" He flung open the door. When he saw the catastrophe before him, he clutched his head with both hands. "Scooter!"

Scooter whimpered and gave him a sorrowful look and a dejected wag of his tail.

Muttering a string of expletives, he stalked toward the glittering scoundrel. "Of all the crazy . . ." Hearing a strangled gasp, he looked over his shoulder.

"Oh my gosh!" Amanda stood frozen in the doorway, her wide-eyed gaze fixed on Scooter. "It sure as heck looks like he ‘hunted’ and ‘retrieved’ my Santa, along with everything else!" She groaned and leaned her head against the door.

Lee picked up the soggy Santa and handed it to her, then knelt to unwrap Scooter. After plucking masses of silver and gold tinsel from the dog’s neck, legs, and belly, he started unwinding what seemed like five yards of red and green ribbons from the culprit’s head, muzzle, and drooping tail. He pulled the last ribbon free and eyed the trail of colorful ornaments littering the hallway. Wads of cotton batting and what looked like globs of fake snow led from the storage room to the stairs. This must be how Santa’s workshop looked after the New Year’s Eve party--if the elves were sloshed to the gills.

"I guess we forgot to close the attic door. Heaven knows what chaos we’ll find in there." Amanda lifted a torn cardboard box and stuffed the crunched Santa Claus into it. "‘Old Saint Nick’ will never wave again." She sighed and began gathering the ribbons and ornaments. "If Scooter was a child, at least I could cancel his allowance."

"Right now I’d like to cancel his warranty!" Lee glowered at the rumpled villain and helped his wife pick up the scattered decorations.


"Easy does it, sweetheart. It’s older than Methuselah." Twisting her hands together, Amanda held her breath as Lee threaded the top bough of the tree through the wire hook, securing her grandmother’s porcelain angel. Each year, for as long as she could remember, Nanna’s Christmas angel had graced the tree.

"There." He screwed the transparent bulb in place under the angel’s flowing robe. "All done. And not a bad job, if I do say so myself."

She plugged the cord into the outlet and stepped back to admire the blinking red, green, and blue lights reflecting off the multicolored ornaments. With each twinkle of the lights, the colors danced and shimmered like tiny, iridescent rainbows. The silver garnish crisscrossing the tree added to the prismatic effect.

"It’s beautiful! And I love my new Santa, too." She flicked a switch on the base of the statuette, and the two-foot Santa Claus began nodding his head and waving a candle from side to side. When she flipped another switch, the jolly old elf played "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town."

"It’s much nicer than the old one. And a lot bigger." She slid her arms around his broad shoulders and hugged him, inhaling the musky scent of his aftershave. "Thank you, sweetheart."

"My pleasure, honey."

Scooter moseyed into the living room, his shaggy stuffed gorilla clasped in his teeth. With a yelp, he dropped the toy and scrambled behind the couch.

"What’s wrong with him?" She drew back from her husband’s embrace and nodded toward the plumed tail sticking out from behind the sofa.

"He’s afraid of ‘Old Saint Nick.’ When that contraption comes to life, he runs for cover." Lee chuckled. "At least we don’t have to worry about him eating it. He won’t go near the tree."

"Aw, poor baby." Amanda peeked behind the sofa. "Come on out, boy. Santa won’t hurt you." A wagging tail was Scooter’s only response. She reached behind the couch and petted the pup. "Well, I never thought ‘Kris Kringle’ would be pulling guard duty, but I’m glad we don’t need to worry about that canine calamity demolishing the tree."

"Come on, Scooter! Are you a man or a mouse? Face up to your nemesis!" Lee laughed and shook his head. "I think he’s more of a ‘cowardly lion’ than a ‘Rambo.’"

Amanda turned off the Santa and unplugged the tree lights. "It’s time for bed anyway. We both have early meetings in the morning." She snapped her fingers. "Oh, I forgot to tell you. Speaking of Scooter’s manhood, I called the you know who and made an appointment for his you know what after the holidays."


"I called the v-e-t and made an appointment to get Scooter n-e-u-t-e-r-e-d," she whispered.

Lee pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "Amanda, why are you whispering? And why on earth are you spelling?"

"You remember the last time you took him to the v-e-t to get his s-h-o-t-s?" Lee had come home looking almost as disheveled as he did after the skunk incident a couple of months ago. And Scooter had sulked for a week.

His face fell. "Oh, God." His shoulders slumped. "Do I have to take him?" He looked like a little boy, begging to stay home from school to avoid a math test.

"Yes." She mustered her will power and steeled her heart. Not even his pleading hazel eyes would save him this time. Just as long as he didn’t flash those irresistible dimples . . . "It’s time, sweetheart. He’ll be six-months-old next month, and Dr. Anderson said--"

"I know, I know," he groaned. "But I’d rather face an army of KGB agents." Lee glanced at Scooter, who was inching from his hiding place, and raked his fingers through his hair. "Come on, fella. Let’s go out." His head bowed and shoulders sagging, he trudged toward the door.

When Scooter peered around the couch, Amanda could swear she saw a malevolent gleam in his brown eyes, before he scampered after Lee. Was that look directed at the silent Santa or her? Had that dog learned to spell? "Nah. He couldn’t have." She dusted her hands together and switched off the rest of the lights. "After all, he can’t even read, so how could he spell?"


The windshield wipers swished a steady rhythm, in a valiant battle with the deluge of water pounding the sports car. As the Corvette threatened to skid on the slick pavement, Lee gripped the wheel tighter and brought the car back under control. If the weather guy considered this downpour a twenty-percent chance of precipitation, what would he call a flood? Thank God Amanda had taken the afternoon off. Although the Wagoneer was better equipped than the ‘Vette for navigating the road-turned-river, he didn’t want her driving alone in this weather.

By the time the headlights illuminated the lane leading to the old farmhouse, the rain had slackened to a dismal drizzle. After passing the stable, he rounded the last curve and stopped the car. He sat for a few moments and gazed at his haven, feeling the familiar warmth creep into his heart. Candles glowed in every window, and twinkling lights peeped through the greenery he’d fastened to the railing that encircled the veranda. More lights flickered around the eaves of the house. Grayish-white smoke from the two-story stone chimney spiraled skyward, welcoming him home.

He pushed the automatic garage door opener, and the double doors obediently glided upward. After parking the ‘Vette next to the Wagoneer, he kicked Scooter’s abandoned rawhide bone aside and locked the garage. Pulling his coat collar snugly around his neck, he sprinted past the miniature reindeer and sleigh and climbed the stone steps to the veranda. He paused with his hand on the doorknob and looked back at Rudolph’s shiny red nose beaming through the cold mist. At least he’d talked Amanda out of putting a Santa Claus on the roof.

As he entered the foyer, the soft strains of "O Holy Night" drifted from the living room. After hanging his overcoat in the hall closet, he draped his jacket and tie over the banister and headed toward the tempting aroma of fresh-baked cookies wafting from the kitchen. Spying his wife at the stove, he snapped into agent mode and crept up behind her, ready to pounce.

"I hear you, Stetson. After all these years, do you really think you can sneak up on me?" She turned and kissed him lightly. "You must be losing your touch, big fella."

"Aw, shucks. I hope I haven’t lost any of my other skills." Lee swept her into his arms and kissed her thoroughly. "How’s that, Mrs. Stetson? Do I still have what it takes?"

"Oh, wow." Amanda fanned her flushed face with a potholder. "That was definitely a sizzler, Mr. Stetson." She smiled and walked her fingers up his shirt. "Got any more smooches like that one?"

More than a little effected himself, he ran his hands down her back and pulled her against his chest. "You bet I do." He claimed her lips again in a lingering kiss. "Mmmm. I’ll never get enough of your smooches, my love." He brushed a smudge of flour from her cheek and nodded toward the crowded countertop. "Looks like you have enough food to feed a platoon."

"Well, the boys will be starved when they come home tomorrow. I bet they haven’t had a decent meal since Thanksgiving."

"Honey, they do feed them at college. I remember this cook at our fraternity house. She had the biggest . . ." His hands formed an hourglass in the air. Noting Amanda’s arched brows, he ran a fast mental avoidance pattern. "The biggest skillet . . ."

Her elbow poked his ribs. "Yeah, right, Stetson." She snorted and pulled a cookie sheet from the oven. "Something tells me the lady wasn’t admired for her culinary talents."

Time to change the subject. "Where’s Scooter? I’ve usually been mauled by now."

"I let him out a few minutes ago. Didn’t you see him?"

"No." He heard a scratching sound and opened the back door.

Carrying a lone stick of kindling in his mouth, the puppy bounded into the kitchen and planted his muddy paws on Lee’s hip.

"Aw, Scooter!" He grabbed a wad of paper towels and wiped the dog’s feet, then dabbed at his paw-printed pants. "You’re gonna have to get a job to pay my dry-cleaning bill, pal."

"Sweetheart, that rascal baffles me sometimes." Amanda’s gaze was riveted on the puppy. "Just before I let him out, I wondered out loud if we needed more firewood, and now he brings in wood. It’s very strange." Her eyes widened. "You know, maybe he can spell!"

"Huh?" He reached behind her and snitched a couple of sugar cookies.

"Never mind." She smacked his hand. "Sweetheart, don’t spoil your dinner. Now go wash up."

"Yes, ma’am." He dodged around her and snatched another cookie. Ducking her playful punch, he laughed and bolted from the kitchen, with Scooter romping beside him.

"And hang up your jacket and tie." His wife’s voice sang out behind him.

"She knows me too well," he mumbled around a mouthful of cookie. After a brief tug of war, he wrangled the stick from the dog’s teeth and laid it on the crackling fire. Chuckling at the puppy’s aggrieved expression, he retrieved his discarded clothes and raced Scooter up the stairs. As usual, his "Speedy Gonzales" pet won the nightly competition. When Lee puffed to the top, Scooter wagged his tail and gazed at him with a triumphant glint in his eyes.

"Whew!" He swiped his shirtsleeve across his brow and patted the dog’s head. "Don’t look so smug, buddy. After all, you’re a helluva lot younger than I am. And you have four feet, which gives me a distinct disadvantage." He slung his jacket over his shoulder and followed Scooter to the bedroom.


"Oh, sweetheart, look! It’s snowing!"

Lee took a sip of coffee and glared at the fluffy white flakes floating past the bay window. Rain last night and now, snow this afternoon. Had the weatherman even attended meteorology school? He was about as accurate as Amanda’s old boyfriend--what’s his name. Probably the same guy. Whoever the jerk was, he didn’t have to slog through a sloppy corral to feed the horses. But his wife’s radiant smile more than compensated for mucky boots.

"I hope Phillip’s girlfriend has snow tires on her car." He swallowed the last of his coffee and set his cup in the sink.

"Oh my gosh!" Amanda frowned, twisting the dishtowel in her hands. "And they’re supposed to pick up Mother and Jamie at the train station, too. What if they can’t get here?"

"Don’t worry, honey. I don’t think there’ll be much accumulation in the next few hours. And I can always go after them."

"Right." Her smile returned. "I guess I got a little frazzled for a second." She brushed her lips against his. "Thank you, sweetheart."

Whining and squirming, Scooter jumped up on the back door, wagging his tail like a semaphore.

"I’d better let him out before he pops." Lee opened the door, and Scooter shot past him. "I think I’ll take care of the horses and get some firewood, so I don’t have to do it tonight." He pulled on his coat and boots and headed for the stable.

~ ~ ~ ~

Amanda squeezed a tray of ham sandwiches between the pitcher of eggnog and a chocolate cream pie and closed the refrigerator door. Barring any weather delays, the rest of her family would be arriving in an hour. Well, she was ready for them. The house was squeaky clean, and she had enough food to fill even Phillip and Jamie’s bottomless-pit stomachs. She tugged off her apron and collapsed onto the nearest chair. It would be nice to relax for a while. Maybe cuddle with her handsome husband in front of the fire.

Was that Lee thumping on the door? He must need help with the wood. She rose and opened the door, and then swayed back against the counter, gasping at the sight before her. His clothes were caked with . . .

"Oh my gosh! Is that what I think it is?"

Jiggling a slimy Scooter in his arms, her husband stomped past her. "It sure as hell is! This fool’s been rolling in horse shit!" The look on Lee’s face reminded her of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens.

"But it’s Christmas Eve," she murmured. That remark sounded inane, even to her own ears. She shook her head and followed his yucky footprints to the laundry room. So much for her squeaky-clean house. And cuddling in front of the fire.

"Tell that to him!" He chucked the wiggling puppy into the deep utility sink. "I’m sorry, Amanda, but it’s too cold to hose him off outside." He tore off his smelly coat and sweatshirt and flung them across the floor.

As Scooter clambered up the side of the sink, he crammed the juvenile delinquent back into the makeshift tub and turned on the sprayer. When the water hit him, Scooter shook himself, sending a shower of inky ooze dripping down Lee’s bare chest. Wincing at her husband’s innovative language, she grabbed a towel and the bottle of doggie shampoo from the shelf and handed them to him.

With a resigned sigh, she picked up the mop and bucket and trudged back to the kitchen. Turning on the faucet, she poured a generous amount of Lysol into the bucket and gritted her teeth. Did "peace on earth and goodwill toward men" include dogs? As she slammed the mop into the bucket and attacked the grimy floor, Amanda began mentally reciting what had become her mantra since Scooter joined the family. ‘All creatures, great and small . . . all creatures, great and small . . .’


Lee glanced at the mound of gaily-wrapped presents under the tree and stockings hanging from the mantelpiece. Amanda would still be stuffing Phillip and Jamie’s stockings when she was a grandmother. But hopefully, grandchildren were not in the foreseeable future. He stirred the dying embers of the fire and added another log. That should be enough to keep it going for now. After positioning the fireplace screen, he rubbed his hands together and plopped down on the couch next to his wife.

"Ahh, alone at last." He sighed and slipped his arm around her shoulders.

"Too bad we don’t have a Yule log to burn." Amanda set her eggnog on the end table and snuggled against him. "I can’t believe I forgot to get one."

"Honey, a log is a log. That one’s oak, so it’s close enough. Just pretend it has all the trimmings, okay?" He winked and gave her a peck on the lips.

"You’re such a romantic, sweetheart." She laughed and ruffled his hair. "But I guess we have our share of good luck. Mother and the boys made it home safely, and we’re all together."

"Uh-huh. And Scooter didn’t cause too many more disasters. If you don’t count the incident with Phillip’s friend." The girl had jumped a foot and shrieked like a banshee when the perverted pooch stuck his nose up her skirt and seized her panties in his teeth. And Phillip’s face had turned a shade of red Lee didn’t know existed in the color spectrum.

"Oh my gosh, I was mortified! But the sight of you chasing after Scooter was hilarious." Amanda giggled. "And when you handed Darlene her torn underwear, the look on your face was priceless."

"Um, not one of my better moments, hon." He fingered the lump on the back of his head. Whoever had left the basement door open would get an earful. He’d had to haul Scooter, along with the young lady’s bikini panties, from behind the furnace--and banged his head on a pipe in the process.

"He really is a character, though. His antics remind me of some of the mischief the boys got into when they were little."

Lee raised his eyebrows. "Not stealing little girls’ underwear or wallowing in--"

"Good heavens, no!" She wrinkled her nose. "And mud pies were the closest they ever came to anything unmentionable."

Lying stretched out in front of the stone fireplace, Scooter whimpered in his sleep, his legs moving in a running motion.

"He must be dreaming that he’s chasing something. I hope it’s not your Christmas turkey." He’d already caught the puppy eyeing the uncooked bird.

She softly sang, "Tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow, will find it hard to sleep tonight."

"Scooter’s favorite song." He chuckled and kissed the top of her head.

"Yeah. Though when I checked on them, the boys were dead to the world. And poor Mother was exhausted. Uncle Herman really gave her a workout. We’d better get to bed, too, so Santa can come."

"Mmm-hmm." He cocked his head toward the pile of gifts. "Looks like he’s already been here. But first . . . " He pulled a sprig of mistletoe from his pocket and held it over her head.

Amanda smiled and slid her arms around his neck. "Merry Christmas, sweetheart."

"Merry Christmas, my love." As their lips met, Lee wrapped his arms around his wife, holding her in his heart, as well as his embrace. He already had the greatest gift of all.


The End


Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a goodnight.

from Lee, Amanda, and "Scooter" Stetson.































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