66 – Walking in a Winter Wonderland; or Boy, is It Cold Outside

Paris a winter wonderland or no, a walk in the park is the last thing on Hank’s mind this Christmas. Too bad his humans have other ideas.

Takes place Christmas 2010.

*******
I tried to resist, I really did…
Sadly, resistance is futile.

*******


For Frank,
Just remember you did ask me to write you a story for Christmas. Although I vaguely recall you stipulating something about you getting to be the hero for once. I guess this means you’ll just have to settle for being my usual literary muse and real life hero.

P.S. Don’t even think about it.

*******

Humans were nuts.

A fact Hank knew perfectly well. Particularly when it came to his two humans.

But this, this took the cake.

No sane creature would willingly choose to venture out into the below freezing cold when they could be curled up warm and snug at home.

And if it were merely a matter of necessity, there was a perfectly good lamppost no more than five feet from their front door that would serve just fine. He could be out and back again in a flash.

There was certainly no reason for the donning of boots and coats and hats and scarves and whatever other clothing nonsense humans used to keep the cold at bay.

These sorts of dressing rituals always left Hank feeling fortunate that he needn’t bother, having been blessed to be born with a perfectly functional all-weather coat. Well almost all weather.

That didn’t stop some humans from inflicting the indignity of clothes on his fellow canines, as Hank well knew from all his time in Vegas. Sweaters were bad enough; little booties worse. Those fuzzy red hats with white pompoms on the end had to be punishment for whatever terrible misdeeds one had done during the year.

Apparently he wasn’t the only one eschewing the prospect of an arctic expedition that evening. From her obvious dawdling and its attendant low level grumbling, his female human, the one the other mostly called Sara didn’t seem exactly thrilled either. Which meant it was technically two against one. But then life was seldom ever democratic, particularly for dogs.

It was a lost cause in any case.

Thanks to Gilbert, his male human.

Although why exactly Sara so seldom ever called him that Hank never understood. After all, she’d been very adamant in addressing him as such when Gilbert had first brought him home.

But then a dog could spend a lifetime trying to figure out his humans and not get very far.

In any case, Gilbert was giving Sara one of those looks. And she was always such a sucker for that lopsided smile and twinkle-eyes of his.

Of course Hank really couldn’t talk, as he wasn’t exactly above using such underhanded tactics to get his way either.

But still — the park, in this weather?

Not that the park wasn’t a perfectly decent destination. It was full of fascinating smells and there were usually plenty of other dogs and when it was warm out, you could sprawl out on the concrete and soak up the sun while enjoying a very pleasant nap. But this was winter. And not just cold out, but there was snow on the ground.

Snow of all things.

And Hank wasn’t any more fond of the stuff now than he’d been that winter two years ago when Gilbert had first insisted on taking him for a walk on the unfamiliar crunchy white stuff. Hank, having been bred, born and raised in Las Vegas and therefore having never encountered the likes of which before hadn’t been all that keen on repeating the experience.

Yet here he was, paws deep in the stuff.

Chantal, that pretty chow from a few houses down, wouldn’t be caught dead in this weather. But then the French were far more sensible about such things.

Américains fous, indeed.

And with the sidewalks still scattered with snow, Hank was starting to rethink his objections to booties. They might look silly, but they’d probably come quite in handy at the moment. Although as long as he kept moving, he found his feet didn’t get too cold.

Tell that to his humans, who seemed intent on pausing to note every snow shrouded statue and frozen fountain along the way.

Not that they were entirely immune to the cold. At least Sara wasn’t.

When they’d first stepped out into the crisp brisk air she shivered with the shock of it. Except then she’d proceeded to slip her arm through Gilbert’s and snuggle close to him, something that only served to positively reinforce a particularly bad behavior in Hank’s opinion.

As really the weather wasn’t fit for man, let alone beasts.

The rest of Paris seemed to agree. For they encountered few other fools out and about on the streets that night. There were few signs of what Hank regarded as one of the strangest sights of the season: Parisiens huddled beneath a motley sea of multicolored umbrellas all hoisted to keep off the snow.

What Hank didn’t know was that there was more than just the cold keeping the city inside that evening. It being Christmas and with literally the whole of Paris being shut down in celebration of Le jour de Noël, most of the city’s remaining inhabitants – those who hadn’t disappeared for the annual holiday migration – opted to partake of the warmth and shelter of hearth and home.

So it really did prove to be une dounce nuit, a silent night in the City of Lights. Albeit with all the snow, it was more a City of White.

A reality which caused Gilbert to quip, “Ça commence à avoir l’air de Noël – it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” and Sara to rejoin with a laugh, “Good thing, it being today,” before sighing, “Though I have to admit I wasn’t exactly dreaming of un Noël blanc.”

Humans Hank had long learned made a rather big deal about something they called Christmas. Why anyone would want to celebrate it being the middle of winter was beyond his understanding. Ultimately for him, Christmas frequently meant a new bone to gnaw on and extra helpings from fresh boxes of his favorite treats. This year, he’d scored a brand new tug rope as well as a thoroughly satisfyingly sounding squeak toy, the latter from Sara, but which had somehow managed to disappear at some point during the day. Hank didn’t like to point paws but he was pretty sure Gilbert had something to do with its disappearance.

But beyond that, he didn’t understand the fuss.

Not that his humans were as bad as some. He’d spent the year before with one of Gilbert’s students and his voluminous and voluble family. All that paper and ribbon and bows and children and noise.  The surfeit of belly rubs and the numerous strange, yet very tasty treats surreptitiously slipped to him from the table had more than made up for it. So much so he’d ended up with a bit of a stomachache.

But what a way to get a stomachache: turkey and chestnuts, lobster, oysters. And something absolutely divine, which he was pretty sure his host family called foie gras. None of which his humans ever served at their house. Even if they did, Gilbert and Sara had the terrible habit of insisting that people food was strictly for people and never dogs.

Hank hadn’t been the only one to have a happy holiday that year. Wherever Gilbert had disappeared off to, he must have enjoyed himself immensely. For he came back smiling and with his clothes strangely smelling of Sara.

At least once they’d finally reached the park, Gilbert was good enough to unhook his leash so Hank was finally free to wander off on his own. Which came as a relief as he had absolutely no interest in indulging in more leisurely gawking, something even Sara despite all her earlier grumbling seemed intent on doing now.

Not that there was all that much to do there in his opinion. It was too cold for chess players, for floating boats, or the sedate perusals of novels or newspapers, particularly as the numerous chairs and benches were heaped with snow. So definitely not the time or the place for dog watching. And even if his humans weren’t watching, it was no fun attempting to chase the pigeons, all plump and puffed up as they were. Where was the sport in that?

He did however make sure to leave his calling card near the base of a couple of trees. The niceties still had to be observed, no matter the weather.

He was interrupted mid-sniff by a shriek of surprise. Evidently Sara, who was for the most part usually surefooted, had missed a slick spot in the low lamplight and took a tumble into the snow.

How exactly, Hank had no clue. The ground felt fairly firm to him, but then four feet were always better than two; there was no questioning that fact.

His assertion was rather quickly and amply proven when in the process of helping Sara, Gilbert ended up sprawled in the snow beside her. Perhaps in this case, it was more the two of them laughing so hard than actual clumsiness.

Hank could barely make out Sara gasping, “You know what they say, ‘All’s fair…’” or Gilbert asking, “And which one is this?” among all the hysterics.

Even if they were just beginning.

For in swift succession several very strange things happened. As his two humans were attempting to get back onto their feet again, Sara scooped snow into Gilbert’s hat before replacing it on his head.

Now Hank had to agree with her that this was funny — and served Gilbert right for all his let’s go for a walk in the snow nonsense. But then Gilbert decided that he shouldn’t be the only one wearing snow and shoved some down Sara’s neck where her scarf had come undone.

To which Sara let out a loud cry of “This means war!”

And then the snow really began to fly.

Hank barked and gamboled between them. Freezing or not, he wasn’t about to miss out on the fun. He chased after their thrown snowballs, delighting in this new variation on catch, even if he was slightly perplexed in how they seemed more intent on dodging the balls than catching them.

None of which exactly made for peace on earth, or at least not peace in the park.

Not that any of the three of them were complaining. Most assuredly not Hank whose heart was cheered at the sound of his humans’ ringing laughter.

Not that they didn’t laugh, his humans. Though not nearly enough and usually not like this. They tended to be fairly quiet, his two, particularly Gilbert and particularly when Sara was away.

Hank couldn’t exactly blame him. He missed Sara, too, even if she really couldn’t carry a tune. Especially when she had her headphones in. Plus, she knew where Gilbert kept the treats and could reach them (a feat even with his four feet he could never quite manage). That and she gave the best belly rubs.

Besides, Gilbert was far less distracted and far happier when she was around. Hank certainly preferred that to the alternative.

Hank had heard mention of elephants having long memories, but as little well known as the fact was, dogs had them as well. He certainly remembered all too well how inconsolable Gilbert had been when Sara had gone away that last time in Vegas. Admittedly, he hadn’t been the only one.

So Hank relished in their laughter and their play.

He gave a loud bark of approval when with a particularly accurate throw, Sara managed to knock the hat from Gilbert’s head. Then while Gilbert bent to retrieve it, Hank watch curiously as Sara stole off into the shelter and concealment of a long line of snow decked towering elms.

What, were they playing hide and seek now?

Still, this new game amused him.

Gilbert seemed likewise amused. There was merriment in how he called out, “I never would have pegged you for a chicken, Sara.”

Sara chuckled back, “Nothing wrong with attempting to maintain a strategic position.”

At this, Hank followed Gilbert who was following her footprints in the snow. Of course Hank didn’t need such obvious clues. Unlike Gilbert, he didn’t need to be able to see Sara to find her. Sara’s scent was unmistakable. She smelled like flowers, something there weren’t exactly a lot of in the park at the moment.

He bounded ahead, found her easily and was about to announce his discovery when Sara hushed him.

Of course it was too late.

“You might want to rethink your strategy,” said Gilbert, standing before them both, one very large well-packed snowball in hand. “The foot prints are a dead giveaway, dear.”

Sara’s eyes dared him to throw it.

So he did.

And missed completely.

Or so Hank reckoned. Sara too.

For she crowed, “Ha! That was long, fly and aw–” until a deluge of snow toppled down upon her and Hank, effectively cutting her off in mid-taunt and leaving Hank to rue as he shook the snow from his coat that he’d obviously picked the losing side.

Gilbert plainly looking way far too smug for his own good, grinned, “Your physics getting a little rusty?”

This being Sara, perhaps he – and Gilbert –- should have known better.

For in barely the wag of a tail, Sara had Gilbert pinned in the snow.

“Uncle?” she demanded, attempting to be serious, but failing miserably. Even Hank could hear she was having way too much fun to be upset.

“Uncle?” Gilbert echoed, before asking, “How old are you?”

“I think the real question is How cold are you?”

Gilbert must have been cold, lying there flat on his back. It didn’t take him long to readily concede, “Uncle,” then when Sara appeared not to hear him, insist, “Uncle. Truce. Whatever. You win.”

Hank took this as a good sign. Perhaps Gilbert had finally come to his senses and they could all head home where it was warm.

Except while Sara may have let him sit up, neither of them seemed quick to head anywhere. His scarf had come loose at some point during the fray and she was rubbing her thumb along that bare bit of skin just above Gilbert’s beard.

Gilbert sometimes had a furry face, sometimes not, usually not these days. Although he’d started growing it back out again a few weeks before. Probably because it had gotten a lot colder in Paris.

Sara didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she seemed to favor fur, which Hank always figured worked in his favor.

Gilbert had the ends of her scarf in his hands, tugging her closer. Hank had a pretty good idea what was going to happen next, what humans called kissing, even if he couldn’t comprehend why they would prefer that to licking. Tongues being longer and larger than lips, they covered more territory in one go. And more was more.

Thus Hank wasn’t all that surprised when Sara recoiled with a squeal. Gilbert may have been confused at her reaction, but he wasn’t. And despite what she said, Hank knew cold noses had nothing to do with it. It was Gilbert’s fault in technique.

Perchance a demonstration was in order; he show Gilbert how he should be doing it.

The end result being that when Gilbert went in for another attempt at a kiss, all he ended up with was a face full of dog slobber.

Hank’s efforts were rewarded with a laugh from Sara of “There’s no way I’m kissing you now,” and Gilbert saying, “Thanks a lot, Hank.”

Oblivious and indeed ignorant to the human habit of sarcasm, Hank took Gilbert’s gratitude for praise, his stump of a tail wiggling so hard and fast it practically wagged the rest of him. At least Sara was good for an affectionate rub behind the ears.

In any case, she must not have been serious about her previous threat. She soon kissed Gilbert anyway. Though it was a quick kiss with definitely no tongue.

Silly humans, they never did learn.

But at least they were finally getting to their feet. A very good thing considering the occasional smattering of flakes, that light, barely misting of snow which had accompanied their earlier walk to the park had by now given way to the flutter of fat Hollywood flakes and it was snowing in earnest yet again.

And for once, even Gilbert seemed to share Hank’s eagerness to be safe, warm and dry back home.

*******

Once inside and free from his leash, Hank bounded off upstairs, having no desire to wait around to watch Gilbert and Sara shuck off their snow sodden shoes, peel off soaked through gloves and fumble with coat buttons and zippers with cold numbed fingers.

He was headed to bed at last, the place he’d been wanting to occupy for the better part of an hour now, and nothing was going to get in his way.

Although he did have to admit as he attempted to arrange the covers just the way he liked them, that with the three of them in the bed, at least he wouldn’t have to worry about waking up freezing in the middle of the night if the power went out. Gilbert’s tendency to hog the covers and Sara the bed notwithstanding.

He just didn’t expect to be sharing said bed quite so soon.

Yet there was no mistaking the hurried footsteps thundering up the stairs.

Nor their intent once they got there.

Hank might never have been quite able to wrap his head around human mating rituals, but he recognized the starting of them easily enough in the way Gilbert’s arms closed around Sara from behind, in how she sighed at the brush of his lips along the back of her neck.

So Hank wasn’t exactly surprised to find himself evicted — with no apology and very little ceremony no less — not only from his favorite spot in the middle of the bed, but from the bedroom as well.

And no amount of pouting and pawing and whining proved any use. His humans were far too busy making insistent noises of their own.

It wasn’t until what felt like a very long time later that Gilbert reopened the door and rather reluctantly in Hank’s assessment urged him back inside. Sara was far more welcoming, padding a spot on the mattress beside her.

Not being the sort of dog who held grudges, Hank gratefully and graciously resumed his usual place at the foot of the bed, knowing better as he did, despite all their murmurs of how body heat was best for warmth, than to get between them. Like there was any room anyway, as snuggled up close as the two of them were.

And snoring.

Oh, how those two snored.

Yet it was Hank found, a reassuring sort of sound. That all was right in the world.

Ere long in that not quite silent night, Hank was fast asleep, dreams of the inestimable Chantal dancing in his head.

All in all, even despite the cold, un joyeux Noël indeed.

 

*******

For more Christmas with Grissom and Sara see: When Words are Scarce, circa season 4, 2003, Talent Borrows, Genius Steals, circa season 7, 2006, and chapters Eleven: Upping the Ante, Twelve: No Need for Mistletoe and Thirteen: No Time Like the Present in Going with the Living, circa season 9, 2008, as well as Surviving Christmas and Home for the Holiday, circa season 10, 2009.

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