Winston’s First Christmas

Her skin was crawling, and her throat ached. Andrea’s leg bounced anxiously as she sat at the tiny kitchen table and stared at Isabella’s list of house rules on the refrigerator. House rules. The phrase made her stomach turn. Living with her was no better than living in the shelters with their never-ending, ever-changing list of rules. It’d been thirty days since she’d taken Isabella up on her offer for a home and proper hunting training, and Andrea already regretted it. She was better off back in the warehouse than living with Isabella. 

A soft whine on the floor beside her gave her pause at the internal ranting. Winston sprawled on the kitchen floor. He was far too big for the room, but he didn’t care. His tail swept across the floor and his tongue lolled out the side of his mouth happily. 

Andrea sighed. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the worst. The Hellhound was in better shape than she’d ever seen him with his white fur clean and fluffy. He was completely at ease with the magic collar that Isabella had given him to make him look like a real dog.

“I’m bored, you know,” Andrea whispered to Winston, who rumbled in response as his body tensed. In an attempt to comfort her, he leaped at her. Her chair went skidding across the floor as his weight and momentum carried her straight into the wall. Andrea groaned, breathing out slowly as the shock of it vibrated through her. She grumbled, “If I have to learn manners then so do you.” 

Granted, she was definitely more feral than Winston. The Hellhound had adjusted marvelously to domestic life. Meanwhile, she got into a fight with anyone who so much as looked her way without invitation. Ten years homeless had taught her a thing or two about people’s intentions, and she wasn’t about to let anyone get the one up on her whether it was Isabella, the neighbors, or the guy offering her a job interview. Trying to be normal and trying to stay sober were tasks she was struggling with. 

Gently, she pushed him off her lap until he was sitting between her knees. 

“I did the chores… twice,” she continued. “I shoveled the driveway and didn’t use my power–it’s super important that she fucking knows I used a goddamn shovel because she says I’m not allowed to use my power to clear the driveway. Normal people shovel. Don’t see her out there fucking shoveling.”

She really shouldn’t complain, and she knew that. Isabella had put a lot of time and effort into getting Andrea off the streets and into her home. From new clothes to food and even what she called proper hunting gear, Andrea kept track of every little thing with a determination to pay her back. She just needed to find a job first. 

“It’s really hard to get a fucking job at twenty-five when you haven’t had a job,” Andrea said. She knew Winston didn’t understand her, but she’d spent too many years alone where he was the only one she had to talk to. “Ever. On paper, I’m a crappy human being. The guy at the mall might say I’m a crappy human being in person, but he shouldn’t have touched me.”

Winston growled his agreement. 

“I wasn’t made for retail, Winston,” she stated. “I’ll kill someone. Especially during the holidays. And the fucking Christmas music? No, thank you. All the fucking… happy people. The lights and the cards and the tree—”

Winston howled with excitement, his entire body wiggling with excitement while he scooted closer. 

“I know, you like the trees,” she replied. “They wouldn’t let you near the big one last year.”

The level of disappointment he conveyed was impressive, or maybe she really had just spent too much time alone with him and was imagining it. 

“I should’ve punched the lady who threatened to have you seized by the pound for being disfigured,” Andrea muttered. While she didn’t want to admit it out loud, Isabella’s magical collar made it easier to take Winston out in public. Before that, it was sneaking around or getting into fights over her obscenely huge dog with bones covering his body like armor. Albeit, it became way easier to hide, which worked with her dislike for people. A thought occurred to her, and she said, “You know… Isabella has a Christmas tree… if you count a fucking pile of unopened boxes on the floor a Christmas tree—”

Winston’s thrilled howling and barking drown out the rest of her sentence as the Hellhound danced around the kitchen. He took out the magnets on the refrigerator, swiped drying cups off the counter, and knocked over a chair.

“Sit!” Andrea shouted, her power surging through her. She wrapped Winston up in a bubble of air to stop him from moving. The Hellhound wiggled with excitement even as he eased himself to the ground. Andrea stared at the mess around him and sighed. “I just cleaned this fucking mess.”

Winston lowered to the ground inside his bubble. His entire body vibrated against her power.

“Okay, look,” she began and slowly stood, “I have to clean all this shit up again, and you’re going to sit there and not knock everything back off! You do that, we’ll put up a Christmas tree… maybe. I’ve never actually had a Christmas tree, so I don’t know how to put up a Christmas tree. Do they come with instructions?”

The Hellhound rumbled his response, which Andrea could only assume was a reassurance that she could in fact do it.


After one painstakingly long hour of cleaning and re-cleaning after another fit of Hellhound excitement, Andrea was sitting on the floor of the living room with her knife in hand. She cut open the Christmas tree box. 

“Why are there so many fucking pieces?” she demanded, pulling branch after branch out and dropping them to the floor. Winston rooted his way through the pile, sniffing and grunting happily. “Sure! You like it! Should I just leave you with your pile of fucking plastic pine needles?”

He huffed and rolled.

“That’s not even a fucking tree!” Andrea said. Her anger spiked at the stupid holiday activity. “Jesus fuck, why do they have to make this so complicated? And why are there letters? And colors? Fuck Christmas. Why am I fucking doing this?”

Winston wiggled closer, pushing his snout into her hip. 

“Fine, fine,” she grumbled. “We’ll put up the fucking tree.”

And Andrea did with glorious swears, throwing things, and stabbing the coffee table once with her knife. She only felt guilt for marking up Isabella’s table and did her best to hide the divot with magazines and a coaster. The tree stretched to the ceiling, leaving absolutely no room for a star on top, but it was fluffy and massive in its spot squeezed between the couch and the bookshelf. 

“Not half bad.” Hands on her hips, she nodded slowly as she surveyed it up and down. Not too shabby for someone who had no fucking clue what she was doing. Winston pressed into her side, his tail pounding on the floor as he stared at the tree with her. She glanced at the Hellhound. “I don’t understand why you love Christmas so much.”

He only wiggled closer in response. 

“I’ll put lights on and that’s it,” Andrea announced and clapped her hands together. “Lights and no fucking ornaments. No one has time for that fucking shit.”

Winston rumbled something that sound an awful lot like judgment, and she shot a glare at him. 

“Don’t give me that tone, you little shit,” she snapped. “I’m working on getting a job! It’s not my fault I’m not hireable! And I put up a fucking tree for you!”

His entire body shimmied with excitement as he started barking, and she placed a hand on his snout to quiet him. 

“I know, lights,” she said. “You want lights. We’ll get the fucking lights.”

Like the tree, the lights were brand new and sealed up. Andrea found herself wondering if Isabella had ever decorated for Christmas. Maybe she hadn’t, maybe she had. She knew very little about the woman but did know she was a recent widow. Maybe she’d gotten rid of all the old decorations with hopes of starting anew. 

Or maybe Andrea was fucking up Isabella’s plan to get rid of stuff. Who fucking knew? Isabella rarely said more than a few sentences regarding one of two topics: house rules and hunting. 

“Do people check the lights before they put them up?” Andrea asked, looking at Winston for an answer. “It feels like something people would do. What if you put up all the lights and then they don’t fucking work. I’d burn the fucking tree down. Fuck that shit. We’re not putting up lights that don’t fucking work. Come on.” 

There was no way in hell she was going to fuck up the tree that bad. 

Dragging the stack of light boxes to the nearest outlet, she plopped down and unpacked each set. There was no organization to her chaos as she unraveled strands of lights left and right. Exactly how many she needed was a damn mystery. There was probably a better way to do it than what she was doing, but she didn’t care. A massive mound of lights on the ground was better than nothing. 

“Is ten strands enough? Do I need more? Who needs this many fucking lights? Jesus fuck,” she grumbled and held up a handful of lights. Her eyes widened as she caught sight of Winston. The Hellhound’s butt wiggled with excitement and his eyes were honed in on the pile of lights. She raised her voice, ordering, “No! No! Don’t you dare! Stay! Stay, Winston!

Winston didn’t stay. He bounded forward, throwing himself into the pile with such ferocity that he crashed into Andrea. The two were sent tumbling as she took on his full weight. 

A chaotic mess, Andrea huffed and blew the hair out of her eyes. Strands of light wrapped around her neck, her arms, and her chest. They were tangled around Winston’s massive body and practically jingled with every wide sweep of his tail. His tongue lolled out the side of his mouth, and he wiggled closer to her, pawing at her happily. 

“Did you get what you needed out of that?” Andrea demanded. He wriggled and pranced in his spot, howling and trilling his excitement. Unable to stop herself, she laughed. Of all the things he could’ve done, tackling the lights was low on the list of things to reprimand him for. She could untangle the lights. Running her hands through his thick fur, she gave herself permission to enjoy the moment with him.