The next few days were hectic. The summer had thrown Ulla behind schedule, so a lot of stuff still needed to be done. Alicia ended up doing a lot of shopping as she had nothing planned for the break, and she appreciated the opportunity to walk around the city.
It made the season feel even more magical than usual. Alicia had to admit, she liked having a secret. It made everything feel more thrilling. Even silly things, like getting random looks from shop assistants as she brought cartfuls of dolls, felt exhilarating.
It was so exciting that Alicia got her list of things done in half the time she planned. This allowed her to do some of the other girls’ tasks, giving them even more time to do seasonal things.
“I’m home!” shouted Alicia as she walked into the house with several overflowing bags.
“Alicia!” replied Sharon from the living room.
“Hey Mom,” replied Alicia, “How are things going?”
“Very well,” nodded Sharon as she kissed Alicia on the forehead and quickly sat on the couch. “Ulla is changing, and Mara is in her lab doing some work.”
“Neat!” nodded Alicia as she put the bag down and flopped onto the couch. “I’m ahead of schedule!”
“You’re great,” smiled Sharon as she patted Alicia on the back.
“It is quiet here! You three don’t seem to be running off to stop crimes every few minutes.”
“True,” chuckled Sharon. “Winter is always quiet. Good luck doing anything with snow on the ground. Escapes are harder: you leave footprints, snow holds DNA well, and everyone has normal lives to deal with.”
“Oh right,” mumbled Alicia.
“Also, summer put people off. Especially due to someone,” continued Sharon as she nudged Alicia.
“You dived onto a thirty-foot tall woman without a second thought. You took down a group that gave MIST trouble.”
“Well, it wasn’t just me!”
“No, but the tide turned when you joined in. It has given you quite a reputation!”
“Really?” gasped Alicia.
“Yes! I’m basically playing second-fiddle to you now!” giggled Sharon
“I,” blushed Alicia, “that is pretty cool.”
“You are pretty cool,” nodded Sharon as she ruffled Alicia’s hair.
“I learned from the best!” Alicia grinned as Ulla walked into the room.
Alicia’s eyes instantly locked onto Ulla’s shirt. It was bright pink and featured a large picture of a catgirl who was holding a sign that read, “I’m Meowvolus”.
Ulla looked at Alicia and shook her head. “I lost a bet with Kitty,” she said firmly before sitting down next to Sharon.
“It suits you!” replied Alicia. “Pink works!”
“Yes!” nodded Sharon. “You look like… what do the kids call it?” Sharon pondered. “A bimbo!” she shouted as she wrapped her arm around Ulla.
“Bimbo isn’t exactly a compliment,” interjected Alicia.
“I have a feeling she knows that,” replied Ulla, making an over the top angry face at Sharon before hugging her tightly.
“Alicia got a load of stuff done today, so we’re ahead of schedule!” smiled Sharon. However, as she said it, Ulla’s face dropped.
“Crap.” She mumbled.
“What?” asked Alicia and Sharon in unison.
“I forgot to book the van.”
“So?” asked Alicia. “We’ll do it now.”
“Nowhere is open on Christmas eve. I usually have to bribe someone anyway, but no one will want to work on Christmas Eve!” whined Ulla. “It totally slipped my mind!”
“There must be something somewhere!” said Alicia firmly as she pulled out her phone and walked into the kitchen. “I’ll find something!”
“But we need to book it via a proxy to make sure they can’t trace us!” sighed Ulla as she buried her head into Sharon’s side.
Sharon started to softly rub Ulla’s hair as a sinister smirk appeared on her face. “...Unless we didn’t rent one.”
“Buy one?” asked Alicia as she poked her head around the door.
“No,” said Sharon as she shook her head. “Just convince a community-minded person to lend us their van for the evening.”
“So, hypnotize someone and steal it,” shouted Mara from the hall.
“You make it sound so mean!” laughed Sharon.
“Hey, I’m up for it, no matter how you phrase it!” giggled Mara as she walked into the room and spotted Ulla. “Oh sweetie,” she cooed as she ran over and hugged Ulla tightly.
“I mean, they can’t trace us if they don’t know they’ve given us the van,” mumbled Alicia, “aside from the license plate.”
“MIST has fake plates, right?” Sharon smiled as she tapped Ulla on the head.
“Yeah,” she nodded before gasping. “I see what you’re getting at! I could get one for a van, and then put it on the van we borrow.”
“Right!” Sharon nodded. “Just means we need to find someone with a van we can borrow for the night.”
“I might know just the person!” Mara grinned.
The next day, Alicia and Sharon dressed in their best business outfits and followed Mara downtown. Alicia was nervous but tried to keep her cool. If she could handle combat, she could handle lying about her qualifications.
“You know the story?” asked Sharon as she stood outside an office.
“Yep, we have business to attend. Investment. Business.” Alicia nodded.
“Close enough!” Sharon smiled as she knocked on the door.
A woman pulled the door open softly. She looked Alicia and Sharon up and down for a few seconds before forcing a smile onto her face. “Hello. Do you have an appointment?”
“Ms. Windsor? I’m Sharon Phillips, and this is my associate. We have a meeting with the owner to discuss fleet opportunities?”
“Oh!” gasped the woman as a more natural smile came to her face. “Come in! Come in!” she added as she yanked the door open and waved the girls into the tiny office.
Sharon and Alicia wandered in and sat down at the desk, both of them surprised by how small and basic this office was. Mara wasn’t lying when she said this company was only just starting out.
“So, what do you need?” asked the woman as she sat on the other side of the desk. “We have some wonderful options, and all of our vehicles are electric!”
“Well, we do need some equipment for Christmas eve,” smiled Sharon.
“Christmas eve?” the woman blinked. “Well, that isn’t a time we usually offer rentals.”
“I know, I know,” nodded Sharon, “but we are willing to pay a premium for the service.”
“What would you be moving on Christmas eve?” asked the woman, obviously growing suspicious.
“Imports, mostly.” smiled Alicia. She had expected to be talking to a ruthless corporate woman. However, this sweet, obviously overwhelmed girl was much more in her wheelhouse.
“I see,” nodded the woman. “This is an unusual request.”
“But, you have the cars free for such a rental?” asked Sharon.
“Well yes,” nodded the woman. “But it isn’t a service I’m really prepared for.”
“Well,” Sharon grinned, “I think you can reconsider that.” She cooed as her eyes started to glow silver. Alicia did her best to keep a straight face. Even after seeing this a couple of times, something about it made her chuckle.
“I,” mumbled the woman, her eyes going wide as they met Sharon’s. “What is. Your eyes?” She mumbled, obviously confused by what she was seeing.
“Yes, aren’t they pretty? Just enjoy them, I know you want to,” cooed Sharon as the glow grew more and more intense. “You’ve had such a hard few months, you need to relax, you need to spend some time resting and recovering.”
The woman’s head lolled as Sharon gently nodded her head, her eyes illuminating the whole room. “Yeah,” gurgled the woman as her eyes started to flutter softly.
“So busy, you deserve some rest. I bet you’re not getting enough sleep. Poor thing” continued Sharon, her tone growing more maternal.
“Tired,” nodded the woman drowsily.
“Yes, so sleepy, you really are just so sleepy,” continued Sharon. As she continued to talk, she slowly slipped her jacket off.
The woman slumped forward as her eyes rolled up into her head, her mind slowly shutting down as Sharon continued to talk. Sharon reached over and put her jacket in the middle of the desk.
“Rest your head,” purred Sharon as she gently lowered the woman’s head onto the jacket. “Rest your head and close your eyes, and just sleep. A nice, deep sleep,” she cooed.
The woman let out a little sigh as her eyes fluttered closed. “Sleep,” she purred gently.
“Yes, sleep. Good girl!” smiled Sharon as she nodded towards Alicia. Alicia knew her role, she quickly jumped up and locked the door, making sure that they would not be disturbed.
Sharon continued to rub the girl’s hair, gently whispering soft and caring words into her ear as she did. “That is it,” cooed Sharon. “You’re doing so well. Just let go, let everything go, and relax.”
“Relax,” purred the woman.
“Gosh someone hasn’t relaxed for months. You poor thing,” continued Sharon as she rubbed the woman’s shoulders. “Just float off on a cloud of dreams while we have a little chat. Okay?”
“Now, you said you don’t book for Christmas Eve. Does that mean all of your trucks are here?”
“Yeah,” sighed the woman dreamily.
“I bet you have busy plans for Christmas. Things keeping you so busy and distracted.”
“Family,” replied the woman as she nodded her head on the jacket.
“Well, that sounds lovely.” grinned Sharon. “So, what if I was to take all the pressure off your mind? To take all your worry about the lot away from you, to let you focus on your family?”
“Very nice. You don’t need to worry about a thing. We’ll look after the lot for you. You don’t need to think about it or remember it. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Yes,” purred the woman as a puddle of drool formed on Sharon’s jacket.
“Good, good,” grinned Sharon as she nodded towards Alicia. “I know just the person to look after the place while you enjoy a wonderfully calm Christmas.”
Sharon gently lifted the woman’s head off the desk and rubbed her hair softly. The woman’s mouth hung open as her head kept trying to fall forward.
“Good girl,” giggled Sharon. “Open your eyes for me, look at that girl,” she said softly as she pointed to Alicia. “Doesn’t she look so trustworthy?”
“Yeah,” gurgled the woman as Alicia waved.
“She would love to look after the place for you, to help you relax. She’ll even pay you for the opportunity. She is so keen for you to relax, she wants to pay to make sure you relax. Isn’t that kind of her?”
“So kind,” echoed the woman as Sharon nodded her head gently.
“And, all she wants you to do is to not think about her. Because thinking about her, is thinking about work. And that is stressful. And she doesn’t want you to stress. She just wants you to have a happy Christmas. Can you do that for her? To forget you ever met us? To forget all about her?”
“Yeah,” moaned the woman as her drool trickled down Sharon’s hand.
“Excellent!” Sharon smiled as she put the woman’s head back on the desk. “Then forget this, forget all of this. But the day before Christmas Eve, you’re going to turn off your security and prepare all of your keys. And when a lady comes to your door and says she is from the ‘Protection Service’, you’re going to take her money, give her the keys and then go off on a happy vacation and forget all about it. In fact, on New Year’s Day, you’ll find your keys here and you won’t remember a second of this. Okay?”
“Okay,” sighed the woman gently.
“Good girl!” cheered Sharon as she pets the woman on the head. “Now you go deeper and deeper, have a nice nap until I say. No need to work or worry while we’re here.”
The woman started to softly snore as Sharon smiled down at her. Alicia was amazed by her mother’s skills. She had seen them in action before, but it still blew her mind that she could do this so easily.
“Alicia,” smiled Sharon. “I’ll destroy the security footage and you go inspect the vans, okay?”
“Right!” nodded Alicia as she quickly ran into the parking lot. Mara wasn’t wrong, this company had a whole fleet of unmarked vans that would be perfect for their needs.
The vans being electric was an added bonus, as it meant they didn’t need to risk getting spotted on gas station cameras. They could charge the vans directly from Mara’s suit wherever they were.
Alicia quickly made notes and took photos of the vans. By the time she got back into the office, Sharon had removed every trace of their presence. It was like they had never been there.
“Ready?” Sharon smiled.
“All good!” nodded Alicia.
“Now, sweet sleepy head,” cooed Sharon, “when the door closes, you can continue to nap. Nap for a little while and when you feel nice and rested, you can wake up with no memory of this. You just had a lovely afternoon nap. Nothing more.”
She patted the woman on the head and walked out of the office.
Alicia followed on, giggling as she spotted Sharon carrying her drool covered jacket under her arm. “Too moist?” Alicia asked as she closed the door.
“Far too moist.” sighed Sharon. “But I’ll get it cleaned.”
“I don’t blame you,” smirked Alicia as the pair started to head home.
The second they pushed the house door open, Kitty ran up to them and smiled. “Did you do it?” she asked, obviously excited.
“We did!” nodded Alicia as a sour smell hit her nostrils. “Ugh, what is that?”
“Sorry,” shouted Mara from the kitchen.
“I’m trying to distract them while you hide the evidence!” protested Kitty.
“Right, but you can’t hide a smell!” chuckled Mara. “But, thanks for trying.”
“Hide something? What have you two been up to?” asked Sharon as she quickly moved through the house with Alicia only a few steps behind.
As they moved into the kitchen, the smell grew worse. Mara stood next to the oven, looking at a tray of cremated gingerbread men. “I think I got the recipe wrong,” sighed Mara.
“It seems that way,” nodded Sharon as she poked one of the cookies, causing it to crumble into dust. “These are bigger than I usually do.”
“Well, I was trying something.”
“Oh?” smirked Sharon. “Getting experimental, are we?”
“I am!” Nodded Mara.
“What were you attempting?”
Mara looked at Alicia and Kitty and then waved Sharon over. Once Sharon was close, Mara leaned forward and whispered something into Sharon’s ear.
“That is adorable,” smiled Sharon.
“But I might need some help,” Mara admitted.
“I can help you. In fact, I’ll teach you!” Sharon nodded along.
“Later,” replied Mara. “I need to clean the bowls and everything first.”
In the flash of an eye, all of the bowls started to flicker and spin on the counter as a streak moved quickly through the air, bouncing from the counter to the sink and back again.
Suddenly, Kitty appeared behind Mara. “Clean!” she grinned.
Sharon looked down at the bowls and then looked at the sink that was full of soap suds. “Impressive!”
Kitty took a bow as Mara giggled. “Well, now I guess.”
“Do you two mind giving us some privacy?” asked Sharon gently.
“Not a problem! You two lovebirds have fun!” Alicia winked as she waved towards Kitty. “Want to come to train with me?”
“Sure!” Kitty grinned as she ran out of the kitchen.
“Okay,” Sharon smiled as she looked at Mara. “So, we need to expand the recipe and you need to learn how to use a piping bag, right?”
“Right,” nodded Mara.
“Also, you need to learn how to handle this kind of dough. It requires a little more precision than drop cookies. You need to pay attention to the temperature during handling.”
“Okay,” continued Mara.
“Ready to learn?”
“Already making eye contact, you learn well,” smiled Sharon as her eyes started to glow. “You know exactly how this goes. Exactly how this works.”
“Yeah,” gurgled Mara as her eyes slowly glazed over.
“Good, this is the best way to teach you and you know that, so you let it happen, don’t you?”
“Yes,” replied Mara in a soft monotone, her whole body swaying as she continued to gaze at Sharon’s eyes. Her arms fell limply to her side as she spiraled into a familiar void.
Her body felt like it was floating on a cloud and she couldn’t be happier. Her brain was clear. It was like a heavy fog had been removed from her thoughts, letting her relax properly.
Everything seemed so far away. There were no troubles, no worries, no cares. Even the smell of burnt cookies was no longer there. She was wrapped up in Sharon and it felt like heaven.
“Okay,” grinned Sharon as she walked up behind Mara and wrapped her arms around her waist. “So, just listen and let me lead.”
Sharon gently held Mara’s wrists and guided them through the process of making a gingerbread dough. As they went through each stage Sharon whispered into Mara’s ear, filling her mind with years of baking experience.
“That was pretty fun!” Alicia smiled as she threw her gym bag down.
“You’re very skilled,” Kitty grinned.
“I’ve been taught well,” replied Alicia as she slowly walked into the living room, only to spot Ulla sat on the couch.
“Hey girls!” smiled Ulla. “Kitchen is still in use, I’ve been banned.”
“Oh my!” giggled Alicia, “Mom was helping Mara with a recipe when we left.”
“Ah,” Ulla nodded. “That makes sense. Mara tries, but even with your mom at the helm, her desire to learn doesn’t match up to years of skill.”
“Mom is an amazing cook,” added Alicia. “Apparently it was a way to make people remember her being at parties, so she could sneak off and use it as a cover.”
“Makes sense,” nodded Ulla.
“We have the van, by the way!” Alicia smirked as she bounced on the spot. “We got it earlier.”
“Very nice!” grinned Ulla. “I’ve picked up some plates for us to use. All burners, so they should cover our tracks nicely.”
“Great! I’m so excited! We’re going to be like reverse bank robbers!”
“I guess so,” chuckled Ulla. “I’m so excited to make everyone happy.”
“This is super sweet of you,” nodded Alicia. “I’m proud to help you.”
Ulla blushed as she shifted in her seat, obviously unsure of how to react to the praise. However, before she could say another word. The kitchen door swung open, revealing an obviously dazed Mara.
“I made cookies,” she said softly as she stared forward into infinity.
“Wake up!” shouted Sharon from the kitchen.
“Oh right!” Mara blinked as she shook her head. “I made cookies!” she repeated as her eyes focused.
“I knew I forgot something,” mumbled Sharon from the kitchen as Mara put the tray down on the coffee table.
Kitty leaned over the table before letting out a happy squeal. “Oh my gosh!” She shouted as she bounced. “Cute cute cute!”
Alicia quickly moved to the table, keen to see what could make Kitty even more hyperactive than normal. To her surprise, it wasn’t normal gingerbread men on the table.
Mara and Sharon had made a load of giant ones, each one iced to look like one of the girls in their costume. There was a Mesmera one, an Ulla one, and even one showing Alicia in her Syner-Bee costume.
“These are amazing!” gasped Alicia.
“Thank you! I made them!” Mara nodded before covering her mouth. “I made them,” She repeated again before shaking her head.
“You did make them! Well done, you did an excellent job!” grinned Sharon as she walked into the living room. “Such a quick learner, the best kitchen helper you could ask for!”
“She is very good!” nodded Alicia.
“The best,” smiled Ulla.
“Hey!” Mara blushed. “Not fair.”
“If you want, I can make you into a cowgirl again. You seemed to like cooking, then.” winked Sharon.
“No comment,” replied Mara, blushing as she quickly pointed to the cookies. “Eat them! I made a load!”
“Okay!” Alicia smiled as she grabbed the Syner-Bee cookie and bit into it.