A Genie's Sacrifice
Being a giver in the Genie world is not as glamorous as humans think. For the length of the sentence, their life is not their own. When Persha is gifted to a polar bear shifter named Brandon, she prays that she will be able to guard her heart. But when they find themselves bouncing between worlds, the spark turns into a flame and it will take a sacrifice for them to find happiness.
The hot cup warmed Brandon's hands as he cradled his black coffee. He usually woke up before the sun started to peek over the horizon and enjoyed the quiet. His den was situated on a hill overlooking the other clan members and he liked it just fine. He had bought the land a few years ago from an aging bear, and tore down the old house to build his own two-story home. It had five bedrooms, a man cave, large kitchen with a dual stove, and a living room for when his mother and other family members decided to visit.
His mother stopped by at least once a week to see how he was getting along. Never mind the fact he worked at the local mill and had lunch with his pa every day. She said she was worried about her oldest cub, but he knew she was really trying to see if he had found a mate.
Brandon grinned at the singsong childish voice. Just as polar bears loved snow, snow foxes loved polar bears. He was nine years old when his had followed him home from school. He turned and looked down at Maria and Jose who were standing on the bottom step.
“I was enjoying my quiet morning coffee,” he mock growled. “You guys have disrupted that.”
“Yuck. That stuff is horrible.” Tiny feet thundered loudly up the stairs and Maria threw herself at him. He barely set his cup down in time to catch her. “How has our bear been?”
“Working.” He inhaled her sweet scent and rubbed his cheek on her hair. Maria was five feet tall with blonde hair and the kind of curvy body most men dreamed about. She was also very lethal and had a temper that would cause most people to cry when it was unleashed.
She giggled and wiggled to be put down. “Always working. Well, we brought you a present this time.”
He picked his cup back up and reached for the small box she handed him. It was plain brown, sanded down and heavy. “What’s it for?”
“We don’t know.” Jose joined them on the porch. Jose was Maria's partner in crime and the opposite of her in temper. Brandon couldn't remember the last time he had seen him angry. “An old lady in a market place gave it to us.”
‘Why?” He continued to weigh it.
“All she told us was that we had to give it to you.”
“Me?” He raised an eyebrow and looked at Jose who squirmed. “Where was this market?”
“So an old lady in a market in Egypt gave you a box and told you to give it to me?” When they nodded, he snorted. “And you listened? Without knowing what it was or if it was harmful to me?”
The two foxes looked at each other with a mix of horror and confusion. “Yeah. I guess we did,” Jose answered.
Brandon shook his head. “Well, did she tell you how to open it?”
“No.” Maria started biting her nails. “She said you would know how.”
“Stop biting your nails, nasty habit." Brandon took a sip of his coffee and continued to study the box. He ran a thumb along the seam at the top of the box and felt something click before it slowly opened. Resting on white silk was a wooden carving of jackal's head on a stick. "What is this?"
“Wow." Maria leaned closer. "I saw one of these in a museum."
"You didn't take it out of said museum, did you?" Brandon asked, half afraid she would say yes. Foxes were known for taking whatever their heart desired, even if it belonged to someone else.
"No." She crossed her heart. "I promise we did not take it from any museum. But I wonder why she only gave you one piece of a larger puzzle. Maybe it’s enchanted."
“Fiction, Maria. That is all fiction.” Jose slapped his forehead with his palm and rolled his eyes. “Enchanted, as if.”
Maria punched him on the arm and Brandon sighed. "It's too early for you two to be fighting." He took a sip of his coffee and grimaced at the luke warm brew. "Come inside and I'll make breakfast."
“Can you make us some of your mouse cakes?” Maria asked. “Just no honey.”
Brandon laughed and tucked the box under his arm so he could open the door. If he didn’t know any better, he would think Maria and Jose were teenagers or younger and not in their early twenties. “There’s nothing wrong with a little honey.” They walked past him and made a beeline for the breakfast bar.
Jose climbed on one of the stools by the bar and laughed. “You're a polar bear, not a black bear. I don't know why you like honey so much.”
"I'm a bear." Brandon sat the box on the counter and stared at it. "I wonder why that old lady told you to give this to me. If she really knew me, she would know I hate clutter."
"One box isn't considered clutter," Maria pointed out as she climbed on the stool next to Jose. "Food. You promised."
"Food it is." Brandon walked to the cabinets and started to pull out the necessary supplies. He had thought about going to the local diner for breakfast, but with the foxes that could turn into a disaster, he just didn't want to spend breakfast trying to keep their hands away from other people's belongings. "While I cook, why don't you tell me where you've been? Entertain me with stories of your travel."
"First we went to the Red Sea," Maria started. "Mother always talks about her days as a wanderer, and I wanted to see it for myself. It was enchanting."
“It’s water.” Jose rolled his eyes. "I swear, Brandon, she stood there staring for hours."
“Special water. Anyway, we traveled around Egypt.”
“Sounds exciting,” Brandon said.
“We ran into my mom, she was passing through on her way to Russia.”
He stopped mixing and stared at her. “Russia?”
“Yea. I guess my dad’s pack is changing alphas or something.”
“Makes sense.” He went back to mixing. Nothing about foxes made any sense. “How long are you staying? Do I need to go shopping, and will you be using my spare bedroom?”
“Maybe a week, maybe less.” Jose pulled out his phone and started texting. “Our trip was cut short and we have places to see.”
“You have enough travel money?” He knew they could take care of themselves, but he always worried they would get stranded with no money and no way home.
“We still have some.” Jose cut a sly look at his partner in crime. “Maria hit big in Rome.”
“Legally? Never mind I don’t want to know.”
The foxes laughed. “Legally,” Maria said. “Promise.”
He smiled and finished making breakfast, listening to the two bicker and try to outdo each other with stories. “Here you two.” He placed heaping platters of pancakes, eggs, and bacon on the counter before getting plates, silverware, and orange juice. “Dig in and stop talking for a second.”
"Do you think there's something else in the box?" Maria asked after five minutes.
“I don’t know.” He looked at the box sitting a little farther down the counter. “I'll check later.”
“I thought I smelled bacon.” His younger brother’s big paw reached over his shoulder and fisted half the plate of bacon. “Good morning.” He tried talking around a mouthful of food.
“Martin,” Brandon growled. “Mother didn’t raise you to be stupid. You want to eat, pull up a chair and get a plate.” Eagerly, Martin did and started eating. “You also have dishes. No whining.”
“Fine.” Martin looked at the box and lifted an eyebrow. “You finally find a sow to mate with?”
"No." Brandon moved his plate away from his brother when he reached for more bacon. "My foxes brought it to me this morning."
"Why do you get two foxes and I don't have even one," Martin whined. "Don't one of you want to be my fox?"
“No.” Maria stuck her nose in the air. “We are picky and only the best will do. Also, you don't cook.”
Brandon laughed at the stricken look on his brother's face. “How about you come work for Dad and I? Maybe a fox will take pity on you. You may also want to think about moving out of your childhood room. How old are you again?”
“Still young, only twenty.” Martin winked.
"Twenty is young but you need to start making plans for the future," Brandon said. "A sow isn't going to mate a lazy bear and foxes want a bear who can take care of them."
"I'm not worried about mating at the moment. I was thinking of hitting up a big city, San Diego, New York, Paris. I don’t know, the world is my limit.”
“Actually, funds are. Who’s going to pay for this?” Brandon asked. Ten years younger than him, Martin had no idea what it meant to work for what he had. As the baby of the family, he was spoiled and now the whole family was starting to see the results of that spoiling.
“I could be a drifter, pick up jobs as I go.”
“What about your bear? How are you going to be able to let him out to run?”
“Something will come to mind.” Martin shoved the last of the eggs into his mouth and got up and started cleaning. “I’ll clean up here, don’t worry about a thing.”
“I wasn’t.” Brandon looked at his foxes. “I’m going to hunt, want to come?”
“Hell yeah.” Maria jumped down from her stool. “Are we going to do it as our animals?”
“How else are we going to hunt? You have been around humans too long. Meet you at the edge of my property.” He watched fondly as they ran for the back door. “Martin, when you are done come find us.”
“Nah. Some of the guys are headed into town. Thanks for the offer.”
Brandon knew there was nothing more he could say to his brother, he was going to have to learn the hard way that life was not all games. Happy barking pulled his thoughts from his brother and he focused on the hunt ahead. He kicked off his shoes and walked outside, laughing as he watched Maria and Jose tumble over each other. He called on his bear spirit and quickly shifted, shaking out his fur. He loved the feeling of freedom that came over him right after a shift, and he stood for a second enjoying it. Lumbering deeper into the woods, he cuffed for the foxes to follow him.
The sun was starting to sink below the horizon when Brandon, Maria, and Jose walked back into the clearing around the log house. Brandon was dragging the half-eaten carcass of a mule deer clinched in his jaw. He dropped it on the ground and shifted, waiting for the foxes to do the same. Unlike Maria’s books, which he would never admit he read, when he shifted whatever he had been wearing before naturally covered his bodies. He would hate to shift and be naked and vulnerable.
“Brandon, do you need us tonight?” Maria asked, flipping her hair behind her shoulder.
“No, I am going to prepare the rest of the deer for winter and work on some new carvings I want to show my dad. You two have fun and don’t get into too much trouble.”
“You take the fun out of everything.” Jose pouted.
He gave them both a look he knew looked like the one his father would give when the cubs were getting on his nerves. “I better not have to get you out of jail. One day I am going to leave you to rot.”
The foxes grinned at him and took off for the house. He continued around to the drying shed. Two hours later, he was sitting on his porch carving peacefully. Every once in a while he would lift his head to scent the air but nothing roamed the land around his den. His nearest neighbors were also part of his clan and they pretty much stayed on their own property. The sound of an engine signaled the end to his peaceful night and he stood up to see who it was.
His scowl gave way to a huge grin when he saw his father's truck. As the oldest, he would inherit the family wood furniture making business and he took it very seriously. To have his father come out to his den was an honor.
“Father, what brings you out this late?” Brandon asked as his father climbed from his truck.
“Can't a bear check on his cub?” His father was a tall man broad of chest and in his bear form he stood above everyone in the clan. “I hear you went hunting this morning, anything good?”
“Of course. My foxes and I brought down a mule deer, two actually.”
“You will be blessed this winter.” Climbing up onto the porch, he leaned his hip against the railing. “Your ma sent me.”
Brandon let out a groan.
“You will show your ma some respect." His father smacked him on the back of the head. "She wants you to be happy.”
“She wants me to mate, but none of the females here are what I'm looking for.”
“How do you know? All you do is work and more work. When's the last time you actually went out to have fun?”
"I'm learning how to manage the logging business." He shrugged and finished his beer. "I'm sure I will have time to look soon." He sat back down and pushed the swing into motion. "Not here, most of the girls I remember from high school and they haven’t changed."
“You have always been my sensible cub, and I have always respected you for it.”
“But.” His father rubbed his face. “You are getting old before your time, and your mother and I want grandcubs before we get too old. I'm giving you the next week off from work."
“Wait, what?” Brandon stood up and started to pace. “Why? I have to check one of the sites tomorrow and make sure the replanting happens properly.”
“Only you would see it as a punishment. Travel into town, stay a while and hang around people your age. Have fun with your foxes, I am sure they can show you a good time.” His father shrugged. "Stop in and see about the replanting but that's all. Don't stay all day."
"I guess and I can't hang with my foxes. I am pretty sure half the things they do are illegal in all fifty states and around the world.”
His father smiled and pushed away from the railing, putting his hand on Brandon's shoulder to stop his pacing. “I'm going to head home. If I see you at work past lunchtime, there will be hell to pay."
“Yes, sir,” he said a little reluctantly. He stood on the porch long after his father tail lights had disappeared trying to figure out what he would do for a week. He could drive into the city, but he hated crowds and would end up being matched with some poor sow as her mother tried to push her onto him. With a heavy sigh, he lumbered back into the house and closed the door.
With his mind in such a jumble, he tried to calm himself by watching TV but soon gave it up and went to bed.