RJ and Hammy arrived at the hedge a little bit before nightfall. Everyone clamored around Hammy like he had been missing for years, and Verne gave a knowing nod that everything was okay.
"Where did you go?" Heather asked.
"We were worried sick about you!" Stella scolded, putting her hands on her hips.
"I'm sorry…but I was getting RJ his present from me!" Hammy piped up, showing everyone what he had given RJ. Everyone oohed and ahhed at the picture inside, and RJ finally decided to come clean about what was bugging him.
"It's understandable to miss loved ones on such a holiday. If I knew sooner, I wouldn't have been so hard on you." Verne confessed, glancing away in embarrassment.
"It's cool, Verne. I shouldn't have taken it out on you, Hammy, or anyone else. It's me who should apologize."
"Well since we're all here, why not go ahead and open the presents?" Stella asked.
"Yeah, Christmas is tomorrow anyway!" Heather added.
RJ shrugged. "Why not? But hold on, okay?"

He pulled Hammy aside and asked where he hid all the presents. Hammy thought for a moment then told him. RJ nodded and sped off, leaving Hammy to stall.
"So, uh, who wants to sing Jingle Bells?" Hammy asked.
"What's going on now?" Stella asked, growing impatient. She got her answer, as did everyone else, as RJ came back into the clearing pulling a wagon filled with gifts. He began handing them out.
Verne got his Turtle Wax, the best kind too.

Stella got some kind of perfume, which, after some explaining, she enjoyed it.

Tiger got a scratching post, like the one he had back home.

Bucky, Quillo, and Spike got their video game, much to the dismay of the parents. But RJ was prepared, and gave them a map with directions to a small clearing where he and Hammy had set up a dinner for them away from the kids and everyone else. It had been there a good while, and RJ was surprised no one noticed the table and chairs sooner.

Ozzie got his Shakespeare book, to which he promptly started acting from.

Heather got a few more CDs for her collection, including one that was done by a Japanese woman named Boa, which RJ thought was interesting.

"What about me?" Hammy asked, feeling left out.

RJ put a paw on top of Hammy's head and turned him in the right direction, then told him to start running. Hammy did so, faster than usual, and everyone else followed.
Hammy ran right into a giant gift basket, well giant compared to him. It was full of some of his nuts, cans of other nuts, cookies of all shapes and sizes, a few candy canes, and even a six pack of soda.
Hammy was surprised by the soda. "For me?" he asked, looking like he was about to weep with joy.
RJ nodded. "Just don't drink all of them in one day." He chuckled.
Hammy nodded and began sipping form one of the cans already.

"Well, shoot. Now we feel bad because we didn't get you anything!" Stella said.
"You don't have to! You guys are the greatest gift I could ever get, it just took me a while to realize that. Sometimes I think I don't deserve you." RJ said, looking away from everyone as if ashamed to admit that fact.
Hammy dove off the basket handle and landed on RJ. He leapt off and helped the raccoon back to his feet. "Don't be like that! We're glad you came along!"
"Yeah, who knows how boring our lives would be if we didn't meet you!" Heather laughed.

RJ laughed uneasily, dreading to think of what he saw in his dream.
Everyone walked back to the clearing to the tree and began handing presents to each other as RJ watched them. It brought back so many memories, but this time they were the good kind.

"Hey RJ! There's one for you after all!" Verne called from the crowd.

RJ walked up to the tree, confused. Hammy already gave him his gift, and everyone else admitted to not getting him anything.
It was a decent sized box, covered in colorful paper. RJ looked at the crowd, and could tell by the intent looks on their faces, they were just as confused about the situation as he was.
RJ slowly opened the box, not knowing what to expect. The tag read from Santa, so he figured it was someone in the family.
What he got, was a box of Double Stuffed Twinkies, a big box with 24 in it. RJ couldn't believe it, and neither could the rest of the family.

"If you guys didn't do this…then who…?"

As everyone moved in for a group hug, RJ swore he heard sleigh bells in the distance, and smiled.
He was a good boy after all….

Later on, at a smaller log, Verne and RJ were sitting and talking.
"So I gather you learned something from all this?" Verne asked.
"Yeah, Double Stuffed Twinkies are the best!" RJ exclaimed.
"No, I mean about family and the true spirit of Christmas." Verne said, narrowing his eyes at the raccoon.
"You still on that kick?" RJ asked playfully.
"You know exactly what I mean!" Verne wasn't in the mood for playing.
"Yeah, don't have Hammy hide your presents! You'd be lucky to find them!" RJ smiled. He knew the lesson to be learned he just liked messing with Verne.
Verne didn't reply. He only nodded in silent approval that they were friends again. RJ didn't say anymore either, as he was too busy smiling at the small picture in the locket. Then he noticed something he didn't see before. There was a hinge on the locket, and the picture could be flipped over. He turned the image as if it were a page in a book, and found another picture on the other side. This one of him and Hammy goofing around for the camera.

"Past, and present. What a smart kid." RJ muttered to himself.

"What?" Verne asked.
"Nothing." RJ replied looking back at the image. "Nothing."

Special Thanks to Tortured Artist for his helpful feedback during the numerous drafts this story went through.


Have a Merry Christmas everyone!