School was a lot more than Phred had bargained for.  He spent several hours each day laboring in the printing division at Helpers Unlimited.  He was finally getting the knack of things.  Brubaker was frequently over his shoulder. Of course, that was Brubaker's job, but Phred thought he was unnecessarily stern.  Phred's one true joy in going to school was chatting with Ria.

     Lately, tho, she had missed a lot of school.  She was doing her best to care for the reindeer and to train Rissy. 

     Phred was cleaning the ink from his hands when Ria arrived.  "Where have you been, Ria?"

     "I've been at the Stables," she replied.  "I'm worried about Donder."

     "Why?"

     "Well, since Duck faded, he just hasn't been himself." Ria looked away from Phred and sighed.  "He was awfully close to Duck.  Duck used to feed him gumdrops, so I went to the Nuts, Crackers, and Sweets Shop and got some gumdrops from Covski.  Donder won't take them from me, though."

     "He probably misses Duck," Phred said.

     "Oh, I'm sure that's it, but I wish he would snap out of it," Ria said sadly.

     Phred noticed how mature Ria seemed, now that Duck was gone."Maybe I'll come by the Stables and see what I can do."

     "When?" Ria asked hopefully.

     "Soon.  Maybe today or tomorrow."

     "Today?"

     "Maybe," Phred said, smiling. Ah, there she is.

***

     Later that day, Phred dropped by the Stables.  Rissy was filling the feed bowls and Dancer and Vixen were frolicking in the yard.  "They look okay to me," Phred stated.

     "They are okay," Rissy said.  She walked over to Vixen and rubbed her neck.

     "Ria was worried about them," Phred commented, almost under his breath.

     "Oh, she's concerned about Donder.  He’s different since Duck faded, sadder.  Duck paid a lot of attention to him, you know," Rissy said. “Donder was his favorite.”

     "Well, I'll talk to the fellow. Perhaps I can stop by from time to time . . . sort of fill in for Duck, since he's gone. I work at the 'Herald' now, and I stay at North, Too, so I'm always around."

     Rissy clicked her tongue at Vixen, who ran back to Dancer, and resumed romping.  "Donder's in the barn, if you want to see him."

     Phred nodded and went into the barn.  He saw Cupid and Dasher, but no Donder, so he looked in each stall.  At last he found Donder, looking rather sad.  "What's wrong, Donner?"

     Donder snorted at Phred. 

     "C'mon boy," Phred said.  "Let's go for a walk."

     Donder pulled away from Phred.

     "Don't you want to get some fresh air, Donner?"

     "He may be upset because you're not saying his name right."  Rissy had followed him into the barn.

     "What's his name?" Phred asked, confused.

     "Donder," Rissy said.

     "That's what I said," Phred said matter-of-factly.

     Rissy shrugged her shoulders.  "I don't know, then.  It may take awhile."

     "Do you like popcorn, fellow?" Phred asked.  "I love popcorn."

     Donder snorted.

     "I'll bet you like popcorn, Donner. I'll bring you some tomorrow," Phred grinned.  He rubbed Donder on the nose. "Where's Ria?" he asked Rissy.

     "She's still at school. She has a lot of work to make up.  She's been so busy with the deer," Rissy sighed.  "I'm finally getting the hang of things, though, and should be a lot more help around here.  And most of the deer seem to be okay now."


     "I'm sure you're plenty of help," Phred nodded.  "Well, I'm going home.  Please tell Ria I stopped by. Donner, I'll be back tomorrow."


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