"Keep the Homefires Burning"
The Avengers were supposed to go shopping today,
but Steve looked out the window at the wet snow falling
and said, "I reeeaaally don't want to go out in that."
"We could stay home instead," Phil said.
"I hate to let everyone down ..." Steve said,
hesitation heavy in his voice, but it was
clear that he wanted to stay in.
"No problem," Tony said. "JARVIS, call
the Personal Shopping Department and
see who's on duty this morning."
"Miss Goldberg has just completed
a trip for Ms. Potts," said JARVIS, and
the large viewscreen switched on to show
a young woman bundled in a fashionable coat.
"Hi, guys!" she said, waving. "I get to shop
for the home team today? Woohoo, dream job
is dreamy! Where are we going next?"
"Where are you now?" Tony asked.
"Fifth Avenue and 57th," she said,
turning in place. Whatever camera
JARVIS had on her panned along
and caught the street sign.
"Oh, just turn around and go back
the way you came," Tony said.
"Some of us need new winterwear
and some are looking for gifts."
"Sounds great," Miss Goldberg said,
saluting them with a white chocolate mocha
that steamed gently from a Starbucks cup.
"I'll call back as soon as I'm in position."
The street view flicked off, replaced by
a map of the neighborhood with a green star
showing their personal shopper's location.
"That girl drinks way too much caffeine,"
Bruce said, shaking his head, but
he was smiling anyway.
"Well, Brucie-bear, why don't you
make us something better," Tony said
as he threw an arm around Bruce.
"I could go for cocoa," Steve said
and Bucky added, "Yeah, with spices."
"I'll do it," Betty offered. "I know
some good recipes for mulled cocoa."
Tony raised his hand. "Are you pondering
what I'm pondering?" he said. "Because
I really want my jammies right now."
"Everyone go change, and we'll
reconvene here in a few minutes,"
Phil said, shooing them away.
Quickly he went to his quarters
to change clothes, and then
returned to the common room.
"I wish we had a fireplace,"
Bucky said wistfully.
"We have all the fireplaces,"
Tony said. "JARVIS, showcase."
The floor-level viewscreen underneath
the mantelpiece lit up with tiles, split between
Live Feeds and Popular Recordings.
"That's nice, but it's not the same
without the smell," Steve said.
"Yeah, I know, but we couldn't
get LEED Platinum certification if we
were killing trees and blowing carbon
everywhere, so," Tony said. "JARVIS,
pull up the incense menu."
The screen blanked and refreshed with
Natural Wood Incense and Wood Chips.
"Pick your pleasure, mix and match,
whatever," Tony said. "JARVIS has
has a smoker box attached to
the air handling system."
"Oak or hickory, maybe?" Bucky said,
and JARVIS flicked them to the top
of their respective columns.
"I want something that smells
like the holidays," Steve said.
Fir balsam and piñon floated up.
"Could we do something fruity?"
Bruce asked. "I don't want to risk
upsetting the Other Guy with anything
that smells like a forest fire. Or home.
But he's okay with fruitwood smoke
because we've only ever smelled that
in a restaurant or a barbecue."
"Oh, now you've done it, I want
barbecue for lunch," Clint said.
"Ordering from Hometown Bar-b-cue
in Brooklyn," JARVIS replied.
"I like apple," Steve said as he
pored over the wood chip menu.
"Our Moose Trek lodge in Colorado
is currently burning hickory and apple
in the main hearth," JARVIS said,
displaying a sample video.
"We'll take it," Tony said.
"JARVIS, light up the incense."
"Lighting," JARVIS said as the video
went fullscreen and the audio added
a gentle pop and crackle to the fireplace.
A minute later, the fans turned on
and wafted sweet smoke into the room.
Steve and Bucky bailed off the couch
as if with one mind, huddling onto the floor
in front of the blazing viewscreen.
"It's warm!" Bucky exclaimed,
holding his hands out to the display.
"How did you even do that?"
"The tower is powered by arc reactor,
with a variety of heat-emitting arrays and
vents in the habitable areas," said JARVIS.
"The hearth area is equipped both with
radiant heat and vent options."
Uncle Phil looked at them squirming
around on the carpet, sighed, and got up
to fetch an armload of blankets so they
could make a more comfortable nest.
Soon Aunt Betty came in with a tray full of
two cocoa pots, a creamer, a stack of cups,
and a bag of miniature rainbow marshmallows.
"Okay, take your pick: Bruce's cardamom recipe
is mild, but my Aztec hot chocolate has a kick."
Uncle Phil went right for the Aztec,
which as promised had a bit of chile
along with the cinnamon.
Steve poured himself half a cup of
cardamom cocoa, added a quarter cup
of heavy cream, and topped it with
a whole handful of marshmallows.
Bucky chose the Aztec, took one sip,
and winced. Then he poured in some cream,
tried it again, and grinned. "This is good!"
"Thank you," Aunt Betty said.
"Miss Goldberg has reached
the first store," JARVIS announced.
"Shall I engage one-way video now?
It is no trouble to guide her using
the Bluetooth, as Ms. Potts does."
Uncle Phil looked at the floor
full of giggling Avengers
and said, "Engage."
The view showed Miss Goldberg
entering the first store, alongside
a display where busy ladies were
handing out free pinecone candles.
Uncle Phil watched as some of
the frazzled shoppers turned
from frowns to smiles.
It never ceased to amaze him
how one small act of kindness
could change everything.
Uncle Phil tucked the blankets
around Steve and Bucky, then said,
"Good morning, Miss Goldberg. If you
don't mind, I'll be directing the route
using a floor map of the stores.
You may begin on your left ..."
And they were off.
* * *
Some stores employer personal shoppers for their customers. Other personal shoppers work freelance and will go from store to store for clients. Stark Industries has a Personal Shopper Department because most geeks don't care about fashion and Pepper wants them to look presentable. Also because she loves being pampered and this way she can shop and work at the same time. She uses the PSD like most people use desktop games.
Fifth Avenue & 57th Street is the heart of Manhattan retail.
White Chocolate Mocha is among the highest-calorie offerings at Starbucks, which can also pack a lot of caffeine if you load it with extra espresso.
"Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" is a tagline from Pinky and the Brain.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification comes in several levels.
Incienso de Santa Fe makes a selection of natural wood incense, but not fruit flavors. H-E-B sells wood chips for smokers and grills, but you can throw them in your fireplace for fragrance.
Hometown Bar-b-cue in Brooklyn is one of New York's best barbecue restaurants.
Learn how to make hot chocolate from scratch like Steve does. This recipe includes cardamom, although personally I think I'd prefer using cardamom powder to pods. Betty's Aztec hot chocolate is more assertive. You can also buy a similar version in mix format. Mini rainbow marshmallows come fresh or freeze-dried. Betty brought the fresh kind this time. Clint will eat the crunchy kind right out of the can.
Pinecone candles are popular during the holidays.