“Jim?”  Matthew Wheeler’s voice sounded uncharacteristically subdued over the phone.

“Yes, Dad,” Jim answered.  “What’s up?”  He glanced out the window of his office.  On this late October day, a brilliant sun illuminated the crimson, gold, and orange leaves that clung to the trees bordering the property of Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School, where he was assistant principal.  He couldn’t wait to be outside in the fresh air on a day like today.  

“I just received some paperwork from Win Frayne’s doctor’s office—the medical records on both of your parents.” 

The words reverberated in Jim’s ear.  “What?  I thought he refused to release the records because of doctor-patient confidentiality.”

“Yes, he did.  But once I sent him proof of your identity and made the case that you deserved to know your family medical history, he finally agreed.”  Matthew coughed.  “Besides that, he’s retiring and selling his practice.  Disposal of his inactive medical records is going to be a lot of work.  I think he ended up being happy that we’d take a small portion of it off his hands.”

Jim looked at his watch.  “I doubt if I can make it into the city to see the papers today, Dad.  Will you be able to bring them home?”

“Of course, son.  Why don’t you and Trixie come out to the Manor House for dinner?  You can go through the box of records afterward.”

“Sure, Dad.  I’ll call Trix and let her know.” 

The two men said good-bye and Jim ended the call.  His mind was whirling.  Would he finally learn what caused his father’s death?  He’d been so young when Win Frayne died that he couldn’t recall anything his mom might have told him about the final illness.  The bits and pieces he could remember didn’t really make sense to him now, as an adult.  And now he was the father of three children.  He had a wife and family who needed him.  He needed to learn his genetic heritage, in case he had to take action to protect his family. 

Trixie ran to answer the ringing phone, and snatched the receiver before the third ring.  Crossing her fingers that the phone hadn’t awakened her baby, she took a deep cleansing breath and spoke.  “Frayne residence, Trixie speaking.”

“Trix, what are you doing?”

She recognized her husband’s voice immediately.  “Jim, hi!  I just put Rob down for a nap about fifteen minutes ago, and was going to fold some laundry.  Why?”

“Dad called a few minutes ago.  He and Mother want us to come over for dinner tonight.  He’s finally managed to get my parents’ medical records from Dad’s doctor in Rochester.”

“That’s wonderful, Jim.”  She breathed a prayer that Jim wouldn’t find out anything worrisome from the records.  Still, knowing was bound to be better than not knowing, no matter what.

“I’ll be leaving here in about forty-five minutes, and I thought I could stop at the supermarket if you need anything.”

Trixie did a quick mental run-through of her kitchen inventory.  “Maybe some frozen waffles and a gallon of milk,” she suggested.  “Moms would die if she knew I was using frozen waffles, but with a young baby in the house…well, I definitely don’t have time to cook them from scratch every day.”

“Sure thing.  I’ll see you in a little while.”  He made kissing sounds.  “I love you!”

“Okay.  Love you too!” She blew him a kiss into the phone. 

As always, dinner at the Wheelers’ was a formal experience, although after twenty years of friendship with Honey and Jim, Trixie was used to the formal service and accepted it as normal.  Although the children usually came to the Wheelers’ with their parents, tonight they were at home with Grandma and Grandpa Belden.

“Trixie, the beef stroganoff is a new recipe Cook developed,” Madeleine Wheeler said as Celia served the aromatic dish.  “This is the first time she’s made it, and I’d like to know how you like it.  The broccoli came from our kitchen garden.  It’s a bit late for broccoli, but Steven Elliott has a wonderful arrangement for growing vegetables in a protected environment, and it was just picked this morning.”

Trixie smiled.  “Moms loves the little greenhouse he built her.  She’s still getting broccoli, cabbage, and kale from hers.”  Although it never failed to surprise her when Maddie showed an interest in the garden and the food produced there, she was well aware that her mother-in-law took pride in serving only the best to her guests.  Maybe she couldn’t cook, but she understood what it took to put a meal together.

She realized, too, that the Wheelers didn’t want to discuss private family information in front of even their most trusted staff.  So she concentrated on enjoying the flavors and textures of the food, and told as many cute stories of her children’s antics as she could think of.  Still, it was frustrating when the dinner progressed through several courses with no mention of the matter they’d come to learn—the content of Win and Katie Frayne’s medical records.  She glanced at Jim from time to time, and it was plain that he was equally anxious to read the documents.  Under the table, she brushed his leg with her foot in an attempt at reassurance.  Jim raised a quizzical brow at her, but she could only smile as meaningfully as possible at him. 

Celia had just taken away the coffee cups and dessert service when Matthew Wheeler pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “Shall we take a glass of wine in the library?” he asked.  “I know you’re anxious to see the material I received today.”

“Yes, sir,” Jim replied, pulling out Trixie’s chair.  “I won’t lie:  I’m ready to look at those records.”

“I’ve had a nice bottle of Cabernet Chateau Pierre-Bise uncorked,” Matthew continued, offering his arm to his wife.  “It’s been breathing while we’ve been eating.”  The quartet strolled into the book-lined library, where the wine and glasses awaited them at Matthew’s reading table.  On his desk lay a cardboard box of the right size to hold papers and folders.

“Are those the records?” Jim asked.  “Can you tell me what’s in them?”  He looked at his adopted father and Trixie thought she detected a strained look in his clear green eyes.

“No, son.  I didn’t look at any of the documents.”  Matthew directed a level gaze back at his son. “They’re your parents, and it’s your information.”

Trixie could feel the empathy in his voice, and was certain he would give anything to be able to reassure Jim that everything in the records was good news.  Both she and Jim knew they were likely to learn things that would revive the pain of her husband’s loss of his birth parents.  She worried about the possible effects of the information on him—no matter what information it might be.  Both of them had died at such young ages—his dad almost the same age Jim was now. 

Jim accepted a glass of wine, but he barely sipped it.  She knew he was fighting to contain his anxiety to read the documents, and after fifteen minutes, she looked at her watch and exclaimed, “Oh, look!  Jim, we’d better head back home.  It’s time for Rob’s feeding.  Moms doesn’t like it when she has to give him a bottle.  He just doesn’t take it very well.”   

As soon as the Belden parents left, Jim turned to her.  “Do you mind if I go through the records by myself for a bit, Trix?”  He jammed his hands into his pockets.  “It’s not that I mind your knowing everything—you have a right to know everything about my parents’ medical history.  But I don’t know what I’ll find out…”  His eyes pleaded with her.  “...and I don’t know how I might react to it.”

“Of course I don’t mind, Jim.”  It cost her something to agree, but the gratitude in his eyes more than repaid her. She hugged him tightly.  “This is something you need to do alone.  But I do want to know what you find out, once you’ve had the chance to absorb it.”

“I’ll tell you everything, Trixie.”  Some of the tension drained away from his features and he quirked a russet eyebrow at her.  “You’re my lodestar, you know.”  He returned her embrace, and lifted her off her feet in order to seal his promise with a kiss.

She left him in the dining room with the medical records and climbed the stairs to the bedrooms upstairs in order to check on their children, who were all in bed.  Why don’t they go down so easily when I’m here, she wondered—not for the first time.  Grandma Belden had a kind, but firm, management of her grandchildren, and they were always cooperative with her.  And of course, Grandpa was the best bedtime-story reader ever.  The upstairs was quiet as she opened the door to Katie’s bedroom.  The six-year-old slept sprawled across her bed, vibrant red curls like an aureole around her head.  A soft snore escaped from the rosebud lips as Trixie leaned over to kiss her daughter. 

Nine-year-old Jamie’s room was next.  Like his dad, he slept on his side, an open book next to him in the bed.  She picked it up and set it down on the nightstand.  Jamie was serious and a good student; his personality was a combination of Jim’s and her brother Brian.  Like Katie, he was a redhead, but his hair had darkened until it held only glints of red.  She smoothed his hair off his forehead and kissed it, tiptoeing out so as not to awaken him.

Her comment about feeding Rob had been a polite fiction, but as she entered the nursery next to the master bedroom, she heard her youngest son stirring.  By the time she reached his crib, he was pulling himself up in the bed.  “Mama!” he said clearly.

“Here I am, young man,” she said softly.  “What are you doing awake?”

“Mama!” he repeated, reaching for her with one arm and beginning to bounce.

“Oh, all right.”  She reached for her little cherub with a smile.  Seven months was young for a baby to be able to say the words he did—very deliberately, since he differentiated between Mama, Dada, “Day” and “Kay”.  She generally attributed his precocity to Jim’s genetic heritage, since none of the Beldens had been so advanced.  But with his blond curls, this child resembled her—and her brothers Mart and Bobby.  Rob immediately began nuzzling for her breast and she hurried into her own bedroom to change out of the dressy clothing she’d worn to her in-laws’ for dinner.  Rob sat on the bed, watching her and pulling at the pillows while she changed into her nightgown. 

When Jim came upstairs nearly an hour later, he found his wife and youngest son curled up in the big rocker in the nursery.  Trixie had wrapped them up with one of her Aunt Alicia’s handmade afghans and they were both sound asleep.  Jim took the baby and laid him in his crib.

“Wake up, Trixie,” he murmured softly to his wife.  “Come to bed.”

Her eyes opened and she stood up, although he doubted if she was really awake.  He guided her to the bedroom and covered her snugly after she crawled into bed.  Going into the adjoining bathroom, he undressed with his usual deliberation, lining up his shoes and clothing for the next morning.  Next, he picked up Trixie’s discarded clothing and tossed it into the hamper.  Even as he performed the familiar rituals, he felt almost as though he was an observer, rather than a performer.  Lying down in bed, he found himself wide awake, his mind in tumult, crowded with chaotic thoughts that swirled and eddied like dry leaves before a hurricane.  The medical records he’d carefully replaced into their box might have been grenades that had exploded his peace of mind and could destroy the family he’d made with Trixie.  Hell, the news might devastate her as much as it had devastated him.  And what would he do if his lodestar deserted him?

The next day was Halloween.  Jim was not his usual chipper morning self.  Trixie noticed it immediately when he poured his coffee without kissing her or speaking to the two older children, who were eating their toasted frozen waffles when he entered the kitchen.  Instead, he sat down at the table and opened the newspaper.

“Daddy!”  Katie pulled at his sleeve.  “Make Jamie stop! He’s making monster faces at me!”

“Jamie, don’t tease your sister,” Jim responded automatically.  He didn’t even look at Jamie, who was crossing his eyes and twisting his head to the side, giving a realistic twitch now and then.  Trixie frowned at her son and took his empty plate.  He ignored her and curled his fingers into claws, scratching at his head. 

“Zombies need food,” he intoned in a sepulchral voice.  “Fresh little girls taste best.”

“Stop it, Jamie!”  Katie’s voice rose.  “I won’t go trick-or-treating with you if you’re going to be a zombie.  Zombies are scary.  I’m gonna be Ariel, right, Mommy?”

“Yes, you’re going to be Ariel,” Trixie replied, snatching the chance to redirect her daughter’s attention.  “Aunt Honey is putting the final touches on your mermaid costume, and I’m supposed to pick it up today.”  If she could get Katie off the topic of Jamie’s teasing, he’d probably grow tired of it and stop.  The trouble was that Katie was a lot like her mom.  She usually rose to the bait and she didn’t give up easily.

“Your face is gonna freeze that way,” Katie warned her brother, sticking her tongue out at him.

“That’s just a myth,” he replied loftily, successfully releasing a thin stream of drool from his mouth.

“It’s not a myth, it’s true!” Katie insisted.  “Eddie and Danny told me so,” she added for good measure.  Her twin cousins were authorities second only to their older sister, Ellen. 

Jim laid his paper down.  A vertical crease deepened between his eyebrows as he stared from his son to his daughter.  “I said, stop it!”  he demanded in a severe tone unlike his usual voice.   As if shocked by his own anger, he drew a breath and continued more calmly.  “Jamie, stop making those faces at the table.  Were you raised in a barn?”  He turned to Katie.  “Young lady, stop responding to your brother’s teasing.  He only does it to yank your chain, and if you don’t react, he’ll stop.”

“No, he won’t,” the little girl insisted.  “I tried it before.  He never stops, never, never, never.”

Jim stood up and took his coffee cup to the sink.  “I mean it!”  he said.  “You kids should be happy you have brothers and sisters, and plenty of cousins and grandparents.  Lots of kids would be thrilled to have what you’ve got.”  His voice thickened as he finished up his rant, and Trixie looked up with a start. She detected moisture in his eyes before he turned quickly away from her.  The children were staring at him with stunned expressions.

“Come on, Jamie and Katie,” she said briskly.  “It’s time for you two to head for school.  The bus will be here any minute.”

Distracted from his shock at his dad’s outburst, Jamie drained his glass of juice, scooped up his backpack, and kissed him mom and dad good-bye.  Katie followed his lead and scampered out the door after him, slamming the door closed behind her.  Trixie threw up her arms.  “Kids!  How did my parents survive?”

Jim ignored the rhetorical question and glanced at his watch.  He needed to leave shortly after the children did, in order to be at Sleepyside Junior-Senior High before the school day started.  As assistant principal, he was actively involved with students in all grades.  “I’ve got to go, Trix.  See you this afternoon.”  He bent down to kiss her.

“Wait, Jim,” she said softly, placing her hand on his arm.  “What did you find out in those records?”

“I really have to go, Trix.  But I promise, I’ll tell you tonight.”  He pulled her to him with an almost desperate force, and kissed her with a passion she’d never known him to show on a busy school morning.  She responded with an equal passion, trying to reinforce that she was his without reservation. 

“I love you,” she told him when they separated.  Smoothing a lock of hair away from his face, she forced a sparkle into her eyes and pasted a confident smile on her face.  “Have a good day, Mr. Supple HoneyBuns.”  She patted his butt and continued.  “And we’ll deal with your parents’ history tonight.  Together.” 

“It’s a deal, Mrs. HoneyBuns.”  She could see his lips quirk into a reluctant smile in return, and he cupped her bottom in his large hand for a moment before opening the door.

It was later than Trixie had hoped before she and Jim could be alone that night.  The kids had homework to do, and baths she had to supervise.  Jim bathed Rob and played with him after supper, but the baby had to nurse before going to bed.  He seemed to feel Trixie’s tension and responded by taking longer to settle down.  Finally, she laid him down in the crib, and he reached for his blanket with a sleepy smile for her.  She smoothed his curls away from his forehead and said, “Good night, sweet boy!  I love you.”  The baby immediately placed a thumb in his mouth and his heavy-lidded eyes closed.  She tiptoed out of his room and joined her husband in the living room, where he was picking up stray discarded toys.

“Are you sure you’re not too tired to listen to all this, Trix?”  Jim’s face was drawn with fatigue and she felt sure he had not slept at all the night before.

“Of course not, Jim.”  She sat on the sofa and patted the spot next to her.  “Come and sit with me while we talk.”

He sank down next to her and closed his eyes.  Taking a deep breath, he started.  “Trix, my dad died of leukemia.  He was diagnosed in January and died the first of August.”

“Jim, I’m so sorry.”  She reached for his hand.  “You never knew?”

“No.  I guess I was so young—I’d only turned ten a couple of weeks earlier—I can’t remember my mom telling me what was the matter with him.  I remember that he was too tired to go sledding or ice-skating with me and Mom at Christmas.  He went to the doctor and was in the hospital for tests.  Then after a couple of months he was at home and spent most of his time in bed..”  Jim’s voice trailed off.  “I don’t know if I was just young, or just in denial.”

“I’m sorry,” she repeated.  “Is that what’s been bothering you?”

“I won’t lie to you, Trix.  It bothers me a lot that I’ve married you and brought children into the world without knowing it.  I’m the same age as my dad was when he...what if I came up with leukemia, too?  I would leave you and the kids in a terrible bind.”

“Jim, there are so many treatments for leukemia today,” she pointed out.  “Much more effective chemotherapy and other treatments.  And that’s even if leukemia was something that was known to be handed down genetically.”  She traced the lines on his palm.  “And I don’t know whether it is or not, but Brian would be able to tell you.”

He scrubbed his face with his free hand.  “Yes, I should talk to him about it.”  He didn’t say anything more for a minute, but finally, just as she was about to burst out with a question, he started again.

“That’s not the part that bothers me the most, though.”

“What is it, then?”  She forced herself to be patient and wait for him to be ready to speak.

“My mom was bipolar.  What they used to call manic-depressive.  That’s the part that worries me most.”  He stood and moved toward the fireplace, staring into the cold hearth.

“I thought your mom died from histoplasmosis,” she replied, puzzled.

“She did.  But she was diagnosed with manic depression several years earlier, even before Dad got sick.”  He paced back and forth in front of the fireplace.  “Apparently it was shortly after we moved to Rochester, and she went through a manic phase where she didn’t sleep, shopped compulsively and redecorated the whole house, and complained of racing thoughts.  The bills came and she and Dad got into a big argument—I’d never heard them fight before and I was scared when the voices woke me up one night.  The next day she was sick—that’s what Dad told me.  She stayed in bed for a week and then Dad took her to the doctor.  It’s all kind of muddled in my mind; I don’t really remember it clearly.  I do remember she was in the hospital for a while and I couldn’t visit her.”

“You don’t remember any of that?”  Trixie’s forehead was wrinkled in concentration.

Jim stopped his pacing and shrugged.  “Do you have a clear memory of everything that happened in your family when you were six or seven?  Even if you remember events, do you think you understood everything clearly at that age?”   He looked at her with eyes that were suddenly tired and old.  “I was too young to understand,” he continued.  “I remember she bought a lot of furniture and curtains, I remember hearing them arguing, and I remember she was sick and in the hospital right after that.”

“And that was when she was diagnosed?” Trixie asked.  “She never had any symptoms before that?”

Jim resumed his pacing.  “According to her chart from the doctor in Rochester, that was her first episode.  It might have been triggered by the stress of moving, trying to adjust to a new environment, make new friends.  She probably had the condition earlier but didn’t have a triggering event.”    

“Did she have more episodes?  Or did she get on medication to control it?”  As usual, Trixie wanted to know as much as possible about anything she was interested in, so that she could resolve the situation in her mind.

“She was in the hospital again right after Dad got sick, I remember that.  I stayed with one of my friends from school for about a week, I think.”   He raked his fingers through his hair until it stood up in unruly spikes.  “But after that I don’t think she was ever hospitalized until she got sick with histoplasmosis.  She might have had mood swings, but she stayed home and she functioned until after Dad passed away.”  

She took his hand and pressed it to her cheek.  “I can imagine what a shock this was for you, Jim.  But it sounds like you’re worried you could have bipolar disease, too.  I didn’t know it was hereditary—is it?”

“Well, having a bipolar parent increases a person’s risk of being bipolar.”  Jim looked away so she couldn’t see his face.  “I don’t really think I’ve ever had any episodes that could be described as manic or depressive—so far.  But it might not have manifested yet.  And the worst part is that I could have passed that trait onto our kids.  That’s the part that tears me up inside.  If only I’d known...”  His voice trailed off.

“If only you’d known, you’d never have married, or had kids?” she asked.  She jumped up and placed both hands on her hips.

Jim stared at her for a long moment.  “Right,” he finally said.

She flinched and drew back in shock, the color draining from her face.  But true to her character, she lunged toward him and threw her arms around his waist, burying her face in his ribcage.  “I don’t care!  I don’t even care if you are bipolar, or if the kids are.  We’ll fight this together, because I’m not giving up on our family!”

Jim didn’t say anything for a minute.  She could feel his struggle to control his emotions and his breathing.  Her tears wet his shirt as her petite frame shook with silent sobs.  A drop of moisture hit her face and she looked up to see his face wet with tears.  As he inclined his head down toward her, she saw another tear slip from one eye.  He lifted her into his arms, and sat down on the sofa, holding her tightly.

It felt like forever, but Trixie had never given way to hopeless tears for long.  Her sobs eased into gasping gulps and then, by obvious force of will, she took a deep, shuddering breath and looked up at Jim.  “We’ll go and see Brian tomorrow.  He can give us an overview and if he can’t answer all of our questions, he’ll know who to send us to.”  She reached up to stroke his jaw.  “I mean it, Jim.  There are good tests and good medicines that weren’t available when your dad and your mom were alive.  And like Mr. Maypenny always liked to say, there’s no sense borrowing trouble.”

“I just don’t want my kids to suffer the way my mom must have suffered with this illness.”  He sighed.  “Every time I see Katie laughing one minute and crying the next, I’m afraid she’s showing signs of bipolar disease.  If Jamie is tired, I’m afraid he’s showing symptoms of leukemia.”

“Jim, all kids act like that at Katie’s age.  And Jamie gets tired—normal tiredness, not constant fatigue—because he’s an active child. You’re over-reacting.”   She clasped his hand with both of hers.   

“Maybe—no, probably—I am.  But I’ve got to know.  If there’s a chance any of the kids could be at risk, I’d want to know, so they could be checked out right away.”

“I’ll call Brian right now,” Trixie said.  “I’m sure he’ll be able to work you in tomorrow.”

Just as Trixie had promised, Brian readily cleared a slot in his schedule to see his sister and brother-in-law.  The three of them sat in his office, Brian behind his desk and Jim and Trixie in two semi-comfortable armchairs before it.

“Jim, you know I’m a pediatrician.  That’s why I want you to see an internist for a complete physical exam.  I’ve called a buddy of mine who is a very well-respected physician and who sees a wide range of patients.  He’ll see you next Wednesday.  He asked me to go ahead and order some lab tests, and you can get the blood drawn at the hospital today.  I’ve faxed an order over and the results will be sent to Dr. Goldman as well as to me.”

Jim nodded silently, his arms crossed over his chest.  Brian had heard his story, had listened to his heart and lungs, and asked him a series of question about his general health.  It was a little less involved than Jim had hoped.

“Brian, excuse me but...”  Trixie bit her lip and blurted out her question.  “Don’t you think Jim should see an oncologist?  Or maybe a psychiatrist?  Isn’t an internist just a glorified family doctor?” 

“Trixie, first of all, an internist has completed a three year—or longer in some cases—residency in a major teaching hospital, caring for adults with a wide range of conditions.  I go to Dr. Goldman myself, and I referred Dad to him when Dr. Ferris retired.  He’s an expert in the most common maladies of adults, and he takes care of the overall management of cancer patients, keeping up with their nutrition, pain management, balancing electrolytes, and so forth.”  He cleared his throat before continuing.  “Furthermore, Jim hasn’t been diagnosed with anything.  I personally have seen nothing about his physical or mental health that would raise a red flag for me.  I’m concerned that by sending him to a specialist too early—before any real exam, for example—a specialist might delve deeply for one thing, not find it, and overlook something that might represent a genuine problem.”

“That makes sense, Brian.”  Jim smiled for the first time, although the smile was strained.

Unfortunately, Dr. Goldman had a family emergency and Jim's appointment with him had to be rescheduled twice. During the weeks of waiting, Trixie sensed his growing restlessness and worry.  She had tried to reassure him, but nothing she could say seemed to make any difference.  His patience with the children shredded and they started avoiding him.  He, who was so sensitive to their moods, realized quickly what was going on.

“Trix, I’m no good for you or for the kids while I’m like this,” he told her one night.  “I know I’m driving them away and I can’t make myself stop.”

“Jim, I don’t have any answers for you.”  She paused in the act of pulling down the bedclothes and faced him.  “We promised to love and to cherish each other for better and for worse.  I intend to love and to cherish you until death do us part.”  She extended both arms toward him.  “I need you and they need you.  But it’s up to you how you deal with knowing about your mom’s illness.  You’re the same Jim you were a few weeks ago, before we found out any of this.”  She climbed into bed.  “If you can’t take one day at a time until we know more from Dr. Goldman, then maybe you need to see a counselor.  I can’t take your constant agonizing anymore.”

She pulled the covers up to her chin and added, “Everyone has problems.  Life isn’t fair and we have to deal with the cards we get.”  She lay down on her side, facing away from him.  It nearly killed her to say those harsh words to him, but she meant every one of them.  We don’t get to choose, she thought dully.  Would I marry Jim again, knowing about this?  Yes.  The bipolar wouldn’t bother me; I’d deal with it if I had to.  But the guilt and the self-blaming are getting on my last nerve, and meanwhile he’s not available emotionally to me or the kids.  A tear slipped out of one eye and then the other.  Even after Jim lay down next to her, they kept coming.  She concentrated on keeping her breathing even and forced her muscles to relax, so he wouldn’t know she was crying.  He lay stiffly, not trying to touch her for a long time.  She listened for his breathing to change to his sleeping pattern, but it never did.  Finally he wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close to him.  “I love you, Trixie.  I know I haven’t been much of a partner in the past few weeks, but I’m going to change that.  You’re right, I can’t live my life waiting for that shoe to drop.  I can’t promise to forget about it, but I’ll try to take one day at a time, like you said.”   

The next morning, she received a phone call from her best friend, who was Jim’s adoptive sister and Brian’s wife.  It was a rare day that the two women didn’t see or speak with each other, but Honey had been confined to bed for several weeks due to complications with her pregnancy. 

“Trixie!  How are you?” Honey asked.  “I’ve been trying to call you for days!”

“You know how life with two kids in school and a baby can be,” Trixie replied.  “I’ve been here most of the time, but I also took a couple of days for Christmas shopping before the crowds get too bad.  The question is, how are you?  I’m not the one who’s nine months pregnant and on bedrest.”

“Oh, I’m doing fine.”  Honey brushed off Trixie’s concern.  “Laying around in bed, fat and lazy.”  She laughed.  “But since I’m now over thirty-eight weeks, the doctor said I could get up and do whatever I feel like doing.”

“How many baby quilts have you made for the Sloane Hospital neonatal ICU project?  Twenty?”

“Well, I’ve made twelve since I’ve been confined to bed,” Honey said.  “They don’t really take that long.”

“They involve sewing, therefore they take too long.”  Trixie shuddered.  “I’ll wash them, bag them up, and take them to the hospital.  I’ll even buy the material if you and Di pick it out.  But sewing—no.”

“Trixie, you know I love to sew.  It’s such a wonderful project, and as much as you grouse about it, you do a lot to keep us going.”  Honey sighed.  “But you know, I really called to see how my full-blooded adopted brother is doing.  We haven’t seen him, and Brian said he’s been on edge and avoiding everyone since he read his parents’ medical records.”

“Honey, I’m just about at my wits’ end.  He’s convinced himself he’s passed on bad genetic material to our kids, and he’s so worried about having a potential to be bipolar that his fuse is shorter than ever.  I told him last night he needs to deal with it one day at a time, and go to counseling if he’s that incapacitated.”  She sighed, staring out the window at the bleak, leafless trees that ringed the house.  The scene matched her mood.  “I need him, Honey.  I need him to be here for me and our kids.”  She drew a shaky breath, realizing she was close to tears.

“That bad, huh?”  Honey’s voice was filled with sympathy.  “Do Mother and Dad know how badly it’s affected him?”

“No.  At least, I’m pretty sure they don’t.  They went on that trip to Italy right after your dad gave him the records.  We’ve talked to them on the phone, but Jim’s put on a good face and I don’t think they suspect anything.”

“Daddy would come home right away if he thought he could help, I know he would,” Honey assured her.

“I know he would.  Your mom, too.  But this is really something I think Jim has to deal with.  I know he can.  I just hope he’ll snap out of his funk and start dealing with it.”

“Brian said he’s seeing another doctor for a thorough checkup.”

“Yes, a Dr. Goldman.  The appointment's been rescheduled twice due to a family emergency of his, and I know a lot of Jim’s frustration is related to waiting.  I can’t blame him for that, since I feel the same way.”

“Trix, please let us know if we can do anything.  And bring Rob over here tomorrow, if you can.  I miss that little imp.”

“Okay, I will.  And you can help Jim most by praying right now, I guess.”

The two said good-bye and Trixie hung up the phone.  She said a quick prayer of her own for Jim, and added one for herself.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, Jim lay on Dr. Goldman’s exam table as the doctor poked, prodded, and listened to him.  Trixie had planned to come with him, but at the last minute she’d had a call from school.  Katie had been sent home from school with a fever and vomiting, and Trixie had stayed home with her.  Before the physical exam, he’d already answered a series of questions about his past medical history, including nearly all those he’d answered for Brian, and a few more for good measure.

“Why do you doctors always ask the same questions?” he finally asked.  “I answered all of the same questions for Brian.  Don’t you guys read each other’s notes?”

“That’s a good question, Jim.”  Dr. Goldman wiped his stethoscope with an alcohol pad and looped it into the pocket of his white coat.  Then he pushed his glasses up and sat down on the rolling stool in the exam room.  “I realize it’s annoying to answer the same questions from different members of the team.  But I go back over that information in case you use some different words that clue me in that there is more information for me to discover, or a detail that’s been overlooked by others.  You’d be surprised at the biases, inaccuracies, or automatic answers that are recorded in a doctor’s note.”  He stood again, and reached out to shake Jim’s hand.  “Get dressed and my nurse will take you to my office.  I’ll go over all of the labwork I asked Brian to order on you, and I’ll tell you my impressions.” 

He dressed quickly, unable to decide whether the doctor seemed confident of a normal exam or cushioning him for a blow.  As soon as he’d tied his shoes, he opened the door so the nurse could see that he was ready.  He tried not to tap his foot while waiting, but it was hard.  He hated waiting nearly as much as Trixie did.

“Come with me, Mr. Frayne,” invited the young woman he’d initially mistaken for a teenage volunteer.  He followed her down the hall to an office much like Brian’s, and stared at the medical degree hanging on the wall behind the desk while he waited some more.  Finally—it seemed—Dr. Goldman appeared, carrying an X-ray film.  He clipped it into a lightbox on the wall that Jim recognized from TV as an X-ray viewer.  Jim frowned as he looked at it.  Was it normal or not? 

“All right, Jim,” the doctor started.  “I’m going to explain what we are seeing on the chest X-ray, and from there, we’ll go through all of the labwork and what it means.”  He extended a small pad of paper and a pen across the desk.  “You might want to take notes.  I understand your wife is a terrier at rooting out information.”  He smiled, and Jim smiled in return.

“She sure is,” he agreed.  “Of course, she’s a trained evidence technician, so she knows a little more about the medical side of things than I do.  I want to be sure to get it right before I try to explain what you said.”

“While we still don’t understand what causes leukemia, it doesn’t seem to be a condition that’s passed on genetically.  So you and your children aren’t at increased risk for developing it.”  The physician tented his hands and leaned forward as he continued.  “Now with the bipolar disease your mom had, it’s felt that heredity plays a role.  You’re correct in saying the biggest risk factor is having a family member who is bipolar.  Still, it’s not understood exactly what role genetics plays in the manifestation of the condition.”

“So I could be bipolar?  Or my kids could be?”  His worst fear was realized.

“You don’t show any traits of bipolar disease, Jim.  You don’t display thought patterns associated with either mania or depression.  Your coping skills are excellent and you have a large group of supportive friends and family.  I don’t feel you’re at a higher risk than someone who doesn’t have a bipolar parent.”

“But...?”  Jim’s forehead furrowed.  He wasn’t quite sure if Dr. Goldman was saying he didn’t have it now but might develop it later...or something else.

“A severe physical or emotional stress could trigger behavior that is consistent with bipolar disease.  But you’ve already lived through terrible losses and experiences that would have triggered it, I think, if you actually had a predisposition.  You’re very resilient, and you have a people around you who would help you seek treatment if they detected problems.”

“You’re right about that, Doctor Goldman,” he agreed after mulling over that explanation.  “Trixie and all of her family are as down-to-earth as it gets.  But they’re also cued into the helping professions.  My adopted family is, too.  They’d see to it that I got help.”  He was silent for a moment, reflecting on his good fortune.  “My mom was really isolated, I think.  She was an orphan herself.  Then, she and my dad moved away from home and any friends she had after they married.  She was outgoing and bubbly when I was small, but after Dad got sick she seemed lost.  She wasn’t as lucky as I am.”

“Did she take medication to help with her disease, Jim?” Dr. Goldman had his pen out again and was taking some notes.

Jim concentrated on remembering.  “I don’t remember her taking medicine, but I was so young I might not have noticed,” he finally replied.  “But the records show she started lithium in Rochester.  My dad—that is, Matthew Wheeler, my adoptive dad—obtained her medical records from her doctor in Albany several years ago, and she wasn’t taking it when she was seeing him.”

“That might have been a factor in why her disease wasn’t very well-controlled,” the doctor said. “Lithium restores a chemical imbalance that contributes to mood swings.  Do you have any questions for me?”

He studied the slip of paper on which Trixie had written her list of questions.  Dr. Goldman had answered all of them.  “I guess not.  Not right now, at least.  This has been a big help.”

“Now, while I didn’t see any signs of bipolar disease, if you notice any of the symptoms we discussed, or if people around you are telling you you’re doing those things, don’t hesitate to come back.  The tests we’ve done, and my exam today, give us a baseline.  Deviations from the baseline can be picked up during routine follow-up visits, and can allow treatment to be started before serious problems occur.  Behavior changes can indicate an illness, and I wouldn’t want you to brush something off just because I didn’t find anything today.”

“Thank you, Dr. Goldman.  You don’t know what a relief this has been.”  He extended his hand to the doctor, who rose to shake it.

“I’m glad.  And please, don’t hesitate to follow up for any worrisome symptoms.  Otherwise, come back in a year and we’ll re-evaluate.”

Ten minutes later, he walked out onto the street, feeling as if the weight of the world had rolled off his shoulders.  He couldn’t wait to give Trixie the good news.  Normally, he hated to hear Christmas music before Thanksgiving and detested Christmas decorating before December even started.  Today, he smiled at the sight of the outdoor Christmas decorations being constructed by crews of workers, and even the recorded Christmas music in the commuter train back to Sleepyside didn’t annoy him.

A light snow was falling, adding the magical quality that a first snowfall always did.  He could see the lights on in the kitchen of Ten Acres, and smell Trixie’s good cooking.  He entered by the back door and hung up his coat before joining his family in the kitchen.  His wife was feeding the children their supper.  She turned to him as he entered the warm, aromatic room, a questioning look on her face.   Jamie stopped eating, Katie set down her cup of ginger ale, and Rob waved his spoon in the air before tossing it onto the floor in his excitement.  The two older children stared at him, but did not move or say anything.  Jim’s elation faded as he studied their faces.  Had he really been that much of a bear over the past month?  But Trixie leaped up from her chair before he could speak, and her eyes studied his face, trying to interpret his emotions. 

His arms went around her and he buried his face in her curls, nuzzling the top of her head and inhaling the unique fragrance that was her signature.  “He said I was okay,” he murmured.  “No signs of the kind of problems my parents had.”  She turned her face up to him and her face broke into a dazzling smile as she jumped into his arms. 

“Jim, that’s wonderful!  Perfectly perfect, as Honey would say!”  She covered his face with kisses.   The children stared with open mouths.  One minute they were eating supper like any normal family, and the next minute their mom was jumping around like a teenager and their dad was wiping tears from his eyes.

“Are you happy, Daddy?” Katie asked doubtfully.  “Or sad?”

“I’m happy, Princess.”  He set Trixie back on the floor and walked over to his daughter, bending down to kiss her cheek and give her a hug.  “I’m very, very happy.”  He moved around to Jamie and finally to Rob, giving each of his sons a hug and kiss, too.  “We’re going to have a great Christmas, kids.  Because we’ll all be together and with the rest of our family, at home.”   

“Here you go, Jim.  Eat something, I know you must be hungry.”  Trixie laid a plate before him and handed him a glass of milk.  He hadn’t really felt hungry since he’d puzzled his way through his parent’s records, and the aroma from Trixie’s roast stimulated his salivary glands.  His stomach rumbled and they all laughed.  He discovered he was looking forward to all of the standard Christmas preparations that had felt so much like desperate attempts to be normal for the past few weeks.  

St. Nicholas’s Day came and went.  The children were on their best behavior, taking turns opening the Advent calendar windows each day without fighting.  Jim’s initial elation over the results of his doctor visit seemed to have faded, and although he wasn’t as touchy as he’d been during November, he seemed to have something on his mind.  Trixie tried to get him to open up about what was worrying him, but he was uncharacteristically silent.  One night at dinner, the children brought up some of the Christmas traditions he and Trixie had established for their family.  

“Will you help me write a letter to Santa tonight, Daddy?” Katie asked.  “Because sometimes I don’t spell very good.”

“Sure, Princess.  Right after Jamie and I do the dishes.  Right, sport?”  He ruffled the boy’s hair.

“Right, Dad.”  Jamie nodded vigorously.   “Can we get our Christmas tree this weekend?”

“I think we can.”   Jim didn’t seem as elated as he usually did at the idea of tramping through the woods in search of the perfect tree, though, and she wondered why. 

He did the things he said he’d do, but as the days passed, he seemed to be on autopilot, just going through the actions rather than truly involving himself with the activities.   On tree-hunting day, Trixie watched him carefully, suppressing her urge to grab him and worry the truth out of him.  It could wait until the children were in bed.  She’d tackle him then.

As they undressed for bed, she initiated the conversation.  “What’s wrong, Jim?  I thought after you saw Dr. Goldman that you’d found some peace of mind about your parents.  But I can tell you’ve got something more on your mind.”

“Trix, I thought I was okay with all of it.  But the more I think about it, the more confused I am.  Mom was on medication for bipolar disease for awhile, but she stopped taking her meds—apparently, after Dad passed away, she never took anything.  Why wouldn’t she take medication for a real illness?”  He turned down the covers, neatly folding the sheet over the edge of the comforter.

Trixie hesitated for a moment, trying to work out what he was really saying.  She stepped into the en suite bathroom to brush her teeth and turned around to ask him a question.  “Are you angry with your mom?  Do you blame her for the abuse you took from Jonesy?”

“No!”  The reply shot back. His head jerked up and he stared at her in shock.  “I don’t think I am, anyway,” he added in a characteristic burst of honesty.  “I don’t understand why she wouldn’t take her medication, though.  Surely she coped a lot better when she took it.”

Satisfied that she’d hit the right nerve, Trixie approached from a different tangent.  “Jim, didn’t your dad—Matthew, I mean—didn’t he go through some complicated process to get your mom’s things out of Jonesy’s house...way back, right after your adoption?”   Her forehead creased in concentration, and she waved her toothbrush in the air as she spoke.

“Yes, he did.”  Jim emptied his pockets and dropped his loose change into a tray on his dresser before pulling off his shirt and tossing it into the hamper.  “He obtained several court orders.  It was hard because Jonesy was in prison, so all of his property reverted to the state.  There were a couple of trunks; they were locked up and Dad said we could get a locksmith to open them up...”  He frowned.  “I never did go through all that stuff, though.  It was such a relief to get away from Jonesy...and not just away, but transported into a whole new world.  Honey may have felt like her parents were distant, but they went out of their way to make me feel at home.  Then there were you and your brothers.  Your family seemed like a storybook family, so close and so normal...all I wanted was to be like that.”

“Didn’t you want to look at your parents’ stuff?  Old pictures, maybe, or keepsakes?”  Trixie rinsed the bathroom sink and plopped herself down onto the bed, sitting on her feet.  She recalled Jim’s hunger for information about his cousin Juliana as soon as he’d learned of her existence. 

“Not at the time.  I was angry at my mom for leaving me with Jonesy.  I didn’t want to think about our lives before...before Dad—my birth dad—died.  I just wanted to forget my old life and immerse myself in my new one.”    He paced the floor, his hands shoved into his pockets.  “And that new life was busy.  Riding and swimming every day instead of slaving away in the fields and rebuilding fences.  At Jonesy’s, it took everything I had to stay up at night and do my homework...”  He stopped in front of her.  “Here, being in school was my job.  I wanted to make Mother and Dad proud of me, to repay them for giving me a second chance...and I wanted to succeed and find a way to bring my dream school into being.  I put all of my old life behind me.  I wanted Dad to even drop the medical history stuff, but he finally convinced me I needed to find out for the sake of you and our kids.”

“Maybe now is the time, Jim.”  Trixie tilted her head back in order to look up at her tall husband. 

“I don’t think I can.  I’m not mad at Mom anymore...”  He strode over to the window and stared outside at the falling snow.  “I mean, I don’t think I am.”

Trixie was silent for a moment.  Chewing on her lower lip, she debated whether to say what she was thinking—or not.  Would it help Jim, or would he reject her idea out of hand?  “Jim, you’re so close to the situation that I think you don’t give your mom the break you’d give anyone else.  Think about the teenagers you’ve worked with in your counseling sessions.  Remember how you’ve said they don’t like the way the meds make them feel?  Sometimes they say they feel numb, as if they’re watching life go by instead of participating in it.”

“Yes, but Mom had a kid...and a sick husband.  She should have realized she needed the meds to keep functioning.”  He pulled off his tee shirt and donned his pajama bottoms, facing away from her.

“Maybe.  Maybe so.”  Trixie was willing to acknowledge he was right.  How many times had she criticized Katie Frayne Jones in her own mind for the decisions that placed Jim in jeopardy, with a cruel, sadistic stepfather?  “But you know, I was reading something about forgiveness.  The author said forgiveness doesn’t help the person who did the bad or stupid things, the one we’re mad at.  It might not matter to them, or it might be too late for them to know.”  She moved to her husband’s side and reached out to put her arm around his waist.  “Forgiveness allows us to roll a burden off our backs and to move on.”  

“Maybe you’re right.  My thoughts are in such chaos right now...”  Jim put an arm around her shoulder and held her close.  “I don’t think I’ve processed everything yet.  It’s going to take more time.”   He released her and walked over to turn out the light.

“Trix, if you want to go through those trunks, you’re more than welcome.”  He turned out back the covers on his side and lay down next to her.  “Dad did get them unlocked and if you can deal with the dust you should be able to get to them.”   She snuggled up against his warm body, resting her head on his shoulder and tracing circles on his chest with her left hand.  He kissed the top of her head and ran his hand down the side of her body.  “If you find anything you really want me to see, I’ll look at it.” 

“Fair enough,” Trixie agreed.  “Now, enough about that subject.  We’re alone and all of the kids are asleep.”  Her hand traveled lower until she could pull the drawstring on his pajama pants.

“I’m looking for Mr. Woody Honeybuns,” she said with a giggle.  “Have you seen him?”

“He told me he was going hunting for Pussy Galore,” Jim replied.  His white teeth flashed in a leer she could see in the dark.

“She’s working undercover tonight,” Trixie shot back.

After that, there wasn’t much talking going on.

The next day, Trixie called her mother as soon as the two older children left for school.

“Moms, hi!  What are you doing today?” she greeted her mother.

“Finishing up my Christmas decorating,” Helen Belden said.  “Why?  Do you need a sitter so you can finish up some last-minute shopping?”

“You know me so well!”  She laughed.  “But it’s not shopping this time.  I’m actually finished.  Jim gave me the okay to look into the trunks from Jonesy’s house in Albany that belonged to his birth parents, and I want to do it before he changes his mind.”

“You’re more than welcome to bring Rob over here.  I’d love nothing better than to see the little fellow.”  Helen laughed, too.  “If I’m watching him, I can put off the last-minute decorating until tomorrow.”

“I’ll be over as soon as I can get us both dressed,” Trixie decided.  “No telling how long it’ll take to go through those trunks.  I need to get back home before the kids get home from school.”  She hung up and told her son, “Grandma can’t wait to see you!”

She was already dressed, and the minute Rob finished his breakfast of Cheerios she changed and dressed him, then donned her own boots and winter coat before bundling him into his snowsuit.  Quickly, she checked and restocked the diaper bag.  It was a lucky thing she and Jim lived so close to both sets of parents.  She packed Rob and the diaper bag onto the baby sled—so-called because it had the little curved “fence” on the back so a baby could be propped there.  It was a pleasant hike to Crabapple Farm from the Frayne home on the Ten Acres property.  The air was crisp and light flurries of snow swirled and floated in the air as they traveled the short distance.

In about fifteen minutes, Trixie was standing at the kitchen door of her parents’ home.  She stamped her feet to get rid of the snow in her boot soles, and brushed a light dusting of flakes off Rob’s snowsuit, smiling as she noted he had snow in his eyelashes.  “On you, snow looks good,” she told him, placing a kiss on each chubby cheek.  He gurgled in return and clearly said “Mama!”

She pushed the door open and carried Rob and his bag inside.  “Here we are, Moms!” she called.  

“Trixie!  I didn’t expect you quite so soon.”  Her mother came hurrying into the kitchen from the living room.  “I was just getting the playpen set up.”  She took the baby, who bounced and reached for his grandma with outstretched hands and a beaming smile.  As soon as he was in her arms, he threw both arms around her neck and lay his head on her shoulder.  That lasted for only an instant before he was wriggling and reaching down to the floor.

“You’d better go on, Trixie,” Helen said.  “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.  He’s so much easier to watch now since he eats so much table food.”

“All right, I’m going.  The sooner I leave, the sooner I’ll be back.”  Trixie kissed her mother and then her baby before turning to head back outside.  Soon she was making her way up the stone-paved path between Crabapple Farm and the Manor House.

An hour later, she was hot and dusty, working under a window where sunlight poured in, despite the frosty weather.  The Manor House attic was neat, for an attic, but it was filled with unused furniture, luggage, and out-of-season clothing.  Miss Trask had taken her to the section where the two trunks were stored, and had even produced the keys to both of them before leaving Trixie to her discoveries.

The first trunk contained a boy’s baby and toddler clothing and a gray, ragged blanket remnant.  She smiled in mother-recognition.  Her own babies’ blankets were still kept in the kids’ rooms, although Jamie denied using his.  It looked about as ragged as Jim’s old blanket, and she brushed the threadbare cloth against her cheek before laying it to the side.  Next she found a framed portrait photo of the Fraynes—or at least she felt sure it was them.  The dad looked just like Jim, but was dressed in the style of thirty-five years earlier.  His arm was around a petite blonde woman with a shy smile, dressed in the style of the same period.  A husky baby with a headful of curls was perched on the dad’s lap, his mouth open in a laugh.  The photo was sepia-toned, but plainly the baby and the man had red hair, she decided.  He clutched the mom’s finger with one hand and waved the other in the air. 

“Jim, you need to see this picture,” she said out loud.  There were some paper documents in a folder, but when Trixie saw that they were deeds to property and records of household expenses, she set the folder aside.  Matthew Wheeler had long ago obtained records of property transfers and she wasn’t interested in household records at the moment.  Under the folder was a lady’s gray suit jacket and skirt, in a size that seemed impossibly tiny to her.  She lifted it out and held it up in front of her.  “I wonder if that was Katie’s wedding suit,” she thought.  A pillbox hat with a scrap of black veiling was almost crushed into the corner, and a pair of black gloves was rolled up inside the hat.

Tears sprang to her eyes unexpectedly.  She’d always secretly despised Katie as a weakling, and blamed her for Jim’s abuse at Jonesy’s hands.  But Katie looked like any other proud, happy young mother in the photograph, and the comfortable and loving relationship demonstrated by her husband’s arm around her shoulders gave her a human connection Trixie had never felt with her before.  Two lives that must have held a lot of happiness at some point had been prematurely snuffed out.  The gray suit seemed to symbolize that in a way even the picture hadn’t.  Quickly but carefully, she refolded the skirt and jacket and laid them back into the trunk.  The portrait she set to the side.  That would go home with her today.

There were a few other garments under the suit, but Trixie didn’t pull them out.  Clothing didn’t interest her, and she’d shifted the trunk’s contents around enough to know it contained nothing else.  She closed the lid of that trunk and turned to the second one.

As soon as she lifted the top, she found it contained the mother lode of Frayne memorabilia.  On top was a manila envelope that contained Jim’s old report cards and several papers he’d written in grade school, along with several prizes he’d won.   She spent a few minutes looking through the school souvenirs, including a blue ribbon for winning a spelling bee.    Thumbing through the school pictures, she found one that looked so much like Jamie that she felt the tears starting again.  Quickly, she stuffed the papers back into the envelope. 

Another envelope was labeled “Important Papers” and contained the Fraynes’ marriage certificate, an official birth certificate for Jim as well as one issued by the Albany General Hospital with a tiny footprint on it.  Win’s college diploma and Katie’s diploma from Washington Irving High School were there, too.  Win had a commendation from the Partridge Run State Park and Katie a blue ribbon from the Albany County Fair for blackberry jam.  On the bottom was a death certificate for Winthrop Rainsford Frayne.  It was spotted and slightly blurred with apparent tears.  For the third time, Trixie felt her own eyes stinging and wiped moisture from her eyes.  She slid the documents back into the envelope and pulled out two photograph albums.

The photo albums were the gold she’d been seeking.  She opened the top one, and found pictures of baby Jim lying on a blanket, toddler Jim riding a tricycle, five-year-old Jim on a big black horse with his father.  Jim was with his mom, holding up a tray of cookies they’d obviously just baked; and with his dad, waving the blue ribbon for the spelling bee.  There was a picture of Win in the uniform of a park ranger, looking strong and fit.  Katie and Jim stood in front of a Christmas tree, Jim’s face split by a grin that showed a gap where he’d lost his front teeth.

I don’t know if I can take any more of this, she thought, snapping the album shut.  I won’t look at any more of these pictures until Jim and I can look at them together.  She replaced the albums and pulled out yet another manila envelope.  It wasn’t labeled. This turned out to be a packet of letters.  Some were in a strong, angular hand that she assumed was Win’s; others were in a smaller, more “girly” handwriting.  She wrestled with herself over the question of whether to read the letters or not.  They might contain intimate communications between Jim’s parents; certainly she felt letters between his parents were private.  On the other hand, Jim had given her carte blanche to look at anything in the trunks and to vet it for him.  He'd entrusted her with all of these mementos of his parents.

And besides, Katie and Win were dead.  Nothing she could do could really invade their privacy, and anything in the letters had happened at least twenty-five years earlier. Her mind made up, Trixie started to remove the rubber band that held the letters together.  It snapped before she could pull it.  The letters slithered onto her lap and to the floor.

“Gleeps!” she couldn’t help exclaiming.  She scooped up the loose envelopes and letters and replaced them into the envelope, saving the last one, the one that had fallen to the floor first.  I’ll read it first, she decided.  It was chosen totally at random, so it’s not really like spying.  She unfolded the letter and started to read.  My dear Katie, was written in the strong masculine hand.

I can’t wait until you’re back home with Jimmy and me, my darling.  You complete us and we need you.  In your last letter, you said we’d be better off without you because of your illness.  That is NOT TRUE.  I won’t say I love you better because of your manic depression, because I well remember some of the problems we’ve had.  Still, I love your enthusiasm and your creativity.  I promised to love and honor you, Katie Frayne, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse until death do us part.  And I always keep my promises.

Dearest, do you think the doctor has gotten your medication adjusted yet?  He told me your illness is caused by a chemical imbalance and the lithium should help.  Maybe he can give you a lower dose since it seems to make you too sleepy.  But if you just can’t stand to take the medicine, that’s fine.  We’ll just deal with it.

Jimmy sends his love.  He won a spelling bee and has a ribbon to show for it.  We’re going to practice for a while, because he was invited to be on TV for the county-wide competition.  All of the hours you’ve practiced with him are paying off—you can be very proud!

Trixie replaced the papers and fastened the envelope.  The mementos she’d found had obviously been precious to Jim’s mom, and she was sure he’d want to have them when she told him what was in the trunks.  But there was no way she could take more than a few items today.  The trunks were much too bulky and heavy, and of course she couldn’t carry even one of them on the sled with Rob.  She ran down some possibilities for getting the trunks to Ten Acres.  Maybe Tom, the Wheelers’ chauffeur, could bring them down and deliver them one day while Jim was at work.  Thoughtfully, she placed the envelope of letters on the floor next to the portrait, and replaced everything else into the trunk.  It was time to head back to Crabapple Farm and then home.  Later, she’d read more of the letters and once she could feel sure of the relationship of Win and Katie, she intended to persuade Jim to read them, too.

That night, after settling Rob into bed and while Jim was getting the two older children ready for bed, Trixie pulled out the manila envelope.  It took her twenty minutes to arrange the letters in chronological order, but as soon as she was satisfied they were in order, she started with the earliest ones.  These were obviously written when Jim’s parents first met; rather more formal and polite accounts of their daily lives than real conversations.  After their marriage, there were cards for Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but very few letters.  That made sense; the Fraynes had lived together and Win did very little traveling for his job.  The letter she’d read this morning was written when Jim was eight; she studied the envelope, addressed to Mrs. Winthrop Frayne, Rochester State Hospital.  It must have been written during Katie’s first hospitalization.  There were two more letters written within the next two weeks; then no more for nearly two years.  Two letters written during January before Win’s death in August were equally loving and supportive, and included notes from Jim as well as his dad.  Last of all were two letters from Katie to Win during the same period.  She unfolded one, a little reluctantly because it felt like an intrusion.

Darling Win

I’m so sorry.  Once again I’ve failed you as a wife and failed Jimmy as his mother.  I just felt like I was in a fog all the time when I was taking my medicine.  I need to be alert and able to concentrate so I can do the things the doctor said I need to do to help you now.  Please forgive me.  I made things worse instead of better.  But Dr. Rosenbaum says I’ll be able to come home next week.  He’s going to adjust my medication again. 

I hope they are feeding you well at the hospital.  And I hope you are trying to eat the food they bring.  Dr. Johnson told you before that good nutrition will help you.

I can’t wait to see Jimmy again.  It was so kind of the Bartons to take him while we’re both in the hospital.  They are a godsend and I mean to make a good dinner for them as soon as I get home.  Dr. Rosenbaum says it will be all right for Janet Barton to come and check me out of the hospital.

Please don’t worry about me—I’m doing everything I’m supposed to.  I love you so much!


“Jim, you need to read these letters,” she said when Jim came downstairs after reading bedtime stories to Jamie and Katie.  She patted the sofa next to where she was sitting.

“What letters?”  Jim’s tone was cautious, although he sat down next to her and dropped a kiss on top of her head.

“These are a bunch of letters between your mom and dad,” she explained.  “You can see the development of their relationship from the time they met until your dad was sick and in the hospital.”

“But they were hardly ever apart from the time they were married,” Jim objected.  “There can’t be that many letters.”

“You’re right, there aren’t a whole lot of letters after their marriage,” she conceded.  “That’s what makes it not take so long.”  She smiled and placed a hand on his arm.  “You can feel the love in their letters, though, Jim.  You really can.”

Jim sighed, but he took the packet and started reading, while Trixie pulled out her latest Kinsey Milhone detective novel.  She wanted to stay close by, in case he needed her for support.  But she didn’t want to hang over him while he read.  

“Trix, listen to what Dad wrote to Mom,” Jim said about fifteen minutes later.  He cleared his throat and started.  “Now, remember:  I have set you as a seal upon my heart, upon my arm, for love is strong as death.  Many waters cannot quench love,...”  Jim’s voice thickened and he stopped reading.

Trixie lay her book down on the coffee table and moved nearer to him, silently willing him to feel her love and support.   He started again.  “neither can the floods drown it.  We will ford this flood...”  Again his voice caught and this time he thrust the pages at her.  “Read it.”

She took a few seconds to find the place and scanned it silently before reading aloud.  “...will ford this flood together, our love will quench the fires of fear and illness that threaten us.”

“Dad really loved her, and obviously she loved him, too.  She must have been devastated when he died.”  Jim’s voice was huskier than usual.  “You know what you said about forgiveness the other day?  After reading those letters, I can’t feel angry with her anymore.”

“How does it feel?” she asked him, stroking his cheek.

He closed his eyes and inclined his face upward.  “It feels good.  Like I can breathe again.”  They sat there for a few minutes, Trixie stroking his face and snuggling against his chest.  After what seemed like a long, long time, he spoke again.  “Ever since I read those medical records, I’ve felt like every day has been a desperate attempt to be normal—an act that’s been a struggle to maintain.  Getting ready for Christmas has felt like a huge farce.”   He sighed.  “I’m looking forward to it now.”   He pulled her onto his lap and bent toward her for a kiss.

Trixie’s own heart felt lighter and she returned the kiss with enthusiasm.

“Well!  All the kids’ gifts are wrapped and under the tree,” Trixie commented.  “Let me take a picture of it!”

Carefully, she focused the camera on the tree, festooned with colored miniature lights and shiny strings of tinsel.  Jamie’s and Katie’s handmade ornaments from school held places of honor in the center front, although Jamie had wanted to put his kindergarten one at the back of the tree.  Miniature framed photos of each of the children were interspersed throughout the tree.  The angel Honey had made for their first Christmas together beamed down from the top branch.  “This is the prettiest tree we’ve ever had,” she said in satisfaction.

“You say that every year,” Jim protested. 

“Well, every year it’s true.  The tree is prettier every year.”  She pressed the camera’s button, sticking out her tongue in concentration.

“One more, just for luck,” she said after the first shot.  “Jim, you stand in front of the tree.”

“I’ll break your camera,” he warned.  “Are you really sure you want to take my picture?”

“I know what I want!”  She snapped her fingers.  “My tripod!”  She set the camera down and ran to the hall closet.  In a moment she was back and setting up the tripod.

“Now, set the timer, Jim, and we’ll both get in the picture.  Angle it so we can see the fireplace as well as the tree.”

Fireplace, stockings, and decorated tree were all visible in the viewfinder when Jim finished setting the timer and camera angle.  He and Trixie stood with arms around each other, trying to smile naturally for the camera.

“Whe—”  The flash went off just as Trixie started to speak.

“Gleeps!  I wanted a good picture of us to frame and hang on the tree but this isn’t going to be it.  Let’s try one more time.”

Jim reset the camera and once more they assumed their positions.  This time, both of them were smiling and looking at the camera when the flash went off.

“I hope that one turns out,” Trixie exclaimed.  We won’t have another chance this year, that’s for sure.”

“Well, Mrs. P. G. Honeybuns, are you ready for Santa’s helpers to eat the cookies the kids left for us?” Jim asked, with a twinkle in his green eyes.

“Sure, Mr. Supple Honeybuns.”  She batted her eyelashes at him.  “But I’d rather have a nice glass of wine than milk.”

“Your wish is my command,” he responded with a bow.  If his hand brushed her bottom it was probably an accident. 

Jim poked at the fire while Trixie filled the wineglasses and placed them on a tray with the plate of pecan balls.  She carried the tray to the coffee table and settled down on the sofa, admiring the view of Jim’s backside as he rearranged the logs in the fireplace.

“You know, I love you for ever and always, don’t you?” she asked.

“Even if there’s more worse than better?” Jim asked, looking back at her.

“Absolutely.”  She leaned forward and stared at him intently as she continued.  “Christmas Eve will always find me where the lovelight gleams.  And that’s with you.  Always!”

Jim poked for another minute before a shower of sparks escaped from a collapsing log.  As the flames licked at more of the unburned wood, he replaced the poker and sat down next to her on the sofa.  “I’ll be home for Christmas, Trix.  Always.”  He draped an arm across her shoulders and pulled her closer to him.   Trixie looked up just as he bent down toward her and brushed her lips with a tender kiss.  Sudden moisture welled in her eyes and a single tear escaped.  She reached forward to lift a wineglass, which she handed to Jim before taking up her own. 

“Let’s drink to that,” she said pertly.  They clinked their glasses together and took another sip before kissing again.

When Trixie opened her lips to him and he tasted the wine on her tongue, Jim set his glass down and then took hers from her.  “These are in our way,” he murmured, setting the glasses on the coffee table again.  As he pulled her onto his lap, she threw both arms around him.

The fire crackled merrily and the multicolored lights twinkled as the couple on the sofa spoke to each other in the language that needs no words. 

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Author’s Notes

12,662 words

This story was written as a giftfic for the lovely Joycey, who requested Jim-Trixie smush.  I worried for a long time that it was not smushy enough, too dark, and too long!  But my Trixie and Jim do share a strong—maybe even unbreakable—bond of love, and I hope that is something that came through in this story.  Jim is bound to have issues related to his birth parents’ early deaths, and those issues were never addressed in canon, so I thought long and hard.  Katie’s marriage to Jonesy was especially puzzling, and I hope I’ve planted a seed of the explanation for that decision.

Many, many thanks to Vivian, who did a beta-read for me and reassured me the story was acceptable giftfic material.  She also made some great suggestions for increasing the seasonal spirit.  Your feedback was invaluable, my friend!

Huge thanks also to my fabulous editors, Ronda, Ryl, and Trish!  As always, your eagle eyes spotted errors I overlooked and your insights and suggestions helped make the story so much better!

Thank you to all my Jix friends!  Your feedback is valued and appreciated, and I love you all.

The Kinsey Milhone detective series, by Sue Grafton, is also known as “the alphabet mystery series”; the first book is called A is for Alibi. I don't own the rights, etc. If you've never read the series, I recommend it.

The passage Jim read from Win’s letter to Katie, beginning with “Now, remember:  I have set you as a seal upon my heart, upon my arm, for love is strong as death.  Many waters cannot quench love,...” is paraphrased from a passage from the Biblical Song of Solomon.  This Scripture passage had a special meaning to Win and Katie, which will be revealed in my Jixaversary story in February.

Bipolar disease is real, and can place serious stress on relationships.  I don’t know what the long-term effects on Win’s and Katie’s marriage may have been, if they had lived, but during their marriage, they were able to nurture love in the face of imperfection.  I hope I’ve treated the issue with sensitivity and respect.

The medical advice given Jim by Dr. Goldman is realistic.  I did some research on both leukemia and bipolar disease.  Mayoclinic.com is my go-to site for medical information presented for the layperson.  I also found an interesting photo-blog about a mental hospital in Rochester, NY, that treated patients during the era Katie would have been there.

I wanted to use a font similar to my mental picture of Win’s handwriting, since the letters were meant to be a catalyst in Jim’s catharsis.  The font I chose is called dearJoe 4.  Header image from istockphoto, and background tile is from the Absolute Background Textures Archive, manipulated by me in Photoshop. 

Merry Christmas, Joycey!

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. All other material on these pages copyright 2010 by MaryN/Dianafan. Images from istockphoto.com and manipulated by Mary N in Photoshop. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2012.

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