Friday, December 23, 1977

Honey Wheeler stared out the window of her room in the South Residence Hall of Simmons College, watching as the fluffy white flakes of snow fell, thicker and thicker as the day wore on. It was late afternoon, and the gray sky showed no signs of clearing. Every bit of magic that snow usually held for her had been wiped away when she awakened to the news that a major winter storm had all roads leading out of Boston closed to nonessential traffic. The only other student left on her floor was her friend Mary Ellen “Skippy” Clarkton, whose flight to Southern California had been cancelled by the storm. Her roommate, Julia, had left before the storm began, but Honey’s last exam hadn’t taken place until the end of the last day of the semester – yesterday. She had been too tired to face the south and west-bound traffic after the draining week of finals.

“I was going to drive back to Sleepyside today,” she said to the framed photograph which held pride of place on top of her bookshelf. “In two more days it’ll be Christmas, and I’m going to be stuck here in Boston. No Bob-White party, no seeing my best friends, no catching up with Trixie. All the gifts I’ve made for everyone at home … I won’t be able to give them out on Christmas Day.”

Taking the picture, she sank down onto her bed and studied it. Seven faces stared back at her, smiling, tanned, and happy. It was the most recent picture of all of the Bob-Whites together, taken at the end of the summer during a picnic at the Wheelers’ lake. A tear of self-pity escaped and rolled down her cheek. “Everyone’s gone home except me – well, me and Skippy. And she’s visiting her boyfriend’s family today.” Honey thrust the picture face-down onto the bed, and busied herself straightening the bedspread. She scanned the room for any stray bits of paper or other oddments that needed to be discarded or put away, and checked the strength of her suitcase’s latch, before picking up the picture again. “At least I have a place to stay,” she said to the smiling faces. When the road closings were announced, the college administration had also announced that the Simmons College dormitories, normally closed to students at the end of finals week, would remain open until the roads were passable again. With the holiday weekend approaching, authorities cautioned that it was unlikely road conditions would be favorable for travel before the twenty-sixth.

“Everyone’s gone except me,” she repeated, slouching into her desk chair. Suddenly she sprang up, wiping her tears. “Me … and Brian.”

Brian Belden was in his fourth year of medical school at Harvard Med, and also held a part-time job at Children’s Hospital, Boston. As a result, Honey saw little of him, although they were both in the same city and in fact didn’t live a great distance from each other. Brian worked as a phlebotomist at Children’s Hospital three days a week, and according to Trixie, he spent nearly all of his free time either studying or preparing for residency interviews. For Honey, it had been a busy semester, and she hadn’t had the spare time to look up her best friend’s older brother. Besides, although she had always had a slight crush on handsome, dark-haired Brian, he treated her as another kid sister. Sure, he was a Bob-White, and the best of friends with Honey’s adopted brother Jim, but he was so focused on his education and career goals that she could never feel she knew him as well as Mart, Trixie’s almost-twin, or their friend Dan Mangan. Now, however …. She wondered what his schedule was for the next few days.

“I’m almost sure Trixie told me he was working the weekend of Christmas,” she muttered as she pulled out her address book to find his phone number. “He needs to work as much as he can, and with no classes over the holidays, I bet he’s going to be here.” She located Brian’s information and walked over to the wall-mounted phone near the door. Picking up the receiver, she felt a moment of shyness, and almost hung up before she could dial the phone.

After a few seconds of vacillation, she finally dialed Brian’s number, only to be rewarded with the monotonous sound of its ringing over and over. She was about to hang up when there was a click on the line and a familiar, if breathless, voice said, “Hello! Brian Belden here.”

“Brian! This is Honey – Honey Wheeler,” she said, suddenly feeling shy again.

“Well, since I only know one Honey, I guessed it was you.” Brian chuckled. “How are you doing, Honey? Where are you?” he asked, sounding puzzled.

“I’m right here is my dorm at Simmons,” she told him.

“What are you doing still in town?” he asked. “I thought you would have skedaddled yesterday.”

“I couldn’t leave before today because I had a late final yesterday. So now I’m stuck in the snow, right here in the hub of the solar system.” Honey tried to laugh, but the laugh ended in a hiccup. Taking a deep breath, she started to speak again. “So, what are you doing this weekend?”

“Well, I just got off work,” Brian answered. “I’ve got to spend the evening studying tonight, because I start my pediatric medicine rotation a week from Monday. The chair of medicine has each student do a presentation during the first week of rotation, and I’ve been assigned infectious diseases. Lucky me, I'm first to present,” he continued. “Children’s Hospital is one of my top choices for residency, and I want to make a good impression on the attendings. I’m working three to eleven tomorrow and Sunday at the hospital, because I needed the money, and holidays are always a good time to pick up extra shifts.” Brian chuckled again, but Honey thought she detected something wistful in his voice. He’ll be missing his family on Christmas, too, she thought.

“Um, Brian, I was just thinking. I won’t be able to leave before the 26th, probably. Would you like to get together for lunch … or dinner …tomorrow?” She scrunched her eyes closed as the words tumbled from her lips. She had never, never invited herself to dinner with a guy.

Brian hesitated for a moment before answering, and Honey was sure she had been too aggressive. “The hospital cafeteria serves a special dinner for employees who have to work on Christmas Eve, as well as on Christmas Day,” he finally said. “But if you wouldn’t mind meeting me at the hospital, I’d be honored to eat with you.”

“Okay, then!” Honey tried to sound matter-of-fact, although inside she felt as quivery as a bowlful of jelly. “What time shall I come to the hospital? And where shall I meet you?”

Brian gave her directions for reaching the laboratory at Children’s Hospital, and explained that he usually took his supper break at about five-thirty. “But maybe I can take it at five tomorrow. I hate to think of you walking back to your dorm after dark,” he worried.

“I’ll come at five,” Honey said. “But it’s no problem to eat a little later. I’ll have my whistle and my Mace with me, and I doubt if anyone will bother me.”

“All right, then. I’ll meet you at the lab tomorrow afternoon, at four-fifty,” Brian agreed, precise as always.

Brian hung up the phone and ran a hand through his wavy dark hair. Honey’s call had surprised him, not only because he had expected her to be back in Sleepyside by now, but also because she had never called him before, although they’d both been in Boston for three and a half years. He wondered what had caused her to take the initiative. It wasn’t that Honey was shy – she had always seemed perfectly poised and easy around him, as she was around all the Bob-Whites. At Thanksgiving, he had been off and had gone home to help with the Beldens’ annual Thanksgiving open house. Honey had been in and out at Crabapple Farm all weekend, just as usual. He had found himself noticing for the first time how grown-up she was. In the past, he had always thought of Trixie and her friends as being a lot younger than himself, and had shut his mind to the possibility of dating Honey. Both her youth and the fact that her father was one of the richest and most powerful men in the state had inhibited him.

Now, he realized the age difference wasn’t really that great – just over two and a half years. Honey was a beautiful, intelligent girl – no, make that woman, he corrected himself – and he suddenly realized he was attracted to her.

“This is not a date,” he said aloud, feeling stupid for even thinking of the possibility. Shaking his head, he sat down at the desk that was one of the few pieces of furniture in his sparsely furnished apartment, and opened a heavy textbook on pediatric infectious diseases, their diagnosis and treatment.

Two hours later, Brian stood and stretched, before going to the tiny kitchen to prepare a meager supper of canned soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. He couldn’t stop thinking about Honey and their plans for dinner at the hospital on the following day. About to head outside for a brisk walk that might clear his head for more prep work on his presentation, he decided he’d better check to make sure he had something decent to wear – something besides his usual faded scrubs.

The life of a medical student and part-time lab tech was not conducive to regular laundry schedules, and Brian was dismayed, but not surprised, to find that none of his better clothes were clean. He bundled a couple of oxford-cloth shirts, several pairs of khaki pants, and a half-dozen pairs of underwear and socks into a pillowcase and headed for the all-night Laundromat down the street from his apartment, whistling Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as he walked in the bracing air, swinging his improvised laundry bag in one hand and his textbook in the other. Minutes later, his brisk stride had slowed. Even with boots, he was slogging through the snow-covered sidewalk. Brian began to wish he had brought his snowshoes from Sleepyside, especially when he spied a group of laughing students swishing their way toward him. The group spanned the width of the street, and all wore either snowshoes or cross-country skis.

“Hey, Belden!” One of the figures detached himself from the group. “What’s up?”

Brian recognized one of his fellow med students and a neighbor in the apartment building. “Emergency laundry time, Matt,” he answered with a grin, swinging his pillowcase.

“Hey, I’m going inside,” Matt said. “Got a stack of residency applications to work on. You can use my snowshoes if you want to. Otherwise you’ll be half the night covering the next block.”

“You’re right, I’ll save some time with those,” Brian agreed. Matt quickly removed the snowshoes and Brian strapped them onto his feet. In a few minutes he was making much better time, and for the first time he had a moment of gratitude that he hadn’t been able to drive home today. All up and down the narrow street, cars were nearly buried under drifts of snow, and he had heard news reports that numerous vehicles had been abandoned on the expressways when the snow overcame the city’s ability to clear it. The peaceful scene was bathed in a luminous glow, and from time to time Brian caught sight of a lighted Christmas tree behind a window, or heard a snatch of Christmas music. He felt a dissipation of the tension that had been building within him over the past few months.

The previous semester had been intense – less because of a heavy course load than because of the pressure of choosing, applying, and scheduling interviews with the residency programs that would be the best fit for his own plans and interests. Now, with only one semester left, Brian was looking forward to graduating from med school and beginning his residency training in pediatrics. He had completed applications to programs at several of the finest children’s hospitals on the East coast, in Chicago, and in an unusual burst of spontaneity, to one in San Francisco. Choosing his top three was going to be difficult, but he was sure that his first choice was Children’s Hospital of Boston, where he was currently employed. Boston wasn’t excessively far from Sleepyside, and the hospital itself was partnered with Harvard Med, so he would know the attending physicians – which might or might not prove to be a positive point.

Reaching the Laundromat, which was quiet on this evening two nights before Christmas, Brian quickly loaded his clothes into a washing machine. He added a precisely measured amount of detergent and fed several coins into the coin slot. Pulling a semi-comfortable chair close to the folding table, he opened his book again and began to transfer the most important information in the chapter to index cards. As the washer sloshed and spun, his mind kept flashing back to Honey’s phone call. He pictured her eager face, her huge hazel eyes, and her long, shiny, honey-colored hair, and imagined how she may have looked, pacing back and forth in a tiny dormitory room, her long legs covering the area in a few strides.

By the time the washer finished its cycle, his thoughts had completely abandoned pediatric infectious diseases, and Honey’s face and voice had taken over. He was tempted to slam the book down – anything to create a disturbance in the quiet Laundromat, where he was the only customer. But the thought of breaking the spine of a very expensive text which he would need for the coming semester, as well as for several years into the future, stopped him. Instead, he marked his place with an index card and moved his clothes from the washer into the dryer.

Forty minutes later, Brian had folded each shirt and pair of khakis neatly and stacked them on top of his book. The socks were balled together in pairs and dropped into his pillowcase. Once more, he was whistling Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as he retraced his route back to his apartment.

Saturday, December 24, 1977

Honey stood next to her bed, gazing down into her opened suitcase. All of the clothes that were returning home with her for the Christmas holiday had been laundered and neatly packed before the snowstorm. Now she had to choose something to wear to the hospital to eat dinner with Brian. In her mind, she had already tried and discarded five possible outfits. Nothing too dressy … he’ll think I think it’s a date. And it’s not a date; it’s just two old friends eating together. But not too scruffy … I want him to think I took a little bit of trouble to look nice – just in case he ever thought about asking me on a date.

Sighing, she began to pull sweaters and slacks out of the suitcase. Brian had seen her in the sage green sweater a dozen times or more. It’s my favorite sweater, that’s why! Not that he’s probably ever noticed, she acknowledged to herself. Why do I even have this blue sweater … blue isn’t a good color for me. The blue sweater went back into her drawer. The brown sweater was too boring, the pumpkin-orange one was too Thanksgiving-y, the black-and-white hound’s-tooth was too loud.

“Why do I even own any of these clothes?” she moaned, plopping down on the bed and burying her head in her hands. Dejected, she sat for a few moments without moving, running over the names of friends she might call for advice. Suddenly, she jumped up and ran to the phone, lifting the receiver and dialing the number of the Manor House. Please, Mother, be home, she begged silently.

“Manor House, Margery Trask speaking.” The familiar and beloved voice of her old governess lifted Honey’s spirits.

“Miss Trask! It’s Honey,” she blurted out. “How are you?”

“I’m doing well, Honey,” Miss Trask answered. “We’re all so sorry that your trip home has been delayed. Jim arrived late yesterday, and your parents got in last night from Florida. Do you know yet when you’ll be able to travel?”

“If it wasn’t Christmas Eve, I’d say the roads would be cleared later today. But with the two-day holiday weekend, I’m figuring it’ll be Monday,” Honey said, trying to keep her tone cheerful. “Miss Trask, is my mother available? There’s something I need to ask her.” She waited, wondering if she sounded casual enough.

“Yes, dear. She’s in her office. I’ll let her know you’re on the phone.” Honey could hear Miss Trask’s voice speaking into the intercom. “Mrs. Wheeler, Honey’s on the phone for you.”

Mrs.Wheeler’s lovely, modulated voice came on the line, and Honey heard a quiet click as Miss Trask hung up her extension.

“Honey, darling! Hello, how is everything in the hub of the solar system?” Madeleine Wheeler asked teasingly. “I’m so sorry the storm has delayed you,” she continued in a more serious tone.

“Oh, Mother, I’m sorry too,” Honey answered. “Everything here is fine, but it’s just so annoying to have to wait when I want to see everyone so badly. I doubt if the roads will be cleared before Monday, but as soon as they are, I’ll be on my way.”

“Darling, just be safe,” her mother pleaded. “Don’t take any chances. Dad and I aren’t going away again until we see you. And Jim will be here until January 11th. Now, do you need anything?”

“Mother, actually I wanted to ask your advice,” Honey began. “You know that Brian Belden is here in Boston, and he works near my dorm.” She hesitated, worrying her lower lip with her teeth.

“Yes, dear. Helen Belden told me he’s either in class or at work at least six days a week. Have you seen him?”

“No, I haven’t seen him, not since Thanksgiving, I mean. I mean, of course I saw him at Thanksgiving but we don’t really run into each other, but since he’s here I thought he might be stuck like me. So I called him yesterday and he’s working today and tomorrow, but he invited me to eat dinner with him at the hospital tonight.” Honey took a deep breath. “It’s not a date, you understand. Just two old friends keeping each other company since we’re both stuck here.” She stopped, realizing that she was protesting too much.

Mrs.Wheeler’s voice held a hint of amusement. “That’s very nice, darling. I’m glad you’ll have some company tonight.”

“Well, I do have one problem.” Honey tried once more to raise the subject she wanted to discuss. “Mother, I was going through my clothes, and nothing seems like the right color or style. I was hoping you’d have a suggestion.”

“Don’t you have a red or cranberry-colored sweater?” her mother asked. “Most men like red, it’s seasonal, and it’s a very good color for you. I think that would be perfectly perfect.” Honey could hear the smile in her mother’s voice as she used Honey’s favorite phrase.

“Mother, you’re a genius!” she exclaimed. “Why didn’t I think of that? I do have a pretty cranberry-red sweater I was saving to wear at home. Now, since it’ll be after Christmas before I can get home, I’ll just wear it tonight,” she continued. “Thank you, Mother. You’re the best!”

“I’m glad I could help, darling. And I’m glad you have some plans for tonight. I was feeling sad because you wouldn’t be with us, and sad because you would be alone. Now that I know you’ll be with a friend, I’ll feel much better,” Mrs. Wheeler told her.

“I was down in the dumps, too, Mother. And now I find myself looking forward to the dinner, even if it’s hospital cafeteria food.” Honey smiled in spite of herself. She was suddenly looking forward to eating hospital cafeteria food with great anticipation. “Mother, I’d better hang up now. I’ve got to repack my suitcase and get ready. I’m walking over to the hospital – it’s so close and the streets are still almost impassable.”

“Good-bye, dear. Have a wonderful time.” Honey waited for her mother to hang up before hanging up her own phone. With a thoughtful look on her face, she stepped back across the small room and once more reached into her suitcase. Pulling out a vibrant, deep red tunic sweater with a cowl neck, she shook it out and laid it on the bed as she pulled out her newest flared jeans and a pair of knee socks that matched her sweater. Carefully, Honey repacked her suitcase and checked the items she planned to wear, making sure they wouldn’t need ironing. Next, she selected a fine gold chain and tiny gold earrings shaped like Christmas trees.

At four-fifteen, Honey locked the door of her room behind her. Swinging her shoulder bag by its strap, she made her way briskly down the steps to the front lobby and signed herself out until six o’clock. “I’m so sorry you have to work, when you were expecting to be home with your family today,” she told the gray-haired desk clerk and dorm matron.

“That’s all right, dear,” Miss Betsy replied. “I’ll be going to my daughter’s after work today. One good thing about working is that it gets me off the hook for cooking.” She winked at Honey, who grinned back.

Outside, dusk was already settling. The sidewalks were still covered with a thick coating of packed snow, but Honey had no trouble maneuvering in her high-heeled black leather boots, and she was warm in her wool coat and red gloves decorated with snowflakes. A matching scarf was tied loosely around her neck, but her shiny golden-brown hair swung free and straight. The few people she met were cheerful; despite the weather, it was a beautiful scene. Brookline Avenue looked lovely in its winter dress. Honey smiled at young couple pulling a sturdy wooden sled, with a rosy-cheeked toddler perched in the seat. Between the child’s legs rested a gallon jug of milk and a loaf of bread. The child and his parents waved a greeting to her as they passed.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

She hummed as she strode along. The song was one of her favorites; she enjoyed the old movie Meet Me in St. Louis just for the sake of hearing it, and always tried to find a broadcast of it at Christmas time. When her parents had purchased a new Sony Betamax videotape player the previous year, she had asked for a copy of the movie for her own.

Soon, she had reached the intersection of Brookline and Longwood Avenues. She waited for the light and crossed the street, still humming the hopeful Christmas melody. Turning left on Longwood, Honey noted the wreaths that hung from the streetlights, and the outdoor Christmas trees, twinkling with clear lights. Some of them were festooned with treats for the birds that perched in their branches. A lone snowplow moved slowly down the street, leaving piled heaps of snow in its wake. It was a short walk, only a couple of blocks, to the Children’s Hospital of Boston, and she entered the front lobby of the hospital before she might have expected to do so. Once inside, she consulted the directions Brian had given her for locating the laboratory, and soon she was knocking on the door of his workplace.

“May I help you?” An older woman wearing a white lab coat, with reading glasses perched far down on her nose, opened the door.

“Hi, my name is Madeleine Wheeler, and I’m supposed to be meeting Brian Belden,” Honey said with a friendly smile.

“Ah, yes. Brian’s friend, Honey.” The woman’s face relaxed and she returned the smile. “Brian asked me to watch for you. Come on in and hang up your coat while you wait. He’s up on the floor collecting a few specimens, but should be back soon.” She waved toward a tiny lounge, which held a small table and a couple of chairs, as well as a coffeemaker and a plate of Christmas cookies. “Help yourself to a cookie, Honey,” she said. “Oh, and by the way, my name is Karen. We really like Brian. He’s a hard worker and very kind to the patients.”

“He’s always loved anything to do with medicine, and he enjoys helping people,” Honey agreed.

Karen bustled about, checking on various machines and checking a spindle of new requisitions. Honey nibbled on a dainty, crumbly pecan cookie coated with powdered sugar, and sipped the coffee Karen had urged on her. She hoped she didn’t look as nervous as she felt.

“So, how long have you and Brian been dating?” Karen asked, sitting down in the other chair.

Honey choked on the coffee she had just started to swallow. She jumped up to grab a paper towel to catch the wet cookie crumbs that escaped from her mouth as she coughed uncontrollably. Once she finally had her breathing under control again, she was horrified to discover a wet spot on the front of her sweater, and wet a wad of paper towels to dab at it and get the coffee smell out. Her face was flaming, but she tried to sound casual as she said, “Oh, we’re not dating – not that I don’t like him, but we’re just friends. His sister has been my best friend for over eight years, and I’ve known him for most of that time. We’re next-door neighbors at home, and both of us were going to be stuck here over Christmas, so we decided to eat dinner together today. That’s all.” She stopped abruptly, and checked her watch as soon as Karen turned her head. Come on, Brian.

A buzzer sounded, and Karen stood up, walking over to one of the machines. Honey went to the sink in the lounge and tried ineffectually to blot the wet spot dry with paper towels. Sighing, she stopped when she saw that she was only stretching the knit garment out of shape.

She was adjusting the cowl neck of her sweater to try to cover the still-wet area when the door opened and Brian walked in, carrying a tray full of blood-filled test tubes. Standing by the sink in the tiny lounge, she was out of his direct vision, but she was able to see that he wore a blue oxford cloth shirt and a red tie under his long white lab coat. Khaki pants were neatly creased over a polished pair of Bass Weejuns. Brian’s black hair was a bit longer than she was used to seeing it, and the length had allowed it to curl, although it was still not as curly as his sister’s or brothers’ blond locks.

“Hi, Karen,” he said. “Has Honey arrived yet?” His handsome face wore a smile and a dimple creased his right cheek as he spoke. Honey felt herself melting inside.

“She’s right in the lounge, there,” Karen said, waving in Honey’s general direction. “I’m afraid I embarrassed her. She seems like a very nice girl, and I can’t believe the two of you have never dated.”

Honey knew she should come out and greet Brian, but this whole conversation was so embarrassing that she hesitated. She could see that Brian’s face had flushed. “She is a very nice girl,” he answered. “But it’s hardly fair for a med student to ask a girl out when he can’t offer her anything but his company. Besides, when do I have time to date – to date anyone?”

Deciding she had held back long enough and that Karen might stop her intrusive questioning if she reappeared, Honey picked up her purse and stepped out into the lab from the lounge. “Hi, Brian,” she greeted her old friend. “I’m ready to eat whenever you are.”

“Let me wash my hands,” Brian said, suiting the action to the word. In moments the two were walking briskly along a labyrinthine maze of hospital corridors.

“I’m sorry if Karen embarrassed you,” Brian apologized. “She means well, and she must have liked you, because she’s been trying to fix me up with her daughter.”

“It’s okay,” Honey assured him. “I was just surprised, since we’ve never thought of each other that way.” They walked in silence for a dozen yards, until Brian broke the silence.

“I guess you have a boyfriend here,” he said. “Any guy would be lucky to date you.”

“It’s not like I haven’t been out with anyone since I’ve been at Simmons,” Honey admitted. “But right now there really is no one.” She worried that her last comment might sound a bit desperate, and added, “Of course, I don’t really have that much time for dating either.”

The aroma of prime rib wafted out to greet them as they neared the cafeteria. They entered the line and each took a tray. Honey gasped and looked up at Brian in amazement. “Is your cafeteria always this fancy?” she asked.

“Oh, no. I’ve never seen it like this,” he answered. “Normally it’s a plain-Jane cafeteria.” Honey gazed around the space, taking in every detail. The dining room looked like an elegant restaurant, with dim lighting, snowy white cloths on the tables, and candle centerpiece decorations. The cooks at the steam tables each wore a white toque, and there was a decorated Christmas tree in front of the cashier’s station. They received their plates and Brian led the way to a table where two young men were already seated. Both of them stood as Honey approached, and Brian introduced them.

“These are a couple of my classmates,” he said. “Matt Carlisle,” he pointed to a slightly built, dark-haired young man with straight brown hair and tortoise-shell glasses, who wore a white uniform. “And Phil O’Reilly,” indicating a stocky fellow in rumpled green scrubs and a white lab coat. “Matt’s an orderly and Phil is a scrub tech in the O.R. Guys, this is Honey Wheeler, my next-door neighbor back home. She’s stuck in town for the next couple of days, so we thought we’d get together for dinner today.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Honey.” Phil O’Reilly reached out to shake hands with her and enveloped her hand in a beefy paw.

Honey smiled and extended her hand to Matt as soon as Phil released it. “It’s nice to meet both of you, too. Really, Brian took pity on me when he invited me to eat. I hope it’s not a problem for me to be here.”

“It’s no problem, Honey. I called and asked about it yesterday,” Brian said. “The dinner is free to employees, but anyone who gave twenty-four hours’ notice could bring one guest. It’s the hospital’s gift to us.”

“Besides that, we get an hour for lunch today, compared to a half-hour normally,” Phil said. The four young people began to eat a delicious dinner of prime rib au jus, garlic mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and tossed salad.

“Hey, Belden, you’ve been holding out on us,” Matt said as he cleared his plate. “You never told us you had a girlfriend.” He moved a saucer of Italian cream cake onto his empty dinner plate, and attacked the sweet treat.

“Honey’s a good friend, guys. That’s all,” Brian said firmly. “Hey, this food’s delicious,” he added, apparently trying to change the subject.

“Whatever you say, Bri. But you’re crazy if you don’t try to go out with her,” Phil insisted. He winked at Honey. “Brian’s a great guy, but he’s too serious. He needs a woman to help him lighten up.”

For the second time that afternoon, Honey’s face was flaming. “Really, we’re just good friends,” she managed to say. Tactfully, she tried changing the subject. “Phil, Brian said you work in the operating room. Do they really schedule surgery on Christmas Eve?” She cut a dainty bite of prime rib and popped it into her mouth, savoring the succulent cut of beef.

“No, but it never fails that an emergency or two happens,” Phil responded. “Right, Matt?” He took a forkful of Red Velvet cake, the expression on his face becoming beatific as he chewed and swallowed.

“That’s right,” agreed Matt. “Kids fall, break a leg; they get appendicitis or cut themselves on new pocketknives. They swallow something and have to get it removed from their stomachs. It’s always something.”

“Hey, Belden, are you coming to the Christmas party at the Home of the Innocents tomorrow?” Phil asked. “I’m going to play Santa this year.” He pushed himself away from the table and stretched.

“Yes, I promised Sister Cabrini that I’d help until I have to go to work at three,” Brian said. “I’m to help with some of the kids at lunch and then help Santa distribute the gifts.”

“What’s this?” asked Honey. “Isn’t the Home of the Innocents where kids live whose families can’t care for them? How awful to have to spend Christmas in an institution.” She had just started on her own serving of Italian cream cake, but suddenly felt she had lost her appetite.

“Yes, it’s really too bad, but every year the administrators have a big party for the kids who are living there, with Santa Claus, gifts, everything,” explained Matt. “Some of the kids are there temporarily because of a family situation; some have complex medical needs and their families aren’t able to care for them. Those kids can be there permanently. Some kids have been in the foster care system and the foster families can’t handle their needs.”

“All of them have a lot of challenges,” agreed Brian. “When I started volunteering there, I really began to appreciate my own good healthand my wonderful family.”

“I hate to admit I’ve been so close to their building and have never been there,” Honey exclaimed. “Do you think it would be all right if I came along and helped, too? Since I’ll be here anyway, I may as well be doing something for someone else.”

“Honey, obviously you haven’t been around nuns much,” said Phil with a grin. “They’ll take anyone who volunteers.” His voice took on a more serious tone. “But if you’re not used to being around handicapped kids, you might be in for a shock. Some of the kids are deaf, blind, in wheelchairs, or scarred from burns or abuse. If you can’t cope with that, you probably shouldn’t come.”

“I’m sure I’ll be able to cope with it,” Honey told him, her eyes flashing. “And if I find out I can’t take it, I’ll leave or do something else to help. If anyone needs a Christmas, it’s got to be those kids.”

“Let me drop by your dorm around eleven-thirty tomorrow; we’ll walk over together,” offered Brian. “Right now, would you like a quick tour of the hospital, Honey? We’ve got another twenty minutes and I can show you around a bit of it.”

“I’d like that,” Honey replied. She stood, causing the two young men to jump up from their seats as well. “It was so nice to meet you, Matt and Phil. I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.” With a smile for Brian’s two classmates, she moved aside so Brian could push her chair into place, and took her tray.

“See you tomorrow, guys,” said Brian. His friends returned the farewells and Brian steered Honey toward the tray return.

Fifteen minutes later, Brian and Honey waited in the lobby for a taxi to take her back to the Simmons residential campus. After a very quick tour of the state-of-the-art pediatric emergency department and the children’s playroom, they had returned to the lab so she could retrieve her coat and purse. Karen had put her foot down over the idea of Honey walking back to the dorm alone.

“Brian Belden!” Karen’s gray hair was vibrating in indignation. “No way are you going to let that girl walk back to Simmons alone! This neighborhood is not that safe. I’ll give her money for a taxi myself if you don’t have it.”

“Please! I have enough for cab fare,” Honey hastened to say. “If cabs are running, I’ll just call one. Thank you just the same, Karen.”

Brian had insisted on covering the cab fare, and since he didn’t have any scheduled blood draws for another hour, Karen told him to wait with Honey until she was safely ensconced in the cab.

“Brian, I’ve really had a lovely time,” she began, turning to him with a smile. “Thanks for letting me eat with you and your friends. It helps to keep my mind off of what I’m missing in Sleepyside.” Against her will, her eyes filled with tears as she thought of her parents and brother relaxing around a crackling fire, and of her two best girlfriends getting together without her. Mart, Trixie’s other brother, and Dan, the seventh member of the Bob-Whites, would be home, too. She dug in her pocket for a tissue, and pretended she had gotten something in her eye.

Brian stood in the lobby of the hospital, watching for the lights of an approaching cab. He had enjoyed Honey’s company, and appreciated the attractive picture she made, in her cranberry-colored sweater, stylish designer jeans, and boots. Her hazel eyes glowed with interest when he explained his work and during the talk about the Christmas dinner tomorrow. “Honey, I’m glad you could come,” he told her. “I enjoyed myself.” Noticing that she was dabbing her eye with a tissue, he asked in concern, “Are you all right? Do you have something in your eye?”

“Yes, I’m fine. That is, I did have something in my eye but it’s gone now.” Turning back to him, she smiled, and if the smile was a bit watery, he pretended not to notice. “I had a great time, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

“Here’s your cab,” Brian said, opening the door for her.

He walked her out to the curb, checking to make sure the cab had chains on its tires. The driver followed the direction of Brian’s glance and scowled. “I should be off duty, but when I get a call from the hospital, I try to help out. So, do you have a problem with my car, buddy?”

“Oh, no,” Brian hastened to assure him. “I was just surprised to see any taxis running tonight.”

“Like I said, I’m only out because it was a hospital call. I’ve had a sick kid myself before.” The cabbie jerked his head in Honey’s direction. “But this doesn’t look like a sick kid.”

“No, she’s not,” Brian agreed. “She’s just a good friend who is stranded here for Christmas. I’m on duty or I’d walk her home.” He handed the cabbie a bill. “Good night, Honey,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow before I come over.”

“Good night, Brian,” she answered. “I really had a good time. Thank you for showing me around.” This time, her smile was incandescent.

Returning to the lab, Brian felt as if the hospital had suddenly grown a bit colder and darker.

Karen was bustling around, checking the spindle for new requisitions and wiping down the counters. “Go on to supper, Karen,” he suggested. “Everything is delicious. Take your time.”

“So, you got your little friend into a cab?” Karen asked. When he nodded, she shook her finger at him. “You’d better ask her out, Brian. That little girl is perfectly perfect for you.”

Hearing Honey’s trademark phrase coming from Karen’s mouth caused Brian’s jaw to drop in astonishment. “Karen, you just said ‘perfectly perfect’. Why in the world did you say that?”

Karen’s brow creased in thought. “I don’t really know,” she admitted. “It’s not something I usually say. That still doesn’t change the fact that I think you two would be great together.”

Brian laughed. “Go on to supper. Enjoy the hospital’s treat.”

While Karen was gone, he continued the housekeeping chores she had begun. Emptying the trash, calibrating the machines for the next twenty-four hours of testing, and putting the tiny lounge in order, he moved about the laboratory performing the routine tasks. Most required minimal attention and concentration, which was fortunate because he kept seeing Honey’s shiny golden-brown hair, her sparkling hazel eyes, and her slender figure, set off by the vibrant red sweater. He could hear her musical laughter and feel the touch of her graceful, slim fingers on his arm.

Stop it, Belden, he lectured himself. You told Karen you didn’t have time for dating, and you were right. Honey belongs to another world, no matter how good a friend she is. Forget about dating her. His thoughts were still in turmoil when Philip O’Reilly showed up at the lab window.

“Hey, Belden,” his friend greeted him. “What are you doing after work?”

“Going home and hitting the sack,” Brian replied. “What did you have in mind?”

“My uncle is the pastor of a historic church over in Roxbury, and I’m going there for Midnight Mass after work, meeting the rest of my family there,” Phil said. “I just thought maybe you and your girlfriend might like to go. The church is beautiful, and the service is … well, it’s inspiring. It puts you into the spirit of Christmas, even if you weren’t there already. Anyway, I thought your little girlfriend seemed sad that she was stranded here.”

“Roxbury?” Brian wasn’t sure. The area was not known as one of Boston’s safest. “I guess we could take the T,” he ventured. “The storm hasn’t shut it down.”

“That settles it.” Phil sounded as if the discussion was over. “Call her and see if she’s interested. I’ll check back with you after I finish my smoke.”

“You need to make quitting smoking your New Year’s resolution,” Brian said with a grimace. “Think of what a good example you’d be for your patients.”

“I know, I know. One of these days.” Phil waved and moved away from the window.

“I’ll call her. But she’s not my girlfriend,” Brian protested to Phil’s speedily retreating back.

Hesitantly, he began dialing Honey’s number.

After arriving back at her dorm, Honey curled up on her bed and opened one of her favorite books, Borrower of the Night, by Elizabeth Peters. Engrossed in art historian Vicky Bliss’ adventures in a medieval German castle, she jumped at the sound of the ringing phone. Who in the world could be calling her? She had spoken to Trixie and Diana before going to meet Brian, and had called her parents and Jim just after coming in from her dinner with him. The paperback novel flipped shut as she dropped it and ran to answer the instrument, and she took a deep breath before saying “Hello” in a voice that – she hoped – sounded casual.

“Honey? It’s Brian.” The familiar voice seemed unusually diffident.

“Hi, Brian. Is something wrong?” She immediately began imagining all kinds of catastrophes that might have happened to her family or to Brian’s family. “Is everyone all right at home?”

“Oh, no, nothing’s wrong.” Brian laughed, and although he still sounded unlike himself, Honey relaxed. “I was just wondering … would you like to go to Midnight Mass with me after I get off work tonight?” The words came out in a rush, and it took her a second to process the question.

“Midnight Mass? Are you thinking about becoming a Catholic?” Honey was puzzled.

“No! I mean, no, it’s just that Phil’s meeting his family for Midnight Mass after work, and he says the church is really beautiful and historic, and it will put you into the real spirit of Christmas. I thought I’d go, out of curiosity.”

“Hey, I’m not doing anything else tonight,” she reassured him. “Do you want me to meet you somewhere?”

“The church is in Roxbury, so not really that far as the crow flies,” Brian explained. “But it’s a pretty good hike, especially at night. And Phil says we’d better be there by eleven-thirty if we want to sit down. One of the ambulance crews from the Roxbury station will be here at eleven, and they’ll take us out there. We can get back on the T, as long as you don’t mind walking a bit more. It’s a ten-minute hike each way from the church to the closest T-stop, and from the Longwood stop to your dorm.”

“I don’t mind walking.” Honey smiled. It might be magical to walk outside in the snow with Brian at one-o’clock in the morning, under the full moon.

“We’ll stop for you at the Brookline gatehouse – don’t walk back to the hospital alone,” Brian cautioned.

“I’ll be waiting for you at the gatehouse at eleven,” Honey promised. “I’m looking forward to it.” Vicky Bliss was forgotten as she began to rummage thorough her suitcase again, seeking a dressier pair of slacks to wear to church – and a warmer pair of socks to wear under her boots.

Normally, Brian walked or rode the T for the majority of his destinations in the city, saving his car for trips home. However, the T-stop distances would make it almost impossible for him to reach the church in Roxbury from the hospital in the available time – in good weather. He thanked his lucky stars for the chance that had led to his ride with the ambulance crew. While drawing blood on a patient in the emergency department, he had asked one of the nurses about the best way to get to Mission Church. One of the EMTs had overheard, and made the offer of a ride.

“We’re back and forth all the time, and it’s only a ten-minute ride out there. You can bum a ride out there with us,” the young man had promised. “But you’ll have to get back on your own.”

Sitting in the back of the ambulance, Brian couldn’t see out the front windows, and although the Simmons gatehouse was only a few blocks away, the journey seemed endless. He was surprised at his sudden impatience to be with Honey Wheeler again. She’s not my girlfriend, he reminded himself. I’m just trying to look out for her – like I would for any friend.

The ambulance stopped across the street from the gatehouse, and he jumped out when the side door was opened, crossing the snowy street as quickly as possible. Honey darted out from the gatehouse entrance just as he reached it, and the pair hurried back to the waiting vehicle, which reversed in the drive and headed back up Brookline. Normally, it was a ten-minute trip to the Roxbury area, with a left turn onto Longwood, right on St. Alphonsus Street, and left again on Tremont. However, tonight the piles of plowed snow narrowed the streets and a thin coating of ice made the pavement treacherous, so despite his studded tires, the driver was being cautious. Brian worried that they might have to stand during what he feared would be a lengthy service, and checked his watch for the fourth time. Beside him on the bench seat, Honey was quiet. She seemed to be studying the layout of the ambulance, with its array of emergency equipment. He wondered what she was thinking.

“What do you know about the church, Brian?” she asked suddenly.

“Its official name is the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, but most people call it Mission Church, and the present building was completed in 1878. I got Phil to tell me a bit more about it, and it’s enormous. Very ornate, lots of paintings inside.” Brian shrugged. “Other than that, I don’t know anything.”

Finally, the cab pulled up in front of a huge, double-towered edifice, set back from the street on a wide plaza. Brian craned his neck to see the gigantic rose window set in the front wall above the door and between the two spires. Illuminated from within, its colors were jewel-bright against the dark stone façade. Bells pealed from both towers, welcoming the throngs of people heading into the church. He leaned over the driver’s seat and thanked the EMT as the driver’s partner opened the side door. Brian jumped out and extended a hand to Honey, who stepped down gracefully onto the snow-covered pavement. The two of them joined the crowd and entered by the central doors, and were enveloped in the warmth inside. They blinked as their eyes adjusted to the dim, flickering light emanating from a row of candles above the ornate carved altar that backed up to the rear wall of the sanctuary.

Inside, a choir was singing the closing notes of O Little Town of Bethlehem, accompanied by organ, violin, and flute. Brian felt as if the vibrations from the music were penetrating his whole body. Banks of red poinsettias flanked the altar, far away, as well as creating bright splashes of color in the window wells. An usher greeted Brian and Honey and led them to a seat on the aisle, more than two-thirds of the way toward the front.

“We’re not Catholic,” he whispered to the man. “Shouldn’t we be sitting in the back?”

“There’s room for you here,” replied the usher with a warm smile. “And you’ll be able to see better. Welcome to Mission church.”

Brian gave up and stepped into the pew after Honey. Copying those around him, he knelt for a few seconds and then sat on the hard wooden pew, staring around at the ornately decorated interior of the church. Double columns of marble ran the length of the nave, and ribbed vaulting accentuated the arched, domed ceiling far above. The area was so dimly lit that he could make out no details about the sumptuous artwork that was supposed to decorate the interior. He glanced at Honey and saw that she was also looking around with interest. He took the opportunity to admire her glowing skin and the long, dark lashes that brushed her cheek each time she blinked. When she reached up to brush a strand of golden-brown hair away from her face, he took note of her slim, ringless fingers with their neat, short nails.

Honey felt Brian’s gaze on her and turned to him. “It’s beautiful,” she murmured. “Thank you for asking me.” Her eye was caught by a large, elaborate Nativity scene set up on the left side of the church, behind the old communion railing. The stable was flanked by several Christmas trees, but she couldn’t tell if they were real or not. At the signal from the choir director, a boy who appeared to be about twelve years of age detached himself from the rest of the young choir massed on the right side of the sanctuary and carried a figure of the baby Jesus over to the stable tableau. Carefully, he placed it into the manger and returned to his place.

Silent Night, See Amid the Winter’s Snow, and The Little Drummer Boy were beautifully sung before midnight began to strike. At that time, church bells went silent and the congregation stood as the organ began to play O Come All Ye Faithful as a dignified, yet joyful, processional began. As the priest walked up the center aisle, he swung a censer and Honey inhaled the fragrant incense as she listened to the singing.

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

The music and the singing began at a rather subdued level, but the volume rose with each line, until the triumphant final lines burst forth, ending with a trumpet fanfare. As the music increased in volume and the procession neared the altar, the lights were also brought up, until the interior was a bright as it might be during the morning. It felt singularly appropriate when the priest began the first reading from Isaiah.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.

Honey had attended church services many times. During her boarding school years it was required, and her parents held a membership with the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. But her family’s churchgoing was sporadic, and she was not in the habit, especially since she had lived in Boston. The Catholic service felt strangely familiar, yet somehow different from the Episcopal services she had attended in the past. Still, the ritual was comforting as well as joyful. She and Brian watched those around them in order to stand, sit and kneel when their neighbors did. She could tell he was affected by the service, just as she was.

After Communion, the boy who had placed the figure of Jesus in the manger stepped up to a microphone as the rest of the choir sat. The boy sang O Holy Night in a clear, sweet voice that sent shivers up and down Honey’s spine when he reached the segment:

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

As the Mass ended, the choir was joined by the congregation in a rousing rendition of Joy to the World. Brian and Honey waited until the church was mostly emptied, and walked up to the front to take a closer look at the crèche.

“I’m glad we came, Honey,” Brian said, as they gazed at the gentle scene. “I was feeling kind of sorry for myself since I’m working tomorrow as well as today. But now I’m getting into the real Christmas spirit.”

“I know what you mean,” she replied softly. “I was so upset because I couldn’t go home when I wanted to. But if I’d been able to do that, I’d have missed all this. There will be other Christmases when we can do what we want to do, but this one will be special.”

Brian took her hand and clasped it firmly. “Absolutely special.” He smiled at her. “And now, we’d better get outside and head for the nearest T-stop, so we can make it home in time to get some sleep before the Home of the Innocents party.”

Sunday, December 25, 1977

Honey knew she’d never forget the Christmas party at the Home of the Innocents. Its residents were twenty-four children, from toddlers to twelve-year-olds, who had no one else to care for them. Gathered in the cafeteria, they were a diverse group. Many were in wheelchairs, or used braces and crutches to get around. Others wore tight stretchy masks over faces and hands, to inhibit scarring from severe burns. Some of the children breathed with the assistance of ventilators; some had facial or vocal tics or twisted their hair compulsively. Many needed help to eat. Honey was seated between a dark-haired boy of about twelve, who seemed somehow familiar, and a little girl of about six, who was in a wheelchair and attended by a staff worker.

Although it was hard to speak above the buzz of conversation that permeated the cafeteria, Honey felt that she should try to socialize with the quiet boy next to her. “Hi, my name’s Honey,” she said in a friendly voice. He stared at her but did not speak. When she moved to touch his arm, he scooted away, although he kept staring at her as if she fascinated him.

“This is Daniel,” said one of the staff workers. “He’s autistic and doesn’t talk much. He was recently returned to us when a family that wanted to adopt him became overwhelmed with his need for rigid routines. We’re trying to show him that it’s okay to trust people, but his past experiences haven’t done that. By the way, I’m Jenny.”

“I’m sorry,” Honey told Daniel. “I won’t touch you if you don’t want me to.”

Daniel didn’t reply, but brushed his arm repeatedly. “Hands carry germs,” he finally said.

“Daniel loves to sing,” Jenny added, “and he promised to sing after Santa visits.” She added, “Daniel, eat some more of your turkey. It’s your favorite.” Daniel stopped brushing his arm, and began to eat his dinner again, methodically cutting each bit to precisely the same size.

Honey realized why Daniel seemed familiar. “Did he sing at the Mission Church last night?” she asked. “I couldn’t see him well, but there was a young boy there who sang O Holy Night beautifully.”

“Yes, he did,” the worker confirmed. “He’s one of a group of our children who sings in the Mission Church Youth choir. Most of them are younger, though, and didn’t sing at Midnight Mass.”

“Daniel, I really enjoyed your singing last night,” Honey said, careful not to touch the boy again. “Your voice is beautiful, and I can’t wait to hear you sing today.” She smiled warmly at Daniel, and after a long minute, he smiled back at her.

One of the nuns who administered the Home moved around as the children ate, checking to make sure every one was being attended to. Honey had met her when she and Brian arrived, and immediately felt attracted by the woman’s serene expression and the quiet strength in her voice and handshake. “I’m glad you could join us today, Madeleine,” she had said.

Brian was feeding a small boy named Jon, whose head lolled against a neck rest built into his specially adapted wheelchair-stroller. She wasn’t surprised to see how gentle he was, and how carefully he adjusted his motions to accommodate the boy. She remembered how patient he had always been with Bobby, and in fact, with all of the Bob-Whites. Jenny noticed the direction of her glance.

“He’s going to be a good doctor,” she said. “And Jon is really a champ. In spite of all of his challenges, he has a sweet personality and never gives up. He’s a hero.”

“Yes, a real hero,” agreed Honey. “And you're right, Brian will be a very good doctor.”

More quickly than she would have believed possible, the tables were cleared and wiped, and Santa Claus entered with a great jingling of bells and a jolly “Ho, ho, ho.” He carried a great bag on his back, obviously bulging with toys. An elf, several inches shorter than Santa and much thinner, followed, dragging his own bag of toys. The children responded, many of the younger ones jumping, waving, or wriggling in their excitement. Cries of “Hi, Santa” and “Where’s Rudolph?” mingled.

After walking among the children for a few moments, Santa sat down in a large armchair at the front of the room and pulled a roll of paper from his bag. Peering through a pair of rimless glasses, he seemed to be reading it. After a few seconds of study, he announced, “Now, boys and girls, I’ve got my list and I’ve checked it twice. It has the names of everyone who’s been naughty or nice.” He glanced around the room at the assembled children. “Ho, ho, ho, I hope everyone here has been nice. I’ve got gifts for all of the nice boys and girls.”

A few of the children looked worried, Honey noticed with a smile. However, as Santa began to read off the names of children who were to receive a gift from his bag, it became obvious that every one of them was going to get a toy, a book, or a game. Santa’s elf was kept busy trotting back and forth from the chair to the children as each name was called. Brian was helping some of the children to open their gifts, and gathering the discarded wrappings and bows into an empty box.

“Well, well, well. I see that everyone here has been good this year,” Santa announced after giving out the last gift. “You’re a great bunch of kids, and I’m glad I had the chance to come here today. Now remember, you’ve got to be just as good next year. Ho, ho, ho.” With that, Santa laid a finger aside of his nose, but instead of exiting via a chimney, he and his elf simply walked back out the door by which they had entered.

On a signal from Jenny, Daniel stood and walked to the spot Santa had vacated. Sister Cabrini moved a microphone in front of him, and another nun took a seat at the upright piano, which had been moved away from the wall. Daniel stood up tall and straight, and waited for his cue. Honey expected a repeat of O Holy Night, and was surprised when, instead, she heard the opening notes of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. His pure alto voice held each note perfectly. Although Honey felt there was a certain irony to the words of the song in this setting, she couldn’t keep from enjoying one of her favorite Christmas melodies.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

She clapped with great enthusiasm as Daniel finished the last verse. With the end of the musical performance, the party began to break up. The staff began to collect the children for return to their rooms. Honey joined Brian, who had handed Jon over to an attendant. “You seemed so comfortable with Jon,” she remarked. “You must have been coming here for a long time.”

“Yes, Phil and Matt got me involved here when I first started working at the hospital,” Brian said. “I was nervous at first. It was a lot different reading and learning about some of the kids’ conditions and health needs, than dealing with them directly. Volunteering has made me more familiar with situations I’ll see in practice, and has given me a lot more respect for the parents and others who care for handicapped kids. It’s also made me realize how lucky I really am.”

“Yes, I know,” Honey agreed. “How do you keep coming back, though? Some of the situations are so sad – I’m afraid it might get depressing after a while.” Unexpectedly, her eyes filled with tears and she dug in her pocket for a tissue.

Brian put his arm around her slim shoulders and gave an encouraging squeeze. “That’s one reason I don’t want to work exclusively with handicapped kids, because I think I’d be too sad. But I hope that as a physician, I can make a difference in the lives of kids, help to find effective treatments and cures for their physical problems.”

“But Brian, the problems of the kids here are too complicated for one doctor to take on,” Honey protested. “How can you help with more than their basic health?”

“As part of a team, I want to make a difference in their lives from an emotional and mental health standpoint, too,” Brian explained. “Nurses, social workers, therapists, and aides – so many people bring different skills to the table, and all of them are important. And I hope I’ll be able to educate parents. Maybe I won’t be able to help these kids and their parents, but my own patients, the kids Jim takes in his school … those are the people I want to help. And I think I can help them.” Brian’s eyes blazed with enthusiasm as he spoke, and Honey realized that he had more of Trixie’s stubborn determination than she had ever thought.

Phil O’Reilly walked back into the cafeteria, where Brian and Honey were still standing. In each hand, he carried a large shopping bag from Filene’s department store. Inside one, Honey could glimpse a bit of red velvet and a strip of white fur; the other held a fluffy pillow. “Old Santa outdid himself this year, didn’t he?” he asked with a grin.

“Great job, you jolly old elf,” Brian agreed, clapping his friend on the back. He fetched Honey’s coat and held it while she slipped her arms into the sleeves. While she tied her scarf and pulled on her gloves, Brian donned his own outerwear and checked his watch again. “Now, where’s Carlisle? We’d better hotfoot it to the hospital if we don’t want to be late for work.”

“Here I am,” announced Matt, jogging into the cafeteria. He also carried a Filene’s bag, Honey noticed, but it hardly appeared to contain anything. The green elf costume wasn’t nearly as bulky as a Santa suit, she supposed. As she was about to greet him, she looked at his face and did a double take. Matt’s ears were long and pointed at the top, and his nose was a bit longer and redder than seemed natural, too. Her jaw dropped and before she could compose her features, she heard Phil and Brian guffawing. Matt’s face went crimson – except for his nose and ears!

“Yeah, laugh all you want, guys – I forgot my cold cream,” Matt said, beginning to laugh himself. “I use cold cream to get the fake nose and ears off,” he explained to Honey. “Well, the patients will get lucky today – one of Santa’s elves will be helping to take care of them!”

Honey joined in the laughter, and the four young people walked outside, heading back toward the hospital, only a block away. Honey took deep breaths of the crisp, cold air, and watched it come out in puffs of white vapor. The deep snow that blanketed the ground glittered in the sunlight; it had not lost its freshness yet. She held Brian’s arm to steady herself, although she wasn’t really worried about falling. Brian was solid and steady next to her, but she had seen the passion in his face when he spoke of his ambitions just a little while ago, and she was filled with a desire to help him realize his dreams. There was much more to him than “Boring Brian”, as he sometimes – scornfully – referred to himself.

The walk didn’t take as long as they had anticipated, and as the group reached the front of the hospital, Brian said, “I’m going to walk Honey back to her dorm. Can you guys let Karen know I may be a few minutes late? I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“I don’t believe my ears,” exclaimed Matt. “Brian the punctual might be a few minutes late!”

“Go on,” said Phil. “It’s only two-fifteen. Don’t sweat it! I know Karen won’t mind.” He gave Brian a slight push. “Get going, Belden. Have yourself a merry little Christmas now!”

“Thanks, guys!” Brian grinned and turned to her. “I guess I’ve got my orders,” he quipped.

“Bye, Matt! Bye, Phil! Merry Christmas!” Honey cried. “I had a wonderful time.” She turned and took Brian’s arm again and the pair strode briskly in the direction of Pilgrim Drive, where the entrance to the gated residence campus was located. They began to catch each other up on news about their families as they walked. Brian told Honey that his brother Mart had given Diana Lynch an engagement ring for Christmas, although the wedding was not to take place until the following December.

“I know! And Di told me that her mother has already planned an engagement party for them!” Honey exclaimed. She told Brian that Jim had applied for a position at Wediko Children’s Services Summer Camp program for the summer, and was hoping to hear whether he’d been accepted by March first. The camp was the first therapeutic treatment summer camp in the country, having been established in 1934, and Jim was very excited about the chance to gain experience there.

“I’ve visited the Wediko summer camp,” Brian said. “It’s in a beautiful area of New Hampshire, and is fantastic, with specialized programs for girls and adolescents, and for treating atypical, handicapped, and adopted children. They offer many activities, including therapeutic horseback riding. Jim couldn’t find a better place to get ideas for his own school.”

“Besides that, they have individualized social skills training, daily group meetings, individual therapy – it’s unbelievable how it fits Jim’s dream so perfectly,” Honey added.

“How does Trixie feel about it?” Brian asked curiously. “She told me she was excited for him, but I know she was hoping he’d choose a program in Virginia.” Honey felt his serious gaze on her, and turned her head to meet his deep, chocolate-brown eyes. Suddenly, she wondered how she would feel if he moved hundreds of miles away – even for a few months. And that’s silly, she scolded herself. There’s nothing between us but friendship. “I know she was disappointed, but she agrees it’s a great opportunity for Jim. And it’s only for one summer,” she added.

“Dan’s filling out applications for law school,” Brian told her next. “Mart said he had a hard time choosing between the FBI and law school. In the end, he decided he could help more people as a lawyer.”

“Some of our dreams have changed since we were teenagers,” Honey mused. “But Trixie – and you – are still sticking with your original plans.” She and Brian walked in silence for a moment, remembering when Honey had told Trixie she didn’t want to be a detective. Trixie had been upset, had even felt a bit betrayed when Honey told her that the psychology classes she was taking had awakened a desire to do counseling for troubled children, rather than to solve crimes through analyzing criminals’ minds. But as always, Trixie’s generous heart and innate honesty had forced her to admit that Honey wasn’t as enthusiastic about placing herself in danger as Trixie had sometimes been. “Trixie was great, once she wrapped her mind around my decision,” she continued. “She wanted me to be happy, just like I want her to be happy, doing what she loves to do. And somehow, she and Jim will find a way to work out being together with each of them doing the thing they love.”

“I can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a doctor,” Brian said. “Med school has been really hard, and there were a few times when I wondered why I ever thought I could do it. But it’s so interesting, and I can’t wait to put the things I’ve learned in the classroom into practice. Working as a lowly phlebotomist has helped keep me humble, too.” He laughed, a deep, warm laugh that settled into Honey’s heart. “Speaking of work…” he checked the time. “I should be able to make it on time if I hurry. We’re almost back to your dorm now.”

Sure enough, the gatehouse was only a few yards away. Honey fished her student ID from her jeans pocket, and showed it to the security guard, who pushed the button that unlocked the gate. Honey and Brian walked as briskly as possible up the last few yards of sidewalk, still covered in trampled snow. At the top of the steps to the dorm, Honey turned to Brian.

“Good-bye, Brian,” she said. “Thank you for inviting me to the Home of the Innocents party. In fact, thank you for everything you’ve done to keep me from being lonely in the past two days. I was wallowing in self-pity, but you’ve helped me to find the real spirit of Christmas. This morning, the weather report said it’s going to clear up tomorrow, and the mayor says that the interstate highways will be open again. So I’ll be heading for Sleepyside.”

“Honey, it was my privilege to be able to spend time with you in the past couple of days.” Brian took her hand. “I never realized how much I’ve missed hanging out with you. Maybe we can get together again soon. What do you think?”

“What do I think?” Honey couldn’t believe her ears. “I think it would be perfectly perfect.” Impulsively, she threw her arms around Brian’s neck and kissed him. After an instant of shocked stillness, she felt Brian return her kiss, and he wrapped his own arms around her. A current of electricity flared between them, and the kiss became more urgent as their mouths ground against each other. Brian’s tongue teased Honey’s lips apart, and time seemed to stand still. Neither of them noticed as the door opened and a petite, slightly plump girl came outside.

“Get a room!” a voice called. Brian and Honey broke apart, each breathing hard. Honey’s face flamed as she looked for the source of the voice. It was Skippy, the only other girl on her floor who had been stranded by the storm. Skippy waved and grinned. She had passed them and was headed for the gatehouse. “Just kidding! Merry Christmas, Honey!”

“Merry Christmas, Skippy!” Honey waved back before turning again to Brian. “So, I probably won’t see you before next weekend.”

“Probably not,” he agreed. “Be careful, and tell the folks I’ll see them next weekend – if it doesn’t snow again!” He was looking at her in a totally new way, and it made Honey feel all tingly inside.

The sky’s blue had dulled, and a few flakes of snow were falling. “I hope we won’t get any more accumulation,” Brian commented. “I’d hate for you to be delayed again in leaving.”

Honey nodded. “Me, too. I mean, me neither. I mean, I hope I can leave tomorrow!” She wondered if that last statement was really true … now. “Hey, you’d better get going. I don’t want you to get fired.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and little push.

Brian returned the quick kiss, and began to retrace his steps. Honey could hear him whistling as he walked away, and her heart lifted as she recognized the melody of one of her favorite Christmas songs.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

It certainly has been a merry little Christmas, she thought, slowly climbing the steps to her room. For the first time, she realized she was almost sad that she would be able to leave Boston in the morning.

author's notes

12,280 words

This story is written especially for the lovely Susansuth, who has many Honey-like qualities. I hope you enjoy it!

Many thanks to Cathyoma, first of all, for putting together the Secret Santa giftfic exchange! It’s a lot of work at a busy time of year, but it gives so much joy – both in the writing and in the reading!

I was lucky enough to have four wonderful volunteers for editing – and since I was a bit nervous about writing for Susan, I’m doubly grateful to Ryl, Ronda, Trish, and MaryC. Thank you, ladies!

As always, many thanks to my generous webhostess, Vivian! You rock!

Susan didn’t give Cathy any helpful hints for a story idea, so I tried to use some things I know about her (angelic smile). Some of them are probably pretty obvious! However, I wasn’t able to work a juicy ripe tomato into a Christmas story. Since I’ve never been to Boston, I had to do a lot of research on this story. PatK and MaryC provided me with loads of information and websites to consult. Thank you, ladies!

The city of Boston obviously didn’t know I would need to write a story in 2008, featuring a great snowstorm right before Christmas of 1977. Otherwise, I’m sure the weather would have cooperated! This site is a great resource for weather in history, and I found it at Mountainhawk’S site. The page linked shows December 22, 1977 – no precipitation actually occurred; however, there was a major snowstorm just over a month later – I’m claiming artistic license! However, the moon actually was full on December 25, 1977. This wikipedia article gives more information on The Blizzard of 1978, and its effects in the New England states.

You can learn more about Childrens Hospital Boston here.

Coincidentally enough, Childrens Hospital is quite near Honey’s dorm (as the crow flies!) on the gated residential campus of Simmons College, an all-girls’ college, established 1899. South Hall, located in the gated residential campus, faces (or backs up to!) Brookline Avenue, near its intersection with Longwood. From the intersection, turning left on Longwood, the main entrance to Childrens Hospital is only two blocks away.

Honey and Brian both seem to like the song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas! A little bird told me Susan likes it, too. Here’s some history of this song, written for the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. I don’t own the rights to the song or to the movie, but I’m not making any money for their use! Just for Susan, I originally included two YouTube videos, one featuring Cary Grant in scenes from several of his movies, with the voice of Frank Sinatra singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; the other was a clip of Judy Garland singing the song, in a scene from the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. Both videos are now unavailable, so I've removed the links.

This Wikipedia article shows a picture of a chef’s toque.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also called the Mission Church, is a beautiful and historic landmark located in the Roxbury area. Here are some photographs of the interior. I’m indebted to MaryC for the suggestion of this church. Here is more description of the church, as well as information about its history. PatK, MaryC, and Leigh (Mountainhawk) were extremely helpful in pointing me to the T – Boston’s mass-transit system. This map shows the T-route from Children’s Hospital to OLPH, using Longwood stop for starting point – I decided it wouldn’t be very convenient for them. A map showing the route Brian and Honey’s ambulance would have taken from Children’s Hospital to the Basilica may be found here.

Midnight Mass is a beautiful and meaningful service, celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church to welcome the birth of the Savior. It is filled with symbolism and ritual. I referenced a blog piece ( that described some of the traditional accoutrements of the liturgy. It's no longer available. Here’s more, for anyone who is interested.

Here is a Wikipedia list of traditional Christmas carols that I used.

The Home of the Innocents is a real place, although it is located in Louisville, Kentucky, rather than Boston. I've never been there, and it's not run by nuns. But my story wanted a similar institution, and I was unable to locate one in Boston.

Filene's was an iconic Boston department store, in operation for one hundred twenty-five years, which was bought out by Macy's in 2005.

Wediko is a real place, located in New Hampshire, just one hundred miles north of Boston. I thought it could be a model for Jim’s school. The summer camp has been around since 1934.

The font I used for the title graphic is called Black Chancery. I downloaded it from 1001 Background tile (and snowflakes) are from, manipulated by me in Photoshop. Divider graphic is Microsoft clip art.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Susan!

Copyright 2008-2011 by MaryN.

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