Monday, December 18

Sleighbells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening.
A beautiful sight,
We’re happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland!

Trixie Belden reached over and jabbed the “off” button on her clock-radio. “This Christmas music isn’t helping me!” she complained. Seated cross-legged on one of the matching twin beds in her room at Crabapple Farm, she was reviewing her Christmas gift list for the umpteenth time. Frowning, she focused on one name which was circled and underlined in red: Jim. Every other name on the list was checked off, with a gift listed next to it.

“Everyone else is getting gift certificates this year,” she said aloud. “A certificate to the fabric store in White Plains for Honey. Certificates to the art supply store for Moms and for Di. Bobby gets a certificate to the video store, for that new computer game he wants. Dad will love the round of golf he’ll be able to play with his certificate to the country club. Mart gets one for the bookstore, and Dan for the shoe store. He needs those nice black oxfords for his uniform. Brian gets one for the White Plains surgical supply house. He’ll be able to buy that special stethoscope he wants by the time that Mart and Bobby give him certificates, too.” She smiled with satisfaction. Gift certificates might seem impersonal, but she had spent time sleuthing out the things each of her friends and family members wanted most, and was pleased that she might make it easier for them to purchase the things that would be most useful for each one.

“But I don’t want to get Jim a gift certificate!” she wailed. “I’ve just got to think of the perfect gift for him,” she continued. “Gift certificates are okay for everyone else, but Jim is the most wonderful guy in the world. He deserves the perfect gift. Why can’t I think of anything to get him? Time is running out.” Tearing the sheet of paper from her notebook and setting it aside, she started a new sheet with the heading: Jim.

“I’ve done the handcrafted gifts. He did wear the scarf I knitted for him two years ago, but I hated to see it on him. Every time I looked at it, all I could see were the missed stitches and the uneven ribs. All those hours I spent with Aunt Alicia might not have been wasted, but I didn’t learn much. I don’t have the patience for knitting. Ugh!”

Tapping a pencil against her teeth, she frowned. “I’ve done the ‘nothing over a dollar’ gifts, too. Those were fun, but I want to get Jim something really special. He works so hard, teaching during the day at Washington Irving Middle School, and going to classes at night for his master’s degree.” She tapped her pencil against her chin and drew her sandy brows together.

“I’ll start listing everything I can think of. Surely something will leap out at me.” With that comment, she began to scribble away at her paper.

Trixie was a sophomore at White Plains Community College, living at home and commuting to save money. Her high school grades had not been stellar enough to earn her any scholarships, and her banker father’s income was too high for her to qualify for need-based financial aid. Although originally she had chafed against the prospect of attending community college for two years while her friends and brothers went away, she now had saved a tidy sum for college tuition from her part-time job as a police dispatcher. In addition, she had concentrated on her studies to such an extent that she had made the Dean’s list for the past three semesters, and had earned a merit-based scholarship to SUNY’s New York City campus for the fall semester.

While she was proud of her accomplishment, Trixie was even prouder of her boyfriend, Jim Frayne. Jim had attained his bachelor’s degree in four years, with a demanding double major in Education and Psychology, and a minor in Business Administration. Currently he was midway through his first year of teaching the sixth grade, while studying for a double master’s degree in education and psychology.

“Rats!” She crumpled her piece of paper and tossed it onto the floor. It joined several other wadded-up pieces around the bed. Pulling at one of her unruly curls, Trixie again began to speak as she ticked off items on her fingers.

“Socks – no. A new tie – no. Shirt – no. Shoes – no. A briefcase – no. Jim has plenty of things like that, and they’re nicer than what I could afford to get him. Something for his apartment – no. It’s fully furnished already, and he has all kinds of desk accessories and computer software. A car-safety kit – no. I think I got one of those for him when he first went to college, and he’s never even used it. Of course, that’s just because he is so responsible and such a careful driver. I’m not sorry he hasn’t needed it!”

She began to doodle aimlessly on a fresh sheet of paper.

“I just wish I could afford to buy him a GPS system. I know he’d like that.”

“Trixie!” A shout interrupted Trixie’s musings. Her younger brother Bobby was calling from downstairs. “Phone for you – it’s Jim!”

“Okay! Thanks, Bobby.” She jumped up and went out to the upstairs phone, which sat on a table by the landing. After picking up the handset and greeting Jim, she moved back to her room and sat down cross-legged on the bed once more.

“So, what are you doing tonight, Shamus?” As always, the sound of Jim’s husky voice made her feel all warm and liquid inside, and she smiled, plopping herself onto her back.

“Oh, nothing much,” she answered, buffing her short fingernails against the soft, comfortable sweatshirt she wore. “Just working on my Christmas shopping list.”

“And have you gotten all of your shopping done, little girl?” he teased.

“Um, most of it. Just a few stocking stuffers I was going to pick up.” Trixie crossed her fingers against the little white lie. “And what are you doing?” she asked, to change the subject.

“Well, right now I’m taking a break from studying for my final in ‘Personality Disorders of Young Adolescence’, and getting ready to grade my students’ essays on ‘My Favorite Christmas Memory’. I miss you, Trixie, and can’t wait for Thursday to be over. As soon as I take my final Friday, I’m heading back to Sleepyside.” Jim sighed, and the sound caused Trixie’s breath to catch.

“Jim, I can’t wait to see you either! Isn’t it terrible that we’re both in the same town five days a week, and we’ve hardly had a chance to get together all semester? Between your teaching and my classes, your night classes and my studying, we’ve hardly had time to see each other,” she mourned.

“We’ll have plenty of time to be together over the holidays,” he soothed her. “I’ll be home until January second, when school starts back up. We should be able to see each other every day. What are you doing Friday, for example?”

“Gleeps! I’ve got to work Friday, Sunday, and Monday, Jim,” Trixie apologized. “I promised Chief Molinson that I’d work so that the other dispatchers could be home with their families.”

There was a brief silence on the other end of the line, and then Jim spoke again. “Of course you did, Trix. You’re so generous, and I’m sure all of them appreciate the chance. It’s just that I hoped I could see you as soon as I get home. Mother and Dad went up to Vermont to check out the renovations at Mead’s Mountain and they won’t be home until late Saturday. Honey has a date with Brian and they’re planning to drive down from Boston Friday night. Guess I’ll help Regan with the horses and catch ‘Home Alone’ on TV while I wrap my presents.” Although Jim was trying to keep his tone light, Trixie couldn’t help noticing a wistful note in his voice.

“I don’t have to be at work until four in the afternoon Friday, Jim. We’ll have a little time, that is, if I can get those pesky stocking stuffers before that,” she hedged. “And what about Saturday? We’ll have the whole day Saturday.”

“Saturday it is, then. And you can be sure I’ll hold you to that, Shamus,” Jim assured her. The playful tone was back in his voice.

Jim continued to talk, describing his students’ restlessness in the last week before Christmas break. The sixth-graders were too old to be coerced into good behavior by the threat that Santa Claus would put lumps of coal in their stockings, and he knew there were several who would be lucky to get anything for Christmas. He was not backing down from the challenge, however, and had come up with several strategies for maintaining order in the classroom.

Trixie listened to him, admiring, as always, his determination and ingenuity in adapting to any situation. Long ago she had told her father that Jim was the most wonderful boy in the world, and she had never changed her mind. Through the years they had continued to grow closer, and she knew, with a deep feeling of peace and certainty, that he was the one and only man for her. Although she had never wavered in her determination to become a detective, Jim had never made fun of her, and never asked how she intended to combine career and home. As much as he was capable of worrying about her safety, he knew she had matured and was no longer the impulsive girl who ran headlong into danger.

Trixie turned over onto her stomach, and noticed the scattered wads of paper around her bed. “Yikes! Jim, I’ve got to go. There’s one gift I’m having a lot of trouble deciding on. It’s really important and I’ve just got to figure it out before I go to sleep.”

“All right, Trixie. I need to get back to these papers, anyway. See you Friday.” Jim’s voice was a little stiff, and she wondered for a second if she had interrupted him mid-sentence. Her mind had been wandering and she had been letting the sound of his voice wash over her, without really listening to what he was saying.

“See you Friday, Jim. And we’ll do something special Saturday, I mean it. I love you, Jim.” She blew kisses into the receiver.

“I’ll hold you to that, Shamus. I love you, too.” Jim also made kissing noises. Finally, she ended the call.

I feel bad about cutting Jim off, Trixie thought as she replaced the handset back onto its base. But my week is so busy, I’ve just got to think of something tonight, or I won’t have time to shop. Slowly, she climbed back onto her bed and began to write again.

Despite her best efforts, Trixie was no closer to knowing what to get Jim for Christmas after another hour passed. By that time, she was fighting sleep, and simply crawled under the covers without even tidying up the piles of wadded paper that littered the room – the result of her fruitless labor.

Trixie found herself sitting on the landing of a staircase in a home she didn’t recognize. At the bottom of the steps she could see an open closet door, and in front of it stood a tall, rangy, redheaded man, who was buttoning himself into an overcoat. On the floor, a petite blonde woman squatted, bundling a chubby redheaded toddler into a red snowsuit.

“Who are they? Is it Jim and me?” Trixie wondered. With a flourish, the woman pulled the snowsuit’s zipper up and buttoned a flap under the boy’s chin. She turned her head and looked up to face the man, and Trixie knew immediately that she wasn’t seeing herself. This woman had a thin face and a delicate build that Trixie had never known, although she had outgrown any childish chubbiness.

“There you go, Jimmy!” she exclaimed. “Win, can you hand me Jimmy’s cap and scarf?”

It’s Jim and his real parents! Trixie thought in a flash of realization. The man handed his wife a tiny blue knitted toboggan cap with earflaps, which she tied onto her son’s head. Jimmy stood patiently, smiling at her, his green eyes sparkling. She wound a matching blue knitted scarf around his neck, and managed to get his hands into mittens. Leaning back on her heels, she surveyed her son.

“You’ll be nice and warm now, Jimmy,” she said with a smile. “Aunt Nell’s scarf and hat will keep you toasty while we’re outside.” She kissed his rosy cheek and continued, “Now, sit down on the first step and Daddy will put your fireman boots on while I get into my coat.”

Obediently, Jimmy sat down on the step and lifted his feet. “Fireman boots! I’m a fireman!” The tall man held a puffy, down-filled coat for his wife, who shrugged her way into it. While she fastened the coat, he pulled the black rubber boots over little Jimmy’s sneakers.

“All right! Jimmy’s ready to go. Katie, where’s your hat and scarf?” Win stood again and rummaged on the high shelf of the closet, bringing out a bright crimson knitted hat and scarf. “Here you go! Aunt Nell never forgets any of us, does she, my girl?”

“No, she’s such a sweet old lady,” Katie agreed. “I hope she and Uncle James have received the package I sent. It should have reached them by now.”

Win whistled the opening notes to “Frosty the Snowman” as he pulled a green toboggan over his crisp red hair. “It’s too bad we can’t drive down to Sleepyside this year for a visit,” he said. "But this snowstorm has caused such havoc that I don’t feel it would be right to travel so far with Jimmy. He’s too little to take such a long trip. Maybe next year we’ll be able to go for Christmas.”

“Snowman! I make snowman!” Jimmy announced. “Hurry, Mommy and Daddy!”

This must have been the last year before old Mrs. Frayne died, Trixie realized. I wonder if they would have gone to Sleepyside if they had only known. She continued to watch as Katie donned boots and gloves, and the trio left the cozy entry foyer to go outside, where the yard was covered by a heavy blanket of snow. Standing at the window on the landing, she could hear the laughter as Jimmy’s parents let him walk by himself in the soft, fluffy snow. It was so deep that he soon tumbled over, and Win snatched him up again.

“Watch, Jimmy! I’m going to make an angel,” Katie cried, her breath releasing puffs of white vapor into the chilly air. She sat down in the snow and then lay on her back, extending her arms and legs, and using them to make the familiar angel wings and a flared gown. In a moment Jimmy was copying her, giggling as he cried, “I’m an angel! I’m an angel!”

“Both of my angels had better get up, before you get snow into your boots,” Win said with a mock sternness. “I thought we were going to build a snowman.”

Laughing, Katie jumped up and helped her son to his feet. While she brushed accumulated snow off both of them, Win began to roll a ball of snow. Katie showed Jimmy how to form a ball, too, and in just a few minutes two rather large balls stood side by side.

“Jimmy, help your mama lift your snowball onto mine,” Win encouraged his son. Katie and Jimmy lifted the ball and Win helped them to seat it firmly on the larger ball.

“Now we need a head for Mr. Frosty,” Katie said. Although she started the ball, Jimmy did most of the work of rolling it into a ball just a little larger than his own head.

“Hold onto the ball, Jimmy, and you can set it on top,” Win instructed him. “That will be the snowman’s head.” Obediently, Jimmy grasped the ball firmly, and placed it on top of the other two balls when his father held him up. He clapped enthusiastically after the head was in place.

“Frosty! Frosty!” he shouted.

“Now, where are we going to get lumps of coal for his eyes and mouth?” Katie wondered.

“As a matter of fact, I was thinking about this yesterday,” Win answered. “A fellow I work with had brought some lumps of coal back from a trip to Kentucky. He was going to play a joke on his kids and put coal in their stockings. I convinced him to give me the coal. I think there will be just enough.” Grinning, he drew out a handful of black chunks from the pocket of his coat.

Once more, he held little Jimmy up to place the eyes on Frosty, while Katie made his mouth. The three largest chunks became his buttons, and Katie ran inside for a raw carrot to make the snowman’s nose.

“Now, that’s one fine-looking snowman,” Win told his wife and son. “I’ve never seen a better one. Are you cold yet, or do you want to try some sledding?”

“Sled!” Jimmy tried to jump in his excitement, but he couldn’t really get off the ground in his bulky snowsuit, so he had to be content with bouncing. Trixie lost sight of Win as he strode around to the side of the house, but he soon returned with a sturdy toboggan-type sled. Katie and Jimmy settled themselves on the bed, and he pulled them around to the back. Running to find a back window where she could continue to watch, Trixie noticed the aroma of vegetable soup, which she found simmering on the stove.

After another fifteen minutes of sledding, Win pulled the sled up to the house, and helped his wife to her feet again. Katie’s cheeks and nose were red with cold, and her nose was running, but she was still laughing. “Come on, Jimmy, darling! Let’s collect some fresh snow for snow ice cream, and then we’ll go inside. I think you’ve been out for long enough.” Win entered the kitchen door, and Trixie drew back, not wanting him to see her. He quickly grabbed a large plastic bowl and took it back outside, handing it to Katie.

Jimmy helped Katie fill the bowl with clean snow, and when it was full, she handed it to her husband. “It will be so much fun to make the snow cream later, after we’re warmed up. I’ll never forget the times Betje and I made snow cream when I was little,” she said. “Oh, Win, won’t it be fun to watch Jimmy grow? He does so many new things every day. I’m excited to think about him growing up. Just think, someday he’ll have children of his own!”

Win put an arm around her shoulder and kissed her head. “Oh, Katie, we can’t waste time dreaming of the future. We’ve got to enjoy every precious minute we spend with him now. We’ll never get them back.”

“You’re right, Win. Before we know it, he’ll be grown. We need to have lots of memories to look back on. Let’s go inside now and warm ourselves up with some of the vegetable soup I made.”

The back door opened, and Trixie watched for the little family to enter, but suddenly, she found herself back in her own bed at Crabapple Farm. She sat up, breathing hard. The dream had been so real!

Reaching up to brush stray curls from her face, she noticed her cheeks were wet with tears. Jim’s parents thought they would have a lifetime with their son, but they only had a few years. They may never have seen old Mr. and Mrs. Frayne again; Betje – Juliana’s mother – was already dead when Jim was three years old.

Checking her alarm clock, Trixie noticed it was nearly time to get up, anyway. She turned off the alarm and sat up, trying to recall each detail of the dream. I’ve been spending an awful lot of time trying to think of the perfect gift for Jim. In fact, I cut our conversation short last night, just so I could decide on what kind of thing to get him. She ran a hand through her curls in frustration. The Wheelers can buy Jim anything he could want; in fact, he could buy himself a much nicer gift than I could afford to give him. What he can’t buy is time – time to spend with the people he loves.

Most days, Trixie dressed quickly and without paying much attention to her clothing. Today, although she didn’t spend any more time at the mirror than usual, she dressed slowly, meditating on a new plan for her Christmas gift.

Downstairs, in the Beldens’ cozy kitchen, Trixie enlisted her mother’s advice. “What would you think, Moms, if I gave Jim a day with me, just to have fun and enjoy each other’s company?”

Helen Belden looked a little surprised. “I’m not sure what you mean, dear,” she answered. “I’m sure Jim would enjoy spending time with you, but what do you have planned?”

“Gleeps, Moms! I didn’t explain that very well, did I?” Trixie blushed as she realized some of the thoughts her mother might have had. Suddenly, she felt anxious, and twirled a curl around her finger. What if it’s a crummy idea? she fretted to herself. Taking a deep br /eath, she started over.

“I’ve been just agonizing over the perfect gift for Jim; I’ve hardly been thinking about anything else. I even cut short his call last night, so I could spend more time thinking of just the right thing to give him. Then, I realized the only thing I could really give him that he couldn’t get himself was time together. What if I invited him over Saturday, and we could spend time just playing outside, sledding, whatever? Then I’d serve him lunch and we could do something else outside or maybe go for a ride with the horses. And he could have supper with us. Of course, I’d cook my special beef stroganoff for him.”

Mrs. Belden looked thoughtful. “It sounds like a lovely idea, sweetie. As a matter of fact, your dad is taking me to the city Saturday and we’re going to shop, eat dinner, and see The Nutcracker. Bobby’s last day of school is Friday, and the Lynches have invited him for a sleepover. He’ll be home some time Saturday, but Brian and Mart both have plans. If you can be here when Bobby gets home, I’d really appreciate it.”

“I’ll coordinate with Bobby so that I can be here when he gets home. If I’m going to cook stroganoff, I’ll have to be home by four-thirty or so anyway.” Trixie was becoming excited by her idea. It wasn’t so much that she enjoyed cooking, but she had a small repertoire of dishes she had cooked so many times that they didn’t require much thought. Jim does like a home-cooked meal, she reminded herself.

“It’s such a shame that you have to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas, too,” Mrs. Belden said with a sigh. “I thought you’d at least be off Christmas Eve, since it’s part of the weekend.”

“I was scheduled to be off, Moms, but Linda, the other weekend dispatcher, has two young kids. She was down in the dumps about working on Christmas Eve, and before I knew it, I offered to work for her. I guess in some ways I still open my mouth before I think, but I’m glad she’ll be able to spend the time with her kids on the holiday.” Trixie smiled, trying to look truly happy that she was working on the holiday, rather than spending the time with her family and friends. “Anyway, I’ll be home by four-thirty on Christmas day, so I won’t miss everything. The Bob-Whites are having our own Christmas party later that evening.”

While she had been speaking, Trixie had helped herself to a bowl of cold cereal and a glass of juice. Finishing up the last spoonful, she checked her watch. “Jeepers, look at the time!” she exclaimed. “Moms, I’ve got to run. Maybe you can help me to make a shopping list tonight and I’ll go to the store tomorrow.”

She gave her mother a quick hug, and ran out the door, letting it slam behind her. All the way to White Plains, she sang along with the Christmas music playing on the radio station. Today would be her last final before Christmas break, and she felt well-prepared for the test covering American history from 1865 to the Second World War.

Trixie sat at the kitchen table, making out her shopping list while her mother prepared the family’s dinner.

“I’ll be here tomorrow, Moms, so I’ll make a big pot of vegetable soup for supper. It’ll be good with a batch of cornbread, and the leftovers will be even better for lunch the rest of the week. Do I need to buy any meat?”

“No, dear, I think there’ll be plenty of leftover roast beef that you can use. That makes the best vegetable soup, anyway.” Mrs. Belden slid her roast into the oven and began to peel potatoes.

Trixie finished her shopping list and began to set the table, humming the tune of Winter Wonderland.

The rest of the week seemed to drag. Once her shopping was done, Trixie was impatient to get started on her plan. But nothing could be done before Jim was back in Sleepyside. To distract herself from the seemingly endless wait, on Thursday she dusted the downstairs with a vigor that had both her mother and the Beldens’ elderly Irish setter, Reddy, sneezing.

“Trixie, I think you’ve done enough dusting,” Mrs. Belden told her. “Why don’t you take Bobby and cut a tree for us this afternoon?”

“All right, Moms. That’s a good idea, especially since Brian and Mart won’t be home until late tomorrow.”

Friday, December 22

Friday was a study in frustration for Trixie. The tree was decorated, the house was clean, and she had “wrapped” each of her gifts, placing the gift cards in small decorated envelopes and hanging them on the tree. Jim was delayed by a heavy snowfall which slowed traffic to a crawl between White Plains and Sleepyside. By the time he arrived at Crabapple Farm, Trixie was scraping the snow off her car windshield. It was time for her to leave for work.

Seeing Jim walking toward her, she threw down her scraper and ran as fast as she could through the accumulated snow. “Jim! I thought you’d never get here,” she cried.

“So did I,” he answered with a grin. “I wish you didn’t have to work tonight.” He captured her lips in a heartfelt kiss and lifted her off her feet.

“So do I,” she answered, kissing him back with equal fervor. “Midnight seems an eternity away. But I’ve got special plans for tomorrow. Come on over as early as you can – well, at least by ten o’clock.” Her eyes twinkled.

“Special plans, huh? Can’t you tell me what they are?” Jim asked, setting her back down.

“Nope! It’s a surprise. You’ll just have to wait.” After a final kiss, Trixie got into her car and closed the door. As she turned the key in the ignition, she thought of one more thing. Rolling down her window, she shouted, “Wear something warm!” and waved to Jim as she slowly guided the cardown the Beldens’ driveway. Jim waved after her until she was out of sight, and then turned to trudge back up the path which led to the Manor House.

Saturday, December 23

Saturday morning, Trixie groaned when the alarm clock awakened her. It seemed she had only been in bed for a few minutes. Suddenly realizing what day it was, she jumped up and went straight to the shower. Jim will be here in a couple of hours, she thought. I want to look as nice as I can, even if we are going to be outside a lot today.

It wasn’t long until she was back in her room, donning a fuzzy, light blue sweater and a pair of corduroy pants to match. After blowing her hair dry with a diffuser to keep from frizzing her curls, she galloped downstairs.

“Good morning, Princess,” her father greeted her, setting his newspaper down. “So, what do you have planned for you and Jim today?”

“Good morning, Dad and Moms.” Trixie kissed each of her parents, and took a couple of pancakes from the stack her mother was keeping warm. Adding butter and maple syrup, she began to describe the plans she had made.

“I just think Jim has worked so hard this semester, and I want him to have some fun and relax,” she finished.

“Well, I think you’ve come up with a very nice plan, dear,” her mother said.

By the time Trixie mixed cornbread batter and ladled several servings of leftover vegetable soup into the slow cooker, it was nearly time for Jim to arrive. She ran to the bathroom to make sure there were no stains on her sweater, and jumped when the doorbell rang.

“How’s my best girl?” Jim asked, picking her up off her feet again and kissing her thoroughly. “I’m reporting for duty, so tell me what to do.” He grinned, the slightly lopsided grin that never failed to start Trixie’s heart to fluttering.

“I’m glad you wore something warm,” she said, looking him up and down after he entered. Under his overcoat she could see the collar of a heavy flannel shirt, and he was wearing boots that came up over the lower part of his jeans, as well as a knit cap that covered his ears. “Because we’re going to play in the snow. We haven’t done nearly enough playing since school started, and I figure we both can stand to get out.”

“Sounds like a great idea to me, Trix. Do you want to go skating on the lake, or sledding on the hill? We can go down to the clubhouse and get out the things we need.”

“In fact, I already brought the big toboggan, our skates, snowshoes, and a sled up yesterday,” Trixie told him. “I thought the things might need oiling or cleaning, since we hadn’t been able to use them this year. So everything’s ready to go. But this time, I thought we could use our sledding hill instead of yours. You’re invited for lunch and supper, and I cooked for you, so we’re going to stay at Crabapple Farm today.”

While she was speaking, Trixie had been donning her own winter coat, hat, snowpants, and gloves. She sat on the floor to pull her boots on, and Jim thought – not for the first time – how adorable she was. Her cheeks were rosy and her blue eyes sparkled. A stray curl peeked from under the brimof her beret, and she impatiently brushed it to the side. Jumping to her feet, she announced, “We’re ready to go. Just let me say good-bye to Moms and Dad – they’re going into the city and won’t be back until late tonight.”

“Won’t they mind us being here alone?” Jim was hesitant to believe Trixie’s parents could have agreed to a plan which left the couple unchaperoned.

“No, I told them we’d be outside most of the morning. And Bobby will be home later. Besides, I’m not really sure when Brian or Mart might get in. They probably figured we wouldn’t be alone for long enough to get into any trouble.” She wrinkled her nose in disdain.

Jim waited in the foyer while Trixie said good-bye to her parents. The day was cold, but sunny, and he enjoyed nothing so much as spending time out-of-doors. He smiled at the thought of everything he and Trixie could do outside, and began to whistle one of his favorite Christmas songs.

When it snows, ain't it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling
We'll frolic and play, the Eskimo way,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Pulling the toboggan and sled behind them, Jim and Trixie began to make their way to the Beldens’ sledding hill. Jim took deep breaths of the crisp, cold air, and studied the diamond-studded expanse of untrodden snow ahead of them.

“Gosh! I’ve missed this,” he said, gesturing to emphasize his words. “It’s hard to remember a time in the past four years that I’ve just taken off and played outside in the snow. Winter has always been my favorite time of year, but I’ve been so busy with school that it seemed as if there was never time.”

“Well, today that’s what we’re going to do.” Trixie’s small hand squeezed his larger one. “We’re going to see who can run the sled the furthest, then we’ll build a snowman, and then, well, then we’ll see. I’ve got hot cocoa in this thermos” – she waved the object in question – "and a pot of vegetable soup is waiting for us at home. We’re free until Bobby gets home at three.”

“See who can run this sled the furthest, huh?” Jim grinned at her again, a twinkle in his green eyes. “Is there any question?”

“Humph!” Trixie stopped and put her hands on her hips. “I’ll have you know that since I’m lighter, my weight won’t bog down the sled.”

“Since I’m heavier, inertia will keep me going longer,” Jim replied, laughing.

“We’ll just see about that.” Trixie sniffed and tossed her head in scorn.

They had reached the top of the hill now, and Jim looked out at the landscape spread below. He could see the roof of the Manor House and one end of the Wheelers’ lake; a line of trees beyond marked a border of the wildlife preserve that also belonged to his family. In the other direction, the Beldens’ old apple orchard concealed the winding ribbon of Glen Road. Once more he inhaled the fresh, pure air, and smiled.

“Ladies first,” he offered, bowing to Trixie and taking the thermos. She positioned the toboggan so that it faced the steepest part of the hill, and backed up about ten feet. Running up to it, she plopped down onto it and in a moment was flying down the hill.

Since the snow was still fresh and not packed down, her flight was a short one.

“Looks like the sled was bogged down, Miss Lightweight,” Jim joked. Trixie jumped up and pulled the toboggan away from the rut it had bored into the snow.

“That was just a trial run, Mr. Inertia, and you know it,” she protested. "Of course we have to pack down the sled run before we can see who’ll be able to go the furthest.”

By the time each had made a half-dozen runs, they had created a respectable sled run. “At least, if we’re too tired to race, Bobby and the Lynches ought to have a nice place to go sledding,” Jim observed, dragging the toboggan back to the starting place.

“Who’s tired?” Trixie asked, grabbing hold of the lead rope herself. Jim gazed at her in admiration as they reached the top of the hill. Her cheeks were rosy and her blue eyes were brilliant in the white landscape; golden curls had escaped the blue beret, and he noticed the faint sprinkling of freckles across her nose, which set off her fair skin. Just then, a gust of wind blew a drift of snow into their faces, and Trixie squeezed her eyes shut against the wind. When she opened them, her eyelashes were frosted with the delicate flakes. Jim remembered another time when he had seen her so adorned, and smiled. When she reached up to brush the snow away, he captured her hand with his, and bent his face to hers. She stared at him, eyes wide, and he wondered what she was thinking.

“On you, snow looks good,” he remarked. Her lips were now so near that the puff of her breath warmed his chin, and he moved to close the space between them with a kiss. Trixie reached up to pull his head even lower, and responded ardently. For several moments, the two of them had no thought for anything but each other. Finally, the fog that clouded Jim’s thinking dissipated enough for him to realize that his body was responding to her nearness in a way that would not meet with her parents’ approval.

“Wow, you are one fabulous kisser, Trix! Of course, you know that.” He held onto both of her hands and looked into her eyes even as he broke their embrace and stepped away. “I’ll say one thing, it’s gotten a lot hotter out here in the last few minutes.” He wanted to make sure she didn’t think he wasn’t attracted to her. Some of their early dates had been ruined by his miscommunication, coupled with her insecurity.

“Hot? Yes, I’m definitely warmed up, Frayne!” Trixie grinned, and gestured to the forgotten toboggan. “Let’s have a championship run and then we’ll drink the hot cocoa I brought before we head back to the house. I made a batch of cornbread, and my vegetable soup ought to be good and hot by that time.”

In the end, they declared a tie, and took turns sipping cocoa from the thermos’ cup, while pulling the toboggan behind them.

Gone away is the bluebird,
Here to stay is a new bird
He sings a love song,
As we go along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

After a hearty lunch consisting of the vegetable soup and hot buttered cornbread, topped off with cold glasses of milk, Trixie suggested putting their snowy outer clothes into the dryer. Jim was agreeable, and the two settled down to watch one of Jim’s favorite childhood Christmas movies, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Unfortunately, Jim wasn’t able to pay much attention to the movie because he was so distracted by the delightful scent ofTrixie’s strawberry shampoo, which clung to her hair, and even, as he soon discovered, to her throat and her collarbones. In turn, Trixie begged him to let her warm her hands up inside his soft flannel shirt.

The feeling of Trixie’s hands on his skin gave Jim a tingly feeling all over, and he could feel the room heating up – or was it he who was getting hotter? He broke away from her kiss to ask a question.

“Um, Trixie,” he began hesitantly. “Do you want to go somewhere more...private?”

Trixie blushed. “Ah...I guess not. Moms and Dad trusted us to be alone today, and besides, Bobby will be home soon. But maybe we could kiss just a little more? We’ve hardly seen each other for weeks.” She wheedled him with a dimpled smile, and as always, Jim was putty in her hands. Not that I want to resist, he thought.

Soon, things were heating up again on the couch, although Rudolph and company were struggling along in a blizzard onscreen.

Bzzzzzt! The sounds of the outside world dragged Jim back to his surroundings. “Whoa! There goes your dryer,” he exclaimed.

“And I was just starting to get warm,” Trixie said with a pout, but her eyes were twinkling.

“I know, let’s build a snowman,” Jim suggested. “I can’t remember the last time I did that.”

“All right, we can do it in front of the house.” Trixie straightened her sweater and stood up. Her face was alight with merriment. “I’ve even got lumps of coal for his eyes and mouth.”

“Lumps of coal? Where did you get them?” Jim was genuinely curious. You just didn’t see much coal around Westchester County, New York these days.

“Okay, it’s really lumps of charcoal. I asked Dad if I could use some of his charcoal and he said yes. So I broke up some briquettes to use instead of coal, just in case we did get to build the snowman.”

Jim stood, and if his stance was a little stiff, Trixie didn’t seem to notice. She had already darted out to the utility room and removed the garments that had been drying. Jim caught the coat she tossed at him, and while he was fastening the zipper, she began to don her snowpants and jacket. In minutes, the bundled-up couple was outside, scouting the best location for the snowman.

In the meadow we can build a snowman
We’ll pretend that he is Parson Brown.
He’ll say, “Are you married?”
We’ll say “No, man, but you can do the job while you’re in town."

A splendid snowman, complete with corncob pipe and muffler, welcomed Bobby when he arrived home from his friends’ house. Trixie was holding up a stick on one side for an arm, and Jim was standing back directing its placement.

“Hi Jim, hi Trix,” Bobby greeted them. “Wow, that’s a cool snowman. Are you going to make some more?”

“More snowmen?” Jim was puzzled.

“You know, like a snow lady and baby.” Bobby looked more excited than Jim would have thought a twelve-year-old boy would be. “I’ll help after I put my stuff inside.”

Shooting a look at Trixie to make sure it would be okay, Jim nodded. “Sure. But hurry up, because we’re going to have to start cooking supper soon.”

Soon, a snow lady and baby had joined the snowman, and Jim stepped back to survey their work. “Yes,” he said with an expansive wave of his arm, “I believe this is the finest snow family in Westchester County today. Tell me, Mrs. Frosty, what led you to choose Crabapple Farm out of all the possible homes you might have chosen?”

“It’s just so cozy here,” Trixie chirped in reply. “But the very best part is that Crabapple Farm is right next door to the Manor House, home of the most wonderful boy in the world. Hi, Jim!” She waved and fluttered her eyelashes at Jim, giggling.

“Gross! What smush!” Bobby wrinkled his nose in distaste as his sister and Jim exchanged a kiss. “I thought we were going to cook supper, not stand around kissing.”

Jim and Trixie laughed, not at all embarrassed by Bobby’s reaction. “How would you like to have some homemade snow cream for dessert, Bobby?” Jim loved the way Trixie’s eyes sparkled with enthusiasm as she made the suggestion. “Run inside and get one of Moms’ big cooking pots, and we’ll collect some fresh snow. We can make it after we eat.”

Bobby turned to go inside, and Trixie called after him, “And don’t track snow inside!” Taking advantage of her brother’s absence, Jim began to kiss her again, and Trixie responded eagerly.

After a delicious dinner of Trixie’s special beef stroganoff, salad, and rolls, topped off by snow cream, Jim helped her to clean up the kitchen, while Bobby watched his own favorite Christmas movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Jim could hear the youngster chortling every few minutes.

“So, Shamus, do you want to join your brother and watch TV for awhile?” he asked, placing an arm around her waist. “It’s cozy in there with the fireplace going.” Bending his head down to get closer to her ear, he whispered, “Besides, we can do gross smushy stuff while he’s not watching us.”

Trixie giggled and turned her face up toward his. “Is this the kind of smushy stuff you have in mind?” she teased, snaking her arms around his neck and kissing him. She nudged his lips apart with her tongue.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, it is.” Jim returned the kiss with equal enthusiasm. Holding hands, they made their way to the living room and sat on the couch. Bobby was sprawled on the floor in his favorite position for watching TV, and didn’t seem to notice them. Soon, Jim and Trixie could hear his soft snoring.

“I’ll bet there wasn’t much sleeping last night at the Lynches’,” Trixie whispered with a chuckle.

Later on, we’ll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid, the plans that we’ve made
Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

They enjoyed the movie and each other, until – all too soon – the closing credits rolled. Jim stretched and checked his watch. “I’d better get going,” he said. “Mother and Dad should be home soon, and I’d like to be there to welcome them home. Honey might be home by now, too.”

“Well, if my big brother is there with her, send him home! If I can’t have any fun, he shouldn’t get to, either!” But Trixie’s grin belied her words. “I’ll walk you to the path, Jim,” she offered.

Soon, the two were walking through the snow, holding hands, their footfalls making a soft crunching sound in the silence.

“It’s so beautiful tonight.” Trixie’s voice was filled with awe. She squeezed his hand. “Let’s make snow angels, Jim. It’s the only thing I wanted to do today, that we haven’t done.”

“Snow angels? It’s been years since I made one of those,” Jim replied. “My mom used to love to make them.” The pain which normally accompanied thoughts of his birth parents was absent tonight, and he could picture his mother’s thin face, alight with joy in the deep, billowy snow of Rochester. “She would lie right down in the deepest snow, and make her angels. Dad always worried that she would get pneumonia, but she loved it so much he wouldn’t try to stop her.” He stared around at the smooth expanse on either side of the path, a reflective look on his face.

Trixie grabbed both of his hands, and gazed directly into his eyes. “Let’s make two angels now. Just for your mom and dad.”

“All right, Trix. You’re right. Mom and Dad would like it.” Methodically, he lay down and extended his arms and legs, while Trixie did the same. In a moment, a pair of snow angels adorned the ground next to the path between Crabapple Farm and the Manor House. The couple stood and stepped away from the impressions, taking care not to disturb the outlines of their angels.

“They look pretty good, don’t they?” Jim asked.

“They look great,” Trixie agreed. They admired their creations for a moment. Then, Trixie looked up at the bright, nearly-full moon which illuminated the snow with the “luster of midday”, and sighed.

“What’s wrong, Trix?” As always, he was quick to sense her moods.

“Nothing. It’s been a wonderful day. I am kind of sorry it’s over,” she answered. After a brief hesitation, she continued. “Jim? Remember Monday night when you called me and I said there was one special gift that I was having trouble with?”

“Yes, what about it?” Jim was puzzled.

“Jim, that was your gift. I wanted to choose the perfect gift for you, one that would show you exactly how special you are to me. Nothing seemed to be good enough, or else it was way out of my reach. Gleeps, you can buy anything you want for yourself – better things than I could afford to buy you.”

“Trix, you know me better than that! Anything you gave me would be special, because you gave it to me.” Jim couldn’t believe his special girl was so worried about a Christmas gift.

“Just listen to me for a minute,” Trixie pleaded. She stopped and faced him, placing both of her gloved hands on his chest. “I decided the only thing I could give you that you couldn’t give yourself was a gift of time. Time together, just you and me. Today was your real Christmas gift, even though I did get you a couple of small things. I hope you liked it.”

She smiled, but her smile was tremulous, and her blue eyes were suddenly bright with unshed tears.

Lifting her chin with one finger, Jim stared into her eyes. “Trixie Belden, today was the very best gift I could have received.” He cleared his throat to get rid of a sudden lump. “As my sister would say, it was perfectly perfect.”

For a few moments, the bright moon illuminated the young couple embracing.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight,
Walking in a winter wonderland.


Author’s Notes

7950 words (doesn’t include song lyrics)

This bit of slightly romantic fluff was written as a gift for my wonderful friend, editor, and cheerleader, TrishB. It’s entirely due to her pressure – er, encouragement, that I even considered applying to become a Jix author. Trish didn’t ask for a lot in her giftfic story: “light, fun, touch of romance is nice, a holiday story but no real angst... a happy ending!” Trish, I hope you’ve enjoyed your gift as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Many thanks to my faithful editor, Ronda. She had several great suggestions, and I think I only disagreed with her on one – that’s because I don’t think Trixie cares about fashion ;-).

The characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. I am using them without permission, although with great respect and affection, and am not profiting from their appearance in this story.

Jim’s slightly lopsided grin is a tribute to CathyP’s Jim. He’s canon, isn’t he?

"Winter Wonderland" is one of my favorite light, fun, and romantic Christmas carols. You can read more about its lyrics and history here. I don’t own the rights, not profiting from the use of the lyrics, yadda yadda yadda.

"Home Alone" is a 1990 movie about a young boy who is accidentally left behind when his family goes to Paris for Christmas. Here is a wikipedia article about it. Don’t own the rights, not profiting, etc.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is one of my own favorite Christmas movies! Here is a wiki article about it. Don’t own the rights, etc.

"National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation" is a very funny movie starring Chevy Chase. You can read the IMDB article on it here. I don’t own the rights to it, either!

"Luster of mid-day" refers to the classic Clement C. Moore story, "T'was the Night Before Christmas".

All images are copyrighted and used with permission.

Merry Christmas, Trish!

Copyright 2007-2015 by MaryN.

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