Christmas of the Heart

“Read?” Bobby asked softly, thrusting a tattered storybook into his sister’s hands. “Please?”

Trixie’s heart twisted as she looked down at the expression on his face. The eleven year old had grown up so much over the past few months, and it was hard sometimes to remember that he was still very much a child. She smiled as she tucked his new quilt around him and gently sat down on the edge of his bed. “Are you sure? It’s not Christmas eve yet.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “We had our Christmas with Moms and Aunt Alicia tonight.” He swallowed hard. “It was bad enough the year you all went to Arizona, but this year….”

She felt a lump in her own throat. “I know, Bobby. But at least we’ll get to be with Dad and Brian and Mart. And just think – you’ll get to see Larry and Terry and Mallory and Valerie, too, not to mention the other Bob-Whites.”

“It’s going to be weird,” he said. “I’d hoped Daddy would stay here after Thanksgiving, but…” He closed his eyes. “Read, Trixie. Let’s have our traditions here while it still feels like Christmas.”

She blinked back hot tears, but nodded. She opened the book and began to read. “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.”

“Thanks, Trixie,” Bobby whispered when she finished the classic poem a few minutes later. He sat up and gave her a quick hug.

She brushed his forehead with a light kiss and grinned when he made a face. “A little too mushy?”

He nodded, but his eyes twinkled. “It’s okay, though – just this once.”

“Or twice,” she informed him, doing it again. She stood. “Get some sleep. Who knows? Santa may come tonight anyway.”

“Somehow, I doubt it,” he informed her. He sighed. “Sometimes, I wish I still believed in Santa Claus.”

She squeezed his hand, not sure how to respond. She knew it wasn’t a toy or anything tangible that he would have asked Santa to bring. “Good night, Bobby. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you, too,” he replied. “Thanks again.”

“You bet,” she said, switching off the lamp. “See you in the morning.”

She slipped out of the room and walked down the hall to her own bedroom, where she took a shuddering breath before sitting down on her bed. She ran her fingers over the quilt on her bed – the quilt that was so similar and yet so different from the one Alicia had given Bobby earlier in the evening.

She remembered the nights she had come home to find her aunt working on the two quilts; she knew the time and effort that had gone into making them. Unlike the jewelry boxes and sewing kits she had given her niece in the past, Alicia had tailored each quilt to reflect their individual personalities, and Trixie knew the love they represented.

She closed her eyes as she lay back on her pillows, thinking of how much Alicia had done to make the three of them feel at home. No. Aunt Alicia hadn’t just helped them to feel at home, but she had helped them to truly make it their home.

A tear slipped down her face as she recalled the pain in her father’s eyes when he, along with Mart, Brian, and Jim, had come to visit them at Thanksgiving. She knew he had shared Bobby’s hope that the four of them could have lived in Sleepyside as a family again. He had brought it up too soon, however, and Trixie had slipped outside with her brothers and her boyfriend to avoid hearing the argument that none of them wanted to hear. The long weekend hadn’t even ended before her mother had tearfully informed him that while she would make sure Trixie and Bobby spent Christmas with him at Crabapple Farm, she would remain in Moperville with Alicia. Bobby was right, she knew. As much as she wanted to spend time with her dad, brothers, and friends, she didn’t expect it to really feel like Christmas should feel.

She felt the silver bracelet on her wrist and recalled the long conversations she had had with Jim on his two trips out to visit. The first one had gotten off to a rocky start when they found themselves caught up in yet another mystery, but they had worked through it, and she knew their relationship was stronger for it. Her mind went back, though, to Thanksgiving night, when they had sat in the kitchen long after her dad had returned to his motel and everyone else had gone to bed.

“You know it’s never easy for me to admit I’m scared,” Trixie said softly, pushing away her half-eaten pumpkin pie. “You saw them tonight, Jim.” She bit her lip. “She’s not even wearing her wedding band anymore. She did when we first came out here.”

He took her hand. “I’m glad you’re still wearing my bracelet.”

“That’s what scares me,” she replied. “I know you love me, but they love each other, too.” She closed her eyes. “I don’t want to wind up like them.”

“I know promises won’t help, Trixie, even though I’d promise you forever if you were ready for it. But think about this – up until last spring, do you think either one of them regrets that they were ever together?”

She shook her head. “No. Until all of this, they’ve always been so happy together.”

“And look at my parents,” he continued. “They only had eleven years together before my dad died. It’s a different kind of pain, I know, but do you think my mother would have rather have never met him than to have him for only a short while?”

He stopped. “I just realized something myself, Trixie, and I’m sorry. I know we talked about this last month, but I just realized I’m not being fair. As much as I lecture you about being careful, I know you ARE careful. ” He smiled wryly. “I’ve seen you in action. Some of those martial arts moves….” He shook his head. “But I look at you and it scares me to think of losing you like I lost my mother. Just like it scares you to think of what happened to your parents happening to us.”

“That makes sense,” she admitted. “You’re trying to tell me love is worth the risk.”

“Yes,” he nodded. He chuckled softly. “Even though it feels really strange to realize I’m asking you to take chances.”

“It’s strange to hear it, too,” she smiled, squeezing his hand.

A knock on her door startled her back to the present, and she sat up as her mother opened the door. “Are you busy?”

“Just thinking,” Trixie admitted. “I just finished reading to Bobby a few minutes ago.”

Helen frowned. “A Visit from St. Nicholas? But it’s not Christmas eve yet.”

“No, but he’s thinking of today as Christmas,” she explained softly. “We both know it’s not going to be right without you at the Farm.”

“I’m going to miss all of you, too.” A shadow crossed Helen’s face, but she forced herself to smile. “It’s going to be good for your dad to see you, though.”

“I do miss him,” she admitted, “but we’re going to miss you, too.” She took a deep breath. “This may not be the right time, but I need to show you something.” She walked over to her desk and took a thick envelope from the top drawer. “This came in yesterday’s mail.”

“I don’t understand,” Helen said, glancing at the pages in her hand. “I didn’t even know you were thinking about this.”

“I wasn’t,” she said softly. “Susan and Justin talked me into applying just to keep my options open after Mr. Verres offered to write me a letter of recommendation. It’s his alma mater, and I think that’s why I heard back so soon. I still haven’t heard back from the university the boys go to, but this one is only an hour away from here. I’d still be close to you and Bobby.”

“You’ve already given up your last year with your friends in Sleepyside, Trixie. You can’t….”

“I miss them,” she interrupted, “but right now, we’re the only stability Bobby has.” She smiled. “Besides, they have a really good criminal justice program, and it’s not like I won’t have friends here. Susan, Justin, Tedd, well, I think the whole group will probably wind up here.”

Helen sat down beside her. “Still, I don’t want you to rush into anything, sweetie. You’ve been planning on college with the Bob-Whites for years, and I know your dad wants you closer to him.”

“I think I want to do it, Moms. I haven’t told anyone else yet, but I did talk to Jim. He took it better than I’d expected.” She took a deep breath. “Actually, I think he’s thinking about transferring out here for his last year if I do decide to stay.”

“You’ve already decided, haven’t you?” Helen asked. Tears came into her eyes at Trixie’s resolute nod, and she wrapped her arms around her daughter. “There are days I’d be lost without you and Alicia.”

“Merry Christmas, Moms,” Trixie said, returning the embrace. “I love you, too.”

Author’s Notes: If you’re reading this from Zap’s, it may help to know that this is the third story in a continuing universe. The first two explain more of the background, although the flashback is from a story that has yet to be written.

This is a submission for the Happy Holidays IX group writing project for the Trixie Belden Homepage. The quilt is the required element, and I’ve also used a gift (the quilts, and in a sense, Trixie’s decision to stay near her mother for college), a family tradition (Trixie reading A Visit from Saint Nicholas to Bobby), and a holiday food (Trixie’s pumpkin pie in the flashback).

Happy holidays!