“Twas the night before Christmas,
and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse.”
It’s still two nights before Christmas, but you sure wouldn’t think even a mouse would be stirring at this hour, Jim grumbled to himself as he watched the silent figure make its way out the bedroom door. It must be well after midnight, he thought with a groan. Resisting the urge to roll over and go back to sleep, he managed to pry his eyes open wide enough to glance at the digital clock beside him.
12:17. He and his very-pregnant wife had turned in for the night almost an hour ago, so what was she doing up out of their warm bed, when she should have been snuggled next to him under the feathery softness of the quilts and comforters? Trixie wasn’t just making one of her now-frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom. She had just walked right past the bathroom and into the combination kitchen-dining room of the little cottage Matthew Wheeler had had constructed on the grounds of The Moorings for Jim and his family to use whenever they visited Cobbett’s Island. When the entire extended family gathered at The Moorings, as they were this year for the Christmas holidays, there just wasn’t enough room for everyone at the main house.
It’s probably nothing but a little sleeplessness on Trixie’s part, he tried to reassure himself, but who was he kidding? At this point in her advanced pregnancy, he wasn’t about to take any chances. She might be having early labor pains, or her water might have broken, or maybe…well, maybes didn’t bear thinking about with Trixie. You just never knew why she might be getting up in the middle of the night.
Whatever the reason, he knew he wouldn’t get any sleep until he found out. Resignedly, he pushed himself out of the warm cocoon of the quilts, flinching as the chilly air hit his bare chest and legs. He fumbled through the tangle of covers for his robe, but gave up his quest when he heard a door closing elsewhere in the cottage with a decided click. He hurriedly grabbed a t-shirt from a drawer and padded barefoot into the living room of the cottage. Empty. He continued on into the kitchen, but that was empty, too. So where was Trixie and which door had closed?
Jim heaved a deep sigh as he made his way to the front door of the little cottage and opened it. The icy air took his breath away as it seeped through his thin t-shirt and boxers. He held the door open just long enough to get a good look at the petite figure creeping across the snow-covered yard toward the back door of the Moorings.
Now why is she going to the big house at this hour? Jim pondered the question as he quickly shut the door and rushed back to the bedroom, swearing as he stubbed his toe on a chair on his way. Damn, that hurt!
In the bedroom, he pulled on the first clothes he put his hands on, still wondering what Trixie wanted at the big house. Maybe she was meeting Di…or Honey…or… Brian. The thought paralyzed him for several seconds as fear gripped him. Of course, Brian. She needed a doctor, and she sensibly had gone to wake her pediatrician brother.
But why didn’t she wake me? he agonized as he hurriedly donned the rest of his clothes and shoved his feet into sneakers. As he grabbed his forest-green parka from the closet and pulled it on, he gave a fleeting thought to his son. Will Jon be safe if I run over to The Moorings after Trixie? he wondered, torn between concern for his wife and the safety of his son. He hated to wake him in the middle of the night if it wasn’t necessary, but he didn’t like the idea of leaving him alone, either.
“The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.”
He wasn’t quite sure why lines of that poem kept popping into his head, but in this case, they caused him a quick sigh of relief as he remembered that Jonathan was snuggly nestled in the third floor room at the Moorings with his cousins -- the same nautically-themed room that he, Brian, and Martin had stayed in when they had first visited the house so many years ago.
At least one member of this family is snug in bed like he should be, Jim thought wearily as he crunched his way across the snowy lawn toward the kitchen door in the moonlight.
“The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the luster of midday to objects below
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.”
There better not be any sleighs appearing around here, miniature or otherwise, Jim mumbled to himself. And why do I keep thinking of lines from that poem? It makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a movie or something. Some movie. He rolled his eyes as he reached the kitchen door. I can definitely do without all this drama.
As he reached for the doorknob, though, the sound of a car starting up stopped him in mid-motion. He froze, his heart pounding in his chest as he considered the implications.
He raced around to the side of the house just in time to see his own Explorer take a left turn out of the driveway.
“With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.”
Okay, this is getting really annoying. Just shut up! Jim admonished the little voice in his head as he raced back to the kitchen. Still, it did beg the question of exactly who was driving. Had Trixie had enough time to wake up Brian? Were they even now headed for the hospital? And why in the hell hadn’t they woken him up???
He shook his head, trying to clear away the worry that was muddling his thinking. Focus, Frayne, focus, he told himself. He needed to get into a car and follow his wife now. His eyes rested on the little key rack next to the kitchen door. Reaching out to grab a set, he knocked them all onto the floor. Swearing at himself impatiently, he dropped to his knees until he came up with a set. Holding it up to the dim light over the sink, he noticed it was leather and embossed with the Wheeler monogram. Not the limo, he pleaded to himself in exasperation. Please, anything but the limo!
His eyes scanned the kitchen floor one more time as he tried to decide if he should wake up Tom or attempt to drive the limo himself, and he glimpsed a hint of metal under one of the kitchen counters.
Saved!he thought gratefully, grabbing up the keys in an eager swoop and taking off at a jog for the driveway. He wasn’t even sure whose keys they were and he didn’t really care. He just hoped he’d be able to catch up with his wife and Brian; he had wasted precious time searching for the keys, and they had a pretty good head start on him now.
As his sneakered feet hit the shell-covered driveway under the porte cochere, the motion detector floodlight flashed on, and he glanced down at the keys in his hand. The key chain bore the Volkswagen insignia. He looked around him with a growing sense of dismay, taking stock of the available vehicles. Brian’s Mountaineer was a Mercury, Mart and Di had a Chrysler minivan, and Dan’s car was parked over at the Kimballs’. Besides the limo, that just left Miss Trask’s little yellow VW bug.
Perfect, just perfect, Jim grumbled to himself as he rushed over to the stubby little car, unlocked it, and crammed his lengthy frame into the driver’s seat. He hurriedly shoved the seat all the way back as he started the ignition, but as he careened down the driveway he was still reminded of the old joke about how many elephants you could fit in a Volkswagen. What was it? Two in the front seat and three in the back? Just one elephant in this Volkswagen and it’s still cramped, he thought ruefully as he turned left out of the driveway. At least I feel like one in this car.
The little yellow beetle skidded a little as it made the turn onto Shore Road, and Jim forced himself to slow down to the speed limit. The roads were slippery, and the last thing he needed was to go off the road. Or to have Abe White on his tail. He tried to focus his concentration on the icy road, trying unsuccessfully to push his fears about Trixie to the back of his mind.
Pessimistically, though, he searched the sides of the road, as well as the road ahead, for his fire engine-red Explorer. If I can skid on the road, so can they, he told himself, trying not to picture the car lying in a ditch on the side of the road. At least Brian’s driving, he told himself, trying to take some reassurance from the fact that his responsible brother-in-law was at the wheel.
He shook his head as he came to the intersection at Winthrop Road, unsure of which way to go. When Trixie’s parents had made the decision to spend this Christmas overseas with Bobby and his new wife, and the Wheelers had invited everyone to The Moorings for the holidays, he had been a little worried about what would happen if Trixie went into labor prematurely. With Brian’s help, and unbeknownst to Trixie, he had mapped out a route to the nearest hospital. The only problem was that the nearest hospital was in Greenpoint, and Jim was pretty sure that the ferry service ended around midnight. Now he hesitated, unsure whether he should go there and make sure, or to head over to the new Samuel Holmes Medical Center. There’s probably no one there at this hour, either, he agonized to himself, banging his strong fists on the steering wheel in frustration.
I’ve got to keep going, he told himself. I’ve lost enough time already, and I’ll go crazy if I have to go back to The Moorings and just sit around waiting for someone to call. He turned the car onto Winthrop Road, following that onto Grand Avenue, and down to the ferry dock. As he approached the dock, he was chagrined to find it completely in darkness, except for one or two dim streetlamps that accentuated the deserted wharf and the softly swirling snow.
Jim swore under his breath as he turned the car back onto the road, heading toward the center of town and the new medical center. As he passed by the library, though, his eyes widened. His Ford Explorer, its fire engine red color standing out against the white snow and the soft glow of the streetlamps, was just in front of him. He breathed a sigh of relief as he followed the four- wheel-drive vehicle through town. I guess they’re going to the medical center after all, he thought, just barely resisting the strong urge he had to honk his horn loudly to attract the attention of his wife and brother-in-law.
The last thing I want is to give Brian any kind of a reason to go into a skid, he reasoned to himself, or Trixie any more reason to worry.
He had no problem keeping close behind the car in front of him as it approached the medical center. He put on his right indicator and prepared to turn, but he shook his head in complete bafflement as Brian drove right past it, instead continuing on through town.
What in the…? he thought. He racked his brain, trying to think where they could possibly be going. Maybe the ferry on the other side of the island? But surely that one had stopped running by now, too.
I guess I’ll find out soon enough, anyway, he told himself resignedly as he continued to follow the vehicle in front of him to the other side of island. He shifted restlessly in his seat, unsuccessfully trying to find a comfortable position in the cramped interior in the little car, and also attempting to find a way to get rid of the tension and worry that held his muscles taut prisoners. The tiny vehicle offered him no way to release the strain, though, so he had to content himself with tapping his left foot restlessly against the floorboard of the car as he drove.
Luckily, the island was small and the trip only took about five minutes, but it seemed like an eternity before the car he was following so closely pulled up in front of a building near Pebble Beach.
What the hell? Jim asked himself as he took in the scene around him. Unlike the ferry dock, the building they had stopped in front of teemed with life. Laughing couples and groups of young people swarmed in and out of the little wooden shack, and a flashing blue neon sign proudly proclaimed the name of the establishment.
Jimmy’s Place. Jim stared at the sign in amazement. He shook his head, rubbing his sleepy eyes before he took another look, but the whole incredible, unbelievable scene was still there, clear as day.
He glanced back at the car in front of him just as the front door on the driver’s side opened, and a petite, but front-heavy figure, well-wrapped in a red plaid winter poncho, emerged from it.
His emerald eyes blinked at the familiar figure in disbelief. Trixie! Trixie had driven here? But where was Brian? His eyes searched the car in front of him in vain. There was no one else in it. His eyes swiveled back to his wife, as without a backward glance, she slammed the car door shut and disappeared into the swell of the crowd entering Jimmy’s Place.
He sighed heavily to himself as he managed to extract himself from the VW, stretching his long legs and arms for just a minute in the cold air before following his wife. The concerned frown that had furrowed his brow a few minutes ago turned to one of anger. What was Trixie doing here, of all places, in the middle of the night? Was it another one of her mysteries?
She’s eight months pregnant, for crying out loud, he complained to himself as he slowly made his way toward the door of the seedy little nightspot. Won’t she ever learn?
He pulled open the door of Jimmy’s Place with more force than was necessary and rushed inside. The noisy, bright warmth of the interior momentarily took his breath away; it was such a sharp contrast to his previous silent, frosty drive. He stood blinking for a few minutes as his eyes adjusted to the brightness, and then he started stalking through the nightspot, impatiently pushing through the throngs of people who jostled him or stood in his way. He ignored their hostile stares, and no one challenged him. He continued down the length of the place, his eyes checking up and down the aisles and in all the booths for his wife.
This place hasn’t changed much, he thought sourly as he looked around carefully. What a dive! Still could use a good hosing-down and still filled with questionable-looking people. As he reached the end of the building, he still hadn’t spotted Trixie, and he stood still for a long moment, scanning the faces around him, looking for his wife and wondering which one of the people surrounding him had garnered her attention. He shook his head, not even wanting to think about what Trixie had gotten herself into this time. He thought she had grown out of those impulsive actions, but apparently not.
And where in the hell is she? he asked himself agitatedly as he took one last look around without catching even so much of a glimpse of Trixie. She couldn’t have gone out; I would have seen her.
But if she hadn’t left, where was she? He strode back across the room and out the door in several long paces, growing more worried each minute. Once outside, he stopped, looking around at the clusters of young people gathered together, stomping their feet against the cold, and laughing and smoking.
He began to make a tour around the outside of the building, scanning all the faces for the familiar one he was seeking. How could I have lost her? he berated himself. She was right in front of me.
At least the car’s still there, he noticed as he proceeded around to the back of the building. The back was in sharp comparison to the front; it was dark and silent, the raucous laughter of the voices faded into a remote dimness. Jim walked slowly as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, his heart pounding as he wondered whether Trixie had come back here. I hope to hell she didn’t, he thought fervently. It’s creepy back here.
He couldn’t quite repress a shudder, and then he stopped short as he felt a hand on his shoulder. He spun around, prepared to fight, but he quickly dropped his arm as he saw the person standing in front of him. His mouth fell open as he stared at his wife.
“Trixie!” he hissed, as he willed his breathing to return to normal. “What are you doing here? You just about scared the life out of me!”
“Sorry!” his wife said contritely, but a minute later a smile flashed through her baby blue eyes. “But you just looked so funny, sneaking around the building, I couldn’t resist. What were you doing, anyway?”
“What was I doing?” Jim demanded. “What do you think I was doing? I was following you.” His green eyes darkened in anger as he repeated his previous question. “What are you doing here?”
Trixie’s eyes widened as she took in his anger. She swallowed. “Let’s walk around to the front,” she suggested quietly. “It’s kind of creepy back here.”
Jim nodded as he followed her around to the other side of the building. As soon as they emerged back into the noisy brightness, though, he grabbed her arm. “You’re crazy to come here alone in the middle of the night,” he said. “There are all kinds of strange people hanging around here. Do you think you’re fourteen again, trying to catch criminals?”
Trixie pulled her arm away, her eyes narrowing at his outburst. “I wasn’t trying to catch criminals,” she defended herself. Jim remained silent for several long seconds, but Trixie saw the disbelief in his emerald eyes. “I wasn’t,” she insisted. “I have grown up a little since those days, in case you haven’t noticed,” she retorted sarcastically.
Jim swallowed hard, trying to contain his anger. “Well, then, what the hell are you doing here?” he demanded. “Who were you meeting?” He was completely unprepared for his wife’s answer.
“You,” Trixie said succinctly, a world of emotion packed into the one little syllable.
Jim opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again quickly, trying to take in the implications of what she had just said. “Me?” he finally asked disbelievingly.
Trixie just nodded her head in reply, and after a split second, his loud laughter rang out bitterly, causing several people around them to look in their direction. “If you planned to meet me here, don’t you think it would have been a good idea to let me know that? As it was, I only managed to get here almost by accident.”
“Not really,” Trixie said softly, but as she took in Jim’s raised eyebrows, she tried a different tack. “I didn’t really plan to meet you,” she said. “In fact, I hadn’t planned on coming here at all.”
“Then what changed your mind?” Jim prompted. “Because you did end up here, after all.”
Trixie nodded. “I…I just planned on going over to The Moorings to get some cookies,” she said.
“Cookies?” Jim echoed skeptically. “You just wanted to get cookies?”
“Yes,” Trixie said, cutting off any other questions, “but then I noticed you following me…and…I…I…” she swallowed, obviously struggling to get the words out. “I knew you wouldn’t like the idea, and I was sick of you and Brian trailing around after me like I’m a little old lady or something.” She stuck her chin in the air defiantly. “I decided it might be fun to take you on a little secret treasure hunt.”
“A treasure hunt,” Jim echoed. “Here?”
Trixie glanced at the blue neon sign above their heads and nodded slowly. “Jimmy’s Place does have some special memories for us,” she reminded him quietly.
“Yes, but…I mean, Trixie….”Jim sputtered, trying to get the words out. He raked fingers through his red hair. “What could you have been thinking?” he finally asked, the volume of his voice rising with each syllable.
“Shhh,” Trixie cautioned, but Jim ignored her as his temper exploded. “Trixie, do you have any idea what time of night it is? Or how dangerous this creepy dive is, especially when you’re alone at night? Or how slippery the roads are? What if you’d gone off the road and gone into a ditch? You could have gone into labor, and you would have been all alone on the side of the road in the cold and darkness.”
“I…I’m sorry, Jim,” Trixie said, tears forming in her eyes as she took in his anger and worry. “I guess I just didn’t think of those things. I was just tired of being fussed over like a little old lady. I did drive carefully.” Her voice softened as she added, “And I wasn’t really alone. I knew you were in back of me all the time.”
Jim took a deep breath, feeling the anger slowly seeping out of him at her words and the sight of the tears in her eyes. “I guess there was really no harm done,” he finally managed to say, “but did you really think sitting in Jimmy’s Place would be more fun than having cookies in the cozy kitchen at The Moorings? We were having cookies and cocoa before we went to bed, anyway. Why didn’t you just have some then?”
Trixie sighed. “Because you always give me looks when I eat junk food.” She stared at him defiantly. “I know cookies and cocoa aren’t good for the baby, but I’m still human. It’s not easy to watch everyone else having Christmas treats and go without them all the time.”
“But I wouldn’t mind if you had a couple of cookies,” Jim started to protest, but stopped as Trixie held up a hand.
“Don’t bother to deny it,” she argued with a roll of her eyes. As Jim opened his mouth again, she quickly added diplomatically, “And even if you didn’t, Brian sure would have.”
Jim laughed in spite of himself. “Yes, I guess he would,” he agreed with a nod.
Trixie shook her head. “I don’t know how Honey put up with it,” she said. “It must have been like being married to the pregnancy police.”
She put her hand over her mouth, and both she and Jim sobered at her words. “I’m sorry,” she said, laying a hand on his arm.
“It’s okay,” he said automatically. He looked away for a minute, and when he looked back at Trixie, he noticed she was shivering. “We need to get you out of this cold air,” he said firmly. He motioned with his head toward Jimmy’s Place. “Do you really want to go in there and have something to eat and drink?” he asked uneasily.
“I’d rather go back to The Mooring for cookies and cocoa,” she said with a smile, her eyes lighting up at the thought.
Her eyes, how they twinkled!
Her dimples, how merry!
Her cheeks were like roses,
her nose like a cherry!
Jim laughed out loud at the thought.
“What?” Trixie asked, her brow wrinkling with curiosity.
“Nothing,” he said firmly, pulling her into a quick hug. “Cookies and cocoa sound great.” He clung to his wife for a several long moments, kissing her rosy cheeks; her dimples; her pert little nose, close enough to cherry-red from the cold; and finally, the top of her blonde curls as he let relief flood over him that she was safe and in his arms. There really is no one like Trixie, he thought.
Finally, reluctantly, he loosened his grip on her, and they turned toward the cars. “We should get going,” he said.
Trixie nodded agreement, and they strolled slowly toward the vehicles.
“Um, Trixie,” Jim said as they approached the Explorer. “Would you mind driving the VW back? Or maybe we can come back tomorrow for Miss Trask’s car,” he suggested.
Trixie shook her head, sending her tousled curls flying. “I don’t think it would be safe to leave it here,” she argued. “So…” she moved slowly toward the little yellow car, “I guess it would only be fair if I…”
She turned to Jim and pulled out the keys to the Explorer. Jim put out his hand to catch them, but instead of tossing them to him, Trixie turned and hit the unlock button on the chain. “I think it would only be fair if we went back in the cars we came in,” she said, giving Jim a saucy grin as she opened the door of the four-wheel-drive vehicle and jumped in.
Jim let out a deep sigh as he began trudging resignedly toward the little VW, but stopped as Trixie rolled down the Explorer’s window.
“And try to keep up this time,” she said, leaning out the window just far enough so Jim could make out the unmistakable twinkle in her eyes. “I had to pull over and wait for you to catch up on the way over here.” Her window rolled back up and Trixie reversed out of her parking space, easily guiding the big SUV back onto the road.
Jim stared after her in reluctant admiration, and then turned back toward Miss Trask’s car, unable to resist smiling to as he crammed his long body once again into the driver’s seat. There really was no one like Trixie.
Jim took his time driving back across the island, this time even relaxing enough to put the radio on and enjoy the Christmas tunes playing on it. He sang along off-key, “‘Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright…’”
Despite what Trixie had told him about keeping up, he noticed that she drove slowly and cautiously on the icy roads, allowing him to keep her in sight with no problem. As he approached The Moorings, he noticed a solitary light burning in the upstairs tower room. He felt a surge of guilt run through him. As far as he knew, neither he nor Trixie had even bothered to leave a note to let anyone know where they were going. Of course, I didn’t even know where we were going, he reminded himself wryly as he turned into the driveway.
No one would even notice we were gone, he tried to reassure himself as he pulled up under the porte cochere and came to a stop. They wouldn’t have had any reason to even go over to the cottage. His heart raced as another thought occurred to him. Unless Jonathan was sick. He grimaced as he got out of the car, noticing that Trixie was waiting for him at the side of the driveway.
“Hi!” she greeted him with a grin.
“Did you see the light on?” he asked worriedly, grabbing her small, mittened hand and pulling her toward the back door. “I hope Jon’s not…”
“Jim,” Trixie cut him off in mid-sentence, pulling on his arm to get his attention. “That’s Brian and Honey’s room.”
“Oh,” Jim answered monosyllabically. He glanced at Trixie and noticed her blue eyes watching him anxiously, and he pulled her close, giving her a quick, distracted kiss on the lips.
“It’s not your fault,” Trixie said, her voice almost a whisper as they walked into the kitchen and pulled off their hats and gloves.
“I know,” Jim said, busying himself with pulling a saucepan out of the cupboard to heat the milk for the cocoa, trying to avoid the hurt look on Trixie’s face, a look that he had seen too many times in the past few months. He sighed. “But that doesn’t make it any easier.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Trixie answered as she arranged cookies on a plate.
The two were silent for the next few minutes, using the preparation of their after- midnight snack as an excuse to avoid conversation, and contemplating the course of events that had thrown the dynamics of the Bob-Whites off kilter last spring. By the time they sat down across from each other at the antique pine kitchen table, the silence had become less tense.
Jim took a big bite of a decorated sugar cookie and chewed thoughtfully for a minute before turning to his wife and bringing up the topic they must have discussed hundreds of times over the past few months. “So,” he said with a grin, “what are we going to name the baby?”
Trixie rolled her eyes. “Do we have to talk about this again?” she asked.
“Well, the big day is only a month away,” Jim pointed out. “And after this scare tonight, I can’t help thinking we should choose a name before this baby decides to make a surprise early entrance into the world.” A smile lit his emerald eyes as he added, “She might have a flair for the unexpected like her mother.”
Trixie blushed slightly as she smiled back. “Were you really worried?” she asked.
“Yes,” Jim answered. “You gave me quite a scare.”
“Sorry,” Trixie said softly.
Jim nodded in acceptance of her apology, reaching across the table and taking her small hand in his in response. “I’m just glad you’re okay.” He glanced down at her protruding belly. “And the baby, too.”
Trixie gave his hand a squeeze before dropping it so she could take a sip of her cocoa. She sighed blissfully at the feel of the velvety hot liquid on her throat. She took a second sip before asking, “Do you really think the baby’s going to be a girl?”
Jim shrugged. “I don’t know why, but for some reason, I keep thinking that.” He laughed. “But maybe it’s just wishful thinking because there are so many boys in the family already.”
Trixie smiled. “There’s really only one more boy than girl now, with Emily,” she reminded him.
Jim shook his head. “That’s true,” he said with a chuckle. “I guess the boys just make so much noise when they get together that there seems like more of them.”
Trixie laughed along with him. “That’s definitely true,” she agreed. “Alyssa can give them a run for their money, but Hannah’s quiet and Emily’s really too young yet.”
“Although I’m sure she makes enough noise in a different way.” Jim paused for a minute before continuing. “It will seem funny to have a baby crying after all these years,” he said with a thoughtful glance at Trixie’s belly.
“It will seem wonderful,” Trixie corrected fervently. “We’ve waited a long time for this.”
Jim nodded, but couldn’t help adding with a twinkle in his eyes, “I’ll have to remind you of that when you’re up with a screaming baby at 3 in the morning.”
Trixie rolled her eyes. “I can handle it,” she said confidently. “We survived Jon’s colic, didn’t we?”
Jim nodded, remembering all the nights they had been up with the tiny baby, when nothing they could do seemed to have an effect on his unhappiness and discomfort. Sometimes in the middle of the night, he still imagined he could hear the howling cries.
Trixie, across from him, stopped in the middle of a bite of cookie. “Do you regret this?” she asked, watching his face carefully. “I mean, it’s been a long time since we’ve done diapers and three a.m. feedings. It won’t be easy adjusting to all of that again.”
Jim looked at Trixie in some amusement. “Don’t you think it’s a little late to be asking that question?” he teased.
Trixie’s lips curved into a smile, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Seriously,” she said.
“Seriously,” Jim answered softly, “I survived three a.m. feedings once, and I guess I will again.” He pushed himself up from the table, walking around to where Trixie was sitting and pulling her up into his arms. “I can’t wait for this baby to be born,” he said, holding her as tightly against him as he could manage in her advanced stage of pregnancy. “I want to hold her and look into her eyes and stroke that downy-soft hair.”
Trixie sighed with contentment as she leaned into his strong body. “Me too,” she mumbled against his shoulder.
They stood that way for a few minutes before Jim finally moved back slightly to glance at his watch. “It’s nearly two a.m.,” he stated. “We should get to bed. We need to store up sleep for those three a.m. feedings.”
Trixie laughed as they gathered up their dishes and carried them to the sink. “It’s a good theory,” she said as she rinsed their mugs and Jim ran a sponge over the table, “but it won’t wash. At least not for me. The baby doesn’t let me get much sleep now as it is. It’s like I’m in training for after the birth. She…or he,” she corrected judiciously as she pulled her red plaid shawl back over her head, “always thinks the middle of the night is the perfect time to do gymnastics.”
Jim laughed as he put his arm around her shoulders and planted a kiss on top of her unruly curls. “Let’s check in on Jon before we turn in,” he suggested.
“Are you trying to kill me?” Trixie joked as they walked toward the front hall. “Making me climb two sets of stairs in the middle of the night?”
Jim turned to her, concern evident in his eyes even in the dim glow of the moonlight flickering in the windows. “Why don’t you wait here, Trix?” he suggested, waving toward one of the comfortable chairs in the adjoining living room. “It will only take me a sec.”
“I was only kidding,” Trixie assured him. “I’m fine.”
Jim nodded reluctantly and the two proceeded to the third floor. Trixie opened the door to the boys’ room cautiously, and they crept quietly inside. The neat bunks had been replaced by two bunk beds, but other than that the décor was unchanged from when the Bob-White boys had stayed here all those years ago. The beds were still decorated with dusky gray spreads printed with blue anchors, pictures of sailboats still graced the walls, and mats of woven rope served as scatter rugs on the polished wood floors. Trixie glanced at the bunk bed nearest her. Brian and Honey’s middle son, Corey, was snoring away on the bottom bunk. Trixie gently pulled up the blankets to cover him, stroking his soft straw-colored hair as she did so.
Jim grinned as he glanced onto the upper bunk. There was no sign of Casey, Corey’s older brother, but a small circle of light shone through the covers. Jim carefully peeled back the blankets to reveal Casey, curled up under the covers fast asleep, a lock of wavy dark hair falling across his face. He still clutched a book in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Jim shook his head as he switched the flashlight off and handed it to Trixie before he reached for the book. Why am I not surprised? he thought with a smile as he noticed the title: Rookie of the Year. He handed the book to Trixie, who placed it, along with the flashlight, on a low dresser near the beds.
Together, Jim and Trixie turned toward the second bunk. Jim did a double-take when he noticed that the top bunk, where Jon usually slept, was empty. But a quick glance at the bottom bunk reassured him. Both Jon and his cousin Josh occupied the bunk, but Jon was squeezed onto the edge of the bed.
“It’s amazing he can even sleep without falling out,” Trixie whispered. Jim nodded in agreement as he surveyed Jon and his cousin Josh, who was sprawled out diagonally, taking up at least three quarters of the space on the narrow bunk.
“He reminds me of Bobby,” Trixie said with a giggle.
Jim had to agree. Although Josh had inherited his mother’s hazel eyes and honey-colored hair, his limbs still had that chubby, immature look that Jon and his older cousins had already outgrown. Josh had also acquired his youngest uncle’s penchant for getting into trouble at an early age.
At least he doesn’t have the same speech patterns Bobby had back then, Jim couldn’t help thinking as he lifted Jon carefully out of the bunk. He held the little boy close to him for a minute, savoring the feel of his warm, sleeping form in his arms and his silky blond hair resting against his chin.
Jon stirred and drowsy emerald eyes looked up into Jim’s. “Daddy?” he questioned, confusion evident in his small voice. His gaze moved toward his mother as Trixie straightened up from fixing Josh’s covers. “Mommy?”
“Shhh,” Jim answered quietly. “It’s late. I’m just going to put you back in your own bed.”
Jon nodded and snuggled closer to Jim’s chest. “Is it still snowing?” he asked sleepily.
Trixie smiled as she planted a kiss on her son’s head. “I think it’s stopped now,” she answered softly, with a glance toward the window.
Reluctant to put his son down, Jim rocked the little boy back and forth in his arms, glancing as he did so at the weather instruments on the wall near the window. The wind gauge looked pretty quiet, but the barometer was falling.
“The barometer’s falling,” he whispered to his son as he walked back to the bunk. “That means we’ll probably get more snow.”
A faint smile appeared on Jon’s face as Trixie kissed him on more time, and Jim hefted him carefully onto the top bunk, pulling the blankets over him.
“We’re going to have a snowball fight,” Jon murmured sleepily as snuggled into the covers.
Jim grinned. “I know, Champ,” he whispered as he smoothed Jon’s hair against his forehead one more time before turning toward the door.
He held Trixie’s hand firmly as they descended the stairs, thinking about the four boys sleeping soundly in the big room upstairs, dreaming of baseball games and snowball fights. As they passed the second floor, he smiled to himself as he pictured Mart and Di’s twins, Alyssa and Hannah, snuggled underneath the candy-striped bedspreads in the room that Brian had once said resembled the Waldorf-Astorbilt.* There was such a strong feeling of continuity in having the Bob-Whites’ children nestled into the beds they themselves had once occupied in a house that held many happy memories.
He opened his mouth to comment on this to Trixie, but instead contented himself with gripping an arm tightly around her shoulders as they made their way through the downstairs and out the kitchen door into the icy air. I probably wouldn’t be able to explain it very well, he told himself. Trixie snuggled closer under his arm then, and he thought perhaps he didn’t have to; as often happened, she probably was thinking similar thoughts herself.
As soon as they reached their bedroom in the little cottage, Trixie donned her pink flannel pajamas and he pulled off his jeans, sliding under the cool sheets in his boxers and t-shirt. It’s freezing in here, he thought, shivering, as he quickly turned toward Trixie’s side of the bed. She was faced the other way, but he spooned against her, and she nestled her warm body back against him. Jim put his arm around her and she giggled.
“What?” Jim asked, perplexed at her reaction.
“I think the hot chocolate and cookies are just hitting the baby’s system,” she said, a rueful tone to her voice. “Here.” She took Jim’s hand and guided it to a spot on her firm, distended belly so he could feel the little kicks. “Now I’ll never get any sleep!” she murmured with a sigh.
Despite her words though, it wasn’t long before Trixie relaxed against him and her breathing evened. Jim lay contentedly for a long while in the dark, listening to her soft breaths, feeling her warm body next to his, and savoring the minute movements of his baby under his big hands. When his eyes began to close, a single thought drifted through his consciousness before he finally fell into a deep slumber:
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Author’s Notes: I owe huge thanks to Vikki and Kris for VERY last minute edits, and to Carol for her wonderful (also last minute) work with the graphics. The groovy girls rock!
Thanks also to Vivian and Mary N. for giving me a new home for my stories at Vamato. You guys are the best!
This story was written for the fantabulous Susan: an extremely talented writer, an excellent editor, and a fantastic friend. Huge hugs, Susan! (And yes, it is my very first Trixie/Jim story ever, so you know how much I love you, right??!!) I really hope you like it.
The story was written for the first annual Jix Authors’ Secret Santa story exchange. Thanks to Cathymw for doing such a wonderful job of organizing the exchange, and to Terry for posting all the stories, as well as her work with graphics.
There really is a Winthrop Road, right near Shore Drive, on Shelter Island, the island Cobbett’s Island was based on. There is also a Cobbett’s Road (or drive or way, can’t remember which. *g*) The Samuel Holmes Medical Center is fictional, but in my universe it’s dedicated to the memory of our old friend Dr. Holmes. The nearest hospital to Shelter Island really is, as far as I can tell, on the mainland, although I imagine there’s some kind of a medical center that handles births and emergencies, since the winter ferry service really does end at around midnight. Or maybe there’s an emergency boat service. LOL. I have no idea. Anyway, in my universe, Matthew Wheeler bought The Moorings shortly after the first time the Bob-Whites stayed there. Thanks very much to LI Lisa for being the best hostess ever and showing us all around Shelter Island on our visit there several years ago. I miss Lisa. Hugs and thanks, Lisa, wherever you are!
I don’t have permission to use the lines from Clement C. Moore’s classic holiday poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” but I’m not making anything off of it. I especially love Tasha Tudor’s beautifully illustrated version of the poem in her book, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.
This is obviously a future story, and while I won’t say definitely that it’s part of one of my current universes, I won’t exclude that possibility, either. *G* This is part of a three story arc that all take place during the same Christmas at The Moorings. The main story of the arc, Some Star Lit Night, is the main story in the arc, and it tells Honey and Brian’s story during this time, which was only hinted at during this story. I had originally posted the first four parts of it, and I have the fifth and final part almost finished, but Part 3 is currently missing. I’m hoping someone will eventually find a copy of it somewhere and the entire story can be posted because I’m very intimidated at the thought of re-writing Part III! The third story of the arc tells how Matthew and Maddie Wheeler occupy a certain space of their spare time on the island. Hopefully that one will be available soon!
*Brian actually said the Waldorf-Astorbilt in the Cobbett’s Island book, but I assume he meant the Waldorf-Astoria. Even smart, responsible, adorable doctor-types make mistakes sometimes. *g* In a search for the Astorbilt on Google, though, the sixth website that came up was Trixie Belden at Amazon because the girls named on the difficult guest that in The Mystery in Arizona. JC’s reference must have been in this KK’s mind!
Graphics courtesy of Google Images.