Twelve-year-old Diana Lynch reluctantly stood up from her seat on the school bus and trudged to the door. As she passed her classmate, Trixie Belden, she sighed. They had been friends since kindergarten, but lately they barely spoke to one another. Growing up they had spent many afternoons at each other’s homes. Now that seemed like a hundred years ago.

Those afternoons at her house began with Oreo cookies and milk as an after-school snack followed by playing such fun games as tiddly winks or pick-up sticks. There was no playing with Barbies or dressing up in her mother’s clothes. Trixie was a tomboy through and through. It didn’t matter; they always had fun playing together.

When they went to Trixie’s house, the cookies were homemade, often warm from the oven, and there was always something happening. Her friend had two older brothers who were constantly tormenting and teasing her. Trixie often complained about them but Diana knew that Trixie really adored her brothers.

When they were in second grade their moms had each given birth to boys. Bobby Belden had been born with blue eyes and blond curly hair. Her twin brothers, Larry and Terry, had the same dark shiny hair that she had.

Trixie and Diana would often commiserate about how having baby brothers could be such a pain. They always cried or needed their diapers changed. Their mothers were both so busy with the babies that they didn’t have time to spend with their daughters like they used to.

The apartment that Diana and her family lived in had been tiny with three people living in it but with two additional babies there never seemed to be enough space.

All that had changed about a year ago when her father had made it rich off of something he had invented. At first Diana had been excited about moving into a large home and having a backyard that she could play in. The home was built out near where her friend Trixie lived. She dreamed of raising chickens, growing a garden, and traipsing over to the abandoned Manor House to go sledding in the winter like Trixie had talked about.

Diana was never sure what happened, but their friendship quickly waned after they moved. Trixie came over once but she seemed overwhelmed by the butler, formal dining room, and cook. It didn’t help that Diana’s mother was constantly telling her she needed to make friends with other people of their new social standing.

Well, it was winter now. Christmas break had started and she was already dreading the two-eek break they would have. As she walked up the driveway, Diana thought of all the Christmas traditions she and her mother had shared over the years.

Christmas break always started with decorating the tree. While most people started putting their trees up right after Thanksgiving, the Lynches had always waited until later in December. In their small apartment, it had been too hard to keep the younger kids from playing with the tree and her mother had always insisted on a real tree but hated vacuuming up needles all month. In the past, they had gone to a cut-your-own-tree farm so it would be fresh through New Year’s Day.

Tonight, they would be decorating the Christmas tree. She was looking forward to everyone bundling up in their winter clothes and traipsing through the woods to find the perfect tree. It would be fun to do something with her dad. He was always so busy and often didn’t get home from work until after she was in bed.

When they got home with the tree, her dad would it in the stand and string the lights on it. At least now they could afford to buy new lights every year and not have to worry about strings of lights that wouldn’t light up.

While her dad was putting up the tree, her mom would be in the kitchen making hot chocolate and popcorn. She would set out a bowl of cranberries, along with construction paper, scissors, glue, needles, and thread.

When everything was assembled, her dad brought out the box of ornaments. Then the fun began. Her mother would start by picking up an ornament. She would comment on where it came from or any significance it had. Whether it was a hand-blown glass ornament that had been on every Christmas tree since she was born or the macaroni ornament Diana had made in kindergarten, her mother treated them the same.

Her mother would hang the ornaments and her dad would set up the record player and start playing Christmas albums. Her parents had a running argument over Christmas music. Her mother tended toward traditional carols like “Do You Hear What I Hear?” while her father preferred ones that had become popular from movies like “Silver Bells”. So they would alternate albums.

Diana’s job was to make the paper chains and try to keep the older twins occupied. Her mother would set up a playpen for her younger twin sisters, Amy and Allison, to play in without getting under foot.

Once the music was started her father would join her at the table to string the popcorn and cranberry garlands.

It was always so much fun. There would be laughter and teasing. Her dad would always say he thought he heard sleigh bells and hoofbeats and wondered if the elves were checking on them.

Those fun memories put a spring in her step as she walked up the driveway. She entered the imposing front door of the house she now lived in. It still didn’t feel like home. She longed to yell, “Mom, I’m home!” but she knew that Harrison would have a fit and the nurses that watched her twin brothers and sisters would come racing down the stairs shushing at her. No one was in the entryway, so she made her way up to her bedroom suite.

Her bedroom was almost as big as the apartment they had once lived in. It had two double beds, a sitting area and an attached bathroom that included a spa tub and separate shower. The closet was as large as most bedrooms. It was filled with frilly dresses, school skirts, and matching sweater sets. Somewhere, hidden in a drawer, were a few pairs of jeans and summer shorts. If Harrison had his way she’d wear dresses or skirts every day. The room was blue and gold with heavy drapes.

She resisted the urge to throw her backpack on the floor, step out of her school clothes, and throw them in the middle of the room. She knew if she did that Harrison would be at the door in thirty seconds, scolding her for not picking up after herself. Some days she swore he had x-ray vision and ESP.

Carefully, she removed her school clothes and tossed them in the hamper. She found a pair of wool slacks and a lavender sweater to wear. She bounced down the stairs, heading for the kitchen to find something to eat. She stopped dead in her tracks when she entered the formal living room.

Sitting in the front bay window was the ugliest Christmas tree she had ever seen. It was one of those metallic silver trees that was decorated only with gold bows. Instead of lights on the tree there was a spotlight that shown on the tree. A disc rotated different colored lenses. In Diana’s mind, it was the tackiest thing she had ever seen.

“Oh, there you are,” her mother said as she entered the room. “What do you think of the tree? Isn’t it gorgeous?”

Before Diana turned to meet her mother’s eyes, she wiped the tears from hers. “It’s something,” she replied. “I thought we were going to decorate the tree tonight, as a family, like we always have?”

Caroline Lynch hesitated, “Oh, darling, the tree didn’t need to be decorated. It came from Macy’s in the city. They came out and assembled it and set it up. Isn’t that great?”

Diana turned, tears running down her cheeks. “You mean we’re not going to string popcorn and cranberries and make paper chains this year?”

“You didn’t really want to do that, did you?” her mother said.

“I guess not,” Diana replied. “Are we going to make Christmas cookies tonight then?”

“Didn’t I tell you? I found this cute little bakery that has the most wonderful cookies. I ordered 12 dozen cookies from them. They will be delivered next week.”

“You mean we’re not going to bake and decorate sugar cookies this year?” Diana asked. She tried to hide her disappointment.

“With all of the changes this year I just thought it would be easier if we didn’t. Besides if we bake, the twins will make a huge mess in the kitchen. The cook wouldn’t like that,” her mother explained.

“Isn’t that what she’s paid for?" Diana pointed out. “Seems to me we should be able to do whatever we want in the kitchen.”

Mrs. Lynch sighed. “It’s not that simple. The cook came highly recommended by Harrison. If we did something to upset her enough to quit, he would probably quit, too.”

Diana didn’t think that would be such a big problem. Between the cook and Harrison, you would have thought they owned the house. So many rules to follow.

“What about wrapping presents?” Diana asked. “At least this year we won’t have to wait until the twins are asleep. Their nurses will take care of them while we wrap.”

Mrs. Lynch beamed. “That’s taken care of, too. I had the stores wrap them. They are going to send them over on December 23rd.” In all of her excitement, she didn’t notice how hurt and disappointed her daughter was.

Without saying another word, Diana turned and headed up the stairs to her bedroom. She threw herself on her bed and stared at the ceiling. It was times like this when she wished her dad had never struck it rich.

When they lived in their apartment they didn’t have a lot of room and there were often times when they had to do without, but at least they had fun and spent time together.

Now her dad spent long days in the city, often leaving before the sun rose and returning late in the evening, after dinner had been served and her homework had been finished. Her mother was worried about getting accepted into the Country Club and what the women of Sleepyside thought of her.

As for the twins, the nurses were so strict she could only spend a few minutes with them after school. They had them on a strict schedule and were not flexible about it.

She stared at the ceiling for several more minutes. Then an idea came to her. She was not going to wallow in self pity. She was going to do something about it. It would involve breaking the rules a bit but she didn’t care; it was for a good cause.

She went to her desk and found a stack of multi-colored construction paper, scissors, and scotch tape. She cut the paper into long strips and then began taping them together into a long paper chain.

Her next project took a little more planning. She glanced at her watch and realized dinner would be in a few minutes. She would have to hurry. She stepped out of her slacks and pulled the sweater over her head. Without thinking she stuffed them under her bed, promising herself she’d hang them up before she went to bed.

She would never get used to dressing for dinner. It seemed so senseless. She barely ate anything because she was so afraid that she would spill something on her clothes. She got enough of Harrison’s evil eye throughout the day. She couldn’t imagine what he would say if she spilled sauce on herself.

While she would have liked to skip down the stairs, Diana slowly walked down them as if making a grand entrance.

She slipped into the dining room chair next to her mother. The chair at the end of the table that her father usually occupied remained empty.

“Your father called and said he had a late meeting,” her mother explained.

So it was just Diana and her mother at the large dining room table.

Conversation was very stilted as Harrison served them each course of the meal. Part of it was all of the formality but most of it was because Diana still felt hurt about the Christmas decorations.

As they were finishing the meal, Diana asked, “Would it be okay to have some popcorn tonight? I’d like to eat some while I watch TV.”

Diana’s mother briefly spoke to Harrison and then said, “Cook will make some and bring it up around seven thirty. Make sure you don’t spill it all over the carpeting.”

Diana could barely contain her excitement. Even if her mother didn’t want to carry on the tradition of stringing popcorn she would. Now she just had to find a needle and some strong thread. She tried to recall where she had seen some. She remembered her mother had lost a button on a jacket last week and had to sew it on at the last minute. That had been in the foyer. Diana smiled as she remembered her mother looking around to see if anyone was watching and then lifting up the cover of a porcelain box and hiding it there.

Diana excused herself from the table and headed back to her room. She stopped in the foyer and checked the box. Sure enough, the needle and thread were still there. She quickly snatched them up before climbing the stairs.

She changed out of her formal dress and into her pajamas. It was still early but she wasn’t going to go anywhere. It didn’t make sense to change back into her slacks. She picked up her notebook and started making a list of other things she wanted to do.

She wanted to make cookies. It was a good thing she had been helping her mom for years. Last year she had done most of the baking herself with her mom’s supervision. With her twin sisters being so young, it was hard to keep them out of the batter and from making a mess of the kitchen.

Finally, she wanted to make something for her parents. They had always made something in school to give their parents but this year she wanted to do something special. She would have to think of something extra special.

When Harrison brought the popcorn up, she quickly turned on the TV and pretended to grab a few pieces as she turned back into her room. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was on. It was kind of hokey but she still liked watching it every year. In some ways, Diana felt like she belonged on the Island of Misfit Toys. She just couldn’t fit into the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

She sat down and started to string the popcorn. By the time the special had finished she had a string of popcorn about ten feet long. She tied off the string and found a shoebox to store it in.

She would have to wait for a couple of hours before she could start her next project. That would have to be done in the dead of night. She set her alarm for one in the morning and laid down to rest for a few hours.

When the alarm went off, Diana sat up and tried to get her bearings. She tiptoed down the stairs and into the kitchen. She realized that she didn’t have the recipe for the sugar cookies they had made in the past. Then she remembered that her mother had insisted that her recipes be stored in the kitchen above the stove. She pulled a step stool out and climbed up to reach the recipe box.

Quickly, she went to work mixing up the batter. As the batter chilled, she looked for the cookie cutters her mother always used. She loved them. They were plastic with a top on them that made indentations in the cookies to give them detail. There were several Santas, a rocking horse, a train, and Goldilocks and the three bears.

She didn’t know where to start to look for them. With her luck her mother had decided that they were not fancy enough for the new house. She opened the cupboards that held most of the baking pans the cook used. Cook tended to make layer cakes and cream pies for dessert. She didn’t like making cookies or bars because she thought they weren’t fancy enough for the household.

They weren’t in those cupboards. Diana was stumped on where they could possibly be. She knew they wouldn’t be in the wine cellar. She’d only been there once, but all that was in there were rows of wine in the temperature controlled room.

She checked in the pantry and was about to turn back when she spotted a cardboard box on the very top shelf. The box looked familiar and Diana’s pulse started to race in anticipation. Turning around, she spotted a step stool. Opening it up, she set it next to the shelf and climbed up. She had to reach, but finally she had the box in her hands.

She took it into the kitchen and set it on the countertop. Slowly, she opened the lid and peeked inside. A wide smile came across her face as she saw that not only were the cookie cutters there but also some cake decorating tools. She would really be able to do a nice job on the cookies. Her mother would think they came from a fancy bakery.

Diana quietly worked through the night. She made just one batch of sugar cookies. She would have liked to make more, but she didn’t have enough time. By the time they had been baked, cooled, decorated, and placed in containers that would not smash them, she had enough time to clean up the kitchen.

Diana was able to sleep in until nine thirty when her mother tapped on her door.

“I promised Larry and Terry that I would take them to see Santa at Crimper’s Department store,” her mother said as she pushed open the door. “Would you like to go with me?”

Diana jumped out of bed. “I’ll be ready in twenty minutes. This will be so much fun. Are we going to take the girls, too?’

“I thought of it but then I didn’t know how they would behave,” she replied.

“Oh, let’s, Mom,” Diana pleaded. “With my help, we should be able to. We can take the stroller for Allison and Amy and I can hang onto Larry and Terry.”

“Okay, if you think we can handle all four of them and Santa too, let’s do it.”

It took more than a few minutes to get everyone dressed and out the door. Mrs. Lynch wanted to dress the girls in their Christmas outfits. Larry and Terry did not want to have anything to do with the adorable suits and ties she had bought for them and settled for nice jeans and matching green sweaters. Diana wore a pair of black dress pants with a red cowl neck sweater. The five Lynch kids would look adorable with Santa.

With a lot of struggle, they got the four little kids into the limo and strapped into their car seats. Diana rode in back with the kids while her mother rode up front with Harrison who was driving. Larry and Terry wiggled and squirmed, complaining the entire ride how their seatbelts pinched. Amy and Allison sat quietly in their seats. They were so excited to see Santa.

Harrison pulled up to the front of the store and let the six of them out. He then went and found a parking spot and would join them later.

As the group entered the department store, Larry and Terry could hardly contain their excitement. The decorations were bright green, red, and gold and all shiny and sparkly. Diana had to hold on tight to keep the two from running off and touching everything.

Santa was set up toward the back of the store. That meant they had to walk through almost every department. Diana suspected that had been done on purpose. People would spot something that interested them and would buy it. For Diana and her mother, it was a nightmare as the boys wanted everything in sight.

As they neared the Santa display, they saw there was quite a line. Diana spotted Trixie who was standing with her mother and her brother Bobby. Diana shyly waved to her and she waved unenthusiastically back. Diana thought that Larry and Terry were excited but Bobby was practically jumping out of his skin. He kept yelling “Hey” and wondering if he could have a Christmas stocking that was orange and purple instead of green and red. Diana thought a purple stocking would be pretty but one with orange as well would be just too much.

Fortunately, Santa’s helpers were very good at their jobs and they got people through the line with a minimal wait. Visiting with Santa was quite interesting. Mrs. Lynch wanted a picture with all five of her children and Santa. Amy took one look at Santa and broke out in tears. Never one to be left out, Allison soon followed suit. Larry and Terry had a different idea. They decided to see if Santa’s whiskers were real. Unfortunately, for Santa, they were. Diana tried to rein in the two boys while her mother tried to soothe the little girls. They never got a picture taken. Finally, Mrs. Lynch suggested that they try again another time. Santa quickly handed each child a candy cane, wished them a Merry Christmas and when the family left, he gave a huge sigh of relief. His hat was tilted and his red suit looked a little worse for the wear. He straightened himself up and looked at the next child that wanted to visit with him. There was Bobby Belden with his blonde curls and impish grin demanding, “Where is Rudolph?”

As they were heading out of the store, Diana spotted a drawing set complete with water colors, acrylic paints, charcoal pencils and media. When she saw it, an idea struck her. She called to her mother that she would be with her in a minute.

Bending down to look Larry and Terry in the eye, she said, “I need you to be on your best behavior as I buy these art supplies.”

“What’s best behavior?” Larry asked as he started to run away from her.

She quickly grabbed both his and Terry’s hands. “It means that you need to stay by me and not make any trouble. If you do, I’ll take you on an adventure when we get home.”

For once, the two little boys were on their best behavior as Diana purchased the art kit. By the time they had caught up with her mother, Amy and Allison were buckled in their car seats. Larry and Terry climbed into the limo and didn’t fuss when Diana buckled them in.

When they got home, Diana took the boys up to the nursery and spoke to their nurses about doing something with them in the afternoon. The nurses didn’t put up a big fuss. Diana went to her room and quickly changed into jeans, a sweater, ski jacket and boots. She hurried back to the nursery and helped get the two boys dressed in their snow suits.

Once they were all bundled up, she took the boys down the back staircase, through the kitchen, and into the garage. There, in the back corner, she found the toboggan her father had bought several years ago for Christmas. While she had been struggling with the toboggan, she spotted a hacksaw hanging on the peg board in the back of the garage with an assortment of other tools. They must have been put there for when the handyman came to fix things. She knew her father would never use them, even though he had used them throughout his life. After a little struggle, she managed to get the toboggan out of the garage and onto the snow.

The boys were so excited they couldn’t wait to go sledding.

“Diana,” Terry cried. “I want to go first. Can I get on now? Where are we going?” The words tumbled out of his mouth almost faster than he could form the words.

“What’s that?” Larry asked, pointing at the hacksaw.

Carefully, Diana set the toboggan down in the snow and then began to explain. “We are going to make a surprise for Mommy and Daddy. You need to sit still on the toboggan while I pull you.” For once, the boys listened and obeyed.

Looping the hacksaw around her arm, she reached her other arm for the rope and began to pull the boys down the hill behind the house. She was careful to not let the toboggan race out of control and into the woods. When she got to the woods she helped the two boys off and they headed along a path that ran into the woods.

Diana was looking for something. Then she spotted it. It was a spruce tree about five feet tall. Not as tall as the Christmas trees they had in the past but one that she thought she could handle. She got down on her hands and knees and began sawing the tree at the base. When it was almost cut through she made sure the two boys were out of the way so it wouldn’t fall on them.

“Timber!!!” cried the two boys as it tipped over in the snow. Getting the tree onto the toboggan was a challenge. Both boys wanted to help but kept falling down in the snow. Finally, they got it loaded onto the toboggan and began the long trek up the hill.

Diana hadn’t decided where she was going to put the tree. Then she remembered the enclosed terrace. No one used it this time of year, so she could set up the tree and no one would notice.

As she pulled the tree up the steps, she crossed her fingers that the door would be open. Luck was on her side and the terrace door was open. Quickly, she pulled the tree into the room, stepped back out and shut the door.

She then took the twins by their hands. “Now, this is a secret for Mommy and Daddy, a special Christmas present. Do you think you can keep a secret?”

The two boys nodded their heads, wide-eyed with excitement. “We promise,” Terry said.

“What’s a secret?” Larry asked.

Diana sighed. This might have been a mistake. The two boys would never be able to keep quiet about their adventure.

“A secret means that you can’t tell anyone about this. You can’t tell Mommy or Daddy or the nurses,” she patiently explained.

“Okay,” said Larry. “I won’t.”

Diana wasn’t sure if they actually understood but decided it was better not to make a big deal about it.

“Let’s go inside and see if we can find a snack,” she suggested.

They made their way to the back service porch where the three removed their boots. Then they headed up the back staircase to the second floor and Diana returned the twins to the nursery. Amy and Allison were down for a nap so they tried to be very quiet. When they had removed their outerwear, the nurses placed glasses of milk and a plate of cookies in front of them. Today Diana felt welcome in the nursery.

When they had finished their snacks, Diana kissed her brothers good-bye and then headed back to her bedroom. She took out the art supplies that she had bought earlier in the day. She knew she had to be extra careful and not spill any paint on the carpeting. Picking up the small canvas that was in the kit, she began sketching the picture that had been in her mind since the day before. For the rest of the afternoon she sketched and painted. By the time she was ready to dress for dinner the picture was almost complete.

She had just finished cleaning her brushes and putting away the paints when there was a knock on the door. “Miss Diana,” Harrison said through the closed door. “Dinner is ready.”

“I’ll be there in a minute,” she said. She rushed to change into a dress and raced down the stairs, almost skidding to a halt as she entered the dining room like a sedate princess. Both of her parents were already seated as she quickly slipped into her chair.

“How was your day, dear?” her father asked.

“Okay. I took the boys outside sledding and then had snacks with them. It was a nice afternoon.”

“Is there something green on your face, Diana?” her mother asked.

Diana blushed, then picked up her linen napkin and rubbed her right cheek.

“No, dear,” her mother said. “It’s on your left side under your eye.”

Diana tried again, hoping to get the paint off her face without another incident. She didn’t say anything else but picked up her fork and started to eat the salad that had just been set in front of her. She kept her eyes focused down on her plate.

The rest of the dinner was eaten in stilted conversation. Her parents talked about the upcoming Country Club Christmas party. Or rather her mother talked about the party and all of the so-called important people that were going to be there. Her dad just nodded his head and made a few comments so that her mom would think he was listening.

Harrison, as always, hovered over Diana’s shoulder, waiting for her to make some sort of etiquette faux pas. Diana picked at her food, barely eating anything. As soon as the last course had been finished, she excused herself and headed back to her bedroom.

She wanted to make something for the twins for a gift but was having a hard time coming up with something. She thought back on how much fun she had with Larry and Terry this afternoon and decided that sometimes time spent was a much better gift than a new toy or stuffed animal. The kids wouldn’t be able to read what she wrote but she put together coupon booklets for time spent with the kids. Reading books, spending time outside, eating dinner with them. She just hoped the nurses were okay with it.

Now that she had the gifts out of the way, she needed to finish her plans for getting the tree up and decorated. She was just about ready to give up when there was a knock on the door. She quickly hid her projects under her pillow and called for whoever it was to come in, thinking it was probably Harrison checking up on her.

To her surprise, it wasn’t. Jackie, the upstairs maid, poked her head in the room. “I was just checking to see if you needed anything before I left for the night.”

Diana smiled. Of all of the staff, Jackie was her favorite. She never criticized her and always had a smile on her face. She started to reply that she didn’t need anything when an idea took hold.

“There is something you can help me with,” Diana said. Jackie entered the room expecting to be asked to get something from the kitchen. Diana explained what she needed.

Jackie nodded her head in excitement. “That will be perfect. It’s just what this house needs. I should be able to pick most of the stuff up tomorrow and bring them on Monday morning. Meet me in the enclosed terrace at eight and I’ll have everything for you.”

Diana opened her pocketbook and took out some bills and handed them to Jackie. “I hope this is enough. If it isn’t let me know and I’ll reimburse you.” Impulsively, she hugged the maid before she scurried out of the room.

Sunday afternoon, Diana spent much of her time in her bedroom finishing up her gifts and making more decorations. She made angels out of large paper clips, beads, and ribbon that she had found in a box that had been shoved in the back of her closet.

When her parents left in the evening to go to dinner at the country club, Diana snuck into her parents’ room. Normally she never would have thought of entering her parents’ room but she was on a mission. She remembered that her mother had put a box with their Christmas decorations in her closet when they moved in. She just hoped her mother hadn’t decided to get rid of them.

She almost squealed with excitement when she found the box, way in the back of the spacious closet, on the top shelf. She then snuck all of her decorations down to the terrace. Everything was ready for the morning.

Diana was so excited she could hardly sleep. She was more excited than she had been when she was younger and waiting for Santa.

She woke early. After changing into jeans and a sweater, she crept down the stairs and somehow managed to avoid Harrison and the cook.

Jackie arrived early with her packages.

“Did you have enough money?” Diana asked as she helped the maid with her packages.

Plenty,” Jackie replied as she handed Diana the change. “Let me help you with the tree. It can be difficult putting a tree in the stand.”

Together the two somehow managed to get the tree in the stand and close to straight. They giggled as they struggled to get the tree upright. Diana was surprised at how happy she felt. It had been too long.

Jackie had to get to work but that didn’t deter Diana. She pulled out the strings of colored lights that were in the bag of goodies Jackie had brought. She wrapped them around the tree, using a critical eye to make sure the entire tree was covered in lights.

When that was complete, she opened up the box of treasured ornaments and began hanging them on the tree. With each ornament a memory came to mind. There was the silver ball that her mother had painted “Diana’s First Christmas” on with the year. There were similar ornaments with the twins’ names on as well. Ornaments that Diana had made in kindergarten and grade school. The fragile ornaments that had been on every single Christmas tree her mother had ever had. There was a series of crystal ornaments that her dad had purchased for her mom over the years.

There was the angel that went on top of the tree. Her dad had always put it there after the rest of the tree had been decorated. She set that aside hoping that tradition would be continued. She took the paper chains and popcorn garland and draped them on the tree. The final touch was the tree skirt that her mother had made years ago. It was a felt skirt with a nativity scene sewn on it.

As she stood back and admired her efforts a tear came to her eye. It was finally Christmas. Now she just had to wait until Christmas Eve. She only hoped no one went out on the terrace. She looked both directions as she exited the room. What she didn’t see was Harrison checking up on her. She also didn’t see him enter the terrace after she left.

For two days Diana worried about whether someone would discover her surprise. She didn’t dare go into the terrace and draw attention to it. She tried to stay out of Harrison’s way but that wasn’t possible. She could swear that he was following her. Every time she left her bedroom he seemed to be hovering by her door and not so subtly following her down the stairs.

She tried to spend more time with the twins. Fortunately, the nurses were in better moods and didn’t get upset when she visited. She was careful not to get the twins all excited but did take the boys out to play in the snow a couple of times. The nurses seemed to actually like this. It was probably because when they came back inside they were exhausted and it didn’t take any convincing for them to take their naps.

On Christmas Eve, Diana could barely contain her excitement. They would be going to the early children’s service at five o’clock. She planned to show her parents her surprise after that. They normally didn’t open gifts until Christmas morning, so her parents wouldn’t be expecting anything.

The church service was beautiful and all four twins were on their best behaviors. It was like they knew that Santa was watching them. As the congregation exited the church to strains of “Joy to the World”, Diana saw her friend Trixie. Shyly, she greeted her but Trixie had her hands full keeping her brother Bobby from climbing into the nativity scene.

On the way home Larry and Terry were all excited. They wondered if Santa had come while they were at church. Their mother assured them that he didn’t come until everyone was fast asleep. The two boys didn’t like that idea at all and started to pick on each other. On impulse Diana started singing “Santa Clause is Coming to Town”. To her surprise her dad soon joined in and by the time they were pulling into the driveway everyone was singing along.

Diana beamed. It was the first time she had felt like a family in months. Maybe this would be a good Christmas after all.

As they were removing their coats and helping the little ones with theirs, Diana got the courage to speak. “Mom and Dad, I have something to show you.”

“What is it, sweetheart?” her father asked.

“Come along,” Diana said as she led the way to the terrace.

“Surprise,” she said nervously as she opened the door. The tree lights had been plugged in and twinkled in the dark room. Jackie must have made a special trip out to plug them in after they left for church.

Her parents gasped in delight. “How did you do this?” her mother asked.

Diana shyly smiled. “I was just a little sneaky. Larry and Terry helped me cut down a tree from the woods behind the house. I made the decorations and Jackie did some shopping for me to fill in the rest of the tree.” She walked over to one of the matching tables that flanked the fireplaces. There was a plate of cookies. It contained some of the sugar cookies Diana had made but also some of her other favorites including peanut butter stars, butter balls and fudge. A carafe of hot chocolate was next to it along with a note.

Diana read it aloud. “I saw what you were doing on the terrace so Cook and I decided to contribute. We found Mrs. Lynch’s old recipes and made the ones that looked the most used. Hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas. Harrison.”

“Oh my goodness,” Mrs. Lynch replied. “I can’t believe that you went to all of this trouble.”

“You’re not mad?” Diana asked. “You were so excited about the silver tree and the decorations from Macy’s and the cookies from the bakery and not wrapping presents, I didn’t know if you’d like it.”

“It’s perfect,” her dad replied. “I didn’t realize how much I missed these traditions until I walked in here.”

“There’s one more thing that has to be done,” Diana said. She picked up the angel and handed it to her dad. With the twins watching, Mr. Lynch carefully placed the angel on the top of the tree. Quietly, Diana began to sing “Silent Night” and her parents joined in.

“This is the best Christmas ever,” her mother replied. “Because you reminded me of what’s really important.”

“I have one more present for you,” Diana said. “I know we usually don’t open any until Christmas morning but I think you should open it now.” She reached behind the tree for the canvas she had wrapped yesterday.

Together her parents carefully unwrapped the gift. The both gasped as they saw the painting she had done of their Christmas tree in their old apartment. It had all of the precious ornaments on it.

“This is beautiful,” her mother said. “I’m going to hang it up our bedroom so that every morning I will be reminded how much I love our traditions. Merry Christmas, Diana.”

  stories home  


Author Notes

Merry Christmas, Deanna (Cestmoi). I hope you enjoy this story. I had fun trying to figure out how Diana spent the Christmas before she found the Bob-Whites. I tried to incorporate a few of your memories.

A HUGE thank you to Mal who patiently waited for me to get this done at the last minute.

Another HUGE thank you to Bonnie, Julie (jstar8) and Annette (tbjffan) for editing at the last minute.

Word Count, 6,087


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