December 25

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

It was good to be home for Christmas, Diana decided. Even if the antics of her siblings were enough to make her appreciate the quiet solitude of her New York City apartment. Larry and Terry were arguing over which new Xbox game they should play first while Mandy and Jenny squealed over the piles of clothing and shoes they'd received. Diana glanced at her own pile of unwrapped presents, pausing to run her hand over the exquisite cashmere sweater her mother had given her. She'd received more presents than she knew what to do with, she was with her family, and yet...

And yet.

The niggling suspicion that something was missing wouldn't leave.

She frowned, disgusted with herself. Had she truly become so selfish that a large loving family and a bountiful Christmas weren't enough for her?

"Hey, Di!" Larry shouted, pushing his brother over and hurrying to load the game of his choice into the Xbox before Terry could stop him. "I almost forgot! There was another present for you underneath the tree. It was hidden behind—hey! Give that back!" In a bold move, Terry had stolen Larry's favourite bean bag chair, sliding it to the perfect position in front of the screen. Before an all-out brawl could commence, Larry tossed a small package in Di's direction.

It landed on top of the cashmere sweater, causing the pile of presents to wobble. The present slid from its precarious perch and landed in Diana's lap. She straightened the mound of gifts, frowning at her brothers as they continued to bicker over both the game and the seating arrangements.

"Who is it from?" Mrs. Lynch asked, looking up from the new cell phone she was attempting to program.

"I don't know," Diana replied, perplexed. Turning the package over, she said, "There's no tag."

"I don't recognize the wrap," her mother replied, studying the package as Diana continued to examine it for clues. "Do you, Ed?" she asked, but her husband was too busy joining his sons in their new game to hear her. "Well, open it!" she urged.

Diana stared at the generic wrap. Mrs. Lynch had wrapped the presents for the children in iridescent white paper, differentiating the recipient only by the colour of the bow and ribbons. She'd even gone to the extent of having the servants help the children wrap their gifts for each other, also in tasteful, colour co-ordinated schemes. How a gift wrapped in inexpensive bright red paper with winking Santas had been slipped under the tree, she had no idea.

Slipping her finger under a loose edge of paper, she carefully lifted the tape holding it together, grinning at the crooked cut and haphazardly placed tape. It strongly resembled what she suspected her brothers' gift-wrapping would look like if they had been left to their own devices. Peeling away the paper, she realized that she was holding a book. A thick, paperback... dictionary?

No. Not a dictionary. A thesaurus.

How very odd...

She opened the front cover, hoping that there would be an inscription of some sort. Instead, a piece of paper fell out. Di, she read, I saw this the other day and thought of you. I know we agreed as Bob-Whites that all of our gifts were to be homemade, so I'm giving this to you anonymously. (Page 78 in case you were wondering. *wink*) Merry Christmas!

It wasn't signed, but, then again, it didn't need to be.

There was only one person in the world who would give her a dictionary. Or, rather, a thesaurus.

The hollow feeling she'd been fighting earlier didn't completely disappear, but Diana did find herself smiling as she hugged the book to her chest and hurried out of the family room and up to her room.

December 26

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

"Wait! Stop!" Diana cried, but her words were hard to understand due to the fact that she was laughing too hard to speak clearly. At least that was the excuse that the Terror Twins would use when she questioned them later, she was sure.

She squealed as another snowball made contact, cringing as the cold, wet torture trickled down her back. She considered slowing long enough to gather enough snow for a snowball of her own, but her brothers were hot on her heels. For a fleeting second, she longed for the days when she'd been faster and stronger than her younger siblings. But those days were really and truly gone, she realized, as Larry and Terry closed the distance and dragged her to the ground in a surprisingly gentle tackle.

She lay in the snow, exhausted from the sprint across the yard. Larry and Terry collapsed on either side of her, and she was gratified to hear that they, too, were breathing heavily. She might not be able to outrun them, but she could at least make them work for it, she thought with a smile.

"That was fun," Larry panted.

"Yeah," Terry agreed. "Wanna try to catch the twins?" he asked, referring to his other sisters, who were currently building what Diana suspected were the most fashionable snowmen she'd ever come across. She'd been on her way to help them when the boys had come out of nowhere, armed with an arsenal of firmly packed snow.

The sixteen-year-old boys scrambled to their feet, managing to send even more snow scattering as they hurried away. Diana dusted herself off, but instead of standing, she lay back in the snow, staring up at the sky.

Pale blue, with milk-thin clouds covering over half of the sky, causing the heavens and horizons to blend together.

But just "blue" didn't describe it properly, she thought, studying the sky intently.

Baby blue? she wondered. Powder blue? Periwinkle?

No, she decided, searching her memory for the perfect match to the shade of the sky.

Diamond blue.

Nodding in satisfaction at having fitted a name to the colour, she stood slowly, dusting more snow from her jacket. She headed toward the house, knowing that she wouldn't be the only one in want of a cup of hot chocolate.


December 27

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

"Hey!" Diana protested, slapping at her brother. "Get out of there! I haven't even added all of the ingredients yet!"

Larry unabashedly licked the mixture from his finger and grinned at his sister. "Still good," he told her, and eyed the mixing bowl as if plotting his next attempt at stealing another bite.

"It'll be even better once it's actual food," she informed him tartly. "Now scoot! Unless, of course, you're here to help?"

He sighed heavily.

"I didn't think so," she replied. Amused at his dramatic disappointment, she said, "Tonight. We'll have some tonight for supper."

Larry's face lit up. "Really?" He licked his lips and looked at the mixing bowl again, though this time it was with anticipation rather than cunning. "Your meat buns are the best, Di," he told her, and leaned down to plant a quick kiss on her cheek. "Meat buns!" he hollered, bolting from the room. "For supper tonight! Did you hear that, Terry?"

Smiling, Diana turned back to the browned ground beef mixture Larry had been pilfering. She'd broken up the chunks of ground beef with a pastry cutter until it was as fine as she could get it. The spices and raw, grated potatoes had been added, and the dough had risen sufficiently. Humming happily to herself, she arranged several baking sheets on the kitchen table and set to work. For the next hour, she pinched off dough, filled it with ground beef, and pinched it closed.

The enticing aroma of baking bread soon filled the large kitchen, and Diana began to hum as she set about tidying the kitchen while the meat buns baked. It was odd, she thought, that the over-large kitchen with stainless steel appliances and walk-in freezer felt homier than the cute little kitchen in her tiny apartment.

But it did. Even though she loved her apartment, and hadn't once regretted moving to New York, there was still something special about coming back home and preparing her favourite foods.

They smelled better.

More enticing? No, that wasn't exactly right. More comforting?


Yes, that was it. Cooking at home felt warmer, and it had nothing to do with temperature.


December 28

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Diana blew on her hands to warm them, smiling despite the frigid temperature. "Thank you, Larry," she said, patting his shoulder as he walked past her and back into the house. "Thank you, Terry," she repeated, and then winced when her brother stood up too quickly and smacked his head against the roof of her Santa Fe. Rubbing the top of his head gingerly, Terry grunted and shoved the last of the boxes into the back of the vehicle.

"There you go, Di," he said. "All set."

He patted the top of the vehicle, as if encouraging it to begin its journey. Rolling her eyes, Di wondered what, exactly, made her brothers so interested in her vehicle. It wasn't as if it were a sports car; it was an SUV. A baby SUV at that! But perhaps it was because the boys were hoping that their father would provide them with a vehicle of their own soon. It was, after all, the dream of most sixteen-year-old boys to have their own wheels.

She smirked to herself, knowing that Edward Lynch was unlikely to reward their pranks and misdemeanors with a car anytime soon.

With last minute hugs all around, Diana said goodbye to her family and began the drive back to the city. She glanced at the radio but quickly rejected the idea of turning it on. Elaine Lynch loved Christmas music, and for the past week Diana had felt as if she'd been caught in a never-ending maelstrom of choirs and crooners putting their personal stamps on every holiday favourite ever written. The thought of a silent car ride followed by a quiet evening in her apartment was, ironically enough, music to her ears.

She was only a few miles out of Sleepyside when she realized that the wind had picked up considerably. Had there been a wind warning? she wondered, frowning. She'd thought to check the weather forecast before leaving but hadn't paid attention to the speed of the wind. Gripping the steering wheel tightly, she sighed as the wind picked up the snow from the neighbouring fields and threw it across the highway, leaving thick, rounded finger drifts in its wake. She reduced speed, but hitting the first drift still jolted her uncomfortably, and she had to work to stay properly in her lane. A car traveling in the opposite direction flew past her, and Di grimaced at the amount of snow the vehicle kicked up, obscuring her vision.

Her many driving lessons with Tom Delanoy kicked in, and Diana started to relax as she found the best speed for the vehicle. She didn't like driving in these conditions, but there was still something oddly compelling about being out on the road on a stormy day. It was almost as if she were trapped in a snow globe, one that had been shaken with vigor.

She felt more alive, her senses heightened...

No. That wasn't quite right.

She felt invigorated.

Better, but still not right.

Another gust of wind pushed against the vehicle, and she shivered, though the car was warm.


That was how she felt. Protected, but not separate from her surroundings.

Nodding, she trained her eyes on the road ahead of her, eager to make the drive home safely.


December 29

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

"No, Mrs. Chan, I haven't seen Bonita." Diana trapped the phone between her ear and shoulder as she stirred the angel hair pasta and then checked on the small fry pan of veggies and chicken. "Do you think she managed to sneak out the fire escape again?"

Her eyes drifted to her own fire escape on the off chance that she'd spot her neighbour's escape artist cat. At first glance the fire escape was empty, a barren wash of white against the dirty grey of the city. One blink later, however, and a spot of black was sitting calmly on the railing, staring at the street five storeys below.

"Oh, for the love of..." Di muttered. "Bonita's here," she said into the phone in a much more civil tone. "On the fire escape." Again. What was it that made the cat so desperate to escape? she wondered. If she didn't know how kind and loving Mrs. Chan was, she'd be certain that the animal was being mistreated. Perhaps it was a case of too much affection?

Not that it mattered. Getting the cat safely off the fire escape and back to its owner was the pressing concern. With a sigh, she disconnected her call from her downstairs neighbour, knowing that she would need both hands to force the window open. It stuck at the best of times and was almost impossible to budge in winter.

"Finicky feline," she groused, struggling to lift the window. Had it been painted shut? She was sure she'd managed to open it during the August heat wave… When it finally did release, the single pane of glass rocketed toward the top of the window frame, bounced back, and narrowly missed her fingers. Di jumped back, startled, and then looked quickly to see if the loud noise had startled Bonita off the fire escape.

No such luck.

Wincing at the cold air seeping into the apartment, Diana leaned out the window and extended her hand toward the cat. Bonita cocked her head to the side, studied the outstretched limb, looked away, and then jumped into her arms without once appearing to meet her gaze.

"You're crazy," she told the cat, cuddling it to her chest as she carefully manoeuvred herself through the window. She hated to leave the window open, but couldn't exactly manage it with one hand, either. With a sigh, she left the window as it was, scooped up her keys from the side table and hurried out of her apartment and down the polished wooden staircase to Mrs. Chan's apartment.

"You found her!" Mrs. Chan exclaimed, scooping Bonita out of Diana's arms and holding it up to her face. "You naughty kitten! You scared Mommy!"

Diana raised an eyebrow and felt a surge of sympathy for the pet. Without a backward glance, Mrs. Chan retreated into her apartment, the click of the door drowning out her tender cooing.

Well, Diana thought, at least she could say that life in her apartment building was always interesting.

Interesting? Well, yes, but it was also... intriguing. Sometimes educational. And always eye-opening.

Yes, that was it. Eye-opening.

Diana ran her hand along the smooth banister as she hurried back to her apartment, hoping that her supper hadn't been completely ruined by the unexpected rescue.


December 30

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Biting her lip, she stared at the envelope on the kitchen table. She raised her hand, hovered over the mail, and then let her hand drop back to her lap as she groaned. It was a simple letter! she reminded herself. A piece of paper. A harmless piece of paper.

Not so harmless if it's a rejection, she reminded herself. Not when she was trying to gain a little financial independence...

But since the news wasn't going to change no matter how long she procrastinated, she took a deep breath and slit the envelope with a heavy pewter letter opener.

Dear Ms. Lynch,
We are pleased to inform you that your collection has been selected to—

The heavy cream paper slipped through her fingers and landed silently on the table. Her collection, a series of sketches she'd drawn of the ever-changing occupants of a particular bench in Central Park, had been accepted to be placed on display at a small but successful gallery.

She leaned back in her chair, attempting to absorb the information. She'd had single pieces displayed in various galleries over the last year, but having an entire collection accepted...

She waited for the euphoria, for the heady sense of accomplishment and validation.

The satisfaction. The contentment.

She was still waiting for them ten minutes later when the telephone rang and she was greeted by her mother's familiar voice. The conversation was light and cheerful, and the sense of uninhibited euphoria Diana had been waiting for was realized when Elaine Lynch shrieked in excitement at Diana's news. She listened to her mother carry on, planning a celebration for her eldest daughter's achievement, and wondered when she would be able to match her mother's enthusiasm.

"I don't need a special celebration," Diana protested when it became clear that her mother was eager to plan an event of epic proportions.

"Of course you do!" Elaine protested. "It's not every day that—"

"Mother, you're all coming in to the city for my birthday," Diana interrupted. "We can celebrate then, can't we?"

There was a moment of silence. "Are you sure that's what you want?" Elaine questioned, her surprise evident. "It's really no trouble to—"

"It's what I want," Diana assured her firmly. "It's not that big of a deal."

But it was that big of a deal, and she knew it. As she finished the conversation with her mother and shoved the phone across the table, she stared at the neatly folded letter. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy celebrations—she'd always loved going out for a special meal to celebrate accomplishments. It wasn't that she wasn't grateful for the support of her family—she owed them everything for their unwavering support of her highly risky choice of occupation. It wasn't that she felt undeserving—her collection being featured was a major coup, and she knew it.

No, it was that she didn't feel anything. This time she didn't have to search for the word that best described the situation. It sat at the tip of her tongue, forced up from the hollow of her stomach.



December 31

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Sniffling, Diana removed one movie from her DVD player and slipped in the second. It was only 8 pm, but she was in her favourite fleecy pyjamas, complete with monster slippers. She'd considered driving out to Sleepyside to ring in the new year, but the Bob-Whites had already scattered and even her brothers and sisters were out with their friends. Her parents had invited her to join them at the country club's New Year's Eve party, but she'd declined, not wanting to spend a long evening with a crowd where the median age was that of her parents.

Instead, she was camped out on her couch, a bowl of popcorn beside her and an assortment of sweets on the coffee table. She'd carefully selected a stack of movies and had plans to make her way through them, pausing only to watch the ball drop. And since New Year's lent itself so perfectly to movie marathons, she'd unearthed her Jane Austen adaptations, determined to watch them all. She'd started Northanger Abbey after supper, and it was time to move on to Emma. She'd follow that up with Pride and Prejudice, and then finish the night with Persuasion. It would be nice if she could sneak Sense and Sensibility in, too, but she had a feeling her list was already on the wrong side of ambitious, even for New Year's Eve.

Ending the night with Persuasion, she decided several hours later, had perhaps not been her wisest decision. It was her favourite of the Austen novels, but there were some days that it hit home just a little too well. Made her yearn for things that were unlikely to be realized. Made her remember heartache best forgotten.

She'd been in love once. And likely still was, but she tucked that thought away as quickly as it surfaced. She'd been separated from that love, though not by a well-meaning but utterly wrong friend as Anne and Wentworth had been, but she still couldn't help feeling that there had been some force, something other than two people growing up, growing apart, that had led to the dissolution of her relationship with Mart.

The sense of nothingness she'd experienced when she opened the letter from the art gallery was gone, replaced by something entirely worse. The only word that could possibly describe how she felt as the old year was ushered into obscurity was...



January 1

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Diana stared at the blank page in front of her. It was January 1, the beginning of a new year, and it was time to write down her goals for the year. Not resolutions, because those were bound to fail. Goals. Or even hopes, she supposed, thinking of some of the more fanciful ones she'd come up with over the years.

Smiling, she flipped one page backward in the notebook and saw the familiar lavender ink she favoured. Her goals for the previous year were outlined in a carefully bulleted list. She traced her finger over the writing, smiling wider when she realized that she'd not only met her top goal from the previous year, she'd outstripped it. She hadn't just increased her presence in a number of small, highly acclaimed galleries, she'd been booked for an entire showing. An entire showing!

Nodding decisively, she turned back to the blank page and carefully scribed the year at the top of the page. Pen poised over the first line, she nibbled her bottom lip and tried to think about where she wanted to see herself in a year's time. More exclusive showings? A new series of sketches completed and shown, either individually or as a group? Earning enough by her art to declare financial emancipation from her father?

She scratched the last goal, remembering her promise to her father that she wouldn't let financial considerations dictate her decisions. Her trust fund was enough to keep her living comfortably for the rest of her life, and he wanted her to pursue her dreams rather than earn money for the sake of earning money.

It made sense, but she still wondered if she wouldn't feel a bit better about life in general if the money that put food on her table and paid the rent on her vintage apartment came from her own earnings.

Sighing, she flipped back to her goals from two years ago. The very first line was her goal to sketch, each week, the occupant she saw on a specified bench in Central Park. She'd done it, too. Every Sunday, rain or shine, she'd taken her sketch pad and situated herself in her favourite corner of the park. Fifty-two weeks later, she'd been able to put a check mark beside her goal. The next year she'd promoted the concept and the pictures and had several pictures shown in various galleries, culminating in the offer she'd received only two days ago.

She nodded decisively, pleased with herself. She'd loved the project, and she was thrilled that other people seemed to appreciate it, too.

But that didn't help her with her current goals.

What she needed was an idea. An inspiration for the coming year. Something to keep her focused, challenged, and growing.

The blank page mocked her.

She'd finished her last project in November, and she hadn't had the flicker of an idea since. Not even a niggling seed of an idea. It had happened before, but always, always, she'd been struck with inspiration after no more than a week of thought. Usually, she had too many ideas for her time. Now, though, there was nothing.

Not even an urge to accomplish something. If it weren't for her New Year's Day tradition of recording her goals, she wouldn't be thinking about her art at all.

The muffled thud the book made as she flipped it closed seemed to echo the one word that bounced around her head.



January 2

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Meticulously stacked pieces of paper. Precisely ordered pencils. Easel positioned to catch the pale winter sunlight struggling to penetrate the beautiful window that had been her deciding factor when choosing an apartment.

Everything was set just as Diana liked it. She couldn't ask for a more perfect sketching environment.

And yet...

She nibbled the end of one of the costly graphite pencils she favoured, even though she'd broken herself, she thought, of the habit long ago.

Don't look at the blank canvass, she reminded herself. If it's intimidating you, look away. Find something else to focus on. Allow your mind to wander, to dream. The words of her favourite professor had helped her many times in the past, and she tried to have faith that they would help her now, too, but she couldn't ever recall feeling so very uninspired. Yes, she'd had moments of artist's block in the past, but it had always been accompanied by a sense of expectancy, a knowledge that even though she had nothing at that moment, it would return to her tenfold in its own time.

Today, and, if she was being honest with herself, for the last six weeks, she'd felt nothing. No impetus to draw. No desire to draw. Nothing.

What did it mean?

Was she merely experiencing a more severe case of artist's block? She knew that other artists did. Knew that they sometimes had periods of months or years when their work was stagnant, dormant. Was that what was happening to her?

But they'd been miserable. Hollowed by the lack of an outlet.

She wasn't miserable.

On the contrary, she'd been mostly happy for the few weeks she'd spent avoiding her easel. She hadn't felt particularly guilty, or stifled.

What did that mean? Had she already exhausted what she'd always dreamt of conveying through her sketches? Was she as superficial as so many people seemed to assume, and had nothing of meaning left to say?

She closed her eyes for a moment, waiting for depression to descend.

It didn't.

When she opened her eyes, her gaze was drawn immediately to the window. Huge, fluffy flakes were falling, adding to the layer of snow that covered her balcony. When Mrs. Chan's cat had escaped, she remembered thinking of the snow on the railing as a barren wash of white against the dirty grey of the city. But that had been wrong, she realized. The snow that fell now was easily brighter, brilliant, almost, compared to the already accumulated snow.

Dormant, she thought suddenly, turning back to the easel. She wasn't experiencing artist's block. She was simply... dormant.


January 3

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

"Happy birthday, dear Di, happy birthday to you!"

"And many more!" Larry chimed in, his newly settled baritone voice comically schmaltzy.

Di clapped her hands and beamed as her mother set a massive cake in front of her and gestured for her to blow out the candles. "Go ahead, dear," she urged. "Your father is going to pop a blood vessel if he can't take a picture soon."

Di looked up to see her father, poised with his brand new camera, ready to capture the moment for posterity. Taking a few seconds to settle her giggles from the serious expression on his face as he fiddled with various buttons, she took a deep breath and attempted to extinguish the flames of the artfully placed candles.

"Ha!" Terry crowed. "You have a boyfriend! I knew it!"

Di looked back at the cake and realized that she had, indeed, left one candle burning. She blew it out with a bare whisper of a breath, smirking when Mrs. Lynch scolded her son for teasing her.

"Will you open the presents now?" Mandy demanded. "I can't believe you didn't want to open them at the restaurant! How can you possibly stand to wait so long? We always open ours at breakfast on our birthdays!" Jenny nodded emphatically, agreeing with her sister.

"It's more fun having cake and presents back here at my apartment," Di pointed out. "This way I get to…" She waggled her pointer finger in a teasing manner as she pointed at the cake.

"No!" Terry yelped. "Don't do it!"

Grinning, Di stuck her finger in the lavish cake that her mother had baked for the occasion and extracted it triumphantly. "Perfect," she sighed, licking the butter cream frosting from her finger.

"Ew!" Larry protested. "That's gross!" He paused, eyeing the cake speculatively.

"Don't even think about it!" Diana chided, pulling the cake closer to her and keeping her hands protectively on the plate. "You know only the birthday child gets to test the icing!"

"Go ahead and cut it," Mrs. Lynch urged, handing her the heavy cake knife she'd brought. The boisterous family fell silent as they indulged in the decadent cake, and Diana smiled appreciatively at her mother. Mrs. Lynch didn't often cook, but she insisted on designing and baking elaborate, homemade cakes for each birthday. This year's cake was a giant teapot, in homage to Diana's newly acquired taste for loose leaf tea.

"Presents!" Jenny insisted. "You have to open your presents now!" She picked up one of the many packages and slid it across the table where it stopped in front of Diana, only narrowing missing her now empty plate.

"Careful!" she exclaimed, but there was little censure in her voice. She might not show it—at least, she hoped she didn't!—but she still felt a thrill whenever she saw a present intended for her. Each gaily wrapped package was a pleasant mystery, one easily and satisfactorily solved.

Smiling the entire time, she opened packages containing an exquisite angora sweater, butter-soft leather boots, and earrings that complimented the sweater perfectly.

"We wanted to get you a pair of snowshoes," Larry informed her. "But Mum said you'd like the earrings better."

Before Diana could assure them that snowshoes would also have been welcome, Mr. Lynch was passing the last gift to her.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Who is this one from?" She'd already opened presents from her parents and each set of twins.

"Open it and see," her father replied, his eyes twinkling.

She raised an eyebrow, but he didn't divulge any further information.

"Open it, already!" Jenny demanded, shoving it a little closer to her.

Giving in, Diana carefully removed the wrapping paper and examined the box. It had obviously been repackaged. Unless someone had thought to give her a new humidifier. Which wouldn't be entirely amiss in the cold and drafty apartment...

"Open it!" Larry urged, echoing his sister.

When she lifted the flaps on the box, her jaw dropped in surprise.

"What is it?" Mandy asked, moving from her spot and coming to stand behind her so that she could peer over her shoulder. "Books?"

"Not just any books!" Diana said, reaching into the box and picking up the first item. "The first six books in the Lucy Radcliffe series, if I'm not mistaken!" She waffled between examining the book and clutching it to her chest. "This is amazing!"

"They're children's books," Larry said, obviously confused.

"Well, yes," said Diana. "But they're good children's books! And look! They have the original illustrations!" She flipped through the first book, pausing at each sketch. "Aren't they wonderful?"

Both sets of twins were now crowded around her, examining the book.


"The answer is yes, they are wonderful," Diana said, laughing. "Just in case you were wondering."

"Okay," Terry agreed, a broad smile on his face. "If you say so, Di."

"I do," she said, stroking the cover of the next book in the box. "I wonder who sent them," she said to herself, picking up each book and studying it. When she spotted the book on the bottom of the pile, however, she knew exactly who had sent them. A copy of the first book in the Cosmo McNaught series made her eyes widen, and she eagerly read the post-it note affixed to its cover.

"Same illustrator" was all the note said, but she'd recognize the writing anywhere. Besides, there was only one person she knew who read Cosmo McNaught books.

She placed the books on her bookshelf carefully, resolving to clear a place of honour for them. She couldn't remember the last time she'd taken so much pleasure in a birthday present. The enjoyment of celebrating with her family was gift enough, but this, this…


That was the only word for it.


January 4

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Her tea was cold, she realized as she swallowed with a grimace. Glancing at the clock, Diana did a startled double take. She'd sat down with a fresh cup of tea to read one chapter of the first Lucy Radcliffe book over an hour ago. Instead, she'd been unable to put the book down until she'd finished the very last page.

She'd forgotten how exciting the mysteries were and how much she enjoyed following the exploits of the main character. No wonder Trixie had been obsessed with them when they were younger! Though the idea of a female, eighteen-year-old spy was, perhaps, a tad preposterous…

Still, she admired the strong female character and her determination to rely on her own intelligence and skills to complete the tasks set her by the government.

They were good books, she mused. Perhaps not fine literature, but full of life lessons taught in such a way that honour and integrity, intelligence and hard work, were treated as natural responses to life's problems.

She liked that.

She liked even more that the characters weren't achingly perfect. Lucy made her share of mistakes, but she always picked herself up and moved on, unwilling to let anything keep her from her goals.

Setting the cup of tepid tea aside, she reached for the next book in the series, eager to reacquaint herself with more of Lucy's adventures. It had been years, after all, since she'd read them. And even then, she'd borrowed the books from Trixie and Honey, and paid more attention to the illustrations than to the actual book.

Today, though, she wanted more than to study the sketches of a talented illustrator. She picked up the second book in the series, marvelling at the beautiful cover art. She couldn't remember the exact plot of the book, but she remembered the illustrations perfectly. She'd never liked this book quite as much as the others; the mystery had been fine, but she hadn't liked the thief turning out to be Lucy's childhood friend who had moved away. No, she wasn't in the mood to read about people who had grown apart, she decided, and set the book down.

Diana's eyes drifted to her bookcase and the shelf where she kept the few books she'd retained from her childhood and teen years. She hadn't so much as glanced at them since shortly after she'd moved into the apartment. They were children's books, after all.

But somehow...

Without thinking, she selected a book from the shelf, grimacing when she saw the truly terrible cover art. What had the publisher been thinking, allowing such a cacophony of gaudy colours? She'd loved the actual story, something about a supernatural journey through space and the power of love, but the cover art alone had been enough to dissuade her from picking up the book very often.

Not today.

Today, she wanted a good story, and from what she remembered, this book would do nicely.

Ignoring the hideous cover, she flipped open the book to the first page, thinking that this sort of radical thinking, the notion of reading a book for its content rather than to learn from its illustrations, was oddly…



January 5

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

It was time, Diana decided, contemplating the six foot Christmas tree that dominated her living room. Time to begin the process of stripping the tree bare of the eclectic assortment of ornaments she'd collected over the years. It was the first step toward packing Christmas away for another year, and it was always the hardest.

The work of hauling out her tree, assembling it, and painstakingly placing the ornaments just so was always a thrill. It held all the anticipation of the season. Reversing the process, however, was a completely different story. Once she started, she knew, it would actually be somewhat cathartic. Carefully wrapping each ornament in tissue or bubble wrap was akin to making a promise to herself, a promise that Christmas would come again, that the ornaments would be required once more.

And just as she enjoyed remembering the story of each ornament as she placed it on the tree in early December, she savoured the memories even more as the ornaments were removed.

Purple blown-glass ornaments from an independent specialty shop she'd discovered her first year of college. She'd treated herself to a set of six, expensive as they were, and had added to her collection gradually, purchasing them to celebrate particular milestones. And then there were the highly polished dark cherry ornaments depicting the nativity. A fellow student had crafted them, and she'd been fascinated with the detail he'd managed to incorporate in each piece.

Finally, there were the ornaments that warranted the most careful of handling. The special ornaments she'd received over the years from friends and family, both handmade and store-bought. When she'd moved into the apartment, her mother had also given her the various ornaments Diana had made in elementary school, and her tree was a happy mish-mash of crudely painted Styrofoam balls, delicate blown glass, and polished wood.

She loved it.

It never took nearly as long as she always feared it would, and Diana found herself humming happily as she returned each ornament to its packaging for safe-keeping. When she finished, the tree was bare save for the strings of white lights. And they were most certainly not coming off. When she'd gone tree shopping, her father had recommended that she purchase the pre-lit variety. He had enough grief stringing the lights every year on the natural tree the Lynch family decorated, he claimed, and he wasn't eager to help Diana with hers. She'd taken the advice, knowing that she didn't have the patience to struggle with tangled strings of light by herself.

Though the Solstice had passed, the days still turned dark early, and the apartment was cast in a dull gloom by the time she finished. Instead of flicking on her floor standing lamp, however, she flicked the switch for the light on the tree and caught her breath.

Without the ornaments, the uneven branches on the tree were more noticeable. But the lights… without the distraction of the ornaments, the lights seemed brighter. They fairly twinkled with enthusiasm, as if they were aware of the absence of ornaments and wanted to make up the difference.

Stripped, but stunning. Bare, but beautiful.

Stark, she decided, was not necessarily a bad thing.


January 6

Diana sat at the kitchen table, well, really, her only table, and cupped her hands around the sturdy mug filled to the brim with steaming coffee. By mid-morning she'd switch over to tea, and she'd drink it from one of the many mismatched fine china tea cups she'd picked up at various flea markets and antique shops, but there was something special about her one and only cup of coffee. She stared out the window, watching as a gust of wind captured snow from the fire escape and swirled it in a vortex. Almost as if it were...


Yes, she thought. That was the perfect word.

She felt a flicker of something. Satisfaction? It was strangely akin to how she felt whenever she caught that glimpse of "something" in her sketches that told her she was on the right track, that she was portraying what she'd set out to.

Her eyes darted to the easel, carefully placed in a corner of the living room.

No. That didn't feel right.

She frowned, trying to ascertain the problem. She had an image in her head. The view from her window, the swirling snow, the dance of the elements...

But it wasn't an image she wanted to sketch, she realized with surprise. There were too many images for that. Because she wasn't just seeing the snow as it was now, but also how Bonita, Mrs. Chan's cat, had left a smattering of paw prints. And how the snow had crept across the highway as she'd driven from Sleepyside to New York.

And yes, she could do multiple sketches, an homage to snow, but that didn't seem right, either, because the images weren't enough by themselves. A sketch wasn't enough, she thought, her eyes widening at the realization. Ever since Christmas, she'd found satisfaction in settling on the perfect word, not the perfect image.

Hands trembling, eyes wide, she lifted the lid on her laptop, her hands hovering over the keys before clicking on a blank word document. She hesitated again, staring at the pristine page on the glowing screen. She looked away, her eyes resting on the book case she'd rearranged to accommodate her newest acquisitions. Lucy Radcliffe. Cosmo McNaught. And then, beside them, looking shabby and worn, a thesaurus.

And there it was. The sense that the blank slate in front of her would not stay blank for long, the knowledge that she had something worthwhile to communicate.

She began typing, first a word or two at a time, and then with increasing enthusiasm until her fingers were flying over the keys.


Author’s Notes

It's my fifth Jixaversary! *thud* Thank you so much to everyone at Jix—CathyP, admins, mods, authors, and members—thank you for giving me a place to call home. *hugs*

MaryN and BonnieH, you ladies are the most wonderful editors and cheerleaders a writer could ask for. Thank you for all your help over the years.

Epiphany was written as part of a collection of short stories featuring Diana for MaryN's (Dianafan's) birthday. Coincidentally, in this universe, Diana shares MaryN's birthday. *grin* This story is unique, however, in that it fits (mostly) in my Persuasion universe as well, and explains some of the secrets that Diana is keeping from the rest of the Bob-Whites.

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Copyright by Ryl, January 2014.

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