December 25th, 7 am...

"Trixie," Dan said, laying his hand on hers before she could wrench open the door of the rustic cabin, "He's fine."

Trixie nodded, snow shaking loose from her sandy curls. "I know that," she said, very close to vibrating with impatience. "But it's Christmas morning and—" She stamped her foot. "Aren't you anxious to check on him, too?"

"Of course I am," her husband assured her. "You know I am. You know it killed both of us to be away from him on Christmas Eve."

"And Christmas morning," she interrupted. "I can't believe we missed Christmas morning!"

"Trix. It's barely seven. The morning isn't quite over."

"No," she agreed sheepishly, running snow-encrusted mittens over her face. "This just isn't how I pictured spending Christmas."

Dan tucked her into his arms. "I know. Are you regretting staying at the cabin instead of Crabapple Farm?"

"Of course not!" she protested. "Are you kidding me? Mart and Di have three sets of twins now. Three!" She shuddered. "And Brian and Honey are there with their two."

"Don't forget Bobby."

"How could I?" Trixie grinned. "The nieces and nephews I could have put up with. A broken-hearted Bobby? Not so much. No, staying at the cabin has been perfect and you know it. I just wish—"

"I know." Dan shrugged. "On the upside, at his age he probably hasn't even realized we were gone."

Trixie nodded. "That's true," she said, though it didn't actually help. "Can we go in now?" she demanded.

Dan's expression softened. "Of course. I just didn't want to startle him. He's probably still asleep. And you know how cranky he can be when someone wakes him up."

"Almost as cranky as you," she teased. "Gleeps, sometimes I could almost think you're related!"

"I'll show you related," he muttered, giving her side a good pinch before reaching past her to open the door. The heavy oak swung open silently, a testament to the sturdy craftsmanship of the cabin, and to Mr. Maypenny's regular and liberal use of WD-40.

"See?" Dan asked, pointing to the grey-haired man asleep in a tattered easy chair. Trixie's attention, however, was on the tiny person sprawled on Maypenny's chest. Her worry and panic faded as she studied the little lump of perfection she and Dan had been blessed with eleven months previously.

"Merry Christmas, baby," she murmured, reaching out to trace the dark tuft of curls that not even Helen Belden could tame. Ryan snuggled closer to Maypenny, a contented huff causing his entire body to rise and fall.

"See? He's fine!" Dan said. He refrained from touching his son, but it was obvious to Trixie that he was just as relieved as she was.

"Yes, he's fine," she agreed, so grateful that it almost didn't even hurt to admit that Dan was right. "Wait," she whispered, studying Ryan more carefully. "Is that the sleeper we packed for him?"

Dan shrugged. "No idea. But I'm pretty sure he had more hair."

Trixie's eyes widened as she leaned closer to the sleeping infant. "You're right!" she exclaimed, no longer whispering. "And does he smell like... Old Spice?" she asked, her nose crinkling.

"Merry Christmas to you, too," Mr. Maypenny grumbled, opening one eye. "And the lad is sporting my company aftershave, I'll have you know." He sat up carefully, adjusting the baby so smoothly he didn't even stir. "Roads clear now?" he asked.

Trixie and Dan nodded, staring at the normally well-kept man. "Mr. Maypenny," Trixie breathed, cocking her head to the side, "Is that applesauce in your hair?"

Maypenny muttered a curse under his breath, stilling his colourful language only when Ryan stirred, giggling as he studied the man holding him. "Yes, you think it's funny," Maypenny grumbled. "Foul smelling whelp."

Trixie and Dan both hid smiles. Maypenny saved his Shakespearean-style insults for those he loved best, and his surrogate grandson had been firmly entrenched in that category from the first time he'd held the newborn infant. Their smiles were rapidly replaced with grimaces when they realized that Maypenny's words had been prophetic.

"Eww..." Trixie exclaimed, wrinkling her nose. "Little Man, what have you been eating?"

Maypenny's smile was wide as he handed the happy, smelly baby to his mother. "Merry Christmas," he said gleefully, obviously happy to hand over his stinky charge.

"Merry Christmas," Trixie laughed, pressing a kiss to Ryan's hair but holding him at a distance. "Maypenny," she said, tilting her head to the side, "Is that duct tape holding the diaper together?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said as he released the footrest on the recliner and stood. Ignoring the pungent fumes emanating from his grandson's diaper (which was, in fact, held together with half a roll of duct tape) he rested his hand on the baby's back.

"What I do know is that we won't be having donuts for Christmas morning breakfast unless I get my backside in gear." He paused, rummaging in a kitchen drawer. "Just in case you need a little help with the diaper change," he said, handing a pair of scissors to Dan.

The new father turned to Trixie, who was staring in consternation at her duct tape swaddled child. "Merry Christmas," Dan whispered.

And despite the feet of black tape separating her child from a clean bottom, Trixie grinned back, her heart light. "Merry Christmas," she whispered back while Ryan tugged her hair and gurgled with happiness.

Twelve hours earlier, December 24th, 7 pm...

"Off with you," Maypenny insisted, holding a sleepy baby against his chest. "You don't want to be late for the service. It'll be crowded too, it being Christmas Eve and all."

"Are you sure you don't want to go?" Trixie asked anxiously, even as she mentally calculated the amount of formula she'd prepared and left in the ice box. "We don't have to go, either."

"Of course you do," Maypenny insisted. "It's Christmas Eve. And I'm sure you want to see how the tree the Bob-Whites decorated looks, all lit up in the dark at the front of the church."

Trixie bit her lip. She did want to see the tree. Badly. And she did want to attend the service with all her family and friends. And it would have been perfect if Ryan's schedule hadn't been turned topsy-turvy by the excitement of being around the plethora of aunts, uncles, and cousins at Crabapple Farm. Ryan was an only child and significantly younger than the next youngest of the cousins, and as such, wasn't used to the noise and bustle of Crabapple Farm when its walls were being stretched. He hadn't napped until just before supper, and it was obvious to Trixie and Dan that the eleven-month-old was in no condition to make it through the Christmas Eve service without disturbing the peace of everyone around him.

"We could always wait and go to the midnight service," Dan offered, but Maypenny shook his head.

"The rest of the crew is going now. And you don't want to mess up this little guy's schedule any more than it already is."

He was right and they all knew it. Still, Trixie couldn't quite suppress the pang of unease she felt leaving the baby behind.

"Get going," Maypenny ordered, ushering them to the door. "At this rate," he said, watching as a few flakes drifted from heaven to earth, "there might not even be a midnight service. More snow coming before morning."

Before Trixie or Dan could respond, he'd shooed them through the door.

"It's just you and me, Little Man," he told the infant. "But your parents will be back before you can say Rumpelstiltskin." Maypenny nodded decisively and turned away from the window, where huge flakes began to fall faster and faster, obliterating the tracks Trixie and Dan had left only minutes earlier.

Eleven hours earlier, December 24th, 8 pm...

"And that, my boy, is how to tell a Christmas story," he said, tapping the cover of his vintage hardcover edition of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. He read the story in bits and pieces every December, pacing his reading so that he would finish either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It was never too early, though, to expose youngsters to good literature, and he was secretly pleased that he'd had the opportunity to share the book with his grandson. Trixie wouldn't have the patience to read Dickens to a baby, and Dan was partial to the movie. It would be up to him, he knew, to make sure Ryan was familiar with the book before he saw the movie. Not that it really mattered. The message was the same regardless of the medium. But it wouldn't stop him from reading to the lad every chance he got.

Even if said lad was fast asleep, and had been for the past three quarters of an hour.

Babies weren't so difficult, he thought, setting aside the book and reaching for his glass of apple cider. Ryan cuddled closer in his sleep and Maypenny felt the Ryan-sized section of his heart expand and grow, just as it did every time he spent time with the lad.

Ten hours earlier, December 24th, 9 pm...

Babies, Maypenny thought, were entirely too small to be capable of making so much noise. It didn't make sense. Tiny lungs. Even tinier vocal chords. How did they do it? Ryan graced him with a particularly deafening bellow, his chubby round face tomato red with fury. Maypenny sighed and glanced at the ice box. He'd hoped that Trixie and Dan would return before Ryan's next feeding, but it was obvious that either the service was running late or that they'd run into some other difficulty.

It was equally obvious that Ryan couldn't care less.

He wanted food, and he wanted it now.

Not unlike his dad. And his mom, truth be told. Dan might be the one known for rivalling Mart in consumption of food, but Trixie was the impatient one.

The Little Man hadn't stood a chance.

"Okay, okay," he soothed, patting the back of the screaming child. "We'll get your milk. You like it cold, right?"

He interpreted the increased hollers as an affirmative response. "Now, now," Maypenny scolded gently. "Caterwauling won't get you your milk any faster." It would, however, make him grateful that his hearing wasn't what it once was.

There was a first for everything, he supposed.

Maypenny rummaged in the ice box while Ryan did his best to throw himself from his arms. "I heard you the first time," Maypenny informed him mildly, grunting as he swung the ice box closed by giving it a good push with his shoulder. "No need to repeat yourself."

He studied the plastic bottle filled with murky white liquid and grimaced. It didn't look at all appetizing to him, but he wasn’t the one who had to drink it, after all.

"Now, then," he said, adjusting Ryan in the crook of his arm despite the child's protests. "I'll give you the milk and the wailing will stop. Are we agreed?"

Ryan squeezed his eyes shut and drew in a long breath. Before the baby could convert the oxygen to another ear-piercing bellow, Maypenny stuck the bottle in his mouth. Ryan's entire body stiffened in surprise and the two stared at each other. The cabin was suddenly blissfully, mercifully silent. Ryan sucked once, his eyes round with interest. Twice. Maypenny was fond of the lad's eyes. He'd been born with blue eyes, of course, as all newborns were. Lately, though, flecks of brown had started to appear, and he knew it wouldn't be long before the blue was only a memory. The Mangan genes were strong in this one.

Just now, however, Maypenny was less than pleased to note that Ryan's eyes were narrowing to slits, and not in a way that indicated he was dropping off to sleep.

"It's milk," Maypenny informed him. "The milk you were crying for. The same milk that your mom and dad give you every day."

Apparently it wasn't, though, and Ryan was more than happy to tell him all about it. He released the nipple of the bottle and wailed, sending a mouthful of milk dribbling down his chain.

Maypenny frowned at him. "That was perfectly good milk," he informed him. "No need to go wasting it." He attempted to insert the bottle between his lips again, but was met with an instant wall of resistance. How was it, he wondered, that the child had barely mastered the coordination required to stand, and yet was capable of clamping his mouth firmly closed the instant the bottle neared his lips. There was no doubt that the lad was highly intelligent. And Maypenny decided that he would be properly grateful for that gift.

As soon as he ate.

When Ryan managed to knock the bottle out of Maypenny's hand and send it flying across the wide plank flooring, skittering to a halt against the cabinet his father had built, Ryan stared at him, as if waiting for his reaction.

"Not a milk man," Maypenny decided. "Have to admit that I don't care for the stuff myself. But I don't suppose your mom and dad would be too pleased with me if I introduced you to a more palatable drink."

Ryan stared at him, his eyes wide, his mouth open. Yes, Maypenny thought grimly, the lad was smart enough. Now that the bottle was out of sight he was more than content to part his lips without releasing a wail at the same time.

Which was somewhat confusing, as he'd been crying for the bottle only moments earlier.

Maypenny's stomach chose that moment to growl loudly, causing Ryan to laugh uproariously. "Oh, you think that's funny, do you?" he asked. "You won't think it's so funny when you're forced to watch me eat while your own tummy growls."

He, Dan, and Trixie had enjoyed a hearty supper of hunter's stew, but they hadn't had time for dessert before they had needed to leave for the service. The Christmas cake was for later, before bed, he decided. In the meantime, though, there was no reason not to indulge in the crab apple preserves Helen Belden had sent over just the other day.

"This," he said, waving a spoon filled with crab apple goodness in Ryan's direction, "is the good stuff."

Ryan tracked the progress of the spoon, watching as it disappeared in Maypenny's mouth. When the older man licked the spoon clean, a trail of drool ran down the Little Man's chin.

"Yes," Maypenny continued, "Helen Belden knows how to make crab apple preserves like no other. You're darn lucky to have her for a grandmother." He froze, realizing he'd just used a bad word in front of the impressionable youngster. Well. The lad couldn't talk yet, could he?

Ryan swung his legs in the plastic booster seat attached to the wooden kitchen chair with such force that the table shook.

"Fresh from the trees Crabapple Farm is named for," Maypenny continued, addressing the lad but deliberately not looking directly at him. Two could play the game of psychological warfare Ryan had started.

"Mm, mm, mmm," he said, taking another spoonful. "Yessirree, this sure beats milk any day of the week."

Tiny fists pounded the table. Still without looking directly at the child, Maypenny placed a small amount of preserves on the tip of his spoon and held it, hovering directly in front of Ryan.

The trail of drool thickened.

Maypenny hesitated. "I don't know. Your mother might not mind if I give you some…" And in a swift move, he inserted the spoon in Ryan's mouth. The child blinked in surprise, his mouth still open.

"Wait for it..." he whispered.

A very long five seconds later Maypenny heard the most beautiful sound in the world. A contented gurgle. His head bobbing in excitement, Ryan smacked his lips together. Maypenny was pleased to note that the majority of the apple preserves had made it into the lad's mouth, though his lips were almost perfectly framed with sweet fruit as well.

Close enough.

"I don't know," Maypenny said. "You've probably had enough, right?"

Ryan turned to him, eyes wide.

"Okay. Just a little bit more."

Ryan squealed in delight, slamming his apple-sticky hands on the table. Maypenny fleetingly wondered how the lad had managed to get his fingers involved—he'd fed him, for Pete's sake!—but he knew he could ill afford a moment of inattention. Ryan did, after all, have the curiosity of his mother, and, he was starting to realize, the stealth of his father. A combination that would no doubt serve him well all through his life. Though it might give his parents a few bad moments, he chuckled. Well. Fair was fair, after all.

Ryan brought his attention back by banging cheerfully on the table, his cherubic face beaming. Maypenny smiled back, relieved at his altered demeanor. It was natural for children to cry, he knew, but he much preferred the good natured version of his grandson. He was a good child, Maypenny reflected. And though he generally held physical appearance to be the least important aspect of a person, he couldn't help but think that Trixie and Dan had created a remarkably handsome child. From his mind-bogglingly tiny toes to his thick, dark—He frowned, studying the beaming child. The lad had had a full head of dark, dark hair only moments earlier. Now, however, there were light-coloured patches. What in blazes...

Maypenny leaned closer and groaned. The lad was bathed in the crab apple preserves.




Especially the hair.

Sighing, he regarded the young man sternly. "Those were perfectly good preserves," he scolded. "Why would you choose to wear them when you could eat them?"

But Ryan merely continued to grin, and Maypenny reflected that the loss of a small amount of preserves was perhaps acceptable if it kept the tot happy. Yes, it would most likely make a bath necessary, but, well, the lad's parents could take care of that, couldn't they?

At peace with the situation, he helped himself to more preserves and then offered the spoon to Ryan, who promptly used both hands to ram the utensil in his mouth. Since most of the preserves also made it into his mouth, Maypenny called it a win.

Gurgling with happiness, Ryan clapped, sending apple preserves flying. Well, Maypenny thought, wiping preserves from his own cheek, perhaps "win" was pushing it. Or not, he thought, returning the boy's smile.

Nine hours earlier, December 24th, 10 pm...

Maypenny stared out the window, holding close the infant in his arms. "That, Little Man," he said, "is what's called a New York blizzard."

They both watched as huge wet snowflakes swirled outside the window. Maypenny sighed. "Now, luckily your mom and dad both grew up here, so they know better than to take chances." At least, he assumed they did. Hoped they did. Prayed they did.

"So we're going to assume that they're waiting until the storm abates before they come home."

Ryan stared up at him, his expression serious.

"They know to stay put," he assured him. "They won't take unnecessary risks."

He only hoped that Dan and Trixie wouldn't decide that spending Christmas Eve with their son was worth the risk of driving in the blizzard. Ryan's head thumped against his chest, and his eyes drifted closed before popping open for a second. When they began to narrow again, Maypenny realized the lad was drifting off to sleep.

Of course he was nodding off. His belly was full of crab apple preserves. One had only to look at the boy to find the evidence of his supper. He should probably bathe the child, he thought, even as he settled into his recliner. But not just now. No, he thought, watching the snow swirl and pound against the window, for now he was content to sit with his grandson and watch the world be painted with a fresh coat of white.

Covering a yawn, he leaned back and made sure that Ryan was secure in the crook of his arm. "We might as well get some shut-eye," he told the soundly sleeping child, and closed his eyes against the storm.

Eight hours earlier, December 24th, 11 pm...

Maypenny woke with a start. Giggling uproariously, Ryan extracted the three fingers that he had managed to jam up his grandfather's nose and waited to be praised.

"You're a card, alright," Maypenny grumbled, massaging his nose and eyeing the child now lounging on his chest. Evidently the lad had woken while Maypenny dozed and had wriggled his way onto Maypenny's chest, eager to wake him. Did the lad never sleep for more than an hour at a time, he wondered? If not, there was something intrinsically wrong with his sleep schedule, he decided, rubbing his burning eyes and trying to cultivate a sense of alertness that was developing too slowly for his taste.

"Okay," he finally said, shaking the last of the sleep from his system. "You don't want to sleep? That's perfectly fine."

Ryan blinked.

"You heard me. You're welcome to stay up for a while," he said, "but we're going to do it on my terms."

Ryan looked skeptical, but that didn't stop Maypenny from shuffling groggily to his phonograph and rifling through his collection of records.

"It's Christmas Eve," he said, and then glanced at the clock. "Well, for another hour it is. And it's not really Christmas Eve without music." Lifting the needle, he slipped a record onto the turntable's spindle and settled Ryan comfortably on his shoulder. For a moment he watched the boy, amazed that it could feel so completely natural to hold a baby. He'd been wary when the lad was born, concerned that the blob of flailing limbs would wrench its way completely out of his grasp. That fear had quickly faded and over the months during their far too infrequent visits, he'd come to cherish the moments when either Trixie or Dan would hand Ryan off to him.

This, though. This being completely in charge of the lad for the past four hours was completely different. Ryan had carved a niche in his heart the moment he'd been born, but tonight , Maypenny realized, that niche was expanding to include his body. Because the way the baby fit perfectly on his shoulder, or stayed tucked under his arm, or asleep on his chest, was now a part of him, and he knew the physical sensation was permanently imprinted. And he knew that he'd most likely miss that sensation a good deal more than he was prepared to admit when Trixie and Dan left to return to their own home, taking Ryan with them.


He'd deal with that later.

For now, he was busy introducing his grandson to Bing Crosby. His eyes locked on Ryan's, Maypenny slow-waltzed around the room, singing along to Sleigh Ride and O Come All Ye Faithful with equal fervor. What he loved best about the crooners was their ability to embrace both the secular and sacred aspects of Christmas, unashamed of either.

"That's the way to do it," he said and spun Ryan in a tight circle. The boy laughed loudly, his head bobbing in excitement, and Maypenny decided there was nothing wrong with staying up a little longer to enjoy the music.

Seven hours earlier, December 25th, 12 am...

"Merry Christmas, Little Man," Maypenny whispered as the last chime of the clock died away. "Your very first Christmas," he said thoughtfully. Not that the lad would remember it.

But Maypenny would.

"You've got a good ear for music," he told the boy. It was true. For the past hour the two had danced around the room, Ryan bobbing his head in time to the music and letting out squeals of delight when each new song began.

"And I've a good nose for trouble," he continued, "and right now my nose is telling me that you are sorely in need of a diaper change."

Ryan didn't appear to be surprised by this intelligence, and Maypenny found that he couldn't be too shocked, either. The lad had done remarkably well to keep his diaper unsoiled for as long as he had. And he seemed to be in good spirits at the moment. With any luck this ordeal wouldn't be too awful.

"Okay, then," he said, making his way to the makeshift change area Dan and Trixie had devised on their arrival. Given the limited space and sparse furniture in the cabin, it was no more than a section of the floor padded with extra blankets and topped with a plastic cloth. Disposable diapers were stacked in towers forming a veritable fortress of privacy.

It occurred to him that perhaps it would not have been a bad idea for him to have paid a little more attention to Ryan's diaper changes.

It wasn't as if it was a difficult concept, he told himself. After all, all one had to do was remove the soiled diaper, clean the bottom (if it was necessary. Which he fervently hoped it wasn’t.), and apply a clean diaper.

It wasn't exactly rocket science. No, he thought, peeling away Ryan's sleeper, it was more like the science of toxic waste management. Perhaps the crab apple preserves hadn't been such a brilliant idea as he'd thought.

"Little Man," he said, carefully wadding the soiled diaper into a firmly packed ball, "that's just foul."

Ryan gurgled as he lay on his back, staring up at Maypenny. Lifting his legs straight up, he clutched at his toes, causing the older man to marvel at the seemingly rubber-like properties of his bones.

"Show off," he muttered affectionately, knowing that he would ache for days if he put himself in Ryan's position. Ryan gurgled and straightened his legs further, showing off his lily white backside. He'd been mooned several times in his life, he reflected, but never quite so adorably.

"Yes, yes. I see that bare bum," he said. Kicking his legs, Ryan overbalanced and tipped to the side, and Maypenny had to act quickly to save one of the stacks of diapers from toppling along with him.

"No need for that," Maypenny scolded, smiling at his young charge. "And there's certainly no need for that!" he exclaimed, watching a pool of yellow collect on the plastic mat. "Ryan! Was that truly necessary?"

Ryan giggled and rolled over onto his back again. A stream of yellow flew through the air, landing on the stack of diapers Maypenny had just rescued from tipping. Probably, he thought wryly, they would have been better off tipping. Maybe a few of them might have escaped.

"Are you quite finished?" he inquired. Ryan bobbed his head in the affirmative, and Maypenny reflected that at least Ryan's impromptu watering of the change station had probably saved them at least one diaper change.

"I can't recommend your methods, young man, but some of the results are acceptable."

With the yellow river contained, Maypenny took the top diaper from a neighbouring stack and frowned at it. There were pictures printed along what he was fairly certain was the waist. Pictures of bears, honey pots, and a tiny pink… pig? stared back at him. He frowned, trying to figure out why something designed to collect human waste required pretty pictures. They were generally covered by clothing, weren't they? And wouldn't the images be upside down for the child wearing the garment? Was the artwork more for the parents, then? He cocked his head to the side. If so, he thought, studying the pictures, they really ought to have put more thought into it. He had no interest in cartoon bears, and he highly doubted that Trixie, Dan, or any other parent with two brain cells to rub together did either. If there were going to be designs on diapers, Maypenny reflected, they ought to appeal to the poor saps who were required to purchase and administer the things.

Perhaps a simple geometric design. Or—he stopped himself. The creation or redesign of existing tools to improve function was a skill he'd cultivated from childhood, but he drew the line at redesigning diapers. No matter how useful a tool they were.

Using a wipe, Maypenny carefully cleaned Ryan's bottom and then turned his attention to outfitting him in a clean diaper. Only he hadn't paid enough attention when he'd picked it up, and he no longer knew which side was the front and which was the back. He turned it over in his hands and decided that it probably didn't matter. The diaper would do what it was designed to do either way.


He unfolded the diaper, biting back a curse when the diaper stuck to him instead of lying flat under Ryan.

"What the..." He wrenched his sweater free of the diaper and glared at the tab of Velcro left behind. Sighing heavily, he set the diaper aside and started over. This time he rolled up his sleeves in an effort to learn from his previous mistake. Only a few seconds later, he smiled in satisfaction at a job well done. The diaper was in place, the Velcro firmly attached. A row of happy yellow bears and pink pigs smiled at him in congratulations. And not a moment too soon, Maypenny realized, hearing and smelling the signs of a very dirty diaper.

"Good timing," he told the lad, and waited a moment to make sure that Ryan had completed his business. "I think we're getting the hang of this," he said, and then made the mistake of looking down. The soiled diaper was trapped at Ryan's feet and Maypenny reflected that perhaps front and back did matter when it came to diapers.

Six hours later, December 25th, 1 am...

Maypenny stood at Ryan's crib, gazing down at the sleeping angel. Even if the poor mite hadn't been exhausted from his interrupted sleep schedule, the bath he'd been forced to endure had put him over. It hadn't been a pretty bath, Maypenny reflected, but it had gotten the job done.


He stared at the lad's dark hair and tried to tell himself that no one would notice that there were still clumps of apple preserves, and that one section had been clumsily hacked off with the kitchen shears, but he wasn't foolish enough to believe that was even a real possibility. Not with Trixie and Dan as his parents.

At least he knew that they would enjoy the explanation. After all, they enjoyed a funny story almost as much as he did. And what could possibly be more amusing than knowing that he'd been incapable of washing the lad's hair without getting his own fingers tangled in his hair. Tangled so badly that he'd been unable to free them without cutting them loose.

Yes, it would be a story that they'd all enjoy. Probably for years to come.

If Trixie and Dan ever made it back, that was.

He walked to the window and stood, his hands clasped behind his back. It was his own damn fault that Trixie and Dan hadn't been in communication with him. He'd had a land line installed in the cabin years ago, but it seemed that even the slightest of snowfalls or thunderstorms interfered with the service. He hadn't been able to get a dial tone since shortly after they'd left.

And he hadn't seen the need for a cell phone.

Well, he did now.

Common sense told him that Dan and Trixie were fine. That they'd had the good sense to stay put in Sleepyside at the church along with everyone else who couldn't get home.

But his heart...

His heart told him that anything could have happened.

He stared out into the night, watching as the snow pelted the window with increasing fury.

Five hours earlier, December 25th, 2 am...

Sleeplessness was something he'd become accustomed to over the past several years. Age, coupled with arthritis, tended to do that to a person. It no longer frustrated him as it had when it first began. No, now when he woke in the middle of the night he simply reached for a book and resigned himself to an hour or so of quiet reading. It wasn't a hardship as there never seemed to be enough hours in the day for spending time with his trusted companions. Yes, books had seen him through the hard times of his life as long as he could remember.

But they were cold comfort tonight.

Cold as the wind driving the snow against the cabin, leaving what he suspected were drifts as high as his waist.

It wasn't like him to fret over the safety of Dan or Trixie. It wasn't that he didn't care. It was more that he just couldn't bring himself to stew over something that might not be an issue. He'd worry when it became necessary, he told himself. And luckily, those times were few and far between, now that the Bob-Whites had made it through their teenage years. So the feeling of unease he couldn't shake was foreign to him, and he wasn't entirely certain he knew how to deal with it.

In his crib, Ryan slept soundly, and Maypenny envied him.

Deciding that he was being ridiculous, he shuffled through the dark cabin, familiar with every piece of furniture, every creak of the floor. A candle in every window, he decided. To guide Dan and Trixie home. Before he could scold himself for the silly, sentimental notion, he struck the match and set each wick aflame. After placing a candle on each window sill, he returned to his recliner and relaxed in the warm glow.

This was better, he thought, but he knew that he still wouldn't be able to sleep. Should he read? No, he'd already finished A Christmas Carol, and it didn't feel right to start something else yet. He closed his eyes, and the glow of the candles followed him, making delicate patterns on the inside of his eyelids. And then he knew what he needed. When he'd been a wee lad, his mother had recited poetry as he drifted to sleep; her version of a bedtime story, he supposed. It was how he'd been introduced to Shakespeare initially, and it was still how he felt the meaning, the essence, of the words best.

But instead of reciting Shakespeare, the words that came to him were older, and more fitting for the situation.

"And in those days," he began, his voice low and strong as he placed a hand on Ryan's gentle rising and falling back, "a decree went out from Caesar Augustus..."

And a great deal later, when his voice was raw and his words become slower and slurred, he slept.

December 25th, 7 am...

Maypenny woke slowly, keeping his eyes closed as he accustomed himself to joining the waking world. He could feel in his bones that it was morning, but still dark. He could also feel in his bones that he'd forgotten to take his arthritis medication the night before, and that he hadn't slept in his bed.

He'd spent the night in his recliner, he realized, recognizing the familiar feel of the cushions. Because Ryan had seemed to prefer an old man's chest to his own crib. And after the last diaper change, he'd been too exhausted to press the issue. Yes, he thought, running his hand over Ryan's back and feeling the duct tape holding his diaper together, the last diaper change had exhausted Ryan, too. He sniffed the air tentatively, but was met only with the aroma of his own aftershave.

It might not have been standard diaper-changing procedure, but when Ryan had filled his diaper—again!—at four in the morning, Maypenny hadn't been able to get the smell out of his nose no matter how clean the boy's bottom was.

A generous application of aftershave seemed to have worked nicely, however. And it was never too early for the lad to learn the allure of the right fragrance.

And if Dan and Trixie didn't want him to use duct tape to hold Ryan's diaper together, then they shouldn't have purchased diapers where the Velcro was about as effective as getting butter to stick to water.

So there.

Eyes still closed, he smiled as he heard impatient footsteps approach the cabin. It wasn't difficult to recognize either Dan's or Trixie's familiar tread, and the sense of relief that washed over him was so strong that for a moment he felt off-balance.

Of course they were fine. He'd known all along that they would be. But it was high time they proved him right.

He listened to them quibble just outside the door and enjoyed the few seconds of peaceful quiet it afforded him. But enough was enough, and it was time for them to come in already.

After all, before Dan had come into his life, he'd had many years of silence in his cabin. Now was the time for laughing, crying, shouting, and teasing… whatever noise came with the people he loved.

Author’s Notes

Merry Christmas! This year I had the privilege of participating in Secret Santa and writing for the lovely PatK. Since this will be her first Christmas with a grandchild, I couldn't resist having a little fun. *grin* Merry Christmas, Pat! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. *hugs*

Thank you to MaryN and BonnieH for editing, and to MaryN for graphicing. A round of fruitcake is on me! *wink*

Images obtained via Google image searches. No rights are claimed and no profit is being made!

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. Story copyright by Ryl, December 2015.

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