This fanfic is a Secret Santa Story Exchange written especially for the lovely Wendy. Ever since she became a member of Jixemitri, Wendy has been a shining example of what a Bob-White should be. With a heart as stretchy as the walls of Crabapple Farm, she’s quick to help any Jixster in need. She already has been a tremendous blessing, to me, and it was my desire to write a story worthy of such a special lady. I’m sure I failed miserably, but at least I gave it the old college try!
Wendy, I tried to incorporate some of your favorite holiday elements, as well as a hearty dose of the things you love about the Trixie Belden series. Most of all, I wanted to emphasize the Bob-White spirit, since you have so much of it. I tried to include a little bit of all the good stuff—a pinch of mystery, a dash of comedy, a smidgeon of happy tears, and even a teensy bit of mush thrown in for good measure. Merry Christmas, my darling friend!
BTW, I hope you enjoy your cameo at The Cameo, Wendy. J
“Cut, cut, cut!”
Wendy Marshall practically had to yell in order to be heard above the boisterous laughter of her youth group. Although she clearly meant business, the twinkle in her eye belied her stern tone. Years of directing Sleepyside Community Church’s annual Christmas pageant had taught her that one must have a sense of humor when working with teenagers. Wendy’s methods proved effective; her charges loved her as much as she loved them, and the youth group thrived under her care. Since she and her husband had never been blessed with children of their own, she enjoyed working with the church’s teenagers. It was a challenging job, but it helped fill the empty void in her heart.
The play she’d written for this year’s program, “The Greatest News Story Ever Reported,” told about the birth of Christ as seen through the eyes of a reporter for Middle Eastern News (MEN). The cast had been practicing for several weeks, but there were still a few rough spots which Wendy hoped could be ironed out by tomorrow night.
Blessed with a hearty dose of the gift of gab, as well as an excess of personality, Mart Belden was a natural to play the part of the lead character, on-the-scene journalist Glad Tidings. Unfortunately, Mart was having too much fun being a cutup to seriously hone his thespian skills. With this being the next-to-last practice before their Christmas Eve premiere, Wendy was worried that this year’s pageant would be a flop.
“Mart, let’s try that again from the top,” she directed. In spite of her dwindling patience, she kept all traces of exasperation out of her voice, but it was a struggle. For the hundredth time since they’d begun practicing, she wished she’d given Diana Lynch a part in the play instead of asking her to sing. Wendy suspected that if Di had been there, Mart would’ve pulled off an Oscar-worthy performance every practice.
Although he was finding it difficult to say his lines correctly, Mart was a talented enough actor to hide his mischievous streak and feign confusion. His innocent expression would’ve fooled most people into thinking he was a perfect angel. “Did I mess up my line?”
“Yes, you most certainly did,” Wendy affirmed good-naturedly. “You’re supposed to say, ‘There you have it, folks, straight from the mother’s mouth.’ ”
“Oh,” Mart murmured as he scratched his chin in a thoughtful manner. “What did I say?”
“You said ‘horse’s mouth’,” Wendy told him.
“Oops, I’m sorry.” In spite of his apology, Mart had a cheeky grin on his face. “Since that line’s referring to Trixie’s character, I always get mixed up. For some reason, my darling sister reminds me more of a horse than a mother.”
His almost-twin shot him a murderous glare. “If I were you, I’d watch it, Walter Cronkite,” Trixie warned. “I have a feeling that the Lord might get mad if you refer to his mother as a horse.”
“Oh, contraire, fair Beatrix. I beg your pardon, dear sister, but I most certainly did not allude to the Virgin Mary as an animal of the equine species,” Mart argued. “Let the record show that I called you a horse.”
Trixie stiffened her spine and placed her hands on her hips, a sure sign that she was ready to rumble. “Yes, but I’m playing the part of Mary, and—”
“Okay, let’s keep all fistfights out of the sanctuary,” Wendy said, only half-joking. “You two can settle this after you get home. That way, your mom and dad can officiate.”
“But…But… But Mart called me a horse, and I’m…I’m the Mother of God!” Trixie sputtered. She concluded her rant with her most indignant sniff.
“Look at the bright side, Trixie,” Dan teased. “If we decide to make a gag reel of all the bloopers we’ve had during practice, this scene will definitely make the cut.”
Trixie shifted her ire to Dan, who had been chosen to play the part of the archangel, Gabriel. “Mangan, you might be wearing wings and a halo, but you aren’t fooling anyone into thinking you’re an angel. Why, you’re no better than that evil brother of mine, and he’s the spawn of Satan!”
Mart shook his head in disgust. “Trixie, Trixie,” he clucked. “This is the Christmas season, so could you please refrain from maligning Brian in such a vicious manner? Why, he’s not even here to defend himself!”
“Brian?” Dan repeated, his brows arched in surprise. “Don’t you mean Bobby? If any Belden is the son of the devil it has to be Bobby.”
“Nah, that’s too obvious,” Mart disagreed. “It’s always those innocent-looking ones that you’ve got to keep your eye on.”
Dan’s onyx-colored eyes twinkled with mirth. “Ah, that’s a very good point. Now that you mention it, I have to wonder if Trixie should be cast as Judas if we do an Easter program.”
“Argh!” Trixie clutched a fistful of sandy curls. “You two are…are…are… Ooh! I can’t even think of a word that’s bad enough that I’m allowed to use in church!”
Dan assumed the angelic look he’d perfected during his early years of Catholic school. “Hey, what did I do?”
“You’re best friends with that idiotic almost-twin of mine, and that’s enough!” Trixie fumed. “After all, you know what the Bible says about evil communions corrupting good manners!”
“That’s evil communications, Beatrix, not communions,” Mart corrected ever so helpfully.
“Whatever!” Trixie bristled.
By this time everyone was completely distracted, and Wendy knew it was pointless to continue. They’d already practiced the entire play several times, and she feared this behavior was a sign that her cast was burned out.
“All right, kids, I think it’s time to call it a night,” she quickly interjected before there was any bloodshed between the Beldens. “We’ve gone over the play a few times already, and everyone seems to be getting a little cranky. Just make sure that you’re here tomorrow at 4:00 so we can run through it a couple of times before the midnight service.”
Her announcement was met by an enthusiastic round of applause by the cast.
“And don’t forget,” she added before the exodus started, “the ladies are serving pizza and snacks in the fellowship hall.”
The cast dispersed as the teenagers split up into their usual small groups. Trixie trotted off to one of the classrooms in search of Honey and Diana. Her two best friends were using their musical talents for the pageant. While the cast rehearsed, Honey and Diana had been practicing the songs they’d selected to perform. At the beginning of the play, they would harmonize to the traditional carol, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” and in closing Diana would sing “Ave Maria” while Honey provided piano accompaniment.
Once all three girls were reunited, they joined Mart and Dan in the church’s fellowship hall to enjoy some hot chocolate, pizza, and cookies. They hadn’t been there long when they were joined by Jim and Brian, who had been building scenery and props. The oldest Bob-Whites had splotches of paint all over their clothes, and although they had washed their hands before they sat down, their fingers were stained brown.
Trixie wrinkled her nose as she curiously regarded Brian’s and Jim’s discolored digits. “Gee, I’m not much of an authority on arts and crafts, but I’m pretty sure that you’re supposed to paint with a brush, not your fingers.”
“That statement isn’t the slightest bit illusory, my dear aesthetically-challenged sister,” Mart argued. “However, I deem it most imperative to remonstrate that there are exceptions, most notably in the instance of the paintings an artist creates by using his or her fingers to apply a mixture, usually of a solid pigment in a liquid state, to a heavy, coarse surface otherwise known as a canvas.”
Diana groaned. “No offense, Mart, but after an hour of singing in Greek, I don’t feel like translating your gobbledygook.”
“Actually, Di, ‘Ave Maria’ was originally written in Latin, not Greek,” Honey corrected gently.
Diana’s cheeks colored a becoming shade of pink. “Greek…Latin…” She paused to shrug her shoulders, and then added with a laugh, “It’s all Greek to me!”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Di,” Honey began loyally. “You had to work hard to learn the words to that song, and it’s paid off. You sing it beautifully!”
“Gleeps, Di!” Trixie cried. “I can barely carry a tune in English, let alone in a foreign language.”
Mart nodded, a grave expression on his face. “Trixie isn’t lying. It isn’t common knowledge, but she’s the reason Latin’s dead in the first place. She tried to sing ‘Ave Maria’ a few years ago and butchered it so badly that she killed the whole language.”
“Little brother,” Brian said, “while it’s true that our musically challenged sister can’t carry a tune in a bucket, she shouldn’t be blamed for the demise of Latin. I’m pretty sure it happened a few centuries ago, long before Trixie tried to caterwaul her way through it.”
“Wow, you guys are harsh!” Jim exclaimed. “I’ve heard Trixie sing, and she doesn’t sound that bad.”
Dan’s eyes glimmered with humor. “Yes, but you listen to Trixie sing through the ears of love, and somehow those ears manage to miss all the clinkers,” he muttered.
His cheeks as red as his hair, Jim peeked over to see if Trixie had heard Dan’s comment. Thankfully, she was too busy brushing the cookie crumbs off her jeans to notice.
Mart, much to Jim’s dismay, had excellent hearing and hadn’t missed a word. He slapped his knee and hooted with laughter. “That’s probably because Jim’s as tone deaf as Trixie,” he joked, earning his own dirty look from the husky redhead.
Oblivious to the commotion around her, Trixie remarked, “Well, I’m just glad that I got a part in the Christmas play and that Wendy left the singing to Di and Honey.”
Mart raised his Styrofoam cup as if making a toast. “And so are we.”
“Hear, hear!” Dan and Brian chorused, lifting their own cups.
“Well, I might not be able to sing, but at least I didn’t call the Virgin Mary a horse,” Trixie retorted, casting a smug smile in Mart’s general direction.
Mart huffed loudly. “For the hundredth time, I called you a horse, not Mary.”
“If you knew anything about acting, you’d know that an actress is supposed to identify with the character she’s portraying, so when you call me a horse, you’re really calling Mary a horse,” Trixie explained. “Isn’t that right, Di?”
“W-well, I guess it is,” Diana stammered. “But I’m sure that it wasn’t anything personal, Trixie. Mart just mixed up his lines. After all, it’s easy to do. Take it from me! I’ve done it at least a million times.”
Dan nodded. “Yeah, Mart does have a lot of lines to remember, so it’s no wonder he got confused.” He smirked over at his best friend. “Lucky for me, I only have six little lines, so it didn’t take me long at all to memorize them.”
“You don’t have to rub it in,” Mart groused. He looked over at Jim and Brian. “Hey, how’d you brownnosers get so lucky? You didn’t have to be in the play or sing. While we’re memorizing our lines and singing in some dead language, you get to pretend you’re Bob Villa.”
“Don’t you mean Bob the Builder?” Diana giggled.
“Wendy must know that Jim and Brian don’t have any theatrical talent,” Trixie teased. “That’s why she asked them to work behind the scenes.”
Jim winked at her. “I can’t speak for Brian, but maybe it’s because Wendy knew I’d rather design sets than perform on one, and she wanted to keep me happy. After all, everyone knows that I’m her favorite…”
“You keep telling yourself that, Frayne,” Brian snorted. “The truth is that Cambridge is a long way from Sleepyside. When Wendy asked Jim and me about being in this year’s pageant, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to come to any of the practices. We still wanted to participate, so we offered to work on the props.”
“Yeah, and for a while, we were worried that finals would keep us in Massachusetts until Christmas Eve,” Jim said. “Thankfully, we were able to come home earlier than expected, but it’s still going to be tough getting everything done before tomorrow night.”
Brian nodded. “We’ll have to hurry if those props are going to get finished by the final rehearsal, but I’m sure we can manage it.”
“Well, I can’t wait until I’m in college and have an excuse to work on scenery instead of actually being in the play,” Mart remarked.
“Why would you say that? I love the holiday pageant!” Diana’s eyes shone like amethysts as she spoke. “There’s just something magical about the Christmas Eve midnight service. It wouldn’t be the same if I couldn’t be in the program!”
Mart smiled affectionately at the dark-haired beauty. “Yeah, but you’re actually good at singing and acting and all that theatrical stuff.”
“You’re good at it, too, Mart Belden,” Diana contradicted. “Why, you’re such a convincing reporter that you remind me of… of… of Anderson Cooper!”
“Humph, I wouldn’t go that far,” Trixie mumbled. “Geraldo Rivera’s more like it.”
Dan leaned over and punched Mart on the arm. “Aw, you know you love being in the pageant, Belden. At what other time do you get to talk so much and actually have people listen to what you’re saying?”
“And look at the bright side,” Jim added. “While you’re signing autographs for your adoring fans, Brian and I will be picking the splinters out of our hands that we got from handling lumber.”
Brian cleared his throat. “Speaking of lumber, we have a whole bunch of it that needs unloaded,” he announced. “Even as we speak, there are several two-by-fours sticking out of the back window of the Bob-White station wagon, and I doubt Santa and his elves have time to move it for us since they’re busy with their own projects.”
Mart arched a sandy brow. “Is this your way of hinting for help?”
“No, it’s my way of threatening you to help us or else,” Brian returned, grinning.
Mart held up a hand in protest. “Alas, my eldest kinsman’s denouncement, whereby he pledged to deliver unmerited bane upon my hominine form, failed to reach my auditory organs.”
Brian punched his brother on the arm. “Consider yourself baned.”
“Ouch!” Mart yelped in dramatic fashion. “What happened to ‘peace on earth’ and ‘goodwill to men’ and all the rest of that feel-good stuff that goes along with the holiday season?”
“They’re in the station wagon with the rest of our supplies,” Jim said with a chuckle.
“Then we’d better get them before someone turns into Ebenezer Scrooge,” Honey teased.
“It’s too late,” Mart proclaimed. “Santa Claus has already noted the violence that has occurred in the house of God, and at this very moment, he’s picking out a nice, big chunk of coal for one Brian Peter Belden.”
Laughing, the group used the rear entrance of the fellowship hall and made their way to the station wagon. Sure enough, several pieces of lumber were sticking out of the back window of the vehicle. Jim pulled them out one by one, dividing them between the four boys. Once the wood had been unloaded, he reached further inside and retrieved a few bags of odds and ends that he handed to the girls.
Trixie cocked her head pensively to one side, craning her ear to the front of the church. “Hey, did you guys hear that?”
“Hear what?” Dan prompted.
“I’m not sure,” Trixie murmured. “It sort of sounded like a cat meowing.”
Honey shook her head. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“There it is again!” Trixie squealed.
“Oh!” Diana clapped her hands in excitement. “I heard it, too!”
Mart rolled his eyes. “It’s probably one of the pastor’s kittens. Remember, he said his daughter’s cat just had a litter.”
“Well, if it is one of Rebecca’s kittens, then the poor little thing must need help,” Trixie retorted. “I’m going to go find it!”
Haphazardly dropping the brown bag from the hardware store onto the ground, Trixie took off like a flash and ran towards the meowing. She stopped in her tracks when she noticed that the manger from the life-size outdoor nativity scene had been moved from the church’s front yard to the porch.
“What the heck…” she muttered. Curious as usual, she climbed up the steps to investigate, ranting and raving the whole time about pranksters not having any respect for the beloved symbols of the holiday season. Her tirade ceased as soon as she peered into the manger. “Gleeps!”
“Did you find the kitten?” Diana asked once the rest of the Bob-Whites had caught up.
“Well…Not exactly,” Trixie answered. No further explanation was necessary as she extracted a bundled form that had been lying in the crudely constructed manger. “It’s a baby!”
Honey and Diana shrieked in union, both girls clamoring to get a peek at the infant that Trixie held in her arms.
“Oooh, it’s so cute!” Diana cooed.
“And so tiny!” Honey exclaimed. “It can’t be more than a few days old.”
Brian nudged his way beside his sister in order to take a closer look at the “meowing” infant. Most young men his age might’ve been intimidated at the thought of holding such a small child, but Brian didn’t have any trouble handling the wee one. Although he wasn’t a neonatal specialist by any means, he’d helped deliver babies on the medical mission trip he’d taken the previous summer with several other pre-med students. On that trip, he’d learned what to look for in a healthy newborn as well as how to care for them, and as far as he could tell without doing a lengthier inspection, this baby appeared to be perfectly well.
“He looks healthy to me,” he deduced. “Of course, since he’s so bundled up, I can’t count his toes, but as long as he’s got ten of them, he looks perfect.”
“Then why’s he fussing?” Mart inquired.
Brian shrugged. “He’s probably hungry, or maybe his diaper needs changed.”
“He could be cold,” Dan suggested.
“I’ll bet the poor little lamb is chilled,” Honey remarked hotly. “I can’t believe someone left a baby on the church’s doorstep in the middle of the winter. Why, he’s probably freezing out here.”
“I know it’s December, but he was warm and cozy in the manger,” Brian corrected. “The little hat he’s wearing kept his body heat from escaping. Not only that, he was bundled tightly in several receiving blankets, and the manger’s insulated with hay. Except for his cheeks being a little cool, he stayed toasty in his bed.”
“It’s really not all that cold for December,” Jim commented. “I’m comfortable in just a sweatshirt.”
“Still, it seems rather cold to leave a newborn outside—no pun intended,” Dan said.
“Babies are actually much hardier than people think,” Diana replied. “When the twinnies were babies, people wanted to keep them covered up, even in the summer. Mummy always said that if we were warm, then they were warm, and vice-versa.”
“And, as you all know, I’m no medical expert,” Brian began, doing his best to quiet the baby’s crying, “but this little guy seems to be the picture of health.”
“Brian, you might be right—except for one major thing.” Trixie paused dramatically and then added, “That baby isn’t a him; it’s a her.”
“How can you tell, Trixie?” Honey asked. “Its hat is mint green, and the blankets are multicolored, so there’s no telltale pink to let you know it’s a girl.”
Trixie flashed her friends a cheeky grin. “Yes, but according to the note that the mother left in the manger, this baby’s a girl.” She picked up the letter that she’d already peeked at and waved it around as proof.
“What does the letter say, Shamus?” Jim prompted.
Trixie cleared her throat and began reading the note aloud.
“ ‘Christmas is a time for giving gifts, and I’m hoping that someone can give my daughter the good home that she deserves. As much as I would love to keep her, I’m doing what’s best for her. I’m not giving her up because I don’t love her; I’m giving her up because I do love her.
It breaks my heart to leave my precious little angel, but I know I can’t give her the kind of life that she deserves. I don’t have any money, a job, or a decent place to live. I don’t even have a good family that can help me. My parents are dead, and the baby’s father is in jail and won’t get out for a long time. He doesn’t even know that I was pregnant. I’m not telling you this so you’ll feel sorry for me. I only ask you to find my little girl a good home with loving parents and tell her someday that her real mama loved her very much.
I waited until I saw lots of people at the church before I dropped her off. I know some people that attend your church, and I know they will do their best to find my angel a good family. I made sure it wasn’t too cold, but I bundled her up as warmly as I could, just in case.
Once again, please tell my darling girl that I will always love her. I’ll never regret having her, but I’ll always regret that I couldn’t keep her. My most precious memory will be of the hours I spent holding her in my arms after her birth. I only wish that those hours could’ve lasted forever.’ ”
By the time Trixie had finished reading the letter aloud, the baby wasn’t the only one whimpering; all the girls had tears in their eyes, as well. Brian hadn’t had any luck comforting the infant, so Diana reached out and took her. She held the tiny bundle close to her heart, swaying slightly back and forth to simulate a rocking motion.
“Poor, poor little angel,” she cooed huskily.
Honey had to wipe away several tears that were trickling down her cheeks. “I’m not sure who I feel sorrier for: the mother or the baby. It’s such a sad, sad situation.”
“Yes, it is,” Jim agreed, his tone sober.
“I wish we could’ve helped this poor mother,” Trixie said.
“That’s a nice thought, Trixie, but what could we have done to help her?” Mart asked.
Trixie shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe we could’ve found her a job. Honey, didn’t you tell me that your mother wants to hire another maid for the Manor House?”
“Yes,” Honey answered, her brows furrowing in confusion, “but why does that matter? The baby’s mother is long gone by now.”
“Well, yeah, but we could still find her!” Trixie exclaimed.
“Why would we want to do that?” Mart queried. “To give her a good swift kick, perhaps?”
Trixie glared at her almost-twin, arms akimbo and eyes blazing. “Obviously you didn’t listen very closely to that letter, because if you had, you would’ve heard that it broke that mother’s heart to give up her baby. I don’t think she would’ve done it if she’d had any other option.”
“But she just left her daughter at the church,” Dan argued. “Who could do something like that?”
“Somebody really, really desperate,” Trixie answered.
Diana looked down at the baby she’d just managed to put to sleep. “As much as I disapprove of what she did, I understand why she did it,” she said, deliberately speaking in low tones. “She was alone and afraid and didn’t have a single person who could help her. As crazy as it sounds, she probably thought she was doing what was best for her child.”
“And maybe if we got her a job, she’d be able to keep her little girl after all,” Trixie added.
“Even if she did have good intentions,” Jim began, “and even if we could get her a job, how on earth are we supposed to find her? She’s long gone by now, and we don’t have any clues that we could follow to track her down.”
“Sure we do!” Trixie corrected excitedly. “For one thing, we know that she’s from this area since she says in her letter that she knows some of the people who go to church here. Plus, I’ll bet if we ask around, we could get a list of young, unwed expectant mothers in Sleepyside.”
Noticing the boys were wearing matching skeptical expressions, she continued. “I have a few other ideas in mind. I mean, it won’t be easy, but it would be worth it. Reuniting this mother with her baby would make this the best Christmas ever!”
Brian took a deep breath before speaking, a sure sign that he was going to say something that his sister wouldn’t like. “Trixie, I know you mean well, but—”
“Oh, brother!” Trixie slapped herself in the forehead. “Why do you always doubt that my ideas will work?”
“Calm down, Sis,” Brian soothed, patting her arm. “I don’t have any doubt that if this young mother is in Sleepyside, Schoolgirl Shamuses could locate her. However, I’m just worried about what’s going to happen to this baby in the meantime. Do you plan to give her to Pastor Wilkins—?”
Trixie’s exuberant response caused the baby to jar from her sleep and start crying again. Ignoring the dirty look Diana was shooting at her, she plunged ahead with an explanation. “We absolutely can’t let Pastor Wilkins know about this! He’d turn her over to Child Services, and then the poor little thing would have to spend Christmas in a foster home!”
“She’s only a day or two old, Trixie,” Mart pointed out. “I don’t mean to sound unkind, but she won’t know the difference.”
“Most likely, it’ll take a lot longer than that to find the baby a foster home,” Dan told them. “She’ll end up in a children’s home until a suitable family can be found for her.”
Tears welled in Honey’s huge hazel eyes. “Oh, we can’t let that happen! We just can’t!”
“I don’t know what else we can do, Honey,” Jim said grimly. “I’d hate to put the pastor in a bad position, but maybe we could ask him to keep it a secr—”
“Absolutely not! That’s a chance we simply can’t take,” Trixie interrupted, shaking her head adamantly.
Mart snorted. “Then, pray tell, what do you suggest we do, squaw? Take care of this bundle of joy ourselves?”
Trixie twirled a curl in a thoughtful manner, her lips pursed as she considered Mart’s question. Suddenly, the contemplative expression disappeared, and her mouth formed a triumphant smile. “Yes, that’s exactly what we’ll do!”
“Are you crazy?” Brian snickered. “You’ve come up with some nutty ideas before, but this one takes the cake. How on earth are we supposed to take care of a newborn? And not just any newborn, mind you. A newborn that won’t stop crying and that we need to keep secret!”
“You said yourself that she was probably just hungry or needed her diaper changed,” Trixie reminded him. “I’m sure that once we give her a bottle and change her Huggies, she’ll be as good as new.”
Brian rolled his eyes in exasperation. “You say that like it’s so simple, but it’s a lot more complicated than you realize.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is, Brian,” Trixie bristled. “After all, we helped take care of Dodgy, and he survived.”
“As I recall, our immediate progenitors did most of the care tending,” Mart pointed out.
“And since Bobby has the flu, we can’t bring this baby to Crabapple Farm, so Moms and Dad can’t help us,” Brian added.
Trixie didn’t appear to be the least bit rattled. “Then we’ll take her to the Lynches.”
“Gracie and Sarah are sick, too,” Diana remarked.
“And before you ask, I seriously doubt that Mr. Maypenny would be willing to take in yet another stray,” Dan teased. “I’m bad enough, but at least he never had to change my diapers.”
“So where are we supposed to keep her?” Brian challenged. “It’s not like we can hide her in the clubhouse until you find her mother.”
By the look on Trixie’s face, it was obvious that that had been her next suggestion. Thankfully, the wheels in her brain never stopped spinning when she was obsessed with a new project, so she was able to come up with a contingency plan rather quickly.
“We can take her up to the Manor House!” she proposed. “We’d already planned to have a house party there tonight anyway.”
Jim shook his head. “Mother and Dad are out of town until tomorrow, but Miss Trask will be there. If I know her like I think I do, she’ll insist that we call Child Services.”
“Well then, maybe we won’t tell her,” Trixie returned.
“Oh, yeah, I’m sure Miss Trask would never suspect a thing,” Jim snorted. “It’s not like babies cry a lot or have stinky diapers that might give it away.”
“We could always tell her that we’re babysitting for someone at church,” Honey offered. “It isn’t really a fib, since we would be watching her until we find her mother.”
Jim shook his head. “I don’t know…”
“Please, Jim!” Trixie implored, grabbing his hand as she made her case. “If we give her to the pastor, he’ll call the authorities, and if the mother does show up, the police will arrest her for abandonment. Our only hope to reunite them is to watch the baby ourselves while we track down the mother. Please, Jim, please!”
Jim gulped as he stared down into the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. He could never say no to Trixie. If she asked for the moon, he’d find some way to throw a lasso into space and bring it down to her.
Knowing Jim was a sucker for his sister’s baby blues, Brian jumped in. “I can’t speak for everyone else, but Jim and I have to finish the props for the pageant tomorrow,” he told them. “Unless you want to disappoint Wendy, we can’t sit around all day, playing nursemaid.”
“And although I don’t have anything planned for tomorrow, I don’t know the slightest thing about taking care of babies,” Dan added.
“Yeah, we don’t know nothin’ ‘bout raisin’ no babies,” Mart paraphrased in his best impersonation of the character Prissy from “Gone with the Wind.”
“And if we do this, we wouldn’t have any help like we did with Dodgy,” Brian warned.
Trixie refused to back down. “Between the seven of us, we can handle it.”
“After all, it takes a village, right?” Honey supplied hopefully.
“Don’t you remember how fun it was taking care of Dodgy?” Trixie asked.
“But Dodgy wasn’t a newborn,” Brian argued. “There’s a big difference between a baby that’s a few months old and one who’s a few days old.”
“Didn’t it feel wonderful when we reunited Dodgy with his mother?” Trixie reminded them. “Don’t you remember the look of joy on her face? Don’t you want to experience that kind of joy again?”
Dan gulped. “Well, yeah, sure we do, but like Brian said, this baby’s a newborn. Don’t they come with special instructions? I mean, what about her umbilical cord and bilirubin levels and stuff like that?”
Brian’s dark brows shot up in surprise. “I’m not sure if I should be impressed or concerned by the fact that you’re even aware of the existence of bilirubin. Care to offer an explanation?”
“Ma liked to watch those baby shows on TLC,” Dan muttered. “So I might’ve caught an episode or two myself…Against my will, of course.”
“Oh, of course,” Mart snickered.
“I think we’re safe, Dan,” Diana informed him with a laugh. “Her umbilical cord was already cut, and I’m pretty sure that she isn’t jaundiced, so we don’t need to worry about her bilirubin levels.”
“See? That’s proof that I’m not qualified for this job,” Dan said. “Clearly The Learning Channel hasn’t taught me everything I need to know.”
Jim grinned. “Hey, you knew about that billy stuff, so you know a lot more than I do.”
“Well, you’re in luck, boys. Although you don’t know much about babies, I’ve had plenty of experience after helping Mummy with two sets of twins.” Diana smiled down at the infant that was temporarily sleeping in her arms. “I have a way with children, even if I do say so myself.”
“And although there was only one of Bobby, it felt like he was quadruplets, so we Beldens have some experience with babies, too,” Trixie giggled.
Mart peered up to the heavens in dramatic fashion. “Oy vey! Ain’t that the truth!”
“And although Honey hasn’t had any younger brothers or sisters to care for, she’s a natural with children,” Diana added. “Bobby and the twinnies absolutely love her, and she took care of Dodgy like an expert.”
Brian nodded. “That’s all true, but—”
“C’mon, Brian!” Trixie cajoled. “It’ll only be until Christmas Eve! Then, even if we haven’t found the baby’s mother, I promise that we’ll give her to Pastor Wilkins before the midnight service.”
Brian arched a single eyebrow. “Why don’t I believe you?”
“Fine,” Trixie muttered, crossing her arms in front of her chest. Although surrender seemed imminent, she wasn’t ready to wave her white flag yet. “There’s an easy way to decide this. Let’s put it to a vote.”
“That’s okay with us,” Brian told her. He turned to his male compatriots and added in a whisper, “All right, guys. We outnumber the girls, so we’ve got this in the bag.”
Trixie groaned. “You can’t whisper worth beans. I don’t care if we are outnumbered, I still want to vote.”
“Fine by me,” Brian said, shrugging. “Just don’t get mad when you lose.”
“Why do you insist on being such a killjoy, Brian Belden?” Trixie bristled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think that you didn’t want to help this poor little baby.”
Smiling, Brian patted his sister’s shoulder. “You should know better than that, Trix. I want to do whatever’s best for this baby, but I seriously doubt that we’re her best option. It’s not that I don’t want to help her; it’s that I don’t think we can. I happen to think that she’d be better off in the hands of Child Services. After all, it worked out fine the last time we got them involved.”
“Well, how about we put it to a vote and see what everyone else thinks?” Trixie assumed an official tone. Praying for a holiday miracle, she trusted her gut and made the motion. “All in favor of caring for the abandoned baby until Christmas Eve say aye.”
“Aye,” Trixie, Honey, Diana, and a sheepish Dan chorused.
“Nay!” Brian, Jim, and Mart voted, in spite of the fact that they’d already been outvoted.
Not even bothering to conceal her smug smile, Trixie concluded, “The ayes have it. It looks like somebody will be crashing our house party tonight.”
Mart glared over at Dan, who had been the lone male aye. “Dude, what were you thinking?” he growled. “Don’t you realize what you’ve done? We’ll have to change poopie diapers and mop up baby puke all night!”
“I couldn’t help it!” Dan moaned, clutching a fistful of jet black hair. “The thought of that helpless baby spending Christmas in a children’s home got to me!”
“You’re such a pushover, Dan,” Diana giggled.
“And we love you for it,” Honey added.
“And we also were counting on it,” Trixie mumbled under her breath. Before she’d called for a vote, she’d noticed the pained look on Dan’s face when he discussed the children’s home. She’d been counting on Dan to vote in her favor, and she wasn’t disappointed.
“I guess we’re stuck with diaper duty,” Jim groaned. However, the twinkle in his eyes belied his complaint. “Madam Co-President, since this was your idea, I assume you have some kind of game plan.”
Although Trixie hadn’t come up with anything more than the general idea, she wasn’t about to let Jim or Brian know that. “Well, the first thing we should probably do is get the baby back to the Manor House, especially since the temperature’s dropping. Then, Di can take the station wagon to the store and pick up any supplies we’ll need, like diapers, bottles, and formula.”
Mart shot his sister a pleading look. “Is there any particular reason that you volunteered Di for that mission?”
“As a matter of fact, there is,” Trixie retorted. “Di has the most experience taking care of babies, so she knows the most about what they need. Is there is any particular reason that you don’t want her to go? Besides the fact that you’ll miss her while she’s gone, of course.”
“As a matter of fact, I do have a reason for not wanting her to go, and it’s a good one,” Mart mimicked. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but Di’s the only one who can keep this kid halfway quiet.”
“Then she’d better make it a quick trip,” Trixie snapped. In a much more congenial tone, she turned to Diana and asked, “Do you think you can get the supplies we’ll need?”
Doing her very best to placate the baby, Diana continued bouncing the small bundle. She used the tip of her index finger as a pacifier, and although the newborn was fussing, she wasn’t screaming, either. “It shouldn’t be a problem,” she answered. “But unless you want a crying baby on your hands, we need to hurry. This little angel is probably starving, and sooner or later she’s going to figure out that, no matter how hard she sucks, milk isn’t going to come out of my finger.”
“If the rest of you will take our building supplies inside, I’ll get Di and the baby settled in the station wagon,” Jim offered.
The rest of the group agreed to that plan. As quickly as possible, the five remaining Bob-Whites carried the lumber into the church, retrieved everyone’s belongings, and joined Jim, Diana, and the baby in the car. Since they didn’t have a proper car seat, Jim drove even more carefully than usual back to the Manor House.
It may have been difficult convincing the rest of the Bob-Whites to sign up for babysitting duty, but it was equally hard explaining to Miss Trask why they had a newborn in tow. Trixie somehow managed to provide a satisfactory reason without having to include any false details.
Once the baby was settled and somewhat placated, Diana, Mart, and Dan drove to a nearby grocery store in search of supplies. They weren’t gone long, but to the rest of the sitters, it felt like the trio had been away an eternity.
“Why won’t Angel stop crying?” Trixie wailed, doing her best to comfort the screaming baby. She rocked her back and forth just as Di had done earlier, but the crying continued.
“The poor thing’s hungry,” Honey answered. “She hasn’t eaten for hours.”
Feeling pity for the sandy-haired blonde, Jim held out his arms. “Let me take her for a while, Shamus,” he offered.
“Good luck,” Trixie muttered, handing the baby over to him.
“Soooo,” Brian drawled, “I’m sensing a little bit of frustration. Does this mean that you’re having second thoughts about babysitting a newborn?”
Trixie directed a scowl in her oldest brother’s direction. “As a matter of fact, no, I’m not having second thoughts. I’m just frustrated that I can’t help Angel. I know she’s hungry, and I’m wish I could feed her.”
“Why do you keep calling her Angel?” Honey asked.
“Well, we can’t keep calling her ‘the baby’,” Trixie explained. “She’ll get a complex.”
“Trix, she’s only a day or two old; some studies have shown that it takes a year or two at the very least for a child to develop a psychological disorder,” Jim teased.
Honey spoke up quickly in defense of her best friend. “I think Angel’s a perfectly perfect name for her!”
“Yes, Angel is a very nice name,” Jim said, all joking aside. He smiled down at the wriggling, crying bundle in his arms and then tossed a fond glance Trixie’s way. “With her blonde hair and blue eyes, she reminds me of another angel I know.”
“She reminds me of someone, too, but I wouldn’t call that person an angel,” Brian remarked wryly.
“Does she look like Bobby when he was a baby?” Honey inquired, assuming Brian was speaking of the youngest Belden.
Brian shook his head, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. “Actually, I was thinking about Mart. They both scream at the top of their lungs when they’re hungry.”
“Now that you mention it, she does remind me of Mart,” Trixie chuckled. She glanced at her watch. “Speaking of my almost-twin, shouldn’t he and Di and Dan be back by now with the formula? They’ve been gone at least a half hour.”
“I’m sure they’ll be back any minute,” Jim assured her.
“Couldn’t we just give Angel some regular milk?” Honey queried.
“Absolutely not,” Brian answered. “It’s difficult for infants to digest cows’ milk, so it should never be given to babies under a year old.”
Honey laughed. “I guess I’ve got a lot to learn about newborns.”
Much to everyone’s relief, the front door opened, and the three shoppers emerged, their arms laden with necessary supplies. Growing more impatient by the second, Angel gave an extra loud cry.
“Uh-oh,” Mart mumbled. “Somebody’s not happy. How long has she been screaming?”
“She never stopped screaming,” Brian replied. “I can’t speak for all her internal organs, but this kid’s lungs are well-developed and working just fine.”
Dan put down the bags he was carrying to pat the baby’s head. “Aw, she just missed her Uncle Danny.”
“I hope Uncle Danny missed her, because he’s going to do a whole lot of babysitting tonight,” Jim cracked.
Diana handed one bag to Trixie and another to Honey. “Right now, I need Uncle Danny to carry his bags into the kitchen and begin washing bottles like I explained in the car.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Dan said with a crisp salute as he left to do her bidding.
“Trixie,” Diana continued, all trace of the usual uncertainty missing from her voice, “there are diapers in the bag I gave you; I’m sure Baby Girl needs a fresh one.”
“Her name is Angel,” Trixie informed her.
Diana nodded curtly. Confident in her role of head babysitter, she continued in a businesslike tone. “Good. Go change Angel’s diaper. I’m sure you remember how.” Ignoring the scowl on Trixie’s face, Di shifted her attention to Honey. “We stopped by the house, and I gathered up some of Sarah and Gracie’s old baby clothes. Thankfully, Mummy never got rid of them. Honey, why don’t you look through the bag I gave you and find something cute and warm for Angel to wear?”
“Why did you give Dan and Honey easy jobs, and I get stuck with diaper duty?” Trixie complained.
“Because you’ve changed diapers before, and they haven’t,” Diana replied.
“Well, so have you,” Trixie retorted. “So, why don’t you change Angel’s diaper?”
Diana smiled, refusing to be baited. “I’ll change her next time, Trixie. Right now, I’m going to take Mart into the kitchen and show him how to properly measure formula so he can help me make bottles.”
“Does this mean that Jim and I are off the hook and can relax?” Brian suggested hopefully.
“Sorry, Charlie,” Diana giggled. “I have a very… special job for you two.”
Jim gulped loudly, a worried expression on his face as he glanced over at Brian. “Why do I get the feeling that we’re in serious trouble?”
Diana rolled her eyes. “Relax, boys. All I need you to do is go out to the station wagon and bring in the bassinette and baby seat that’s in the back.”
“Unless you’d rather change Angel’s diaper,” Trixie offered, a broad grin across her lips. “Because I’d be willing to trade…”
Jim returned the grin as he passed her the fussy baby. “That’s sweet of you to offer, Shamus, but with our muscles, we’d be better suited to moving furniture than changing dirty diapers.”
“Hey, I’ve got muscles, too,” Trixie pointed out.
“Good, because you’re going to need them,” Jim said. “Angel’s awfully squirmy.”
“Hmm…Whose bright idea was it to babysit?” Brian cocked his head pensively to one side as he pretended to ponder the question. “Oh, wait. I remember. As I recall, it was your idea, sister dear, so I don’t want to hear any complaints from you.”
Scowling, Trixie carried Angel and the bag of supplies over to the couch. Although she muttered a few unflattering comments about her eldest sibling, she didn’t offer additional argument. Satisfied with himself for managing the nearly impossible, Brian followed Jim outside to retrieve the baby furniture.
Still grumbling about the unfairness of her predicament, Trixie laid down the baby and began removing Angel’s sleeper. Although it was clean, the well-worn garment obviously had been purchased at a secondhand store. It was another painful reminder that the young mother had done the best she could with what little she’d had to work with, and it renewed Trixie’s determination to find the missing parent. Angel fussed and wiggled around, her tiny arms and legs flailing around as Trixie removed her diaper.
Her heart breaking, Trixie smiled down sadly at the infant. “I don’t blame you one bit for crying,” she whispered to Angel. “But don’t you worry, sweetheart. We’ll find your mama or I’ll hang up my detective hat forever.”
As Trixie searched for the talcum powder, a pacifier fell out of the plastic bag containing the recently purchased goods. “Thank God!” she whooped. “Hey, Hon, come over here and open this for me.”
Honey set down the fuzzy pink sleeper she’d selected and picked up the pacifier. Using her long, slender fingers, she ripped open the package. “Shouldn’t I wash this before we give it to her?”
Desperate to quiet Angel’s cries, Trixie pointed to a glass of water on a nearby coffee table. “Stick it in there!” she commanded.
Once the pacifier was clean, Honey stuck it in the baby’s mouth. Much to their relief, Angel ceased her crying and sucked furiously on the rubber nipple.”
“I hope they hurry with that bottle because eventually Angel’s going to figure out that that binky’s just as milkless as Di’s finger,” Trixie commented.
“She stopped crying!” Brian exclaimed, setting down the infant seat and stack of baby blankets that he’d just carried inside. “It’s a Christmas miracle!”
“The pacifier is a wonderful invention,” Honey told him.
“We might make it through this night after—” Jim began. Unfortunately, Angel spat out the pacifier and started screaming again.
Trixie smirked up at the redhead. “Thanks a lot, Jim. You jinxed us.”
“Never fear!” Mart announced as he bounded into the family room, a full bottle raised in a triumphant pose. “The Magnificent Mart is here to save the day!”
“Well then, quit blabbering and feed that baby, Magnificent Mart,” Trixie ordered.
Usually Mart would find it necessary to argue with Trixie. However, in this case he was willing to do as she’d asked without putting up a fight. With lightning speed, he picked up the baby, cradled her to his chest, and offered her the bottle. Angel immediately latched on, her cheeks moving in and out as she hungrily gulped the milk.
“Wow, look at Angel go!” Jim exclaimed. “She really was hungry!”
“She would have to be starving to drink that stuff,” Mart remarked. “This might come as a surprise, but that formula doesn’t taste a thing like real milk.”
One of Brian’s dark eyebrows shot up skyward. “I probably shouldn’t ask, but how do you know that?”
“Because after Di heated up the formula, she needed to make sure it wasn’t too hot for the baby,” Mart explained. “I was thirsty anyway, so I squirted some into my mouth.”
Honey nose wrinkled in distaste. “You didn’t.”
“And how nasty was it?” Trixie asked, trying to contain a chortle.
“Pretty nasty.” Mart made a face. “In fact, it was pretty much the most rancid dairy product I’ve ever ingested, and that includes the glass of curdled milk that I had the misfortune of chugging down one night. But hey, at least the baby likes this crap, and that’s what’s important.”
Brian rolled his eyes in complete disbelief. “Please tell me that you’re joking and that you didn’t sample the Enfamil.”
“Yeah, Mart, even I know that formula doesn’t taste like your average Vitamin D whole milk,” Honey added.
“Oh, he’s not joking,” Diana affirmed, giggling. “I tried to talk him out of it, but Mart was determined to taste it, even after he got a whiff of it.”
“I should’ve known that anything that smelly couldn’t possibly taste good,” Mart lamented.
“Apparently someone doesn’t share your opinion.” Dan grinned as he pointed to the bottle, which was now almost empty. “If she keeps sucking like that, she’s going to swallow her eyeballs.”
Honey shuddered. “Now there’s an image I could do without. You’ve just described something out of a horror movie.”
“Huh, if you think that’s scary, just wait until this little ankle biter drops a load in her dipey,” Mart snickered. “Something tells me that that formula will stink even more going out than it did going in. You’re about to witness something scary enough to scar Rob Zombie for life.” He shuddered as he recalled the loads he’d found in Bobby’s diaper on many occasions.
Diana leaned over Mart’s shoulder to coo in Angel’s ear. “Aw, don’t listen to Uncle Grumpy Pants. He’s just mad because you won’t share your dinner with him.”
Now that everyone had completed their assigned task, the seven teenagers lounged in the family room of the Wheelers’ mansion. Nobody spoke, so it was quiet enough for them to hear Angel suck contentedly on her bottle.
“Ahhh…” Dan drawled, leaning back and propping his feet on the coffee table. “I know what they mean now about silence being golden.”
Trixie giggled. “All this time, I thought that saying was about Mart.”
“Now that her tummy is full, do you think Angel will stop crying?” Honey asked nervously.
“She should, but you never know,” Brian answered.
Mart watched as the formula vanished from the bottle. “We’ll find out soon enough. I’m guessing she’ll be finished with her dinner in five… four… three… two… one…”
As if on cue, Angel drained the very last drop, spat out the nipple, and instantaneously resumed her crying.
“There’s your answer, Hon,” Jim said with a rueful grin.
Mart frowned down at the red-faced baby. “Somebody take her,” he entreated. “I think she’s mad at me for sneaking a sip of her formula.”
“Silly goose,” Diana chided playfully. Luckily for Mart, she took Angel and immediately placed the baby in the burp position. Although it didn’t take long for the newborn to let out a belch a full-grown man would be proud of, the release of gas from her tummy didn’t calm her wails.
Brian shook his head sadly. “This is exactly what I was afraid of. We’ve got a long night ahead of us.”
Trixie did her best to plaster on a bright smile. “Oh, it won’t be so bad. There are seven of us, and we can take shifts. Why, with a little teamwork, taking care of Angel will be a breeze. Right, gang?”
In spite of Trixie’s efforts to encourage the troops, she didn’t get a single response. Not even from Dan.
Christmas Eve morning…
It was a sleepy group of teenagers that gathered around the Manor House breakfast table. Although they had taken care of Angel in shifts, none of them had slept soundly. The baby had screamed most of the night, and no matter how often she was fed, changed, or cuddled, she continued to fuss. Brian had continuously checked for any sign of physical distress, but none could be found. With no explanation for her crying, there was nothing they could do to help her.
In spite of her exhaustion, Honey couldn’t help but smile down at Angel tenderly as she fed the infant a bottle. “At least we know that there’s nothing wrong with her appetite.”
“I never knew babies cried so much,” Dan said through a yawn.
Mart cocked a sandy brow as he studied his best friend over a heaping stack of waffles. “So, is it safe to assume that if we had a recount, you’d change your vote from an aye to a nay?”
“What difference would that make, Mart?” Trixie snapped. “It’s not like we can dump Angel off at the pound.”
“Nobody’s suggesting any such thing, Shamus,” Jim soothed, patting her hand in a comforting manner.
Trixie huffed with so much force that she nearly blew a slice of bacon off her plate. “Well, I certainly hope not, because babies don’t come with a ‘satisfaction guaranteed or your money back’ offer.”
“She’s right about that money-back guarantee,” Brian agreed, his lips forming a grin. “We learned that firsthand shortly after Bobby was born when Mart and I asked Moms if we could trade him in for a puppy.”
“You’re awful,” Diana chuckled.
“Hey, even though we were stuck with Bobby, we still got the puppy,” Mart garbled through a bite of bacon. “And for the record, Reddy’s been a lot less trouble than Bobby. Chews up a lot less shoes, too.”
“Well, if you think Angel was fussy last night, then you should’ve been in our apartment when Larry and Terry were newborns,” Diana remarked. “Both of them screamed all night long, and the walls in that place were so thin that the boys probably kept the entire complex awake.”
“Mrs. Lynch is my new hero,” Trixie muttered. “I don’t know how she did it. I’m exhausted after taking care of one newborn, and Di’s mom had to take care of twins! Twice!”
Diana giggled. “Mummy certainly was a trooper. I don’t think I could’ve managed as well as she did. After I get married, and my husband and I decide to start a family, I’m going to be careful not to eat any yams when I’m trying to get pregnant.”
“What do yams have to do with it?” Honey inquired, her golden brows furrowed with curiosity.
“It’s a proven fact that women who eat a lot of yams have a greater chance of having twins,” Diana answered.
Brian shook his head in disbelief. “Aw, that’s just an old wives’ tale. Surely you don’t believe that, Di.”
“An old wives’ tale, huh?” Diana arched a single ebony brow in challenge. “Then it must be a coincidence that Mummy got pregnant with both sets of twins shortly after Thanksgiving.”
“Mental note: Stay away from sweet potatoes!” Trixie said with a laugh.
“Who knew that something so scrumptious could be so dangerous?” Mart lamented.
“Thank God Moms doesn’t care for yams,” Brian remarked. “I shudder at the thought of Bobby squared.”
Mart closed his eyes and shivered. “Be quiet, Brian! You’re scaring me!”
“Come on, Bobby isn’t that bad,” Honey chided. “From what I’ve heard from your mother, he was a good baby. It was only when he hit toddlerhood that things got difficult,” she added with a giggle.
“Well, even though Bobby was a spit-up machine, he was a pretty good baby,” Trixie admitted. “He slept through the night pretty quick.”
Mart nodded. “Yeah, slipping that Nyquil into his bedtime bottle was a stroke of genius, if I do say so myself.”
“You didn’t!” Honey gasped.
“No, I didn’t,” Mart chuckled. “But the thought did cross my mind a time or two.”
Trixie shot a scathing glare at her almost-twin. “I don’t care how much Angel screams, you will not spike that baby’s formula with cough syrup, so don’t you dare try it.”
“I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing,” Mart insisted.
Jim chuckled as he tipped his head in Dan’s direction. “I know somebody that won’t need a Nyquil mickey to go to sleep.”
Sure enough, Dan’s eyes were closed and his chest was moving up and down in the rhythmic pattern of sleep. The only problem was that his head was slowly drifting down, all the while inching towards his syrup-covered waffles.
“Should we wake him up?” Jim asked.
“Nope.” Brian took a big bite of crispy bacon. “It would serve him right to end up with a waffle pillow. Next time, he’ll think before he votes.”
Mart grimaced as he watched Dan’s dark head drift closer and closer to his plate. “I know you’re right, Bri, but it would be a crime to sit here and watch that big head of his crush those decadent waffles.” His elbow found Dan’s ribs with a swift jab. “Wake up, Danno!”
Dan bolted awake. “Gotta go chop wood!” he thundered, only half awake. With a shake of his head, he rid his mind of the cobwebs and resumed eating his breakfast like nothing had happened.
After Angel drained the very last drop of milk from her bottle, Honey laid a cloth diaper over her shoulder. Like a practiced mother, she positioned the baby against her chest and then gently patted Angel’s back. Several minutes passed without any burping.
Honey worried her lower lip. “She hasn’t burped yet. I wonder if she’s still hungry.”
“I don’t think so,” Diana answered. “Her bottle had four ounces of formula in it, and that should be more than enough for a newborn.”
“Then why’s she still fussing?” Honey asked, doing her best to comfort the fussy baby.
“Maybe she has colic,” Diana suggested. “What do you think, Brian?”
Brian shrugged. “From what I learned on my mission trip, colic usually doesn’t set in until the baby’s three or four weeks, but you never can tell.”
“I wish we could do something to help her,” Honey remarked, a forlorn expression on her face as she cradled Angel in her arms.
“She might need to see a doctor,” Jim offered. “I know that she looks healthy, but something could be wrong with her that we can’t see. I’m sure Dr. Ferris could—”
“No!” Trixie interrupted. “We can’t take her to Dr. Ferris, Jim! I mean, I’m sure he’ll ask us whose she is and how we got her, and I doubt he’ll believe that the stork took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and dropped her off at the Manor House by mistake. We’ll have to tell him the truth, and he’ll make us turn her over to Child Services, and then we’ll never get the chance to find Angel’s mom!”
Dan reached over and stroked Angel’s hand with the tip of his index finger. “But what if something is seriously wrong with her, Trixie? It’s not like she can tell us if she’s hurting.”
Trixie studied with newborn several seconds before she answered. “Well, she’s eating plenty, so I don’t think she’s hungry. She isn’t running a fever, doesn’t have a rash, and isn’t coughing or sneezing. Also, judging by that trashcan full of dirty diapers, her plumbing is working all right. In my opinion, Angel’s just missing her mama. If we can find her mother, she’ll stop crying.”
“What do you think about that theory, Brian?” Jim queried.
“Trixie could be right,” Brian replied. “Some babies are just fussier than others, and nothing appears to be wrong with her. I don’t think she needs to go to the doctor yet. Since we’re turning her over to Pastor Wilkins tonight—”
Shooting daggers at her oldest brother, Trixie cleared her throat.
With a roll of his eyes, Brian rephrased. “Since we’re reuniting Angel with her mother tonight, we could probably wait until then to talk to Dr. Ferris.”
“Well, I hate to eat and run, but it’s almost 8:30,” Jim announced. “Brian and I need to go to the church and finish building the props for the Christmas pageant.”
Brian jumped up from the table. “Gosh, I didn’t realize it was that late! We’d better get going. Hopefully, the ol’ jalopy will get us to the church on time! We’ll leave the station wagon here in case you all need to go out.”
Mart glanced over at the wailing baby and then directed a pleading look at his brother. “Are you sure you don’t need some help? I would count it an honor to offer up my superb carpentry skills for the greater good. Put a hammer in my hand magical things will surely happen.”
“Sorry, little brother.” Brian picked up the cloth Honey had used when she’d burped Angel and tossed it at him. “Right now, we need nannies more than we need carpenters.”
Jim couldn’t help but grin at Mart’s crestfallen expression. “And don’t forget to track down Angel’s mom while we’re gone. Remember, you have until tonight to find her, and if you don’t have any luck, we’re giving her to Pastor Wilkins.”
“Don’t you worry about that, Jim Frayne,” Trixie said with an indignant sniff. “We’ll find Angel’s mother, or my name isn’t Trixie Belden.”
“Well, technically your name is Beatrix Belden, not Trixie,” Mart pointed out, a mischievous grin accentuating his twin dimples.
Using more restraint than she realized she possessed, Trixie ignored Mart’s remark. “As I was saying before I was hit by a mysterious blast of hot air, we’ll take care of it. You handle the scenery, and Schoolgirl Shamuses will solve the mystery of the missing mother.”
“Since I’m not a schoolgirl or a shamus, does this mean I can go with Jim and Brian?” Dan inquired hopefully.
“Huh!” Mart snorted. “As I recall, you’re the reason we’re in this mess in the first place. If you’re going to vote with the girls, then you might as well be counted among them. So get your baby powder and wipies ready, bud, because you’ve got all-day diaper duty.”
Honey wrinkled her nose prettily. “And unless we’re having septic problems, little miss Angel has a fudgie in her wedgie, so open that new pack of Pampers, Uncle Danny.”
“I think that’s our cue to leave,” Jim said, chuckling. “Good luck with the search!”
Brian paused at the doorway. “And Dan,” he began, “don’t forget to use plenty of powder!”
“Ay yi yi,” Dan muttered. “What was I thinking?”
1:30 in the afternoon…
Five hours later, Angel was still just as fussy as ever. Nearing their wits’ ends, the remaining Bob-Whites had tried everything to make her happy. They had passed her back and forth, hoping that one of them would figure out something to help.
“If nothing else, you’d think that her throat would be so sore from crying that she’d be quiet,” Mart remarked.
“Well, a sore throat doesn’t keep you from talking,” Trixie needled.
“Honey, maybe music would calm her,” Diana suggested. “Why don’t you put on a Christmas album?”
“Good idea!” Honey walked over to the state-of-the-art sound system and thumbed through a stack of records until she located an ancient red vinyl one. Hugo and Luigi: The Sound of Children at Christmas had been a favorite of the Wheeler family for years, and Honey looked forward to hearing it every year. She placed it on the record player in the hope that it would have a calming effect on the baby. Unfortunately, Angel must not have been a fan of neither Hugo nor Luigi, because she continued to wail in spite of the festive Christmas songs.
“Well, we’ve learned an important lesson,” Mart said. “Contrary to popular belief, music does not always tame the savage beast.”
Dan grinned. “To be more precise, we’ve learned two lessons. We suck at taking care of babies.”
“If you want to get technical, we’ve learned three lessons,” Mart corrected grumpily. “In matters regarding babies, puppies, and rainbows, don’t let Dan vote.”
“I’m never going to live this down, am I?” Dan asked, smiling sheepishly.
“Nope,” was Mart’s simple reply.
Diana giggled as she listened to the words of the song playing through the speakers. “Forget my two front teeth. All I want for Christmas is a little peace and quiet. Trixie, have you found Angel’s mom?”
Completely and utterly dejected, Trixie’s shoulders slumped as if she were carrying the weight of the world upon them. She was so discouraged that even her curls looked a little less bouncy than usual when she shook her head. She’d been on the phone for the past hour, calling anyone and everyone who might be able to help her.
“Not a bit,” she answered, the corners of her lips dipped downward in a frown. “I called the hospital, but none of the nurses would answer my questions. Thank goodness I’m persistent.”
“In this one and only instance, I’ll have to agree with you,” Mart cracked. “Seriously, what’s the scoop?”
“Well, there’s good news and bad news,” Trixie began. “The good news is that Fay Franklin is a candy striper at the hospital, and one of her jobs is to deliver flowers to the patients. A lot of bouquets are delivered to the maternity ward, so she likes to stop by the nursery to see the babies.”
Mart drew circles with an open hand as a way to tell his sister to wrap it up. “Okay, so what’s the bad news?” he prompted.
Trixie made a face. “The bad news is that there have been four boys born the past week and only one girl.”
“Why, Trixie!” Honey exclaimed. “That’s not bad news at all! The baby girl had to be Angel!”
“Somehow, I don’t think they’re the same baby,” Trixie said. “Something tells me that Oto and Kimika Hakaito’s daughter isn’t our Angel.”
Diana shrugged her shoulders, her lovely violet eyes blinking in confusion. “What makes you think that?”
“Weeeeeell,” Trixie drawled in dramatic fashion, “the little girl that was born in the hospital is Japanese, and since the baby we found in the manger has blonde hair and blue eyes, they can’t be the same little girl. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Angel obviously isn’t Oriental.”
“Okay, I guess you’ve got a good point there,” Diana giggled.
“Did you talk to anybody else?” Dan asked.
Trixie nodded. “I called Miss Jones and told her I was working on a project about teen pregnancy.”
“You called our guidance counselor at home, on Christmas Eve no less, and then proceeded to question her under false pretenses?” Mart made a clucking sound with his tongue. “Shame, shame, Beatrix. Santa Claus won’t like this a bit. Methinks you’re going to end up with a big chunk of coal in your stocking tonight just like Brian.”
“For your information, Mart Belden, I am working on a project about teen pregnancy,” Trixie pointed out hotly. “I mean, I am trying to find someone who was pregnant until she gave birth a day or two ago, and I’m pretty sure that she was probably a teenager, if not now then a few years ago, so it’s not like I was lying to Miss Jones.”
Mart shook his head in disbelief. “No matter how much Honeyspeak you use, you’ll never be able to justify your actions in a court of law, squaw.”
“Shut up, Mart,” Dan chuckled. “Trixie, what did you find out?”
“According to Miss Jones, the school has eight pregnant girls, and none of them were due in December or early January,” Trixie told them. “Since Angel appears to be full term, I’m guessing that her mother didn’t attend Sleepyside Junior-Senior High.”
“Surely you didn’t give up there,” Honey said.
In spite of her frustration, Trixie flashed her best friend a grin. “You know me too well. After I got off the phone with Miss Jones, I called Jennifer King. She runs the women’s and children’s shelter on Elm Street.”
“Would she answer your questions, or did you get the runaround from her, too?” Dan inquired.
“Oh, she answered all my questions,” Trixie answered. “Unfortunately, none of those answers were helpful. Nobody’s come into the shelter pregnant or with a newborn baby.”
Except for Angel’s fussing, the room was silent as the five teenagers considered their predicament. What had begun as a good deed had turned into something more. Each of the Bob-Whites had grown attached to the newborn, and this was one mystery that everyone wanted to solve as badly as Trixie. If they were going to find Angel’s mother, they would have to do it sooner rather than later.
In spite of how he’d given Dan grief about voting in favor of the motion, Mart was just as fond of Angel as everyone else. He rocked the baby in his arms, doing his best to soothe her cries. The usual twinkle missing from his china blue eyes, his voice took on a strangely somber tone as he asked, “So, what do we do now, Trix?”
“To be honest, I’m running out of ideas,” she admitted.
Mart clutched his heart and gasped in dramatic fashion. “Surely my auditory organs deceive me! I could’ve sworn I heard Beatrix declare defeat.”
“Hey, I’m not waving the white flag of surrender yet,” Trixie said. “Obviously it’s going to take a little footwork to solve this case. I thought a couple of us could visit the secondhand shop on Hawthorne Street. If we take the clothes Angel was wearing when we found her, maybe the person that works there will remember who bought them.”
“It’s worth a shot,” Dan agreed.
“There’s also that Goodwill store on West Second,” Diana remarked. “We should probably add that to our list of places to stop.”
“Good thinking, Di,” Trixie said. “I’d forgotten about that store.”
Honey nodded, her countenance brightening slightly with newfound hope. “If Angel’s mom bought those baby clothes in Sleepyside, those are the two shops where she most likely would’ve gone to. I think that’s our best shot at finding her.”
“I agree.” Mart stood up and handed the baby to Dan. “Trixie, go get the things Angel was wearing and I’ll warm up the station wagon.”
Trixie scurried off to find Angel’s sleeper and blanket while Mart made a beeline for the front door.
“Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mart so eager to look for clues,” Honey commented.
A wistful smile parted Diana’s lips. “He must really love children.”
“Humph,” Dan muttered, scowling as he took a whiff in the general direction of Angel’s bottom. “I’m not sure what stinks more—the fact that Mart has you girls totally snowed or the mess Angel made in her diaper.”
Honey wrinkled her nose. “My money’s on the mess in Angel’s diaper.”
“Mine too,” Diana giggled.
For the hundredth time in the last twenty-four hours, Dan wondered why on earth he’d voted aye instead of nay.
Later that afternoon…
In less than a couple of hours, it would be time for the Bob-Whites to leave for rehearsal. Jim and Brian had finished building the props and returned to the Manor House with time to spare, but Trixie and Mart hadn’t come back from scouring Sleepyside’s secondhand shops. By the time Jim and Brian reappeared, Honey, Diana, and Dan were more than ready for a break from babysitting duties. Diana eagerly handed Angel over to Jim.
“Maybe you’ll have better luck keeping her happy,” Diana said, brushing back a stray lock of ebony hair. She wearily sank back into the recliner. “I’m pooped.”
“Speaking of ‘poop’,” Dan began, “I never would’ve imagined that so much of it could come out of one pint-sized human. The kid can’t weigh more than seven pounds, and six of it has to be waste products. I tell you, she’s a medical anomaly.”
Brian chuckled in amusement. “A medical anomaly, huh? I’m sure you’ve changed a lot of diapers today, but that’s perfectly normal. How many diapers are we talking about? Eight? Ten?”
“Try 38!” Dan squawked, pointing to the overflowing trashcan. “I’m telling you, the kid is a pooping machine!”
“They weren’t all dirty diapers,” Honey chirped. “Several of them were barely wet. She cried all day, and we kept changing her, hoping that it would make her happy. Unfortunately, all we have to show for it is enough diapers to start our own landfill.”
Jim’s ginger brow furrowed with concern as he did his best to quiet Angel. “Has she cried like this all day?”
“Well, not all day. Just most of it,” Diana answered.
“Yeah, she’s quiet as long as she’s sucking on a bottle,” Dan told them.
“It’s not like she’s screamed the entire time,” Honey clarified. “Sometimes it sounds like she’s grumbling in baby language and other times she just whimpers.”
A thoughtful frown marred Brian’s strong brow. “Has she been eating enough?”
“Four ounces every three to four hours,” Diana replied.
“Is she too hot?” Brian suggested. “Too cold?”
Honey shook her head. “She feels comfortable to me.”
“Did you try swaddling her?” Brian queried.
Diana nodded in affirmation. “We sure did, but it didn’t help.”
“That’s really puzzling,” Brian murmured, scratching his chin. “If she’s eating and pooping properly, I doubt that she’s lactose intolerant. Her heart rate and pulse is great, she doesn’t have a fever, and she isn’t having any trouble breathing. She’s perfectly healthy, so I can’t figure out why she won’t stop crying. It’s a mystery to me.”
“You’re beginning to sound like Trixie,” Dan joked.
“Speaking of Trixie… Where is she?” Jim asked. He immediately noticed his faux pas. Hoping nobody would point it out, he added, “Come to think of it, Mart’s not here, either. Where is the dynamic duo?”
“They went to a couple of the shops in town to see if the clerks sold Angel’s clothes to her mother,” Dan explained.
“In other words, my crazy siblings went on a wild goose chase,” Brian deduced with a grin.
“I know Trixie’s had some kooky plans in the past, but this one might actually work,” Dan told them.
“And if it doesn’t—” Brian began.
“We’ll have to give Angel to Pastor Wilkins,” Diana interrupted, glancing sadly at the baby. “Hopefully, Trixie and Mart will have some luck.”
At that moment, the front door opened, and it wasn’t long before the almost-twins rejoined the group, both wearing identical disappointed expressions.
In spite of Mart and Trixie’s long faces, Honey tried to maintain her optimism. “How did it go?”
“Not good,” Trixie answered flatly. “We talked to the clerks at both shops, but nobody remembered a thing. We’re back to square one.”
“Did you find out anything at all today?” Jim asked.
Mart shook his head. “No, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.” He reached over and wrapped a consoling arm around his sister’s shoulders. “Trixie made a lot of calls today, but unfortunately, nothing panned out.”
For once, Trixie’s sniff wasn’t indignant. As nonchalantly as possible, she used the back of her hand to brush away the tears that were stinging her eyes and threatening to make their descent down her freckled cheeks.
“I-I-I just don’t understand it,” she faltered. “I called everyone imaginable that might be able to help us find Angel’s mom, but I couldn’t get a break. The trail is completely cold. I’ve turned over every rock I can think of, but I just can’t find her!”
“Trixie, you did your best,” Honey soothed.
“If that’s so, then my best wasn’t good enough,” Trixie choked out. “I tried my hardest, but this is one mystery I couldn’t solve.” She looked over at the fussing baby, heartbroken at the thought of failure. “This was probably the most important case I’ve ever worked on, and I failed. What kind of detective am I?”
Jim reached over and took her hand. “The kind that puts her whole heart and soul into a case. And in my opinion, that makes you the best kind of detective there is.”
Jim’s words only served to upset Trixie more. Sniffling back tears, she said, “I’m so sorry I talked everyone into this. I really thought we could find Angel’s mom, but it was a lot harder than I expected. We’re stressed out, we’re exhausted, and worst of all, something’s wrong with Angel and we can’t help her. This was a stupid idea.”
“Don’t say that, Trixie,” Diana murmured, jumping up to comfort her best friend. “You’ve only had a day to work on this, sweetie. If you would’ve had more time, I know you could’ve found Angel’s mother.”
Dan winced. “You aren’t suggesting that we keep her longer, are you? I mean, I love the kid, but I’m not sure that we’re doing the best job. Besides, we’re running out of diapers…”
“We can always buy more diapers,” Honey pointed out. “And we are on Christmas break this week—”
“I think we should give her to Pastor Wilkins,” Trixie cut in, her voice dejected. She peeked over at the baby, and her tears returned. “We tried our best, but at this point, we need to do what’s best for Angel.”
“Are you sure, Shamus?” Jim asked gently.
Trixie nodded. “Yes, I’m sure,” she answered after only a slight pause. Totally deflated, she knew it was time to admit defeat, and that realization made her want to crawl off, curl up into the fetal position, and cry with Angel.
That afternoon, at Christmas pageant rehearsal…
Angel’s wails echoed through the sanctuary. Diana did her best to shush her, but as usual, nothing worked. The Bob-Whites had hoped that Miss Trask could watch the baby while they went to practice, but she had to go into the city to pick up Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler at the airport. With no other alternative, the teenagers had been forced to bring Angel along.
“Give her a pacifier, Di,” Trixie hissed.
“I already tried that, Trixie,” Diana retorted. “She spit it out.”
Trixie huffed noisily. “Well, give her a bottle.”
“She just finished her bottle,” Diana bristled. “Since you have all the answers, why don’t you take her for a while?”
“I can’t hold her,” Trixie snapped. “I have to go on stage.”
“So do I,” Diana returned. “How am I supposed to sing with a screaming baby in my arms?”
“Maybe Jim or Brian can take her,” Honey suggested.
“No can do, Sis,” Jim replied. “Brian and I have to stay backstage so we can change the scenery. Is there anybody in the nursery that could keep her?”
Dan shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, somebody has to take care of her while we practice,” Trixie said, desperation causing her voice to crack. “What are we going to do?”
“You’re going to give that baby to me and then get into your places ASAP.”
Trixie turned around to see Wendy standing behind them. She immediately recognized the curious expression on their youth leader’s face. “Uh, you’re probably wondering why we brought a baby to rehearsal,” Trixie said.
“As a matter of fact, I am,” Wendy admitted. “However, I learned a long time ago not to poke my nose in where it doesn’t belong. So, why don’t you hand the kid over to me so we can start practicing?”
“She likes to cry,” Diana warned as she gave Angel to Wendy.
“That’s okay,” Wendy muttered. “So do I during certain times of the month. We’ll have lots to talk about.”
Much to the Bob-Whites’ surprise, the minute Wendy took Angel in her arms, the newborn stopped crying. With her huge blue eyes, Angel peered up at Wendy. Although babies supposedly don’t smile until they’re a month old, Trixie could’ve sworn that Angel’s tiny mouth curved upwards when she looked at Wendy. It was clear that Wendy was just as enamored with the infant. She looked at Angel with such longing that it made Trixie’s heart hurt.
“Wow, she’s not crying anymore,” Trixie whispered.
“Of course she’s not,” Wendy cooed. “She’s just a little angel.”
“That’s what we call her,” Diana said. Realizing her blunder, she added, “I mean, that’s her name, so of course that’s what we call her.”
Thankfully, Wendy was too busy reveling in Angel’s sweetness to notice.
“Will you be okay?” Honey asked.
“I’ve never been better,” Wendy answered, her voice husky. Clearing her throat, she gestured towards the stage. “Go ahead and get in your places, kids. It’s time to begin.”
Still shocked, the Bob-Whites did as she asked, and once everyone was in their place, practice began. Unlike the previous rehearsal, this one went off without a hitch. Everyone remembered their lines, the songs were sung perfectly, and the backstage crew changed sets like old pros. An hour and two run-throughs later, Wendy was confident that this year’s pageant wouldn’t be a complete disaster.
“Great job, everyone!” she enthused, still holding Angel in her arms. “The program’s starting at midnight, so make sure you’re here by 11:30. And don’t forget your costumes!”
With the exception of the Bob-Whites, the rest of the cast and crew left, leaving the BWG’s alone with the director.
“Gleeps, Wendy!” Trixie exclaimed. “You’re really good with babies! Why on earth don’t you have any of your own?”
“Trixie!” Honey hissed under her breath. “You shouldn’t ask such a personal question.”
“That’s okay, Honey.” Wendy ran her fingers through Angel’s soft curls, a wistful look in her eyes. “Steve and I wanted children, but it wasn’t God’s will. I’m sure He has a reason for it, though.”
Diana’s lovely violet eyes misted over with tears. “I’m so sorry, Wendy.”
“Don’t be sorry for us. The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Wendy said. She smiled fondly at the teenagers. “Steve and I have a happy life together. Also, because of my condition, I’ve always had a special spot in my heart for children, and God has allowed me the privilege of working with the youth group. And believe it or not, you hoodlums are a real blessing to me even if you do drive me crazy sometimes.”
“And you’re a blessing to us, Wendy,” Honey managed through tears.
Wendy kissed the baby’s forehead before handing her to Trixie. “Angel’s mama is one lucky lady,” she whispered.
“But she doesn’t have a mama!” Trixie burst out. In what seemed like one single breath, she explained the entire situation to Wendy. By the time she’d completed her account, she was crying along with Angel. “I meant well, honestly I did! And I tried so hard to find Angel’s mother, but there’s no trace of her. I…I…I just don’t know what to do! I’m so sorry for getting everyone involved in this mess!”
Taking pity on the young girl, Wendy wrapped her arm around Trixie’s shoulders. Wise woman that she was, she resisted the urge to lecture and offered sound advice instead. “Trixie dear, I know your heart was in the right place, but you can’t keep Angel. You’re going to go straight to Pastor Wilkins’ office and tell him exactly what you told me. He’s a wise man, and I have a feeling that he’ll be able to come up with the perfect solution.”
Trixie’s chin quivered. “Do you think he’ll get mad at me?”
“I can’t say for sure, but even if he does, he will forgive you,” Wendy told her honestly. “I’m absolutely positive, though, that he can help.”
“What will happen to Angel?” Diana asked.
Wendy shrugged. “I can’t say for certain, but she’ll probably be placed in the custody of Child Services until a foster family is found. If I know Pastor Wilkins, he’ll do his best to make sure that Angel is placed in the best home possible. There are a lot of people out there who would love to have a baby like her, and Angel will be the answer to someone’s prayers.”
Wiping away her tears with the back of her hand, Trixie nodded. “Let’s go talk to the pastor.”
Feeling a lot like a prisoner on his way to the gallows, Trixie followed Wendy through the church to the pastor’s office. Her only consolation was that all six of her fellow Bob-Whites were right behind her. The worry she felt must’ve shown on her face, because she felt a comforting hand on her shoulder. She turned her head and was encouraged by the tender expression she saw on Wendy’s face.
“Cheer up, kid,” she said lightly. “It’s not like you’re going to be excommunicated or anything. Well, at least not until after the Christmas play…I mean, it’s way too late to get your understudy ready, and like they say in show biz, the show must go on.”
Trixie couldn’t help but grin. “Okay, but if Pastor Wilkins gets so mad at me that he asks Moms and Dad to ground me for an eternity, I’m counting on you to plead my case and get me a lighter sentence.”
“You’ve got it,” Wendy agreed. Before Trixie could knock on the door of the pastor’s office, she spoke again. “By the way, you might want to leave Angel with me.”
“Good thinking,” Trixie murmured, giving the wailing newborn to Wendy. The baby instantly ceased her fussing, and once again, Trixie was forced to wonder in amazement.
“Trixie? What’re you waiting for?” Mart prompted. “Knock on the door.”
Nudged back to reality, Trixie raised her fisted hand and rapped on the door to the pastor’s office.
“Come in,” a voice from inside called.
Expelling a lengthy sigh, Trixie opened the door and led the Bob-Whites into the tastefully decorated office.
“Ah, if it isn’t my favorite bevy,” Pastor Wilkins greeted warmly. “How can I help you?”
Jim glanced anxiously at the pastor’s Bible. It was lying open on his desk, and he obviously had been studying before they interrupted him. “We aren’t bothering you, are we? Because we can come back later if you need us to.”
The pastor waved off Jim’s concerns. “No, you aren’t disturbing me at all,” he assured them. “I was preparing my sermon for this evening’s service, but I’m almost finished. Please, sit down.”
Jim motioned for Trixie, Honey, and Diana to sit in the three chairs across from Pastor Wilkins, and he and the rest of the boys stood behind them.
“I’m willing to guess,” the pastor began, “that this visit has something to do with the baby. Am I right?”
Trixie gasped. “How did you know?”
“My wife called me a few minutes ago.” Pastor Wilkins chuckled at their surprised faces. “She found Rebecca in her room, putting a dress on a baby doll that we hadn’t bought for her. Mrs. Wilkins recognized it as one of the props for the pageant, and even as we speak, she’s taking off the frilly pink dress and matching booties. So, you can tell Wendy that the crisis has been averted, and Baby Jesus will be back in His manger, redressed in His swaddling clothes, before the curtain goes up.”
“That’s good to know, Pastor, but that isn’t why we’re here,” Honey explained. “I mean, we do need to talk to you about a baby, but not the doll in the manger. Well, now that I think about it, this baby was found in a manger, but she’s real, not plastic, and she cries, but come to think of it, the doll could cry, too—” A swift kick from Trixie caused Honey to quit babbling and clamp her lips shut.
“What Honey means is we’re glad you found our doll,” Trixie quickly interjected. She wasn’t nearly so eager when she continued speaking. “Unfortunately, that isn’t why we’re here. I’m afraid that we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a pickle.”
Pastor Wilkins smiled at the teenagers. “Well, you aren’t the first to find yourselves in a tight spot, and you certainly won’t be the last. Tell me what happened, and I’ll do my best to help.”
Trixie wasn’t sure if it was what the pastor said or if it was the gentle tone in which he spoke, but for whatever reason, she almost broke down. Gulping back her tears, she sputtered, “I only meant to help; honestly, I did! If I’d only given Angel to you like the letter said, none of this would’ve happened.”
“Slow down, Trixie,” the pastor directed, his eyes full of compassion and his voice soothing. “What letter are you talking about, and who is Angel? You’re going to have to start at the beginning because I’m completely confused.”
Trixie took a deep breath and then plunged ahead with her explanation. “Well, it all started after last night’s play practice. Jim and Brian were going to make the set and the props for the Christmas pageant, and they had the lumber in the station wagon, so we went outside to help them unload it. That’s when I heard a kitten meow, but it wasn’t really a cat after all. It was a baby! A real live baby that someone had left in the manger in front of the church!”
Although he was taken aback by that bombshell, Pastor Wilkins’ face didn’t register his obvious surprise. “Someone left a baby at the church?”
Trixie nodded. “Yes, sir,” she answered. “We found her all bundled up in the manger from the life-size nativity scene.”
“Is she okay?”
“Oh, yes, she’s fine.” With a wrinkle of her freckled nose, Trixie continued, “Well, she cries a lot except when she’s being fed or held by Wendy, but other than that, she’s fine.”
“She’s perfectly perfect, Pastor,” Honey added. “She’s the most precious little thing I’ve ever seen, just like she was sent down from Heaven, so that’s why Trixie decided to call her Angel.”
“Where is Angel now?” the pastor asked.
“Wendy has her,” Jim answered.
“Did Wendy keep her last night?”
Trixie shook her head. “No, we—the Bob-Whites, I mean—took care of her at Jim and Honey’s house. We fed her, changed her diapers, rocked her, and did everything we could to keep her happy, but nothing worked. Even when she stopped crying, it didn’t last.” She paused to blink back some tears. “I don’t know what we did wrong. Brian examined her closely, and there wasn’t any sign that she was sick. I know he isn’t a doctor yet, but he had a lot of training on the medical mission trip he went on, and Angel looked fine to him.”
“I must’ve missed something,” Brian remarked, his tone full of self-recrimination.
“Not necessarily,” the pastor murmured. “When Rebecca was a baby, she would cry even after she had a bottle and a fresh diaper change. There wasn’t a thing wrong with her that Mommy’s arms couldn’t fix.”
“Poor Angel doesn’t have a mother, so it’s no wonder that she keeps crying.” Trixie’s china blue eyes misted over with tears, and her chin quivered slightly. “We looked for her as hard as we could, but we couldn’t track her down.”
Tenderhearted Honey reached over and clasped her best friend’s hand. “We wanted to find Angel’s mother so we could give her a job. We thought that maybe we could reunite them in time for Christmas.”
The pastor arched a single brow. “You wanted to help the woman that deserted her baby? I must say, that’s very charitable of you.”
“I usually wouldn’t feel so charitable towards a mom that ditched her kid,” Dan admitted, “but you could tell from the letter she wrote that this mother didn’t know what else to do. It sounded like she really loved her baby and wanted the best for her.”
“I assume that’s the letter Trixie referred to earlier,” Pastor Wilkins deduced. “Where is it now?”
“I’ve got it.” Trixie wriggled around so she could dig through her pocket. A minute later, she pulled out the letter and handed it to the pastor.
Pastor Wilkins carefully read through the letter several times. After what seemed like an eternity, he refolded it, handed it back to Trixie, and then cleared the lump that had risen in his throat. “I see what you mean, Dan. It sounds like that young woman truly loved her baby and wanted to take care of her the best way she knew how. It breaks my heart that she didn’t have any other alternative. I wish she would’ve come to us for help instead of just dropping off the baby.” He focused his attention on Trixie. “I assume the reason you didn’t bring Angel to me or another adult in the church is because you wanted the chance to find her mother first.”
Trixie nodded her head glumly. “Yes, sir. We knew you’d be obligated to turn her over to Child Services, but we didn’t want Angel to spend her first Christmas in a children’s home.”
“Also, if Angel’s birth mother came back, the authorities would arrest her for abandonment,” Honey added.
“So we decided to find Angel’s mom first,” Diana explained. “Once we tracked her down, we were going to find her a job and do everything we could to help her and Angel be a family.”
“The only problem was that, no matter how hard we searched, Angel’s mother was nowhere to be found,” Mart said, frowning. “And if anyone could find her, it would be our very own Schoolgirl Shamuses. With a little help from the Schoolboy Sidekicks, of course.”
“And while we looked, we gave Angel the very best care possible, sir,” Brian told him.
“I don’t doubt that a bit,” the pastor replied. Expelling a lengthy sigh, he steepled his fingers in a thoughtful pose. “Kids, I understand why you did what you did, and you’re correct that I would’ve called Child Services immediately. You had good intentions; however, next time you find yourselves in a situation this serious, it would be wise to involve an adult immediately.”
Trixie hung her head. “Pastor, this was all my fault. It was my idea not to tell anyone about Angel while we looked for her mom. So please don’t blame anyone else.”
“Stop right there. I don’t mean to be contradictory,” Jim began, “but we’re all just as guilty as Trixie. Helping Angel might’ve been her idea, but we were right there with her, weren’t we, gang?”
The remaining Bob-Whites chorused their agreement with Jim.
“So, if Trixie’s in trouble, sir, then I suppose the rest of us are as well,” Jim concluded.
“Relax, Jim,” Pastor Wilkins chuckled. “Nobody’s in trouble. Aside from calling your parents, I’m not sure what I could do to punish you anyway. Furthermore, even if I could punish you, I’m not convinced that you’d deserve it. Like I said earlier, your hearts were in the right place.”
Trixie breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad you aren’t mad at us, but what’re you going to do about Angel?”
“I’m afraid that I’m going to do exactly what you think I’m going to do,” the pastor answered. “Fortunately, my cousin works for Child Services, and I could probably pull some strings to make sure that Angel is placed into a good home tonight instead of being taken to a children’s home.”
“Can you really do that, Pastor Wilkins?” Trixie asked excitedly.
“I’m sure I can,” he replied.
“That would be wonderful!” Diana gushed.
The pastor smiled. “That isn’t all. I just happen to know a couple that has fulfilled all the state’s requirements in order to become foster parents. With a little help from my cousin, they could probably be awarded custody immediately and begin the process of adopting Angel by the New Year.”
“Wendy and Steve!” Trixie exclaimed. “Gleeps! Why didn’t I think of that?”
Honey clapped her hands. “What a perfectly perfect idea! Wendy’s already fallen in love with little Angel!”
“And Angel sure does seem to love Wendy,” Diana added.
“Hold on a minute,” Pastor Wilkins said with a laugh. “Before you volunteer to paint Wendy’s nursery, I should probably call my cousin and see if we can work this out.”
Trixie was so excited that she was practically crackling with electricity. “Can you call your cousin now?” she pleaded. “I’m not very patient, and I just might explode if I have to wait much longer to find Angel a family!”
Chuckling, Pastor Wilkins picked up his phone and placed the call. Trixie held her breath as she listened to the one-sided conversation. For what felt like years, she waited for the verdict. Even after he finally said goodbye and hung up the phone, Trixie still couldn’t tell what decision had been made.
“Well?” she prompted.
“Well, you’d better gather up your paintbrushes because Wendy’s definitely going to need that nursery.”
In unison the Bob-Whites whooped with joy as they followed their pastor out of the room. They had some important news to deliver.
At precisely the stroke of midnight…
Clad in her Mary costume, Trixie stood behind the stage curtain, at an angle where nobody could see her yet she could look out at the audience. Honey and Diana had begun singing the first of their musical selections. Honey’s sweet soprano voice rang out, every note pure and in perfect pitch.
“It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold.”
The song became even lovelier as Diana’s rich alto harmony joined in, blending perfectly with Honey’s melody.
“ ‘Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From Heav’n’s all gracious King’
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.”
“They sound beautiful, don’t they?”
Trixie turned to see Jim standing beside her, his freckled hands stuffed in his pockets.
“They do,” she murmured. “But to be honest, I was paying more attention to Wendy and Angel than I was Honey and Di.”
Jim nodded knowingly. “Wendy sure has a way with the little ones.”
“She does,” Trixie agreed. Suddenly, her countenance clouded over with disappointment. “I’m glad everything worked out like it did, but I am kind of bummed that I couldn’t solve this mystery. I wish I’d been able to find Angel’s mom.”
Jim’s eyes became slightly misty as he watched Wendy cradle the now content newborn in her arms. “I don’t know about that, Shamus. It seems to me that you did find Angel’s mother.”
Trixie grinned broadly as she studied mother and daughter; she had never seen either of them happier, particularly Angel. “Well, yeah, I guess we did find Angel’s mom after all. “ With a giggle, she added, “Instead of the stork paying a visit to Wendy, she got a special delivery from the Bob-Whites.”
Jim chuckled with her.
“Of course, I am still curious who left her in the manger,” Trixie remarked, her brow furrowed with curiosity. “How did Angel get there in the first place?”
“Who knows?” Jim asked with a shrug of his broad shoulders. Flashing Trixie that lopsided grin of his, he reached down and tugged on his favorite curl that hung in the center of Trixie’s forehead. “Maybe the Lord sent one of His messengers to bring the baby here. After all, the Bible does say that we entertain angels unaware.”
“That’s a very good point, Mr. Frayne,” she giggled.
“Why, thank you, Miss Belden.”
Trixie sighed in contentment as she listened to the beautiful singing and watched the audience from backstage. She couldn’t ever remember being happier. Not only had they found a wonderful home for Angel, the Bob-Whites had given Wendy and her husband the child for which they’d always yearned.
“I’m so glad that things worked out like they did,” she told him, a smile accentuating her dimples. “Wendy was so happy when she found out that she and her husband could adopt Angel. And do you know what’s really strange?”
“I don’t think Angel’s cried a single time since she’s been in Wendy’s arms,” Trixie replied, her eyes wide with wonder. “Like Pastor Wilkins said, she just needed her mother. Why, it’s like they were meant to be together.”
Jim grinned down at her, keeping his gaze locked on the sandy blonde. “You’re right, Shamus. Sometimes, two people just know when they’re meant for one another,” he murmured huskily. He cleared his throat nervously and then reached in his pocket. “Trixie, I know the Bob-Whites are going to exchange gifts tomorrow afternoon, but I got a little something for you.”
Trixie laughed nervously. “But if I open it now, I won’t have anything to unwrap tomorrow.”
“W-well, actually I drew Mart’s name for the BWG exchange,” Jim stammered. And Mart’s wallet didn’t set me back nearly as much as Trixie’s present did, he thought. He coughed and then said out loud, “This was just something extra that I got to…to show you how much I... Well, it’s just something I wanted to buy for you.”
Trixie’s cheeks blazed a bright crimson color. “Jim, you didn’t have to do that.”
“I-I-I just wanted to show you how special you are to me,” he admitted, his cheeks just as red as Trixie’s.
“Really?” Trixie hoped that her smile didn’t look as dopey as it felt.
“Yes, really.” Jim shuffled his feet, nervous because he couldn’t read her reaction. “It’s been a couple of years since I gave you that I.D. bracelet, and I know we said we weren’t going to get serious until we were older, but it’s just that I miss you so much while I’m away at college…”
“I miss you, too, Jim,” she whispered. “Very much.”
Her voice sounded so earnest that it gave Jim the confidence to continue. He pulled a small red jeweler’s box from the pocket of his dress slacks and handed it to her. “I hope you like it.”
With trembling hands Trixie opened the box. She gasped as she saw the sterling silver locket nestled inside. Although it didn’t say “I love you” on it, it had a heart engraved on the front.
“It’s beautiful, Jim,” she told him, her eyes shining. “I love it.”
Careful not to smudge the shiny surface, Trixie used the fingernail of her index finger to open up the locket. She smiled when she saw the two pictures Jim had placed on either side. Her photo was on one side, and Jim’s was on the other. It looked almost as if the two images were smiling at each other.
“That isn’t all,” Jim added. “Look on the back.”
Trixie closed the locket and then turned it around so that she could see the back. There, engraved in delicate letters and barely visible, were the initials J.W.F.
“Whenever you wear that locket, I’ll always be close to your heart, even if I’m miles away at college,” Jim explained. “Now, you don’t have any excuse to forget about me.”
“I could never forget about you, Jim,” she said shyly. “You’ve been close to my heart since the first day we met, so this necklace is perfectly perfect.”
She lifted the necklace out of the box, put it on, and tried to fasten the clasp, but the mass of curls at the base of her neck kept getting in the way.
“Here, let me help,” Jim offered. He almost gasped at the shot of electricity that jolted him when his fingers touched Trixie’s. After several failed attempts, his trembling fingers managed to hook the dainty lobster clasp. “There you go.”
Trixie centered the locket on the front of her costume and peered up at Jim, her eyes wider and bluer than usual. “Does it look okay?”
In the same situation with any other female, Jim would’ve assumed the girl was fishing for compliments. However, Trixie wasn’t “any other female.” He could tell that Trixie was unsure of herself and desperately seeking his approval. He would’ve been happy to give it to her, but a lump lodged on his voice box kept him from speaking. After clearing his throat, he kept his gaze locked on her face and managed to choke out, “I’ve never seen anything prettier.”
Her cheeks flushed with pleasure, Trixie rose up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “Thanks again, Jim.”
“You’re very welcome, Shamus. Merry Christmas.”
“It’s not Christmas yet, silly,” she giggled.
“Well, it’s a few minutes after midnight, so it technically is Christmas Day,” Jim pointed out.
“Why, so it is!” Trixie exclaimed. “And what a Christmas it’s been so far!” Shyly tucking her hand into his, she nestled her head against his shoulder as she listened to Honey and Diana repeat the final lines of their hymn.
“When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling.
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.”
Their intention to reunite Angel with her birth mother hadn’t worked out as the Bob-Whites had planned, but Trixie was sure that things had worked out according to God’s plan. Even though she’d incorrectly guessed the outcome, she was right about one thing. This truly was the best Christmas ever!
First of all, I would like to wish Wendy a very merry Christmas! Love you, sweetie!
The name of this popular Christmas hymn is actually “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” but since a lot of people sing it, “It came upon a midnight clear…,” I used that as my title.
Thank you to Cathyoma, who so graciously makes the Secret Santa assignments every year. You rock, my friend! Thanks for doing this in spite of your busy schedule.
A super-duper thank you to the two lovely ladies, Jenny and Jo, who so kindly volunteered to edit this on such short notice. You both are wonderful, not to mention extremely brave. If it weren’t for Jenny and Jo’s work, I would’ve looked like a real dunce.
When we receive our Secret Santa assignments, we’re given some info about our recipient to help us personalize our stories. One of the things I gathered from Wendy’s info was that she directs the Christmas pageant at her church, and she has special memories of attending the Midnight Mass service. Those two tidbits helped develop the plot of this story, which I had actually thought of last year but couldn’t get to work. Wendy loves the traditional Christmas hymns, and although “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” wasn’t one of the favorites that she listed, it was the perfect title for this story. She also mentioned that she loved listening to Hugo and Luigi’s Christmas album (and yes, it is red instead of black), so I worked that in as well, along with the title of one of her favorite songs from that album. However, the greatest inspiration for this story was meeting Wendy this summer. The character of Wendy Marshall was based on Wendy (natch!), and I tried hard to convey the real Wendy’s warmth, compassion, and friendliness in her namesake.(BTW, her last name has been changed in interest of Wendy’s privacy.) She’s a lovely person who can just wrap her arms around you and make you feel loved, which is how I knew that the Bob-Whites would love her. And they did.
“The Greatest News Story Ever Reported” is actually the title of the Christmas play that I wrote for the Christmas program at my church this year which I’m directing.
Walter Cronkite and Anderson Cooper are both famous news people. Mr. Cronkite was a legendary anchorman, but Mr. Cooper, while not quite so acclaimed, is a lot cuter. *g*
The verse Trixie tried to quote is 1 Corinthians 15:33: Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
“Ava Maria” was indeed originally written in Latin. It is a lovely song and very difficult to sing. My hat’s off to Di for tackling that one. And in case you’re curious, no, Trixie wasn’t responsible for making Latin a dead language.
Bob Villa is a famous carpenter, and so is Bob the Builder. Well, sort of…
In case you’re curious, Jim is Wendy’s favorite. I didn’t make that up.
Wendy isn’t the only one with a cameo at The Cameo. Pastor Wilkins was based on a certain pastor I know (and am married to, in case you don’t know J). I was going to mention something about how handsome he was, but it just kind of creepy.
You can read about the Bob-Whites’ experience with Dodgy in Castaway Children.
Pampers and Huggies are diaper brands, and Enfamil is a brand of baby formula. And yes, that stuff does smell nasty.
Rob Zombie makes scary movies. Since I don’t like scary movies, I do not watch them.
I forget where I heard it, but some medical study recently made the claim that if a woman eats yams, she is more likely to have twins. After I heard this, I breathed a sigh of relief that I do not care for yams. For what it’s worth, a friend of mine has twins, and yes, she enjoys yams.
My daughter didn’t sleep for the first five months of her life. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to become completely exhausted. We never gave her Nyquil, but my husband did consider inventing some knockout drops that would be safe for babies.
I once heard a comedienne use the phrase “fudgie in her wedgie,” and it amused me greatly. Since Honey is so tactful, that seemed to be a nice euphemism for her to use.
Fay Franklin, Oto Hakaito, and Miss Jones are all characters from the series. I don’t have permission to use them, but since I’ve been using the Bob-Whites without permission for over six years, I’m not going to worry about it now.
And did you think you could actually get out of The Cameo without a little sappy smush? It wouldn’t be Christmas without a little sweet romance. ♥