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It was December, as would be expected. Jack was suddenly aware that his wife was moving.

"Ngh," he moaned. "Jo - it's six in the morning!"

"I've got lots to do," Joey said, unravelling her plaits. "The triplets will be back today, Mary-Lou is going to be joining us as well, and Charlotte's getting discharged from the San as well. And the school's play is on today as well, and Felicity and Cecil are both in it,"

"You didn't have to invite Charlotte," Jack pointed out.

Joey thought to the woman she had met whilst taking a visit to the San. "She's got no family and nowhere else to go," she said. "And I just thought, it's nearly Christmas, we've got the room, and Mike's old enough to know not to disrupt visitors now,"

"It's Phil you have to worry about in that regard," Jack muttered. "You go sort the world out, and I'll just get some more sleep,"

"You do that,"

***

It was about a week before Christmas, and the younger Maynards were being taken on a shopping trip at a large department store.

"I love escalators," Phil stated.

Her siblings looked at her blankly for a second, but were distracted by all the goods on offer in the store.

"Careful," Joey said. "Make sure not to overspend on anything,"

Felicity and Cecil found themselves drawn to sparkly and shiny things, jewellery mainly. Felix tagged along with them, mainly because he didn't want to go with 'the kids'. Jack kept an eye on this group, while Joey took Geoff, Phil, and Claire around. The two adults felt themselves giving a lot of nudges and tidbits of advice to their offspring, whilst picking out an item or two themselves. Amongst other things, Felicity had chosen a small ballet figurine for her friend Lucy Peters, Claire had picked out a doll for Erica because it was something that she herself would want, and Geoff had chosen a woodcarving of a bird for Mike.

They returned home to hear a cacophony of voices. "Is that supposed to be Good King Wenceslas?" Jack asked, frowning.

"I believe so," Joey replied. She got out of the car. From one of the highest windows came a number of voices. Margot, Mike, all three Richardsons, and Erica were all singing.

"Hello, Mother," Margot grinned down.

"I'm surprised the whole Platz hasn't come to protest, hearing that noise," Joey said.

"It could be worse - Mike was thinking we should do it on the roof!"

***


Simone was partaking in some last-minute Noel shopping. Her younger sister Renee and family were coming to visit, and so supplies were needed. As she stopped on the edge of a large crowd, she was suddenly collided with. She found herself on the ground while a young lady was above her.

"I'm really sorry, I didn't see you there and I'm in a bit of a rush and - Mme de Bersac!"

Simone glanced at the force that had knocked her to the ground. "Odette Mercier!" she exclaimed, wondering exactly when the girl turned into a feasible battering ram.

"Here," Odette said, holding a hand out. She helped Simone up. "Sorry about that," Odette said. "Can't stop now, though, very very busy," She flashed a wild grin before speeding off, with only a touch more care.

What just happened? The last time Simone had seen Odette with anything resembling a smile, had been before Mme Mercier had passed away. And there had certainly been no enthusiastic running and energy back then. She preferred this new version of Odette vastly already, even if she had taken all the wind out of her lungs.

***

The Maynards and Richardsons and all of the other people staying at Freudesheim were sat at the breakfast table.

"It was great to see Nina perform again," Mary-Lou, one of the endless people visiting, said. "You should really try and make it to one of her concerts sometime, Aunty Joey,"

"I mean to," Joey said. "I hear she'll be performing in London near to when I'm in next in England, so I might take the boys and we can go and hear her then,"

"You two know Nina Rutherford?" Charlotte Baumann, who Joey had got to know whilst visiting the San, said. "Her music is sublime, isn't it? For all my years of practice I never could play like that,"

Up the table were the triplets and Stephen.

"I've had news from Sybil," Len said. "She's travelling Canada right now, with her husband, and they've been meeting lots of new people there,"

"That sounds nice," Con said. "You haven't opened that letter there, Stephen,"

"It's just from Toni, I'll open it later," Stephen replied.

Further up the table were the younger Maynards.

"I wrote a letter to Santa," Claire asked. "I hope he's brought what I asked for,"

"Don't be silly Claire, Santa doesn't exist," Phil said. "He's just Mamma and Papa trying to trick us,"

"He does too exist!" Claire replied.

"Doesn't,"

"Does too!"

This argument repeated for some time.

Anna brought in breakfast.

"Shall I help you with the Christmas dinner later?" Joey asked.

"No thank you, mein Frau," Anna replied. "I would worry that you would explode the custard,"

Joey just stared while, next to her, Charlotte dissolved into giggles which she hurriedly stifled by putting her hand to her mouth.

Reg arrived after breakfast had been finished. He and Len went upstairs, past the playroom (conveniently not noticing the mouse tail which was hurriedly stowed into the hole the two mice were in), and into her room for a few private moments.

Meanwhile, everyone else was unwrapping presents. Joey found herself in possession of The Clocks, the latest Agatha Christie book, courtesy of Frieda. Erica found that she had to force herself to thank Claire for her gift, but was more enthusiastic about the perfume she'd received. Rosli found a blooming cherry stick next to the stove, having forgotten to check it in the preparations for Christmas. She would have to tell Fredrick, who she'd been seeing rather a lot lately. Many other presents had varying levels of appreciation associated with them,from those that were secretly traded off later to things that would be used again and again.

***

"Rockin' around the Christmas tree,
Let the Christmas spirit ring
Later we'll have some pumpkin pie
And we'll do some carolling,"

"I was enjoying that!"

"Yes, love," Nancy said. "But I don't think everyone else appreciated you singing along at the top of your voice!"

Kathie tried to look pouty, but it took only a few seconds before she started giggling like a maniac. She looked around; a number of people staying at the hotel were in the room. She blushed a little. "Put it back on, Nance," she said. "I promise not to sing along again,"

Nancy amiably switched the radio back on, but it seemed to be having technical difficulties. "I wonder which Christmas songs will be played on the radio in years to come,"

"Probably the same ones we're listening to right now," Kathie said. "Maybe with the odd new one stashed in there somewhere. Why do you think?"

"Anyone with a brain thinks, my dear," Nancy grinned. "As for that particular thought, I have no idea. It just came to me,"

"And I thought it would be something really deep," Kathie said.

"Nah," Nancy said. "I'm not an English teacher,"

Kathie giggled. "They're the deepest people you can think of, are they?"

"So where do you see us in ten years time?" Nancy asked.

"As a pair of vampires constantly getting killed without actually dying. Why, where do you see us?"

"Together."




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