Author's Note: This story takes place after "The Reality of the Situation." As always, read, enjoy, and review.

The Pikes', and any other characters appearing in this story are the property of Ann. M. Martin and Scholastic Inc.

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Two and a half months after announcing their separation and impending divorce, Dee and John Pike were faced with a new reality. Even though the children may have said otherwise, they had made the right decision; albeit a tough one. However, just because something was right did not make it easier. Everyday that passed brought about another challenge for the newly reconfigured family, and though both Dee and John both did their best to meet these challenges, both together and separately, neither of them were sure that they were adequately. At best, they were floundering.

The hardest part, as any parent in this situation could tell you, was watching the children trying to adjust. Moving between household was not proving easy for any of them, especially as John's apartment only had two bedrooms, making it hard for more than one or two of the kids to be there at a time. Actually, the kids didn't visit as much as John and Dee had originally anticipated. Though the children had all bemoaned their large family on more than one occasion, the Pike family had always stuck together. Until now, that is. No one ever said it aloud, but Dee could tell that actually making the effort to go to their father's new residence made everything that had happened over the last few months seem real. She couldn't blame the kids for not wanting to admit that to themselves, but hated that they were avoiding their father because of it, and hoped that this would soon pass. John, on the other hand, was relieved, though he could hardly even admit it to himself. He knew that as a parent he wasn't much more than sufficient. He loved his children, of course, but he didn't really know how to do much more than that.

Despite everything that had changed in the last few months, so much had stayed the same. Mallory was still doing well at Riverbend Hall, and was in the middle of the college application process. Adam, Byron, and Jordan were involved in a sport for every season, and it looked like sports scholarships were a definite possibility. Vanessa remained lost in her writing, but was turning out some great articles for the school newspaper in the process. Nicky was eternally lost in the shadow of his siblings, while Margo continued to push herself in everyway to excel. Claire was clearly one of the most popular girls in the sixth grade, but her smile faded when she came home. Dee knew that she wasn't happy, but was at a loss for what to do. Eleven had been a hard year for Mallory as well.

As they were in the midst of so much that was changing, and so much that had stayed the same, the Pike's were about to be faced with a new challenge, though none of them had fully acknowledged it as of yet. Fall had come and gone, and winter was rapidly approaching. Winter, and the Christmas season.

One of the most wonderful things about holidays is that they help people realize and be thankful for everything they have. Of course, this often goes hand in hand with people realizing what they have lost.

The Pike's had long had a Christmas tradition of drawing each others names for a gift exchange. Dee didn't even know if she would try that this year. Christmas had already been hard enough last year, in the absence of Uncle Joe, who had passed away just over a year ago. Last year, it had been hard, but the Pike's had been together as a family.

What did that make them now?

At various times these past few months, both Dee and John had longed to call each other and talk about everything that they would each be missing out on. However, so far neither of them had made the first move yet. They talked about legal procedures, doctors bills, and the occasional issues that the children brought into their lives, but they didn't talk about their new and tenuous relationship and identity to each other. It would hurt too much.

Eventually, though, something had to be done. As had been the pattern of their marriage, Dee made the first move, and called John one night when the children were either out with friends, or upstairs and in for the night. As was also a theme of their marriage, John did not offer up many suggestions as to how to manage the Christmas season and their delicate new family situation, and after twenty minutes of essentially having a conversation with herself, Dee made a decision and hung up the phone. She would talk to the children casually, and try to get a feel for what they wanted to do. She had read in a book about divorce that it was that the children feel involved in any major discussions if they were old enough.

Dee knew her children well, but had to admit that as they were growing older they were becoming harder to gauge. Mallory was polite, of course, but always distant. The triplets had long grown any semblance of being identical, and were always distinct in their reactions. Vanessa withdrew into her writing, Margo into her school work, and Claire into herself. Nicky, of course, wanted whatever Byron wanted, which was generally a good thing. She tried to imagine what would make everyone feel the most comfortable, but was unable to come up with a solution that would please even the majority of the family. She had no protocal for this type of situation.

Though the separation could easily be called the most defining moment of the Pike family thus far, both Dee and John individually felt that how the first Christmas went would be very monumental as well. In any case, it would be very indicative of what the future had in store for them as a family, together, and apart.