A/N: Here's the opening chapter of a holiday story whose initial idea was dreamed up by Mishee (thanks for this, I needed it this time of year!)—but it's multi-holiday, not just Christmas. However, in view of "tis" being "the season", I started out with the Christmas anecdote. Happy Whatever You Celebrate, or Happy December if you don't!


§ § § - December 4, 2006

Leslie came in from a trip to the post office Monday morning to find Christian assembling the family Christmas tree. "Oh, good," she said, lighting up. "I'm just in time."

Christian looked around and grinned at her. "So you are. You'll notice that I have a few other would-be helpers." The triplets were swarming around his calves, handing him upper branches to place in the holes of the steel "trunk" faster than he could insert them, all the while chattering in a hilarious mix of English and jordiska that was half unintelligible anyway. "Better this than some of the ornaments, though."

She laughed and, having shed her shoes, came into the living room with a bundle of envelopes in one hand. "I'm sure they can't decide whether it's Santa or Julanissa who's bringing them presents."

"Knowing them, they'll decide it'll be both." Christian grinned again when she snickered, and took a branch from Tobias. "Thank you, son. Are we already getting cards?"

"Sure are." Leslie flopped onto the sofa and slit open an envelope, withdrawing a card that had been signed by Nick, Myeko, Alexander, Noelle and, in sprawling, writhing capital letters, Dawn. "Wow. Looks like Myeko taught Dawn to write her name after all."

Christian peered at the card and chuckled. "Good for her. Is there anything from Lilla Jordsö? I confess to worrying that we're going to end up with a house-sized package one day, and that everything in it will be for these three."

"Well, not today," Leslie said with a laugh, extracting a card from the pile and handing it to him. "Not unless it's coming separately. You know, it's fun getting cards…I used to miss that."

Christian looked curiously around at her. "Missed getting cards? You mean no one sent you any when you were a child?"

She shrugged, slightly surprised at herself that she was able to look back on it now without more than a faint pang of wistfulness. "Not ones that seemed to count. I got cards from my friends, sure. And my friends and I would exchange presents, and of course Father and Tattoo made a point of giving me a card each year. But it just wasn't the same. My friends would remark about how they got the usual fruitcake from some dotty old aunt in the states somewhere, or the same gaudy, flashy trick card would come from Great-uncle Whosis from whatever remote corner of the planet he was spending Christmas in that year, or there'd be a small and very formal, but totally useless, gift from a relative in Hawaii—that was usually Myeko's complaint. I never got to tell them stories about how I'd get yet another hand-knitted scarf from a grandparent, or something, and I missed it."

Christian had paused in the tree-building and was regarding her with his full attention. "Hmm," he mused. "I'm sorry, my Rose, I can only imagine how you must have felt."

"Left out, mostly," she admitted, "and lonely. Father and Tattoo really tried to make my Christmases special, but there always seemed to be something missing, and there was nothing they could do about it. Which sort of got me in trouble one year."

"How so?" he asked, flinching when Susanna prodded him in the leg with the end of a branch. "All right, all right, I'll finish, I promise." He took it from the child, who nodded in self-satisfaction and promptly turned to fetch another.

"Finish putting that together first," Leslie suggested. "Ingrid offered to take the kids to the beach this afternoon so we could decorate in peace and without broken ornaments."

He grinned. "Wonderful. All right, we'll wait till then."

A couple of hours later, with Ingrid and the triplets long gone to the beach (Jonathan having picked them up), Christian and Leslie had retrieved their Christmas lights and ornaments from their usual storage place and had begun stringing lights on the tree. "I can never understand," Christian was muttering as he tested each string, "how the servants managed to put up both castle trees every year without a single hitch, and yet every year since you and I were married, one of our strings of lights always fails to work."

Leslie giggled. "Murphy's Law, probably. Don't worry, we'll work it out—we always do. If you have to get another string, they're on sale in town this week."

"I'll bet," Christian said wryly, giving her a look that made her laugh. "Well, if you're trying to entertain me enough to keep me from losing my temper over yet another burned-out light string, then why don't you tell me how you almost got in trouble one Christmas."

"Oh yeah." Leslie smiled ruefully and settled herself into a nearby chair, watching Christian laboriously testing each individual bulb in search of the ultimate culprit that had caused the light failure. "Oddly enough, it was in my last year of high school. The Halloween parties were always at Myeko's, but we all used to trade off the Christmas parties we went to. It was always just the six of us—me, Camille, Myeko, Michiko, Lauren and Maureen. Frida used to go to parties with her friend Michelle, and I think Michelle was one of the Coral Island kids. Well, by the fourth year someone realized I hadn't done my share, and it led to quite a situation…"

§ § § - December 13, 1982

"Hmm," murmured Michiko at lunch that Monday, after Leslie had finished describing the previous weekend's fantasies. "I suppose we have to figure out now whose turn it is to host our Christmas party."

"Oh, geez," muttered Lauren. "Why couldn't we just go to somebody else's party for a change? I mean, it's such a hassle, especially with all the presents we have to buy. My allowance never stretches far enough to cover all you guys."

"But we've been doing this every year since junior high," Camille protested. "Why stop now? I mean, we're seniors, this is probably the last year we'll ever do this."

"Why should it be?" asked Maureen. "We might have to stop when we go to college, but if we all plan to live on the island after that, we could still have them then."

"People have a way of drifting apart," Michiko said gently. "Camille might be right. Let's see…who's up this year?"

"I did it last year," Maureen said. The other girls smiled; they remembered how well fed they'd been, thanks to Maureen's mother's catering service.

Michiko nodded. "And I did it the year before, and then Camille in freshman year. And Lauren did it in eighth grade."

"What about Myeko?" Leslie asked.

"Oh, she always hosts the Halloween parties, so we let her off the hook for the Christmas ones," Camille explained, glancing around the table as she spoke and then giving Leslie a particular look. "Guess what, Leslie—it's your turn this year."

"Oh," said Leslie, taken aback. "Well…"

"Is there a problem?" Myeko asked.

Leslie cleared her throat. "Well…I don't know. I mean…well…" She felt herself turning brilliant crimson under her friends' stares. "I'll have to ask Mr. Roarke, that's all."

Maureen grinned. "This year's party should be a blast, then. Mr. Roarke's cook will give us all the food we want and then some, and he always has that beautiful tree in his study. We might even be able to hang out in your room for a slumber party."

"I can ask," Leslie said faintly, shrugging. Never having hosted a party in her life, she was completely clueless as to how to go about organizing one. "What would I do?"

"Like Maureen said, just ask Mana'olana to make the eats," Myeko said. "You don't really have to do much else, just have a tape player and lots of good music to listen to, and don't forget the presents."

"And make sure the parents stay out of sight," Lauren added, then grinned. "In your case, Mr. Roarke and Tattoo."

"Well, okay," Leslie murmured. What she didn't voice was her doubt that her party would be anything but dull. Her friends' mothers had helped do the organizing and some of the decorating; and somehow, every year when they had managed to run out of refreshments in spite of themselves, someone's mother had always been there to go out for more. Leslie thought about it while the girls finished lunch and then scattered to their classes for the afternoon; finally she decided, with more hope than conviction, that everything would probably work out just fine. If Mr. Roarke was busy, she considered, then they could very likely rely on Tattoo to help.

As it turned out, the obstacle was much bigger than she had imagined. The study looked quite festive, as the tree had been up for the last two weeks already and there were strings of small white Christmas lights outlining every window in the house, including the upstairs rooms. A tremendous potted poinsettia sat to one side of Roarke's desk, and a few wrapped boxes reposed beneath the tree. Tattoo, wearing a Santa hat, was on the phone; Roarke was apparently out at the moment. The Frenchman waved at her as she came in, and she waved back and hurried upstairs long enough to put away her schoolbooks.

When she got back down, Roarke had returned, and he and Tattoo both greeted her. "How was school?" Roarke inquired.

"The usual," said Leslie, shrugging. "We're all really looking forward to Christmas vacation."

Tattoo grinned, and Roarke chuckled, turning a page in his date book and running over the dates with the top end of a pen, in search of something. "I'm sure you are."

"We talked about our annual Christmas party," Leslie said and took a deep breath. "And the girls figured out that this year it's my turn to host it."

Roarke paused, and he and Tattoo both stared at her. "Oh?" Roarke queried, frowning slightly. "Where do you propose to have it?"

Leslie cast a nervous look around the room. "In here," she said, half questioning.

"And when is it scheduled to take place?" her guardian prodded further.

"I thought maybe…say, the first Monday of school vacation?" Leslie's voice was more querulous than ever. "And you know how it always turns into a slumber party? And maybe Mana'olana could make the food for us…? And we…" She trailed off when she saw Roarke's expression grow forbidding.

"That would require a great deal of advance planning, and if you wish to hold the party on the first Monday of your vacation, that gives you only a week," he pointed out. "I'm sorry, Leslie, but aside from the short notice, I'm afraid it won't be possible. You might perhaps have the party itself in the dining room, if you were inclined to decorate it accordingly, but your friends won't be able to stay overnight. There's not enough space in your bedroom, as I'm sure you're well aware. And you realize, of course, that even without fantasies taking place, there are vacationing guests who come in and out of this office nearly around the clock. You and your friends would find the constant interruptions quite a trial."

"But…I mean, the dining room would be fine," Leslie said, almost frantic, "but there's no reason they can't stay in my room. There'll be only five other girls besides me, and they always bring sleeping bags. It's more fun in close quarters anyway, then we can talk."

She knew that was a mistake when Roarke's brows strained for his hairline. "Yes, I'm well aware that one aspect of so-called 'slumber' parties is to do anything but slumber."

Desperate, Leslie willingly begged. "Please, Mr. Roarke—Monday's our slowest day, you know that…it wouldn't be that bad. Please."

"Leslie," Roarke said, his tone lightly warning, "I have already explained to you that we can't allow it. Furthermore, you know very well that your friends' curiosity about my business has you talking every Monday. Knowing what they know, they will undoubtedly want to see more of the behind-the-scenes aspects of things—that room, for instance." He indicated the closed door of the time-travel room.

"Mr. Roarke, we're seventeen years old…some of us are almost eighteen!" Leslie cried, offended. "We're not little kids who have to be told what's forbidden! And I know Mana'olana wouldn't mind making the food, she always makes more than we can eat anyway—"

"There's another matter," Roarke said dauntingly. "Mana'olana always fills in at the hotel this season, Leslie, or did you forget that?"

"So you mean…I can't have the party at all?" she cried, horrified.

"I'm sorry, child," Roarke said, softening. "I know you want to do your part, but under the circumstances it isn't possible."

Leslie shook her head in despair. "Well, that's just great…now all the girls are going to hate me because I haven't done my share. It's my turn and I know it. I don't want them seeing me as some kind of moocher. It's not fair, Mr. Roarke." Without waiting for a response, she fled to her room and shut herself inside.

She refused to go down for supper and remained in her room the rest of the evening, dreading the next day at school. She was feeling more than a little put out as well, for even Tattoo didn't come up to say anything to her. She supposed she'd thrown something of a tantrum about the party, but she felt awful. Her friends had all taken their turns hosting the parties, and their mothers had been good sports about it. It made Leslie miss her own mother, as she had always done during holidays. Mom would've gone right ahead and started making plans, Leslie reflected morosely. She'd have been so thrilled I had friends to do this with, she'd have said yes and done all the cooking and decorating and taken me out shopping to get my friends' presents, and everything… She dropped her head on her desk and indulged in feeling sorry for herself. It was bad enough being motherless at all, without having to feel especially shortchanged during the holidays.

"So what's the word on the party?" Myeko asked the following day at lunch.

Leslie bit her lip and hung her head, mumbling, "Mr. Roarke said no."

"What do you mean, he said no?" Lauren asked, astonished. "I thought it wouldn't be any problem."

"I thought so too," Leslie said, unable to meet the other girls' gazes. "But he said with the short notice, and all the vacationers tromping in and out asking questions…plus, he says my room's too small to hold everybody, and that Mana'olana's too busy to make food…"

"So you're just not going to bother, then?" Camille demanded, in her usual blunt way. "Geez, Leslie, all the rest of us have had the party. You know it's your turn."

"I know that," Leslie snapped at her, driven past endurance. "You don't have to keep reminding me like I'm some sort of idiot."

Michiko seemed to take pity on her. "Well, look, one of us could do it again. I don't mind being the hostess for this year's party—"

"No way," Camille said flatly. "We always take turns, and this year it's Leslie's, and she's trying to get out of it."

"I am not," Leslie flung at her. "I just said Mr. Roarke won't allow it."

"But it's still your turn," Lauren said, a little hesitantly.

"Yeah," Myeko agreed. "I mean, I'd do it, but Mom made me choose—either Halloween or Christmas, not both. She said she couldn't handle more than one major party a year. So I really can't. And, well…it is your turn, Leslie."

"I know!" Leslie all but screamed, startling her friends. She shook her head hard, hastily repacked her half-eaten lunch and grabbed her books. "Maybe you'll all let me get out of here while I try to figure out some way to go behind Mr. Roarke's back for this party!" She fled the lunchroom, half blinded by tears of frustration, wondering if she really had the guts to defy her guardian's veto of the party plans. How had it come down to either satisfying her friends' sense of fair play, or obeying Roarke's edict?

Michiko and Maureen caught up with her before she could hide in a girls' restroom stall. "Hey, Leslie, come on, we didn't mean to push you," Maureen said.

"There's no reason to hide," Michiko added.

"Well, if I can't host the party, what'm I supposed to do?" Leslie demanded, at her wits' end. "I know it's my turn, I know it wouldn't be fair to ask one of you to take my place. I wish they'd quit telling me that. They must think I'm retarded."

"Why couldn't you have it someplace besides the main house?" Maureen suggested, levelheaded as always. "I mean, heck—remember your birthday party a couple years ago at the ice rink? Or maybe there's someplace else that isn't being used right now."

"Right," Michiko put in eagerly. "And who says Mana'olana has to be the one to make the food? Maybe you could do it. It's not like you can't cook, you said she's taught you how to make some stuff."

"But it wouldn't be like last year's," Leslie said morosely.

Maureen rolled her eyes. "Leslie, we're not expecting caviar and canapés, for crying out loud. You don't even have to make your own food if you don't feel like it. Just go out and get chips and soda and cookies or something. It's not that big a deal, and we don't have to have a sleepover. As long as there's food and good music, and we have a place to give each other our Christmas presents, then heck, that's all we need."

Leslie thought about it, feeling slightly more optimistic. "Huh. Well, maybe I could still do it. I guess I can ask around and see if someplace is free. I mean…if it comes down to it, we could have it in the Japanese teahouse."

Maureen and Michiko laughed. "See, there you go," Maureen said in approval. "Now you're thinking. Now just grab that and run with it, and next thing you know, we'll have a party. And it'll be fun, too. Come on, come back with us and finish your lunch."

The bell rang just then and Leslie snorted. "Guess that's out. Well, anyway, thanks for coming after me and talking some sense into me. You guys are real friends."

"That's what friends are for, if you don't mind a dopey cliché," Michiko said, grinning. "We better get to class. And if you need more ideas, just ask us."

The rest of the day was something of a loss for Leslie, whose mind was occupied with coming up with a party venue. The ice rink was probably out; after her own fifteenth-birthday party there, it had become a popular place for island kids to celebrate their birthdays, and was often booked. The hotel was definitely out, as was the pond restaurant. She barely noticed when Michiko thumped into the seat beside her on the shuttle bus for home; she was still racking her brain.

"Having trouble?" Michiko inquired when her greeting went unanswered.

Leslie blinked. "Oh…sorry. Yeah, I guess so. I'm still trying to think of a good place to have the party." At that moment an idea popped into her head. "Hey…maybe I could do it at the old opera house! It practically never gets used."

"That's a great idea," said Michiko with an enthusiastic nod.

"We could even sleep over in there—there's loads of space," Leslie mused. "I could set up tables for our snacks and another one for the boom box and our tapes, and we could dance if we wanted to." For the first time she began to feel optimistic about the party. "You know, this just might work out after all."

Michiko giggled. "See, you're on a roll. Before you know it you'll have so many good ideas you won't be able to use them all."

The main house was deserted when Leslie got in, and she frowned, wondering where Roarke and Tattoo were. There was no note, and she sighed heavily. They could be back anytime, and she had a perverse wish not to let them know what she was hoping to do. For all she knew, Roarke would decide to nix her latest idea, and she wasn't about to let her friends down again, especially after their skepticism at lunch today.

She settled gingerly into Roarke's desk chair and pulled the telephone toward her. She had wished off and on that she had one in her own room, but Roarke frowned on such indulgences; so she would just have to do what she could while she had the chance. She did remember, at least, that she had to check with the hotel manager with any questions regarding the old opera house, so she called the hotel and asked to be put through.

"May I help you?" a voice asked a moment later.

"Yeah…hi, this is Leslie Hamilton," she said nervously. "I was just calling to see if the old opera house is being used on December twentieth and twenty-first."

"Let me see," the voice murmured, and Leslie suppressed a gasp of surprise before she realized the manager probably thought she was checking on something for Roarke. She didn't bother disabusing him of the notion; if she could get the go-ahead to use the opera house, she didn't mind leaving out convenient details.

"No, it's free on both those days, Miss Leslie," the voice said then, and she pumped a fist into the air. First hurdle cleared! "Does Mr. Roarke need it?"

Spoke too soon, stupid. "No…uh, no, I need it actually. It's…a school thing," she improvised with clumsy haste. "A…a small Christmas party."

"Oh, I see. Let us know if you need anything, then," the voice suggested, and Leslie thanked him and hung up. Blowing out a deeply relieved breath, she replaced the phone in its usual spot and got up, pushing Roarke's chair carefully back where she had found it and then scrambling upstairs to get rid of her books. The next thing she had to do was get into town and buy some refreshments and decorations. After all, I want the place to look Christmasy, right? Oh, and then I gotta get the girls' presents…

She got the decorations first: a one-foot Christmas tree, pre-strung with lights; a package of miniature ornaments to hang on it; several disposable paper tablecloths with holiday motifs; and red and green crepe paper rolls to string over the ceiling. Then she browsed several small shops in the pedestrian shopping area, finding a silver charm bracelet for Michiko and a commemorative Fantasy Island-themed Christmas ornament for Maureen before pausing long enough to wonder about the other girls. After the way they were at lunch today…oh, phooey, they'll shut up quick enough when they find out what I'm planning. No point in holding grudges. She found a Star Trek novel for Lauren, a stuffed polar bear for Myeko, and finally a hard-rock tape for Camille, and stashed her purchases away into the bag of decorations before heading for the town grocery and choosing various chips, snack cakes, cookies, soda and a bag of Hershey's Kisses wrapped in Christmas-colored foil.

The first snag came up when she brought all this to the checkout counter and discovered, to her mortified horror, that she had exactly three dollars left after buying the gifts and decorations. The cashier offered, "I could put it on Mr. Roarke's house account, if you want, Miss Leslie."

She considered allowing this, then decided there was too much chance of having her guardian find out what had happened. "No, I'd better not," she murmured. "Well, thanks anyway." She did buy the bag of foil-wrapped chocolates, which set her back to possessing a grand total of thirty cents, and then started for home, lost in vaguely panicky thought about what she was going to do for refreshments. She could probably dip into the savings account Roarke had helped her set up here not long after her fourteenth birthday; but she wasn't too sanguine about that either. She was just too afraid her activities would get back to her guardian and the entire thing would come completely unraveled.

It almost did when she came into the study and saw that Roarke was there, scheduling fantasies. "Well," he said, "and where have you been all afternoon?"

"Shopping," she said. "Christmas presents for my friends."

Roarke took in the size of the bag she was toting. "You're evidently being quite generous to them this year," he commented.

She shrugged sheepishly, hoping he wouldn't ask to see what she'd bought. "Oh, well, they've gotten me some really nice things before," she said lamely. "What about you, where were you all day? You and Tattoo didn't leave a note."

Roarke smiled faintly. "Attending to the usual necessities in preparation for next weekend's fantasies, of course," he reminded her. She felt her face heat with a fierce blush; this was not uncommon, and Roarke had told her during her first week on the island that he and Tattoo would often be gone when she got home from school.

"Oh, yeah, of course," Leslie mumbled. "Well, anyway…I have to get this stuff wrapped up." She streaked upstairs and shut herself in her room again, groaning softly as she did so.