A/N: As promised. Here is the first chapter of the second of my two six part holiday ficlets. As this initial post will hopefully reveal, these two tales are completely different in both their plot and their tone... or, at least, I hope they will be. Thanks for reading and enjoy!


Title: With Every Great Joy...
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I own neither the characters used in this story nor the show from which they originate. Unfortunately.
Summary: A mysterious yet, at the same time, familiar young woman brings unexpected joys and unbelievable sorrows to Elizabeth, Jason, and their sons' lives when she gets a job as Elizabeth's art gallery assistant.

With Every Great Joy...
RTN's 12 Days of Christmas Fan Fiction Challenge 2010

Part One

Prompt #2: Just because every child can't get his wish that doesn't mean there isn't a Santa Claus.
~ Miracle on 34th Street

You need an assistant.

You aren't superwoman.

It's alright if you ask for help every once in a while.

If you don't hire someone to help you run your art gallery soon, you're going to go insane.

No, what was going to drive Elizabeth Webber Morgan – it had been so nice to drop that pesky Imogene officially once and for all when she legally changed her name after marrying Jason – crazy was everyone telling her what to do. While she appreciated their concern, while she recognized their advice for what it was – a sign that they cared about her, and while she knew that realistically her gallery had become too successful to be a one woman show any longer, it was hard to let go of that control. That power. For so many years, owning her own gallery and actually making a career out of her love of art had been Elizabeth's dream – an unrealistic one if she would have listened to her family, and, now that she had accomplished what she had set out to do all those years ago when she enrolled in art school, it was still sometimes hard for her to believe her good luck, her success.

This disbelief, if nothing else, had at least made her quite immune to pinching. Her husband hated that. Once upon a time, he had been able to startle her by goosing her when she wasn't paying attention. Although it was only something they did in private – after all, Jason Morgan was not a man who relished making a public spectacle of himself, and she, to a lesser extent, appreciated discretion as well, it was one of those playful tendencies that somehow had managed to become lost between them during the duration of their eight plus years of marriage. But maybe it could be resurrected? Maybe, when she went home that evening, she would sneak up on her husband and, finally for once, return the favor... so to speak. It wasn't like pinching Jason's butt would be a hardship either. After all, her husband had one fine, tight, pinch-able...

A clearing of someone's throat slapped Elizabeth out of her daydreaming revelry, and her runaway thoughts immediately skidded to a halt. "Oh!," she exclaimed, unsure of what to say, what to do, or how exactly to proceed beyond the embarrassing moment. Being so caught off guard made her nervous, so she fidgeted. She shifted in her desk chair, rearranged the papers laid out before her, and tucked several non-existent strands of her mahogany hair behind her burning, flushed ears, her face awash with mortification.

"Am I early," the young woman before her asked, taking the pressure to say something off of Elizabeth's shoulders. Hooking a thumb over her left shoulder, she added, "because, if I am, I can leave and come back later."

"No, no," Elizabeth reassured her, finally gathering control of both her mind and her body, standing up to greet the applicant. Even in her heels and with the younger girl wearing flats, she was shorter than the college student. And a college student she most certainly was. Although the girl was dressed professionally enough for the interview, she still had her messenger bag hanging across her hip, and she noticed that her keys were held on a PCU keychain that could be hung around a student's neck but was, instead, wrapped tightly the girl's right fingers, so tightly the band of fabric was cutting off circulation to the long, thin appendages. The applicant had the hands of a piano player and the height to make Elizabeth feel like a mere child herself, but the desperately clutched keys told her that the younger woman was just as nervous as she was embarrassed, and, with that knowledge, Elizabeth immediately relaxed.

Releasing the tension in her shoulders, she leaned across her desk, holding her hand out for the applicant to shake. "Thanks for coming." The grip which greeted her own was confident yet not crushing and slightly moist but certainly not unpleasant. "I'm Elizabeth Webber Morgan, but you can just call me Elizabeth."

As they both took seats at the same exact time – Elizabeth behind her desk and the younger woman in the chair she positioned across from her for the very purpose of holding interviews that day, the other woman returned, "My name's Joy – Joy Bradley."

Joy Bradley – simple, clean, yet, in its refreshingly unpretentious manner, also memorable. Elizabeth liked her immediately. Because of that reason, she decided to skip the meaningless preliminaries and small talk and find out if the young woman really was a viable candidate for the position of her assistant. "Joy, I'm going to cut right to the chase, okay?" The college student nodded. "Obviously, most of the people that I've interviewed today are art majors. They want to own their own gallery someday. And, while I find that wonderful and I wish them the best of luck, I don't need a version of myself from ten years ago; I need someone who can fill in all the areas where I'm lacking. I hate paperwork - opening the mail, returning correspondence. Those are details to me that, though I know they're important to my business, they just seem tedious and unnecessarily when I'm put in a position where I could either paint a new canvas or get some office work done. So, anyway, my point is this: if you're an art major, I'm not going to hire you."

"I'm a music education major." Elizabeth smirked knowingly, loving how observant she was. It certainly paid to be Jason Morgan's wife, for she had learned well over the years how to study and watch other people, and the knowledge she gained from her silent observation was usually enlightening and more telling than any introductory conversation could ever possibly be. Upon noticing her expression, though, the younger woman asked, "what? Is that going to be a problem?"

"Absolutely not," she attempted to put Joy's mind at ease. "I just... I noticed your hands earlier. I do that, you know – look at people's hands. I think it's just an artist thing... or, at least, I hope so, because otherwise, that probably means I weird. Anyway, your fingers – they're really long and slender, graceful. When I saw them, I guessed that you played the piano."

"I do," Joy replied. "In fact, I'm on a full scholarship because of it."

A full scholarship? Wrinkling her brow in wonder, Elizabeth asked, "then why do you need a full-time job?" Realizing how prying such a question was, she immediately backtracked, "I mean, if you don't need to work, why would you want to? You're going to miss out on so many of the typical college experiences, not to mention putting yourself under an unnecessary amount of pressure."

"My mom was a single parent, and she passed away a few months ago. I'm the last of my family. My scholarship is wonderful. It covers my tuition, my room and board, even my books, but, if my friends want me to go to the movies with them, or if I'm craving Ben and Jerry's, or if I actually want to be able to buy my roommate a birthday present next month, then I need a job."

"And why here? Why not waitressing at Kelly's or selling sweaters at Wyndham's?"

"Because I can already pour and serve coffee, and I can already help people shop. Maybe I don't want to own my own gallery someday, but that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy art, and I thought, if I'm going to have a job, I might as well have one where I can actually learn something from the experience."

Elizabeth smiled, liking and appreciating the younger woman's candor. Perhaps she was unconventional, but she didn't care what the student's previous work experience was, how old she was, or if she knew her way around a computer or not. Rather, what mattered to Elizabeth was the fact that Joy needed to work, wanted to learn, and she was in a position where she could provide her with a job that wouldn't mean just scraping by financially and moving like an automaton while serving the masses their daily cup of joe. It was an alternative she wished someone would have offered her when she was Joy's age.

"I just have one more question for you," she told her young applicant. Pausing for a moment, Elizabeth took a deep breath. What she was about to inquire about was a deal breaker. "How do you feel about kids?"

"Excuse me," Joy asked, obviously caught off guard. "How does that have anything..." Changing her line of thought, she said, "if you're asking me whether or not I plan to have a baby anytime soon or..."

"Oh, no," she interrupted the younger woman. "Nothing like that," Elizabeth reassured, waving off the concern, the tense moment. "I'm just asking because I have two kids – two boys, actually. Cameron's ten, and Jake's seven, and they come here after school for a couple of hours until their Dad can pick them up or we go home together when I close the gallery for the day."

This time, it was the student's turn to blush, her beautiful, flawless café au lait complexion suddenly becoming infused with a rosy warmth. "I... uh... kids, huh," Joy asked, tugging nervously on her right earlobe.

For a second, Elizabeth felt stunned, as though someone had literally punched her in the chest and knocked the wind out of her very lungs. The girl before her was a complete stranger, but, suddenly, it was as though she had known her for years. With just that one hauntingly familiar gesture, something she had seen her husband do a thousand times over the course of their relationship... throughout all its various phases, Joy went from being the college student Elizabeth was planning on hiring to a potential friend, someone that she just knew could be a confidant, someone who was going to special in her life.

"... haven't spent a lot of time around them – around kids."

"I'm sorry," Elizabeth murmured, shaking away her distraction. "I was somewhere else there for a moment. What did you say, hon?"

"Just that, because it has just been only my mom and I for all these years and none of her friends had kids, I've never really spent a lot of time around them. But they seem okay. I mean, I want to be a music teacher, so I better get along with children, right?"

She laughed, standing up. "I'd say that would be a prerequisite. I guess we'll just look at Cam and Jake as your trial run, not that you'll be teaching them how to play the piano. Unfortunately, my boys take after their father when it comes to the arts. His name's Jason, by the way – I'm sure you'll be seeing plenty of him around here, too. Neither of them like to paint, and they certainly wouldn't sit still long enough to play an instrument. It's all soccer, baseball, and karate with my kids."

"Well, maybe you'll have a daughter someday, and she'll take after you," Joy suggested.

Despite the fact that Elizabeth was resigned to her fate and thankful for her two healthy, happy sons, and despite the fact that she did not want to make her soon-to-be new employee feel awkward, she simply couldn't hide her disappointment and sorrow, and she couldn't lie either. "I'm, uh... I can't have any more children. Something... there was a complication when I had Jake, and, so, another child isn't an option for me."

"I'm sorry," Joy rushed to apologize, but Elizabeth held up a hand, stopping her from saying anything else.

"Consider it already forgiven. You had no idea, and what you said was a natural reaction. This way, though, we've gotten that awkward conversation already out of the way. It'll be one less we'll eventually have as employee and employer."

The young student leapt to her feet, grinning widely, her previous pity and mortification forgotten in her effervescent happiness. "I got the job?"

"Just leave your class schedule with me now, and I'll call you back later... or email you, if that'll work better, with your hours." Rounding her desk, Elizabeth held out her hand once more. When she and Joy shook hands the second time, she noticed the pianist's palms were as dry as her own, and she was pleased to realize that, during their brief interview, she had managed to set the girl at ease and relax her nerves. "Welcome to the Webber-Morgan gallery, Joy."

Sincerely, the young woman replied, "there's no place else I'd rather be."