A/N: HAPPY BIRTHDAY JULIE ANDREWS! Today is a special day around the world, or it should be. Thanks again for the response. I'll try and get the next chapter up as quickly as possible.

Fourteen: Planning for the Festivities

Excitement was swimming around the Von Trapp villa as the month of December descended upon them all. Georg was having a difficult time settling all seven of his children – both in their behaviour whilst running around the house, and also to still complete their school work. On more than one occasion Georg had to use mild forms of some of the strictest discipline in his power, and this meant Friedrich and Louisa spending a full day of the weekend studying their least favourite subject, and also a few missed deserts here and there for some of the younger children.

But whilst discipline needed to be used sometimes, Georg also relished in the feeling of a happier Christmas. During the years after his beloved Agathe's death, Christmas had not been a joyous occasion – presents were shared, and a dinner was still cooked, but there was no decorating of a tree, in fact there was no tree at all. There had been no singing, either, but this year Georg had vowed to amend that – and with Max here, there was no denying that his children would be singing from sunrise until sunset, all under the misconception that their favourite Uncle wished to hear them sing, and not that he was still secretly attempting to devise a plan to get them on a stage.

And this time, Maria would be here to celebrate it with them – at least he hoped she would. The children and he had not yet asked Maria to join them on Christmas day, but he was sure that she would accept their offer once they had made it and if not for that particular day then at least one during the winter holidays.

The children had also decided to use their money to purchase her a few choice gifts – ensuring that it was something that she would love. But the first thing that had been on their list was to wrap their former governess' presents in brown paper and string. He had laughed heartily at their decision, recalling the moment where he had heard his children singing that particular song – the same moment where he had caught their governess dancing and twirling in her nightgown.

Georg smiled at the memory.

"What has you smiling all of a sudden?"

Max voiced his question as the two friends sat in Georg's study that Thursday afternoon. The children were still at school, and would not need collecting for another two hours – now that it was winter and growing considerably colder, Georg insisted on collecting them all, and if not him then Max.

The two friends were enjoying a cup of coffee and had been discussing various topics that afternoon. When the conversation had come to its natural end, Georg had slipped away into his thoughts. Franz would be going to collect their Christmas tree the next day, and when the children returned home from school he had planned to decorate it with them. The Christmas tree had then resulted in his general thoughts about Christmas and then inevitably to Maria. Maria always seemed to be the main focus of his thoughts nowadays.

Max noticed the look Georg always held when thinking about this new woman in his life, and smiled to himself. "I shouldn't have to ask."

Georg laughed at his friend and rose from his seat, walking across to his bookcase and absently fingering one of the books. "Is it that obvious?"

"You don't need me to answer that for you, Georg."

"Well, this Christmas would be nothing like it will be if it hadn't been for her."

Max raised an eyebrow as if to say that he did not believe in the slightest that this was the only reason for his dear friend thinking about Maria, but he remained silent.

The silence, becoming a little awkward for Georg, was ended as he turned from his bookcase and smiled at Max. "I need to speak with Frau Schmidt, I'll be back soon."

It was not just the Von Trapp children that were looking forward to the Christmas festivities, but also the orphanage girls. Maria had only just managed to put them to bed the previous night, and now the eager and happy faces were back. Finishing their lessons also proved an extremely difficult task, but with a little persuading here and there, Maria managed to finish the literature orientated lesson and then allowed the girls to go and play outside.

Falling back against her desk, Maria sighed with exhaustion – keeping up with the girls whenever they were all in this sort of mood usually had this impact. In addition to that, she had not seen Georg since their evening at the villa. There had, unfortunately, been too much to do – he would have business to attend to, and she was kept on her toes by the girls and the prospect of preparing for some sort of Christmas day.

Speaking of Christmas day, Maria thought back to the moment two days ago when she had walked in on some of the girls, all sharing the same sombre expressions. Eva, Helga and Sophia had all been sat together, and although all three of them had shared in the excitement, they also admitted to feeling a little sad at having to celebrate it once again without their parents.

It was a family holiday, Maria understood that. She briefly remembered the Christmases she had spent with her own parents, and she had revealed these memories to Eva, Helga and Sophia – and also the other girls when they had inevitable come to her about the exact same thing just one day ago – and that had seemed to bring some smiles to their faces. All of them had shared their own Christmas experiences, and Maria had vowed in that moment to make this Christmas one to remember.

It was only Adda that had not approached Maria about the subject of Christmas, and Maria knew why. Growing up with her parents, Adda would not have celebrated Christmas – being Jewish, and considering their beliefs about Jesus.

Maria had not spoken to Adda yet, but the lingering glances across the room whenever the subject brought itself up in other conversations between all the girls told Maria that she would soon have to initiate that talk.

But it seemed that Maria would not have to wait for long, or even search herself, because two days later, when all of the girls were outside in the gardens playing – making the most of the reasonable weather before it turned bitterly cold – Adda walked across to where Maria sat on the bench.

The other girls were playing a game of tag; one that Maria was familiar with from her time spent with the Von Trapp family but had decided against joining in. Therefore Adda sat down beside her teacher and instantly shuffled further towards her, seeking the motherly warmth her hugs always gave. Maria obliged, and Adda smiled into her side.

"You're tired too, huh?" Maria teased the little girl.

Adda giggled and drew her head back up to look at Maria. "No," Adda protested, grinning widely and shaking her head adamantly – it reminded Maria of how Gretl would act whenever it was time for bed.

Maria raised her eyebrow suspiciously, an act that the girls had grown to read well.

"I'm not!" Adda protested again.

Maria nodded as if in defeat, but only after a few more moments of teasing. "All right, I guess you're not."

Adda had buried her face back into Maria's side when she spoke again. "Will we have a special dinner for Christmas?" she asked quietly.

Maria, despite having heard her clearly, was confused. Her face contorted a little at the question, and she looked across at the rest of the girls as they continued to play. But Maria ensured that Adda would not wait too long for a response, aware that her confidence was still only slowly building. "Would you like to have one?"

Maria felt Adda nod.

Maria waited a few moments before speaking again.

"What else would you like to do?"

It was now that Maria did not feel a thing from Adda, and after a few moments decided to place her finger beneath her chin and lift her eyes to meet with her own. Adda still seemed to be quite shy, but once Maria had smiled reassuringly at her, her posture relaxed significantly.

Adda shrugged in response to her previous question.

"Well," began Maria. "I was going to see if the Reverend Mother could let us do a few things differently this year." Adda perked her head up, interested. "I thought we could find a tree, and decorate it, how about that?"

Adda's shy smile seemed to be a positive answer.

"I want to do everything," Adda then began to answer. "I can't remember how other people celebrated, but I know we didn't."

A painful expression crossed her eyes as Adda referred to her parents, but Maria only tightened the hold she had around her.

"It's your choice," Maria offered. "And I will not think any less of you, whichever you choose."

Maria knew that since Adda was only nine-years-old, she would not be too interested in fully abiding by the practices of her religion, especially if all around her people were doing differently. Maria knew that she would also never pressure Adda into anything more than what she wanted, and that she would always support her choices.

"Right, let's go and join in that game. I think Helga's team need a little help."

Maria held out her hand for Adda, and the little girl took it.

Maria approached the familiar office later that evening – feeling a little out of place in her normal clothing, but still carefree in the knowledge of why she was. Maria smiled to herself as she began to think about her current situation.

The Von Trapp children had come to visit her earlier that day after school, and when Kurt had pulled out a bunch of white heather instead of a customary letter, her eyes had widened and she had gasped. The children had all smiled to themselves and at each other.

But the most touching part of the gesture had come after that.

Marta had stepped forward, away from the rest of her brothers and sisters as she cleared her throat. As Maria watched her step forward, it became clear that a message had been bestowed upon the little girl. The young woman did not know whether to be nervous or excited about the message – she would soon find out.

"Father says this symbolises protection," Marta accentuated the word, clearly still finding difficulty in saying it despite her evident practicing. "And that wishes will come true."

Marta finished the statement with a flourishing smile – the girl clearly remembered the ending to most of Maria's stories. Marta's final sentence was reminiscent of Maria's in her stories. A quick look to the side, and Maria could see Gretl beaming too, and the remainder of the children seemed to be smiling at her as well.

Deciding that the silence had gone on for too long since Marta had finished, Maria lifted her hand and pressed it to the reader's cheek. "That was beautifully done, Marta. Thank you."

Marta looked up at her former governess and gave her a toothy grin, while Gretl came to stand right beside her and took her hand. Looking out at the rest of the children, Maria found her heart swelling with admiration and irrevocable love. She was eternally grateful that all seven of these wonderful children had forgiven her for leaving them so abruptly, and that their relationship was still as it used to be.

The moment between Maria and the children had continued until a couple of the older ones had gone to find their new friends at the orphanage, and then Maria had found herself being left alone with Liesl. The two had managed to have one of their talks without being interrupted too often, and Liesl had confided to Maria once again about her fears concerning Rolfe. It seemed that while the weeks went by and the German threat still remained, the rumours about Rolfe and his family were becoming even more blatant and even more circulated around school.

When Liesl had been close to tears, Maria carefully pulled her into an embrace and told her to speak with her Father later that night.

Maria hoped that Liesl had taken her advice.

When the children had all come back into the classroom, Kurt had pulled something else out of his pocket. This time it did look like a note – not as large as they usually were from Georg, but still a note. Kurt had smiled mischievously at her and handed Maria the note, which she took and opened.

Maria had promptly scanned the words, and then placed the note in her pocket. The overwhelming surge of feelings that had come over her when reading told the young woman that now was not the time to be reading it over and over again – she preferred to do that in privacy.

But when back in her room, and when the Von Trapp children had returned home and the girls were all preparing for bed, Maria had taken the note out again and read it to herself.

Her heart positively swelled at the words – albeit little in their number.

"I meant every word."

Maria brought the note to the place above her heart and lifted her head to look upwards – up at God. She vowed to follow these feelings now they were present, and now that Georg seemed to reciprocate them. He wanted to protect her. Maria was still nervous about this situation and where it would lead, there was no doubting that, but she knew that there would no longer be any room for running away.

Before going to check on the girls, Maria re-read the brief words that Georg had sent, and also the little message in brackets at the bottom of the sheet.

"(Oh, and you will never know how long it took me to choose the right ones.)"

Maria had smiled and even laughed a little at these last words, referring to the careful choice of flowers.

After holding the letter close to her one last time, Maria had placed it down on her chest of drawers – on top of the others sent from Georg – and had gone to check on the girls.

Her thoughts had pulled her away from the journey to the Reverend Mother's office, and now she stood at the door. Knocking promptly, the call was made for her to enter and she did.

"Maria, my child, I'm glad to see you."

Although technically no longer a postulant – since she was courting Georg – Maria knelt down and kissed the prestigious older woman's hand. The Reverend Mother had already learnt about the development in the relationship between Georg and herself – she had gone to her office the day after her evening at the villa and told her everything with a huge smile on her face – so the older woman had an incline that this conversation would not be about that.

"Tell me, my daughter, what is it you wanted to speak with me about?"

"Well…" Maria paused. "It is almost Christmas, and the girls and I were wondering if we could do something to celebrate. You know, like a normal… family, would."

The Reverend Mother smiled at her warmly.

"And what types of things were you thinking?"

"Well, I know we could get a tree for a good price. Lukas, the man who works on one of the market stalls; he mentioned that he would find us one suitable. And I thought we could spend time in classes making the decorations to go on it. And a Christmas dinner too, it would be…"

"I'm sure that can be arranged, Maria."

"Thank you, Reverend Mother."

The older woman seemed to have been considering it more for a second. "Yes, I think that is a good idea – it will give the girls something to enjoy this year. The last teacher, as you know, would not have arranged anything like that, but that was just her nature."

Both Maria and the Reverend Mother shared a knowing smile.

"Yes, I do like that idea. As long as you all still attend mass," the Reverend Mother added, just the hint of a small smirk on her face.

The children were all ecstatic when they heard that their Christmas would indeed be a special one. All of them were, at once, eager and keen to produce the decorations for their Christmas tree. Maria had also caught them all whispering together when she had been out of the room, but she had just clapped her hands together, catching their attention and dispersing the group, and not mentioned anything more about it.

During one lesson on a particularly cold Wednesday afternoon, their learning was suddenly disrupted as Adda gasped and pointed to the window. Isabel was quick to follow as she looked eagerly across to the small window in the classroom, and both children began to jump up and down excitedly in their chairs.

This caused the rest of the girls to pile towards the window – and Maria was included in this group. When she saw for herself what had caught Adda and Isabel's attention so, a triumphant smile crossed her face.

There would be no more lessons today. Not when the first snow had fallen outside.

Once outside in the snow that was falling quite quickly – and once Maria had ensured that everyone was wearing their coats, hats and gloves – a snowball fight soon erupted. The time the children had not noticed the snow, and the time it had taken for Maria to ensure that every single one of them was suited to pass inspection, there was a fairly thick layer of snow covering the ground.

The teams seemed to divide themselves.

Eva, Helga, Joanna, Sophia, Katharina, Theresa Isabel, Christina, Marie and Adda…

… And Maria on the other.

After the first few snowballs had been thrown – Maria had been hit once and had managed to dodge another, and she had also narrowly missed Sophia – Maria threw her hands up and exclaimed! "Now this is unfair!"

None of the girls seemed to acknowledge Maria's pleas, and instead continued to throw snowballs at her from their positions. Maria, eventually, had to concede and crouch lower, covering her head protectively.

All ten girls took this opportunity to start charging at their teacher, and in a moment Maria found herself flat on the floor, ten bodies covering her and pinning her to the ground. Their laughter resonated around her, and she could not help but smile herself. She wrapped her arms around the nearest girl to her, she assumed it was Christina.

From their position at the top of the garden, just outside of the abbey, some of the Sisters watched over this moment fondly. Sister Margaretta was one of these, and also there was Sister Berthe and Sister Sophia. Soon they were joined by another figure, this time the Reverend Mother. As soon as she saw the scene before her, she smiled too.

Breaking the silence that had descended across the four women, Sister Berthe spoke, but in no way harshly, "She doesn't belong here."

Her voice was filled with tenderness that she had never shown to Maria personally, but deep down she had always held.

"I do not believe she will be here for much longer," the Reverend Mother responded with equal empathy.

"Captain Von Trapp?" Sister Sophia turned and asked.

The Reverend Mother smiled and nodded. "One can tell the two are very much in love, their outings could tell you no differently. I only believe that neither has said it to the other."

"It will only be a matter of time," Sister Margaretta added, smiling too.

"I hope so," breathed the Reverend Mother.

Later that night, just as the Reverend Mother was going to retire to her quarters, she recalled a telephone call that she had wanted to make.

Crossing back across the room to her situated telephone, she picked up the instrument and held it to her ear, dialling the number.

The recipient picked up their own telephone.

After the Reverend Mother had mentioned her name and who she wished to speak to, it took only a few moments before the desired person came to the telephone.

The recipient spoke.

"Yes, hello," the Reverend Mother spoke. "Captain Von Trapp? … Yes, it is me … Oh no, nothing is wrong … Please do not worry yourself, there is nothing amiss with Maria … She is perfectly fine, yes … Well, I know for a nun, some might say this is not a necessary trait to possess … but when it comes to Maria … she needs to be reassured … yes, that's right, so you assumed so yourself? … Thank you, Captain … yes; it was a pleasure speaking to you too … Good night."

A/N: In case there is confusion, the last part there is just the Reverend Mother's side of the conversation. The ellipsis used are just the pauses where Georg would be speaking. The rest will be revealed in the next chapter.