New Year's resolutions

The Tracy family, minus Alan in Thunderbird 5, and Kyrano, who stayed behind to relay any possible messages, flew to Lady Penelope's estate for a big New Year's bash. Even the Barnes children were going to the party, though they had strict instructions that they would be sent to bed the minute any of them got cranky.

On the island, Gordon and Bekkah had avoided each other after their conversation, and Bekkah avoided Brains, as well. The engineer did not seek her out, but was warm and polite whenever they chanced to meet. Gordon confided in John about what he had done. John's first response was, "Idiot!" but after a few days of thinking about it, he reluctantly came around to Gordon's point of view. The rest of the family was mystified at what was going on between the two lovers. Only Jeff had an inkling of what may have happened, and he kept that knowledge to himself.

The estate was still festooned with Christmas decorations when they arrived, but with New Year's Eve just two days away, more and more glitter, gold, and silver, and less and less holly and ivy were to be seen. Bekkah could hardly miss walking under the mistletoe at first, which required both of her boys' kisses. In fact, Terry enjoyed that so much he retrieved some mistletoe from the trash and held it over his head every time he saw his mother. The joke grew old quickly, and at the first opportunity, Bekkah confiscated the white-berried parasite and tucked it back in the trash can.

At the estate, Brains began to gently work his way back into Bekkah's affections. He brought her coffee to the table from the sideboard at breakfast, fixed just the way she liked it. He took the children for a walk in the snowy woods around the estate when Bekkah wanted a rest. At dinner, he sat by her and talked about the parties that had been held in years past. He even challenged her to a game of Scrabble, an offer he knew she would never refuse. She didn't, and beat him by five points.

Preparations for the big party proceeded apace. Room was cleared for dancing; a small band had been hired for the evening. People both from Tracy Industries in London and from Lady Penelope's list of upper crust society friends had been invited to attend. Penny confided to Bekkah that she had even invited Greg and Janet Martin and Janis Campbell. Bekkah smiled. She looked forward to seeing the Martins again and meeting Janis. The day of the party, Lovitt arrived, ostensibly to help with parking cars. He was happy to see Bekkah more or less fully recovered.

The preparations for the party grew noisier as the day wore on. Outside, it was snowing lightly, and Bekkah felt the need to leave the noise and walk in the silence of the falling snow. She put on the heavy coat, hat, and gloves she had purchased in London, pulled her feet into her lined rainboots, and left the mansion. She walked through the woods, enjoying the quiet and the cold. It was so quiet that she jumped, startled, when a mittened hand tapped her on the shoulder. It was Brains.

"May I walk with you?" he asked politely through his muffler.

Bekkah gave him a crooked smile. "Sure," she answered, and the two fell into step. Bekkah looked up at the trees and the snow and gave a little sigh and a faraway smile.

"A penny for your thoughts?" Brains offered.

She looked at him and then turned her gaze back to the trees. "Terrence proposed to me in a snowstorm. I had brought him home to meet my parents, and the day after Christmas we went walking all over my neighborhood in the snow. It was falling gently like today, but it was night, so we stuck to the roads mostly. We walked and talked about our relationship, until finally I told him I loved him. Then we walked some more until he admitted he loved me, too. And even more before he asked me to marry him. We were thoroughly wet and cold by the time we got back to my parents' house. It was a night I'll never forget," she explained, a happy tone coloring the remembrance.

She was so wrapped up in the memory that she wasn't watching where she was going, and tripped over a rock, falling headlong into the snow. Brains was there in an instant, helping her up as best he could with his arm still in a sling and concealed under a coat. He helped her dust herself off, laughing with her at the accident.

"Are you all right?" he queried. "Nothing hurt?"

She laughed again. "Just my pride, Hiram." He offered her his good arm, and she took it. They walked together quietly for a while. Brains felt the moments ticking by, one after another. When will the right moment come? he wondered. He could feel the weight of the little box in his coat pocket. Finally, he stopped walking and turned to face Bekkah.

"B-bekkah. Y-you know I, uh, l-love you." he began, inwardly cursing the nervousness that made him stutter now of all times. "I-I think y-you, uh, love m-me. At l-least you told, uh, m-me you d-did. W-would y-you do me the h-honor of b-becoming my w-w-wife?"

Bekkah looked at him with a soft smile. "You've not stuttered in my presence for a long time, Hiram," she said, touching his face with a gloved hand.

"W-well, th-this is i-important," he finally said with a gasp. "And I'm nervous." The nervousness had passed with the moment.

Bekkah considered the man before her. The man she trusted. The man she loved. The man she knew to be a quiet hero. She considered Gordon's words: If he asks, carpe diem. Seize the day. She looked into his deep blue eyes. Carpe diem, Bekkah, carpe diem.

"Yes. I would be honored to become your wife," she finally responded. He grinned from ear to ear.

"On one condition." His grin faded. She stepped closer to him and smiled. "My condition is that by the time we are married, you have a NAME. Brains is a nickname, and Hiram you assumed for your work. You need a real name to put on a marriage license, you know."

He sighed with relief. "Done, Madam. Done." He put his left mitten between his teeth and pulled it off. Then he fished around in his coat pocket and brought out the little velvet box. With nimble fingers, he opened it one-handed. He motioned for her to take off her left glove, and to put out her right hand. Laying the box in her outstretched hand, he deftly removed the ring, and slipped it on to her left ring finger.

Bekkah looked at the ring. It was a large, shimmering emerald, set in white gold with two small emerald-cut diamonds, one on either side. "It's beautiful." she said, and leaned over to kiss him.

He hastily removed the mitten from his mouth, and returned her kiss softly. Not satisfied, they kissed again, more deeply. And again, her arms wrapped around his neck and his good arm around her waist. There was no stiffness in her posture, no reserve in her stance. She pressed up against him tightly as they kissed once more.

As they parted, she quipped, "If we kept this up, we would have needed to find a room." His eyebrows went up in delighted surprise. "But we can't indulge ourselves. At least, not until your shoulder heals, my love," she amended, her eyes twinkling. He groaned in mock disappointment.

She took his good hand in hers. "Let's go back to the mansion. And let them guess what's happened!" Together they trudged back through the snow, laughing as they went.

There were a lot of people crowded into Lady Penelope's palatial mansion that night, all decked out in their best finery and ready to ring in the New Year. The Barnes children were no exception, both of the boys wore waistcoats and bow ties and dress pants and dress shoes, while their sister wore a velvet dress covered with glittery little beads in swirls by the hemline. Their mother was also dressed up for the evening, even down to her flat-heeled shoes. She had on a ring that the children had never seen before, but there was no time to ask about it, not with the buffet to raid and hide-and-seek to play among the many guests.

When dancing was announced, the boys both made sure they danced with their mother, and with Lady Penelope, and with Auntie Tin-Tin, and even with Mrs. Tracy, but not with their sister, much to her annoyance. Chell, on the other hand, danced with every one of the Tracy men and even with Uncle Hiram, when he could be pulled away from her mother. She had grown to like the scientist, even if he did talk funny sometimes. He sure is spending lots of time with Mom, she noticed. I wonder what's going on?

Each of the Tracy men in turn asked Bekkah to dance. If they noticed the new ring on her finger, they didn't say anything about it. Except for Gordon. When he asked to dance, Bekkah hesitated for a moment, then smiled and accompanied him to the floor.

As they danced, he made it a point to look at her left hand. "I see you took my advice," he said softly, as they swayed to the lilting music.

"Yes, I did." she answered, a slight smile on her face. "Thank you for helping me make my choice."

He smiled back. "You're welcome. You better tell Brains that I expect to be best man. I gave up a lot for his happiness." He looked at her, and brought up a finger to her face. "Oh, no tears, please. Brides-to-be should never cry. Until the wedding." She smiled, and the tears stopped.

They finished the dance and kissed each other on the cheek. Brains came out to them, wanting the next dance. Gordon waved a bit. "Have fun, big sister." he said as he left the dance floor.

"So, when do you leave for Greenville?" Brains asked, as he held her as close in the dance as he could with his wounded shoulder.

"Where did you hear....?" she asked him, surprised.

"Mr. Tracy let me know once he saw the ring on your finger. He wanted me to know that our married life might not be easy."

"I leave to take the kids back to school on the second. They're going back to their old school, and will stay with my parents until the house and office are settled on. I'll come back to the Island to pack things up and get everything ready for the move back." She looked him in the eye. "You don't suppose that you'd be able to move to Greenville, too?'

Brains shook his head. "I doubt it. But we'll work it out. I know we can." He smiled, and tried to hold her closer as they danced.

They stood on the terrace, looking up into the now starry sky, watching the fireworks display Lady Penelope had planned for the stroke of midnight. The children stood in front of them, oohing and aahing at the colorful lights. Brains and Bekkah had their arms around each other's waists, pulled close together. He looked at her profile. Her face was relaxed, the tenseness of the past weeks gone, and a smile had returned. She caught him looking at her and pulled him to her for a kiss. Then she spoke to the children.

"It's time to go in for the toast," she told them as she herded them inside.

"I must thank all of you for coming to my New Year's celebration," Lady Penelope said. "As you know, it is a tradition at my party to have a toast to the New Year. This year, I have asked a new friend of mine, Doctor Rebekkah Barnes, and her children, Michelle, Terrence, and Joseph, to give the annual toast."

There was a smattering of applause as Bekkah and her children stood at the bandleader's podium. Each of them carried a stemmed glass full of sparkling white grape juice that Penelope had purchased just for the occasion.

"My late husband and I had the New Year's tradition of toasting each other and the New Year as midnight came and went. I haven't been able to do this for five or six years now. But it's a tradition I want to revive, and share with my children, starting now." She looked at her kids clustered around her.

"So I propose a toast: to the New Year!" She looked over the crowd.

"And to friends and family." Her gaze sought out Gordon and John.

"Old and new," She quickly found Brains' face.

"Near and far," Again she looked at Chell, Terry, and Joey.

"Here or gone," She glanced over and caught Jeff's eye.

"Now and forever."