Grizel sat outside in a deckchair, staring up at the blue sky. She couldn't remember a single Christmas Day with sunshine in England, not one. At home it would rain, or hail, or sleet, or just be the horrible damp greyness she always associated with English winters. The two Christmases she had spent in Tyrol with Madame and Joey and the rest of the Russell clan had been over-poweringly white, with everything covered in snow in the way that prompted Jo to call it "Christmas-card land". Here, on this tiny island on the bottom of the world, Christmas Day was heralded with calling sparrows, red flowering trees and bright sunshine.
But the weather wasn't the reason for the strange way she was feeling. This wasn't her first Christmas in New Zealand, and although she still wasn't used to the country's topsy-turvy weather, Christmas in summer was no longer a surprise to her. No, there was something else that had made her wake up so early, to come sit outside in the morning sun and fresh air and try to work out what was making this Christmas so different from all the others - but try as she might, she could just not put her finger on the cause.
Inside, the phone rang, but Grizel ignored it, knowing that the call would most probably be for Deira anyway. Sure enough, the ringing stopped abruptly and Deira's soft tones, still richly Irish even after all these years abroad, floated outside to where Grizel was sitting. She didn't try to listen - aside from her own distaste for eavesdropping, she knew perfectly well Deira would be outside the moment that the call was finished to fill her in on whatever news she had.
"That was Tony Mertin," Deira said, ignoring the way that Grizel sat up a little in her chair as soon as she had heard his name. "He says this a perfect morning for a trip to the beach, for all of us to go to the beach. He'll be around to pick us up in an hour - so we'll have time to get all the gift-giving out of the way first, he said! I'll get Mary up, if you'll see to breakfast?"
"I will," Grizel agreed. "Has Mary seen her presents from Santa yet?"
"Not yet," Deira answered with a laugh, "But I'm sure that the phone would have woken her, so it's only a matter of time!"
Deira turned and went back inside, but Grizel paused for a moment, looking back up at that very blue sky. Unbidden, a pretty smile came to her lips. She knew now what was making this Christmas so different from all the others; this was the first Christmas she could remember that she felt totally, utterly happy.