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The Garners' house was decked with dancing Christmas lights from one end of the house to the other. An outdoor Christmas tree festooned with yet more lights, stood grandly in the front yard. A plastic snowman with his painted eyes looking upward as if welcoming the nonexistent snowfall, greeted the guests as they entered the fashionable adobe house.

Inside, it was a catered affair. Waiters dressed in black vests mingled through the crowd, balancing trays crowded with fancy crystal glasses. A photographer was busily snapping pictures; the photos would be printed into a small album that would be later sent to all the guests as a way of remembering the occasion. In the large dining room, the party coordinator was making the last alterations to the elaborate centerpiece.

The stair banister was wound with an evergreen bough, accented with gold pine cones, bright red holly berries, and a long, white satin ribbon. The gas fireplace log was lit, giving the room a wintery feel that was decidedly lacking outside. Besides the cool weather that required a coat, it was difficult for Charlie to tell if it were really winter or not.

In the living room, Shirley was entertaining their guests with festive small talk. Thomas, looking dressy in his tuxedo, was at the other end of the room, debating with one of the guests as to the best way to dovetail a dresser drawer he was working on. Chad was sitting on the stairs with Becky, Sandra Weston's eight year old sister. They shared a plate of goodies between them while Chad described to his blind guest the party below. Mike and Sandra, who were officially a couple, could now be seen together in public. Adam had brought Constance as his date, and both seemed to be having a good time. Vera and Mrs. Jacobs mixed into the crowd, easily conversing with the others.

Charlie tried to look like she was enjoying herself, but she didn't recognize anyone, except a few of the Garners' friends she remembered seeing at Mike's birthday party. Charlie smoothed out the elegant black formal she had bought for the occasion. It was the first major purchase she had made with her own money. It gave her a feeling of independence-- something which she hadn't had in the recent months.

Then a familiar face appeared from the crowd. It was Kendra Hanna, the younger of the Hanna twins.

"I didn't know you were coming!" greeted Charlie.

"Quite a party, isn't it?" observed Kendra, holding an eggnog in her right hand. "Mrs. Garner gives the most formal parties in Twin Yucca," she groaned. "Boring, huh?"

"A little," smiled Charlie.

"You're looking good," remarked Kendra. "You certainly didn't get that dress from charity." It was common knowledge that most of Charlie's clothes were hand-me-downs from Mrs. Jacobs' sister in Topeka, who had organized a clothing drive for the needy. Charlie smiled politely. "I've already asked Mom for permission to leave this party early and hang out with a few other kids. Want to come?"

"I have to call Dad first," said Charlie.

"Sure," replied Kendra. "Charlie, look, there's Scottie Zimmerman. Isn't he cute? If he were to ask me to marry him today, I'd say 'yes'!"

"You're only fifteen," laughed Charlie.

"A girl's got to plan ahead," replied Kendra. "Oh! He's coming this way! Is my hair all right?"

"Are you ready to get out of here?" asked Scottie, addressing Kendra. "Jenna and Sara are already waiting outside."

"Scottie, you remember Charlie from school, don't you?" asked Kendra.

"Oh yeah, the quiet girl," recalled Scottie. "You're welcome to come, too. We're not going to do anything special-- just hang out."

"Let me go make a quick call, first," said Charlie. She reappeared a minute later, with her father's consent.

Charlie could see her breath as they stepped out into the cold evening air.

"I hope it snows," Jenna was saying to Sara, as the three teens joined them.

"Does it ever?" asked Charlie, surprised.

"Last year it snowed for three whole hours," laughed Scottie.

"Charlie, guess what?" asked Kendra, suddenly remembering that she had big news to tell. "You couldn't possibly guess!"
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