It went without saying that the 12 youngest residents of a particular ivy-covered house in the twinkling city of Paris adored the Doctor. Though his visits carried a tinge of worry, they were always excited to see his tall spidery frame in the doorway and the warm smile that he always wore. Favored by all twelve children, they appreciated the manner in which he treated them as it was so reminiscent of their fathers, and as a result were always eager to greet him. Even the cause of his arrival couldn’t help but smile when he knocked on the door and peered into the long bedroom of 11 empty beds and one sickness. But as lively as they became, the effect he had on the girls was nowhere near the effect their caretaker, guardian, and teacher, the lovely Mademoiselle Corabelle, had on the Doctor.
The girls quickly noticed, much to their amused giggling, that whenever Mademoiselle joined him and his patient, he felt the need to tug at the collar of his suit and clear his throat at least once, or, if she was particularly beautiful that day, the tips of his ears never failed to slowly turn bright red as the usually self-assured and eloquent doctor fumbled with both his instruments and words. But his clumsiness only furthered their enthusiasm – though they were not much knowledgeable of the workings of the world beyond their home, all twelve girls – even Nunnally, the smallest one of them all – had at least a fledgling of an idea as to why the young Doctor always regressed to that of an awkward, bumbling adolescent before their teacher.
So when a gorgeous bouquet of roses was delivered to the desk of Mademoiselle, they had been overjoyed, for who else could be the culprit than their beloved doctor? Alas, being children, their celebration had been premature for when the Doctor next arrived – and it wasn’t too long since his last visit, considering the draft in the dining hall and the weak constitutions some of them possessed, as well as Kallen’s stubborn sense of adventure – his smile was weaker, his colors more faded, and the teasing light in his eyes dimmer. Understandably, they had been confused and had immediately sought an answer to the riddle that had been placed before them. They found it just over the high stone wall that separated their home from the German Ambassador’s Eden in which a variety of velvety flowers were grown by the bushel.
Only Milly, the oldest one of them all, had been daring enough to ask their teacher if she returned the Ambassador’s feelings. There had been no other response than a mysterious smile much like the one from la Joconde, but Nunnally, the most perceptive of them all, had long noticed the far-off look the young woman sometimes adopted when she thought no one was looking. Of course, there was no way she knew of the chance meetings at the café Mademoiselle visited on the day off she had once a month, or the walks in the park she had shared with the Doctor, or the way it had been so difficult to meet his eyes that one time when the dark storm clouds had interrupted their stroll, forcing them to duck into an imposing cathedral for sanctuary. Neither was she aware of the lukewarm thank you that had been sent in reply or the way she now always hesitated to join him and his patient, but there was something about the way she wistfully looked out the window that suggested all that she hadn’t said aloud.
But even with these observations, what could she, the smallest of them all, possibly do? It seemed as if everyone had given up on the romance, the two leads included, and had returned the book to its rightful place on the shelf, where it would soon be forgotten and only serve to make the poor soul who had the misfortune of passing by violently sneeze. The very notion of their teacher wilting like the old roses that had vanished one morning upset her so much, the Doctor had had to make a visit in the dead of night, but no matter how much she fret, she was unable to decide on a course that would grant the ending they all desired.
Fortunately, greater forces were at work, and one stormy evening, when all 12 girls had been safely tucked into bed and were just about to drift off to sleep, there was a knock on their door. All were surprised to receive their guest who had seemingly been deposited on their doorstep by the frigid gales outside. His usually immaculate appearance had fallen victim to the unforgiving winter, as his scarf was just barely clinging to his shoulders and his hair so ruffled that it gave off the impression he had just woken from a century-long nap, but as he requested an audience with their teacher, who had appeared at the top of the sweeping staircase, tightly wrapping her thick robe around her and wearing an unreadable expression, it was apparent that his dishevelment was nowhere near as windblown and scattered as his thoughts. He noticed only their teacher, who in turn paid any mind to him exclusively, so stunned his unexpected visit had made her.
The girls had immediately flocked back to their warm beds the moment their teacher had nodded in reply, both to avoid the cold and a stern lecture, but none could be lulled back to sleep after. For what reason could the Doctor have visited so late at night, they had whispered. Leila worried that their kitten, Eliza, had fallen ill, and while a few of the others had begun to panic, the proposal was quickly cast aside. Though they knew the Doctor had taken a liking to Eliza, they knew he didn’t treat kittens. One of the company, made brave by the dark, said aloud what they had all been thinking – had he come to fix the tragedy they had witnessed? – but there was not even the response that Leila’s voice had warranted. All were too afraid that if they were to openly react, to revive their hope, they would only be met with disappointment again.
Little did they know that they had no reason to worry and fret so; the Doctor had long held the same view, and it was the abandonment of this view triggered by the attendance of a close friend’s wedding ceremony that had led him to the old house.
What words were traded behind the closed doors of the parlor that evening only two people knew and would ever know, but the same could not be said for the effect of that private conversation. Especially once the holiday season settled in like the glittering powder that dusted their world.
Though the girls were very much saddened by the end of the story, they very much still loved the Doctor and wished to invite him to their Christmas celebration and had asked for permission as such, to which they were graciously given. They were immensely cheered when he arrived that evening with rosy cheeks, a bright smile, and twelve scarlet roses, a rarity and a treasure in the wintertime. Every girl – even hardened Kallen – had been overjoyed and had thanked him with a shy kiss on the cheek or a fleeting embrace. To think that they had received their first flower from a gentleman! It delighted them all terribly so, and it was with light hearts that they presented their own gift to him – their very own production of the nativity scene.
But it was Nunnally who was happiest of them all, for as the angel, she was able to spy the Doctor reaching for Mademoiselle’s hand and was the first to glimpse the single pearl hanging by a slender golden chord around her neck and the smile that passed between them and thus was the third of fourteen to be gladdened by their very own Christmas miracle.