Worth Waiting For
Trixie Belden doodled random numbers across her math notebook. On her best day, she had to struggle to make sense of the formulas and figures; today her mind was in such chaotic turmoil that she couldn’t see the point in trying. Maybe, if she kept half an ear on the lecture and kept doodling numbers, she might accidently write something that would be useful later on.
The odds of that, of course, were slim to none. College up until this semester had been fun, filled with interesting classes and an active social life. The start of her junior year had changed all that: she’d finally had to dive into a dreaded math class, and her social life had gone to hell in a hand-basket.
She’d been blessed since day one with three great roommates. The four got along famously, and had chosen to stay together again and again when others had opted to rotate roomies at the close of a term or year. While the girls had had dates or boyfriends throughout the years, they had stuck close and gone on many group outings.
Trixie had managed her social life through this group dating program, and strings of one-date wonders, and she’d been perfectly content. Earlier this semester, however, she’d accepted a date with a tall, dark and handsome transfer student. They’d had a good time, and one date had become two. Before Trixie knew it, they were “exclusive”, “going steady”, or a “solid couple”, according to her roommates.
Trixie had been blissfully enjoying her relationship with David, right up until the previous evening. Everything had been relaxed and pressure-free, as usual. And then he’d announced he was joining her on her trip home for Thanksgiving.
As close as Trixie and her roommates had gotten, they had all visited each others’ homes and families over spring break, summer, and even Christmas. But even they had never come to Sleepyside for Thanksgiving.
Trixie didn’t want outsiders at Thanksgiving.
That was an anomalous thought that wouldn’t make sense to anyone but her closest friends back home, the Bob-Whites. Nonetheless, it was true.
Thanksgiving at her family home, Crabapple Farm, was an open house for the entire community of Sleepyside. It was by no means a quiet family dinner; it was loud and crowded, and the Beldens always welcomed everyone. However, for Trixie and the other Bob-Whites, this was a special time for just the seven of them.
Although they had never planned it, or even openly discussed it, they had developed a tacit understanding that Thanksgiving vacation was off-limits to guests. Since the eldest of the group started college, many a friend, roommate, or significant other had traveled to their small town for long weekends, holidays, and vacations – but never for Thanksgiving.
The members of the group would arrive in town anywhere from Tuesday night to Thursday morning, depending on their class and travel schedule. Regardless of time, the first stop was always the kitchen at Crabapple Farm. Sometimes they would dig right in to help with the preparations, and sometimes they would poke their heads in, say hello, and continue on to their own homes, depending on the circumstances of their arrival. Thanksgiving Day itself was spent parking cars, carrying platters, refilling beverages, and otherwise serving their neighbors. It was their way of giving thanks for Sleepyside-on-Hudson and the way the town and the people had blessed their lives.
Friday they would make sure the cleanup at the Farm was complete, and their help was no longer needed. Then the day was reserved for time in their own homes, with their own families.
But Saturday… Saturday was all about the Bob-Whites. They would go horseback riding, watch movies, play cards, or just sit around their clubhouse – just the seven of them. It didn’t matter what they did, as long as they spent that time together. It was the one day of the entire year they reserved for just them. No outsiders allowed.
Allowing her unfocused gaze to wander in the general direction of the colorful graphs decorating the professor’s Smart Board, Trixie reflected on her oldest brother, Brian, and his girlfriend, Ria. They’d been dating for four years now, and were pretty serious. They spent every moment together, in school and out. They spent every vacation together, as best they could manage around work schedules. If Ria wasn’t in Sleepyside, Brian was in Boston. Everyone was certain Ria would be receiving an engagement ring this Christmas. By rights, she should be the first to break into their ranks. But, even Ria had never come to Thanksgiving.
Where did David get the idea he was invited join the inner circle?
The bell rang, and Trixie gathered her things. As she ambled toward her dorm, she pondered the conversation from the previous evening. In point of fact, David had not been invited. He hadn’t even asked to be invited. He had just declared that he was going.
The realization was the spark that finally lit Trixie’s infamous temper. Ever since the previous evening, she’d felt nervous, anxious, and trapped. Her own reaction had unnerved her, because it was so unlike her. Once her temper flared, however, she felt more like herself. And the more she thought about David, and his way of speaking to her, the more it fanned the flames.
David had managed a third, fourth, fifth date, and so on, because he had never asked. He had made plans that seemed thoughtful, and appealed to Trixie… like tickets to her favorite concert, or reservations to a restaurant she’d wanted to try. When out with her friends as a group, Trixie didn’t much care what they did, as long as they had fun. David had just shown up at these occasions and claimed a place at her side. Because of that, David had subtly taken control of her life, deciding what they did, when, where, and with whom. The more she thought about this, the more insidious she found David’s behavior.
“And now he wants to horn in on the Bob-Whites’ Thanksgiving?” Trixie fumed. “Oh HELL no!”
An evil smirk stole across her face, as she nearly reconsidered. After all, it would serve David right if she brought him home only to sic her brothers on him. Grim determination lengthened her stride as she wiped away the smirk. “No. I need to handle this one on my own.”
Trixie was in a fine temper by the time she rounded the corner of her dorm and found David waiting by the outside door. Oblivious to the fury on her face, David smiled at her approach. “Hello, my sweet. What time will you be ready to leave?”
That innocent remark triggered gunfire from both barrels. “I am not your ‘sweet’! And you don’t need to know when I’ll be ready, since we’re not going anywhere together!”
Despite Trixie’s ferocious demeanor, David barely reacted; slight bemusement tinged his voice. “Don’t be silly, darling. It makes no sense for us to ride separately, when we’re headed to the same place.”
“The hell we are!” Trixie yelled. With a deep, cleansing breath, she reined herself in considerably. It wouldn’t do for her to look like a raving lunatic while David appeared calm and rational. When she could control her voice, she spoke with clear determination. “I did not invite you to my home for Thanksgiving. I never invite anyone home for Thanksgiving, not even my best friends. I don’t want you there. You are not welcome.”
“But darling,” David continued, with his well-modulated voice and unflappable demeanor that Trixie was just now noticing to be rather patronizing and condescending. “I thought it would be better to meet your family this weekend, since we’ll be spending Christmas with my family.”
Just milliseconds before the volcanic eruption of Mount Krakatoa, an icy calm settled over Trixie. She narrowed her eyes and gritted her teeth. “I have no intention of spending Christmas with your family. I will spend winter break with my family and friends, and you can go wherever the hell you please, as long as it’s nowhere near me. You do not get to decide what I do and where I go.”
David quirked a brow in evident confusion. “You haven’t minded that before.”
Trixie stomped her foot in irritation. She knew he had a point, but she wasn’t about to concede it now. “Well, I’ve changed my mind! It’s a woman’s prerogative!”
Turning on her heel, she marched into the building. She was too angry to stand still, so she flew by the elevator and flung open the door to the stairwell. The run up to the seventh floor did nothing to diffuse her anger. When she blew into her dorm room, she slammed the door, threw her book bag across the room, and let out a primal scream.
Angelie, one of her roommates, looked up from her hand-held computer game. “Problems?”
“David Abramson is a control freak!” Trixie spat, pacing furiously from one end of the room to the other in just a few steps.
Angelie bit her lip and returned her gaze to her game, valiantly trying not to laugh. She did allow a small amount of sarcasm to seep into her voice, however. “Really? I never noticed.”
“Smartass,” Trixie retorted.
Seeing just how angry her friend really was, Angelie paused her game and focused on the blonde ball of fury. “What did he do?”
Ripping her duffle bag from the closet, Trixie fumed, “Told me he was coming home with me for Thanksgiving.”
Angelie frowned. Knowing she was treading dangerous waters, she proceeded with caution. “It’s not that unusual for couples to spend holidays together.”
“Don’t you dare take his side,” Trixie warned, as she yanked open her dresser drawers. “How many times have I invited you, Cissy, or Paula home with me?”
Angelie stared at the fascinating spectacle of Trixie’s packing style. She appeared to be randomly grabbing anything and flinging it into her bag, but she managed to grab only things she would need for the weekend home, and they all landed in the duffle still perfectly folded. It took effort to think of a response to Trixie’s question. “We have an unusually close bunch of roommates,” Angelie finally said. “We go home with each other all the time.”
Stalking into the bathroom to grab her toiletries, Trixie flung another question back over her shoulder. “But Thanksgiving?”
Conceding the point, Angelie shrugged. “You don’t invite us, and you don’t accept our invitations. You’ve always claimed it’s special family time.”
“Exactly!” Trixie dumped her remaining items unceremoniously into her bag. “I didn’t invite him. He didn’t even ask to be invited!”
Knowingly, Angelie guessed, “He just sank his own battleship, didn’t he?”
A knock on the door drew the girls’ attention. Trixie narrowed her eyes and called out, “Go away, David!”
“Don’t be silly, sweetheart,” David responded. “Let’s discuss this.”
“GO AWAY!” Trixie shouted.
“I fail to see why you’re being so childish,” he scolded. “I’ll be done with my last class in an hour and a half. I’ll pick you up then, and we can sort this out during the ride.”
Even angrier than before, Trixie placed a hand on either side of her head, yanked on her already tangled curls, and screamed, “Go to hell, David!”
“Just be ready when I get back,” David calmly ordered.
During the silence that followed the sound of his receding footsteps, Angelie studied her roommate. The fire in Trixie’s eyes and the determined set of her jaw led her friend to believe that the little spitfire was going to deliberately disobey David. Angelie didn’t have a problem with that, per se… depending on what Trixie did do.
“Penny for your thoughts, Trix.”
Posture stiff from the effort to hold in her rage, Trixie turned and finished her packing. When she had zipped her duffle, she slung it over her shoulder, grabbed her purse, and headed for the door. Only then did she trust herself to speak. “It’s been ten minutes; he’s in class by now. I’m leaving NOW. When he comes back, I’ll be long gone.”
Angelie frowned with concern. “But do you have a ride? How will you get there?”
Through clenched teeth Trixie replied, “I don’t care if I have to walk all the way to Sleepyside, I’m not going with him!”
“You can’t walk that far! Besides, he takes the same road to drive to his parents’ in Connecticut. If you walk, he’ll catch up with you.”
“I’ll figure it out while I’m walking off my temper!” Trixie responded with exasperation. “I’m not stupid, and I have my cell phone. And I’ve outsmarted more intelligent losers than him.”
Reluctantly, Angelie agreed. “Call me in a couple of hours so I know what you’re doing. And definitely call me when you get there.”
Trixie gave her friend a hug. “Thanks for worrying, but don’t. I’ll be fine. And I’ll let you know what’s going on, but not until I think that jerk is gone. It’s better for you to be in the dark, anyway. You’re a terrible liar.”
Jim Frayne drove down the road, glad to be headed home. Thanksgiving break was one of his favorite times of the year, and he couldn’t wait to see his family and friends. Checking his watch, he decided to stop at a favorite diner for a quick bite. He was hungry, and, as much as he’d rather wait for Sleepyside food, he’d never make it that far without a little reserve fuel for his body.
Thinking about previous visits to the diner in question, he frowned. It was near Trixie’s campus, and they often met there if he was giving her a ride. He hadn’t heard from her, so he wasn’t planning to pick her up, but he didn’t know how she was getting home. “Probably getting a ride from the boyfriend,” he thought derisively.
He didn’t know anything about this guy, but he was intensely jealous of him. Trixie rarely mentioned him, except as part of a group when relating tales of evenings out. Jim wouldn’t have thought anything more of it, if he hadn’t talked to Clarissa, better known as Cissy. She was one of Trixie’s three roommates; they were friends, with the advantage of being well-liked by each other’s friends and family back home. Over the course of two-and-a-half years, all of the Bob-Whites had come to know each of the roommates well enough to have friendly conversations.
Cissy was the only one of the group who understood that Jim considered Trixie to be someone special. She didn’t understand why he didn’t say something, or make a move on her, but she knew he had his reasons. And she knew he’d be unhappy that Trixie had a boyfriend. Cissy thought it was better for Jim to hear about it ahead of time than to encounter Trixie and David together; so, one night when Jim called while Trixie was out, Cissy had dropped the bomb. Trixie and David had been a steady item since the beginning of the semester.
Jim hadn’t tried to call Trixie since.
She’d called him a couple of times, but hadn’t seemed to notice that anything was wrong. And she hadn’t called about a ride home for the holiday.
He gritted his teeth at the unwelcome thought that Trixie might have invited David home for Thanksgiving. The close-knit group of friends had never formalized a “no guests for Thanksgiving” rule, but the unspoken agreement had always been there. He hoped to heck David wasn’t so special that Trixie would break that pact.
Sitting at a red light just before the diner, Jim thought about calling Trixie just to check. Right then, he saw a bright red BWG jacket moving swiftly down the street, just past the intersection. He noticed that Trixie wasn’t just walking, she was stomping along in her “trying to shake off a temper tantrum” march. He couldn’t help hoping David was the focus of her fury.
Edging through the intersection when the light turned, Jim calculated he would pull into the diner parking lot just before Trixie got that far down the road. Quickly formulating a plan, he drove ahead and pulled into JoAnn’s Place, an old-fashioned diner whose food rivaled Wimpy’s back home.
Getting out of the car, Jim checked Trixie’s progress. She was across the street, and about even with the lot. He made a point of leaving his car doors unlocked before leaning casually against the side of his car and whistling.
Bob-white. Bob, bob-white.
At the unexpected sound of the club’s birdcall, Trixie’s head snapped in his direction. Apparently seeing Jim as a handy target for her wrath, she yelled, “What the hell do you want?”
Jim bit back a smile and attempted an innocent expression. God, she’s beautiful when she’s angry, he thought. Aloud, he called, “Nothing. I’m just going into JoAnn’s for a bite, and I thought I’d invite you to join me. But if you’re that cranky, maybe you should just keep walking.”
Jim turned and made his way into the restaurant. He knew Trixie well, sometimes better than she knew herself. He was so confident of her response that he told the waitress to give him a table for two. From his table, he had a clear view of his favorite blonde pacing back and forth across the street. The wisps of vapor emanating from her mouth told him she was griping out loud in the crisp, late autumn air. Jim ordered his food before she finally stalked across the street and went to his car.
Trixie knew Jim equally as well. He wouldn’t have walked away from her unless he was sure she’d follow him, which was infuriating. But he’d walked away and given her some space, and a few minutes to calm down… which was wonderful. She also knew he’d have left his car unlocked so that she could toss her duffle bag into the back seat before entering the diner. Grateful to relieve her shoulders of the heavy bag, she did just that, then locked Jim’s car and went in to find him.
Arriving at his table just after his drink did, Trixie stood with her arms crossed and tapped her foot. Jim finished a long sip of soda before casually looking up and raising a questioning eyebrow.
“One question,” Trixie said. “Did Angelie call you?”
A flash of confusion crossed Jim’s face. “No. Why? Should she have?”
Trixie studied him a moment. He was genuinely curious, but more than that, she was extremely confident that Jim would never lie to her. She nodded, said, “Okay,” and slid into the seat across from him.
The waitress arriving with Jim’s food saved her from needing to say anything else just yet. Greeting Trixie warmly, Wendy commented on having not seen her favorite customer in quite a while, and asked Trixie if she wanted her usual. Grateful that Wendy remembered, Trixie agreed and thanked her.
Once they were alone again, Jim studied her while slowly dipping a French fry into ketchup and popping it in his mouth. She fidgeted with the edge of her sleeve, and kept her eyes lowered to the table. After swallowing, Jim spoke easily. “I figured, since I didn’t hear from you, that you had a ride home. What happened?”
Lips pressed into a firm line, Trixie replied, “I told the guy who thought he was driving me to go to hell.”
Keeping his amusement confined to a bright twinkle in his green eyes, Jim said, “Probably not the best way to get to Sleepyside. I’m sure he deserved it, though.”
Trying to ease her out of her bad mood, Jim kept his voice light. “You could have just called me, instead of trying to walk home.”
Trixie rolled her eyes. “I’m sure I would have – AFTER I’d walked long enough to shake off my tantrum.” Finally looking up at him, she continued ruefully, “Instead, you showed up right when I need you. Like you always do.”
Jim smiled and reached across the table to give her hand a squeeze. “I always will.”
“Thank you,” Trixie said gratefully, squeezing his hand in return.
Looking up to see Wendy headed their way with her food, Trixie visibly tried to throw off her foul mood. Sitting back so Wendy could place the meal in front of her, she said, “I think I’m starved after that walk.”
Playing along, Jim laughed. “I bet! It’s about two and a half miles from your dorm, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Trixie glanced at her watch. “And I made it in a mere thirty-five minutes.”
“Carrying that bag? Wow. When you come down off that adrenalin high, your legs are gonna be rubber.”
As she reached for her cheeseburger, Trixie smiled at him, with the first real glimmer of humor reaching her eyes. “It’s a good thing you’re driving then, isn’t it?”
Laughing, the two friends dove into their meal with relish. Chatting about this, that, and everything except David, they lingered a bit before paying the bill and heading to the car. The comfortable atmosphere disappeared when Trixie’s cell phone rang.
Jim could tell by the way she tensed, and immediately hit “ignore”, that the caller must be he who’d been told to go to hell. They settled in the car and buckled their seatbelts while the same thing happened three more times. When they pulled out of the lot and onto the road, Trixie’s phone rang again, but the ring was different. This time Trixie pulled out the phone and answered the call.
The voice on the other end was so loud that Jim could hear every word of the conversation. Angelie exploded, “David just left here, and he’s steamed. He’s convinced you’re hitchhiking home, and he’s planning on chasing you down and throwing you into his car so he can talk some sense into you.”
Trixie snorted. “First of all, I’m not stupid enough to hitchhike. Second of all, I’m safely ensconced in Jim’s car, so I have nothing to worry about.”
“Oh, thank God for Jim!”
“Yes. I do. Daily.”
Although he displayed no visible reaction, Jim’s heart swelled. Back at ya, Trix, he thought.
“Well, be careful,” Angelie fussed. “Who knows how David will react to that, if he catches up with you.”
“I’m not going to worry about it,” Trixie calmly replied. “I’m safe. I’m with Jim. David can continue merrily on to hell, like I told him to.”
Angelie laughed. “I’d like to see that.”
Trixie winced as the call waiting beeped in her ear. “Listen, Ange, I don’t feel like seeing how many times he’ll try to call me, so I’m going to turn my phone off now. Enjoy your holiday.”
“Okay,” Angelie reluctantly agreed. “But call me when you get home so I know you made it there safely!”
Shaking her head at her friend’s worrying, Trixie chuckled. “Yes, Mother Hen. Go have a Happy Thanksgiving.”
While Trixie shut down the power on her cell phone, Jim turned off onto a side road. Glancing up to see where he was headed, Trixie recognized the turn as leading to their favorite detour, a longer route home that was much more scenic. She gave Jim a brilliant smile.
Winking conspiratorially, he shrugged. “I didn’t feel like being run off the road by the jealous boyfriend.”
Settling back into her seat, Trixie seemed to be relaxing and releasing the day’s tension. Nevertheless, she growled, “Do not call him that.”
After a few moments of driving along in comfortable silence, Jim broached the subject again. “Want to talk about it?”
“No, not really,” Trixie said, heaving a deep sigh. “Let’s just say I’ve returned to my original opinion that no member of the male population is worthy of a third date.”
Glad she wanted to be rid of David, no matter the reason, Jim decided not to press her. Instead, he chose to inject the conversation with some humor and a philosophical bent. “Not even three? That makes it hard to form relationships, doesn’t it?”
“Who said I wanted a relationship?” Trixie grumped. “Unlike some people I know, I’m not attending college for the expressed purpose of obtaining an MRS.”
“No, you’re there to learn to sound more like Mart,” Jim teased.
Laughing, Trixie smacked him playfully on the arm. “Brat.”
Relieved to see the return of her good humor, Jim chuckled. “Okay, so if no one deserves a third date, then why date at all?”
Trixie turned in her seat to face him. “I’m there to get an education. But, like with everywhere I’ve ever gone, I want to enjoy myself and make friends along the way. From what I’ve seen, guys fall into three basic dating categories: looking for a fun evening, looking to get laid, or looking for a wife. If they’re in the first category, you’ll have a good time. And you can still hang out and be friends afterwards without actually dating more. If they’re in the other two categories, you can tell by the end of the second date – and it’s time to head for the hills.”
“A broad generalization on the male gender, but not totally inaccurate,” Jim noted. “So, are relationships only meant for after college?”
“I know I’m not the most experienced, wise person,” Trixie admitted, “but I interpret what I see. From what I see, people who are looking for love look so hard that they see things that aren’t there. You know as well as I do that sometimes, when I’m hunting hard for clues, I see evidence that isn’t really there.
“The people I know with the happiest marriages come from a range of experiences: love at first sight; slow, long-term relationship building; even suddenly realizing your best friend is the love of your life. The thing that keeps jumping out at me is that they were surprised by love.
“I don’t want to make a huge mistake, and wake up someday realizing I married the wrong person for all the wrong reasons. I’d rather wake up someday wondering how the heck I missed something so important, and hoping it’s not too late.”
Silence descended upon the vehicle as Jim thoughtfully processed everything Trixie had said. Knowing she was waiting for some kind of reaction from him, and not wanting to say the wrong thing, he took his time.
“Trixie, you have the ability to look at the world from a completely different perspective than the rest of us, and see things no one else can see.”
Having already been far more patient than was normal for her, Trixie grew frustrated when Jim didn’t say anything else. “Is that a good thing?” she prodded.
“Sometimes,” Jim hedged. “Sometimes you see a more complete picture than the rest of us. On the other hand, sometimes you see a different part of the picture that no one else sees, but you don’t see the parts we see, so it skews your vision.”
Trixie chewed on her bottom lip. “Okay…”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Jim interjected. “I’m not necessarily disagreeing. Whenever you express such a radically different perspective, it takes me a while to figure out what I think. But that’s the one thing I can say for sure: you make me think.”
“Great,” Trixie snorted. “So I can only attract intellectuals?”
Jim laughed out loud. “Trix, you attract all sorts. Remember how you said you’re not interested in the guys that only want sex? That doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in you, cause believe me, they are. But anyone who can’t appreciate your mind doesn’t deserve you.”
She smiled affectionately at him. “You always manage to turn something that would be insulting coming from someone else into a compliment.”
He smiled back and reached over to tug the curl that lay across her forehead. “I have no desire to insult you.”
“Which is what distinguishes you from your fellow Bob-White males.”
Grateful to be somehow distinguished from the other Bob-Whites, because he hoped she didn’t think of him as another brother, he returned to the subject at hand. “I think your view of men is limited, but resembles the college crowd, so it probably serves you well. Your view of love is… cautious. That’s not necessarily bad, and will probably save you from a mistake or two. I just hope you actually notice when Mr. Right comes along.”
Glad that her best friend respected her point of view, Trixie relaxed. “Mr. Right might have come along already, for all I know. I only know that I won’t notice until I’m ready to notice. I just hope he can wait that long.”
They once again lapsed into a comfortable silence, enjoying the forest views on the winding roads through the Appalachian Mountains. When Trixie nodded off to sleep, Jim gazed fondly at her peaceful face.
Don’t worry, Trix. I’ll wait as long as it takes.
After a busy, yet relaxing, weekend of food, family, and fun, the Bob-Whites headed in their separate directions to return to their various universities. As expected, Jim offered to drive Trixie back to school. Shortly after departing from Sleepyside, however, Jim pulled his car over to the side of the road.
Trixie looked at him in surprise. “What’s up?”
“Anything you want,” Jim responded.
“What do you mean?”
The husky redhead shrugged. “It’s a six-hour drive, and it’s only noon. I don’t have to be back at any specific time. We can drive straight through, if you want to get back to campus. Or we can dawdle as much as you want. We can go for a hike, stop and catch a movie, or even – God forbid – go Christmas shopping. The day is yours, to do whatever your little heart desires.”
Trixie was surprised to find her eyes watering. Trixie had never discussed with Jim the things about David that drove her nuts, so he couldn’t have known about his manipulative ways of controlling her every move. She’d declared the topic of David off limits, and he hadn’t been mentioned at all since Jim had picked her up at JoAnn’s Diner. Yet here Jim was, offering her the one thing David seemed determined to prevent her from having: a choice.
She smiled and reached out to squeeze his hand. “That qualifies as an early Christmas present. It’s wonderful. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied. “So what’ll it be? Your wish is my command.”
The final two weeks of the semester flew by for Trixie in a blur of stress and aggravation. It quickly became apparent that David did not understand the meaning of the phrase, “It’s over.” There were frequent conversations, arguments, screaming matches, and even public scenes. When Trixie resorted to threatening to sic her brothers on him, she knew it had gone too far.
The lone bright spot for Trixie was the night Jim called to check her exam schedule, hoping to coordinate travel back to Sleepyside for winter break. Although their universities operated on the same calendar, the grad schools finished a week earlier than the undergrads. Jim wouldn’t finish that early, however, because his teaching assistantship included proctoring two undergraduate exams.
Explaining that he would be done with his proctoring duties by Wednesday afternoon, Jim asked, “So when will you be ready for break?”
“How about right now?” Trixie responded, suspiciously close to whining.
“How about I rephrase the question?” Jim chuckled. “When is your last exam?”
“Not until Thursday evening,” she lamented. “You can go home nearly two days earlier than I can.”
“I can stay later,” Jim assured her. “I want to make sure you have a ride home.”
“Don’t be silly, Jim! It’s bad enough your vacation is delayed an entire week just so you can proctor two exams. Don’t wait even longer on my account.”
“You’re worth waiting for, Trix.”
Trixie could feel her heart melting into a gooey puddle. She wrapped her arms around herself, imagining it was one of Jim’s special, make-the-world-all-better hugs. “I wish you were here.”
Jim was thrilled by her words, but he heard something else in her voice. Instantly suspicious, he jumped to his own conclusion. “What’s David been up to?”
She should have known Jim would read her mind. Heaving a sigh, she said, “Just being a pain. Bad enough that I didn’t even complain yesterday when Cissy’s boyfriend, Alan, had a little ‘chat’ with David… that somehow managed to blacken his eye. He’s stayed away since then.”
“I know, I know, I know,” Trixie interjected, pulling her hair by the roots. “You’d be here in a flash. If I called my brothers, they’d pummel the creep. I’m just trying to handle it myself. Those options are my last resort, and I’m not quite there yet.”
Jim didn’t say a word for a long minute. He took a deep, cleansing breath, trying to fight back the desire to creatively rearrange David’s anatomy. Finally, he said, “Fine. I trust you to know when you need to call for the cavalry.”
Trixie released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “Thank you.” She smiled to herself, rejoicing in his words: I trust you. Nothing had ever sounded so sweet. “I promise to keep you in the loop.”
Finally, the last day of classes came to a blessed conclusion. When Trixie and her third roommate, Paula, arrived at their dorm room, they found Angelie and Clarissa already congregating with several other girlfriends. All looked exhausted and utterly fried.
Cissy, sprawled facedown on the floor, raised her head from the pillow of her arms and looked around the room. “Are we all in the same boat? First exam isn’t until Tuesday morning?”
Janine groaned. “The exam for my night class is on Monday, but that still feels like it’s a long time from now.”
“I can’t study yet,” Maria said. “I need some serious unwinding first.”
“Ditto,” Trixie muttered as she flopped on her back on the floor next to Cissy.
Paula got a mischievous look on her face. “Do you realize that we could drink ourselves into such a stupor tonight that we don’t remember tomorrow, and still have two days left to study?”
“Mmmm,” Angelie muttered without opening her eyes. “I don’t know about the stupor part, but I could certainly go for an all-girls cocktail hour. Who’s in?”
Suzy grinned wickedly. “Did you say cock-tales?”
The room broke into hysterical snickers. After the girls had laughed themselves silly, they made plans for the evening. Deciding upon a quick bite at the diner they loved, a round of darts at a favorite hangout, and then retreating to the sanctuary of the dorm room for snacks, beverages, and giggles, they went about gathering supplies and getting themselves ready.
After eating with abandon at JoAnn’s, the group headed to the Tap Room. Paula, who had been having a rough time lately with her boyfriend’s libido, and his impatience with the word “no”, stopped short a half-block away. “Shit. I just saw Chad go in there.”
Cissy groaned. Although she and her boyfriend were doing well, he’d been less than pleased that she’d wanted to spend her last Friday on campus as a girls’ night. “Great. If Mr. Grabby Hands is there, then Alan’s with him.”
Janine pointed. “And there goes David.”
“That does it!” Trixie turned and hurried in the opposite direction. “No darts for me. I’m headed back to the dorm.”
“I’m right with ya, sister,” Paula said, tearing after her.
“Hey! Wait for us!” Maria called out as the whole group hurried to catch up.
Back in their room, Trixie and Cissy put out various types of chips, dips, and other snacks while Paula and Angelie opened a bottle of champagne and poured it into Dixie® cups. After passing the drinks out, Angelie raised her glass. “To the end of another semester.”
“Here, here,” the others replied, raising their glasses and drinking to her toast.
Paula then raised her glass. “To girls’ night!”
The ladies started passing around various bottles of beverages, both alcoholic and non, and refilling their cups as the toasts kept coming.
“To all the single ladies… may I remain one for a long time!”
“To Mr. Right… hurry up, ‘cause all these Mr. Wrongs are killing me!”
“To the rare male who understands that personal growth is not a sexual term.”
“To the English language… if only guys could understand it!”
“To dead men… the only ones who tell no tales.”
After several rounds of toasting, a whole lot of snack foods, a romantic comedy or two on the television, and a great deal of beverage consumption, the girls settled back with instrumental music on the stereo. Once again, the conversation returned to the subject of men: the right ones, the wrong ones, and telling the difference.
With much drunken giggling, they began to compile a list of ways to tell if the guy is the wrong one, both serious and ridiculous.
· the sound of his voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard
· the pat of his hand gives you the heebie-jeebies
· his arm around your shoulder feels like a boa constrictor
· his smile reminds you of a horror film
· the touch of his lips makes you nauseated
· his natural odor gives you the urge to spray Febreeze
· his hug makes your skin crawl
Eventually, all of the young women fell asleep where they were. Some were stretched out on the floor, others were curled into balls on the sofa. The residents had chosen futons rather than beds to allow for more flexible furniture arrangements, so a couple of the girls actually lay upon their own beds. The room was filled with the soft music of an orchestra of sighs, snores, and deep breathing.
In the wee hours of the morning, Trixie dreamt she was attending a ball.
The room was aglow with the lights of a thousand crystal chandeliers. All the guests were clad in elegant fabrics of brilliant colors. Everyone except Trixie wore a mask that covered their entire face. Trixie found herself involved in an elaborate dance, to which she seemed to know the steps, that had her being passed back and forth between two costumed gentlemen. She could not see any identifying features on either of them, and they were dressed exactly alike. The only obvious difference between them was the pageant-style sashes they wore, one labeled “Mr. Wrong” and one labeled “Mr. Right”.
As she went back and forth between the dance partners, Trixie began to notice a distinct difference in the way the two men made her feel. Mr. Wrong grabbed her hand, pulled her into his arms, and leaned her back into a dip. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, and she was sure there were thousands of ants crawling along her skin. Then he stood her back up and pushed her into a twirl.
Mr. Right caught her, and then performed the same dance move. When he held her hand, she felt a spark of electricity. When he pulled her into his arms, she felt enveloped in warmth. And when he twirled her back across the floor, she felt bereft.
This time, Mr. Wrong put his arm around her waist and did a box step. Trixie felt trapped in a cage. He smiled at her, and terror choked her. When he spun her again, she felt dizzy and off-kilter.
Again, Mr. Right caught her in his embrace. Suddenly, Trixie felt warm and safe. As he led her through the steps of the dance, she had the sensation of soaring through the air. And when he smiled, she could have sworn someone turned up the brightness on all the crystal chandeliers. He spun her, and she floated gracefully across the floor.
Until Mr. Wrong clenched her hand. He pulled her close, and the acrid, burning sensation in her nostrils made her cringe. The music began to fade, and he loosened his arms. Stepping back and bowing like a gentleman, he brushed a kiss on her hand. Trixie suddenly felt sick to her stomach. And when he stood and thanked her for the dance, she couldn’t hide the cringe of pain at the sound of his voice. Thankfully, he turned and left her.
The music started again, a soft, gently swaying tune. Mr. Right stepped behind her and asked her to dance. The sound of his voice was music itself, soothing her frazzled nerves. Stepping into the circle of his arms, Trixie caught a whiff of the outdoors, fresh and clean, with a subtle hint of cinnamon and spice. She breathed deeply, feeling as if she’d come home. She closed her eyes and laid her head on his chest, listening to the beat of his heart. When he placed a soft kiss upon her brow, she saw a grand display of fireworks behind her eyelids.
When the song ended, she stepped back slightly and looked up, searching the shadows around his eyes. “Won’t you take off the mask?” she asked.
“Only you can do that,” he answered.
She started to reach up, and hesitated. Biting her lip, she wondered, “What if I’m not ready?”
“You’re worth waiting for, Trix.”
She was staggered by the sense of déjà vu. She reached again for his mask. Suddenly, a thousand bells began to toll, a cacophony of sound that announced the midnight hour. People swarmed and came between them. He reached for her hand, but the press of bodies separated them. Just before she lost sight of him, she saw his emerald eyes flicker with the fear of losing her…
Trixie sat bolt upright, bashing her head into Paula’s shoulder as she reached over Trixie to smack at Angelie’s alarm clock. Assorted groans and muttered curses emanated from every corner of the room.
“Why the hell did you have that set for a Saturday morning?” Cissy queried as she tucked her head beneath her pillow.
From beneath the coffee table, Angelie mumbled, “No frickin’ idea.”
Paula rubbed her shoulder and glanced over at her other roommate’s ashen face. “Hey, Trix, are you alright?”
Eyes unfocused, Trixie nodded slowly. Scrambling for coherent thought, she said, “I just need a shower,” and fled the room.
In the bathroom, she let the hot spray pound over her, washing away the haze of the previous night’s alcohol. Her mind’s eye replayed her dream in vivid detail. As if viewing a montage, other images from her memory ran alongside various points: a squeeze of her hand, a smile, a dance, a hug, a tug of her curls.
Dumbstruck, she could only shake her head at her own stupidity. “Talk about not seeing what’s right in front of you.”
Jim wandered restlessly around his apartment, trying to decide how to spend the day. His own exams were over, all papers written, and he was a month ahead of schedule with his thesis. He’d done all he could for the class he helped teach, and had nothing more to do there until he was due to proctor on Wednesday. His apartment was spotless, he was practically packed to leave for break, and he’d already taken his car in for a routine oil change. He had no roommate to bug, most of his friends had already left for break, and there was no one left around campus with whom he cared to spend any real time.
He had already rejected the idea of hiking in the rain/sleet. The gyms on campus were hosting a basketball tournament for local high schools, so he didn’t want to go there. He had absolutely nothing to do.
The truth was, he was anxious to take Trixie back to Sleepyside. He wasn’t sure what was going on with her and this David creep, but he didn’t like it. As much as he trusted her to handle it, it went against his better instincts to just stand back, rather than leaping to her rescue. Maybe if he just talked to her, he wouldn’t be so agitated.
As soon as she answered the phone, he changed his mind. There was a strange, edgy quality to her voice when she answered that worried him. “Are you okay, Trix?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Her voice sounded distracted. “Just waiting for your frown of disapproval.”
“My what?” Jim was now both worried and confused.
“Remember when you warned me that having a roommate nearly two years older than me would lead to underage drinking?” she hedged.
Jim chuckled a bit. “End of the semester drinking celebrations are a proud college tradition. The problems come when you end up doing something stupid, or that you later regret. Will I be seeing you on the news?”
Trixie laughed out loud, sounding infinitely relieved. “No! Not unless someone was taping the girls-only toasts to every flaw of the male population.”
Relaxing, Jim teased her. “Ouch! With that criteria, I’m surprised someone didn’t die of alcohol poisoning.”
“Gotta love a man who knows his own kind,” Trixie teased back. “Besides, we knew the list would be long, so we sipped daintily.”
Jim snorted. “Okay. Can I sell you a bridge in Brooklyn?”
Jim smiled. Maybe it was relief at the end of the semester, or maybe partying with her girlfriends had enabled her to shrug off some of her stress, but Trixie sounded more relaxed than she had in weeks. “You don’t sound too hungover.”
“No, I’m all right. I definitely fared better than some of the others. My room looked like a field after battle this morning,” she giggled. “You’re lucky I stepped out before the phone rang, or you might have been listening to moans and cursing.”
“I’m glad you’re sounding better. So, what’s on tap for today?”
There was a long pause, and Trixie’s tone became more serious. “Jim, do you remember when I said someday I’d wake up and realize Mr. Right had been here all along?”
Jim’s heart stopped. He could barely squeak out a response. “Yes.”
“I finally see the whole picture,” she replied. Her voice held that soft touch of awe people have when they talk about falling in love. “I just have to talk to him and see if he feels the same way. Today could be momentous… or he could laugh in my face.”
A terrible chill settled over Jim’s soul, and he felt like throwing up. He couldn’t believe he could be laughing one second, and have all hope stripped from him in the next. The fog surrounding him was so dense that Trixie’s nervousness and fear almost didn’t penetrate. When it did, he stopped thinking about himself and focused on her. Only then could he answer her.
“Trixie, if he does that, he’s not good enough for you,” he said. “Even if he doesn’t feel the same way you do, a friend would care about your feelings enough to let you down gently.”
“I know,” Trixie sighed. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“If he hurts you, I’ll happily kick his ass for you.”
“Thanks, Jim. Wish me luck?”
“I wish you happiness, Trix. Always.”
As he disconnected the phone, Jim heard the door slam shut on all his hopes and dreams. He sank into the plush sofa, held his head in his hands, and wondered if there was anything left to his world.
When the call ended, Trixie shut down the power on her cell phone and slid it into her coat pocket. She closed her eyes and leaned heavily on the stairwell wall.
Had she heard pain in his voice? Or was she looking so hard she was seeing things that weren’t there?
Was she about to make the biggest mistake of her life?
Once again, her brain latched onto that one phrase from both her dream and her memory: “You’re worth waiting for, Trix.”
She whispered a quick prayer. Please, God. Please, please, please.
After a deep, fortifying breath, she summoned all her courage. Exiting the stairwell, she headed for a familiar apartment door. Her hand trembled once in midair before she steadied it and knocked.
Even though she knew he was home, it took forever for Jim to respond. She was just about to knock again when the door opened.
He looked a little green, like he’d been punched in the gut. When he registered her presence, a thousand expressions flashed across his face: pain, confusion, shock, wonder, fear, hope.
That one look was the key to everything: hope.
Jim waved her into the apartment without saying a word. Trixie waited until he’d closed the door and turned back to her. She studied his face, wondering what to say now.
She was standing near a mountaintop, at a large crevice. She was about to jump, but she’d only reach the other side if he reached out and caught her. If he did, a spectacular summit awaited them together. But if he didn’t, she’d plunge to her death.
Terrified, unable to form words, she focused on his eyes… the sparkling emerald pools that had gazed fondly upon her for years. The bright emeralds which had peered out from the shadows of the mask in her dream. The windows to his soul, and the mirror to hers. The words she blurted out weren’t planned, but came straight from her heart.
“If I’m about to make a complete fool of myself and ruin our friendship, please stop me. I can’t live without you.”
He never broke eye contact, but his whole demeanor changed. The fond look returned, along with a self-deprecating half-smile. “Which is why I’ve never said a word.”
With the dawning of comprehension, a brilliant smile lit her face. She leaped across the crevice and straight into his arms. He caught her tightly to his chest and twirled her around. When he set her down, he ran his fingers along her cheek in a tender caress.
Tears in her eyes, Trixie confessed, “You’re my best friend. You are the standard against which all others are compared, and fall short. You are my world. You’re everything.”
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Jim said, “I love you, Trixie Belden.”
He leaned in to claim her lips. The fireworks she saw were far more brilliant than those of which she had dreamt.
Between kisses, they talked all day. They made dinner together in Jim’s small kitchen, working side by side as they had many times before, but with the wondrous new twist of stopping now and again for a kiss. After dinner, they curled up together in the corner of the plush sectional sofa, interrupting more conversation with frequent bouts of smooching.
Trixie told Jim about her dream. She marveled at how he could have listened to her rant about someday seeing Mr. Right without saying anything. Jim nibbled her ear and teased her about being a detective who could miss so many clues for so long. Truthfully, though, all that mattered to either of them was being together, in this moment.
They talked all through the night and eventually fell asleep somewhere near dawn, still curled up together. When Trixie awoke several hours later, she found herself with her head on Jim’s chest, listening to the beat of his heart. She breathed deeply, catching a whiff of the outdoors, fresh and clean, with a subtle hint of cinnamon and spice. She closed her eyes again, enjoying being wrapped in the circle of his arms. When he placed a soft kiss upon her brow, she knew she’d come home.
“I can tell you’re smiling,” Jim whispered.
“Because I’m so happy,” Trixie answered. “I don’t want this moment to ever end.”
“I’m okay with it ending.”
Blue eyes wide with shock, Trixie sat up to stare at him. Seeing the amused twinkle in his eyes, she quirked an eyebrow. “Why, pray tell?”
Tenderly, he replied, “The moment doesn’t have to be endless, because I want there to be an endless supply of moments.”
Her heart just melted. The love she felt for him at that moment took her breath away, and brought tears to her eyes. “If I had missed out on this…”
Jim should his head. “Never would’ve happened. I was devastated yesterday when I thought you’d fallen for someone else, but once I cleared my head, I’d have fought for you. I could have waited forever for you to see me as more than a friend, but I don’t think I could have stood by and watched you walk away. I love you.”
Trixie kissed him, slow and deep. When their lips parted, she started to laugh.
“That’s funny?” he asked, sounding insulted.
“I was distracted by the shotgun,” she giggled.
Worried that she was giggling at his arousal, Jim shifted uncomfortably. Realizing if she didn’t explain she’d end up insulting his manhood, Trixie cleared her throat. “You said you hoped I’d actually notice when Mr. Right came along. I did notice… the barrel of the shotgun pointed at me.”
Jim rolled his eyes and smacked her butt playfully. She giggled again, but then grew serious. “You had me at gunpoint, and you just asked questions. You didn’t try to control me.”
That was when Jim realized why he’d had to wait so long for the girl of his dreams. So many times, when they were teenagers, he had wanted to stop her from pulling crazy stunts. Sometimes he’d blown up at her for being impulsive. It had taken him years to accept that expecting her to change in those ways would be to change the whole person. She’d no longer be the woman he loved. He had learned that he had to support her and trust her, and let her be her own person.
A lesson he was glad David had apparently not learned.
“So the problem with David is that he’s a control freak, huh?”
Trixie snorted, rising from the couch and heading toward the bathroom. “I’m sure it’s not his only problem, but it was the killer for me,” she said.
Following her, Jim asked, “How controlling?”
“Not like, abusively, or anything,” she shrugged. “Although, by the way he’s reacting to getting dumped, I’m guessing he has the potential.” Trixie turned at the bathroom door and saw the scowl on Jim’s face. She reached up and smoothed his brow. “I’m not naïve. I wouldn’t let that happen to me.”
She stepped back into the bathroom and shut the door, but not before Jim saw a similar scowl crease her brow. Though muffled by the barrier between them, he heard her grumble, “I’m just surprised I let it get as far as it did.”
Jim called through the door, “So, why did you?”
He heard nothing but the sound of running water, though he wasn’t sure if Trixie was just occupied or trying to gather her thoughts. When she opened the door, her face was clear and honest. “I guess I just didn’t care.”
“What do you mean?”
Stepping out so Jim could have his turn, Trixie said, “He never asked what I wanted to do, but he would make plans that I’d enjoy. I went along and had fun, so I never stopped to think that I hadn’t been consulted. As long as he hit the right buttons, I didn’t think of it as being controlled… right up until he guessed wrong.”
Jim chuckled as he shut the door. “Don’t tell me. Just before Thanksgiving, right?”
“What did he do?”
Trixie leaned against the wall next to the door. “He told me – not asked, TOLD me – that he was coming home with me for Thanksgiving.”
Still drying his hands on a towel, Jim popped his head out of the bathroom. “I should kill him, shouldn’t I?”
“I think you should kiss me, instead,” she suggested.
Playfully, he asked, “What if I don’t want to?”
She pouted. “I wouldn’t force you, but I’d be awfully disappointed.”
His towel neatly hung, he came to her and put his hands on her hips. He kissed her soundly and asked, “Were you looking for something like this?”
“Mmmm…” she purred. “You don’t have to stop.”
“I don’t intend to.”
When they were both breathless and gasping for air, Jim rested his forehead on hers. “So… what do you want to do today?”
Trailing her fingers lightly over the taught muscles of his back, Trixie whispered seductively, “I have a few ideas.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Jim groaned. Rubbing his nose against hers, he added, “Besides, you’ve told every guy you ever met that you wanted to wait until you’re married.”
Trixie’s head snapped up and her startled blue eyes rose to meet his bright emerald ones, shocked that he’d known about those pronouncements, let alone remembered them.
Jim smiled lovingly and assured her, “You’re worth waiting for, Trix.”
Her face softened and she gazed up at him adoringly. The swell of her heart flooded her soul with a certainty beyond measure. “James Winthrop Frayne, I love you.”
She kissed him, and he knew a joy he could never have imagined. The moment would have been perfect, if it hadn’t been interrupted by a pounding on the apartment door.
“Jim, are you in there?”
Confusion swiftly changed to consternation as Jim recognized the voice. “Oh, crap. Lindsey.”
It took Trixie a moment to associate the name to what she knew of Jim’s friends. As he rushed to answer the door, she followed at a leisurely pace. “Oh, yeah, you said you were supposed to be helping her move today. Did you forget?”
Jim flashed her a look that could have melted icebergs. “I forgot about everything but you.”
She couldn’t help the smile that lit her face as he turned to greet Lindsey. Just as she heard Lindsey say something about having been unable to reach Jim by phone, Trixie spotted his phone on the floor, poking out from under a corner of the couch. She bent to retrieve it, and one glance confirmed her suspicions: dead as a doornail. She went to the breakfast bar which separated the kitchen from the living area, where she knew Jim kept his charger, and plugged it in. She then found her backpack, dug out her own charger, and fished around in her coat pocket for her own phone. Jim rejoined her just as she had gotten both phones properly charging.
He shook his head ruefully. “I told Lindsey we’d meet her at her place in an hour. By the time I shower and dress, that thing should have enough juice for me to see how many other messages I’ve missed.”
“Yeah,” Trixie agreed. “I’m probably in trouble.”
“You didn’t tell anyone where you were going?”
“No,” she replied, her cheeks pinking. “I told my roommates I needed some air to clear my head.”
“Yeah.” Abashed, she looked to him for forgiveness. “I didn’t mean to worry anyone. I just really, really needed to see you.”
Jim brushed a curl out of her eyes. “I’m not upset with you. Of course,” he chuckled, “I may be the only one.”
Trixie stuck out her tongue impudently before joining his laughter. “I doubt if anyone would think to ask JoAnn, and she was the only one who knew where I went.”
“Ah.” JoAnn’s husband, Roy, traveled every Saturday to visit his mother in a nursing home. His ride took him right past Jim’s school. Several times over the years, Roy had dropped Trixie off to visit Jim. Whenever he did, he insisted Jim and Trixie eat at JoAnn’s Diner when they returned, so he could be sure she got back to school safely. “By the time we’re done helping Lindsey, it’ll be kind of late. It’s a good thing it’s a 24-hour diner.”
“I’m not going home tonight,” Trixie insisted stubbornly. “My exam isn’t until Tuesday morning. I can study here tomorrow just as well – better, probably – as I could at school.”
As he gazed into her pleading blue eyes, Jim knew he was sunk. He’d never been able to resist her, and he really didn’t want to be that far away from her anyway. He sighed. “How do you expect me to keep my hands to myself?”
A flash of delighted embarrassment lit her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m not used to having to worry about that.”
Frowning, Jim asked, “Is David gay?”
“What?” A startled laugh escaped her lips. “He was always a polite gentleman. First, he held my hand; then worked his way slowly up to a kiss on the cheek. It took him two months to kiss me.”
“So he is gay.”
“Jim!” She shook her head. “It was more like… scheduled. Everything in its proper time and place. No improper displays of affection, never rushing. It was more like… doing what was expected.”
“Oh,” Jim nodded wisely, stroking his chin.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Trixie asked suspiciously.
“He’s the kind who prefers to classify women in two categories: sex-worthy or marriage-worthy. Sex is beneath the dignity of the marriage-worthy ones, because they’re too perfect to be soiled.”
There were times when Jim’s psychology degree really annoyed Trixie, and this was turning out to be one of those times. “What makes you think he was planning on marrying me?”
“What did he do that made you dump him?”
“He insisted on coming home with me for Thanksgiving so he could meet my parents.” As Jim’s reasoning became clear to her, Trixie felt slightly sick. “Because he expected me to go home with him at Christmas to meet his parents. Oh, God.”
Grinning impudently, Jim sassed, “Fortunately, I’ve already met your parents.”
Trixie snorted. “Didn’t I introduce you to your current set?”
They both burst into laughter. Then they went to take turns showering and getting dressed. Forty-five minutes later, they left the apartment to meet Lindsey, both phones completely forgotten.
Several hours later, after Lindsey’s things were loaded onto her rented van, and several pizzas had been consumed, they returned. When they walked in and saw the phones sitting side-by-side on the counter, they groaned in unison. Turning on the phones, they each checked their messages.
“Wow,” Jim said, surprised. “Twelve messages.”
Trixie looked more concerned. “Thirty-seven.”
Jim listened to the first seven of his messages, all from Lindsey, trying to touch base about the moving arrangements. He deleted them all before moving on. Trixie, meanwhile, grew tense and withdrawn as she weeded her way through her voicemail. As Jim started to listen to his last few messages, he began to understand why. There were a couple from Cissy and Paula, checking to see if he’d heard from Trixie. Then came one from Brian, and then one from Mart, asking if he’d talked to their sister lately. The last one was from Angelie, demanding that Jim call her immediately. She mentioned something about hoping Trixie was with Jim, and not David.
Finished, Jim set his phone on the counter. He moved behind Trixie and wrapped his arms around her, partly to support her, and partly to hear her messages so she wouldn’t have to explain what was upsetting her. She was grateful, and leaned back against him.
Trixie’s messages from her roommates were similar to the ones they had left for Jim; initially just checking on her. They were interspersed with many messages from David. Cissy had then left a worried message about David going crazy, refusing to believe the girls that Trixie wasn’t in the room, and needing to be removed by campus security.
The next round of messages explained why her brothers had called Jim; apparently the roommates had called Crabapple Farm to see if Trixie had gone there, and had ended up explaining the David situation to her parents. Trixie had several voicemails from her parents, and then her brothers, becoming increasingly frantic as they failed to get a hold of her.
The last message was from David. His voice sounded a little crazed. He promised Trixie that she couldn’t hide from him, and that they would be together soon. At the end of the recording, Trixie quickly turned and hurled the phone across the room. The offending piece of electronics hit the stone of the fireplace and shattered into a thousand pieces. A sob burst from her chest.
Jim could never stand to see Trixie pushed to the point of tears. A part of him wanted to rip David apart, limb from limb. Instead, he pulled Trixie into his arms, tucked her head beneath his chin, and rubbed her back soothingly. “I’m not going to let him get near you, Trix. I’ll never let anyone hurt you.”
Trixie shuddered once, then nestled further into his embrace. She was safe here, had always been safe in Jim’s arms. Her tears dried instantly. David wasn’t worth crying about, because she had everything she could ever want right here.
Jim’s phone rang. Looking over and seeing the caller ID, Jim scooped it up and answered. “Hi, Honey.”
“Where the heck have you been!” his sister exploded in exasperation. “People have been trying to get a hold of you for two days!”
“Which Belden got to you?” he chuckled.
“Does it matter?” Honey asked. “More importantly, have you talked to Trixie?”
“First, I’ve been in my apartment most of the time, but I forgot to charge my phone. People seem to have trouble reaching me when the thing’s dead.”
Honey interrupted, “Forgot to charge it? You? Did you have an aneurysm?”
“Shut up,” Jim growled. “I was distracted.”
Trixie couldn’t help but giggle.
“Distracted?” Honey rarely had such a prime opportunity to tease her too-perfect brother, and she’d heard the feminine-sounding giggle. “Distracted how? By whom? Did you finally get yourself a girlfriend?”
“Yes, I did.” Trixie smiled up at him, and he kissed her lightly. “Now, little sister, I need you to call off the troops.”
Sidetracked from the notion of her brother having a girlfriend by her worry for her best friend, Honey snorted. “The troops aren’t worried about you, they’re worried about Trixie. You never answered my question: have you heard from her? Then again, how could you if your phone’s dead. Oh, Jim, I’m so worried!”
Jim rolled his eyes. For someone who had been teasing him for years about being in love with her best friend, Honey was being obtuse. “She’s here! She’s safe, she’s fine, she’ll be here until I deliver her to her first exam on Tuesday morning. Oh, and she just obliterated her phone against my fireplace, so tell everyone to stop trying to call her.”
There was a pause before Honey said, in a watery voice, “Put her on.”
He held his phone to Trixie’s ear. “Yeah, Hon?”
“Jim’s been waiting for you for years,” Honey said. “Trixie, I love you to death, but if you hurt my brother, I’ll never forgive you.”
“Fair enough,” Trixie said with a smile. “Now, could you sic my brothers on that other creature, please?”
“Already done,” Honey said. “Brian got home Saturday, so he took the call from Paula. Mart isn’t done until Tuesday, but he’s on standby to rush out to find you. They are both planning on picking you up from school as soon as you’re done on Thursday, unless they get word to come sooner. Or no one hears from you at all.”
“I already have a ride home, thanks,” Trixie said just before Jim snatched the phone back from her.
“Honey, just let the roommates and the Beldens know she’s here and she’s safe. Then tell her brothers that if David even comes near her when I bring her back to school, I will have to kill him. They’ll take care of the rest.”
Jim hung up and set the phone down. Trixie frowned at him. “I hate being protected and babied.”
“I know,” Jim acknowledged. “You also know that it’s time to call in the cavalry.”
“You’re my cavalry,” Trixie pouted.
Jim grinned. “I’m the general. I sent my troops to vanquish the enemy. I’ve decided my job is to kiss you until you forget all about what’s-his-name.”
Laughter bubbled up in her, and Trixie relaxed again. The rest of the evening was spent snuggled up in front of the fireplace – after the phone fragments had been cleaned up, naturally. They were together, in love, and oblivious to the rest of the world.
In the morning, Jim took Trixie shopping for a new phone. She chose the simplest, least expensive model in the store. Jim picked out a very expensive unit with many extra gadgets and features. They argued about which to get; Trixie insisted she didn’t want to waste money on anything elaborate, and Jim insisted it was his Christmas present to her.
Trixie stomped her foot and glared at him, hands on her hips. “Is this how it’s going to be?”
Jim playfully winked at her and said, “Carnations or orchids?”
Trixie rolled her eyes and stepped away. “What happened to my simple woodsman?”
Jim shrugged. “I like simple. I like the woods. I also like to splurge where it matters. Nothing matters more than you do.”
Although his argument had merit, Trixie didn’t want to admit it. “I don’t want to be the pampered girlfriend of some rich guy. I just want to be Jim and Trixie.”
Sighing, Jim put his hands on her shoulders and held her gaze. “Look, Trix, I’m not asking you to live in the Palace de Versailles; I’m just asking my girlfriend - who wants to be a detective - to let me spend a little extra on an electronic gadget that will give me some peace of mind about her safety.”
Trixie melted once again. She placed one hand on each cheek and kissed him tenderly. “So, does it come in blue?”
Trixie groaned as she turned yet another page. Just how long is this stupid test, anyway? She couldn’t wait to be done and get out of the exam room.
It was silly, really. She’d been able to sit still with no problems all afternoon and evening on Monday, when she’d been studying at Jim’s apartment. She’d reviewed her entire semester, while Jim had studied the manual and programmed her new cell phone. It had been kind of cozy and domestic. He’d made dinner, and had cleaned up while she continued to plow through her notes. And when she’d finally called it quits for the night, they had cuddled by the crackling fire, going over their schedule for the week, making plans for winter break, and dreaming dreams of the distant future.
When he’d brought her back to school Tuesday morning, she’d been fresh as a daisy and confidently breezed through her math exam… a rare and amazing feat. She’d had lunch with her friends before reviewing the notes for her two Wednesday exams. By early evening, however, she’d been antsy. She just couldn’t sit still; all she really wanted to do was to go back to Jim’s.
A long walk over to JoAnn’s diner had helped. She’d had coffee with JoAnn and Roy, updating them and discussing holiday plans. Roy had insisted on driving her back to her dorm. When she’d walked in, her roommates were scattered around the room in various study modes. In the past, the scene would have made her feel at home. Now, she ached for loving arms and a snuggle in front of a fire.
The studying hadn’t gone well, she’d slept badly, and her morning exam had been rough. Cramming through lunch hadn’t done anything to jog her memory for her afternoon exam. And now she was taking a test longer than the Canterbury Tales.
If she could just get through the test, if she could just hold out a few more hours, she’d be with Jim.
She sighed. She sounded so pathetic. Her only consolation was that he felt the same way. He planned to pack up and leave campus as soon as he was done on Wednesday, instead of waiting until she was done on Thursday. He didn’t want to be away from her any longer, either. The mere thought of him put a goofy grin on her face, and settled her spirit enough to buckle down and get through the rest of the test.
When Trixie finally finished her exam, she burst from the room and practically danced across campus. Three down, two to go, she thought. Even her attempt to think about her need to study for the remaining exams couldn’t dampen her spirits. She would see Jim before she had to deal with that!
She and her roommates had long since adjusted to living together, but it had been a struggle getting used to each other’s quirks and such. The scene Trixie found upon entering her room illustrated the case perfectly. Paula had her futon folded out into a bed, which was strewn from one end to the other with notes, handouts, books, and scraps of paper. She was studying intently, and oblivious to all around her. Cissy, on the other hand, was fastidiously packing her clothing. Her last test was early in the morning, and she planned to leave for home shortly thereafter, so she wanted to be packed and ready this evening. Lastly, there was Angelie. Her desk was covered with open books from studying. Her opened suitcase was on the floor beside her dresser, half-packed. Angelie herself was tucked into a corner of her futon, game player in hand, bouncing along to the music on her mp-3 player. Burying herself in her music and video games was her personal method for clearing her head.
Trixie took in the vision of her roommates in her their various states of preparedness for tests and travel. Within the next two days they would each be headed home, with plans for get-togethers over the holidays. But for now, everything was perfectly normal in their humble abode.
Only Trixie felt different. To say she was impatient wasn’t sufficient, because she’d always been an impatient person. But she’d always been waiting for exciting events and momentous occasions. Today all she wanted was Jim.
She stared at her mess. She was by far the sloppiest of the roommates; nothing had changed about that. She had her things half-packed, like Angelie, but her clothes were stacked in piles around the suitcase and sticking out of the dresser drawers that were half-closed. The open books on her desk, from the exam she’d just finished, were scattered; additionally there were piles all around the desk of books, notebooks, etc. At least they were piled by subject.
Looking at her watch, Trixie sighed. Based on Jim’s expectations for his day, it would still be about three hours until he arrived. At least cleaning her mess would keep her occupied.
Angelie couldn’t have heard the sigh over her music, and she never looked up from her game. Nevertheless, she spoke up, “Quit dawdling, Trix. You don’t really want Prince Charming to see your mess, do you?”
Paula, supposedly absorbed in her studies, snickered. “Her besotted look is almost pathetic.”
Cissy snorted. “You’re just jealous.” She turned from her closet and smiled at the besotted one in question. “Come on, Trix. You don’t want to waste time while he’s here having to do this stuff, do you?”
Smiling gratefully at Cissy, Trixie turned and stuck her tongue out at her other two roommates. Then she proceeded to tackle the worst mess first: the remnants of her studies. Once everything she was finished with was stowed neatly away, and the supplies for her two remaining study sessions laid out neatly on the desk, she moved on to the packing nightmare.
Packing for Christmas break was always so hard. A weekend trip was easy; a couple changes of clothes and your homework, and you were good. Summer break was even easier: you have to vacate the dorms, so you take everything you own. Some people rent storage space near campus, and they have to decide what to store and what to take home; even then, though, the dorm room is bare when you leave. But Christmas break… the dorms are closed, so you can’t just come back for something you forgot. But you will be back in a mere four weeks, so it’s not like you have to take everything. Trixie always found packing for Christmas break to be a period of intense indecision.
Having no real interest in the process wasn’t helping, either. It was just a time-filler, and therefore not something upon which to expend any mental energy. The indecision grew worse, and she began to unpack things she’d packed, and re-pack things she’d already unpacked.
Pretending to ignore her friend wasn’t working for Cissy anymore. She finally exploded, “Trixie, stop it! Go take a walk to the 7-11 or something, for the love of God!”
Paula chuckled. “Might as well, Trix. You’re driving her so crazy, Cissy will probably finish your packing while you’re gone.”
Angelie pulled out her earphones and turned off her game. “Come on, Trix. My late exam is in a half hour. Let’s go grab me a snack, and then you can walk me to the test. It’ll kill some time for you. Then bring her back some chocolate, and she’ll leave you alone.”
Cissy stuck her tongue out at them as the two friends escaped the room. When they were gone, Paula sat up and looked at Cissy. “David didn’t show up for our exam this morning. How about you?”
In response, Cissy shook her head. “Not yesterday morning, either. Think they expelled him for the incident Saturday?”
“I suppose it’s possible,” Paula said doubtfully. “Even if they’re just making him take his exams in isolation… I can live with that as long as Trixie doesn’t have to see him before break.”
Cissy worried her bottom lip. “But what about after break?”
Paula grinned wickedly. “You know the building the Student Union’s in?”
“Hart Hall?” Cissy frowned. “What does that have to do with David?”
“Nothing!” Paula chortled. “But Jim’s mom is the daughter of that particular Hart.”
Cissy chuckled and echoed Paula’s grin. Then she transferred her packing obsession from her own things to Trixie’s.
As Trixie and Angelie walked across the quad towards the Snack Shack, Angelie noticed the way Trixie’s eyes constantly scanned the area around them. “Quit it, Trix. I told you he won’t bother you.”
Trixie shook her head dubiously. “You really believe he’s just going to skip all his exams?”
“Trix!” Angelie’s exasperation was clear. “I told you, once they had to resort to handcuffs to haul his ass outta our room Saturday night, there’s no way they’re letting him back on campus this week.”
“I know you’re right, Ange,” Trixie sighed. “I know the student discipline policy as well as you do. I just… have trouble believing he’ll stick to it, is all.”
“That’s what Campus Security is for,” Angelie assured her. “Just have a little faith.”
“What happened, Ange?” Trixie asked. “He did seem normal at the beginning, didn’t he?”
Angelie nodded. “Yeah, usually I can spot the flakes, but he got right by me. He liked you, he was nice; I would have called him a little controlling, but not a psychopath. He didn’t set off any radar for any of us. ”
Trixie grinned ruefully. “It makes me feel better that I wasn’t the only one he fooled.”
“Face it… you’re just afraid that if you couldn’t spot his psychopathic tendencies, you’ll never find the real bad guys.” Angelie ducked out of the way as Trixie reached out to swat her. Laughing and feeling better, they entered the store and placed their orders.
By the time they had eaten, Trixie had walked Angelie to her exam, and then had gathered some supplies to take back to the room, Trixie was feeling much better. The time had flown by, and she shouldn’t have to wait much longer. Returning to the room, she deposited her purchases and hung up her jacket. Wandering over to the window, she peered out into the darkness of early evening a mere week from the winter solstice.
“If you’re gonna press your nose to the glass, grab the Windex, would ya?” Paula managed to dodge the pillow Trixie threw as she rooted around in the shopping bag for a soda.
Trixie might have further engaged her, except that she caught headlights from the corner of her eye. Peering intently out the window, she recognized Jim’s car pulling into her lot. A happy grin lighting her face, she turned and dashed out of the room. She ran down the seven flights of stairs, flew out the main doors and rushed over to Jim, throwing herself into his arms.
“God, Jim, these were the longest two days of my life,” she said before kissing him.
Jim wrapped his arms tight and deepened the kiss. He couldn’t have agreed more. He’d been pining for Trixie for years, but nothing had been as hard as the last two days. Her final exam tomorrow wouldn’t finish until 8 pm, and it was a six-hour drive to Sleepyside. A sensible man would have stayed at his apartment and picked her up on Friday morning. He was no longer sensible; there was no way he could have stayed away from her that long.
He felt her shiver as he ran his hands up and down her spine. It was a moment before rational thought penetrated his passion-clouded mind. Then he realized his hands were running along the thin fabric of a t-shirt, and her shiver was at least partially temperature-induced.
Regretfully coming up for air, Jim quickly unzipped his jacket and pulled her against his body. Gratefully sliding her arms around his torso, Trixie snuggled up to him. “Trix, it’s about 18 degrees out here.”
“I know, but I couldn’t wait another minute to see you.”
“I’m glad,” Jim said with a grin, “but I prefer not to lose you so soon. Frostbite can be deadly, you know.”
Smirking impudently, Trixie said, “You know how to warm me.”
“Evil temptress,” Jim growled. After another lingering kiss, he said, “Let’s get you inside.”
Keeping one arm around her, he bent to grab his duffle with his other, and they headed indoors. With Jim holding her close, Trixie could stand to be patient enough to wait for the elevator.
When they arrived in her room, Jim asked, “So, did you find someone for me to bunk down with?”
Cissy called from across the room, “Hey Jim! You’re staying here with us, ‘cause my brother’s arriving around midnight. He felt funny staying alone with us, so we told him you’d be here and he could be the big brother chaperone.”
Paula snickered. “After all, big brothers are the best chaperones.”
Trixie rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it.”
Trixie led Jim over to one of the sofas – Jim was never too sure what furniture was what in that room – and sat down. He asked who still had what exams, and the conversation flowed smoothly from there. Jim was amazed how quickly the time passed, and how comfortable he was, snuggled up with Trixie in his arms, chatting with the girls. When Angelie strolled in after her exam, she plopped down on the nearest desk chair and joined the discussion of much-loved teachers versus hated terrors of the campus. Everyone was startled to realize how late it had gotten when Cissy’s brother, Kevin, arrived.
Once Kevin had been properly greeted, Cissy started hustling everyone along to bed. She and Paula had early exams at 8:00 am. She wanted Kevin to be rested and ready to leave by the time her test let out at 10:00, so she was willing to play nazi for the evening. The girls organized the rearranging of the furniture while everyone took a turn using the bathroom to change clothes and/or brush their teeth. Jim let others go ahead of him while he did as he was told with the various futons. The girls had a variety; some were chairs that folded into single beds made of simple cushions. A couple were sofas on frames that folded flat into full-sized beds. Cissy’s was unique; it was a sofa that had some sort of clasp in the frame, that, when released, created two perpendicular twin beds. Despite his handiness, Jim couldn’t quite figure out how.
By the Jim returned from his trip to the restroom, everyone else was settled in bed. He was a little unnerved that he was clearly meant to share Trixie’s full-size bed. Kevin was lying on one of the cross-sections of Cissy’s bed, positioned parallel to Trixie. He noticed when Jim hesitated.
“Jim, relax,” he assured. “You’re not gonna do anything inappropriate with all of us here, and I’m guessin’ you’d rather sleep closer to her than I am.”
The other girls snickered. Trixie scowled at Kevin and rolled away from him, assuring that Jim would become a human barrier between her and the offending “older brother”. Jim deliberately lay flat on his back in his designated space. As soon as he was settled, the lights were turned out.
Within minutes, a restful silence descended. Based on the even breathing around him, Jim guessed he was the only one still awake. He wondered how he would ever relax enough to fall asleep.
Trixie reached behind her, and grabbed Jim’s furthest hand. She pulled it around her, and rested her hand over his upon her stomach. Jim found himself spooned behind her. Realizing she wasn’t going to let him move away, Jim instead pulled her closer. Instantly, he was comfortable. Feeling the tension slide away from him, Trixie smiled and nestled into his embrace. They drifted blissfully into a deep, dreamless slumber.
Early in the morning, Cissy and Paula were tip-toeing around, trying not to wake the others up while they got ready to go. They failed, but everyone pretended otherwise. When Jim started stirring, Trixie shushed him. When Cissy stepped into the bathroom, Trixie whispered, “Just play possum. It’ll be worth it.”
Once the two girls were ready to depart, Cissy stood near the door. As she reached for one of her favorite toys, Kevin’s voice boomed from the other side of the room. “So help me, little sister, if you touch that bugle, I will shove it so far up your ass you’ll be sneezing Reveille!”
Trixie, Angelie and even Paula choked with laughter while Cissy stamped her foot and stuck out her tongue. “You’re just rotten, Kevin,” she pouted. She stalked out the door; Paula followed; still chuckling.
Jim rolled to lean up on one elbow and look at Kevin, while Angelie and Trixie burst out laughing. “I take it that that particular bad habit has been carried over from childhood.”
Kevin groaned. “When she was about four, Dad was taking us boys hunting. She was so upset about staying home that Mom told her she would be a special part of our trip if she helped us get up and out real early. Every hunting or camping trip from then on started with Cissy playing Reveille. I still curse the day my mother taught that girl how to use the stupid bugle.”
Angelie laughed. “It’s served her well in the Drum and Bugle Corps, but it annoys the heck outta us. We were so excited when we found out you’d kill her if she woke you up with it. We were kinda hoping she’d play it, just to watch the fireworks.”
Trixie nodded as she sat up. “I know. Just because I have a final in two hours and should get up now, doesn’t mean I need that kind of alarm clock. Cissy’s problem is that she’s the youngest; she’s worse than Bobby ever was!”
Jim roared with laughter. “I’m gonna tell him you said that, too!”
“Brat!” Trixie reached over and punched him.
“None of that, children,” Angelie scolded. “Trixie, you were entirely too distracted last night to even glance at your notes. Get up, get ready, and refresh your memory before you head over to the execution room.”
Grimacing, Trixie looked over and saw Angelie retrieve her game. “Thinks she can Mother Hen me, does she?” she muttered as she stood up. Hands on hips, she glared at her roommate before turning to the male occupants of the room. “She still has two tests, and the majority of the chaos at the other end of the room is hers. I’m going to shower; between the two of you, there are enough big brother genes that I expect her to be cowered into submission by the time I return.”
Kevin and Jim exchanged amused glances. They got up and stood over Angelie, arms crossed and glaring, doing their best to look imposing. Angelie glanced up from her game briefly. “What? My test isn’t until two, and my last one is tomorrow. I have plenty of time.”
When the twin towers of testosterone refused to budge, Angelie rolled her eyes in disgust. Nevertheless, she put the game away and then went to her desk to study. Jim and Kevin, both neatniks by nature, busied themselves with restoring order to the furniture.
When Trixie returned, she took note of Angelie’s activities with a satisfied smirk. She then buried herself in her own studies. The boys finished righting the room, and then Jim helped Kevin carry his sister’s bags to his car. When Cissy blew into the room at quarter ‘til ten, all was ready for her immediate departure.
“Trixie! Your test is in fifteen minutes!” Cissy exclaimed.
Trixie calmly closed her book and picked up her purse and pens. “Yeah, so? I was just waiting to say goodbye, since you’re leaving before my exam is over.”
“That’s not worth being late for!” Cissy huffed.
“Of course you’re not. It’s a good thing you got out early.” Trixie mock-glared at her until both girls cracked a smile. They hugged each other tightly, and Trixie said, “Safe travels.”
She headed for the door, calling back over her shoulder, “Hey, Kevin! Take care of this jerk.”
Kevin looked up from Angelie’s hand-held computer game. “Unfortunately, that’s my divinely-appointed birthright.”
They all chuckled as Trixie left. Once Paula returned, they said their farewells and saw Kevin and Cissy on their way. Angelie and Paula then turned their attention to lunch. Jim joined the debate, and was amazed to be so relaxed and comfortable just sitting with the two of them, waiting for Trixie to return.
When the lady in question arrived, she did so with a star-level dramatic flair. She dragged herself into the room, flung an arm across her face, and threw herself down onto the nearest couch. “Oh my God!” she wailed. “My brain has to be bleeding out my ears!”
“Stop it,” Paula said. “That was your easiest class.”
“Which is why I’ll never survive tonight’s exam!” Trixie cried. “There are no neurons left to fire!”
“Shut up,” Angelie replied. “We’re going to lunch. Some food and non-test-related conversation’ll fix you right up. If that doesn’t, we’ll force Jim to kiss you stupid.”
Before Jim could think of an appropriately sarcastic response, there was a knock on the door. Judging by the startled expressions on the faces of all three girls, they weren’t expecting anyone. He opened the door cautiously, prepared to repel unwanted visitors. Seeing the man standing on the other side caused him consternation and confusion. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.
“My sister’s impatience has worn off on me,” Brian said with a twinkle in his eye. “I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to tell her this story, and I didn’t want to share it over the phone.”
Trixie’s words were slightly muffled by the pillow over her face, but clear enough to carry across the room. “More likely, Big Brother decided I couldn’t be trusted to ride alone in a car for six hours with my boyfriend.”
Brian crossed the room and moved the pillow. “Look, his car is here and so is mine. I’ve always known where I stood when you have a choice between riding with Jim or with me. Honestly, I just need to see your face when I tell you this story.”
Trixie opened her eyes and searched Brian’s face. He seemed earnest, even excited. She glanced at Jim, who just shrugged.
Angelie butted in. “Fine. But you’re going to have to hold it in until we get to JoAnn’s. Got it?”
“Fine,” Brian agreed. “Coming, squaw?” He held out his hand to his sister. She reluctantly grabbed it and pulled herself up.
“At least we have a doctor around to clean up the blood,” she muttered as she moved past him.
Brian turned confused eyes to his best friend. Jim answered with studied nonchalance. “Her brain’s bleeding out her ears.”
“Ah,” Brian’s simple response indicated complete understanding.
Trixie turned to glare at them. Paula shrugged. “What? Every single semester you have some exam that you describe that way. It had to be either this one or the last one.”
Seeing the unified opinions of her friends, Trixie stalked out and went to the stairs. As the stairwell door slammed, the others casually waited for the elevator. Paula turned to Brian. “Is your story going to calm her down any?”
He shook his shook his chocolate brown locks, and realized he needed a haircut. “Nope. At least not at first. Eventually.”
“In that case,” Angelie said as she stepped onto the elevator, “the two of you should drive us over, and let her walk. She might be tired enough by the time she gets there, or hungry enough, to shut up and let you talk.”
“Brian can drive you over,” Jim offered. “I’ll walk with Trixie.”
Paula and Angelie made gagging noises while Brian shook his head. “I drove six hours to tell this story, I’m not waiting while the two of you to make out on the way to the diner.”
Jim started to object, until he noticed the laughter in Brian’s eyes. Recalling just how obnoxious he’d been when his own little sister had begun dating seriously, he decided it would be wise to keep his mouth shut. Instead, they collected Trixie in the lobby and all rode over to the restaurant together.
Brian was impressed that Trixie managed to wait, not only until they were seated, but also until their drinks had been served, before she pounced. He was pretty sure Jim’s arm around her shoulders had a lot to do with that. Just seeing the air of self-confidence in Trixie – rather than her usual bravado – made him smile with pride.
Turning her bright, blue, inquisitive eyes on her older brother, Trixie started in. “Okay, Dr. Belden, what’s so important you had to hit the road at six am just to tell me in person?”
Before Brian could respond, Angelie broke in. “I have a question. How come everyone else gets yelled at… ‘I’m not a doctor yet, it’s just Brian’… but she gets away with calling you Dr. Belden?”
Angelie’s innocent expression, and the way she completely ignored Trixie’s impatient glare, made Brian laugh. “Because Trixie’s the only one allowed to push me… and make sure I become a doctor.”
While Trixie flash a perfect I-adore-my-big-brother smile, Jim chuckled. “And toss errant apple seeds off the path.”
While Brian and Trixie both grinned at Jim, Paula and Angelie exchanged confused looks. Trixie waved their curiosity away. “Long story. Another time.” She focused intently on Brian, all seriousness. “What’s so important?”
Brian rested both elbows on the table and braced his chin on his hands, studying Trixie’s face. “What do you know about David’s family?”
Her expression shuttered and she physically withdrew. She broke eye contact and stared at her fingers as they nervously traced the water circles from her glass. Her reaction spoke volumes; Brian glanced up at Jim, briefly allowing his raging fury to shine in his eyes. Jim acknowledged it just as briefly. Before Trixie spoke, Brian’s focus had returned to her, and his expression had returned to mild curiosity.
Trixie shrugged. “He’s an only child. His parents live in Connecticut. His mom’s into her society stuff, and his dad’s a banker. Actually, I think they might be friends or acquaintances of the Rikers.”
Jim snorted derisively.
Paula snickered. “I’ve heard about that ‘yen for Ben’. Be careful, Jim; maybe that’s really Trixie’s type.”
The vicious glare Trixie shot at Paula kept Angelie from offering her own smart-aleck comment.
“David’s father is an arrogant ass.”
Brian’s succinct comment brought everyone’s attention back to him. All the blood drained from Trixie’s face. “When did you meet him?”
“When he stopped by the house last night.”
Trixie’s face went from white to green. “Our house?” she squeaked.
Brian nodded, stone-faced. Then the corner of his mouth curved up in a wicked, conspiratorial smirk. “During the Wednesday night poker game.”
Watching her brother’s expression gave Trixie courage. When she quirked a curious eyebrow, he grinned. She smiled and relaxed. “Do, tell.”
“Moms, Mart and Bobby were all out, so Dad invited me to join the game. It was the usual four, plus me, the Sarge, and a guest of Mr. Wheeler’s.” He checked to see that Trixie was following the identities of the group. She nodded, and he went on. “Dad had just gotten up to refill one of the drink pitchers when the doorbell rang, so he answered it. He invited the caller to the kitchen while he took care of the pitcher. I think he did it just so we could see and hear everything.”
Trixie grinned, and Brian winked at her. “Anyway, Mr. Abramson informed Dad that David would be transferring schools and wouldn’t bother you again. He just wanted Dad to make sure you wouldn’t be pressing any charges or anything. Then he offered to make it worth Dad’s while to keep you from doing so.”
Her eyes narrowing in anger, Trixie’s spine stiffened. She didn’t interrupt, but only because her jaw was clenched so tight it hurt. Jim, Paula and Angelie also looked affronted. Brian acknowledged their reaction, and agreed. “I don’t believe Dad has ever been that angry before.”
“But your dad never blows his stack,” Jim noted.
“No. Years of dealing with annoying customers teaches amazing control,” Brian agreed. “Dad told Mr. Abramson that if he thought there was a reason for Trixie to file charges, then one of them didn’t have the full story. He would talk to Trixie, and if there was reason for her to file charges, he’d help her.”
“Wait,” Paula interrupted. “The dude gets hauled out of our room by Campus Security, and the next thing his dad is changing his school and trying to buy off the girl? Sounds to me like this has happened before.”
Brian nodded. “That’s what we figured by the time his dad left. Especially after he threatened my dad.”
Red-hot fury shot from Trixie’s eyes. “Excuse me?!?” she demanded.
Holding up a hand, Brian said, “I’m getting there.
“So, when Dad said he’d help Trixie file charges, Mr. Abramson went from nice to blustery. He told Dad not to mess with his son, and said something about not knowing who he’s dealing with. Then he… he…”
The memory of what happened next caused Brian to laugh so hard he couldn’t talk for a minute. Before he got himself under control, Trixie impatiently slammed her fist on the table. “Brian!”
Trying to contain himself, Brian took a deep breath. “Okay, now remember… this is during the poker game.”
“Mr. Abramson told Dad he should be careful, because Mr. Abramson could make Dad’s life very difficult... by making a few phone calls to some of his important friends in the business world.”
Trixie and Jim burst out laughing. Well aware of just who Jim’s dad was, Angelie and Paula could also see the humor, but Angelie wanted a better explanation. “Who all was there again?”
Jim tried not to choke on his response. “My dad, Diana’s dad, the Mayor, and the Chief of Police.”
“Didn’t you mention ‘the Sarge’?” Paula asked.
“That’s what we call the Chief of Police,” Trixie said, wiping tears from her eyes. “He was a sergeant when we met him, and he’ll always be just Sarge to us.”
Jim handed Trixie a napkin. “Do I even want to know what my dad did?”
Brian continued with his story through his own chuckles. “The whole time, they’d just kept playing, trying to pretend like they weren’t listening to every word. When Abramson mentioned Trixie pressing charges, Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Lynch had tensed up. Messing with Trixie is like messing with their own daughters. But she’s Dad’s little girl, and he was handling it, so they kept still.
“But when the fool said that, they set down their cards. Watching the two of them, the Sarge and the Mayor stand up… it was like it was choreographed. They rolled down their sleeves, straightened their ties, and put on their suit jackets while Mr. Abramson continued to bluster about how important he was. I stood up and followed them just so I could see the look on his face when the four of them walked into the kitchen. They looked like a group of mob bosses.
“When Abramson looked up and saw them, I think he almost wet himself.”
Trixie could see the scene in her head. Peter Belden, standing in his own kitchen, arms folded across his chest, super-stern look on his face. Coming up from behind and moving to flank him, the two most powerful men in town, and two of the most powerful businessmen in the country. What a picture that must have made!
“I wish I could have seen that!” she said through her laughter.
“But wait!” Brian exclaimed. “It gets better!”
“How is that possible?” Trixie asked.
“First, Mr. Wheeler looks angry. He says, ‘Are you threatening my best friend?’ Then Mr. Lynch says, ‘Naw, Matt, he was threatening my best friend.’ Then Sarge says, ‘It sounded to me like a bribe, and then a threat against a private citizen in his own home.’ Then the Mayor says, ‘I can’t have such things happening in my town. Chief, have your men escort this scoundrel out of here.’
“Better yet: Mr. Wheeler’s guest comes into the room. Mr. Abramson sees him and just about faints. I thought I was going to have to run for the smelling salts. This guy turns to Mr. Wheeler and says, ‘Sir, I keep thinking about your earlier statements regarding judging the quality of a company by the character of the men who run it. Apparently my company isn’t quite ready to do business with yours. I have some housekeeping matters to see to first.’ Then he gives Mr. Abramson the evil eye, and leaves.”
Trixie held her hands over her mouth, eyes wide. “Oh my God! Was that his boss?”
Brian’s grin matched the wicked delight in his eyes. “Oh, yeah. By this point the guy desperately wants to run away. He starts towards the door, and Dad grabs his collar. He leans in and says, ‘One more thing. If you ever threaten my daughter again, you can be certain I will let loose the dogs of war.’
“When Dad let go, the guy fell to the floor in a puddle. He practically crawled out the door.”
The group at the table laughed until their stomachs hurt. They knew it was cruel, but there was justice in it as well. It was like watching the bully of the playground get his torment thrown back at him.
Eventually, Angelie realized she needed to hustle if she was going to get to her next exam on time. Paula decided to leave with her, because she planned to head home right after the exam she had later that afternoon.
Once the girls were gone, Jim turned back to Brian. “There’s more to the story, isn’t there?”
Brian shrugged. “Dad calmly returned everyone to the game. The other men offered to do things like dig into Mr. Abramson’s background, do things to keep him away. Dad told them not to bother; the evening’s events pretty much guaranteed neither he nor Trixie would have to deal with the Abramsons again.
“After another few rounds of beer, though, Mr. Wheeler got really serious. He said Trixie deserved to be treated a lot better than that. And then he promised that as long as her current relationship lasted, which he hoped was forever, the guy’s parents would be treating her like royalty. And he’d make damned sure the guy knew how lucky he was.”
Jim placed his hand over Trixie’s while meeting Brian’s gaze directly. “Believe me, he knows… and he won’t ever forget.”
Seeing how truly touched his sister was, Brian knew his mission had been a success. He just needed to lighten the mood and escape gracefully. “So, since you two seem to have everyone’s blessing, could ya try not to screw it up?”
Trixie threw her pickle at him, and they all laughed. Brian reached for his wallet and tossed a few bills on the table. “Look, I’m gonna hit the road. I’ll see you two tomorrow.”
“What if we leave tonight?” Trixie challenged.
“You still won’t get home until four in the morning, and I’m not waiting up,” Brian countered. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Brian dropped a kiss on her head and saluted Jim as he walked out. Finally alone, Jim turned to Trixie. “How are you doing?”
Looking a little shell-shocked, she shuddered. “I don’t know. I want to be angry about David and his father, I want to cheer for my Dad, I want to hug yours… but all I can think about is that my big brother expects me to spend the night with my boyfriend, and he won’t wait up.”
Jim chuckled and tucked a curl behind her ear. “I think that was his way of telling you he approves.”
“I know,” Trixie nodded, fighting back tears. “I just always assume I’m not going to ever be good enough to get Brian’s approval…”
“Aw, Trix,” Jim wrapped his arms around her and held her close. “He adores you.”
Trixie nodded. “Can we get outta here? Go for a walk? I need some air.”
They paid the bill and headed outside. Settling into a nice walking pace, they meandered back across the campus. Jim watched the pensive look on Trixie’s face grow darker. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m scared,” she admitted.
Grabbing her hand, Jim stopped her. He turned her to look at him, because he wanted to see her eyes. “Of what?”
“Of waking up from a very perfect dream,” Trixie said. “Can things really be this good? Does it all go downhill from here?”
Jim cupped her cheek and smiled. “Baby, we’re just skating along a plateau. We still have a long way to the top of the mountain.”
Trixie returned his smile and reached up to kiss him. “So what do we do now?”
“Enjoy the view.”
Through the rest of the afternoon, Trixie clung to Jim. She felt like she needed to reassure herself that the last week had been real. Jim recognized the feeling, even felt it a little himself, and so he accommodated her. They ended up back in the dorm room, with Jim quizzing Trixie off the study guide for her last final. Sporadically, they would veer from studying to the debate over whether to leave that night or in the morning. Both were anxious to be headed home, but reluctant to take chances crossing the winding mountains on a dark, foggy night if they were too tired to drive carefully. They tried not to factor in the added temptation of spending another night in each other’s arms.
By the time Trixie left for her test, she was a bundle of nerves. She couldn’t explain her anxiety; it wasn’t really because of the test. However, knowing this was a tough exam wasn’t helping any, either. She sat down, took a deep breath, and tried to concentrate. She struggled through, forcing herself to keep writing. After an eternity, she answered the last question and could turn the paper in to the proctor.
As soon as she stepped out of the building afterwards, the entire bubble of tension burst and floated away. She looked up at a clear, starry sky and suddenly felt free.
The semester from hell was over.
The trouble with David was over.
The search for Mr. Right was over.
She had her family’s love and approval.
She had the man of her dreams.
She was in love.
What more could anyone want from life?
Trixie headed back across campus at a trot. She didn’t even get all the way to the dorm building before she saw Jim, taking her luggage to his car. She veered off her path and followed him to the parking lot.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she said when she caught up.
“Making ready,” Jim said with a chuckle as he loaded the trunk. “I only brought down everything you wouldn’t need overnight.” He turned to look at her. “So, how do you feel?”
Trixie smiled brilliantly. “FREE.”
Jim grinned. “Does that mean you want to get out of here tonight?”
“Yeah,” she said, throwing her arms out and twirling around. “I want to go somewhere, anywhere!” She stopped abruptly so she could stand face to face with Jim. “As long as it’s with you.”
Jim leaned down to give her what was intended to be a quick kiss, but it turned into a very long, very deep one. He leaned his forehead on hers and rubbed her nose. “I could live with those conditions.”
Trixie grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the dorm to grab the last of their things. As they walked, she studied him. “Can I ask you something?”
“Of course you can,” Jim said. “You can ask me anything.”
“You’ve always been a list-maker. Detailed lists of goals and objectives, to-do lists, items to be checked off, with your future all mapped out. Where did I fit in?”
“The monkey wrench?” Jim joked. Then he faced her, all seriousness. “Trix, my reaction to all that happened to me as a child was to become a control freak. But what I really wanted, what mattered most of all, was so far beyond my control it wasn’t funny. I made the lists because I could control them, because it gave me the illusion that some day I’d get where I wanted to be in life. But all I really wanted was to be with you. And you weren’t on the lists anywhere… because you’re not an item to be checked off. You’re everything.”
She had suspected as much, so his words didn’t surprise her. Hearing them aloud, however, overwhelmed her. Love and joy threatened to take her breath away, but she plowed ahead. “So how do you feel?”
Jim stared deeply into her eyes, drinking in the light of a thousand stars reflected there. As he pondered her question, a huge weight lifted off his soul. The grin that spread across his face was laced with boyish glee.
They laughed together and began waltzing across the courtyard to music only they could hear. Their hearts soared as their bodies floated gracefully along the path. Their matching smiles shone more brightly than the moon above. Jim dipped her, then slowly lifted her to his lips for a languorous kiss.
“The night is young, milady, and yours to do whatever your little heart desires.”
Trixie’s smile was unintentionally sexy. “Anything you want. Your wish is my command.”
“Some things are off limits,” Jim admonished with a groan. Kissing her again, he whispered, “We’re worth waiting for.”
Once again, she melted at his words. God, she loved this man! “I’m too antsy to stay here, and I want to take advantage of my freedom to leave. I’m not sure driving straight through to Sleepyside is the best idea, though.”
Jim shrugged. “So let’s head out, and go wherever the spirit leads us.”
Trixie’s eyes twinkled merrily. “Free spirits, wandering the world together?”
“You never know where we might end up!”
A confident light shone from his emerald orbs. “I can handle anything, as long as we’re together.”
She smiled and reached for his hand again. “Onward and upward?”
He nodded and smiled back, “We’ve barely started climbing. Let’s go find a good view to enjoy.”
They set forth on a journey that could have been described as full of indecision. Trixie would have hated packing for it, just like any other winter break. But tonight, not knowing was part of the excitement. Where would they go? What mysteries would they find? What bumps would there be in the road?
It didn’t matter. As long as Jim and Trixie were together, it would all be perfectly perfect.
This was written to be a 2009 Giftfic for Cathyoma. I dropped the ball. Cathy was very gracious about the entire thing. She even said she'd be happy with just a new chapter of Dance. She got both... eventually. Let's just say deadlines were not my strongpoint this year. Cathy's a dear friend, and the person who taught me one of the joys of writing: brainstorming. She was the first person I ever discussed long-term plans with, and bounced ideas off of for distant events in my universe. I remember sitting in the hot tub at my first Trixie Camp and sharing my intentions for Will You Wait. Which is why she would have settled for more Dance... she knows where I'm going and wants me to hurry up and get there. Even though it was late, and not the greatest of coherent plots, I hope she liked it. Merry Belated Christmas, Cathy.
Traditionally, my giftfic is also my Jixaversary posting. Yeah. Again, didn't happen. It would have been awesome to mark five years as an author with some great thing to post. Even though it didn't happen, I'm still honored and grateful to be able to call myself a Jixemitri Author.
I was not only excited to be writing for Cathy, but I was excited to be writing at all. I've had a horrendous drought. We've known for months about the giftfics, but I didn't start writing until, oh, about... the deadline. But I had an amazing unblockage, with a tremendous flood of words. I feel like me again! Thank you, thank you, thank you for getting me involved in this writing project.
Lastly, let me just say, Cathy really only had one criteria. One I can sympathize with. I followed it. I also chose to state it quite clearly in the last sentence. And yes, the last sentence is a deliberate jab at all the Dan-fans of the world.
Important note: Hourglass photos by Salvatore Vuono
Masquerade images by Barb
Oh, and I'd also like to mention that finding the graphics for this story was a pain. Needing to reference/credit graphics is a pain. This story has sealed my resolve to make great use of my new SLR camera and create MY OWN graphics from now on.
And just to prove my point, the final photo - of a good view to enjoy - is my very own picture from Stowe, Vermont, Trixie Camp 2005, during a gondola ride up the mountain with Cathyoma. Remember that, sweetie?