had been a long, exhausting week for Mart.
Thoughts of his sister had tormented him night and day, disrupting
his sleep and consuming every waking moment.
days after Christmas, Mart had had a long talk with Bobby. Ever since Trixie had moved to New York for college, Bobby
had gone into the City once a month to see her.
At first, it had been a big adventure for the then-eleven-year-old
to take the train to the City alone.
Now it was no longer an adventure for the thirteen-year-old boy,
but a vital lifeline. No
matter her schedule or her moods, Bobby never missed a trip.
She would take him out to dinner, even though she didn’t want to,
simply because he’d gone to the trouble of showing up.
related to Mart how difficult it had been lately to engage her in even
simple conversation. She
didn’t greet him with a hug anymore; it was like she couldn’t stand to
be touched. During dinner,
she would sit and stare off into space with a sad, haunted look on her
face, practically ignoring Bobby the entire time.
But in the end, she always, always thanked him for coming.
had been deeply disturbed by his conversation with Bobby, but what
disturbed him more was Brian’s continued refusal to discuss Trixie, or
even be present near those discussing her.
Julie Weston had persisted in gently prodding him, but that only
made him angry. The more
Julie pushed, the more sullen and withdrawn Brian became, until Renee
finally begged her mother to just drop the subject for the rest of the
Tuesday, Mart couldn’t take any more.
The plane ticket his parents had purchased for his trip had an
open-ended return so he could stay for as long as he wanted.
Mart took advantage of this loophole to leave early, and arranged
for a late afternoon flight.
Weston, Renee’s cousin, had been easily convinced to give him a ride to
the airport. Luck was with
him when he arrived in Chicago, and he was able to hitch a ride home from
the airport with a neighbor he happened to spot at the baggage claim.
home, however, he was at a loss. The
apartment building in which Mart lived was across Wabash Avenue from the
campus of Columbia College Chicago, and the vast majority of the residents
were students there. Since
this was only the midpoint of the winter break, most of them were away.
The entire building was unsettlingly quiet.
one hand, that helped Mart to be able to think.
Of course, there were no distractions to interrupt his thinking,
which left him free to obsess about his sister.
He spent most of the night and the next day pacing his living room,
wondering what she was doing, even what she was thinking.
Several times, he started to pick up the phone, but each time his
hand froze. He concentrated
on how far away she seemed, and how little he knew her any more.
He needed to be able to look into her eyes.
needed to see Trixie.
matter how many ways he looked at the situation, he always reached the
same conclusion: he had to see her, in person.
how to get there? He’d had
to have his parents buy his plane ticket to Texas.
He hadn’t held a job for more than three months since starting
school, and he’d quit the latest in order to get the time off to go to
Texas. He already owed half his friends money – more money than he
even wanted to think about.
or Dan would probably help him out, but neither one were expected back in
Chicago for at least two weeks. Besides,
for some reason Mart couldn’t explain, he really didn’t want to tell
anyone what he was doing.
certainly left his parents out. Asking
them would involve several lectures about fiscal responsibility, plus they
would probably want to come with him.
No, they were not the answer.
Mart thought of a friend who could help him.
Bruce knew enough about Mart’s family that he could understand a
desire to get to New York. Plus,
Mart only owed him a couple of dollars, so he could probably hit him up
for bus fare. And Bruce had a
good job with little time off, so he had not planned on traveling over the
was in luck again. Bruce was
home when Mart called in the early evening, and was willing to buy him a
one-way bus ticket to New York City.
He even drove him to the bus station.
The only moment of discomfort for Mart was Bruce’s parting shot:
“Maybe straightening things out with your sister will help you
get your own head screwed on right.”
fitfully on the long bus ride, Mart spent a great deal of brainpower
reliving every brief contact he’d had with Trixie since the day she
started college. It pained
him to realize how few and far between they were.
The worst was Madeleine Wheeler’s wake and funeral.
had seemed so cold and formal. He’d
been focusing on Jim’s grief, and was shocked by his sister’s
attitude. He remembered being
annoyed by how standoffish she’d been.
Over the course of several days, the only tear he had seen had been
when she read Mrs. Wheeler’s goodbye letter.
The warmest, most giving person he’d ever known, who could be
moved to tears by any sad story of someone in need.
And he’d just let it go that she hadn’t cried over the death of
someone who was family? What
the hell was he thinking?
of sympathy for someone else’s troubles, tears of compassion, had never
bothered her. But showing her
own pain, displaying weakness, always had.
She wouldn’t have wanted to show her own grief over Maddie
Wheeler’s death. But she
should certainly have shown compassion for the others around her grieving
her anger towards Honey and Jim could not explain her stone-faced
demeanor. She clearly was not
angry with Matt Wheeler, and she did everything she could for him.
Yet her face never seemed to soften in his presence, either.
was only one explanation for her behavior.
How stupid for him not to have seen it earlier! She was building a wall to keep in her own pain.
And since the funeral, the wall had only grown higher.
had to get through that wall. He
had to touch her, really see her, not the façade she held
out to the world. Maybe, if
he found the real Trixie, Mart would find the missing part of his life.
bus had been scheduled to arrive in New York at 11:15 p.m. Thursday night,
just in time for the New Year’s Eve revelers.
Unfortunately, there were several traffic and weather-related
delays along the usual 25-hour journey, resulting in an arrival time of
nearly four a.m. The driver
and passengers were all cranky, especially about ringing in the New Year
aboard the rumbling bus with a group of total strangers.
matter how generous the person, Mart figured that no one would appreciate
a knock on their door at four-thirty in the morning.
With this thought in mind, Mart found his way to an all-night diner
and ordered a hearty breakfast. By
the time he paid for his meal and left a tip, he would have used up all
the money he had on him, but that was all right; he was near the end of
his journey. Where he went
from there depended on what happened when he met with Trixie.
would he say to her? Would
she even agree to see him? How
could he get past two years of silence?
ate slowly, contemplating the upcoming meeting and killing time.
After several hours, he could no longer ignore the pointed look of
the waitress; she needed his table for other customers.
Out on the streets once more, he dawdled, wondering what was a good
time to show up on someone’s doorstep on New Year’s Day.
If Mr. Wheeler had attended some high-society function the night
before he might have been out quite late.
Not wanting to make a nuisance of himself, Mart decided a walk
through Central Park should while away sufficient time to bring him to the
Wheeler penthouse at a decent hour.
stillness of the time just before dawn covered the park in a peaceful
quiet, most soothing to a troubled soul.
Mart let the peace seep into him, wishing it would last for a long
while. As the sun rose, he
enjoyed the sparkling lights all around him when the morning rays struck
the crystals in the snow and ice world through which he wandered.
noticed two people sitting on a bench by the lake, watching the sunrise.
He altered his course to give them a wide berth, not wanting to
disturb their privacy. He was
nearly past them when he glanced their way again.
The man’s red hair caught his eye and he took a second look.
time Mart was close enough to recognize Matt Wheeler as he rose from the
bench. Mart changed course
again, this time heading straight for the still-seated young woman.
As the older gentleman turned to offer his companion a hand, he
glanced up and noticed the nervous young man approaching them.
look of surprise crossed Matt’s face, but only for a brief second before
he smiled. He nodded his
head, silently urging the visitor forward.
was walking up from behind the bench, and Trixie’s eyes were still
focused on the sun rising above the trees.
In fact, she had not even acknowledged Matt’s proffered hand.
crouched in front of her and grabbed both of her hands.
“Do you know what I’ve heard?”
waited patiently for her to turn her attention to him, an act that seemed
to Mart to take a great deal of time and energy.
When Trixie’s eyes finally met Matt’s, he gave her a soft smile
and continued speaking as if there had never been a pause.
“I’ve heard that God works in mysterious ways.”
Trixie’s puzzled frown as a good sign, a sign that she was paying
attention and trying to make sense of his words, Matt’s smile grew.
“Sometimes, He sends you an unsuspecting angel just when you need
that he stood again, still holding both her hands, and pulled her to her
feet. He turned her to face
Mart just as her brother rounded the end of the park bench.
didn’t know exactly what he’d been expecting to see, but somehow this
wasn’t it. His careful eye
took in every detail, from the tear-streaked face to the listless manner.
Trixie’s signature curls were pulled back severely into a tight
braid underneath the soft, powder-blue knitted hat.
Her face was pale and sallow, her eyes highlighted by the dark
shadows beneath them, her features pinched.
But it was the look in her eyes that Mart would remember all his
life. The emotions that
flittered through, one after the other, surprised and saddened him.
He saw feelings of worthlessness, undeserving of love or
forgiveness. There was
self-condemnation, and an expectation of rejection. But behind it all, barely detectable, was the tiniest,
faintest glimmer of hope.
days, Mart had been trying to put his vast vocabulary to good use, writing
and re-writing speeches in his head, attempting to formulate coherent
thoughts and to figure out what to say to his sister when he finally saw
her. Now, when he stood
before her, the words all fled his mind.
As he stared at the face that had always so mirrored his own,
watching the hesitation, uncertainty, and fear flooding the deep blue
eyes, he suddenly knew exactly what to say.
forward, Mart opened his arms. “I
just came because I realized how long it had been since I told you that I
barely had time to see the brilliant light of joy flare in Trixie’s eyes
before she threw herself into his arms.
He picked her up and swung her around, then set her down and held
her close. In that moment,
Mart felt a warmth flood his being, a healing he hadn’t even realized he
needed. He hoped the same warmth and healing was engulfing Trixie.
When she started to cry, face buried in his neck, he stroked her
hair and crooned, “It’s okay, Princess.
I’m here. I’ll
always be here, I promise.”
allowing a suitable few minutes for the joyful reunion, Matt tactfully
cleared his throat. “How
about if we head back to the penthouse?
You two can catch up with each other while we all warm up.”
the siblings turned towards him, Matt put his hand on Mart’s shoulder.
“When do you have to be back at school?”
until the 17th,” Mart answered.
don’t you stay with us until then?” Matt invited.
“I’m sure Trixie would love it.”
Mart?” Trixie pleaded.
nodded. “I’d really like
was rewarded with Trixie’s smile – a real, genuine, warm smile. It wasn’t her old thousand-watt smile, but it was the best
Matt had seen in a very long time. The
brilliant sun over the horizon reflected the surge of joy in his heart as
he prodded the almost-twins gently down the path towards home.