Belden replaced the phone in its cradle and held her weary head in her
hands. Mart’s phone call
made her suddenly long for the days when Trixie’s mysteries were her
constant headache. For as
much trouble as Trixie had been, her heart had always been in the right
place, and she had always ended up helping someone.
Not to mention that the adventures were always interesting.
What I wouldn’t give for a phone call about a kidnapping
right now, Helen mused.
she was constantly plagued by phone calls regarding petty people with
petty problems, making trouble for each other.
Bobby was constantly in trouble at school, but nothing major.
Most of the time, he was fighting with the same kid over the same
rivalry they’d had since 2nd grade.
Mart was always having money problems or girlfriend problems.
Today, it had happened to be both.
then there was Brian. A
second year medical student at Duke University, Brian had been dating
the same girl for three years. At
Thanksgiving, Brian and Renee had announced their engagement.
Now Renee’s mother was insisting on having Brian’s family for
Christmas – in Texas. Helen
grimaced at the thought of traveling south for a holiday that, in her
mind, required snow and hot chocolate.
top of that, Renee’s estranged father was trying to find ways to stop
the wedding. No one knew
what his motivation was, but so far, he’d bribed an ex-boyfriend to
try to get her back and he had threatened to disinherit her.
His tactics weren’t working, but they were certainly causing
everyone a fair amount of stress.
sighed and began a mental review of the packing she had left to do for
their trip to Corpus Christi, Texas.
In two days, she, Peter, and Bobby would fly south.
Brian had traveled straight to Texas last week when he got off
school in North Carolina. Mart
would show up when, and if, she told Peter to send him more
money. And Trixie
wouldn’t bother to show up at all.
wondered idly if she wouldn’t be happier spending Christmas with
Trixie. Chiding herself,
she knew it was impossible for anyone to be happy around Trixie.
Her daughter was like a black hole that sucked all the light,
life, and energy out of the room. Helen
remembered the days when Trixie had been the light, life, and
energy in any room and sighed again.
Things had changed so much when Maddie Wheeler died.
lived in New York City, still sharing the Wheeler penthouse with Matt.
She attended New York University, besides working full-time at
Wheeler International. She
spent what few hours remained in the day on studying or keeping house
for Matt. She had
absolutely no social life, and that included not having time for her
family. It had been months
since Helen had managed to have more than a two-minute phone
conversation with her.
spoke frequently with Matt’s secretary, Margaret.
In the last few months, Matt had emerged from his valley of
grief. He traveled
frequently to visit his children, and he was working very hard at
repairing his relationships with Honey and Jim.
The Beldens and Lynches rejoiced at this news; it was well-past
time for their friend to start living again.
Helen had even thought that Matt’s turn-around would be helpful
had thought wrong. When
Matt was in New York, Trixie made an attempt to be functional so that
she could take care of him. She
kept his schedule, tended to his needs, and allowed him to function
through his haze. When he
began leaving town, she didn’t have to be there for him, so she
retreated even further into her shell.
Margaret told Helen she had never seen Trixie smile.
Ever. She spoke only
when it was required. She
kept to herself as much as humanly possible.
of beating her head against a brick wall, Helen was about ready to give
up trying to reach her daughter. She
hadn’t even made an attempt to convince her to come to Corpus Christi.
She had passed along Renee’s invitation, but that was all.
In fact, Helen was sure that Trixie had never sent any
congratulations to her brother and his fiancée.
Brian was hurt just enough by that slight that he didn’t even
care when Trixie didn’t acknowledge the Christmas invitation.
the Beldens would be spending Christmas in Texas with their
Lynches were making the trip to Arizona to see Monty Wilson.
Dan Mangan would be visiting Regan and the Delanoys in Sleepyside. Matt Wheeler, assuming Trixie would be with her family, had
arranged to spend Christmas at Mead’s Mountain with both Honey and Jim
– a time of togetherness that the family desperately needed.
Trixie would sit, alone, in New York.
trekked up the stairs to return to her packing.
The best she could do, at this point, would be to have a few
words with Matt when he returned home from Vermont.
She had run out of other ideas and the energy for trying them.
Evening, Corpus Christi, Texas
gathering around the dinner table that Christmas night was happy,
lively, and jovial. The
Beldens had gotten along well with Renee’s family, and the holiday was
turning out to be lovely, despite Helen’s initial misgivings.
mother, Julie Weston, was a sweet, caring woman.
After spending a couple of days with her, it had become apparent
to Helen why she had insisted on hosting this gathering. She had multiple sclerosis, but refused to be an invalid.
She made very few concessions to her illness, but she did avoid
unnecessary travel. As long
as Julie could bring everyone to her, she could manage to be the
had only one sibling, but she had four cousins who had been raised by
her mother. The extended
Weston family was close, warm, and loving.
They reminded Helen of the Beldens… the way they used to be.
shadow of sadness crossed Helen’s face, then disappeared as quickly as
it had come. Julie was
seated across the table from Helen and noticed the momentary clouding of
her guest’s features. Having
known Brian for quite a while and having observed the interactions of
the Beldens during their visit, Julie had no trouble pinpointing the
source of Helen’s sorrow.
considered commenting. The
family had been tiptoeing around the issue all week.
To force the discussion could cause a lot of bad feelings, and to
do so during this holiday celebration would definitely cast a pall on
the evening. On the other
hand, people might be less likely to get up and walk away from the
table, simply because it was Christmas dinner.
made her decision, Julie began an apparently casual conversation.
“This has been such a wonderful visit!
It’s such a shame your daughter couldn’t join us, Helen.”
Belden froze. The sudden
tension in the room caused the Westons to pause in their conversations.
Helen looked like a deer caught in the headlights, until she
looked into Julie’s gentle eyes.
The understanding and desire to help that shone there surprised
Helen and gave her the confidence to answer her hostess.
it is a shame, but Trixie is… not a social creature.
She really never goes anywhere.”
noticed Brian’s jaw clench, but decided to ignore him for the moment.
She gave Helen a sympathetic look. “From
the stories I’ve heard about Brian’s youth, I gather she wasn’t
always like that.”
was shooting daggers at her mother, but Julie continued to ignore the
warning looks. “It must
be difficult to accept such a drastic change in a loved one.”
nodded, closing her eyes and trying to swallow past the large lump in
her throat. Peter Belden
never moved a muscle in his face, but he reached for his wife’s hand
and squeezed it tightly.
down the table, Mart folded his napkin with intense concentration.
He was suddenly and uncomfortably aware of the pain on his
parents’ faces. Up to
this point, he had nursed his own hurt over the way his sister had shut
him out of her life. He had
been indignant for the pain she had caused Jim and Honey.
He had been furious over the way she had slighted Brian and
Renee. But he had never
considered how his parents felt.
struggled, once again, to understand his sister.
How could she do this? How
could she hurt everyone she knew, everyone she had ever loved, everyone
who had ever loved her?
loves her now? The
sudden, unbidden thought gave Mart a start.
He thought about where Trixie was this Christmas day.
What was she doing? Who
was she with? From what
Moms had said, and what she had refused to say, Mart realized she must
be in New York… alone.
one should be alone on Christmas, he thought.
He couldn’t imagine anything more painful. Only then did it occur to him that his sister might not be
happy with her situation. Is
she in as much pain as she’s causing everyone else? he wondered.
thought about Trixie and the way she used to be.
He thought about her personality, her generous nature, and her
giving heart. With dawning
realization, Mart finally understood the piece of the puzzle that had
eluded him for nearly two years. Trixie
was trying not to cause others pain.
Her pain was so intense that this was the only way she knew to
protect her friends and family from it.
hand trembled, and he looked up with an expression of raw agony.
He found himself staring into the eyes of his youngest brother,
Bobby. The 13-year-old
seemed very old, and the look on his face sent Mart a clear message.
So you finally figured it out, huh?
Now what are you going to do about it?
‘Cause we’ve tried…
Mart had his epiphany, Brian merely allowed his hurt and anger to burn
hotter. He had spent so
much of his life rescuing Trixie from her own rash stupidity.
He was done. She had
done this to herself, as far as he was concerned, and he was not about
to fix it for her. She had
lost her best friends, and she was losing her family.
If she wanted out of this disaster she had created, she would
have to make it happen on her own.
the few seconds that had passed, Julie had been studying Mart and Brian.
Suppressing a sigh over Brian, she allowed herself a flicker of
satisfaction in Mart’s transformation.
Pleased that a small amount of progress had been made, Julie
commented, “I’ve always been amazed at the way pain and grief can
change a person.”
snorted. “The people with
the pain and grief were not the ones who changed.”
He angrily threw his napkin down and pushed back his chair.
“Excuse me while I use the bathroom.”
Brian’s retreating back with sorrowful eyes, Julie turned to Mart.
“From what I’ve heard, Trixie has always been one to feel
deeply and intensely.”
continued prodding Mart’s thoughts.
“How has she reacted in the past, when dealing with the death
of a friend or family member?”
looked down, unable to meet Julie’s piercing gaze any longer.
“She never has. She’s just never dealt with death before.”
a soft smile, Julie asked, “Is she as stubborn as you, Bobby, and
and Bobby laughed out loud. Mart
flashed a genuine smile at his hostess.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Weston.
It’s just that we don’t even come close to stubborn when
compared to Trixie.”
gave Mart an understanding look. “Well,
now that we all have something to think about, how about if we change
the subject before Brian comes back to the table?
I don’t think he’s being very open-minded this evening, and
we don’t want to completely ruin Christmas.”
Westons exchanged looks around the table, sometimes smothering smirks.
Julie Weston was famous for butting in where she wasn’t wanted,
without ever seeming to intrude, and politely and tactfully managing to
make people see tough situations from another point of view.
They weren’t surprised that she had managed to take five
minutes out of her holiday to turn Mart’s worldview upside-down.
Just because she was backing off from Brian right now, that
didn’t mean she was done with him either. Sooner or later, his turn would come.
looked at Julie with tears in her eyes and undying gratitude on her
face. Julie grinned and
merely said, “We’re family now.”
Evening, Mead's Mountain, Vermont
three stood together near the picture window, staring at the crystal
sparkles where the moonlight kissed the new-fallen snow.
It had been a good day and a good week.
They had cried together, they had hugged each other, and they had
even managed to laugh.
Matt stood beside Jim, with his arm around Honey on his other side, he
felt at peace. He knew
Maddie was smiling at them and cheering that they were together tonight.
He could feel her presence and her love. Jim could feel it too. Honey…
she was more difficult to read. It
was almost as if she didn’t want to feel her mother’s love, because
that would make her absence more real.
seemed to be missing a part of her heart.
It wasn’t just about losing her mother; her friendship with
Trixie had been a vital part of her soul.
When she had lost that, she had lost her identity.
And, in trying to find herself again, determinedly without her
once-best friend, she was venturing into strange waters.
She wasn’t sweet and caring.
She was insecure and lost, but she was hiding behind a wall of
sophisticated arrogance. She
was acting the part of the rich snob she had never wanted to become.
had been pleased to see a little of the old Honey these past few days.
She had been able to let down her guard with him and Jim for a
moment. But, he knew that
as soon as she returned to school, her school friends, her wealthy
boyfriend, and her socialite life, she would become the rich snob again.
He wondered if there was any way to truly reach her without
Trixie, and he acknowledged that this was probably impossible.
was actually doing better than Honey was.
His girlfriend was a clinical psychologist and had convinced him
he needed to seek counseling. Between
his therapy sessions and her loving support, he had made a lot of
progress in dealing with his past.
The past few months of phone calls and visits with his father
were helping him to deal with his present.
He was finally looking forward to his future again.
But Jim would never be able to reach Honey either, without help.
by a wave of exhaustion, Matt was contemplating calling it a night when
she started, a bit hesitantly. “This
has been a wonderful week… I’m glad we got to spend this time
together. But, well… I
think I’ll be taking off in the morning.
I wanted to go spend some time with David and his family.”
part of Matt’s heart ached that Honey would rather go spend time with
her boyfriend. But another
part of him was… relieved? Could
he be relieved that she wanted to cut their reunion short?
put a strong hand on his father’s shoulder and gave a light squeeze.
“This has been great, but it’s also been very emotional and,
therefore, exhausting. We
won’t hold it against you for wanting to get away, Honey.”
and Matt both flashed looks of gratitude at Jim before turning to each
other. Matt hugged his
daughter and kissed her cheek. “It’s
quite all right, my sweet. You
go visit David and recharge. We’ll
see each other again soon.”
smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Thanks, Daddy. I’ll
be leaving early, so I won’t see you tomorrow.
a quick hug and kiss goodbye to Jim, she was gone.
turned to Jim, fatigue lining his face.
“When did you tell Peri you’d get to her house?”
smiled indulgently. If he
were oversensitive, he might think Matt wanted to be done with this get
together. But he knew his
dad was as emotionally drained as his sister, so he didn’t take
offense. “I told her I would play it by ear here and see how things
went. I’ll get there when
I get there.”
the back of his neck wearily, Matt sighed.
“I wonder how tense things are in Corpus Christi.”
For the umpteen thousandth time that day, his thoughts had
inadvertently wandered to his faithful assistant.
cocked an eyebrow in surprise. “Why
should things be tense in Corpus Christi?
The Westons are great, and the Beldens love them.
The only potential ingredient for trouble is Trixie, and she
didn’t show up.”
Matt cried in agitation. He
started pacing the floor by the window.
“Son of a bitch!”
studied his father’s reaction. Once
upon a time, Trixie Belden had been his closest friend.
Their reactions to his mother’s illness had torn them apart,
and they were now virtual strangers.
As far as he could tell, the only person who knew her at all
anymore was Matt Wheeler – and he was definitely upset to hear she
wasn’t in Texas.
had made mistakes with Trixie, he knew… but so had she.
He was still trying to lick his wounds from his adopted
mother’s death. He had no
idea how to repair his relationship with Trixie, nor was he quite ready
to make the first move. But
he still cared about her; he always would.
stopped his pacing, as if just now remembering his son was still in the
she’s not in Texas, where is she?”
jaw clenched tightly; a look of pain flashed across his face, so deep
and raw that Jim felt like an intruder to have even witnessed it. In a hoarse whisper, Matt answered, “Unless I miss my
guess, she’s huddled in some dark corner of the penthouse, completely
alone, and wishing she could trade places with your mother.”
impact of these words upon Jim was much like a molten lance through his
heart. He had no idea…
but he should have. He
should have known. He
should have realized. He
was horrified by the knowledge that he had ignored her pain and hadn’t
even been aware of its existence. He
was frightened by the darkness that threatened to overwhelm him… he
couldn’t help her. He wasn’t strong enough.
What could he do?
older man searched his son’s face.
One glance told him all he needed to know:
Jim really wanted him to help Trixie.
He wouldn’t feel abandoned if Matt bolted out the door right
Can you take care of checking out in the morning?”
nodded. He reached out and
hugged his father. Matt
returned the fierce embrace, and whispered, “I love you, Son.”
love you, too, Dad. Take
care of her.”
a flash, Matt was gone. Jim
leaned his forehead on the cool glass of the windowpane.
He would never be able to go back to the two most perfect years
of his life, when every day had been about the Bob-Whites, love, and
laughter. Would the love
and laughter ever find them in the here and now?
Jim hoped so, because the loneliness and the pain were slowly
killing them all.
Night (nearly morning), New York, New York
the slick, winding mountain roads, the snow, and his own exhaustion,
Matthew managed to make the drive from Mead’s Mountain to his New York
apartment in just over six hours. Quietly
letting himself in at four a.m., he expected to find darkness.
What he didn’t expect to find was Trixie still awake, hunched
in a corner of the large sofa, staring vacantly into space in the
set down his bags and hung up his coat, watching her all the while.
She never moved a muscle, nor acknowledged his presence.
Only when Matt sat down beside her did she appear to notice him.
looking at him, Trixie asked, “Why are you back so soon?”
sounded annoyed, as if he were intruding on her solitude. In the light that trickled in
through the picture window that overlooked Central Park, he could see
that there were tears in her eyes, but they refused to fully form
or to fall.
and Jim had had their fill of togetherness,” he answered in carefully
neutral tones. “Why
aren’t you in Texas?”
voice shook with sorrow when she whispered, “I just couldn’t.”
he asked gently, watching her and wishing he could just wash away the
ache in her heart.
ragged breath, as if even the attempt to speak were causing excruciating
physical pain, she rasped, “It… hurts.”
looked up at him then, but hurriedly looked away, as if it hurt her to
see the tender caring in his eyes.
Still, the tears in those big blue eyes refused to fall.
Matt focused on those tears and tried to remember when he had
last seen her cry. After
much memory searching, he was shocked to realize it was the day she had
been told of Maddie’s diagnosis.
She was holding so much in that it was killing her.
remembered his own thoughts the day of Maddie’s funeral:
When I break through this wall, Little One, I will take care
of you like you have taken care of me.
was well nigh time for him to keep that promise.
he whispered, “Let go of the pain.”
closed her eyes, grimacing. The
agony in her soul was etched into every line of her face.
lips trembled, and soon her whole body was shaking.
“It’s so high… if I let go, I’ll fall…”
grabbed her hand and sandwiched it between both of his. “Let go, Trix. I’ll
catch you, I promise.”
she cried out, unable to comprehend that he was sincerely trying to
Matt answered, “Because you’re one of the three most important
people in my life.”
looked at him, tempted to listen. It
was so cold and lonely in this distant place in which her spirit
resided. What would it be
like to be warm again? But
if she let go, if she released her tight control, what would happen?
She was certain the tempest would overwhelm her, swarm and
surround her, and the reigning chaos would drown her forever.
her waver, Matt tried to pry her fingers from the cliff top upon which
she saw herself. “You’ve
carried me through my pain. Let
me carry you through yours, Trixie.
Let me help you.”
a whisper in the wind, Maddie’s last words to her drifted through
Trixie’s mind: Don’t
remain in this terrible place. Open
your heart again, and let joy return to your life.
strangled sob broke through the wall she’d held up for so long. Once the wall cracked, the dam broke, and the reservoir
flooded the valley. Matt
pulled her into his arms and cradled her, whispering soothing platitudes
while she cried her heart out on his shoulder.
After what seemed like, and may even have been, hours, the
racking sobs subsided to mere hiccups.
Trixie more comfortably in his embrace, he leaned his cheek on top of
her head and spoke in hushed tones.
“Do you know how I’ve always seen you?
You’re a magnifying glass.”
snorted, and Matt smiled as he continued.
“Not like a detective, looking for clues.
You magnify things. You
take all the love around you, enlarge it, and focus it where it needs to
be. That’s how you’ve
always helped so many people. That’s
why so many people think of you as sunshine and light.
not giving off any light right now, sweetheart, but that’s because
you’re not letting any in. You
can’t give any love, because you won’t accept any of the love around
you. You’ve spent so long
taking care of everyone else, that you don’t know how to let anyone
take care of you. You have
nothing left to give. If
you’re ever going to be able to give again, you have to take a little
me take care of you, Trixie. Trust
hesitated. For so long,
she’d avoided people. Even
the physical contact of accidentally brushing up against someone would
cause her pain, of both body and soul.
Right now, for the first time in recent memory, it didn’t hurt
to be near someone. Matt’s arms around her felt comforting, soothing, and warm.
She began to believe she might be able to escape from this icy
chasm, if she took the hand he was offering her.
Could she take it?
Trixie nodded. She squeezed
tight where she was hugging him, clinging desperately to the lifeline he
offered her. Matt’s heart
nearly burst with tenderness for this little angel who had saved his
life when he thought he would die.
Now he would do the same for her, and he would find a way to
restore her light to the world.
they sat together facing the large plate glass window, the first rays of
the new dawn broke across the sky, dashing away the darkness of the
night. They watched the
sunrise before drifting off to sleep nestled together on the sofa.
For the first time in a very long while, a spirit of peace
descended upon their home.