Be Not Obdurate, Open Thy Deaf Ears

Thursday, February 11, 1999

Chicago, Illinois


Dan Mangan exited his last class of the day, thankful for the long weekend ahead.  In his last semester of college, he was feeling antsy and eager to be free.  The chance to escape Chicago and head home for a few days with his girlfriend was a relief he desperately needed.  His thoughts of running straight to the airport came to an abrupt halt as he realized his friend, Mart Belden, was waiting anxiously outside his classroom.

“What’s up, Mart?”

Mart had been so lost in his thoughts he hadn’t seen his friend approaching.  Startled blue eyes focused on Dan’s face.  “Oh.  Hi, Dan.”

Dan waited for Mart to say something else, but he seemed to have returned to his thoughts.  He cleared his throat.  “Were you waiting for me?”

Finally focusing his attention on his friend, Mart nodded.  “Um… are you headed home this weekend?”

“Hmmm.  Chicago with no plans on a weekend with a major blizzard in the forecast, or Valentine’s Day in Sleepyside with Diana.  What do you think?” Dan replied sardonically.

Mart shrugged and seemed to hesitate before asking, “Can I catch a ride to the airport with you?”

“Sure.”  Dan started walking down the hall, headed for his car.  “I was going straight there; my bag’s already in the car.  Do you need to stop for anything?”


Studying his friend carefully out of the corner of his eye, Dan tried to discern what was causing the differences in Mart lately.  The young man had been increasingly reckless and brash throughout his college career, at first acting like a wild party boy and later like a bullet-train on a crash course with disaster.  He hadn’t gotten into drugs or any serious trouble, but he’d drunk plenty, bounced from one girl to another, racked up ridiculous amounts of debts, and blown off more than a couple of courses.

However, he’d seemed to settle a bit ever since Christmas break.  In order to graduate on time this year, he’d had to take a very heavy course load of 24 credit hours.  He was knuckling down on his work, determined to get good grades.  He spent every spare moment studying.  But he was still behaving oddly.  He didn’t socialize at all.  He also didn’t have a job, yet he had paid back everyone to whom he owed money.  Jim and Dan had spent countless hours trying to decide how Mart had managed to come up with the money to do that, and also avoid working this semester.  They knew his parents hadn’t given it to him; they were so fed up they were about ready to cut him off.

Careful interrogation of Mart’s roommates hadn’t yielded much information, either.  All they could tell them was that Mart never went anywhere but class, and when he was home he was either doing homework or on the phone – they didn’t know with whom, but they believed it was a girl.

The two men trudged along in silence until they were safely inside Dan’s car.  As he started the engine, Dan casually asked, as if there had been no break in the conversation, “You headed home?”

Again, Mart hesitated before replying.  “Yes and no.”

Dan raised an eyebrow at that reply, but got no further explanation.  He decided to ask the question he really wanted answered.  “You ready to talk about it yet?”

Frowning, Mart asked, “Talk about what?”

“Whatever’s been bugging you since Christmas break.”

Mart contemplated the question for a moment, looking thoughtful.  “Yeah, I think I am.”

And yet, he said nothing further.  Dan felt like he was pulling teeth from a horse with a small tweezers.  “Does this have to do with the girl?”

Surprise flashed in the blue eyes.  “What girl?”

“The one your roommates say you spend all your time on the phone with.”

A faraway look stole over Mart’s face and his thoughts seemed to retreat to that distant place.  In a soft voice, he answered, “It has everything to do with her.  Everything has to do with her.”  He looked away, resting his head against the window.

Dan’s brow furrowed in concern.  Mart hadn’t been serious about a single girl he’d dated all through college.  Whoever had had him tied up in knots since Christmas could be a good influence, or a very bad one.  Worried about his friend, Dan desperately wanted more information about this girl.

“Is she someone back home?” he inquired, attempting to dig a little deeper.

“New York,” was the succinct answer.

Biting back a groan, Dan tried again.  “Is that where you’re going for the weekend?”

Mart merely nodded, still looking out the window.  Dan rolled his eyes.  “Does she have a name?”

There was a very long pause after Dan’s question before Mart responded.  His answer was a barely audible whisper.


Dan blinked.  His jaw twitched.  His hands tightened on the wheel with a white-knuckled grip.  He found himself concentrating intently on traffic.

That was not the answer he’d been expecting.

Every thought he’d had about Mart in the last month went up in smoke.  He had to trash all his opinions and start over.  For one thing, he had to get rid of the word “lovesick”; Mart may be sick about someone he loved, but not in the traditional sense of the word.  Dan had been so sure that Mart had either found the one or fallen hard for someone who was bad news.  Now he knew he had been way off base.


Exhaling loudly, Dan considered the implications of that one name.  The good news was that he was no longer worried about the source of Mart’s money.  Clearly, he’d gotten it from either Matt Wheeler or from Trixie herself.  While Mr. and Mrs. Belden might not approve of Mart taking money from his sister or her boss, it didn’t really bother Dan too much.  Especially since Mart seemed to be using it to wipe his slate clean and start fresh.  Few people get a chance like that in life; it was an amazing gift.

Exactly something the old Trixie would have done for her brother.

Dan mentally reviewed what other facts he knew.  Trixie hadn’t joined the family in Texas for Christmas; she’d stayed in New York.  Mart had returned to Chicago early, but hadn’t been seen about town from New Year’s Eve until the first day of classes.  Had he been in New York then?

Mart’s roommates said he was on the phone all the time with a girl.  Every day.  Trixie hadn’t spoken to any of the Bob-Whites since Maddie Wheeler’s funeral.  If Mart was talking to her every day, he’d made major progress.

Suddenly a ray of sunshine broke through the heavy, gray, snow-laden clouds, nearly blinding Dan.  He wasn’t much into signs from above, but even he had to smile at one so obvious as that.

Quiet reigned in the car until they had arrived at the airport and secured a spot in the long-term parking lot.  When the engine shut off, the sudden absence of its gentle humming made the silence seem deafening.  Dan turned to Mart.  “What flight are you on?”

The blond head finally turned toward him.  “I’m not.  I was kinda hoping I could get on your flight… that we could sit together… talk.”

“All right.  Let’s go.”

The two young men made their way to the terminal, winding their way through the crowds to the ticket counter.  The agent checked Dan's flight; there was room, but the only two seats together were in first class.  Mart purchased a first class ticket, as well as an upgrade for Dan, with a Platinum American Express card.  Dan cocked an eyebrow in surprise.

Mart blushed and shrugged.  “She put me on her account,” he said gruffly.

With their tickets set, and a couple of hours to kill before their flight, they made their way to O’Brien’s Restaurant in Terminal Three.  It was fairly close to their gate, and they could sit and talk while they waited.  Once they had found a table and placed their orders, a strained silence descended over the table.

Figuring he might as well dive into the difficult conversation ahead, Dan asked, “So, you’ve seen her?”

Taking a deep breath, as if to steady himself for the discussion, Mart nodded.  “New Year’s.”

“How is she?”


It was just one word, but there was so much feeling behind it that it pained Dan.  There had been no accusation in Mart’s voice, but Dan’s own niggling conscience made him feel as if Mart had pointed the finger of guilt right at him.  Dan took a moment to collect himself; he didn’t want to react with misplaced emotion and say something he would regret later.

After the waitress had brought their drinks, Dan felt composed enough to try again.  “How did you happen to see her?”

Mart played with his glass, gliding it through the circle of moisture on the table, pretending his concentration was riveted on the patterns he was making with the water.  After a moment he shrugged.  “I went to her.  That’s all it took.”

In other words, someone else had to make first contact; Trixie wasn’t going to be the one that reached out.  She was the one who shut everyone out, but she couldn’t be bothered to try to open the doors back up, Dan thought.  He choked back the anger his thoughts provoked and tried to concentrate on Mart’s perspective.

For his part, Mart had been carefully watching Dan’s face, searching his expressions for insight into his thoughts on Trixie.  When he was sure Dan was resolved to hear him out, he spoke again.

“Renee’s mom is a really smart lady.  Right in the middle of Christmas dinner, she asked a couple of questions about Trixie.  She made her point, then changed the subject.  It wasn’t a long conversation, but she certainly made me think.”

He paused as the waitress delivered their appetizers.  Still being Mart, he eyed his combo platter hungrily and stopped to stuff a few mozzarella sticks into his mouth.

“What was Mrs. Weston’s point?” Dan asked.

Mart’s blue-eyed gaze was piercing.  “Trixie feels everything very deeply, and is too stubborn to admit weakness.”  He looked back to his food, diffusing the intensity of the moment when he picked up a jumbo chicken wing.  “That’s when I started thinking.  Trixie gave up her whole world to play nursemaid to Maddie Wheeler, twenty-four/seven.  Maddie was family.  And when Maddie died, Trixie never even admitted to grief, let alone allowed anyone to comfort her.”

Dan pushed away his untouched plate of quesadillas, not hungry anymore.  He drummed his fingers on the table, unable to hide his agitation.  The image of a grieving little boy trying to convince the world he was a callous, hardened street punk flashed across his mind.  Frowning, he asked, “Is her pain supposed to excuse the way she treated Jim and Honey?”

One eyebrow raised, Mart slowly wiped the wing sauce from his fingers.  “Trixie sees things a little differently.”



Friday, January 8, 1999

New York, New York


Mart had been in New York for a week.  During that time, he and Trixie had talked for hours on end, mostly about nothing.  She had told him about her job and her classes, while he had told her about the many classes he would be taking this semester.  But he hadn’t explained to her how he’d ended up needing so many classes in his last semester, and she hadn’t talked to him about the moat she’d created around herself.  He felt like he was standing on the drawbridge, waiting for her to open the gate, while she was still barricaded inside the fortress.

It had been fun spending time with her.  They’d done simple, mundane holiday things that she had apparently skipped before Christmas.  One morning they baked pumpkin bread and debated the proper duration of the Christmas music season – how early was it acceptable to play Christmas music, and how long after the holiday the songs should be allowed to continue.

And while that had been enjoyable, all their contact had been superficial.  Mart hadn’t even scratched the surface yet.  He felt like he’d traveled all this way, and still hadn’t really seen his sister.

Matt Wheeler, wise man that he was, knew Mart was getting frustrated.  He knew Trixie needed to be prodded.  And he knew just how to do it.

When Mart entered the living room that morning, he was bemused by the sight before him.  In a place of honor in front of the fireplace were two gaily-wrapped packages.  Spread out on the coffee table was a delicious array of breakfast pastries, fruit, juices, and an aromatic carafe of coffee.  Seated in the comfortable armchair was a smug-looking multi-billionaire.

“What’s all this?” Mart inquired.

Matt grinned.  “You want into the fortress, don’t you?  Believe it or not, this is a battering ram.”

A puzzled frown indicated Mart’s confusion.  He had no idea how Matt considered this a battering ram, but every day he discovered anew that Matt was both intelligent and intuitive.  How else could he have been able to so accurately discern Mart’s feelings about his sister’s closed-off attitude?  Matt also had an uncanny ability to read Trixie’s moods.  Mart decided it was best to just trust him, so he settled on the sofa, poured himself a cup of coffee, and helped himself to a scrumptious-looking Danish.

When Trixie arrived on the scene a few minutes later, the sight of the ribbon-and-bow-laden gifts made her stop short.  She turned to Matt with a frown.  Unconsciously echoing her almost-twin, she asked, “What’s all this?”

“Christmas presents,” Matt said.

“You already gave me a Christmas present.”

“No, I didn’t,” Matt replied.  “Wheeler International gave you a Christmas bonus.  I did not personally get you anything.”

“Oh, really?” Trixie asked, her voice laced with sarcasm.  “Then who the heck paid my tuition bill for the upcoming semester?”

Amused at her efforts, Matt’s green eyes twinkled.  “Wheeler International.  Tuition reimbursement is a corporate-wide benefit – one you haven’t bothered to claim, despite qualifying for quite some time.  You were overdue; all I did was forward the appropriate forms to human resources.”

Eyes narrowed, Trixie folded her arms across her chest and tapped her foot in irritation.  She studied Matt for a moment before apparently deciding it wasn’t worth the effort to argue with him.  She stalked over to the gifts and examined them.  Picking up both packages, she moved to the sofa and deposited one on her brother’s lap.

Mart noticed the tag bearing his name and gave his sister a boyish grin.  “I’m not dumb enough to turn down a Christmas present.”

They opened the gifts together, a bizarre synchronization of paper-tearing.  When they pulled the gifts out of the boxes, Mart started to laugh.  Mart’s package contained a dainty pair of white ice skates, while Trixie’s package contained a large, black pair of speed skates.

Trixie turned to accuse their benefactor.  “You mislabeled the gifts on purpose, didn’t you?”

Matt shrugged as he rose to take his dirty cup to the kitchen.  “You haven’t gotten your brother a Christmas gift, either.”

When his sister grumbled at the man’s retreating back, the only words Mart clearly made out were “royal pain in the ass”.  He laughed again, and gently traded skates with her.

“How about if we use these today?”

Trixie looked uncertain.  Before she had a chance to say anything, however, Matt returned to the room and answered for her.

“The car will be here for you in an hour.  You have ice skating at Rockefeller Center, lunch at Felidia, and shopping at the South Street Seaport.  Enjoy your day.”  With that, he grabbed his briefcase and coat and headed out the door.

Grabbing a ceramic figurine off the nearest table, Trixie jumped up and threw it at the door through which Matt had just passed.  Staring at the broken shards, Mart was afraid to contemplate the dollar value of her little temper tantrum. 

Trixie stamped her foot.  “I hate being bullied into things.”

“Why is it bullying to help you have fun?” Mart asked.

“Who says I want to have fun?”

“But I want to have fun,” Mart countered.

“Then go ahead and have fun,” Trixie grumped, folding her arms across her chest again and staring moodily at the ground.

Mart walked over and gently lifted his sister’s chin until she was forced to look him in the eye.  “What I want is to have fun with you.”

Trixie grudgingly relented, and they went about getting ready.  An hour later they were dressed in ski pants, heavy sweaters, winter jackets, heavy woolen socks, and warm hats and mittens, all brand new.  Trixie was still muttering about Matt and his idea of Christmas presents, because everything Mart was wearing was a recent gift.  He had arrived with only a small duffle bag slung over his shoulder.  When Matt and Trixie had prevailed upon him to stay for two weeks, Matt had insisted on outfitting him with more clothing.  Mart had accepted the gift, if only to avoid a run out to Crabapple Farm for more clothes.  He selfishly did not want his parents to intrude on his time with Trixie.  She had supported all of this, but was now finding it a convenient excuse for complaining about Matt and his high-handed, overbearing ways.

When they climbed into the car they were greeted by Steven, the chauffeur.  Steven had been driving for Matt Wheeler since he had moved into the City two and a half years before.  When Steven deposited them at Rockefeller Center, they admired the giant Christmas tree while they laced their skates.  Together they glided over the ice, dancing around each other and the other skaters, enjoying the crisp winter air and the beautiful day.  Trixie even managed to smile once or twice.  After a couple of hours, they sat down to rest on the bench where they had left their boots, sipping cups of hot chocolate.

With a wide grin, Mart sat back.  “You know what this reminds me of?  The Winter Carnival we did all those years ago.  That was a blast.”

Trixie nodded distantly.  “Those were good times.”

“Yeah,” Mart agreed.  “The Bob-Whites together, helping others, just like always.”

“Except when it counted,” Trixie muttered bitterly.

When Mart looked at her in shock, she flushed bright red and quickly looked away, refusing to meet his gaze or acknowledge the questions in his bright blue eyes.  She sifted uncomfortably and started to get up.  Mart put a firm hand on her shoulder to keep her in place. 

“Explain that remark,” Mart demanded.


“Trixie, I want an answer.”

She stared into her cocoa for a long time, hoping he’d just let it go.  But she knew better.  And, honestly, she needed to let it out.  Of all people, Mart was the safest choice.  Still, she really didn’t want to speak her feelings out loud, because that would make them real.  As long as she buried them, hid them, refused to acknowledge them, they were just shadows.  She didn’t have to feel guilty for something that wasn’t real.

When Mart cleared his throat impatiently, Trixie looked up and fixed her gaze on the lights of the tree.  She swallowed nervously before finally speaking.

“Ever since we formed the Bob-Whites, we’ve always done everything together.  Most of the time, I jumped into some idiotic project or other, and the Bob-Whites jumped in after me.  Half the time I got myself into things I could never have handled on my own, but I never even realized that, because I never was alone.  I never made a fool of myself by being unable to live up to my commitments, because the Bob-Whites always had my back.”  She paused, tears glistening in her big blue eyes.  “I never knew how lucky I was.”

Restless, she bent down and began unlacing her skates.  Mart slowly followed suit, thinking perhaps she would keep talking if they went for a walk.  They silently shoved their feet back into their boots and laced them up, then slung their skates over their shoulders and walked up 50th Street towards Broadway.

Trixie seemed to find solace in the hustle and bustle of the City.  As they crossed the Avenue of the Americas, Trixie spoke again.  “When Maddie was diagnosed, all I saw was someone in need.  And not just someone in need, but someone I cared about.  So I jumped in with both feet.  Into the deep end.  The very deep end.  And it never occurred to me to worry about how deep it was, or how long I could tread water.  I never considered the possibility that I could drown.”

They walked along, the sound of the snow crunching under their feet overpowered by the rumble of traffic, honking of car horns and the murmur of the hundreds of conversations taking place around them.  A limousine pulled up beside them and Steven jumped out.  Trixie rolled her eyes, but obediently climbed in when Steven opened the door.  Mart settled into the warm car with her, and Steven pulled out into the traffic.

“Geez, I didn’t realize how cold I was until I got inside,” Mart said conversationally.

“I don’t remember what it’s like to be warm,” Trixie replied.

There were many layers to that statement, and Mart knew it.  He pulled off his gloves, then removed hers, and began to rub Trixie’s hands.  The simple gesture touched her in a way nothing else had.

She took a shaky breath.  “Don’t get me wrong, Mart.  I understand that both Jim and Honey had issues with their mother’s illness.  And I’m glad the rest of you were there for them.  But I’ve never dived into a big project before and had not one single Bob-White back me up.  Never.”

“So you felt… abandoned,” Mart ventured.

“It’s not as selfish as it sounds,” Trixie quickly defended herself.  “This isn’t about me.  It’s about Maddie.  I know Honey and Jim couldn’t be the ones to sit there, night and day, bathing her, keeping track of her medication, and watching her fade away before their eyes.  I understand that.  I was happy to do that, because I knew they couldn’t.

“All I asked them to do was visit her, let her speak her piece, come and say goodbye, for God’s sake.  But they wouldn’t.  Any time I asked them to paint a damned poster or sneak into an abandoned building, they’d hop right to it.  When I wanted their help with someone they didn’t even know… no problem.  But such a simple request for someone so near and dear, and I get nothing.”

Trixie had pulled her hands away from Mart and was anxiously undoing and re-doing the end of her long braid.  The tears were falling freely now.  “All Maddie wanted to do was say goodbye… to tell them how much she loved them.  They wouldn’t honor their mother’s dying wish.  And you all backed them up.”

They were stopped at the corner of Central Park West and 65th Street, and Trixie was feeling claustrophobic.  She yanked on the door handle and jumped out of the car, taking off at a brisk trot through Central Park.  Steven told Mart he would circle around the south end of the park and meet them back in the same spot.  Mart nodded his agreement and left the car to follow Trixie.  When he caught up with her she was leaning heavily against a tree, struggling to contain her sobs.  He approached cautiously, calling her name.

She whirled on him, eyes blazing.  “You weren’t there!” she yelled.  “All my life, despite every lecture, you were there.  But this time, I felt… condemned.  It was like you were saying I’d made the wrong choice.  But what was I supposed to do?  Abandon Maddie?  Like the rest of you did?  I couldn’t do that!”

Trixie was letting loose with years of pent-up feelings.  Her arms were flailing as she stumbled backward, staggering under the weight of her emotions.  Mart could do naught but stand and wait until she had let it out.  His heart was breaking for the pain she was suffering, but it could never get better until she let it go.

Sinking to her knees in the snow, Trixie choked on her sobs.  “I tried.  I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn’t do it alone.  It wasn’t enough.”

It took Mart a full minute to realize what Trixie meant by her last remark.  He saw his little sister, shattered and broken, the pieces of her heart shredded before him.  He knelt before her, needing to convey his presence through the warmth of human contact.  He placed a hand on either side of her face, gently wiping away her tears with his thumbs.

“Trixie, Maddie’s death was not your fault,” he assured her.

Her eyes pleaded for understanding and forgiveness.  “I did all I could.  I couldn’t help her.”

He pulled her to him and held her tight.  “Yes, you did.”

She shook her head against his chest.  “I didn’t save her.”

“Trix, saving her wasn’t your job.  She had a lot of highly skilled doctors for that, and even they couldn’t save her.  Your job was to love her and support her through her trials.  You did that, and then some.  You did your job, princess.”

Trixie clung to him, crying hard.  She had needed for so very long for someone to tell her it was okay, that it wasn’t her fault.  Mart had found the wound that no one else could see, and had applied a healing salve.






Thursday, February 11, 1999

Chicago, Illinois


The alarm beeped on Dan’s wristwatch, breaking the spell that had fallen over the table as Mart told his story.  They quickly settled their bill and headed for their gate.  By the time they arrived, the airline had begun boarding first class passengers, so the young men went straight to their seats.  Once their carry-ons had been safely stowed in the overhead compartments, the two friends settled down to continue their conversation.

“What happened after that?” Dan asked, both eager and afraid to learn more.

Mart shrugged.  “I carried her back to the limo and took her home.  She cried until she fell asleep, and then I called Matt.  When I told him about our conversation, he got very upset.  I’m not sure if he was angrier with his kids or himself.  The fact that she’d gone nearly two years blaming herself for Maddie’s death, and he hadn’t even known it, hurt him.

“Anyway, he immediately arranged for grief counseling for her, and even promised to go with her.  He didn’t realize it, but he needed it too.  They’ve been going ever since.”

Mart shifted in his seat and sighed.  “She’s a mess.  When I got there she was off work.  Matt had made her stay home after Christmas.  When school started back up, she was still so… fragile.  She couldn’t handle classes and work yet.  She’s only been back to work about a week or so.  Now she’s swamped at work and feeling stressed from that.  And she has yet to see or talk to anyone other than Matt and me.”

He looked at Dan, hoping for his help.  “I know there’s a lot of water under the bridge here, but she needs friends, Dan.  I can’t expect Jim or Honey to reach out to her; there’s too much bad blood there.  She needs to get stronger, because she needs to be the one to reach out to them.  But she needs help getting to that point.”

Dan was still reeling from everything his friend had said.  He felt guilty that he had become so distanced from Trixie that Mart was unsure whether he’d be willing to help.  The Bob-Whites were his family; families weren’t perfect, and they had their problems, but they never stopped loving.  Sometimes they just needed to be reminded to show it.

“What can I do?” he offered.

Mart breathed a sigh of relief.  He’d been pretty sure he could count on Dan, but things among the Bob-Whites were so screwed up that he’d had a few doubts.

“I don’t know how much good it will do, but I was hoping you and Di could meet us for lunch or something sometime during the weekend.”

Dan grinned mischievously.  “As long as it’s not Sunday.  We want Valentine’s Day all to ourselves.”

Mart smiled back, relaxing for the first time in weeks.  “The hardest part’s going to be getting Trixie away from the office.  She’s trying to make up for six weeks off of work in six days.  Matt’s ready to strangle her.”

“Didn’t Mr. Wheeler have someone filling in for her?” Dan asked.

At Dan’s words, Mart did a mental double take.  It sounded so weird to hear “Mr. Wheeler” instead of just “Matt”; he realized that to Dan, the man was still Jim and Honey’s father, and his uncle’s boss.  To Mart, Matt was Trixie’s friend and roommate, swiftly becoming his own friend as well.  The dichotomy of perception was both startling and a little unnerving.

Refocusing on the conversation, Mart responded, “No, no one filled in.  If something was urgent, Margaret handled it.  If it wasn’t, it landed on Trixie’s desk and stayed there.  Trixie came back last week to deep piles.”

“Well, we can’t let her bury herself under the piles,” Dan said, clearly grasping Trixie’s methods for avoiding life.  “Don’t worry; Di will drag her out.”

“Are you sure Di will want to come?” Mart asked.

Now it was Dan’s turn to sigh.  “Di will come, if for no other reason than to save Honey from herself.”

Mart frowned.  “How does lunch with Trixie stop Honey from turning into a whacko?”

“Honey’s snooty attitude is getting on Di’s nerves.  What the girl really needs is for Trixie to yank her down to earth.  If Trixie needs Di’s help to be strong enough to do that, she’ll have it.”  Dan nodded his head to emphasize his firm assertion.

“She’s a very long way from being that strong,” Mart warned.

Dan gave a wry grin.  “Yeah, and I was a very long way from respectable when I came to Sleepyside, but that didn’t stop the Bob-Whites, now did it?”

Mart laughed, his first genuine laugh in quite some time.  He began to think that, just maybe, things would be okay again some day.

“So…” Dan paused, but decided to ask his question anyway.  “This total turn around in your school and finances… it’s because of Trixie, too?”

Nodding, Mart got quiet again.  “You know, freshman year I was just testing my freedom.  But then everything happened with Maddie and the Bob-Whites, and… well, the girls and the partying were just my way of letting off steam, I guess.  But then I kept letting it get worse, until I felt like I was nothing more than a screw-off.

“But the worst part was the distance from my family.  When I left for college, I couldn’t wait to be out on my own.  To just be me, not Brian’s little brother or Trixie and Bobby’s big brother.  In fact, I didn’t want to be known as a Bob-White, either.  I just wanted to be me, whoever that was.”

The flight attendant was standing in the aisle, calling attention to the standard spiel.  Mart closed his eyes and rested his head against the seatback, welcoming the distraction.  Baring one’s soul was exhausting.

Dan allowed the respite until after the flight was in the air and refreshments had been served.  But when Mart reached for the headphones which would plug him into the on-board audio system, Dan stopped him.  Heaving a resigned sigh, Mart turned his attention back to their conversation.

“I let myself get this reputation as a party animal and mooch.  By the time I had a clue who I was, I didn’t like myself.  I’d embarrassed myself and disappointed my family.  I kept hiding myself in my mess, because I couldn’t figure out how to get out of it without taking a really good look at me… and I didn’t want to face myself in the mirror.”

Red-faced, Mart looked away.  Dan eyed his friend carefully.  “If you had turned to us, we’d have been there for you.”

Mart snorted.  “Like we were there for Trixie?”

Wincing, Dan relied, “Touché.”

“Sorry,” Mart sighed.  “Anyway, one night when we were sitting up all night talking, I spilled my guts to Trixie…”





Trixie looked at her brother’s defeated expression, and for the first time in a long time she felt the will to help someone else.  Clasping his hand, she said, “It sounds to me like paying off your debts and working your butt off to graduate on time would change your whole self-image.”

With a wry look, Mart answered, “Probably.  Easier said than done, though.”

“There are plenty of situations that are a lot harder to fix.”  She looked across the room at a photo of Maddie Wheeler.  “And some, you never get the chance to fix.”

Following her gaze, Mart swallowed a lump of guilt.  “I guess my problems don’t seem all that bad, do they?”

Turning back to him, Trixie squeezed his hand.  “Sure they do.  They just don’t seem insurmountable.”  She sat up and leaned forward eagerly.  “If you suddenly had a pile of money right this minute, would you throw a great big party?  Or would you buy yourself the rarest commodity in the world – a clean slate?”

Mart shrugged.  “I’d like to think I’d go with a clean slate, but I doubt it.  I haven’t exactly had a history of smart choices.”

“You can do it, Mart.  I know you can.”  Trixie looked up at him, her eyes alight with confidence and faith.  She believed in him.  “I know you can do it, Mart.  Prove it to yourself… and everyone else.”





Mart shook his head in awe as he looked at Dan, still amazed by his sister.  “The next day we went to the bank and she gave me $10,000 in cash.  She said she’d never ask where the money went.  I could do anything I wanted with it.  Then she gave me the credit card and told me I could use it for anything I wanted.”

Mart stared at his hands as he flexed them nervously.  “I could have done all kinds of stupid things.  But she trusted me.  I just… I wanted to be worthy of her trust.”

Glancing up, he waited for Dan’s reaction.  Eyes narrowed thoughtfully, Dan stared at him for a long time.  Then the corner of his lip curled slightly.  “It sounds to me like she’s still the smartest one of us.”

Breathing a deep sigh of relief, Mart agreed.  “Definitely.”

“So she pulled you up out of your hole, and you want to return the favor.”

“Something like that.”

Dan nodded.  “Only the hole she’s in is a lot deeper, and you can’t do it alone.”


“Count me in.”

Mart felt a crushing weight lift off his chest, as sharing the burden lightened the load.  He began to believe he could help save Trixie from herself, just as she had done for him.


Author's Notes:

First and foremost, I must thank April for sticking with me through thick and thin, feast, famine and drought.  My editor, my friend, I love you.

Since I debuted this uni for Jix's fifth anniversary, it seemed appropriate to post more for the seventh.  Happy 7th Anniversary, Cathy and Jix.  Thanks for the most wonderful place on the web!

The title is from Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scene iii, line 160.




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