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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
“Trixie, Maddie’s death was not your fault,” he
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
She shook her head against his chest. “I didn’t save
“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