November 22, 1995
The minute they returned to Manor House, Trixie retreated to her room. Expecting the answer and hearing it out loud were two different things.
Finally alone, Trixie dropped the façade of being fine like a lead weight. Sinking to the floor, she wrapped her arms around her stomach. She felt sick, like she’d been punched in the gut. This was unlike all of the nausea and vomiting she’d experienced lately; this was a new and unpleasant feeling.
Reaching desperately for control, she began practicing the deep breathing techniques her therapist had taught her. The roaring in her ears subsided and her pulse slowed to a sensible rate. She then realized that not all of the noise had been in her head.
Following the pleasant sound of a crackling fire, Trixie crawled over to the sitting area of her spacious room. Some kind soul on the household staff – likely Celia – had lit her fireplace. Deciding that standing took too much effort, Trixie yanked a blanket off the bed and dragged it over in front of the fireplace. She lay down and stared into the flames.
She was exhausted and could use some sleep, but preferred to avoid any more nightmares. Instead, she stared at the mesmerizing flames and allowed their hypnotic light to blank her mind.
Trixie needed her mind to be blank. She needed to stop thinking… remembering.
Trixie had been surprised when her appointment at the hospital had not taken place in yet another examination room. Instead, she and the Wheelers were led to a conference room. Waiting for them inside had been Dr. Ferris, Dr. Lewis (Trixie’s psychologist, whose presence had mystified Trixie), and three other doctors. She had recognized Dr. Elaine Seager, Sleepyside General’s head of neurology, as she had administered several of Trixie’s tests. The other two men had been strangers.
In an instant, Trixie had formed an impression of the two men: the blond man with the bottled tan was pompous and arrogant, while the brown-haired gentleman with a touch of grey at the temples and gentle blue eyes was kindly and wise. As the meeting played out, Trixie could see that her initial assessment had been perfectly accurate.
The pompous man was a specialist from New York City that the hospital had called in to consult on her case. The kind man, on the other hand, was a college friend of Matt Wheeler’s who was also a specialist in her particular type of tumor. Matt had requested that his friend review the test results to give a second opinion. Dr. Stephen Peretti had scanned the information he’d been sent, and had then decided to fly up from Georgetown University Medical Center to attend the meeting in person.
By the middle of the meeting, it had become obvious that the New York specialist – whose name Trixie couldn’t even remember, she could only think of him as Dr. Pompous – was thoroughly offended that Wheeler had had the audacity to request any opinion other than his own. It had become clear that Trixie couldn’t stand Dr. Pompous.
Matt had thanked him for his time and expertise and sent him packing.
The discussion had proceeded with Dr. Peretti outlining a treatment plan and making various arrangements. Trixie listened, but her attention kept being drawn away from the conversation and focusing on the expressions on the faces of Matt and Maddie Wheeler. They remained calm and composed, but she could see the pain in their eyes.
As Trixie had watched the Wheelers try to hide the pain, she kept imagining similar reactions from her own parents, from the other Bob-Whites, and from other family and friends. The more she visualized their shock, horror and sadness, the worse she felt about causing them pain.
At that point, it had become clear why Dr. Lewis was at this medical meeting regarding Trixie’s physical health. Over the din of the discussion, a sharp voice had called out and brought all conversation to an abrupt halt.
“Trixie, STOP feeling guilty!”
Everyone had turned to Trixie, who had looked back at them with a deer-in-the-headlights expression. Dr. Peretti had risen and walked around the table, turning Trixie’s swivel chair outward and kneeling in front of her. Once they were eye to eye and he had her full attention, he had spoken gently.
“Do you think there was something specific you did that caused this tumor?” After Trixie had offered a noncommittal shrug, he’d changed direction with his next question.
“Do you believe Honey did something to make it her fault that she looks like her mother and not her father?”
Trixie’s expression had changed from timid and scared to incredulous and she’d looked at him like he was stupid. “How could she?” she asked with a frown. “That’s just nature.”
Dr. Peretti had raised one eyebrow. “So you and your brothers all look exactly the same?”
She had narrowed her eyes and searched his face. Unable to decide on the appropriate line of response, she settled for a simple, “No.”
He continued on in a relaxed, conversational tone. “Do you think someone who is born blind should consider that their fault?”
Getting irritated, Trixie crossed her arms and answered indignantly, “Of course not!”
“Exactly.” Dr. Peretti had crowed triumphantly. “This isn’t your fault, it just happened… so don’t waste your energy feeling guilty. You’ll need all that energy to join me in the adventure of kicking this tumor’s butt!”
He’d grinned, Trixie had giggled, and the meeting had gone on. They’d wrapped up pretty quickly, leaving while Trixie was still feeling “up”.
Unfortunately, that feeling hadn’t lasted very long, and instead Trixie was brooding morosely by the fire.
When Madeleine entered the room to check on her charge, she stopped by the doorway. The room had grown dark with the early sunset of late fall, the only light coming from the hearth. The firelight cast a golden glow upon the cascade of curls lying before it.
Despite having listened carefully to all the details of what was to come, some things had not fully registered yet. Maddie stifled a sob as it dawned on her that all those beautiful curls were going to be shaved off Trixie’s head. They were so much a part of Trixie’s vibrance and energy that losing them was going to be a visible, painful stab to the heart of all those who cared about her.
“I’m not sleeping, you know.” Trixie’s voice startled Maddie out of her reverie.
Crossing the room and sitting beside her, Maddie asked, “Why not?”
Her reply was succinct. “Not ready to face the nightmares.”
“Oh, my darling,” Maddie sighed. She reached out to stroke the beautiful hair that would soon be gone. All it would take would be a few minutes with an electric shaver, and that would be the end of that. Why couldn’t it be that easy to make the nightmares go away?
“Is there anything I can do?”
Trixie sighed. “I meant what I said about not telling anyone tomorrow, but I’m just not a good enough actress to pull this off. I can’t go to the farm.”
Maddie frowned. “I’m not going to leave you here alone.”
“I’m not two,” Trixie’s response was a bit snippy.
Sighing, Maddie tried to contain her exasperation. “Darling, we’ve promised your parents to take the best possible care of you. The only explanation I can imagine giving for you to skip the Open House is to simply say you’re not feeling well. Leaving you here alone won’t qualify as proper care in your parents’ eyes.”
Trixie shrugged. “So? No matter what you say, everyone will just assume I’m avoiding them.”
“If I leave you here alone to sulk, yes. If I feel the need to stay here and take care of you, no. Your parents will believe you’re not feeling well. They’ll worry about you, but will accept that you are being tended to as needed.”
“Great.” Bitterness laced her voice. “So my parents believe you. What’s going to keep everyone else’s tongues from wagging?”
Maddie chuckled. “Matt. Who would dare to gossip while he’s giving them the evil eye?”
That earned a giggle from Trixie. Sobering, she said, “I just need tomorrow to be as normal as possible, because on Friday all hell is going to break loose.”
“That’s not your fault,” Maddie stated firmly.
“I got the message,” Trixie said. “Lack of blame doesn’t change the facts. And the facts suck.”
“I know, sweetheart.” Needing to be positive for both of them, Maddie said, “Dr. Peretti is very good, you know.”
“I like him. Much better than Dr. Pompous.”
A startled laugh nearly choked Maddie. “Dr. Pompous?” she giggled. “Oh, that’s perfect!”
“You don’t always have to have Mart’s vocabulary to find the right word to describe someone,” Trixie grinned over her shoulder.
Maddie grinned back. “True. Some people make it easy.”
“I like Dr. Peretti. I feel like I’m in good hands.” She rolled over to face her guardian, her eyes clouded with worry. “But Georgetown is far away.”
Grabbing her hand and giving it a squeeze, Maddie reassured her. “Don’t worry about a thing. You won’t even realize you’ve left town.”
Trixie frowned. “You’re going to go overboard, aren’t you?”
Arching one eyebrow regally, Maddie replied, “There is no such thing as going too far in seeing that you have the best ammunition to guarantee your victory.”
Snorting, Trixie said, “Yeah, right.”
“Now you listen to me, young lady,” Maddie scolded. “You have one job and one job only: beat this. Everything else is my problem. Forget the details and stay focused, and let me take care of the rest.”
Trixie held her gaze for the longest time, wanting to argue but realizing Maddie was right. She finally conceded with a nod.
“Good girl.” Maddie patted her shoulder. “You should get some rest. Do you want a sleeping pill?”
“No.” The answer was quick and sharp. She rolled back to her side. “I’m just going to stay here by the fire. It’s soothing.”
Maddie hesitated. It struck her as wrong to leave the girl lying on the floor, but she had promised to do whatever was necessary for her comfort. Resigned, she said, “If you need anything, let me know. The only people in the house tonight are you, me and Matt. Don’t hesitate if you need us, and don’t consider it a bother. Okay?”
Maddie wasn’t at all satisfied with Trixie’s dismissive nod, but she could tell it was all she was going to get. She left her charge alone and wandered down the hall to her own sitting room. Sinking into a chair by her own fire, she allowed her mind to wander to the family down the hill.
Suddenly she remembered the nature of Helen’s recurring nightmares. Her blood ran cold as Maddie wondered if Helen was merely having premonitions. Helen’s terrified whisper of, “She’s going to die!” echoed through Maddie’s mind.
Maddie thought Trixie might sleep tonight, but she was pretty sure she was going to be the one having nightmares.
Yes, it has been an entire year since I posted a chapter. Sorry! This journey will be long. I won't promise to finish any more quickly than Dance until I'm certain I can accomplish that. ;)
Thanks to Bonnie H for the quick edit. You rock!
Thanks to Julie Campbell, for her wonderful characters, which now belong to Random House, and which I am shamelessly borrowing without permission.