The Long Dark Journey


Chapter 3


November 23, 1995


It was barely noon, yet Maddie was exhausted.  She and Matt had spent the morning speculating on Jim’s state of mind, making arrangements regarding the elements of this holiday, and making plans for a family meeting the next day.  Or more accurately, arguing about all of these things.

Realizing that arguing about Jim’s state of mind was fruitless, Matt had set out to locate their son.  Maddie had elected to use her own personal form of therapy, seating herself at the desk in her sitting room and make lists: one was of her staff, reminding her who was where today and when they were expected to return; one was details of refreshments and setting for the family meeting to be held the next day; and the last was points to be covered at said meeting, including the details of Trixie’s diagnosis and treatment plan.

Matt returned and pulled up a chair next to her.  He picked up her first list and skimmed it, quickly tossing it aside.  He did the same with the second.  Maddie finished the third list and then started a new list, this one for packing for their trip to Washington the next week.  Matt started to skim her third list, but then he became engrossed.  He grabbed a pencil and began adding notes of his own.

When Maddie finished her packing list, she considered what kind of list to start next, which of her myriad thoughts to attempt to tame by organizing them on paper in the form of a plan of action.  Instead, she turned to ask her husband, “Any word on Jim?”

Matt grimaced, still focused on making notes on her list.  “He left a message that he was headed to Rochester and then Buffalo.  He plans to return to school from there.  He emphasized that we were not to worry about him and just focus on Trixie.”

Maddie matched his grimace.  “After making us promise not to tell anyone until tomorrow, why did she tell him?  And what the heck did she say to him?”

Setting down his pencil and paper, Matt eyed her thoughtfully.  “Let’s go ask her.”

“But she’s still sleeping!”

“Is she?”  Matt raised a questioning eyebrow.

Maddie narrowed her eyes and tapped her pencil on the desktop.  “She could just be hiding… from the holiday, or from us.  Or trying to hide from us how she’s feeling today, good or bad.”

Matt nodded.  “Want to go find out?”

There was no hesitation in Maddie’s response.  “Absolutely.”

Together they made their way to Trixie’s room.

Maddie eased open the door and poked her head in.  Spotting Trixie curled up on her easy chair, which had been pulled closer to the fireplace, Maddie pushed the door open and pulled Matt inside.  Maddie went over and sat on the floor in front of Trixie’s chair, while Matt pulled the desk chair over so he could sit next to his young ward.

Reluctantly, Trixie met Maddie’s eyes.  Maddie raised one eyebrow.  “What did you tell Jim?”

Trixie shrugged lethargically and looked away.  “The truth.”

“What truth?” Matt asked.  “That you have one of the best doctors in the country?  That your prognosis is excellent?”

Maddie gave him a warning look, and Matt tamped down on his irritation.  More softly, Maddie questioned, “Trixie, did you tell him you have cancer?”

Trixie winced, hating to hear the terrible name.  “I never used that word.”

Matt and Maddie exchanged a worried look.  If Trixie couldn’t even bear to hear the word spoken aloud, then Jim… perhaps they had underestimated the depths of the troubles they faced.

“Did you know that he left?” Matt asked.

Her nod was barely perceptible, but the red flush that followed was easy to spot.  “To be honest, I was relieved.”

All three faces filled with shock.  For her part, Trixie seemed surprised to have spoken out loud.

“Oh my God!  That’s horrible!”  She turned pleading eyes to her guardians.  “Please don’t ever tell anyone I said that!”

Matt and Maddie held each other’s gaze in a long moment of silent communication.  With a slight tilt of his head, Matt conceded the first pass to his wife, the Queen of Tact.

Maddie rose to her knees and took Trixie’s hands in hers.  “Trixie, we need you to be comfortable being honest with us.  It’s safe for you to completely truthful with us, even if you think it’s something we don’t want to hear.”

Matt rested a reassuring hand on her arm.  “We’re here to help you, Little One.  We can’t do that if you’re afraid to tell us how you feel.”

Trixie made a half-hearted attempt at a smile.  “So you’re saying to strike that off my very long list of things to be afraid of right now.”

“Of course,” Maddie nodded.  “What else are you afraid of, sweetheart?”

Trixie sat and stared into the fire.  Her face was pale and weary.  Her shoulders were slumped and she exuded an air of dejection.  She looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.  How could they make her see that this weight was not hers to carry alone?

Speaking haltingly, she said, “I’m afraid of going home.”

“You’re not going home!”  The fierceness in Matt’s voice startled both ladies.

Maddie gently reprimanded, “Matthew, please.”

He waived her aside as he drew attention to his piercing gaze.  Taking a calming breath, he said, “We want you to be honest, so I’m going to be completely honest with you.”

Once he had Trixie’s nod, he continued.  “Like I said the other night, I wish I could wave all my money and just fix the problem, but I can’t.  I have struggled in my life with accepting that fact, but I have also decided that there’s no point in having all this money if I can’t use it where it is helpful.”

He paused to judge her response.  Trixie nodded slightly.

“I’m going to make sure you have the best care there is, no matter what it costs.  We decided yesterday that Dr. Peretti was the best choice for you, and that means a lot of travel back and forth to Washington.  Your parents would never begrudge you that, but it would be a hardship for them to pay for it.  It’s not a hardship for me.

“I refuse to waste time arguing with your father over who’s paying for what.  As long as I’m your legal guardian, the costs are my responsibility.  So you will have as much time as you want and need with your parents, but I refuse to give up guardianship until you have a medical all-clear.  Understand?”

Tears welled up in Trixie’s eyes.  “But what if taking care of me interferes with your real responsibilities?”

Matt’s face softened and he grabbed her hand.  “You are my real responsibility.”

Trixie’s voice hardened.  “I meant Honey and Jim.”

Maddie reached up and stroked her hair.  “Trixie, sweetheart, listen to me.  Having many responsibilities means finding balance and being adaptable.  It’s not something we were always good at, but we’ve learned to make adjustments.

“We moved here because we couldn’t throw money at Honey’s problems, we needed to change our lives, but we didn’t get rid of Wheeler International when we did that.  Matt went from a fifteen-minute commute to a two-hour commute.  I adjusted my community involvement, we changed our travel habits; we did a lot of things to make this work because it was important.  We had to make Honey a priority but we couldn’t abandon our other commitments, so we found a new balance.

“When we adopted Jim, we went from having an only child to two teenagers.  We had to learn how to make Jim feel wanted and like he belonged, without letting Honey feel neglected.  It wasn’t easy, but it was important, so we learned to find the right balance.

“You matter.  Your needs are important.  You will be a priority, but we will find the necessary balance to take care of you without neglecting our other children.”

“Just how many balls can you juggle?” Trixie wailed, tears flowing freely down her face.

Maddie pulled her into a hug, and said, “The more we practice, the better we get.”

Matt wrapped his arms around both of them.  “Little One, don’t worry about us.  Be just a little bit selfish, tell us what you need, and let us make it happen.  Okay?”

Trixie nodded but kept her face buried in Maddie’s neck.  Matt held on for another minute before he gave her a final squeeze and patted Maddie’s shoulder.  He stood and cleared his throat.  “I’m going to take care of a few things and then put in an appearance at the open house.  You ladies relax and rest.”

After he had left the room, Trixie pulled back and used the sleeves of her sweatshirt to wipe her eyes.  “He has to be good at hiding what he’s thinking to be as good as he is in business deals, right?”

“Absolutely, sweetheart,” Maddie smiled reassuringly.  “If he had to answer a question about you right this minute, he’d have trouble hiding his feelings.  But he’ll use a little bit of work to settle himself and clear his head.  By the time he gets to the Farm he’ll be friendly and congenial and able to look anyone in the eye without flinching.”

“What about you?”  Trixie worried.

Maddie stood up and stretched.  “I already told you, if you’re parents are told you’re not feeling well, they’d expect someone to stay with you.  That doesn’t mean I have to stay here, it just means no one will bat an eye when I choose to stay here.”

Trixie frowned as Maddie pulled her to her feet.  “But you’re missing Thanksgiving dinner.”

Maddie led her to the bed and settled her into it.  “Don’t be silly.  Your mother sends food home with everyone.  And if I were really worried about it – which I am not – I have a dozen employees down there who could be asked to bring us dinner.”

Fluffing the pillow behind Trixie, Maddie changed focus.  “Now, speaking of food… what was the last thing you ate?”

Avoiding Maddie’s eyes, Trixie shrugged.  “I don’t remember.”

Striving to keep her worry from her face, Maddie asked, “How is the nausea?”

“The worse my head hurts, the more likely I am to throw up.  The more I cry, the worse my head hurts.”  Trixie looked up, pain evident behind the welling tears.  “I wish I could just stop crying.”

“Oh, sweetheart,” Maddie gave her a hug.  “Why don’t you take a nap, and we’ll wait until you’re a little rested to try to get some nourishment into you.”

“Okay,” Trixie agree too easily, closing her eyes and snuggling down.

Maddie kissed her forehead and turned off the bedside lamp.  As she exited the room, she said a fervent prayer that Trixie would actually sleep.  The desire to stand over her to make sure that she did warred with the certain knowledge that her presence would only impede her goal.

Instead of the bustle of half the town that would be crowding Crabapple Farm on this holiday, it seemed Maddie’s primary companions of the day were to be frustration and worry.




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Author's Notes:


For seven long years, you've been patient with me while I juggled work, a family, and college/grad school.  I have tried to be faithful in return, but it has been a struggle.  I offer you this chapter as a way of saying, be patient just a little bit longer.  My long journey is almost over, so perhaps Trixie's can speed up a bit next year.  Thank you for your support!



The Long Dark Journey