The Long Dark Journey




November 21, 1995


The wind howled, whipping trees this way and that.  Piles of fallen leaves were whooshed across the broad expanse of a lawn.  The world outside was loud and chaotic, nature out of control.

Inside the house, it was cozy and warm and still.  The clear glass window was a sufficient barrier between chaos and peace.

Or so it might seem.

Trixie sat on the window seat staring out at the chaos, and reflected that the calm and quiet was a lie.  Nature was out of control inside, as well.  Inside of her.  But the barrier between the chaos and the calm was not so transparent, rendering the chaos invisible to the outside.

How real is evil when it can’t be seen?

A surge of searing, blinding pain answered the question, leaving intense throbbing and nausea in its wake.  It was as if the thing inside of her was mocking Trixie.  Don’t think I’m not here, just because you can’t see me.

The doctors had found a tumor in her brain.  Tomorrow they would have the test results on whether it was benign or malignant, but Trixie already knew the answer.  The tumor was evil, pure evil.  Since the word “malignant” was derived from the word for “evil”, clearly the tumor was malignant.

As unscientific as that answer was, Trixie knew, absolutely knew, it was the truth.

A single tear made its way down her cheek.

Taking a deep breath, she tried to push back the pain and stop the flow.  Instead, a tidal wave crashed over her and she began to sob.

There was a soft knock at the door, but Trixie couldn’t hear it over the sound of her own weeping.

Then Matt Wheeler was there, wrapping his strong arms around her.  As she buried her face in his shoulder, he lifted her and carried her to her bed.  He held her and rocked her gently, until the storm of emotion had passed.

When Trixie had nothing left but a few hiccups and stray tears, she gratefully took the tissues Matt handed her.  She was spent; she could barely lift her arms to wipe her face.  Her head still tucked in the crook of Matt’s shoulder, she sighed deeply.  “You must be a glutton for punishment.”

“Not at all,” he soothed.  “It makes me feel like I’m doing something useful.  Spending money and throwing my weight around are easy, but that’s not enough this time.”  He hugged her a little tighter.  “You have the hardest job here, and I can’t just pay someone else to do it for you.”

“At least it’s not Honey.”

“Believe it or not, that might be easier.”

Trixie sat bolt upright and looked at him like he had lost his mind.  Matt shrugged helplessly.

“I know you think that sounds crazy.  But,” Matt sighed, struggling to find the right words.  “Honey has gotten sick before.  And gotten better.  Several times.  If she were the one being diagnosed with something life-threatening, I would have no trouble picture her getting better, because we’ve been there before.  I could hold onto the image of her getting better, look past how serious this time is, and push forward.”

Frowning, he started fluffing the pillows behind her.  “I just can’t picture you being sick.  It makes it more shocking…harder to deal with.”

Trixie swallowed around the lump in her throat and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Hooking a finger under her chin, Matt made her look at him.  His voice trembled as he tried to control the flash of temper she saw in his green eyes.  “Don’t you DARE apologize, to me or anyone else.  You did nothing wrong.  This is not your fault.  Do you hear me?”

His gaze was so fierce, and Trixie knew he wanted her promise, so she nodded.  It was a hesitant nod, however, and Matt was not convinced.

“I mean it, Trixie.  A thousand people are going to be apologizing to you.”

Genuinely perplexed, Trixie interrupted.  “Why?”

Matt took her hands in his and tried to explain.  “The natural reaction from everyone who cares about you is going to be, ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you.’ Or ‘I’m sorry I can’t take this away from you.’  You are going to hear the words ‘I’m sorry’ so much it will make you want to scream.

“Suck it up.  Accept the love and care behind the words.  And don’t say it back.”

Trixie held his gaze for a long time.  This time, her nod was more confident.  The act of agreeing made her feel stronger.

Matt was firm with his next words.  “I don’t care how foreign it is to you, for the time being you are not allowed to worry about anyone else; not me, not Maddie, not your parents, not the Bob-Whites or Bobby… no one but you.  This is your time.

“You focus all of your energy on yourself.  You accept all of the love and support the rest of us can manage to heap on you.  Because, no matter how much we’d like to take care of this for you, only you can beat this.  And the best thing you can do for the rest of us is win.”

Trixie’s eyes were clear and her voice was strong when she responded, “On one condition.”

Raising one eyebrow and wondering if he was about to sell his soul to Satan, Matt asked, “What’s that?”

“You don’t say anything to anyone until Friday.”

Jumping up and pacing the room, Matt growled and dragged a hand through his hair.  “You see?  This is exactly what I’m talking about!”

From her position on the bed, she crossed her arms regally over her chest.  “And I see your point.  So I’ll play the game your way…if you don’t ruin Thanksgiving.”

He glared at her.  “You don’t even know what they’re going to say tomorrow.”

“No matter what, I’ll have to have surgery.  The entire town celebrates Thanksgiving at Crabapple Farm.  All these freakin’ ‘I’m sorry’ s you keep talking about don’t have to happen all at once!”

Anger at the injustice of her situation fueled Trixie’s anger as she glared at him.  It was more than enough to overcome the intimidation of facing off against the big and powerful man before her.

The standoff ended when he scrubbed both hands over his face and plopped down beside her on the bed.  His face buried in his hands, he muttered, “Now I understand how the Bob-Whites got involved in every idiot caper ever.”

Trixie tried to stifle a giggle.  When he lowered his hands to pout at her with a distinct twinkle in his eye, she gave up trying.  The giggles worked their way up to full blown laughter, which felt wonderful.  Matt’s grin only encouraged her.

When she’d laughed herself out, she lay back against the pillows and smiled at him.  “Thank you.”

He smiled back.  “You’re welcome.”  He pulled covers up and tucked her in like a little child, dropping a kiss on her forehead.  “Goodnight, Little One.  Sleep well.”

The emotional roller coaster had exhausted her, and she was asleep before the door closed behind him.  She might even have slept well, too, except for the one final thought that snuck through her mind just before she drifted off.

How in the hell is Jim Frayne going to react to hearing I have cancer?

Thus began the nightmares.



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Author's Notes:


I can't believe it's been ten years!

First and foremost, THANK YOU to AprilW for sticking with me through thick and thin.  You've been my editor, my friend, and so much more.  I adore you!


Congratulations to all the other members of the Jixemitri Author Class of 2004:  PatK, StephH, and AprilW.  Can you believe we're still here?  Here's to ten more!


Thank you, dear readers, both old and new.  Every now and then, when I think there's no reason to return to these characters I love so much, I get an email or a comment from someone to remind me that others love them just as much.  Your encouragement means a great deal.  Thank you!


Thanks to Julie Campbell, for her wonderful characters, which now belong to Random House, and which I am shamelessly borrowing without permission. 


The Long Dark Journey