Will You Dance,

If I Ask You to Dance?




The large kitchen at Manor House was fairly crowded.  Madeleine Wheeler was discussing the menu for the weekend with Cook and Miss Trask, while Matt Wheeler sat at the table with Regan and Tom, discussing estate business.  Celia poured coffee for the men, while Honey just sat contentedly in the corner, watching them all.  There was something so homey about a crowded kitchen, even in this spacious mansion, which provided a comforting shelter from the storm raging just outside the windows.

The quiet chattering was interrupted by a loud pounding at the kitchen door.  Honey rushed to answer it, startled to find a drenched Mart quivering in the roaring wind.  She quickly pulled him inside so she could shut out the storm.

Mart immediately turned toward the men now standing at attention around the table, panic filling his voice.  “You’ve got to help me!  I can’t find her.  She’s out there somewhere!”

Guessing the answer already, Regan asked the question anyway.  “Who’s out there, Mart?”

“Trixie.”  His voice cracked, and he seemed to be on the verge of tears.  “She had a big fight with my parents, and she ran out.  She’s out there, and I can’t find her.”

Matt’s green eyes met Maddie’s anxious hazel ones.  Evidently, circumstances in the Belden household were getting worse instead of better.  He sighed before taking control of the situation.  “Margery, call Maypenny and have him and Dan meet us out there.  Regan, Tom, grab your raincoats.  Mart, stay here and dry off.”

By the time her father had finished issuing orders, Honey had brought him his own coat.  Seeing the fear in her eyes, he gave her a reassuring hug.  “Don’t worry, sweetheart.  We’ll find her.”

Mart moved to follow the men, but Maddie took him in hand.  “Let’s get you dried off and warmed up.  Then you can explain to me what happened.”

After a moment of indecision, Mart nodded reluctantly.  While his heart told him to rush back out into the storm and search for his sister, his head told him that, right now, Maddie Wheeler was probably the only person in whom he could confide.  The others would find his sister, but Trixie needed a lot more help than just being pulled in out of the rain.

Celia and Cook had scurried out of the room, having been given tasks elsewhere by Maddie as she left the room with Mart.  Honey found herself alone in the kitchen, breathless from the whirlwind that had just blown through.  Staring out the window at the storm, she felt so utterly helpless.  She said a quick, heartfelt prayer for her friend’s safety and wished desperately that she could do more.





Jim and Chelsea sat in the car in the lonely cemetery.  The rain was not nearly as bad in Rochester as it had been for most of the trip, but it was still coming down steadily.  At the least, the downpour made for a good excuse not to rush out of the car.

Instead, Jim started telling Chelsea about his father.  They sat there for two hours while he told story after story from his childhood.  The longer he talked, the deeper he dug past the pain of his father’s funeral until he was wading in visions of love and laughter.  For once, thinking about the happy times didn’t hurt.

When he finally fell silent, he focused his attention on the field of graves before him.  Jim hadn’t been here since the funeral and had never, in fact, seen the headstone.  But the memories of that day were emblazoned in his mind, and he didn’t need to be told where to look.  Without a word, he took a deep breath before getting out of the car and walking to his father’s resting place.

Chelsea waited in the car, giving Jim some time alone with his father and his memories.  When he returned, she graciously pretended the tears running down his face were just raindrops.

“All set?” she asked.  Her voice was subdued, bowing to the solemnity of the moment.

Jim nodded without looking at her.  His mind was elsewhere, and he was reluctant to return to the present.

Chelsea started the car and headed back to the highway that had brought them here.  Seeing that Jim was not in a talking mood, she placed a CD of classical music in the player, hoping the soothing sounds would ease the silence.

A couple of hours down I-90, Jim turned to Chelsea.  “Thank you for this.”

She smiled.  “You’re welcome.  Believe it or not, driving you around was better than anything else I had planned for today.”

Jim chuckled, a genuine smile filling his handsome face.  “Would you mind terribly doing one more thing for me?”

Curious, Chelsea asked, “Like what?”

“Taking another detour.  I’d really like to talk to Dad.  We could swing by Sleepyside, and you could at least get a good meal and some sleep.  Would you mind?”

Laughter filled the air.  With a twinkle in her eye, Chelsea answered, “I told you I spent all my time in high school reading magazines about the rich and powerful.  As a business major, Matt Wheeler is one of my idols.  Do I look dumb enough to turn down an invitation to his house?”

Grinning back at her, Jim said, “Well, you don’t look that dumb… but looks can be deceiving.  I just had to check.”

She stuck out her tongue at him, while mentally calculating the distance to the turnoff for I-87 south.  Chelsea thought about the fact that she was teasing and joking around with this incredible, handsome guy who was now taking her home to meet his parents.  Even with a seven-hour detour to a cemetery, this date was turning out much better than she could have imagined.





When Trixie had rushed out of the kitchen, she had had no conscious thought other than to get away… away from the pain, away from the pressure, away from the nightmares, away from the guilt.  This chaos was all her fault.  She kept thinking that she had actually driven her mother crazy, the words reverberating over and over in her mind.  With each repetition another wave of despair and agony crashed into her, battering her heart and soul.

She ran until her heart was pounding so hard that she couldn’t breathe.  She had to slow down, not because she wanted to, but because she had no energy left.  Then she slipped on the wet leaves under her feet and went flying, crashing to a sudden halt and landing face first in the mud.  The blood surged through her head at such a frantic pace it felt like it would crash through her skull.  The dank, gritty taste of dirt in her mouth was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, and she heaved what breakfast she had eaten all over the sodden leaves in front of her.

When the walls of her stomach ceased their attempt to climb out her throat and gradually settled back to their rightful position, she fought to restore oxygen to her lungs.  Slowly and weakly crawling away from the mess, Trixie collapsed limply a few yards away.  A remote part of her mind registered that she was in the same clearing by the brook where she and Jim had sat and laughed only the previous weekend.  It seemed so very long ago.  Jim seemed so far away.  Laughter seemed so foreign.

Instead, she was alone and afraid.  She felt like she was trapped inside some hideous bubble that was cutting off her oxygen and suffocating her.  Her friends were all right there, in plain sight, but they couldn’t see the bubble or hear her cries.  They were there, within a hand’s reach, but the bubble was too strong.  It was crushing her, and she was going to die alone, in the middle of the crowd.

Trixie let the tears come.  She was tired of crying, but at this moment tears were all she had left.  The agony in her heart exploded in loud, racking sobs, but the sound was lost in the raging cry of the storm around her.





Mart had taken a quick shower and thrown on an old sweat suit of Jim’s.  Now, he was anxiously pacing the length of Mr. Wheeler’s study, where Mrs. Wheeler had taken him for a private conversation.  At her urging, Mart told Maddie the story of this morning’s encounter between Trixie and their parents.  When he finished relating his own explosion at the end, he was rather red-faced, but Maddie just smiled reassuringly, giving him the encouragement to continue.  Feeling she was someone on whom he could rely, Mart confided in Maddie about several other things that were bothering him.

“My concern isn’t just about this morning, Mrs. Wheeler,” Mart began.  “Even before this latest incident, I needed to find someone I could talk to.”  He hesitated, searching for balance.  He was so used to being fairly well grown up; going to an adult for assistance seemed like taking the child’s way out.  The only adults he would normally consider helpful and trustworthy were his parents; obviously they weren’t going to be any help right now.  But he couldn’t handle this alone, and his sister was more important than his pride.  He took a deep breath and plunged ahead.  “Trixie needs help.”

Maddie frowned.  “What kind of help, Mart?” she asked.

“I don’t know… counseling, I guess.”  Mart groaned in aggravation.  “Brian thinks she has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”  He then related his conversation with Brian from the night before, including all the details about Beth.

Maddie leaned against the desk, arms firmly folded across her chest and lips pressed tightly together.  “Medical training aside, do you agree with Brian’s assessment?”

Mart nodded.  “I agreed last night.  And that was before Trixie told me about her nightmares.”

Quirking an eyebrow, Maddie asked, “What nightmares?”

Shivering from the memory, Mart responded, “They’re awful.  She told me all about seeing every criminal she’s ever encountered coming back for revenge.  They’re each attacking one of the Bob-Whites or our families.  She gave me vivid details, encompassing all five senses, of graphic torture in specific ways.  I’m not sure I can even remember all she told me, but I do remember her talking about Tilney Britten kidnapping Diana and Pierre Lontard assaulting Honey.  But the two that were really bothering her were Dan and Jim.”

When Mart stopped speaking, Maddie waited for him to continue.  Even after her gently prodding, “Go on,” he hesitated, as if unwilling to venture into Trixie’s darkness.

Finally, Mart spoke again.  “In her dreams, Luke is repeatedly stabbing Dan.  Except that Trixie has already blown his face off, so it’s a nearly decapitated Luke that’s doing it.  Lots of blood and gore in that description.  And Jim…”  His voice trailed off, and he spent several moments clenching his jaw and swallowing hard before he could continue.

“She’s got a detailed mental picture of Jonesy tying Jim to a bed and horse-whipping him, all the while saying he’d have left Jim alone if it weren’t for ‘that meddling girl’.  It’s like she believes Jonesy’ll come after Jim again, and it’ll be all her fault.”

“Oh, God!” Maddie threw her head back and moaned.  “I think Brian’s right… this is definitely going to require professional help.  Of course, after her reaction to your mother’s announcement this morning, I’m sure it’s going to take some serious strong-arm tactics to get Trixie to a psychiatrist.”

Mart leaned against the desk, relieved to have talked to someone about his worries.  Maddie took his place pacing the room, while she tried to think of a solution for helping Trixie.





The raging clouds blackened the heavens, giving the mid-morning sky the appearance of a dark and stormy night.  Matt Wheeler held his arm across the front of his face in a vain attempt to protect it from the pelting rain as he squinted at the landscape before him, the shadows of the preserve barely illuminated by his flashlight.

How on earth would they ever find Trixie in this weather?

Just then, he spotted a strange coloration in one of the many puddles along the path.  Kneeling to examine the spot, he was fairly certain it was vomit.  He grimaced, rather glad the storm was rinsing the land clean and the wind had already whisked the scent away.  Matt also took heart from the discovery; Trixie couldn’t be far.

Shining his flashlight along the ground near where he knelt, Matt looked for some indication of Trixie’s travels.  Despite the rain, he was able to find drag marks through the trail of leaves and follow them.  About fifteen yards away, he found a muddy rise in the trail.  After a moment he realized the lump was actually a huddled human form.

As he approached her, Matt could hear Trixie’s choking sobs.  What truly broke his heart, though, was hearing her whimper, “Please, God, just let me die.”

“Not a chance, Little One,” Matt said, as he gently lifted her out of the mud.  “He has much more important things in mind for you than that.”

Making a weak attempt to struggle against his help, Trixie cried, “Just leave me here!”

Matt straddled the large log that dominated the clearing, and sat Trixie down in front of him.  He held her against his chest while he shrugged out of his raincoat to wrap it around her.  Lines of concern creased his brow; he didn’t like her apparent mental state.  “I would never just leave you!  Don’t you know you’re as precious to me as my own children?”

“And how many times have I almost gotten them killed?” she sobbed, arguing with him even as she leaned against him, unconsciously seeking his warmth.

He held her against him, trying to shelter and comfort her.  He couldn’t imagine what demons were plaguing her to cause this line of thinking.  “That doesn’t matter.  Any trouble you’ve gotten my kids into has been far outweighed by the good you’ve done for my family.  Besides,” he said, trying to inject some humor into his voice, “you provide the adventure in our lives.”

“I-I d-don’t want any m-more adventure,” she sputtered, her teeth beginning to chatter.

A wave of shock washed over Matt.  This was not Trixie talking.  “Well, you could certainly use a break from it for awhile.  More importantly, you need to get out of this storm.  Now, put your arms around my neck.” 

As Trixie wearily obeyed, Matt easily lifted her.  In fact, as he carried her towards safety he wondered how she could possibly, soaking wet and covered in mud, still feel so light.  He would have to mention that to Maddie, along with their conversation.

Just ahead, he heard Dan calling out Trixie’s name.  Matt headed for the source of the sound and whistled as he went.  Bob, bob-white.  He was once again grateful that Jim had taught them all that whistle.

Dan hurried toward Matt.  Trixie’s arms were around Matt’s neck, her head on his shoulder and her eyes closed.  She was pale, drenched in mud, and seemingly oblivious to her surroundings.  Looking worriedly at the man carrying her, Dan asked, “Is she okay?”

Matt nodded.  “I’ve just got to get her inside and dried off.  Find your uncle and the others and have everyone head back to Manor House.”

Dan rushed off to do his bidding, and Matt hurried for the shelter of the mansion on the hill.





Honey burst through the doors of the study.  “Daddy’s back!  He’s got Trixie!”

She turned around and ran for the front hall, with Mart and Maddie right on her heels.  Matt had already reached the bottom of the main staircase, tossing orders over his shoulder as he went.

“Celia, Dan was rounding up the others and bringing them back here.  Make sure Cook’s got something hot for them to drink, and help them get dried off and warmed up.  Margery, come help get Trixie cleaned up.”

Maddie countermanded his instructions.  “Honey, Mart, go help Cook.  Celia, come upstairs with us.  Matt, please take her to the Blue Room.”

Matt carried his shivering, sodden burden up the wide staircase, uncaring of the water and mud he was dripping onto the plush maroon carpet.  Maddie hurried past him.  “Miss Trask and I will see to Trixie, Matt.  You need to get yourself cleaned up.”

Honey started to follow her parents up the staircase, but Mart put out an arm to stop her.  “Maybe we should do what your mother asked.”

A shocked Honey whirled on Mart, but stopped short when she saw his face.  He followed Trixie’s progress up the stairs with his eyes, clearly struggling to contain his own desire to take charge of helping his sister.  At that moment, it dawned on Honey that she had more than one friend in a lot of pain today.

Forcing a weak smile onto his face, Mart turned to her.  “Besides, I don’t want to give my sister a bath.  Ick factor and all, you know.”

Returning his smile, Honey grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze.  “Come on.  Let’s go help Cook and wait for Dan.”

The two reluctantly turned away from the staircase and went to the large kitchen at the rear of the house.

Meanwhile, after carefully setting Trixie on the bed in the guest room Maddie had selected, Matt pulled his wife aside.  “Maddie, she asked me to leave her there to die,” he whispered harshly.

She ran a hand through her hair, groaning in frustration.  “That sounds about right.  After I take care of her, I’ll tell you about my discussion with Mart.  Go take a shower first, darling, before you catch your death of pneumonia.”

A very tense Matt exited the room, leaving the women to their ministrations.  While Celia drew a hot bath, Miss Trask went to call Dr. Ferris.  Maddie tended to Trixie herself.  The young woman stirred and wakened just as Maddie was undressing her.  Maddie soothed her, finishing her task and helping Trixie to the tub.  She had expected a protest; Trixie was usually so independent.  When she was met by no resistance, only listless compliance, Maddie’s worry increased.

While she bathed her, Maddie asked Trixie about the incident that morning.  What little Trixie said matched the substance of Mart’s account, except that she kept talking about everything being her fault, and Trixie’s every word and expression was laden with the intense guilt she was feeling.  Seeing how agitated Trixie was getting, Maddie changed the subject to nonsensical things, trying to reassure her and calm her down.

By the time Maddie was done, Celia and Miss Trask had removed all the muddy garments, put clean linens on the bed, retrieved a warm nightgown, and brought up some hot chocolate and some warm broth.  Once Trixie was settled in the bed, Dr. Ferris, who had rushed right over, came in and checked her out.  After a brief visit with the distraught girl, he gave her a sedative and ordered her to sleep.

Maddie then led Dr. Ferris to the study, where Matt was waiting for them.  The three closed themselves off for a very long discussion.  When they were done, they left the house together and headed for Crabapple Farm.  They said nothing to anyone else, except to let Miss Trask know they were leaving.

While her parents were behind closed doors, Honey tried to go upstairs to see Trixie.  Miss Trask stopped her at the top of the stairs and sent her back down, saying Trixie was sleeping and Mrs. Wheeler had ordered that she not be disturbed.  Thoroughly frustrated, Honey then dragged Dan and Mart into the library.  She called Di and told her to get over to Manor House ASAP.  Then she began to interrogate Mart.  Mart shared the morning’s encounter, although he seemed reluctant to let his friends know his mother’s troubles.

“I just don’t get it,” Honey sighed.  “Why is Trixie so upset?  I mean, Moms has been a basket case, but now Moms is getting help.  What’s wrong with that?”

“Because,” Mart said in a tight voice, while pinching the bridge of his nose, “Trixie thinks she caused Moms to have problems.  She blames herself.”

Diana walked in just then.  Now what is Trixie blaming herself for?”

Dan gave her a quick recap.

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” Di exclaimed.  “Of all the crazy situations she’s ever gotten herself in, this is the last one she should be feeling guilty about.  How can she possibly think this is her fault?”

Honey sighed.  “Because she’s Trixie.”

“The real question,” Dan interjected, “is how do we help her?”

“She’s beyond our help,” was Mart’s woebegone response.  “She needs professional help.”

Honey paused, her shock clearly evident, before answering.  “Well, that just means she’s going to need us even more.  Knowing Trixie, she’ll take that as a sign of weakness and failure.  We have to be there for her to convince her that getting the help she needs is a sign of strength.”

While the others murmured their agreement, Mrs. Lynch entered the room.  She explained that Mrs. Wheeler had left a message requesting that she take Honey and Diana on their planned shopping trip.  While they were out, the three were to pick something out for Trixie as well. 

Honey objected vehemently.  “We can’t leave now!  Trixie needs us to be here!”

Mrs. Lynch disagreed.  “According to Miss Trask, Trixie has been heavily sedated and will be unconscious for several hours.  You can be here for her when we get back.”

Honey continued to object, but Mrs. Lynch would not be swayed.  She whisked the girls away, despite Honey’s protests.

Once the girls were gone, Mart and Dan were left to their own devices.  They considered escaping from the house, but Miss Trask quickly cut them off.  She informed them in no uncertain terms that, as long as they remained in the rec room or the library, they could do as they pleased.  If they ventured outside of the boundaries she had set, however, she would put them to work polishing the silver.  The two boys decided that parking themselves in front of a video game was better than getting in trouble with Miss Trask.  Besides, it was easier for guys to talk about deep things while focused on a game, and there was much to discuss.





Brian walked up the stairs to his dorm, returning from a morning study session for Chemistry 101.  The lobby was crowded; there was a line for the slowest elevator known to man; and he was worried about the fact that Jim had not come home last night.  The walk up the four flights of stairs seemed like a good way to clear his head.

Emerging on his floor, he noticed a figure standing by his door, and a smile lit up his face as he recognized his girlfriend.  “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Ria had been watching the elevator and was startled to hear the rich, warm voice come from behind her.  She turned, but the smart retort died on her lips when she caught sight of the smile that always made her go weak in the knees.  Instead, she returned it with a flirtatious one of her own and said, “I couldn’t wait until tonight to see you; it’s too far away.”

Brian grinned.  He loved her sexy smile.  He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close.  “Oh, really?”

Ria slid her arms slowly up his, her hands caressing his broad shoulders before meeting each other behind his neck.  “Yeah, really,” she whispered before pulling his lips down to meet hers.

They were still standing there, engaged in their lip-locking, tongue-tangling greeting when a loud “AHEM” resounded nearby.  They slowly pulled apart, Ria frowning and rolling her eyes.

Preacher strolled casually over to the couple.  “I would tell you to take it inside, but then I’d have to worry about what was going on in there.”

Glaring at her best friend, Ria ordered, “Go away, Preacher!”

Brian released Ria and dug in his pocket for his room key.  “Did you have a specific reason for torturing us, or is that just how you felt like getting your jollies today?”

His wide, bright white grin accented the dancing lights of amusement in his deep brown eyes as Preacher just laughed.  “I’m actually on this floor to see someone else entirely.  I just couldn’t resist.”  He started to walk away as Brian opened the door and waved Ria inside, but he called back over his shoulder, “Remember, Belden!  Thinking is a crime!”

Catching Preacher’s words just before the door shut, Brian visibly cringed.  Amusement sparkled in Ria’s green eyes.  “Why is thinking a crime?”

Brian groaned.  “I told my roommates that thinking about a girl wrong was a crime.  Jim told them I had always made that quite clear, meaning he’d been afraid to even think about my sister in high school because of me.  Preacher then informed me that you were like a sister to him and has been throwing the thinking comment back in my face ever since.  In fact, I’m getting a little sick of it.”

Ria’s tinkling laughter filled the room.  “Imagine how Jim felt in high school!”

He gave her an ice-cold glare.  “It’s not funny.”

“Of course it is!” she said, sashaying over to him with a seductive smile.  “But Preacher can only guess at your thoughts… and right now, I’m more interested in your actions.”

After giving her a mind-numbing kiss, Brian returned her smile and asked, “Is that the kind of action you were looking for?”

Breathless, Ria replied, “Oh, yeah!” and proceeded to return the favor.

Several minutes later, they had somehow made their way over to the couch.  Coming up for air, Brian held her close and nuzzled her ear.  “Is this why you came over?  To tempt me beyond all reason in broad daylight?”

Struggling to organize her lust-clouded thoughts, Ria stared blankly at him.  A sudden return of clarity caused a very startled, ”Oh!”  She scrambled to an upright position with urgency.  “No!  I came to give you a message from Chelsea about Jim!”

Brian was suddenly both serious and worried.  “What’s the message?”

“Well… it didn’t make any sense, really,” she began, confused.  “Chelsea called me from her cell phone and said they were on a road trip.  She said not to look for Jim because they were going to take care of something Jim needed to do that had to be done today, in Rochester.  Then she said something about loving cemeteries and hung up.”

Brian looked at her like she was speaking a foreign language for a minute; then a look of comprehension crossed his face.  He hung his head and grabbed his hair with both hands.  “Damn him!” he muttered softly.

Ria frowned in concern and rubbed the back of Brian’s neck.  “What’s wrong?”

Shaking his head, Brian looked up at her.  “Just Jim and his ability to shut people out.  I was so busy worrying about Trixie last night that I completely missed the point of what happened.”

“What did happen?”

“Jim has this ability to avoid talking to people about really important stuff.  Trixie got mad at him for not talking to her last night and hung up on him.  I ended up worrying about all Trixie’s problems and never even thought about what it was that he’d refused to talk about.  I should’ve known better.”

“Why?” Ria asked with a raise of one quizzical eyebrow.  “Are you psychic?  Or do you just think you always have to know everything?”

Brian gave her a wilting look.  “No, of course not.  But I’m one of his best friends.  And the only reason he could possibly need to be in a cemetery in Rochester today is if today is an important date for his father, like a birthday or something.”  Brian rubbed his cheeks with his palms and groaned in frustration.  “I knew they were both too upset last night.  I should’ve paid more attention to him.”

“Okay, let me see if I’m following this,” Ria said, brow furrowed in concentration.  “You’ve been best friends for years, and you don’t actually know if today is his father’s birthday?  If he needs to go to Rochester that bad, isn’t it something he does every year?”

Brian slumped against the back of the sofa.  “No.  I told you, Jim doesn’t talk about stuff… except with Trixie.  And, if she can’t pry it out of him, then it’s probably something he really needs to talk about.  When he was adopted, he was required to go to counseling, but he managed to sandbag the counselor.  He won’t lie, but he won’t let you delve.  He pretends to be happy and well-adjusted when he has so many issues you could get a doctorate in psychology just by studying him.”

“So he lets Trixie delve?”

Smiling slightly, Brian nodded.  “He lets Trixie do just about anything.  He’s lucky she’s oblivious.  She knows she can always count on him, but she’s so naïve and non-manipulative that she doesn’t realize how completely wrapped around her little finger he is.”

Ria’s eyes twinkled with amusement.  “A bit smitten, is he?”

“More than a bit,” Brian chuckled.  “But Trixie’s too young.  She told him to stick to college girls for a while.  She’s right, too.  They’re both intense people and, together, they’re almost frightening.  He needs to learn how to relax, have fun, and loosen up.”

With a thoughtful look, Ria gave a slight nod.  “He’s in the right hands, then.  Chelsea is an expert on fun, and she certainly has a way of making people open up.”

Brian laughed out loud.  “Tell me about it!  I’m still amazed at some of the things I’ve found myself telling your roommate.”

“Oh?” Ria asked with a smirk.  “Should I be getting the dish from her?”

Brian fixed her with a smoldering stare and responded, “I’m sure I can be persuaded to tell you anything you want to know.”  He then pulled her onto his lap for a long, slow kiss.

Ria smiled that sexy smile of hers.  “Does that mean I can persuade you not to think about Jim any more until he gets back?”

Brian frowned and exhaled slowly.  “Probably, but let me make a phone call first.  I want to tell his sister what he’s doing.”

“Okay,” she nodded in understanding.  She got up and handed the phone to him, then went to the bathroom to give him a moment of privacy.

After dialing the familiar number to Manor House, Brian began to pace.  He was surprised when the phone wasn’t answered by the fourth ring.  He was even more surprised by the voice that answered on the fifth.

“Manor House.”

“Mart?”  Brian’s confusion was quickly replaced by an ominous chill.  “I’d ask why you’re answering the phone at Manor House, but I don’t think I’m going to like the answer.”

Mart sighed.  “I guarantee you aren’t gonna like the answer, Bri, but you need to hear it.  Sit back while I regale you with the latest Trouble in Trixieland.”  His meager attempt at humor was completely sabotaged by his tone as he started his story.

Ria returned from the bathroom to find Brian sitting in the overstuffed chair, pale as a ghost, and looking like he wanted to cry.  She sat down on the coffee table in front of him so she could watch his face while he listened intently to the voice on the other end of the phone line.

When Mart finally finished, Brian cleared his throat.  His voice was thick with worry and fear for his sister when he spoke.  “You know I’m coming home now, right?”

“I expected as much,” Mart said.  “But don’t go to the Farm.  Come here.”

“It’s a three hour drive,” Brian said as he nodded.  “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

When he hung up, Ria grabbed his hands.  “You can’t go alone.  I don’t know what was said, but you’re obviously too shaken up to drive.”

Brian looked up into her caring, gentle eyes.  “I have to go.”

“I can see that,” Ria conceded.  “Just let me drive.”

Brian was surprised and not quite sure how to react.  Ria reached out a hand and let soft fingers trail down Brian’s cheek.  “Let someone else take care of you for a change, Brian.  Let me help.”

After a moment’s thought, Brian realized he wanted her there.  He didn’t want to be alone.  He nodded thankfully and gave her a kiss of gratitude before grabbing Jim’s keys and heading on their way.





As Mart hung up the phone, Dan remarked while casually flipping channels, “I assume Brian’s on his way.”


Both boys continued to stare vacuously at the television.  “Jim coming?”

“The jalopy’s here.  How else would Brian get home?”

“I suppose getting Jim here should count as a bonus.”

Mart closed his eyes and sighed, intentionally banging his head on the wooden trim on the top of the sofa for good measure.  “Great.  We need another head case around here.”  He rolled his head to the side so he could look at Dan.  “What do you do on your dad’s birthday?”

Dan muted the television and toyed with the remote.  “When I lived in the City, I’d stop by the cemetery.  Since I came here, I spend some time alone on the bluffs.  But, mostly, I just remember to be grateful for the second chance I got and try to become a man Dad would be proud of.”

Mart contemplated his friend’s wisdom.  Despite how angry he’d been at his parents that morning, Mart couldn’t imagine life without them.  “Do you still miss them?”

“Every day,” Dan stated without hesitation.  “But it’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t hurt so much.  I miss the good times, and I…”  A wistful expression crossed his face.  “I guess I long for what might have been.”

The boys heard a noise behind them and turned to find Regan standing in the doorway.  “It never goes away,” he said.

Regan entered the room and sat down near his nephew.  “I was seven when my parents died.  There isn’t a day when I don’t think of them.  But, if you focus on it, you miss out on life.”

Dan nodded.  “Exactly.  Do I wish I still had my parents?  Yes.  Would I trade the Bob-Whites for anything?”  He swallowed the lump in his throat and answered his own question with a fierce, “Not a chance.”

Mart gave Dan an affectionate punch in the arm.  “Yeah, well, we’re pretty glad you’re here.”

Dan unmuted the TV, and the three men sat in a comfortable silence until Mart drifted off into an exhausted sleep.




Author Notes




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