Will You Dance,

If I Ask You to Dance?




It was just after four o’clock when Brian and Ria arrived at Manor House.  After being informed by Celia that Trixie was sleeping soundly and not to be disturbed until she woke up, they were directed to the rec room where Mart and Dan waited.  Brian was not particularly pleased to find that his fellow Bob-Whites had no new information.  He did feel sorry for them, though; at least he had spent the last three hours driving.  The two younger boys were stir-crazy by this point.

After Ria had been introduced to the boys, Dan eyed Brian curiously.  “Just the two of you came?  Where’s Jim?”

Brian looked at him in surprise for a moment, before realizing where communications had failed.  “Good grief!  That was the whole reason I called earlier… to let someone here know that Jim had disappeared in the middle of the night to a cemetery in Rochester.”

Regan arrived in time to hear that and frowned.  “But you drove his car.  How did he get there?”

Ria explained, “He was out last night with my roommate, Chelsea.  She lives in Buffalo, so driving to Rochester doesn’t faze her.  In fact, I’ve known her to drive the nine hours to Buffalo just to pick something up from her mother, have dinner, and turn around and drive right back.  She’s a little strange.  Anyway, she took him.  She called me from the road at about eight this morning, saying they were near Syracuse.”

Brian continued, “We have no idea how long they were planning on staying in Rochester, or if they were doing anything besides going to the cemetery.  Neither one of them has their cell phones on at the moment, so Lord only knows where they are.  I haven’t got a clue.  But I did leave word back at the dorm in case Jim is looking for his car,” he added with a weak smile.

“Wonderful,” Regan growled sarcastically, his big freckled hands on his hips.  “I can certainly understand needing to go to the cemetery on his father’s birthday.  I can understand turning the phone off for privacy at that point.  But driving clear across the state without it on?  During a hurricane, no less.  Just freakin’ brilliant!”

Brow creased in consternation, Brian turned to Regan.  “How did you know it was his father’s birthday?”

Mart grimaced.  “I can answer that:  Daniel is now the world’s expert on getting Trixie to talk.  It’s amazing the information he can get out of that girl.  He’s the master.”

Dan gave Mart a wicked grin.  “That’s because Trixie loves me more than you.”

Mart threw a couch pillow at him.  Dan made a clean catch and calmly returned it to its proper place before addressing Brian.  “The thing is, Honey’s plan was to have Mr. Wheeler call Jim today, remembering it was Mr. Frayne’s birthday and wondering if Jim wanted to talk.  That would have been fine if all hell hadn’t broken loose here this morning.  On the other hand, if Jim is traipsing all over the Northeast, Mr. Wheeler would’ve been concerned when he couldn’t locate him.”

Regan noticed a flash of headlights and walked over to the window to look out.  When he noticed that the headlights in question didn’t belong to Mr. Wheeler’s car, he said, “I got ten dollars that says the car that just pulled in has Jim in it.”

Ria went to his side to see what he could see.  “Yep, that’s Chelsea’s car.”

Sighing, Dan asked, “Whose turn is it to tell Trixie’s Tale?”

“Yours,” Mart said wearily, rubbing his eyes.  “I’m too tired to go through that again.”  Brian nodded his agreement.

Regan looked at the grim faces around the room.  “I’ll get Cook to send in some refreshments.  This is gonna take a while.”





Jim directed Chelsea up the driveway to his usual parking spot, but was startled to find his own car already there.  As Chelsea deftly parked beside it, she observed, “You seem worried.”

Jim frowned deeply.  “It’s not like Brian to just take my car and rush home.  And, if something was that important, why would he come here instead of going to the Farm?  That doesn’t make sense.”

Chelsea shrugged.  “I’m guessing the answers are inside.  Why don’t we just go find out?”

Jim nodded and led the way into his home.  Chelsea looked around in awe, marveling at the ornate woodwork and extravagant decorative touches in the entryway.  Even the carpeting was spectacular, which, thanks to the ever-efficient staff, showed no signs of the morning’s mud-drenching and, therefore, gave away no clue as to the drama that had transpired there earlier.  Jim, however, noticed none of the impressive surroundings as he led the way through the hall.

Celia appeared carrying a tray.  Mindful of Miss Trask’s orders to say nothing to the “kids”, she put on a prim-and-proper maid’s expression.  “Right this way, Jim,” she said starchly.

Taken aback by Celia’s aloof manner, Jim stopped in his tracks.  “Celia?”

She stopped, but kept her gaze straight ahead, never looking back at Jim.  Following her instructions was difficult, because keeping out of things was not in her nature.  In a more gentle voice she said, “I don’t know anything that I can tell you.  Some of the Bob-Whites are in the rec room, and they can tell you what they know.”

As she continued on her way, Jim followed nervously.  Chelsea grabbed his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.  Celia glided into the rec room and deposited her tray.  Before anyone had a chance to acknowledge the newcomers, Brian asked Celia, “Is Trixie awake?”

Celia shook her head.  “Doctor Ferris gave her a pretty strong sedative.  He said she’d be out for six or eight hours.  It’s going to be a while yet.”  With that, she quietly left the room.

Jim stared after her in shock.  The drinking bout the night before, the emotional morning, and the long drives were catching up with him.  He must be hearing things.  He ran a hand over the stubble across his face before turning to Brian.  “Did Celia just say that Trixie had to be… sedated?”

Dan directed Jim to the couch.  “Sit.  It’s a long story, and you definitely need to be sitting.”

Meanwhile, Chelsea sidled over to Ria and whispered, “Should I be really uncomfortable to be here right now?”

“No,” Ria shook her head.  “They need us here.  Brian, especially, is used to taking care of them all.  They need someone to lean on, and they aren’t going to want to repeat the story.  Just sit quietly and blend into the background.”

Chelsea nodded and sat beside Ria on the window ledge, away from the main group but still able to hear and see all.  She watched as Dan started pacing and relating the morning to Jim, starting with the Beldens’ breakfast.  Jim’s jaw dropped at the news about Mrs. Belden, but he didn’t seem particular surprised at how poorly Trixie had taken the news.  Upon being informed that there had been no word since the Wheelers left for Crabapple Farm, Jim frowned.

“What time was that?” he asked.

“Just before noon,” Dan proclaimed grimly.  “Your mother had Mrs. Lynch take the girls shopping, but we’ve been here ever since.  Mart napped for a little bit because he didn’t sleep much last night, but we’re both feeling a bit of cabin fever now.”

The redhead turned to the blond beside him.  Mart was slouched back, eyes closed, lines of worry and exhaustion etched in his face.  “Why couldn’t you sleep?”

“Nightmares,” came the succinct answer.

“You were having nightmares?” Jim asked, surprised.

“No.”  Mart paused, debating the line between confidences and getting his sister the help she needed.  Telling Mrs. Wheeler had been necessary.  Telling the others…  Hell, these are the Bob-Whites!  With a deep sigh, he continued, “Trixie was.  She told me about them.”  The flat, lifeless voice was so unlike Mart that it exaggerated the effect of his words.

A chill running down his spine, Brian queried his brother.  “What nightmares?  You didn’t tell me about them.”

Mart finally looked at the others, a haunted expression darkening the blue of his eyes.  His voice was harsh, raw, and chilling.  “Trust me.  You don’t want to know.”

Brian paled.  The more he learned, the worse off his sister became.  “Did you tell Mrs. Wheeler about this?”

A silent nod was the only response from Mart.

Headlights shining outside attracted Ria’s attention.  Seeing a limousine pull up under the porte cochere, she guessed this must be the girls returning from their shopping.  Her supposition was validated by the appearance of the maid she’d seen earlier and another employee, the chauffeur she presumed, to help them in with their purchases.

Ria’s quiet voice shattered the silence.  “I believe the girls are back.”

“Terrific,” Mart said, his tone negating any enthusiasm in his wording.

“What do they know?” Brian asked Dan.

“Honey was here this morning, and we filled Di in,” Dan stated.  “They know nothing about the nightmares, and we haven’t said anything to them about Beth.  Since they haven’t discussed it with us, either, I have no idea how much they do or don’t know about that situation.  But I heard Di make some crack about Trixie’s diet, so that’s probably a whole other story.  I’m guessing no one has a complete picture here.”

Brian latched on to Dan’s statement.  “Diet?  What diet?”

Just then Honey and Di entered the room and Brian pounced on them.  “Please, tell me she’s not trying to diet on top of everything else!”

Honey jumped at Brian’s frantic greeting, but Diana eyed him coolly and levelly.  “Calm down, Brian.”  She entered the room, indicating everyone should sit.  Taking a moment to gather attention unto herself, Lady Di prepared to hold court.  Since she was the only one with any information on this piece of the puzzle, she was glad that she could finally contribute in some helpful way on this crazy day.

“Dieting, per se, would indicate a concern with one’s appearance.  Trixie hasn’t suddenly become obsessed with that.”  Diana sounded almost like a professor giving a lecture.  “However, she does spend the better part of every day upset about something.  It is my candid opinion that she has herself so tied up in knots that she can’t eat.  I’ve spoken to several concerned parties, and the gist is that she isn’t eating much of anything.  Merrissa has been getting worried.  Mrs. Parkman is starting to check up on Trixie, and Trix will occasionally make an effort in order to avoid her watchful eye.”

Giving up the effort to maintain a regal appearance, Di sighed and ran a frustrated hand through her hair.  “She’s been wearing Mart’s sweatshirts to school for weeks, so you can’t even tell if she’s drowning in her own clothes.  Originally, her excuse was that they were easier to get on over her cast, but the lack of a cast hasn’t changed anything.  Merrissa says she dresses the same way for practice.

“I’m guessing she’s lost a ton of weight.  Mummy says Mr. Wheeler even mentioned how light she was to carry this morning.  The dress we picked out is a couple of sizes smaller than she would normally wear, but I bet it fits fine.  In fact, I bet it needs to be taken in.  I have no idea if it’s all just stress or not, but I know she’s making herself sick.”

By the time Di had finished speaking, Mrs. Lynch had joined them.  She bustled over to her daughter and placed a comforting arm around her shoulder.  “Enough fussing about Trixie for the moment.  Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler will be here shortly, and then we’ll talk some more.  In the meantime, I don’t believe we’ve met the lovely ladies hiding over in the corner.”

Brian and Jim both flushed in embarrassment over having completely forgotten their manners.  Brian jumped up and drew Ria to stand beside him.  “I’m so sorry!  Everyone, this is my girlfriend, Ria St. James.”

Ria looked at the jaws dropping around the room.  Obviously, the word “girlfriend” had thrown them completely.  She saw her own amusement mirrored in Mrs. Lynch’s eyes and smiled.  Deciding to take the offensive, she stepped forward to address the group.  “Perhaps I should head off the Grand Inquisition by telling you a bit about myself.”  She gave a grand curtsy.  “I’m a freshman and pre-med like Brian.  I sorely disappointed my parents by choosing BU instead of an Ivy League school; I did it just to annoy them – we don’t actually have a speaking relationship.  I have technically lived in Boston my entire life, but I’ve always been shuffled from one boarding school to another.”

Startled, Honey interrupted her.  “I remember you!  Briar Hill, three years ago.”

Ria’s eyes widened.  “Wow!  I thought you looked vaguely familiar, but I’d have hardly recognized you.  You look wonderful!”

“I have them to thank for that,” Honey smiled, her hand sweeping the room to encompass all the Bob-Whites.

Turning an amused gaze on Brian, Ria teased, “You mean hanging out with you will be good for my health?  That’s not what I heard.”

Brian started to sputter a response, then just blushed.  Breaking a bit of the tension in the room, Chelsea and Jim burst out laughing.  Chelsea walked up and threw an arm around his shoulder.  “God, Belden, you are so easy!”

“Not as easy as you think,” Ria countered with a wink.

Brian’s eyes bulged.  Jim was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.  “You two are just trouble!” he wheezed.

“That’s me!” Chelsea announced with pride.  “Chelsea T. Coleman.  The ‘T’ stands for Trouble, with a capital T, that rhymes with P, and that stands for Pool!”  As she sang her ditty, she gave a little dance that ended with a nice hip-bump to Brian.

Ria laughed.  “Don’t mind my roommate.  She’s a little nuts, and she’s found that Brian is great fun to tease.”

“That’s because he’s so cute when he blushes,” Chelsea said, with a pinch to Brian’s cheek.  “Seriously, I’m from Buffalo.  My parents divorced when I was four, and my father and step-monster live in Boston.  I chose to go to school in Boston because that was the only way the witch would agree to allow that man to contribute to my college education.  I tolerate living in the same city with them by residing in the dorms and only meeting them for dinner once a week.  Since I’m an A student, I’m supposed to be providing some sort of good example for my spoiled brat of a half-brother.  Instead, my idea of fun is spur-of-the-moment, seven-hour road trips to cemeteries.”

Dan turned to his redheaded friend, tongue firmly planted in cheek.  “My God, Jim, she sounds impulsive and crazy.  I can’t imagine you being attracted to anyone like that.”

It was Jim’s turn to blush, and the entire room rang with laughter.  Sherry Lynch sent up a silent prayer of thanks for these girls who had managed to turn the mood of the room around… for the moment.





Matthew Wheeler pulled his car into the garage just after six o’clock.  Normally, in weather like this, he would pull up near the door and leave Tom to move the car.  Today, the moment in the garage was a desperately needed respite.  The silence was a nearly palpable presence, offering a moment of comfort and peace before the next round of the raging storm struck.

Maddie leaned her head against the seat and turned weary eyes to her husband.  “Do you think we did the right thing?”

Matt grabbed her hand and raised her fingers to his lips.  “I’m sure we did.”

“Will they be able to see that?”

With a deep sigh, he answered, “Probably not.”

Still hanging onto Matt’s hand, Maddie raised her other hand to massage the throbbing at her temple.  She felt like she’d been bruised and battered by the events and emotions of the day.  Realizing that the way she felt couldn’t possibly compare to how Trixie felt, she shoved aside her personal complaints.  “You did see Jim’s car, didn’t you?”

Matt nodded dimly.  He tried to ignore the feeling that he’d just betrayed his only true friend and focus on the kids.  “That’s not a bad thing.  I’d rather face Mart and Brian together and get this over with.  I wasn’t really relishing a phone call to Boston.”

“They aren’t going to take this well.”

“Mart certainly won’t.  Brian may see the wisdom of our solution, but he’s not going to want to go back to school.  What worries me is that I can’t even guess how the others will react, especially Honey.”

Maddie shuddered.  “You’re forgetting the worst reaction of them all:  What in God’s name is Trixie going to do when she finds out?”

“Trixie will do whatever we tell her to do, whether she likes it or not,” Matt said firmly.  “She has to; at this point, I think her life depends on it.”

Tears welled up in Maddie’s eyes as she nodded.  After struggling a moment to hold them in, she gathered her courage.  “Okay.  Let’s get this over with.”

They trudged to the house and entered through the kitchen door, where they were met by Miss Trask and Regan.  While the Wheelers shook the rain off their coats, their trusted aides-de-camp updated them on the situation in the house.

“Trixie is still asleep,” Miss Trask began.  “Celia is sitting with her at the moment, and the rest of the Bob-Whites are in the rec room.”

“Brian and Jim brought dates to the party,” Regan added.  At Matthew’s startled look, he explained, “Brian and his girlfriend came straight from Boston.  She apparently drove because she felt he was too upset.  Jim and his friend, Chelsea, left last night and took a detour through a cemetery in Rochester.”

“Oh, shit,” Matt sputtered.  “I can’t believe I forgot to call Jim!”

“You wouldn’t have gotten him, anyway,” Regan said wryly.  “He was roaming all over the state with his cell phone turned off.”

Matt ran a hand through his hair and rubbed the back of his neck.  He shared a look of frustration with his wife before turning back to his fellow redhead.  “How does he seem?”

“Too worried about Trixie to remember his own problems at the moment,” Regan opined.

“Sherry is in with them now,” Margery offered.  “If you’d like to speak to Jim, I could go get him.”

Matt shook his head.  “No, I’ll talk to him alone later.  Right now, we need to go drop a large bomb on the lot of them.”

Regan’s face remained perfectly still, but that was not enough to hide his curiosity.  Margery raised a single eyebrow, but didn’t say a word.

Maddie sighed.  “The staff will have to be notified, but we need to speak with the kids first.  When we’re done, we’ll want to meet with all of you.”

Margery gave a slight nod while Regan narrowed his eyes thoughtfully.  Matt put his arm around Maddie’s shoulders and slowly ushered her toward the rec room.  Margery and Regan shared a look, then slipped away to a certain vent in a back hallway which happened to carry sound well from the rec room.

All conversation ceased when the Wheelers entered the room.  Attempting to break the awkward silence, Sherry Lynch decided to make the introductions.

“Matt, Maddie, we’ve just been getting to know these lovely young ladies who are classmates of our Boston-based Bob-Whites.  I’d like to introduce Ria St. James, Brian’s girlfriend, and her roommate, Chelsea Coleman.”  The girls stepped up as they were announced, shaking hands with their hosts.  “Girls, this is Matthew and Madeleine Wheeler.”

Ria, more than used to high society social introductions, gave a polite smile and nod as she greeted each of them.  Chelsea, on the other hand, was not as gifted with poise, tact, or manners.  “Gosh, Mr. Wheeler, I’ve always wanted to meet you.  I never imagined it would be like this, though.  In my fondest dreams, it was across a boardroom table.  In my more realistic expectations, it was as you deigned to greet the new low man in your mailroom.”

Matthew tried valiantly, but he simply could not contain a chuckle.  “And in these fond dreams, were you friend or foe?”

Chelsea grinned.  “Whichever is more to my advantage.”

Matt laughed out loud.  “What’s your major, young lady?”

“Business management and accounting,” she replied.  “I haven’t decided which direction to take in grad school yet.  I was considering corporate law, or perhaps an M.B.A. in International Business.”

Smiling at her enthusiasm, Matt remarked, “Let me know what kind of internship you’d like next summer.  I’ll hook you up.”

Chelsea’s eyes grew wide as saucers.  “Really?”

“Really.”  Catching the pointed look Maddie was shooting his way, Matt reluctantly turned to the rest of the group.  “Right now, however, there are other things to talk about.”

Maddie cleared her throat and stared directly at the younger Belden brother.  “Mart, would you like us to speak privately with you and Brian, or would you like everyone to be a part of this conversation?”

Mart looked deep into her eyes for a long time.  He appreciated that she was giving him the choice.  While silently expressing his gratitude, he weighed his options.  On the one hand, he wanted to protect his family from having their dirty laundry aired in front of the world.  On the other hand, he had the feeling he was going to need support to get through whatever was coming next.  And the Bob-Whites were closer than brothers and sisters to him.

When he finally nodded, he said, “It’s okay.  We’re all family here.”

Brian had seen the wisdom in Mrs. Wheeler asking Mart’s opinion and respected it.  He, therefore, also respected his brother’s decision.  When Maddie looked to him, he merely nodded his acquiescence.

Once the boys had indicated their decision, Matt took charge.  “All right, then.  Let’s have everyone sit.  This won’t be an easy conversation.”

As everyone else settled themselves, Matt and Maddie stood together in the center of the room.  They faced Mart and Brian, who sat together in the center of the sofa, and Matt appeared to be in total control.  In reality, they were both too nervous to sit.

Matthew addressed the group.  “I assume you’ve filled each other in on Trixie’s situation.”

Deciding, at this point, that it was best if Mrs. Wheeler had the most information possible, Mart offered, “Diana has been monitoring Trixie’s food consumption – or rather, intense lack thereof.”

Maddie raised an eyebrow toward Diana, perched on the arm of the sofa to Mart’s left, which was answered by a nod from the raven-haired beauty.  Maddie sighed, and then turned as Dan spoke from the end chair farthest to the right.

“But Mart’s been refusing to tell us about Trixie’s nightmares.”

Maddie and Mart shared a look, the woman watching the haunted look return to the young man’s face.  She nodded her agreement.  “I believe that’s for the best.”

Dan looked from one to the other.  “Trixie’s having nightmares that have you both worried, and you won’t share them with us.”  He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully.  “So which of us get hurt in her nightmares?”

Mart closed his eyes and shuddered.  His hoarse whisper echoed in the stunned silence.  “We all die.”

Maddie cringed visibly.  Mart’s response was just further proof for her that she and her husband were doing the right thing.

Brian, who looked like he was about to throw up, asked quietly, “How frequent are they?”


After allowing the silence to stretch on for a moment, Matthew continued.  “It has become obvious to us that Trixie is in need of a great deal of help.  After a very long discussion with Peter and Helen today, it is also obvious that Helen is in no shape to provide such help.  The four of us, in consultation with Dr. Ferris, have decided that Trixie will be staying here for a while.”

As the assembled teenagers absorbed that information, Maddie added, “We’ve made arrangements with Dr. Ferris to take Trixie to see a specialist who deals with emotional trauma in crime victims.  We’ll do whatever it takes to get her the help she needs.”

Ria watched the faces of Brian and his friends as they processed this information.  She could see that they were viewing the scenario from a purely emotional point of view, while the Wheelers were dancing around the issue, avoiding spelling out the practical application of the plan.  Being the outsider, she decided she had nothing to lose by pointing it out.  “I hate to be overly pragmatic, but wouldn’t you need parental authorization to sign for any potential treatments?”

Matthew Wheeler looked her straight in the eye, impressed with her daring.  The bright green eyes acknowledged that he knew exactly what she’d done and thanked her for the opening she’d handed him.  Turning back to the others, he dropped the other shoe.  “Yes, that’s quite true.  We discussed the situation with our lawyers, who joined us at Crabapple Farm for a while this afternoon, and we came to a practical solution.”  He stopped to take a deep breath before dealing the final blow.

“As of now, Maddie and I are Trixie’s legal guardians.”




Author's Notes




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