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.
Ria had been introduced to the boys, Dan eyed Brian curiously.
“Just the two of you came?
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.”
arrived in time to hear that and frowned.
“But you drove his car. How
did he get there?”
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
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.
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!”
creased in consternation, Brian turned to Regan.
“How did you know it was his father’s birthday?”
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.”
gave Mart a wicked grin. “That’s
because Trixie loves me more than you.”
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.”
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.”
went to his side to see what he could see.
“Yep, that’s Chelsea’s car.”
Dan asked, “Whose turn is it to tell Trixie’s Tale?”
Mart said wearily, rubbing his eyes.
“I’m too tired to go through that again.”
Brian nodded his agreement.
looked at the grim faces around the room.
“I’ll get Cook to send in some refreshments.
This is gonna take a while.”
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
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.”
shrugged. “I’m guessing
the answers are inside. Why
don’t we just go find out?”
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.
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.
aback by Celia’s aloof manner, Jim stopped in his tracks. “Celia?”
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
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?”
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.
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?”
directed Jim to the couch. “Sit.
It’s a long story, and you definitely need to be sitting.”
Chelsea sidled over to Ria and whispered, “Should I be really
uncomfortable to be here right now?”
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.”
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,
time was that?” he asked.
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.”
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?”
came the succinct answer.
were having nightmares?” Jim asked, surprised.
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.
chill running down his spine, Brian queried his brother.
“What nightmares? You
didn’t tell me about them.”
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.”
paled. The more he learned,
the worse off his sister became. “Did
you tell Mrs. Wheeler about this?”
silent nod was the only response from Mart.
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.
quiet voice shattered the silence.
“I believe the girls are back.”
Mart said, his tone negating any enthusiasm in his wording.
do they know?” Brian asked Dan.
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.”
latched on to Dan’s statement. “Diet?
then Honey and Di entered the room and Brian pounced on them. “Please, tell me she’s not trying to diet on top of
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
Honey interrupted her. “I
remember you! Briar Hill,
three years ago.”
eyes widened. “Wow!
I thought you looked vaguely familiar, but I’d have hardly
recognized you. You look
have them to thank for that,” Honey smiled, her hand sweeping the room
to encompass all the Bob-Whites.
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.”
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!”
as easy as you think,” Ria countered with a wink.
eyes bulged. Jim was
laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.
“You two are just trouble!” he wheezed.
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.
laughed. “Don’t mind my
roommate. She’s a little
nuts, and she’s found that Brian is great fun to tease.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
leaned her head against the seat and turned weary eyes to her husband.
“Do you think we did the right thing?”
grabbed her hand and raised her fingers to his lips.
“I’m sure we did.”
they be able to see that?”
a deep sigh, he answered, “Probably not.”
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?”
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.”
aren’t going to take this well.”
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,
forgetting the worst reaction of them all:
What in God’s name is Trixie going to do when she finds out?”
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.”
welled up in Maddie’s eyes as she nodded.
After struggling a moment to hold them in, she gathered her
Let’s get this over with.”
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.
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.”
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.”
shit,” Matt sputtered. “I
can’t believe I forgot to call Jim!”
wouldn’t have gotten him, anyway,” Regan said wryly.
“He was roaming all over the state with his cell phone turned
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?”
worried about Trixie to remember his own problems at the moment,”
is in with them now,” Margery offered.
“If you’d like to speak to Jim, I could go get him.”
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
face remained perfectly still, but that was not enough to hide his
curiosity. Margery raised a
single eyebrow, but didn’t say a word.
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.”
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.
conversation ceased when the Wheelers entered the room.
Attempting to break the awkward silence, Sherry Lynch decided to
make the introductions.
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.”
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.”
tried valiantly, but he simply could not contain a chuckle. “And in these fond dreams, were you friend or foe?”
grinned. “Whichever is
more to my advantage.”
laughed out loud. “What’s
your major, young lady?”
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.”
at her enthusiasm, Matt remarked, “Let me know what kind of internship
you’d like next summer. I’ll
hook you up.”
eyes grew wide as saucers. “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.”
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?”
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.
he finally nodded, he said, “It’s okay.
We’re all family here.”
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.
the boys had indicated their decision, Matt took charge. “All right, then. Let’s
have everyone sit. This
won’t be an easy conversation.”
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.
addressed the group. “I
assume you’ve filled each other in on Trixie’s situation.”
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.”
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.
Mart’s been refusing to tell us about Trixie’s nightmares.”
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.”
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?”
closed his eyes and shuddered. His
hoarse whisper echoed in the stunned silence.
“We all die.”
cringed visibly. Mart’s
response was just further proof for her that she and her husband were
doing the right thing.
who looked like he was about to throw up, asked quietly, “How frequent
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.”
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.”
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?”
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.
of now, Maddie and I are Trixie’s legal guardians.”