silence in the room was deafening.
Ria and Chelsea exchanged quick, worried glances, then studied
the facial expressions of those around them.
Wheeler was tense. His eyes darted around the room, warily watching the faces
around him. He appeared to
be bracing himself for an oncoming explosion.
He took a deep breath, flexed his hands, and clenched his jaw. The tall, powerful man stood rigidly, waiting for the
expected attack from the young people he had just wounded.
appearing surprised, Sherry Lynch stood behind the couch, calmly
waiting. She had obviously
been warned ahead of time and was there to give support.
She hovered in the background, gentle eyes searching to determine
where she would be needed most.
was inscrutable. He stared
at Matt Wheeler intently, as if he could discern his motives and
intentions by studying the man’s eyes.
He seemed to be searching for evidence that this was actually the
best way to help Trixie. No
matter how radical the approach, the result was what mattered to him.
If he could be convinced this would really help Trixie, he’d go
along with it.
hazel eyes were welling up with tears.
Even the most insightful observer could not possibly follow the
confused meanderings of the young heiress’ mind. She
couldn’t follow them herself; she was so confused.
Part of her wanted to reach out, to do or give anything to her
hurting best friend. Honey
had always wanted to be part of a loving, caring family and had always
envied Trixie her happy home life.
Now, just as Honey’s family life was coming together so nicely,
her best friend’s family was falling apart.
Life was so unfair!
tiny part of Honey’s mind was screaming in jealousy.
How many years had it taken before her parents had even adjusted
their schedules to take care of her?
Yet, here they were, dropping everything for a neighbor.
washed over the tenderhearted girl for allowing the jealous thoughts to
enter her heart. Trixie was
so much more than a neighbor to her.
Honey would do anything on Trixie’s behalf.
She was glad her parents cared enough to offer their assistance.
hazel eyes swept the room, seeking strength and stability.
She wanted a shoulder on which to lean, but one upon which she
would not be a burden at this difficult time.
Her friends were just as desperately in need of places to lean,
and she would only weigh them down.
She eventually met Ria’s gaze.
Honey’s eyes pleaded for understanding for her feelings, though
she herself could not understand them.
Ria’s features softened, and she sent Honey a mental hug with
just a tilt of her head. That
quiet reassurance gave Honey the strength to take a steadying breath and
concentrate on the needs of her friends.
was visibly trying to control his temper.
He was afraid what he saw was his adoptive father using his power
and influence to try to control the situation.
It had always seemed to Jim that Matt Wheeler needed to be in
authority over everyone around him, even his friends.
He loved Matt, but he was not about to let his best friends
become pawns in some sort of bizarre power play.
Trixie’s feelings were not bargaining chips, and the healing
that needed to take place was not something that could be bought or
that Jim was definitely the loose cannon in the room, Chelsea moved from
her seat to stand behind him and place a steadying hand on his shoulder.
The simple gesture had a profound effect, suddenly calming the
raging tide of anger. Jim
was used to leaning on Trixie when he was troubled, and suddenly
realizing her current state had left him floundering.
He reached up to his shoulder and covered Chelsea’s hand with
his own to accept the support and comfort she offered, and to express
face was pale, his breathing shallow, his eyes wide with fear; this
situation was beyond even his worst nightmare. Brian had always been the
strong, steady one. He was
the stable influence among the Bob-Whites.
But he was only able to do this, to be this, because he rested on
a firm foundation. His
family was his rock and fortress. Now
all of that was crumbling around him, and he was lost, adrift without a
paddle. For once he wished
he were the younger child, with a big brother to help him navigate
life’s rough waters.
stared at Mart, her lavender eyes sending him her love and strength.
Her expressive face made it clear that her primary concern at
this moment was how Mart was going to react.
In fact, it seemed that every person in the room was holding
their breath, waiting for Mart to react.
his part, Mart was sitting still as a statue, blue eyes locked intently
on the hazel eyes of Madeleine Wheeler.
Mart tried to keep the accusation of betrayal off his face, while
Maddie seemed to be willing him to understand.
Finally, Maddie walked over to Mart.
Never breaking eye contact, she knelt before him and took his
hands in hers. Throughout the room, all eyes watched the exchange, anxious
to see if Maddie Wheeler could find the words to make this situation
acceptable to Mart.
dear, you are a fine young man. You’re
mature and responsible, and I know that you want to take care of your
sister. But you’re only
sixteen years old. You are
not an adult, and you don’t need to try to be.
Taking care of Trixie is not your responsibility.
You need to be there for her, and love her and support
her. But you need to let
the adults take care of her.”
filled Mart’s eyes, and he croaked out in a hoarse voice, “But
you’re taking her away from me.”
flooded Maddie’s face, and she gripped his hands tighter.
“No, sweetheart, we’re not.
We would never do that. You’ll
still be with her in school every day, and you’re welcome here at any
time. In fact, we debated
asking you to come and stay with her here.
Right now, however, the plan is for you boys to stay at home –
you and Bobby. He’s going
to need you a lot right now.”
grimaced as if in pain at the thought of his little brother.
He closed his eyes and bowed his head, allowing the tears to
fall. He leaned into
Maddie, nearly crushing the hand he still held.
She had extricated her other hand and now wrapped a soothing arm
around his shoulders. After
a brief moment that felt like an eternity, Mart lifted his head, wiped
his tears, and nodded.
let me tell her,” he requested, his voice thick with emotion,
as he tried to force a composed look onto his face.
the first time, Maddie shifted the focus of her attention from Mart.
She turned to look at Brian, silently asking his opinion of
Mart’s request. Seeing
Maddie’s questioning eyes, being asked to respond, and needing to take
a stance all brought Brian back to himself.
Back into responsible “Big Brother Mode”, he told
himself, as he reined in his fear and confusion.
What he really wanted was to take charge and make everything
better, but he could see that wasn’t going to happen.
He needed to talk to Trixie, to Mart, and to his parents, but
first he needed the world to stop tilting so crazily.
At the very least, the Wheelers seemed to be trying to stabilize
things. He placed a supportive hand on Mart’s shoulder, then nodded
and responded to Mrs. Wheeler’s unanswered question. “We’ll tell her together.”
a sigh of relief, Matt Wheeler moved next to his wife and sat on the
coffee table facing the Belden brothers, pulling Maddie up off the floor
to sit beside him. “We’re
not trying to take over, boys. We’re
just trying to help. Whatever
you need from us to help you through this, you’ve got it.”
nodded, trying to regain control of the situation. “Thank
you, Mr. Wheeler. We
appreciate your help. All
we want is what’s best for Trixie.”
let out the breath she had been holding.
For some reason, if it was okay with Brian, then it was okay with
her. Jim relaxed too;
Brian’s calming influence soothed all the Bob-Whites.
Di reached out to rub Mart’s back, and he leaned his head on
for the moment at least, that the Belden brothers were accepting of the
situation, Dan decided he would follow their lead.
The tense emotions flooding the room were nearly suffocating, and
the moment seemed right to try and lighten the atmosphere.
With a dangerously wicked glint in his eye and a barely
suppressed smile, he caught Honey’s eye and gave her a big wink.
Honey wanted to soothe the tension in the room, as well, but she
knew Dan’s methods rarely followed the same lines as her own.
She gave him her wary attention, wondering what sort of trouble
he was about to cause this time. Dan
turned to Jim, seated beside him, and nudged him with his toe.
Jimbo, doesn’t that make Trixie, like, your sister or something?”
nervous tension in the room bubbled over into silliness.
Honey choked back a laugh so hard she started coughing.
Diana’s attention was finally torn from Mart as she turned in
shock to see Dan’s devilish grin.
Di started to giggle, causing Honey’s laughter to spew forth.
Jim sat with a clenched jaw, staring at Dan, the anger in his
flushed face slowly being replaced by a twinkle in his green eyes.
He was grateful to Dan for diffusing a very difficult situation,
even if it was at his expense.
go there, Daniel.”
and Chelsea were watching the group, amused.
Chelsea nodded at Dan, the look in her bright blue eyes saying, I
think I like this one. He’s
as warped as I am.
Lynch and Matt Wheeler smiled at Dan.
grin grew wider. “It’s a good thing you’re going back to school, Frayne.
I’d have to worry about Trixie living with you.”
was obviously faking his anger now.
“Kiss off, Mangan.”
serious, somber-looking Brian quietly announced, “Just don’t make
that offer to Trixie, and we’ll be good.”
jaw dropped, and his head whipped around to face Brian’s sober look,
nearly missing the twinkle in his roommate’s eye.
The incongruous absurdity of the moment multiplied, and the girls
hooted with laughter, Honey and Di holding their sides.
By this point, Matt and Sherry were openly chuckling.
along with the charade, Jim turned to the one Bob-White still not
indignantly, Jim called out, “What about you, Mart?
Do you trust me?”
finally lifted his head off Di’s shoulder.
He turned to Jim, his red-rimmed eyes softened by the smirk on
his face. “To think of
Trixie as a sister? How
stupid do I look?”
that Mart was participating in the joke, Maddie finally smiled.
They would get through this, after all – as long as they did it
leaned against the glass in Trixie’s bedroom window, staring up the
hill at the soft glow of Manor House.
The howling wind and pelting rain obscuring her view felt like a
mile-thick wall between her and her family.
Her own personal torment increased with every passing moment.
Her children were in pain, and she could do nothing to help
them… because she had caused the pain.
had too readily agreed to Matt and Maddie’s plan.
However, she honestly believed everyone would be better off if
there were as much distance as possible between her and her daughter.
Besides, truth be told, she was grasping at straws, trying to
find ways to control this overwhelming fear she couldn’t shake.
The convenient “out” which Maddie had offered was a godsend.
Peter, on the other hand, hadn’t known what to do.
His first instinct was to pummel the life out of anyone who
questioned their capabilities as parents, but Helen’s rapid response
had thrown him for a loop. It had also served to further convince him of her current
irrationality. He was the
head of the family, certainly, but the strength of their family had
always been Helen. Trixie
was in a lot more trouble than he had imagined.
How could he be sure he could take care of her, when Helen was
half the problem and seemed eager to send her away?
and Matt had discussed the issue at length.
The only reason any formal paperwork had been involved was
because of the obvious need to seek medical help for Trixie.
Peter secretly believed it was so that Matt and Maddie could also
call in the most expensive specialists money could buy without worrying
about Peter’s ability to pay for them.
Despite the blow to his male pride that thought caused, he would
do anything for his daughter. He
finally agreed to concentrate on Helen and let Matt and Maddie
concentrate on Trixie; perhaps, with their combined efforts, they might
make some progress.
signing the papers had still taken all of his willpower.
Matt had called his personal lawyer, not his corporate one;
Peter’s lawyer had been a friend since elementary school and was, in
fact, part of his poker group with John Epperley.
The men were as kind as they could be.
The arrangements were not even officially “custody”, since no
judge had been involved. Technically,
it was only an affidavit of “temporary legal guardianship”, which
Peter and Helen were free to revoke at any time.
Still, it took an enormous amount of trust in Matthew Wheeler to
steady Peter’s hand as he signed his name.
found Helen in Trixie’s room, tears trickling down her cheeks.
He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her.
She leaned back against him, and they stood together, facing the
storm. For a moment, Peter
pondered the symbolism in that. It’s
you and me against the world, babe, he thought.
the silence, Helen asked, “Did you get a hold of Brian?”
he told her. “John found
a note Brian left saying he was going to Manor House.”
When he finally spoke again, he sounded like he was trying to
convince himself of the truth of his words.
“The boys are with her. They’ll
take care of her; they always do.”
that, or they’ll get sucked down into the vicious black hole that
thought had come unbidden to Helen’s mind, but it just served to
further convince her that Matt and Maddie were right.
The dark and depressing thoughts she had about her daughter were
just plain wrong. Trixie
needed to get as far away as possible if either one of them were ever
going to get any better.
one time, motherhood had been the only thing Helen had felt she truly
did well. Now even that was
slipping through her fingers and, try as she might, she couldn’t grab
the fistfuls of sand as they fell into the abyss.
gripped Peter’s arms. This
man was all she had left, and she couldn’t afford to lose him, too.
at the estate on the hill, Matt and Maddie Wheeler had spoken privately
with Mart and Brian for a while and were now meeting with the staff to
inform them of the changes to life in Manor House.
While Sherry Lynch had returned to her own home, where she had
the difficult job of informing Bobby of some of the day’s events, the
Bob-Whites and their friends from Boston were seated around the dining
room table, taking the opportunity to get to know Chelsea and Ria
Trask had not been present at the staff meeting because she had been
upstairs sitting with Trixie. As soon as she entered the room and nodded to her employers,
Maddie left Matt to finish the discussion.
Quietly slipping into the dining room, Maddie walked up behind
Mart and touched his shoulder. “Trixie’s
words, though softly spoken, echoed through the room and brought all
other conversations to a screeching halt.
In the piercing silence that followed, Mart’s nervous gulp
sounded like a cannon shot. He and Brian nodded to each other, then rose and followed
Maddie from the room.
they reached the door to Trixie’s room, as it now was, Maddie turned
to the boys. “Do you want
me to come in with you?”
shook his head. “No. We’d
like a few minutes alone with her.”
nodded and pointed to a chair by the telephone table at the end of the
hall. “I’ll be waiting
held back a few paces as Mart entered the room and moved to the side of
the bed. Trixie opened her
eyes when she felt him sit on the bed beside her, facing her.
Grabbing her hand, Mart asked, “How do you feel?”
swallowed hard as she sat up, as if trying to wash away a terrible taste
in her mouth. Huskily, she
mumbled, “Have I mentioned that I really hate drugs?”
sat down on her other side, back against the headboard, shoulder to
shoulder with her. “You
needed them. It was about
time you got some sleep.”
glanced at him for a moment, then turned to Mart with a look of
betrayal. “You told
him,” she accused.
details,” Mart assured her. “That’s
just between us.” He
cupped her face in his hand and looked at her beseechingly.
“I had to, Trix. I’ve got to help you.”
stared at Mart for a moment, then rolled her eyes in resignation and
turned away, all the while fighting back tears.
“I suppose I’ve been the subject of a BWG meeting.”
for one, you know,” Brian said, grabbing her other hand.
looked at her brothers, then closed her eyes and wearily rested her head
on Brian’s shoulder. “I’m not supposed to be the one.”
gets a turn, Princess,” Mart responded gently.
you’re not even supposed to be here – you’re supposed to be in
always be here when you need me,” he quietly assured her.
tiny hands squeezed the larger ones, engulfing them as hard as they
could, acknowledging the care and concern with thanks.
Tears trickled down her cheeks.
Mart asked, “What do you mean?”
months ago, everything was different.
My whole world, who I am… it was just different.”
glanced nervously at Brian. Now
was as good a time as any. “Including
where you live, it seems.”
lifted her head off Brian’s shoulder and stared at Mart in confusion.
“What do you mean?”
going to be staying with the Wheelers for a while.”
gazed into the distance, pain and confusion warring with relief, relief
battling with guilt. “So, Moms wanted to get rid of me that badly, huh?”
wasn’t her idea, Trix,” Brian said firmly but gently.
“Mrs. Wheeler is trying to get you away from the chaos.
You’re having problems right now, and so is Moms.
You’re just making each other worse.
Mrs. Wheeler wants to help you both.”
a myriad of emotions that she couldn’t even begin to name, Trixie
looked again to Mart. “And
I’m to take care of Bobby,” he answered, just a trace of bitterness
in his voice. He saw the
look of panic that whisked across her face.
“I’ll be close by. Any time you need me, just whistle.”
a fresh wave of tears coursed across her already streaked face, Mart
leaned forward and put his free hand on her shoulder.
“Trixie, listen to me. Nothing
is going to come between us… not crazy parents, not custody
sat bolt upright and looked back and forth rapidly between her brothers.
“Custody?” she fairly screeched. “Custody?”
hastened to reassure her. “Trixie,
you need help… counseling, and maybe some medical help.
Mr. Wheeler says it’s just a technicality to facilitate that
turned her face to him, blue eyes blazing with intense love and devotion
and, in a fierce whisper, promised her, “This doesn’t change
anything between the three of us. Not
and struggling to process all that had happened, Trixie threw her arms
around Mart’s neck and buried her face in his shoulder.
She was scared and confused.
She couldn’t seem to find the energy to fight.
She was only beginning to realize how out of control her life had
his part, Mart held her like he would never let go, until her sobs had
quieted. Brian scooted up,
needing to maintain physical contact with Trixie, and ended up with his
arms around both siblings. The
shared embrace emphasized the unbreakable bond between the three.
Trixie seemed calmer, Brian sat back and grabbed some tissues off the
nightstand. He reached a
hand forward to hand one to Trixie while using the other hand to
surreptitiously wipe his own eyes.
As his sister sat back to wipe her face, Brian threw a wadded up
tissue at Mart, hitting him between the eyes.
Mart responded by making a silly face, and Brian decided it was
time to lighten Trixie’s mood as well.
He opted to follow the “Mangan Method”.
does change some things, though. Dan
says it makes you Jim’s sister.”
turned slowly toward Brian with a look of disgust.
the heck is wrong with that boy?”
face a picture of innocence, Mart asked, “You mean you don’t think
of Jim in a brotherly way?”
the trap into which she’d just fallen, Trixie blew her nose and glared
grumpily at Mart. “He’s
my best friend. That’s
nodded knowingly. “Anyway, Jim’s date seemed to think it was funny.”
onto the change of subject in relief, Trixie quirked an eyebrow at her
date? Coming home because
your friend has lost her marbles requires a date?”
shook his head and grinned mischievously.
All the chaos and insanity in Trixie’s life right now upset
her, but Brian knew hearing about Jim’s date wouldn’t.
It made no sense to him, but Trixie heard about all of Jim’s
dates. She critiqued and
ranked them. In fact, she
was the one who had suggested that Chelsea was worthy of a second date.
He knew just how to get her back to acting like herself.
He just hasn’t finished his date from last night yet.”
blinked. A few times. Slowly.
during their date last night, she ended up driving him to Rochester…
to visit his dad’s grave.”
jaw dropped. “She got him to talk about that? I don’t know whether I should be jealous or impressed.”
the best part,” Brian’s eyes twinkled.
“According to the report I got a little while ago, she did it
by telling him that, if he thinks you’re so smart and you
said he needs to talk about it, then obviously he needs to talk
stunned expression giving way to begrudging respect, Trixie conceded,
“At least she’s smart enough to know who knows him best.
Which one is this?”
roommate, Chelsea,” Brian said. “They’re
a bit, Trixie latched onto that information.
“They? As in, the
lovely Ria is here as well?”
nodded. Mart winked.
“She’s really pretty, too.
Big Brother sure can pick ‘em.”
bounced a little, her natural enthusiasm returning.
“I think I need to go downstairs and meet these ladies.”
She looked down at the nightgown she was wearing.
“But I can’t go like this.”
pointed to the chair behind him. “All
you need is that bathrobe and those slippers.
You don’t need to dress up to come downstairs and eat
is your department,” she retorted, conveniently disregarding his
opinion of her need to change clothing.
tapped her on the nose and responded firmly, “It needs to be yours.”
looked at Mart, then down at her own frail form sitting in the bed.
Embarrassment tinged her face.
She definitely didn’t want to discuss her weight.
her a quick hug, Brian changed the subject.
“Actually, Sis, I think Mrs. Wheeler wants to talk to you
before you come down. We’ll be downstairs waiting.”
flooded her features.
vowed, “We’ll be right downstairs.
We aren’t going anywhere.”
stay here, and I’ll send Mrs. Wheeler in.”
Brian kissed the top of her head.
“We’ll see you in a few minutes.”
gave her a kiss on the cheek and followed Brian out the door.
Trixie could only sit, wringing her hands and wondering what to
conversation in the dining room had resumed after Brian and Mart left,
albeit in a much more subdued fashion.
A few minutes later, Matt appeared in the doorway, beckoning Jim
to join him. Heeding his
father’s call, the younger redhead left his seat and followed the
older gentleman down the hall to the study.
they were gone, Honey plunked both elbows noisily on the table and
dropped her face into her hands with a loud, weary sigh.
gave her a sympathetic glance, but gently reprimanded, “Don’t be so
lifted her face to turn a hazel glare on her friend, punctuating her
un-Honey-like words with wide waves of her hands.
been nothing BUT drama for the last 24 hours, and it all centers on those
ever irreverent, opined, “I get the impression that, around here,
everyone’s entire world revolves around those two.”
enjoying Chelsea’s irreverence, Dan mildly objected to the image of
being a secondary character in Trixie’s shadow.
“What do you think we are, the Trixie Belden Fan Club?”
Chelsea said, “Nah. If
you were you’d have club jackets and a secret whistle or something.”
Catching the slightly guilty looks exchanged among Dan, Di and
Honey, Chelsea burst out laughing.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
contrast to the amused twinkle in her eyes, Diana sniffed and stuck her
nose in the air. “We are
the Bob-Whites of the Glen, thank you very much, not the
Trixie Belden Fan Club.” Then
she grinned back at the newcomers.
“Of course, none of us would be here if it weren’t for
nodded. “If you continue
to spend time with our brothers, ladies, you will soon be in the sphere
of her influence. Your life
will never be the same.” She
smiled knowingly. “There
will always be drama… as well as enough adventure, chaos, turmoil, and even
terror to match the amazing love and light.”
of which, by the way,” Dan put in, “are endless.
There is no family on this earth with bigger hearts than the
Beldens. That explains why
we’re taking all of this so hard, I suppose.
I think we’re used to them being our safe haven.”
had quietly observed the exchange.
“They’ve made you strong.
Now they need help.”
is exactly what they’ll get!” Honey
vowed, emphasized by her fist pounding the table, fierce determination
bringing an aura of strength to the once-frail girl.
smiled wistfully. “That’s the way love should be.
Always giving or always taking are paths to destruction.
Give and take that keeps everyone afloat… that’s true love.
You are all very lucky.”
studied Ria thoughtfully. She
remembered life at Briar Hill, and the cold loneliness that had seemed
to permeate the place. She
had a feeling that Ria had very little firsthand experience with the
kind of love of which she spoke. However,
the older girl was dating Brian Belden – he of the caring soul and
generous heart. Stick around, Ria. You’ll
know what it feels like soon.
beckoned Jim into his study and shut the door behind him.
A somewhat awkward silence filled the room while Matt fiddled
with some papers on his desk. He
finally picked up an old yearbook and flipped to a marked page.
traced a picture on the page and asked Jim a curious question.
“Do you remember the feeling, the day you met Trixie, that your
life would never be the same?”
stared at this man he now called father, contemplating his response.
He shoved his hands deep into his front pockets and leaned his
backside against a mahogany table.
“Of course I do.”
never leaving the picture before him, Matt nodded.
“When you ran away from Ten Acres you knew - if you never
saw her again, you’d never forget her.
a wry smile, Jim acknowledged that.
“She has that effect on people, you know.”
expected Matt to chuckle, or at least smile.
He didn’t expect the sad, lonely look on the man’s face, nor the way
his hand flattened on the book, as if trying to reach out through time
and space to touch a lost memory.
He certainly didn’t expect
the utterance that followed, in a husky voice.
“So did Win.”
eyes widened, and he caught his breath.
Although he was aware that Matthew Wheeler had gone to school with
Winthrop Frayne, his adopted father had never shared any personal
memories of the man that connected them. Then again, Jim had never asked.
Before today, the only person with whom he talked about Win was
Trixie. He just hadn’t
today was different. Today, he had shared with Chelsea. Today, he had found his way to happy memories.
Today, he had visited his father.
Today, he wanted to talk about him.
raising his eyes from the picture before him, Matt looked at Jim.
“I lost touch with Win when he moved to Rochester.
You wouldn’t think a half a state could make such a difference,
but your dad chose a quiet farm life, while I hustled my way up the
corporate ladder and into the high-society world.
You were just a baby then.”
frowned. “You were still
in touch with Dad after I was born?”
Matt told him, “The last time I saw him was at your christening
party.” Lost in a memory,
he smiled. “In fact,
you’re responsible for Honey being born.”
rocketing skyward, Jim exclaimed, “You’re kidding!”
Matt said, “Maddie didn’t want children.
As far as she was concerned, they were diapers and details and
drama and disruption to a life she preferred to be orderly and elegant.
But, at the party, Katje insisted she hold you.
You snuggled into her arms and smiled at her.”
A tender look crossed his face.
“She’s never been the same.
You have no idea what it means to Maddie to be your mother.”
felt like Matt was placing pieces into the puzzle of his life that he
hadn’t even known were missing. “No
one ever told me.”
the fools we.” Regret hit hard, but was quickly replaced by a determination
to right the unintentional wrong. Matt
motioned Jim to have a seat as he crossed the room and took one himself.
you like your roommates at school?”
thrown by the change of topic, Jim frowned.
“Well, yes, but…”
roommates are great friends. Let
me tell you about the time Win convinced us all to strip to our skivvies
in the snow…”
flashed his dad a disbelieving look that demanded further explanation,
answered Matt’s grin, and settled back to hear the story.
lounged, stretched out lazily across several boxes in the far corner of
the warehouse space that the band, Two Tones, used as a practice room.
The band members were mostly in their late twenties, except the
drummer, Denny, who was in his forties.
During the day, Denny was a conservative, respectable
businessman. However, on
the weekends, he hung out with the band members and whaled away on the
drums. He called it a
stress-reliever that kept him young.
band in question had been hired to perform at the Homecoming Dance, but
an injury had befallen their lead singer.
It wasn’t anything too serious, a broken leg, but the hip-cast
was enough that he wouldn’t be available to perform at the dance, a
mere week away. Without a
vocalist, the band had been in a bind, but had found a workable
had asked someone to fill in – his daughter, Sarah.
While she was eager to help, and equally eager to have a paying
singing gig, from a vocal standpoint she could only handle half their
songs. They really needed a
male voice as well. Hence,
Sarah had twisted her best friend’s arm to help her.
sat back and watched as Sarah and Tad practiced with Denny and the
others, learning the rhythms and getting the feel of the group, so they
could take center stage next week.
Chris had to admit, this was a much better solution to Tad’s
problem than Chris’ suggestion that Sarah be his date.
For one thing, Sarah could dress like the band members rather
than having to wear a party dress.
The pain Sarah would have inflicted on her two best friends for
trying to force her to wear a dress would have been unbearable.
Excruciating, even. Yes,
this was definitely a better solution.
if Tad was busy on stage, he wouldn’t have an opportunity to cut in on
Chris and Trixie. Chris
would have Trixie all to himself.
again, Tad would be serenading her all night.
his teeth against that unpleasant thought, Chris took comfort in the
fact that at least he would be the one holding Trixie in his
arms. Yes, he would still
have the better deal.
the group finished their rehearsal, Sarah and Tad made their way over to
Chris. Sarah shook her head
at him in pity. “I
can’t believe you’re wasting your time sitting here.”
grinned. “Riss and Paul
wanted to be alone, and I was bored.
What could cure boredom better than watching the two of you make
fools of yourselves?”
slugged his arm. “You’re a clown, you know that?”
ducked to the floor and looked at the ceiling.
Chris looked quizzically at her.
“What the heck are you doing?”
shrugged. “Waiting for
the lightning strike. I
figured you’d arrange one for him for daring to say such a thing.”
laughed while Chris hauled her back to a standing position.
“Aren’t you just the comedienne tonight?”
that’s me!” Sarah
grinned. “Always around
to ruin your reputation. Aren’t
you glad I don’t go to Sleepyside High?”
Chris uttered vehemently.
her head, Sarah sighed. “I
don’t know why you won’t just let your guard down and let people see
the real you. You’re not
so bad, you know.”
longer joking, Tad folded his arms across his chest and leaned against
the wall. “Yes, but
he’s not perfect. And God
forbid anyone think he’s less than perfect.”
didn’t like the shift this conversation was taking.
“Bite me, Webster.”
her friend squirm uncomfortably, Sarah frowned.
“Why is your reputation so important to you, Chris?
Why do you think you have to be so perfect?”
remained silent. They’d had this same conversation many times over the
years. This was the point
at which he had always jumped in with some smart-aleck comment, to which
Chris would respond comically, causing the subject to be dropped, and
they’d then go off and have fun.
But after all these years, after everything they’d shared,
Sarah still didn’t get it. Apparently, he was going to have to spell it out for her.
voice was gentle, but the words cut like a knife.
“Because of Eric.”
head turned so fast he should have had whiplash.
He looked at Tad as if he had just stabbed him in the back and
twisted hard. His gray eyes
reflected betrayal, as well as the remembered pain and embarrassment
that haunted him daily.
felt like a complete idiot. She
should have realized… But, no, she’d been so stupid for so long.
And now Tad was going to take the brunt of Chris’ anger for
having the nerve to speak the truth out loud.
Not if I can help it…
stepped forward and placed a light hand on Chris’ arm.
“Chris, you’re nothing like Eric.
And no one is comparing you to him.
He was so much older than you; most people you know don’t even
back down onto the box he had been lying on earlier, Chris clenched his
teeth and blinked back tears. It
had been so many years since Eric’s death, but it still wounded him
deeply to even mention his brother.
His voice laced with heartache, he said, “My parents do.”
moved from the wall and sat beside his friend.
“And they know you’re nothing like him.
Your parents are proud of you, of who you are.
You’re their ‘pride and joy’.”
cracking, Chris said, “I have to be.”
down on his other side, Sarah grabbed his hand.
“No, you don’t.
You have to be you.
That’s all they want. It’s
a brief mental struggle, Chris decided to bare his soul to the two
people he trusted most. “This
is going to sound stupid.”
us,” Tad encouraged.
I die… I want people to be sad… instead of breathing a sigh of
sprang to Sarah’s eyes. “Oh,
Chris! No one was relieved
about Eric’s death!”
only response was a snort of disbelief.
his words carefully, Tad gave his friend his advice.
“If that’s really what you want, then you should quit the
charade. People mourn the
loss of a nice guy a lot more than the loss of a cocky, arrogant kid who
can shoot hoops well.”
he had heard every word and was taking them to heart, Chris felt an
overwhelming need to lighten the mood.
about the smartass who hits homeruns?”
answered by shoulder-slamming him while trying to keep the smile off his
face. Chris grinned and
jabbed again. “What about
the jerk with the angelic voice?”
about yourself now?” Sarah chided Chris with a smirk.
shoved her off the box. She
turned and shoved him back, which in turn knocked Tad onto the floor.
Tad protested indignantly, “Hey!
What did I do to you?”
three friends burst into laughter.
Chris stood, pulled Tad off the floor, and clapped him on the
back. “Come on; let’s
get out of here.”
so fast!” Sarah commanded. “You
still have work to do here!”
looked down his nose at her. Not
that it was intentional; it was really just a function of his height.
Sarah took offense nonetheless.
“Don’t look at me like that, Christopher,” she fumed.
work? When did I agree to
do any work?” he protested.
didn’t agree, but you’re going to do it anyway,” Sarah announced.
looked at Tad in amazement, who turned to hide the twinkle in his eye.
He saw what was coming and was more than happy to let Sarah take
the blame for this one.
back to Sarah, Chris became wary. “What,
exactly, do you think I’m going to do?”
pointed at the microphones at the other end of the practice room.
“You two are going to go up there and practice the duet
you’re doing for church tomorrow.”
jaw dropped. “What?
I am not doing a duet for church!
Tad is doing a solo. S
- O - L - O. SOLO – that means one voice.”
stood right in front of Chris with a determined gleam in her eye.
Chris was suddenly reminded of facing down a very angry Trixie. These two will get along too well, he thought.
Tad apparently got a similar mental image, because he laughed so
hard he fell back on the box.
will sing the duet, Chris. You’ll
do it because it will make your mother proud.”
A triumphant smile covered her face.
narrowed his eyes. “You’re evil, you know that?
a smirk, Sarah said, “Yes, I know.”
Then she batted her eyelashes and turned, throwing a wink back
over her shoulder. She
sauntered off to the soundboard to insert the background track, fully
expecting the boys to obediently follow.
her with an irritated glance, Chris then turned to Tad.
His friend’s laughter had finally died down enough for him to
catch his breath. “Why do
we let women run our lives?” Chris muttered.
a rueful grin at his tall blond friend, Tad answered, “Because the
alternative is to live without them.”
that thought, Chris said, “That would leave me alone in this world
with you. No thanks!”
Tad said as he gave Chris a playful shove.
Chris shoved back.
so they continued, horsing around as they moved toward the microphones,
pretending their decision to sing together was their own idea, and not