looked up nervously as Maddie entered the room.
Her fingers worried the satin edge of the thermal blanket where
it lay folded across her waist. Maddie
approached the bed cautiously, as if trying not to spook a skittish
horse. She sat on the side
of the bed and faced her delicate new charge.
you mad at me?” Maddie asked.
beleaguered young woman glanced up in surprise.
“Why would I be mad at you?”
smiled softly. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe
for not asking you how you felt before making any decisions.”
would that matter?” Trixie asked cynically.
this entire thing is all about how you feel,” Maddie said kindly.
got a mournful look on her face. “Lost.”
sighed sympathetically and moved to sit beside the little blonde,
putting a comforting arm around her shoulders.
“In need of a trail of breadcrumbs, huh?”
nodded and leaned her head against the older woman’s shoulder.
reached up and brushed a golden curl back off Trixie’s face.
“If you were Bobby’s age, your mother had had a stroke, and
we offered to take care of you until she was better, would that make
sense to you?”
quietly she could barely be heard, Trixie answered, “Yes.
But I’m not Bobby’s age.
And Moms didn’t have a stroke.”
know, sweetheart.” Maddie leaned her honeyed head on the soft mass of curls and
rubbed Trixie’s shoulder. “Your
mother’s sickness may be a little hard to define, but she’s still
ill. And you may be older
than Bobby, but you still need someone to take care of you right now. You need someone to listen to you, watch out for you, and
help you find what’s best for you.”
do that?” Trixie asked tremulously.
Maddie vowed. “Whatever you need.”
I need…” Trixie breathed, a shaky sound, struggling not to break
down into another bout of tears. She
swallowed hard and tried again. “I
just need… for it to all go away.”
gave her a squeeze. “That’s not something that can happen instantaneously.
But I promise to help you find a way.”
you.” It was a whispered
sigh, and with it came a release of control.
It was as if Trixie finally felt safe enough to let go of some of
the things she’d been holding in.
thankful that she seemed to be getting somewhere, Maddie turned the
topic to more practical matters. “I
suppose we need to go over a couple of details.
First off, this room is now yours.
You’re free to move things around, redecorate, whatever.
Let me know if you need anything.”
responded to the change in tone by sitting up and looking at her
concentration on less emotional matters helped her to regain her
continued. “Second, there
is a clothing issue. Your
parents packed you a suitcase, which we brought with us.
However, I’m willing to bet nothing fits you.
We’re going shopping Monday afternoon.”
bit back a smile as Trixie groaned good-naturedly.
“Third, and most importantly, we have several appointments on
Monday. The first is with Dr. Ferris.
The second will be with a counselor, which Dr. Ferris is
arranging. And the third is
with Mr. Stratton. Once
we’ve gotten through those, we’ll have a more definite idea of
schedules and things. After
that, we’ll talk more about what will change and what will stay the
same for you. Okay?”
looked into Maddie’s eyes, while Maddie anxiously awaited her reaction
to the last part. Trixie was confused and overwhelmed, but she felt like she
had finally found a lifeline. She
decided to hold on and allow herself to be pulled to safety. “Thank you, Mére.”
the tension of the last few hours, Maddie pulled Trixie into a big hug.
“Everything’s going to be okay, darling. I promise.”
answered in a trembling voice, “I know it will, because I trust
had no idea how she’d achieved this victory, but she was thrilled.
They had a long way to go, but it was a good start.
Trixie had dressed, Maddie had insisted she needed something to eat.
Most of the teenagers had finished eating and had moved from the
dining room to the library, but Honey had stayed behind to make sure
everyone was well and truly done. She
was just about to join the others when Maddie and Trixie entered the
room. Honey stopped, suddenly unsure of what to do or how to treat
the troubled girl before her.
approached Honey timidly. “Hon,
are you okay with this? Do
you mind my staying here?”
jaw dropped. Once she got
over her initial shock, it dawned on her that this was vintage Trixie.
She was a mess, she needed help, but her primary concern was for
her friends. It was good to
know that, despite everything, the real Trixie was still there.
Honey smiled and wrapped her arms around her best friend.
course, I’m okay with this. It’ll
be like a never-ending slumber party.”
took charge, fixing a plate for Trixie and keeping her company while she
ate. For her part, Trixie
clung to the ordinary routine of eating a simple meal with her closest
girlfriend, grilling her about Ria and Chelsea, and debating the merits
of the available movie options for the evening. Maddie observed them for a few moments while fixing herself a
small plate, then took her meal to the kitchen to give the girls some
time later, Di came searching for Honey.
When she found the two girls, she joined them, and a silly
discussion of Honey and Di’s shopping adventures earlier in the day
ensued. The three friends
were able to feel reassured that, no matter what changed in their lives,
they would always be able to laugh together.
Honey’s plan is for all of us to camp out in the rec room, right?”
what she said,” Dan replied. “Of
course, then she got all worried that Trixie might not feel up to
will prefer it,” Brian sagely observed.
“After how much sleep she got this afternoon, she won’t be
tired soon. Combine that
with the nightmares… she’s not gonna want to go back to sleep.
She’d rather stay downstairs, with all of us together.”
boys were in the library, ensconced around a roaring fire.
Brian and Mart shared the sofa with Ria, who was curled up
against Brian’s side. He
kept his arm firmly around her, his fingers gently caressing the length
of her arm. She shivered in delight and snuggled closer.
A small, secret smile played at the corners of Brian’s mouth as
he dropped a kiss on her forehead.
observed this from his position by the fire.
He alternated between leaning his forearm against the mantle
while staring into the fire and agitatedly pacing the length of the
hearth. The only other
occupant of the room, currently, was Chelsea.
She was sitting in a comfortable chair, head back and eyes
closed, ostensibly dozing.
another round of pacing, Dan stopped and rubbed his hands over his face.
“God, I’m tired!”
the club,” Mart drawled.
right,” Dan said. “Trixie’s not gonna sleep tonight.”
how would that make tonight unique?” Mart asked.
ignored him and asked a question of his own.
“So who’s going to stay awake and keep her company?”
others all turned in surprise toward the unexpected voice.
Chelsea hadn’t moved from her position at all.
The group might have thought they had imagined the sound if they
hadn’t seen each other’s reactions.
thought you were sleeping,” Ria accused.
opened one eye and shrugged. “Dozing
on and off. I’m tired,
but I’m afraid of missing something.”
She grinned. “I’m
a nosy sort.”
groaned. “No wonder he
likes her.” His comment
was met with muffled chuckles from the direction of the couch.
her eyes, Chelsea sat up and stretched, stifling a yawn in the process.
“Look, Jim slept a lot in the car.
He’s probably more rested than any of you.
It looks like he’s going to be the last one to see her.
And, from what I understand, they have unresolved issues from
their fight last night.”
if those are their only unresolved issues,” Mart muttered.
Brian quickly jabbed him in the ribs to shut him up.
continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted, despite hearing Mart’s
comment clearly. “It just
seems to me that the still of the night, after the rest of us have
dropped off to sleep, will be the perfect time for them to talk.
A late night refrigerator raid and some quiet conversation,
have you got those two pegged,” Dan laughed, shaking his head.
we should see if Cook’s got any chocolate cake hidden out there,”
Mart said with a knowing smirk.
returned the smirk with a wicked grin.
“Not unless we get some first!”
the girls chatted, Trixie relaxed and enjoyed the sense of normalcy.
Every so often it would wane, however, as one or the other of her
best girlfriends directed pointed stares at the amount of food remaining
on her plate. The enforced
rest had done Trixie some good, and she felt better than she had in
days. And she was hungry.
But she was also cautious. The
ever-present nausea that had plagued her of late was mild this evening,
but it lingered beneath the surface.
Taking small amounts of food, slowly, seemed far preferable to
throwing up yet again.
knew her friends were just worrying about her, and she also knew they
had a valid point. Because
she appreciated their love and concern, she forced herself to keep
Honey and Di were finally satisfied that Trixie had eaten enough, they
let her off the hook by suggesting that they take their plates to the
kitchen. Diana silently
reflected that Mart certainly wouldn’t have been satisfied by the
amount Trixie had eaten. Of
course, that was also why Di had ordered him to wait in the library.
The food issue was not the area to let Mart observe; after all,
Mart’s perceptions of a proper meal were a little warped.
girls had started gathering the dishes to take to the kitchen when Celia
arrived and shooed them off, so they proceeded to the library to join
the others. As they marched
down the hall arm-in-arm, Trixie laughingly asked, “Hey, does this
mean I get out of doing dishes while I stay here?”
together, they made their grand entrance to the library.
Dan immediately stopped pacing and looked anxiously at Trixie.
She took one look at his face and knew he’d been frantic with
worry all day, no matter how calm he’d appeared.
She made a beeline for him, and he engulfed her in a fierce hug.
When Dan finally relaxed his grip, he placed a knuckle under her
chin and gently forced her to meet his gaze.
me something, Trix.” His
soft, steady voice belied the fear and pleading in his dark eyes.
what, Danny?” She felt so
badly for worrying her friends that she might have agreed to anything
next time you feel the need to run away, you come find me.”
Dan’s voice trembled. “I’ll
take you anywhere you want to go, as long as I know you’re safe.”
face softened, and there was a slight twinkle in her eyes.
“And if I wanted to go to the deepest, darkest jungle in
smiled slightly. “Anywhere,
darlin’, as long as I know you’re safe.”
rapidly to keep the tears out of her eyes again, Trixie rested her head
on Dan’s shoulder. “I promise.”
Trixie remained in the comfort of Dan’s arms, Diana took a seat on
Mart’s lap. Seeing how
intently he was watching his sister, Di whispered in his ear, “It’s
Dan, silly, not Chris or Tad.”
was startled out of his observation.
He flashed her a rueful grin and decided to concentrate instead
on the silken feel of Diana’s hair as he ran his fingers through it.
took a deep breath, trying to change gears.
She stepped away from Dan and turned to her oldest brother.
“I haven’t met your friends yet, Brian.”
smiled and stood to make the introductions.
“Sis, this is my girlfriend, Ria.”
had risen with Brian and now reached forward to shake Trixie’s hand.
“I’ve heard a lot about you.
Your brother loves to talk about you.”
eyebrows shot up; then she flashed a bright, mischievous grin.
“Not nearly as much as he likes to talk about you.
I’ve been dying to meet you.”
blushed, and the other Bob-Whites exchanged disgruntled looks.
They’d never heard of Ria before this morning, but Trixie
seemed to know all about her.
meanwhile, was awestruck. When
Trixie had smiled, the whole room had brightened.
The girl was pale and thin, her faced lined with exhaustion and
stress, yet a simple smile at a relative stranger managed to brighten
the room. Chelsea was
trying hard not to imagine what kind of effect a healthy, happy Trixie
could have on an unsuspecting male. Or worse, one who fully realized he would eagerly do anything
to earn that smile.
Brian turned to introduce Chelsea, he was surprised to find her frowning
at Trixie. He lifted an
inquiring brow, and Chelsea flushed.
She cleared her throat and stepped forward, thrusting her hand
out in front of her. “Chelsea
Coleman. I’m Ria’s
smiled knowingly. “And Jim’s date.”
felt like she’d been issued a challenge.
She narrowed her eyes slightly.
What was this girl after, anyway?
She lifted her chin and unconsciously squared her shoulders.
with Chelsea’s response, Trixie nodded.
“Good. Do me a
favor? Keep Amber away from him.
He doesn’t need the kind of trouble her kind creates.”
closing the subject, Trixie moved away and sat down on the couch.
Chelsea was left standing with her jaw agape.
At least she didn’t look any worse than anyone else in the
saw Brian’s amused look and the dumbfounded stares of the others.
She noticed that Trixie had seated herself right beside Mart.
She took up so little room that Ria and Brian could easily resume
their previous positions, leaving Trixie neatly tucked between her two
big brothers. Deciding that
was exactly Trixie’s intent, Ria decided to let her have her way. Ria walked over to Chelsea and gently pushed up on her chin,
closing her mouth. Then she
resumed her seat, pulling Brian down beside her.
grabbed Brian’s other hand and smiled conspiratorially at Ria.
The older girl winked at her, and Trixie winked back.
Brian squeezed both girls’ hands and relaxed, pleased to have
witnessed the beginnings of a true friendship between his two favorite
observed the exchange from an armchair across the room and sighed.
Brian’s first serious girlfriend, and she and Trixie were thick
as thieves already. Once
again, Honey felt Trixie expanding her horizons and leaving her old
friend far behind.
Matt’s last story about Winthrop Frayne, the redheads had lapsed into
a comfortable silence. Jim got up and looked through the window at the storm still
raging outside. His
thoughts turned from the long ago memories of his father to the present
turmoil of Trixie. He
shoved his hands in his pockets and turned, leaning against the
windowsill, and studied Matt carefully.
can I ask you a question?”
had been lost in time, and Jim’s voice dragged him back to the
present. He looked up at
his son. “Of course, Jim.
wealth and position give you so much power.
You’re used to being in charge.
Is it hard to deal with situations you can’t control?”
was taken aback by the question. He
crossed the room and stood before Jim, staring into the depths of his
son’s green eyes, trying to read the young man’s mind through those
windows into his soul. Matt
instinctively knew a lot was riding on how he answered this question.
with all the power I have, there are many situations I can’t control.
Trixie talking the Bob-Whites into crazy stuff, for example.“
to see that Jim had the good grace to look abashed, Matt went on.
“One of the hardest lessons in life is to learn to accept the
things you can’t control. But
many situations are more about influence than control.
Sometimes people, in a position like mine, manipulate situations
by buying people. I
don’t. I won’t.
I’ll wine, dine, befriend, and try to influence people, yes.
But I don’t buy people.
I learned long ago to accept that I don’t always have control, Jim,
I’ll still try to influence people and situations to go the way I
held his breath, watching Jim process his response.
Jim chewed his lip for a minute.
“So controlling people is bad, but influencing them is okay?”
he asked uncertainly.
a little, Matt crossed his arms and stroked his chin while he considered
how best to explain. He stopped and faced Jim again.
“It’s like voting. To
pay someone to vote the way you want is illegal and immoral.
But to talk to them, explaining your position on the issues with
the sole intent of convincing them to see things your way – that’s
the heart of the democratic process.
The goal in both cases is getting the person to vote your way,
but the method makes all the difference.”
nodded thoughtfully; while he could see Matt’s point, he was still
worried about his friends. “So
taking Trixie away from the Beldens is your attempt to influence this
hint of accusation in Jim’s tone made Matt flinch.
He sighed, crossed the room, and sat heavily in his desk chair.
The stress of the day was catching up with him, and he flung an
accusation back. “And
you’ve never tried to influence Trixie?”
instantly got defensive. “That’s
infamous redheaded temper flared. “Why?”
he yelled, pounding on his desk and glaring angrily across the room at
Jim. “Because you were
trying to save her life? Jim, she was literally praying to die.
She asked me to just leave her out there, lying face down in a
mud puddle in the middle of a hurricane!
I’m trying to save her life!
Only this time, there are no bad guys you can just send away to
jail. The enemy here is in
her mind. You’re damn
right I’m trying to influence her!”
anger spent, Matt’s shoulders slumped, and he rubbed his eyes with the
heels of his hands. “I’m
Jim cut him off, his voice gruff. “Don’t
you ever apologize for trying to save her.”
was visibly shaken, Matt could see.
His face reflected his desperate need to know Trixie would be
okay. But there was
something else Matt couldn’t quite define… was that guilt?
He got up and walked over to stand beside his son.
just feel like this is all my fault!”
Jim ran a hand roughly through his hair.
“I went away and left her!”
placed a comforting hand on Jim’s shoulder.
“Now who thinks he can control everything?
None of this is because you went away.”
sensible part of my brain knows that.
But that’s not how I feel.”
know. It’s hard to watch
people you care about go through painful times.”
stared off into the distance. His
voice cracked as he spoke. “I’ve
watched a lot of that.”
felt a sudden constriction in his throat.
He wished he could just erase all the layers of pain he heard in
his son’s voice, all the memories of his parents’ illnesses and
deaths. But he couldn’t.
All he could do was nod with sympathy.
“I know, son.”
tired of watching people I love suffer without being able to do anything
about it,” Jim said bitterly, his body rigid with pent-up pain and
don’t ever go into the delivery room with your wife, Matt thought.
He refrained from uttering the thought aloud, however, simply
because he believed it wouldn’t take Jim’s mind off of the image of Trixie
his son thoughtfully, Matt offered an opinion based purely on gut
instinct. “Maybe that’s
why this is happening now.”
looked at him like he was speaking a foreign language.
Matt hastened to explain. “Look,
many people who have been the victims of criminal activity have suffered
stress and nightmares because of it.
One robbery or kidnapping can scar people for life.
Trixie’s been through this over and over again.
We all thought she was too tough to be bothered by it.
Instead, it seems she was just building up to an overload.
But, maybe, Trixie held off this long just so you wouldn’t be
here to watch her meltdown. Maybe
you were meant to be spared that.”
his father’s theory, Jim shivered and turned back toward the window.
“I can just see her doing something like that.”
not what I meant!” Matt’s exasperation shone.
“I meant like God was trying to spare you. Do you actually think Trixie would see this coming and time
it to protect you?”
glanced toward the older man, one eyebrow raised, challenging him to say
that Trixie would never do such a thing.
Wanting to tell Jim he was wrong, Matt struggled for a minute to
think of an appropriate response. He
finally sighed and turned away. “Never
mind. Forget I said that.”
a groan of frustration, Jim pushed off the wall and started pacing.
“Dad, it’s not that I think she planned this.
I know this hit her from left field.
She’s always believed she was kind of invincible.
That’s why this is so hard for her… she thinks she’s too
tough to be messed up like this. She
can’t accept the problem, so she can’t accept help.”
nodded. “That’s why the
Bob-Whites aren’t enough to help her through this.
She feels like she loses her place as the strong one in the group
if she lets you see how badly off she is.
If she loses that, she loses her entire identity.
No, this help has to come from outside the Bob-Whites… which is
where Maddie and I come in.”
stopped and faced Matt, trying to come to terms with stepping back and
letting his father take charge of something he felt should be a
Bob-White matter. Matt
watched his inner struggle for a moment.
trust us,” he pleaded. “We
would never let her down… if only because we know how much she means
to you and Honey.”
indefinable emotion flashed in Jim’s eyes before he turned away.
In a harsh whisper he said, “You can’t even begin to
up behind the young man, Matt spoke quietly.
“She means the world to Honey.
She sees Trixie as the catalyst for everything good in her life.
Part of her believes that, if Trixie weren’t around, her life
would go back to being miserable. I
can’t let that happen to my little girl.
for you… I know that Trixie means every bit as much to you as Maddie
means to me.” He paused,
letting his meaning sink in. Jim
looked away, not willing to acknowledge his father’s implications, but
certainly not able to deny them.
won’t let you down,” Matt promised.
After a moment he turned and walked out of the room, leaving Jim
alone with his thoughts.
headed for the kitchen in search of a glass of iced tea, trying to
resist the urge to march to the well-stocked bar and pour a nice, tall
scotch. He was surprised to
find Maddie pulling a pitcher of juice from the fridge.
are you doing, love?” he asked.
to resist the urge for a schnapps-on-the-rocks,” she responded.
Matt said, “Great minds think alike.” He
reached into the cupboard for two glasses.
“Get me the iced tea, would you?”
filled their glasses and sat together at the kitchen table.
Matt asked, “How did your talk with Trixie go?”
muted glow of the kitchen lights streaked her honeyed hair with strands
of gold while myriad emotions illuminated the flecks of green in her
hazel eyes. Matt reflected,
for probably the millionth time, that he could be content to sit and
watch his wife for hours on end.
well, all things considered,” she answered.
He rubbed his eyes, and Maddie noted the sheer exhaustion in his
face, knowing it matched her own. Yet,
despite how tired he looked, he still exuded strength and determination.
Maddie was a lucky woman to have such a rock and fortress in her
life, and she remembered once again to say a prayer of thanks for her
looked up at her, “I still need to talk with Trixie myself, but I
don’t think I have the energy tonight.”
searched the depths of his green eyes.
“I take it your talk with Jim didn’t go very well.”
shrugged. “Yes and no.”
He was silent for so long Maddie wondered if he would say
anything else. Finally, he
explained, “We talked about Win for a long time.
That went really well. It
felt good, for both of us.”
reached his hand and held it lightly.
“So what was the problem?”
conversation turned to Trixie,” he said with a grimace.
not taking this well.” Maddie
didn’t bother with a question.
squeezed her hand, then allowed his fingers to dance light caresses over
her wrist while he stared absent-mindedly at the rainbow of light
reflections in the diamonds of her wedding bands.
“She’s the center of his world.
He seems to think that, if she falls apart, his whole world falls
sighed. “A strong
foundation is made of more than one brick.
And a house with a strong foundation can stand up to many a
mighty storm. But he
doesn’t see that.”
only had him two years, Maddie. He’s
got many more years than that, full of pain and disillusionment, to get
over.” He took a long
swallow of his drink. “He’s
had a pretty easy life since he came to us.
Maybe it’s time for him to see that he’s in a more stable
a yawn, Maddie leaned her cheek on her hand.
“We should probably get some rest.
Tomorrow’s going to be just as long… you need to talk to
Trixie, I need to talk to Jim, and we both need to talk to Honey.”
groaned. “Why do I have
the feeling that’s going to be harder than it should be?”
think she’s feeling neglected, lost in the shuffle.”
the confused look on his elegant wife’s face, Matt speculated, “Can
you imagine how much time and effort Peter and Helen must put into
balancing the needs and emotions of all those kids?”
at the thought, Maddie shuddered. “Boys
are so much more closed-mouthed about their feelings, too.
I have no idea how they manage to keep them all relatively happy.
I’ve had a horrible time learning to manage two, and I’d have
never gotten anywhere without Marge.
I think Helen is long overdue for a nervous breakdown.”
wave of sorrow crossed Matt’s face.
“Did you see the look on Peter’s face when he signed those
grabbed his hand and rubbed it against her cheek.
“He entrusted you with his most precious possession, his baby
girl. I do believe that
proves how much of a friend he considers you.”
rose and pulled Maddie along with him.
“If I’m going to be worthy of that trust and friendship,
I’m going to need some sleep. Come
on, darling. Let’s call
it a night.”
left the room arm-in-arm, lost in thought as they climbed the elegant
stairway, each hoping desperately that they would be able to get at
least a small amount of sleep that night.
Lynch gently stroked the golden curls of the boy cradled in her lap.
Bobby had originally been thrilled to spend the entire day
playing with his best friends. But,
as night drew near and he was told he’d be spending the night again,
he had sensed that something was wrong at Crabapple Farm.
He’d pitched a fit and demanded to go home.
Then he had asked where Diana was.
When he’d learned she was spending the night at Manor House
with Honey and Trixie, Bobby had demanded to be taken to Manor House.
Then he had started begging plaintively for a simple phone call.
All he wanted to do was talk to Trixie, he had said.
his temper and his tears had failed to get him what he wanted, Bobby had
curled up in a ball and sobbed, calling his sister’s name over and
over again. Sherry had
finally gathered him into her arms, rocking him gently until he had
cried himself to sleep.
entire scene had broken Sherry’s heart.
She’d been tempted so many times during the several-hour-long
argument to cave in and take him over to Manor House.
A hug from Trixie would have solved her problems with the little
boy. But Sherry had heard
enough about Trixie’s day to know that the girl was in no shape to
care for her little brother right now, not even for a few minutes.
And seeing Trixie in her current condition would have only upset
Bobby further. As hard as
it had been, standing firm had been the best thing for Bobby.
his parents and brothers would have the difficult job of explaining the
situation to him. He, of course, would be unable to understand the turmoil in
the Belden household. He
would probably react just as Mart had:
filled Mart’s eyes, and he croaked out in a hoarse voice, “But
you’re taking her away from me.”
Bobby had had a difficult day. He
would have a difficult tomorrow. For
tonight, Sherry could only hope he would have pleasant dreams.