Will You Dance,

If I Ask You to Dance?




The gang had slept late in the morning and then eaten well.  After breakfast, they’d taken Chelsea and Ria on a tour of the stables.  Honey and Di and their guests had helped Reagan with the horses, while the boys had helped Mr. Maypenny clear some downed tree branches from the trails in the preserve.  But the rain had started again, and they had been sent off to the big house to stay warm and dry, being assured the rest of the work could wait.  They had cleaned up, changed into fresh clothes, and had lunch.

Now they were relaxing in the library.  Trixie still slept, but Jim joined the Bob-Whites and their friends to enjoy a companionable afternoon.  Some were doing homework, others reading peacefully, others chatting quietly.

Until Dan returned from his phone call, that is.

When the dark youth stormed into the room and startled the occupants with the slamming of the door, all eyes turned to him.  Seeing the raging anger on his face, Brian and Jim went on full alert.  When Dan roared, “DIANA!”, the two young men jumped to stand between their friend and the target of his wrath.

Mart rose and stood protectively in front of Di, asking, “What’s going on, Dan?”

The young lady in question, meanwhile, remained stretched out on the couch, ignoring Dan, casually continuing to read her book.  This cavalier attitude only served to inflame Dan’s anger.

“So help me, Di.”  Dan’s tightly controlled voice was perhaps even more dangerous than his bellowing.  “If Beth takes this out on Trixie, I’m gonna kill you!”

Speaking calmly, as if his tone could soothe his friend’s very ruffled feathers, Jim asked, “Takes what out on Trixie, Dan?”

The dark and stormy eyes finally swung to the tall redhead.  “Remember what you said last night about not getting how they think?  We’d never have guessed how pissed off Beth could get over something like changing the color of her Homecoming dress.  But Beth’s livid, and the fact that a dress designer who just happens to be friends with Mrs. Lynch changed the dress to purple  screams Diana.”

Honey was flustered by Dan’s anger, but also knew that Beth deserved that, and a whole lot more.  She couldn’t fault Diana for giving Beth a taste of her own medicine.  And who better than Di?  The over-protective male Bob-Whites were wonderful for scaring off stupid guys, but what did they know about the games catty girls play?  She looked at Di’s calm face and was able to detect the barest hint of a twinkle in the other girl’s eyes.  Honey tried hard to suppress a grin as she sighed.  “I wish I’d thought of that.”

Turning a page, Di casually remarked without looking up, “You’re much too nice to do such a thing.”

Dan’s temper flared again.  “So what does that make you?” he yelled.

“Dan, that’s enough!” Mart rapped sharply, stepping towards Dan.  The fire in his blue eyes pierced the haze of Dan’s anger and stopped him cold.  As the two young men stared at each other, a tense silence settled over the room for a long moment.

When Mart spoke again it was in a calm, cold voice.  “Diana, I’d like to speak with you privately.”

He left the room without looking back.  Di stared after him, her countenance transforming as she watched him walk away, back ramrod straight and muscles tense with tightly reined anger.  A subdued, almost repentant expression settled on her features as she silently placed her bookmark in her page and set the book on the end table.  She rose and, with dignified poise, followed her very angry boyfriend from the room, shutting the door softly behind her.

Jim placed a hand on Dan’s shoulder.  “Just let Mart handle this one.”

Although much calmer now, Dan still glared at his friend and responded bitterly, “She’ll have him wrapped around her little finger in two seconds flat.”

“No, she won’t,” Brian said, his voice filled with both calm authority and protective anger.  “Not with what’s going on with Trixie right now.”

Dan relaxed a small bit, recognizing the truth of Brian’s words.  There was no one more protective of Trixie than Mart; even Diana couldn’t really get away with hurting his little sister.  Considering how focused Mart was on Trixie right now, he’d make Di see the light.  “You’re right.  He’ll get Di to stay out of it.”

Honey had been anxiously hoping her friends would calm down until that point, but now she couldn’t take any more.  Suddenly angry, she rose from her seat and faced the three young men, feet apart and hands on her hips.  “How can the obnoxiously overprotective lot of you stand back and do nothing, just letting Beth hurt Trixie?”

“We’re not!” the three shouted in unison as they turned to face her, their expressions portraying varying degrees of aggravation, insult, and indignation.

Straightening to her full height, Honey folded her arms across her chest and narrowed her eyes at them.  “And just what are you doing about it?”

We aren’t doing anything,” Dan spat.  “Trixie doesn’t want her friends getting involved, so other people are taking care of it for us.”

“Trixie doesn’t ever want to let anyone take care of her,” Honey fumed.  “That’s not stopping my parents, is it?  That didn’t stop these two from racing here from Boston, did it?  That didn’t stop all of us from sitting here all weekend, trying to figure out what to do for her, did it?”

Brian had never seen Honey so angry.  He’d always pictured her as a sweet-tempered little thing, being dragged into ridiculous escapades by Trixie and Di while attempting to be the calm voice of reason.  He suddenly realized she was a force to be reckoned with all on her own.

“The situation is being taken care of, Honey,” Brian said, hoping to placate her.

Big mistake.

Focusing all of her wrath on Brian, Honey started shouting.  “But did you bother to tell us that?  No, of course not!  Let the he-men handle it, and the girls should ignore it.  Did you actually expect us to sit by and do nothing while that witch tortured Trixie?  How could you think we’d do that?  We take care of each other.  That’s what Bob-Whites do!”

Just then the occupants of the room heard the scrape of the soundproof heavy oak door opening, and they turned to see who was intruding upon their conversation.  They weren't exactly pleased to see Trixie.

The curly-headed blonde stood in the doorway, taking in the high level of tension in the room.  Her blue eyes scanned the faces before her anxiously.  “Do I even want to know what’s going on?”

Chelsea and Ria had been hovering in the background, feeling decidedly uncomfortable up to this point, so they grasped the opportunity to flee the room.  Jumping up, they each grabbed one of Trixie’s shoulders and gently spun her back toward the door, linking arms and escorting her out into the hall, chattering nervously as they went.

“As a matter of fact, nothing interesting,” said Ria.

“Mindless drivel,” said Chelsea.  “It’d bore you to tears.”

“Trust us, you really don’t want to know,” Ria said.

By the time they got Trixie down the hall to the dining room, she was thoroughly disgusted.  She threw off their arms and glared at them.  “You two aren’t the least bit convincing, you know.”

“We know, and we don’t care,” Chelsea said in exasperation.  “We just wanted to get the heck outta there.”

Realizing the situation must have been awkward for the two guests, Trixie relented.  She sighed.  “I suppose they were arguing about me.”

Ria grimaced.  “Yes and no, but not really.”

Confused, Trixie said, “Huh?”

Chelsea shrugged.  “On the surface, they were talking about you… but there was a lot more going on in there than that.”

“Like what?”

“In my opinion,” Ria said, “the real story in there was Honey battling against the forces of overprotective males.”

Trixie’s eyebrows shot up.  “And I’m missing this?”

“Don’t get so excited,” Chelsea replied.  “I told you, the surface argument was about you.  That would’ve distracted you enough that you’d have missed all the fun undercurrents.”

“Just let Honey have her moment,” Ria said, patting her shoulder.  “I’m sure she’ll tell you all about it later.  Now, how about something to eat?”

“Just ‘cause you’re dating Brian, doesn’t mean you have to turn into him,” Trixie grumbled.

Ria grinned.  “It’s the med student in me.  We’re all protective, nurturing types.”

When Chelsea snorted, Trixie giggled.  “Is she always like this?”

“Yes,” Chelsea affirmed.

“How do you stand it?”

Chelsea smiled wickedly.  “When she gets too annoying, I send her to see Brian.”

The laughter of the three girls drew Celia’s attention.  When she entered the room and saw Trixie, she immediately began fussing over her and bringing her lunch.  Trixie made a face, but submitted somewhat graciously to her ministrations.  The college girls joined her at the table, chatting while Trixie pretended to eat.  Celia, meanwhile, went in search of Miss Trask so that she could report the status of their charges.

She found the housekeeper in the back hallway, blatantly eavesdropping on the conversation taking place in the rec room.  Margery held a finger to her lips, but didn’t wave Celia away.

When Mart entered the rec room, he walked to the windows and stood staring out at the rain for a long time.  Di followed him into the room and closed the door.  She moved to Mart’s side and waited for what felt like hours for him to speak, though it was but a few minutes.

Still not looking at her, Mart asked in a tightly controlled voice, “If a bully, as big as you, beat the crap out of Larry or Terry… what would you do?”

Di started to react, all set to say something about pounding the culprit, when she realized how stupid that would sound.  If her brothers had a classmate as big as she was, that kid would probably be strong enough to clean her clock with little effort.  It was with great reluctance that she admitted what she’d really do.

“I’d sic you and Dan on him.”

Turning on her, Mart exclaimed fiercely, “Exactly!”

Di held up her hands to stop him from speaking further.  “BUT… if a girl was messing with Melly and Kelly, I’d take care of her myself.  I understand how to deal with bitchy girls.”

Mart stared at her incredulously.  “So you’re saying I should have sent you after Beth?”

“Yes!  I am,” Di asserted.  “I was the most logical choice to deal with her.”

“No, you weren’t!” Mart said.  “Dan promised Trixie the Bob-Whites wouldn’t get involved.  We aren’t; the whole thing is out of our hands.”

“You’re trying to tell me that you’re just walking away and hoping someone else will take care of it?”  It was Di’s turn to be incredulous.  “How gullible do you think I am?”

Mart ran a hand through his curls and sighed in exasperation.  “If you must know, Paul Andrews masterminded the whole thing, at Merrissa’s urging, and Chris and Tad are the point men.  The actual revenge is being handled totally by the cheerleaders.  We’re staying out of it completely.”

Di’s jaw dropped in amazement.  “You’re relying on Chris and Tad to protect Trixie?”

Clenching his jaw, Mart sensed a trap.  He had the sinking feeling his girlfriend was going to turn this into something it wasn’t.  He had to make her understand.  He grabbed both of her hands in his.  “Diana, my sister needs me.  I have more important things to do for her than to waste my time playing games with Beth.  I have to take care of her.”

“Which is exactly why you should let me take care of Beth,” Di stated.  “Bob-Whites take care of each other.”

“Yeah, and everyone else, too.”  Mart thrust her hands away and began pacing.  “This time other people want to take care of us.  Why can’t you just let them?  Getting into it with Beth will only upset Trixie.  I don’t want to do anything to upset her right now.  I want to take care of her, and I don’t know how…”

Diana’s focus shifted from her own indignation to Mart’s internal agony.  She interrupted his pacing by throwing her arms around him, rubbing his back comfortingly as she soothed him.  “Mart, my love, you’re doing fine.  You’re getting her to talk to you; you’re getting her help from other people.  You’re helping her the best that you can.”

His whole body shuddered with each breath, as he fought not to break down into tears.  “But it’s not enough.”

“Not yet, but we’re just starting.  And we won’t rest until Trixie is okay.  You know that.”  Di leaned back to look into his eyes.  “You can lean on me, sweetie.  I’ll be here for you, so you can be there for her.”

She placed a gentle, tender kiss on his lips.  He returned it, again and again, each one growing in fervor.  Mart’s turmoil faded as it translated itself to passion; he concentrated on Diana, on the joyous rapture of the love he felt for her, the love he tried to convey in each kiss, and his troubles melted away for the moment.  He pulled her closer, hands roaming over her back and hips as he deepened their kisses with feverish intensity, focusing on the moment and letting the rest of the world disappear. 

On the other side of the grate, Celia raised her eyebrows at Margery.  They stepped away so their own whispers wouldn’t carry into the rec room before Celia asked, “How long do we let that go on?”

Margery sighed.  “Right now I think they need that, but we can’t let them get too carried away.  Wait about fifteen minutes before interrupting.  Keep an eye on things down here; I’m going to report to the Wheelers.”

Celia nodded her agreement, and the two women moved on.





As soon as the library door closed behind Trixie, Chelsea and Ria, the four remaining Bob-Whites exchanged worried looks.

“Great,” Jim groaned, an agitated hand running through his red locks.  “Now Trixie knows we were talking about her.”

Dan eyed Honey warily.  “Were we?”

Giving him a scathing look, Honey replied, “Don’t treat me like a child.”

“That’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it?” Brian observed.

Honey glared at Brian.  “What were you like when you were fifteen?”  Nodding in the other boys’ direction, she added, “I already know what their fifteenth year was like.”

Jaw tense, Dan spit out, “The year from hell.”

Whirling on him, Honey exclaimed, “That pretty much describes Trixie at fifteen, don’t you think?”

“That’s completely different!” Jim raged indignantly.

“Oh, really?” Honey retorted.  “And when you were fifteen, how many times were you kidnapped?  How many people tried to drown you?  How many stalkers tried to kill you?  How many times did you get shot?”

With each question, Honey advanced on her brother, eyes blazing.  “We all like to live in this little pity party, where we had such terrible lives until we came here, and the Beldens’ lives were, and still are, so perfect.  But I ask you:  when did this kind of crap start happening to Trixie?”

The silence stretched on for a long moment until Brian’s brain finally caught up to the conversation and he realized what Honey was saying.  With an exasperated sigh, he said, “Honey, this is not your fault.”

Again, Honey whirled on Brian.  “Don’t patronize me!” she yelled.

“I’m not!” he yelled back.

“She has a point,” Dan said quietly, his face shadowed with discomfort.

Brian turned to stare at him, then he noticed the pained, guilty expression on Jim’s face.  Brian rolled his eyes and bellowed, “Oh, for crying out loud!  Don’t you two start!”

“Brian, can you honestly say that Trixie got into this kind of trouble before we showed up?” Jim asked, tensely quiet.

Brian clutched his hair with both hands and groaned.  “Fine.  Before you showed up there were no criminals,” he conceded.  “The only people that tried to kill her were Mart and me.”  He looked at his friends, hoping to make them understand.  “But the thing is, the three of us couldn’t get along to save our lives.  Trixie had no friends, and we just considered her an annoying tag-a-long.  Life wasn’t perfect here, and it still isn’t.  But it’s been better since you came.  So stop giving me that crap about how this is all your fault!”

Stony-faced, Honey crossed her arms again.  “Okay… we all have different problems than the ones we had before we met each other.  Why is life better now, Brian?”  She narrowed her eyes and glared at him.  “I’ll tell you why:  because we handle things together.”

She extended her glare to encompass Dan and Jim.  “You’re mad at Di for defending Trixie, because you had it covered, but you didn’t tell her… or me.

Don’t shut me out.  It’s not acceptable, and I won’t tolerate it.”

With a regal air worthy of her mother, Honey turned and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind her as hard as she could.  She rushed off to her bedroom, desperately in need of privacy.  She was trembling like a leaf, and she needed to process all that had just happened.

The sweet, tactful part of her was horrified by the way she had spoken to her friends.  Her reserved self was shocked at her outburst.  But a part of her was excited, thriving on the powerful feeling of speaking her mind and making people listen to her.  This was amazing to her, and she needed time to contemplate this unexpected development.






Margery Trask had happened around the corner just in time to witness her young charge’s stormy departure from the library.  She followed her up the stairs at a discreet distance.  Once Honey was safely ensconced in her room, Margery sought out the lord and lady of the manor.

Matthew and Madeleine Wheeler were just exiting their suite when Margery approached.  Matt raised an eyebrow.  “What now?”

Margery grimaced.  “The eye of the storm is quiet.  It’s the outer fringes that are troublesome.”

Maddie sighed.  “Honey, Jim, or Mart?”

“You’re only halfway there,” Margery replied.

His face registering disbelief, Matt asked, “All of them?  What the hell is going on?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Marge admitted.  “It’s kind of confusing, but I think it might be a battle of the sexes.”

“Can you give us a little more information?  Please?” Maddie pleaded.

“It started when Dan got a phone call from Tad Webster,” Margery explained.  “When he got off the phone he was furious with Diana.  There was some shouting in the library, then Mart took Diana off to the rec room.  They were arguing about revenge on Beth, whatever that means.”

Maddie’s eyes lit up with fury.  “She’s that stupid cheerleader that’s been harassing Trixie.  That girl needs to be put in her place.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Di did something to get back at her.”

Margery chuckled.  “Mart already had that covered.  Apparently, Trixie made Dan promise the Bob-Whites would stay out of it.  So Chris and Tad were brought in, and they organized a plot that has the cheerleaders taking care of Beth.  Mart was mad because Diana’s interference might upset Trixie.”

Matt laughed.  “Good for them!”

Maddie frowned.  “Let me guess:  They didn’t bother to inform Di and Honey of this, did they?”

“Apparently not,” confirmed Margery.  “While Mart and Di were having their discussion, it seems Honey was giving the other boys a piece of her mind.  She stormed out of the library in a huff and is holed up in her room.  Chelsea and Ria are entertaining Trixie in the dining room.  Celia is timing Mart and Di so she can interrupt them before they make up too much.”

Maddie pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.  Matt reached a hand to the tense muscles at the back of his own neck and frowned.  “Library, rec room, dining room, or Honey’s room.  Where do we even start?” Matt asked.

With a flick of her wrist, Maddie glanced at her watch.  “Better question:  How much can we cover before we have to take Mart and Brian to Crabapple Farm an hour from now?”

Groaning, Matt said, “The more time we waste trying to figure out what to do, the less we’ll accomplish.  I guess I’ll start in the library.”

“I’m going to see Honey.  Marge, please keep the rest of the house from caving in while we work on these problem areas.”

Matt and Margery headed downstairs, while Maddie proceeded slowly to her daughter’s room.

She hesitated a moment before finally knocking on the door.  “Honey?  May I come in?”

There was a long pause before she heard a vague, non-committal noise emanate from the room.  Maddie opened the door and peered inside.  Honey lay on her bed, golden hair splayed across her pillow, staring at the ceiling.  Her hands were clenched into tight fists at her sides, but her facial expression indicated confusion and indecision rather than anger.

Making her way to the twin bed beside Honey’s, Maddie lay down on her side, head propped on her arm, facing her daughter.  For a while they remained mute, Honey wrapped up in her own thoughts and Maddie wondering just what to say to get her daughter to confide in her.

Honey finally broke the silence.  “Mother, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course, darling,” Maddie replied, relieved that Honey was making the first move.  Why was it always so difficult for her to talk to the one who meant the most to her in all the world?

Eyes riveted to the ceiling, Honey asked, “Do you think I’m a different person than I used to be?”

Well, at least that’s a question I can answer, Maddie thought with relief.

Out loud, she responded, “Of course you are.  We are each the sum of all our experiences.  Every day you’re a different person than you were the day before.”

Honey frowned.  “But am I a better person than I used to be?  Or a worse one?”

Maddie’s hazel eyes widened with shock.  Flustered, she scrambled for a response.  Simple reassurance wasn’t going to suffice; she was going to have to dig a little deeper.  Some wall of reserve inside Maddie broke, and she chose to bare her soul in order to make her precious child understand the truth.

Taking a deep breath, as if preparing to dive into the deep end of a pool filled with sharks, Maddie replied, “I want you to understand something, but I don’t know if I can explain it without sounding like… well, like Honey-speak.”

Honey rolled on her side to face her mother and gave a wry grin.  “Fortunately, I’m fluent in that particular language.”

Maddie smiled back.  “Indeed.  Okay, here goes…

“When I was a child, my parents raised me to be a proper young lady.  I had nannies, governesses, boarding schools… the works.  For me, that worked.  I was a leader among the girls in school.  Around boys – and men – I was demure and reserved.  I was never submissive or timid – I just had a deferential respect for their dominant position in my world.  And I always did what my father told me.

“Then I met Matthew.”  Maddie paused, a soft smile teasing at the corners of her lips the only clue to the long-ago memories in which she was momentarily lost.  Drawing herself back to the present, she continued her tale.  “My father was convinced your father loved me, but he wasn’t convinced that I was more than infatuated with him.  So the first time Matt proposed, Daddy forbade our marriage.”

Honey’s eyes widened in surprise.  Her Grandfather Hart had always seemed pleased to have Matthew Wheeler for a son-in-law.

Maddie shook her head.  “I was dumbfounded.  I couldn’t believe Daddy could do that.  I was torn – obey my father as was proper, or stand up to him and fight for the man I loved.  Such a confrontation seemed wrong… low-brow, even.  But to walk away from Matt?  For no other reason than ‘Daddy said so’?  I just couldn’t do it.  So I fought.

“At first Daddy argued, giving a whole host of made-up reasons why I shouldn’t marry Matthew.  He even threatened to cut me off financially and disinherit me.  When that didn’t dissuade me, he knew.  And then he gave in graciously.

“Daddy told me then that love was worth fighting for, but only a few are strong enough to win the fight.”  Lost in her reverie, Maddie’s face clouded.  “My sister Lydia wasn’t strong enough.  She fell in love with a young man from a poor background; when Daddy told her he wasn’t husband material, Lydia simply accepted it.  She settled for Warren Riker.  She has no idea about the power of love.”

Rolling to her back and pulling herself to a sitting position, Maddie shrugged.  “That's why Ben has problems; but that’s another story for another day.”

Maddie scooted back, resting against the headboard and focusing her attention on imaginary lint on her pristine pantsuit.  Finally, she rubbed her hands nervously against the soft wool and took a deep breath.  “Anyway, when I held my precious newborn daughter in my arms, I dreamt of all the marvelous things I wanted for you.  But most of all, I wanted you to someday have the love of a man as wonderful as your father.  He loved me for who I was, and I was that person because of the way my parents raised me.  If you grew up to be just like me, then you should be lucky enough to attract a man just like him.  So if I raised you just as my parents raised me…”

Remorse washed over her features, and Maddie frowned.  “But I was so wrong.”

Turning to face her daughter, Maddie searched her face for forgiveness.  “I thrived on the nannies and boarding schools, and I expected you would too.  When you didn’t, I assumed I had hired inferior staff.  Your father tried to tell me that you were just not like me, but I didn’t listen.  It wasn’t until you got so sick that I – very reluctantly – agreed to try things his way.  I was sure it wasn’t going to work, and that I would be somehow damaging you by allowing this experiment.

“Until Autoville.”  Maddie grinned, brightening her entire face.  “When you came running to me that day, smiling and excited, I knew.  I knew your father had been right; I knew moving here had been the right thing to do.  And I knew that Trixie Belden could do more towards teaching you to be a strong, independent, self-assured person than a fleet of governesses could.  I knew you could be an amazing young woman without being anything like me – just by being you.  And I’ve never looked back.”

Tears had welled in Honey’s hazel eyes during the last part of her mother’s story, and they were now slowly making their way down her cheeks.  There was a peaceful aura about her that had never been there before as she moved to join her mother on the other bed.  Honey snuggled up next to Maddie, arms around her waist and head resting on her chest, in the warmest and most comfortable embrace she could ever remember.  Voice thick with emotion, she whispered, “Thank you, Mama.”


Long ago, when Honey had been just a baby and Maddie had been ill and frail, her greatest happiness had been when Matt would bring Honey to her and the precious little girl would snuggle up and say, “Wuv oo, Mama.”  But then Matthew had started traveling more for business, and the nannies had taken over.  They drilled it into the young child’s head that such a term of endearment was not an appropriate way for a proper young lady to address her mother.


Maddie wrapped her arms tightly about Honey and let the tears of pure, unbridled joy cascade freely down her face.






Matt stepped into the library only to find three tense, sullen-looking young men lost in their own thoughts, ignoring each other and him.

“All right, what did you do to upset your sister?”

Brian, recognizing an oft-heard question in his own home and realizing it had probably never before been asked at Manor House, immediately found the humor in the situation.  He shot an amused look at Matt Wheeler, who smiled and winked at him.  Brian relaxed and smiled back.

Jim was sitting in front of the fireplace.  He never looked away from his intense contemplation of the flames, but he responded to his father’s question.  “We made the mistake of leaving her out of something,” he said bitterly.

Already knowing that much, Matt was more surprised by his son’s tone.  He raised a questioning eyebrow at Brian.

Loudly clearing his voice before speaking, Brian responded, “Actually it was quite impressive.  Miss Madeleine threw tact out the window and let us have it.  She was definitely taking after you this morning.”  He acknowledged Matt’s smile before he frowned and glared at the other two, continuing in a tone laced with both anger and sarcasm, “However, these two idiots and Honey have all decided that all of Trixie’s problems are their fault.”

Matt’s brilliant green eyes widened in shock.  “How so?”

“They seem to think they somehow caused all this by coming to Sleepyside in the first place,” Brian grumbled.

Matt looked at Jim.  The young man squirmed slightly, feeling his father’s intense gaze on the back of his red head, but he never turned to face him.  Matt swung his gaze to Dan, who stood at the window staring out at the stormy weather.  He was completely still.  Matt frowned; with Daniel, the more still he became the more turmoil was boiling inside.  Intensely still was never a good sign.

Moving to stand by the same window, Matt faced Dan with his arms folded across his chest, his face both stern and caring.  “Let’s just suppose, for a moment, that this completely preposterous notion is true.  Considering the lives from which the three of you were saved by moving here, even if she knew ahead of time the price she’d pay, Trixie wouldn’t change a thing.  She’d consider it a worthy sacrifice, because she loves you all and would do anything for you.  Therefore, the appropriate response is not to wallow in your misplaced guilt, but to simply help her through her own troubles.”

Dan finally looked at the older man with troubled eyes.  Matt held his gaze and placed a firm hand on his shoulder.  Matt spoke in a low undertone, “Dan, she’s going to need you most of all.  Most of these kids have never had counseling, and some,” he threw a quick glare his son’s way, “have never let it help them.  Someone needs to let her know it’s okay, and help her through it.”

Dan searched Matt’s face for condescension or patronization and found none.  He nodded slowly.

Leaning in conspiratorially, Matt continued, “Besides, I’m gonna need someone to keep me apprised of this Chris and Tad situation.  I can’t be a proper guardian if I don’t know what the hell is going on.”

He winked and Dan finally smiled.  Inwardly, Matt sighed with relief.  Things were looking up.  Glancing again at his stiff-backed son, Matt rolled his eyes.  He directed Dan and Brian towards the door.  “Why don’t the two of you go entertain Trixie and our lovely guests from Boston?  I believe they’re in the dining room.”

Brian and Dan exchanged pointed looks, glancing at Jim, and nodded.  “Sure thing, Mr. Wheeler,” Dan said.

“Yeah, I think I need to go pay some attention to Ria,” Brian said with a wicked grin.

“Not too much, now,” Matt jokingly warned.

The boys headed out the door, and Matt turned toward the fireplace.  After being completely ignored for several long moments, he sighed.

“James, your mother wants to talk to you.  Wait for her here.”

With that, the great man left the room, seeking reinforcements.







When Celia had carefully counted fifteen minutes, she went to the door of the rec room.  A well-placed ear to the door could detect assorted panting and smooching sounds.  Carefully schooling her features to avoid reacting to any sights she might behold, Celia grabbed the door handle and jiggled it loudly before throwing it open.  It took a great deal of effort not to laugh at Mart and Diana, a foot apart, breathing heavily and trying not to look like they were straightening their clothes.

“Mart, there you are!” Celia exclaimed brightly.  “I thought you might like to know that Trixie is in the dining room with Chelsea and Ria.”

Trying to catch his breath and blushing furiously, Mart stuttered, “Umm… good… umm… sure… I’ll be there… in a minute.”

“I’ll let her know you’re on your way,” Celia replied.  She smiled broadly and exited the room, making sure the doors remained opened behind her.  She barely made it into the kitchen before she burst out laughing.

Once Celia was gone, a red-faced Di turned to Mart.  Her embarrassment quickly dissipated and a twinkle returned to her eye as she said, “Being alone in this house is more difficult than at mine.”

Mart looked at her in astonishment for a second before beginning to laugh.  He stepped closer to Di and gently smoothed her ebony tresses.  Placing a gentle kiss on her forehead, he whispered, “Be my help.”

Nodding, Di gave him a quick hug before stepping back and reaching out to take his hand.  “Come on, let’s go see Trixie,” she said with a smile.






Brian and Dan entered the dining room to find Trixie seated next to Chelsea, across the table from Ria.  Dan grabbed the seat on Trixie’s other side, while Brian sat next to Ria.  He wrapped his arm around her and gave her a quick kiss before reaching out and snagging a cube of cheddar cheese from her plate and popping it into his mouth.

Trixie looked from her brother to Dan before demanding, “Well?  What did I miss?”

The boys exchanged troubled glances, then Brian shrugged.  Dan sighed.  “Well, Beth’s dress for homecoming is apparently purple.”

Trixie’s eyes widened and she started to laugh.  “Way to go, Lady Di!”

Dan glared at her.  “You made me promise the Bob-Whites wouldn’t get involved!”

“I know, Danny,” Trixie said, patting his hand.  “But I’m sure Di took care of the dress before I made you promise that.  Don’t worry; I’ll take care of Di.”  Then she grinned.  “But it’s still funny.”

“If you find that funny, you must be feeling better today,” Brian observed, shaking his head.

Trixie shrugged.  “So far.  It probably won’t last long; it never does.  But I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.”

“Enjoy what while it lasts?” Mart asked as he and Di entered the room.

“My good mood – that hasn’t even been spoiled by Di’s escapades,” Trixie replied.  She gave Di a look that said we’ll talk later.  “But what I really want to know is: what’s going on with Honey?”

Mart and Di looked at Brian and Dan in surprise.  “What did we miss?” Di asked.

Brian squirmed and tugged at his shirt collar.  “Honey telling us off for treating her like a child.”

“Being overprotective, leaving her out of stuff,” Dan continued.  “She really let us have it.”

Trixie fixed a piercing stare on Dan.  “Leaving her out of what, Daniel?”

Looking like a deer caught in the headlights, Dan gulped.  “Um… my promise to you that the Bob-Whites wouldn’t get involved.”

Narrowing her eyes, Trixie moved her intense gaze slowly from Dan to her brothers one by one, none of whom would meet her eyes.  With fire blazing in her baby blues, she turned to Diana.  “Who do they have doing their dirty work?”

Attempting to look innocent, Di twitched nervously.  If she said anything, Mart was going to be furious.  But it was impossible to keep things from Trixie, even if she really wanted to.  “Well… I haven’t seen them talking to anyone else,” she said.  She instantly felt Trixie’s anger ratchet up a notch and felt the need to deflect it.  “Except for that whole boys versus girls lunch last week.”

Trixie whipped her napkin off her lap and slammed it loudly on the table as she stood, fury emanating from every fiber of her being.  She yelled at Dan, “I cannot believe you’d drag Chris and Tad into this!”  Then she stormed from the room.

Dan buried his face in his hands.  “Diana, you shouldn’t have said anything.”

“Oh, leave her alone!” Chelsea exploded.  “She didn’t stand a chance!  Trixie’s good, and I can’t believe any of you were stupid enough to try and sneak around her.  And if you wanted things settled without getting this group involved, the least you could have done was tell Di that!”

Di threw Chelsea a grateful look and Dan looked abashed.  “Sorry, Di,” he mumbled.

Mart groaned.  “Now what do we do?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Ria said vehemently.

“What?” Brian turned an incredulous face to his girlfriend.

“Nothing,” Ria affirmed.  “You promised to stay out of it.  Whether or not Trixie can dissuade Chris and Tad is between her and them.  Even if she can, I doubt if she can manage to get to everyone involved.  So you just stick to the letter of your promise – do nothing.  Stay out of it.  Don’t encourage anyone, but don’t do anything to stop the wheels that are already in motion.”

Brian grinned.  “And the wheels already in motion will take care of Beth.  I like the way you think.”

“That’s not all he likes,” Chelsea muttered with a smirk.

Brian pretended to glare at Chelsea, then kissed Ria.

Mart coughed.  “And if I did that, he’d expound on proper behavior or something.”

Di snickered.  “I think he’s too preoccupied to lecture you.”  Then she kissed her boyfriend to prove her point.

Dan and Chelsea rolled their eyes at each other and laughed.

Author's Notes



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