Will You Dance,
If I Ask You to Dance?
Maddie sat rigidly in her chair and looked anxiously at her husband. Matt was standing at the opposite end of the coffee table, hands balled into fists and shoved deep into his pockets. He shot her a sympathetic look and sighed. Peter and Helen sat side by side on the couch, hands entwined. Helen fidgeted nervously, while Peter clenched his jaw in grim determination. Brian and Mart stood across the room, arms folded across their chests, their posture angry and defensive. They appeared ready to go into combat together. The tension in the room was so thick you would need a Ginsu to cut it.
Peter cleared his throat. “Boys, we have some problems that we need to work through as a family.”
Mart glared at his father. “Except that you’ve just kicked Trixie out of the family.”
“No!” Peter cried. “No, we have not!”
Helen looked stricken. “Mart, we’re trying to keep her safe. It’s not healthy for her to be here.”
“For her, or for you?” Mart asked, his tone laced with bitterness.
Helen hesitated briefly before admitting, “Both.”
Brian’s outward appearance was much calmer than his brother’s, and his voice was level, but only because he was better at masking his inner turmoil. “I’ve been told – it seems I was the last to be told – that Moms is having some… health problems.”
Relieved to see that Brian was able to maintain his levelheaded nature, Peter nodded. “Yes, that’s true.”
Troubled brown eyes searched his mother’s face. “Moms, did you know about the troubles Trixie’s been having?”
Embarrassed, Helen flushed. “No, I didn’t.”
“Then Trixie is obviously better off where she is,” Brian calmly stated. “The question is: why should we feel that Mart and Bobby are better off here?”
Helen felt as if her eldest son had just slapped her in the face. Affronted by the insult to his wife, Peter’s temper began to boil. Matt could see the imminent explosion and knew it was time to intervene. He stepped forward, effectively placing himself between the two parties.
“That is exactly what we’re here to discuss,” he said. “Let’s just calm down and try to talk this through.”
“Peter, the boys have a valid concern,” Maddie said. “If Helen’s problems leave her temporarily unable to care for a fairly independent 15-year-old girl, it is reasonable to wonder how she can care for a much less self-sufficient nine-year-old boy.”
Grateful for Maddie’s calming demeanor, Helen agreed. “They don’t understand enough about what’s going on for them to understand why it’s different with Trixie.”
Mart felt himself, once again, getting defensive of his sister where his parents were concerned. “So this really is about Trixie?”
Helen nodded, saddened by the obvious disappointment and anger emanating from her middle son. “Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Moms, that makes no sense!” Brian exclaimed, hurt and confused.
“Don’t you think I know that?” Helen cried, tears welling in her eyes. “Do you think I want to hurt my baby?”
As Helen began to sob, Peter wrapped his arm around her and drew her close. He rubbed her shoulder and attempted to soothe her while Brian and Mart exchanged worried glances. Up until this moment, they had been concerned about their sister and frustrated with their mother. They hadn’t stopped to consider how much their mother was hurting. The look of helplessness and frustration on their father’s face didn’t help any. What was happening to their family?
Brian moved to the couch to sit by his mother’s side. He took her hand and looked into her eyes. “Moms, you said we didn’t know enough about what’s going on to understand. Will you please explain it to us?”
His steady and soothing voice, his loving and calming soul, and the bedside manner that would one day make him a great doctor broke through Helen’s pain and sorrow. “Oh, Brian! There’s so much darkness, and the nightmares…”
At the mention of nightmares, Mart winced and his legs nearly gave out. Maddie went to him and put her arm around his shoulder. Mart leaned on her and tried to draw strength.
Despite his focus on his mother, Brian missed none of this. He was aware of Mart’s pain, but he also saw the horror, fear and agony flashing in Moms’ eyes. Brian felt the weight of the world pressing down on his shoulders.
Peter noticed his eldest son slump slightly. He suddenly looked more like a scared little boy than the self-assured young man his father knew. An arrow lanced Peter’s heart. “Your mother’s nightmares and paranoia center around Trixie. She doesn’t have the same issues with Mart and Bobby,” he said. “Her… issues… make her lose her focus around Trixie. With the boys, she’s still able to deal with their needs. She can focus on the little details, like Mart’s mismatched socks or the sliver Bobby had the other day. She can still cook a meal and do the laundry.
“Your mother needs the boys here to love and support her. We each have things we can do to help each other. Maddie has done a lot towards getting your mom the medical help she needs, and the Wheelers are taking Trixie into their home to get her the help she needs. I can hire someone to help with the housework, and I can hold my wife in the night when the dreams become too much. But the normalcy of routine, a simple kiss goodnight or a hug on the way out the door to school, and teasing and laughter in an otherwise tense house… no one can provide those things like the boys can.”
Brian pondered his father’s words for a long moment, studying each of his parents in turn, before looking to Mart. Mart reluctantly acknowledged the silent message from his brother and nodded. Then, realizing what else was going through Brian’s mind, he narrowed his eyes and stepped quickly forward. “Oh, no you don’t!” he exclaimed.
All eyes turned to Mart as he drew himself to his full height and stubbornly faced down his big brother. “I’ll take care of Bobby. Honey, Di and Dan will take care of Trixie. You will go back to school!”
Peter’s eyes snapped back to Brian. “You can’t neglect your education. You’ve barely begun!”
“That’s just it, Dad,” Brian said with the same determination that had made him so successful in school. “I’ve barely begun. I can start fresh again next year – with my own age group.”
Helen began to plead with her son. “Brian, if you drop everything and come home it will make things seem so much worse than they already are.”
“Moms, family comes first.”
Matt stepped forward and interrupted Brian. “Son, if you leave school you’ll lose your scholarship. While I’d gladly replace the funds, that’s not the point. Imagine the guilt-trip your sister would send herself on if she thought she’d cost you your scholarship.”
Brian opened his mouth to argue, but couldn’t think of a proper response. Instead, Maddie gently delivered the final blow.
“If you come home, so will Jim. You mentioned being younger than your classmates; Jim is a year younger than you are, and more nervous about college than he’ll admit. If you use that as an argument, nothing will keep him there. If you both put off your education, and therefore your career plans, for an entire year… Well, Trixie would be devastated if she thought she’d hurt either of you, but both? She’d never survive that.”
Throwing his hands up in frustration, Brian growled, “Trixie isn’t doing anything to either of us!”
“Yeah, we know that,” Mart said. “But can you convince her of that?”
“Fine, I’ll go to school.” Brian grumbled, acknowledging defeat. “But I’ll come home every weekend, and I’m not going to wait for Fridays to call.”
Matt nodded. “That’s fine. Trixie will have her own private line, and you can call her any time.”
Peter glared at his friend. “Don’t you think her own private line is excessive?”
For the first time, Helen managed a hint of a smile. “Oh, but you were ready to get her her own extension so she could talk to Jim in private.”
“That’s different!” Peter blustered.
Recovering her some of her natural good humor, Helen’s eyes brightened. “Why? Because it’s okay for her to talk to a boy friend, but not her brother?”
Noticing his wife’s intentional phrasing, Peter redirected his ire and turned to Matt. “Will Chris and Tad be given this private number?”
Face reddening, the great Matthew Wheeler actually stuttered. “I, uh, well, uh, hadn’t thought, um, about that.”
Unable to help herself, Maddie snickered. As Matt glared at his wife, Helen attempted to swallow a chortle. As the tension in the room began to dissipate, Mart and Brian chuckled at the dumbfounded fathers, who then relaxed into rueful smiles.
Peter made one last attempt to save face by keeping a stern expression while threatening his sons. “I hope someday you both have daughters just like Trixie.”
The terrified looks on the boys’ faces broke the last of the tension, and sent the adults into paroxysm of laughter.
Beth Fleming stared at the shreds of purple and orange fabric strewn about her bedroom. She clenched the scissors in her hand once, twice, three times, before hurling them at the closet door. They struck point first, embedding themselves in the wood and remaining there, as if they, too, were taunting her.
Damn that Trixie Belden! she raged in her mind.
It just wasn’t fair. The world operated according to the natural laws of the universe. Things were supposed to follow these simple laws, like the law of gravity, and the law of entropy. And the fact that when the prettiest girl in the senior class is also the head cheerleader, she is supposed to date the captain of the basketball team. That was the way the universe operated.
Unless Trixie Belden was involved.
That girl had no idea how to behave properly. First she teaches the wealthy and proper Honey Wheeler that it’s better to dress and behave like a farm girl. Then she finds some dirty runaway and transforms him into the shining son of the wealthiest family in town. Then she sweeps Diana Lynch into her fold and convinces her that her newfound wealth shouldn’t alter her behavior and friends. Then she turns some juvenile delinquent into a knight in shining armor. And finally the whole lot of them join forces to become the town heroes. It was disgusting!
Beth could have ignored all of that. Especially this year. Jim and Brian were gone, so she didn’t have to deal with the shadow of the all-too-perfect senior boys. That had been so annoying last year!
Brian Belden had been a thorn in her side since the first day of kindergarten. He’d had the nerve to tell her she wasn’t being nice and she should share her crayons. And he’d acted like he was being kind and helpful when he’d said it! He clearly had no idea of the proper order of society. A farm boy had no right to instruct her, a society princess, on the way to treat others.
She’d been so glad when Brian had been passed up a grade. Beth had worked very hard at securing her popularity among her classmates, and it had been much easier with Brian gone. The parties and treats with which she had bought her friends’ favor had been easy. Her popularity was necessary.
She’d had to struggle last year, because the Bob-White boys in the senior class had been the most popular people in the school. If you weren’t in with them, you weren’t in at all. And those fools had actually thumbed their noses at her rules of hierarchy.
But this year… This was supposed to be her year. There were no Bob-Whites in the senior class this year. She had suffered through the nose job she didn’t really need in order to make sure she was the most beautiful girl in the senior class. She had used her parents’ influence to secure her position as head cheerleader. All of her efforts should have worked perfectly! Most beautiful plus head cheerleader, added to wealth and privilege, equals most popular — and girlfriend of the team captain. That was how the math worked.
But no! That stupid little sophomore twit – whom everyone knew wasn’t capable of understanding how math should work – was interfering! How dare she wrap Chris Zack around her little finger? Who did she think she was?
Everything about it was wrong. She has another of her stupid criminal cases, and this time someone actually gets killed. But does everyone realize how dumb and reckless she is? NO! Instead, she gets all kinds of sympathy, for God’s sake. Just because she got hurt. Good grief!
As if that weren’t bad enough, the goody-two-shoes was invading her territory. The Bob-Whites were supposed to be too busy and live too far out of town to get involved in sports. Cheerleading had been perfect for Beth because the Bob-Whites weren’t very involved in the sports program. Instead, that stupid little sophomore was charming the pants off the basketball coach and all the players, and was raising money for the sports program. And by playing basketball, no less. Didn’t she understand how unladylike and gross that was?
Of course she didn’t. Because she was unladylike and gross.
So what the heck did Chris see in her?
Or Tad, for that matter?
The captain of the basketball team and the captain of the softball team. How dare she go after two team captains at once?
Beth paced her room, fuming and raging about the object of her hatred. The more she thought about Trixie, the more enraged she became. She had thought the destruction of the wretched dress would have helped to alleviate her stress, but it had only increased her anger. Although her mother had fixed the problem, it didn’t change the fact that the trick had been played on her.
It had to have been Trixie who had done this.
Who else could have any desire to hurt her?
Beth Fleming was popular. She was beautiful. She was destined to be the Homecoming Queen. Everyone loved her.
Trixie Belden would have to pay.
When Sherry Lynch brought Bobby home, he came running into the house and headed straight for the living room. Bypassing his parents completely, he threw himself into Brian’s arms. “Brian! You’re here!”
Brian hugged the little boy tightly. “Hey, buddy. How’re you doing?”
“Okay,” Bobby shrugged. “It’s just that everyone is so upset… Hey! Where’s Trixie?”
“She’s not here right now,” Mart answered.
Bobby’s eyes widened and he leaned conspiratorially toward Mart. “Did Moms get mad at her again?”
“Not… exactly,” Brian said. “But she’s going to stay at Honey’s house for a while until she and Moms can get along better.”
“Who will read to me?” Bobby asked Mart with a frown. “And help me get ready for school?”
With a reassuring smile, Mart said, “Don’t worry, Bobster. I’ve got ya covered.”
Bobby looked pensively at his big brothers. “I want to see her.”
Mart sighed. “We’ll go visit her later, or tomorrow. But definitely by tomorrow, okay?”
“I promise, Bobby,” Mart crossed his fingers solemnly over his heart.
Nodding, Bobby looked over his shoulder at his parents. “Brian, is Moms okay?”
Mart and Brian shared a worried look before Mart answered the question. “She’s not really feeling well. Trixie staying at Honey’s will help Moms some, but you and I have to be extra good, okay?”
Bright blue eyes probed the faces of the older boys, searching for truth and reassurance, before the child nodded. Then, with both a wisdom beyond his years and a youthful innocence those around him envied, Bobby crossed the room and crawled up into his mother’s lap. Placing a gentle kiss on her cheek, he said, “I love you always, Moms.” Then he wrapped his chubby arms around her neck and held on tight.
Helen returned the hug, cherishing her baby boy. Tears filled her eyes as joy filled her heart. Nothing could heal a mother like the love of a child.
Sherry Lynch had followed Bobby into the room and had witnessed the entire exchange. She now approached the older boys and whispered, “And that’s why Bobby needs to stay here.”
They nodded, acknowledging her words, while making certain not to make eye contact with anyone. It was hard to maintain a masculine demeanor when bawling like a baby, and both felt their control slipping. They watched their little brother, and each thought how amazing it was that he was the one teaching them about love and family.
Trixie and Honey wandered down to the rec room. The gang had spread out through the house after lunch, and only Dan and Di were there when the girls arrived. Trixie plopped herself on the couch next to Dan and leaned her head on his shoulder. “I want a favor.”
“Anything you want, Freckles; you know that.”
“It involves Chris and Tad.”
Dan issued a melodramatic sigh. “Oh, the pains I suffer for you, Miss Belden.”
Honey and Di joined the circle, giggling at Dan’s exaggeration.
Trixie gave Dan a pleading look. “I’ve been told I won’t be going to school tomorrow. We both know what that Rumor Mill is like. All I want you to do is to quietly tell them I’m staying here, I don’t want anyone talking about it, and I’ll see them Tuesday. Then tell them I was upset about the plots against Beth and I want it to stop.”
Dan chewed his lip a minute before answering. “Okay. I’ll give them your message. That’s all I’ll do. I have no intention of forcing them to obey.”
Eyes narrowed, Trixie groused. “Fine. Be all forceful when it suits you, but not when I want you to. Thanks, Dan.”
“Don’t try to play the guilt card with me, missy. My Catholic mother taught me well, and you can’t hold a candle to her.” Dan crossed his arms emphatically over his chest. “It’s my job to watch out for you. If you won’t let me do it myself, I’m not going to stop anyone else who tries.”
Pulling a petulant pout, Trixie turned to the girls. “Why must men always think they have to watch out for me?”
Entering the room in time to hear the question, Jim grinned. “Because you inspire intense loyalty and devotion in members of our esteemed sex all throughout the land.”
Rolling her eyes, Trixie turned and stuck her tongue out at her friend. “You’re obnoxious, Frayne.”
“You asked, Trix,” Diana replied with a grin. “And you got the answer from a male point of view.”
“Spare me from all males!” Trixie begged.
Honey turned to Di. “Remind me she said that as soon as she sees Tad or Chris.”
Chelsea and Ria had followed Jim into the room, and were now giggling. Trixie turned to them for sympathy. “Do you see what I have to put up with? Do you understand why these people make me crazy?”
Dan hooted. “Why we make you crazy?”
“Oh, please!” Jim chorused. “And how many times have you driven us nuts with your mysteries?”
The BWG’s began to recount stories of Trixie’s mystery-itis, interspersed with defensive comments from Trixie and occasionally from Honey. The good-natured teasing lasted quite a while, right up until Brian entered the room. Suddenly, all conversation ceased.
Trixie looked anxiously behind Brian. “Where’s Mart?”
Focusing completely on his sister, Brian responded, “In the library with Bobby. He wants to see you.”
With no further prompting, Trixie dashed from the room at a full run. Brian followed, shutting the door behind him.
Honey worried her bottom lip. “He didn’t look so good.”
“He looked a little worse for wear,” Ria agreed. “But he honestly looked better than I expected.”
“Yeah,” Jim agreed. “But how’s Bobby?”
Brian managed to catch up with Trixie just outside the doors to the library. He grabbed her around the waist and lifted her in the air, the only way at this point to ensure a complete stop. While she struggled against his grasp, Brian tried to calm her.
“Take a deep breath, Trix. Calm yourself, then walk into the room. Don’t upset him – or yourself – more than you need to.”
Trembling, Trixie attempted to take a deep, calming breath. Fighting the annoying, ever-present tears, she asked, “How is he?”
Giving her a reassuring hug, Brian answered, “Better than we are. Just take your cues from him, okay?”
She nodded and inhaled one more time before stepping to the doors. Upon opening the door, she was greeted by a happy grin and an infectious laugh. She couldn’t help but smile in return.
“There you are, Trix! What took ya so long?” Bobby asked, hopping from one foot to the other.
Sitting on the armchair nearest to where the boy was dancing about, Trixie said, “It’s a big house, you know.”
“Look! Celia brought us brownies! Cookie makes the best brownies… and she keeps the nuts out of ‘em ‘cause I don’t like my brownies to have nuts in them.”
Shaking her head and wondering just how many brownies her brother had already eaten, she asked, “How about I get you a big glass of milk to wash that down?”
“He’s already had two,” Mart replied.
Suddenly Bobby stopped in front of his sister and stared at her solemnly. In his most serious voice, he asked, “Trixie, are you mad at Moms?”
Seeing the worry in those innocent blue eyes melted Trixie’s heart. Wanting so much to reassure him, she considered her answer carefully. As she did, she realized she could honestly say no. Taking both his hands in hers, she matched his seriousness. “I’m not mad, Bobby. I’m… sad, and upset, that things are so messed up right now.”
“And you still love Moms? But you just don’t want to talk to her right now?”
Again the tears choked her, and she could only nod.
“I get like that sometimes,” the little boy nodded sagely. “When you guys go off on one of your adventures and I get left behind, I get a little hurt. Then I don’t want to talk to you. But I still love you; I always will. You’re the bestest big sister in the whole wide world!”
She gave up fighting the tears and pulled him into her arms. Holding tight, she whispered, “And I’ll always love you, lamb. You’re the bestest little brother in the whole wide world!”
He wrapped his arms around her and patted her back. “It won’t always be messed up. It’ll get better, I promise.”
There were no words that could possibly express how much hope his innocent faith gave her, so she didn’t try. She just hugged him and cried, allowing his love to flow over her and soothe her wounded soul.
Mart and Brian watched, amazed once again at the talent their brother had for helping people without even knowing it. It seemed that perhaps he was the wisest and strongest of them all.