Will You Dance,
If I Ask You to Dance?
Monday, October 30, 1995
Tad boarded the bus, looking anxiously for Trixie. Instead, he saw four solemn-faced Bob-Whites sitting quietly at the back of the bus. Dan nodded his head, indicating that Tad should sit in front of them.
Perching on the edge of the seat and turning to those behind him, Tad asked, “So where’s Trixie this morning?”
Honey pressed her lips firmly together. “She won’t be attending school today.”
Honey’s demeanor worried Tad more than her words. Di refused to meet his gaze, and Mart seemed to be… elsewhere. Hoping for a straight answer, he shifted his attention to Dan. “What’s up?”
“I’ve been instructed to give you a message: Don’t allow the Rumor Mill to grind, don’t talk about it, and Trixie will call you this evening.”
More confused than ever now, Tad snorted in disgust. “I have no idea what I’m not supposed to talk about, but I’m going to have to call her after school because I have to work extra hours tonight.”
Suddenly propelled into the conversation, Mart snapped, “No!”
Startled, Tad looked over at the agitated young man. Honey placed a gentle hand on his arm and drew his attention away from Mart.
“Tad, don’t call the Farm. Trixie’s not… home.”
The troubled look on Honey’s face, combined with the cryptic messages from the generally straight-forward Bob-Whites, was starting to worry the young man. Again, he turned to Dan.
Exhaling loudly, Dan shrugged. He had to give Tad something. “Trixie has – temporarily – moved to Manor House.”
Tad stared at him in shock. “Moved?”
Dan nodded glumly. Tad saw a flash of pain cross Mart’s features before he turned to stare sullenly out the window. Honey and Di looked helpless and confused.
Without another word, Tad turned to face the front of the bus. He sat silently, slumped in his seat, struggling to formulate a coherent thought. Whatever was going on with Trixie, it had clearly shaken her friends to their core.
When the bus pulled up in front of school, it was a silent group that slowly filed off last. Upon leaving the bus, Tad headed for where he knew Chris would be hanging out near the door reserved for use of the seniors. It took him a minute to realize Dan was right beside him.
“I was asked to not allow gossip, Tad,” Dan said. “If you tell Chris what I told you, that’s gossip. She asked me to tell him myself.”
Nodding slightly, Tad slowed down, hanging back to allow Dan to talk to Chris first. He kept heading in that direction, though, because he really wanted to talk to his best friend right now. He didn’t want to wait until he got home from school. His best friend was right here, so why should he wait? Trixie had taught him that much, at least.
While Honey watched Tad and Dan walk away, Diana’s eye was caught by Beth Fleming prancing by. Suddenly Honey felt the anger emanating from her friend. “Cool it, Di,” Honey warned, following her gaze to the cheerleading captain, resplendent in a flouncy navy blue skirt with a soft gray angora sweater.
Just then both girls noticed Sally Peters give Beth a jaunty wave accompanied by a snide grin. Drawing a sharp breath, Honey muttered, “Uh oh.”
Beth had given all the cheerleaders specific instructions to wear school colors – blue and grey – this Monday, as it was the first day of Homecoming week. Sally was wearing a bright orange skirt with a deep purple sweater. Standing next to Sally was another cheerleader, Anne, who was wearing a violet skirt with a burnt orange blouse.
The colors of Beth’s ill-fated homecoming gown.
In fact, standing around the schoolyard where they were sure Beth could see them, every cheerleader was wearing some variation of purple and orange.
There Beth stood, the only cheerleader attired in the school colors of blue and gray, staring and fuming.
Diana couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing.
Mart groaned. “We’re so dead.”
Around the corner of the school, oblivious to the drama unfolding out front, Dan walked toward Chris Zack. Seeing him approach, Chris stepped forward.
“Dan! What happened after we called yesterday?”
Distracted from his primary mission, Dan stared for a second to rearrange his thoughts. Shaking his head, he sighed. “A knock-down drag-out fight amongst the Bob-Whites, with Honey basically spanking us all while Trixie told us to stay the hell out of it.”
Overhearing, Tad stepped closer. “Was this related to the rest of the message?”
“No,” Dan replied. “It’s been a hell of a weekend.”
Chris looked from one to the other. “What rest of what message?”
Wearily, Dan turned back to Chris. “Trixie asked me to give you a message: Don’t allow the Rumor Mill to grind, don’t talk about it, and Trixie will call you this evening. From Manor House. Where she is living for now.”
Chris’ jaw dropped. He stared at Dan for a moment before looking at Tad. He found his own confusion mirrored in his friend’s eyes. “Where is she now?”
Dan looked away, clearly trying to determine how much to say. He finally shrugged and said, “She won’t be in school today. She has a doctor’s appointment this morning.” Then he hurried away before the boys could get any more information from him.
Chris turned to Tad. “What the hell is going on?”
Tad shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know, but I know it’s got the Bob-Whites all tied up in knots. Mart looks like he wants to punch someone. Whatever it is, it’s not good.”
Chris was about to reply when Beth Fleming came storming around the corner of the building. She stopped to glare at them for a brief second before continuing on her way, steam pouring out of her ears.
“What’s got her panties in such a twist?” Chris asked.
“I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough,” Tad responded as the two made their way into school.
There were many related activities scheduled throughout the week before the Homecoming Game, including pep rallies, poster competitions, and the all-important elections for Homecoming Queen. The first order of business in homeroom that morning was for all students to cast their nomination. The homecoming committee would tally the votes and announce the results at the end of the day; the top five nominees would then become the Homecoming Court and compete for the title of Queen, with the vote to be held Friday morning.
Although the voting was eagerly anticipated each year, it was generally known throughout Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School which girls would be nominated to the court, and the queen was never a surprise.
But this Monday morning, there was an unusual atmosphere throughout the school. Walking the hallways during homeroom, Principal Stratton could feel it everywhere. Something was up.
If there was a revolution amongst the populace that resulted in a homecoming upset, so be it. Sometimes it was good to shake things up. Mr. Stratton only hoped it was a peaceful revolution. However, the image of Beth Fleming’s fuming face haunted him. There was trouble brewing, and it was his job to anticipate the hot spots and diffuse them. He sighed wearily.
The kids loved Homecoming Week. The parents and the alumni loved Homecoming Week. The principal was not so lucky.
Trixie fidgeted in her chair. Never, since the day she was born, had she felt so nervous or uncomfortable in Dr. Ferris’ waiting room. Part of it had to do with the fact that she was there with Maddie Wheeler, rather than her own mother. Even though she was more comfortable around Honey’s mother right now, it still seemed strange for her to be taking Trixie to the doctor.
But a larger part of her nervousness came from the fact that she actually had a reason to be here.
As if the drama over the weekend and Dr. Ferris’ sedative weren’t bad enough, there were the nightmares, headaches and vomiting to consider. Not to mention her weight loss. Having had to stand still for Mrs. Wheeler’s intense scrutiny this morning had been humiliating. She had made Trixie put on an outfit of Honey’s that Trixie had been sure would be too small; after all, Honey had always been much thinner than Trixie. Instead, the skirt was loose and the blouse hung limply. Mrs. Wheeler had inspected her with a critical eye, studying her thin frame, before nodding cryptically and handing her a cardigan to cover the ensemble.
Trixie was not looking forward to stepping on Dr. Ferris’ scale.
When the kindly nurse finally called her name, Trixie turned to Mrs. Wheeler. “Are you coming in?”
Maddie faced Trixie’s anxious blue eyes with a compassionate gaze and a soft smile. “Darling, I will if you want me to. But if you would prefer privacy for the examination, I will step in to Dr. Ferris’ office afterward. I will do whichever will make you most comfortable.”
Battling tears again, Trixie gave Maddie a quick, impulsive hug. “Thank you, Mére. I’ll go in alone.”
As the young woman hurried off down the hallway, Maddie sighed and pulled out her day planner. While she nervously twiddled her pen, she hoped that writing out a shopping list for new clothes for Trixie would keep her mind off Trixie’s health until the exam was over. Then again, Trixie only needed new clothes because of her health. Who am I kidding? Maddie asked herself as she set her pen to paper.
Matthew Wheeler stood at his large office window and gazed out at the towering buildings of the Manhattan skyline. He’d come in early this morning, hoping to finish up a few things before leaving midday. He had promised to meet Maddie and Trixie in the early afternoon.
Instead, he found himself unable to focus on anything. His beloved daughter was caught between unselfish support and jealousy, struggling to walk a narrow line. His son was battling inner turmoil over unresolved issues with his parents’ deaths, feeling like a little kid compared to his classmates, and separation anxiety from his new family and his friends. And then there was Trixie…
Honey was happy because she’d met Trixie. Jim was his son because he’d met Trixie. Maddie and Honey had a decent relationship because of Trixie. Peter Belden was his best friend because of Trixie. The Bob-Whites existed because of Trixie. Many people had been helped, and the world was a better place, because the Bob-Whites existed.
Because of Trixie.
The list went on and on. If Matt tried, he could spend the entire day thinking of people and the way their lives had been changed just by meeting Trixie Belden. No one would ever be able to describe her adequately to explain the effect she had on people.
And now he had taken on the responsibility of making sure all was well with her.
Never in his life had he been so worried about living up to any responsibility.
He walked back over to his desk and sat down, staring at the framed pictures kept there. There hadn’t always been pictures there; once upon a time he’d kept a photo of Honey and a wedding portrait of Maddie on the wall behind him. The people who entered his office could see how lucky he was, but he kept his back to them so that he was never distracted by them.
Now, the pictures were on the top of his desk, facing him. They served as a constant reminder that there were more important things in life than mergers and buyouts, development deals and stock options. They reminded him that long hours might garner him an extra million, but they would cost him priceless time with the ones he loved.
Maddie’s wedding portrait was still on the wall behind him; the frame facing him contained a more recent photo of him and his wife dancing together at some charity function or other. While a close-up of her beautiful face would give him a better look at the woman he’d married, the picture of them together gave him a better view of why they were married: they loved each other. Too often it had been easy to set that aside for the form and function of a society couple. He preferred the image of a couple engaged in a romantic téte-â-téte on the dance floor.
Likewise, he had formal school pictures of Honey and Jim on the wall behind him, but the framed photos on his desk were casual ones that captured their spirits. Honey sat on the dock by the lake, a wide smile on her face and sunlight glimmering on her hair. Jim was astride Jupiter, bent forward over the stallion’s neck, the intense concentration on his face nearly masking the underlying peace and joy.
The fourth frame upon the great desk was slightly more posed, but a casual photo nonetheless. The seven Bob-Whites were lined up in front of their clubhouse, smiling and celebrating one of their many achievements. Even though they had posed for the camera, they’d continued to interact with each other through looks, gestures and comments while the picture was taken. It brought an energy to the scene, so that the photo seemed to jump off the paper and come alive.
And in the center of it all stood Trixie, radiant and glowing.
He glanced at the reports and papers stacked on his desk, then back at the last frame. There was nothing on his desk that was as important as the people waiting for him in Sleepyside.
He stood, snatched his suit coat off the back of his chair, and walked out of his office without even stopping to grab his briefcase. It would all still be there tomorrow.
Dr. Ferris stood before Trixie, frowning at his own notes. He started to speak, then stopped. He looked up at Trixie’s face, watching the fear and nervousness flicker across it, while her hands fidgeted with the edge of the paper gown she wore. He wasn’t going to get any further until he put her at ease.
“Trixie, I’d like to talk to you. Why don’t you get dressed and meet me in my office, okay?”
She seemed a little more comfortable with that idea, and nodded. He left the room to give her some privacy.
Larry Ferris had been born and raised here in Sleepyside. He’d gone all through school with the eldest Belden son, Harold. He had just joined his father’s practice when Helen Belden had become pregnant with Brian. Peter had been so proud to have Larry take his newborn son as one of his first patients. Dr. Ferris cared about all of his patients, but the Belden kids were special to Larry.
Seeing the state Trixie was in on Saturday had broken his heart, but not nearly so much as the meeting that followed with the Wheelers and the Beldens. He didn’t know what else he could do for his friends, but he was going to be damned thorough with Trixie’s health.
Just as he sat down at his desk, his receptionist buzzed him to announce the arrival of another doctor, Sheila Lewis. “Go ahead and send her right back to my office, Kelly,” he responded.
Larry was just ushering Sheila into his office when Trixie stepped out of the examining room. “Come on in, Trixie,” he encouraged her, and proceeded to get them all seated comfortably.
Or rather, uncomfortably.
Clearing his throat, Dr. Ferris made the introductions. “Trixie, this is Dr. Sheila Lewis. She’s a specialist in counseling crime victims. I’ve worked with her several times; in fact, she saw Juliana several times before her wedding.”
Surprise radiated from Trixie. She turned to Dr. Lewis and said, “If you’ve helped Juliana, then I’m grateful. She’s a very special person.”
Dr. Lewis quirked a brow. Given the state she’d been told the young girl was in, she hadn’t expected her first reaction to being introduced to be about Juliana; that information had just been thrown out to help put Trixie at ease.
“Well, Trixie, I see there’s truth in the rumor that you’re always thinking of others.”
A look of self-disgust flooded her features as Trixie responded, “Wrong. I think of the mystery first; then my own excitement over solving it; then – maybe – I might find enough concern left over to worry about whether or not I almost got someone else killed. Too late to stop it.”
Dr. Lewis exchanged a pointed look with Dr. Ferris. This was going to be more challenging than she’d expected. Fortunately, Sheila Lewis loved a challenge.
Trixie clamped her jaw shut. Hearing her own words echo back at her made her cringe. She knew it had been the wrong thing to say, and she knew it sounded childish and petulant. She just couldn’t stop herself; the words had leapt from her mouth before she’d had time to think. So what else is new?
“Okay, Trixie, I’d like to get a feel for your schedule. What’s your daily life like?” Dr. Lewis inquired.
Trixie shrugged. “I get up, I go to school, I come home.”
“Really? You go to school on Saturday and Sunday, do you?”
Trixie glared at the woman. She had no idea why she was being so snotty with her; after all, the doctor was here to help her. Noticing the twinkle in Dr. Lewis’ eye, Trixie was grateful the woman was taking her lack of cooperation with good humor. She took a deep breath and started again.
“No, I don’t. I go to school Monday through Friday. After school on Mondays, I watch my little brother and do my homework and my chores. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I play basketball.”
For the next fifteen minutes, Trixie continued to relate her schedule, elaborating when Dr. Lewis requested. She had no idea what her schedule had to do with anything, except perhaps to keep her focused on what normal was supposed to be, but she did as she was asked.
When she was done, Dr. Lewis commented, “You’re quite a busy young woman.”
Trixie just shrugged. “I guess.”
Dr. Ferris spoke for the first time in a while. “And have you had enough energy lately to keep up such a busy schedule?”
The long pause before Trixie spoke was answer enough. “Not really.”
“And you’ve been having nightmares?” Dr. Lewis asked.
The haunted look Trixie flashed her spoke volumes. Sheila Lewis had seen that look many times on many faces, and she hated it. But at least it convinced her that this young girl really needed her help.
By the time Dr. Ferris called Maddie Wheeler back to the office, she was a nervous wreck. He led her to a small conference room next door to his office, where Dr. Lewis was waiting. As everyone was seated, Dr. Ferris made the introductions.
“I remember Dr. Lewis well,” Maddie said. “She was a great help to Juliana.”
“That’s what I told Trixie,” Dr. Ferris said. “It didn’t seem to make much of an impression.”
“She was fine,” Dr. Lewis reassured Maddie. “We just have a few things we’d like to go over with you before we discuss this with Trixie.”
“Of course,” Maddie nodded.
Dr. Lewis proceeded to outline her plan. Maddie asked questions or added information as needed. Dr. Ferris said little, but he took copious notes.
Once all parties were satisfied, the group headed back to Dr. Ferris’ office to relate the results of their discussion to Trixie.
When the adults entered the room, Trixie’s face was flushed and her eyes red-rimmed. While it was sometimes good to ignore such obvious signs and allow the child to pretend she had not been crying, Maddie didn’t feel this was one of those times. She went right over and sat beside Trixie, wrapping her arms around the girl and holding her close.
Dr. Ferris, rather than going around behind his desk and placing its bulk between them, chose instead to pull his chair around front. He sat beside Trixie, while Dr. Lewis followed his lead and pulled a fourth chair into a circle so they could have a nice, friendly chat.
“Trixie, you’ve known me your entire life. Do you trust me?” Dr. Ferris asked.
Wiping her eyes with the handkerchief Maddie had given her, Trixie nodded solemnly.
“Good,” Dr. Ferris said. “Now, we all know that you suffered a traumatic incident several weeks ago. Many of your symptoms, especially the nightmares and the emotional instability, are typical of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“In keeping with that diagnosis, you are going to begin counseling sessions with Dr. Lewis. The two of you will discuss these things, as well as how you feel about the situation with your mother. And talking about it will help, I promise.”
He waited for Trixie to acknowledge his words before he continued. “I am also going to prescribe a mild anti-depressant drug. Between the counseling and the drug, hopefully things will start to get better.”
Trixie looked skeptical, but she agreed. Dr. Lewis then spoke. “We’re going to meet several times a week, at first. At the same time, I think it’s important for you to maintain as much normalcy as possible. I want to try to work around your normal activities. So we’re going to plan on meeting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, right after school.”
“However,” Maddie interrupted forcefully, “working around your schedule does not give you permission to over-do it. If you are tired or not feeling well, you will rest or skip an activity. Is that clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Trixie responded automatically. Maddie knew this would be the most difficult part of the plan for Trixie to follow.
“All that being said,” Dr. Ferris addressed the group, “we want to rule out any other causes for the headaches, nausea and weight loss. Trixie, I’m going to schedule a couple more appointments, and I’m going to run a battery of tests just to be on the safe side.”
Trixie nodded wearily. She didn’t have the energy to argue. The morning had exhausted her already. “That’s fine.”
Maddie unconsciously crossed her fingers, hoping against hope that they were doing enough to help Trixie.
Principal Stratton gaped at the numbers in front of him. No matter how unrealistic they were, they were accurate. He and the homecoming committee had counted them six times. He stared piercingly at each student on the committee in turn, hoping one of them would fall before his evil eye. None did.
Mr. Stratton shared a grim look with the two faculty advisors to the committee, Ms. Watkins and Coach Epperly. Then he sighed and dismissed the students to return to class with a warning. “Remember, not a word of this to anyone. The results will be announced at dismissal time.”
Once the students had left the room, the adults looked at the results again. Coach Epperly was the first to speak. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Ms. Watkins said. “The court is made up of the top five vote-getters, and there’s usually twelve to fifteen girls nominated. Right?”
“Right,” Mr. Stratton agreed. “There is no possible way this happened naturally. This was planned.”
“But these votes come from the entire school!” Coach exclaimed. “Are you suggesting we have a school-wide conspiracy?”
Arching her brow, Ms. Watkins gave him a piercing glare. “Have you actually looked at the cheerleaders today? That whole situation reeks of conspiracy.”
“Actually, it reeks of revenge,” Mr. Epperly said. “Beth Fleming has been riding roughshod over the cheerleaders for years. They’re getting back at her.”
“Beth Fleming,” Ms. Watkins repeated, “who, according to the grapevine, has been torturing Trixie Belden.”
At that Principal Stratton snapped to attention. “What has Beth been doing?”
“Torturing Trixie,” Ms. Watkins repeated. “How, exactly, I don’t know, but that’s the buzz.”
Mr. Stratton considered that thoughtfully. “Trixie’s absent today. And Mr. & Mrs. Wheeler made an appointment with me for 1:30 this afternoon. Could this all be related somehow?”
Coach Epperly shrugged. “Stranger things have happened.”
“I want more information. See what else you can glean from the kids, and I’ll see what the Wheelers have to say. Let’s meet back here fifteen minutes before dismissal and compare notes before we announce this,” he said, indicating his notepad with disgust.
Upon the pad were written the final tally for the nominations for homecoming queen:
Three names. Only three girls had even been nominated. Not even a single pity vote for someone unpopular, or a ridiculous vote to protest the status quo.
The stink of conspiracy grew stronger by the second.
Although Maddie had given Tom leave to run a few errands while she and Trixie were in the doctor’s office, she’d expected him to be back by now. After all, they had been here for three and a half hours. Just as she was reaching for her cell phone to call him, the sleek black Wheeler limousine pulled into the lot.
Instead of Tom jumping from the driver’s seat and rushing around to open the door for them, Matthew Wheeler himself alighted from the rear compartment. Maddie gave him a surprised glance. “I thought you were meeting us at the school at 1:30,” she said.
“I wasn’t getting anything done, so I decided I’d rather have lunch with you lovely ladies,” Matt replied with his most charming smile.
Trixie scowled. “In other words, I’m disrupting your work life, too.”
Matt’s gentle expression matched his words as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and placed a kiss on her brow. “No. You’re just reminding me that there are some things in life more important than mergers and money.”
Trixie sagged against him, head bowed ashamedly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Matt and Maddie exchanged a look over Trixie’s head while Matt rubbed her back. “Tired, Little One?”
“Yeah,” she conceded.
“Let’s get out of here, then,” Matt said as he ushered the women into the limo.
Matt and Maddie took the rear seat, while Trixie collapsed onto the seat facing them. There was a large, comfy pillow on the seat beside her. Without thinking to question why it was there, Trixie laid her head down upon it. Before they had even driven a block, she was sound asleep.
Matt grabbed Maddie’s hand and brought it to his lips. “How about we just get some take-out lunch somewhere and have a nice picnic here in the car while we take a leisurely drive?”
“That sounds perfect,” Maddie agreed. “The poor dear found this morning to be very stressful, but I have a feeling she’s dreading this afternoon even more.”
“The meeting with Principal Stratton?” Matt asked with a wicked grin. “Or the shopping?”
He reached for the intercom to inform Tom of their plans as he ducked Maddie’s playful slap.