Will You Dance,
If I Ask You to Dance?
The Bob-Whites and friends sat around the conference room where they had been sequestered for the entire school day. Work had been delivered to the office from their various teachers, and they had had what amounted to an all-day study hall. It might have felt like an in-school suspension, except that they had been kept supplied all day with drinks, snacks, candy and even music.
At the moment, Principal Stratton was updating them on the happenings of the day. After he finished his tale of Beth’s arrest for assault, Chris Zack shook his head. “I don’t understand how that helps prove she did anything to Trixie.”
Dan grinned. “If she’s being arrested, she’ll have to be fingerprinted.”
Tad nodded and returned his grin. “And then the Sergeant will have them on file, so they can be compared to, say, anything lifted from Trixie’s locker.”
“Besides,” Honey added, “even if that doesn’t work, it still puts her in a legal bind. Smart parents would keep her away from school while they moaned and cried to the school board.”
Diana’s smiled held a twinge of wickedness. “So much for Homecoming!”
Stratton nodded. “Hopefully. Now, I’ve not heard any more from the Wheelers since they left with Trixie. It was my understanding that they were taking her straight to an emergency appointment with her counselor. Mart went with her.
“At dismissal, you will all go straight home without speaking to any other students. The Lynches’ limousine will be coming to pick you up. All of your parents or guardians have been contacted, and are expecting you. Once the limo drops you at your respective homes, well… that’s the end of my responsibility for the day.”
As he stood up to leave the room, the principal watched the looks flying back and forth amongst the students in the room. He felt the need to issue one further warning. “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t you think there’s been enough gossiping going on already?”
Abashed, the young people nodded. Satisfied, he left them alone to discuss all that had transpired.
Mart plopped himself heavily onto the sofa in the Wheelers’ library. Matt joined him, albeit with a bit more dignity. Maddie had taken Trixie upstairs to take a nap, and they were waiting for her to return. Mart scrubbed his face with his hands.
“Do you really think she’s going to be okay?”
Matt sighed heavily. “Dr. Lewis thinks so, as long as she has a lot of therapy. She said today’s session went very well, considering what precipitated it. Maybe she had to be broken, in order to be able to open up.”
This statement was met with an angry glare. Mart clenched his jaw to avoid raising his voice. “Are you trying to say Beth’s stunt was a good thing?”
“Absolutely not,” Matt said. “But sometimes good things come out of bad. Like Jim and Dan coming here. The happy result doesn’t make what happened to them good, but if it hadn’t happened they wouldn’t be here.”
Mart nodded thoughtfully. “I guess.”
Maddie glided into the room and sank wearily into a nearby chair. “She’s out cold already. Such an emotional ordeal is physically exhausting.”
“Tell me about it,” Mart agreed.
Matt rubbed his temples, organizing his thoughts. “Mart, I need you to do something for your sister.”
“Anything,” the young man agreed.
“Trixie is obviously not going to basketball practice today.”
“Of course not!”
The redhead turned to focus weary green eyes on the youth beside him. “She and Chris were supposed to take Bobby to practice and then out to dinner.”
Mart sighed and nodded in understanding while Matt continued.
“There’s no reason for Bobby to miss his practice. If he just gets a message that she can’t make it, he’ll be upset. If she finds out she upset him, she’ll get even more upset. I want you to take care of both of them by taking him to practice, and sticking close to him today. Is he going trick-or-treating tonight?”
“I can do that,” the blond boy said, albeit reluctantly. He really didn’t want to leave his sister, but he knew the older man was right about taking care of his little brother. “I’ll take him to practice. After dinner, he was supposed to go out with Larry and Terry. Di and I can handle that.”
Maddie had been silently observing the exchange. Now she inserted her two cents. “Mart, we’re leaving it to you to decide what to tell Bobby and what to leave out. We trust you to figure out what is in his best interests.”
Feeling the burden of big brotherhood settling more heavily on his shoulders, Mart nodded again. Thinking of the weight of that responsibility brought to mind his own big brother. Turning back to Matt, he asked, “What about Brian and Jim?”
The older man groaned and went back to rubbing his temples. “As much as I would prefer to leave them in the dark for a few days, they’re bound to find out from someone. We’ll all be better off if I tell them. They left me their schedules; I’ll check them and call Boston in a little while.”
“Thanks,” was Mart’s heartfelt reply. He had no desire to be the one to regale the Boston Bob-Whites with this latest tale.
Rising with her usual grace, Maddie said, “I’ll go see if Regan is up for driving you to get Bobby. Seeing one of his favorite people might cheer Bobby up.”
Mart appreciated her wisdom. Regan and the pick-up truck would be much less noticeable than Tom and the limousine. And Regan had a way with Bobby. Gratefully, Mart got up and followed her toward the stables.
Trixie jolted awake. Taking a few deep, calming breaths, she looked at the clock. She realized she hadn’t even been asleep twenty minutes and groaned. Knowing she needed more sleep, and more importantly not wanting to upset Maddie, Trixie lay back down. She continued her deep breathing exercises, and allowed the throbbing in her head to subside. However, sleep was not going to return soon.
She reflected on the events of the day. Her session with Dr. Lewis had been very productive. She was amazed at how much better she’d felt after talking to her for two and a half hours. This latest incident had forced her to face her fears. She was starting to get irritated with herself and the situation. Yes, this escapade with Luke had been more serious than anything she’d dealt with before, but only because Luke had gotten close. He was a punk kid with a mean streak. She’d taken down international terrorists, for crying out loud!
And Beth. After the kinds of people she had outwitted, why was she letting a stupid, snotty cheerleader get the best of her? What kind of wimp was she, anyway?
Determination hardened her features as she sat up. This was going to end, right now, because she said so. She reached for the phone and dialed a long distance number from memory.
In Boston, the residents of the asylum were in their usual assigned seats when the phone rang. Preacher grabbed the handset just as Brian was entering the dorm suite. His deep baritone called out melodically, “Boston Asylum.”
“Is Brian there?”
Deeply concentrating on his reading assignment for history, Preacher asked distractedly, “May I ask who is calling, please?”
That jolted Preacher right out of the Ming dynasty and straight into the present. His gaze flew to Brian as he responded, “Sure, Trixie. He just came in.”
Brian practically dove over the sofa to grab the phone. Jim just about fell out of his chair as he moved to his best friend, hoping to hear part of the conversation. By silent agreement, they moved toward their shared bedroom.
“Trixie, what’s wrong?” Brian demanded.
“Excuse me? Who said anything was wrong?”
The hint of amusement in her voice threw him. He looked at Jim in confusion as he sank down onto his bed. “You’re calling me at this hour on a Tuesday. That’s what makes me think something is wrong.”
“Oh. I guess,” Trixie said. “But I just wanted to get to you before anyone else did.”
Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Brian asked, “And why, exactly, would anyone else be trying to get to me?”
“Because I had a really bad day and a major meltdown this morning. But I’m fine now.”
Surprisingly, she sounded fine. “You’re fine now?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” she answered confidently. “I’m sick and tired of being a wreck, and I’m not going to do it anymore. And yes, I know that’s easier said than done, but I mean it. I’m not putting up with this pathetic state of affairs anymore. I’m done. I’m going to be fine.”
“Okay,” Brian said dubiously. “What’s this about a meltdown?”
“Well, Beth’s latest incident… oops, alleged incident… Molinson would have my head if I didn’t use that word… was pretty major. I mean, it had to be to get Molinson called in, right? And it freaked me out pretty much. But then Mére took me to Dr. Lewis, and we had a good, long talk. I’m okay now. But Beth went too far this time, and she’s definitely gonna pay for this one.”
Struggling desperately to keep up with his sister’s normal speed and erratic speech, Brian had to interrupt. “Wait a minute! What did Beth do this time?”
“Allegedly, Brian. Until there’s a fingerprint match or something, it’s allegedly.”
“Fingerprint match? Molinson’s actually dusting something for prints because of Beth?” As Brian’s agitation grew, so did Jim’s frustration. Hearing only one side of the conversation clearly was making him crazy. Brian looked at him helplessly; he was too confused to clear anything up for his friend.
Trixie took pity on her brother; she took a deep breath and tried for some organization to her thoughts before she spoke again. “The gist is this: someone planted a gruesome Halloween surprise in my locker this morning. It was gross enough to cause a flashback to… Luke’s death.” She took another deep breath, actually proud of herself for managing to say it. “I kinda went into shock and ended up in the clinic, while Stratton called Molinson in to investigate my locker.”
Before Brian could even formulate a response, Trixie started giggling. Stunned, Brian asked, “What’s so funny, Trix?”
“I’m sorry. Molinson must have been waiting forever for a call to investigate my locker.” The giggling exploded into outright laughter.
By now, Jim had given up on waiting and was sitting next to Brian with his ear pressed against the phone. “Just what kind of anti-depressants did they give you, anyway?”
Even though he couldn’t see it, Trixie stuck her tongue out at him anyway. “A prescription was written, but I haven’t taken any yet, smarty-pants. I’m just choosing to find the humor in this situation, because I’m sick of letting it get to me.”
Considering how defensive her tone had become, Brian switched to a soothing tone for himself. He was still worried about her fragile emotional state. “So you figured everyone and their brother would be calling us to tell us what happened, and you wanted us to know you’re okay.”
“Yes. Besides, I haven’t seen anyone except Mart since this all started first thing this morning. With me being rushed out of there to go to the doctor’s, I’m sure there’re all sorts of exaggerated stories about what happened to me. You know how that goes.”
Jim nodded knowingly, indicating to Brian that he thought that was the real reason for the call. There were probably stories of her being carted off to some mental institution floating around by now.
Brian nodded his agreement. “Thank you. I always prefer to hear your stories from you, Princess.”
Trixie smiled and relaxed. “Besides, I always feel better when I talk to you. Both of you.”
“That’s the sanest thing you’ve said all day,” Jim commented.
She chuckled. “Listen, College Man… don’t be so full of yourself.”
“You sound tired, Trix,” Brian said.
“I am,” she said with a shrug. “It’s been a long day.”
Brian refused to glance at the clock, knowing full well that in his world the day was barely half over. “Do you think you can sleep?”
She stretched the kinks out of her neck and yawned. “I can now.”
“Then hang up the phone and get some sleep, Sis.”
Another loud yawn. “Okay. Love you, Bri. You too, Jim.”
Brian was worried she’d fallen asleep already until he heard the click of the line disconnecting. He then clicked his receiver off, too.
Jim sighed. “Do we call someone else for more details, or do we just trust her when she says that she’s okay?”
“Both,” Brian said emphatically. “I really think she’s okay, or at least will be. She’s talking to her therapist, and that’s a good thing. But I want to know more details, and what Molinson is doing.”
Nodding, Jim asked, “So who do we call?”
As the phone rang in his hand, Brian held it up. “Apparently, that’s been decided for us.”
Since the caller ID box was on the base in the living room, Jim grabbed the handset and answered in a normal fashion. “Boston Asylum.”
Needing that small bit of humor, Matt Wheeler chuckled. “Hello, son. How is your day going?”
“Hi, Dad,” Jim replied. “Better than yours, I hear.”
Matt sighed. “So who got to you already?”
“Oh, I’d really rather hear your side of the story before I tell you that. Please, share.”
Despite wanting the answer to his question, Matt agreed. He proceeded to relate the tale, as he knew it, in detail. When he got to the part about Beth being carted off to jail for assaulting her principal, it released a great deal of the tension in Boston. Both boys were grinning from ear to ear.
When Matt had finished his discourse, he barely paused before demanding the answer to his earlier question. “All right, now you know the story. Who got to you already with their half-baked version?”
“Well, it wasn’t really half-baked, just only half the story,” Jim said. “However, it was a very first-hand account.”
Matt was so tired that it took him a minute to process what Jim had said. “Wait a minute! You talked to Trixie? I thought she was asleep!”
“She might be, now,” Jim said.
Looking at his watch, Matt cursed under his breath. He had a pretty fair idea of what had happened, which told him how very little sleep Trixie had had. “Jim, I need to go. I have to check on her, and by then Honey should be here. I’ll talk to you later.”
Frowning at the abrupt way his father had ended the conversation, Jim looked over at Brian. “How do they expect us to stay here and function normally through all this?”
“Believe me, it’s killing me,” Brian grabbed at his hair with both hands. “I guess we’re supposed to learn how to stay close without spending all our time together. You know, be able to deal with adult life and jobs and the real world. There are lots of other people here with families back home. Maybe we just need to let them help us through, just like we’d be there for them if they were having troubles like this.”
Jim waged an inner battle before nodding. “Okay, I guess I can go talk to Preacher.”
Brian looked at him with a glitter of mischief in his brown eyes. “I didn’t mention any names.”
“You didn’t have to,” Jim said. “Preacher’s the obvious choice.”
“Really? What if I meant Chelsea?” Brian ignored the glare Jim gave him. “I know I’d prefer to talk to Ria.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” Jim retorted. “You’d prefer to do a lot of other things to Ria, but talking’s not one of them.”
Brian’s grin grew bigger. “I admit I’d enjoy doing a myriad of things with the lovely Ria, but as it happens, talking is one of them.”
Jim snorted. “Yeah, right.”
“Fine,” Brian shrugged. “I can talk to Preacher, too. Let’s go.”
Shaking his head, Jim slowly rose to follow his friend. He didn’t understand why Brian seemed to be dealing with this better than he was. It was Brian’s sister, after all. Or maybe Brian was hiding it better? It couldn’t be that Brian was a stronger person, Jim told himself. He’d been through so much more trying times than Brian had, and he’d come through them. That must mean he was the stronger person, right?
Jim’s-self doubt weighed heavily upon him as he grabbed the telephone handset and returned to the central area of their suite.
Mart stood on the sidelines, intensely scrutinizing Bobby’s practice. If truth be told, he wasn’t so much interested in the practice as he was in keeping his mind from wandering. He thought that if he studied his little brother’s strengths and weaknesses, planning out specific things to work on with him later, maybe he could keep his focus away from his sister.
The plan was going fairly well until Riss and Paul came to stand beside him. “Since our practice partners stood us up, we thought we’d come watch the Squirts,” Paul offered by way of explanation.
Mart acknowledged them with a slight nod, but his eyes never left Bobby. He was surprised by how much he’d improved since the fall league had started.
Riss was able to remain quiet for about fifteen minutes; Mart was actually impressed. “Is Trixie okay?”
“She says she is,” was the terse reply.
“You sound like you don’t believe her,” Paul commented.
“Whether she’s fine now or not, she sure as hell wasn’t this morning.” He inhaled deeply and worked hard to contain the flood of anger threatening to spew forth. “I hope to hell this is the end of this crap.”
“It will be,” Riss started to promise before Mart cut her off.
“How do you know that? Because you’re gonna end it? Isn’t that what got us here in the first place? Strike, retaliate, escalate the next strike. It’s got to stop!”
Abashed, Riss bit her lip. Afraid to say something that might cause more trouble, Paul nudged her out of the room. They gathered their things and walked across town. Slowly, Paul began to tell Riss about an idea he had. She listened, throwing in a comment here or there. By the time they reached Paul’s house, they had a plan. It was going to require help from a lot of people, including their parents. Energized by having a course of action, they set about putting wheels into motion.
Helen Belden stared at the bottle of pills in her hand. Her therapist had suggested a sleep aid, telling her that the lack of sleep was complicating her existing problems. Peter had gotten the prescription filled for her. He’d told her a good night’s sleep would do her some good.
But would it be a good night’s sleep?
She was terrified to take the harmless looking pills. The doctor and her husband seemed to think they would enable her to sleep without dreaming. But what if they didn’t? What if the dreams still came, but she was trapped in them because she couldn’t wake up?
It would be so easy to flush a pill down the toilet and lie to Peter. It was so tempting. But how could she expect her children to work hard for things in life if she took the easy path whenever things were tough? And how would she ever be able to reclaim her family if she wouldn’t put forth any effort? Recovering from whatever was troubling her was going to take work. If she honestly believed she had it in her to overcome this tribulation, then the least she could do was to swallow a stupid little pill.
She tossed the pill back and chased it down with water. Mentally tracing its path through her digestive tract, Helen lay down and waited to see what horrors the night brought her.
Peter Belden wandered around the old farmhouse, straightening things here and there. He listened carefully to the sounds of the night. A part of him wished something would jump out of the darkness and give him a physical outlet for his fear and frustration.
He had spent long hours with Mart and Bobby tonight, helping the younger boy with his homework and making sure his older son felt his presence. They had spoken at length about the situation at school once they had tucked the little prince in for the night. He had also spoken with Matt Wheeler on the phone.
He had chosen to keep the latest development from his wife for one more day. It had taken a great deal of effort to convince her to take the sleeping pill her doctor had ordered. If Helen could get one solid night of peaceful sleep, he was sure she would feel more like herself.
After checking the doors and windows for the third time, Peter tiptoed up the stairs. He checked in on both boys, then stopped at the door to Trixie’s room. The emptiness echoed through his soul. He turned away from the shadows and walked toward his own room to check on his wife before readying himself for bed.
Helen’s quiet, even breathing was an encouraging sound. Peering down at her peaceful countenance, he sighed in relief. She looked relaxed. Peter prayed the peace remained through the rest of the night, and she would wake rested and at ease.
He quickly undressed and climbed into bed, slipping into the sleep of the emotionally exhausted. The depth of his slumber left him blissfully unaware when the expressions on Helen’s face transformed from peaceful to tortured. The dreams that chased her through the darkness of the night were far from pleasant, but they failed to overpower the sedative drugs.
Wednesday, November 1, 1995
In the morning when Mart went out to feed the chickens, he took Bobby with him. Aside from the practical need for the lad to become proficient at the daily family chore, Mart had a personal need to keep his brother in his sight. Maybe it was a need to protect his younger sibling in the way he couldn’t protect his sister lately.
When they had completed their task, they made sure the latches on the coop were secured. They were startled by a soft voice behind them.
“Hi, guys,” Trixie said.
Bobby’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. “Trixie!” He flew into her arms as she bent to give him a huge hug.
They lingered a moment longer than usual, but otherwise it seemed a normal greeting. Trixie ruffled her brother’s hair and asked how his trick-or-treating had gone the night before. Bobby burst into a rambling, descriptive narrative of all the costumes he’d seen and the candy he’d received.
Mart took advantage of the lad’s enthusiastic chatter and used the time to study his sister. Trixie appeared relaxed and well-rested. Knowing she was good at faking both impressions, he focused on minute details. The dark circles under her eyes had faded some, and she looked comfortable in clothing that actually fit her. Those were good signs. But as Bobby talked, he unconsciously led the trio in the direction of the back door of the farmhouse. The closer they got, the faster Trixie’s hands clenched and unclenched nervously at her sides. Mart noticed her eyes flitting back and forth between Bobby’s face and the family home, and her jaw tensing as she gritted her teeth.
As casually as possible, Mart interrupted. “Bobbo, why don’t you go wash your hands and grab your backpack so we can walk you to the bus.”
Not so easily fooled, Bobby glanced quickly at Trixie’s face, only to find her staring intently in the direction from which his bus would eventually appear. Face grim, he nodded. “I’ll be quick, and I won’t mention that Trixie’s here.”
As the boy turned to run into the house, Trixie rolled her eyes and stared heavenward, blowing out her pent-up breath forcefully in frustration. “That’s just not right.”
“Well, I’ll grant that it’s not normal,” Mart said. As an errant thought struck him, his eyes began to twinkle. “But what is normal in Sleepyside? The number of redheads? The number of orphans? The number of stupid criminals? The number of people who wander into town only to discover long-lost relatives and heretofore unknown inheritances?”
Trixie started to chuckle. “Normal? How about the number of abandoned buildings in the Preserve?”
“The number of mysteries just waiting to be solved?” Mart smiled. “The point is, I thought you, of all people, would have learned that normal and good don’t mean the same thing.”
“I know they don’t,” Trixie said. “But abnormal and good don’t mean the same thing, either.”
Mart threw his arm around her shoulder. “And that is why you, sister mine, are the Mistress of Lemonade. You always find a way to take sour lemons and make something sweet.”
Appreciating her brother’s efforts to make her feel better, Trixie smirked. “Awwww… I think that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Mart was making gagging noises when Bobby came through the door. He looked back and forth between his siblings. “I don’t think I wanna know, but at least she’s smiling.”
“Yes, lamb, I am,” Trixie grinned. “Come on.”
Bobby took Trixie’s outstretched hand and they meandered slowly toward the bus stop. Mart followed behind, thinking that the day might turn out better than he’d expected.
Trixie’s morning had been going smoothly. The bus ride had been fine, surrounded by the Bob-Whites and Tad. Entering the hallways, escorted by Chris, had been pleasant. Mr. Stratton had greeted her and directed her to a new locker in a different hallway, actually quite close to Chris’ locker. Chris had opened it for her, just to be a gentleman, he’d said, although they both knew it was to check for scary surprises. Thankfully, there’d been none.
During homeroom she’d been given a pass which directed her to skip PE and report instead to the Health Office. Not looking forward to gym class, Trixie had gratefully followed directions. Mrs. Parkman had mostly wanted to see for herself that Trixie was okay. The period was spent in pleasant conversation with a friend’s mom, as far as Trixie was concerned.
The classes she had attended had been a little more difficult. Trixie had avoided interacting with her classmates in any way. She didn’t want to see looks of support, sympathy, pity, or any of the other thoughts her classmates might have. So she studiously ignored them, avoiding their gazes and conversations. Being a naturally gregarious person, this was completely out of character and difficult to maintain.
Now it was almost lunchtime, and she was exhausted. Her headache had returned, and the thought of entering the loud, crowded cafeteria was making her stomach churn. She was calculating the value of returning to the clinic when the bell rang.
The pounding in her head produced by the clanging of the school bell confirmed her suspicion that the noise level of the cafeteria would be too much for her to handle today. Still trying to decide the best course of action, she lagged behind the rest of the students who were exiting the classroom. When she reached the door, she found Tad waiting for her.
Offering him a wan smile, she simply said, “Hi.”
Tad leaned down to whisper in her ear, “I bet there’s a practice room with our names on it.”
Thinking of the soundproofing in the music practice rooms, Trixie’s smile broadened. “That sounds heavenly.”
Tad grabbed her hand and walked her down the hall, guiding her past the lunch crowds and around the corner towards the music department. Finding an empty practice room, Tad led Trixie inside and then secured the door. Turning to her, he pulled her into his arms and tucked her head under his chin.
Gratefully sliding into his embrace, Trixie rested her head on his chest and listened to the soothing beat of his heart. Wrapping her arms around him, she relaxed and said, “Thank you, Tad.”
“You looked like you could use some peace and quiet.”
“Yeah.” She closed her eyes and took a deep, relaxing breath, enjoying the scent of his aftershave.
Tad kissed her forehead and began to sway, his voice soft and soothing as he sang.
Lean on me when you're not strong,
and I'll be your friend. I'll help you carry on,
for it won't be long 'til I'm gonna' need
somebody to lean on.
Trixie smiled and looked up. “Serenading me again, Thaddeus?”
Tad frowned. “Watch it, Beatrix.”
Trixie laughed, feeling better already. Tad smiled, relieved to see her good humor return. He loved to see the light in her eyes. Grinning, he stole a kiss. And another. And another. They soon moved from playful towards passionate.
“What was the verdict about tonight?” Tad asked with bated breath.
Gasping for air, Trixie tried to remember her phone call to Mrs. Wheeler earlier that day. “We can only keep our study date if you come to Manor House. Mére didn’t even really want me going to school today; she’s not about to let me go out tonight. But she understood that I really needed to see you, and I need to keep up with my schoolwork.”
“I don’t suppose we’ll get the kind of privacy at Manor House that we get at Mrs. V’s.”
Giggling, Trixie shook her head. “Not likely.”
“Hmmmm,” Tad said. “In that case, I need a few more before lunchtime’s over.” With that, he kissed her long and deep.
“By all means,” Trixie replied afterwards. “Have all you need.”