Will You Dance,
If I Ask You to Dance?
Principal Stratton had returned from his morning rounds to find unexpected visitors. After two hours sequestered in a meeting with them, he was not a happy man.
Stratton sat at his desk, staring at his visitors in shock. The deputy superintendent and the board attorney squirmed slightly, knowing how unwelcome their news had been. Stratton leaned on his arms, folded on the blotter, and searched for some sign that they were just trying to scare him.
“You’re sure there’re no other options?” he asked, hoping against hope.
The deputy superintendent, Mr. Hartung, was a friend, a college classmate in fact. The gentleman shrugged helplessly. “We’re up against everything here, Pat. There’s school policy, board policy, education law, criminal law and civil law. The situation with Beth is clear: you can’t keep a student out of school because she’s charged with a crime. She’s innocent until proven guilty. However, since the act happened on school grounds, with witnesses, and is a violation of the school’s discipline policy, you can separately suspend her from school for the same thing.”
The board attorney, Miss Accardo, an attractive woman in her thirties who had been her father’s assistant when he’d held the position before her, spoke up. “Keep in mind, you can only give her up to five days... unless you classify it as a superintendent’s suspension, where she’ll have to go before the district’s discipline board. State education law requires the hearing take place within five school days. Putting it off until the last minute, we could schedule it for Tuesday. That would keep her away from all homecoming activities. Additionally, the discipline officer could rule alternate educational setting for 30 – 60 days, which would keep her out of your hair for a while.”
“However,” the deputy forcefully stated, “that does not have any bearing on her mother. You fully supported all the rules we bent over the summer so that Mrs. Fleming could be listed as a coach rather than a parent volunteer. She is now, technically, a district employee. She cannot be denied access to her job because of her daughter’s discipline issues.”
“Damned cheerleading competition,” Stratton muttered.
“Pat, stop it,” Hartung scolded. “Those girls won the state championship. They’re athletes in their own right, not window dressing for the boys’ teams, and they deserve some respect.”
“I do respect the girls,” the principal said. “What I respect even more is their very unified stand against Beth.”
“Again, that’s Beth, not her mother,” Miss Accardo interrupted. “Mrs. Fleming was the one who coached those girls to that state championship. She’s the official coach and faculty advisor. If she’d remained a parent volunteer, we could handle this situation differently. Right now, you’re going to have to deal with the consequences of decisions made back in August so she could be the coach of record at the championships.”
“A decision shoved down my throat by the superintendent,” Stratton groused.
Hartung shot him a warning look. “Regardless, it happened. Now, we have to proceed with that fact in place. So unless you can show me proof that it was Carla Fleming who messed with young Trixie’s locker, you can’t bar her from the homecoming game, nor from the pep rally this afternoon.”
“You can remind her it’s not Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” Accardo added with a smirk, “but not until after you’ve formally suspended Beth.
“As far as the criminal charges go, that’s up to the legal system. We can’t treat Beth like a criminal unless she gets convicted. At the rate that system moves, that won’t happen until some time after she graduates.”
“Which just leaves the civil law problem,” Hartung stated.
“There is no civil problem,” Stratton affirmed.
“Yet,” Hartung flung back at him. “Dave Fleming is a lawyer. He specializes in high dollar, frivolous lawsuits. You, personally, filed criminal charges against his precious baby girl. If you think he’s not already at the court house filing some harassment suit against your sorry ass, you’re an idiot.”
Surprised by his friend’s outburst, Stratton sat back. More subdued, he asked, “And if he does?”
Accardo was calm and direct. “The chairman of the board wants you suspended. The superintendent has to take his recommendation into consideration. A lot depends on the nature of the suit, and Beth’s status. If she comes back into the building while there’s a suit in the works, you won’t be here. Period.”
Hartung stood and abruptly ended the meeting. “We’ve taken too much of your morning already. Get that suspension on the books. You’ll be hearing from us soon.”
Without a glance in the principal’s direction, Accardo rose and followed Hartung out the door. Stratton sat and stared off into space, wondering how skewed the scales of justice really were.
Matt Wheeler frowned as he glared at the telephone on his desk like it was the spawn of Satan. He was very unhappy with the phone call he’d just received. In Matt’s not-so-humble opinion, the chairman of the Sleepyside board of education had a lot of nerve asking the superintendent to suspend Principal Stratton for his handling of Beth Fleming. Narrowing his eyes, Matt focused his growing fury toward formulating a plan of action. He tapped a couple of keys on his computer and pulled up the corporate internal email program. A few terse sentences later, he had directed his private investigator to find out all he could about each of Beth’s parents and every member of the board.
He smirked and wondered if Trixie and Honey realized that he had a full-time private investigator on his corporate staff. Granted, the gentleman was actually jealous of his girls and the exciting cases they worked, but he was a grown-up with a full-fledged PI’s license. If only I could convince them to accept such a comfortable, well-paid, safe position, Matt thought wistfully. Giving up thoughts of such a lost cause, he responded to several emails in his inbox while he decided his next move. He had a great deal of work to do before the following evening’s board of education meeting, and he wanted to make sure he left no stone unturned.
Peter Belden stood at his office window and stared out across Main Street. The hustle and bustle of noon-time activity was a blur, barely registering. After his conversation with Matt Wheeler last night, he had wanted to hear another side of the story about Trixie and the locker. By the time his friend John had been able to return his phone call this morning, much more had transpired.
If the worst-case scenario played out right now, one teenaged girl would spend time in jail, and a wonderful educator would lose his career and possibly a great deal else. Peter handled Patrick Stratton’s financial affairs. He knew well that if the Flemings sued Stratton personally, there wasn’t much there. Pat and his wife had had one child, who was severely disabled. From an early age, she had had to be institutionalized, although in this day and age it was considered a special boarding school for children with special needs. The Strattons spent all their money supporting their daughter and her school. Although he had one of the better paying jobs in town, the man didn’t have a great deal to show for it, financially.
David Fleming was a wealthy lawyer. He practiced in New York, moved in New York social circles, and had no idea what life in Sleepyside was really like. Unlike the Wheelers and the Lynches, many of the wealthier residents who were New York commuters held themselves aloof from the “locals”. Some sent their kids to boarding schools, which kept them even further out of the loop. Peter had never been too sure how Beth had ended up attending the local public school, but he’d always assumed it had something to do with her mother.
The impotent fury ate at the lining of Peter’s stomach. Fleming considered his full contribution to Sleepyside society to be paying his taxes on time. Stratton had given his heart and soul to the children, day in and day out, for decades. If one bad day with Fleming’s daughter could take that away from the town, life was more unfair than Peter had ever imagined.
He was beginning to understand why Trixie could get so carried away with her mysteries. Most of the time they happened because she was trying to help someone, right some wrong, and have a hand in seeing justice done. The way the normal rhythm of life seemed to stack up against justice, Peter could see why she tried so hard to fight the tide. Sometimes justice required a battering ram. He wasn’t going to stand back and let the children be the ones to operate it this time.
“You can’t be serious!” David Fleming shouted at his wife.
“I have to do this for our daughter,” she replied firmly, tossing her elegant golden mane over her shoulder as she put her juice glass down on the counter with a snap.
Fleming’s jaw dropped. “Beth is barred from attending the pep rally. You can’t be there to support her when she’s not allowed to be there.”
Carla crossed her arms over her chest and stared at her husband, very much resembling a teacher reprimanding an unruly student. “I’m the coach. I must maintain discipline and order so that Beth can resume her rightful place once you clear up this ridiculous situation.”
“That could take a while…” he began.
She cut him off swiftly. “You have to clear this up by tomorrow. Beth has to be back in school Friday morning, before the vote for Homecoming Queen.”
“There are bigger issues here than a damned homecoming crown!” David said, attempting to reason with her.
“There is nothing more important than that crown,” Carla screeched.
His temper snapped. “Then maybe you should have used some of your discipline and order to teach your daughter some self-control!”
Carla hissed back at him through gritted teeth. “I am an excellent coach. I’m the state champion.”
“That’s what it’s all about to you,” he said in disgust. “It’s about you being champion, how Beth makes you look. You don’t give a damn how Beth feels.”
“Beth is happy when she’s winning,” came the cold response.
“Because you’ve trained her to think that that’s all that matters.”
“That’s all that matters to you.”
“I’m a trial lawyer, for God’s sake,” David shouted. “I don’t get paid if I don’t win!”
“Aren’t you the one who likes to preach that money isn’t everything?” Carla mocked him.
“It isn’t everything, but it is why I do this job.” David pinched the bridge of his nose and fought for self-control.
“Well, try doing your job of being a father. Stay with Beth, and get on the phone and make this go away.” Carla tossed her hair over her shoulder as she turned away. “Meanwhile, I’m going to the school and keep things under control.”
Fleming did a slow burn as he watched his wife flounce out of the house, and wondered when his life had all gone wrong.
Carla had always envisioned herself living the life of a society wife. She had anticipated having a nanny for her children while she hosted teas and sponsored charities. She had believed that marrying a lawyer meant marrying instant wealth. Shortly after the birth of their first and only child, Beth, reality had crushed her illusions. And she hadn’t taken it well.
Since that time, David had worked very hard to climb up the corporate ladder, working towards the pie in the sky of partnership at his large law firm. His real objective was the income to provide the lifestyle of which his wife dreamed. They’d never had any other children because Carla had been so overwhelmed by caring for Beth by herself. Carla didn’t seem to settle into her role as a mother until Beth was old enough to join her first playgroup. And then she’d never wanted to deal with an infant again.
Carla had enjoyed getting to know the other parents in the playgroup… or rather, had enjoyed becoming queen of her peers. This was why she was content to spend her time with her daughter in Sleepyside while her husband socialized in New York; after all, the small pond made it easier to be the big fish. She was happy as long as she could lord it over the other moms in the playgroup, dance classes, the child pageant circuit, and eventually, cheerleading. When she’d decided that cheerleading was her favorite, she’d pulled Beth from all other activities. Together, they set out to conquer the cheerleading world.
Being a guy, David had thought of cheerleading as an accessory to the real sports, football or basketball. He had hoped that the days of competitions that had marked their life on the pageant circuit would be over. He’d been sorry to learn just how wrong he was.
This past summer, he’d felt another glimmer of hope. Even competitive cheerleading teams still cheered for the football and basketball teams, so their competition season was during the summer, when the boys’ sports were off-season. After Carla had won state, he’d hoped for a few months of peace. Since Beth was a senior, he thought Carla would back off. There was no need to push the girls, since she would leave with Beth in June and wouldn’t be around for the next competitive season. But how could he have forgotten about Homecoming?
Both Carla and Beth had been obsessed with Homecoming since the very first day of the school year. He’d buried himself in his work and avoided their discussions of the perfect dress and the perfect date. He’d been oblivious, at first, to their joint outrage when Chris Zack had become noticeably interested in someone else – someone who not only wasn’t Beth but wasn’t even a cheerleader! As the tirades in his house had continued, David had grudgingly become aware that the captain of the basketball team was dating “some stupid sophomore”. Once again, being a man, he’d said the wrong thing. He’d suggested that, since Homecoming was actually a football event, his daughter set her sights on the captain of the football team.
The appalling result of that conversation had been Carla and Beth pulling out a set of 8 x 10 glossies of every major athlete in the senior class. On the backs were lists of pros and cons. The first item on the football captain’s cons list, in big, bold, black letters, was “UGLY”. On Chris Zack’s photo, the cons list was empty and the pros list had only the word “perfect”.
He should have known then that the situation was completely out of control. When the designer shop had screwed up Beth’s dress, it had been hard to tell which was more upsetting to his women: the ugly dress, or the apparent slap in the face by the prominent Lynch family. What astounded David, though, was the belief that the money and power of the Lynch and Wheeler families were to be completely discounted, simply because Di and Honey were sophomores and Beth was a senior.
It had finally dawned on him that his wife and daughter had no concept of reality.
He’d pondered the possibility that Diana Lynch had actually sabotaged his daughter’s dress. As much as he liked to consider himself an important person, he knew his social standing was below the bugs under Matt Wheeler’s shoe. However, nothing he’d ever heard or seen of the Lynch or Wheeler families suggested these girls as the type to flaunt their wealth and privilege, or to use their connections for mean-spirited, petty acts. He’d begun to wonder: if Di was responsible, what had Beth done to deserve her vengeance?
Preferring not to dwell too much on such a nasty thought about his beloved princess, he’d chosen instead to enjoy the peace and quiet when Carla had whisked Beth out of school and taken her on a girls’ weekend in New York, all to replace the offending dress. Dutifully, he’d taken a little time to prepare a brief, just in case his darlings decided to sue the dress shop. His only other conscious thought on the matter was to dread the upcoming Homecoming week.
After all, how much more drama could there possibly be?
Such a loaded question. The rantings and ravings on Monday night had given him a severe headache. The play the cheerleaders had called – all wearing the colors of Beth’s ill-fated dress – was straight out of Beth’s playbook. She had organized the exact same slam two years previous against another cheerleader who was being ostracized for some imagined slight. Beth’s indignation had been genuine – both for being the recipient of the embarrassment and for having her own ideas used against her.
What had been more disturbing, however, had been Carla’s ravings about the audacity of the team. On the one hand, she’d been livid that they’d hurt her little girl. On the other hand, she seemed to be more upset by the fact that they’d acted as a unified body, while acting without her direction. Apparently, she preferred automatons that were her slaves to a cohesive group of students united in a common cause.
Thinking of Carla’s rage, David let his mind wander. He found himself thinking about the Texas woman just a few years ago who’d gone so far as to hire a hitman to kill a rival for the sake of her daughter’s cheerleading career. Carla could never be that crazy, could she?
A sick feeling settled in the pit of David’s stomach as his eyes came to rest on the juice glass sitting on the counter. He needed to make sure, just for his own peace of mind.
Molinson raised one eyebrow but allowed no other indication of surprise to grace his face when the patrol officer announced the request to meet with him. After ordering that the visitor be shown to his office, he mentally prepared to walk the fine line between doing his job and doing the right thing. He had the vague thought that the right thing might involve punching someone in the face, and he couldn’t do that and still do his job.
Biting back a deep sigh, he studied the man entering his office, shuffling hesitantly toward the seat across the desk. Another wave of surprise hit Molinson. David Fleming was known for his confidence and arrogance; nervousness and fear were not the vibes Molinson had expected to be getting from him.
Features carefully schooled into an expression of indifference, Molinson asked, “Is there something I can do for you, Fleming?”
David picked repeatedly at an imaginary fleck of lint on his woolen trousers. Refusing to look Molinson in the eye, he stammered, “I… obviously I want to clear my daughter’s name… I just don’t want… anyone else… hurt… in the process… unless it’s necessary. It’s just that… I suspect someone else… of being involved… but I might be wrong.” He glanced up once, quickly. “You have fingerprints from the Belden girl’s locker, right?”
Molinson’s stony expression never wavered. He nodded once, slowly.
Fleming’s eyes searched his then, pleading. “Will you run a comparison sample without knowing whose prints they are?”
The sergeant never moved a muscle in his face, but he felt a ball of ice, twisted and cold, sink heavily into his stomach. He had yet to inform anyone that the run against Beth’s prints from her booking yesterday afternoon had not matched. He’d pondered where to look next and had been at a bit of a loss. Now Fleming was telling him – no, showing him – exactly where to look. The man’s sickened expression and decidedly green color gave a fairly strong indication of who his suspect was. If Molinson had tried to go there himself, he’d have been put through a public wringer for making such a horrid assumption. But for Fleming to hand her over on a silver platter… he could afford to be generous until he had confirmation.
“I can do that, David,” Molinson spoke calmly. “Will you wait here while I get the results?”
“Please.” The man’s voice shook only slightly less than the hand that emerged from his coat pocket holding a Ziploc bag. Inside was a single, small juice glass.
Rising, Molinson gingerly retrieved the container from the trembling hand. Without another word, he left to examine the evidence.
The district attorney marched down the hallways of Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School, leading Sergeant Molinson and five other police officers – a huge show of force for the small town. Patrick Stratton had already been anxious as he observed his students assembling in the gym for the pep rally. When he shifted his stance in the doorway enough to catch a glimpse of the cadre headed his way, he grew downright frantic.
Rushing from his post to meet the men halfway down the hall, Stratton asked, “What’s going on?”
The D.A. held up a piece of paper. “I have a warrant. The sergeant and his men will be making an arrest in the attack on Trixie Belden.”
Startled, the principal turned to Molinson. “I thought Beth…”
The confusion evoked by the policeman’s negative headshake soon gave way to concern for the students. Thinking of the mass chaos that would be produced by such a scene occurring in front of the entire student body, Stratton turned back to the D.A. “Do you have to do this here and now?”
“That depends, Mr. Stratton,” the official said, fixing him with a steely-eyed gaze. “Do you want a criminal coaching your cheerleaders?”
Once again, Stratton’s startled eyes flew to Molinson. The sergeant nodded. “The prints from Trixie’s locker match Carla Fleming’s. A search warrant served at her home produced the fake brain matter in her closet.”
Stratton’s faced shifted from surprise to something akin to wicked delight. He stepped aside with a wave of his arm. “Please, gentlemen, by all means – carry out your duties.”
As the men marched past him, Stratton breathed a sigh of relief. If Carla Fleming was guilty, the district would have no choice but to fire her. And even if she wasn’t, the nature of the charges would force them to suspend her until her case was settled. Either way, he would be free of the witch for quite a while.
In the gym, Trixie was nestled snugly between Tad and Chris. Their concern for her, and their friendship with each other, seemed to be winning out over their rivalry for her affection… at least for the moment. Behind them, Mart was grumbling good-naturedly to the other Bob-Whites about the trials and tribulations of being an older brother to such a popular young female.
Trixie noticed immediately when Principal Stratton left the room to speak to the authorities. By the time Tad noticed her distraction and followed her gaze, the small army stood at the doorway to the gym.
“Uh, oh,” was all Tad could say. Trixie nodded in agreement, and within moments all the students were watching the men in blue.
The district attorney believed that the theatricality of the moment would be beneficial to his case, so he waited until he was sure that every eye was focused on him before he led his force forward to do their job. Ironically, the only person not looking his way was Carla Fleming herself. She stood with her back to him, giving instructions to her squad and oblivious to the tension in the gym.
As the officers surrounded her, one pulled out his handcuffs and grabbed her wrist. She spun around, sputtering, as Sergeant Molinson raised his voice to carry to the four corners of the room.
“Mrs. Carla Fleming, I hereby place you under arrest for the malicious harassment of Trixie Belden, trespassing on school grounds, and tampering with public property, among other things.”
As the officer with the cuffs secured her and began reciting her Miranda rights, she spat angrily at the sergeant. “You can’t do this to me!” she shrieked. “My husband with have your badge!”
Molinson couldn’t help the slight upward curve of his lips as he replied, “Ma’am, your husband turned you in.”
That broke Carla’s composure. She started hissing and swearing. As officers grabbed both her arms to escort her from the room, she started kicking as well. They merely lifted a little and carried her out.
Ignoring her, the sergeant scanned the crowd, noting the wide range of facial expressions: shock, horror, amusement, even outright glee. One in particular stood out, the ashen pallor causing him to worry. Molinson made a beeline for her.
“Miss Belden, would you walk with me a moment?”
She nodded mutely and allowed him to escort her from the room, the injured look in her wide blue eyes breaking his heart.
Trixie walked in a daze, barely conscious of Molinson’s guiding hand on her back. Her mind was reeling from the shock of revelation. Personal revenge was something she could comprehend, but whatever had motivated Carla Fleming’s attack on her was so foreign to her that she couldn’t wrap her mind around it. The mental anguish was causing a horrible, pulsating pain in her head. It was taking serious effort to force the bile back down her throat. She hardly noticed Molinson usher her into the nearest classroom.
The sergeant gently pushed her down into a chair and knelt in front of her. “Trixie, are you okay?” he asked.
She tried to focus on his concern but instead wished for a dark room. Picturing her new bedroom with the blinds drawn, she latched onto the thought of a safe haven. Licking suddenly dry lips, she managed to ask, “Do the Wheelers know?”
Molinson nodded. “They’re on their way.”
“Good,” Trixie said. She shivered, suddenly chilled to the center of her being. “Good.”
Struggling to make some sense of the bizarre turn of events, Trixie thought about a mother who would do something so nasty to a rival of her daughters’. She thought of the story from Texas a couple of years back where a cheerleader’s mother had tried to kill another girl for her daughter’s sake. She wondered at the level of devotion required to provoke such actions. Comparing her current non-relationship with her own mother, she wondered whether antagonistic indifference was better than sick devotion. Pushing aside thoughts of Helen Belden, she wished Madeleine Wheeler was with her.
As if hearing her thoughts, Madeleine burst through the doors just then. Heaving a sigh of relief, Trixie jumped up and threw herself into her guardian’s arms. Safe in the comforting embrace, she let the tears flow. “Please just take me home.”
“Of course, darling,” Maddie soothed.
Trixie missed the vicious glare Maddie aimed at Molinson before she escorted her charge from the building. In fact, she didn’t even notice Matt Wheeler standing beside the door, waiting for the ladies to leave before he unleashed his fury on the poor policeman.
All Trixie knew was that the light was too bright, and she was going to be taken to a safe place where she’d be allowed to go to sleep.
Matt Wheeler stood, hands on hips, glowering at Molinson. He waited several moments after the ladies’ exit before speaking. “You’re sure?”
“Positive.” Molinson’s answer was firm. “David Fleming figured it out and turned her in. He’s so upset right now, I think he wants to flee and never be seen in this town again.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Matt said, eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
The sergeant shrugged. “Not something I can make happen.”
Matt grinned fiercely. “Nor should you. I’d be happy to have some definitive task in this whole damnable mess.”
Molinson put on his gruff face, the one usually reserved for lecturing Trixie about meddling in police business. “Blackmail is a criminal offense,” he huffed. With a twinkle in his eye, he continued, “On the other hand, persuasion falls under freedom of speech. I’m pretty sure I swore an oath to protect your right to that.”
Chuckling, Matt nodded. “So glad we understand each other, Dell.”
“Have a nice evening, Matt.” Wendell Molinson tipped his hat and headed out, confident that the powerful man would stick to the letter of the law when wielding his considerable influence. There was enough trouble going around without having to arrest this man he’d come to think of as a friend.
Matt took a couple of deep, calming breaths following the officer’s departure. He wanted a quick word with Stratton, but then he was collecting his daughter and going to join his wife and Trixie in the waiting car.
A few minutes later, his conversation with the principal having gone better than expected, he walked down the hallway with his daughter by his side. He was amused by the expression on her face, which was as close to a pout as the oh-so-polite young lady ever got.
“I still don’t see why I couldn’t stay for the pep rally,” Honey spoke up, her voice straddling a fine line between polite inquiry and petulant complaining.
Matt grinned. He much preferred his daughter to show her spirit than to suffer in meek obedience when she disagreed. He wondered what she’d think of his answer.
“You can’t stay because, officially, I’m considering pulling my children out of a school district where the board would hire someone who could be such a danger to one of my girls.”
Honey’s jaw dropped and she stopped to stare at her father. Almost immediately, a wicked glint lit her hazel eyes. Lifting her nose into the air, she smirked. “You know, Daddy… the Bob-Whites’ plans to help the athletic department could very easily be dropped. All that inter-school cooperation and support would go up in flames just because the school board is interfering with our relationship with the school’s administration. Such a shame,” she finished with a dramatic sigh.
Matt smiled proudly and threw his arm around her shoulder. “You may look like your mother, but you’re a Wheeler through and through.”
Chuckling happily together, they left the hallowed halls of education to plan a few lessons in real life for the board of education.
The students in the gym had watched the scene with Carla Fleming play out in fascination. The room had erupted in the loud rumblings of the gossip mill as soon as Sergeant Molinson had exited with Trixie. Stratton had immediately jumped to the microphone to attempt to restore order. Despite one of his better speeches about not letting life’s unexpected moments derail your plans and goals, he couldn’t completely stop the murmurs.
While he was speaking, Sally Andrews ran to the stands for a quick consultation with her brother. Paul quickly reassured her that the cheerleaders didn’t need the presence of their soon-to-be-former coach in order to perform with their championship enthusiasm. Sally then boldly took charge and rallied the team.
The cheer squad took the floor to attempt to rally the student body’s support for the school, the football team, and the homecoming game. Unfortunately, that was the moment Matt Wheeler arrived to speak with Principal Stratton. More students watched their conversation than watched the cheerleaders, despite the fact that the young women were more visually appealing.
As if the mill hadn’t already had enough grist, when the crowd should have been applauding the first cheer number, they were instead observing Mr. Wheeler crook his finger at his daughter, followed by Honey’s dutiful exit at his side.
While the cheerleaders struggled to focus the crowd’s attention on the introduction of the football team, the three remaining Bob-Whites exchanged nervous looks.
Tad leaned back and muttered over his shoulder to Mart, “So, how badly do you want to escape right now?”
“More than you can imagine,” was Mart’s reply.
“Don’t even think about it, Mart.” Out of nowhere, Coach Epperley appeared and settled into the empty seat between Tad and Chris.
“But Coach,” Chris started to protest.
“Zip it,” Coach ordered Chris. He looked over his shoulder at Mart. “I just got off the phone with your father. You are to sit here and smile, even if it kills you. You pretend it’s just the successful conclusion of another Bob-White adventure. The police have arrested the guilty party, and all that’s left is for the Bob-Whites to finish helping their chosen cause of the day… in this case, the football team.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mart grumbled.
Epperley drilled him with a stern look. “Help to focus the kids’ attention where it ought to be,” he ordered. “Pay attention to the football team, so they’ll stop jabbering about your sister and the Flemings.”
Reluctantly acknowledging his wisdom, Mart nodded. Diana grabbed his hand, entwining her fingers with his in a silent show of support. As the football players were introduced, the Bob-Whites cheered the loudest. Chris, Tad, and other friends around them joined in. Soon the whole crowd was acting like all high school students should during homecoming week – shouting out their school spirit and cheering on their team.
Madeleine sat by Trixie’s bedside, deep in thought. The way the young woman had clung to her on the way home from school had been both endearing and troublesome. By the time they’d reached the manor, Trixie no longer seemed frightened or hurt. Instead, there’d been a hint of anger and righteous indignation in her eyes. That hint, however, had been overpowered by weariness, both emotional and physical. She’d begged for a nap. Maddie had followed her to her room, only to find the child already asleep.
Trixie had one pillow over her eyes. The way her arm covered the pillow indicated an intense pain, and a desperate desire for total darkness.
That was what worried Maddie. The counseling and anti-depressants would help, in time. Having the Flemings out of the way would help. But would it all be enough to pull Trixie out of her current fragile state? Dr. Ferris had mentioned running tests to be sure there wasn’t an underlying medical problem. Some were already scheduled; more would follow depending on the results of the first ones. Deep down, Maddie feared the real problem was something none of them had contemplated. That thought both frightened her, and strengthened her resolve to see that everything possible was done to heal the rift in their world… no matter what that entailed.