Will You Dance,
If I Ask You to Dance?
The dance committee sat around the principal’s conference table. The ballots for Homecoming Queen had been divided into four boxes, with a faculty member and two students assigned to each. As they waited for the signal to begin counting, the room was filled with an air of excitement and the anticipation of something momentous. The same aura permeated the entire school. Patrick Stratton looked at the eager faces before him and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what the outcome of the vote count would be. He wondered if this was an odd moment out of step with time, or a sign of things to come.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let us begin.”
Homeroom had been extended to allow time for the homecoming ballots to be cast and collected. Students had then been sent to their first period classes while the committee counted the votes. The announcement of the results was expected to be made at some point during second period.
Riss was one hundred percent certain no single class period in her entire six years at Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School had ever lasted as long.
When the slowly creeping minute hand had finally moved to within mere moments of the bell, Riss began to panic. The nerves she felt then made her angry. After all, she had no real desire to be Homecoming Queen… or so she told herself. Despite her attractive features, she’d never been considered the “pretty girl”. Her unusual height had made her awkward and gangly through much of high school, which did little for the self-confidence of a teenaged girl. The notion of being given the title so coveted by all the most glamorous girls in schools throughout the country held a certain appeal. The thought of how many girls through the years had had hopes dashed and dreams crushed just by losing the homecoming election, however, was painfully sobering. She refused to be one of those girls, so she refused to hope.
Oh, God, please just let this be over NOW.
For some reason, despite staring at the clock and watching as the minute hand ticked forward one more time, the sound of the bell startled Riss. She jumped and cracked her knee pretty hard on the underside of the student desk that was too darned small for her anyway. Unfolding her tall frame, she reached down and rubbed the injured knee, muttering curses. A few of the more choice words must have been louder than she thought, or else her scowl was more threatening than she realized, because her classmates gave her a wide berth as they exited the room. That was fine with her; Riss was sick and tired of the encouraging smiles and the heartfelt whispers of “Good Luck”.
As she hobbled out of the classroom at the back of the pack of students, she found Trixie leaning nonchalantly against the wall. Glaring suspiciously at the petite blonde, Riss growled, “What do you want?”
Unfazed, Trixie casually reached into a pocket and withdrew a slip of paper. “I, personally, am using this lovely excuse to skip gym and go visit the nurse. You, on the other hand, are likely to declare you’re not a mama’s girl and go sit in a room full of nosy kids all staring at you as the announcement is made.” Trixie reached into the other pocket and pulled out a nearly identical piece of paper, holding it up for Riss to see. “Or... you can come with me. Your choice.”
Riss couldn’t even pretend to be angry. Trixie had set her up too perfectly, giving her the option to look cool and still hide out. She grinned conspiratorially. “I knew you’d be useful to have around, Belden.”
Trixie grinned back, handed Riss her hall pass, and led the way to the clinic. They didn’t speak as they made their way through the crush of students rushing to their next class. When they arrived at the clinic, they found the normal handful of students complaining of minor aches, trying to talk their way out of their least favorite class, or to convince the nurse they were dying and needed to be sent home. With barely a glance in their direction, Mrs. Parkman waved Trixie and Riss into her inner office.
Once the door closed behind them, both girls heaved huge sighs of relief.
“Better, don’t you think?” Trixie asked.
“Much,” Riss agreed.
The candidate for homecoming queen lasted all of sixty seconds before she started twitching nervously and trying to pace around the small office. Her companion plunked herself down in the nurse’s desk chair and watched, shaking her head.
“Tsk, tsk,” the younger girl admonished. “Nervousness doesn’t become you.”
“Shut up, Belden,” the other growled.
Trixie just snickered.
A couple of minutes later Mrs. Parkman rushed in and shut the door behind her. “I can leave my associate alone for about five minutes before all hell will break loose in there,” she declared.
Stepping over to her daughter, Faith Parkman rubbed Riss’ back lightly. “How are you holding up, kiddo?”
Riss grabbed her hair with both hands. “Argh! I don’t even care what the result is! I just want it to be over!”
Faith gave her daughter a sympathetic smile before turning her attention to the other occupant of the room. “How about you, Trixie?”
Trixie looked up at the nurse, startled. “I’m not involved in this election!”
“Not the election,” Faith replied with a roll of her eyes. “How do you feel? Any headaches today?”
Trixie rolled her eyes right back. “I’m fine.”
Nurse Parkman was not so easily swayed by a student, not even the indomitable Trixie Belden. She just stared her down.
Huffing out a deep sigh, Trixie finally replied, “I had a headache this morning. It’s gone now. I feel fine now.”
“Now was that so hard?” Faith asked.
Riss snickered. Both her friend and her mother glared at her. She affected an innocent-looking expression and asked, “What? I didn’t say anything!”
Before either of the glaring females could reply, the PA crackled to life.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please excuse this interruption,” came Principal Stratton’s voice. “I know you’ve all been anxiously awaiting the results of the election for Homecoming Queen. At this time I will turn the microphone over to the student chairman of the homecoming committee, Mr. Rick Jeffries.”
Some shuffling sounds rumbled over the loudspeaker before another, more hesitant voice began to speak.
“The committee has counted the votes twice, with faculty moderators observing both counts. We are convinced this election has been fair and honest. The student body has spoken. Therefore, it is at your request – by a two to one margin – that we declare the first runner up to be Ms. Ellen Morgan…”
Every room in the building erupted in loud cheers. Jeffries had to yell in order to finish his sentence.
“… and this year’s Homecoming Queen is Ms. Merissa Parkman!”
Riss turned white as a sheet, quickly turning to a greenish hue. “Oh, dear God.”
Faith rushed over to hug her daughter. “It’s okay, sweetie. You can do this. Believe it or not, you’ll enjoy it.”
“No freakin’ way.” Riss was emphatic.
“Of course you will,” Trixie grabbed her hand. “Think about it. Paul will get all dressed up and you’ll have a romantic date. You can pretend the rest of us aren’t even there. And Chris and I will be your bodyguards, so no one will be able to bug you. Just dance with your boyfriend and let him treat you like a queen.”
Riss looked at her cross-eyed. “Who are you, and what did you do with Trixie Belden? You know, the one who understands that dressing up fancy isn’t fun.”
“Aren’t you the one who tried to convince me to prettify? Besides, I thought dates with Paul are a good thing?”
“Stop throwing my words back at me.”
Trixie grinned impishly.
Then both girls burst out laughing and hugged each other.
Faith smiled indulgently, silently thanking Trixie for helping Riss through this rite of passage. “Girls, I have to get back to the mob out there. Take a few more minutes to recover from the shock, but your passes expire at the end of the period. You have to face the masses sometime.”
Riss stuck her tongue out at her mother, quickly followed by a wink and a grin. She and Trixie returned to their giggle-laden conversation.
Honey and Di strolled down the hallway between classes. “Where do you think Trixie is right now?” Honey asked.
“That’s easy,” Di replied. “She had a pass to skip gym and go see the nurse. I’d be willing to bet she managed to get Riss to go with her so they could hear the announcement in private.”
“Sounds about right,” Honey nodded. “Poor Riss doesn’t know how to take this whole thing, but I love it. Her humility is so refreshing.”
Di bobbed her head vigorously. “Every year it’s either a slam dunk for someone who believes they should get it, or an all-out war between two girls who desperately want it. It’s nice for the crown to go to someone who’s surprised by the whole thing.”
“Unfortunately, the new order will only last until Monday,” Honey mourned. “That’s when the junior class will start plotting who gets it next year.”
“Monday?” Di snorted. “Try as soon as the dance ends Saturday night.”
“True. We’d better enjoy this interlude while it lasts.”
Chris and Paul were waiting outside the Health Office when Trixie and Riss dared to make their escape. Paul grabbed Riss’ hand, bowed, and gallantly kissed the back of it.
“You’ve always been my queen. It’s high time the world recognized you as such.”
Chris made gagging noises as he draped his arm around Trixie’s shoulders. “The next time he says we’re sappy, I’m gonna remind him of this moment.”
Riss just smiled as Paul stood and put his arms around her. “You can be sappy for me any time.”
Giving her a light kiss on the lips, Paul said, “I think I’ve gotten so comfortable that I don’t do that enough. I may have to make up for that tomorrow night.”
Leaning into Chris as they navigated the corridor, Trixie snickered. “Told ya.”
“Told ya what?” Chris asked.
“Trixie said I should consider tomorrow a romantic date with Paul and ignore the rest of it,” Riss replied.
“And I said we’d stand bodyguard,” Trixie added.
Chris grinned. “I can do bodyguard.”
Paul glanced appraisingly at Trixie. “You’re kinda growin’ on me, Short Stuff. You can stick around.”
Trixie rolled her eyes. “Really? I have your permission for that, O King of the World?”
“For now,” Paul replied with a shrug. He and Riss turned a corner and disappeared from sight.
Chris stopped. His next class was in the direction the others had gone, but Trixie needed to continue on straight.
“Trixie, about the game tonight…”
Trixie cleared her throat to interrupt him. “I, um, already told Tad I’d go to the game with him.” She glanced nervously up at Chris to gauge his reaction.
Her timid look kept Chris from expressing his true feelings. After all, he’d promised to behave. Instead, he smiled winningly. “That’s fine. Riss will get stuck sitting somewhere important, so I’ll babysit Paul.”
Relieved that Chris was being a good sport, Trixie sighed and smiled. “I pity you. I’m sure he’ll be a cranky jerk after being subjected to attending a sporting event in purely male company. He might just die from separation anxiety.”
Chris chuckled. “You enjoy bickering with Paul almost as much as Mart.”
Trixie frowned. “Don’t you ever repeat that. Besides, I don’t have to live with Paul, so it’s actually more fun.”
They both laughed out loud.
“We’d better get to class,” Chris said. He pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “If Paul makes my life too miserable, you’ll just have to make it up to me tomorrow night.”
Oblivious to just how seductive her smile appeared, Trixie gave him a quick peck on the lips before sauntering off towards her class.
Chris stood and watched, trying not stare at the sway of her hips, until the sound of the bell startled him. Rushing off, unable to believe he was going to be late, he prayed his teacher was in a generous mood rather than a detention-issuing one.
The cafeteria was buzzing with gossip and good cheer. Merissa couldn’t walk two steps without being congratulated on her victory. The football team was gathered in the center of the room, leading a group in the school fight song. The staff on lunch duty appeared to have no intention of diminishing the enthusiasm of the students and were staying out of the way. The room was raucous and rowdy.
Trixie stood in the doorway, observing the happy times and trying to figure out how to escape without notice. Mart came up behind her, easily observing her tense stance.
“So you do have a headache, huh?”
Glaring over her shoulder, Trixie said, “You think this isn’t giving those teachers a headache?”
“Those teachers are not under the careful watch of multiple medical personnel, not to mention numerous odontophoridae.”
Trixie turned and narrowed annoyed eyes at him. “You realize anyone other than a BWG or an ornithologist would think you sound like an idiot, right?”
“Indubitably.” His irritating vocabulary was mitigated by the twinkling of his blue eyes.
Squaring her shoulders and preparing for battle, Trixie firmly announced, “I’m fine.”
Just as firmly, her brother replied, “You have a headache.”
Standing on tiptoe and leaning in to attempt to look him in the eye, Trixie declared, “I will not allow a stupid headache to ruin homecoming.”
Mart studied her briefly, relieved to see the spunk and fire he usually associated with his sister. “I’ll make you a deal. I won’t mention your headache to anyone, if you actually put food in your mouth and swallow it while I’m watching.”
Trixie closed her eyes and counted to ten before she managed to utter a grumbling, “Fine.”
Mart grinned and shoved her towards the lunch line. “Good, let’s get some lunch.”
“Eating doesn’t mean eating Mart-sized portions.”
“I get to decide what’s least offensive in the cafeteria today.”
“You aren’t going to announce to the others what you’re doing. This is between us.”
When Mart didn’t reply immediately, Trixie turned to glare at him. Watching her warily, he said, “I don’t like hiding things from the Bob-Whites.”
“And I don’t like feeling like I’m under a microscope, but I don’t get much choice in the matter, do I?”
He couldn’t argue her point. “I’m sorry, Trix. You know I’m just worried.”
She sighed. Feeling tears welling up again, she said, “I know.”
Knowing she didn’t want to fall into a funk, Mart ruffled her hair. “Truce, squaw. Let’s just eat. I’m starving.”
“Thanks,” Trixie uttered her breath as she allowed her brother to push her through the lunch line.
When they arrived at the BWG table with their trays, Dan looked at their faces closely. “You two okay? We were worried we were going to have to break up a sibling squabble.”
Trixie flashed a glance at her brother which clearly said, See what I mean?
Mart’s quick look of apology disappeared before he faced Dan. “Just picking on my sister and her flock of men. One guy for the homecoming game, a different one for the dance. What kind of a big brother would I be if I weren’t being an overprotective boor?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Trixie said drolly. “I’ve never met one who wasn’t.”
“Oh, come on, Trix!” Honey exclaimed. “Jim’s not an overprotective boor.”
Trixie raised an eyebrow at Diana. “Does she believe that?”
Di giggled. “He’s more of an overprotective boor with you than with her, you know.”
“I’m thrilled. Because I don’t have enough big boors. You don’t have any, Di. Why don’t you take some of mine?”
Feeling Mart’s pointed look, Trixie picked up her turkey sandwich and forced herself to take a bite. Immediately she noticed the relief in all of her friends. Knowing how worried they all were only aggravated her further.
Trying to keep the conversation light, Di responded to Trixie’s challenge. “I have Dan, you know. He’s overprotective with all of us.”
“Yes, I’m an equal opportunity boor.” Dan’s straight face lasted a mere moment before they all started laughing.
Even Trixie laughed. She appreciated her friends’ attempts to keep her life normal, no matter how strange it was right now. “If I ever forget how lucky I am to have the Bob-Whites, smack me, okay?”
“Really?” Mart was overly excited. “I can’t wait!”
Trixie stuck her tongue out at him. He winked back at her. She smiled and set out to finish her lunch, trying to ignore the instantaneous roiling of her stomach.
She nearly made it through the entire afternoon. Nearly. Halfway through her last class she escaped to the restroom and tossed her lunch. While she tried to catch her breath and beat back the wave of exhaustion which followed, Trixie got angry. She renewed her determination to get her life back to normal. She was not some wimpy, sickly, girly-girl. A couple of upsetting things were not going to crush her. And she was not missing out on Homecoming Weekend!
At dismissal, Trixie left school in the Wheeler limo, headed to her appointment. The rest of the Bob-Whites boarded the school bus in relative silence. They went to their usual seats in the back, each lost in their own thoughts. Knowing where Trixie was headed was putting a damper on their enthusiasm for the upcoming homecoming events.
Tad sat in front of them just before the bus pulled out. “Are you guys all right?”
Dan nodded shortly. “We’re fine,” he answered for them all, knowing no one else would want to elaborate.
“I’m surprised you girls aren’t more excited about your dresses for the dance or something,” Tad commented.
“Butt out, Tad,” Mart growled.
Honey glanced up and saw the look on Tad’s face. Sensitive soul that she was, she realized he was just worried about them. “Thanks for your concern, Tad. We’re just… preoccupied.”
“So you figure if you do all your worrying when she can’t see you, she won’t know?”
Four pairs of eyes snapped to startled attention.
Tad shook his head. “Guys, Trixie is sick about the fact that you’re all worrying about her. I know you can’t help it, but you’ve got to try not to worry. It’s not helping.”
“So we’re supposed to ignore everything?” Mart asked sullenly.
“No.” Tad shrugged. “I know it’s hard, and you’re doing a pretty good job when she’s around. When she’s not… try to focus on good stuff. Like having fun at homecoming.”
Dan snickered. “Like how much fun Trixie’s going to have tomorrow night with Chris?”
Tad winced. “I was thinking more like how much fun we’re going to have at the game tonight, thanks.”
The friends all laughed. Diana put her hand on Tad’s arm where it rested along the seat back. “Thanks, Tad. Thanks for being here for us, too.”
Embarrassed, Tad smiled and said, “Well, you guys are a package deal, right?”
“That’s right,” Honey smiled. “In for a penny, in for a pound.”
“A pound? What’s that, Mart’s little finger?”
Pouting, Mart said, “Hey! I resemble that remark!”
Once again restored to the good humor for which they were known, the Bob-Whites focused on the evening ahead.
Trixie closed her bedroom door and moved to the window. Resting her forehead on the cool glass, she closed her eyes. Her session with Dr. Lewis had gone well, and Trixie knew it was helping, but it was emotionally exhausting. Right now she was torn between a need for sleep and a strong desire prove to herself and everyone else that she was getting better. She wanted to go to the game, have a good time, hang out afterwards, and just be normal.
When she found herself dozing off standing up, she shook herself angrily. She stalked over to the bedside table and grabbed the phone, dialing the desired number quickly.
Hearing the deep voice issuing the group’s standard greeting made her smile. “Hi, John. It’s Trixie. Is Brian around?”
“He’s getting ready for class, but he’s not gone yet. I’ll get him.”
“Thanks.” Trixie ignored the pull of the comfortable bed and purposely paced the room while she waited for her brother to get on the line.
“Hi, Trix!” Brian tried not to sound worried; he almost succeeded. “I thought you had an appointment.”
Refusing to be annoyed that her medical-minded brother knew the schedule of her doctor’s appointments, Trixie answered, “I just got back. I’ll be at the game at our usual time, so I wanted to try to catch you early.”
“Great! So, are you going to the game with Chris?”
“Noooo,” Trixie drew out the word with a Cheshire smile. “I’m going to the dance with Chris. I’m going to the game with Tad.”
Brian chuckled evilly. “Nicely played. Who’s more jealous?”
“That’s a toss up. They’re trying to play it cool, but they’re both jealous.” Trixie laughed. “I still can’t believe those two are both interested in me, but I’m enjoying it.”
“And you should. Enjoy every minute.” Brian was unable to avoid slipping into Big Brother mode for a moment. “Just don’t enjoy it too much.”
Trixie wasn’t even annoyed. Laughing again, she said, “As if that’s possible with Mart and Dan around. Even Honey chaperones me. The other night when Tad came over to help me with math, she parked herself in the room and told us it was her or her dad.”
“Good for Mr. Wheeler,” Brian chuckled.
“Brat. You’re supposed to be on my side.”
“I’m always on your side… the side of your best interests, which is not always the side you want me on. What do you expect? I’m your big brother, and I always will be.”
“No matter how far away you are?”
“Good.” Trixie sat on the comfortable chair by the window. She finally felt like she could relax a bit without falling asleep. This comfort level was why she had needed so badly to make sure her Boston call could fit into her day.
“So, what else is new?” Brian asked tentatively.
Trixie snorted. “Don’t even pretend you haven’t already been fully informed.”
Brian admitted, “I did get a rather long email from Mart this morning.”
“Then you already know everything, in fact probably more than I do. I’m trying not to be annoyed about being left out of the loop, and just be grateful that this chapter is over. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to put it behind me.”
Listening carefully, Brian had to admit that Trixie sounded more like Trixie. “Okay, if that’s what you want. If you change your mind, I’m here. If not, I’m sure we can always find something else to talk about.”
“Of course we can. I’m sure I haven’t heard everything about college life yet. And if I ever have trouble getting you to talk, I can always ask a question about Ria. You love to talk about her.”
“Smartass. What time do you have to get ready to go to the game?”
“Not for another twenty minutes or so.”
“Do you want to talk to Jim?”
“Is he hovering and trying to pretend he’s not listening or waiting?”
Brian grinned. “Of course.”
“Of course I’ll talk to him.”
“You have fun, both tonight and tomorrow. I’ll call Sunday afternoon to hear all about it, okay?”
“Sounds good. I love you, Brian.”
“Love you too, Trix.”
Trixie could hear a distant voice as Brian pulled the phone away from his ear and called across the room, “Heads up, Frayne.” She assumed the thump she heard next was Jim catching the phone.
“You guys are going to go through a lot of phones if you keep throwing them around like that,” she snickered.
Jim rolled his eyes; she could almost hear it. “You’re forgetting what an athletic crowd we have here. We’re naturally coordinated. Tossing the phone is perfectly safe.”
Trixie howled. “You just like to prove that guys are all alike, don’t you?”
“How are we alike?”
“Cocky, arrogant, smug… I can’t wait to see how long it is before one of you breaks that phone. You’re already on your third phone of the semester!”
“What do you mean third?”
“Listen, College Man, you told me about the phone you threw at the wall. Chelsea told me about the one Clay dropped in the sink. So unless you’re really on your fourth phone, don’t try and play innocent.”
“Okay, I won’t tell you about the one John stepped on.”
Trixie laughed so hard she fell off the chair and landed on the floor with a loud “Oof!”
“Hurt yourself, Shamus?”
Lying on the floor, holding her stomach, Trixie smiled. “No. I feel better than I have in days. You always have that effect on me.”
“Good. Remember who does that for you.”
Not quite sure how she wanted to react to the almost possessive tone in Jim’s voice, Trixie decided it was time to end the conversation. “Thanks, Jim. I hate to cut this short, but I need to get ready for my date for the homecoming game. I’m going with Tad, you know.”
“No, I didn’t know.” Jim sighed. “Enjoy the game, Trixie. Have fun.”
“Going out with Chelsea tonight? Or are you going back to the one-hit wonder cycle?”
“Then drum up some enthusiasm after I hang up, or you’ll have a crappy time.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The smile returned to Jim’s voice. “Seriously, Trix. Have fun. You’ve earned it.”
“Thank you, College Man. Au revoir.”
After hanging up the phone, Trixie allowed herself one brief moment of wondering what life would be like if Jim were still in high school, or she were away at college with him. Then she shrugged off the melancholy, and thought to herself that she’d never get to date the captains of both the basketball and baseball teams if Jim were still here. With a grin on her face and a bounce to her curls, she jumped up to get ready for her date to the biggest game of the season.