Will You Dance,
If I Ask You to Dance?
The evening was cool and clear. The stands were packed with fans from both teams. The Sleepyside crowd outnumbered the other team two to one, which was as it should be for the biggest home game of the season. The large numbers of alumni buoyed the home team spirit, and excited murmurings created a dull roar. Hopes were running high for a homecoming victory. The focus right now was not on the drama of the past week, nor on the homecoming queen, but on the football team.
In this atmosphere, Trixie felt anonymous, just a random face in the crowd. It was a blissful feeling, and made her smile wide. Noticing, Tad was struck once again by the way a simply pretty girl could become breathtakingly beautiful with a single change in facial expression.
“You look happy,” Tad commented to his date.
Turning her electric blue gaze his way, Trixie laughed. “Believe it or not, I was enjoying the lack of attention.”
“Lack of attention?” Tad slid closer on the seat and slipped his arm around her. ”Surely you’re not feeling neglected?”
Breathless from the intensity of his aquamarine gaze, she said, “By you? I can’t imagine that.”
They shared a private smile, their heads leaning towards each other, before Mart cleared his throat loudly. Seated on the other side of Trixie, Mart had intentionally positioned himself to be the perfect big brother chaperone… perfectly annoying, that is, according to Trixie.
The couple moved a few inches apart and focused on the field as the announcer began to introduce the opposing team. After a moment, a slight frown crossed Trixie’s face.
Instantly attuned to her expression, Tad inquired, “What’s wrong, Trix?”
“Nothing much,” she replied. “I was just thinking that we don’t spend a lot of time together in public.”
Tad reached a finger under her chin and turned her head so he could see her eyes. If one wanted to understand Trixie, he knew, it was always best to look into her expressive eyes. “Does that bother you?”
Trixie smiled to reassure him. “I really like the time we spend together. This is just different. It’s… a new facet.”
Smiling, Tad teased, “I’m choosing to hear that statement as you comparing our relationship to a precious jewel.”
She couldn’t help giggling. Tad pretended to be offended. “You mocketh me, fair maiden.”
“No, really, my lord,” Trixie replied through more giggles.
In spite of his intentionally obnoxious throat-clearing, Mart was actually enjoying the scene beside him. Trixie and Tad made a cute couple, and the light-hearted teasing was good-natured. It warmed his heart to see his sister laughing and giggling. She and her date appeared to be genuinely having a good time.
Everyone seemed to be having a good time, in fact. Mart had spotted Chris and Paul sitting in the front row, directly behind the special seating reserved for the homecoming court. Paul was teasing Merrissa and her first runner-up, trying to keep his girlfriend relaxed so she might try to enjoy the game. Chris had gotten distracted from his mission of assisting Paul once, when he had looked up and spotted Trixie and Tad. In an instant, the look on his face flashed jealousy, passed through wistful resignation, gleamed with anticipation (presumably of the dance the following evening), and then returned to the friendly amusement with which he had previously been regarding Riss and Paul. Since that time his focus had remained on the field and his seatmates, Mart noted with satisfaction.
Mart glanced at the rest of his friends. Dan was watching Trixie and the others with the same protective intensity Mart was employing, and seemed equally satisfied. Diana, nestled snugly against Mart’s side, engaged Honey in a running commentary of the fashion highs and lows in the crowd.
Honey, for her part, was only half listening to Di while she shyly flirted with Dane Parkman, seated just a few rows in front of them. Mart frowned briefly before managing to wipe the expression from his face. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Honey dating someone he didn’t know very well. Not that he knew of any planned dates other than the homecoming dance, but still… Deep down, though, Mart knew he didn’t need to worry, thanks to Trixie.
Trixie liked to complain, ad nauseum, about over-protective big brothers. In reality, however, over-protectiveness wasn’t a big brother trait. It was a Belden trait. Trixie might occasionally lead her friends into reckless pursuits, but she would also guard her friends with her life. And she was the one person with whom Honey had shared all of her invitations to homecoming. Mart knew that Trixie had been very cautious in her advice about who was an acceptable choice. He’d even heard a few well-chosen words to creeps who had dared to approach Honey. And Trixie knew Dane much better than he did. He should trust her opinion that Dane was good enough for Honey.
Then again, Trixie was smooching with Tad right next to him! Perhaps her judgment wasn’t so good.
Right on cue, just as Mart was glaring and preparing another round of throat-clearing, Trixie turned and gave him a mischievous wink. She was deliberately trying to provoke him! Chuckling at her playfulness, Mart punched her lightly in the shoulder and then turned away.
The remainder of the first half passed quickly, with the Sleepyside Crusaders well in the lead over the Croton Power Cats when time ran out. The marching band took the field for a short number while the temporary platform was pulled to the center for the much-anticipated coronation.
The announcement of the Homecoming Queen was met with wild enthusiasm. Merrissa looked as if she might toss her cookies right there on the field, but she managed to maintain her dignity and smile at the crowd. Once the formalities were over, she was surrounded by family and friends offering hugs and congratulations.
Trixie watched from high up in the bleachers, grinning from ear to ear. She could have run down and joined the well-wishers, but she was sure that if she exerted that much energy, she wouldn’t be able to hide her headache any longer. She was having a good time, and was not about to ruin the mood by worrying her friends.
The celebratory atmosphere continued with a decisive Sleepyside victory. The alumni and other adult groupings began heading out to various bars and restaurants in the area. As many of the younger crowd as could possibly fit would head to Wimpy’s, with the overflow filling the other options in town to capacity as well. The Bob-Whites and friends opted for pizza, and headed for DeFranco’s. Certain that Riss and crew would be amongst the Wimpy’s patrons, Trixie detached herself from her own crowd to make her way through the adoring throng to see Riss. Tad remained firmly at her side, and helped her wind her way through the masses of people.
It wasn’t until they’d finished speaking with Riss and bade her farewell, and headed for the parking lot, that Tad mentioned what had been on his mind for the previous hour. “Are you sure you’re up to going out tonight?”
Derailing her own flare of temper with sheer force of will, Trixie instead employed a completely different tactic. Turning into his arms with a decidedly flirtatious purr, she asked, “Why? Would you rather take me to The Bluffs?”
Tad could feel a definite heat rising. Giving her a most seductive smile, he said, “While that definitely sounds like a good idea…” his face got more serious, “I was talking about the killer headache you’re trying to pretend you don’t have.”
Trixie glared at him. “I’m fine. I plan to enjoy every minute of homecoming weekend. Now take me out for pizza,” she commanded, tossing her head in a pretense of haughty command.
Searching her face, Tad finally relented. “Okay, but please don’t push it too far.”
Her face gentling, she nodded. “I promise.”
He kissed her, and she kissed him back. They proceeded to get lost in their favorite form of communication until Principal Stratton honked his car horn at them. Thoroughly red-faced, they rushed to Tad’s car so they could go catch up with the rest of the Bob-Whites.
It had been a perfectly perfect evening as far as Honey was concerned. She smiled into the darkness as she snuggled down into her bed. She had had a fun time flirting with Dane. She’d been relieved and gratified to see the rest of her friends having fun, as well.
She’d been nervous about this entire school year, considering the absence of the eldest Bob-Whites. Although she’d only had a big brother for a couple of years, she’d grown very dependent on Jim. He was a sounding board, a source of advice, a reassuring presence, a personal bodyguard, and a thousand other things. She was acutely aware of how important Jim had become to her daily life.
Trixie and Mart had had Brian looking out for them their entire lives. They were far less aware of the fact that they were far more dependent on him than she was on Jim. It was something they didn’t notice because it was an ingrained part of their nature. Honey had been terrified that the absence of Jim and Brian would leave them all floundering, struggling to find their equilibrium in the already chaotic world of high school.
Instead, they’d encountered far worse difficulties than she’d ever imagined. Not even the magical mystery tour of the last two years had prepared her for the last two months. And she’d been surprised by how much they had grown and changed already – in a good way.
Honey had learned that she didn’t have to see her brother every day to be close to him. She’d learned she could make friends outside the Bob-Whites without damaging her friendships with the Bob-Whites – and she could accept the others doing the same. She’d learned that the perfect parents weren’t always perfect; her parents were more dependable than she’d realized, and the interdependence of the entire families made them stronger.
And she’d learned that a cute boy liked her. J
A little shiver of anticipation shot through her. Tomorrow night promised to be exciting, even magical.
For a moment, worry about Trixie marred her perfect vision. Much as she’d tried to hide it, Trixie had been exhausted by the time they got home. Honey and Diana had picked out a beautiful dress for their friend, but she had not even seen it yet, let alone tried it on.
Fortunately, Ella Kline was coming over, ready and able to make any necessary alterations. In order to smooth over Trixie’s resistance to hair and makeup treatments, the girls had arranged for some serious pampering. Trixie couldn’t help but be relaxed and feeling good after the massage she had coming.
Besides, she was going to the homecoming dance with Chris Zack!
Honey drifted off to sleep, dreaming sweet dreams of the perfect night that awaited them.
Trixie woke early, as usual. Her head was pounding, and the sky was gray and dreary. She went to the bathroom and puttered about for a few minutes before standing at the large picture window in her room. As she glared at the bleak landscape, she realized that it was far too early to write the day off as a loss. Instead, she decided that perhaps this once, if she went back to sleep and woke again later, she could have a fresh start… a do-over.
It was worth a try.
Three hours later, when Honey and Di snuck into her room, the sun was shining brightly. Trixie blinked her eyes open, startled by the happy smiling faces hovering over her. As she looked around at the bright, cheerful room, she wondered if she had dreamed getting up earlier. With a philosophical shrug, she decided to embrace the gift she’d been given. If the day wanted to start off with a little fairy tale-like magic, it could be a good omen.
“Come on, sleepyhead, wake up!” Honey chided.
Di grinned. “We have so much to do today! We have to deal with dresses, hair and makeup, manicures…”
Trixie winced, and the other girls laughed. “It won’t be that bad,” Honey promised. “Mother arranged for everyone to come here, so we won’t have to traipse all over town. We’re not leaving the house until the limo sets off for the high school.”
“The limo?” Trixie parroted. “I know Chris is picking me up. Are you going in the limo?”
They exchanged a nervous glance. “Well…” Di said. “The parents made some changes to the plans. Dane can’t drive, and Mart and Dan were sort of arguing about the Bob-White wagon. We’re all going to an after-party at my house. So the parents arranged for the guys to drop their cars at my house and take our limo here. Dane, and Dan’s date, are being dropped off here. Between our limo and Honey’s we’re all riding to the high school together, and then back to my house. You and Honey are sleeping over, and everyone else’s rides from there are covered.”
Trixie quickly tamped down on her rising temper and sighed. “I suppose I have no right to complain about not being involved in these plans, considering how out of it I’ve been all week.”
Honey tried to soothe her ruffled feathers. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine! We’ll all have fun, and everything will be perfectly perfect.”
Rolling her eyes, Trixie feigned aggravation. “And how much time must we devote to this prettifying crap?”
Di giggled. “All day, silly. We have to gussy you up!”
“Oh, God!” Trixie’s exclamation of horror was only partially faked.
“First things first,” Honey said. “You still haven’t seen the dress we got you last weekend. If that isn’t right, then the whole rest of the day will have to be changed.”
“Ella Kline came over,” Di continued, “in case the dress needs some alterations. She is waiting with Mummy and Mrs. Wheeler in the sitting room at the end of the hall.”
“I haven’t even gotten out of bed yet,” Trixie protested.
“We’re not rushing you that much,” Honey assured her. “They’re just chatting. We brought breakfast to you, then you take a quick shower without washing your hair. You throw on some sweats, and off we go.”
“Why aren’t I washing my hair?” Trixie queried.
“The hairdresser will do it for you, of course,” Di stated.
Honey spoke patiently, as if to a small child. “We told you the hair people are coming here.”
“You guys do fancy things to your hair,” Trixie argued. “I just run a comb through mine.”
“Not today, you don’t,” Di scolded. “You’ll get a wash, then the stylist will make it all pretty. You’ll be amazed!”
“Uh huh.” Trixie sounded completely unconvinced.
“But first, breakfast,” Honey said. She reached to the floor and pulled up a tray full of fresh fruit, danishes, and English muffins. “There’s bacon and eggs coming, too.”
“No, really, this is plenty,” Trixie assured her, trying not to be obvious about turning green. No matter how much her stomach protested at the thought of food, she knew better than to try to avoid eating. She’d shove a few bites in and hope for the best.
After breakfast and a quick shower, the girls dragged Trixie down the hall. They were excited to show her the dress they’d picked out, and they were hoping she’d love it as much as they did. When they reached the sitting room, they took a moment to greet the women waiting there before the big unveiling. The dress was hanging on a rack, covered by a garment bag. Mrs. Lynch unzipped the bag, and carefully pulled the dress out for Trixie’s inspection.
The dress was a bright sapphire blue satin with a chiffon overlay. The strapless top dipped slightly in front, where it was gathered in a complicated knot of silver beading. From there the empire waist fell in a loose flare, the skirt just full enough to flow nicely without being poofy or cumbersome. Designed to fall just above the knee, on Trixie it would probably land just below, which was more to her taste.
Honey and Diana watched her, looking for some sign of her opinion of the dress. Trixie worked very hard to keep her true feelings off her face. “It’s a beautiful dress,” she said honestly.
Maddie decided it was best to intervene. “Honey, Di… why don’t you go down to the sun room, where the makeover crew is setting up. Ella will help Trixie try the dress on, and you can see how well you did after Ella is through.”
The girls looked ready to protest, until they noticed the relieved look on Trixie’s face. Dejectedly they headed out.
Asking Sherri to stay with Trixie, Maddie said she would be right back. Sherri and Ella helped Trixie into the dress and had her stand in front of the mirror to take a look. Once they did, it became obvious to them what had Trixie so worried.
The dress was loose, but not so much that Ella couldn’t fix that. In the meantime, Trixie was holding up the bodice like she was sure she was going to expose herself any second. The real problem, however, was the area above the strapless top.
Trixie had lost far more weight than the women had realized. Her collarbone and exposed shoulders were protruding enough to make her look decidedly unhealthy. No amount of tucking or hemming would hide that.
Maddie returned to the room and walked right up to Trixie. The teenager’s haunted blue eyes met hers in the mirror. “I look awful, don’t I?”
Avoiding the question, Maddie simply handed her a small bit of fabric. “Here, sweetheart. Try this.”
The object she passed over was a silver bolero. The metallic material perfectly complemented the silver beading on the waist of the dress. Helping Trixie get her arms into it without losing her hold on the bodice, Maddie gave her an encouraging smile.
When Trixie turned to face the mirror, she was amazed at the difference. The bolero covered the problem areas, and added a touch of elegance to the dress. It was an ideal addition to the ensemble. Trixie’s face lit up with a bright smile, and she threw her arms around Maddie.
“Oh, Mére. It’s perfect! Thank you!”
Ella nodded in approval. “I’ll make a few tucks so the dress fits more comfortably, and you’ll be all set.”
As Ella moved in to fit the bodice and place some pins, Sherri shared a long look with Maddie. She hadn’t realized how bad the situation had gotten; now she understood the new worry lines appearing daily on her friend’s face.
After Ella had finished with her, a reluctant Trixie had been dragged to the room Maddie had dubbed “Makeover Central”. After an hour-long full-body massage, however, she was no longer protesting. The masseuse paid careful attention to Trixie’s neck and head, amazed by the tension she’d found there.
When she released her charge to the hair stylist, the massages continued. While the woman lathered, rinsed, and repeated, she worked her fingers over Trixie’s scalp. By the time she sat her up in the chair to style and dry her hair, Trixie felt better than she had in weeks.
By this time, the excitement for the dance was building. The girls chattered about who was going with whom, what people were expected to be wearing, and even what music would be played. This led to a round of teasing Trixie about the likelihood of Tad singing her a special serenade.
Once the three girls had had their hair styled, they were brought a light lunch to munch on while they sat for their pedicures. Although Trixie didn’t see the need for “fancifying her feet”, she was letting herself enjoy the pampering. She felt good and was even hungry for lunch. After their lunch-and-pedicure, they received manicures and then sat for the makeup artist.
Although Trixie had dreaded this part the most, she was pleased and surprised with the results. Going with her natural, understated beauty, the makeup artist had applied only the lightest of foundation. The colors she’d used were simple, and she’d done a fantastic job of hiding the shadows and bags under Trixie’s eyes. Peering at her reflection, Trixie grinned. Her hair was piled on her head, with strategic ringlets cascading down. Her eyes were bright, and her face looked healthy and relaxed.
Turning to the mothers present, Trixie asked, “Is it time to start getting dressed?”
She sounded so enthusiastic, Honey and Di were surprised. They looked at her warily, then turned to their mothers. The women smiled at them.
“Ella is ready when you are,” Sherri assured them.
Trixie grabbed her friends by the hands. “Come on! You have to see what Mere gave me to wear with the dress!” She pulled them out of the room, bouncing excitedly.
“So far, so good,” Sherri chuckled.
“As long as she doesn’t crash with exhaustion about the time the boys start arriving, we might pull this off,” Maddie replied. She looked worried that her prediction might come true.
“Don’t be so pessimistic,” Sherri chided. “We’re doing everything in our power to make this night perfect. Then, she’ll have this wonderful, happy memory to help her through the rough patches ahead.”
Maddie nodded and smiled at her friend. She ruthlessly shoved aside the little voice that mocked the phrase “rough patches”, refusing to think about what sort of road Trixie still had before her. She was receiving treatment for her problems; it would get better.
Clinging to that hopeful thought, the women followed the sound of happy chatter up the stairs and into the sitting room. When they arrived, Honey and Di were prancing anxiously about the room, while Trixie’s hair could occasionally be seen bobbing up and down behind the privacy screen which blocked off a corner of the room.
“Hold still,” Ella was scolding Trixie.
“Sorry!” Trixie giggled.
Di rushed over to the mothers. “Mummy, tell me the truth. Did she hate it?”
“No, darling,” Sherri assured her. “It just didn’t look right at first. Maddie added an accessory, and Ella made some minor alterations, and now it’s fine. She’ll look lovely in the dress you picked out, I promise.”
“Really?” Honey asked them.
“Yes, really.” Maddie put her arm around her daughter. “You girls did just fine.”
“I’m not so sure about these shoes, though,” Trixie called from behind the screen. “What if I trip, like I did at Celia’s wedding? I’d prefer not to be the story of the evening for landing with my skirt over my head.”
“Don’t worry, Trix,” Honey called back. “Chris won’t let that happen.”
“He’ll hold you so close all night, you won’t have a chance to fall,” Di added. “Assuming your feet ever even touch the floor. I think you’ll be walking on air all night.”
“Okay, what do you think?” Trixie stepped out from behind the screen and did fairly graceful catwalk for the assemblage. She managed the silver heels just fine, and the full skirt swung about just enough for a dramatic flair when she turned.
Di clapped her hands. “Oh, that’s darling! You’re right, Mummy. It’s the perfect touch!”
Honey bit her lip in consternation. “It’s perfectly perfect, and looks fantastic on you. The only problem is, the cameo choker I was going to loan you won’t work at all. We’ve got to find a necklace that will match the new look. Mother, do you have any ideas?”
Maddie eyed Trixie critically while mentally reviewing her own catalog of jewelry. “Give me a minute; let me think.”
“Perhaps I can help.” Miss Trask, who had been notably absent all day, stood in the doorway. In her hands she held a small, velvet box. Offering it to Trixie, she said, “This just arrived from the Farm.”
For a moment, Trixie looked as if she would cry. Everyone had managed to avoid the subject of Helen, and her absence, all day. Then Trixie took a deep breath, and gingerly took the box Margery offered. Flipping up the lid, Trixie gasped. There sat a beautiful sapphire pendant on an elegant silver chain.
Maddie took the box from her and removed the necklace to place it around her neck. “This is absolutely perfect!”
“Don’t forget the earrings to match,” Margery added with a smile, handing over another box.
Jewelry in place, Trixie looked in the mirror. Honey and Di flanked her. The three girls grinned at the reflection. Then Trixie glanced at her friends. “And why are you still in your robes? Let’s go! Chop, chop!”
Giggling, they hurried to don their dresses. Forty-five minutes later, they lined up for their final inspection. Trixie’s sapphire blue, Di’s dark orchid, and Honey’s brick red, combined with their brilliant smiles, made for a bold and beautiful picture. Maddie, Sherri, Margery and Ella oohed and aahed, praising and giving their approval.
“Alright, ladies,” Maddie called for their attention. “We’re going downstairs to make sure everything is ready. Wait here for ten minutes before coming down. Ella, watch the clock for them, please. Once they’re out of your hair, we’ll get your things taken downstairs.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Wheeler. The girls and I will be fine for a little while longer. I’ve had so much fun today. Thank you for including me.”
The girls rushed to hug Ella, thanking her for all her help. They didn’t even notice the other women leaving the room, and the ten minutes was up before they knew it. Then they made their way downstairs to the ballroom.
Unlike prom, which included a sit-down dinner, the homecoming dance only offered light refreshments. Knowing this, and insisting everyone meet at their house, the Wheelers had arranged for a buffet of finger foods to fill everyone up before they headed out for their evening. Not being prone to doing things halfway, this meant that Maddie had decorated and gone all out. The dividing wall which split the ballroom had been closed, so that the half in use was a comfortable area rather than a cavernous space. There were balloons and streamers, a chocolate fountain, and food galore.
Diana looked around the room appraisingly. “Well, Mart certainly won’t be disappointed!” she said, earning chuckles from her friends.
A booming voice sounded from the doorway. “Where are the lovely ladies? We want our chance to admire them before those annoying teenaged boys arrive!”
“Daddy, stop that!” Di scolded, grinning and running to her father. She pirouetted in front of him and dropped into a curtsy before stepping into the arms he held open for her.
As she watched Honey glide over to Matt, Trixie was surprised to see her own father step into the room. Peter walked directly to her, giving her a thorough once-over as he came. His little girl looked so grown up, he could barely speak, his throat was so thick with emotion. “My, aren’t you stunning this evening?”
“Oh, Daddy,” Trixie chided, tears welling in her eyes. “There’s nothing special about me.”
Peter put his hands on her shoulders. “On the contrary, Princess, you’re the most special girl in the world.”
Trixie gave him a watery smile. “Well, as long as you think so.”
He pulled her in and wrapped her in a warm embrace. Placing a kiss on her forehead, he tried to soften the blow he had to deliver. “Your mother didn’t come with me. She’s… trying to fix Mart’s tie, I believe.”
Trembling, Trixie tucked her face deeper into the curve of her father’s neck. “It’s okay,” she said, though they both knew it was not.
Rubbing her back, Peter wished he could banish all the clouds from the world so only bright sunlight could ever touch the priceless gem he held in his arms. “Just remember,” he said, only half-joking, “you’re still my little girl. You’re not allowed to ride off into the sunset with any boys just yet.”
“Don’t worry, Daddy,” her sigh was weary. “I don’t think I want to be a grown up any time soon. Being a teenager is hard enough.”
Pushing her away just enough so he could chuck her under the chin and bring her eyes up to meet hers, he said, “It is, sometimes. But tonight it should just be fun. Got that?”
Trixie nodded and smiled. “Got it. I promise to have fun tonight.” Then, with an impish grin, she added, “But not too much.”
“That’s my girl!” Peter said, and they laughed together.
Margery Trask bustled into the room wielding a camera. “Gather up, everyone. Mrs. Wheeler wants some pictures with the dads before the boys start arriving.”
“Oh, God,” Trixie groaned.
“You’ll survive,” Peter promised. “Besides, I’d love a picture of the two of us.”
“For you, anything,” Trixie said. The joyful spark in her father’s eyes lifted her spirits, and lightened her heart. The bright promise of the day was restored as they headed off arm-in-arm for the age-old torture of a photo session.