Brian, Dan, and Di were sitting around the kitchen table at Crabapple
Farm, discussing their options for the rest of the day, when Honey came
in. Surprised to see her
alone, Brian asked where Jim was.
said he needed to stop at the clubhouse to pick up a book,” Honey
replied with a puzzled frown. “Actually, he left a while ago.
I thought he’d be here before me.”
a big boy,” Dan said. “I’m
sure he’ll be here any minute. You
just worry about helping me convince these lunatics that we do not
need to play Trivial Pursuit.”
Mart?” Honey shrieked. “After
what he did last week? I'll
never play that with him again!”
good-natured bantering continued, as one plan after another was proposed
and rejected. Promptly at
eleven o’clock, they were interrupted by Tad’s knock on the door.
he jumped up to answer the door, Mart glanced at the clock and frowned.
“Hey, Tad. Come on
other boy stepped inside and ran a nervous hand through his light brown
hair. “Hi, Mart.
Is Trixie ready?”
shared a worried look with Brian before answering.
“Actually, Tad, she’s not here yet.”
Tad replied, not knowing what else to say.
then the rain started – sudden, hard, and fast.
Di got up to look out the window.
“You don’t want to go out in that, anyway.
Have a seat and give the rain a few minutes to slow down.”
was retrieving two decks of cards from a drawer.
“We were just about to play Progressive Rummy.
Shall I deal you in?”
sure,” Tad said, as he sat down.
couple of minutes later the back door blew open, and Trixie came running
in, turning to slam the door behind her.
She was soaking wet and looked like a drowned rat.
When she turned back around and noticed everyone in the kitchen,
in a rush, she said, “Hi, Tad. Sorry
I’m late. Give me a few minutes to get cleaned up.”
Trixie ran across the kitchen and up the stairs to her room as fast
as she could.
not fast enough to escape Brian’s watchful gaze.
While no one else seemed to notice anything odd about Trixie’s
harem-scarem entrance, her oldest brother had clearly seen how red-rimmed
her eyes were, and how completely flustered she looked.
He picked up the cards Dan had just dealt and chewed thoughtfully
on his lower lip.
card game played through two hands. When
he was sure Trixie had had enough time to shower, Brian excused himself
from the table. He went upstairs and knocked on Trixie’s door.
He waited for the muffled “Come in,” before stepping inside and
closing the door.
stood in front of her mirror, looking at her reflection but seeing
something else altogether. When Brian stood beside her, she leaned her head on his
shoulder. “Brian, do you
sometimes go back to a particular moment in time and wonder, ‘If I had
done this one thing differently, how much different would my life
flashed through Brian’s mind of the many times they’d rescued Trixie
and Honey at the last minute. What
if we hadn’t gotten there on time?
What would my life be like without my sister?
He’d gone down this mental road before – hundreds of times, in
Trix, I have. I know exactly what you mean.”
voice was but a whisper, as she asked, “What if I had never convinced
Honey to go exploring at Ten Acres?”
pulled her into a hug and rocked her gently.
“There never would have been any Bob-Whites.
The first time you got Honey in real trouble, without a big brother
to protect her, Mr. Wheeler would have forbidden her to ever see you
again. Mart and I would never
have taken your charity ideas seriously.
Di and Dan would have no friends.
You would either be miserable and lonely, or killed by one of your
shuddered and buried her face in his chest.
He rubbed her back for a moment, before he finished.
“And, without you, Jim Frayne would either be a lonely, sullen
runaway with no roots, or he’d be dead.
Whatever else you did that day, Trixie, you gave Jim a life he’d
never have had otherwise.”
she hugged her brother fiercely. Brian
continued gently, “He’s your best friend, Trix.
Whatever happened today to upset you, you’ll get past it.”
know that. But will I regret
it?” she asked, in a shaky voice.
eyes narrowed, as a thought occurred to him.
He leaned back and lifted her chin, so he could see into his
sister’s bright blue eyes. “Was
he pressuring you about dating again?”
broke away from Brian’s steady gaze and looked down.
“No… not exactly. And
we talked. I think this time he really gets it. I just… wonder. I
feel like… by being true to myself, somehow I’m betraying him.
Can our friendship really survive this?”
you’re not true to yourself, you'll lose yourself.
Then you won’t be the same girl he adores any more.
You’d both regret that.”
was a thoughtful pause, while Brian carefully chose his words.
“Some friendships don’t survive a transition to romance; some
do. The key is, I think, to make that transition at the right
time. This isn’t the right
time for you.
said you couldn’t imagine anything worse than being his ex.
Think about this: being
ex-friends who hate each other because you destroyed your friendship by
doing something you weren’t ready for.”
large tears rolled down her face. Brian
cupped her face in his hands and wiped away the tears with his thumbs.
“Trixie, be true to yourself.
Don’t ever do anything you aren’t ready for with anyone,
and you’ll be fine. Eventually,
you’ll find the path that’s right for you, when it’s right
his brotherly advice, Trixie tried to move her thoughts out of this
depressing frame of mind. Smiling brightly up at her big brother, she said, “I swear,
I get more good advice – and hugs – than I ever got before you moved
away to college.”
Brian gave her a quick hug and pulled her towards the door.
“Come on, Princess. Let’s
get the show on the road – your chariot awaits.”
just want me to test your other advice, to see how good you are at this
dating game,” she said impishly.
card game continued. Tad asked casually, “Mart, are your parents here?”
They’re at a luncheon at the Lynches’ house. They’ll be back for dinner… but the Bob-Whites are eating
at Manor House, aren’t we, Honey?”
Mart impetuously added the last thought, as he looked pleadingly at
the scene from this morning, Honey nodded vigorously.
dinner party at my house tonight.”
again, the back door banged open, and Jim came in.
He was dripping wet, so he headed for the laundry room, where he
knew there were always clean towels.
Jim was chagrined to realize Tad was sitting at the table with the
others. He thought he’d
waited long enough for Trixie to leave.
Jim, where’ve you been?” Dan called.
clubhouse,” came the muffled reply.
as Jim re-entered the kitchen, Brian and Trixie came down the back stairs.
There was a moment of awkwardness between them, before Trixie
headed for the fridge. She
grabbed a water bottle, then went over to the cupboard over the sink, and
rooted around for a bottle of Tylenol.
Finding the pain reliever, she downed a couple with her water,
before heading toward the coat hooks by the door.
ready when you are, Tad,” she called back over her shoulder, as she put
on her raincoat.
the hand had just ended. Tad
stood and grabbed his jacket off the chair.
“Thanks for the game, guys.
See you later.”
Tad and Trixie left, Brian also headed for the mudroom.
“Jim and I have some errands to run.
We’ll catch up with you in a little while.”
He grabbed his jacket and headed out the door without ever looking
redhead sighed. Here comes
the lecture from big brother. He
tossed the towel back in the laundry room and followed his roommate out
four remaining Bob-Whites looked confused.
Di shrugged and said, “Gee, and we thought it was going to be
tough to ditch Brian. Now,
about those birthday plans…”
and Dad already had plans for tomorrow night, since Brian wasn’t
planning on coming home this weekend,” Mart said.
“They have tickets to see Cats. Brian told them to
go ahead and go, so Moms is planning on a family breakfast. That leaves the Bob-Whites free to have our own celebration
later in the day.”
we going to the Lynches’ for dinner?” Dan asked.
could still do that, couldn’t we?” Honey asked.
would love that!” Di exclaimed. “We
can turn dinner into a surprise birthday party for Brian!”
four friends set about making plans, and calling Mrs. Lynch for help.
Vanderpoel greeted Trixie warmly, as always, and then the young people
went off to study. When they
got to Tad’s room, Trixie went to the window and stood looking out at
the rain. She’d been quiet
in the car on the way over. The
grab for Tylenol before leaving indicated a headache, and the tension in
the kitchen at Crabapple Farm between her and Jim had been palpable.
that some relaxation was in order, Tad went over to the stereo.
He chose some music that he knew Trixie found soothing and put it
on. Then he grabbed two huge pillows from the corner and made a
comfortable place in the center of the room.
Grabbing Trixie’s math book, Tad plopped down on one of the
Trixie, which theorems are taxing your brain this week?” he asked.
watched the petite blonde, as she drew back into herself and turned to
focus her attention on his words. Something
was definitely bothering her. If
I want to get her mind off whatever is bothering her, geometry theorems
are guaranteed to do the trick, he thought.
buckled down to work, and had finished with math by the time Mrs.
Vanderpoel called them to lunch. The
lunch conversation was casual and comfortable, and, by the end of the
meal, Trixie seemed much more relaxed.
They washed the dishes, and ended up having a water war.
They laughed and acted silly while they sopped up the mess they had
made with the water.
they returned to Tad’s room, they were both soaked.
Trixie looked down at her drenched t-shirt ruefully.
“Great, just great. That’s
the second time today I’ve managed to look like a drowned rat.”
grinned impishly. His eyes twinkled merrily, as he replied, “I think the wet
t-shirt look suits you perfectly.”
out loud, Trixie punched him in the arm.
“Don’t be a jerk. Lend
me a dry t-shirt.”
an exaggerated bow, Tad replied, “Ever your humble servant.”
He reached into a dresser drawer, grabbed a dry shirt, and threw it
at her face. “There, that
covers the problem.”
grabbed the t-shirt off her face and whipped him with it before heading to
the bathroom to change. By the time she returned, he had also changed into a dry
shirt and was lying on his side on one of the pillows on the floor.
She laid down on the other pillow and faced him.
better,” she said.
Tad said, as he looked her over. “You
in a wet t-shirt, or you wearing my clothes… one’s as good as the
other, I think.” He
grinned, as she stuck her tongue out at him.
“So, are you ready for French?”
sighed and rolled over onto her back, eyes closed.
Did I translate it? Yes.”
me guess… Chris asked you to Homecoming yesterday after school.”
snorted derisively. “Ooh, he’s a rocket scientist,” she scoffed.
You do know how badly that would irritate Beth, don’t
be seething. I should
probably wear chain mail if I have to be near her.”
studied her carefully, noting how the tension had returned to her face.
“I’d love to see Beth put in her place like that.”
opened one eye and looked at Tad skeptically.
“Are you saying you want me to go with Chris?”
he studied her, before deciding how to answer.
if Chris and Beth were not part of this equation, would you go with me?”
opened both eyes and turned to face him. “Yes.”
smiled. “Second: are you
interested in Chris?”
she answered honestly.
nodded slowly. “Fair
where does Jim Frayne fit into the picture?”
narrowed her eyes at him, clearly annoyed.
“He’s my best friend. Nothing
more, nothing less.”
get your dander up! I’m just trying to get the lay of the land.”
He leaned toward her and looked into her eyes.
“Do I stand a chance with you?”
his electric gaze, she responded in a throaty whisper, “Yes.”
question: may I kiss you?”
thought back to Jim’s kiss earlier.
Somehow, she knew a kiss from Tad would not be such an
earth-shattering experience, but her heartbeat picked up its pace at the
leaned in and kissed her. It
was slow and gentle, deepening gradually.
The world did not stand still, but it was warm and exciting, and very
nice. She sighed and leaned
into Tad, parting her lips for him.
wrapped his arms around her and eased his tongue along hers.
She was the most vibrant and exciting girl he knew, and she was
interested in him! Even with
all of Chris Zack’s attention, she was still interested in Tad Webster!
And she was in his arms, and kissing him, and oh, God, did it feel
lay there in each other’s arms, kissing, for the longest time.
They finally broke apart when they were startled by the sound of
the front door slamming, indicating Spider had returned home from work.
heavily, Tad leaned his forehead against hers.
“Trixie, that was awesome.”
He leaned back and searched the depths of ocean blue.
“I really like you, and I want to spend time with you.
I can live with stepping aside for Homecoming, as long as I can
still have that.”
stroked his cheek. “That is incredibly noble of you. Thank you.” She
leaned in and kissed him again.
groaned. “Don’t start
that again, or we’ll never get our French homework done.”
grinned evilly. “You mean,
this wasn’t French homework?”
burst out laughing and gave her a playful slap.
“Wicked wench. Get
your textbook now, before my big brother comes looking for us.”
giggled and complied, and they went back to studying.
drove Jim’s car for a long time without saying a word – all the way to
White Plains, in fact. He
finally pulled into the parking lot of a pizza place.
The boys went in, got a table, and placed their order.
Still, Brian had not spoken. Jim
hadn’t asked for this, so he was not about to be the one who
started the conversation.
Brian said quietly, “Back off.”
first, Jim didn’t even realize he’d spoken.
off. If you keep pushing,
you’re going to lose her forever.”
looked at Brian for a long moment, searching his face.
Only then did he recognize that he wasn’t getting the big brother
lecture; his best friend was giving him advice.
He let out the breath he didn’t realize he was holding.
“I’m trying, Brian.”
you’re trying to do is convince her to change her mind,” Brian argued.
“Cut it out, or you’ll lose her forever.
Let her come around on her own.
If every encounter with you is another go-round on this subject,
she’s not going to want to ever see you.
If every conversation revisits this topic, she’s not going to
want to talk to you at all.”
stared long and hard at his friend. He
saw the frustration and confusion in the depths of the green eyes.
“Look, you’re her best friend.
Keep being that. If
you keep pushing, you’re going to lose that too, and then you’ll both
be miserable. Just back
waitress brought their drinks and left again.
Jim played with his straw while pondering Brian’s words.
“I don’t want to sit back and watch her be with other guys.”
won’t be watching. You’ll be in Boston.”
rolled his eyes. “You know damned well what I mean.”
nodded. “Did you have fun
with Angela last week?”
huffed, “That’s not the same.”
my point: You had fun with
Angela, you enjoyed yourself, but it didn’t change your heart, right?”
If anything, it convinced me more.
There are thousands of girls at school, Brian, but they don’t
compare to Trixie.”
she needs to make the same comparisons.
After all, no one else has ever been allowed to express an interest
in her. She has serious
self-esteem issues. She
doesn’t think she’s good enough for you.
She doesn’t think anyone would really want her.
Let her spread her wings. Let
other guys teach her that she has plenty to offer. And let her figure out that none of the other guys measure up
snorted. “You think she
won’t find someone better?”
saw the insecurity in his friend’s face.
“Jim, you’re not perfect.
But you are perfect for her.
You two are meant to be together – anyone who has seen you
together can tell that. But
you both need to live a little.”
lived plenty,” Jim argued.
she hasn’t,” Brian countered. “Look,
you’ve had a rough life and had to grow up fast.
She’s had a sheltered life and is still just a child in many
ways. She needs to grow up.
You need to spend time being carefree and having fun.
You aren't on the same emotional level. All you would do right now is drive each other crazy.”
fell silent, as their food arrived and they began to eat.
Finally, Jim sighed. “You’ve
lived a sheltered life, too. So
how did you get to be such an authority on emotional states?”
of human nature, I guess” Brian said with a shrug.
“Making myself grow up, so I could take care of the younger ones.
But experience might be helpful, too, don’t you think?”
He got a wicked gleam in his eye.
“I need to live a little at school, as well, you know.
Free from the watchful eyes of younger siblings, I may just cut
loose and have some fun.”
brought a grin to the redhead’s face.
He raised his glass. “Here’s
to Brian Belden’s fun and games.”
laughed and joined the toast.
four-thirty, Trixie and Tad reluctantly packed up their homework and got
ready to go. Then he pulled
her to him for a long, slow, lingering kiss.
I think I suddenly love studying French,” Trixie said, when he finally
released her lips.
smiled a relaxed, devilish smile. “Maybe
you’ll need to study more often.”
returned the smile, “Maybe.”
voice boomed down the hall, “Tad, isn’t it time to get Trixie home?”
reluctantly released his hold on Trixie and sighed.
“And you think you’ve got big brother problems?”
laughed and pulled him by the hand down the hall.
They chatted with Spider for a few minutes, and Trixie thanked Mrs.
Vanderpoel for lunch and her hospitality.
When they said goodbye and headed out the door, Spider noticed that
they hadn’t let go of each other’s hands until Tad helped Trixie on
with her coat.
the door had shut behind them, Spider turned to the jolly woman who was
like a grandmother to him. “We need to keep an eye on those two. There’s more than studying going on back there.”
Vanderpoel’s eyes twinkled merrily back at him.
“Of course there is, and it’s good for both of them.
I know when to take a walk down the hall – and it needs to get
farther than a few simple kisses before it’s worth interrupting.”
jaw dropped. “Mrs. V., are you playing matchmaker?”
patted his cheek. “Spider, dear, I used to chaperone your grandparents
on study dates. I’ve been
playing this game a very long time, and I know exactly what I’m
that, she bustled back into the kitchen, leaving the young policeman to
stare after her in amused wonder.
afternoon rain had dwindled to a light sprinkle, by the time Tad pulled
into the driveway at Crabapple Farm.
Trixie turned to thank him and smiled her brightest smile, which
made his heart flip-flop. He leaned over and gave her a sweet, tantalizing kiss.
hopped out of the car and ran for the porch, where she stood and waved
until Tad’s car was out of sight. Letting
herself into the back door, she was surprised by the lack of smells or
sounds from the kitchen. Moms
should be well into dinner preparations by now.
came barreling into the kitchen and nearly ran her over.
“Oh, hi, Trixie! I
haven’t seen you for days,” he exclaimed.
“My team won the tournament today.
To celebrate, Daddy and I are goin’ out to eat and go bowlin’
– just the two of us. A guys’ night out!”
smiled brightly at her younger brother.
“That sounds great, lamb. Have
dashed out onto the back porch as Peter entered the kitchen.
“Hello, Princess. Moms
is resting, but she should be up before Chris gets here.
The boys are eating at Manor House, and Bobby and I are headed out
for the night. Do you need
anything before I go?”
eyes narrowed suspiciously, Trixie crossed her arms across her chest and
tapped her foot. “You
aren’t going to be here when Chris picks me up for our first date?”
she asked with surprise.
a mischievous glint in his eye, Peter replied, “No, but, if you’d
like, I could arrange for Mart to be here.”
pools of blue widened in alarm. “No,
warm chuckle was rewarded with a smile.
“Trixie, your mother will be here, and she won’t be as
overbearing as I would be.”
raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
will behave tonight, I promise,” Peter reassured her.
“Have a good time. Just
don’t do anything which would make me consider murder.”
responded by throwing her arms around her father’s neck.
“Daddy, do I ever tell you how much I love you?”
her embrace, Peter replied, “Every day, Princess, every day.”
Peter and Bobby left, Trixie stood alone in the silent kitchen.
She should start getting ready, she knew, but she had no idea what
to do next or what to wear. She
thought about calling Honey and Di, but she really didn’t want the boys
to troop down to the Farm. She
thought about asking her mother for help, but she hadn’t seen or spoken
to Moms since storming out of the house that morning.
She really didn’t want another scene like that.
deeply, she headed up the stairs. She
went to her parents’ room and hesitated outside the door.
As she wondered whether or not she should knock, she realized she
could hear sobs coming from the other side of the door.
Why on earth is Moms crying?
pushing the door open, Trixie peeked into the room.
It was dark, and Moms was lying on the bed with her back to the
door. Trixie went over to the
bed. She curled up behind her
mother and wrapped her arms around her.
“Moms, what’s wrong?”
Nothing. I just
don’t know,” Helen wailed, clinging to her daughter’s arms.
leaned her head against the golden curls that were so much like her own.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
do too much already. I’m not needed around here.”
brain registered shock. What?!
How could she think that?
that’s not true! We need you… I need you right now. That’s why I came up here:
to ask you to help me get ready for my date with Chris.”
rolled over, a hopeful gleam in her eye.
“Really?” she asked hesitantly.
I was kind of nervous about asking, especially after this morning,
but I need help.”
gazed sadly at her beloved daughter.
“Oh, sweetie, I am so sorry I’ve been so hard on you.
I just don’t understand myself lately.”
thought about trying to dig deeper, but she just wanted to have a pleasant
conversation with her mother for a change.
She changed the subject. “What
I don’t understand is why the two most gorgeous guys at school both want
to take me to Homecoming.”
sat up. “Really?
You didn’t tell me that.”
know. I… the only person I
told was Brian. He helped me
decide what to do.”
Helen began hesitantly, trying to find the words that could express her
own confused emotions. “Don’t get me wrong.
I’m glad you can talk to Brian.
But this is the kind of thing you used to be able to talk to me
right, Moms,” Trixie snorted derisively.
“This isn’t something I’ve ever had to talk to anyone
smiled. “Well, not exactly,
no. But you know what I
know, Moms.” Trixie
hesitated this time. She
didn’t want to hurt her mother’s feelings or start another argument,
and she did want to talk about it.
“It’s just that Brian has barely left the scene.
He knows the players and the playbook.
The Rumor Mill is familiar to him.
he’s not being overprotective. He’s
listening and giving good advice. He’s
there for me because I need him. If
I don’t need him anymore…” she broke off, tears choking her voice.
soft smile of sympathy graced Helen’s face, as she reached out and
pulled her daughter into a soothing embrace.
Softly, she whispered, “Don’t be silly.
You don’t have to have problems in order for Brian to be there
for you. He loves you, and
the phone calls are just as important to him as they are to you.”
Moms,” Trixie replied from the comfort and safety of her position with
her head on her mother’s breast.
reveling in this cradle of love for a long time, Trixie sat up and grinned
impishly. “Now, can you
help me get ready to snag the most eligible guy in Sleepyside for
grinned back. “Only if you
tell me what you did about Tad while we do.”
got up and headed for Trixie’s room, chattering happily.
They spent the next hour and a half choosing and rejecting outfits,
doing hair and makeup, and talking about everything under the sun.
They shared the close mother-daughter relationship they used to
have. All seemed right with
the world again… for now.