Will You Dance,

If I Ask You to Dance?




Mart, 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.

“He 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.”

“He’s 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.”

“With Mart?” Honey shrieked.  “After what he did last week?  I'll never play that with him again!”

The 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.

As he jumped up to answer the door, Mart glanced at the clock and frowned.  “Hey, Tad.  Come on in.”

The other boy stepped inside and ran a nervous hand through his light brown hair.  “Hi, Mart.  Is Trixie ready?”

Mart shared a worried look with Brian before answering.  “Actually, Tad, she’s not here yet.”

“Oh,” Tad replied, not knowing what else to say.

Just 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.”

Dan was retrieving two decks of cards from a drawer.  “We were just about to play Progressive Rummy.  Shall I deal you in?”

“Um, sure,” Tad said, as he sat down.

A 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, she paled. 

Speaking 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.

But 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.

The 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.

She 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 have been?’”

Thoughts 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 fact.

“Yeah, Trix, I have.  I know exactly what you mean.”

Her voice was but a whisper, as she asked, “What if I had never convinced Honey to go exploring at Ten Acres?”

Brian 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 crooks.”

Trixie 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.”

Trembling, 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.”

“I know that.  But will I regret it?” she asked, in a shaky voice.

Brian’s 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?”

She 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?”

“If 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.” 

There 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.

“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.”

Two 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 for you.”

Accepting 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.”

Laughing, 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.”

“You just want me to test your other advice, to see how good you are at this dating game,” she said impishly.





The card game continued.  Tad asked casually, “Mart, are your parents here?”

“Nah.  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 Honey.

Remembering the scene from this morning, Honey nodded vigorously.  “Absolutely.  Bob-White dinner party at my house tonight.”

Once 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.

“Hey, Jim, where’ve you been?” Dan called.

“The clubhouse,” came the muffled reply.

Just 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.

“I’m ready when you are, Tad,” she called back over her shoulder, as she put on her raincoat.

Fortunately, the hand had just ended.  Tad stood and grabbed his jacket off the chair.  “Thanks for the game, guys.  See you later.”

After 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 at Jim.

The redhead sighed.  Here comes the lecture from big brother.  He tossed the towel back in the laundry room and followed his roommate out the door.

The 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…”

“Moms 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.”

“Weren’t we going to the Lynches’ for dinner?” Dan asked.

“We could still do that, couldn’t we?” Honey asked.

“Mummy would love that!” Di exclaimed.  “We can turn dinner into a surprise birthday party for Brian!”

The four friends set about making plans, and calling Mrs. Lynch for help.





Mrs. 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.

Deciding 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 pillows.

“Okay, Trixie, which theorems are taxing your brain this week?” he asked.

He 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.

They 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.

When 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.”

Tad grinned impishly.  His eyes twinkled merrily, as he replied, “I think the wet t-shirt look suits you perfectly.”

Laughing out loud, Trixie punched him in the arm.  “Don’t be a jerk.  Lend me a dry t-shirt.”

With 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.”

Trixie 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.

“Much better,” she said.

“Hmmm…” 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?”

She sighed and rolled over onto her back, eyes closed.  “Ready?  No.  Did I translate it?  Yes.”

“Let me guess… Chris asked you to Homecoming yesterday after school.”

She snorted derisively.  “Ooh, he’s a rocket scientist,” she scoffed.

“Smartass.  You do know how badly that would irritate Beth, don’t you?”

“She’d be seething.  I should probably wear chain mail if I have to be near her.”

Tad studied her carefully, noting how the tension had returned to her face.  “I’d love to see Beth put in her place like that.”

Trixie opened one eye and looked at Tad skeptically.  “Are you saying you want me to go with Chris?”

Again he studied her, before deciding how to answer.  “That depends.”

“On what?”

“First: if Chris and Beth were not part of this equation, would you go with me?”

Trixie opened both eyes and turned to face him.  “Yes.”

He smiled.  “Second: are you interested in Chris?”

“Yes,” she answered honestly.

He nodded slowly.  “Fair enough.  Third:  where does Jim Frayne fit into the picture?”

Trixie narrowed her eyes at him, clearly annoyed.  “He’s my best friend.  Nothing more, nothing less.”

“Don’t 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?”

Holding his electric gaze, she responded in a throaty whisper, “Yes.”

“Last question:  may I kiss you?”

Trixie 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 prospect anyway.


He 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.

Tad 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 good.

They 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.

Breathing 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.”

She stroked his cheek.  “That is incredibly noble of you.  Thank you.”  She leaned in and kissed him again.

He groaned.  “Don’t start that again, or we’ll never get our French homework done.”

She grinned evilly.  “You mean, this wasn’t French homework?”

He burst out laughing and gave her a playful slap.  “Wicked wench.  Get your textbook now, before my big brother comes looking for us.”

She giggled and complied, and they went back to studying.





Brian 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.

Finally, Brian said quietly, “Back off.”

At first, Jim didn’t even realize he’d spoken.  “Huh?”

“Back off.  If you keep pushing, you’re going to lose her forever.”

Jim 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.”

“What 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.”

Brian 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 off.”

The 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.”

“You won’t be watching.  You’ll be in Boston.”

Jim rolled his eyes.  “You know damned well what I mean.”

Brian nodded.  “Did you have fun with Angela last week?”

Jim huffed, “That’s not the same.”

“Here’s my point:  You had fun with Angela, you enjoyed yourself, but it didn’t change your heart, right?”

“Right.  If anything, it convinced me more.  There are thousands of girls at school, Brian, but they don’t compare to Trixie.”

“Maybe 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 to you.”

Jim snorted.  “You think she won’t find someone better?”

Brian 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.”

“I’ve lived plenty,” Jim argued.

“But 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.”

They 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?”

“Observation 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.”

That brought a grin to the redhead’s face.  He raised his glass.  “Here’s to Brian Belden’s fun and games.”

Brian laughed and joined the toast.





At 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.

“Mmmm, I think I suddenly love studying French,” Trixie said, when he finally released her lips.

He smiled a relaxed, devilish smile.  “Maybe you’ll need to study more often.”

She returned the smile, “Maybe.”

Spider’s voice boomed down the hall, “Tad, isn’t it time to get Trixie home?”

Tad reluctantly released his hold on Trixie and sighed.  “And you think you’ve got big brother problems?”

Trixie 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.

After 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.”

Mrs. 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.”

Spider’s jaw dropped.  “Mrs. V., are you playing matchmaker?”

She 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 doing.”

With that, she bustled back into the kitchen, leaving the young policeman to stare after her in amused wonder.





The 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.

Trixie 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.

Bobby 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!”

Trixie smiled brightly at her younger brother.  “That sounds great, lamb.  Have fun.”

Bobby 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?”

Blue 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.

With a mischievous glint in his eye, Peter replied, “No, but, if you’d like, I could arrange for Mart to be here.”

The pools of blue widened in alarm.  “No, thank you!”

Peter’s warm chuckle was rewarded with a smile.  “Trixie, your mother will be here, and she won’t be as overbearing as I would be.”

Trixie raised an eyebrow in disbelief.

“Moms will behave tonight, I promise,” Peter reassured her.  “Have a good time.  Just don’t do anything which would make me consider murder.”

She responded by throwing her arms around her father’s neck.  “Daddy, do I ever tell you how much I love you?”

Returning her embrace, Peter replied, “Every day, Princess, every day.”

After 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.

Sighing 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?

Quietly 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?”

“Everything.  Nothing.  I just don’t know,” Helen wailed, clinging to her daughter’s arms.

Trixie leaned her head against the golden curls that were so much like her own.  “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“You do too much already.  I’m not needed around here.”

Trixie’s brain registered shock.  What?!  How could she think that?

“Moms, 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.”

Helen rolled over, a hopeful gleam in her eye.  “Really?” she asked hesitantly.

“Really.  I was kind of nervous about asking, especially after this morning, but I need help.”

Helen 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.”

Trixie 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.”

Helen sat up.  “Really?  You didn’t tell me that.”

“I know.  I… the only person I told was Brian.  He helped me decide what to do.”

“Trixie,” 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 about.”

“Yeah, right, Moms,” Trixie snorted derisively.  “This isn’t something I’ve ever had to talk to anyone about before.”

Helen smiled.  “Well, not exactly, no.  But you know what I mean.”

“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 understands.

“Besides, 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.

A 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.”

“Thanks, Moms,” Trixie replied from the comfort and safety of her position with her head on her mother’s breast.

After 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 Homecoming?”

Moms grinned back.  “Only if you tell me what you did about Tad while we do.”

They 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.




Author's Notes



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