Will You Dance,

If I Ask You to Dance?




The group that went to see Mrs. Wheeler was somewhat encouraged.  She welcomed them into the drawing room and listened to all they had to say as they poured out their concerns regarding Trixie and Helen.

When they had finished, Maddie shared a little bit of her earlier conversations with Trixie regarding the problems with Helen; however, she didn’t have a great deal of information because Trixie had not been very forthcoming with details.  She had only told her friends’ mother that things were very tense at home, that she felt like her Moms had it in for her, and that she felt like she couldn’t talk to her at all anymore.

Maddie then reassured them, saying she had already made plans to have lunch with Helen on Monday.  “So far, I’ve only heard from Trixie.  Helen is my friend, and something is clearly bothering her.  Maybe, if I talk to her, I can get to the bottom of this problem.”

She smiled at the group of friends before her.  “I’m glad you came to talk to me.  I want to do what I can to help, and, the more information I have going in, the easier it will be to figure out where the problem lies.  Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be easy to solve.”  She grimaced at that thought.  “Oh, well, we do what we can.”

Diana realized Mrs. Wheeler was excited about trying to help, and she thought to herself, She just wants to be needed.  Di went over and hugged Maddie.  “I’m so glad we could come to you with this.”

Maddie’s eyes lit up as she returned the embrace.  The boys noticed this and nodded to each other.  Mrs. Wheeler was definitely the right person for this job.  They all thanked her before returning to the clubhouse.

When Jim and Trixie finally reappeared at the clubhouse later, they were laughing and joking.  Trixie looked happy and relaxed, which made her friends feel hopeful that things were working out.

After closing up the clubhouse, the Bob-Whites went to dinner at the Lynches’ home.  Ted and Sherry were thrilled to see them all together, and were happy to host a fun-filled, cheerful meal.  They planned to relax and have a fun evening, especially since Sherry had given the cook the night off.  She went about preparing the meal herself and had all the Bob-Whites helping in the kitchen.

Sherry was enjoying the freedom of having her kitchen to herself, without any staff around.  She chopped vegetables from a position at the kitchen island where she could see all the activity around her, and frequently waved the knife in her hand as she gave orders and directions to those around her. 

The Beldens had dropped Bobby off with Miss Trask before leaving for the City.  She brought him over in time to help the twins set the table for the fourteen diners without major mishap, for which the children were soundly congratulated.

Dinner was full of playful banter, and Ted claimed center stage with stories to tell.  He also took great pleasure in grilling Brian and Jim on their studies and social life in Boston.  The boys shared anecdotes about their roommates, Clay and John, and several other friends from school, including Preacher.  Trixie found it very interesting the way Jim carefully avoided any mention of Ria.  She twinkled her eyes at him, and he blushed.  She wondered just what kind of retaliation Jim feared Brian would throw his way if he dared to bring Ria into the conversation.

At the end of the meal, Sherry announced it was time for dessert and asked Honey and Di to help her.  They returned wheeling a cart carrying a large birthday cake.  Brian was thoroughly surprised, to the delight of the girls.  As they shared cake and ice cream, the young man was showered with well-wishes and impromptu, silly gifts, since the Bob-Whites had mailed his real presents to Boston.

After the surprise party, just as the kitchen was nearly cleaned up, Ted took a plastic jello mold out of the refrigerator.  He turned, tripped over Melly, and it flew from his hands and landed on the floor across the room.  The mold shattered, and bright red jello exploded in every direction.

There was a moment of stunned silence.  Being jolly people able to find the humor in any situation, Ted and Sherry burst out laughing and were soon joined by everyone else.  The whole group began to clean up the mess and were soon amazed by the places where they found spots of jello.  It was on the walls, floor, and cupboards.  It was also found in smaller quantities on the windows, the ceiling, and the doorways.  It was in people’s hair and on their clothes.  It had even managed to escape out the doors, and was found out in the hallway and down the cellar stairs.  Jello seemed to have ricocheted off every available surface.

The twins made a game of discovering every last splat of red throughout the large kitchen.  The farther they got from the site of the explosion, the more excited they got about finding jello spots.  There were frequent calls of “Found another one!” or “Holy cow, it’s all the way over here!”  They ended up referring to the adventure as the “World Jello Olympics”, and Larry demanded a prize for having found the most spots.

By eight o’clock, everyone was aching from laughing so hard.  Jim and Brian also needed to get on the road to return to school, so the gang headed back to the Farm to send them on their way.

As they stood in the driveway at Crabapple Farm passing hugs and farewells all around, Trixie walked quietly up to Jim.  She stared at him with a serious expression and offered a tentative smile.  “Thank you, for always being here when I need you,” she told him.

He smiled back and tugged on her curl.  “I always will be, Shamus.  Don’t ever forget that.”  He pulled her into a bear hug and whispered, “If you want to talk, you know where to find me.”

She nodded and held tight for a long moment.  When she thought she could look up without tears in her eyes, Trixie stepped back.  “Have fun, College Man.  Catch ya Friday.”

Trixie walked around the car and gave Brian a long hug.  “Thanks for coming home this weekend.  I know you really did it for your birthday, but I’d have been lost without you.”

“You know I wanted to spend my birthday with my best girl,” Brian said tenderly.  “Will you survive without me until Thanksgiving?”

“I might.  If not, I’ll whistle.”

Brian grinned.  “I’ll keep my ears sharp.”  He gave her a soft but stern look.  “Let Mart help, okay?”

She smiled.  “Okay, okay.  As long as you don’t stand me up anymore, everything will be just fine.”

“Promise.”  He laughed before kissing her forehead.  “I love you, Princess.”

“I love you, too.”  She turned away and hurried into the house before she could be caught getting emotional all over again.

After the boys drove away, everyone else said their goodbyes for the evening and went their separate ways.  Mart headed upstairs to talk to Trixie.  Instead, he found her sound asleep, with Bobby gently tucking her in.

Bobby answered Mart’s quizzical look with a whispered reply.  “She was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.  I think she was gone before Brian was even out of the driveway.”  He turned off her light and joined Mart in the doorway.  “Tough weekend?”

Mart nodded.  “I guess so.  Emotionally exhausting, I think.”

Bobby looked pensively over at his sister’s sleeping form.  “She seems to get tired easily these days.”  He visibly shook off his train of thought and changed the subject.  “Hey, I could use some help with my homework.”

Mart ruffled his hair.  “Sure thing, small fry.  Let’s get busy.”





Monday, October 23, 1995


When Trixie got on the bus Monday morning, she sat in front of Honey instead of beside her.  Dan took the hint and sat next to Honey.  Honey frowned at Dan, who merely grinned and nodded as the bus pulled up to Tad’s stop.  Honey rolled her eyes, but conceded with a smile.

Mart glared at them both, as Tad made his way to the seat Trixie had saved for him.  Honey answered Mart with a silly grin. 

Diana’s eyes danced merrily as she whispered to Mart, “Remember.  You promised to let Trixie set the pace.”

His only response was a guttural growl.

Tad sat beside Trixie and greeted her. “Good morning, lovely lady.  And how are you this fine day?”

Trixie giggled.  “Not too bad for a Monday morning, kind sir.  Did you do anything exciting this weekend?”

“Well,” Tad hesitated.  He made up his mind, then looked her right in the eye.  “I had lunch yesterday with Chris Zack.”

Trixie stared at him so intently that she completely missed the looks of shock from Honey and Di and the pale-faced looks of terror from Dan and Mart.

Raising an eyebrow, she said archly, “Excuse me?”  Her temper started flaring quickly.  “And just how often do you two meet to discuss me behind my back?”

Tad watched her carefully, trying to guess her feelings.  “It was sort of accidental.  I planned to meet someone else, but I ran into him.  He told me to stay the hell away from his girlfriend.”

Mart and Dan breathed a sigh of relief.  They were grateful that Tad hadn’t mentioned whom he had intended to meet, and equally grateful that the bus had just pulled up at school.  That is, until they realized Chris was standing at the curb waiting for the bus.

Uh-oh, Mart thought, throwing Dan a look of panic.

Trixie exploded.  “How dare you!” she yelled at Tad.  “How dare either one of you!”  She leaned close to him, speaking harshly and quietly through gritted teeth.  “I am not a piece of property, and I don’t belong to anyone!”

She jumped up and stormed past him toward the door.

Dan smacked him upside the head.  “Nice play, Shakespeare.”

Tad shrugged.  “I wanted to know how she’d react.”  He grinned.  “Not exactly the reaction Chris would have hoped for, now was it?”

Di had to laugh.  “That was devious.”

Tad’s grin got wider.  “But not deceitful.  That was 100% truth.”

Mart got up, and stood over Tad, scowling fiercely.  “Looks like you’re playing hard ball.”

Tad stood and faced Mart calmly.  “He started it.”

Mart stared at him with narrowed eyes and clenched jaw.  “Just remember what happens if she gets hurt.”  He turned and stormed away.

Tad turned and found Dan giving him a cool warning look.  “Sometimes the people you're trying to protect get caught in the crossfire.”

Tad gave him a serious look.  “I won’t let that happen.”

Dan nodded succinctly.  “Better not.”

The rest of the Bob-Whites filed off the bus, leaving Tad feeling like he’d been pummeled.  Great.  And the day hasn’t even begun.

Meanwhile, Trixie had flown off the bus in a rage.  As soon as she saw Chris, she made a beeline for him.  He smiled a warm greeting, until he saw the look on her face.

His smile faded as she stormed up to him.  “What’s wrong, Blue Eyes?”

“Don’t you dare ‘Blue Eyes’ me!” she fumed.  “And don’t tell my friends to ‘stay the hell away from your girlfriend,’ either!”

A look of understanding crossed Chris’ face.  “I see Tad’s been busy this morning,” he grumbled.

Trixie stood toe-to-toe with him, craning her neck to stare furiously up at his face.  “Do you deny saying that?”

Chris stared down at her.  A detached part of his mind registered how comical she must look to others, trying to ‘stare down’ the basketball star, who was almost a foot-and-a-half taller.  The more focused part of his mind was a little intimidated by the little raging ball of fury.  Seeing her temper in action for the first time, he realized how bad it would be for him if Trixie ever caught him lying to her.  All thoughts of denying the accusation fled.

He admitted with resignation, “Yes, I said it.”

She paused.  Okay, he gets points for admitting it.  And he called me his girlfriend!  A little thrill shot through her.  HOWEVER

Giving Chris the same narrow-eyed, gritted teeth look she had used on Tad earlier, Trixie spoke deliberately.  “Then don’t blame Tad for the very large foot you put in your own mouth.  I pick my own friends.  I decide with whom I spend how much time.  I am no one’s property.  You don’t own me.  Do I make myself clear?”

Chris nodded.  “Crystal,” he said shortly.

Letting go of some of her anger, she continued.  “I am also only 15 years old.  My father is barely able to tolerate me dating.  ‘Going steady’ and getting serious are well beyond the boundaries.”

Mart had gotten close enough to hear the last comment.  His eyebrows shot to his forehead.  He knew full well that Trixie had never had any such conversation with Dad.  Pulling out the ‘Protective Father’ card to create your own safety zone?  Impressive, Little Sister.  Maybe you can hold your own.

Chris narrowed his eyes.  “So you’re saying I need to back off and tolerate Tad or just walk away now?”

“Basically.”  Trixie’s voice was still strong and steady, but she was a quivering mass on the inside.  Giving him an ultimatum like that was not necessarily the brightest move, and she had no idea how he was going to react.

Mart looked up and caught Beth Fleming staring at Chris and Trixie with obvious glee.  He quickly changed the focus of his attention.

Chris was fuming.  A part of his mind was screaming, Just walk away!  You don’t need this crap.  You could have any girl in the school!  But, as he once again got pulled into the depths of the most beautiful blue eyes he’d ever seen, Chris realized he didn’t want any girl in the school.  He only wanted her.

He sighed.  “I really hate this idea.”  His face softened, and he gently trailed a finger along her cheek.  “But I think you’re worth it.”

The blue eyes widened in surprise, and she caught her breath.  The last shreds of anger disappeared, and a delicious warmth flooded her.  She smiled shyly.  “Really?”

He smiled.  Running his hand through her curls, he answered, “Really.”

Chris stepped back a few paces and sat on the stone pillar at the bottom of the nearest set of steps to the school building.  This particular pillar was the perfect height for him; sitting there, with Trixie standing right in front of him, he could face her eye-to-eye.  He pulled her to him.  As she lost herself in his clear gray eyes, he wrapped his arms around her.  She was smiling now, and he felt like everything was going to be okay.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he whispered.  “I know you’re worth it.”  He claimed her lips in a soft, gentle kiss.

Beth Fleming’s eyes blazed fire and fury.  She turned and stormed away.  Mart quietly followed her.

Beth reached her locker, slamming the door opened and muttering comments about “that little Belden slut” and grumbling, “She’s gonna pay for this.”

Mart walked up and casually leaned against the locker next to hers.  “Problem, Beth?”

She glared at him.  Sneering, she warned him, “Belden, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay the hell away from me right now.”

Mart gave her a cool once-over.  “And if I said I was planning on following you around like a lost puppy?”

“I’d scream ‘rape’,” Beth said bluntly, a cold and vicious glint in her light brown eyes.

One eyebrow raised, Mart asked, “So, that’s how you handle things?  Lying, cheating, and damaging other people’s reputations.  Thanks for confirming my suspicions.”

Beth slammed her locker shut.  “Don’t mess with me, Belden.  You don’t want to get in over your head.”

Mart flashed his most charming smile and leaned in close.  “I could offer you the same advice.  If you mess with my sister, you’ll be surprised at how much trouble will come your way.”

Without waiting to see her reaction, Mart casually sauntered down the hallway toward his own locker.







By lunchtime, news of Chris and Trixie kissing outside school that morning had become the prime topic of every conversation.  As Mart joined Dan in the lunch line, he groaned, “She is not going to be happy about this.”

Dan shrugged.  “She’s in her own little ‘Chris likes me’ oblivion.  I’m not so worried about her.”  He lowered his voice and gave Mart a pointed look.  “If you want to worry, watch the football players.  It’s like they’ve all suddenly noticed what a little hottie she is.  They’re leering and drooling, and I have a serious need to smack them all.”

Mart had taken a carrot stick off his tray and shoved it in his mouth.  Now he choked on it. “Did you say ‘a little hottie’?  Please tell me you did not just describe my sister that way!”

Dan gave Mart a withering glare.  “Wake up, Mart.  She is.”

“I absolutely can not think of her that way.”

You aren’t supposed to.  You have to be aware, however, that everyone else does.”

As Mart handed his ID card to the cashier to be scanned, he groaned and hung his head.  “This is going to be such a long year.”

Dan snickered.  “I figured that out the first day of school.  About time you woke up to reality.”

“Shut up, Mangan.”

Diana had been waiting for them at the end of the line.  “Now what are you two bickering about?”

Dan grinned at her.  “Trixie being a hottie.”

Mart’s flushed.  “Would you please stop calling her that!”

Di laughed.  “Oh, my poor baby!”  They reached their table and set their trays down.  Di moved to stand behind Mart and rub his very tense shoulders.

Honey was already sitting at the table, her nose buried in a book.  She looked up at Di’s laughter.  “What’s the poor baby’s problem now?”

Di grinned conspiratorially at Honey.  “Trixie’s a hottie.”

Mart turned to glare at her.  “Et tu, Brute?”

Meanwhile, Honey was desperately trying to smother her laughter.  “Ssshhh!  Here she comes!”

Trixie slammed her bag on the table in aggravation.  “I absolutely, positively HATE Mondays!”

Chris approached her.  “Hey, Trix?  I realize you eat with the Bob-Whites on Mondays, but may I at least escort you through the lunch line?”

Trixie’s entire demeanor changed.  She relaxed, smiled a devastating, utterly flirtatious smile, and winked.  “I guess you’ve earned that much, at least.”

They walked away, Chris’ arm around Trixie’s shoulders, hers around his waist, the pair lost in each other’s smiles.

Honey and Di had been momentarily stunned by her flirtations.  Now they grinned like Cheshire cats and gave each other high-fives.

“Damn, that girl is good!” Di crowed.  “I’m so proud of her!”

Honey nodded.  “And all this time I thought she wasn’t paying attention to our lessons on flirting.”

Mart shoved his tray away and buried his head.  “I’m not hungry.” 

Dan gave the girls a one-eyebrow-raised deadpan expression.  “Hell has officially frozen over.”  The Bob-Whites’ laughter echoed throughout the cafeteria.

Eventually, Trixie returned with her tray.  The others were nearly done eating, but Mart still had his head down and had not yet touched his tray.  Trixie looked at him, eyes dancing with amusement.  She leaned her chin on one hand and pretended to look thoughtful.  “How can I distract Big Brother from his current worries?”

She lifted an eyebrow in a silent question to Honey.  Di smirked, while Honey grimaced and mouthed Just shoot me now before nodding her assent.

Trixie deliberately turned to Honey and asked, completely for Mart’s benefit, “So, Honey, how many Homecoming invitations are you up to now?  Last count I heard was ten.”

Honey rolled her eyes.  “Well, as of the start of the lunch period, I’m up to twelve.  Not that more than 2 or 3 are worth considering, but it is flattering to be asked.”

Mart’s head shot up, and he and Dan turned to Honey in unison, “Excuse me?”

Trixie and Di broke off into peals of laughter.  Honey stuck out her tongue at them.  “Thanks a lot for siccing the Big Brother Patrol on me.”

“Just trying to share the wealth!”

Mart scowled at Trixie.  “Watch it, squaw.”  Turning his attention back to Honey, he began his interrogation.  “Who, exactly, asked you to Homecoming?”

“Well,” Honey began airily, “the first person I turned down was Dan.  He only asked me because Jim made him.”

Dan flushed bright red.  Trixie hooted.  “Oh my God!  I knew he was more overprotective than Brian.  I just knew it!”

Mart glared at Dan.  “So, when you didn’t get Honey, why didn’t you just ask Trixie?  It would have made my life much simpler.”

Di patted Mart’s hand and answered gleefully, “Oh, I believe that had something to do with Honey’s threats to Dan’s family jewels if he pulled the same crap on Trixie.”

Trixie choked on her drink.  “Honey!  You didn’t!”

Honey carefully inspected her perfect manicure.  “I don’t remember the exact phraseology, but…”

Trixie laughed so hard she fell out of her seat.  Dan held his face with both hands.  Mart chuckled.  “Mangan, you are so whipped!”

Dan gave Honey a menacing glare.  “You’re gonna pay for this, Wheeler.”

Her only answer was a smug smile.  Any further discussion was interrupted by the bell.  Mart hurriedly shoved an entire half sandwich in his mouth while the group cleaned up their trays.  Only Di noticed that Trixie hadn’t actually eaten anything.

Mart rushed to catch up with Trixie, who had ducked quickly out of the cafeteria.  “Trix!  Hold up!”

She half turned.  “What?  I have to get to French.”

“Mind if I walk with you?”

Trixie shrugged and kept walking.  Mart waited until they cleared the immediate crush of traffic outside the cafeteria before speaking.  “I just wanted to say that I’m impressed.”

She looked at him curiously.  “By what, exactly?”

“The way you handled yourself with Chris this morning.”

Trixie stopped and stared at Mart.  As if she couldn’t quite believe her ears, she leaned a little closer.  “What was that again?”

He gave her a sheepish grin and a look of reluctant admiration.  “Apparently, you can take care of yourself, and you don’t need a watchdog.”

Her jaw dropped.  She smiled and shook her head at him.  “You really didn’t want any of the Bob-Whites hearing you say that, did you?”

He winked.  “No way.  And, if you try to repeat this conversation, I will deny every word.”  They laughed together.  “Seriously, Trix.  I won’t interfere.  But, if you need me, I’m here.”

She gave him a quick, impulsive hug.  “Thanks, Mart.  That really means a lot.”

Mart looked up and saw Beth Fleming coming down the hall.  His face hardening, he said, “Come on, let’s get you to class.”

As Trixie turned and started walking, she said, “Hey, I thought you said I didn’t need a watch…”  She broke off as she spied Beth and swallowed nervously.  “Yeah, let’s hurry.”

When they turned the corner of the hallway, Mart leaned closer.  “Remember what I said.  And it doesn’t just apply to the guys.”

She flashed him a grateful smile and made one final comment before entering her classroom.  “Have I mentioned that you’re pretty cool for a big brother?”

She caught his answering grin before the door shut behind her.

She slid into her seat beside Tad, who was staring despondently at the doodles he was drawing all over his notebook.  As soon as Trixie sat down, Tad slipped her a note.


I’m in the doghouse in a big way, aren’t I?

Trixie rooted around in her backpack and pretended she couldn’t find her textbook.  Then she slid her seat closer to Tad’s, so she could share his book.  He spied the top of her book poking its way out of the opening and whispered, “Zip the bag.”

In one smooth movement, she reached down, grabbed a pen and her notebook from the bag, and zipped it.  Once she had herself settled comfortably next to Tad, she reached over and wrote in his notebook.


If I spend the entire class writing notes back and forth with you,

you’d better help me catch up on the lesson.


Tad grinned and relaxed.


Mais oui, ma cherie.


You were trying to cause trouble this morning.


I suppose that’s kind of true.  But I was also trying

to see if something had happened Saturday night

to change things between us.


What?!  Just how weak-minded do you think I am?


I don’t.  I just needed to make sure.


Next time, change your approach.  It sucked.


I’m sorry.  I really am.

So what did you say to Chris?


I told him that my father wasn’t ready for me to be

going steady with anyone.


Tad turned to stare at her.  She raised an amused eyebrow at him.  He broke into a face-splitting grin.


Anything else?


He’d better get used to you being around, or take a walk.


You gave him an ultimatum?




Before or after the kiss that fueled today’s Gossip Mill?




Tad absorbed this information.  The situation was definitely improving.


So we’re okay?


No.  You have a lot of brownie points to make up.


I love making brownie points with you.


That’s a good thing.  You have a long way to go.


Tad just gave her a winning smile, full of promise.








Trixie walked slowly towards her locker after the last bell.  It had been quite a full day, and her head was pounding.  She thought about going home and had a sudden vision of the barn.  The sound of a gunshot rang in her ears, and a sea of blood appeared before her eyes.  She closed her eyes to fight back the memories and was overcome with a wave of exhaustion.  All she wanted to do was go to bed.

Yeah, right.  Moms’ll let me get away with that, I’m sure, she thought cynically.

As she approached her locker, Trixie halted suddenly.  She was more than a little surprised to see the figure that stood there.

“You’re not waiting for me, are you, Sergeant?”

Wendell Molinson looked up and fixed her with a typical scowl.  “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am, Miss Belden.  Get your stuff together.  You’ll be riding home with me today.”

Trixie stared at him in confusion.  “Why?  What did I do now?”

“We’ll discuss that in the car,” he said brusquely.

Honey and Di arrived at the lockers.  Hearing Molinson’s statement, Honey gave Trixie a worried look.  “What’s going on, Sergeant?”

“Nothing that concerns you, Miss Wheeler.  Come on, Belden, let’s go.”

Trixie grabbed her stuff and meekly followed Molinson to the car, throwing a helpless look at the other girls.  They hurried to let the boys know where Trixie had gone.









Molinson drove in silence.  He pulled into Washington Park, a beautiful little place that overlooked the Hudson, and got out of the car, motioning for Trixie to follow.  They walked along the length of the park quietly, watching the children who were enjoying the sunshine and warmth of the tail end of Indian summer.

They finally stopped by a stand of trees, which marked the boundary of the park.  Molinson stood looking out over the river for a long time before he spoke.

“When I was in high school, this wasn’t a nice park,” he began, eyes never leaving the Hudson.  His voice was quiet, and Trixie had to concentrate carefully on his words.  “It was where the rough crowd hung out, drinking and smoking and being generally obnoxious.  The leader of the pack was a classmate of mine, Eric.  We had been really close in grammar school, but, as we got older, he got really rowdy and we drifted apart.  I didn’t want to be like him.  When I left town after high school, I lost touch with him completely.”

Molinson paused, weighing each word.  When he spoke again he seemed lost in a distant memory.  “About five years ago, I was working with the NYPD.  One night my partner, Dave, and I got called to the scene of a hold-up.  Some kid, high on crack and brandishing a gun, was trying to rob a convenience store.  We got there in time to catch him.  We disarmed him and tried to put the cuffs on him.  But, like I said, he was on drugs.  He thought he was invincible, and he had that crazy kind of strength people can sometimes get when they’re high.  He fought us off and bashed Dave’s head into a brick wall.  Fractured his skull.  He lived, but was never fit for duty again.  He had to take medical retirement at age 26.

“The druggie kept charging at me.  I warned him off.  I whacked him in the head with my billy club, but that didn’t even faze him.  Then he reached for my partner’s gun.  I had no choice.  I had to shoot him.”

Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he continued in a voice laced with pain.  “When he was lying there, so still, I finally got a good look at his face.”

He was quiet for a long time.  Trixie tried to wait for him to go on, but she couldn’t stand the silence any more.  “Was it Eric?” she asked softly.

Molinson nodded.  “I can’t come here without thinking of him, how my best childhood friend died, and the fact that I killed him.  But I come anyway. 

“I keep this park clean, and I keep the rough-housers away.  I do it so no other cocky kid will use this place to become leader of the pack, fueling his arrogance, until he goes off, does something stupid, and gets himself killed.”

Finally turning to look at her, he said, “I realize that I wouldn’t take such good care of this place if it weren’t for what happened to Eric.  So I come here and see the happy people enjoying this beautiful, peaceful spot.  I come and see the good here; and this park reminds me that, even though I killed my friend, I can still do good in this world.”

Trixie knew what he was trying to do, but couldn’t quite come to terms with it.  She shook her head.  “You were doing your job.”

Molinson fixed his pale blue stare on her, intently as ever, but kinder than usual.  “If I hadn’t shot Eric, he would have killed me.  And he never would have felt bad about it, either.  He would have killed my partner, too; every time I see Dave or his kids, I know I made a difference.”

“And where did I make a difference?” she asked cynically, kicking viciously at a rock on the ground.

“Dan Mangan.”

She frowned in confusion.  “What?”

He continued to stare at her intently.  “I have no illusions about what would have happened if Luke had killed you.  Somehow, some way, Dan would have gotten past me.  And he would have killed Luke.  In rage and fury, yes, but intentionally – he would have killed him.  And then Dan would have spent the rest of his life in jail.

“Every breath of freedom that boy ever takes is because Luke died in that barn instead of you.  Everything Dan ever does, every life he ever touches, is because you saved him that day.”

Trixie stared back at him.  She could feel the tears coming again.  She clenched her jaw and looked away.

Molinson’s gaze softened, and he walked over to her.  He gently lifted her chin until she looked up at him.  “Trixie, you have an amazing instinct.  You have a heart of gold.  And you have the courage to step out of your comfort zone to help anyone that needs it.  I get frustrated because you make my job – protecting you – very difficult.  But that doesn’t mean I want you to ever stop helping people.

“Every day, when you look at Dan, remember that there is still good that you can do in this world.”

The tears were streaming down her face, and she couldn’t hold back the sobs any longer.  The gruff, burly policeman gave her a soft, gentle, comforting hug.  After a moment, Trixie stepped back and wiped her face with her hands.  He offered her his handkerchief, which she took gratefully.

The sergeant spoke softly.  “I know your friends can’t even imagine what you’re going through right now.  If you ever need to talk, just tell me you'd like me to escort you safely through the park.”

Trixie smiled through her tears.  “Thank you,” she hiccupped.

Molinson smiled and ruffled her hair.  “Come on, detective.  I need to get you home.”





Author's Notes



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