Trixie Belden rushed toward the den in the Manor House behind her friends, Honey Wheeler and Diana Lynch.  The seventeen-year-old girls were in a hurry to find Margery Trask to obtain permission for Honey to spend the night at Diana’s along with Trixie.  It was the Monday before Thanksgiving and the girls wanted to spend the time making plans for the Bob-Whites’ holiday weekend.  As they neared the doorway, the Manor House telephone rang and they heard Miss Trask answer.

 

Gleeps!” Trixie whispered, skidding to a stop behind her friends.  “I hope she’s not on the phone very long.  I’m ready for a Wimpy’s burger.”

 

Di flicked her black hair over her shoulder and rolled her lovely violet eyes.  “Seriously, Trixie, sometimes you’re as bad as Mart about food,” she chided softly.

 

“Hey!  I have to eat when he’s gone or at your house,” she teased.  “It’s the only time there’s any food available,” she explained before sticking out her tongue at her friends.

 

Miss Trask’s voice drifted out of the den to the girls’ ears.  “Of course, Jim, I don’t see a problem with that at all.”  There was a pause while they assumed Jim was talking.  “The two young ladies will be coming home with you and Brian tomorrow and staying here until Friday.  It’s not a problem.  I’ll have Celia ready guest rooms for them.”

 

Blue eyes locked onto hazel as Trixie and Honey each drew in a shocked breath.  Di reached out and grabbed a hand from each of her friends.

 

“Yes, school gets out at noon on Wednesday.”  Miss Trask’s voice was heard saying.  “And when will Mart and Dan be home?”  She paused again.  “That will be fine with me if you want to have a Bob-White party on Thursday evening but someone will need to check with Helen about it.”  She laughed softly and then she became quiet.  “Personally, I think an engagement is a wonderful reason to celebrate, no matter how unexpected it is.”

 

The three girls standing in the hallway each mouthed engagement?

 

“If there is something else I need to know, please call me,” Miss Trask instructed.  “Drive carefully on your way home and I look forward to meeting the young ladies.”  She paused just a few seconds.  “I’ll keep it to myself, Jim.  I’m sure the girls will be surprised by the news, too.”  She laughed.  “Take care, dear.  We’ll see you tomorrow afternoon,” she said, before they heard the sound of the phone being hung up.

 

Trixie’s eyes immediately filled with tears and her right hand clasped the ID bracelet encircling her left wrist.

 

Di looked on helplessly as Honey’s eyes also filled.  Squeezing her friends’ hands, Di whispered fiercely, “There’s got to be something to what Jim said that we didn’t get from Miss Trask’s side of the call,” she consoled her friends.  “Let’s not make any assumptions and we’ll see what we can find out.”  Grabbing Trixie in a tight hug, she ordered, “Trixie, go wait in the car, sweetie.  There are tissues in the console if you need them.”  Releasing the hug, she gripped her friend’s shoulders and turned her toward the front of the house.  “Now scoot.  Honey and I’ll be there in a minute.”

 

As Trixie stumbled away from them, Di lifted Honey’s head with a finger under her chin.  Hon, you know it’s not Brian.  He told you the last time he was home that you’re the girl for him.  The man’s a rock,” she assured her friend.  “I swear I’m gonna kill Jim Frayne though.  I don’t care if he is your brother.  No one hurts one of my best friends and lives to tell the tale.”  She looked closely at Honey’s pale face and then gave her a gentle shake.  “Come on, let’s get permission from Miss Trask, grab some clothes for you and then we’ll get something to eat while we talk this all through.  OK?”

 

“Sure,” Honey murmured, wiping her eyes to dispel the few tears that had overflowed them.

 

Meanwhile in Di’s car…

 

Trixie sat huddled in the backseat of Di’s Passion Berry Pearl Honda Fit, staring morosely out the side window.  Her mind kept repeating the words Miss Trask said, like it was a continuous loop.

 

She was having an interesting argument with herself.  It’s not like he promised you anything.  Her right hand fingered the chain on the bracelet that bore Jim’s name.  He gave you the bracelet.  Two big tears slipped from the corners of her eyes and streaked down her face. 

 

Roughly swiping at the tears with the back of her hand, she reached into the console for a tissue.  She was not only upset about what they’d heard but she was also mad.  Mad that Jim didn’t have the guts to let her know he had a girlfriend.  She thought they had something special.  He calls me his special girl and now he’s bringing home a different girl.  She, Trixie, was supposed to be his girl. 

 

This just isn’t right, her mind stormed.  She’d been so happy that the guys would be home for almost a week, but now she felt empty and alone.

 

Back in the house…

 

“Miss Trask?” Honey said tentatively, tapping on the door.  “Can I interrupt?”

 

“Sure, Honey.  Good afternoon, Diana.  What are you girls up to today?” she asked, looking closely at Honey.  “Dear, do you feel alright?  Your eyes seem red.”

 

“It’s nothing, Miss Trask.  Just something has irritated them,” she answered quietly, rubbing her eyes with her fingers.  “Di asked Trixie and me over to spend the night.  I don’t have any homework since this is a review week because of the holiday,” she smiled slightly.  “We need to figure out some plans for the weekend since all the Bob-Whites will be home.”

 

Miss Trask smiled and nodded at her charge and friend.  “I think that will be fine.  As you make your plans, please make some that will accommodate a few extra people.  Jim called and said they’re bringing some guests home for Thanksgiving.”

 

“Oh?”  Honey used every bit of composure at her disposal.  “Who’s he bringing?” she asked feigning innocence.

 

“I don’t know their names,” Miss Trask said, distracted by an e-mail from Mr. Wheeler that had just appeared on her laptop screen.  He was asking for a document to be scanned and sent to him at his hotel.  “He just said he and Brian would have a couple of young ladies with them.”

 

“Young ladies?” Di queried innocently, using her acting skills.  “Jim and Brian are bringing home girlfriends?” she cried.  “Is Jim dumping Trixie?  I’ve always thought they’d be together.  And Brian with Honey, too,” she said with an anxious tone. 

 

“Oh, but Brian’s never given me a ring or a bracelet,” Honey replied sadly.  “I wouldn’t mind if he did, but he hasn’t.  Jim has though and I agree that Trixie’s gonna be even more upset than I am.”

 

“Oh goodness, I didn’t think of that,” Miss Trask declared, aching with concern for Honey and Trixie.  “I don’t know, girls.”  She paused, drumming her fingers on the desk top.  “I don’t believe I can get in touch with any of them tonight either.”  She frowned.  “Every last one of them is in a study group on Monday nights and tomorrow they have early classes.”  A deep sigh huffed out of her as she sat back in her chair.

 

“I don’t know what we should do about Trixie,” Di lamented.  “She’ll be devastated.”

 

A deep frown appeared on Miss Trask’s face.  “I wish I could tell you more,” she acknowledged, cursing herself for not thinking anything of Jim’s request and promising him to not say a word about the two females.  “I’m sure it will all work out, Honey,” she soothed, taking the teen’s hand in hers.

 

Honey sighed.  “I know.  Que sera, sera,” she agreed sadly.  “I’ll be home after school tomorrow for a few minutes and then I’ll be at the farm through dinner.  I’ve promised Mrs. Belden that I’d help prepare food and make cookies for the open house.”

 

“That’s fine, Honey.  Your parents left this morning for Dallas and will be home Wednesday afternoon.  They don’t want to miss time with you and Jim; plus, they don’t want to miss the open house.”

 

“Oh, I’m glad Mother and Daddy will be home in time.  Come on, Di; let’s go get my stuff.  Thanks, Miss Trask.  I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, turning to hurry out of the room with her friend following quickly behind her.

 

 

Jim had hung up the phone after his conversation with Miss Trask.  He’d had an uncomfortable feeling since he rashly offered to take Emily and Chloe home and invited them to stay at the Manor House for Thanksgiving.

 

“Everything okay?” Brian asked, rubbing a hand across his forehead in the hopes of relieving the pressure he felt there.

 

“No,” Jim answered with a growl.  “Yes.  I don’t know, Bri,” he stated.  “The only way the girls could get home to Sleepyside this weekend was to go with us, and it makes sense to stay at the Manor House but, the minute I asked them…”  His voice faltered.

 

“You felt sick to your stomach?”

 

“Yeah, how did you know?” Jim asked, looking at his friend in surprise.

 

“Because I felt the same way and I still feel like it,” Brian shared, rubbing a hand around the back of his neck in frustration.  “I know we’re doing nothing wrong, why do I feel like we are, Jim?”

 

“I don’t know,” Jim replied, grumpily.  “I just hope this turns out okay and your sister doesn’t kill me.”

 

 

As she drove away from the Manor House, Di wondered what to say to make her friends feel better.  How could those two boys do this? Di raged in her mind.  Trixie hasn’t said a word since we got in the car.  And now Honey is just as quiet.  Where the heck are those guys’ heads?  Well, I know where they are; right up their… she covered her snort with a cough.  One of them is engaged?  Wow!  And they’ve acted all but engaged to Trixie and Honey for years.  I’m going to kick me some male Bob-White tail-feathers.  All of them.

 

“Hey, Di,” Trixie said quietly from the back seat.  “How about we get the burgers and shakes to go?  I don’t feel like socializing with anyone at Wimpy’s right now.”

 

“I don’t either,” Honey disclosed.  “It’s warm enough out and I think we need some privacy.  Could we eat in your pool house?”

 

“Sure,” Di answered.  “I think that’s a great idea.  If you’ll call in the order, I’ll run in and pick it up.”

 

 

Twenty-five minutes later, the three friends sat on the comfy chaise lounges in the Lynch pool house.  Not a word had been spoken during that time except to make the food order; each of the girls lost in their own thoughts.

 

As Di pulled her burger and fries from the bag, she gently queried, “Do you guys want to talk about it?  You don’t have to if you don’t want to but…”

 

“I knew there was a chance of this happening,” Trixie began, nibbling slowly on a fry.  “I just didn’t think it would happen within a month of the deadline I’d given Jim.”  She took a bite of her burger and chewed thoughtfully.  “Well, mentally given him.  I’d decided if he hadn’t asked me out by Christmas, I was going to ask him to meet me at the clubhouse and ask him out.”  A soft noise that sounded like a cross between a sob and a giggle came from the petite blonde.  “I’ve been in love with him for years.  It’s not supposed to be this way,” she growled.  “He’s mine!”

 

Honey nodded as tears ran down her face and dripped onto the burger in her lap.  “That’s how I’ve always felt about Brian, too.  But I guess it’s not to be,” she bawled, before blowing her nose on a napkin.  “Just my luck, I’ll like her,” she grumbled.

 

“I don’t know if I can go that far,” Trixie declared.  “But since Jim’s never shown real interest in me, I’ll try to be polite.  And Moms would kill me if I spoiled the open house by murdering the girl,” Trixie smiled wanly.

 

“I disagree, Trixie.  Jim did show interest.  He gave you a ring and that bracelet,” Di asserted loyally, pointing at her friend’s wrist.  “He called you his special girl which means something.  Now, he’s never told you any different and he owes you an explanation.”  Shifting her gaze to Honey, she added, “And Brian, too.”  Jumping up, she ran first to Trixie and then to Honey bestowing big hugs to each of her friends.  She walked back to her chair and opened up the cabinet next to it.  She reached up to the top shelf and pulled down two bags of chocolate kisses.  “We’ll see what tomorrow brings and whether or not the kickings will need to commence but, for now, let’s eat these burgers and then we’ll work our way through dessert.”

 

“Why’s your secret stash out here?” Honey asked, as a grin lit up her face.

 

“If I don’t hide them well and change the location often, then either one of my four siblings or Mart will find them and clean me out,” Di explained with a laugh.

 

“That I get.  Some girl may steal my guy, but no one gets my chocolate,” Trixie snickered with a sniff. 

 

 

Trixie, Honey and Di laughed and giggled well into the night; plotting retribution for heartache as only girls can.  When they finally settled down for the night in Di’s luxurious room, Trixie, the most petite of the girls, lay on the comfy window seat, looking out the window at the moon.  The even breathing of her friends was reassuring as she lay awake long into the night.

 

 

Tuesday morning, the girls had a difficult time coming down from their chocolate hangover.  Well, Honey and Di were blaming the chocolate, but Trixie knew she was struggling through the day because she tossed and turned all night long, her brain refusing to quiet down and stop thinking of ways to torture a certain redhead.  They spent the day at school dragging themselves from class to class, drinking lots of water between each class. 

 

Just before the end of the last class period of the day, an unexpected announcement was made.  The half-day scheduled for Wednesday would be cancelled because of a broken pipe on the school’s boiler.  Emergency repairs would be made and the basketball game against Croton would be changed to an away game. 

 

Trixie, Honey and Diana met at their lockers right after the bell rang.

 

Honey sighed loudly.  “Normally, I’d love to have an extra half-day off school to visit with Jim and Brian.  After what we heard yesterday, I’m not sure I want that extra time to watch them with their guests.”

 

Trixie frowned as she pushed her books into her locker.  “It would be nice to slip out and hide but Moms can really use my help all day tomorrow.”

 

 

Di dropped Honey at the Manor House and then drove next door to deliver Trixie.  Pulling into the drive and putting the car in park, Di turned to face her friend.  Reaching out, she gently tucked a curl behind Trixie’s ear.  “Hey, do you need to talk?” she inquired.  “I’m always here to listen, Trix,”

 

Reaching across the console, Trixie hugged Di tight.  “Nah, I’m surviving but if you see me do anything that might upset or embarrass Honey or my parents, take me aside.  I don’t want that.”

 

“I promise,” Di said with a grin, hugging her back.  “I’ll come back after dinner to see if there’s anything I can do to help.”

 

“Thanks!  Later,” Trixie said, getting out of the car and heading toward the house.

 

 

Trixie did her after school chores and stood washing her hands at the kitchen sink when an unusually subdued Honey arrived at Crabapple Farm.  Glancing at her friend’s unhappy face, Trixie asked, “Are you OK?  You’re awfully pale.”  She hurriedly dried her hands, as Honey hung up her coat.

 

Honey lifted tear-filled eyes to her friend.  “Where’s Moms?  I need to tell you something.”

 

Trixie’s face dropped into a frown.  “She’s in the basement getting some cookie dough from the freezer.  Let’s go into the den.  She’ll be down there for a few minutes.”  Grabbing her friend’s hand, she pulled her down the hallway to the den and closed the door behind them.  “So what’s the matter?”

 

“Oh, Trixie, I don’t know how to say this,” Honey blubbered, bursting into tears.  “I was just leaving the house when Jim’s SUV turned into the driveway.”  She sniffed loudly.  “He and Bri-Bri-Brian got out and opened the rear doors.  They helped out two very pretty girls; it was Emily Simpson and her sister, Chloe.  You remember them from school?”  At Trixie’s slow nod, she hiccupped and continued, “I was by the stable on Jim’s side.  He and Emily walked to the back and she lifted her ha-ha-hand and…”

 

“And what, Honey?” Trixie asked anxiously, folding her arms across her chest.

 

“She has an engagement ring on her hand,” Honey wailed.  “Emily has a ring.”  She grabbed a tissue from the box on the table and blew her nose.  “It’s a teeny little thing, not nice like Aunt Nell’s.  Anyway, Jim and Brian walked them into the house and I ran down here.”  She watched in dismay as Trixie’s face crumpled.

 

“So,” Trixie said sadly, shoulders rounding as if the weight of the world was on them.  “I guess that’s that,” she whispered, running her hand over the bracelet etched with ‘JIM’. 

 

Honey watched as Trixie’s shaking fingers opened the catch on the bracelet, removed it from her arm and placed it in her pocket.  Secretly, she was shocked at how calm Trixie was.  If it had been her, she would have tossed that bracelet right into the fire.  Of course, I’d have to light a fire first to throw the bracelet into it.  Just my luck I’d have to have help lighting the fire and that would defeat the purpose.

 

Trixie took a deep breath and straightened as tall as her petite frame allowed.  She reached out and pulled her best friend into a hug.  “We’ll get through it, Hon.  We’re strong,” she said fiercely, tightening her hold.  “Now, go upstairs, wash your face, and use any makeup you can find.”  She snorted loudly at the thought.  “And then report to the kitchen for KP.” 

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Honey said with a watery giggle.  “I’ll be there in a few minutes,” she added, turning and hurrying from the room.

 

Trixie stared blindly toward the door as tears pooled in her eyes.  Blinking them closed, two large tears ran slowly down her face.  “Definitely not my dream,” she murmured, plucking a tissue to blow her nose as she walked briskly to the downstairs bathroom to put a cold washrag on her face.

 

 

Helen Belden stirred a pot of chili as Trixie and Honey assembled the ingredients for a large pan of cornbread to go with it.  Her worried eyes watched the girls move quietly through their task.  “How was school today?” she asked, just to hear them say something.  “You two haven’t said a dozen words since you came into the kitchen.  Is everything OK?”

 

Trixie flashed a nervous glance at Honey before looking at her mother.  “It was fine, Moms.  I forgot to tell you that school is cancelled for tomorrow.  They have to repair the boiler.  The announcement said they’d send out a broadcast system call at six o’clock.  So now I can help you with food prep all day.”

 

“I can help, too,” Honey offered, moving to the sink to wash the mixing bowl and spoon.  “I don’t have any plans and Miss Trask said it was fine.”

 

“Thank you, girls,” Helen said, accepting their offer.  “If we start earlier, then we’ll finish earlier.  That means you girls can go out with the boys.”  She watched the girls exchange a panicked look.

 

“Um, we’ll see,” Trixie said, turning to place the cornbread in the oven and setting the timer.  “They may have other plans.”

 

Helen continued to stir, watching the girls as they avoided looking at her.

 

“Knock!  Knock!  Can I come in?” Di called from the backdoor.  Stepping inside, she took off her coat and hung it on a peg.  “I know I said I’d be over later but Mummy said you called and asked me to dinner and also the cookie party.”  She stopped talking when no one responded. 

 

“Hello, dear, come on in,” Helen greeted Mart’s girlfriend.  “How are you today?”

 

“I’m doing fine,” Di said.  “The chili smells great.”

 

“Peter had to pick Bobby up at basketball practice so it will be a few minutes yet,” Helen explained, setting the spoon down.  “I’m glad you could join us.” 

 

“I love your chili and cornbread,” Di responded. 

 

A car engine grew louder and then cut off in the driveway.  “They’re home,” Helen announced, bustling to stir the chili again.  “Trixie, you and Honey set the table, please.  For ten.”

 

Trixie looked up, surprised.  “Huh?  Why so many?  Are the twins coming, too?”

 

Just then, Bobby and Peter entered the kitchen from the porch. 

 

“Hi, Moms.  Hi, girls,” the youngest Belden called, moving through the kitchen.

 

“Wash up, Bobby.  Dinner’s just about ready,” his mother ordered.

 

“OK,” he yelled, thumping up the stairs.

 

“Helen, look who followed me home.  Can we keep him?” Peter asked, laughing.

 

Helen, Trixie, Honey and Di all turned toward the door to greet the new arrivals.  Peter stepped into the kitchen, brushed a kiss on his wife’s lips and then followed Bobby upstairs as Brian entered the kitchen followed by Jim and two very pretty young women.

 

The soft gasps Helen heard from her daughter and her friends caught her attention.  She noticed the shock and upset on the trio’s faces as they looked at the college students.

 

“Hey, Moms,” Brian said, wrapping his arms around her and hugging her tight.  “I missed you,” he whispered in her ear, then kissed her on the cheek.  “Hi, Sis.”  He walked over and gave his sister a quick hug. 

 

“Hey, Brian,” she returned softly.

 

He eyed her quizzically when she didn’t hug him back.  “Hi, Honey.  Di,” he said wrapping an arm around each of them. 

 

“Hi, Brian,” Di responded, with a gentle hug in return as she watched Honey’s reaction.

 

“Welcome home, Brian,” Honey said politely, waiting a moment before stepping out from his arm.

 

Jim observed the response Brian had received from the girls with trepidation.  “Hi, Moms,” he said, smiling at Helen.  “It’s good to be home.  Hi, Trixie.”  He grinned at her. 

 

Trixie’s sad and wary eyes flicked to Jim’s face and then to the girl next to him before dropping back to the bowls she’d placed on the counter.  “Hello.”

 

His stomach dropped at her reply.  “Hi, Honey.  Di.”

 

“Hi, Jim,” they chorused softly.

 

He cast a confused look at Brian before seeing the same wary look on Helen’s face.  “Um, Moms, this is Emily Simpson,” he said, urging the young woman forward with a hand on her back.  “And this is her sister, Chloe.  They went to high school with us and now they’re attending our college.  We brought them home to spend the holiday.”

 

Helen watched Emily as she nervously stepped forward.  A flash of light on the girl’s left ring finger brought Helen’s head up and a taut look crossed her face as she watched Trixie fiddle with the bowls.  Oh no, you did not break my baby’s heart, she seethed, even as she softened her face when she looked back at Emily.  Not her fault but, Jim Frayne, just you wait.

 

“Hello, Emily,” Helen said pleasantly.  “Chloe.  Please hang up your coats on the porch.” 

 

“Thank you for having us to dinner, Mrs. Belden,” Chloe said shyly, a lyrical southern accent evident, as Jim took her coat and Emily’s.  “We didn’t want to impose.  Our parents went on a cruise because we didn’t think we were coming home.  They won’t be home until Saturday.  Because of the circumstances, Jim invited us to stay at the Manor House,” she explained, glancing around the room at everyone watching her.

 

Brian raised concerned eyes to meet Jim’s.   What’s going on? he mouthed to his friend.  Why are they so quiet and acting so strangely?  Even Moms, he wondered to himself. 

 

Jim’s worried stomach took another lurch as he did a slight shrug in reply.  I don’t know.  I don’t like it, he mouthed back.

 

The oven timer buzzed and startled everyone in the kitchen.

 

“Brian, show your guests where they can wash up,” Moms instructed, waiting a moment as they left the room.  “Trixie, you and Honey finish setting the table please.  Di, would you get the cornbread out of the oven,” Helen directed, giving the chili a final stir before turning off the burner.  “Jim, I need you to get the glasses down for me and fill them with ice.  It’s time to eat.”

 

 

The dinner was a very quiet affair and not the normal boisterous Bob-White occasion.  Di maneuvered the seating so that Trixie was between Helen and herself and Honey sat on Helen’s other side with Bobby to her right.  Chloe gravitated to Brian and Jim pulled a chair for Emily and sat next to her.  Helen ladled bowls of chili, as Trixie quietly passed the basket of cornbread.

 

Brian and Jim tried to initiate conversation with the girls or keep ones started by Peter or Bobby going.  The only female BWG who responded with more than one word was Diana.  Helen watched the frustration and confusion with the situation grow on Brian and Jim’s faces.  Chloe tried to help the conversation along, but Emily spoke in soft tones to Jim only.

 

Helen watched her daughter and Honey as the meal progressed.  The hurt, pain and anger flashed from their eyes as Brian and Jim gave up and just spoke with the visiting sisters.

 

By the time the meal was over, Helen had made a decision and developed a plan.  I really don’t think everything is as it seems.  It’s time for a Moms’ trick play.  A sly smile appeared on her face as she pushed back from the table.

 

“Once we have these dinner dishes done, Trixie, Honey and Di have agreed to help me make cookies and breads for our annual open house,” Helen explained, a smile appearing as she turned to the newcomers.  “Emily and Chloe, as our guests, you’re welcome to help with the cookies, if you wish.  If you don’t want to, that’s fine, too.” 

 

“We’d like to help if we can, Mrs. Belden,” Chloe offered, while Emily nodded.

 

“Thank you, girls.  Until the dishes are done, why don’t you join Bobby and Mr. Belden in the den,” she suggested.  “Bobby has several games for the Wii that you’ll probably enjoy.”  As they nodded, she turned back to her girls.  “Honey, I need you to run to the market and get some more of the almond flavoring I like for the almond meltaway cookies.  I don’t want you driving to town in the dark, Brian can drive you.”  Honey’s head snapped up and Helen could see horror and pain in her eyes.

 

“I can drive her, Moms,” Di offered, watching Honey’s face drain of color. 

 

“No, Di, I need you to help me crush the walnuts and pecans for the candy and cookies we’ll be making,” Helen informed her, telling her to back-off with a cool smile and a quirk of her brow.

 

Honey remained focused on her empty bowl.  “Sure,” she said with false cheerfulness, twisting her fingers.  “Is there anything else you need, Moms?”

 

“I’ll check as we clear the table,” Moms advised, shifting her gaze to her only daughter.  “Trixie, you and Jim can wash the dishes.”  She paused, watching Trixie flick a sad look at Jim’s grinning face and the flash of pain when Emily leaned over to whisper something to him. 

 

“Thanks for the offer but we’ve got a dishwashing routine down.  And we haven’t had a chance to talk,” Jim was heard to reply.

 

“Is everyone finished?” Helen asked.  When everyone indicated their assent, she said, “Everyone’s dismissed.  Peter, I need your help in the pantry to check the top shelf.”

 

“Sure, Helen,” Peter replied, picking up his dishes and glass and heading toward the kitchen.

 

“Come on, Emily and Chloe.  Let’s go into the den,” Bobby commanded, leading the way down the hall with the two girls trailing behind.

 

In the pantry…

 

Peter stood leaning against the shelving with a concerned and confused look on his face.

 

“Honey, check to see how much butter I have in the freezer.  Also, check the cabinet for the spices and other ingredients needed for the recipes there on the table.  I’ll check the pantry and then we’ll make that list,” Helen requested, entering the walk-in pantry room and closing the door behind her.

 

She pressed her forehead on the back of the door for a moment, sighing loudly.  Her husband’s large, warm hands rubbed and caressed her shoulders and neck in a soothing pattern.

 

“Sweetheart, you’re totally tensed up,” Peter whispered against her ear.  “As much as I’d like to think you asked me in here for a make-out session, I think the situation with the kids is more on your mind.  What the devil is going on?” he asked, turning her into his chest and pressing a kiss to her brow.

 

“I’ll take a rain check on the make-out session though,” Helen murmured, snuggling into his chest.  “I’m not sure, but I suspect that Trixie thinks Emily is Jim’s girlfriend at college and, to make it worse, he’s engaged to her.”  Under her hands, she felt her husband stiffen and every muscle tense.  She rubbed her hands in small circles across his back.  “Did you see the ring on Emily’s finger?  Well, let me assure you, Trixie noticed it.  Honey just thinks that Brian brought home a girlfriend.  Both girls are hurt and mad.”

 

“Well, I know if you’re mad, I’m mad,” Peter growled quietly into Helen’s ear.  “What’s the plan?  I know you have one.”

 

“I’m putting Honey and Brian in the confines of a car and then Trixie and Jim in the kitchen.  Hopefully, they’ll work it out.  There isn’t much else we can do,” she whispered sadly.  “I need you to help Bobby keep Emily and Chloe occupied.”

 

“No problem, I’m on it,” he affirmed, running his knuckles along her jaw, lifting her face to place a sweet kiss on her lips.  “Anything else, babe?” he asked waggling his eyebrows.

 

Helen giggled, placed a kiss along his jaw.  “Always, but right now I just need to know how much shortening, flour and sugar are on the top shelf.”

 

“Spoilsport,” he growled, brushing his lips across her, slapping her gently on the fanny and turning to check the shelf.

 

 

Helen and Peter opened the door to the pantry and stepped into awkward silence.

 

“Kids!” Peter whispered into her ear, placing a quick kiss under her ear.  “Let’s do all we can, babe.”  Then in a normal voice, he said, “Brian, run upstairs and get my wallet so I can give you some money for the store.  Moms has discovered she needs some flour and a few other staples.  Honey, would you check to see how much milk there is, please.  Mart will be home tomorrow and he’ll drink a half-gallon with his dinner.”

 

Winking at his bride of nearly twenty-two years, Peter followed Brian from the room.

 

“Moms, you have a gallon and a half of milk, two dozen eggs, six boxes with four sticks each of butter and a gallon of orange juice,” Honey reported, placing a writing pad and pen on the table by Helen.

 

“Thank you, dear,” Helen said, drawing the tablet to her.  “You need to get me the almond flavoring, butter flavoring, flour, sugar, brown sugar and powdered sugar.  I probably have enough but I’d hate to run short,” she said, noting everything on the list.  “Oh, baking powder.”

 

As Helen compiled the list, Trixie, Jim and Di silently delivered the dirty dishes, glasses and pans to the kitchen.  When the table was cleared and wiped down, Trixie and Di began transferring the whole nuts, chopper and containers to the table for Helen and Di to use.

 

A flushed and smirking Brian returned to the kitchen followed by Peter.  “Ready to go, Honey?” he asked, crossing to get her coat from the pegs by the porch.

 

“Yes,” she answered quietly.  “If there’s anything else you can think of, call my cell, Moms.”

 

“Thanks, dear,” Helen said.  Placing her hands on Honey’s shoulders, Helen hugged her to her chest.  “Talk to him.  Tell him how you feel.  Promise me.”  When she felt Honey’s slight nod, Helen set her back from her.  “You kids be careful.”

 

Brian helped Honey into her coat, threw on his heavy jacket, grabbed her hand and led her out into the night.

 

 

Smiling proudly, Peter winked at Helen.  “Hey, Jim, would you help me grab some wood for the fireplace in the den?  I’m getting a little low in the bin.”

 

Jim, who had been standing near Trixie watching her every move, started.  “Sure, Mr. B.  I’d be happy to help.”

 

As the two men left the kitchen, Trixie’s sad blue eyes followed Jim.

 

Sighing, Helen motioned for Di to leave the kitchen. 

 

Nodding her understanding, Di announced, “I’ll be in the dining room, Moms.”

 

“Thanks, dear.”  Helen smiled as the girl she felt would someday be her daughter-in-law slipped from the kitchen.

 

As the swinging door shut, Trixie glanced over at her mother.  “Let me have it, Moms.  You only have a few minutes until Daddy and Jim come back,” Trixie observed, giving her mother a sad look.

 

Helen’s heart clutched seeing Trixie’s despondency.  She gathered her child to her, stroking her mass of golden curls as she placed a kiss to Trixie’s forehead.  “It really just sucks when you love someone and they don’t reciprocate or you don’t know if they do,” Helen noted, rubbing Trixie’s back.  Easing her daughter away, she held Trixie’s face in her hands.  “Sweetheart, you need to know for sure,” she counselled, staring into troubled blue eyes that looked like her own.  “You need to talk to Jim.  Ask him what you need to know.  He’s the only one who can either truly break or mend you heart.”

 

Trixie expelled a shuddering sigh and pressed her face into her mother’s shoulder like she had as a child.  “I know, Moms.  I’m just so scared to find out.”

 

“Sweetheart, you need to remember that regardless of what happens, you are a beautiful, intelligent and strong young woman.  If Jim Frayne isn’t smart enough to see the wonder that is you, then he doesn’t deserve you.” 

 

The sound of the backdoor opening and closing was heard moments before Jim and Peter walked through the kitchen, each carrying a large armful of wood.

 

“Snow flurries have started,” Peter advised, following a red-faced Jim through the kitchen, winking at his wife.  “Trixie, Jim will be back in a minute to help.”

 

“I hope Brian and Honey are OK,” Helen said quietly.

 

“You’re hoping your plan works out like you want it to, too,” Trixie retorted, turning back to the sink full of dishes.  “Sneaky parents,” she added, with a giggle as her mother laughed on her way to the dining room.

 

 

“I can’t believe Moms had to send us to the store,” Brian commented as he pulled his father’s SUV out onto Glen Road.  “She’s usually got everything and then some.”

 

“I bet if you’d look in the pantry, she had plenty of everything on this list,” Honey replied, shaking the piece of paper as she watched his hands flex on the steering wheel. 

 

“Hmmm.  I bet you’re right,” he agreed, driving several blocks flexing his hands.  Finally, he said, “Did you know Emily and Chloe very well at school?  They transferred up from Georgia late in our senior year.  Jim and I didn’t know them very well until they came to college but they’re really nice girls.”

 

Honey sucked in a deep breath.  “They seem very nice.  I hope you and Chloe are very happy,” she said softly, turning to look at the side window.  “I want you to be happy.  I just thought it maybe could have been with me.  But since it wasn’t and she is, then you will be.  I see Jim is engaged to Emily but Trixie is so crushed and he didn’t say anything to her either when he should have told her about her and at least been upfront about it.”  She hiccupped in another breath.  “Like I said, I want you to be happy.”

 

Brian pulled into the parking lot for the supermarket and parked out near the street.   He turned to Honey and took her hand.  “Honey, look at me.”  When she finally complied he scanned her wounded face with solemn brown eyes.  “I think there’s been a big misunderstanding.  A huge misunderstanding.  I’m not dating Chloe.  Never have been, never will be.”

 

“Then why is she here with you?  Why did you bring her home?  And why didn’t you tell us?  And what’s up with Emily all but sitting in Jim’s lap at dinner whispering in his ear the whole time…and the ring?”

 

Brian toyed with her fingers as he watched the emotions play across her face.  A lone tear trailing down her beautiful face made him feel like a fist was crushing his heart.  “Jim and I brought Emily and Chloe to be nice,” he began.  “I’m not dating Chloe.  Dan is dating Chloe.  I guess they had some dates in high school.  They just kept it very quiet.  And, well, I’m not divulging anything, Emily has a significant stutter and she hates to speak.  Chloe is really protective of her and since the girls were done the same day as us, we volunteered to bring them here.  Jim offered the Manor House because they didn’t want to be alone at home with their folks gone.” 

 

He reached out a hand and gently brushed away the tears falling from her eyes.  “I do have someone I’m interested in, very interested in.  I have been since she came flying down the path from the Manor House the summer the Bob-Whites were formed.”  He returned the beaming smile she gave him.  “She’s beautiful, smart and everything I’ve ever dreamed of but I don’t know if she returns – oof!”  

 

The wind was knocked out of him when Honey threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around him and smacking kisses across his face.  “Of course, I feel the same way,” she said between kisses.  “I think I’ve felt this way since that first day, too.” 

 

Brian cradled her jaw in one hand, tilting her face up to his as the other arm pulled her close.  “Honey Wheeler, be my girl.  Please,” he pleaded, his warm breath heating her lips.

 

“Brian Belden, I thought you’d never ask,” Honey whispered in reply as his lips gently settled onto hers in their first kiss.  It’s about time, too.

 

Back in the Belden kitchen…

 

As she waited for Jim to return, Trixie washed the dinner dishes and glasses while she gathered her scattered thoughts.

 

The kitchen’s swing door opened and she could hear her mother and Di chopping and discussing quantities for recipes as Jim’s heavy boots walked across the wooden floor.

 

“You got ahead of me,” Jim commented, pulling a dish towel from a drawer and picking up a bowl.  As he dried it, he continued, “I’ve wanted to get you alone to tell you about Emily and Chloe.”  He thought he could actually feel her body tense up and hear each muscle and nerve ending crackle as she paused in scrubbing the cornbread pan.

 

“And what do you want to tell me?” she asked, scrubbing roughly on the aluminum pan.

 

“It all happened so fast yesterday,” he began, watching her reaction closely.  “Emily and Chloe wanted to go home and didn’t have a way to get here.  So Brian and I did what we could to help them out.  But once I volunteered to bring them with us and stay at the Manor House…it just didn’t feel right.”  He paused when he saw her shoulders relax and he closed his eyes.

 

When Jim didn’t continue, Trixie quit scrubbing and looked over her shoulder at him.  His face looked so sad and despondent; she set the scrubber aside, dried her hands and turned to face him.  She leaned against the sink and crossed her arms over her chest.  “Why didn’t it feel right, Jim?”

 

His lids opened revealing brooding green eyes.  “I kept telling Brian that I didn’t know why I didn’t feel good about this until I got here and saw you were hurt; there was pain and anger in your eyes.  It came to me that it looked like I was cheating when I was truly only doing an honorable thing for a friend.”  He tossed the drying towel onto the counter and placed his hands on her shoulders.  “I saw how the whole situation looked through your eyes.  Us walking in together, me introducing Emily and Brian with Chloe.”

 

“I didn’t even know you guys hung out with Emily and Chloe,” Trixie interrupted, dropping her arms down to her sides.  “I hardly remember them from school.”  She shrugged.  “I think having all of you gone to college has isolated us girls.  Well, at least Honey and me.  Di would talk to Mart but even she didn’t know that you all were dating.”

 

“What?” Jim asked, not understanding.  He ran his hands down her arms to catch her hands and hold them.  “We’re not dating.  Chloe and Dan are dating.”  He gave her hands a gentle squeeze.

 

“But what about you and Emily?  You’re engaged.  Miss Trask said so.”  Trixie’s looked into his eyes, desperate for clarity.

 

“Baby, I’m not engaged.  I’m not dating Emily.”  He squeezed her hands in-between his.  “Emily is engaged, but not to me.”

 

“But what about dinner?  You two were very cozy.  She kept whispering in your ear.  You guys looked like lovebirds.”  Trixie sniffed.  She hated crying, but it was all too much.

 

Jim folded her into his arms, giving her a gentle hug, rubbing her back.  Leaning back so he could look into her tear-filled eyes, he softly told her, “Emily was whispering to me because she has a stutter and she’s very embarrassed by it.  By whispering to me, no one else at dinner would know.”  He kissed her on the forehead.

 

Trixie pushed out of his arms and stood holding him at arm’s length.  “But what about the ring?  Miss Trask said you were engaged.”

 

Quirking an eyebrow at her, Jim said, “Miss Trask said I was engaged?”  He had a sneaking suspicion what had happened, but he didn’t want to jump to conclusions.

 

“Well, umm, yesterday, you called home and talked to Miss Trask.  She said…lemme get it right.”  Trixie stopped to think, closing her eyes and recalling the overheard conversation.  “She said that we’d all be surprised by your engagement and that it seemed sudden.”  She jutted her chin into the air as if to challenge him.

 

“Trixie, baby, umm…not me.  The engagement is sudden, but it’s still not me.  Emily is engaged to Eric Nottad, Brian’s lab partner. 

 

“Really?  You promise?”

 

“Really.  I promise.”  He pulled her back into his arms and hugged her tightly.  “So, got enough exercise the past few days?” Jim teased.

 

“Huh?  Exercise?”

 

His eyes twinkled, and he hugged her tighter, anticipating her response.  “You jumped to a lot of conclusions the past couple days.”  Trixie twisted in his arms, trying to get loose.  He just hugged her tighter.  In a few seconds, she began to shake in his arms.  “Oh, baby, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry.”  Reaching into his back pocket for his handkerchief, he realized it wasn’t tears; it was laugher that caused Trixie’s shoulders to shake.

 

“I’ve been so silly.  I did jump to conclusions,” she admitted and rubbed the last of the tears away on his sweatshirt.  “I’m sorry.”  She took his hand and walked to the kitchen table.  They sat down next to each other, their hands still locked together.

 

“I’m sorry, too.  I’ve been so wrapped up in school.  I should have called you right away to let you know about the girls.”  He tugged on his favorite curl.  “Do you forgive me?”

 

”Only if you forgive me,” she responded.  Dropping her eyes for a moment, Trixie lifted eyes dark with anxiety.  “So are you dating anyone?” she asked in a strong voice.

 

“Well, not officially,” Jim answered, holding fast to her hands when she tried to pull them away.  “Let me finish, Trixie,” he requested, lifting her face to his.  “I have someone special,” he said gruffly.  “I’ve been lucky to have her in my life for several years.  She’s beautiful, smart, spunky, and fun and everything I’ll ever want or need.”

 

A happy smile appeared on Trixie’s face and her blue eyes twinkled.  “What’s her name?” she whispered, eyes locked on his softening green ones.

 

Cupping her face, he shortened the gap between them.  “She’s got an old fashioned name but her nickname reflects the sparkle in her eyes, her firecracker personality and the tricks and flips my heart does when I see her.”  He leaned closer and Trixie leaned in until their lips nearly touched.  “She’s my Trixie,” he murmured, kissing her long and sweetly. 

 

The need for air broke that kiss, but he immediately crushed his lips to hers again and again.

 

“Trixie, Moms needs - ” Di’s started, pushing open the swinging door and stepping into the kitchen.  “Oops!  Sorry!” she exclaimed, backing out of the room.

 

Jim broke the kiss and chuckled as he hugged Trixie to him.  “Baby, I think the cat’s out of the bag.”

 

Ya think?” she scoffed with a giggle.

 

When she started to step away, he held fast to her.  “One more thing,” he insisted.  “Well, three.”

 

“What’s that?” she asked, snuggling her head into his broad chest. 

 

“Will you go out to dinner with me Friday night?” he asked anxiously.

 

Smiling prettily, she nodded happily.  “Yes.  Next?”

 

“Where’s your bracelet?” he questioned in a quiet voice.

 

“In my pocket,” she revealed somberly, pulling it out to show him. 

 

He took the bracelet and clasped it around her slim wrist as she watched.  Jim then lifted her arm and pressed a kiss on the inside of her wrist.  “Please don’t take it off, baby,” he insisted.  “It’s where it belongs.”

 

“When I found out Emily had an engagement ring was when I took it off.  My heart ached at the thought you were with someone else.”

 

Jim heated gaze captured Trixie’s eyes.  “Never.  I’ll never be with someone else,” he swore, pressing kisses to her lips.  His eyes turned an even darker green when he said, “I…I love you, Trixie.”

 

“Oh,” she sighed.  “I love you, too, Jim,” she cried, kissing him thoroughly.

 

It was another five minutes before they checked to see what Moms needed.

 

 

After getting Moms a bag of almonds from the pantry and delivering it to the dining room, Trixie and Jim finished the dishes; catching up with each other, laughing and sneaking kisses.

 

Together, they prepped the kitchen for cookie baking.  Moms, Di, Emily and Chloe joined them in the kitchen, rolling out dough, cutting out shapes and filling the trays with goodness.

 

Jim’s assurance of his love and their feelings for one another allowed Trixie to relax.  His gentle touch, hand hold or brushing a hand over her back expressed his desire to be close to her and boosted her confidence in him. 

 

She made an effort to talk with Emily and Chloe and get to know them and discovered she liked them.  Now that she was more comfortable with them and realized that she was with friends, Emily started to open up.

 

Helen was telling their guests about Trixie the dancing daffodil when Honey and Brian entered the kitchen, laughing as they carried several grocery bags.  Brian carried the extra flour and sugar to the pantry to unpack.

 

“You got back just in time,” Helen announced.  “We’re just getting ready to make the almond meltaways, so I need that bottle of flavoring.”

 

It’s right here,” Honey claimed, setting a bag on the counter, rooting around in it and producing a medium-sized bottle and then handing it to Moms. 

 

“Here you go, Moms,” Brian said, coming from the pantry carrying a large bottle of the flavoring.  “It was right next to the two bags of flour and three bags of sugar.”  He smirked as he placed it on the counter in front of his blushing mother.

 

Peter leaned back in his chair and took a sip of coffee.  “Sweetheart, I do believe you’ve been busted.”

 

Helen wrapped her arm around her husband's shoulder and pressed a quick kiss on his lips. "Peter, you better than anyone should know that not only am I good at cooking food, but It seems I'm good pretty good at creating romance, too," she retorted with a saucy wink. 

 

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Authors’ Notes:

 

Hokey Smoke!  It’s our third Jixaversary!  How in the world did that happen?    One day we were a couple of friends talking about favorite story plots and the next it’s four years and many stories later.  Most awesome of all?  We’re still the very bestest of friends and love each other like sisters.  Plus, we’re still writing.  Amazing!

 

Much, much love to JoyceyDonnaCarrieLynn.  Our lives are so much better and richer because you’re all in them.  You inspire us.

 

We need to thank our editors Joycey and KellyKath.  These two women are wonderful people who give up their precious free time to help make our stories better.  All of our past editors have contributed a great deal to our stories, too.  We need to give a special shout out to BonnieH for opening her web home to us when we began writing four years ago, giving us a place to stay for a while and helping us in countless ways.  We feel so lucky to have had everyone’s help.   

 

Last but never least, we need to thank the people who read our stories and comment on them so kindly.  We can never express how good your posts make us feel. {{HUGS}}

 

General Notes:

 

·         Passion Berry Pearl Honda Fit is fuel-efficient, versatile car that is larger than it appears.  Passion Berry Pearl is a new deep metallic purple for 2015.  We think Di would  this car.

 

·         Que sera, sera is a Spanish phrase for “what will be, will be”.  The phrase turned into a song written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans in 1956 and sung by the lovely songstress, Doris Day.

 

·         Wii is a video game console manufactured by Nintendo intended to appeal to everyone. 

 

·         Background from GRSites.com

 

·         Header photo and extracted divider from Shutterstock.com