This story is a precursor to All In One Night

rated *

Regular Disclaimer: I thank Random House, Julie Campbell, and all of the various Kathryn Kenny’s for the creation and fruition of the characters that I am so shamelessly using for my own, and hopefully others’, enjoyment. Alas, I am not receiving any monetary benefit from this story, but contentment at seeing these wonderful characters continue to grow and breathe as they were intended. Random House stopped making their stories of Trixie and the Bobwhites, so it is left to their crazy and lovable fans to allow them to live on here. My thanks to this fan fiction site and all the wonderful people at the TBMB!

 

IS THIS HEAVEN? No, it’s Iowa!

By: Sydni (emuntalee)

Chapter 1
I think I can, I think I can

Honey looked over at Trixie who was placing clothes into her suitcase and grumbling to herself.

"Trixie," she tried with no response. "Trixie…Yoo-hoo! Earth to Schoolgirl Shamus."

Trixie looked up with a start at that and swung around to look at Honey, who was also packing a travel bag. "What’s up, Honey?" she asked, distracted.

"What’s up?" Honey asked in exasperation. "Girl, I have been watching you packing the same pile of clothes into one bag for about ten minutes, all the while muttering to yourself! I’m just wondering, Why?"

Trixie just looked at Honey blankly and replied, "It’s nothing, Honey, don’t worry about it."

Honey persisted. "Don’t worry about you acting really strange?"

Trixie turned back to her suitcase and picked up a T-shirt that she had packed at least three times already. "No. I’m fine, Honey." Trixie sighed out heavily.

Honey didn’t buy it. "Trixie…."

Throwing her shirt into the suitcase and suddenly slumping down on her college dorm bed, Trixie groaned loudly. "Oh, Honey, I don’t think I can go on this trip!"

Honey sat down on her own bed with a light smirk that she quickly hid. She had suspected that this is what was going on. "Why not, Trixie? We’ve been looking forward to it for months now."

Trixie couldn’t look her in the eye and instead cast her eyes to the floor. "You know why," she said quietly.

Honey thought this was funny but she didn’t like seeing her friend hurting. "I think I know why, but why don’t you tell me?"

"I was such a moron!" cried Trixie passionately.

"Trixie, you are not a moron…"

"I was just so frustrated with him!" Trixie continued as if Honey hadn’t even said anything. "After all these years of being his ‘special girl’ I was sure Jim was going to actually make a move over Christmas break. But did he? Oh, no! Not the honorable, lovable Mr. Frayne!"

"Lovable?" Honey queried, amused.

"So, I came back to school and got involved with Michael," Trixie plowed on. "He was always hitting on me in Abnormal Psychology and then when we were in Developmental Psych together, I figured, why not? But, I didn’t care about him and we had nothing in common except for one of our majors. I didn’t want everyone to know how stupid I had been so I stayed with him for two months; two months! What a wasted two months those were!" Trixie stopped to take a breath and dwell in more self-loathing.

Honey finally saw her chance to speak. "Trixie, it’s not like we all don’t understand why you did it. Heck, if Brian hadn’t made a move on me last year when he did, I was about to move on, too."

Trixie looked over to Honey suddenly, very surprised. "You were?"

Honey smiled sweetly at her buddy, Trixie. "Yeah. I mean, a girl can only wait so long for her chosen prince to make a move. I knew you needed to make your own decisions back then, but I was worried about you."

Trixie’s eyes turned stormy. "Well, I wasn’t the only one to move on!"

Honey breathed in sharply. "No, you weren’t the only one to move on, but Jim’s relationship didn’t even last a month!"

"He still had one!"

"Trixie, I think he did it because he was hurt that you had moved on without him." Honey’s smile was sad now. "It’s not my place to tell you these things, but Jim found out that imitations just don’t compare to the real thing."

Trixie was confused. "What do you mean, imitations?"

"Trixie, you never saw Sherri, but I did. Does shorter, blue eyes and curly blonde locks sound familiar?"

"He didn’t?!" Trixie was both intrigued and amused now.

"He sure did. But this girl wasn’t anything like you on the inside and that is why Jim couldn’t stay with her."

Trixie actually laughed. "Wow, I had no idea. I mean, at least Michael looked more like Dan than Jim; I was just tired of waiting."

"We all were…for you, Trixie," Honey said as she came over to sit beside Trixie on the bed and put her arm around her best friend. "But now you both are single again. This will be the first time you see each other since Christmas and the first time that all the Bob-Whites are together again. It’s your Uncle Andrew that has invited us to Iowa again. It’s been six years since we were in Iowa…and it’s not like I can go to Iowa without you to visit your uncle!"

They both laughed at this and Trixie gave Honey a quick side-hug. "Thanks for the pep talk, Honey! I still feel like a clod for what I did, but it will probably take quite a while to get over that. It has been a long time since all the Bob-Whites were on a trip together and it’s Spring Break! I need to stop my moping around and just get on with it!"

Honey quickly looked at her watch. "You can say that again!" She jumped up from her spot on Trixie’s bed and moved quickly back to her packing. "Trix, we’ve only got 30 minutes before the taxi picks us up to take us to the airport."

Trixie also looked at her watch to confirm the late time. "Yipes, we’d better kick it in gear!" She jumped up and started to really pack her bags.

 

Five hours later…

Trixie wiped her cold, sweaty hands on her pants again, nervously. "Tell me again why we are arriving to Iowa later than everyone else?"

Honey smiled at her friend’s nervous behavior as their plane was finishing it’s taxi into the Waterloo Municipal Airport. "Because you had a late test today and I couldn’t get out of work. The others have only been here since last night, Trixie.

"Oh, I know, I know…" Trixie muttered as the airplane braked one last, harsh time and the stewardess came on the loud speaker, thanking everyone for their flight and bidding them a nice trip or welcome home.

Trixie slowly unbuckled her seat belt and tried to see people inside the small airport from her window seat to no avail. Heaving out one long heavy sigh, she joined the other passengers and got up to gather her purse and carry on. With a weak smile to Honey who was keeping a spot open in the slow trek of passengers in the aisle for her, Trixie got in line and led the way out of the airplane and down the plane steps. With a questioning look to Honey, she shrugged and followed the passengers that seemed to know where they were going to a door outside the building.

Trixie stopped just inside the door and blinked multiple times, momentarily blinded by the change of indoor light from the sunny outdoors, Honey stopped beside her with the same problem than gasped happily, dropped her bags and went running away. Trixie looked up to see the whole Bob-White gang in front of her, about 30 feet away, and Honey noisily placing kisses all over Brian’s face. Trixie waved at her friends and her brothers as they started to come close to her. She eyed the whole group quickly until she saw Jim. He had a shy smile on his face and he was hanging back from the others coming toward her.

Perhaps he’s as nervous as I am, thought Trixie before Dan suddenly wrapped her in a bear hug. She quickly turned to hugging her brothers and Di and then she came to Jim. They just stopped and looked at each other for a second.

"Hi, Jim," Trixie said quietly, not sure how to greet him.

"Hi yourself, Trixie," he replied just as quietly.

They just stood there for a moment and then they were suddenly hugging each other. Trixie’s small frame was wrapped inside the large, solid frame of one of her best friends, who also happened to be the man she loved. They held each other momentarily, probably longer than what would be considered appropriate, then pulled slowly apart. They smiled shyly at each other.

"It’s about time you got here, coz!" Trixie turned away at this and spotted the owner of the voice coming her way.

"Hallie! I was wondering where you were!" Trixie cried as she met her cousin halfway and gave her a big hug.

Hallie laughed and pulled back from her. "No mysteries here, Trix. I just ran to the little ladies'  room and your plane beat me back here! Uncle Andrew just called me on my cell and told me that he is done at the fairgrounds and that he will meet us at the hotel after you two arrive."

Brian came up to them, carrying Honey’s carry-on bag in one hand while his other hand was tightly wrapped around his girlfriend’s. "Well, we better get a move on, then. Your bags will be coming out right over there." He pointed.

They gang moved over to the baggage carousel and waited for the thing to start moving.

"This is so nice," said Di, happily, her body inside the curve of her boyfriend, Mart’s, arm.

"What is, Di?" asked Jim.

"It’s so nice to have everyone back together again!"

Jim looked over to the other side of the group to Trixie and smiled. "Yeah, it sure is!" he said quietly and the rest of the group heartily agreed.

 

Chapter 2
Of Grand Knights and Fair Maidens

"This should be fun!"

"What wonderful weather we’re having, better watch that we don’t get sunburns."

"Just look at all the costumes!"

"Wow, look at that little girl dressed up as a pirate!"

"Oh my goodness, is that a bride on a horse?!"

All of the Bob-Whites were expressing their thoughts and awe at the spectacle at Riverside Park as they neared the ribbon-strung arches to the Waterloo Renaissance Faire. They came to a booth where a heavy-set young woman with auburn hair, dressed as a gypsy, sat.

"Hello and welcome to the Waterloo Renaissance Faire," she bellowed kindly with a smile. "How many do we have there?"

Brian, standing at the front of the group, looked around and did a silent recount before turning back to the lady. "We have eight adults. How much is that?"

The lady’s eyes narrowed slightly and then her smile widened. "Do my ears deceive me or do I have a group of grand nights and fair maidens from New York before me?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

Trixie was amazed at the recognition and stepped up by the booth. "Why, you’re right! We are from New York! Are our accents that bad that you could tell right off?"

The woman laughed. "Ah…no, no! I worked in New York last year as a nanny and just recognized it, is all."

"Really? Where did you live?" asked Dan.

"Highland Mills/Woodbury."

"You’re kidding!" exclaimed Honey, "We’re from Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson!"

"Is that anywhere near Croton-on-the-Hudson?"

"Yeah, right by it," replied Mart.

"Wow, that’s only about 30 minutes from where I lived," the lady said. "Well, great to meet you all, but I do have to ask you something."

"What’s that?" asked Di.

"What brings you all from New York to Iowa? Usually it is us traveling to other places…and not the other way around!" She laughed.

"Oh, my Uncle Andrew is in the Sheep Exhibition at the National Cattle Congress later in the week," explained Trixie. "He flew us out here to show us a little bit more of what Iowa has to offer for our Spring Break. We visited him in Iowa six years ago but only saw small town Iowa life. He told us that he got tired of hearing us make comments about "farm state Iowa" and that he was determined that we should see more of it!"

"Ah," the lady laughed with the Bob-Whites, "I totally understand that! I have worked in many other states as well as a few countries and besides telling people that there is a state called Iowa in the U.S., I am always having to defend that Iowa has a lot more than hogs and corn to it’s name!"

She smiled, but got down to business. "Well, I’m so glad that you all could make it our way for a few days. I hope you enjoy the Ren Faire. My name is Coral and my brother is actually the director of the Waterloo Faire. You will recognize him by the dark beard, flowing cape, and the big "S" branded on his chest!" She laughed at her own joke.

"Pardon me?" asked Brian, confused.

Coral laughed harder at that. "Sorry, personal joke. My brother tends to take on too much at one time and then he runs around like Superman trying to solve and save everything at the same time. He loves the importance and excitement of it all and somehow always manages to pull it off…with a little help from others!"

"Like you?" asked Trixie, perceptively.

Coral grinned and leaned in closer to the Bob-Whites as if to share a secret. "I’m actually a visitor to the Faire today, but when I came to pay and they learned I was Dash’s sister, the maidens at the front explained that they needed to take their lunch breaks. Turns out there was no one else to do it, so I volunteered to hand out the tickets for my big brother! I’ll be relieved of this task in about 40 minutes."

"That was really nice of you," stated always-sweet Honey.

"Oh, it’s nothing! I’m his sister, and siblings do things for each other; no big deal." Coral tried to change the subject as she saw more people approaching to enter the Faire. "So, that will be twenty-seven dollars for all nine of you. What different things were you wanting to see?"

Brian paid Coral as Di answered. "We don’t really know. We’ve never been to a Renaissance Faire before."

"Not even the New York Renaissance Faire?" asked Coral, surprised. "That is one thing that I did go to when I was in New York and I must say you all did a fabulous job! This will be a much smaller experience than that, but you all should have fun. There are gypsy dancers, storytellers for the young and the old, joust contests, human chess games; you name it! Oh, and don’t forget the duels that can occur anytime between the different knights."

"Excuse me, but did I see a bride on a horse?" asked Honey.

"Oh, yes, you certainly did!" exclaimed Coral. "And you’re just in time, too! In about an hour, there is going to be a real wedding performed in the middle of the fair, with all of the royal family and Musketeers in attendance. Two long-time members of the Ren Faire asked if they could get married during the faire this year and my brother thought it would be great! So, it’s about to happen!"

Both Di and Honey gasped in delight that they were about to witness a real wedding and snuggled closer to their Belden men. "Oh, how wonderful!" exclaimed Di.

Coral eyed the people now assembled behind the Bob-Whites and knew she needed to usher them along.

"Well, I don’t want you all to miss out! Just remember, I’m Coral and my brother, Dash, is an older, bearded knight, walking around at the speed of light with a clipboard in his hand. If you have any questions during the day, snag one of us, ok?" She grinned at the Bob-Whites as they moved on, laughing, and entered through the beautiful arches into a completely different universe of fair maidens, court jesters, royalty, fairies, grand knights, and wily gypsies.

* * * * *

"Wow, this is so cool!" stated Dan, looking around at everyone in costume, all the decorations, and the way that people were greeting and speaking to each other as if they really were citizens of a Renaissance time.

"There’s so much, I have no clue where to start," stated Honey, dubiously.

"Well, looks like there is a minstrel group about to start, as well as a children’s interactive story teller, a human chess game, and gypsies dancing," stated Mart, referring to the program in his hand. "And it states here that the food and artisan vendors will be all afternoon until the closing ceremony."

"There certainly is a lot to do," stated Jim. "What’s the game plan, everybody?"

"I’d really like to check out what the artisans are selling and possibly buy some souvenirs for the twins," said Di.

"I’d like to check out the interactive story teller," added Honey.

"That human chess game sounds pretty neat," replied Mart.

Dan had another idea. "I’ve never seen a gypsy dance before."

"Those minstrels could be pretty neat," said Hallie.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" interjected Trixie. "We have to settle on something gang."

"Trixie’s right," supported Jim, "We don’t necessarily all have to go to the same thing as a group, but we probably shouldn’t go off by ourselves either. This is a big park and there must be at least two thousand people here."

"Say, Mart, do any of those events repeat during the day?" asked Dan.

Mart skimmed the program quickly. "Yeah, most of them do repeat throughout the day at least once, but the chess game, the wedding, and the knighting ceremony happen only once."

"The wedding!" exclaimed Honey. "I almost forgot about it upon seeing everything in here, but we have to see the wedding ceremony!"

Everyone murmured an agreement with Honey.

"When does the wedding start, Mart?" asked Trixie.

"In just an hour at 2:00."

Trixie thought for a moment, then rushed on. "OK, gang, why don’t we do this? None of us should go off alone so I suggest that we at least buddy up. The chess game will not repeat again, so whoever wants to participate should go now. Otherwise, why don’t we pair up and do some of the things, then meet back in the middle where the King and Queen are sitting?"

"Sounds like a good idea, Trixie," stated Brian. "Honey, I’ll go to the children’s storyteller if you want."

Honey gave him a brilliant smile and squeezed his hand. "Thank you, Brian."

"Yeah, I’ll go with Mart to the chess game," said Dan. "It should be fun!"

"Di, I’ll go with you and see what the artisans are selling," added Hallie. "Looks like there could be some really neat stuff and I’d like to take something back for both Cap and Knut from here."

"What are you going to do, Trixie?" asked Honey as she noticed both her best friend and her brother had yet stated their plans.

Trixie looked around at the whole spectacle. "Oh, I don’t know…I thought I’d just walk around and take in everything, see what all is really going on here."

"Sounds like a good plan, Trixie," stated Jim as he moved nearer to her side. "I’ll come with you, if you don’t mind?"

Trixie appreciated him offering to accompany her, but she was nervous to be alone with him, too. Smiling shyly up into Jim’s eyes, she said, "Thanks, Jim, I’d like that."

Mart looked at his watch again and cast a quick glance across the park to where people were already assembling for the chess match. He was anxious to get moving. "We’ve got our plans but when do we meet back?"

"Well, the wedding starts at 2:00, so why don’t we meet back at a quarter to 2:00 so that we can get a good spot to watch the ceremony?" asked Brian.

The whole group agreed and after bidding a quick "see you later", the different pairs moved off quickly to their various plans. That is except for Trixie and Jim who just stood there for a moment, nervous and looking at each other.

Jim cleared his throat quickly. "Where do you want to go first, Trixie?"

Trixie broke eye contact with Jim as if shaking herself from a trance and looked around again. "Looks like the gypsy dancers are about to start, why don’t we go check them out?"

"Sounds fine to me," agreed Jim and they started off. Before they could reach the site of the dancers, a woman dressed as a peasant, carrying a large wicker basket of long-stem tulips, approached them.

"Buy a flower for your lady, sir?" asked the young woman in a cockeyed accent.

Jim looked over at Trixie quickly and not denying that she wasn’t technically his lady, he agreed. "How much?"

"One dollar per flower, sir."

Jim took a dollar out of his money clip and handed it to the peasant. "A yellow one, please."

"Thank ye kindly, sir," she said and sauntered off to other visitors to the Faire behind the pair from New York.

Jim bowed slightly to Trixie and with a crooked smile, handed her the long and bright tulip. "For ‘my lady’," he said quietly, his eyes very serious.

Trixie flushed slightly and nervously took the tulip out of Jim’s hand. Her hand tingled where their fingers had met and she thrilled at the look in his eye. "Thank you, Jim, that was very nice of you," she said quietly and a big smile.

"I chose yellow as it reminded me of how bright everything seems around you," continued Jim while lightly caressing the side of her face with his hand.

Trixie was becoming too nervous and excited standing so close to him, and having his wonderful touch upon her skin. "I think you flatter me, sir," she said in her own attempt at an accent reminiscent of the event and stepped back slightly from Jim.

"We’d better get a move on if we are to see anything before we have to meet everyone again," Trixie stated and started to walk towards the gypsy dancers again, now already performing.

Jim jogged a little to catch up with her and then walked by her side. "Sure thing, Trix, I’ll follow your lead." They both knew that he meant more by those words than simply following where she wanted to investigate in the festival. Trixie’s heart beat harder at his words and took a spot at the back of the audience for the gypsy dancers without meeting his eye.

They stayed there for about ten minutes before Trixie motioned to Jim that she wanted to move on. They both slunk away quietly without distracting the other spectators. They walked past some young knights duking it out with their swords in a ring, and they laughed at seeing both Dan and Mart playing in the chess game, holding up tall signs on posts stating "rook" and "bishop". Trixie made a funny comment about how "of course Mart would take on the bishop role".

Jim spotted some food vendors and mentioned that he was rather thirsty. They decided to stop and get some strawberry smoothies. The smoothies were a very popular commodity at the faire, it seemed, and they got in line behind some fifteen or twenty people. After a moment of them both standing there, lost in their own thoughts, Jim got up his nerve to speak to Trixie again.

"How have you been, Trixie?" he asked. "It’s been a long time since we’ve really talked."

Trixie quickly looked up into his eyes and then nervously looked away again. "I’ve been busy," she said. "You guys warned me that doing a double major would be a lot of work, but I didn’t think it would be true. But I’m swamped! And you know with my awful retention skills that I need to study a lot to remember even the simplest things!" She laughed lightly at herself, as was her nature.

"But you’re doing al right?" Jim pursued quietly. He tipped her chin up with his hand to look force her to look directly at him. He searched her eyes quizzically for the truth.

"I’ve been…al right, Jim," she answered softly and slowly. "School’s tough at times and I’m so busy often enough that I don’t have time to think! But, I have to admit…"

"What?" Jim’s heart increased it’s beat.

"It’s been lonely, too," her eyes belayed her sadness. "It’s so weird to not see all of the Bob-Whites everyday! I know that this is my second year in college, but I got used to us all being together again over winter break. I guess, I just missed seeing some of the members of the group more when the months started to fly by without seeing them."

Trixie knew she was babbling, but she was trying her darndest to not just shout her feelings for Jim for all to hear. Also, she wanted to explain to Jim why she had dated Michael so badly while at the same time wishing that they could all forget that she had even dated him in the first place. Jim understood what Trixie’s true meaning was as he was used to her babbling and his heart conveyed that she was stating that she missed seeing him more.

Trixie’s wish wasn’t granted as Jim plowed on. "You must have a lot of friends at school, Trixie." He looked her deep in the eye so that she couldn’t avoid what was coming next. "Brian also mentioned to me that you were dating a guy for a while there." Jim was proud of the fact that his tone did not belay his skin crawling at the thought of Trixie being with another man.

Trixie peeled her eyes away from him again and advanced farther up into the line, forcing Jim to follow her. "Uh, yeah, I did date someone there for a while." She tried to be off-hand about it so that Jim would get the hint and change the subject.

"It wasn’t serious?" Jim had to know.

Trixie looked over at him by her side and said slowly, "No, it wasn’t serious. I guess a girl’s got to start dating sometime and it was that time for me!" She tried to be flippant but didn’t quite pull it off.

"I understand that…"Jim stated with some dread.

Trixie wasn’t about to let him off the hook. "Seems you started dating yourself."

"Um…yes, I did date someone for a few weeks." Jim was the one to avoid her eye contact now.

"How’d that happen?" Trixie asked, sassily, demanding in her own way that he be honest with her.

Jim advanced in the line and pretended great interest in the drinks and prices signs that they had been looking at for at least five minutes. "Oh, it just happened. She had been pursuing me for a while and I finally decided to say ‘yes’ one day."

"So, why didn’t it last?"

He looked at her sideways. "It just didn’t," he said shortly.

"Well, what went wrong?" Trixie knew she had no right in asking these questions but couldn’t stop herself. Jim couldn’t handle it.

"It was a complete mistake and I never should have gotten involved with her, is that what you wanted to hear, Trixie?!" Jim’s temper was flaring.

Trixie took a slight step back from him to get away from the brunt of his fury, but then she smiled up into his eyes. "Yes, actually. It was exactly what I wanted to hear."

Jim’s eyebrows shot up at her sassy and witty response and didn’t know if he should kiss her or spank her. Finally, humor won out and he laughed gently. Shaking his head wonderingly he said, "You’re too much, Trixie!"

Trixie grinned at him and asked, flirtatiously, "Too much for you?"

"What can I get for you two?" asked the masculine vendor inside his little trailer.

Saved by the bell, Jim thought. He gave the man their orders and paid for them. Trixie smiled to herself as she knew that Jim was happy to be interrupted at that moment in the conversation. Jim handed her the strawberry smoothie she had ordered and sipped at his strawberry-banana concoction. They both murmured their happiness at the taste and coolness of their drinks under the hot spring sun and moved away from the line to enjoy their drinks.

Before Trixie could ask her question again, Jim looked at his watch and said, "Oh, look at the time! We are supposed to meet the others in three minutes and it’s completely across the park. We better get moving!"

Trixie’s grin widened as she agreed with him and started to move toward the royal party’s location. This isn’t over, Jim Frayne, she said to herself.

They met the others, already waiting, at the big group forming for the Royal Renaissance wedding. Honey eyed the tulip in Trixie’s hand with a cocked eyebrow and a questioning look at Trixie. Trixie just smiled secretly and shrugged her shoulders lightly. They all were hypnotized by what followed. The bride entered the circle of spectators on a large light brown stallion, her antique train placed delicately over the horse’s back and draping down. Both Honey and Di murmured at the sight and cuddled with their Belden boyfriends.

The bride dismounted gracefully and joined her grand knight before the king and the queen. The king in his royal purple robes opened a book and started the ceremony with authority and dated speech. The ceremony was beautiful. A maiden came forth and sang a delectable melody, entreating the couple to live and love with all their hearts. The couples snuggled tighter and Hallie and Dan smiled at each other quickly.

Trixie and Jim were both caught up in their own individual thoughts and feelings. The king then had the couple recite their vows and the bride and groom each took their turns devoting their lives to the other. When the two leaned in and shared a short but passionate kiss, the crowd cheered madly. Jim squeezed Trixie’s hand.. She wasn’t quite sure who had taken the other’s hand, but she squeezed him back quickly and lightly kept her hand enclosed within his, a soft smile upon her lips.

The group spent many hours at the festival and did and saw all that there was at the festival. They had a grand time and had taken many pictures, but they agreed that witnessing the real Renaissance wedding was the topper of the event. They all grouped together at the entrance again and were watched the royal parade go. Shortly thereafter, the king and queen stood up before their royal subjects and declared the day a successful event and announced the conclusion of the Faire.

All the Bob-Whites were talking quickly to each other about their favorite moments of the faire when a new voice joined their group.

"So, what did you all think?" asked Coral, walking up to them, her voluminous gypsy skirts swishing and swaying with every step.. "Did you all have a good time?"

The response was unanimous and positive. Finally Trixie spoke over the group. "As you can see, we all had a great time. We can’t wait to check out the New York Renaissance Faire this summer!"

Coral laughed at that. "Just remember what I told you, that is a Big event and it would take you two or three days to see everything that there is to see. But I’m glad that you got your first taste of Ren Faires here in Iowa." She smiled greatly at the group.

"Hey, we saw your brother!" exclaimed Dan with a slight laugh. "Over and over again we would see him flying around the park, cape whipping out behind him and that clipboard in his hand."

Mart joined in, "Yeah, it was just like you said it would be." He laughed and the whole group chuckled at the event and the spectacle Dash had made zooming around and playing superman for the Faire.

Coral really liked this fun bunch from New York, close to her age. "Say, what are you all doing during your stay here?" she asked.

"We really aren’t sure, yet," replied Hallie. "Uncle Andrew’s exhibit isn’t until Wednesday. We thought we might travel to Dubuque and Galena, Illinois for an overnight trip and come back Tuesday night. After the exhibition, the trip is pretty much up in the air. We need to see what Uncle Andrew wants to do once we are all free."

"Well, that sounds cool," stated Coral. "I just thought you might like to meet my brother. He’s too busy right now paying the performers and helping the vendors get packed up, etc. I was just wondering if you all might want to come out with us Wednesday night?"

All the Bob-Whites murmured their interest in meeting her dashing brother.

"What would we do on Wednesday night?" asked Jim.

"Well, my brother and I both go out to Mainly Lou’s on Main Street in Cedar Falls. It’s both a family-style Italian restaurant and a bar, depends which side of it you are on."

"Where is Cedar Falls?" asked Di.

Mart, the know-it-all, replied helpfully, "Remember how Waterloo directly connects with another small city? Well, that city is Cedar Falls. It’s only about ten minutes away from here, Uncle Andrew said."

"Great, we would need to check with Uncle Andrew and see what he wanted to do after the exhibition," said Trixie. "So we would join you for dinner?"

Coral laughed at that. "You sure can if you want to, but what we really do there is sing karaoke. It starts about ten P.M. depending on when people really start to show up. We could certainly go out to dinner beforehand on the family side of it and then later go to the bar side."

The Bob-Whites looked at each other, unsure of going out to a bar, as drinking socially wasn’t really their thing.

Coral noticed their reactions and rushed on, "Don’t be afraid that we are going to be drunk and all that. My brother usually drinks coffee and I usually drink ice water or pineapple juice on ice." She smiled affectionately at the idea of singing karaoke. "We mainly go for the fun and the chance to sing."

The group looked around at each other again.

"I’ve never sang or done karaoke before," stated Honey, "but it has always looked like a fun thing to do."

"It is a lot of fun," replied Coral. "We sing, and dance, and talk and laugh. I really hope you guys can join us."

The group muttered different responses, all positive to the idea. Finally Trixie spoke up over them again. "Why don’t I get your phone number, Coral, and we can give you a call when we get back to Waterloo?" she asked.

Coral smiled at that and quickly wrote her phone number down on a piece of paper. "I’ll give you this number only on one condition," teased Coral.

"What’s that?" asked Jim.

"Well, I’m not about to give my number out to a bunch of people that I don’t even know their names, am I?" Her eyes sparkled with laughter.

"Oh my goodness, she’s right," exclaimed Honey, "we’ve never introduced ourselves; how rude of us!"

Trixie stepped forward and shook Coral’s hand. "Please forgive us, we didn’t mean to be rude," she said. "We were just so caught up in everything that we never even thought to introduce ourselves." She smiled her most winning smile at Coral and her smile was returned.

"My name is Trixie, that is my slightly older brother Mart and my big brother, Brian. This is Honey and her adopted brother, Jim. The two dark beauties over there are Di Lynch and my cousin, Hallie. And last but certainly not least, is Dan Mangan. We are very pleased to meet you." All of the Bob-Whites echoed her last words. Coral agreed how nice it was to meet the group from New York as she handed the paper with her number on it to Trixie. Trixie thanked her and placed the number in her wallet.

"Say, where are you all staying?" asked Coral, putting her pen away in her purse.

"We’re at the Starlight Hotel on Washington Avenue," replied Brian.

"Really?" asked Coral, "that’s a funny coincidence as I only live about five blocks from there on West Fourth Street." She noticed her brother off talking with some vendors and a policemen, looking stern and worried.

"Looks like my brother might need some help," she indicated with her head nod to where Dash was dealing with the situation. "You guys give me a call, OK? I hope you all can come on Wednesday!" With that she bid them a goodbye and rushed off.

The group bid her a fond goodbye and then turned back to each other.

"So what should we do now?" asked Brian. "Uncle Andrew said he wouldn’t be free until 8PM tonight."

"I’m hungry, why don’t we find some place to eat," suggested Mart.

"You’re hungry, Mart?" asked Trixie, incredulously. "Didn’t you finish that huge turkey leg about an hour ago?"

"That was an hour ago," stated Mart simply.

"I could eat," added Jim, to which the others agreed.

"Okay, why don’t we go back to the hotel and get a list of different places to eat?" asked Trixie.

The group agreed and, with one last glance at the festivity, they bid the Waterloo Renaissance farewell with happy smiles.

Chapter 3
If You Bring it, They Will Play

Early the next morning, the group got up, had a nice breakfast in the Starlight Restaurant, and then headed for the large SUV that they had rented for the week. Mart insisted that he be the one to drive as he had been studying the maps and tourist books of Iowa for weeks before the trip. What the others didn’t know is that Mart had also stuck a secret sack of materials in the back of the SUV, hidden under the overnight luggage.

Mart drove with his beauty by his side; Hallie, Jim and Trixie road in the middle section, and Brian, Honey, and Dan filled up the back row. Brian quipped that they were lucky they didn’t have anyone else along for the trip as no one else would have fit in the vehicle with them. As it was, they were snug but comfortable as they traveled across the lush landscape of northeastern Iowa. They traveled in content silence as they listened to the popular hits coming from 102.9 out of Cedar Rapids, enjoying the scenery of rolling green hills, trees galore in full splendor, and large farmhouses with sheep, cattle, hogs, and horses in their fields.

"I had no idea that there was so much water in this state," exclaimed Di, "but everywhere we go, there are rivers, lakes and streams."

"I’m hoping that Uncle Andrew will allow us to fish sometime during the week while we’re here," started Mart. " Although Iowa isn’t Minnesota with their 26.000 lakes, Iowa does have a lot of water. Besides the fact that Iowa is bordered on the right by the Mississippi and by the Missouri on the left, Iowa has more than 19,000 fishable interior streams, 35 natural lakes, and more than 200 man-made lakes. All in all, Iowa has more than 100,000 surface acres of prime fishing waters!"

Many of the group were excited at the prospect of fishing in such a promising location before their trip was over.

"It really is a pretty state," admitted Honey, gazing out the window. "Besides the lack of real mountains, Iowa reminds me a lot of Sleepyside, all the greenery and parks."

"I know what you mean, Honey," added Brian, "But Iowa definitely has more farms that we see back home."

"Well, what do you expect?" quipped Mart. "Iowa has more than 100, 000 farms. Despite what Uncle Andrew says about Iowa being more of a manufacturing state than an agricultural one, Iowa harvests more grain than any other state in the U.S.. It produces one-fourth of our countries pork and four percent of the grain-fed beef that we eat in this country comes from Iowa!"

The group was used to the Walking-Man-of –Information, but actually appreciated Mart educating them on the place where they were visiting. They were all just happy that he had foregone the usage of extremely big and long word. He used to do that all the time when they were in high school to the amusement and annoyance of the group. When Mart. reached college, he realized that he didn’t need to prove his intelligence to anyone and also, he had already gotten the woman of his dreams so he didn’t need to impress anyone.

"It’s amazing, but a single farm family in Iowa grows enough food and fiber to feed almost 300 people!" finished Mart.

"Iowa has led the country for the last two decades in education," shyly added Di who was currently a student of Teaching Art History at NYU. "For the last two decades, Iowa youth have led the nation in college entrance exam scores. I almost went to UNI in Cedar Falls for my education degree as it is one of the three world-class state universities that the state has, as well as being one of the best teaching universities in the country."

"Yes," Mart agreed, "Iowa is an astute leader in education. It’s a small state, but it actually has 62 public and private colleges, as well as 28 community colleges. I might transfer to Iowa State University for my masters as there are many federal programs in agriculture there. In actuality, the federal government has spent more than $252 million dollars in research within the state of Iowa and Ames, Iowa is the center of this with vast studies being performed for the Department of Agriculture, Energy and Defense, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the DOT. Also, Ames Laboratory is home to the Department of the Interior’s Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Research Facility based out of ISU, the National Animal Disease Center, as well as the National Soil Tilth Laboratory."

"That’s awesome, Mart, but did you just memorize the whole Iowa Visitor’s Guidebook, or what?" quipped Dan and the whole group laughed, including Mart.

"Oh, well…just parts of it," stated Mart, a little red-faced.

"Hey," Trixie burst out in a sassy challenge, "I bet I know something about Iowa that You don’t know!"

"What’s that, Trixie?" inquired Jim by her side.

"The world’s first electronic computer was finished in 1942 by Iowa State University’s John Atanasoff and research assistant, Clifford Berry. The Atasasoff-Berry Computer was called up for the war effort. Another one at the University of Pennsylvania, funded by the military, was finished in 1945. For decades, the ENIAC goliath in Philadelphia got the credit for being first, creating generations of hard feelings that officials of the two universities say they're finally trying to soothe. They are currently making a replica of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer at ISU as the original was cannibalized!" Trixie stated all this information triumphantly and was delighted to see the open-mouthed surprised reaction by her brother, Mart.

"How do you know that, Trixie?" asked Mart, quietly.

"Hey, I learn things in college, too, you know!" Trixie’s temper was starting to flare at people always thinking that she was street-smart but not book-smart.

Honey was quick to come to her defense. "We know that, Trixie," she assured firmly.

The tension now in the car made everyone a little uneasy and the interior of the SUV filled with aplomb silence. Mart concentrated on his driving and the others looked outside at the passing Iowa greenery, dwelling silently within their own thoughts.

After a few minutes, Trixie noticed something strange about Mart’s driving.

"Hey, Mart," she called out from her middle seat, "Why are you coming off the road already? I thought Dubuque was about an hour away and an hour definitely hasn’t passed!"

Mart grinned back at her and said, "It’s a surprise."

The group was very curious but knew that Mart wouldn’t fudge on his surprise before he was good and ready. Finally, when they began to drive in very rural surroundings and on gravel roads, Trixie couldn’t contain her questions.

"Come on, Mart, what are we doing out here in the middle of nowhere?" asked Trixie.

Mart’s grin became a big smile as he quipped, "I’ll tell you in one phrase: If you build it, they will come."

Trixie was very confused. "Huh?" she asked ineloquently.

"If you build it, they will come," stated Mart, hiding a gleeful laugh.

"Wait a minute, I remember that!" called out Dan from the back seat. "That lines from the movie Field of Dreams. That’s the most famous line in the movie, besides the line ‘Is this Heaven?and Costner answering, ‘No, it’s Iowa.’"

"That was an awesome movie," said Jim with passion.

"Yeah, and Costner was pretty dreamy in that movie, too," stated Honey with a flutter of her lashes.

"Hey!" chided Brian.

"Don’t worry, baby," consoled Honey, "He could never be as dreamy as you!" And she kissed him quickly on the lips, which Brian quite enjoyed.

Trixie was finally getting it. "So, what you’re saying is that we are going to see where the movie was shot?"

Mart’s smile gleamed in the rear-view mirror. "Yes and no, Trixie. We are going exactly where the film was shot, but the really cool thing is that the baseball field is still there and kept up in prime condition. People can visit the spot and play ball there."

"Now, that’s cool!" Dan was excited, but then realized a problem. "But, how are we going to play ball, we don’t have any equipment."

Mart’s eyebrows wiggled in the mirror and he replied, gleefully, "Elementary, my dear Mangan. What you all don’t know is that I have been planning this for months and in the back of our SUV is a large back of softball equipment supplied by one dear Uncle Andrew."

The whole gang was thrilled with the fun and unique opportunity of playing ball on the exact field where The Field of Dreams was shot. A few minutes later, they arrived at the large, white colonial style home with the gleaming baseball field in its back, just outside of Dyersville. They met the hostess and owner of the house and she assured them that they should play and look around as much as they would like and that souvenirs and refreshments could be purchased inside.

So, out came the bats, gloves and softballs. To the protesting of the boys, the ladies decided to challenge the men to a game of softball. For over an hour, the group played and frolicked, laughed and dashed, with an abandon that they never lived their lives with any more now that they were in the "real world" and in college. They had a fantastic time playing together and also acting like the old baseball players in the movie by suddenly appearing from the corn stalks surrounding the field.

They ended the game in a decided tie as they knew they needed to get back on the road in order to meet their one o’clock lodging reservations. After a short break for purchasing souvenirs, donating money for the continued up-keep of the field, and chatting with their hostess while enjoying yummy snacks, the Bob-Whites loaded the softball equipment into the SUV and themselves back inside for another short stint of travel to Dubuque.

Brian had insisted on being the driver for arriving to Dubuque as he had made special accommodations for the whole group to stay overnight in the Iowa city. Shortly after Dyersville, the Iowa landscape changed drastically and they were now viewing huge sweeping valleys of tall , green, rolling hills, as well as rocky bluffs. The SUV moved up, down, and around like a car on a roller coaster at 67 miles per hour.

"Man, my ears keep popping!" complained Trixie.

"I think all of ours are, Trixie," stated Jim with a smile and a quick squeeze of her hand. "We are moving up in elevation."

"Say, doesn’t this remind you of our part of New York?" inquired Dan and the others had to agree.

"The only thing that we are missing is the Hudson River and the seagulls flying around," replied Brian.

"Well, we are about to come upon the Mississippi River and if you look close, you will probably see hawks and bald eagles flying around. They are well known in Dubuque," added Mart.

They were now entering the city and traveling through it. It appeared just like any other city in the U.S., that is until Brian came to the end of his driving and entered the historic part of Dubuque. The group was struck breathless at the beautiful splendor of the Mississippi River sparkled before them, as well as the entrance to a huge bridge reminiscent of the George Washington Bridge in the City starting right before them.

"Wow, this is beautiful!" exclaimed Di.

"Brian, we’re not going to go across that bridge, are we?" asked Honey from her spot beside him.

"Not right now, Honey," he answered. "We need to get checked into our rooms. Also, on the other side of that bridge is actually Illinois." He laughed.

"Cool, so where are we going now, Bri?" asked Jim leaning forward to hear him better.

"We are almost there, just let me turn left here."

Brian turned and they followed along the Mississippi Riverwalk, gazing at the water, the large ships and gambling boats, and adored all of the old, large red brick buildings. Brian turned left again and started heading up a very steep road.

"Man, we are in Iowa, right?" joked Dan. "This place surely looks like San Francisco!"

The group all agreed with him quietly, but their curious thoughts were occupied as to where Brian was taking them. Suddenly, Brian turned left again and the ladies gasped at the beautiful Victorian homes located on Bluff Street. Brian continued to move their vehicle slowly down the street, checking out the signs in front of each house that he came to. Finally, he saw a large white sign that read Hancock House in big caligraphry letters. He remembered the directions given to him by the hostess of the Bed and Breakfast and took a small road up the hill and parked the SUV under the carport.

All the other Bob-Whites sat in silence for a second, digesting where they were. Finally, Honey said quietly, "Brian, are we staying here?"

Brian had the good graces to be a little red-faced in his answer as he turned away from the steering wheel and looked at his girlfriend.

"I hope you all aren’t upset, but Mart and I thought it would be a nice idea to do something romantic for our ladies. We realize not everyone is in a relationship currently, but this place has a lot of history and character to it and we thought everyone would enjoy the experience." Brian rambled on, afraid of everyone’s reaction.

After a short moment of thinking it over, Honey gave Brian a brilliant smile, leaned over and kissed him on the lips. Di threw her arms around the neck of her Belden man and gave Mart a quick, noisy kiss of happiness and affection.

"Oh, Honey, this is going to be perfectly perfect!" exclaimed Di as she followed Mart out of the SUV, and then joyfully hooked arms with Honey who was already outside the vehicle.

Trixie and Jim shared a nervous look before Trixie slowly slipped out of the car, followed by a dubious Jim. The two happy couples led the way up the porch and inside the large, blue and white historic house. Their four single friends walked slowly behind them with bewildered looks upon their faces.

At the sound of the bell on the door jangling with their entrance, an active fifty-something-year-old woman came into the room with a warm and welcoming smile.

"Hello and welcome to Hancock House Inn," her eyes twinkled as she greeted the group. "You all must be the group from New York. I sure hope you are enjoying your time in Ioway and I want to thank you for choosing to stay with us during your vacation. My name is Susan and my husband, Chuck, is just finishing adding the kindling to the fireplaces in your rooms as it will be getting cool tonight, as Iowa Spring nights go. Now, which one of you is Brian Belden?"

Brian stepped forward with a wide smile for the infectiously warm woman and shook her hand. "That would be me, ma’am. Very nice to meet you and yes, we have been enjoying ourselves here so far. Yesterday we went to the Waterloo Renaissance Faire and today we visited the Field of Dreams in Dyersville on the way over here. We all are very excited to explore Dubuque for the next two days."

"Oh, I’m so glad!" said Susan. "Now if you all need any help in directions, sites to see, or restaurants to go to, don’t be afraid to give us a holler, OK? The only phone in the building for our guests is over there in the parlor and beside it you will find a table full of pamphlets and menus of different places within Dubuque. Feel free to take any with you."

She got down to business as she grabbed her guest planner from a nearby antique lamp table and opened it to Monday’s date. "Al right, I see here that you made reservations for four rooms, three with whirlpools and one without. Now you all know that each of our rooms has a queen-sized feather bed and its own private bath with marble fixtures. As I see from the reservations, you will be enjoying rooms on each of the three floors of Hancock House. I do suggest that you all take a tour of each other’s rooms to have a better feel of what Hancock House is like and also to share the different views of Historic Dubuque and the Mississippi from each location. It’s truly a sight to be seen!"

Susan was going to continue with her opening schpeel, enjoying her rapt audience of the four couples from New York. Brian however had not been listening since she first started talking. He had been waiting for a moment to interrupt her politely. He saw his moment and he seized it.

"Excuse me, ma’am, but did you say that our reservations were for four rooms?" he asked in trepidation and with thundering heart.

Susan looked down at the sheet in front of her and smiled back up at Brian. "Why, yes, four rooms is what we have you down for. And four very nice rooms, if I might say so myself!"

Brian was worried now but hoped it would all work out. "Ma'am," he started, "we need five rooms not four."

Susan’s smile slackened. "Oh dear, oh dear! Well, I’m afraid that we only have the four rooms available to you. You see, there is a wedding today and the bride and groom’s families will all be taking up the rest of the inn tonight. They were booked a year in advance." Susan was rather worried about this and she prayed that there was something that could be worked out.

The Bob-Whites all looked at each other in concern. The two couples really wanted to have this special experience with their significant others as this would be the only time in the whole trip that the couples would have some alone time. On the other hand, they couldn’t possibly ask their friends to be in an uncomfortable situation. Jim, as one of the co-presidents of the group suggested that they all go out on the porch and discuss the situation. The other Bob-Whites agreed and they told Susan that they would return in a moment. Susan gave them a wan smile and told them that she would wait for their return. Somberly, the group filed outside onto the wrap around porch and faced each other.

"OK, gang, there must be some way we can work this out," Brian started. "We are all adults and there must be a way."

"Is there any way we could go somewhere else?" asked Dan. "I know that this seems like a really neat experience for everyone, but couldn’t we just find other accommodations?"

The rest of the group murmured their agreement with his idea, Honey and Di less enthusiastically than the others. Brian held up a hand to silence them and explained to them with a clear voice that he didn’t really believe that would be possible. "Guys, I understand how awkward this is, but I really don’t think we can switch places. What I mean is that I figure we can find another location, but I’d rather not as I put our reservations on my credit card and it isn’t refundable, not this late in time." He looked at the others’ faces grimly. "I know that money is a bad excuse, but the reservations cost me a lot of money that I saved up for and I can’t afford to just lose that money with all of my studies, etc."

The group all looked at each other, communicating with their eyes. Finally, Jim spoke up for the group. "We understand, Brian. We know that you don’t have money to throw away and we wouldn’t want you to."

Trixie spoke up as she squeezed her brother’s arm in solace and understanding. "Jim’s right, Bri, we’ll figure out something so that we can still stay here. It really is a neat place. You and Mart did a great job in picking it out for us all. We’ll work it out." The group fell silent for a moment.

"Trixie and I could just share a room," stated Hallie. The others agreed with Hallie that that was a possibility. But, Dan and Jim shared glances over the heads of the others and didn’t care for the idea.

"There’s just one problem there, gang," Dan broke their bubbles, "That would mean Jim and I would have to share a queen-sized bed together. And though I do like Jim I will not share a romantic room with a whirlpool and feather bed with him!"

Everyone kind of laughed at the mental picture of both large men sharing a queen-sized feather bed in a romantic room. Trixie’s mind was working, though she was very nervous in where her mind was taking her.

"That means that we would have to split up, boy-girl, boy-girl," she stated faltingly. Trixie couldn’t look at Jim after saying this.

The group was quiet for a moment, the couples not wanting to suggest anything that would make their friends uncomfortable. Finally, in some exasperation, Hallie spoke up, "Fine. We’re all adults here and we can handle it. It’s not like we haven’t all camped together before! I’ll share a room with Dan and Trixie, you can share with Jim. OK?"

The couples looked at their friends for agreement to this new plan. Dan was shocked but happily surprised that Hallie had chosen to share a room with him. Trixie and Jim were silent and avoided eye contact with the other.

"Would that work for everyone?" asked Brian. He had been watching his sister and his best friend. "Trixie, is this al right with you?"

Trixie and Jim finally looked up at each other and shared a moment of embarrassment and heart pounding. With an imperceptible nod, Trixie signaled to Jim that it would be al right with her. Jim responded with a quick nod himself and nervously looked away. "Yes, Brian, that will work," she replied softly.

"And I’m OK with the set-up, too!" added Dan quickly. "So why don’t we go tell Susan that we will take those rooms after all? Come on, gang, this trip is for fun…let’s not let the fun get away from us!"

Dan led the group back into the foyer of the Victorian home. At the back of the line were the two Belden brothers. They looked at each other for a moment and then both grinned. They didn’t set this up, but they couldn’t have planned this situation any better. They had both discussed how they hoped that this trip might bring both Trixie and Jim closer together, as well as make Hallie and Dan act on their secret feelings for one another. These new sleeping arrangements could have some interesting developments!

Susan was anxious to hear their decision. She felt bad that there had been a misunderstanding with the reservations and hoped that the group had worked out a plausible solution. When Brian came up to her with a grand smile, she knew everything was going to work out.

"Oh, so you’ve worked it out and you are going to stay?" she asked for affirmation sweetly and with a big smile.

"Yes, we have, ma’am, and I apologize if we have made you uncomfortable in any way. " Brian stated. "My only defense is to say that I made those reservations while studying for a very big exam and I must have told you the wrong number for the rooms. I am very sorry, but I believe we have a solution now. "

"Great, wonderful!" exclaimed Susan and clapped her hands together in glee. "No worries at all, young man, I am just so glad that you will be staying with us!" She leaned toward him as if to share a secret conversation. "Now, so that I don’t embarrass myself further, would you please indicate to me the real couples in the group?"

Brian grinned back at her and laughed lightly. "Certainly. This is my girlfriend, Honey. My brother, Mart, and his girlfriend, Di, will also be sharing a room." He indicated each person mentioned with his hand.

"Wonderful!" Susan was such a delightful hostess. She eyed Brian and Honey for a second. "From looking at you two, I will say that you and your girlfriend should stay in The Ballroom tonight." She turned to Mart and Di. "And don’t you two worry, we have a wonderful room that is actually the favorite among our newlyweds that will suit you two just fine. It is The Dollroom and it has an oversized whirlpool filling the entire space of the tower that is part of the room."

Di cuddled into Mart’s side and sighed. "Oh, that sounds absolutely beautiful, Susan! Thank you so much for selecting it for us."

Susan looked at the other four seriously, not knowing how they had worked out the pairings. "The other two rooms are The Library which is the only room located on the first floor but does sport a huge whirlpool and working fireplace and the Train Room which is located on the third floor."

Dan and Hallie looked at each other quickly and Dan smiled slightly. "The Train Room sounds neat. We’ll take that one."

Jim looked at Trixie from the corner of his eye. "Guess that means that The Library is ours, Shamus." Trixie turned to him slightly and gave him a small smile. Oh, boy, thought Trixie, we are going to share a room with a whirlpool and a fireplace! How am I going to get through this night? Jim’s thoughts were pretty close to Trixie’s as he was trying to think of how he would get through the night without touching Trixie, or letting her know of his true feelings for her.

Brian glanced at his watch quickly and moved the group along. "It’s already 1:30 guys and we have much that we wanted to do today. Why don’t we all get our bags, freshen up quickly and then meet back here in 15 minutes?" he asked and directed.

The group agreed with his plan and moved back out to the SUV. Once back inside, Susan first showed Trixie and Jim to their room that was just left of the parlor. The group gasped in delight at the interior of their room that was indeed a library. Taking up precedence in the room was the large, queen-sized brass bed in the middle. The whirlpool was to the left upon entering with the large, antique fireplace to the right. Beyond the bed, the back of the large room was lined with bookshelves laden with antique books and an antique writing desk stood in front of the shelves. It appeared that the private bath was through a small door on the far right side of the room.

The group left Trixie and Jim alone in their room while Susan showed the rest of the Bob-Whites to their individual rooms. Trixie and Jim moved to opposite sides of the bed and placed their bags upon the beds’ surface. They then looked up at each other across the expanse of the high, puffy feather bed. They just stood there for a moment, looking at each other somberly, nerves running high.

"You can freshen up, first, Trixie," Jim offered, always the gentleman.

Trixie smiled lightly at him and grabbed at the chance to escape the thick tension in the air. "Thanks, Jim, I’ll do that!" She opened her bag and took out her cosmetics bag. With one more small smile, she fairly ran to the small door along the wall and disappeared behind its decorative glass windows.

Jim just looked after her, frozen for a moment. Then he looked back at the bed. It was a small bed for his frame, let alone one to share with Trixie! He felt his body reacting to the idea of sharing the bed with Trixie and forced himself to move and alter his dangerously running thoughts. He opened his own bag and took out his shaving kit. Quickly looking around, he noticed that each bedside table was actually a small dresser. He decided to place his clothing in the dresser beside him as he waited for Trixie.

Just after he shut the dresser door with the last of his meager belongings for the trip, Trixie reappeared from the door fresh, happy, and lovely. Jim’s breath caught at the sight of her. Trixie had taken her own time away from Jim to coach herself in the mirror as to how not to make a fool of herself, that she could make it through this night.

She smiled slightly at Jim and said, "It’s all yours! The shower is directly to the right through the door and the bathroom is down a small hallway and on the left. It’s a little small, but quaint. And you have to pull down the rope to make the toilet flush from the above reservoir; it’s really neat!" she laughed at that.

Jim excused himself. Trixie investigated the room while he was gone. Her eyes avoided looking at the large bed and the oversized hot tub. Her heart beat furiously with the thoughts that came to mind when looking at them, so she tried her darndest to occupy herself and her thoughts in other ways. She, too, found the bedside dresser and placed her things in the drawer to the right of the bed. She was looking over the titles of the antique books along the far wall when Jim rejoined her. She smiled shyly at him and he returned a similar smile.

"Why don’t we go wait in the parlor for the rest of the group?" Jim suggested. Trixie thought it was a good idea and led the way out of the room. She found a comfortable spot on a love seat before the large dated fireplace and watched Jim deftly lock up their room in the far left corner of the parlor. He sat in a large antique armchair to the left of her and they sat in silence, the air once again thick with anxiety and unanswered questions. With a big sigh of relief for both of them, they heard Di and Mart noisily making their way down the stairs to the parlor.

"Oh, Trixie," Di excitedly sat down beside Trixie on the love seat, "you have got to see our room. It’s just so perfectly-perfect!" She smiled adoringly at her boyfriend of many years.

Mart took her hand. "Anything for you, my lady," he said and bowed down to kiss her hand.

Soon, the sounds of Hallie and Dan making their way down the stairs was heard in the parlor. The duo was talking quietly together as they joined their friends.

"How’s your room, Dan?" asked Jim, curious how the other un-involved pair had handled their time alone in such an intimate situation.

Dan smiled lightly, understanding the real question Jim was not asking. "It’s very neat, Jim," he replied, "we have a large bathroom and the room is decorated with the coolest period furniture."

"Yeah," added Hallie, excited. "Susan was telling us about the history of the room. Originally it didn’t even exist. When they were restoring the building, they noticed that the measurements didn’t quite add up. Upon further investigation, they found that a small room was hidden behind a fake wall! They decided that the room was originally used as either a school or a playroom for the Hancock’s children and that is why they call it The Train Room."

"When you are inside it, you can just picture little boys playing in there with their wooden train sets," added Dan with some awe.

Brian and Honey lastly joined the group. Honey’s face was flushed and her lipstick was smeared. Brian’s lipstick was a little garish for him and pink didn’t really suit him well.

Mart couldn’t let an opportune moment such as this pass him by. "Brian, I believe you would look much better in red lipstick, not pink," he quipped, barely concealing his laughter.

"What?" Brian looked at him for a moment, confused, then quickly looked at his appearance in the large antique mirror above the fireplace. He groaned loudly and viscously wiped at his lips with the back of his hand. The rest of the group, including Honey, all laughed outright at his actions. Then Susan entered the room from the guest dining room with a burly, athletic fifty-something man by her side. The Bob-Whites smiled as she introduced her husband.

"Everyone, this is my husband, Chuck," she started. Everyone said hello to the older man and he replied pleasantly in kind.

"It’s very nice to meet all of you!" he stated in a warm, low voice. "Susan explained to me the mix up on your rooms and I am very glad that we were able to work out something that satisfied everyone! Have you all decided where you are going to eat dinner tonight?" he asked.

Brian spoke for the group. "No, sir, we haven’t even decided where we are going to go for lunch yet. Why?"

"Well, I feel bad about the mix-up and thought perhaps I could call in a favor for you all. A good friend of ours own a restaurant just over the bridge called Timmermans. It is a nice, rather fancy restaurant that is a favorite among the locals here for special occasions. I called Bill and had him reserve his best table for your group tonight at 9 o’clock if you are wanting to dine there."

"That was very kind of you, sir" said Jim, stepping up and shaking Chuck’s hand. "It wasn’t really necessary as these things happen, but I’m sure we will really enjoy our time tonight at dinner. Thank you very much!"

The rest of the Bob-Whites echoed their thanks. Susan explained that tea was at 5 o’clock in the guest dining room, but there would always be fixings for snacks and hot drinks throughout the day and night and that they should feel free to take as much as they like. Also, she explained that the gourmet breakfast would be served precisely at 8 o’clock the following morning and that all tenants in the Inn were welcome to join and eat around the long, oak table. The Bob-Whites thanked her for the information and promised Chuck that they would get directions from him that evening for Timmermans across the River.

With that, they bid the couple adieu and headed back out to the SUV. Once there, they sat in silence for a moment before Dan asked, "Um, gang, where exactly are we heading?"

"Well, I’m starving!" stated Mart. "It’s already 2:00 and we haven’t eaten since 8 this morning."

"So that Mart doesn’t die of hunger, we better go get something to eat," teased Trixie, though she admitted that she was rather hungry, too.

"Susan mentioned that there is a charming boutique district not far from here on Bluff Street," Brian called from his spot in the back. "She said they have quaint little coffee and sandwich shops that we could grab something quick at."

"Well, that sounds like a good idea!" Jim said from his driver’s seat. "Point me in the right direction, Jeeves!"

Brian directed him down the long steep street and then west toward Bluff Street. They quickly found a spot in front of one of many small antique shops and all piled out from the confines of the vehicle again. They spotted a small café just down the road and went there to enjoy a nice, delectable meal of soup, sandwiches and Italian sodas of many flavors. As they wanted to get on with their sight-seeing as fast as possible, they agreed to all order the specialty of the day and greatly enjoyed their meals. After some deliberation, they decided to go see the Fourth Street Elevator first, as it should give them a good view of Dubuque and the River.

At a quarter to three, the Bob-Whites parked their car in the parking lot, at the bottom of a big cable car.

"I thought this was really going to be an elevator, but it’s not an elevator at all," commented Di as she got out of the vehicle with the others. They stood together and looked up the steep hill at the trolley cars moving up and down the hill in slow motion. Mart grabbed a pamphlet on the site while Brian paid the meager fee of 25 cents per person for the whole group to enjoy a ride.

"Listen to this, gang," Mart read aloud from the pamphlet, "This ‘elevator’ was created in 1882 by the owner of a house on top of that hill. It would take him about an hour each way to navigate the hill during his lunch break from work and it required too much of his time. So he built this trolley system so that he could quickly get back and forth to work downtown everyday!"

"Man, what a cool but crazy thing to do!" exclaimed Dan. "He must have been wealthy to be able to afford to do something like that."

The group handed their tickets to the attendant and either stood or sat to enjoy the experience. As their trolley scooted up the hill, another trolley came down to balance the large pulley system. Slowly but surely, the Bob-Whites moved up the hill until they reached the top, some one hundred and eighty-nine feet up in the air. They all got out of the trolley and moved to the lookout shelter where they could see for miles and miles.

"Oh my goodness, you can see for forever up here!" exclaimed Honey in excitement, as she hugged Brian’s arm.

"Actually, Honey," Mart referred to the pamphlet again, "What we are seeing is not only wonderful Dubuque, but we can actually see three states from here: Iowa, Illinois across the river that way, and Wisconsin that way."

"Wow, that’s way cool!" Trixie exclaimed in excitement. "It reminds me of how you can see multiple states from the top of Bear Mountain back home."

"Yeah, but the Mississippi is quite a bit larger than the Hudson," teased Jim, again by her side. "From Bear Mountain, the Hudson looks like a snake winding across the land. But from here, the Mississippi still looks like a huge river!" The group laughed at his true observation.

Everyone stayed at the top for a few minutes, taking pictures, admiring the view, and enjoying the soft cool breezes against their faces and skin. Eventually, Brian indicated to the crew that they should get moving so that they could see some more of the sites on the ground. They all laughed at that and started back towards the trolley that would take them back down the hill.

Trixie followed the rest of the group onto the trolley car. As the last person in the group to reach the vehicle, Trixie was stepping onto the trolley behind Jim when the trolley car started moving. Trixie lost her balance and started to fall out of the trolley, suspended some 189 feet in the air. Trixie grabbed for the pole at the door of the trolley and hung perilously in mid air, wrenching her right shoulder in the process.

Jim had turned around as soon as he saw Trixie in trouble and lunged for her arm. Dan rushed to help him while all of the other Bob-Whites were screaming at the attendant in his little control booth to stop moving the car!…

 

Chapter 4
Who’s Been Sleeping In My bed?

The attendant was pushing the emergency stop when Jim and Dan successfully pulled Trixie back inside and lugged her over to a seat. The Bob-Whites rushed to her side.

"Oh, Trixie, are you okay?" demanded Honey. The Bob-Whites waited breathlessly for her answer. Trixie’s face was totally devoid of color and she sat there motionless for a good moment. Suddenly, she heaved in a deep breath of air and came back to life. The shock was wearing off and she realized that she was safe. Slowly, the color came back into her cheeks. She gingerly rubbed her aching shoulder and gave a wan smile to her friends and brothers.

"I-I guess I’m okay," she said breathlessly. "My shoulder really hurts but I’m al right otherwise."

Brian ushered the others from his sister’s side so that he could check out her shoulder and make sure that she hadn’t broken or dislocated anything. Though she yelped in pain a few times, he found that no major damage had been done.

"Looks like you just wrenched it badly, Trixie," he stated succinctly. "We should get some ice on it, but otherwise, you should be okay."

The trolley started moving down the hill as soon as the attendant saw that Trixie was safe. He was very worried about his job as he knew it was his fault that the young woman was perilously close to being seriously hurt. He stopped the trolley at the bottom of the hill, braked and then shut off the motor. He rushed over to make sure that the woman was okay. Trixie assured the man that she was bruised but would be al right.

Brian rushed the group off to find a source of ice for Trixie’s shoulder. They stopped at a nearby Texaco station and bought a five-pound bag of ice. The bag was the smallest they could find and Jim held the bag against Trixie’s shoulder in the car, the chill soothing Trixie’s aching muscles. The group sat in the car for a minute in silence. Finally, Mart spoke up from his spot in the back row.

"Um…well, during lunch we agreed that we would take the architectural trolley tour around the streets of Dubuque next," he grimaced and smiled lightly at his injured sister, "but after your last experience on a trolley, I could understand if you didn’t want to ride on another one, Trix."

Trixie gave her brother a grateful smile. Mart loved to give her a hard time, but deep down he was really a sweet, caring and supportive big brother that she respected.

"Thank you, Mart," she said sweetly. "I really wasn’t looking forward to that."

"Why don’t we go on to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium?" suggested Brian.

The group agreed that was a good idea and headed off to the museum. They had a grand time looking at all of the thirty-foot wide tanks, each showing different river habitats. The hands-on exhibits and the immersion theaters were fascinating and enlightening. They laughed delightedly when they saw the film that compared the Mississippi with other rivers across the country, including their cherished Hudson. An hour after entering the museum, they were tired and desiring snacks. They decided to head on to something else.

Di saw a poster on the wall as they were exiting the museum. "Hey guys, look!" she called attention to the poster. "Doesn’t this look like it would be neat to do?" They all gazed at the amazing site of Crystal Lake Cave on the wall and murmured their agreement.

Dan checked his watch. "Well, it’s almost five now. It says that it is a few miles outside of Dubuque and it closes at 6 o’clock; we’d better hurry if we are going to check it out," he advised.

"They say there is a picnic area outside," read Mart, "Why don’t we stop somewhere and grab a snack to take with us and we can eat in the park area afterwards."

"Of course you would mention grabbing food," teased Trixie, but she smiled. "That sounds like a good idea. Let’s get a move on!"

They all trudged out to the SUV and soon drove off in search of a food store. A few blocks away, they came upon a big Hy-Vee food store and Honey and Di dashed inside to purchase some snacks. Trixie stayed in the vehicle with Jim pressing the remains of the un-melted ice to her shoulder again, following the direction of Brian. Everyone knew that Trixie’s shoulder must be hurting a lot and had noticed her favoring her right arm throughout their time in the museum. They also knew that Trixie wasn’t one to complain or admit that she was in pain.

The girls returned with two bags full of cheese, fruit and crackers, as well as 20 ounce bottles of Gatorade for everyone. Honey had inquired of the directions to the cave and she took the wheel to drive them out to Highway 52 and then to Crystal Lake Cave Drive.

Quickly, the group exited the car and headed for the small building announcing Tickets and Gift Shop. Trixie threw away the dripping bag of ice in a receptacle container outside the building as they headed inside the building.

A tour guide escorted them to the entrance and within the interior of the Great American Show Cave. They were amazed and delighted by the panoramic view of the beautiful stalagmites and stalactites sparkling in brilliant colors within the cavern, lit by the natural day light shining through different crevices in the walls. They investigated the cave for a good fifteen minutes and then went off to the gift house to purchase post cards and souvenirs of their experience. Regular photography was not allowed within the cave as it could harm the natural formations and the Bob-Whites wanted to be able to show their family and friends this beautiful place that they had visited.

They bid the kind woman goodbye as they left the gift shop, knowing that she would soon be closing the shop for the day. They found some picnic tables in a nearby grove of oak and maple trees and sat down to enjoy their snack that Dan and Mart had retrieved from the SUV. They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, munching on fruit and crackers while enjoying the cool, fresh breeze moving through the grove and enjoying the simple but picturesque landscape about them.

"Iowa reminds me a lot of our part of New York," Jim broke the silence. "But I must admit that Iowa seems to have cleaner air and more preserved nature. I wouldn’t mind living here some day."

Trixie’s heart beat a little faster at that statement as she didn’t want to imagine her life with Jim so far away. "I understand what you mean, Jim," she added softly by his side. "New York is a wonderful place to live and raise a family, at least our part of New York is, but at the same time, times are changing and New York is moving farther and farther away from how it was when we were kids."

"I have to agree with you, Trix," supported Brian, "It scares me to think of how Sleepyside High will be like for Bobby when he goes to school. We never had to contend with a major drug problem or juvenile crime, but they already have it in the schools in Sleepyside and Croton! And we’ve only been out of school from Sleepyside for about five years!"

The group all became somber at the thought of changing times. Honey tried to alter the mood in the group as was her personality and natural role among her friends. "I’m sure that Iowa has it’s share of drugs and crime, too, guys!" she stated. "They just don’t have a huge city like NYC to deal with and New York really alters our whole state!"

"It would still be a good place to grow and raise a family someday," added Mart. "I might have to take Uncle Andrew up on his offer to help run his farm after I graduate. That is if a certain young lady wouldn’t mind relocating for me." He smiled sweetly at Di who had the grace to blush.

"We’ll see how it goes, Mart," she told him softly, with a sweet smile in return. "I really like the people in Iowa and the way of living. It seems like everyone is so open and friendly, and people aren’t rushing around to get on to the next part of their lives like they do in New York."

"Yep, it seems like a great place, reminds me a lot of life back in Idaho," Hallie put in her two cents. "Say guys, what are you wanting to do after this? Our reservations aren’t until nine o’clock and that leaves 3 hours to fill." Hallie had a purpose in changing the conversation as she had a special plan in store for the Bob-Whites.

"Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am pretty much all museumed out," stated Trixie who liked to see new things, but preferred more action to just sitting and watching or walking and viewing. Many in the group agreed with Trixie. Hallie was very glad to hear this and she pulled out a flier from her back pocket.

"Then why don’t we have some fun?" she suggested with a big smile on her face. She opened the flier for all to see and displayed it on the picnic table. "I picked this up at the Inn and thought it looked really fun. They are even having a special event this evening."

"Grand Harbor Waterpark and Resort," read Brian slowly aloud. "Iowa’s first indoor waterpark. That sounds like a lot of fun!"

Jim continued reading to the group. "The 25,000-square-foot waterpark includes nearly four-story high waterslides, body slides and flume slides. There are also water cannons and water toys themed to the Mississippi River."

"And they are having a beach party tonight from 6:30 to 8:30!" Hallie burst out in her excitement. She had wanted to go to the park all day but had waited for the right moment to present the idea to the group.

"Well, that sounds perfectly-perfect, Hallie!" exclaimed Honey and gave her friend a quick hug. "That should be so much fun."

"And we’ll still have time to get dressed for dinner at Timmermans before nine," added Di, really getting into the idea of the fun night.

Trixie snatched the keys from Honey’s hands and started off for the SUV. "We’d better get this show on the road then!" she called back and the Bob-Whites laughed behind her. They quickly cleaned up their snack and disposed of their refuse in a nearby garbage can on the way to the vehicle.

Trixie drove deftly back to Dubuque and quickly found her way to historic downtown. The gang was laughing and carrying on, singing along with Smashmouth and Justin Timberlake on the radio, all excited about the night to come. Trixie parked their transportation under the carport again and the Bob-Whites rushed inside to grab their swimsuits and snag extra towels from their rooms. Chuck came out to greet them at the sound of the bell and he chatted happily with the group in the parlor until all members were back together and they were heading out again. Chuck laughed at their loud and quickly disappearing backs and shook his head at the energy of youth.

Two hours later, the Bob-Whites returned from a fantastic frolic at the waterpark a huge complex along the Mississippi waterfront, that was located only eight blocks from the inn,. Susan met them at the door with a smile, indicating that she had seen them drive up. She told them that Chuck had already lit the fireplaces in their rooms as the temperatures were starting to really drop and then she insisted that the Bob-Whites hand over their wet towels and suits so that she could launder and dry them. They insisted it wasn’t necessary but she stubbornly pointed out that it wouldn’t be any fun for them to travel with wet clothing in their bags the next day.

The Bob-Whites graciously agreed and thanked her profusely for her offer to do such a kind thing for them. As they were walking off to their different rooms, Brian took Honey’s hand in his and lightly pointed out, "In some ways, she really reminds me of Miss Trask!"

Honey smiled at him and squeezed his hand. "I know what you mean, but they are good ways!" Her smile sobered and she stopped Brian on the stairs. "Thank you so much for this gift, Brian," she said sweetly, "it is really beautiful and I couldn’t have dreamed of a more special place to stay with you tonight!" She leaned over and gave him a soft kiss that he soon leaned into and explored for a moment or two.

Abruptly he pulled away and flushed a little. Clearing his throat, he said gruffly, "Don’t start that now, Honey, as I don’t have the proper time to finish what you started!"

Honey laughed outright at that and with a saucy grin over her shoulder, she started to run up the steps in front of him. "Promises, promises," she sang softly then ran faster up the stairs as her boyfriend was now in hot pursuit of her.

Trixie and Jim were once again in a very romantic room. But, now it was worse. They both groaned inwardly as they entered the room, seeing the high, big bed illuminated by the light of the fire that blazed away in its hearth. The light of the fire bounced off the walls in a tantalizing dance

They both just stood there, right within the room for a moment, breathing in courage to get through this night.

Jim nervously cleared his throat. "You can shower first, Trixie, I can wait," he said abruptly. Trixie looked at Jim for a second and then snatched the out he was giving her.

"Thanks, Jim, I’ll do that," she said hurriedly and moved over to her small dresser. She pulled out her skirt and top, along with new intimates that she hid quickly within her clothes and headed off to the shower. "I’ll be out quickly!"

Jim wasn’t’ sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Her heard the shower turn on only feet away from him and he groaned loudly at the idea of Trixie disrobing and standing beneath that spray. He flopped heavily down on his back on the bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to coach himself through this experience and torment. He lay there for a while but then sat up straight at the sound of the shower turning off. As he couldn’t let Trixie know what he had been doing in her absence, he moved to quickly grab his clothes to change into.

He had just grabbed a book off the shelf and made himself to appear that he had been lying on the bed waiting patiently for her to finish when the door from their bathroom area opened. His eyes bugged out for a second when he saw Trixie standing there, wrapped in a big, fluffy white towel. And probably nothing else! his mind screamed at him. His heart beat wildly as he began to wonder if his fantasies were about to come true. Trixie interrupted his thoughts with an uncomfortable grimace of a smile.

"I’m sorry, Jim," she started, "there just wasn’t enough room to get dressed in that hallway. I would have had to stand in the wet shower to do so." She tried to make light of the matter so that Jim would stop looking at her in that strange way.

Jim tore his eyes from her, put down his book and moved to get up. "That’s understandable, Trixie." He said quickly, avoiding her eyes and holding his clothes in front of his body. "I better hurry up and get showered so I don’t make us all late!" With that, he literally dashed to and through the door to the private bath.

Trixie laughed a little at his behavior and wondered how much of an effect she really had on him. Her mind contemplated the possibilities and her lips quirked in a secret smile. She wondered to herself if she should ask Jim later why he had been reading the book Little Women, and upside down to boot! She giggled to herself as she took off the towel and placed it over the back of the desk chair to dry. She continued to dress with a happy little smile and a sassy glint in her eye.

Twenty minutes later, Trixie and Jim went out to the parlor to meet up with their friends. Dan and Hallie were already waiting for them. They made small talk and waited for the two couples to join them.

 

I wonder how Dan is handling the situation with sharing a room with Hallie, Jim thought, but he wasn’t about to actually ask Dan the question. Unbeknownst to him, Dan was quietly thinking the same thought of Jim and Trixie across the room. He and Hallie had shared a few awkward moments, but otherwise, they were getting by. Dan just feared that he was going to grind off the tops of his teeth before this night was over, so constantly had he been clenching his jaw and grinding his teeth to keep his mouth closed for the last half hour. He was afraid to let his real thoughts and feelings come out to Hallie and he was doing everything he could to keep them hidden, including forcing his mouth closed frequently.

Finally, the two couples came down the stairs together, happy and handsome in their evening attire. It was obvious to all that both Di and Honey had chosen special dresses to tease and entice their men. Hallie and Trixie exchanged bemused glances and quickly took in the nice but not knockout attire of the other. Trixie was dressed in a short, Spanish-Style skirt that swayed in a sultry manner as she moved and a matching solid color top in dark blue. Hallie was dressed in long legged black slacks that molded her athletic frame and a colorful dress shirt in the colors of black, hot pink, and purple. Both girls had done up their hair and had applied some basic makeup but they had not made an effort to appear flashy or to standout from the others, as was not their personalities. Hallie gave Trixie a secret smile and shrugged her shoulders lightly and Trixie repeated the action back to her with the same smile.

Dan took the helm this time and he followed Chuck’s directions to Timmermans’ resort, about ten miles on the other side of the River. The Bob-Whites had loved the site of all of the ships and gambling boats lit up on the water, and were secretly spooked a little by the tight fitting ride in the fast moving, double lane of the bridge. The construction of the bridge seemed to enclose their SUV in a small cocoon and they were all silently happy to be safely out of the structure and on the other side of the bridge quickly.

They all enjoyed the soft music playing on 96.1 out of Waterloo as they absorbed calm and pretty night life of the Dubuque area, nestled in the small mountains. Dan noticed the sign for Timmermans ahead and soon turned off to the left, taking the Bob-Whites once again up a steep incline. Finally, at the top, Dan parked the vehicle and they all clamored out in expectant excitement.

They entered the large, rectangular restaurant and were greeted warmly by the host. He guessed who they were and explained that they had been expecting them. He bid the group to follow him and he led them through one white room lit by candlelight into another more intimate room. The far side of this dining room was covered with floor-to-ceiling windows and you could gaze out at the starlit night, the lights of Dubuque and the nearby Mississippi. Their host indicated two tables pushed together directly in front of the large windows and panoramic scenery. The girls were delighted at the location and greatly thanked their host.

"We must be as high up as we were in the elevator today," spoke Dan with awe, gazing down at the beauty outside and below them.

"When Chuck said he had a special table for us, I had no idea it would be something like this!" added Brian with some amazement at their situation.

"Oh, Bri, it’s so perfectly-perfect!" cried Honey as she nuzzled into his side. He put his arm around her and they gazed out at the view together. Across from them, Mart and Di were similarly engaged. The four singles were slightly uncomfortable with the situation but were still impressed by the set-up and the atmosphere. Trixie and Jim avoided looking at each other in an equally romantic setting as was their room at the Inn. Dan and Hallie spoke quietly together on the other side of the table.

The group enjoyed a wonderful meal of Italian cuisine and laughed often. They had shared a long but fun day in the midst of their closest friends and family and they were content to spend this special time together. Before desert, the couples slow-danced together to the music of the pianist at the far side of the room. Dan asked Hallie to dance with him and they left Trixie and Jim alone at the table. They sat their nervously for a minute and then Jim told Trixie that they might as well join the others in a light tone. Trixie agreed and she was soon off dancing with the man she adored, by candlelight, to It Had To Be You.

The Bob-Whites returned to the Hancock House Inn at a quarter to eleven. The two couples quickly escaped to their rooms and left the other four talking in the lobby. None of them had much desire to be alone in their rooms with the secret person of their affection. They decided that Hallie and Dan would change and come back and share the oversized whirlpool in Jim and Trixie’s room, as their room did not have a hot tub. Jim and Trixie found that their suits were neatly placed upon their bed and there were now extra towels draped over the side of the whirlpool. They avoided eye contact with each other again.

Trixie took a deep breath. "I’ll go change in the shower, Jim," she said quietly. "It should be dry now and you certainly wouldn’t be able to navigate yourself in there!" She laughed lightly at this and disappeared into the private bath area with her suit before Jim could protest at the silly idea.

Jim quickly changed from his dress up evening wear to his swim trunks. He neatly placed his used clothing in a special compartment in his overnight bag and then moved over to turn the whirlpool on and fill the tub up with water. He was so caught up in watching the swirling water fill the tub that he didn’t hear Trixie behind him.

"Thanks for setting up the tub, Jim, I wouldn’t have a clue as to how to get it going!" she stated politely behind his back. Jim swiveled around suddenly and his voice locked in his throat.

Sure, he’d seen Trixie in her American flag bikini earlier on in the day, but it hadn’t been under such intimate and romantic circumstances. He shifted restlessly on the side of the pool where he was sitting so as to disguise her effect on him. His eyes caressed down Trixie’s body and he was awed by the firelight dancing across her skin.

Trixie noticed his reaction to her and smiled slightly. She looked over at the tub as the water was getting pretty high. "Shouldn’t we shut that off?" she asked. Jim swiveled back to see the rising water and rushed to turn off the spout.

"Do you think we should wait for Hallie and Dan to get here?" Trixie asked, shivering slightly in her bikini.

"Uh, no…I don’t think so," assured Jim getting up and nervously moving off the side of the whirlpool. "Why don’t you go ahead and get in?" Jim picked up the towels that he had moved to the side of the pool onto the cool tile that encased the whirlpool in a tight little rectangle. Jim started folding the towels neatly and placing them on the tile, anything to avoid looking at Trixie.

Trixie wasn’t fooled. "OK, then," she said and moved to the small set of stairs that led up and into the hot, swirling water. Jim couldn’t prohibit himself watching Trixie’s athletic but buxom frame disappear into the water.

Trixie grimaced as she settled into the water and gingerly rotated her right shoulder. Jim could now see that her shoulder was starting to sport a large blackish-blue hue.

He stood up and looked at Trixie. "That shoulder is really hurting you," he declared and didn’t ask. "Why don’t you ever talk about these things?"

Trixie looked up at Jim and saw the concern for her in his eyes. "It’s really nothing, Jim, I’ll be al right," she assured him.

"Silly woman" Jim muttered under his breath and moved over by her. "Scootch over, Trixie."

Trixie looked up at him, standing by her side and her heartbeat picked up. "Why?" she asked.

"Just do it." He said and she knew that tone. With confusion in her eye, she moved her body so that she could be closer to him. Suddenly, she felt the cool skin of Jim’s hands upon her shoulder, kneading it tenderly. Trixie groaned in the exquisite relief that his hands were giving her. Jim was clenching his teeth, trying everything and anything to really think about the feel of Trixie’s wet and silky skin beneath his administering hands. He also was avoiding looking down as it would not have been gentlemanly of him to see as much of Trixie as he would see, if he were to look down from his vantage spot.

The room filled with their awareness for each other. After a minute of both Trixie and Jim fighting to avoid saying what they were really thinking, Trixie looked up over her shoulder at Jim with a thankful smile.

"Thank you, Jim, that was wonderful! It feels much better now," she dismissed him politely, hoping that if he moved away from her, the tension in the room would subside. Unfortunately, Jim had been leaning over Trixie’s body to administer the massage and now their faces were a mere six inches from each other.

Trixie and Jim’s eyes met and darkened as their expressions became very serious. As if with a mind of their own, their heads started to move closer to the other…

 

Knock, Knock, Knock! The door suddenly came open to the left of the whirlpool. Dan poked his head inside and his eyebrows raised sharply at what he could tell was interrupting something rather interesting. He smiled lightly.

"Guys, I’m sorry, but Hallie and I have decided to go walk along the Riverwalk instead of soaking in the tub with you all," he informed them. "I hope that’s not a problem! We both would just like to check out the scenes along the waterfront." Dan knew that he was chattering on, but he wanted to escape the confines of what he could tell was a very intimate situation between two of his dearest friends.

Jim straightened up to stand by the whirlpool and after a quick glance at Trixie, he said, "That’s okay, Dan. We understand."

Trixie blushed but added, "Yeah, it sounds pretty neat. You could get in a whirlpool any time, but you only have one night to check out the nightlife of Dubuque. You guys enjoy yourself!"

Dan grinned broadly and gave them one more curious look before saying, "I’m sure we will." Dan started to back out of the door again and shut it behind him when he stopped and popped his head back around the door. "Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do," he teased and quickly shut the door behind him.

"Ooh, sometimes he’s just as bad as Mart!" exclaimed Trixie with an embarrassed flare of temper.

Jim chuckled lightly as he could only imagine how he and Trixie had looked upon Dan’s entering. His mind screamed at him that he wished Dan had waited a minute more before interrupting them as he finally would have kissed the woman he had loved for so long! With a chastising grin for himself, he moved and entered the other side of the whirlpool, now facing Trixie with a good foot or two between their bodies.

"You wouldn’t like to have gone with them, would you Trix?" he asked her quietly and seriously.

Trixie considered that for a moment. "I might have if they had mentioned it earlier. As is, I’m already wet and I’d have to get out and get all ready to go out again." She made an unpleasant face at the idea. "I don’t want to bother with that."

She grinned as she stretched her body out in the water. "Besides, after all that we did today and the last few days, a soak in a whirlpool is exactly what this body of mine needs!" Her eyes twinkled when they met Jim’s across the water.

"Yeah, I know what you mean," said Jim inadequately, but he was very distracted by Trixie’s moving in the water.

They were silent for a minute or two, just relaxing with their eyes closed and enjoying the hot water that moved and caressed their tired bodies. Finally Trixie asked quietly, "You know what’s funny about this?"

Jim realized that it would be rude if he didn’t look at her to reply. He had been keeping his eyes closed so that he need not look at her in the firelight, as the sight was just too tempting and maddening for him. So, Jim opened his eyes and asked gruffly, "What’s that, Trix?"

She smiled slightly and looked away from him, viewing the room around them. "The funny thing is that this is the perfect honeymoon spot. I could see me coming to a place like this on the night of my wedding." She looked back to Jim and ended softly, almost sadly, "But this isn’t my honeymoon."

Jim suddenly had a picture in his mind of him dressed in a tuxedo and her in a bridal gown, he was carrying her over the threshold of the room and they were both happy and laughing delightedly together. Jim spoke quietly, as well, "I know what you mean Trixie, but one day it will be your honeymoon and you will have this experience for real."

They both looked at each other seriously and wondered silently if that day would be spent together. Trixie didn’t want to dwell on the subject, so she stood up and moved over to Jim’s side to grab a towel. She then moved quickly out of the whirlpool and down the short set of steps. Trixie felt it was best if she distance herself from Jim as she wasn’t sure she could restrain herself from shamelessly throwing herself at him and declaring all the pent-up love in her heart. Yes, distance is good, she thought to herself from the safety of the other side of the room.

Jim was mesmerized by the sight of Trixie drying herself off across the room. Sure, he had seen her do that countless number of times in the years that they had known each other, but tonight was totally different with them in a romantic room, set up for lovers, and they were alone. Shaking himself physically, he deftly shut off the spouts to the whirlpool and moved to exit the whirlpool himself.

"Jim" Trixie said almost too soft for him to hear. He looked up over at her as he grabbed the towel to dry himself off, a question in his eyes.

"Jim," Trixie started again, "I didn’t expect to be in this situation." Jim’s look changed to confusion at her meaning. "What I mean is that I didn’t pack for this situation."

Jim suddenly caught on to her meaning. "You have pajamas, don’t you, Trixie?" he asked her quietly, though his mind thrilled at the idea that she might sleep in the nude.

Trixie flushed and looked away. "Well, yes and no," she started. "All I brought along with me was a long T-shirt." She held up the oversized shirt with a fiesty Garfield on the front.

"Oh," was all Jim could say. "I just have boxer shorts to sleep in, so we are much in the same boat!" he admitted with his heart thundering loudly in his ears.

Trixie looked at him dubiously but tried to be nonchalant about the situation. "Oh, okay," she plainly. She held the T-shirt in her hands and wasn’t sure what to do from there.

"I can go in the other room if you want to change, Trixie," he suggested helpfully, finishing toweling his hair dry.

Trixie numbly shook her head and said, "No, that’s okay." She put the shirt over her head in a daze, her mind reeling with the thought of Jim and she sharing a bed, her only in a T-shirt and him in boxers! Without even thinking of what she was doing, Trixie automatically moved to take off her bikini top from beneath her shirt in that little trick that women can do and pulled her bikini top off and through her right sleeve.

Jim’s eyes bugged at the sight and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down in his throat, him swallowing compulsively. He knew he needed to exit the room post haste or he was going to pounce on her.

Jim tossed his towel onto the tile surface of the whirlpool and marched over to his dresser, yanking out his boxers. "Well, I certainly can’t get changed in front of you!" he stated roughly and rushed out the door into the private bath.

This shook Trixie out of her stupor and with embarrassment and chagrin, she realized what she had done. Realizing that she couldn’t turn back the clock, she shrugged her shoulders and grimly went in search of a clean pair of panties. She heard the shower turn on in the other room as she was changing into dry underwear and moving to get under the warm, satin covers.

Jim had decided that he needed a cold shower before he could return to that room and that bed with Trixie. He hoped the time would calm his running thoughts and the cold water would quiet his raging body. He spent as long a time that he could showering, brushing his teeth, and otherwise getting ready for bed.

When he came back out into the main room, he found Trixie sound asleep under the covers of the high, feather bed. Jim moved over to the bed and, as softly as he could, he joined her under the covers and lie looking at her, with love flying around in his heart. Trixie’s face was girlish and peaceful, reminding him of how she had looked the first time they had met. Her damp curls caressed her face and he moved his hand to gently move one big curl away from her face.

"One day, Trixie," he whispered as he caressed her face with his hand, "one day we will share a night in a place like this. I will carry you over the threshold and that night you will have no doubt in your mind how completely I love you!" He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. "I promise you that, Trixie."

Jim eventually fell asleep, too, his hand still caressing her face.

* * * * *

This dream is awesome! thought Trixie the next morning. She was dreaming of her and Jim sharing that romantic room in the Hancock House. They were in the high, feather bed together and she was wrapped in the arms of the man that she loved. She could feel his heartbeat against her cheek and her skin burned from its naked contact with his. I’ve had realistic-feeling dreams before, but this is definitely tops!

Trixie felt Jim’s breath softly against her neck and she suddenly realized that this wasn’t really a dream. As consciousness returned to her, it dawned on her that she really was wrapped within the safe arms of the man she loved, that there skin was touching and her lower body was braced to the bed by one heavy, masculine thigh.

Oh my…Oh, my, oh my, oh my, oh my, OH MY!!! Trixie’s heart raced as she didn’t know how to handle the situation. She loved the feeling of being held so tightly and lovingly by him, but she knew that Jim would be embarrassed if he were to wake and find them lying together like that.

Jim must have sensed her turbulent thoughts as he suddenly woke up. Shocked, he realized how he was holding Trixie and immediately enjoyed the contact with her. He hoped that Trixie wasn’t awake so he could just move aside slowly and she would never know any better.

Jim lifted his head from it’s secure place in the crook of her neck and came very face to face with Trixie’s wide open eyes. Embarrassed, he quickly disengaged himself from her and dove off the side of the bed. He carried the satin comforter with him and left Trixie in a rather interesting state of undress.

"Oh my gosh, Trixie, I am so sorry!" he exclaimed breathlessly. His eyes search hers for understanding and his face flamed red. "I have no excuse for what I did! Please forgive me!"

Trixie moved to cover her exposed torso and panties with the long T-shirt and said slowly, "It’s okay, Jim. I know you didn’t mean to do that."

Jim sat down on the side of the bed, with his back to her. "It’s just inexcusable, Trixie!" he muttered.

Trixie moved over behind him and touched his shoulder lightly. "It’s not like it was an awful experience for me, Jim," she teased him softly.

Jim looked at her from over his shoulder and a cocky grin filled his face. "Yeah?" he asked.

"Yeah." She smiled into his eyes.

Jim laughed with her at the situation. "Well, it’s not like I’ve ever shared my bed with a beautiful blonde before!" he could laugh about it now.

"Oh really?" Trixie asked sardonically. "But you’ve shared your bed with brunnets and redheads before?"

Jim’s eyes became very serious and he turned to directly face Trixie. "You know I haven’t," he stated firmly and quietly.

Trixie’s eyes locked with his and she realized that one of them need to move before they ended up in each other’s arms again, for real this time. Her heart danced in her throat as she thought of the idea, but it scared her also as she and Jim had never officially moved beyond hand-holding and special trinkets. She quickly scooted off the other side of the bed.

"We better get ready. We only have fifteen minutes until breakfast in the guest dining room," she said and then quickly rushed into the safe haven of the bathroom, away from Jim and the scary power he and that room had over her.

The Bob-Whites had a wonderful gourmet breakfast with their hosts and thanked them profusely for their hospitality and the amazing place they kept. After they checked out, the group decided to enjoy the fun experience of riding upstream and back again on the Spirit of Dubuque, Iowa’s only authentic paddlewheeler. Trixie teased the others that this certainly was a more enjoyable experience than the last time they had traveled on the Mississippi!

They returned to stable land just short of ten o’clock. As they only had limited time to explore more of Dubuque, they agreed to split up and meet back at noon. Therefore, Dan and Brian headed off to try their luck at the Diamond Jo Casino Riverboat, they had a bet to see who could end up with the most money when they both were only going to play ten dollars. Honey and Di wanted to check out the Dubuque Museum of Art and the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Hallie and Dan were interested in taking that tour with the Trolleys of Dubuque as well as possibly dashing back to Dyersville to see the National Farm Toy Museum with its some 30,000 scale models.

That left Jim and Trixie. They talked it over and decided that they wanted to enjoy more of the outdoor sights of Dubuque. Therefore, they first walked along the Riverwalk to the historic shot tower where lead shot ammunition was made during the Civil War. They then walked further down the Riverwalk to the General Zebulon Pike Lock and Dam, and then caught a taxi to Eagle Point Park where they enjoyed wonderful weather and the site of numerous bald eagles flying around.

All of the pairings met up in front of the majestic Dubuque County Courthouse at just after noon. They all decided that they would head off to the historic town of Galena, Illinois, only about 15 minutes away, to enjoy a peaceful lunch and do some shopping for souvenirs. Once again, the group was awed and delighted by the site of the historic downtown part of Galena. For over a mile, historic buildings encased specialty shops and classy restaurants and cafes. They enjoyed a blissful meal at Bernadine’s Tea Room and filled each other in on the adventures each pairing had enjoyed that morning. Dan had struck it big playing the Monopoly slots game on the riverboat and graciously picked up the tab for everyone.

Afterward, they split up and went shopping in the various stores downtown. When they met up an hour and a half later, they all laughed uproariously as each person had made some purchase at the wacky and zany store Floopies whose motto boasted "Where’d you get that?!" It was now 3 o’clock and the group didn’t really want to head back to Waterloo already. Di had an idea.

"Hey, guys," she started, "I know it’s a bit of a drive from here, but a store-owner told Mart and I that we should check out the Amana Colonies."

"The Amana Colonies…what are those?" asked Trixie.

"It’s a historical communal Amish society just outside of Cedar Rapids," Mart supplied.

"Like Lancaster, Pennsylvania?" asked Dan, with interest.

"Yes, like that," agreed Di.

"That would be so neat," exclaimed Honey. "I’ve always wanted to visit Amish country but have never had the chance to do so. Please, let’s go!" She urged her friends and they were all just as excited and interested as she was.

An hour and a half later, Jim directed the "Bob-White Mobile" as they had now nicknamed it, into a parking space in front of the Coppershop Museum in the Homestead of Amana. As they all exited the car, Mart filled the group in on the information he had ascertained from the shop-owner in Galena.

"The Amana Colonies were established shortly before the Civil War by a group of German-speaking European settlers who belonged to a religious group known as the Community of True Inspiration," he began. "Here they began a communal system of living divided into seven different villages, and encompassing over 20,000 acres of land. There are more than 31 historic places within the various Amana Colonies that are recognized by the latest National Register of Historic Places Travel. These historic places illustrate the fascinating history of one of the longest lasting communal societies in the world!"

"Wow, that’s awesome, Mart!" declared Trixie, sincerely. "For once, Mart, I don’t mind that you are the Walking Dictionary and the Man of Facts!" She nudged her brother lightly with a big smile to indicate that she was joking.

"I agree, Mart," added Jim with a smile, "Do you know anything else about the Amanas?"

"Well, the landscapes and architecture are elegantly simple but distinctive, as you can see. Also these buildings of communal Amana span a period which lasted from 1855 to 1932. Amana villages originally consisted of 40 to 100 buildings."

"Hey, I see a sign for the Museum of Amana History," stated Brian pointing at it across the way, "why don’t we go there first?"

The group thought that was a wonderful idea. After learning more about the Amanas, the Bob-Whites moved on to explore the Amana Woolen Mill and the Amana Furniture Shop. They continued their site-seeing by investigating the one room school for children ages 7 to 14 and the large but simple church within the Homestead. They further enjoyed popping into little shops for homemade candles, quilts and linens, furniture, food and deserts, and also primitive farm equipment.

They had a great time and everyone purchased at least one souvenir to take back to New York with them. Honey was shy but pleased about her purchase of an authentic wedding quilt and she planned to add it to her hope chest when she returned home. She and Brian had spoken some of their future but he had yet to ask her to marry him. She was waiting with bated breath for the day she would be able to unload her hope chest and start saving items for another dream!

After six o’clock, the Bob-Whites were tired and hungry from their marathon day and decided they should grab a bite to eat. They decide to go to the Ox Yoke Inn where they enjoyed a scrumptious and filling family-style traditional German meal. Mart was dying for the recipe of the German potato salad as he wanted Moms to be able to make it in the future. The chefs at the restaurant were very kind and provided him with a printed out version of their special recipe. Mart thanked them profusely and the Bob-Whites soon walked back to the SUV and headed for Waterloo.

It was a very simple drive back to Waterloo from the Amanas. Trixie was able to work out her turbulent thoughts about what was going on with Jim and herself while cruising across eastern Iowa on Interstate 80 at a constant 68 miles per hour. Her heart was troubled, scared, but hopeful that perhaps with this trip they would finally confess their feelings to each other and take that next step to a more romantic relationship. The growing tension and awareness between them was so strained at times that she wanted to scream!

Not even 45 minutes after leaving the Amanas and having a very quiet ride as all of the Bob-Whites were tired and lost within their own thoughts, Trixie saw the signs for Waterloo and turned off on the exit. About five minutes later, at just short of 9 PM, Trixie parked in the Starlight Inn parking lot, heaving a heavy sigh of tiredness and mental strain as she shifted the SUV into park and turned off the car. With yawns and much stretching, the Bob-Whites quietly exited the car, went behind the SUV to retrieve their bags from the back storage area, and slowly walked into the hotel. They found Uncle Andrew sitting in one of the lobby’s comfortable chairs, reading the newspaper. With one look at their warn and tired faces, he laughed and bid them all a goodnight, explaining that he would see them all for breakfast the next morning.

Exhausted, the Bob-Whites trudged to the elevator and then to their rooms once they were on the right floor. They tiredly bid each other goodnight at their doors and then all of the Bob-Whites disappeared into their rooms. Though she was equally exhausted and wanted to crash on her bed without changing or washing up, Trixie knew that she needed to do one thing before giving into to her exhausted body’s demands. She reached into her purse and snagged Coral’s number from her wallet. She was in luck and Coral had returned home from work already. They talked shortly as it was evident Trixie was falling asleep and they hung up with their plans secured for the next evening.

 

Chapter 5
Sing Your Heart Out

The BWGs slept in late the next morning and then trudged, bleary-eyed, into the Starlight dining room at 11:30 for a late brunch. Uncle Andrew just chuckled under his breath and shook his head at the activities of youth. Later, they went to the National Cattle Congress Fairgrounds to see Uncle Andrew show his sheep. They spent a great afternoon tromping around the grounds and seeing the different exhibits and the various judging. Uncle Andrew placed first for grain-fed sheep for the nation and the group had much to celebrate later on in the day.

Just after 5:00, the gang returned back to their hotel, collapsing for a much-needed nap. Uncle Andrew had stayed back at the Fairgrounds to orchestrate the return of his stock to his home with his farmhands. At 6:30, the girls woke up and started to get ready for their night out. Their rooms were connected by a door in between and the four women walked back and forth between the rooms as they got prepared for the evening to come.

Trixie pulled a dress out of her closet and held it in front of her body. She heard a low wolf-whistle behind her and turned to see Honey standing not to far off.

"Wow, Trixie, that’s a dress!" she exclaimed.

"Yeah, I know it’s a dress…"Trixie drawled.

Honey came up beside her and took the hanger gently out of her hands. "No, Trixie, I mean, this is some dress! When did you buy it?" She eyed her best friend curiously from the corner of her eye.

Trixie’s face flushed slightly and she squirmed a little under her friend’s curious inquisition. "Oh, about a month ago," she answered evasively, "It was on sale at Dillard's and I figured I could splurge on one nice dress for this trip."

Right then, both Hallie and Di walked through the connecting door and stopped in their tracks.

"That’s a great dress, Honey," stated Hallie. Honey looked over at them and handed the dress back to Trixie.

"It’s not my dress," said Honey," it’s Trixie’s." Di and Hallie exchanged a wide-eyed glance.

"Wow, Trixie, Jim’s not going to know what hit him," drawled Hallie with a chuckle. Trixie flushed darkly at that but said nothing.

"That’s what I’ve been thinking," added Honey. "Come on, Trixie, let’s get Cinderella all dressed up for the evening."

The girls primped and preened and thirty minutes later, they were all beautiful creations ready for an evening of fun and festivity. Hallie wore an ankle length silky navy blue skirt with matching spaghetti-strapped chemise top. Di chose a flirty black skirt that fell above her knees with a sexy top in deep purple. Honey decided to wear the dark green dress that she brought along, a number that hugged in all the right places, dipped low in the back, and hinted at the secrets of her cleavage below. But, everyone agreed that Trixie was definitely the belle of the ball.

Trixie’s black dress had a deep V in the front, had no back, fell to mid-thigh, and was barely held on her body by tiny spaghetti straps. The material itself was a muted-satin that lightly shimmered when she moved. It was impossible to wear a bra with such a dress but Trixie’s youthful and bountiful cleavage had no trouble pulling that feat off. Trixie’s shoulder length tresses were now piled on top of her head with a few tendrils caressing her face on each side. She had decided to really make up her face and wore smoky-blue eyeliner with light silver eye shadow that simply made her blue eyes pop beautifully in her pretty face. Her lips simply looked like they needed to be kissed as she wore a luscious peach lipstick. The entire ensemble was completed with flirty black pumps that made her legs appear to be a mile long.

The girls all stood around Trixie and looked happily upon their masterpiece. Trixie was still standing before the large mirror, not sure if she could go through with such a look for the entire evening. She admitted to herself that she really did look beautiful and the knowledge really disarmed her. She was scared of what the night was to bring but she was determined to come into the ring swinging, so desperate was she in hoping that Jim would make a move.

After their time together at the Hancock House, she was so utterly frustrated from her years of loving him that she felt like she was going to burst from the anxiety. Looking at the beautiful lady reflected in the mirror, Trixie prayed that this night might make them speak about their feelings and get everything out in the open. She was so tired of being his maybe-special girl that she was ready to go for broke. Either they step forward in their relationship during this trip or she was going to give up on him for good.

A knock sounded on their hallway door. Honey gave Trixie a wink and sashayed over to the door with a secret smile on her lips. If Brian had executed their plan, she knew exactly who was going to be on the other side of that door.

"Hey, Honey, you guys ready?" asked Jim as he started to walk into the room. "I don’t know why, but Brian insisted that I come and retrieve you ladies and…"

Jim’s voice trailed off as his eyes wandered across the room and spied Trixie just as she turned to look at him. He couldn’t believe his eyes for the vision that stood before him. There was the woman that he loved with all of his heart, the woman of his dreams, and she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid his eyes upon.

Honey looked with satisfied amusement between her best friend and her big brother as they just stared at each other across the room. All she could think was YES! Di and Hallie had been leaning inside the connecting door jam since they had also heard the knock.

"Honey, come get those earrings of mine that you’re going to wear," started Hallie from the other door.

Honey’s eyes swiveled over to the ladies and asked with a confused tone, "What earrings?" Then she saw the pointed look that Di was giving her and picked up on the diversionary tactic. "Oh! Those earrings!"

Immediately, Honey left the room to join the quietly giggling pair of Di and Hallie in the other room. They decided to wait as long as they could in the other room before returning.

Jim gazed at Trixie for a moment longer before his feet moved him to her side on their own behalf. He shook his head in wonderment as she was even more beautiful close up.

Finally, Trixie couldn’t take it any more. "Well?" she demanded impatiently. When Jim still didn’t say anything, she self-consciously turned away from him and fiddled with her picture on the dresser top. "I know, I look silly," she began.

She continued to fiddle with her toiletries on top of the dresser without looking up. She didn’t want to see Jim’s expression in the mirror. Suddenly, she felt Jim’s hands cup her shoulders from behind, softly caressing her shoulders with his thumbs. After standing like that for a moment, Jim moved Trixie’s frame around to face him, tilting her chin up to look directly into his eyes.

"Trixie," he started huskily, "you do not look silly! You look so the opposite of silly that you literally took my breath away!"

The expression in Trixie’s eyes changed from one of fear to one of happy-surprise. "You mean that, Jim?"

Jim’s lips formed an honest smile. "Completely."

Trixie smiled back at him, flirtatiously. "You don’t look too bad yourself!"

Jim stepped back and mocked a model’s pose. "You think?"

Trixie’s lips quirked. "Yeah, you’ll do."

"Hey!" Jim knew she was teasing him but he couldn’t help reacting to that. He lunged toward her, his hands moving to tickle her mercilessly. Trixie giggled and protested that he stop. As soon as she could, she was tickling him in his most sensitive spot under his arms. They were intertwined like a crazy pretzel, each trying to get the upper hand.

Jim’s hand accidentally made contact inside Trixie’s dress. When his fingers brushed against her, he froze in his spot and looked down at Trixie anxiously. He didn’t want to dishonor her, but he also wanted to see her reaction. When Jim’s finger brushed against her bare skin, an electric shock shot through Trixie’s body and she froze as well. She looked up at him nervously.

His eyes were fixed on her moist lips and his heart was pounding the can-can within his chest.  Jim’s head started to descend toward her beckoning lips.

"We better get going," started Hallie as she entered the room again, followed directly by Honey and Di. They all froze at the scene they interrupted and literally collided into each other.

"Oh my!" Hallie stated inadequately.

Trixie and Jim shot apart as fast as they could, though Jim’s hand caught within her dress top momentarily and they had to extract him without disrobing her. Jim moved to a good five feet away from the women and stared, red-faced at the floor. Trixie, in turn, glared at her cousin for interrupting at the worst time. She avoided the glances of Honey, whose mouth was agape, and Di, whose eyes were huge saucers. Hallie’s eyes danced with merriment though she didn’t say anything else.

Always the model of tact and decorum, Honey cleared her throat and started to move to grab her purse from her bed. "Yes, we should get going, I’m sure everyone is getting impatient and we don’t want to be late," she babbled without looking at anyone. She avoided looking at either Trixie or Jim. She was glad that they almost kissed, but it was also very strange and awkward to see the two most important persons in her life, interacting like that.

Jim took that opportunity to take his leave. "I’ll go tell the men that you are coming!" he stated and fairly ran from the room.

The room stayed silent for a long moment after he left. Finally, Hallie broke the silence. "Trixie…" she started, question and intrigue in her voice.

Trixie held up her hand for silence, indicating that she wasn’t going to talk about it. Grabbing her small handbag, she said, "Let’s go." She then escaped from the room, as well, slowly followed by the other three ladies.

Twenty minutes later, the BWGs SUV pulled up in front of a huge structure that was surrounded by the Cedar River on three sides.

"The Broom Factory?" quipped Mart from the middle seat to his sister who was driving. "I thought we were going out to eat not to some broom factory!"

Trixie laughed outright at that. "It is a restaurant, silly," she explained with a chuckle, "It used to be a broom factory."

A collective "Oh!" was heard throughout the confines of the vehicle as Trixie found a spot near the entrance to park and turned off the car. They all slowly climbed out and Uncle Andrew led the way to the restaurant’s door. Before they could reach the door handle, the door swung open and a delighted Coral stood holding the door open for them.

"So great to see you guys!" she exclaimed as she gave each of the girls a quick hug and smiled brightly at the gentlemen. "I’ve had them pick a very special table for the group and they just got it all ready for us. Dash had to work late at the theater, as usual, but he’ll meet up with us tonight at Mainly Lou’s, probably about 11:00 or so."

Trixie looped her arm with Coral’s as Coral led them to the restaurant’s maitre d' who was waiting on them. They then followed the smartly-dressed gentleman to a huge table set in a nook of the factory-restaurant, two huge windows encased their table with amazing views of the Cedar River and the falls. They could also see the old water-wheel not far off that used to create much of the energy that ran the broom factory when it was in full order.

"The theater, what theater are you speaking of?" asked Brian kindly of their hostess.

Coral dimpled and stated proudly, "Oh, my brother is the technical director of the Waterloo Playhouse and Blackhawk Children’s Theater. You know, he makes all the sets and scenery for all the shows, has for over 6 years."

"That must be really neat!" exclaimed Dan and the others murmured their agreement.

"Yeah, it really is," agreed Coral. "I’m just glad that he finally found something that he really enjoyed. For a while after his divorce, he was floundering around a lot in his life and didn’t have much hope for doing something he enjoyed. When I was studying in Mexico, I suggested to him via e-mail that he look into working for theaters full time as he had done it part time for the Cedar Falls Playhouse across the street for a few years and really enjoyed it. Luckily, he looked around and found that job at the Playhouse. He has quite a following, too. He must have 40 high school and college kids who help him build the sets and all that just because they like being around him. Many of those kids were the performers you saw at the Ren Faire."

"Really?" asked Di. "There were many younger performers."

"Yes," added Coral. "My brother became involved in the Ren Faire scene and then the kids eventually followed."

"You speak very highly of your brother," stated Jim.

"Yeah, I do," said Coral with a chagrined-smile. "We’ve been through a lot together. He moved out when I was five to go to college and I had to grow up in a lot of neglect and abuse. When the courts wanted to remove me from my parents’ home, my brother stepped up and said that I could live with him. Otherwise I would have gone into the foster system and who knows what would have happened to me then!"

"I totally know what you mean," stated Dan with a soft smile, "I was a teen orphan and my uncle took me in. I was in with a really bad crowd and I hate to think of where my life would have been now if Uncle Reagan didn’t take me on and into his life!"

Hallie squeezed his hand in comfort and understanding. "I’m sure you would have still turned out differently than being in the gangs and all that, Dan. Your true character would have surfaced eventually and you would have changed your life on your own!" Dan smiled broadly at her beside him and squeezed her hand back, grateful for her faith in him.

"I’m not much different," interjected Jim. "I was a runaway, trying to make it on my own, when Trixie and Honey found me and eventually the Wheeler’s adopted me. They all gave me a new chance at life, to have a life and to have dreams."

"That’s so wonderful!" exclaimed Coral with a quick squeeze of Jim’s hand across the table. "Our kind are a tough bunch, but I think we have a lot to give the world, as we have lived through so much and have the compassion to help others."

"Jim is going to have his own wilderness school to help children like you three," Trixie added proudly.

"That’s awesome!" stated Coral. "I have my own dreams of running my own non-profit organization for disadvantaged youth someday. But for now, I’m just working with the disadvantage youth and helping them to have more fulfilling lives."

"Really, where do you work now?" asked Di from around the table.

"I’m the Youth Activity Coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club of Waterloo. I coordinate and run all the activities for children ages five to twelve."

Honey’s heart warmed at the idea of working at such a place, as she loved children so dearly. "That must be a really rewarding experience!" she stated passionately. "Over the years, we have raised money to help different groups like UNICEF, but we have never done anything to help the Boys and Girls Club of America."

"Well, if you all would like to, we are always looking for volunteers to come in and hang out with the kids at the Club," suggested Coral. "I realize that it is your Spring Break and all that, but if you would like to come in for an hour or so some night that you are here, I bet you would have lots of fun!"

"Really? We could actually come hang out with the kids just for a day?" Honey was really excited.

"Sure!" Coral concluded. "We often have college students come in for one or two days for college classes. The kids are used to it and love it when the college students take an interest in them. And I know they would be excited to meet friends of mine from New York!"

Trixie looked around at the excited faces at the table and spoke over the passionate small talk at the table. "I motion that we spend part of one of the days left here to volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Waterloo!’

The table became quiet at this and Coral looked on with amusement and confusion.

"And as Co-President of the BWGs, I second the motion," added Jim by her side.

"All in favor of spending a day at the Boys and Girls Club say ‘Aye’," directed Trixie.

A unanimous "Et" filled the corner of the restaurant and Coral laughed with glee.

"Motion is passed," stated Trixie, then turned to Coral. "What day would be best for you?"

Coral looked at her dubiously. "Any day would be fine, but could you please explain what just happened here?"

Jim noticed the waiter hovering near them again. "I’d be glad to explain that to you, but first we should give our order," Jim started, nodding his head in the direction of the hovering young waiter nearby. "That poor waiter has been coming over every minute or so to see if we were ready and we haven’t even looked at the menus yet!"

"Oh, dear, you’re right!" exclaimed Honey and the group immediately stopped conversation to peer into their large menus of gourmet cuisine.

Once their orders were given, the Bob-Whites started to fill Coral in on their semi-secret club and how they all first met and came together over the years. Coral was fascinated by all of the stories of adventure and mystery that they discussed in such a familiar, fun way with each other, tripping over each other’s sentences, and laughing frequently.

"Wow, you all are certainly a tight bunch!" exclaimed Coral. "And what adventures you’ve had! Trixie, you and Honey should be detectives with all the mysteries you have solved!"

Jim stepped in, "They’re going to be. We all have our dreams and it has been their dream since about the time they met to open their own detective agency someday."

Coral looked on them with concern. "But aren’t you afraid? There are a lot of awful people out there and you are going to be going head-to-head with them."

"Unfortunately, I’m afraid that their family and friends are the ones that are afraid," interjected Uncle Andrew, "but these two usually feel their fear after the fact." He smiled lovingly at his niece and her best friend.

Brian wrapped his arm around Honey tighter and said, "It really is hard for us, the ones that love them, but we have to support them in their dreams and in what they are passionate about." His eyes caught Jim’s across the table and they shared a look of understanding and compassion.

"But they will receive all the training that they need in order to remain safe in their work," added Jim quietly. "We’ll still worry about them, though." Coral assumed that Jim was speaking of his sister’s well-being, but everyone knew that he was really thinking of Trixie.

The Bob-Whites gasped as the lights in the restaurant dimmed suddenly, in the falling dusk of the Iowa evening, and the small lights from overhead crystal chandeliers and candles on the tables flickered in a totally romantic manner. The effect was so beautiful and quick that the group just sat in silence for a moment taking it all in.

"Oh, Mart, look at that!" exclaimed Di softly, indicating the sun setting over the waterfalls. The sky was full of the colors of a typical Iowa sunset with bright pinks, purples, oranges, yellows, and blues, the sun a huge red fireball dipping slowly into the water.

"That is so beautiful!" stated Trixie breathlessly.

"Yup, you never get tired of it," stated Coral. "I’ve traveled all over the world but Iowa still has the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen. Actually, it has been rated for years to have one of the top 10 prettiest sunsets in the world."

Jim put his arm around Trixie without thinking and snuggled her into his side as they gazed out the large window together. "I can certainly see why!" he said and the rest of the gang agreed with him quietly, lost in the myriad of colors across the sky.

They quietly watched as the sun disappeared beneath the waters of the Cedar River and the colors of the Iowa sky changed again to a darker kaleidoscope of color. The waiter showed up then and the group turned their attention to their soups or salads while the talked small talk about Iowa and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls community.

A little after 9:00, the group finished their meal and exited the restaurant. The sky was dark now, full of twinkling diamonds, and the sidewalks around the Cedar River and the Broom Factory were lit by thick street lights with large white, romantic balls on top. Coral mentioned that it was too early to go over to Mainly Lou’s as the hosts of karaoke never even showed up until at least ten o’clock. There was a nice café across the street from the Broom Factory and they decided to meet up there by ten o’clock. Coral also indicated the romantic parks around the water of the Cedar River and the falls and stated that she figured some of the group would like to walk around in the moonlight. She was not oblivious to the couples in the group, though she wasn’t sure if they were all paired off or not. Hallie and Dan acted like they cared for each other but weren’t together and it was obvious Jim and Trixie were just a duo of frustrated unrequited love!

In the end, Coral went to the café with Uncle Andrew and they spoke more about living in Iowa and their different connections in the state while the four pairs separated in different directions to walk around the moon-and lamp-lit waters of the park.

Trixie and Jim walked side by side, making small talk about Coral, Iowa, and their trip so far. They were both very conscious of the other, their hearts beating heavily in their chests, and they avoided touching each other. Eventually, they came to a black iron park bench along the shore and Jim suggested that they sit for a while. Trixie agreed and allowed him to take her hand and direct her over to the park bench. He dusted off the bench seat with his hand before gently tugging her down on the seat beside him. Trixie smiled softly at his courtesy but otherwise gazed out at the water, the night full with unspoken thoughts and feelings.

They sat in nervous silence for a few minutes and then Trixie shivered lightly in the cooling night air coming off of the water.

"Here," stated Jim and took off his light jacket and placed it around her shoulders, wrapping it’s folds more around her upper body.

Trixie turned and gave him a sweet smile. "Thanks," she said softly, not sure what else to say.

Finally, Jim couldn’t take it any more. "Trixie, was there ever anyone else besides Michael?" he asked quietly, but firmly.

Trixie turned and looked at him with wide eyes. "In college, you mean?" she asked in almost a whisper.

"Yeah, in college or otherwise."

Trixie’s eyes avoided him at all cost and she wasn’t sure how to answer him.

"No…Michael’s the only guy I’ve ever dated for real." There, she answered his question literally and didn’t have to mention whether there was anyone in her heart over the years. She turned and looked at him directly. "Did you ever date anyone else besides Alisha?"

Jim was uncomfortable at the question but knew that she deserved an honest answer. "I have dated other women casually in college," he stated.

Trixie’s eyes clouded with sadness and disappointment. "Oh…" was all she could say.

Jim gently turned her chin up to look at him. "But, there hasn’t been anyone serious for me in college."

"Oh." Trixie realized that she was starting to sound like a record, but she just couldn’t think of anything else to say. She licked her lips nervously and pulled away from his grasp slightly. "Why not? There must be plenty of beautiful, intelligent women at your university and in your classes. Why weren’t you interested in any of them?"

Jim wanted her to really understand him. "For one, I’m so busy. You should understand that with your own double major, but with my double duty of Business and Education majors, it doesn’t leave much time to do my laundry or buy groceries, let alone date someone!"

"Yeah, I understand that," Trixie said quietly, looking at Jim from the corner of her eyes. "But you said that ‘for one’ you were so busy and couldn’t date. What is your ‘for two’ or ‘for three’?"

Jim’s hands moved from his lap and moved to envelope both of hers. "I’m very picky in whom I give my affections to, Trixie," he stated huskily, his eyes searching hers in the moonlight. "Only very special ladies get my attention, and I’ve found only one in my whole life who could steal my heart."

Trixie’s eyes were wide with fear and love as she gazed up at him. "Really? Who stole your heart?"

Before Jim could answer a high pitched shriek filled the night. Trixie jumped up off the bench, the jacket falling from around her shoulders.

"That sounded like Di!" she said anxiously. "We better check it out."

Jim grabbed his jacket and slipped it back on. "It sounded like it came from over there." He pointed to the west and they hurried off down the lamp-lit path in search of their friend.

A minute later, they came upon Di and Mart clowning around by the water’s edge.

"Mart, stop it!" Di said, laughing uproariously as Mart faked trying to push her into the dark water, but his strong arms kept her safe from harm.

Di noticed Trixie and Jim coming up to them with stern looks on their faces. "Oh, hey, guys! Mart’s been teasing me about the water creatures in the Cedar River and he’s been trying to push me in." Di laughed up at her fiancé and she totally missed the shared look of annoyance that passed between Trixie and Jim.

"Thanks, Mart, we thought Di was really in danger and came running," stated Trixie, clearly annoyed with her brother.

"Yeah, you owe me one, buddy!" declared Jim darkly as he glared at Mart.

Mart’s laughing eyes changed to seriousness as he realized what had happened and that both his sister and friend were really annoyed with him. "I’m sorry, guys, we were just playing around," he apologized, genuinely sorry.

"You are your playing around," muttered Trixie under her breath as she thought of the moment that her brother had interrupted with his games.

Jim felt totally the same way but they couldn’t return to that moment again. He looked at his wristwatch in the lamplight. "Well, bygones, guys," he tried to get everyone to move on, "it’s almost ten, we need to hustle our way back to the café if we want to meet everyone in time."

The foursome rushed off around the trails of the park and arrived at the café at the strike of ten o’clock. Everyone else was inside laughing and having a great time.

"Sorry, we’re late," stated Mart, "I was playing around and we lost track of time."

Trixie smiled at her brother for taking responsibility for what happened and he returned her smile lightly, knowing that he was back in her good graces.

Quickly, the group left the café and walked down the block to the restaurant-bar that they would be hanging out in for the next few hours. Once inside the darkened interior, they looked about the bar-side of the establishment and found it inviting and not intimidating. There were only a few other people in the place thus far, besides the young bartender and the establishment’s female owner, Lou, behind the bar wiping out glasses. The group gazed at the booths along the entire right wall, the small stage at the end of the building leading to the back hallway where the restrooms were, and the long bar that took up most of the left side of the bar. The guys were excited about the pool table that was in the middle of the large open floor in front of the stage.

Coral bellowed hello to Lou and Ryan, the bartender, and then indicated that the group should probably sit in the large circular tables right inside the bar before the booths as that was the only chance that they would have of all being together. Everyone moved over to the table and pulled up extra chairs as needed. Hallie volunteered to be the designated driver and those who wanted to have a drink went up to the bar to place their orders.

From the back door at the far end of the bar, entered two men, one long and lean with glasses and about 28-years-old, the other tall and huskier at about 35 years of age. Both men were handsome in their own right and had naturally friendly personalities. They were the perfect hosts for a night of fun karaoke. They placed the heavy equipment they were carrying up on the small stage and proceeded to set up for the evening.

Spotting Coral and the gang that she was with, the older one bellowed across the bar.

"Hey Coral, who all did you bring with you tonight?" he called in question.

Coral ushered everyone across the bar to the stage so that she could make introductions.

"Hey, Sean," she started, "these are my friends from New York. This is Trixie, her cousin Hallie and her two brothers, Mart and Brian. This is their Uncle Andrew. Also, this is Honey Wheeler and her adopted brother, Jim, and that is Dan Mangan and Diana Lynch."

She indicated each person with her hand as she said their name. The whole group said a communal "hello, nice to meet ya".

"Hey, Chris, come here," Coral ushered the other man standing nearby. "Everyone, this is Sean and that is Chris. They are brothers-in-law that actually like doing business together."

Everyone said hello to Chris and he followed suit.

Coral looked sternly at Sean and Chris and said in a teasing manner, "Now you guys be nice to these people-their karaoke virgins." The group laughed nervously at the term, not knowing that the phrase was always used for newbies to the activity.

Sean and Chris’s eyes twinkled with mirth as they saw some of their flushed faces. "We’ll take it easy on them," stated Sean, "for now."

The group laughed and returned to their tables to find that Ryan had already brought their drinks and left them on the table. He was nice enough to bring ice water for the others that had not ordered anything alcoholic.

After companionable small talk, the group decided to challenge each other on doubles for pool until things got moving along. Chris smiled warmly at the group and started playing some popular up-beat tunes for the group. The others hung around the pool table while Brian and Honey took on Hallie and Dan for the first round of pool. Uncle Andrew decided to go sit at the bar and get to know lady owner Lou better.

Hallie and Dan won the first game and the group commented on how the place was really filling up as they passed their pool sticks off to Mart and Di. The noise level in the place had definitely increased during their game and now the place had persons from the age of eighteen to sixty-five sitting in the booths or at the bar, all in a festive mood. Trixie took the pool cue Honey offered her as her partner, Jim, broke the pool balls to start their game.

Coral had been working the room, talking to different people that she saw weekly, and hamming it up with both Chris and Sean. She soon came over to the Bob-Whites with two books of songs, small slips of paper, and pencils.

"Al right everybody, pick your songs and get them in quick," she directed the group. "There will be tons of people turning in the songs that they want to sing shortly, and we only do karaoke for about two-and-a-half hours."

Honey took a book from her wearily. "I’m not sure I can do this," she stated quietly.

Coral put her arm around Honey and gave her a quick side hug. "Of course, you can! If you can carry a tune…then you are much better than many people who sing here weekly. And I’ll even start us off, OK?"

Honey gave her a brave smile and agreed. The group started flipping through the pages and giggling about different songs that they saw that they could sing. Dan suggested that they do a group number first and they all settled on doing B52’s Love Shack. Coral chuckled and said that was a popular one for groups to do. Once Dan had filled out the song slip for the group and she had finished filling out her own, Coral took the papers up to Chris so that he could find the songs for them.

The overhead music stopped and Sean got on the mike. "Good Evening everyone! Welcome to another Wednesday night of karaoke at Mainly Lou’s. We’ll get to the singing in just a moment. Remember to bring your slips to us as soon as you are ready and also, don’t forget to tip your friendly bartenders; they deserve it!"

The beginning notes of Walking on the Sun by Smashmouth started up and Sean led the night of singing with his own fun and wacky rendition. Coral returned to the group and indicated the TV screens above the bar and by the stage.

"With each song, there will be goofy little videos shown and on the bottom of the screen are the words of the song being sung," she explained to the group. "When you go up on stage, you will have a screen in front of you, too, with all the words, but no video. The letters of the word that you are supposed to sing at any given time will light up in pink, so you don’t get lost in the song. There really isn’t much to be nervous about. Just go up there and have fun!"

"CORAL!" bellowed Sean into the mike and the crowd in the bar went wild at seeing the song she was going to sing.

Coral turned an impish smile to the group. "Guess, I’m up!" She walked up to the stage and the Bob-Whites were surprised as many people started to crowd around the front of the stage for her performance.

BUM, BUM, B-BUM, BUM-BUM! (symbol crash) BUM, BUM, B-BUM, BUM-BUM started the bawdy music of her song and Coral just grinned at the audience in a very flirtatious manner. Then she started singing in a low, sultry voice:

The moment you walked in the joint,
I could tell you were a man of distinction
A Real Big Spender…

Goodlookin’, so refined
Say, wouldn’t you like to know
What’s going on in my mind?

So, let me get right to the point.
I don’t POP my cork for every
Guy I see…

Hey, Big Spender,
SPEND…a little time with me.

Coral laughed heartily at the group’s wolf-whistles and cat-calls.

Wouldn’t you like to have
Fun, fun, Fun?

How’s about a few
Laughs…Laughs?
I can show you a
Good TIME!

"How’s about I show you a good time?" she huskily said into the microphone. With an evil grin, she noticed Uncle Andrew was in the front of the group of people around the stage and she sashayed over to him, taking a hold of his tie and pulling him up on stage with her. With much embarrassment and a big grin, Uncle Andrew allowed Coral to play up to him for the rest of the song.

The Bob-Whites couldn’t contain their applause and shouts of glee as Coral crooned to Uncle Andrew and rubbed up against him.

The moment you walked in the joint,
I could tell you were a man of distinction
A Real Big Spender…

Goodlookin’, so refined
Say, wouldn’t you like to know
What’s going on in my mind?

So, let me get right to the point.
I don’t POP my cork for every
Guy I see…

Hey, Big Spender,
Hey, Big Spender
Hey, Big Spender
SPEND…a little time with me.

Coral moved so that she was singing right up against the side of Uncle Andrew’s face.

Fun, Laughs, Good Time
Fun, Laughs, Good Time

She looked him right in his laughing face and sexily asked him, "How’s about it, palsy?" And on the last BUM of the song, she said, "Yeah" and gave Andrew a big kiss on the cheek.

The audience went mad with applause, wolf-whistles and shouts of glee. Coral and Uncle Andrew shared a big bear hug, laughing the whole time and then moved off the stage. The people around the stage moved back to their tables and Coral and Uncle Andrew made it back to the group around the pool table. They all shared a hearty laugh and the guys pummeled Uncle Andrew on the back with manly pats of approval as they teased him about Coral singing to him.

"Man, Coral, you’re an awesome singer!" stated Di in admiration. "You could win American Idol if you wanted."

Coral laughed selflessly at that and thanked everyone for the comments she was making. "Thanks, guys, I’m glad you liked it." She stated warmly, "Actually I went to college on a vocal scholarship even though it’s not my major and about a year ago, a record producer heard me singing here and wanted me to sign with him."

"Why didn’t you?" asked Honey, confused, voicing the question everyone was thinking.

Coral lips twisted in a funny smile before she said, "Well, I love to sing. It’s my passion, but I didn’t want something that I loved so much and felt so passionately about, to become something that I had to do. Harry Chapin has a song that talks about this amazing singer in a small town that gets his big chance and when he performs in front of the professionals, his dreams are dashed due to poor comments made by the critics. He goes home after that and never sang in public again. I guess I never wanted to be that man. And believe it or not, I’m actually afraid of singing in front of people. I get up in front of everyone on Wednesday nights to do what I enjoy, but also to conquer my own fears."

"Well, you sing wonderfully and we’re glad that you brought us here!" stated Honey and gave Coral a big hug.

Dan stepped up to Coral and indicated Hallie. "You know you and Hallie have a lot in common," he started, "she is going to school now in New York on a vocal scholarship, though her major is Sociology."

Coral smiled at Hallie. "Well, you must be a wonderful singer-I can’t wait to hear you sing!" exclaimed Coral. Hallie blushed at the comment but stated that she had already put a slip in to sing a solo later.

THE BWGs? Called Sean in the mike. The Bob-Whites heads swerved over to the stage where Sean held a slip of paper in his hand, with a look of confusion on his face. "Who are the BWGs?" he asked Chris to the side.

Coral laughed and shouted over to Sean, "Sean, it’s my friends from New York! It’s their club name." Sean was still confused a little by what kind of club these young adults might be a part of but he shrugged his shoulders and grinned.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I fear that we have been invaded by a gang from New York. No, I don’t think they are Irish, but they do seem to be a really cool bunch," he quipped into the mike. "Let’s give a warm Iowa welcome to some of Coral’s friends, the BWGs—you’re up!"

The bar filled with loud applause again, tables rattled as fists pounded on their tops and feet stomped a welcome. The Bob-Whites were a little overwhelmed but then slowly moved up to crowd together on the small stage. The guys stood on one side with their mike being held by Dan and the girls stood on the other, Hallie holding the ladies’ mike. The music started up and soon they were just having another great Bob-White time. The ladies had a grand time singing their part: Love Shack…that’s where it’s at. Love Shack…that’s where it’s at! And everyone laughed each time Uncle Andrew stepped in from the floor and deeply said into the mike "Love Shack Baby!"

After they were done, everyone in the place loudly applauded and the Bob-Whites really felt like they were at home and comfortable doing karaoke. Since the pool table was now crowded around with many people, they decided to forego finishing their little pool tournament and they headed back to their table, laughing and grinning all the way. They received many comments from people they passed on their performance and also to welcome them to Iowa.

As they sat down, Mart exclaimed, "Boy, Iowans sure are friendly!" Uncle Andrew and Coral just exchanged a small smile.

"That’s just how we are around here," stated Coral, matter-of-factly.

The group sat for a while, just talking and laughing, enjoying the other singers that went up, and chortling over the silly videos that accompanied many of the songs. Then, Mart and Di went up to sing their duet and the Bob-Whites surrounded the stage to support them. They did a fabulous rendition of "Summer Nights" from Grease and the place went crazy when they finished. Mart heartily kissed his fiancée before everyone and they came off the stage, amongst great applause.

When Hallie saw the words Out Here On My Own come up on the screen for the next song to be sung, her heart started pounding and she couldn’t look at Dan or the other Bob-Whites.

Hallie Belden called Sean through the mike. Amid her friends’ surprise and happiness that she was going to sing, Hallie slowly moved up to the stage and took the mike. Taking a deep breath she listened to the beginning soft notes of the song and started to sing the song that she knew by heart.

Sometimes I wonder
Where I’ve been
Who I am
Do I fit in?

Make believin’ is hard, I know
Out here on my own.

We’re always provin’
Who we are
Always wishin’
On that rising star
To guide me far
And shine me home
Out here on my own.

When I’m done and feeling blue
I close my eyes so I can be with you
Oh, baby, be strong for me
Baby belong to me
Help me through
Help me need you.

Sometimes I wonder
Where I’ve been
Who I am
Do I fit in?

Make believin’ is hard alone
Out here on My own.

And when the morning sun appears
Making light of all my fears
I dry the tears
I never show
Out here on

Hallie’s voice trembled as she sang these words directly from her heart. For the first time, she looked at the audience but sought the eyes of one particular man in its midst. Gazing deep into Dan’s serious eyes, she sang with tears in her eyes.

But when I’m down and feelings blue
I close my eyes and think of you
Baby, be strong for me
Baby belong to me
Help me through
Help me need you!

Sometimes I wonder
Where I’ve been
Who I am
Do I fit in?

Well, I may not make it
But I can’t be thrown
Out here…on my own.
Out here on my own.

As the last notes of the song sadly played, Hallie placed the mike back in its post. With tears slowly falling down her cheeks, she got off the stage and walked out the back of the bar into the alley. She felt a fool for crying and breaking down in front of everyone. Being so close to Dan during this trip, falling more in love with him with every moment that they were together, she couldn’t handle it anymore. She had loved him for so long. They were now in the same state with each other but they were still just special friends. She was tired of that and had prayed that this trip would change things between them.

Inside the bar, amid the great applause for Hallie, her friends and family looked bewildered at each other. Before anyone could say any different, Dan held up his hand and said, "I’ll go" and turned on his heal, quickly heading down the hallway to the outside.

His heart was beating uproariously. He had been mesmerized by her singing voice. The words had made his heart hurt. And when she looked at him and beseeched him to be her baby and support her, to belong to her, he could have shouted with joy. He had loved her for so long but had never made a move as she was always so far away from him. A long distance relationship was no way to start a serious coupling. She had moved to New York for college, but there had never been any time or the opportunity for him to talk to her and explain how he felt, to ask her to share his dreams. He had been praying for months that this trip might change things between them.

They had grown closer with each day and through their experience at the Hancock House but he didn’t want to seem uncouth approaching her when they were both sharing a room in a romantic bed and breakfast. He had been biding his time for the right time. Taking a deep breath for courage, he pushed the bar on the back door and exited to join Hallie in the alley.

Hallie was leaning a few feet away, crying softly to herself. She looked up sharply when Dan came out the door. Groaning, she turned her body away from him and leaned her forehead against the cool brick of the building.

"Don’t look at me, Dan!" she ordered miserably.

Dan came over to her side. "You know I can’t do that," he said gently and he moved her shoulders with his hands to turn her back towards him. She tucked her head down into her chest so he couldn’t see her tear-streaked face. Dan ignored her wishes and with a gentle hand beneath her chin, he lifted her face up to look at him. Dan’s breath caught when he saw her beautiful face in the lamplight of the parking lot behind Mainly Lou’s.

"Baby, why are you crying?" he asked her softly, his hands moving up to cup her face and his thumbs gently brushing away the tears on her cheeks.

"I know I’m silly!" Hallie admonished herself, trying to control the tears. "I’m always the strong one. With all men in my family, I was never allowed to be a real girly-girl. That included ever appearing weak or out of control." She took in a deep shaking breath. "I’m just so tired of being alone and strong!"

"Honey, I know what you mean," Dan murmured as he softly kissed the tears that trickled from her eyes. "I might not be a girl, but I’ve always had to be strong and together. My whole life has been that way." He moved back to look deeply into her eyes. "I’m tired of being alone and strong, too."

"You are?" she asked breathlessly, her heart demanding that he kiss her for real.

He smiled gently at her question. "Yes, I am. So I have a suggestion for you. Instead of us being alone, why don’t we be together?"

Hallie’s lips quirked with a brightening smile. "You want that?" Hope was flying high in her soul.

"Most definitely."

Hallie’s smile could light up the night sky. "Then, I’ll agree on one condition."

Dan’s heart was singing it’s own tune. "What condition is that?"

Hallie looked up at him with all the love in her heart shining from her eyes. "That you kiss me right now. I’ve been waiting long enough for…"

Dan’s lips came down upon hers and they moved together in utter joy. He kissed her gently at first, but then their kisses built up to a more passionate exploration. Finally, they breathlessly pulled apart. Dan wrapped her in a tight hug and just held her for a long moment, not believing that this was actually happening.

"Hallie, I’ve wanted to do that since I first met you!" he declared softly by her ear.

Hallie was placing small kisses about his face. "So have I, Dan." She placed her lips against his and they proceeded to kiss deeply for some time. When they broke apart, Hallie looked up at Dan and asked, "Dan, can I tell you something."

Dan kissed her on the tip of her nose. "Of course, you can. Anything."

She looked deep into his eyes and said simply, "I love you."

Dan’s breath rushed out of his chest violently. "You do? I’ve loved you for years, Hallie, there just was never a time or chance to tell you."

Hallie wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. "I’ve loved you at least that long," she breathed.

They spent a few more minutes in the alley, becoming better acquainted and sharing the thoughts and feelings for each other that they had hidden for so long. Finally, with one last lingering kiss, they walked hand and hand back into the bar and went to meet their friends.

All heads turned to the new couple as they neared the table. No one mentioned what happened, but it was obvious that Dan and Hallie were now together. Their linked fingers were only one indication. Their beaming smiles were the biggest sign of their changed relationship.

Trixie Belden bellowed Chris from the stage.

Trixie looked up quickly at the TV over the bar and read Turn Me On. Taking a deep breath of courage, she stood up. She avoided Jim’s curious gaze, and after a wink from Honey, her feet propelled her to the stage.

Ok, Trixie, she instructed herself, if Hallie can do it, so can you. Time to go for gold, girl!

With a weak smile, she took the mike from Chris and prepared to sing her favorite Norah Jones’ song. Softly, her low husky voice filled the room with an entreaty:

Like a flower waiting to bloom
Like a light bulb in a dark room
I'm just sitting here waiting for you
To come on home and turn me on

Like the desert waiting for the rain
Like a school kid waiting for the spring
I’m just sitting here waiting for you
To come on home and turn me on

Trixie looked across the room to Jim’s stunned eyes. She sang just for him.

My poor heart, it's been so dark
Since you've been gone
After all you're the one who turns me off
You're the only one who can turn me back on!

My hi-fi is waiting for a new tune
My glass is waiting for some fresh ice cubes
I'm just sitting here waiting for you
To come on home and turn me on
Turn me on!

The last note hung in the air for a moment before the place boomed with applause. Jim had moved up to the stage during the last verse of the song. His feet had taken him to her side on their own volition. Trixie handed the mike back to Chris and slowly stepped down into the waiting arms of Jim. He held her tightly for a second.

Pulling back he said, "Trixie, that was amazing! Simply beautiful."

Trixie nervously licked her lips. "Thank you" was all she could say as she was so caught up in the emotions of the song and the feelings of being held in his arms.

Mart Belden bellowed Chris into the mike.

Suddenly all the group was around Trixie and congratulating her on her song as Mart walked up onto the stage, leading Diana by the hand to sit on a stool beside where he stood.

Mart turned to the audience and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to my beautiful and amazing fiancée, Diana Lynch." Everyone in the bar clapped and hooted. "If you all will indulge me, I have a special song I would like to sing to her. If she recalls, I sang this song to her before we originally got together."

The notes of Unchained Melody started up and couples started to fill the small dance area.

"Dance with me," insisted Jim as he took Trixie by the hand and moved them to a small, secluded area away from the other dancers. He pulled Trixie tight into his arms as Mart started singing:

Whoa, my love, my darling
I've hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time

Both Trixie and Jim felt like the words were being sung right from their hearts.

And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?

Jim’s hand cupped Trixie’s head and held it close to his thumping heart. He wondered if, as he had told her the last time they were in Iowa, if she was still his special girl.


I need your love
I need your love
God, speed your love to me

Lonely rivers flow to the sea to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely river sigh, wait for me, wait for me
I'll be coming home
Wait for me

Whoa, my love, my darling
I've hungered, hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time
And time goes by so slowly and time can do so much

Trixie and Jim moved apart slightly and looked deeply into each other’s eyes, their hearts in their eyes.


Are you still mine, I need your love I need your love
God speed your love to me.

Jim and Trixie kept dancing together as if the music was still playing and the audience wasn’t applauding loudly. They couldn’t take their eyes off of each other and neither wanted to break the moment of being in each other’s arms, in tune with each other.

Someone cleared their throat nearby and they both looked over sharply. Brian stood there with his arm around Honey. "Coral’s brother has arrived," he stated, "and the music stopped a long time ago." He winked at them and he and Honey turned and walked off toward their table.

Trixie and Jim looked at each other sheepishly and slowly broke apart. Taking her hand, he led her back to the group’s table where everyone else was already sitting.

"I can’t believe that, it’s just crazy!" Coral said emphatically to her brother who was sipping from his dark ale.

"What’s going on?" Trixie asked as she sat down in the chair Jim pulled out for her.

Coral turned to look at Trixie with a strange expression on her face. "Seems you may have stumbled on another mystery in Iowa, Trixie."

Trixie looked around at everyone at the table for answers. "What do you mean?"

"Seems like there was a robbery last night at the Grout Museum," stated Coral.

"The Grout Museum," asked Trixie, "isn’t that the large museum beside the Starlight Hotel?"

"Yeah, it is," stated Dash quietly.

"But what did they steal from the Museum?" asked Trixie.

"An airplane," said Dash flatly.

"An airplane?" asked Jim, incredulously.

Dash grinned a little at that. "Well, not a large airplane, a small one about 30-feet long. A single pilot plane that was used to give little kids rides in the children’s part of the Grout."

The table was quiet for a moment, everyone thinking about such an occurrence. Finally, Trixie asked, "But how could someone steal a 30-foot airplane without being noticed?"

"I have no idea, but it’s been done," stated Dash.

A new song started from the speakers. Coral jumped up suddenly and tugged on her big brother’s arm. "It’s our song!" she cried and pulled him off to the dance floor.

Brian stood up, too, and held his arm out for Honey "I believe this is my song, too," he spoke quietly with a smile. "Dance with me, pretty lady?" Honey smiled warmly and got up to dance with her man. Dan and Hallie soon followed thereafter.

"Oh, my goodness, look at them dance!" said Uncle Andrew from Trixie’s elbow. The threesome watched in amazement and admiration as Coral and Dash spun around the dance floor, swing-dancing to Sean’s rendition of Brown-Eyed Girl.

The Bob-Whites stayed another half-hour at Mainly Lou’s until almost 1:30 in the morning. They had a great time, enjoyed Dash and Coral’s duet of Put a Little Love in Your Heart. And they finished the night by the combined group singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight. With much laughter and many hugs and handshakes, they bid the brother and sister goodnight. Dash had invited the group to check out the Playhouse and for the group to see some of the behind the scenes of a theater and they knew that they would be seeing Coral at the Boys and Girls Club soon.

Exhausted for another night in a row, the group passed out on their beds almost as soon as their heads hit the pillow. That is, everyone except for Trixie, who was lying in her bed, deep in thought.

How could somebody steal an airplane? she thought over and over again. And what motive could they have to do it?

 

Chapter 6
Coming Out of the Closet

The next morning…

Trixie awoke to the sounds of her two girlfriends stretching tiredly within the room, and pushed herself up with a groan as well.

“Man, that was a blast last night but this week is really starting to take a toll on me,” Trixie admitted to the others.

“I know what you mean,” stated Honey across the room, with her head stuck inside the wooden armoire within their hotel room, snagging some clothes to put on for the day. “I know we spoke of going over to the Waterloo Playhouse this morning and early day to do set design with Dash, but I am so bushed, all I want to do is take a nap by the pool.”

“I totally agree with you, Honey,” said Di nearby, “a nap by the pool sounds JUST like what the doctor ordered for this tired body! Do you think the others would be mad at us for not wanting to go?”

“I doubt it,” answered Honey. “I wonder what Hallie will want to do.”

“Say, where is Hallie?” asked Trixie, noticing for the first time that her cousin was not present in the room.

“She doesn’t seem to be suffering from the same problems of weariness like us,” stated Di wryly, “I believe she got up about an hour ago to take a run.”

“You don’t think that run was joined by a dark-haired friend of ours, do you?” teased Trixie.

Honey giggled, “You can almost bet on it!” The girls all laughed at their shared joke and merriment at Dan and Hallie finally getting together for real and proceeded to get ready to meet the rest of the group down in the Starlight dining room at 10 o’clock.

 *     *     *

Later, at breakfast, the different partners were sat beside each other, leaving Trixie and Jim facing each other across the table. Trixie was greatly distracted by thoughts of the mysterious airplane disappearance at the Grout Museum and was not talking much. Jim added to the conversation at the table from time to time but he was greatly distracted by the pretty blonde across the table from him. 

“Yeah, we were thinking of passing on the set construction at the theatre and taking some time to rest by the pool and catch up on some sleep,” Di was saying.

“What would you like to do, Hallie? We didn’t get a chance to ask you before meeting up here,” said Honey.

Hallie smiled and blushed simultaneously, remembering what she had been doing before breakfast, and with whom. “Oh, I would love to help with the set design. With all of the musicals I have been a part of in high school in Idaho, I have always found the set design to be one of the most fun parts of the whole play experience. I would never miss an opportunity to work on a set at a professional theatre, either!”

“What were you thinking of doing, Trix?” asked Brian of his younger sister. Jim turned his attention to her also, praying that she would be joining them,  as he would love to spend any time beside her as was possible on this trip.

Trixie sort of avoided the eyes of Jim as she looked up from her distracted thoughts. “Um, I’m pretty tired, too. Though I would love to help with the set construction and get a tour of the Playhouse, I think it’s best that I try to get some rest, too.” She laughed softly. “Sad to say, I’m not as young as I used to be when I could go days on little sleep.”

“Ain’t that the truth, Ruth!” agreed Brian. “Just try some of my 48-hour shifts at the hospital!”

“Oh, posh,” chucked Uncle Andrew from further down the table. “Just you all wait until you are my age, then you will REALLY know what it feels like to be worn out and worn down.”

The group grinned affectionately at Uncle Andrew collectively, realizing their complaints of weariness were silly at their age.

“But you are so spry, Uncle Andrew, no one would ever think that YOU would get tired or worn out,” Trixie stated and the others agreed.

The topic of conversation turned to other ideas of activities for the rest of the week and Trixie returned to her musings of the happenings at the Grout Museum while the tall redhead across from her continued his musings of the beautiful blonde before him.

*     *     *

Approximately at 10:15, the boys and Hallie headed out for the Playhouse  while the other girls, including Trixie, headed up to their suite to change into their swim suits and grab sunscreen and sunglasses. Soon, they were all downstairs and outside to check out the big oval pool of the hotel. As the weather was only about 85 degrees, the girls decided to just laze on pool lounges until it warmed up a little more, trying to add to their pasty New York winter skin, none of them believing in fake-baking to get a tan as they all grew up so active that they knew that outside exercise was all that was required to obtain a nice golden tan.

Trixie tried hard to get comfortable on her particular lounge but her turbulent thoughts regarding the happenings of the Grout Museum impeded her progress. Finally, about 30 minutes into the girls being outside, Trixie huffed a big sigh of frustration and pushed herself up off her stomach to look over at Honey and Di whom were lying off to her right.

“I can’t get comfortable here, ladies,” she started in mild disgust, “I’m going to head back up to the room to try to get some REAL sleep.”

“Okay, Trix, we’ll be up later,” stated Honey with a smile at her impatient friend.

“See ya soon, Trix!” called out Di to Trixie’s retreating back.

Once back in the room, Trixie started to change out of her swim gear and stood in the buff, looking at the contents of her open suitcase in annoyance. She hated choosing what to wear for the day! Finally, she decided to wear comfortable jean shorts and a nice top in blue and green. But once she was dressed, she looked over to the bed and contemplated sleeping, but her restless energy did not seem to be in compliance with the idea of sleep. Deep down, Trixie knew where she wanted to be, and it was just nearby.

For a moment, she contemplated asking Honey and Di if they wanted to accompany her to the Grout Museum to check it out (look for clues), but she decided against bugging the girls as they were enjoying their time in the sun and the much-needed rest. She speculated that she would only be gone for a short while, nobody would miss her.

Just in case someone came looking for her, she left a note saying that she couldn’t sleep and went for a walk, and then she slipped on her shoes, grabbed her billfold, and was out the door.

Once she was at the Grout Museum, she paid the cheap price to get in and started looking around. By reading some of the signs just inside the entrance, Trixie learned that the Grout was actually part of four buildings, the Grout Museum of History and Science, of which she was currently visiting, as well as the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium, Rensselaer Russell House Museum, and the Snowden House. Trixie also learned that the Grout Museum was named after Henry Whittemore Grout, a prominent resident of Waterloo, Iowa, who financed many organizations within the community for children, such as the YMCA,  as well as projects for the state of Iowa. Mr. Grout sounded a lot like Mr. Wheeler as he was someone who had a lot of money, but he liked to share it with his community in meaningful ways, especially in projects for helping needy children. Additionally, both the deceased Mr. Grout and the lively Mr. Wheeler loved to travel and obtain objects as reminders of their travels. Trixie learned that many of the artifacts within the Grout Museum were from Mr. Grout’s personal collection of more than 2,000 souvenirs from his worldly travels.

Trixie realized that she needed to tell her friends about this place so that they could all look around. Going into one of the display rooms, Trixie saw a constructed covered wagon, as well as the front part of a home that could have been in existence when the original Iowa settlers came to the state. Upon closer examination, Trixie was happily surprised to see the creator of these two objects was none other than Coral’s brother, Dash!

Now I really need to bring the gang here to see this! Trixie thought to herself.

Quickly walking around the main rooms of the Grout Museum, Trixie realized that it did not look like the children’s section was anywhere nearby. Trixie spied a janitor sweeping up one of the rooms of the museum, and went up to ask him for directions to the Children’s Museum.

The scruffy looking young man, Trixie estimated him to be about 28 years of age, scowled at Trixie following her question and asked harshly, “Whatcha want to see the children’s part of the Museum for? You into kiddie toys?”

Trixie blushed hotly at his comment and his behavior and responded him in kind, with her own surly tone, “What I’m INTO is none of your business…” she q          uickly formulated an excuse for her to see the children’s learning area, “I wanted to check out the exhibit to see if it would be a good place for me to bring my little brother to.” Never mind that her little brother was in his late teens nowadays.

“Sha Right,” the guy rebuked sarcastically. “Whatever your REAL reason, the Children’s Imaginarium is across the street. You cross the park area and it’s directly across the street. Your entrance ticket here covered all the buildings so you can just take your stupid ass away from here.”

“Jeesh, thanks for the help!” replied Trixe angrily and stomped off. Before exiting the room completely, she turned back and looked once more at the young man. RALPH his name-tagged said. Trixie logged away this information in hopes that she could complain to management about their surly workers.

She greatly enjoyed her short stint outside of the Grout, across the pretty city park dedicated to Mr. Grout, and entered the cool air-conditioned interior of the Grout’s Children’s Imaginarium shortly after crossing the street. Right away, Trixie could tell that this museum must be the place where the plane was stolen from. All about her were signs indicating Science Station, Things that Go Bump, Tunes and Tickles, Up, Up, and Away! and Lego Learning Lab. Right off, Trixie realized that the airplane was probably part of the exhibit called Up, Up, and Away! But she didn’t want to appear obvious to any onlookers, so she started looking around the other exhibits.

First, she checked out all of the neat learning games that were involved with teaching about gravity, motion, speed and velocity in the Things that Go Bump area. Then, she moved onto the Tunes and Tickles exhibit that involved games and activities to learn about hearing and feeling, as well as the creation and use of sound waves. Next, Trixie was planning on heading into the Up, Up, and Away exhibit, when she spied yet another grungy janitor, this one a little taller and stockier and probably about 34 years of age. HANK read his name tag.

The guy seemed to be keeping a close eye on Trixie and she felt nervous at the way he was looking at her. As a shiver ran up and down her spine in apprehension, she felt a large hand cup her shoulder from behind. Trixie produced a small yelp and turned to view her assailant.

“There you are, baby!” said Jim loudly, as he leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.

Trixie blinked her eyes in surprise at him being there. “Jim, what are you doing here?” she asked quietly, “and why did you call me ‘baby’?”

Jim blushed a little at the last question. “Doing the same thing YOU are doing, looking for clue,” he said quietly and smiled at her shocked expression at his comment. “And from the looks of that janitor over there, you seemed in need of a cover story, so I acted like your boyfriend who was late in meeting you.”

Trixie giggled lightly and then leaned in to hug him gratefully. “It took you long enough, sweetie!” she chastised in a loving manner, loud enough for their curious onlooker to hear. Pulling back she asked, “Seriously, how did you know I was here?”

“That’s easy, I could tell from your lack of conversation this morning that the mystery at the Grout was fully in your mind. So when you stated that you were going to sun bathe and rest, I figured it wouldn’t last too long before you had to come over here.”

Trixie blushed somewhat at her predictable behavior. “What about the others, are they coming over here, too?”

“Nah, I told the others at the Playhouse that I forgot my cell phone and that I was expecting a call from dad today so that I had to come back to the hotel to retrieve it.”

Trixie giggled at this. “Why, James Wynthrop Frayne, the second, you lied for me?”

Jim grinned back at her and gave her a slight bow. “Of course, my lady.”

Trixie sobered all of a sudden. “Say, you didn’t come here to keep me out of trouble, did you?” she accused, thinking of the red-headed hero from her teen years, always bursting in to save her butt or lecturing her to not get into any dangerous situations, again.

Jim’s grin fell, too, and he answered her in all seriousness. “No, Trixie, I came here to help you. I know that you are a big girl now and you can handle yourself. I just thought it could be kind of fun to check out HOW someone could steal a 30-foot airplane without anyone knowing.”

Trixie heart started beating faster at his admission of her being all grown up. “Yeah, I know what you mean. That’s why I had to come here and check out what I could find. It’s just so WEIRD.”

Jim put his arm casually around her shoulder and turned her toward the Up, Up, and Away exhibits. “Lead on, Shamus!” he said amicably.

Trixie snuggled into the arm about her and smiled up into gorgeous green eyes. “Okay, Jim, I really need to get to the airplane ride, but that janitor seems to be keeping an eye on me. Could you perhaps distract him somehow so that I can get a closer look?”

Jim let go of her and said, “Your wish is my command,” and walked off.

If you only knew what I REALLY wished for… she thought to herself wistfully before moving further into the room for the flying exhibit.

Trixie smiled to herself as she saw many neat learning exhibits having to do with model airplanes, with other games including making a large ball float up in the air with a long house the puffed hot air, another game where people could compete to see who could get their toy hot air balloons up in the air to a certain point first. And then off in a corner of the room, was a large empty space, roped off with yellow “Do Not Enter” tape. Deducing that this area across the room must be where the airplane ride was for kids, Trixie started to quickly move across the room.

Man, I hope Jim is distracting that guy.

Once at the area, there wasn’t much to say. Only gray concrete with some scratches in the center, where Trixie assumed the plane had been secured to the floor in some manner, was present in the empty space. Trixie was just about to peruse the area more when she heard quick footsteps coming up behind her.

Fearing it was one of the nasty-looking janitors she turned around with a gasp. Happily, she saw that it was only Jim, returning to her side with a silly grin.

“Jim, what did you do to put that mischievous smirk on your face?” she asked in a teasing manner.

“Well…,” he started, “the guy really didn’t care to speak to me much though I tried quite hard to distract him. So out of desperation, I pretended to trip and I knocked over his mop bucket, spilling dirty water all over the floor.”

Trixie gasped again, this time in surprised shock. She giggled, “Jim, you DIDN’T!”

Jim smiled back. “Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid I did.” He laughed with her quietly. “I didn’t feel I had a choice. It should buy us a few minutes, any way.”

“Great! But there isn’t much here.” Trixie indicated the bare spot before them. “See what I mean?”

Jim looked around where she indicated and nodded his head. “Yeah, I do. But you have found clues in the rarest of places. Why don’t you keep looking while we have a chance. I’ll try to keep a look-out.”

Trixie’s heart warmed at his support of her sleuthing, as well as the happiness in actively working to solve a crime with Jim HELPING her and not trying to stop her.  She started to look more closely around the floor, especially around the edges of what used to be the airplane exhibit.

A few minutes later, she spied a piece of yellow paper, sticking halfway out from underneath a closet door. She had bent down to try to pick up the paper when Jim quickly came up to her.

“I think he’s coming back, Trix, and I don’t think he’d be too happy to find us still here,” he said shortly, quickly scanning the room for a hiding spot. As the footsteps got closer, Jim opened the storage closet’s door and pushed Trixie inside before locking them tightly within the black confines of the tiny space.

The room was so small that Trixie’s body was wedged, up against Jim’s front, her chest lightly touching his well-muscled frame. Jim’s nose was just above Trixie’s hair and he inhaled the scent that was uniquely her, pretty yet spicy, just like her personality.

Trixie was in pain as something sharp was poking her in the back. She whimpered softly.

“Trix, what’s wrong?” Jim whispered, concerned.

“Oh, nothing, something is just poking me in the back,” she whispered back.

“Oh, come here!” Jim said and wrapped her tightly against him in a bear hug, glad to have a real reason to hold her in his arms.

Trixie resisted the urge to snuggle up against his frame and lay her head on his chest. “Thanks,” she whispered.

The two stood in the closet like that for about ten minutes, afraid to move to draw attention to themselves if that janitor was anywhere nearby.

Finally, Jim cleared his throat, realizing that he couldn’t use this excuse any longer to hold her in the closet with him. “I think the coast is clear,” he whispered.

Darn! Back to reality. “Yeah, you are probably right,” Trixie whispered back.

Neither of them moved.

After another minute, Jim slowly released his hold on Trixie’s body and leaned back. She sighed softly and leaned back from him.

Jim took a hold of the closet doorknob once he found it in the dark. “I’ll check it out first,” he whispered into the darkness.

“Okay,” was the whispered reply.

After blinking rapidly at the sudden brightness to his eyes, Jim poked his head out of the door and looked around. They were the only ones in the exhibit area.

“We’re good,” he said softly over his shoulder and proceeded to step out of the dinky room. Trixie started to follow him, but curious as to what had been poking her before, she turned to look back into the now enlightened confines of the storage closet. Strangling a scream of terror in the back of her throat, Trixie tried to turn to Jim, but everything started to go black.

Hearing her scream, Jim turned just in time to catch an unconscious Trixie in his arms. Confused, he looked into the closet and froze in disbelief himself.

There, in the back of the closet was a deceased gentleman in his apparent mid-fifties. Jim didn’t think the man had been dead long, but his pale complexion, combined with the fact that he had three long spears of an iron gate sticking out of his chest, made his stomach churn.

Man, Trix, what did we get ourselves into?

 

Chapter 7
Our Little Secret

As quietly and quickly as possible, Jim kicked the storage closet door closed after taking a large gulp to calm the vomit churning in his stomach, as well as to calm his raging nerves that they could be discovered and in danger at any moment. His arms were still holding a leaden Trixie haphazardly and his eyes quickly scanned the area to see if anyone else was watching or was coming into the room.

Seeing that they were still quite alone, Jim tried to gently shake Trixie to bring her back to consciousness.

“Trixie, sweetie, come back to me. We need to get out of here…”

Trixie’s eyelids began to flutter and soon Jim was looking down into beautiful blue orbs clouded with confusion.

“Wha… Jim, what’s going on? What happened?” she started meekly.

Jim moved her up into his arms and gave her a quick, tight hug before pulling back from her.

“You passed out, Trix,” he stated gently.

Suddenly horror flashed before Trixie’s eyes and she clasped a hand over her mouth quickly to stop a yelp of fear at the memory of what she had seen.

“Oh my God, Jim, that man’s dead!” her voice shook as she recalled the grotesque sight. “We were sharing that small closet with a dead man, oh my gosh!” She shivered at the thought and by the realization that she had been poked by what probably killed the man.

Jim wrapped her more tightly in his arms and rubbed her arms briskly to comfort her. “I know, Trixie. We need to get out of here, pronto!”

“But what about that guy?” she looked up at him inquisitively.

“I think we should call the police anonymously from the hotel. We don’t know if his killer’s still around here or not. It could even be one of the museum’s staff.”

Trixie pulled back from him and her chin set with determination and strength anew. “You’re right, we need to get out of here. But we need to do so without drawing attention to ourselves.”

“Righto, luv,” Jim took Trixie’s hand in his and they proceeded to walk calmly out of the room, remarking to each other loudly of how neat the place had been and that they must bring her little brother to see the Grout soon, just in case someone was listening.

Once they were outside, they crossed the street to the Grout park and only made it halfway through before Trixie collapsed on a park bench, heaving a great sigh of relief for being out of that situation. Jim sat down beside her and put a comforting arm around her shoulders, pulling her into the strength and warmth of his side. They sat like that in silence, understanding each other’s feelings and thoughts without speaking.

Trixie suddenly recalled her passing out and ducked her head in embarrassment. Jim noticed her action and tipped her chin up to look at him with his free hand.

“Trixie, what’s going on?” he asked with loving concern.

“I’m so embarrassed, Jim!” she said in mortification.

“Embarrassed, why?” Jim stated in typical male fashion when completely confused.

Trixie chastised herself, “Some future detective I’ll be!” She stood up and restlessly paced in front of Jim, totally disgusted with her actions. “I mean, first time I see a dead body, I pass out! My God! If I did that today, what’s it going to be like when I’m a real detective and have to deal with dead bodies as part of my job? Will they have to call in the doctors to check ME out each time while the coroner takes away the body? Man, I must be a total FLAKE to faint at…”

Jim stood up and stopped Trixie, literally, in her physical and oracle tracks. “Stop it, Trixie,” he stated firmly, taking a hold of her arms gently to get her attention. “You are NOT a flake. You are human, however, and because of that, you passed out at the surprise of something horrible and gruesome.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Trixie muttered sarcastically at this.

“Yeah,” he said back harshly. He gently took her chin in his hand to make her look directly in his eyes. “Trix, if I wasn’t completely shocked and worried about you fainting, you may have had to pick ME up off the floor at that sight.”

“Really?” her voice was mousy and she bit her lip in nervousness at looking up into those gorgeous green eyes and being so close to the lips she yearned to kiss. Embarrassment was quickly being replaced by butterflies in her stomach.

“Really.” Jim’s voice was extra husky as he sensed the vibe between them change and the sexual attraction was now zinging between them. Nervous himself, he pulled back from her, allowing a good two feet between them. He cleared his throat quickly before continuing. “I nearly lost my stomach at what I saw as it was, even with your limp body in my arms.”

Trixie laughed lightly at this. “Yeah, sorry about that,” she said sheepishly.

“Oh, no problem, my pleasure,” Jim responded without thinking.

Trixie inhaled her breath sharply at this. “Really?” she wanted to know.

Jim nervously rubbed the back of his neck with his hand while avoiding her gaze. “Yeah….um, we really need to get back to the hotel to make that call…”

Trixie’s heart fell slightly at his avoiding the topic. “Yeah, you’re right. Also, I want to get as far away from that closet and body as possible.”

“Amen to that!”

The two started walking toward the hotel again in somewhat uncomfortable silence. As they neared the entrance, Trixie put a hand on his arm to stop Jim in his tracks.

“Um, Jim,” she started tentatively, “could we keep my fainting between us?” She bit her lip in nervousness at his answer.

Jim looked down at her intensely. “Of course, Trixie! I wouldn’t share that with anyone. That’s your story to tell, if you ever want to tell anyone. Until then, it’s out little secret.”

Trixie breathed out a large sigh of relief and smiled brightly up at him. “Thanks, Jim. I really owe you for today.” Shyly, she reached up and kissed him on the cheek.

Jim looked down at her as she pulled back, fighting to not kiss her in kind, but to kiss her lips and not her cheek.

After a moment, he cleared his throat again. “Like I said, Trix-- my pleasure,” was all he said before opening the door to the hotel for her to walk through.

*     *     *

Jim and Trixie decided to go to the hotel’s restaurant and make the call on Jim’s cell phone. Once they were seated in a back booth away from any other customers lunching therein, they quietly contemplated each other nervously across the table, Jim’s cell phone sitting on the table between them.

Finally, Trixie spoke up. “Jim, you mentioned earlier that we should call anonymously, do you really think that’s the best idea? I mean, how can we help the police if we don’t provide a way for them to interview us later?” Trixie knew how important it was for a successful investigation to be able to interview eyewitnesses, tainted as their perception might be of the event.

“Well, when you think about it, Trixie, what do we really know?” Jim challenged her. “We know that there’s a dead man’s body in a closet. We don’t know who it is, why he’s there, and who committed the crime. Therefore, the best thing we can do for this case is to let the police know that there IS a body in a closet, before the killer can move him.”

Trixie nodded her head slowly at his reasoning. “Yeah, I…I guess you’re right,” she admitted. “And to be honest, I don’t want those janitor guys to have anyway of possibly tracking us down, they really creeped me out!”

“Agreed. Why don’t you make the call as I’m sure you can provide better information about the crime scene than I.”

Trixie glowed at his off-handed comment. “Thanks!” She proceeded to dial 9-1-1 and was soon providing the deepest details of the crime as she was able. When asked for her personal information as the caller of the crime, she paused before saying, “we accidentally found the body when we were at the Museum today and we are afraid to provide contact information for our own safety as the killer may have seen us.” With that, she closed the cell phone, disconnecting the line.

Heaving a huge sigh, she softly put the cell phone down on the table. Jim reached out and took her hands in his own across the table, comforting her with his strength and support.

“You did good, Trix,” he said quietly. Deep in thought, she merely nodded her acknowledgment of what he said.

They sat there like that for a long time without speaking. Soon, they heard the loud combination of nearing police sirens and then the eventual cut-off of the multiple piercing tones as the police cars stopped at the Children’s Imaginarium and the police personnel rushed inside. Still they sat in silence, almost as if they believed super-hearing abilities would allow for them to know what was happening inside the Grout Museum.

“Trixie, Jim, what are you guys doing here?” Honey asked as she and Di neared their table, both wearing wrap-around skirts over their swimsuits and carrying their swim gear.

“Yeah, you two, what’s going on?” Diana asked, somewhat amused while being confused. To outsiders, the site of the two young adults holding hands may look romantic, but to close friends, it was obvious that these two individuals were upset about something. “We were on our way back up to the room to shower when we spied you back here.”

Trixie self-consciously pulled her hands away from Jim’s and hid them under the table. She looked to Jim for support and the right words to say.

“Uh, it’s a long story…really,” Jim started out slowly.

Honey, always the sensitive one, plucked down beside Trixie. “Why, what’s going on?”

“That’s what WE would like to know,” said a male voice that was quickly approaching. The foursome swiveled their necks to see Mart, the owner of the voice, followed directly behind by Dan, Hallie and Brian.

Before Trixie or Jim could start to explain, the waitress neared the table. “Oh my, you all are going to need a bigger table!” she exclaimed sweetly and indicated for the group to follow her to the other side of the dining room where they could sit at a table for 8. Each of the Bobwhites followed the waitress silently, rather dubiously.

Once they were all sitting down, again with Trixie and Jim across from one another, the questions started.

“So what’s going on, Trixie?” Honey asked.

“Why do you guys look like you’ve seen a ghost?” inquired Hallie.

“Why didn’t you come back to the Playhouse, Jim?” demanded Brian, after viewing the obvious connection of something upsetting having happened between Jim and Trixie.

Jim put up his hand, silently asking for silence. “Give us a moment and we’ll explain,” he said in a tone that begged anyone to push either him or Trixie to speak of the matter before they were ready.

To lighten the mood, Dan teased, “Yeah, it sure did take you a long time to get your cell phone, Jim.”

Everyone laughed lightly at this as it was obvious that a petite blonde held him up in some way.

“Yeah, well…” Jim started sheepishly.

“…he found it!” Trixie finished for him, flushing slightly under the interested looks of her brothers and friends.

“Well, I realized that Trixie couldn’t resist a chance to check out the Grout Museum for clues, so I decided to help her out.” Jim started up with the explanation to get the conversation away from the OTHER topic that the group was hinting at.

“Yeah, he pretty much snuck up and surprised me at the Museum,” Trixie continued.

“I’ll bet,” muttered Hallie quietly, recalling all the years that Jim used to “help“ Trixie on cases in a very different way.

“He was actually quiet a big help as he distracted this spooky janitor so that I could look for clues about the missing plane,” Trixie defended his actions. Realization dawned on her and she turned to Brian. “Say, what are YOU guys doing back here so early? Don’t tell me you came looking for Jim.”

“Uh, no, that’s not really why we came back,” Brian stated to explain.

“Then what’s going on?”

Mart interrupted her, never one to give up an opportunity to tease his female sibling, “Well, we went to visit Coral at the Boys and Girls Club when Dash had to go to a meeting. But our visit with her was cut short.”

“Why’s that?” Trixie asked curiously.

Mart grinned slightly at this. “Well…it just so happens that some of the officers of the Waterloo police department were meeting with Coral about an educational program they are going to present to the children of the Club next week when they suddenly got an emergency call they had to rush off to.”

“Yeah,” Dan interrupted here, “and when we overheard that they were rushing off to the Grout Museum…”

“We put two and two together and realized that you must have checked out the Grout in some way that involved getting the police called,” Mart concluded as if they had practiced this conversation beforehand.

Trixie flushed hotly at their correct deduction. “Yeah, well, what can I say?” she laughed off sheepishly.

Honey couldn’t wait any longer. “So what happened, you guys? You went to the Grout and the police were called? We heard the commotion nearby and that’s why we decided to give up sunbathing, but we had no clue the sirens were directed at the Grout!”

Finally, Jim and Trixie filled in the gang on what happened, minus two facts. As if by silent agreement, they declined to mention the fact that Jim had held Trixie in his arms after she was poked in the closet, and they certainly left out the information of Trixie’s fainting after seeing the body. They finished the story of their ordeal with an explanation of why they chose to call in the crime anonymously.

“Man, I don’t blame you,” Diana exclaimed and shivered, being rewarded by the solid arm across her shoulders of her fiancee, “I wouldn’t want anybody involved in a gruesome crime to have an idea of who I was or how to find me!”

“I think we all feel that way, Di,” supplied Hallie.

The group continued to discuss the events of the Museum and the separate groups’ mornings for a while before Trixie pushed herself up to a standing position.

“I’m sorry, guys, but I really DO need a shower and nap now after this morning,” she declared.

“Of course, Trixie,” Honey cooed sympathetically. “You go up and clean up and get some rest. We’ll get some lunch and we’ll make sure to be as quiet as possible when we come up to the room later to change.

“Thanks, everybody; I’ll see you later!” With a grateful smile, Trixie picked up her handbag, and with one long, intense shared look with Jim, she turned away from the table and headed out of the restaurant and off to the elevators.

*     *     *

Once back in her room, Trixie sighed heavily and fell back against her bed. For a long moment, she simply lay there looking up at the ceiling. Finally, she pushed herself up into a sitting position on the side of the bed, and reached into her handbag. From the small confines, she pulled a crumpled piece of yellow paper and slowly opened it up.

This was her first chance to see what was written on this piece of paper and she held her breath to find out if the contents were a real clue to the murder or if it was rubbish and a simple piece of garbage.

When the paper was completely opened, she quickly scanned the document to find that this note was only part of a larger letter to another party.

This is what the partial letter said:

You know this isn’t what Wil would have wanted.

You know, when you could get Wil well liquored up, he used to tell the most interesting stories. He had a lot more money than he reported to the feds. He had to be sneaky as to how to hide this fact, actually…..

No! That can’t be all! Trixie’s brain screamed as she searched for more clues as to what this letter was talking about on the back of the paper. Finally, she gave up and re-read the partial letter a few times.

Who wrote this letter? And who was the letter directed to? How did these gentleman know ‘Wil’ and were they referring to Mr. Grout by a nickname, or were they speaking of somebody else completely unrelated to the Grout Museum?

With a frustrated sigh, Trixie folded up the note tightly and placed it inside the coin pocket of her handbag for safe and secret keeping. After closing her handbag, she grabbed her satin robe and headed into the bathroom in an attempt to wash off all remnants of the memory of the dead man in the storage closet of the Grout.

 

Chapter 8
She Will Be Loved

At 5:30 P.M. the group who had spent the rest of the afternoon resting or lounging by the pool, met with Uncle Andrew in the hotel’s lobby, dressed up, to go out dinner. Uncle Andrew suggested that the group drive over to Cedar Falls where he had heard of a great restaurant called Montage that was just down the block from Mainly Lou’s where the group had such a fun and momentous evening the night before. The group agreed that this was a great idea and soon the group was over in Cedar Falls, seated within a restaurant that could easily compete with some of the nicer restaurants in New York City.

“Man, I don’t want to seem narrow-minded, but I’m surprised to see a restaurant like this in small city, Iowa,” commented Hallie in awe as she looked around the glamorous décor.

“Well, my friends were telling me that this part of Cedar Falls has really improved in the last 20 years, along with parts nearer to the University of Northern Iowa across town,” Uncle Andrew explained. “They said that with the city having a brand new professional performance theatre at the University, along with the other Regent Theatre across the street from us now, that the city needed to update their restaurants and cafes to meet with the crowd that the theatres brings. The Montage is one of the favorite restaurants for theatre crowd, I hear.”

“Well, I can believe that!” Brian commented. “It’s only 6 PM and this place is already filling up.”

“Yeah, that is why I wanted to make sure we ate early tonight. My colleagues said that the restaurant is quite busy Thursdays through Sundays because of theatre and concert performances.”

“Well, thanks so much for asking us to come here, Uncle Andrew; it is simply beautiful and the food smells heavenly!” stated Trixie with a smile.

Mart perked up at the mention of food. “I just can’t wait to EAT some of that great smelling food,” he stated passionately, perusing the fancy menu. “There are so many interesting dishes on here that I’m just not sure what to order.”

“I totally agree with you,” said Dan from across the table.

“Why don’t we each order something different and then we can have tastes of each others’ dishes if we want?” suggested Di, smartly.

“That’s a great idea, Di, but with so many dishes, we will sure look funny taking bites off of each other’s plates all around the table,” said Honey with a smile.

The group laughed in kind at the visual produced by what she said.

“Okay, then why don’t we partner up and we can just share a little bit of our partner’s food?” suggested Jim.

The group decided that this would be a good idea and wouldn’t bring so much attention to their table within the fancy and busy restaurant. All of the couple’s paired up and decided on what to eat, leaving only Trixie, Jim, and Uncle Andrew alone without dining buddies. Never one to pass up a chance to try to make his niece ultimately happy, Uncle Andrew spoke up from the end of the table with a twinkle in his eye.

“I’m a little old to be sharing food with other people, so you kids go ahead.”

Jim and Trixie looked at each other in slight discomfort for a second, realizing how they were paired off again by the group.

“What do you say, Trix? Be my partner?” asked Jim with those serious, deep green eyes.

Trixie’s heart beat at his words. If only I could be your partner for real. “Sure, Jim, that would be neat. What do you want to eat?”

“Well, I was looking at the chicken and mushroom stuffed ravioli.”

“That sounds yummy. I was thinking more about the southwestern spinach chimmies. Would that be al right with you?”

“Sure, that sounds good. And perhaps later we could split a desert.”

“Ok,” Trixie looked down somewhat shyly, automatically romantic thoughts of them feeding their desert to one another flashing in her mind.

The group ordered their food and were enjoying their salads and the fresh baked bread and sweet butter provided for each table when a new topic of conversation was introduced.

Uncle Andrew cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “Though I have already had a long day working with my colleagues at the Cattle Congress fairgrounds, I fear I will not be able to join you all tonight as Bill and Anthony’s wives have put together a sort of off-the-farm get-together for all farmers and their significant others who have taken part in the Cattle Congress this year at the Electric Park Ballroom here in Waterloo,” he stated with a light twinkle in his eyes.

“Oh, that’s okay, Uncle Andrew,” started Honey in her normal kind manner, “you deserve to have some fun with your colleagues and allies in the business after all your hard work and the stress you all went through already this week.”

“Looks like you are going to have to put on your dancing shoes, Uncle Andrew,” teased Mart from down the table.

“Yup,” agreed Brian, “and we don’t have any plans for tonight anyway.”

“That’s where you are wrong,” said Uncle Andrew merrily.

All heads at the table bounced to the upright position, away from forks in midair with food, at this statement of the older man.

“What are your talking about, Uncle Andrew?” Trixie had to ask.

Uncle Andrew wanted to tease the young-ens a little bit longer. “Well…I fear you all have an appointment at the McElroy Auditorium tonight.”

“The McElroy what?” asked Dan to his left.

Uncle Andrew smiled. “The McElroy Auditorium.”

“Say, wasn’t that the name of that really large building at the Cattle Congress?” asked Jim.

“Yeah, that was where we saw the rodeo,” supplied Hallie, remembering the event from a few days earlier at the Congress.

“Are we going to see another rodeo, Uncle Andrew?” asked Di, somewhat dubiously. She liked horses and all that, but she didn’t particularly want to see two rodeos while she was on a short, 8-day trip. She thought there must be something different to do in this area besides doing something twice. Also, a rodeo didn’t provide much of an opportunity to snuggle with her fiancée, who she didn’t get to see too often with their busy school and work schedules.

Uncle Andrew smiled at the question. “No, Di. Actually, the McElroy Auditorium is sort of like a college coliseum. It has different floors for different times of the year, and for different events. You saw it as a rodeo site, but in the winter, professional Hockey games occur there, as well as dances and concerts throughout the year.”

“So what are we going to see, Uncle Andrew, a hockey game?” asked Trixie with some excitement as none of them, that she knew of, had ever seen a professional hockey game.

“I’m afraid not, Trix,” Uncle Andrew continued to hold out on the expectant group.

“Are we going to a dance, too, then?” asked Honey, knowing how much the Bob-Whites loved to dance. Plus it gave her an opportunity to snuggle close to her handsome man in public.

“Nope.”

All of the Bob-Whites were really curious now.

“Come on, Uncle Andrew, if you don‘t tell us we‘ll simply die!” begged Trixie, holding her breath.

Uncle Andrew chuckled softly at Trixie‘s reference to one of her favorite childhood sayings. “Well, you aren’t going to a rodeo, nor a hockey game, or a dance. What other option is left.”

“A concert,” answered Mart first, always quick on his feet.

“Yep, a concert,” was all Uncle Andrew said and let the fact sit there in the middle of the table without any further information.

Finally, the group couldn’t take it any more and they started to ask him.

“What concert?”

“Who are we going to see?”

“What kind of music is it?”

“When does it start?”

“Who is it?”

Uncle Andrew held up his hands to quiet down the onslaught of questions. “Okay, okay….guess I can’t hold out on you guys any longer,” he started laughing in the sudden silence at the table. “Bobby was doing some research about events in the area when you guys would be visiting here, and he found a concert that he thought you all would be interested in attending.”

“Who is it, Uncle Andrew?” Trixie was so excited that she could barely stay in her seat.

Uncle Andrew finally provided the information slowly to the expectant group. “The concert is with two popular singing groups…The Dave Matthews Band with Maroon 5 opening for them.”

“No way!”

“Oh my gosh!”

“Awesome!”

“That’s incredible!”

“I can’t believe it!”

“This is going to be way cool!”

“Woo-hoo!!”

“Yeah!”

“Al right!”

The Bob-Whites were so excited that they were going to be seeing two of their favorite groups of all time, one old and one newer to the music scene, both of which no one had seen live. The Bob-Whites were making quite a ruckus in their excitement, and Uncle Andrew just sat back and laughed in glee at their happiness at his news, watching as different members of the young adults gave each other high fives, hugged each other, shook hands, and so forth at the news.

Eventually, the group became conscious of the fact that they were being quite noisy in a fancy restaurant and they immediately quieted down.

“Uncle Andrew, that is such wonderful news,” started Brian, acting as spokesperson for the group, being the oldest member. “But the tickets must have been quite expensive.”

Uncle Andrew held up his hand at this objection to stop Brian from what he was saying. “First of all, remember that this is Iowa, so tickets here are about half the price of tickets in New York. Secondly, once Bobby filled me in on how much you all loved these groups, I spoke with each of your parents and they insisted on buying the tickets, as a thank you for how hard you all are working in college. They told me to tell you all to really enjoy yourselves and congratulations on your school successes.”

Dan was curious who bought his ticket as he didn’t have traditional parents like the rest of the group. Before he could ask Uncle Andrew who sat to his right, Uncle Andrew quietly informed him that both his uncle and Mr. Maypenny had happily bought his ticket for him with the same sentiment as the other parents.

Dan smiled at the thought of being loved so unconditionally by two men who changed their single ways to take on the burden of a troubled young teen years ago. His heart warmed at the thought. Hearing the quiet exchange, Hallie squeezed Dan’s hand under the table as she sat on his left.

“We have to thank Bobby for finding the information for us,” stated Honey, always thinking of others.

“Man, do we ever!” agreed Trixie.

“Well, Beldens, looks like we have to get our youngest sibling a pretty spectacular souvenir,” said Mart, with some disdain in his voice, playing.

“Will find him something really great, Mart,” supplied Trixie, “we still have half of the trip to find him something awesome.”

“Yep, just make sure to grovel endlessly when you return home to provide your gift,” Uncle Andrew teased to the loud laughter of the group. Soon, the group was back to munching away at their yummy and shared meals, talking merrily about the night’s events to come.

*    *    *

As the group of Bob-Whites was noisily waiting in line to enter McElroy Auditorium later that night, Trixie thought she saw someone that she recognized further back in line. For a moment, she thought it was that creepy janitor guy from the Grout Museum, Phil, but when she looked back again, he wasn’t there.

Come on, Trixie, get a grip! This is going to be a night of bliss not of stuff being amiss, she chided and teased herself. She figured her nerves were just getting to her as she couldn’t shake the creepies from being in that horrid closet with the dead guy.

Jim had noticed her momentary look of worry and her biting her lip as she looked back over her shoulder to look for Phil. When she turned back, he gave her a questioning look, but was rewarded with a brave and brilliant smile from Trixie.

No need to get him worried and on edge, too, she thought to herself.

The boisterous gang soon provided their tickets and went in search of their seats. Though they weren’t up close to the stage or even on the main floor, their families had found them tickets in the first row of the first balcony, directly facing the stage. The Bob-Whites were excited as they could see the stage perfectly without worry of people in front of them. Also, they had a great view of the huge screen that was over top of the stage that would project a closer view of the singers and performers. No matter what, the group was just ecstatic to be seeing some of their favorite groups perform.

There was still about fifteen minutes before the concert was supposed to start, so the Bob-Whites decided that some people would go to get refreshments for the group while others kept their seats from being taken by people with tickets of not such good quality.

Trixie and the other girls waited for the boys to return and jabbered on with more than their regular energy. Truly, the auditorium was alive with expectant electricity as the audience was on edge for the first few notes of the performance to start.

Trixie was looking around the auditorium, admiring the old-fashioned and rustic beauty of the large structure. She could see how the auditorium was altered for all of its different events and realized how the location of being at the Cattle Congress Fairgrounds at the edge of the city of Waterloo, only 5 minutes drive along the highway from Cedar Falls, was perfect for regular sold-out events. Apparently, tonight was going to be no exception as the overhead fans suddenly turned on within the auditorium to circulate some cooler air within the packed house of the interior.

Breathing a sigh of relief at the rush of cooler air, Trixie stopped fanning herself and turned to see the boys coming down the stairs to their seats.

“Here you go, Trix, a diet cherry coke at your service,” said Jim as he handed her the drink in his left hand.

“Thanks, Jim,” she grinned at him. Suddenly her expression froze as she saw somebody over his right shoulder. She couldn’t be positive, but it looked like the other janitor, Hank, from the Museum, standing in one of the open entrances to the auditorium at a right angle to their seats.

Catching her eye for a second, the gentlemen in the entrance looked at her for a moment with a blank face, and then turned an about-face and walked outside the interior of the auditorium to the great circular hallways that surrounded what was the exterior of the grand room, housing restrooms and vendors of refreshments and concert memorabilia.

The guys face didn’t show any recognition of Trixie, so she figured she must have been confused. Truthfully, the man had been some 150 feet away from her so she couldn’t have been sure of his identity.

Jim had not noticed Trixie’s changing expression, as he had moved to sit down to her right after handing off her Coke. As all of the seats were great for seeing the stage and all of the other Bob-Whites were paired off romantically, Jim and Trixie had volunteered to take the last two seats at the left end of the aisle. Though Trixie was mildly disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to comment to Honey or one of the other girls during the performance, she knew how hard it was to even convey a message in the noise of a show. So, she had graciously allowed Jim to take the seat next to Mart and she had taken the final seat on the end of the row.

Trixie was glad that Jim had missed her wandering eyes and tried to settle back in her seat as a riff of music started to play and the crowd in the auditorium started to scream, cheer, and catcall as two DJs from the local radio station 102.9 Kiss FM took the stage to welcome the audience and the performers to the night’s event. Jim turned to smile at Trixie as the DJs started to speak, and laid a casual arm over her shoulders as the duo on stage screamed together

Without further adieu, MAROON 5!

The auditorium filled to an unbelievable and ear-shattering volume as a curtain was dropped to the presence of the band, who immediately started playing their song “Harder to Breath” to even louder applause.

The band continued with a great show, playing more and more of the fan’s favorites such as “This Love” and “Must Get Out”, while introducing some lesser known songs from their first album “Songs About Jane”, as well as some new songs from their upcoming album.

Trixie was really enjoying the performance and the music and was glad that she and Jim were at the end of the row, beyond the curious and prying eyes of their siblings and friends. She was not sure which she was enjoying more, the feel of Jim’s arm around her and the sentiment that it was almost like they were on a date alone, or the awesome show on stage. Snuggling further into Jim’s side, she zoned out a little from watching the performance as her mind took a trip back in time to when she had first stumbled over Jim so many years ago in a dilapidated mansion…

Her musings continued to smiles shared across the clubhouse table as she got Algebra problems correct under the tutelage of Jim, recalling the times they had played water games together in the Wheeler’s pond, chasing and ducking each other, their laughing over a shared joke at the local burger joint, and them riding side by side in the grove numerous days and nights.

She recalled receiving a note and an orchid corsage.

Is this your first orchid? I hope so!…

She recalled Jim standing behind her as she gazed out a window

You know, Trix, people may say you’re impulsive, but when it comes to something really important, you’re the most thoughtful person I’ve ever known.

She recalled 15-year-old green eyes looking at her body intently on Cobbett’s Island.

Isn’t that a new suit, Trix? Nice color!

She recalled Honey’s words to her when the group learned of her act with Ben Riker to save Brian’s Jeep.

You should have heard what he said to me about it, Trix. He thinks you’re just about the most wonderful girl in the whole wide world…

She remembered the passionate words of Jim after another one of her near-death scares in New York, this one in a gangster’s hideout.

I’ll never forget how I felt when we found you!

She recalled solemn green eyes peering down at her, as his fingers connected the ends of an ID bracelet around her left wrist, so many years ago.

You know what this means, don’t you?

Trixie’s fingers idly played with that same bracelet on her left wrist, now with a few extra links to fit her adult size. Her thumb played over the engraved words of James Winthrop Frayne on the metal as her mind picked up on the words that Maroon 5 was singing:

She had some trouble with herself
He was always there to help her…

Trixie smiled riley thinking of how many times she would rush off into some terrifying experience during their teen years, almost to prove to herself that she wasn’t scared, to have Jim be leading the cavalry in the end to save her from one horrifying situation or another.

Tap on my window, knock on my door
I want to make you feel beautiful
I know I tend to get so insecure
It doesn't matter anymore…

Trixie’s heart filled with longing that Jim would say those exact words to her! So many people had told her that Jim had feelings for her, for years they had said this, but they claimed his insecurity kept him from telling her the truth. If only he would just say it all doesn’t matter, that I’m worth it!

Trixie’s eyes started to swell with frustrated tears as she heard more of the song.

I know where you hide
Alone in your car
Know all of the things that make you who you are…

Jim was one of her best friends, had always been since the day they first met. He knew everything there was to know about her, save for the deepest secret that she kept locked away in her heart!

I don't mind spending every day
Out on your corner in the pouring rain, oh
Look for the girl with the broken smile
Ask her if she wants to stay awhile
And she will be loved

And she will be loved

And she will be loved

And she will be loved

Hearing these last lines repeated over and over again, Trixie simply could not take it any more! Tears started to trickle down her cheek. She was so upset, wishing that Jim would love her!

Now she was ecstatic that she was on the end of the row, as she quickly got up from her seat and nearly ran to the nearest exit into the halls, without a look back.

She sped-walked for about 30 seconds until she came to a supportive column within the building, with hardly anyone around her. Here, she leaned against the back of the column and let the tears fall.

Though some sweet and even sultry moments had occurred between her and Jim so far in the vacation, she was not one step closer to knowing if she was anything real to him! Was she forever going to be the girl next door who was inconceivably in love with the rich boy on the hill, a man that loved her like another sister? Would he ever see beyond her tomboy image to see the woman who’s heart beat just for him? Would she ever be loved in the way that ever woman deserves to be loved by the man of her dreams?

Trixie allowed these thoughts to instigate her tears for a few minutes before other feelings took hold of her.

She felt like she was being watched by someone.

Sniffing in a most unladylike manner, she opened her eyes. She started to scan the area as she wiped the tears and snot away from her cheeks with the back of her sleeve in an annoyed manner. Then she saw him, that scary janitor, Phil, was at the concert. And more so, he was standing not even fifty feet away from her, leaning against the wall and eyeing hear like an animal stalking his prey.

Chills suddenly ran down Trixie’s spine and she looked around for someplace safe to move to escape him. She decided to head back towards the refreshments where more people would be.

Oh, why did you have to get all emotional and seek solitude, Trixie? she demanded of herself in an annoyed and worried manner. Now you’ve really got yourself in a pickle!

She had walked to a lonely spot of the auditorium and now hardly anyone was nearby. Still, she pressed on to get closer to the refreshment and merchandise stands, hearing the definite footsteps of somebody moving up nearer to her from behind.

Trixie didn’t have to look back to know who was advancing nearer to herself.

She was only about 25 feet from more people and the refreshment counters when she spotted the other janitor, Hank, advancing directly toward her. They were trying to trap her!

Looking frantically around, she spotted a hallway, moving off to the left. Hoping against hope, she pivoted on her left heal and started to run down this small hallway that was heading back within the interior of the auditorium. She could hear angry men’s voices far behind her and she glanced quickly over her shoulder to see them menacingly stalking her together, slowly and with cocky assurance.

WHACK! Suddenly Trixie crashed into the body of another individual. Screwing her neck back to the frontal position, she breathlessly peered upward to see that she had ran directly into Jim’s chest. His arms immediately wrapped around her to steady her footing and assure himself that she was al right.

“Trix, where did you go to, why did you run off like that?” Jim started to question her to be cut off by Trixie’s desperate voice.

“Jim, we can’t talk here! Those guys from the Grout are stalking me!” Jim could hear the fear in her voice. Looking over Trixie‘s shorter head, he could see the two janitors advancing on them, now only about 15 feet away.

With quick thinking, Jim wrapped an arm around Trixie’s shoulder and directed her with hurried steps back inside the auditorium. They stopped just within the loud and huge room, but close enough to about a thousand concert attendees that he doubted the janitors would dare to come near them.

Still, Jim was keeping an eye out for the dirty duo while physically keeping his body in front of Trixie’s, blocking anyone’s access to grabbing her.

Trixie was leaning against the concrete wall of the open entrance, breathing heavy, her mind swimming with turbulent thoughts.

Jim wanted answers. “Trixie, what’s going on? Why did you run out like that?” He yelled the questions over the music so that she could hear him. “Did you know that those guys were here?”

Trixie thought quickly. “I’m sorry, Jim, I didn’t feel well all of a sudden,” she started. Well, that was basically the truth! “And, no, I wasn’t sure those guys were here.”

“What do you mean, you weren’t sure? You didn’t go looking for them, did you?” Jim thought she had been doing detective work. It wouldn’t be the first time she had disappeared from the group to search for clues or somebody.

Good, let him think the wrong thing. Don’t let him realize how upset you were by the words of that song! “No, Jim, I didn’t go looking for them,” she answered honestly. “I didn’t feel well all of a sudden, like I told you.”

“But then what do you mean that you weren’t sure if those two were here tonight or not?” Jim was confused.

“Well, for a moment I thought I saw Phil in line behind us when we arrived at the concert,” she avoided his eyes as she knew he wouldn’t be happy with this news. “And I thought I might have seen Hank a little later.”

“What? You thought you saw them and you didn’t tell me?” Jim’s tone sounded more hurt than angry.

Trixie bit her lip for a second. “I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it, Jim. I didn’t want to worry everyone and ruin the evening!”

Jim looked down at her intensely for a moment and then suddenly swept her up in his long, strong arms for a quick hug. Pulling back he said, “You are one special girl, Trixie Belden, always thinking about others before yourself!”

Trixie blushed hotly at his comment. “Uh…thanks, Jim. You‘re the same way.”

Now Jim was embarrassed and flushed at her backhanded compliment. He sought to change the subject and the uncomfortable moment between them. “So, what should we do now? You want to leave?”

“No!” Trixie’s response was automatic. “I think as long as we stay in the middle of a lot of people, those guys will leave us alone. I don’t want to cause everyone else to have a crummy night.”

Jim took her hand and squeezed it affectionately. “I agree, Trix, no need to bother them with this, at least for now.”

They looked deeply into each other’s eyes for a long moment.

…DAVE MATTHEW’S BAND!!! The auditorium filled with unbelievable noise as the audience screamed and applauded from the introduction of the second group of performers for the evening.

Trixie and Jim shared a wide smile before Jim moved to direct her back to their seats, her hand still in his.

As they neared their ticketed seats, Honey caught Trixie’s eye before she could sit down. Honey gave Trixie a look of mixed curiosity and worry. Trixie simply smiled lightly back and waved before sitting down at the end of the row.

Hmmmm, doesn’t seem like any fireworks have started there, yet, Honey thought as she eyed her brother and her best friend for a minute longer before turning her eyes back to the stage. Let’s just pray “yet” is the operative word.

Gradually, as Dave Matthews Band played one hit after another, Trixie began to lose the tension in her body from the scare the had just experienced. She knew that the other Bob-Whites wouldn’t be happy when they learned that they had been followed to the concert and that the janitors had been stalking her in the hallway. She also knew that Honey would see right through her “feeling sick” story so she might as well admit the truth to her later when they were alone in their hotel suite.

Slowly, she became aware of Jim’s finger caressing the palm of her hand that was still in his grasp. Tingles of awareness and affection flowed through her body as she finally realized the song that the Band was singing.

You've got your ball
You've got your chain
Tied to me tight tie me up again
Who's got their claws
in you my friend
Into your heart I'll beat again
Sweet like candy to my soul
Sweet you rock
and sweet you roll
Lost for you I'm so lost for you…

“Crash Into Me” was the last song Trixie and Jim had danced to on the night of her Senior Prom. It was actually the last time they had danced close together, before last night. Jim had been sweet enough to come home from college just to be Trixie’s date for the night, though they only went as friends, of course. Still, Trixie’s heart was so full of great wishes and an adolescent girl’s love for Jim that she prayed something would happen between them that night. She would soon be eighteen-years-old and she hoped that Jim might finally see her as more of a woman, than merely the girl next door.

They had enjoyed a great night together the night of her senior prom, triple dating with Brian and Honey and Mart and Di. Trixie had so wished that Jim would confess some romantic feelings for her when “Crash Into Me” was played for the final song. With a young woman’s heart, she feared that if he didn’t state feelings for her before the end of the prom, that he’d never have any feelings for her different from that of a sister or a best friend.

Touch your lips just so I know
In your eyes, love, it glows so
I'm bare-boned and crazy for you…

Jim had held her more tightly at these words that night. Trixie had recognized his action and prayed it was indicative of some feelings for her.

When I'm holding you so girl...
close to me

Trixie had cuddled into his large chest and inhaled his masculine, woodsy scent. She had thought that there was no way he felt sisterly feelings for her if he could hold her in his arms in such a cherished manner. However, as always, Jim dropped her off at home that night with a long hug and one, long, intense look before leaving.

Now, in present day, Trixie looked over at Jim to find him looking intently down at her. Some intense emotion played deep within his eyes. Trixie wondered if he could see how much she loved him. She both hoped and prayed that he could and could not.

Tied up and twisted,
the way I'd like to be
For you,

for me,

come crash
Into me

Trixie’s thumb automatically moved to caress the back of Jim’s hand holding hers as they gazed deeply into each other’s eyes as these final words of the song were sung. They both were remembering the last time they heard this song together. Jim’s eyes darkened at Trixie’s caress.

Trixie so wanted to just shout to Jim that she loved him, that she had always loved him! She was so tired of keeping these feelings locked up in her heart. She was on the brink of just mouthing the words to him, to let him know her great secret.

She licked her lips nervously preparing to tell him the truth. Jim’s eyes moved to watch her tongue move across her lips as if he was fascinated by the action. Then, he looked back into her eyes.

Here goes…Trixie thought to herself and took a deep breath.

Suddenly the overhead lights of the auditorium came on and the audience roared endlessly with applause for this phenomenal headlining group.

Like being soaked with a freezing cold water balloon all of a sudden, Trixie and Jim were transported back to the moment at hand. They both jerked and looked around as if they were lost.

Reluctantly, as if in a trance, they let go of each other’s hand to stand and applaud with the rest of the audience.

The concert was over and so was another magical, “almost” moment between Trixie and Jim.

 

Chapter Nine
All Locked Up Inside

Later that night, Trixie was on the bed staring up at the ceiling of her hotel room for the thousandth time. Her mind just would not shut off! First she would be thinking about the intense dark green color of Jim’s eyes when the looked back into hers after watching her lick he lips and the next minute she would be thinking about that strange partial letter that she had found, trying to solve the mystery.

Listening to Honey’s deep breathing nearby, Trixie threw the light sheet covering her body off of her in exasperation and swung her legs over the side of the bed.

If I’m not going to sleep and lie here for hours trying to solve this mystery, I might as well get up and try to do something about it! she thought to herself.

Grabbing a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt, Trixie quickly dressed and slipped into her tennis shoes. She retrieved her plastic card hotel key from the top of the television in the room and silently slipped out of the room.

Trixie tip-toed past the other rooms of her family and friends for fear that she would wake up one of them and they would come after her. She just wanted to walk over to the Grout Museum and scope out the outside of the building to try to figure out how the airplane was possibly removed from the Imaginarium without anyone seeing it occur. She would come back in about twenty minutes and no one would be the wiser of her late-night jaunt.

In just a few minutes, Trixie was across the dimly lit Grout Park and at the back of the Imaginarium. The lighting here was somewhat better as the Museum had security lights around its exterior for safety.

Trixie silently walked along the back wall of the building, scanning the size of different windows, careful not to get too close to actual walls of the building in case there was some sort of motion alarm for security that she would set off.

Coming around the back side of the Imaginarium, Trixie started walking on cement rather than grass and her eyes followed the large expanse of cement to a large receiving door on the left back side of the building. Stepping quietly closer to the large door, Trixie realized that someone could pull up a semi or large truck to the museum in guise of making a delivery to the Imaginarium and instead of dropping off something, they could take something, like a small airplane.

But that still doesn’t explain why someone would steal the airplane in the first place, Trix thought as she stood staring at the large door and problem solving in her head.

Suddenly, a large hand covered her mouth, muffling her startled and scared scream, and wiry arms wound around her slight figure.

“Well, lookee what we ‘ave here!” Hank said harshly in her ear, easily holding her captive despite intense struggling. “Just can’t keep your nose out of other people’s business, can you?”

Trixie’s heart pounded in her ears.  She remembered the dead guy she had shared the closet with and prayed that would not also be her fate. “What are you going to do with me?” she asked when he loosened his grip over her mouth.

“Oh, you won’t be a problem for us much longer, missy,” he replied nastily.

Trixie started to struggle in earnest and was about to scream for help when a blow to her right cheek abruptly stopped her and everything went dark.

 

Trixie woke up in a dark and cold place. Looking around in the very dim light, she couldn't make out exactly where she is.

“Hello?” she called out but only a hollow echo of her voice was her answer.

Trixie realized that she must be in some sort of large and empty space. She struggled to get into a somewhat upright position despite both her wrists and ankles being tied together. Rocking back and forth, she slammed her feet on the surface below her in an attempt to bring attention to herself-- hopefully attention from someone OTHER than Hank. A loud, resounding tinny clang sounds out at her motion.

Waiting for about thirty seconds, Trixie held her breath in fear that Hank WOULD come in and hurt her. But nothing happened.  Trixie started rocking back and forth with each encounter with the tinny floor pounding so loud that Trixie’s ears were ringing. Since her mouth was uncovered, Trixie started screaming “HELP!” right before her bound feet would make contact. Over and over again, she would scream and then clunk her feet on the surface with a loud CLANK.

Finally, in utter exhaustion, Trixie stopped rocking. Her voice wass raw, her body exhausted, and she felt like she has no breath left in her body. In defeat, Trixie sat in silence for a moment, her thoughts running in a myriad of fear and strategizing to possibly get out of her predicament.

“Now you’ve really done it!” she chastised herself aloud in a derisive manner. “Once again you have gone off half-cocked without anyone knowing where you are, that you are missing, and probably no one will figure out until morning. By then, it could be too late for you, girly-girl!”

Trixie’s eyes started to fill up with tears as she began to think that this could be her end. That she might never get a chance to grow up and be married, have a family, or to be a detective.

And now you’ll never know if Jim loves you or get a chance to let him know how many years he has had YOUR heart! With this thought, sad tears started to fall from her eyes in great drops.

Trixie’s well-deserved pity party was soon disrupted by a loud noise somewhere nearby and a sudden bright light entering the space. Swiveling her head to the left, she immediately realized that she was thrown into the back of the box compartment of 18-wheeler semi.

“Hey, knock that off, I told you I would move willingly!”

Trixie’s heart thumped in both excitement and fear when she realized the owner of that voice was Jim.

As her eyes adjusted to the new brightness in the space, Trixie watched Jim climb  into the box at the direction of Ralph. First, Trixie was confused for a moment how Ralph could have overpowered the stronger Jim. Then, she saw the rather large gun that Ralph was holding on the man that she loved.

“Yeah, go join your girlfriend back there. You two are about to take a nice long trip,” Hank stated as he entered Trixie’s viewpoint behind Ralph and Jim, emphasis on the word “long”.

Seeing Trixie, Jim rushed over to her. He cupped her tear-stained face as he kneeled on the floor before her.

“Baby, are you okay? Did they hurt you?” His voice was full of worry and concern. Jim turned her face in the light of the streetlamp shining outside and gasped in surprise and anger when he saw the huge bruise and swelling on the right side of her face.

“Yeah, you guys enjoy each other while you still can,” called out Ralph and both horrid men laughed as they pulled down the door to the semi and suddenly locked Jim and Trixie together in the darkness from the outside.

Jim moved his hands down the outline of Trixie’s upper frame in the darkness until he wass able to find the ropes behind her back.

“Jim, what are you doing here?” Trixie asked in some confusion. “I was certain that no one knew that I was gone and that no one would find out until the morning!” Trixie’s voice trembled with this last part.

Jim’s hands were working on the ropes around Trixie’s wrists in the dark.

Jim’s voice was hesitant at first. “Well, I couldn’t sleep for some reason…” He didn’t want Trixie to know WHY his thoughts wouldn’t let him sleep or about WHO he had been thinking. “I got tired of tossing and turning in the room. I was afraid I would wake the guys, so I decided I would take a walk over at Grout Park.”

The ropes sprang loose around Trixie’s wrists and she gasped in happiness and combined pain, bringing her arms around to the front to rub the tender skin of her wrists gently. While she tended to her wrists, Jim scooted down and found her ankles, quickly working the ropes loose.

“So how did you end up in here with me, then?” She asked quietly in the hollow darkness.

“Well, I was sitting on that park bench we sat on yesterday, thinking about this trip, when I heard a strange banging from over by the Grout. Then I thought I heard someone calling for help. Of course, I came over to check it out.”

“I’m so sorry, Jim,” Trixie stated sincerely, “I didn’t mean for you or anyone to get into danger!”

“Well, I couldn’t let YOU be in danger, either,” Jim replied in deep earnest, “And as I got closer to the semi, I realized that it sounded like your voice calling for help.”

“So how did you end up in here with me?” Trixie repeated her question.

Jim was a little hesitant to answer this as he felt stupid for having his guard down. “I was nearing the semi when I heard a click near me. When I turned, I found a large gun held by Hank in my face.”

“Oh, God, Jim!” Trixie exclaimed in horror.

“I would have fought him, but he threatened that he would let Ralph kill you and that they would make me watch!” Jim continued, reliving the horrible moment and how he felt when they threatened to do just that. “I couldn’t let that happen so I told them I would do what they want without fighting.”

There was silence for a long moment before Trixie replied. There was a distinct tremor in her voice when she did. “Thank you, Jim, for trying to save me…again. You always seem to be trying to save me from the troubles I get into!” This last part was spoken with some bitterness.

Jim’s hand searched for hers in the darkness until he could grab it tightly. “Trix, the adventure you bring into all of our lives is part of what we love about you. I just don’t care for you to get hurt or to be placed in danger when you have those adventures.” Jim’s thumb caressed the back of Trixie’s hand in his. “I don’t know what I would do if you weren’t in my life!”

“Oh, Jim, thank you!” Her voice trembled with fear and emotion. “I couldn’t imagine my life without you either!”

Jim squeezed her hand and they both sat there in a long moment of silence, caught up in their own thoughts of the danger they were in and how important the other was to each one.

Finally, to break the tense silence, Jim spoke up with a positive note.

“Say, Trix, you didn’t see what is in the back of this box, did you?”

Trixie was momentarily confused yet curious. “No, Jim, all I’ve seen is the front when they opened it up and you came in. Before that, I gained consciousness in the dark and had no idea WHERE I was or in WHAT.”

“Why, what is back there?” she asked.

“The missing plane.”

Before Trixie could respond, the floor beneath them started to shiver and then move as the semi’s engine started up and the truck started to drive somewhere.

Trixie and Jim had no idea where they were being taken or what the outcome would be…

 

Chapter 10
Finding the Truth Within


“Oh, no, Jim,” Trixie exclaimed, “where do you think they are taking us?” She held onto his hand a little tighter in fear.
 
Jim squeezed her hand reassuringly. “I don’t know, Trix, but it likely isn’t good,” he responded solemnly.
 
They both sat there in quiet silence thinking of their likely fates before Jim continued, “Say, we don’t know where we are going, but we best make sure we can defend ourselves in some manner when we get there.”
 
Trixie sighed out deeply. “Yeah, good thinking, Jim, “she stated. “I don’t know if you have anything with you, but I’ve got that little flashlight on my keychain that I can use to look around.”
 
“Actually, I pocketed my small Maglite flashlight in the left side pocket of my cargo pants before going on the walk, in case it was too dark to walk over to the park,”  Jim admitted. “But when I got outside, my eyes adjusted pretty quickly so that I never used it.”
 
“Awesome, Jim!” Trix quipped as she hoisted herself to her feet. “Sometimes I am so very happy you were such a great Eagle Scout.” She found the keychain in her right pocket and soon the immediate surrounding area within the semi box was illuminated. Trixie started to scan the light around near them for something to arm themselves with.
 
“Yeah, well…” Jim replied sheepishly as he, also, pushed himself to his feet.
 
Trixie grabbed for his hand again and squeezed it with affection. “I’m being serious, Jim. I like that you are such a nice guy and are often prepared to help out whenever something happens to someone.” In the small lamplight, he could see the honest sincerity of the words in her eyes. “Where would I be if you weren’t around to rush me out of dead air in long forgotten underground tunnels or when I almost succumb to the depths with ghost fish?” She laughed lightly at the truth of her being saved by him in some of their most memorable adventures.
 
She released his hand to move her hand up to lightly caress his cheek. “Jim, if this is how my life ends because of one of my mysteries, I wouldn’t want it to end with anyone but you,” she almost whispered these words.
 
Jim took her hand in his again and moves it to place a kiss on the center of her palm. “Thank you, Trixie,” his voice was gruff with emotion, “I’m glad that I am here with you, too. But your life is not going to end, not if I have anything to say about it!” Trixie’s heart bloomed with his dogged determination and the sweet affection she heard for her underlying his words.
 
He dropped her hand as he moved away a bit. “Come on, Shamus, let’s find something to take down the bad guys!” he quipped with some humor in his voice as he reached in the side pocket of his cargo pants and turned the bright little flashlight on. “Why don’t I scan for anything that might be lying around up front and you go look in the back. I know you are dying to get a look at that airplane anyway.”
 
Trixie chuckled at this. “You know me too well, Jim!” she agreed and moved to the back of the box toward the airplane, scanning her light from side to side to display anything else that might be present in the back. When she didn’t see anything else, she called out to Jim, “Say, you see anything up there? All I see is the small plane. I’m going to check it out now but there’s nothing else back here.”
 
Jim’s reply came from at least 10 feet away, “It’s completely empty except for a small stack of boxes over in the left corner by the door. I’m trying to open them up to see what is inside—maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll be full of baseball bats and tazer guns.”
 
Trixie chuckled at the idea. “Yeah, that would be a little too lucky, Jim. And maybe I’ll find a secret compartment in the airplane that is full of cans of pepper spray that I can disarm Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum with!”
 
Jim’s laugh could be heard from far off.
 
The confines of the semi box fell silent again as they both concentrated on their individual areas and the task of locating something useful.
 
Trixie scanned the body of the airplane to see if there was any indication of an opening for storing flight gear or whatnot but was finding nothing. Then, she moved on to the middle part of the plane where the pilot’s seat, wheel and all controls were, scanning again for anything that might be useful. As she placed her left hand on the seat, she used the leverage to push her upper body down under the dashboard with all the controls, and thought to herself: Yeah wouldn’t it be nice if there were some sort of glove compartment down here, like in cars, and there would be a gun inside it? Well, I would never use the gun on them but it would likely give them pause and we could disarm them in some way…
 
Finding no such compartment, Trixie tried to heft her body weight back up with her left hand on the seat but almost hurt herself when the seat suddenly veered in the opposite direction! Awkwardly righting herself, Trixie moved in closer to the seat to inspect why it had moved all of a sudden. What she found was that the seat cushion swiveled to the side and there was, indeed, a compartment for storage inside. Trixie moved to kneel on the floor of the plane to inspect this compartment further with her light. Her heart sank when the compartment appeared to be empty. Just to make sure, though, she moved the flashlight to her left hand and moved her right hand inside the compartment to feel around the walls and floor.
 
At first, it appeared to be as it seemed and that the compartment was empty. Trixie felt around to feel different bolts that appeared to hold the corners of the compartment’s box together but then she began to question why there were bolts on the left side of the box but not bolts also on the right side of the box. Leaning in closely to investigate the bolts on the left side, Trixie realized that though they looked like regular bolts, they actually were something different. Three of the four “bolts” were exactly the same but the last one was slightly different. Trixie manually tried to turn this odd bolt but it wouldn’t move.
 
There has to be a reason why this one is different, she thought to herself and she pushed on the bolt to figure out what it was.
 
Suddenly, she heard a light click and the whole left side of compartment swung upon on an old spring. Jim heard the creak of the old spring in the silence of the large space and called out to her, “You finding anything, Trix?”
 
Maneuvering her body to be able to peer more deeply into the new compartment she replied honestly, “I’m not sure, Jim…”.
 
At first, it appeared like this extra space was also empty, but then Trixie found a small leather pouch sitting on a piece of paper with her hands in the back right corner. As she pulled both out, her mind began to spin with information from the museum and things that had happened in the last couple of days. Slowly, she was putting the pieces of the mystery together.
 
Trix then opened up the little leather pouch and shines the light inside. WOW she thought to herself and quickly re-cinched the leather pouch closed before moving to open the paper. It is as she was quickly scanning the note that Trixie felt a definite change in the foundation beneath her feet.
 
 “Trix, I think they are stopping,” Jim called out from his end of the truck box.
 
“You find anything useful? All I have is the boxes with papers and odds and ends inside. Guess I’ll just try to throw one of them at the guys to distract them or throw them off balance,” he mused.
 
Trixie’s mind was only half-hearing what Jim was saying, her mind still reeling from the findings. “Uh, I didn’t find any baseball bats back here, Jim. I’ll see if I can grab anything off the plane to use,” she replied as she first pocketed the note in her right pant’s pocket and then, on a whim, moved her top aside and stuffed the small leather pouch in the middle of her cleavage, held securely by her bra. They say if you’ve got it, use it! she laughed to herself at the action and her thought. As she could feel the speed of the vehicle slowing more and more, she moved quickly to put the cushion back in place.
 
However, when she tried to swivel the cushion back to its spot, the rusty hinge gave way and Trixie was left with the cushion being held mid-air in her hand. After a surprised pause, she mused to herself Well, I guess this will do just as good as anything else…
 
With that, she rushed up to the front to join Jim. He was standing by the sliding door of the semi with a large box in his arms. Seeing her rush up to him with the seat cushion at her side in her left hand, he looked at her curiously.
 
“It was the best I could come up with,” she explained somewhat sheepishly.
 
Trixie moved to take position on the right side of the door so that they had both sides covered for a possible ambush.
 
Jim grinned. “Well, it’s not like I did much better.” He shifted the large box in his arms a little.
 
The semi stopped abruptly which threw both Trixie and Jim up against the door, both of their sides slamming into the door with a painful thud.
 
They both fought to catch their breath for a moment in the sudden stillness and silence. “Ugh,” Trixie gasped harshly, “We really gonna do this, Jim?”
 
“We have to, Trixie,” he replied with his regular calm and determination, “We don’t go down without a fight.” They could hear the front doors of the semi cab open and voices approaching. “Turn off your flashlight, we have a better chance of surprising them if it’s dark when they open the door,” he instructed in a rushed tone.
 
Trixie quickly turned off her light and pocketed it beside the paper already sitting there. The voices were getting close…
 
“Jim, if we don’t get out of this…” she started, her voice trembling some with fear and adrenaline-laced anticipation in the deep, renewed darkness.
 
“I know, Trixie,” he started to reply when the voices appeared on the other side of the large metal door.

“Shhh,  he warned her.

To Be Continued

 

Disclaimer:  I used real-life locations and buildings from the wonderful community of Waterloo and Cedar Falls, IA...the alma mater of this author. Additionally, I shamelessly stole lines from some of THE BEST Trixie's ever published while borrowing lyrics from songs by both Maroon 5 and the Dave Matthews Band. I am not receiving any money (though I sure could use it!) from Random House or either of these bands...and I hope that they never request for me to pay them royalties as this poor graduate student couldn't do it. Again, these stories are written for the pure stress-relief and enjoyment of this author, as well as for the hopeful enjoyment of a few readers. Additionally, it gets the pesky Trixie characters to stop riding horses through my brain until I write down what THEY want to have happen...I tell ya, it's quite distracting when you are trying to learn about Advanced Statistics and Trixie is yelling at you that she wants to make out with Jim (well, who wouldn't)! Anyway, I hope the chapter is enjoyed, as well as this LONG story, and my thanks go to the parties above, that I borrowed from, for sharing THEIR creativity and love with the general public.

As always, I do not work for Random House, nor do they pay me for the despicable use of their characters. The only thing I get from writing these stories is much laughter, some tears, and lots of enjoyment. Also, I apologize that I know nothing about sheep and that is the reason why I rushed through the description of the Bob-Whites afternoon at the National Cattle Congress. On top of that, I have shamelessly used the words from songs by Norah Jones, the Righteous Brothers, the B52s, and Irene Cara. I doubt they will ever find out and that they would ever care. J Enjoy!

Big Spender lyrics by Dorothy Fields,  Unchained Melody lyrics by Hy Zarat, Turn Me On lyrics by John D. Loudermilk,  Out Here On My Own lyrics by Lesley Gore.

TBH Main