Standard disclaimer: I don’t own these characters. I’m just borrowing them. I’ve referenced several Trixie books here and I most definitely don’t own them. (Don’t I wish!) And--- I’m most definitely NOT making any money off this story.
Coming to Terms
The Eve of Leaving
"Come on, Trix, a couple months isn‘t that long." Fifteen year old Brian Belden was perched on the edge of his sister's bed trying to cheer her up. Thirteen year old Trixie had her face buried in her pillow. She hated for anyone to see her cry.
"We'll be back before you know it," continued Brian. "It's not as if we're never coming back."
Trixie pulled away from the pillow to glare at her brother, then with a loud sniff, sat up and turned her back. "Trix..." Brian tried again.
Trixie whirled on him, her eyes flashing fire. "Don't try to pull that concerned big brother routine on me! You and Mart will go off to camp tomorrow and have loads of fun and leave me behind!" she spat, then sat up, turned away and hugged her pillow to her chest. "As usual," she added under her breath.
Brian sighed and ran a hand through his dark, wavy hair. He knew that it was hard for Trixie sometimes, being the only girl with three brothers. No wonder she was such a tomboy. It didn't help that their brother Mart, just eleven months older than she, teased her unmercifully at every opportunity.
"Trixie", he started again. "You know why both Mart and I are going to camp. It's too good an opportunity to pass up, and you know the money we make will come in handy." He tugged the pillow out of her hands, and grasping her shoulder gently, turned her toward him, lifting her chin to force her to look at him. With tender fingers he wiped some of the moisture from her tear-streaked cheeks. "As usual?" He questioned softly, wincing inwardly at the pain that showed in her normally sparkling blue eyes. "How long have you felt like this? Why didn't you say anything?"
Trixie shrugged. "What's the point?" she answered with a tremulous attempt at a smile. "I couldn't expect you guys to want your little sister trailing along all the time and..." She hesitated and then continued, "To expect to be included all the time wouldn't be fair to you and Mart anyway. Besides, you know how Moms and Dad are." She lowered the pitch of her voice to imitate their father and sarcastically intoned, “Some pursuits are simply not appropriate for young ladies“."
Brian looked at her with a slightly surprised expression and chuckled ruefully. His brown eyes twinkled at her mischievously. "You know that wasn't a half bad impersonation of Dad. Have you been practicing?"
Trixie sat up straighter, and pulling herself back to lean against the headboard of her bed, rubbed at the last of the tears wetting her face, and giggled. Brian responded with a soft smile, then reached over and mussed up her already messy blond curls. "See, you'll be fine.” He paused. “I know it gets lonely for you this far out of town", he told her, grabbing her by the hand and pulling her up from the bed, "but it is only a couple of months." Brian grunted as he suddenly felt himself the recipient of a tight hug.
"You're the best big brother in the world." Trixie whispered. Returning the embrace, Brian grinned. "Just don't forget that while I'm away," he admonished in a mockingly stern tone, shaking his finger at her playfully.
Trixie laughed and pulled him out of the room and toward the stairs. "Let's go get some dinner", she commanded as she dragged him down the hall. "I'm starved." Brian shook his head as he was pulled along. Keeping up with his sister's moods was a full time job.
* * *
Dinner that night started out slightly subdued. As usual, Brian sat next to Trixie so that there would be no altercations between her and Mart. Trixie ate steadily, answering any comments or queries sent her way with short but polite replies. It was Mart’s uncharacteristic silence, however, that stood out to his parents. He had made a point of stopping at the barber shop that day to, as he had loudly announced that morning, ‘avoid an unfortunate likeness to the solitary female offspring of my mater and pater as due to a prolonged absence from my normal domicile and, consequently, the establishment which could prevent such an event if patronized on a frequent basis’. Normally, Mart would have had all sorts of taunts ready by dinner time to drive home his points about the importance of NOT looking like his almost twin, but he said nothing beyond the polite give and take that normally takes place when dishes are being passed.
"Are you both all packed?" Helen Belden asked into the silence, looking first at Brian and then at Mart.
Brian swallowed the last of his pot roast and nodded at his mother. "I'm pretty sure I've got everything. I left enough room in the side pocket of my suitcase for my shaving kit and toothbrush, so I'll be all set as soon as I throw those in after I clean up tomorrow morning." He looked over at his brother expecting a similar report but Mart seemed to be staring off into space.
"Mart?" their mother prodded.
Mart started and dropped his fork onto his plate with a clatter. "What?” he asked, with a blank look on his face. "Did you ask me something Moms?"
Helen sighed. "I was asking if you were packed and ready to leave tomorrow." She shook her head in mock annoyance. The stern look she gave Mart was belied by the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Peter Belden rolled his eyes and exchanged a glance with his oldest son, prompting Brian to wink at him as he smothered a chuckle at the expression on his father's face.
Mart raised one eyebrow at his mother and met her questioning blue eyes with his own. "Yes, Moms,” he answered her with an affected air, “I have finalized my preparations for my fortnight and a half excursion into the wilderness, and before you ask, I have plenty of the supplies necessary to ward off the multitude of diminutive creatures that may attempt to feast on my person, air born or otherwise."
Six-year-old Bobby chose that moment to make the same pronouncement he had been making all day. "Not fair, he stated authoritatively, addressing his father. “Moms says Mart and Brian get to go to camp ’cause they’re big boys and have to holp with the little kids, but I'm a big boy too and I wanna go!" He folded his arms across his chest and put on his best pout, but then, in classic Bobby fashion, he shifted gears completely and his brow creased in confusion. "What did Mart say?" he asked, turning to Trixie with a quizzical look on his face.
Trixie smiled for the first time since the meal had started, laughed, and ruffled his blond curls. "I think I actually understood him that time," she answered. "Most of it anyway. He said that he's packed and that he remembered plenty of bugs spray...but I don't know what that 'fortnight' stuff means..."
Mart opened his mouth, probably to make some kind of dictionary inspired comment on the lack of his sister’s vocabulary, but his father jumped in before he could even get started. "A fortnight is the same as two weeks, Trixie". Then he shifted the conversation. "I think, boys," he addressed his two older sons, “that you should clear the table and then get ready to turn in. You both have a very busy day ahead of you tomorrow. Trixie, it's getting late, could you please get Bobby into his pajamas and help him brush his teeth? And Bobby", he continued holding up a hand to forestall the expected protest from his youngest son, "don't tell me how wide 'wake you are. You've been yawning all through dinner." Bobby's reluctant "OK, Daddy." mixed with the quiet "Yes, Dads” from the three older children as they set about following their father's instructions.
The next morning dawned hot and humid, making any level of physical activity an uncomfortable proposition. Even the chickens seemed reluctant to move from their settled positions---as Trixie discovered while attempting to gather fresh eggs for breakfast. As she left the coop with the basket of eggs held firmly in the crook of her arm, she paused to watch the lazy, early morning mist slowly dissipate from around the bases of the crabapple trees in the orchard next to the farmhouse, then with a heartfelt sigh, turned and headed for the back door.
“Here are the eggs, Moms,” Trixie told her mother in a forcefully cheery voice, as she placed the full basket on the kitchen counter. Her mother opened the oven door to check on the blueberry muffins she was baking. “Is there anything else you need me to do?”
“Thank you, sweetie, but I think I have everything here under control,” Helen replied with a smile. She chose to overlook the fact that her daughter's cheerfulness was obviously false. She thought she knew what the problem was anyway, and they could discuss it later. “Could you go up and pry Bobby out of bed and then help him get presentable?” she requested. “If we leave him to his own devices, there’s no telling what combination of clothing he’ll decide is the height of fashion this morning, and I need to take him into town with me today."
Trixie nodded, and then laughed a real laugh as she caught a look at the grimace on her mother’s face. ”Not to mention,” she tossed back over her shoulder as she headed toward the stairs, “that he’ll take about two hours to decide exactly what that is.” Helen’s laugh of agreement followed her up to Bobby's bedroom.
Breakfast was decidedly more animated than dinner had been the previous night. Mart and Bobby were involved in a heated, not to mention quite detailed, debate over the best type of worms to use when fishing in the lake on the unoccupied property next door. Normally, Trixie would have been an active participant in such a discussion. In fact, she would have probably added a few suggestions as to the best way to make sure the worm stayed put on the hook. In her present state of mind, however, all the topic did was aggravate her, and she instead was loudly protesting to her mother that such discussions should not take place at the breakfast table. Reddy, the family’s Irish setter, seemed to want to join in. He alternated between yelping at Mart, and feasting on the bacon that Bobby was furtively slipping to him under the table until Brian managed to grab a hold of his collar and usher him out the back door.
Turning away from Reddy’s plaintive whining, Brian glanced up at the clock on the kitchen wall. “It’s almost 7:30,” he commented. “We had better get going or the bus will leave without us. Good thing we loaded almost everything in the car before breakfast.”
Mart mumbled something unintelligible through his last mouthful of home-fried potatoes, pushed back his chair, and reached for his plate and utensils.
“Leave it, dear,” his mother told him, as she pushed back her own chair, stood, and came around the end of the kitchen table. “Trixie and I will take care of it.” She glanced over at her daughter and received a nod in reply. “You’d better hurry up.”
By this time the rest of the family had risen from the table as well, and they all trooped out to the sedan. “Say your goodbyes boys,” Peter told his sons, glancing at his watch.
Both Brian and Mart turned to their mother first, each offering a hug and receiving one in return. Her eyes glistened with moisture as she brushed a kiss on each of their cheeks. “Be good and have fun,” she admonished them, and then added, “and make sure you write.”
“We will.” Mart told her, rolling his eyes at his older brother. Then he turned and scooped up Bobby, tickling him under his ribs. “You’re going to help Moms, right?” He questioned the little boy.
“I can holp with lotsa stuff.” Bobby replied importantly and squirmed in his brother’s grasp. “I can holp gather the eggs and weed the garden and…”
Brian chuckled as he took Bobby from his brother and hugged him tightly. “Just see to it that while you’re ‘holping’, you don’t make any extra work for Moms.” He set the child on the ground and crouched down to look him in the eye. “Okay?”
“Okay.” Bobby scampered back up onto the porch and yanked open the screen door. He then disappeared into the house, letting the door slam behind him. Helen quickly followed, calling after him that he knew better than to slam doors.
“Oh, shoot!” Mart suddenly exclaimed. “I forgot my fishing gear.”
“You had better hurry up and get it,” his father told him, looking pointedly at his watch. “This train is pulling out in two minutes.”
Mart headed for the shed as Peter climbed into the car and started the engine. Brian took advantage of the modicum of privacy afforded by Mart's forgetfulness to turn to his sister, who was leaning against the side of the porch, staring at the ground and tracing circles in the dirt with the toe of her loafers. He lifted her chin and she offered a half-hearted smile. “It‘s not forever,” he reminded her. She nodded and hugged him tightly.
“Have fun,” she told him when they released each other, and then ran off toward the orchard. Brian watched her with concerned eyes until she turned past the shed, and then he climbed into the car.
As Trixie rounded the corner of the shed, the tears were already starting, distracting her from watching where she was going. As a result, she ran headlong into Mart and lost her balance. Mart dropped his tackle box and rod and attempted to grab her before she fell, but she ended up landing soundly on her backside.
Mart smirked at her. “Must all your travels be done by such a means as to disregard the safety of the general population? He asked, offering his hand to help her to her feet. “After all,” he continued, “the humidity level today would seem to preclude the level of physical activity in which you seem to be engaged.”
Trixie blushed to the roots of her hair. With a scowl, she ignored his hand and scrambled to her feet without his help. “Must you always talk like you just ate a thesaurus?” she retorted. She turned her back to him and swiped at her tears, hoping desperately that Mart hadn’t noticed them. But she and Mart were almost twins and his expression immediately changed to one that was a mixture of sympathy and concern. He might tease Trixie a lot, but she was still his little sister. He turned her to face him and pulled her into a tight embrace, resting his chin on her sandy curls.
“I’ll miss you, Trix,” he whispered huskily, then he pulled back and looked into her eyes. She surprised him by stretching up and shyly kissing his cheek.
“The feeling’s mutual,” she replied with a catch in her voice, then resumed her dash toward the orchard. Mart stared at her retreating form until she disappeared from sight, and then sighed before picking up his fishing gear heading toward the car.
* * *
“Hey, why do you get to ride shotgun?” Mart asked his brother upon returning to the car. The cheeriness in his voice sounded forced, even to his own ears. But if Brian noticed, he made no mention of it. Instead, an evil glint came into his eyes.
“Perhaps this outcome was due to your inability to recall the necessity of bringing certain paraphernalia necessary to facilitate the gathering of fresh water living organisms. It would seem to me, that you would recall this need more readily, especially since you so seem to enjoy such activities--- for purposes of both sport and consumption,” Brian deadpanned. He then turned around and smirked at Mart as his brother settled into the back seat and buckled his seatbelt. Mart’s first instinct was to make a smart retort, but he noticed an odd look in Brian’s eyes that caused him to close his mouth with a snap. He knew that look; it was his brother’s ’we’ll talk later’ look. Mart returned the look with one of gratitude, and turned to stare out the window as his father pulled the sedan out onto Glen Road and headed toward downtown Sleepyside.
The ride into town was quiet. In the front seat, Peter looked in the rearview mirror at his second son, and then glanced at his oldest sitting next to him. Something was obviously up. Mart had been too quiet since dinner the night before, a sure sign that something was on his mind. Even his banter with Bobby at breakfast had seemed slightly… well…there had been something missing during the exchange; he just couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Brian being quiet was somewhat more normal, but today, his attitude was more subdued than usual. Now both of them seemed to be lost in their own thoughts, and neither showed any inclination to share those thoughts with their father.
Peter’s instincts pulled him in two different directions. Part of him, the part that still thought of these two teenagers as his little boys, wanted to make them tell him what was going on so he could help them fix the problem. The more realistic part of him, however, realized that they were young men now. They weren’t his little boys anymore, and they didn’t always confide in him. He was learning to respect that---but it didn’t mean that he had to like it.
“Well, we‘re here.” Peter’s announcement startled both boys, who really hadn’t noticed any of the passing scenery during the short trip. He pulled into the last open parking space in the bus depot parking lot, shut off the car, and popped the trunk. Brian grabbed his and Mart’s luggage out of the trunk and placed it on the pavement by the car.
“Thanks for driving us,” he said with a trace of awkwardness. “I wasn’t sure if we would get here on time, with everything being so crazy this morning. “ He paused then added uncomfortably, “I guess we’ll see you in a couple of months.”
Peter noted the awkwardness of his words, and again wondered what was up with his sons. He shrugged off the feeling of unease that accompanied that line of thought and determinedly kept his voice cheery. “You too old to give your father a hug good-bye?” he asked. The two embraced briefly, and then Peter turned and looked expectantly at Mart. Mart, too, hugged his father, and said his good-byes. He then turned, opened the back door of the car, and grabbed his fishing equipment. Both boys picked their bags up off the pavement, slung their backpacks over their shoulders, and walked toward the bus.
Peter stayed where he was and watched as his two oldest children approached the bus. They handed their tickets to a slightly balding man wearing a driver’s uniform and their gear was stowed in the storage compartment under the bus. Peter smiled slightly as he watched Mart fuss over how his precious fishing equipment was being handled. They both turned to wave before they mounted the steps, and then disappeared into the vehicle.
Their father heaved a deep sigh. He had sent his kids off on one trip or another many times over the years. Why did this one feel so different? Why did it feel like it was the end of something? He shook his head in self-reproach and slammed the trunk shut. Then he got into the sedan, started the engine, and headed back to Crabapple Farm.
Brian stood at the top of the steps and looked down the aisle of the bus. He was surprised at how empty it was. The depot lot had been full to capacity.
“Looks like we pretty much have our choice of seats. Most of the cars in the lot must be from travelers headed south to the city,” Mart commented from behind him, his thoughts obviously following along same lines as his brother’s were. He prodded Brian forward with a slight push in the small of his back. “Let’s sit, shall we?” The brothers moved purposefully to the very back of the bus. They shared a look of silent communication, and then, in mutual understanding, took seats on opposite sides of the aisle. They both stretched out their long legs and silently sat staring out their respective windows, their backpacks on the empty seats beside them. Neither said anything as the driver slid into his seat and closed the door. The engine then roared to life, and the bus turned north onto Main Street.
The silence continued for the first half hour of the trip. Both boys, lost in their own thoughts, continued to stare out the windows as the bus moved further outside of the Sleepyside limits. The newer track housing on the edge of town gave way to countless cultivated fields, and the monotonous landscape was broken only occasionally by sturdy, old farmhouses and weathered barns. Finally, Mart broke the silence. “The view is a little on the boring side, isn’t it?” He commented quietly. Despite his statement, he continued to stare out of his window as the bus came to a stop at a railroad crossing.
Startled out of his own reflections, Brian glanced over at his brother. “It seems to be holding your attention pretty well,” he replied, as he turned back to his window and watched the freight cars flash by.
“No more than it’s holding yours,” Mart stated dryly. He turned in his seat and gazed straight on at his brother, but then he lowered his eyes to his hands, which he had clasped in his lap. “So,” he ventured with uncharacteristic shyness, “do you want to move over here or am I doing the moving?”
Brian turned back to look at his brother, eyebrows raised in surprise. It was unusual for Mart to want to talk. For all the times that Brian had encouraged his brother to use him as a sounding board, Mart rarely took him up on the offer. He must have something major on his mind if he was initiating a discussion now. Or maybe, Mart thought he was the one that needed to talk. It was most likely a little of both. It had probably been pretty obvious to his brother that something had been bothering him. After all, he had known that something was bugging Mart.
Instead of waiting for an answer, Mart stood up from his seat and stretched his arms above his head, interlacing his fingers and cracking his knuckles. Then he picked up his brother’s backpack, tossed it on the seat he had just vacated, and plopped himself unceremoniously in the now empty spot next to Brian.
This time, his gaze as he looked at his brother was intense, although there was still a hint of shyness in his eyes. He really wasn’t comfortable talking about stuff with Dad anymore, but then again, it was never easy for him to discuss his feelings at all. A part of him still considered these kinds of conversations “girlie”. Modern ideas not withstanding, he had been conditioned, like most guys his age, to think that talking about feelings was something men just did not do. It was a big part of the reason he teased Trixie so much. It was easier to tease of her than to admit that he loved his little sister; especially out loud. He had surprised himself with his actions by the shed that morning. That impulsive display of affection, combined with everything that had been going through his mind since the afternoon before, was throwing him for a major loop.
“Something bugging you little brother?” Brian asked quietly.
For once, the ‘little brother’ moniker did not bother Mart. Although he usually fought tooth and nail to avoid being known as ‘Brian Belden’s little brother’, right now his big brother was exactly what he needed--- and besides, it wasn’t like anybody else was around to hear it anyway.
“Girls in general and…Trixie.” Mart finally said quietly, now staring out the window behind Brian. The empty landscape was once again flashing by as the bus left the railroad crossing behind. His older brother waited patiently for him to continue. “I mean, we’re all growing up, right?” Mart was speaking so softly that Brian was hard pressed to hear him over the bus’s engine and the hum of the tires on the blacktop. “I’ve always thought of her as a little kid, but eleven months really isn’t that much of a difference. Is it? I think of myself as a young adult, so why did I never see her that way? She’s always been just my kid sister; just part of the furniture so to speak. But…” Mart’s words had come out in a rush but now he stopped, looked squarely at Brian, and shrugged his shoulders. “I just don’t think I know what I thought I knew anymore.” He grinned ruefully and dropped his eyes again. “That didn’t make much sense. Did it?”
“Actually, yeah, it did.” Brian regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. The fact that Mart was not making any use at all of his extensive vocabulary was a sign that he was deadly serious. “What brought this on?” He queried.
Mart let out the breath he had been holding. He had been nervous about his brother’s reaction. He didn’t want his brother to think…oh, he didn’t even know what he didn’t want his brother to think.
“When I went into town to get my hair cut yesterday,” he started slowly, “the barber shop was pretty busy. There were a bunch of kids hanging around in front of the shop--- mostly kids around our age-and the talk was the usual stuff guys talk about…”
“Namely, girls,” Brain interjected.
“Right in one,” Mart confirmed. “The thing of it is, though,” he continued, “that I suddenly realized that Trix was the same age as a lot of the guys that were there.” He paused. “And…a lot of the comments they were making were…colorful.”
Brian tensed. “Did any of them mention her by name?” His voice suddenly had a hard edge to it, and his brown eyes narrowed.
Brian‘s reaction didn‘t go unnoticed by Mart. “No, no! If that had happened, I would have told you about it right away!” he reassured him in a rush. Then he paused for a moment before continuing more calmly “Besides, there were a couple of football players in the bunch, and if any of them had needed to be beaten to a pulp I would have liked to have had the back-up.” He smirked briefly at his brother, and the fire that flickered in his blue eyes contradicted the casualness of his words.
His brother visibly relaxed. “And…?” Brian prodded.
“And nothing,” Mart replied morosely. “I said nothing. I did nothing.” He ran his hand nervously over his closely cropped flat top. “Maybe I should have. Or maybe not. Oh gleeps! I just don’t know!”
“You just don’t know…what?” Brian asked.
“You’re not going to make this easy on me are you?” Mart asked him with a hint of a smile.
Brian’s brow furrowed in thought and he answered slowly. “It’s not about hard or easy. It’s about who you are and who you want to be and…” He hesitated. “Am I close?”
“Well, I’m not trying to find the secret of life…” Mart sighed, “But yeah, you’re most definitely in the ball park.” He paused, and then continued slowly, searching for words. “I’ve never had a problem with all the ‘locker room’ talk before. It was a normal teenage thing. Boys will be boys type stuff. You know what I mean?” He continued without waiting for an answer. “It was natural to offer an opinion on which girl had the biggest, um, assets, which one swayed just the right way when she walked down the hall…but now that I realize that the object of those observations could be my little sister, it puts all those conversations in a completely new light. I just feel like I’ve been such a jerk. All the comments I’ve made, all the stories I’ve snickered at, seem wrong and cruel and…disrespectful now. How could I have never realized what I was doing before?”
Mart looked so crestfallen as he finished that Brian didn’t answer for a moment. He’d never seen his brother quite like this before, and he was struggling for a reply that might help. “Don’t you think you’re being just a little hard on yourself?” he ventured at last, and then answered his own question. “But then, you always have been hard on yourself anyway.” Mart gave a noncommittal shrug, and Brian continued. “The ‘boys will be boys’ comment rings true enough. Clichés become cliché for a reason.” He paused. “Look at it this way. You’ve gone over the line once or twice when teasing Trixie. Right?”
“Probably a lot more often than that,” Mart muttered flatly.
“But you never say anything with the intent to hurt,” Brian continued, ignoring Mart’s comment. “Not just with Trixie, either. I’ve never known you to say or do anything to deliberately cause anybody pain, and I think I’ve known you for a fair while.”
The final remark was accompanied but a tiny, sly grin, and Mart stuck his tongue out at him in reply. “Don’t you think that, maybe, that counts for something?” He held up his hand as Mart opened his mouth to reply. Glancing out the window, he noticed with some surprise that they had pulled into the bus depot parking lot. A station wagon with the campground’s name stenciled on the door was idling in the pick-up area.
Following his brother’s gaze, Mart grinned for the first time since breakfast, his mood changing so fast, it reminded Brian of Trixie. “Look,” he answered Brian. “I don’t think I’m ready to answer that quite yet, but you’ve given me some stuff to think about. This conversation isn’t over.” He hesitated a moment, his smile fading a little, and then clapped Brian on the shoulder. As the bus pulled into its slot next to the station, he snagged his backpack from where he had left it on his original seat. “Thanks brother,” he stated simply, and then turned and led the way to the front of the bus. His brother grabbed his own pack and followed thoughtfully in his wake.
“Definitely not over,” he murmured under his breath. “Not by a long shot.”
On the Home Front
Sat. July 8th 6:30 p.m.
Dear Moms and Dad,
Well, we got here in one piece. Mike Anderson, the camp director, picked us up at the bus station himself. He told Mart and me that we are the only two junior counselors that are new this year, and he wanted to make sure that everything got off on the right foot for us. He filled the twenty minute trip to the camp with a verbal orientation. I guess he figured that it would help if we had some idea of what to expect once we arrived.
Much to Mart’s delight, we got here just in time for lunch. I think he’s already missing your cooking, Moms, but for camp food, it really isn’t that bad. I guess they felt that they shouldn’t drive us away as soon as we got there, because we somehow got out of KP duty.
The afternoon was spent getting to know the actual lay of the land. Mr. Anderson assigned a counselor named Scott to show us around the camp and explain what activities took place at what locations. Scott is eighteen, and will be starting at Emerson College as an education major in the fall. He turned eighteen in April and has worked as a junior counselor here for three years. He’s really excited about being promoted to full counselor this season, and his excitement is contagious. He’ll be our boss for the summer, and both Mart and I are glad that we’ve hit it off so well. For some reason, I had visions of some grouchy, old taskmaster being our boss. I guess that should teach me not to watch those old, stereotypical camp movies.
Well, I’m sorry to cut this short, but I need to get over to the mess hall. Mr. Anderson is going to hand out our final assignments tonight and I want to have enough time to figure out exactly where I need to be in the morning before lights out.
Tell Trixie I said hello, and give Bobby a hug for me.
Peter took off his reading glasses, put down the letter, and looked at his wife, who was working on her latest knitting project in the easy chair on the other side of the family room. “It sounds like they’re settling in well enough. Although,” he mused aloud, folding the glasses and tucking them in his shirt pocket, “I am surprised that we got a letter so soon.”
Helen paused in her knitting and looked up. It was slightly after 9:00 PM, and Bobby was sound asleep upstairs. Trixie had gone straight to her room as soon as the after dinner clean-up had been finished and the muted strains of music from her radio could be heard wafting down the stairs.
“I’m not,” she stated in reply and offered a smile as she pulled some more yarn loose from the skein on her lap. “After all, this is Brian we’re talking about. He was probably trying to reassure us.” She looked pointedly at her husband. “You don’t honestly believe that he didn’t notice how nervous you were before they left. Do you?”
Peter looked startled. “I guess I was hoping he didn’t.” He hesitated. “I’m not even sure what I’m nervous about… but I am sure that I don’t want the boys to draw their own conclusions.” Helen gazed evenly at him, obviously expecting him to continue. He returned her look for a moment, and then chuckled softly. “You’re not going to let me get away with just leaving it at that. Are you?”
Helen shook her head and rose from her seat. Placing her project and knitting supplies in the basket next to her chair, she crossed the room and settled next to her husband on the couch. Leaning over, she pecked him lightly on the cheek and then curled up with her head on his shoulder. “When have I ever let you get away with anything?” she asked, looking up at him with an impish smile.
“And when have I ever been able to resist one of those smiles of yours?” Peter retorted and then groaned. “Okay, Okay. If I’m honest with myself, I know what the problem is.” He sighed and then continued softly. “When did my boys grow up so much that they don’t need their old Dad anymore?”
It was pretty much what Helen had been expecting to hear, but she was slightly surprised by how completely miserable her husband looked. She stood up and walked over to the fireplace. Taking down a picture of Brian and Mart from the mantle, she carried it back to the couch and handed it to Peter. He stared at it as she sat on the edge of the cushions beside him. “Do you remember the day that was taken?” She asked gently.
Peter nodded. “It was Mart’s first day of kindergarten. Brian couldn’t decide whether to be glad his brother would be going to school with him or worried that Mart would cramp his style.” A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth at the memory.
“They have to grow up,” Helen said softly. “We can’t expect that we’ll always be the first ones they run to with their triumphs… or their problems. We’re actually pretty lucky. A lot of siblings don’t get along at all and turn outside the family when it doesn’t feel right going to Mom and Dad anymore. It eases my mind that our boys feel they can turn to each other. I know that I wish I had felt like that about Alicia when I was their age.”
Peter looked up at his wife and smiled. “Have I told you lately how lucky I am to have you as my wife?” He asked. He placed the picture carefully on the end table next to the couch, and then turned and took Helen into his arms.
“Not enough,” she murmured as their lips met. “Not nearly enough.”
* * *
Trixie opened one eye, looked at the alarm clock on her nightstand, and groaned. “Just past midnight.” She mumbled to herself. “Just great. I don’t even remember going to bed.” As she swung her legs over the edge of the mattress, she realized that, instead of pajamas, she was still wearing the shorts and halter top she had put on the previous morning. So, she had fallen asleep in her clothes, but why were her light and radio still on? Even if they had still been on when she conked out, Moms or Dad would have shut them off when they came upstairs for the night. After clicking off her radio, she quietly opened her door and peeked out into the hallway. She made use of the bathroom, and then opened the door to Bobby’s room a crack to peak in on her little brother. His sheets were hanging off the bed onto the floor and Bobby was nowhere to be seen. Trixie pushed the door the rest of the way open with an exasperated, if sleepy, sigh and looked under the bed. There he was, as usual for a hot summer night, curled up with his favorite stuffed dinosaur. He was just far enough under that she couldn’t quite get enough of a grip on his pajamas to pull him out, so she gently shook him awake.
“Hey, I’m sleepin',” Bobby mumbled drowsily, pushing her hand away.
“Well, you can keep sleeping on top of your bed,” Trixie told him firmly. “Come on now.”
Bobby continued to grumble, but gave in to his sister’s insistent, gentle tugging and wriggled out from under the bed. Trixie scooped him up, hugged him close for a moment, and then placed him gently down on the bed. She pulled the sheets off the floor and tucked them loosely around him. Then she placed a gentle kiss on his forehead and ruffled his blond curls.
“Sweet dreams, lamb,” she told him gently.
“I love you, Trix,” he replied sleepily, and then immediately dropped off again.
With a soft smile, Trixie gently touched his cheek and then went back out into the hallway, closing the door softly behind her. She decided to go downstairs and get something to drink before changing into her pajamas and going back to bed.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she noticed that the light was still on in the family room and went to turn it off. She was surprised to find her parents curled up on the couch, sound asleep. The stereo was softly playing an oldies station. Her father’s tie hung loosely around his neck, and her mother’s head was nestled between his shoulder and collar bone.
She stood there watching them sleep for a moment, and then headed for the kitchen. Opening the cabinet, she took down a glass, and then turned and opened the refrigerator door. After perusing her choices for a minute, she came to the conclusion that she wasn’t thirsty after all and closed the door again. Putting the unused glass back on the shelf, she quietly closed the cabinet door, and headed back toward the stairs, flicking the light switch on the wall next to the door on her way out.
Once back in her room, Trixie slipped on her pajamas, tossed her dirty clothes in the hamper in the corner, and climbed into bed. She reached over and turned off the light on her nightstand and let her head drop back onto the pillow.
The moon had broken through the clouds that had been obscuring it, and a pale glow was seeping between the curtains. Trixie lay in the soft light, staring at the ceiling, her thoughts in turmoil. She missed her brothers terribly. She understood all the logical reasons as to why things had to be the way they were, but that didn’t stop all the resentment that was bubbling up inside her. This summer was going to be so boring.
News From Home
“Mail call!” Liz, the lead counselor for the girls’ side of the camp, was standing at the door that led from the mess hall to the kitchens. A staff meeting had just ended, and Brian and Mart were getting up from their seats. Both boys were bone tired, and had planned on heading straight to their bunks for some much needed sleep. Upon Liz’s announcement however, they moved with a swiftness that belied their exhaustion, and somehow managed to be the first to reach her.
“Let’s see…Belden…Belden…” Liz mumbled as she flipped through the stack of mail she had carried in with her.
“Oh, come on already,” Mart demanded impatiently. “Did we get anything or not?”
Liz stopped flipping through the envelopes and looked at him with the most innocent expression she could muster. “Geez, you waiting for a letter from your girlfriend or something?” She fluttered her eyelashes at him and laughed when he flushed scarlet. Then she pulled a postcard and an envelope from the stack, and, sticking her tongue out at Mart, handed them to Brian. “They’re addressed to both of you,” she commented. Then she smirked and turned away to answer the clamors for her attention from the other counselors. Brian pulled his brother toward the door.
“It will hold until we get back to the cabin,” Brian told his brother as he pocketed both the card and the envelope that Liz had given to him. “Come on.” Just as he pulled open the mess hall door, the heavens seemed to open, and a deluge of welcome rain fell from the sky.
“It’s about time!” Mart exalted. He ran out into the downpour, doing a little dance even as his clothes became soaked through. Then, remembering the contents of his brother’s pocket, he ceased his impromptu celebration and started jogging toward the cabin that they had been staying in since their arrival some three and a half weeks before. “Coming?” He tossed the question over his shoulder at his brother with an impish grin. “If you don’t move it, our mail is going to be so soaked, the ink will run, and we won’t be able to read a single word of it.”
Still standing under the overhang that ran the length of the main building, Brian shook his head at Mart’s antics. Sometimes his kid brother could be such…a kid. He wished he had that privilege. He checked his pocket to make sure that their mail was securely tucked away, and then followed Mart at a quick jog.
By the time Brian caught up to his brother, Mart had already kicked off his shoes, and was just about finished pulling on dry t-shirt. When Brian entered the cabin, Mart grabbed a towel off the shelf next to their bunks, tossed it to his brother, and then turned to put on a dry pair of shorts to sleep in. Brian caught the towel neatly, and rubbed at his dripping hair while he kicked off his own shoes. As he quickly followed his brother’s example and changed into dry clothes, Mart grabbed the towel and used it to blot at the envelope and postcard that Brian had tossed on the top bunk. Their two cabin mates had bed -check duty, so they had the cabin to themselves for a while.
“So, you want the letter, or the postcard?” Mart asked. Brian simply held out his hand. Mart handed him the envelope and looked at the picture on the postcard. “Hey, it’s Hoppy.” he said, and held it out to show his brother. Flipping it over he read aloud: ‘Hope you two are having fun. Love, Trixie.’ Gee, long winded isn’t she?”
Brian grinned in response as Mart reached into his backpack, where he had stashed the last of the oatmeal raisin cookies Moms had sent the previous week. Pulling out the zip locked bag, Mart grabbed two cookies for himself and then held out the bag to his brother. Brian shook his head in refusal. Mart shrugged, resealed the bag, and tucked it back into the inside pocket of his pack. Then he bit into his evening snack. “So, what’s up at home?” he asked through a mouthful of cookie.
“Do you just want the basics, or do you want to pretend that you’re Bobby?” Brian asked with a smile, pulling the sheets out of the envelope.
“Read!” Mart demanded in his best Bobby imitation.
Brian laughed, climbed up to the top bunk, and sat with his legs dangling over the edge of the mattress. Mart plopped himself on the floor and stared up at his brother with an angelic expression on his face. “Okay, Bobby,” Brian said with a grin, “but don’t fall asleep while I’m reading this time, alright?”
Mart grinned from ear to ear and replied with an enthusiastic nod. Brian began to read aloud:
Dear Brian and Mart,
I hope things are going well for you at camp. The garden is in full bloom, and Trixie has been working extremely hard helping me to keep up with it. She has also been a huge help with Bobby. I think she has more patience with him than she realizes, and Bobby absolutely adores spending time with her. He would follow her everywhere if I let him.
In your absence, your father has taken up the job of spoiling Bobby. He and Bobby have been playing games almost every night after dinner since the day you left. Just between us, I don’t think your father stinks quite as badly at Candy Land as he makes out.
I’m afraid I have some rather sad news. On the way to work several days ago, your father found Mr. Frayne lying at the bottom of his driveway and took him to the hospital. He was diagnosed with both pneumonia and malnutrition. The doctors doubt that he’ll make it, but it doesn’t hurt to keep hoping.
We had a quite a scare Friday, but before I go into detail, let me reassure you that everything is fine now. (Just so you know, Trixie doesn’t want me to write you about this.)
I left Bobby in Trixie’s care while I went to my garden club meeting. He was still taking his nap when I left, and she has done such a wonderful job with him this summer, that I was sure there wouldn’t be any problems. Unfortunately, I was wrong. After Bobby woke up from his nap, Trixie took him out into the garden with her so she could do the weeding for me. She had been working for a while when she heard Bobby scream. Bobby had wandered out of the garden and was at the edge of the woods. He had caught a snake with a stick and it had bitten him on the toe. Trixie had him describe it, and it was definitely a copperhead. Your sister kept her head beautifully. She made and applied a tourniquet, carried him to the house and got him to lie quietly while she got a razorblade out of your father’s medicine cabinet. Then she used the cut and suck method until Dr. Ferris was able to get to the house. He gave Bobby some of the anti-venom, but he told me later that he didn’t think it had really been necessary since Trixie had done such a fine job. Thank God Trixie didn’t have any cuts or sores in her mouth.
Bobby is fine now, though I think Trixie is still feeling guilty over the whole thing. Both your father and I have told her how proud we are of how she handled everything, but she’s convinced that it wouldn‘t have happened at all if she had taken better care of Bobby. You both know how easy it is to lose track of him, but I can‘t seem to convince your sister that it wasn‘t her fault. Oh well, hopefully she’ll come around eventually.
I’m sure you already know that your father and I miss you very much. Bobby asks everyday at breakfast when you’ll be coming home. I don’t think he quite understands how long it really is until you get back and he keeps hoping the answer will change. But I think it’s Trixie who misses you the most. She hasn’t said it in so many words, but a mother knows these things.
Try not to worry, either of you, about things here. I might take Bobby to the seashore for a time. Maybe it will put some color back in his cheeks. I hope it’s cooler up in the woods than it is here. Both of you take care of yourselves.
Brian stopped reading and looked at Mart. His brother had jumped up and started to pace the small cabin when Brian had read the part about Bobby being bitten by the copperhead. Now he stopped and looked at a face that looked just as shocked he felt. “Bobby…Trixie…He started, tears coming unbidden into his blue eyes.
Brian slid down off the bunk and turned his brother to face him. Firmly taking grasp of Mart’s shoulders, he looked straight into his brothers blue eyes, his own brown ones glistening with moisture. “They’re okay. Everything’s okay.” He said quietly. Both boys sank to the floor and Brian drew his brother against him in a one armed hug.
“Oh God,” Mart choked out, leaning his head on Brian’s shoulder. “We could have lost him…lost them both…if there had been any cuts in Trixie’s mouth…”
Brian reluctantly loosened his hold on his brother. He wasn’t ready to let go just yet. He needed the comfort that the closeness provided as much as Mart did. “But we didn’t,” he said softly. “Thank God. We didn’t.”
After a few minutes, Mart pulled away and shimmied backwards until he was sitting with his back against the wall. He leaned his head against the thin plywood and closed his eyes. Silence stretched between the brothers as they both lost themselves in their own thoughts. Finally, Mart’s voice broke through the heavy quiet. “Trixie did good,” he commented in low voice. He opened his eyes to look at his brother, who had moved to lean against the bunk. Brian, also, had closed his eyes “I’m not surprised that she’s blaming herself,” he continued. “She always does that. But Moms is right. She’ll come around eventually.” He paused. “I’m kind of glad we had the place to ourselves tonight.”
The last comment had the desired effect, causing Brian to open his eyes and smile ruefully. “Yeah, I guess that is a good thing.” Immediately, Mart became concerned. Brian’s eyes looked haunted, as if he had made some kind of terrible mistake.
“You okay, Bri?” Mart asked quietly.
Ignoring his brother’s question, Brian wearily got to his feet and pulled back the covers on the bottom bunk. “Let’s get some sleep,” he stated brusquely. “The small fry are going to be sliding all over the place in the mud in the morning. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
Mart watched, puzzled, as his brother slid under the sheets, and shrugged before climbing up to the top bunk. They were both exhausted and Brian would talk when he was ready.
Hey little man,
Moms’ last letter said that you had a lot of fun at the beach. I bet you built a whole bunch of sandcastles. Did you make the moats nice and wide, like I showed you last summer? I wish I could have seen them. It’s a good thing you feel better, because we have a lot of fun to catch up on when Brian and I get back in a couple of weeks. I’ve missed playing with you this summer, kiddo, and I promise that I will finally make that scooter for you once I get home.
I know you like silly poems and I heard a new one that I thought you would like.
There once was a boy named Tony
Who liked to go ride on his pony
But his pony was sleepy
And Tony got weepy
Until his Mom made macaroni.
Do you like it? I’ve got some new jokes for you too.
What did one wall say to the other?
I’ll meet you at the corner.
What did the boy ghost say to the girl ghost?
Hope you got a laugh out of these, little man. We’ll be home before you know it. Stay out of trouble.
Tons of hugs,
“Done with your letters? Mart asked his brother, as he folded his note for Bobby.
“I just finished addressing the envelope,” Brian replied. “I’m starting to wonder why we’re bothering to write to Trixie,” he added, a touch of acrimony entering his voice. “All we’ve gotten back is a few scribbled postcards that tell us next to nothing---and Moms keeps saying that a lot of the news is Trixie’s news to tell.”
“She never did like writing letters much,” commented Mart. Jeez, his brother had been touchy recently. “Don’t read too much into it. Anyway, Moms did say that Trixie has had a really busy summer, although I do admit that I’m curious as to what could possibly be keeping her so busy.”
“Well, we’re not going to find the answer to that this morning,” Brian remarked easily, his irritation evaporating as quickly as it had appeared. He took Mart’s letters from him, and stuffed them into the envelope along with the ones he had written. “Where are the stamps?” He asked.
Mart looked up from where he was sitting on the bunk, pulling on his shoes. “You put them in that small zipper pocket on the front of your backpack.”
“Thanks. I wasn’t sure if I put them back in there last time or not.” Brian affixed the necessary postage, and sealed the envelope. “Let’s get going so we can drop this off at the office before the mail goes out for the day.”
“Sounds good to me.” Mart finished tying his sneakers, then stood up and headed toward the door.
As both boys headed out of the cabin, Brian glanced at his watch. “Whoa, it’s almost nine, we really better move it, or we will be late for our morning assignments. He glanced over at his brother as they both broke into an easy jog. “What job did you draw this today?”
“I get to help the small fry make bird feeders this morning. You know the kind, the ones with the peanut butter and the bird seed. Then, after lunch, I get the enviable duty of taking the cherubs on an orienteering hike. Fortunately, those little legs get tired fast, and the hike will only last about an hour.” Mart grimaced. “I fell asleep last night to visions of peanut butter covered kids dancing in poison ivy. They just don’t seem to get the leaflets three thing. How about you?” He asked as they mounted the steps to the camp office.
“I’ll be in the infirmary all day, which means those cases of poison ivy your kids will probably end up with will be coming to me.” Brian opined. He grinned at his brother. “I think I’ll check on the supply of calamine lotion as soon as I get over there.” Mart rewarded him with a friendly swat in the head.
They had reached the front desk of the camp office, and Brian handed the envelope containing their letters to Mr. Anderson.
“The mail hasn’t gone out yet, has it? He asked the director.
“I’m getting ready to make a run to the post office in town now,” Mr. Anderson replied. Oh, and by the way Brian,” he added, “Mrs. Locke had to go into town and take care of some family business, so Scott will be working in the infirmary with you today.”
“No problem,” Brian replied. “Scott’s had EMT training so we shouldn’t have any problems.” He turned to his brother and smirked. “Have a fun morning.” Mart replied with an exaggerated groan.
Brian chuckled. “Get thee to work, slave.” he ordered, shoving Mart toward the door. “The younger set awaits your incomparable tutelage.”
“Nooo!!! You can’t make me go!!” Mart grabbed onto the sides of the door jam with both hands and planted his feet.
“Oh really?” Brian asked. “We’ll see about that.” He planted his own feet and pushed. Mart resisted with all his strength. Soon, a full scale shoving match ensued and both of them were laughing like a couple of hyenas. Finally, Brian’s extra two inches of height gave him the leverage he needed, and, with a final shove, Mart lost his grip and went sprawling onto the porch.
Brian bent over, hands on his knees, and tried to catch his breath. Mart propped himself up on one elbow and glared at him. “You think it’s funny, laying me out in such an undignified manner?” He asked, shaking a finger at his brother. Brian grinned, once again braced his feet, and extended his hand. Mart grasped it and hauled himself to his feet, still chuckling under his breath.
“Get-thee-to-work.” Brian repeated, poking Mart in the shoulder for emphasis with each word.
“I’m going. I’m going.” Mart hopped over the steps and started to head toward the arts and crafts area, but then stopped and turned back around. “I’ll see you at lunch?” he asked.
Brian was just opening the door to the main building. The infirmary was down the hall from the main office. At Mart’s question, he turned to look at his brother. “If the munchkins let you live that long,” he replied, and then disappeared into the building.
Mart glanced at his watch as he turned away. It wasn’t quite ten past nine; he still had about ten minutes before he needed to be over at the crafts tent to help set up the supplies for the morning’s project. The kids wouldn’t show up until 9:30. It would only take about two minutes to get there, so he decided to take his time.
It had been good to see Brian having fun. He’d been too quiet lately and Mart had no idea how to snap him out of it. His brother hadn’t even reacted when Mart teased him about the girls’ counselors that had been following him around, whispering and giggling, during off hours. Despite his preoccupation with his own problems, he had noticed that Brian had something bugging him the morning they left to come here. Whatever it was, he seemed to have worked it out once they had been at camp for a couple days. Then, they got Moms’ letter about Bobby getting bitten by the copperhead. Since that night, Brian had been distracted and moody. He couldn’t still be worried about Bobby. Moms had written since, and Bobby had made a full recovery. No, whatever it was, it had started before they left home. Mart kicked at some dried leaves as he approached the tent. Of course, he still hadn’t worked out his own issues. A month and a half later, and he still hadn’t figured out the answer to the question Brian had asked on the bus. Sighing, he plastered a smile on his face, pushed aside the canvas flap and entered the tent. His worries about Brian---and his own problems---would have to wait; right now he had birdfeeders to make.
Brian re-entered the office, keeping one hand on the door until it closed softly behind him. Despite his family’s penchant for letting the screen door at Crabapple Farm slam, or maybe because of it, he usually managed to remember not to do so. He gave a jaunty wave to Mr. Anderson on his way by, and headed down the hall to the infirmary with a bounce in his step that had been missing for weeks. He ran into Scott half way there.
“Running a little late this morning, Belden?” Scott asked good naturedly, as Brian fell into step next to him.
Brian looked at his watch. “Give me a break,” he replied testily, his good humor vanishing in a flash. “It’s only ten past nine.”
“Soorrryyy.” Scott drawled out. He put a hand on Brian’s arm to stop him as they reached the infirmary door and scrutinized his face. His voice became concerned. “What’s up with you today?” He inquired softly.
Brian turned the knob, and pushed open the door. “Nothing,” he snapped curtly, shaking off Scott’s hand. Then he entered the room and opened one of the cabinets to start checking the supply levels. He stood motionlessly staring into the cabinet for a minute, and then shook his head, as if he was attempting to rid himself of thoughts that he was trying to avoid. “Sorry,” he apologized, without turning around, “I shouldn’t have bitten your head off like that.”
“No worries mate,” Scott told him, dismissing the incident in his best Australian accent. Brian turned toward him and offered a smile, --- a smile, Scott noticed, that didn’t reach the younger teen’s eyes--- and picked up the inventory checklist. Then he turned back to the cabinet, and started to work his way down the list.
Scott leaned casually against the wall and watched him thoughtfully. Something was obviously bugging the heck out of the elder Belden brother, but how in the world was he going to get him to open up? Despite the fact that they hadn’t known each other very long, Brian Belden was someone he thought he understood. They actually had quite a lot in common. He, like Brian, was the eldest child in his family. He had grown up fast because of it, and he had always taken his role as the older brother very seriously. He enjoyed the fact that he had played a large part in the kind of people his younger siblings were turning out to be, and the experience was a big part of the reason he had chosen to go into education.
Brian closed the supply cabinet and turned around, still looking at the checklist in his hand. “Well, we seem to have a full supply of most of the basic stuff, but with the pee-wee group going on a hike this afternoon, we should probably…” He trailed off as he looked up and noticed Scott’s scrutiny, and then sighed. “Is it time for the third degree now?” He inquired. It surprised him when his boss didn’t even crack a smile in response.
Scott walked over to one of the examination beds, and hopped up to sit on one end. “Have a seat Brian,” he invited, indicating the other end of the bed. “I get the feeling you need somebody to unload on, and I’m just as good a choice as anybody else.”
Brian just stared at him for a moment, surprised by the offer. He really didn’t feel that he knew Scott all that well, but maybe what he needed was somebody that was totally unconnected to his family and his life in Sleepside. He did know that Scott was the eldest child in a large family and that he felt very protective toward his younger siblings. His decision made, he nodded in self-confirmation, crossed the room, and hopped up on the bed to sit where Scott had indicated.
Scott waited patiently while Brian pointedly examined the pattern of the linoleum floor. Finally, the younger teen spoke. “How many younger sisters and brothers do you have?” He asked quietly.
“Three sisters and one brother,” Scott answered, suddenly realizing that he knew exactly what the problem was, or at least part of it. He should have figured it out before. Brian was asking himself the same questions he had been asking himself at fifteen.
Brian lifted his gaze to look at the older teen. “When did it start for you?” He asked in a low voice. Scott raised an eyebrow in silent query. “The protectiveness, I mean.” Brian explained softly. “The feeling that you’re responsible for them.”
Scott turned sideways on the bed, one knee bent in front of him, in order to face Brian. “I really couldn’t tell you,” he answered honestly. “I can’t remember ever not feeling that way.” He shrugged. “It’s just a part of who I am.”
“Did you ever feel like…it was all you were?” Brian asked slowly, and then rushed to continue. “I mean, more and more often lately, I feel like, other than being the big brother, I don’t know who the heck I am.” He stopped for a moment and ran a hand through his dark hair.
“Don‘t get me wrong,” he continued more slowly. “I love the way it makes me feel when I’ve been able to help them with one thing or another. I think I take more pride in their successes than my own. It’s not like I’m getting pressure from my parents to act the watchdog--- well, not much anyway. Dad has asked me once or twice to keep an eye on Trixie-she’s thirteen-when there are teenaged guys around that he doesn‘t know, but it’s not like he asks me to be her full time bodyguard.” He paused. “She and Mart are always at each others throats. You know? Mart teases her constantly, and she never fails to take the bait. I’ve been the peacekeeper between the two of them as long as I can remember. And then Bobby came along…” Brian took a deep breath and smiled ruefully. “Rambling on a bit, aren’t I?” He asked.
Scott smiled back and dismissed Brian’s last question with a wave of his hand. “The point of having someone to unload on is to get the stuff that’s bothering you out in the open. How are you going to do that if you don’t talk?” Brian just shrugged and returned his gaze to the floor, so Scott tried to draw him out further. “Tell me the rest,” he prodded.
“You’re not going to make this easy on me are…” Brian jerked as if he’d been poked, and looked up at Scott, a startled look in his eyes. “That’s exactly what Mart said to me on the bus on the way here,” he revealed, in answer to Scott’s questioning look. “There was something bothering him, and I was trying to get him to open up…” He chuckled suddenly. “Using my own tricks against me isn’t playing fair.”
“I’m older,” Scott countered with a grin. “I get to decide what’s fair and what isn’t.” His expression sobered. “Alright, so what I’m hearing so far is that you really don’t have a problem with playing the big brother role, you’re just not sure what else -and who else- you are. You feel responsible for your younger siblings, especially your sister judging from the look in your eyes when you mentioned her. The problem here is that you’ve been feeling like Brian Belden, the individual, has gotten lost somewhere in the shuffle.”
Brian nodded. “That sounds about right,” he confirmed.
“Listen, I dealt with this issue myself when I was fifteen, and believe it or not, the answer is simple.” Scott sought and held Brian’s eyes with an intense gaze, and then continued. “It is who and what you are. It’s just a matter of the scope of it. Look,” he continued, backing off a little, “you want to go to medical school, right?” Brian nodded. “Why?” Scott asked him.
Brian had a ready answer for that one. It was the one thing about himself that he was sure of. “I want to help people; help keep them healthy and happy so they can lead full lives.”
“So essentially you want to try and protect people from sickness, right? Maybe even protect them from themselves? And how is that different than what you do for Mart, Trixie and Bobby?” Scott inquired.
Brian thought for a moment. “I guess it’s not. Not really.” He answered slowly. Then the light bulb went on, and his voice sped up with the excitement of realization. “It’s like an extension of what I already feel and do for my brothers and sister. It’s just on a grander scale.”
“Exactly,” Scott agreed. “That’s exactly what I figured out. I’ve wanted to teach since I was nine years old. It’s the same principle. It’s not just that you’re good at taking care of everybody else. It’s that taking care of people makes you happy. It makes you happy because it’s who you are--- and what you were meant to do.”
Brian digested this speech in silence for a few minutes, and then smiled up at Scott. “Can it really be that simple?” he asked.
“Why not?” Scott questioned in reply, waving a hand at Brian in indication that the question was a rhetorical one. “Life is hard enough without complicating things that should be simple.” He paused, taking in the still slightly dubious look on Brian‘s face. “You’re not convinced.”
“Actually, I think I am convinced,” Brian said slowly, “and I feel better than I have in weeks. It’s a logical progression and I’m nothing if not logical.” He smiled slightly. But…” The smile dropped from his face and his expression became as downcast as it had been earlier.
“But… there’s more to it isn’t there? Scott asked.
While they had been talking, Brian had drawn up his legs and was now sitting facing Scott, with his legs crossed in front of him on the bed. In his present position, he didn’t have the option of examining the floor, so this time he stared unseeingly down at his sneakers, toying absentmindedly with the laces.
“You said,” he started, his voice once again shy and tentative, “that you saw something in my eyes when I mentioned Trixie.” Scott nodded, and Brian continued. “The night before Mart and I left to come here, Trixie was miserable. She’d been stomping around the house for days, griping about having to stay home while we got to come here. At the time, I just thought she was jealous, but that afternoon…I was heading downstairs to see if Moms needed help with dinner. The door to Trixie’s room was half open. She was lying on her bed. Her face was buried in her pillow, and she was crying. It always breaks my heart to see her cry. She’s normally so full of light and life.” He looked up at Scott, his eyes shimmering with moisture. “It’s not just me who sees her like that either.” Brian smiled softly. “Mart feels it too. Oh, he’s never said so in as many words, but he sees it. And Bobby---Bobby worships the ground she walks on.”
“It’s not just that she’s your sister,” Scott interjected softly. “She’s one of those people; the kind of people who, when they love someone, loves them so completely that it’s awe inspiring.”
“Yeah,” Brian replied, just as softly. “She is. And that makes it ten times worse that I failed her that night—and that I wasn’t there to protect her a couple of weeks later.”
For the first time since the conversation had started, Scott looked surprised. “Failed her?” he asked. “How?”
“That night,” Brian tried to explain. “She was angry that I’d caught her crying—Trixie hates for anybody to see her cry—so she bit my head off about leaving her behind. Again. That one word, again, hit me like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t a clue she’d been feeling left out. Left behind. I didn’t know what to say.” he said dejectedly. “I asked her how long she had been feeling like that, and she tried to make me feel better. She told me that things were already the way they were supposed to be; that she couldn’t expect Mart and me to want her to tag along all the time…”
“That doesn’t sound to me like you failed her,” Scott said. “It sounds like you gave her exactly what she needed.” Brian looked up, a question in his eyes. “She needed to have a sounding board in order to work her way to her own conclusions,” Scott clarified, and then queried, “And what did you mean about not being there to protect her?”
“I told you about what happened with Bobby last month, right?” Brian asked in way of reply. Scott nodded. “What if Trixie had a cut or sore in her mouth?” He asked rhetorically. “Bobby still would have been okay but…I should have been there,” he finished, his voice filled with self-loathing.
“Ah. I get it,” Scott said. “Your instinct is to protect her from everything.” He sighed. “You need to work on letting go a little.” Brian opened his mouth to protest, but Scott cut him off. “She’s thirteen, right? He asked. Brian nodded, wondering where Scott was going with this. “She’s going to need room to grow.” Scott paused, searching for the right words to explain it. “You’re like me. You’ve always known what you wanted to do with your life. Your role as big brother has given you direction. Trixie hasn’t had that opportunity. She needs to figure an awful lot of stuff out, and she needs to do it on her own. I’m not saying that if she asks for your help that you shouldn’t be there to give it. I’m just saying that you need to back off a little.” He put a hand on the Brian’s shoulder and added softly, “You have to trust her.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Brian allowed after a while, “but that won’t be easy. I always want to fix everything; take the pain away.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Scott replied, with a smile. “Learning to give my sisters and brother space to make their own mistakes and work out there own problems was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I…”
The door to the infirmary banged open, and Liz came in with a little girl clinging to each hand. Both had nasty scrapes on their knees and tearstains on their cheeks. Brian and Scott both hopped down off their perch and got to work. They glanced at each other as Scott reached into the cabinet where the bandages were kept, and Brian pulled a bottle of iodine off the shelf. In that glance was the understanding that everything was as it should be--- and not just in the infirmary.
“My hands look like prunes,” Mart griped sourly, holding his dripping hands out in front of him and examining them critically. “I’ll never complain to Moms about doing the dishes again. At least at home, there are only dishes from six people.”
“Just do that last pot so we can clean this place up and get out of here,” Brian snapped at him, looking up from scouring the top of the restaurant style stove. “The only reason we agreed to do KP duty tonight was so that we could skip the campfire and have the night off. I don’t want to spend the whole time in the kitchen.”
Grumbling under his breath, Mart seized the offending pot from off the counter, shoved it into the industrial size sink in front of him, and savagely attacked it with a piece of steel wool. Soon, not a speck of food was left on the aluminum surface. He rinsed it in the adjoining sink, slammed it upside down on the draining mat, and yanked the plug out of the sink.
“Happy?” he asked his brother acidly.
“Ecstatic,” Brian replied sarcastically, tossing the rag he had been using into the sink. “Let’s blow this pop stand.”
Mart didn’t bother to reply. Instead, he turned and stalked out of the kitchen, slamming the door behind him. Brian sighed and followed him out. He hadn’t meant to snap at Mart like that. Maybe taking the night off wasn’t such a swift idea after all, considering the kind of mood they both seemed to be in.
He decided to take a walk before heading back to their cabin, hoping that if he gave Mart a little time, he would cool off some. As he absentmindedly stepped over tree roots and brushed aside low hanging branches, his thoughts turned back to the conversations he’d had with Scott over the past week. The talk in the infirmary had just been the beginning. He had spent hours with the older teen, talking about their joint, self-appointed missions as protectors. The few extra years of experience that Scott had was turning out to be invaluable to Brian. He felt more comfortable with who he was, and how he had chosen to live his life than he had in ages.
Soon, however, his thoughts turned back to his younger brother. Mart hadn’t brought up the discussion that they’d had on the bus since arriving at camp. Maybe, now that it was almost time to head home, he was dwelling on it again. It could be the reason that Mart went off on him so easily tonight. Brian turned down the path that led to the counselors’ cabins, but stopped suddenly a few yards shy of the clearing. Mart was sitting up against a birch tree, hugging his knees and staring out toward the glow of the evening campfire. An envelope with handwritten pages sticking out of it was lying on the ground next to him.
Brian deliberately kicked up some leaves as he approached his brother. He didn’t want Mart to think he was sneaking up on him. But Mart didn’t even budge. He just continued to stare unseeingly across the campground, not even acknowledging his brother’s presence. Brian seated himself next to him, and picked up the envelope off the ground.
“I see that our darling little sister finally remembered how to string more than two sentences together,” he commented to Mart, catching a glimpse of one of the pages and recognizing his sister‘s handwriting. Mart didn’t reply, so Brian tried again. “Did you read it already?” He asked, holding up the sheets covered by Trixie’s untidy scrawl. Even though there was also a letter from their mother, he knew Mart would have read the one from Trixie first.
“Yeah,” Mart answered softly, the direction of his gaze and posture still unchanged. “I found it tucked into the space next to the door when I got back to the cabin. Go ahead. I think you’ll find it interesting reading.”
His curiosity aroused, Brian gave up his attempts at drawing his brother out for the moment and unfolded Trixie’s letter. Mart resumed silently staring out into space while Brian read. After a few minutes, he re-folded the letter and neatly tucked it back into the envelope. “Sounds like she’s had a busy summer,” he commented judiciously.
“Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?” Mart replied, and then turned his head to look at his brother. “Listen, about what we talked about on the bus…” he trailed off uncertainly.
“It’s okay. It’s just me,” Brian encouraged him softly, surprised not by the uncertainty in Mart’s voice, but by the tears that were threatening to spill out of his brother’s eyes. He had his own concerns after reading Trixie’s letter, but set them aside for the moment. He couldn’t do anything about the contents of the letter until he got home anyway. Mart was right here, so he would come first.
Mart stretched out his legs and shifted his position against the tree so that he was facing his brother. “That question you asked me…” he started. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot the last couple of days. I think that it does matter. My intentions I mean,” he added for clarification. “But…good intentions aren’t enough. I still feel like I’ve been a royal jerk and now Trixie…” He nodded at the envelope that Brian still held. “Trixie has gone and made it even more important that I figure this out sooner rather than later.”
“You hooked on to the same part of that letter that I did,” Brian stated quietly in comprehension.
“It ties in neatly with our little chat on the bus, doesn’t it?” Mart asked.
Brian nodded. “Yeah, it does,” he agreed. “But that doesn’t explain this,” he continued, pointing to his own eyes in explanation.
Mart looked at the ground and blushed. He had hoped that Brian hadn’t noticed how close he had been to crying. At least he had been able to fight the tears off, and his eyes were dry when he raised them again to look at his brother. “It just kind of made it all more real,” he explained earnestly. “It wasn’t so much what she wrote, although I have a feeling that we’ll get to that shortly,” the corner of his mouth twitched slightly upwards as he noticed the fire that flickered briefly in Brian’s eyes. “It was just the fact that she wrote at all. I haven’t seen her since we talked that day, and there was no real connection with the half dozen postcards she scribbled.” He paused. “We’ll be home in two days and I’ll have to deal with it head on, whether I’m ready to or not.”
“You sound as if you’ve made a decision,” Brian observed.
“Just now actually,” Mart answered. “While you were reading Trixie’s letter, I was kind of bouncing everything around in my head and I came to a few conclusions.” His eyes shown with new found conviction. “Not only am I not going to engage in the insinuating comments anymore, I’m not going to put up with it being done when I’m around. I figure that leaves me with two choices. Either I can walk away from it or object to it. I plan on using my voice more than my walking shoes, but I thought it might be a good idea to have plan B in place---especially if there are football players involved.” He grinned. “Back-up, remember?”
Brian grinned back, amazed once again at how quickly Mart’s moods could shift. He thought about pointing out to Mart how he shared that particular aspect of his personality with his sister, but decided not to. Mart was exhibiting more self-confidence than he had shown since before they had left Sleepyside, and he wasn’t about to jeopardize his brother’s mood by fanning the flames of sibling rivalry. Instead, he sat next to Mart in companionable silence, watching through the tree branches as the last vestiges of pink disappeared from the horizon.
They sat there silently, under the canopy provided by the edge of the forest, until the glow from the fire on the other side of the campground begin to dim, and the moon reached its destination, taking its custodial role over the stars. Pins of light began to bob through the woods on the other side of the clearing, heralding the return of campers and counselors alike to their sleeping quarters. Still, neither brother moved until the last of the counselors assigned to the nearby cabins went inside. Then Brian stood and brushed off his shorts, startling Mart, who questioned his brother with his eyes.
“I’m just going to let Mark and Jeff know that we’re not lost in the woods or something,” Brian told him quietly, and then added, “and I think I’ll grab a flashlight while I’m at it.”
Mart nodded. “Good idea. It wouldn’t do for our erstwhile bunkmates to sound the alarm when we aren’t really missing.” He smiled softly in the darkness. “Mark does tend to overreact a bit, and we really don’t want a search party out here.”
“Not really,” Brian replied. “That would bring a bit more company than I want tonight.” He paused, “I’ll be right back.”
Brian dashed across the clearing and entered their cabin, returning two minutes later, flashlight in hand. “Feel like going for a walk?” He asked his brother. “I thought we could head over to the lake. It’s only a five minute walk, and we’d be pretty much guaranteed some privacy.”
“Sounds good,” Mart replied, bracing himself against the trunk of the birch as he stood, and then followed his brother across the clearing. “My legs are stiff,” he commented, shaking them out in turn as they started down the path that led to the lake. “We were sitting there for quite a while.”
“Are they hurting you at all?” Brian asked in concern.
Mart shook his head. “Nah, no pins and needles or anything; just stiff.”
The path came out onto the beach, and the boys headed across the sand to a large boulder. Then they both pulled themselves up and sat facing the water. They sat quietly for a few minutes, enjoying the breeze coming off the water and skipping the flat stones they had scooped up as they crossed the beach.
“Two more days until we head home,” Mart commented.
“None too soon,” Brian countered. “I’m more than ready to go home.”
Mart looked at his brother in surprise. “You’re not homesick?”
Brian sighed. “Actually, yeah, I am.” He tossed another stone toward the lake, and watched as it skipped three times before disappearing under the dark, glassy surface. “I really miss everybody. Moms and Dad. Bobby.”
“And especially Trixie,” Mart added for him.
Brian nodded. “Especially Trixie,” he agreed with a sigh.
Mart, deciding that there really wasn’t anything else to be said on the subject, nodded in silent commiseration, and, turning back to the lake, skipped the last few stones from the pile he had set on the boulder beside him.
Brian took the envelope containing their letters from home out from where he had stashed it in his pocket and pulled out the one from their mother. He glanced over at his brother. Mart was staring across the water, but he didn’t look upset, so be shrugged and trained the flashlight on the single page his mother had sent and began to read.
“Anything earth shattering?” Mart asked after a few minutes.
Brian jumped slightly. He hadn‘t realized that Mart had noticed what he was doing. “Nope,” he replied, folding the piece of stationary. “Moms just wanted to check in one last time before we headed home.”
“Let me guess,” Mart said, “she wants to make sure we don’t forget any of our socks.”
“Something like that,” Brian half confirmed with a chuckle. Then he changed the subject completely. “So what’s so interesting on the other side of the lake?”
“There was a stag at the edge of the woods,” Mart replied, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. “He stood stock still on the shore and watched us for a while, but I guess he decided that we weren’t a threat because he helped himself to some water and then disappeared back into the trees.”
Brian yawned in turn. “We’re both tired,” he said. “Mark and Jeff should be sawing away by now. Let’s head back and get some sleep.” He jumped down off the boulder and started back across the beach, Mart following right behind him. It only took a few minutes to reach their cabin and both boys climbed wearily into their bunks. Brian was almost asleep when Mart’s voice floated sleepily down from above him.
“What are we going to do about ‘the most wonderful boy in the world’?”
Brian groaned into his pillow, turned onto his back, and punched the underside of Mart’s bunk.
“Good night, little brother.”
Oh, To Be Homeward Bound
“Hey! Sleepyhead!” Brian nudged his brother in the shoulder. The boys were in one of the pee-wee cabins, cleaning up after their dear departed charges. Mart had his eyes closed and was leaning into the handle of the push broom he had been using.
“Give me a break,” Mart grumped. “I was up late last night.”
“So was I,” Brian retorted, “but I’m not the one hugging a broom like it was my long lost love. Now move it, or I’ll yank that broom right out from under you.”
Mart opened his eyes and glared at his brother. Brian’s eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth at Mart’s expression. “What? You think I won’t?” He asked.
Mart straightened up and resumed sweeping the cabin floor. “I know you would,” Mart replied with a grin. “Grab the dustpan, will you?” He asked, sweeping the last of the debris into a pile. Brian complied, and Mart swept the pile into the pan. Stepping outside, Brian dumped the contents of the pan into the rubber trash can by the door, secured the lid, and put the dustpan on top.
“That was the last cabin.” Brian told his brother as Mart stepped outside. “Our time’s our own until the counselors’ campfire tonight. Do you want to do anything in particular?” He queried
“Jumping in the lake might not be a bad idea,” Mart replied. “I’m all sweaty. Who knew that such little kids could leave such a big mess?”
Brian grinned. “You did. One would think that you would have learned that little lesson from living with a certain tornado that goes by the name of Bobby.”
“Just about done here?” Scott asked, approaching them.
Brian turned at the question. “We just finished up,” he answered. “We were just talking about what we were going to do with ourselves for the rest of the afternoon.”
“I still think jumping in the lake is a good idea,” Mart interjected.
A grin broke out on Scott’s face as he pushed his light brown hair back from his sweat-shined forehead. “Now that sounds like a winning proposition,” he stated decisively. “I’m finished too. Mind if I join you?”
“Meet you at the lake?” Mart questioned by way of an answer.
“As soon as I get my trunks on,” Scott promised. Then he turned and headed for his cabin.
Brian turned to his brother. “Let’s get some towels and get over there. I’m glad we threw our trunks on before we started working.”
“It was a good idea, wasn’t it?” Mart commented smugly as they started walking. “Glad I thought of it.”
His brother stopped walking and looked skyward. “Oh, what did I do to deserve the insight of such a genius?” He asked dramatically, clasping his hands to his chest. Mart responded with a good natured shove and then both boys continued on toward their cabin.
“A bit melodramatic, don’t you think? Mart asked with a grin, as they mounted the steps and went inside.
“Have to give you a little competition once in a while,” Brian answered, unzipping one of the suitcases they had packed that morning. He grabbed a couple of towels, tossed one to his brother, and headed back out the door. “Come on. The lake beckons.”
Mart hurried to catch up; matching his pace to his brother’s when he reached his side. “You’ve spent quite a bit of time with Scott the last week or so,” he commented casually.
Brian cast a sideways glance at his brother as they headed down the same path they had taken the night before. “Does that bother you?” He asked.
“A little, I guess.” Mart replied honestly, kicking at a loose stone on the path. “It’s been pretty obvious that there’s been something on your mind all summer. I figured that you’d talk when you were ready. I just assumed it would be to me,” He paused. “I guess I‘m jealous. Stupid, huh?”
“Not so stupid,” Brian stopped walking and laid a hand on his brother’s arm, to stop his forward progress as well. “You’re not being replaced,” he assured him. “I just needed to sort some things out.” He sighed. “It was nice to have somebody to be my big brother for a change. He understands what being the eldest is like and…” he hesitated, “you had enough stuff on your mind and I didn’t want to burden you with my crap too.”
Mart nodded in understanding. “You don’t owe me any explanations,” he told his brother, his serious blue eyes testifying to the sincerity of his words. “But keep in mind that being the oldest doesn’t mean that you have to shoulder everything on your own---and I have never considered you or your problems a burden, and I never will. Got it?”
He jogged the last few yards to the almost deserted beach and dropped his towel onto the sand. Then he pulled his shirt over his head, tossed it on the ground next to his towel, kicked off his battered loafers, and dove in. Brian followed more slowly, taking the time to fold his shirt and lay it on top of the towel that he too had dropped on the sand. Then he took of his sneakers, tucked the laces inside, and sat. He leaned back, his arms braced behind him and his knees bent slightly in front of him so that soles of his feet were resting flat on the sand, and watched pensively as his brother swam out toward the center of the small lake at a steady crawl. He gave his head a quick shake to clear it. No matter how many times Mart showed how perceptive he was, somehow it never failed to surprise him.
“Thinking deep thoughts?” Scott questioned from behind him.
“Not really,” Brian replied, and then he got to his feet. “But I do think that it’s time to cool off.”
Scott, already shirtless, dropped his towel alongside the others, kicked off his ratty moccasins, and followed him into the water. Soon the teens were taking turns racing out to the floating dock and back. Half an hour later, all three boys staggered out of the water, spread their towels on the sand, and flopped down to catch their breath.
After a few minutes, Scott sat up. “So, you guys looking forward to the farewell fire tonight?” he asked casually, using the edge of his towel to wipe the sand off his feet.
Mart and Brian propped themselves up on their elbows and exchanged a glance. “Not particularly,” Mart answered for them both. “I think we’re just ready to go home.”
“So, let’s go.” Scott said, as he pulled his shoes on, and then he stood up and shook the sand out of his towel.
“What do you mean, ‘let’s go’?” Brian queried in a puzzled tone.
“There’s no rule that says you have to stay for the counselors’ fire tonight,” Scott told him. “You signed on to take care of and clean up after the kids. The kids are gone and everything is cleaned up. Job over. I’m headed out in an hour or so and I’m going right through Sleepyside on my way home. Don’t tell me you guys don’t want a ride?” He questioned with an evil grin.
“Awesome!” Mart exclaimed in excitement, jumping up off his towel and giving it a single, vicious shake before throwing it over his shoulder.
“I think that was a yes,” Brian laughed, reached over to grab Mart’s shirt off the sand, and tossed it to his brother, who had hastily pulled on his shoes and was dancing from foot to foot at the edge of the woods in his hurry to leave. “Don’t forget your ‘socks,’” he teased, and then turned to Scott. “Thanks,” he said quietly.
Scott‘s smile was laced with understanding. “You're welcome.”
An hour later, the trunk of Scott’s ten year old mustang was loaded with the luggage of all three boys, and Mart’s fishing gear was stowed securely on the floor of the back seat.
“This time I get shotgun,” Mart announced as he opened the front passenger door.
Brian chuckled. “Whatever floats your boat, little brother,” he replied as he opened the back door and climbed in. In the front seat, Mart turned around and stuck out his tongue out at him
Scott chuckled as he settled himself into the driver’s seat and started the engine. “What could I have possibly been thinking?” He asked himself in the rearview mirror. “These two are going to drive me nuts before we get ten miles down the road.” Chuckles were had all around as Scott turned the car onto the main road.
The first leg of the trip passed quickly. Scott told stories about what it was like having three younger sisters, some of which had both of the Belden brothers laughing so hard, they could hardly breathe. Mart and Brian reciprocated with tales of Bobby’s many exploits and the car rang with laughter.
“So,” Scott said, once he’d caught his breath after hearing about one of Bobby’s more adventurous escapades. “Any stories about that sister of yours?”
Silence answered him.
Scott frowned, checked his mirror, and hit his signal to change lanes. “Okay. What’s up?” he asked.
To his surprise, it was Mart who answered. “We finally got a real letter from Trixie yesterday,” he related. “Seems she had a really busy summer, and…evidently, there’s this boy…”
Brian groaned. “‘The most wonderful boy in the world,’” he interrupted flatly.
“Yeah, him,” Mart confirmed dourly.
Scott sat quietly for a moment, and then asked a question. “She’s thirteen, right?” Mart nodded next to him and Scott continued slowly. “You had to expect it sooner or later.” He paused. “Listen, give the guy a chance. You don’t even know what he’s like or what thinks about her. Until you see the lay of the land, you don’t know what’s going on. As my mother likes to say, don’t borrow trouble, trouble will find you soon enough on its own.”
The two brothers exchanged a look. “We could be worrying a whole lot over nothing,” Brian offered.
“Maybe,” Mart allowed, motioning at Scott, “but his mother never met Trixie.”
“Is that our exit?” Scott asked, changing the subject.
Brian looked through the windshield over Mart’s shoulder. “Yeah, that’s the one.” he answered. “Take a right at the bottom of the ramp, and then Glen Road will be your second left.”
Scott followed Brian’s directions and they pulled onto Glen Road about three minutes later. “Where’s your place?” He asked.
This time it was Mart who answered. “There’s a sign at the end of the driveway. It’s Crabapple Farm; fourth driveway on the left.”
Scott caught sight of the sign Mart had mentioned and pulled into the long driveway. Mart was out of the car before he had even finished setting the parking brake.
“Moms!” he called out. “Dad!” We’re home. Scott watched as a pretty woman with blonde, curly hair came out onto the porch, wiping her hands on the apron that was tied around her petite waist.
“Mart! Brian! But you weren’t supposed to get home until tomorrow!” She exclaimed pulling her second son into a hug.
“We caught a ride with our boss,” Mart explained, indicating Scott, who was busy helping Brian pull luggage out of the trunk. Brian left the bags on the ground next to the car and greeted his mother with a kiss on the cheek.
“We couldn’t bear to go a single night more without your cooking,” he told her affectionately, and then asked, “Where is everybody?”
“Bobby is upstairs cleaning off the remnants of his frog collection, which he lost about an hour ago. Your father is running late, but he should be here any minute.”
“And where’s Trix?” Mart asked.
“Your sister was invited for dinner and a sleepover at the Wheelers',” his mother answered him with a knowing smile, “but she’ll be down first thing in the morning to take care of chickens.” Then she turned to Scott, who was just opening his car door. “And you must be Scott,” she said cheerfully. “Brian wrote that his boss was younger than he’d expected.”
Brian blushed as Scott shot a withering look in his direction.
“Stay for dinner won’t you?” Helen continued. “We have more than enough.”
“No thank you Mrs. Belden,” Scott replied. “I still have over an hour to drive and I want to get home as soon as possible.”
“Well, thank you for bringing my boys home,” Helen relented graciously. “Maybe another time?”
“I will most definitely try,” Scott replied, getting into his car. Then he turned the car around and waved out the open window as he pulled out of the driveway, passing Peter Belden as he turned onto Glen Road.
“Grab your things and get them inside,” Helen told her sons, “and then go wash up. You can talk to your father at dinner.” She sighed contentedly as she watched her two oldest mount the porch steps and push their way through the screen door. Her boys were home.
Coming to Terms
Peter Belden pulled up to the farmhouse and shifted the sedan into park. He sighed as he turned off the ignition. It had been a long day. He hated working late on Fridays, but there had been no way to avoid it. He got out of the car and greeted his wife with a resounding kiss. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your being out here to greet me?” He asked her.
“Actually, I was already out here,” she answered him with a playful grin, tapping him on the nose with her forefinger affectionately. Then she turned to head back into the house. “You just got lucky.”
Suddenly in a much better mood, Peter grabbed his wife from behind, spun her around, and pulled her close. Then he bent his head and whispered into her ear, “Exactly how lucky?”
Helen reached behind her and gently unclasped her husband’s hands from the small of her back. “So lucky,” she teased, “that you have a beautiful wife who knows when to get her tail inside in time to keep your dinner from burning to a crisp.” Peter groaned theatrically. “By the way,” his wife continued as she climbed the steps to the porch and opened the screen door, “the boys are home.”
“What?” Peter asked, following his wife into the kitchen. “Camp doesn’t finish until tomorrow,” he added, snatching a cucumber slice from the salad bowl his wife had picked up to carry into the dining room. “Where are they?”
Helen lightly slapped his hand. “You can wait until everything is on the table,” she chided and then added, “and the boys caught a ride home with their boss. You passed him as you pulled in.” She patted his cheek with a smile, “And the boys are both upstairs cleaning up for dinner.”
Peter started to answer, but at that precise moment, he was tackled from behind, causing his knees to almost buckle under him. He turned around and plucked up his youngest son. “Whoa there, kiddo. You almost knocked me over.” Bobby giggled. “And how was your day?”
“I losted all my frogs ‘cause my jar dropped,” Bobby complained, but then broke into a wide grin. “But Brian and Mart are home and they’ll holp me catch new ones. Maybe Jim will too. He holped me last time.”
Peter set the little boy down and headed into the kitchen to carry some of the food in for his wife. Bobby climbed into his usual seat while his mother called up the stairs that dinner was ready. She was answered by pounding footsteps on the stairs and she smiled as she turned back to the kitchen.
“Smells great Moms,” Mart commented, entering the dining room and sliding into a chair.
“I’ll second that,” Brian commented, coming in behind his brother. “The food at camp wasn’t bad, but it couldn’t even come close to your cooking Moms.” He turned as his father came into the dining room from the kitchen carrying a bowl of potatoes in one hand and a basket of rolls in the other. “Hi Dad. Can I grab one of those for you?”
“Thanks anyway son, but I’ve got it,” his father replied with a smile. He set the food down on the table and took his seat at the head of the table. Brian stood hesitantly for a moment.
“Sit,” Helen told him, coming in with a platter piled high with ham and cinnamon spiced pineapple rings. “Everything is already on the table.” Brian nodded slightly in acknowledgement and sat down next to Bobby.
The meal passed quickly. Conversation flowed fast and furious between bites of food, bouncing between the older Belden brothers, their mother, and Bobby. Peter half listened to the chatter around him, only occasionally offering comment as his older sons related details about their lives at camp in response to the queries put forth by Helen and Bobby. Usually, he would have been asking quite a few questions of his own, but having the boys home was bringing back the nervousness that he had felt before they had left. He had managed to avoid thinking about it overmuch while they were away, but now…
“That was great Moms,” Mart commented, standing up with his plate in hand. “You sit, and we’ll take care of the clean-up,” he continued, receiving a nod of confirmation from his older brother.
“Nonsense!” Helen told them both. “You just got here. Your father and I can take care of everything. Go unpack and then relax for a while. Besides,” she added, her eyes twinkling at them, “it sounds like you did quite a few dishes already over the past couple of months.”
“It would be nice to give our dish-pan hands a chance to recover,” Brian joked as he rose from his seat, but then his expression softened. “Thanks Moms,” he said, coming around the table and bestowing a kiss on her cheek. “You’re the best.”
Mart put his plate back on the table and went to give his mother a hug. “What he said,” he told her softly, almost shyly. “And it is good to be home.” He released his mother and looked to where his brother had been standing. Brian had disappeared toward the stairway, and he hurried to follow him.
“Bobby, would you please carry your dishes into the kitchen?” Helen asked her youngest son. “And then you can go in the family room and watch television for a while if you want.”
“Can I really?” Bobby asked eagerly, hopping down from his seat and grabbing his plate and glass. He wanted to hurry in case Moms changed her mind. Television-watching was usually the last thing Moms would suggest. She preferred that her children amuse themselves in more active ways.
Peter raised his eyebrows at his wife in silent query. The unusualness of her suggestion hadn’t escaped him either. Helen answered him with a long look and he sighed as Bobby came back out into the dining room empty handed. He pushed back his chair, stood up and grabbed the youngster’s hand. “What say I help you chose a video?” He asked the youngster.
A big grin lit up Bobby’s face. “Can I watch the dinosaur one?” he asked, his blue eyes looking at his father adoringly. “That’s my favorite one.”
“Then dinosaurs it is,” Peter declared, swinging his sons small hand within his large one as they headed into the family room. At least one of his sons still needed him.
He settled the youngster in front of the television set and started the movie, then went to help his wife with the dishes. Helen had already cleared the table and was putting the last of the leftovers in the refrigerator. She placed the last of the plastic containers on the shelf and closed the door.
Helen looked up at her husband’s query and smiled. “What?” She asked innocently. “I thought you wanted to spend some time alone,” she added as she put her arms around him, her eyes glinting with mischief.
Peter pulled back slightly, not enough to break the embrace, but enough so that he could look her in the eye. “I know you better than that Mrs. Belden.”
Helen’s face softened as she regarded the man she had loved since high school. “You seemed a bit uneasy at dinner,” she commented quietly.
Peter released his wife, picked up the meat platter, and brought it over to the sink to be rinsed. “I think it caught me off guard a little; the boys being home a day early. I figured that I could have sorted things out tonight and then talked to them when I picked them up in town tomorrow but…” he sighed. “I’ve been avoiding thinking too much about it, and as a result I have no clue what I’m going to do about the situation.”
“Just go talk to them,” Helen advised quietly, placing a hand gently on his arm. “They won’t bite. I promise.” Her blue eyes were serious as she gently turned her husband so she could look him in the eye. Peter averted her gaze and mumbled something about that not being the way things were done. Helen shook her head at him. “I know what your father would have said about it, but the notion that men shouldn’t talk to each other is antiquated.” She sighed as Peter’s eyes came up to meet hers. “I know you’re glad that they confide in each other. We’ve talked about that. I also know that you have a lot of respect for what your sons are becoming. Show them that respect by telling them how you feel.” She kissed him gently. “They won’t think less of you.”
When Mart reached the bedroom he and Brian shared, he found his brother pulling things out of one of the suitcases and stacking the items neatly on his bed. He considered following his brother’s example, but instead hauled the suitcase he had dropped on his bed onto the floor and flopped back onto the mattress, letting his legs dangle over the floor.
Brian finished emptying the suitcase, closed it, and stood it up against the wall. Then he proceeded to neatly put each pile away. Finally, he closed the last drawer and sat down next to his brother. “Feels kind of weird, doesn’t it?”
Mart sat up and took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he paused. “I’m really glad to be home but…”
“Something doesn’t feel the same,” Brian finished for him.
Mart thought about that for a moment. “I think a large part of it is that Trixie’s not here. I was really looking forward to seeing her, and she’s not even here.” He frowned. “Dad was awfully quiet at dinner tonight, wasn’t he?”
Mart’s quick shift of topic didn’t faze Brian in the least. He was used to the way his brother’s mind worked; especially with all the talking they had been doing this summer. “He was nervous when we left, too,” he commented, adjusting his answer to be more to the point. “For some reason he seems uncomfortable around us lately. I wonder what we did.”
“You didn’t do anything,” came their father’s voice from the doorway. Both boys looked over at him in surprise. Then Brian looked questioningly at his brother, and Mart nodded slightly. His older brother could speak for both of them.
Brian spoke slowly. “It just seems that suddenly it makes you nervous to be around us and we couldn’t come up with a reason so…”
“So you decided that you must have done something wrong,” Peter sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I told your mother that I was afraid that you’d draw your own conclusions. It’s not you, it’s me.” He moved the rest of the way into the room and sat down on Brian’s bed, facing his sons. His fastened his gaze on his oldest. Brian really did look amazingly like he had at fifteen, but the resemblance ended there. He often found himself struggling to find common ground with his oldest son. Then his eyes shifted to Mart. Mart was so very much like Helen, both in looks and temperament, it was almost frightening sometimes.
Peter hesitated. “I’ve been trying to let you grow up, but I’m not ready to let go yet and… It makes me uncertain of how to talk to you; how to relate.” Peter sighed again as his sons stared at him in disbelief. “The two of you really don’t need me anymore,” he finished quietly, staring at the floor.
Mart turned and looked at his brother in shock. Dad had never talked to them like this before. Parents simply didn’t explain themselves or their attitudes. It wasn’t the way that things usually worked.
Brian cleared his throat and tried to put his thoughts into words. “It’s not that we don’t need you,” he said slowly “It’s more like our needs have changed.”
Then, Mart found his voice. “We’re not grown-up yet, and we’re not trying to rush it--- although we don’t need our hands held when crossing the street anymore and a lot of our decisions can be made on our own.” He glanced at his brother, and Brian nodded. “We’ve started confiding in each other a lot because we’re close enough in age that we… we can understand where the other is coming from with very little explanation.” He paused as his father raised his eyes to look at him. “We’re not trying to leave you out of our lives.”
Peter shook his head and smiled ruefully. “It never ceases to amaze me how easily you kids can surprise me. I think that I am going to have to start giving the both of you a heck of a lot more credit.” He was surprised when Mart stood up, came over, and hugged him. He returned his middle son’s hug gratefully and then looked over at Brian. The dark haired teen nodded slightly and stared intently directly into his father’s eyes. Peter nodded in return. Message sent and received. Helen had been right; as usual.
“Hey, wake up.” Brian turned over and groaned, swatting at the hand shaking his shoulder. Mart avoided the swipe and switched to poking his brother in the ribs. “Come on big brother,” Mart insisted. “I smell bacon, and besides, Trixie will be down soon to take care of the chickens.” At the mention of his sister, Brian’s eyes shot open and he swung his legs over the side of his bed. Mart tossed his bathing suit at him. “I’ll meet you downstairs,” he told the older teen as he headed out the bedroom door. “I’m not about to keep Mom’s cooking waiting.”
Brian shook his head as Mart left the room and closed the door behind him. He knew darn well that Mart’s unusual burst of early morning energy had a lot more to do with Trixie’s imminent arrival than breakfast; not that he would ever get Mart to admit to that. He smiled to himself as he pulled on the trunks Mart had thrown at him. He understood Mart’s eagerness. He felt the same way himself.
He was surprised when he reached the kitchen to find Mart alone, making himself a bacon sandwich. “Where is everybody?” Brian asked, dropping a couple of pieces of bread into the toaster for his own sandwich.
Mart didn’t answer right away. He had just taken a huge bite of his sandwich and was taking the pitcher of fresh orange juice out of the refrigerator. Setting the juice on the counter, he reached up and grabbed two glasses from the cabinet and held one of them up to his brother in silent query. Brian nodded his assent and Mart filled both glasses before putting the pitcher away.
“Dad ran to Lytell’s for the paper and Moms is upstairs with Bobby,” Mart replied once he had finally swallowed, and then smirked. “Evidently, one of his sandals is ‘losted’. ”
“Thanks,” Brian said, nodding at the glass of juice remaining on the counter as he buttered his toast. Mart had already half downed the one he had poured for himself. He finished putting together his sandwich, grabbed the glass of juice, and plopped himself next to Mart at the kitchen table. “At least some things don’t change,” he commented cryptically, before taking a large bite of his breakfast. “Mmm. I don’t know how Moms does it, but even her bacon tastes better than at camp.”
There was no need for Mart to ask what he meant about things changing. Bobby’s reputation for losing track of his things had long since gained legendary status. Both boys quickly finished eating, rinsed their dishes in the sink, and headed out onto the back terrace to watch for their sister. They were both surprised to already hear Trixie’s voice coming from the direction of the chicken coop.
“The mash hoppers are almost empty, Jim. You fill them, please,” her voice floated over to her brothers. Brian and Mart exchanged a look as a male voice answered her. The reply was irrelevant to them so they ignored its content. So this guy had followed their sister home this early in the morning. That was interesting.
At that moment, Trixie came into view, carrying the bucket of scratch. She immediately caught sight of the brothers and squealed their names in excitement. Then she dropped the bucket and ran to greet them. Brian and Mart hurried to meet her halfway with enthusiastic hugs.
“I missed you guys,” she told them both quietly after hugs had been exchanged. Then her face split into a grin. She grabbed their hands and started dragging them toward the chicken coop. “You have to come meet Jim. You guys are going to love him.”
Brian caught Mart’s gaze as they let themselves be pulled along. Mart rolled his eyes expressively, but nodded at the look his brother gave him. He remembered what Scott had said, too. They would give this guy a chance, he told himself as he caught sight of the red headed teenager waiting to meet them. But this guy better not hurt his little sister.
First and foremost, I need to thank Jill for being brave enough to offer to edit for a brand new author. Jill, you had no idea what you might be getting into, but you took the plunge anyway. Your editing skills have been more than appreciated---but even more invaluable has been your encouragement. Thank you. This story may never have been finished without you.
I only used one real place in this story. Emerson College is a real school in Boston. They really don’t offer an education major, but at least this way I don’t need to worry about a student from there named Scott thinking that I was writing about him. *BAG*
I very blatantly used a little bit of dialog from “The Gate House Mystery” at the end of the story. Just to be absolutely clear, I didn’t write that part, Julie Campbell did.
Finally… Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of the people who have given me positive feedback during the course of this story. I’ve had a ton of fun writing it and I’m glad that so many people have enjoyed reading it.