Almost-sixteen-year-old Trixie Belden and her best friend Honey Wheeler hurried up the driveway of Crabapple Farm as the school bus pulled away.

“Can you believe it?” asked Honey. “Both of us made the honor roll. I won an award for presenting my ideas so clearly and you won a special award for making the top grade in Algebra.”

“I know,” Trixie agreed. “Isn't it grand?” The two girls had reached the service porch and Trixie opened the door that led inside. “Please, you go first,” she said to her friend.

Honey ran inside and dropped her books into the nearest chair while Trixie gently closed the door. “Hi, Moms!” Honey cried, throwing her arms around Mrs. Belden.

“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Belden greeted her. “Where's Trixie?”

Trixie tiptoed to look into the spotty antique mirror that hung in the little hallway between the back door and the kitchen. She fluffed her sandy curls and dabbed at her lips with a pale pink lipstick.

She could hear her mother and Honey talking, but she wanted to make sure the spring breeze hadn’t disturbed her new hairstyle.  After giving her reflection a satisfied smile, she continued into the bright, sunny red and white kitchen, carefully placing her books on the table.

“Hi, Moms,” she greeted her mother.  “Did Honey tell you the good news yet?”

Mrs. Belden smiled at her pretty daughter, fresh as a daisy in her pale pink twinset and plaid skirt.  Soft pink angora knee socks hugged her legs and her penny loafers shone with polish. 

“No, I think she may have been waiting for you,” Mrs. Belden replied.  “Trixie, dear, you still look as fresh as you did this morning.”  She patted Trixie’s shoulder in approval.

“No thanks to Di!  She tried to get me to stay after school and practice softball with her.  She’s gotten to be such a tomboy this year!”  Trixie wrinkled her nose, although she admitted, “She’s really good at softball, though.  I think Tad Webster’s been giving her some tips.”

“Sweetie, you said you had some good news for me.”  Mrs. Belden tried to redirect the conversation, and looked from her daughter to Honey with a hopeful smile.

“Trixie, if you don’t tell her right now, well … I’ll just die!”  Honey was bouncing with impatience.  She plopped down into a chair and pushed her shiny light brown hair away from her face, blowing out an impatient breath.

“Well … ”  Trixie’s eyes sparkled and her lips curved in a happy smile.  “I got an award for the highest algebra grade in the class in the past quarter!” 

“That’s wonderful, sweetie!”  With tears of happiness in her own blue eyes, Mrs. Belden pulled her into a tight hug.  “Your father will be so proud!”

“I won an award for presenting my thoughts so clearly during a debate in English class, too, Mrs. Belden,” Honey announced as soon as Trixie and her mother separated. 

“I knew you could do it, dear,” Mrs. Belden replied, giving Honey a tight hug as well.  “Do your parents know yet?”

“They were getting back from Paris today, and our team is supposed to present the debate for the entire English class tomorrow in the auditorium.”  Unable to contain her excitement, Honey jumped up and paced back and forth in the bright kitchen.  “Parents are invited to watch the debate, and Mother told me last night that she and Daddy were cutting their trip short so they could be sure of being able to come.”

“I’m so glad.  Can you stay for a cookie and a glass of milk?” Mrs. Belden asked.

“Thank you, but I’d better hurry home.  I want to be sure to be there when my parents arrive.”  Honey grabbed her books and hurried outside, letting the screen door slam behind her.   

“Moms, is there anything I can do to help you?” Trixie asked.  “If not, I’ll dust the downstairs before I start on my new tatting project.”

“The downstairs is in good shape right now.  Why don’t you check outside to see what Bobby is doing, and then you can tat until time to exercise the horses with Honey.”  Mrs. Belden smiled again.  “I know you’re anxious to get that collar finished for her.” 

“Thanks, Moms!  You’re the best!”  Impulsively, Trixie kissed her mother and went outside, where she could hear Bobby trying to teach Reddy to fetch a ball for him.

“Come on, Reddy, you can do it,” the nine-year-old called in encouragement.   The Beldens’ beautiful but undisciplined Irish setter stood over the ball Bobby had just thrown, sniffing at it and waving his feathered tail.  “Fetch, Reddy!”  Bobby held up a dog treat to tempt him.  After a moment, Reddy scooped the ball into his mouth and trotted over to the little boy.

As soon as Reddy reached him, Bobby took the ball and slipped the treat into Reddy’s mouth, stroking his silky head and murmuring, “Good boy, Reddy!  Good boy!”  

“You’re doing a wonderful job with him, Bobby,” Trixie said, clapping her hands.

“Thanks!  Tom helped me - he told me lots of ways to get Reddy to want to do what I want him to do.  Jim will be proud of me when he gets home from college.”  Bobby puffed his chest out with pride.  He had never stopped petting the big dog and murmuring words of praise to him while he talked.  “Hey, Trixie, is Ben going to stay with the Wheelers all summer?” 

Trixie watched as her little brother threw the ball again and told Reddy to fetch it.  Her eyes followed the dog as he bounded off in pursuit, and she didn’t answer.  Jim Frayne’s handsome face appeared in her mind’s eye, but there seemed to be another image just on the outskirts of her field of vision.  She concentrated as hard as she could, trying to make out the features of the second image.

“Earth to Trixie!”  Bobby sounded a bit impatient and Trixie shook her head to clear her thoughts.

“What did you say, Bobby?” she asked.

“I said, is Ben going to stay with the Wheelers all summer?  After graduation?”

“I’m not sure,” she admitted.  “He’ll graduate in June and in September he’s going to college, but I don’t know what he’s doing this summer.”  Ben … Honey’s cousin had lived with the Wheelers and attended Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School with the Bob-Whites for the past year.  He’s not nearly as annoying as he used to be, she thought.  I’ll miss him when he goes to college.

Bobby whistled for Reddy, but there was no sign of the unruly pet.  “Well, I better go and see what he’s doing, Trix.  I‘ll see you at supper.”  With that, Bobby loped off in the direction Reddy had gone.

Trixie sighed and strolled back to the house.  Stopping in the kitchen for her school books, she hurried up to her room and changed into neatly pressed jeans and a clean pink camp-style shirt, and settled herself into the comfortable antique rocker with her tatting.  Aunt Alicia had taught her to use the tatting shuttle to create dainty lace doilies for the Bob-Whites’ Christmas fundraiser.  Now she had branched out to make detachable lace collars for her friends.  Tatting was a relaxing activity and she frequently found that solutions for complicated problems came to her mind while her fingers were busy with the shuttle.

Now, she thought about Jim.  For the past three years she had nursed a crush on the handsome, honorable, and supple redhead.  Jim was just so darned good at everything.  There had been times when she thought he returned her feelings, too.

Trixie’s fingers slowed as she remembered her first orchid … and a certain silver bracelet.  And then there was his great-aunt’s diamond ring.  But lately, he had seemed to regard her as just his little sister’s best friend.  The last time she’d asked him for help with algebra - back before Christmas - it had taken him several days to get back to her.  By that time, she’d already taken the test.  Luckily, she’d found someone else who could explain the mysteries of quadratic equations as well as Jim could.

Jim’s so busy in college, and he leads a Scout troop in a nearby school, she reminded herself. Of course he couldn’t come home for the Spring Fling.  I wonder if …  Her thoughts were cut off by the shrill ring of the telephone.  Carefully, she put her work away and got up to answer the insistent instrument.  Mrs. Belden had reached it first, and her voice floated up the stairwell.

“Trixie, dear, it’s Honey.  She wants to know if you’re ready to exercise the horses yet,” her mother said.  “Mart and Dan are there now.”

“Gleeps!  It’s later than I thought.  Tell her I‘ll be right there,” Trixie answered, hurrying downstairs.

When Trixie reached the Wheeler stable, she found her brother Mart and their friend and fellow Bob-White Dan Mangan, and Ben Riker waiting for her, as well as Honey.

“Hurry up, Princess Trixie,” Mart called out.  “The horses are rarin’ to go, now that we’ve got a nice sunny day.”

“I’m hurrying!  I just lost track of time, that’s all!”  Trixie wanted to stick her tongue out at her almost-twin, but in the past few months she’d begun to practice not responding to his teasing.  When he failed to get a reaction, Mart usually stopped his needling. 

Susie, the little black mare who was her favorite, was already saddled and ready to go.  She whinnied in welcome as Trixie approached her and rubbed her nose.  “Thanks for saddling Susie!  Who did it for me?” she exclaimed.

“That would be Ben,” answered Honey.

Trixie’s dimple flashed as she smiled at Ben.  “That was nice of you.  Thanks, Ben.”

“Let me give you a boost,” Ben offered.  He laced his fingers together and bent over so Trixie could step up.  Although Trixie could mount Susie without assistance, she accepted his help and smiled at him again.  Ben’s been getting nicer ever since Christmas, she thought.

“We’ve got to get going, guys,” Dan announced.  “I’ve still got to patrol the preserve after we exercise the horses, and Jupe here is anxious to get a good workout.”  He patted the neck of the high-strung black gelding, who had only lately allowed Dan to ride him.

The five friends set off at a brisk canter, slowing to a trot after about ten minutes. Trixie and Ben ended up next to each other while Honey moved back and forth between Dan and Mart.  It was a pleasant, relaxing ride and Trixie drank in the freshness of the late afternoon on this first day of April.  Spring was evident everywhere, from the unfurling new leaves, wildflowers  poking their heads up just off the trails, and an occasional flash of a bright red cardinal swooping through the trees.

“It’s beautiful out here,” Ben said, breaking into her reverie.  “It’ll be hard to leave in September.”

“I’ll be sorry to see you go,” Trixie replied.  The day’s beauty dimmed for her as the realization sank in that just as Brian and Jim had left last year, Ben would be leaving soon.

“You’re going away, and next year it’ll be Mart’s and Dan’s turn.  Then Honey, Di, and I’ll be leaving.  Oh, Ben, why can’t it just stay like this forever?”

“I know how you feel, Trix.  But you know, maybe there’s something better around the next bend in the road.”  Ben was uncharacteristically serious.  “We got off to kind of a rocky start when I came here last year.  If time had stopped then, I don’t think either of us would have been very happy right now.”

“You’re right, of course.  I’m being a dope.” Trixie made a face.  “But I guess it’s just human nature to want things to stay the same if you’re happy.”

“Are you happy, Trix?  Happy enough to go to the Spring Fling with me?”  Ben had pulled up the good-natured Starlight, and only Trixie was close enough to hear him.

Trixie’s inner vision of Jim evaporated in a poof of smoke.  Yes, there was a time when Jim was everything to her.  But Jim was far away, and Ben was here now.  He was handsome, he was nice, he was rich, and most of all, he had helped her to solve some of the most difficult mysteries she had ever faced - the mysteries of algebra.

“Yes, Ben.  I‘d love to go to the Spring Fling with you.”  The smile she bestowed upon him was radiant.  She had finally realized Ben Riker was the most wonderful boy in the world.


Author’s Notes

2112 words

Note that the original posting date for this story was April 1, 2010.

This story was supposed to be about twice as long, but Ben and Trixie conspired to keep me from telling that not only was Diana going to the Spring Fling with Tad, but also that Mart had invited Jane Morgan. Honey's date? She didn't tell me, the scamp! But I'm sure we'd all be surprised *wink*.

Many thanks to Trish for a quick and thorough edit, and for suggestions that improved the story greatly!

Thank you to all the readers! Your encouragement means a lot to me!

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Title image and background tile taken from an illustration in The Mystery on Cobbett's Island, Deluxe edition. All other material on these pages copyright 2010 by Mary N.

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