that one girl and life is sweet
 

Chapter 5: Would You Trust Me?

September 29, 1957

Dan leaned in and kissed Honey, pulling her closer to him as he did. He slipped his tongue in between her lips and the kiss quickly became passionate. Dan found his hands wandering first down her back and then moving to the front, finding the buttons going down the front of her dress. She moaned quietly, whispering his name, and he shifted positions, laying her down gently against the back of the sedan. His knee hit the rear bumper as he moved closer to her. He heard a thumping sound from somewhere, and then the unmistakable creak of a door opening. He sat up quickly, his elbow somehow caught in the skirt of Honey's dress.

His uncle's worried face peered at him from the other side of his bedroom door. "You okay in here?"

Dan quickly tried to hide Honey, only to realize she wasn't there. He looked around, seeing his pillow on the floor and his sheets in complete disarray. "Fine, Uncle Bill. Just a dream."

His uncle opened the door wider and started to enter the room. "Nightmare?"

"Uh ... no. I'm fine." He remembered walking Honey to the front door of the Manor House and then saying good night to her. There definitely hadn't been any kissing involved, although he certainly wished there had been at least a little goodnight peck. He sighed.

"You're sure?" His uncle sounded concerned.

"Yeah." Dan reached down to the floor to pick up his pillow, somewhat relieved that his dream hadn't progressed too far. "I'm sorry if I woke you."

 

The morning sun was shining brightly through his window, waking him anew. He'd have to head back to Brighton Beach later in the day, but, for now, he just wanted to spend a little more time with Honey.

He made his way to the kitchen, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee greeting him. His uncle wasn't there, though, which meant he'd probably already headed to the stables. He poured himself a cup of coffee, stuck a piece of bread in the toaster, and then sat at the table, glancing at the newspaper his uncle had left folded on the table.

The front page had a follow-up article on the ongoing situation in Little Rock, Arkansas, only it seemed to be more speculation than fact. Dan didn't recognize the name on the byline—Paul Trent—so he knew it wasn't one of the reporters from the major papers. He'd seen articles in the Sleepyside Sun before that were written by the same quality journalists that worked freelance for other papers, so he was a little surprised they'd printed Trent's so-called work. Trent seemed to be skewing the information to garner fear and panic.

Dan let out a small sigh. He'd been reading everything about the events in Little Rock. It was sad—ugly even—that so many people in the world still seemed to have a problem with other people just because of the color of their skin; uglier still that the Arkansas National Guard had been called in to prevent nine students from entering the high school and that the President had to send in federal troops to take control of the situation. He let his mind wander as he imagined himself being an investigative reporter and interviewing the students at Central High School. He really wondered how those nine students in particular were coping.

After he finished his breakfast, he headed to the stables. His uncle was there, but busy with the feed sheets and looking over some report from the veterinarian. He felt like he was more in-the-way than being helpful. Even though his uncle assured him he was welcome and could stay, he headed down the hill to Crabapple Farm.

The scene that greeted him there put a smile on his face. The crabapple tree in the front lawn was full with small green fruits that would eventually ripen. But it wasn't the picturesque tree that made him smile, almost laugh really. It was Mart, who was outside with Reddy. A very rambunctious, overly excited Reddy. If this was training, it didn't look like it was going too well. "Hey, Belden!"

"Mangan!" Mart waved him over.

"You call this training?" Dan gestured to Reddy, who was wagging his tail excitedly as he ran around the yard.

"Yes, actually. Would you care for a demonstration?" Mart bowed to him and then turned to Reddy who had bounded off toward the garden. "I am going to make him come over here, sit down, and shake your hand."

"You can do all that?" Dan raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Reddy!" He called toward the dog. Naturally, the Irish Setter completely ignored him.

"I can and I will." Mart turned to Reddy. "Reddy! Go, boy! Go!"

Reddy stopped in his tracks and looked at Mart expectantly.

"Good boy, Reddy! Go away!" Mart held his hand out.

Reddy trotted cheerfully back to Mart, his tongue lolling.

Mart patted him on the head affectionately. "Lie down!"

Reddy stood, looking up at him.

"Lie down, Reddy." Mart reached for a treat from the small bag he had with him. "Lie down, boy."

Reddy sat on his haunches.

"Good boy!" Mart gave him a treat.

Dan started laughing. "I think you're completely loony. He's not doing a thing you say."

"Ah, no. Not what I say, what I want. I told you I'd get him to come here and sit." Mart grinned, satisfied.

"And shake." Dan shook his head. "Don't forget shake!"

Reddy started to growl.

"Yes, Reddy!" Mart intervened. "Bite!"

Reddy tilted his head and looked at Mart, confused.

"Good boy, Reddy. Now, bite!"

The dog raised one paw slightly off the ground, hesitantly.

"That's it, Reddy! Bite!" Mart encouraged Reddy.

Reddy lifted his paw completely, and Dan, laughing, shook the offered paw.

Mart gave him another treat.

Dan bowed slightly. "I concede. You did get him to do exactly what you wanted. But how will anyone command him besides you?"

Mart's blue eyes glinted with humor. "That is not my concern. As long as Reddy does what we want, and I am a part of that we, I've won my bet with Trixie."

"I don't know ... good luck with that." Dan could imagine Trixie not accepting Mart's logic.

"Well, I do still need to do a little more work with him. But I'm sure he'll be even better at following my commands by the end of the week." Mart watched as Reddy bounded off again, obviously bored with sitting there listening to the two boys talk.

"Right. Well, I'll leave you to it, then." Dan shook his head in amusement. "Is Brian around?"

"Nope. He left early this morning on his bicycle. He's scouting out good spots along the river to take Loyola. He claims it's for some upcoming school project." Mart waggled his eyebrows.

"I like the way he thinks, even if he does get all tongue-tied around her." Dan nodded in approval. "Say, that gives me an idea. Can I borrow your bike?"

"Sure, I guess." Mart shrugged. "What do you have in mind?"

"Who, not what." Dan grinned widely.

"Ah." Mart nodded knowingly. "And I'm guessing a very sweet, pretty who. What's the plan?"

"Just a bike ride. Somewhere a little further away than the preserve. And hopefully without any chaperone tagging along." Dan sighed.

"Good luck with that." Mart winked as he echoed Dan's earlier words. "Trixie's still in bed. Better get to Honey before she does, or Trixie will have her sleuthing about this Harrison thing again."

"Thanks for the tip!" Dan gave him a mock salute.

"No problem. My bike's in the garage. It's the dark green one." Mart pointed in the direction. "It should be unlocked, but come grab me if it's not."

 

"Good morning, Danny!" Miss Trask called from the swing on the front porch. She had a cup of tea or coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. "Here to see, Honey?"

"Just Dan, please, and I am." He stopped his bike and hopped off, quickly propping it against the porch railing. "Is she up?"

Miss Trask nodded. "She is. I just saw her in the kitchen a few minutes ago."

"Great. Before I go in, is it okay with you if we go for a ride?" Dan hadn't planned on asking for permission, but he realized he probably should.

"Just the two of you?" Miss Trask put her paper down, meeting Dan's eyes.

He was relieved to see a glint of humor in her blue orbs. "I was hoping, yes."

"Hmm." She regarded him carefully. "Well, Mr. Wheeler feels that Honey is too young to be alone with you. He made that pretty clear when he found out you'd be here this weekend while he and Mrs. Wheeler are in Chicago."

Dan frowned. "He doesn't like me much, does he?"

"Oh, I wouldn't say that." She smiled at him kindly and then took a sip of her drink. "I think it's more that he remembers all too well what teenage boys are like, and he's worried his daughter isn't experienced enough to handle ... boys. Especially boys who aren't brothers or practically brothers."

"Oh. Well ...." Dan wasn't sure how to respond to that. It probably wasn't in his best interest if he pointed out that Honey seemed to be able to handle, and deflect, his advances pretty well.

"On the other hand, I don't think it's at all fair to Jim to have to be your chaperone." Miss Trask winked. "But I don't suppose you want me to go along, either, do you?"

Dan shrugged, trying not to show his disappointment. "I guess if we have to have someone come along, I'd leave who that is up to Honey."

"Excellent." Miss Trask stood and headed toward the front door. "Why don't you wait here, Dan?"

Dan nodded. So much for going on a bike ride alone with her.

It seemed like a long time had passed before Miss Trask finally returned with Honey. Jim was right behind them.

"Morning, Jim, Honey." Dan smiled at the two of them.

"Hi, Dan. I was going to take Jupiter out, anyway. I wouldn't mind the company, though. It'll be great for the three of us to go out." Jim gave Dan a half-grin, and while he didn't seem thrilled about having to chaperone them, he did seem to look forward to riding.

"But I was—" Dan started to correct the assumption that they were going horseback riding.

Jim looked over at the bike. "You were going riding. So was I. Of course, bikes and horses could share the same paths, although we don't necessarily need to."

Miss Trask smiled. "So," she glanced at the bike against the porch. "Where do you plan on going?"

"Well, I, um, I don't know the area that well. I was hoping Honey had an idea." Dan reached for his borrowed bicycle. "Maybe just head to town, or ...." He shrugged, unsure where to suggest.

Honey was staring at the bike, her eyes wide with surprise. "I thought we were going horseback riding."

Miss Trask just winked. "That was the assumption you and Jim made, but it looks like Dan had other plans."

"Oh ... oh! Well, we could ride up to the reservoir, if you want to, Dan?" Honey looked at him hopefully. "Would that be okay, Jim?"

Jim nodded. "It's a nice ride. You'll enjoy it. I'm taking Jupiter out to the field by Hoyt Lane, though. Give him a chance to really run."

Honey looked from Jim to Miss Trask and then at Dan.

"That sounds great!" Dan realized that Jim wasn't going with them after all. He grinned at Miss Trask. "But, are you sure it's okay? I mean, I don't want to get on Mr. Wheeler's bad side."

"Don't worry about that. I trust both of you." Miss Trask smiled back at the two young teens. "It'll be fine."

Honey reached over and gave Miss Trask a big hug. "Thank you, Miss Trask. You're the best!" Then she turned to Jim and hugged him, too. "And, you! You knew all along you weren't coming with us, didn't you?"

Jim grinned and shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about. You're going riding. I'm going riding. We're going riding at the same time. Right?"

Miss Trask chuckled. "If you're going to the reservoir, maybe you want to pack a picnic lunch to bring along?"

"Yes!" Honey nearly squealed in delight. She turned to Dan. "There's a beautiful park there where we could sit and eat, that is, if you want? Do you even have time? When do you need to head back home?"

"Not until this evening. And a picnic sounds great." Dan still couldn't believe Miss Trask was letting them go alone. "Thank you, Miss Trask."

"You're welcome, Dan. Now, let's go inside and see what we can throw together for your lunch. I'm pretty sure we have some cold cuts and I think there's some cake left from last night, too." Miss Trask started heading back inside.

Honey started to follow her, then stopped and smiled at Dan and Jim. "Isn't she just wonderful? We'll be right back. Do you want me to pack something for you, too, Jim?"

Jim shook his head. "No, thanks."

Dan watched Miss Trask and Honey enter the house before turning to Jim. "You're sure you're okay with this?"

Jim shrugged one shoulder. "Miss Trask is in charge. Besides, I trust Honey, and I trust you, too. I can trust you, right?"

"Of course." Dan dismissed the question easily. "What about Mr. Wheeler? You won't get in trouble with him, will you?" He worried that Honey's father would not be okay with this plan, even if Miss Trask was.

Jim's green eyes met his dark ones. He took a deep breath. "It'll be fine. Even if Dad gets mad, it won't be like ... he won't ...."

The other boy didn't seem to be able to finish the thought. Dan suddenly realized why. "He won't hurt you."

Jim nodded. "He won't. And maybe it's good for me to ... I've been afraid to ... to disobey him. I don't want anything to jeopardize this new family of mine."

Dan nodded. "I get it. My story's not the same as yours, but adjusting to having a family around, one that really cares, even if you had that before, it's different. I still get scared I'll lose it all again."

"Yeah." Jim looked up at the house. "I've been with the Wheelers for over a year and I'm still afraid I'll do something to mess it up, somehow."

Dan thought about the other boy's words. "We could go horseback riding with you, if you're concerned. Or you can come bike riding with us."

Jim shook his head and turned back to Dan. "No. I have another idea. I'd give almost anything to go on a nice quiet ride with Trixie. I need to really apologize to her for calling her bossy, remember? I'll head over to her house and invite her to join me. I don't think the Beldens would mind." He gazed down the hill at the farmhouse below them for a moment before turning back to Dan. "Enjoy your ride with Honey, okay?"

 

Dan followed Honey as they biked through the preserve. Sunlight filtered through the tree branches highlighting the smattering of fallen leaves on the bike path, while the gentle breeze made the leaves above them rattle melodically. When they reached the road, Honey sped up and then coasted down a small hill, her hair flying straight back. The wide smile on her lips made Dan feel incredibly happy. He loved seeing her like this, carefree and full of joy.

It took hardly any time at all before the reservoir and the Croton Dam came into view. The two cyclists slowed and rode side-by-side on the wide path. "This is beautiful," Dan said softly, watching and listening as the water poured over the dam wall and fed into the Croton River.

Honey turned to him. "It is, isn't it? I'm so glad you thought of going bike-riding today. Although I've been out on my bike yesterday and the day before, but both times were to Sleepyside Hollow. I mean, I like Mrs. Crandall, but I do not want to run into that headless horseman ever again, even if I know he's not real, because whoever is dressing up as him is real."

Dan stopped his bike, resting his forearms on the handlebars. "You and Trixie will figure it out, I'm sure. But be careful, please. The guy sounds like a real creep, and he may be more dangerous than you realize."

"Oh, I'll be careful all right. I don't plan on chasing him or meeting him or even seeing him." She shuddered lightly.

The mystery of the headless horseman who had scared the girls was far from his mind as he gazed around at the beautiful, early fall scenery. He couldn't see a path to get to the road above the dam, but he hoped there was one. "So, where to now? Is it possible to ride all the way around?"

"Yes. Well, you have to cross eventually because the river goes out beyond the reservoir and connects to a half dozen others. Jim and I have done it before, though, crossing the water at Saw Mill River Road, and it took us nearly three hours, but then we stopped to rest twice." Honey pointed along the path to the right as she spoke.

"We definitely have time, then." Dan smiled at her and started to pedal again in the direction she indicated. He'd be happy to spend all day with her. He could get lost in that warm smile with that one dimple and the twinkle in those beautiful hazel eyes. He'd have to do his best to make them come out as often as possible.

The two rode along at a leisurely pace, sometimes losing sight of the New Croton Reservoir. About thirty minutes later, they approached a metal bridge. "We should cross here," Honey said hesitantly. "The road will take us further away from the reservoir and we either have to go all the way to Saw Mill River or cut through someone else's private property before we can get to another point to cross."

"Entirely up to you." Dan looked at the bridge. "But we should walk our bikes if we do cross here."

"Oh, yes. I'd be scared to ride across that bridge." Honey grinned as she said it, not looking the least bit frightened. "I'd probably wobble and fall right over the rail and into the reservoir if I tried to ride across."

"I doubt that." Dan grinned back at her. "And, if you did, you'd probably just swim to shore like it was nothing."

"I hope so." Honey hopped off her bike and started to walk toward the start of the bridge. "I have no idea what the current is like and it's not something I especially want to test out. Especially not that way."

Dan hopped off his own bike and walked next to her. They paused half-way across the bridge and stood together, admiring the view. He wanted to reach for her hand, but the bikes were in his way, so he had to be content just sharing the moment with her.

Eventually, they continued across the bridge and remounted their bikes. They made brief stops at various spots along the reservoir to admire the view, and eventually made it to the other side of the New Croton Dam. They crossed the road on the dam wall just as Dan had wanted to at the start—the view of the water below them was breathtaking—and then turned back to the park. By that time, they had worked up an appetite.

Dan helped Honey take the blanket and picnic items out of the bicycle baskets. After they spread the blanket on the ground, he started pulling items from the striped tote. Two foil-wrapped sandwiches were on top, followed by containers with fried chicken, coleslaw, hardboiled eggs, sliced peaches, and two generous slices of a yellow layer cake. Meanwhile, Honey had pulled two thermoses, paper plates, and plastic cups and utensils from a separate bag.

He surveyed the spread. "Wow, Honey. How much do they think the two of us can actually eat?"

Honey blushed. "Cook and Miss Trask just wanted to make sure we have plenty of food."

He watched without really paying attention as she filled a plate with a little bit of everything, and he was still staring at the plate as she held it out to him.

"Dan?" She held the plate closer to him. "Is this okay? Do you want more?"

"Oh, is that for me? No, it's fine, thanks." He took the plate and reached for the two plastic cups. He opened one of the thermoses and took a peek at the contents. "Lemonade?" he offered.

She nodded.

He poured her a cup and handed it to her, and then poured himself some in the other cup.

They were soon reaching for seconds, and then for dessert. He gazed around the park. Other people were also picnicking; some were even grilling hot dogs and burgers. He sighed.

"What's wrong, Dan?" Honey sounded worried.

"Nothing. Everything's perfect." He smiled at her reassuringly and started in on his cake. "I've really enjoyed this. I like being here with you."

She finished up the last bite of cake on her own plate and set it aside. "Why did you sigh like that? You seem, not really sad, but ... I don't know, distracted, maybe?"

He swallowed the food in his mouth and gazed at her in awe. He hadn't really expected her to notice his mood, at least not so accurately. "You're right. I'm not really sad, I was just remembering."

"Oh?" She reached for a paper napkin, wiping her fingers. "I remember that photo you found of you and your parents picnicking in Central Park. Is that what you were remembering?"

Dan shook his head. "Nah. I don't really remember that day at all." He had been about to take a sip of his lemonade, but he put his cup down and reached for one of Honey's hands. She intertwined her fingers with his and it seemed to fill him with courage. "I was thinking about last summer, when I was living in Prospect Park."


chapter 6: feelin' good and yet sad