that one girl and life is sweet
 

Chapter 6: Feelin' Good and Yet Sad

September 29, 1957

Honey gazed at him steadily, unspeaking. But her hazel eyes spoke for her. She was there. She was listening.

It was enough. He knew he could tell her anything. "I'm kind of embarrassed to say this." He gave her a half-smile. "It's just, I used to watch the people picnicking in the park, and I'd wait for them to finish their food. They'd have plates full of perfectly good food, and they'd just throw it away. I'd ...." He sighed again. "I'd pull it back out of the garbage."

Honey's hand gripped his tightly. "You'd ... you'd ...?" She couldn't seem to form the question. A few tears escaped her eyes and slipped down her cheeks.

"Aw, Honey, I'm sorry." He frowned, upset with himself for ruining their day. "Don't cry, okay?"

She nodded. "Don't be sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry you had to go through that." She stared down at the ground. Her words came out muffled. "It's just ... I ... you ... food."

"Yeah," he admitted again. "It's amazing what people just toss away. I'd snatch food from their picnic baskets, too, when I could, of course." His eyes grazed over the containers spread out over the checkered blanket. "Sometimes I even thought about joining a gang again. At least when I had been with the Cowhands, I could usually get something to eat."

Honey looked back up at him, "Why didn't you?"

"It wasn't a serious thought. I wasn't about to repeat that mistake," Dan told her. "I'd rather take my chances stealing and rummaging for food than go back to the gang, or to join any gang." He continued to reminisce on his days in the park.

She remained quiet, as if waiting for him to tell her more.

"There was a gang running Prospect Park, but I mostly stayed out of their way. I think once they realized I wasn't any threat to them, that I was just another homeless nobody, they pretty much ignored me."

Honey let go of his hand and started putting their leftover food away. "Why did you join a gang in the first place? I mean, I know you ran away after ... after what happened to your mom. But how did you end up with the Cowhands?"

He helped her clean up, gathering their waste so he could toss it in a nearby garbage can. "It was Luke's idea. He was a couple of years older than me, and I'd remember him coming into the apartment building late at night boasting about this gang he was running with. I knew it wasn't in our neighborhood, either."

He watched as she put all the items back in the tote bag. "After that night, I waited for him. I knew eventually he'd return to his apartment. Well, his sister's apartment, actually. Anyway, he'd always been friendly with me, in his own sort of way."

Honey turned to him, reaching her hand out again, now that her task was done. He looked down at the garbage he'd been gathering in his own hands and gave her a sheepish grin. He jogged over to the trash receptacle to throw everything away. He rinsed his hands off in the nearby drinking fountain and then quickly made his way back to her.

As he approached her, he couldn't help thinking just how lucky he was that he had met her, and that she liked him, that they were friends. She looked like a dream, sitting on the checkered blanket in her dungarees and a pale blue blouse. She turned her head to watch him.

He grabbed her hands as he sat down next to her on the blanket, wanting desperately to kiss her. Do I dare? He didn't.

"Go on," she said quietly. "You were waiting for Luke?"

He smiled at her, comforted and warmed by her presence. "I was. I panicked. I didn't think I could trust anyone, and I didn't know who to turn—" He broke off mid-sentence, suddenly remembering what Teddy Hill had told him about his dad. His father hadn't known who to trust; he'd had no one to turn to. It was something he'd known, but, until that very moment in the park with Honey, it hadn't really come home to him. "He didn't know who to turn to, either," he whispered.

"Who? Luke?"

"No." Dan shook his head, still absorbing the realization. "My father. When he left for Korea. He and my mom didn't know who to trust. He didn't know who to turn to." He felt a sympathy for his father that he hadn't felt before, at least not since he'd uncovered some of the secrets of his past.

Honey continued to regard him, her eyes wide with sympathy.

He cleared his head of thoughts of his father and went back to the story he had started. "Anyway, the cops wouldn't listen to me, and I was afraid Tony might come back. I didn't know who to turn to, either, and so I turned to Luke. Definitely not the smartest decision, but I knew he could get me away from the apartment, away from the neighborhood."

"So you turned to Luke. And the gang he was with, that was the Cowhands?"

Her hazel eyes were distracting him. He still held her hands in his, and instead of answering her question, he moved closer to her, leaning his head in to kiss her. Before he did, he straightened up again. "Eight more months," he murmured.

She tilted her head. "You said that before, in Mrs. Crandall's house. Eight more months for what?"

He grinned. "Before you're fifteen and I can ask you out on a date and, hopefully, kiss you."

She blushed becomingly.

It just made him want to kiss her even more. "This is kind of like a date, though, isn't it?" He winked at her. "You and me, alone, on a picnic ...."

"It does feel like a date." Honey grinned back at him, her cheeks still red. "I suppose we can call this a date."

He stared into her eyes, moving his face just a little closer to hers. "And, if it's a date, then, maybe I could kiss you, too?"

"I ... we ... there's—"

He cut her off, covering her lips with his. Since her mouth had already been partly open, it was easy to deepen the kiss. When he finally—reluctantly—parted from her, he stared into her eyes. "I'm not so good at following the 'no kissing' rule, am I?" he whispered.

"No, you're not." She smiled at him, her gaze soft.

"I'd say I'm sorry, but, well, I'm not." He winked at her.

"No, neither am I." Her cheeks flushed prettily and she turned away from him. She pulled one of her hands out of his and started pulling at the blanket.

"I'd say I'd try harder, but, when I'm with you ...." He sighed.

"I just don't want us to get in trouble. I wouldn't want Daddy or Mother forbidding me to ever see you." She frowned slightly, still looking down.

"That would be awful," Dan commented quietly, squeezing her hand gently. He lay down, with his head near her so he could look up and see her face again.

She smiled at him and then stretched out next to him. They stared up at the clouds together, but they weren't the puffy kind in which you could visualize images. They were just small bands of wispy grayness. He was sure Mart would know their exact scientific name, but he didn't.

"Can I tell you something, Dan?" Her voice seemed hesitant.

He rolled over onto his side, resting his elbow on the blanket so he could prop his head on his hand.

"I—" She turned to him and stared steadily into his eyes. "I ate food out of the garbage before, too."

"You did?" The statement truly surprised him. "When? Why?"

Her eyes were filled with sadness and pain. "When I was at boarding school. At Briar Hall. Because I was hungry."

He continued to hold her gaze, waiting for her to explain.

She turned her head and stared back up at the sky. "One of the other girls, Millie, she ... she ...."

Dan lay his head back down so he could reach for her hand, hoping it would give her the same quiet support she always seemed to extend him.

"At meal times, she'd ... she'd keep me from eating. She'd spit in my food as she walked by, or she'd spill milk or juice on it, or, if I hadn't set my tray down on the table already, she'd just tip it over." The words came out slowly as she struggled to share her story. "Sometimes she'd tip the tray so everything spilled on me, but even if she had to push it the other way, she would. And she'd always make it look like an accident."

He saw the tears start to spill from her eyes. He maneuvered closer to her and wrapped his free arm around her.

She sat up, pulling away from him slightly, but he kept a tight hold of her hand as he adjusted his own position to sit with her.

"Anyway, I'd gotten so hungry at one point, and I saw this girl, she had a banana on her tray and she hadn't touched it. When she got up and threw it away, I followed her and pulled it out of the trash. I washed it off in the bathroom and ate it."

He wanted to ask her about the other students or teachers. He wanted to tell her the horrible things he was thinking about Millie. But he didn't want to interrupt her, so he said nothing.

"I ... it got ... I got away with it the first couple of times." She sighed. "I didn't look around carefully enough on my third try. Things had been bad before, but it got ten times worse when Millie caught me sneaking a package of cookies from the trash."

Dan swallowed loudly. He could imagine the kind of taunting statements and slurs Millie and the other girls probably used against Honey. His own eyes were moist with tears. He pulled her close again, letting go of her hand so he could hold her tightly.

"I ... I ... I stopped eating." Honey's voice was barely above a whisper. "It was so awful, not being able to eat, not without having my food ruined, without people saying nasty things to me, and, even if they didn't, I always worried about it. It just ... it became easier to ... to not even try."

"Oh, Honey." Dan finally found his voice but still didn't know what to say. He just continued to hold her as tight as he could. He felt his shirt get wet as she cried in his arms. It didn't matter.

Eventually her sobs subsided, but he didn't want to stop holding her.

"I'm sorry." Her voice came out muffled. "I'm so sorry. I've ruined our date."

"Not at all. And you don't need to be sorry." Dan stroked her hair, trying to comfort her. He smiled slightly. "You called it a date, and that already means the world to me."

"Yes. Our first date, and I've gone and spoiled it." She sat up abruptly, pulling away from him, staring downward as if afraid to meet his eyes. "I really am sorry."

"If anyone spoiled it, I did by bringing up Prospect Park in the first place." Dan attempted to lighten the mood. "But as far as I'm concerned, it's not spoiled at all. This is the best date I've ever been on."

Honey looked at him in surprise. "Really? You're serious?"

He nodded. "I like spending time with you, Honey. I like being with you. And even if we sometimes talk about stuff that's sad or ugly, it's still good."

She stared down at the blanket. "How can it be good?"

"Because I like getting to know you. All of you." He sighed, reaching for her hand again and squeezing it. "And I like it when you want to know about me. All of me—even the parts that aren't so nice."

"Oh." She was still looking away from him.

Dan gave her a smile that she didn't even see. "I'm ... I'm so glad you shared that with me. It means a lot to me that you told me."

"No one else knows. I mean, my parents and Miss Trask know some of it, but no one else. Please don't say anything." She started shaking and her breathing became labored. "Please?"

He understood her fear. He couldn't fault her for wanting to keep her past a secret. He certainly didn't want to share every little detail about his past, either. And he was relieved that at least her parents knew about it. "I won't. It's your story to share."

Her breathing slowly evened out. "Thank you."

He frowned, still worried about her. "But can I ask how much your parents know? And how did they find out? Did Miss Trask tell them?"

Honey shook her head. "No. I don't know who called them first, either the school or the hospital. I," she looked up at him again. "I'd gotten so thin and so sick, and ... the school called for an ambulance."

Dan's frown deepened. "How did no one notice before it got that far?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "I've always been slim, I guess. And lots of the girls were dieting to look like fashion models like Dovima. They say her waist is only 19 inches. Mine's more than that, now."

Dan puzzled over the name. "Who's Dovima?"

Honey looked up at him and the corners of her mouth actually turned up just a little. "Dorothy Virginia Margaret? One of the most famous high-fashion models in the country?"

He shrugged a shoulder. "Sorry. I don't tend to thumb through fashion magazines."

The beginnings of her smile grew just a little. "Isn't that something? Here all these girls are trying to look like models so they can look pretty for boys, and boys don't know anything about that stuff."

"No, I guess in general, we don't." Dan grinned at her, glad to see her mood improving. "Besides, I bet you're way prettier than Dovima."

Honey blushed at the compliment and turned away from him again. "Well, I wasn't trying to look like a fashion model, anyway. I was just trying to avoid being teased." She sighed.

"Well, you may not want to look like a model, or be a model, but do you really want to be a detective with Trixie?" Dan knew she did, but he was hoping the change of subject would help cheer her up. He wanted to end their date on a happier note.

"I think so. I mean, I may not be as good as Trixie about figuring stuff out, but there's something that just feels so right about it, but I can't put my finger on it." She scrunched her nose in that adorable way of hers.

"I think you're plenty good at figuring things out. You noticed that bit about the cellar door, right?" Dan stroked her hand gently. "Can I tell you something you may not realize?"

She nodded, curiosity shining in her eyes.

"When you talk about these mysteries and adventures you and Trixie have, your entire face lights up. It's easy to see how much you love it."

"But sometimes I get so scared," she protested. "Do you really think I'm cut out to do this kind of stuff?"

Dan nodded. "You may get scared, but you're brave and strong. I've never seen you back down from anything."

She looked like she was about to deny it, but then she grinned. "I am brave." She started laughing.

"Yes, you are." He loved her laugh. He wanted her to keep laughing. But he couldn't figure out why she was laughing. "Only what's so funny about that?"

"Friday. When we were looking for Harrison. Trixie .... Oh, I can't say, because I promised her I wouldn't, but ...." Tears were streaming from her eyes again and she was clutching her stomach, but this time it was from laughing so hard.

"Well, now I'm dying of curiosity. But if you promised Trixie, I guess ...."

"It was the cat!" She wiped the tears from her eyes. "I can't tell you any more than that, but, oh, you had to have been there."

"That fluffy cat? Mr. Henry, was it, or something like that?" Dan puzzled over what could be so funny about the cat.

Honey nodded. "Henry the Eighth. Anyway, I don't know how or why I did what I did, but, even I could see that I was being brave." She smiled at him widely, that dimple showing in her left cheek.

Dan shook his head, grinning back at her. "I'll get the story out of you someday, Honey." He grabbed her hand again, just wanting to touch her somehow.

"Maybe, but I don't know if I am brave when it really counts." She worried her lip.

"Sure you are. Like this horseman thing? You know he's not really a ghost, and I think, honestly, it's good that you're a little scared of him. It'll keep you from rushing into trouble, or at least I hope so." He winked. "And I know you really do want to find him—even if you denied it earlier—and you won't give up. You'll find out who it is."

Honey smiled but didn't say anything in response. Still, it was good to see her smiling.

"Since I doubt you and Trixie will solve this case before I leave, will you call me and tell me when you do?"

She laughed again, although not as hard or as long. "I'm not even sure what exactly our 'case' is. Is it the horseman you're so sure we'll identify? Or the missing Ming vase? Harrison's behavior? I mean, I guess they're all connected, maybe, but then it's just as likely they're not. This one probably will go in the 'unsolved' folder. Maybe Trixie and I can at least solve her alphabet trees riddle, but I'm not so sure about this case."

Alphabet tree. It was a term some guys at school used in relation to something else, a certain tree on the high school campus. He spotted a tree nearby, an older one with a large trunk. "We have to leave soon, but, before we do, I want to do something."

Honey peered up at him curiously. "What do you want to do?"

"See that tree over there?" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a Swiss Army knife. He'd started carrying it after the run-in with the Cowhands on the subway over the summer. Although it wasn't as quick and easy to use as a switchblade, he felt better having something with which to defend himself. "Come on."

She eyed the knife in his hand. "What are you going to do?"

He stood up and pulled her up with him. "Carve our initials in the trunk. Well, if that's okay with you?"

"I ... yes." She smiled at him.

"Good." It only took half a dozen steps to get to the tree, and he quickly got to work. When he was finished, he wiped the loose bark away with his shirt sleeve and surveyed the results. D.M. + H.W.

Honey traced the letters with her finger. "Thank you."

Dan stared into her hazel eyes. "You like it?"

She nodded.

He leaned in to kiss her again. He let his lips linger on hers before slipping his tongue inside. He felt her hands reach up to his shoulders and he put his own arms around her, keeping his hands high on her back.

Reluctantly, he ended the kiss but kept his arms around her. They stood there together quietly.

Dan knew they should get going. He didn't want to be late bringing her home. He didn't want to take advantage of the trust Miss Trask had extended him, even though he felt like he already had. With a small sigh, he stepped away from her and took her hand, leading her back to their picnic area. "We should head back."

 

As Dan and Honey approached the house, he saw Regan standing inside the door of the stables, watching them. His uncle's eyes narrowed as they rode past.

Dan ignored him and rode with Honey up to the garage. After parking their bikes, he helped her carry the picnic blanket and tote bags into the house. One of the maids—Dan didn't recognize her—took the items from them. He wondered briefly if he would ever get used to the idea of maids and governesses and chauffeurs, not to mention a groom.

Thinking of Regan, he hoped his uncle wasn't upset with him over the day-time date. He turned to Honey and grabbed her hands, wishing he could kiss her once more. "I had a great time, Honey. Thanks, again, for going on a bike ride with me and for showing me the reservoir." He gazed into her eyes. "And thank you for ... for listening and ... for talking."

"I enjoyed it, too. I hope we can do something like this again sometime. Next visit?" She smiled at him shyly.

"I'd really like that." He wondered just how soon the next visit could be. "I think Uncle Bill's waiting for me." He glanced at the front door. "In case I don't see you before I leave, call me during the week, okay?"

"All right," she replied. "I will. I'll let you know how things go between Di and Trixie and if we catch that horseman or not."

Dan grinned. "Thanks. Well, uh, I'll see you again soon."

Honey walked him to the door and Dan heard her whisper right before she closed it behind him. "See you soon, Dan."

His heart was beating erratically as he walked down the path to the stables. It was part pitter-patter of joy from the time spent with Honey and part nervous thumping from his uncle's glare earlier.


chapter 7: near to you is where I belong