don't know what i thought i would find

Chapter II: Eating Popcorn At the Speed of Light

February 8, 1957

In the large Belden living room, the fire roared up the chimney, sending a rosy glow over the homey surroundings. Harvey and Neil had arranged their chairs closer to the fireplace, and Danny took a huge cushion Mrs. Belden had offered him and placed it on the floor near the other boys. Mart and Brian moved the loveseat to form a circle with the chairs, cushions, and the larger couch that the other Beldens occupied.

The doorknob rattled and Mart got up from his seat. "Trixie and the others must be here now." He went to the door to check on them, while Mrs. Belden went to the kitchen announcing she would make some hot cocoa. Mr. Belden got up, too, only he headed toward the dining room. Meanwhile, two young boys had already squirmed through the crowd of teenagers at the entrance and ran into the room.

"Larry! Terry!" Bobby yelled excitedly and jumped up from his place on the couch. "We're gonna to have so much fun!"

Larry and Terry, identical twins that looked to be around Bobby's age, gave enthusiastic whoops in greeting, and one of the two boys, Danny still wasn't sure which, answered the greeting. "Tom isn't picking us up until nine-thirty! That's more than an hour past our bed time!"

Danny grinned and turned his focus to the small hallway by the front entrance. He scrambled to his feet from the cushion, as Brian, Neil, and Harvey also stood up to meet the new entrants. They all crowded around the foyer, and Danny watched as one of the girls searched for a place to hang her coat on the now overcrowded rack. Her hair was a very light brown with natural highlights giving the shoulder-length locks some shine. She finally found a hook that only had two other jackets and would hold her long red coat. She draped a striped knit scarf over that before turning and following Mart and the others into the living room.

"Friends, family, this is Danny, Neil, and Harvey," Mart introduced, pointing to each in turn. "Guys, this is my sister, Trixie, and our friends Honey, Jim, and Di."

Danny gave a brief nod to Jim, but his black eyes lingered briefly over each of the teenage girls. Trixie's blue eyes gazed back at him inquisitively for just a second, as if she were studying him. It gave Danny a nervous tingle in his spine, but he dismissed it rather easily when she smiled widely and said hello. Di gave him an admiring look, and Danny blushed slightly but grinned back at her. Honey, the girl he'd been admiring, gave him just a quick smile before turning to the other two boys. Danny wished he could look into her eyes again. He momentarily forgot the weekend's mission as he imagined helping Honey back into her coat.

Neil tapped Danny on the shoulder lightly with the back of his hand, breaking him out of his reverie. Then he turned to Brian. "Hey, Brian, you never told me about the good looking chicks around here or I would've visited sooner."

Brian shook his head, and Danny couldn't tell if he was serious or not when he replied gravely, "Don't forget, those 'chicks' are our sisters."

Neil laughed easily, and the three boys followed the others into the living room. Danny's cushion by the fire had been taken over by Trixie. He was about to pick another spot to settle down, but noticed Mr. Belden out of the corner of his eye, still in the dining room. Harvey was with him, which made Danny curious. Danny made his way to the dining room credenza where Mr. Belden was popping corn in a new electric popper. He was just in time to hear Harvey rationalizing to Mr. Belden about how the popcorn popper could probably be considered kosher since it had a sole purpose and wouldn't have been contaminated by cooking other things. Danny chuckled. "So, Mr. Belden, is the popcorn popper washed separately in a separate sink and everything?"

"No! Don't answer that! I don't want to know!" Harvey protested, covering his ears.

Mr. Belden gave Danny an admonishing look and shook his head. Danny smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, Harvey," he said. "Mr. Belden, anything I can help with?"

Mr. Belden nodded. "Could you go to the kitchen and ask my wife for some trays for the popped corn? We'll cover them with wax paper, would that be okay, Harvey?"

Harvey smiled, removing his hands from his ears. "Works for me," he agreed. "Don't worry, Danny, I'll go get the trays."

"No problem," Danny replied. He knew Harvey would make sure he could find the closest to clean, in a kosher way, trays that Mrs. Belden had. He watched as Mr. Belden added some butter to a small plastic container on top of the popper. Through the open doorway, he could hear scattered bits of animated conversation as Brian and Neil took turns filling the others in on the day's earlier events.

"Need any help here?" Mart asked as he walked through the doorway.

"We're almost done with the first batch," Mr. Belden answered.

Danny had already gathered that Mart had a well-deserved reputation for having a huge appetite, based on how much he'd eaten at lunch time. Admittedly, Danny had eaten nearly as much as the blond boy had. "Hungry again?" he asked Mart.

"Still," Mart answered. "The correct word is 'still'. I just can't seem to keep this supple body of mine nourished."

Danny snorted.

Mart walked past him into the kitchen and returned shortly with Harvey, each carrying a large tray lined with wax paper. Mr. Belden heaped the popped corn onto one of the trays, and Danny drizzled the now-melted butter evenly over the puffy kernels. Mart picked up a handful of popcorn first, and after shoving it in his mouth, he picked up the tray and headed back to the living room. Mr. Belden refilled the popper, and Danny added more butter to be melted. It wasn't long before the second tray was ready.

"More popcorn's here," Mr. Belden announced, following Danny and Harvey into the merry room.

"And sodas," Mrs. Belden added, walking in behind them.

After a few minutes of both murmured and shouted thanks and lots of hands grabbing at the popped corn, the bedlam quieted down a bit. Danny had settled down on the couch, strategically managing to sit between Honey and Di.

"Who's up for a game of Simon Says?" Mr. Belden asked.

"I am!" "I am!" "Me, too!" The chorus of agreements came from the three young boys: Bobby, Larry, and Terry.

Next to him, Honey laughed. "I'm in, too," she said.

Danny didn't need further encouragement. Besides being pretty, she was really nice, and she had that sweet, natural smile. "Why not?" he added. "I'll play."

The rest of the teenagers also chimed in with consent to play. It was then that Mr. Belden announced that any of the teenagers who failed Simon Says would have to forfeit something as a penalty. The younger boys were exempt from this rule.

"Oh, yes," Mrs. Belden agreed with her cheery smile. "And redeeming those forfeits should be just as fun as the game."

"Simon says thumbs up," Mr. Belden said. All of them put their thumbs up.

"Thumbs down," he ordered. Honey and Mart both put their thumbs down.

"Simon didn't say it," Bobby explained. "They're out; right, Dad?"

"Yes, they are," Mr. Belden answered. "What will you forfeit?"

Mart pulled off his wrist-watch and handed it to his father.

"I'll collect these," Mrs. Belden volunteered, holding out her hand. Mart dropped the watch in his mom's hand instead and then sat down on the couch.

Meanwhile, Honey reached into her hair and pulled out a barrette. "Here you go, Mrs. Belden." She smiled as she handed the token over and then sat back down on the couch near Mart. Danny thought the way Honey's hair fell down to touch her cheek, now that the barrette was out, was very becoming. He also thought he should mess up pretty soon, himself.

"Simon says hop on one foot," Mr. Belden announced. The game continued and soon every one of the teenagers had contributed something to Mrs. Belden's stash.

Bobby won the game, being the last one still standing and having carefully obeyed only Simon's commands. As such, Mrs. Belden decided he could determine what the penalties would be for the forfeits.

"I know what to tell Trixie to do." Bobby leaned over and whispered something in his mother's ear.

"Trixie will never do that, Bobby," Mrs. Belden said, although her eyes twinkled mischievously.

"She'll have to, or she won't get her ring back," Bobby insisted.

"Okay. Trixie, please stand in the middle of the floor and sing the Star-Spangled Banner," Mrs. Belden told her daughter.

Trixie's voice was true, and she did fairly well until she came to the high notes. "And the rockets' red glare ...." she tried. Her voice crackled and failed, and she dropped to the floor, laughing.

Neil winked at her and picked up the song where she had left off. He always did like to play the role of knight-in-shining-armor rescuing fair maidens, Danny thought. "Show off," Danny said teasingly when he had finished.

Mrs. Belden grinned and held Trixie's ring up to Neil. "I guess I should rightly give this to you, then?"

Neil looked at the ring, now embarrassed. "Oh, no. Give it to Trixie, please. But can I have my tie back?"

"Oh, no," Mrs. Belden echoed. She handed the ring over to Trixie, then picked up the tie from the pile. "You still have to do your own penalty. Bobby, what should Neil do?"

Bobby thought for a moment. "Make him stand on his head."

Neil groaned, but obligingly went over to the wall and tried valiantly to stand on his head. He could never quite get his balance without resting against the wall, but Bobby and Mrs. Belden decided to let him off the hook, anyway.

"Bobby," Terry called out, "I know what you should make Diana do."

The two boys whispered, and then Bobby whispered something in his mother's ear.

"Oh, my! I am really going to enjoy this one." Mrs. Belden glanced over at where Mart was sitting. "Diana," she said, and motioned her to come close. When Diana was standing next to Mrs. Belden's chair, Mrs. Belden stood up and whispered something in her ear.

Diana, blushing to the ends of her fingertips, walked over to Mart, leaned over, and brushed his cheek with a kiss.

Mart blushed even more than Diana, and at that, everyone was laughing so hard that the rest of the forfeits were forgotten. Even Jim, whom Danny had noticed looking sulky after Neil "rescued" Trixie, had joined in the laughter.

After everyone had settled down again, Trixie suggested another game. This time they all sat in a large circle and Trixie started out, saying that she had gone to the city and bought a fan. Each person in turn had to act out all the items the previous players had "bought" as well as a new item they came up with.

Mr. Belden was the last to go and he fell over trying to do so many things at once. Everyone laughed good-naturedly. Danny couldn't remember ever having so much fun playing little kids' games, and he was a bit surprised at how easily all the other teenagers went along with it, including Neil and Harvey.

"Neil," Mr. Belden said once he recovered. "Didn't I see you bring a guitar in earlier?"

"Yeah, I sure did," Neil acknowledged.

"Mart, why don't you get your guitar, too? And grab my ukulele while you're at it. Let's play a little music." Mr. Belden suggested.

Mart and Neil both got up and returned shortly with their guitars, Mr. Belden's ukulele, and a tambourine, which Mart handed to Diana. Jim, meanwhile, had pulled a harmonica out of his shirt pocket. The five musicians tried to harmonize and play a popular Fats Domino tune. Mr. Belden didn't really know the song and yet was trying to follow along on his ukulele all the same. Danny, Trixie, and Mrs. Belden were giggling madly at the crazy attempt, while Honey, Harvey, and Brian tried to sing along to the tune. The quintet finally gave up on "Blue Monday" and went into a rousing rendition of "Banana Boat" instead. "Day-O! Daa-a-ay-o!" everyone in the room chorused, though Bobby, Larry, and Terry shouted their "Day-O's" the loudest.

When the song ended, Honey sighed. "Tom should be coming by soon to pick us all up. It's getting late. But this has been so much fun."

Brian glanced over at the clock above the mantel. "Wow, it's past nine already? I can't believe those three are still up." He looked over at Bobby, Larry, and Terry who were whispering and chortling.

"They'll never get to bed with all this excitement. And there's my pre-Valentine party tomorrow night, too," Di reminded the group.

Honey turned to Harvey and touched his arm lightly to get his attention. "Harvey? Brian was telling me earlier about the food issues here. You know, between the cook and Miss Trask, I'm sure one of them can figure something out. They're both used to having to entertain all sorts of guests for my father, so they might know of some kosher deli around here or in White Plains. And I don't think Tom would mind if he had to pick some things up for you."

Mart laughed as he put his guitar down. "I love how you volunteer other people's services, my dear Miss Wheeler."

Danny nearly fell over. Honey's last name hadn't been mentioned before. He couldn't believe his luck. Now, if only she was from the same Wheeler family they were looking for and this was not just a coincidence.

Honey blushed. "Well, I know them. They really won't mind."

"We know, Honey," Trixie said. "Miss Trask is great. So is Tom. And Cook. They're all great!"

Danny and Harvey exchanged glances, but Neil seemed oblivious to this new information. He was still sitting on the couch plunking away softly on his guitar and mumbling to himself. Danny knew that meant he was busy trying to write a song.

"That would be fantastic, Honey," Harvey finally said. "Neil, did you hear that?"

"Hmm?" Neil mumbled from the couch, and then sang softly under his breath, "Here comes sundown, don't you be late; Can't stop now, there's no time to wait."

"Neil, Miss Wheeler here said she would ask her staff if they could find some kosher food for me." Harvey only stressed the word Wheeler lightly, not wanting to bring too much attention to the use of her last name.

"Oh. Oh!" Neil put the guitar down finally. "That is great. I still feel pretty bad about forgetting to warn both Brian and Harvey about the whole kosher thing."

"It's okay, Neil," Harvey said, genuinely. "So, Honey, when do we get to meet all this great staff?"

Danny gave a quick, thankful glance to Harvey. He'd been wondering the same thing, but was too scared to say anything in case he should jinx this good luck.

"Why, how about tomorrow morning? You can all come over and have breakfast at our place before we go riding. Speaking of which ...." Honey looked around the room and started mumbling calculations. "Di, can you bring Thunderer and Sunny over in the morning? And maybe we can borrow Mr. Maypenny's horse, too. That should be enough for us, since Regan picked up Spartan last weekend."

Jim snorted. "I know we made plans to ride, but maybe we should check with Regan first. He might get upset with all that extra work. We wouldn't want him to quit."

"What extra work?" Trixie asked with a wink. "We'll do all the cleaning and grooming, anyway."

"Regan?" Danny finally managed to respond. He nearly choked on the word.

Jim nodded, and misunderstanding Danny's concern, said, "Don't worry. He won't mind, even though we forgot to warn him. He acts all mad sometimes, but he's really super nice. He just has a short temper. Kind of like me."

"He doesn't have a bad temper at all," Mart countered. "And he really is understanding. He's the best."

"We would die if Regan ever quit," Trixie chimed in. "He really is the greatest."

"Oh, yes." Di put her two cents in as well. "We all adore Regan."

Brian laughed. "You make him out to be some kind of god almost. He is a great guy, but I don't know about the adoring."

Danny still hadn't recovered enough to speak clearly.

"Well, we can't wait to meet this fantastic groom of yours, then," Neil replied casually.

A knock on the door interrupted further conversation. Tom, the Wheelers' chauffeur, had arrived to take Di and her twin brothers home, along with Honey and Jim.

A short while later, the front door closed behind the Wheelers and Lynches. Danny stood there staring at the door, thinking about what might happen the next day.

"Danny?" Neil asked softly. Brian, Mart, Trixie, and Harvey had already returned to the living room to straighten up the chairs and get things in order again.

"Mmm," Danny answered.

"Can you believe it? Regan is right next door to us. Or up the hill, anyway." Neil kept his voice low, but the excitement in it could still be heard clearly.

"Yeah. That's some stroke of luck." Danny still wasn't sure what to make of all the information they had just discovered.

Neil started walking back to the others, but Danny remained, causing Neil to stop again. "You coming?"

"Yeah. Yes." Danny took a few steps to join Neil.

"Nervous?" Neil asked.

Danny was about to deny it, but Neil was right. "Yeah," he answered simply, before the two boys joined the other teens.

chapter III: chicken ripple ice