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House in any way.
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written by El
My head was pounding as I walked up the hill to Manor House and rang the bell; even after all this time I was still uncomfortable with just opening the door and popping my head in. One of the maids answered. I think her name was Helen, just like my mom's.
"Is Jim home?" I asked.
"I'm pretty sure. Just go on upstairs. You should know the way by now," she smiled and let me in.
I wandered up to his room and stepped through the doorway. Everywhere I looked there were boxes of stuff only half-packed. Jim was sitting at his desk staring at a photo of the seven of us, the Bob-Whites, a club we started last summer.
"Hey," I called out.
Startled, he nearly jumped as he turned around. "Huh? Oh, hey."
I wandered in and sat on an unoccupied corner of the bed.
"What's up?" he asked.
"I've got a headache."
"Take an aspirin." He sounded annoyed.
"You're in a foul mood, too?" I asked.
"Just having second thoughts. California seems so far away all of a sudden."
"I'm starting to think it's not far enough."
"Why? What happened?"
"My dad. We got into another argument." Jim looked at me expectantly. "Nothing big, nothing new, but it just makes me glad we'll be moving soon."
"So convince me again why we're doing this?"
"I don't know about you, but I have got to get away from my family for a little bit."
"I am so tired of being a Belden right now." I laid back on the bed and told him about the latest fight. "Dad acts like it's my responsibility to make sure Trixie and Bobby, and even Mart, don't get into something over their heads. He's always telling me to keep an eye on them, make sure they're okay, and all that. Well, he's the parent, not me. I'm tired of being the overbearing big brother. I want to get away from here and just be me. Find out who I really am." I stopped and let out a little laugh, "Gleeps, I'm starting to sound like a lost soul full of angst." I closed my eyes for a second, feeling the pounding in my head start up again. "You know what he said to me this morning? He said, 'Son, what do you think moving away is going to prove? And what kind of example are you setting for Mart and Trixie?' " I paused again as I sat up. "I lost it, man. I told him I didn't care what kind of example I set and that I wasn't their father." I got up and started pacing as well as I could around all the boxes. "I know he and Moms expected me to go to college in New York. He probably thought I'd stay at home and commute! After all, your father and Di's father both go into the city regularly." I took a short breath. "And how is moving across the country setting a bad example? I mean, look at him and his brothers. They're all in different states and yet they're still close. I pointed that out to him too, tried to be reasonable. I don't understand why they are so set against me moving away."
"You're the oldest, the first born. They're not ready to let go. They're going to miss you."
"I know. And they are good parents. I can't complain. Some of the other kids I know, some of the people Trixie got us involved with, yourself included, haven't been so lucky. I know I'm lucky. I know they love me and want the best for me."
"I think your parents are just concerned."
"Yes, but not about me and what I might do; about Trixie and what she'll do without you or me around to keep her in line."
"Can't you 'find yourself' somewhere closer?"
Interesting, I thought. I bring up Trixie and he changes the focus. "Maybe. But UC Berkeley is a good school. And they gave me that partial scholarship. That's the main reason. I know Dad invested some money so he could afford to put us all through college, but tuition keeps going up. And the books! I didn't realize how expensive they could be. I mean, I don't know what my texts will cost me, but I heard from Mark Nelson recently."
"That guy who did the debate with you?"
"Yeah, him. He called yesterday. He and his dad drove into the city to get his books early."
"What school is he going to?"
"NYU. Anyway, he said the textbooks for his classes cost him over three hundred dollars."
Jim whistled. "That's a lot of dough."
"No kidding. And that's just one semester. And he said he got as many used books as he could, so it didn't cost as much as it could have. So like I was saying, the fact that I won that partial scholarship to UC Berkeley really clinched my decision. I didn't think Dad would give me such a hard time about it. And Moms. She almost breaks into tears every time she sees me lately."
"So let's not go."
"Yeah, right." I sat back down on the bed. "So what's with that all of a sudden? Why don't you want to go?"
"I'm too young." I raised an eyebrow. He was only nine months younger than me. "And I just got here." Jim stood up and walked over to the window. "It's hard to believe I've only lived here a little over a year. So much has happened."
"Thanks to Trixie," I added with a snicker. I also wanted to see how he reacted to mentioning her again.
"Yeah," he said dreamily, "thanks to Trixie."
I raised my eyebrow again. "Interesting. So, how do you feel about my sister?"
"It doesn't matter. I'm moving three thousand miles away."
"You don't have to go, you know. You could still apply to a different school."
"It's a little too late to do that."
"Mr. Wheeler has connections. He'd help you out."
"Like I want that!"
"What about that college in Albany?"
"Too many memories in Albany. Anyway, after I got adopted, I wrote to the principal of my school. I told him to let the college know they should give their scholarship to someone who needed it more, since money wasn't an issue for me now." He turned back towards me. "Life has been so different here. You said I was one of the not so lucky, but really I am."
"I know, I just meant, you had some tough breaks, not like me."
"Yeah, but not as tough as others either. I still think about where I might be now if Trixie hadn't found me, twice. That scholarship I worked so hard for would've been lost because I wouldn't even have graduated from school. Heck, I might even be dead."
"I doubt that. You're a survivor. You would do whatever it takes to make it."
"Maybe. My dad, my real dad, he's to thank for that. He really taught me a lot." He turned to look out the window and I thought I heard him sniffle. "I miss him so much. Him and Mom too." I didn't know what to say. I couldn't imagine my life without my parents there. I knew my dad and I had been arguing lately, but there was never any doubt that he loved me. I wished I had some of Honey's legendary tact. "You know," Jim continued, "sometimes I wonder ... ".
"Wonder what?" I asked after it was apparent he wasn't going to finish his thoughts on his own.
"Nothing. There's just a lot of 'what ifs' going through my head." He picked up the picture of us and then put it back down. "I just didn't realize how attached to Sleepyside I would become when we first decided to apply to the University of California. And when we both got accepted, and we'd also gotten accepted to New York University, I was really surprised that you chose California."
"So why did you accept? You know we'd still be friends even if you decided to stay here. I told you that. You didn't have to accept. You still don't have to go."
"I'm too scared to go somewhere new by myself." He absentmindedly continued to pack. "I'm too chicken to go to a big university where everyone is at least two years older than me."
"No more chicken than me. I'm nervous, and scared, about moving so far away too. I'm really glad you'll be with me out there. At least I won't be the only New Yorker. And for the next couple of months at least, we're the same age. Everyone will be two years older than me too."
"So what do you do about Trixie?" I was really curious just how serious he was about my sister.
"What do you mean? I already told you it doesn't matter. We'll be too far away."
"It does matter. Tell her before you leave."
"Tell her what?"
"Tell her how you feel. You'll regret it if you don't."
"She knows how I feel, doesn't she?"
"I'm thinking that you don't even know how you feel."
"You lloooovve her," I couldn't help teasing him. He threw a book at me, luckily a paperback.
Jim and I hung out for the rest of that afternoon. Tomorrow the Bob-Whites would be throwing a farewell barbecue for us at the lake, and later today the rest of the crowd was supposed to come over and spend the night here. The last house party we would have together probably. Cook was making fried chicken for tonight and Mart and Dan had gone to the video store to rent some movies. We thought about going to see the new Star Trek film at the theater tonight, but none of the girls wanted to, so we decided on rentals instead. I don't know what we were thinking to trust Mart and Dan to pick out movies. I just hoped it was something we could all watch, but knowing them they would pick out Rocky IV or Rambo or something like that.
I worried about Jim and Trixie. I know everyone thinks all of us are too young to really be in love and that teen romances don't last, but he and Trixie mooned over each other without the other one knowing. Normally I wouldn't interfere. Deep down I think I'm relieved that Jim won't be around here much longer, because I don't know if I could handle my sister and my best friend being romantically involved. But I still liked to tease him about the possibility. He teases me in turn about his sister, but he knows I think of her as just a good friend.
The rest of the club members arrived and we were all in the entertainment room at Manor House. Di went over to the stereo and threw a Randy Travis album on the turntable. The rest of us groaned, except for Mart. He didn't like country music much either, but he wasn't about to let Di know that.
After a good afternoon of listening to music, dancing, and just hanging out, we decided it was time to watch some of the movies. Honey went to get us some popcorn and sodas and then there was a friendly squabble over which of the movies to watch first. Like I predicted, one of the movies my brother picked out was Rocky IV, and unfortunately that's what everyone else decided on. I think the girls really like Sylvester Stalone, except my sister of course. I don't recall her ever mooning over any movie or rock star.
"Sorry, guys," I said, "but I think I'd rather go read a book. I guess I'll head into the library and see what I can find."
"Come on, Brian! This is supposed to be a party for you and Jim." Honey looked at me with concern.
"Yeah, Brian, stay. The movie's actually pretty good," Jim said.
"If mine eldest sibling would rather peruse an inspiring tome than assimilate the techniques of pugilism, who are we to circumvent his peregrination to the atheneum?"
"Whatever, Mart. Anyway, come get me when the movie's over."
"Brian, are you okay? I mean, it's not like you're ever the life of the party, but you're usually more - I don't know - into hanging out with us."
"I'm okay, Di. Thanks for asking. It's just that I still have a little bit of a headache."
"Yeah, he and Dad had another fight this morning," Trixie told her.
"Oh," Dan said, "the same thing as always? He doesn't want you to move, right?"
"Yeah, that again."
"For the record, none of us want you to move." Honey's eyes started to tear up.
"Hey, what about me?" Jim teased, trying to lighten the mood.
"Oh, you, we can't wait for you to go!" Dan winked to let him know he was joking. Jim could sometimes be sensitive to teasing.
"Oh, I don't want either of you to go!" Honey wailed. "Why couldn't you go to school in New York at least? You'll be so far away."
"Guys, we've already been all through this. Now, your popcorn's getting cold, your sodas are getting warm, and Mart's dying to watch the movie. I'll see you in a bit."
I walked out and closed the door behind me. I made my way over to the Wheeler's enormous library. Mr. Wheeler had all kinds of books in there, everything from scientific and historical tomes to children's books. I wandered over to the fiction shelf and picked up a Stephen Donaldson book and settled down to read. I was surprised when a little while later the door opened and Jim and Trixie came in. I was sitting in one of the armchairs on the other end, facing away from the door, so they didn't see me. I don't know why I didn't say anything. I shouldn't have eavesdropped but I heard their entire conversation. At the time I was thinking, 'ammunition!'
"You sound so serious Jim. What's going on?"
"I am serious." Jim closed the door behind him. "Trixie, are you still my special girl?"
"I hope so."
"I hope so too. I really want you to be. I wish sometimes I hadn't gotten so ahead in school."
"What do you mean?"
"I wish I still had two years of high school left. I wish I hadn't graduated."
"What I'm trying to say is -." He paused. "Well, if I were still going to be here, would you go steady with me?"
Trixie gulped so loudly I actually heard her.
"Well, you're not going to be here, are you? You're going to be in California."
"Yeah, I've been thinking about that. I'm thinking of putting school off for a year. Or maybe I'll just go to the community college in Yonkers for a couple years and then transfer." That was his big mistake. He should've never let her know that. I know Trixie pretty well and wasn't at all surprised when she answered him.
"No, Jim. I'm too young to go steady. Besides, you're more like a brother. You know, the Bob-Whites are all just one big family." There was a long silence and I was curious what was going on. "I'm sorry Jim. I didn't mean to lead you on. I just think of you as a best friend and a brother." She was starting to ramble and I could tell from her voice she was probably crying. "Please tell me we can still be friends?" I heard her ask.
I heard one person's footsteps and then the library door close softly. I couldn't be sure who was still here, but I finally got the courage to stand up. Trixie was still standing there, tears rolling slowly down her cheeks.
"Brian - " She wiped her cheeks with her sleeve.
I went over to her and gave her a hug. "You lamebrain, you! Why? I know you like him. I'd even say you love him."
"But you heard him, Brian."
"I know. And I know you. But don't do this. He can still go to school here. It's not a bad plan."
"I can't believe you're saying that. Did you know?" She pulled away and punched me on the arm. "Why are you even here?" Punch. "Did Jim know you were here? Were you guys planning this as some kind of joke?" Punch again.
"Calm down." I held my sore arm and backed away from her. "You guys must've forgotten. I said I was coming here to find a book."
"Sorry about your arm."
"You do love him, don't you?"
"I'm only 14."
"Just answer me yes or no. Do you love him?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"Then go after him. Tell him you didn't mean it."
"I can't. He'll quit school. Or delay it. He'll change all his plans. I can't let him do that."
"I'll tell him then."
"Brian Belden, don't you dare! I'll never forgive you."
"Yes you will."
"Please, Brian? This is my decision. Don't interfere."
"I'll think about it."
"Please?" she repeated.
"Ok. But only because you're my favorite sister. And for the record, I think you're making a mistake."
"Thanks." She dried the rest of her tears. "Come on, let's go join the party."
When we got back to the entertainment room, the mood was somber.
"What happened here?" I asked. "Did someone die?"
"No. But the party was supposed to be for you and Jim, and both of you left," Dan pointed out.
"Well, I'm back now."
"But Jim isn't," Di said.
"I'll go find him." Mart pointed his finger at me and added, "The rest of you keep an eye on our other departing club member and make sure he sticks around."
Meanwhile Honey approached Trixie and the two whispered to each other quietly. I'm sure Trixie was filling her in on all the details.
"Ok guys, let's liven things up a little. So the movie was a flop. Who's up for more dancing?"
"Dan! You don't mean to tell me you like dancing," teased Di. "In that case, let's put on that B-52s album. I could do with a little Rock Lobster right now."
"What, no country music? No Crystal Gayle?" Dan teased her back.
"I'll have you know I like almost all kinds of music. Even classical in the right setting." Di defended herself.
Honey and Trixie joined in and soon the five of us were relaxed and having a good time again. Mart and Jim came back down also. Jim put on a good front, acting like everything was ok, but he and Trixie avoided each other the rest of the evening.
The rest of the weekend passed by quickly. We kept ourselves busy between riding and swimming, but there was always a hint of sadness in the air. We all knew there would never be another year like this last one. I kept my word to Trixie, never telling Jim the real reason she didn't want to go steady with him. I did bring up the subject of leaving though, and talked to him about the advantages of staying home and going to Westchester Community College instead, but I couldn't make a convincing argument without betraying Trixie. Hopefully, they would work things out someday. I think I could handle it after all. Better than the two of them moping around anyway.