Summer of Change by Elizabeth Goode

Part: I
Disclaimer: I don't own them. Couldn't even afford them. No money has been made from my use of them.

"... and weeding the garden for Moms, and watching Bobby, and helping Dad clean out the garage - I didn't rescue you, Jim Frayne, you rescued me!" The blond-haired teenager hopped down from Lady's back and gave the sweet mare a gentle pat on the head and a slipped her a sugar cube.

"Huh?" Jim stared, confused. Trixie had been talking nonstop for at least fifteen minutes, ever since he had tried to express to her his heartfelt gratitude for finding him earlier in the summer. With Honey and Mrs. Wheeler gone for the day into the city to shop for school clothes and supplies, today had been the perfect opportunity to take Trixie for a ride in the game preserve.

She sighed impatiently. "I mean it, Jim. I was so bored! I had nothing to do but work, I was lonely and feeling a bit sorry for myself. Honey moving into the Manor House was fantastic, but I'm still not sure we would have become such good friends if we hadn't found you. She was mad at me for going inside the Mansion, you know. If you hadn't been there, I'm not sure she would have wanted to hang out with me again. Especially after Queenie attacked her! And going on that road trip definitely sealed the friendship. So, you gained me two friends this summer. You and Honey. Three, if you count Regan. Though, I'm still not sure he's over the whole runaway horse thing." She gave Jupiter a reproachful glare. "You tricked me, Jupe. I thought you liked me."

Jim laughed, wondering to himself if anything could have been more endearing than Trixie's entreaty to the horse's conscience, and reached out to take a sugar cube from Trixie's stash to feed to Jupiter. He gently caressed the horse's velvety ears. "Don't listen to her, boy. She's been known to exaggerate. For example, making a hero out of me for running like a scared rabbit."

Trixie put a hand on his arm. "You weren't running like a coward, Jim. You were running for your life. You're not a grown-up, no matter how many grades you skipped. I don't want to hear you put yourself down like that." She blushed furiously and removed her hand from his arm. "And you really did rescue me. You rescued me from not knowing Honey and Regan and the Wheelers and ... you."

Jim's face had gone as red as his hair, and she giggled. "You don't take compliments well, do you, Jim?"

He shook his head. "It's going to take a while to get used to hearing them, I guess. It's been awhile."

Smoothly, she passed Lady's reins over to him and grinned. "If you're going to keep doing nice things like offering to take care of Lady and her tack after we've had a ride, you'll definitely have to get used to hearing me talk about Jim Frayne, the Most Wonderful Boy In The World. I have to get home if I'm going to help Moms get ready for tonight. Are you still coming over?"

He nodded mutely. The Most Wonderful Boy In The World? Him? Did she really say that? "Hey! I didn't offer to - "

"Thanks, Jim. You're such a gentleman!"

"Wait! Trixie Belden, you tricked me!"

He felt his heart pound in his chest when she stuck her head back in the stable. She feigned a swoon, placing her hand to her forehead. "My hero!"

As he watched her jog down the driveway toward Crabapple Farm, he felt happy. A true, warm, happiness he wasn't sure if he'd felt since before his father had died.

He put Lady back into her stall to wait while he finished with Jupiter, and whispered to the horse, "No, she's my hero. And, my special girl. She just doesn't know it yet, that's all."

The massive black horse whinnied softly, as if in agreement.

After he had finished with the horses, Jim made his way to the veranda, where he decided to rest for a moment before going to his room to shower and get ready for the cookout at Crabapple Farm. He stretched out on the glider, blocking the sun from his face with his arms.

His room. His own room, here at the Manor House. It was big, much larger than even the living room had been at his old house where he had lived with his parents before his father's death. His room at the Manor House had its own private bathroom attached. He had an entire closet full of clothes, most of which had been selected for him by Mrs. Wheeler and Miss Trask. He had been more than a little bit bewildered at the prospect of spending an entire afternoon shopping for clothing, and so Mrs. Wheeler had had his measurements taken, and gone shopping with Miss Trask.

There was a bicycle in one of the garages for him, and he had been given the same line of credit at Wimpy's and Crimper's as Honey. While Mrs. Wheeler and Miss Trask bought clothing, Jim spent the afternon with Mr. Wheeler, hearing all about his school days with Winthrop Frayne. So far, so good, he thought as the breeze rocked the glider gently. Now, if he could only stop thinking of the Wheelers as Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler and think of them as his parents.

His life with his parents had been idyllic, and now the jaded teenager in him wondered if his memories of Katje and Winthrop Frayne weren't somehow made bigger and brighter than life by the shadow his life with Jonesy had cast upon them.

He could remember at least twice when his father had been very angry with him. Once, when he was six and had handled his father's BB gun without permission, and once when he was nine and had gotten into trouble at school for fighting. Winthrop Frayne hadn't cared that he had been righteously defending the honor of a girl whose lunch had been stolen by the class bully. He had been informed that there were better ways of solving the problem than fighting, and had been grounded for a week.

He had fought with his mother when she first started seeing Jonesy - in his grief over the loss of his father, accusing her of trying to replace him. He had said some pretty terrible things to her, and she had not allowed it, even then. He had apologized to her, of course. Of course, even the 'bad' memories of times when he had been grounded or scolded were good memories now that they were gone. They had just been trying to mold him into a good citizen, helping him understand how to behave.

He wondered what his mother would have said if she could have heard him shout at Trixie and Honey when they had first found him at Ten Acres. If she had seen the son she had raised to be polite and treat women with respect aiming a gun at two teenage girls and making threats? He sighed, turning over to rest his eyes from the sun and prevent his forearms from sunburning.

It bothered him to think of what his time spent living with Jonesy had turned him into. The things he had forgotten about himself. He had scarcely remembered some of his likes and dislikes after being deprived of most choices for so long. Jonsey decided what was for dinner and how much was enough. Jonsey gave him clothes to wear. Jonesy decided when it was time to wake up and go to sleep. And, if Jonesy decided to beat him, he had discovered that there was no way to stop him.

Memories of the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his stepfather sometimes made him feel queasy. He hated having to talk about it with the Wheelers - the idea of people pitying the poor, abused orphan made him wish he could sink into the floor and disappear. Trixie and Mr. Wheeler were the only ones who knew who didn't look at him with pity. Mr. Wheeler had sworn to Jim that Jonesy would never harm him again and had explained that he had pulled out every stop to ensure that the man spent the maximum time in prison. Whenever the subject was even hinted at, Trixie's blue eyes were filled with anger. For some reason, he found this comforting.

As he drifted off to sleep on the glider, his last conscious thought was of Trixie laughing at him earlier in the day as he landed on the ground with Bobby and Reddy scrambling over him to take back the ratty old tennis ball he and Trixie had been using in a rousing match of Keep Away with the boy and the dog. Trixie's laugh was one of his favorite sounds, he decided, just before sleep overtook him.