Joeanne drove away from the Lynch Estate, back on to Glen Road, still thinking about Diana's words and the promise she had made herself. How would she ever be able to face Dan, now that she had admitted to herself (and to some extent to Di) that he was not indifferent to her? But she would have to. She owed it to him, after the way she'd behaved. But not just yet. She needed time to adjust to this new life of hers.
Suddenly, a movement to her left startled her from her reverie and she hit the brakes. The car skidded on the gravel, and she almost lost control, but finally managed to pull over by the side of the road.
Breathless, and with her heart still thumping in her chest, Joeanne closed her eyes and sat still, waiting for her head to stop spinning. What on Earth had just happened?
"Jo! Are you ok?"
At the sound of the familiar voice, Joeanne opened her eyes and stared at Dan, pale and trembling, standing by the car window.
"Dan?" Then she saw the horse, nearby. Had this happened again? Maybe it was just nerves, but Joeanne couldn't fight the irresistible fit of laughter that took hold of her.
Dan frowned. This was the last thing he'd expect from her. Actually, he had never seen her laugh like this. And despite the recent fright, he couldn't help noticing just how beautiful she looked when she did.
Finally, she managed to control herself enough to ask, "Whose fault was it this time? I didn't see you!"
He smiled. "Guess it was mine! I was distracted and Odin just got out of the woods before I even noticed. He has a mind of his own!"
"We better stop meeting like this, or soon enough he'll hold a grudge against me." Joeanne got out of the car, unable to look him in the eyes.
"No one will ever be able to hold a grudge against you…" Dan's voice became huskier, as he suddenly remembered she was supposed to be mad at him.
"Yeah, right," Joeanne kept her eyes locked on the ground, wishing to be miles away.
"Anyway," Dan said, trying to overcome the uncomfortable situation. "I went to Manor House, to take Jim's car back, and then my uncle bribed me into taking this guy here for a walk, in exchange for a ride into town. I kind of started day dreaming and…" Dan stopped talking and felt his face grow hotter. He had been thinking about her. How was he supposed to tell her that? He then decided to change the subject. "I called you earlier at the office. They said you'd taken the day off."
She looked up at him, seemingly surprised, but only for a moment. Averting her eyes again, Joeanne explained, "I went to see Sally."
"I thought as much. Did your father go with you?"
"No. He had to work, but he's taking the boys over tomorrow. Diana offered to go with me today. I was just returning from her place."
"Oh," Dan couldn't help feeling a little disappointed at the fact she hadn't asked him to go with her. But he was lucky enough she was still talking to him. So he just swallowed hard and went on, "And how is she?"
"She's fine." Joeanne took a deep breath and finally met his eyes. "She's asked me to tell you she's ready to testify."
"And are you okay with it?" Dan bit his lip. He had to try hard to keep his voice from trembling and himself from asking the question burning on his lips. Have you forgiven me?
To his surprise she didn't look away. Joeanne held his gaze and answered, slowly but firmly, "Yes, I am. It's what she wants and I have to let her deal with this her own way. Like you said, I can't go on sheltering her forever."
"What about us, Jo? Are we okay?" The question escaped his lips before he knew it and he himself was surprised at the emotion in his voice.
Despite the sudden jolt in her heart, she managed to keep looking in his eyes. "Last night, I… I overreacted. You have proven more than once that you…" Joeanne paused, weighing her words. "That you care for me. I shouldn't have said those things. So I think I owe you an apology."
He chuckled and shook his head, in disbelief. "You owe me nothing, Jo. But I'm glad you've forgiven me."
"I still don't like being lied to." Joeanne lowered her eyes for a moment, staring at the key chain she had been twisting in her hands for the past minutes.
Gently, Dan tilted her chin up with his finger, forcing her to look back up at him. "I didn't mean to lie. I was going to tell you but then…" he gulped, his mind travelling back to the moment they'd kissed. "I didn't mean to lie to you, Jo. And I promise not to do anything behind your back again."
"I certainly hope not." Joeanne smiled, faintly. "I really enjoy our friendship, and I'd hate to have it spoiled. After all, you did win me with your honesty. You had the courage to tell me the things no one had ever dared to say. And to my father too. If it wasn't for you, he probably wouldn't have forgiven Sally, and she and I wouldn't be trying to really understand each other. Actually, I probably should be thanking you."
Dan's mind was still locked in the part when she'd said he had won her and he had trouble understanding what she'd said next. "Nonsense." He almost didn't recognize his own voice, thick with unspoken emotion. "I'm the one who should thank you for letting me be your friend."
"It's not like you ever gave me a chance of stopping you…" Her voice faltered when his hand travelled from her chin to her cheek and down again, softly tracing the contour of her face.
Eyes locked, they just stood there, unable to move or even to think. Both their hearts were overflowing with feelings they couldn't explain or were just too afraid to acknowledge. But as with all such moments, this particular moment was also too fragile to last, and a sharp sound brought them out of the reverie.
Startled, they instinctively broke apart and looked back. Annie was heading for them on her bike, an ominous look upon her girlish face. She stopped abruptly in front of them, her chest heaving.
"What's wrong, Annie?" Dan asked, placing both hands on her shoulders to help her calm down.
"Bobby called…" She could barely speak, through her ragged breath. "Bobby called me. Something has gone terribly wrong!"
Dan and Joeanne exchanged glances, the emotion of the previous moments replaced by concern.
"What did he tell you?" Dan was trying hard not to scare her even further, but he knew fear was strangling his voice.
"He said Trixie and Jim are missing! Trixie left a note saying Jonesy was behind it all and went off to find Jim… She never got to Manor House."
"And then Jim went to find her and he disappeared too," Dan completed, closing his eyes and rubbed his forehead. "Sweet Lord!"
"I needed to do something… I was going over to Manor House to see if I could help!" Annie looked from Dan to Joeanne, panic quite visible in her eyes.
Slowly, Joeanne wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Annie seemed surprised but didn't move away. Relieved, Joeanne smiled softly.
"Everything will be okay, Annie. We'll come with you." Her eyes searched for Dan's, seeking approval. He nodded, eyes shining in a look she couldn't identify. But there were more pressing subjects now.
"Jo, you better leave your car here and come riding with me. We'll get there faster through the woods." Dan didn't wait for an answer and went to get Odin.
A little dazed at his words, Joeanne locked the car and went over to him, eyeing the animal with suspicion.
"It's been a while…" she whispered.
"Don't worry. I'll hold you tight."
Joeanne almost lost her breath, and her heart started thumping wildly. She'd been worried about the horse, but now she was much more worried about the fact that he would hold her. But there was no time to find an excuse not to ride with him. Annie was already pedalling up the road. So she just let Dan help her on to the horse and braced herself for what came next. And she got goose bumps all over when his arms encircled her waist from behind and the warmth of his body spread through her like a blanket.
Mart and Brian were desperate. They had searched almost every possible place. Where could they be? The clubhouse was empty, all the horses were in the stables, Jim's car was in the garage and they weren't at the lake either.
"We should check Ten Acres," Brian suggested, running his trembling fingers through his dark hair.
Mart nodded, anguish visible in clear blue eyes. "Yeah, let's do it! If they're not there I have no idea where they could be."
Brian swallowed hard. He'd been dreading saying the words, but he had to speak them now. "If Jonesy caught them, he might have taken them far away. He's probably in New York by now! We'll never catch up with him."
"Please, don't even think that, Bri! Please don't!"
Suddenly, they saw Bobby running up the way, his breath heaving. "Guys! There's smoke coming from Ten Acres! I saw it from my room's window! I already called the fire department."
Glancing at each other, Mart and Brian smelled the faint odour of burning wood in the wind. Seconds later, they were rushing to Ten Acres, with Bobby close behind them.
As soon as they got up there, they saw the smoke rising from the school building and the flames already licking the walls. The heat was intense and they knew there was no time to lose. Taking off their shirts, Mart and Brian wrapped them around their faces to prevent them from asphyxiation. Before running to the burning building, Brian sent Bobby down to Glen Road to indicate the closest route up there to the firemen. The sirens were already sounding in the distance.
Combining efforts, Brian and Mart rammed into the door, knowing the knob was just too hot to be touched. The improvised door wasn't strong so they easily brought it down. There was a cloud of smoke and heat coming from inside and they had to take a few steps back.
When it cleared a bit, they rushed in, feeling tears stream down their faces from the smoke. It was hard to see inside, but in the midst of smoke and flames they finally saw Trixie and Jim, their heads bent forward, probably already unconscious.
Thanking the heavens for his old habit of carrying around his pocket knife, from his Boy Scout days, Mart cut the ropes around their wrists and ankles and then dragged Trixie outside, while Brian did the same for Jim. They had to do it fast, before the flames stopped them from reaching the door, or the unfinished first floor collapsed.
Just when they had got outside, the windows exploded, sending tiny, but sharp pieces of glass everywhere. Brian got a cut on his cheek, but he didn't even feel it. The idea of them having arrived too late was torturing him and he needed to know his sister and best friend were safe.
Laying them both on the grass, far enough from the building to be secure, Brian checked them for a pulse. Feeling the heartbeat on their throats, Brian cried out in relief. They were still alive.
They could already smell the smoke. In a heavy silence, Dan, Joeanne and Annie moved as fast as they could through the woods, crossing them as they headed to Ten Acres. In their hearts, they knew they weren't needed at Manor House. Whatever was happening was happening at Ten Acres.
Suddenly, Annie stopped her bicycle right in front of them, forcing Dan to pull back the horse's reins. Then he saw what had made her stop. Right in front them, hidden by some bushes, was a car.
"Whose is it?" Joeanne asked, trying to shake away the disturbing feeling of Dan's arms around her.
"I don't know. Is it familiar to you, Annie?"
The girl shook her head.
"No. I don't think I've ever seen it around here before."
"It is a public road, Annie, but it's still strange." Dan dismounted and carefully walked towards the vehicle. "See, those branches were broken and placed here to help hide the car. Hey, the keys are still in the ignition."
"Do you think this has anything to do with Trixie and Jim's disappearance?" Joeanne asked as she dismounted herself and walked towards Dan.
"I don't have a clue…" Dan paused as he noticed Annie opening the car's door. "Annie! What are you doing?"
"There's something on the passenger's seat!" Excitedly, Annie crawled over the driver's seat and got whatever had called her attention. As she crawled out she was holding a large brown envelope, triumphantly. "Maybe there is something here to help us find out who the owner of the car is."
"Dan, that's private property," Joeanne cautioned.
"Actually, this area of the woods is part of Ten Acres. The car owner is the one who's trespassing since he drove the car into the woods." Dan smiled, wickedly. "So, Annie is right. We should try to find out who he is."
Thrilled with Dan's approval, Annie opened the envelope. Her face went pale when she saw its contents.
"Dan…" she held out a pile of newspaper clippings and photographs.
Shivers ran down his spine when he saw the pictures and news clippings. All around the same subject: Trixie and the BWGs.
"I bet this is Jonesy's car!" Annie twisted her hands, nervously.
"Hold on, we don't know that yet." Joeanne looked from Dan to Annie, wondering how she had ended up in the middle of this mess. But then again, deep down in her heart, she knew she had always dreamed of playing a role in the Bob-Whites' adventures. She only wished it could have happened in a different situation.
"No, we don't," Dan agreed. "But anyway, whoever collected these has a pretty suspicious obsession with Trixie and the rest of us. And I'm sure none of us ever agreed to have our pictures taken. I'm taking this to Molinson. Let's hope he'll be able to dust it for fingerprints."
As Joeanne and Dan got back on the horse, Annie seemed to remember something and went back into the car. She came back out and showed them the car keys.
"Just in case," she said, grinning.
It took a few minutes for the cool evening air to revive them. Trixie woke up first.
"Jim!" she called out, as soon as she realized where she was.
"Calm down, Sis, he is okay." Brian's reassuring voice magically quieted her thumping heart and she finally saw Jim sitting close by, aided by Mart. Her brother's arms closed around her and he cradled her for a while as she cried, finally letting fear take hold of her. "Shh, everything will be fine! You're safe now!"
At the sound of Jim's voice, Trixie let go of her brother and dove into his arms, holding on to him tightly. She felt him rub her back softly and relaxed as she ran her fingers through his wavy red hair.
Brian noticed Mart was standing aside, watching them, tears streaming down his face. "Are you okay?" he asked, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.
Mart nodded, as he wiped his eyes to his smoke stained shirt. "Yeah, it's the smoke. It makes my eyes sting," he lied, knowing perfectly well his big brother was seeing right through him.
He chuckled. "Yeah, the smoke really does get to you!"
Then the fire trucks finally appeared, sirens screaming, and Bobby jumped from one of them.
"Are you guys okay?" he asked anxiously, as approached them.
"Yeah, we made it," Jim answered, his voice still strangled, as he held on to Trixie. "But I guess Jonesy escaped!"
"No, he didn't!" Mart almost jumped in joy when he saw who the passenger in the police car coming up the road was. Jonesy was in the back seat, with a strange look of amazement in his face.
Molinson himself was driving. When he got out of the car, Trixie noticed he couldn't hide the look of anxiety on his face. "Is everyone all right?" When they nodded, he sighed in relief and scratched his balding head. "You're going to give me a heart attack, one of these days! But I have to congratulate you for having the presence of mind to steal Jonesy's car keys!"
The group in front of them stared at each other, surprised. "Car keys?" Trixie uttered. "Was it any of you guys?"
Her three brothers shook their heads. "We didn't even know Jonesy had a car!" Brian said.
Molinson put his hands on his hips, looking truly confused. "We were coming here, after Mart called us, when we saw that creep walking up Glen Road. He tried to get in the woods, but we caught up with him. Apparently he had hidden his car in some bushes and left the key in the ignition. When he came back, it was gone! He tried to hot wire it, but that idiot couldn't even manage it! So he decided to walk all the way to Sleepyside. But if it wasn't any of you, who was it?"
"Me!" said a voice behind them. They all turned and saw a smiling Annie holding Jonesy's keys in her hand, followed by Dan and Joeanne on horseback.
"What…? How…?" Mart was speechless for one of the few times in his life.
"Bobby called me when you guys left to look for them, so I decided to ride down Glen Road and see if I could spot anything. I met Dan and Joeanne on the way over.
Then we saw this car, parked in the midst of some bushes and thought it was strange.
The keys were still in the ignition and this was on the passenger's seat." Annie handed the large envelope to Molinson.
"We thought it was strange, because Jim had said Jonesy was probably looking for revenge and those pictures really looked obsessive," Dan explained as he approached the group that had crowded around Molinson to look at the pictures in awe. "So Annie here decided to take the keys. Just in case!" He looked back at the girl, the mischievous spark in his eyes matching her own.
"Oh, I could just kiss you!" Bobby didn't think before he said the words. But when he saw the priceless look on Annie's face and heard the laughter coming from behind him, he blushed to the root of his blond curls.
Mart was laughing so hard, more out of relief than out of amusement, he had to sit down.
"Well, I meant…" Bobby was embarrassed and didn't even manage to look at Annie, who had blushed just as much as he had.
"We know what you meant, Bobster!" Jim dishevelled his hair, wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes. "I kinda feel the same way! Come here, kid." Pulling Annie by the arm, Jim hugged her tightly. "Thanks. I owe you one!"
"We're even, then!" she said, with sparkling eyes.
Molinson cleared his throat. "Well, no more of the mushy stuff," he said, as he tried to hide his own emotion. "We still have work to do! And you, Goldie Locks," he pointed at Bobby. "Still have a mission! Go and get dressed for that dance."
Bobby turned red again. "Okay," he mumbled.
Jim took a few steps away from the group, and gazed at the now smouldering ashes of the school building with sadness in his eyes.
Trixie joined him and held on to his arm. "We'll just build it again," she said, softly.
He nodded. "Yeah, I know. And this time I don't think I'll have to worry about that bastard again." His eyes drifted towards Molinson's squad car and met Jonesy's for a moment. The man was pale, and wasn't able to hold Jim's clear gaze for long. He looked distraught.
"He's going down for a long time," Trixie said, wrapping her arms around his waist.
"I certainly hope so." Jim leant over to her to kiss the top of her head. His heart felt lighter than ever before, and he had the distinct feeling everything was going to be fine now. Looking down at her he smiled softly, knowing this was the time to celebrate. "Are you still up for a dance, beautiful?" He asked, his voice growing huskier as he stared at her with those deep green eyes.
"With you, always!" Trixie threw her arms around his shoulders and hugged him tight.
A little while later, as the group slowly walked back to Crabapple Farm, Trixie found herself watching Joeanne. She and Dan were still ahead of them, Dan leading the horse by the reins and JoeAnne silently walking beside him, immersed in her thoughts.
"They really do look nice together, don't they?" she whispered to Jim.
"Yeah, they do. You know, lately I've been wondering what would have happened if Joeanne had joined the club."
Trixie looked up at him, blue eyes shining.
"You know, it's not too late…"
Arching an eyebrow, Jim stared at his fiancée. He knew what she was thinking and he liked it. Winking at her, he let go off her hand and walked over to Joeanne.
"Joeanne, Trixie and I have been thinking," he started, glancing at Dan and then at the young woman. "And we decided that we would like you to become an honorary member of the BWGs. Of course the others will have to vote, but I'm sure no one will oppose."
Her jaw dropped and her eyes grew wider in amazement, as Dan's face lit with a wide grin.
"Well, you can certainly count on my vote," he said, reaching for her hand and squeezing it.
Blushing, Joeanne stared at her feet. "I'm honoured," she said. "But if you guys are doing this because you think you haven't been there for me when I needed it, don't. You were there. I was the one who pushed you away."
Moving towards them, Trixie smiled softly. "No, Jo. You've earned it. I guess it's our way of saying we won't let you push us away again."
Joeanne looked up again and searched their faces. They were honest about it and Trixie's brothers seemed to like the idea too, smiling as they watched the scene.
"It's a great idea, Joeanne," Brian said, in his low, firm voice. "Maybe some of us haven't had a chance to know you very well, but we've grown to respect you. As far as I'm concerned you are very welcome."
"Here, here," said a smiling Mart.
Annie then moved closer to Joeanne and held her other hand. "I'm voting you in too," the girl stated with a smile.
"That leaves Honey and Di, but I'm sure they'll be as happy as we are in welcoming you aboard," Jim said.
"I really don't know what to say…" There were tears in Joeanne's eyes. Not even in her wildest dreams had she imagined this. "Thank you!"
"The only thanks we want is to see that smile on your face, permanently." Trixie's felt the sting of tears in her own eyes and she patted her friend's shoulder. In her heart, she knew this was the right thing. Joeanne should have always been with them.
The ride back to her car was a nightmare to Joeanne. While Annie had been with them it had been easier. They had been distracted by their concern about Trixie and Jim and the fact that they weren't alone was enough to postpone any other discussion. But now… She knew it was a matter of minutes before he would bring up the subject.
As if on queue, Dan said, "I'm very happy about all this, Jo. I had already thought about talking to the guys about you becoming a member myself, but I guess I feared was afraid you would think this was silly."
Forcing herself to overcome the shivers his voice in her ear sent down her back, Joeanne managed to ask, "Why would I think it was silly?"
"You know," Dan cleared his throat. "Grown ups playing at secret clubs. It may sound kind of childish. And you take life so seriously."
"I never had reasons to take it lightly, Dan," Joeanne was surprised that she hadn't said this with the usual bitterness. Things really were starting to change, even from within. "But I don't consider it childish. The bond you share between you is anything but silly or childish. I'm proud that you want me to become a part of it."
"You deserve it," Dan said, as he dismounted. He held out his hand to help her down and as their eyes met, he lost his breath. She was doing that to him a lot.
Relieved to have her feet back on the ground and a little more space between them, Joeanne combed back her dishevelled hair, desperately searching for something to say. But Dan spoke before she managed to find a way to excuse herself and drive away.
"You know we still need to talk, don't you?"
Her first impulse was to say there was nothing to talk about, but something stopped her. To her amazement she discovered she wanted to talk to him. Only not just yet. She needed to figure this all out, to understand her own feelings. She couldn't even think straight in his presence, and this simply wouldn't do.
"I know," she admitted, after a few moments silence. "But I need to think first. This last 24 hours has been a roller coaster, for both of us. I have to manage to find some balance, to think about what I'm going to do now."
Breathing in deeply, he closed his eyes for a moment. Then, as he opened them, he said, "All right. But promise me you won't use this time to write me out of your life."
"I won't." Joeanne smiled, softly. "There wouldn't be much left if I did…"
The confession filled his heart with hope and he marvelled at the fact that all the anguish had vanished from her voice. But he knew what she meant. Her problems had demanded so much of her, she never had time or enough hope in the future to make plans. Joeanne had not only put off her dreams, but the dreaming itself.
"There soon will be," he said in a strangled voice. He wanted to say this with his arms around her, but he knew he couldn't. So he buried his hands in his pockets, and smiled. "And if it depends on me, you'll recover all of your dreams."
There was a hint of sadness in her smile as she spoke and shook her head.
"It doesn't depend on you, Dan. Most dreams are irrecoverable, but now I can start thinking of myself. I'll just have to get used to it. But this afternoon one of my childhood dreams did come true. One I had never even dared to admit I had. So, I'd never be able to think it was silly." Joeanne reached out and rested her hand on his arm for a second. "I better go now," she said.
He only nodded and watched her as she got in the car. Then she looked at him and waved goodbye. He returned the gesture and just stood there as she drove away. And a simple, yet daring idea crept in his mind. There was a wide grin on his handsome face as he climbed on Odin and rode away.
Bobby had never felt so nervous in all of his young life. Not only he was going to help the police catch Janet Martin in the act, he was also escorting Annie to the dance. Standing in the Parker's lobby, he felt as if his bow tie would soon choke him. What was taking her so long? As the thought crossed his mind, Bobby turned to the staircase to check if she was coming down. And that was his last coherent thought.
Annie was standing at the top of the stairs, watching him, a nervous smile lighting her pretty face. Her light brown hair was tied on the top of her head, in loose curls that bounced when she started coming down the steps, and the blue dress Honey had picked out for her suited her perfectly. She looked so beautiful Bobby had to catch his breath. He had always considered her very pretty, but that was when he had only seen her in jeans and t-shirts. Now she was absolutely perfect.
When she finally stood face to face with him, he had to make an effort to remember how to speak. "Hi," he said, after clearing his throat. Still his voice came huskier than he intended. "You look… amazing."
Annie turned red and she averted her eyes for a moment. "You look good too," was all she could utter.
"Here, this is for you," Bobby held out the corsage to her and she giggled.
"I think you are supposed to pin that on my dress."
"Oh!" It was his turn to blush. With trembling hands, Bobby fumbled with the small bouquet but finally managed to pin it on her jacket, above her breast. "There!" he said triumphantly, "I guess we should be getting along now, hum?"
Annie looked back into the hallway that led to the kitchen. "Yeah, we better, before Dad manages to find the other film. He's been taking pictures of me for the past hour. Thank God he ran out of film just before you arrived."
Laughing, the pair left the house and got in Mart's car. He was chaperoning the dance and had offered his brother a ride. The blonde young man whistled appreciatively when Annie got to the car.
"My, my! Don't you look pretty? We BWG's really can brag about the feminine members of our club." He smiled widely. "They are truly the most beautiful women in town!"
Annie stuck out her tongue, but smiled, as Bobby opened the door to her. She had never experienced these kind of compliments and she was enjoying it immensely.
After picking Diana up, they headed for the dance. As they approached the school, their smiles faded and they became gradually more silent. Tonight wouldn't be only fun and games and they knew it.
When the two couples got to the door, they found Dan waiting for them outside. Diana couldn't help an admiring look and hoped everything would turn out fine for him. He had caller her earlier, to ask her for help with his plan. Dan was an old dear friend and she wished him the best. And if it involved the happiness of a new dear friend, she would do all she could.
"Hey, guys!" Dan walked over to them and with a smile, held Annie's hand and made her twirl to admire her. "You look lovely, sweetie."
"Thanks," she mumbled, feeling uncomfortable with so much attention.
"You kids should be getting inside. Molinson is in there already. He wants to wire Bobby. It will be better to get everything on tape." Dan pointed at the building. "And you have to do it before Janet comes. He's waiting for you in the Principal's office."
Bobby paled a bit but nodded in agreement, as he led Annie inside. Seeing the worried look on Mart's face, Dan said, as he patted his friend's back, "He'll be okay. We are all here to look out for him!"
Mart sighed. "I know. It's just that we nearly lost Trixie and Jim today. I guess that's getting to me now."
Standing on tiptoes, Di placed a soft kiss on his cheek. "Everything will be fine now, Mart. We are over the worst of it!"
He smiled and squeezed her hand, tenderly. Feeling his spirits returning to him, he decided to not let this chance of teasing Dan go by. "And what, may I ask, has produced this miracle? I've never seen you in a tux and I don't believe a mere juvenile ball would be enough of a reason for you to wear it."
His friend chuckled. "Actually, it was. But I guess your girlfriend here can explain it to you. I'm… a little nervous."
Mart stared at Diana, frowning, waiting for an explanation. She giggled and pulled him away. "Come, I'll explain it to you on our way in."
Annie stood outside the men's restroom, fidgeting and uncomfortable in the unusual attire, as she waited for Bobby. Captain Molinson and Spider Webster had taken him inside to set him up for the meeting with Janet. But though she knew every base was covered, she still felt her stomach tied in knots when she thought of Bobby going to that woman by himself. Part of her heart wished Janet had already run off, but the other part of her knew they had to get her.
"So, are you expecting to get a partner, standing by the men's bathroom door?"
The sarcastic voice made her jump. Startled, Annie turned to see Maddie Kendall and two other girls. The blonde girl was staring down at her with a cynical grin plastered to her face, made even taller by the high-heeled shoes she was wearing. Annie wished she had agreed to wear heels, so she could at least hold her gaze without looking up. But she faced her anyway, holding her head high.
"If you must know, I'm waiting for Bobby. He's inside," she said, crossing her arms across her chest.
"Yeah, as if I'm to believe Bobby came with you to the dance, when he could have asked me." Maddie laughed and threw her blonde hair back, knowing it would sparkle under the lights. The other girls giggled in agreement, and Annie's stomach turned again but this time in disgust.
"Well, believe what you want. I don't really give a rat's…"
Bobby interrupted her before she could finish. He closed the bathroom door behind him, trying not to smile at Annie's still too loose tongue. Annie blushed and cursed herself silently. She had promised herself she would be ladylike tonight and that she wouldn't respond to Maddie or anyone else's provocation. After all, Bobby had brought HER to the dance and not Maddie.
Maddie was speechless. So, he had chosen that delinquent over her? How could this be? She really was confused and the fact that her friends seemed a little more amused than they should be with the situation wasn't helping either.
"Bobby, I thought… I didn't think you were coming," she finally managed to say.
"I told you I didn't know if I would come or not because I wasn't sure if Annie would want to come with me," Bobby smiled condescendingly. It felt nice to be fought over.
Annie arched an eyebrow. He's actually enjoying this, she thought. But actually she was too. Maddie's face was priceless.
"Oh," was all the girl could utter, as she watched Bobby carelessly wrap an arm around Annie's shoulders.
"Now, if you'll excuse us, we better find our table," Bobby said, as he led Annie away from the girls. "Save me a dance for later, Maddie. That is, if Annie is okay with it." The glint in his blue eyes told Annie he was having lots of fun, and though she didn't like the idea of fuelling his growing ego, the opportunity was just too good to pass.
So, she turned to Maddie, who was already fuming, and said, innocently, "Oh, I'm okay with it. After all it's just one dance," she stressed the word 'one'. "And I guess I'll get tired of dancing all night… eventually!"
Bobby had to control himself not to burst out laughing. You go, girl, he silently cheered her.
"You better wipe that smug smile off your face, Belden," Annie said, as soon as they were out of Maddie's earshot. "I only played along 'cause it was the best way to get rid of Maddie. If she made a scene it could scare Ms. Martin off."
He tried to make a straight face, as he said, "Yeah, sure. I know that." But he couldn't help smiling. And he didn't remove his arm from her shoulders.
She looked up at him, frowning, trying to figure out if he was serious or not. Bobby looked back at her, with the most innocent expression he could manage. Though he didn't convince her, she thought it was best to leave it at that. After all, she had actually enjoyed the feeling of being chosen over Maddie and wasn't interested in explaining why.
"Anyway," she said as she disentangled herself from his embrace. "What's the plan?"
"Well, we'll have to wait until Ms. Martin gets here and play it from there. I'm wired and they're going to record the whole thing."
Annie's eyes widened.
"You mean… They have been listening the whole time?"
"Yep. And recording it too," Bobby hid his smile as she turned red. Tonight was proving more interesting than he had ever thought!
Bobby saw when Janet Martin entered the gym. The teacher looked pale and tired, as if she hadn't slept much that night. Her usual proud and smug look had been replaced by a worried and somewhat scared expression.
Has she found out?
Bobby asked himself. But then he dismissed the thought. If she had she wouldn't have come and risked getting caught. She was probably upset because she hadn't been able to contact either Dick or Jonesy.
Then he saw Darryl appear from behind a column and head towards her. Looking around, to see if anyone was watching them, Janet pushed the boy into a corner, apparently disliking the fact he had come to talk to her.
"Annie, stay here," he said. "Ms. Martin is over there talking to Darryl. I'm going to try and listen to what they're talking about. Maybe I can even get it on tape."
The girl looked over to the direction Bobby had pointed, and bit her lip. It was time.
"Just be careful and don't pull any stupid stunts, okay?"
He smiled and pulled one of her curls. "Don't worry. I'll be coming back to claim my dances."
She watched him as he walked away, trying to keep away from Janet and Darryl's eyes. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she silently prayed for his safety, as she grasped the medallion that had once belonged to her mother and which she considered to be her lucky charm. You better be back soon, Belden, and in one piece. I really want to dance tonight…with you, Annie thought.
"Are you sure about this?" Darryl said.
Bobby hid behind a column, close to the place where Janet and Darryl were standing. The music and the noise of the crowd were making it hard for him to hear anything, let alone record it. But from where he now stood he was able to hear at least a part of what was being said. He only hoped neither one of them looked in his direction.
"I've told you before I can't stand when you start telling me what to do or not, you little punk!" Janet sounded as if she was about to snap.
"Ok, okay! But you've said it yourself, something is wrong! I'm just saying maybe we should lay low while we find out what happened!"
"Look, kid! It's not my fault that idiot brother of mine decided to get greedy and started dealing on his own. It wasn't supposed to come to this! Jonesy's orders were to cause a commotion in school and blame it on those kids. The dealing was Dick's idea!"
Oh, God, I hope Molinson manages to hear this!
Bobby thought, adrenalin rushing through his veins. Janet is Dick's sister!
"But you went along. You were his dealer!" Darryl raised his voice and that won him a smack on the head.
"Keep quiet, you idiot!" Janet pulled the boy closer to the column behind which Bobby was hiding and he felt chills running down his spine.
"I didn't know Jonesy was on the plan. They met in jail and arranged the plan. Dick was supposed to set everything up, before Jonesy got out. But when Dick got out 3 years ago, he decided he would arrange his own little business on the side. Apparently something went wrong and he had to lay low for a while, until it was time to set things up for Jonesy's arrival. That's when he called me up and asked for my help. He said he wanted to get even with the girl that had thrown him into jail ten years ago. I only found out that the dealing was never a part of the original plan and that Jonesy was supposed to call the shots after he came back to Sleepyside." Janet sighed. "I thought he would kill Dick when he found out! He is my brother, but he's a fool. And I'm not risking having Jonesy on my back. The man's dangerous! And if Dick has to go down, he's going down alone. I'm going on with Jonesy's plan!"
"What do they say about 'honour amongst thieves'?" Darryl's ironic tone awakened Janet's anger.
"You better be careful," she hissed. "Or you'll go down with him! Who do you think they'll believe? The competent teacher or the known troublemaker? Now get the hell outta here, before someone suspects us."
Bobby held his breath. If either of them moved forward they would see him. Slowly, he moved to his right trying to circle the column, so he could mingle with the crowd on the dance floor and go unnoticed. As he feared, two seconds after he left his hiding place, he saw Janet leaning against that same column.
Letting out his breath, he tried to gather his composure and walked around the column so he could appear from behind the teacher and not raise any suspicion.
"Ms. Martin?" he called out, hoping she wouldn't notice the tremble in his voice.
She looked up, startled. When she saw him, she smiled triumphantly, as if she considered his appearance a victory. "Robert! I was expecting you."
Oh, you are going down too, Ms. Martin. Rest assured of that
, he promised himself as he put on a fake smile and moved closer to her.
"So, Ms. Martin, do you have it?" This time Bobby didn't have to fake. He WAS anxious.
She chuckled softly.
"Easy, Robert. Eager to have fun, are you?" She patted his cheek, condescendingly. "Well, I understand. I was like you when I started to… to have fun! But you must take it easy. You have to learn to enjoy it. Only fools let themselves get controlled by it."
Bobby felt sick. How could she say that? He had seen what IT had done to Sally! But he controlled himself and merely nodded.
Janet then took a harmless looking small brown package from her purse and handed it over to Bobby.
"Here it is. Take it."
Now here comes the hard part
. Bobby tried to concentrate and remember what Molinson had said. Make her say the words, he had said. And don't touch the package!
"Well? Having second thoughts, Robert?" Janet frowned, and looked around, as if she feared someone would see them.
"I…" he hesitated. He couldn't make any mistakes now. "It is a big step."
Janet let out a short, cynical laugh. "You are old enough to quit the baby steps, Robert. And this is nothing really. I've used it myself many times."
Ah-ah! Here we go!
Bobby thought, adrenalin pumping in his veins. "Really?" he asked, trying to sound innocent. "Actually, I have been wondering why you are doing this… I mean, most teachers warn us against it!"
She took a deep breath and stared at him, apparently considering what to say. Bobby felt beads of sweat forming on his brow and the wires across his chest were starting to irritate his skin. After a few excruciating moments, Janet's smile reappeared.
"Let's just say I've always thought right and wrong, good and evil, are very subjective things. Their limits depend on the person in question. Basically, it's a question of survival of the fittest. Some make it, some don't. Let's say this is a test that I believe you'll have no trouble in passing."
He felt sick to the stomach. How could she say that? She was completely heartless!
"So, you want it or not?" Janet was getting impatient.
Bobby gulped. He couldn't back out now. Looking past the teacher he saw Spider Webster showing him thumbs up from across the room. At least, they were getting everything fine.
"But you never told me what this is. It's not, you know, to inhale, is it?" he finally asked.
She sighed, and rolled her eyes. "It's ecstasy, Robert. Ever heard of it?"
"I don't know if he has, but I certainly have, Ms. Martin." Molinson said, showing up from behind her, startling even Bobby.
She turned ghostly white. Her bravado dissolved into thin air. Just like her brother's, Bobby thought, as he leant against the column, his legs finally giving out.
"You… you tricked me!" She actually sounded offended.
"Yes, he did, ma'am," Molinson closed the cuffs around her wrists. "And he did it brilliantly."
"Like you said, Ms. Martin, it's a test. And you just failed it!" Bobby's voice was hoarse, but he felt a rush he had never felt before. Now he knew why Trixie had kept going, despite every scrape she had managed to get herself in. The sensation of getting the bad guy overcame all fears.
"Spider just called," Dan said, as he disconnected the cell phone. "Apparently, as soon as Dick heard Jonesy was under custody, he started talking."
The others looked at him, expectantly. Trixie, who had just arrived, with Jim, Honey and Brian, was fidgeting, anxious to know what he had to say.
"Basically, he confirmed what Bobby heard Janet say. He met Jonesy in jail and they discover they had something in common."
"Yeah, a stone in their shoe named Trixie," Mart joked, with a genuinely happy smile.
His sister stuck out her tongue and smiled too.
"But what was their plan?" Annie asked.
"Jonesy wanted to discredit Trixie and the rest of us within the community. Annie and Bobby were the easier preys, so they started with them. But Dick's greed got in the way and things got out of hand."
"And Jonesy decided he should just go ahead and kill us," Jim completed, shaking his head. "He is smart, I have to admit. He knew the best way to get to us was to make people start doubting us. And he planned to slowly undermine everything we've built."
"Luckily for us, Dick is not so smart!" Bobby exclaimed, still a little shaken up.
"But he should know he shouldn't mess with the Bob-Whites of the Glen." Honey's eyes glistened and she pulled one of Bobby's curls. "Good work, Bobby!"
"Well, I guess congratulations are in order for all of us." Brian said. "I don't think after this we'll have to worry about those two guys ever again. Or Janet."
"Is she really Dick's sister?" Diana asked.
"Yes, and she really is a teacher. But she had been under some suspicion in the school she previously taught in. Nothing was ever proven though, so she didn't have much trouble in getting this job."
"I remember Principal Richardson saying she had lots of experience and even good commendation letters. I wonder if she ever checked them…" Trixie shook her head making her blonde curls bounce.
"And Darryl? What's going to happen to him?" Bobby's eyes grew darker. He couldn't help worrying about him.
"He's in trouble, Bobby. He already has a record and your testimony, as well as Janet's will probably send him to reform school," Dan patted his shoulder. "But maybe there's still hope for him."
"He's not really mean," Bobby said. "He's just… dumb."
Mart wrapped an arm around his brother's shoulders. "Let's just hope he'll smarten up then. But now it's time for the victors to collect the loot. Or better yet, for the Bob-Whites to have fun!"
"It was really great of Principal Richardson to allow us to call all of the BWGs over to celebrate," Trixie said.
"Annie has a lot to celebrate too. Molinson said she has nothing to worry about now. Janet confessed she was trying to frame her," Dan explained, as he smiled tenderly at the girl.
Annie sighed, relieved. "Thank God! That means the adoption process will be resumed, doesn't it?"
"I guess we can safely say it will, but we'll have to check with Joeanne," Honey said. Then she frowned. "By the way, from what I heard of this afternoon's events, shouldn't she be here too?"
Di looked at Dan and winked at him, smiling widely. "Oh, don't worry, Honey. That's been taken care of."