“Why is it that only people with money are the ones who say that it’s not everything?” Helen Belden wondered bitterly as she hung up the phone. “It’s easy for Eleanor, she’s never had to worry about making ends meet. Why, she’s never even been without a maid since she married Harold!”
There had been a time when Helen had believed the old cliché, but that time had long since passed. Sitting down in the rocking chair that had belonged to Peter’s mother, she began to remember the time when she had wholeheartedly agreed with Eleanor’s outlook. That was when her children had been small, and she had yet to start worrying about their futures. She thought back to the moment everything had begun to change, the moment that Peter had told her that millionaires had bought the Manor House. While wanting her children to be neighborly, Helen had never dreamed of how close the group of teenagers would become.
She had watched with unease as the Wheelers and Lynches invited Brian, Mart, and Trixie on vacations and trips. Feeling guilty that they couldn’t reciprocate, she had felt better when Andrew had offered to send them all to Iowa and then taken them to Missouri a few months later. She felt as if that had at least partially repaid the debt, but when the Wheeler’s took Mart and Trixie to England on a “business trip,” she had realized that they would never be able to compare. She knew that she and Peter would never be able to afford to go to Europe by themselves, let alone take guests. Helen remembered how her outlook had begun to change when Trixie had casually flown to Paris for a weekend. Instead of feeling as if she were in debt, she had begun to feel envious. She was ashamed to admit, even to herself, that she had been jealous of her own daughter, but she couldn’t deny that it was true. She had begun to dream of a lifestyle where such trips were common place. She had watched with even more envy as Madeleine and Robin received furs and jewelry, while she felt more and more chained to the kitchen, to the farm.
She tried to stop remembering, knowing that it would do no good to relive the past. Yet, as she recalled the conversation she had just had with Eleanor, she wondered if it was worse to relive the past or to dwell on the present. Envious of her sister-in-law’s happiness at having Hallie home for a month, Helen knew she would never know that feeling of joy again. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder how on earth Eleanor could allow her daughter to date Dan after what his uncle had done to Trixie. That particular topic had been the source of many discussions between the two women, and Helen knew she would never forget how Eleanor had once managed to sound exaperated and anguished at the same time. “Helen, Hallie is not a child anymore! We were both married when we were her age, and when she does decide to get married and have children, I want to be there! You have no idea what it’s like to really lose a child, Helen! I’ve been there, I felt like part of me died with little Johnnie. I’m not about to risk losing Hallie, not when there’s nothing I could do about it anyway.”
Unwillingly, Helen blinked back tears as she remembered the untimely death of her nephew the year before Brian and Knut were born. Her tears began to flow in earnest as she thought of how Eleanor at least had the consolation of knowing definitely that her son was gone. She knew it was a terrible thought, but knew that her sister-in-law didn’t have to wonder and worry how he was getting along, knowing he was living so close by but that she would never see him again. Her bitterness returned as she recalled the sheer joy in Eleanor’s voice that afternoon. She knew that Hallie would have returned home for the entire summer if it hadn’t been for her desire to attend Jim Frayne’s wedding. She still couldn’t believe he had actually married that little…, that little…. She had seen the photographs in the newspaper the previous day, pictures of the happy bride and groom. “It should have been Trixie marrying him,” Helen thought. “She would have if she hadn’t…, she could have had the world! Instead, she got her precious groom and this little…, why, Robin told me she’s never even been outside of New York State, and now she’s off on a European honeymoon!”
Helen remembered the picture that had immediately caught her attention, the image of a radiant bride looking so pure and virginal in her elegant white wedding gown. She couldn’t help comparing it to her memory of Trixie clad in a simple cream-colored dress. She had no photographs of her daughter’s wedding, only the memories of watching it from a well-hidden spot on the Wheeler game preserve. She wouldn’t have gone if Peter hadn’t insisted, but admitted to herself that Trixie had indeed looked beautiful that day.
The door slammed, startling her from her reverie. She looked up, the words “Bobby, stop running!” automatically coming to her lips. However, remembering that Bobby was at summer camp with the Lynch twins, she realized that something was even more wrong than usual. Peter ran into the room, his normally placid face wearing an expression that Helen hadn’t seen in years, not since the last time Trixie had been kidnapped, which had happened not long after she turned sixteen.
“Helen!” Peter panted. “Andrew called…the bank. Trixie’s…being…held hostage…in Lytell’s store!”
Terror struck her heart as she stared dumbly at her husband.
“Molinson won’t let anyone at the scene, but Andrew wants us to go to the Manor House to wait for news,” he said, finally catching his breath.
Helen found her voice, squelching the fright she felt. “No, let’s wait here. Andrew can call us when it’s over, just like he did when her brats were born.”
Peter glared at her, saying, “No, Helen, we will not wait here. Our daughter is at the mercy of a madman and if you think that we’re going to calmly sit here, you’re sadly mistaken. We ARE going to the Manor House, since that is where news will come.”
“You go, then. Call me when you hear something,” she said, resuming her knitting as a sign that the conversation was over.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Peter said, beginning to yell. “You are going with me and that’s final!”
“You know full well that I can’t do that!” she cried, thinking to herself, “I can’t risk seeing her again!”
“You CAN, and you ARE! Then, when this is all over and our daughter is safe, we are going to sit down and have a long talk. There are going to be a lot of changes made around here.”
Helen had never heard her normally mild-mannered husband speak in such a way. The tone of his voice frightened her almost as much as the thought of Trixie in danger. She dropped her knitting, leaving it on the floor as she followed Peter to the car.
The short ride to the Manor House was silent. Peter parked the car in the crowded drive and turned to Helen as he shut the motor off. “Just so you know, Honey is also one of the hostages. Maybe you’ll be more concerned about her, considering the size of her trust fund.”
She gave a small cry, but refrained from commenting. She silently followed him towards the front entrance where they were admitted by a grim-faced Marge Trask. Miss Trask directed them to the large living room where a crowd was already assembled.
Entering the room, Helen felt all eyes upon her as she sought out a chair in the corner. She knew full well that the entire town blamed her for the situation with Trixie. When the whole thing had started, she hadn’t quite expected sympathy, but had hoped that by showing her disapproval of Trixie’s actions, that she would at least continue to be accepted socially. Instead, the townspeople had rallied around her errant daughter, while turning her into the town pariah. She had been stunned when she was openly snubbed when she went into town. She had been too ashamed to let Peter know about it, but had quietly started driving to White Plains to do her shopping. She knew that he attributed her change in habit to a fear of seeing Trixie the way he had that first Christmas. As angry and hurt as he’d been by Trixie’s actions, he had been ready to let her back into their lives, to forgive her and move on.
As she sat in the corner, trying not to notice the unfriendly stares directed towards her, Helen remembered how she had become physically ill when Peter told her that he had held his granddaughter. She knew that it was only his concern for her that had kept him from pushing her into reconciling with Trixie long since. She watched him speak softly to Regan, actually laying his hand on his shoulder. As she watched them talking softly, she realized that her tears and threatened illness would no longer keep Peter from his daughter and her family.
She stared in a mixture of anguish and disbelief as the child in the groom’s lap stretched forth chubby little arms. It was obvious that he expected Peter to pick him up.
Helen suddenly noticed that Brian and Mart were watching her from their seats across the room. She had assumed that they would be watching Peter during his little reunion, especially since they had tried as hard as Andrew to bring it about. Wondering what was going on, it was only when she heard a childish treble demand, “Gampa! Pick me up!” that she realized that she wasn’t watching a meeting between a father and the man who had seduced his only daughter. To her horror, she suddenly understood that this was a meeting of a father and son-in-law who were desperately worried about the woman they both loved.
She felt Peter glare at her as she gasped, but suddenly it seemed as if so many pieces fell into place: all the nights he was late coming home, all the times she had called the bank only to be told he was at a meeting and couldn’t be disturbed, even the change in his disposition over the past couple of months. She had begun to suspect that he was involved with another woman, but had never dreamed that it was her own daughter!
For Helen, this was the last straw. She felt betrayed by the one person she had always been able to count on to see her side of an issue. She knew that he hadn’t always agreed with her, but he did listen and eventually give in. Unwilling to let anyone see her cry, she quickly left the room.
Briefly, she contemplated walking home. Hesitating on the porch steps, she heard footsteps behind her. “Mrs. Belden, I just wanted to thank you for coming today. It will mean a lot to Trixie to know that you were here,” Regan said softly.
She turned around, feeling almost gleeful at seeing how pale and haggard he looked. “Oh, I’m sure it will,” she said with as much sarcasm as she could muster.
Her comment passed unnoticed as he said, “We’d really like for you to be a part of our life, for you to get to know your grandchildren.”
“Which wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t seduced her away from Jim! She could be safely in Europe right now, married to a millionaire, but instead she’s being held at gunpoint by a crazed lunatic! Why couldn’t you think of that before you slept with her? She was only seventeen, she didn’t know what she wanted! How could she, with you influencing her?” Helen railed. She knew she wasn’t making any sense, but didn’t even care. She didn’t give him a chance to answer, didn’t even look to see how her words had affected him. She took off running down the path, almost blinded by her tears.
Once out of sight of the Manor House, she slowed to a walk. She thought about the past two years and about the secret she had just uncovered, reaching a decision she had been struggling to make for some time. Having made her choice, she felt at peace for the first time in months as she reached Crabapple Farm.
She entered the house through the unlocked kitchen door. She walked through the house slowly, idly wondering if Peter would send someone after her. Certain that he had heard the things she had yelled at Regan, she decided that he would probably give her time to cool down first. Counting on that extra time, she went into the attic where she had hidden everything that reminded her of Trixie. She remembered the nights that she had woken to an empty bed, only to find Peter looking through the albums and scrapbooks she had “hidden” away. She extracted an album from the box, carrying it into her bedroom. She closed the door, making certain to lock it behind her.
Poring over the photographs of happier days, Helen forced herself to relive the memories that she had tried so hard to suppress. She remembered Trixie in the school play, tripping over her daffodil costume. She recalled her excitement on the day of her first real boy-girl party, how grown-up she had looked in her white knit dress and green shoes. She remembered Trixie’s happiness when she had come home from Iowa wearing Jim’s ID bracelet. Her face clouded as she thought about their subsequent break-up, how she had been anything but supportive at the time Trixie had needed her the most.
She turned the page and found a photograph that she had entirely forgotten about. Taken at the Sleepyside Turf Show the year Trixie was fourteen, it showed Trixie astride Susie, proudly holding the trophy she had won in the jumping competition. Regan stood in the background, holding Susie’s bridle and smiling as broadly as if he had won the trophy himself. Helen began to remember how he had always watched over her daughter, risking his own life to save Trixie’s more than once. Looking back, it was so easy for her to see how the groom’s care and concern for Trixie had gradually become more, how it had gradually deepened into love.
The clock in the hallway struck as Helen realized that she had made a terrible mistake in forsaking her daughter. Fresh tears began to fall as she grabbed two sheets of the stationery she kept in her nightstand. Knowing that time was running out, she began to write.
I’m sorry for the way things have turned out. Please remember that I love you and the children. Choosing to leave all of you is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I know that this is the best for all concerned. I wish things could have been different, but it’s too late now. Just please let Brian, Mart, and Bobby know how much I love them. Don’t let them forget me. I love you.
That note finished, she folded it and set it on the dresser where Peter would be certain to find it. She took the other sheet of paper, understanding that it would be the most important and most difficult letter that she had ever written.
As I write this letter, you are in danger once again. I have no doubt that you will be all right; somehow, you always manage to stay strong when no one else can. I want you to know how sorry I am for letting things turn out this way. I thought I was acting in your best interest, but I know now that I was wrong. If I had it to do over, I would do things differently, but it’s too late now. Trixie, I know I haven’t show it, but I do love you. So does Regan. He’s a good man, take care of him. Take good care of your children, don’t make the same mistakes I did. Baby doll, I love you. Please remember me the way I used to be, not the way I finished up. I love you.
Placing this missive beside the other one, she went into the small bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. She took out the bottle she had bought weeks earlier, the day she had first thought about doing this. She filled a glass with water, setting it on the sink as she opened the bottle. Her hands were shaking so badly that she had to struggle to remove the cotton. Moments later, the empty bottle lay in the trash can. Helen walked out of the bathroom and lay down on the double bed. Silently, she stared at the ceiling while she waited for sleep to overtake her.
Go on to Part Two