A Moment Like This

January, 1999

“So you do this, and then you do that!” Trixie exclaimed in a whisper as she bent over the thick textbook. It may have been a break-through in her understanding of chemistry, but she decided that it wasn’t worth running the risk of waking the four-year old sleeping in the next room. She had already read Sleeping Beauty three times that evening, and it was quickly gaining on Peter Rabbit in her list of stories to avoid reading to any children that she might have one day.

With the problem solved, and surprisingly corresponding with the answer her professor had given, she decided that she deserved a break and put down her pencil. A glance at the clock told her that it would still be two hours before she could go home, so she poured a glass of the strawberry soda her employer kept on hand for her. After quickly checking on Erica, she took her drink and curled up in the window seat in the living room.

Snow was falling heavily outside, and she reached for the afghan that she knew his mother had crocheted. Snug and warm under the soft navy blue wool, she sighed wistfully at the sheer coziness she felt there. It wasn’t the tiny house, or even the warmth of the blanket, but it was the child sleeping a few feet away, and to her dismay, she knew it was the man she had known for so long now.

“How has it come to this?” she wondered, a single tear slipping down her cheek. In so many ways, it had been easier to see him as the stern authoritarian, the one she could always count on for a lecture. There had been moments, even way back then, that revealed a glimpse of the person behind the uniform, but when all was said and done, he had been one of them, one of those trying to put an end to her dream.

“But that wasn’t true,” she reflected, letting her mind wander back to the day that had been somewhat of a turning point in her life.

“What do you think you were doing?” he snapped impatiently, turning only to glare at the thief in the back of the patrol car. “You could have been killed!”

It had, indeed, been a close call, and she blinked back hot tears. She sternly told herself that she would not let him make her cry as she mentally braced herself for yet another lecture. “Someone had to stop him, Sergeant!”

“Trixie, how many times have I told you to stay out of police business?” He lowered his tone and she knew he had seen the tears. “Look, it’s for your own good. Do you think I want to explain to your parents or to the Wheelers that I’ve let you or Honey be injured or killed?”

“But I couldn’t let him get away! Look at what he did to Mrs. de Keyser! That money was everything she has left!”

“You should have called me and we would have handled it!”

She barely managed to refrain from making a sarcastic comment, so she decided to remain silent. She knew nothing she could say would make a difference, anyway. But when he mentioned her lack of training, she spoke up. “Then why don’t you train me?”

“It doesn’t work that way,” he sighed impatiently. “You graduate. Go to college. Go through the police academy. That’s how it works.”

“No,” she answered, the beginnings of an idea making her forget the harrowing few minutes she had just lived through. “I mean unofficially, like an internship, this summer. Teach us the way you want us to do it.”

“I want you to stay out of police business!” he retorted, stalking away.

Yet, as the days passed and spring drew to a close, Trixie refused to give up the idea. Her argument that she might change her mind about becoming a detective once she saw what was truly involved helped sway him, and eventually the mayor consented to allowing Trixie and Honey to intern on a volunteer basis at the police station for the summer.

She frowned slightly, closing her eyes as she remembered other changes that summer had brought to her life.

“But Jim, we can work this out,” Trixie protested weakly, knowing within her heart that her words were not true. Her heart felt as if it were breaking, and she could see from the look on his face that his was, too.

“I’m sorry, Trixie,” he spoke softly. His green eyes were wet with unshed tears: the tears that she wondered if he would ever be able to shed. “I’ve lost too many people I love to be able to handle living with the knowledge that there could come a day when you wouldn’t make it home to me.”

She swallowed hard, uncertain as to which was more overwhelming: the fact that she really would be constantly risking her life, or the sudden realization that he had already been contemplating a day when they would share a home.

“It’s just a summer job,” she managed. “Sergeant Molinson won’t let me near anything dangerous.”

“No.” He shook his head sadly. “This internship may just be for the summer, but you know how it always seems so far away when we talk about me opening a school or you and Honey opening the agency?”

She nodded slowly.

“It’s not so far off anymore, Trixie. I’m already half-way to my bachelor’s degree, and you, well, you actually have your first job in law enforcement. The future is almost here.”

“It is here, isn’t it?” she asked, blinking back tears of her own. “It’s not fair, Jim. Growing up isn’t supposed to hurt this much.”

He gently took her in his arms, planting a kiss on the top of her head. “Promise me you’ll be careful, Trixie.”

“I will,” she agreed, torn between wanting him to let go of her and hoping that he never would. She looked up at him. “You, too, okay?”

She sighed. She had loved Jim, but the feelings she had had for him were nothing like those she was experiencing now. Tears came to her eyes as she argued with herself, knowing that she was being foolish. “You’re dreaming, Trixie. You’re going to wind up with a broken heart.”

“Daddy!” Erica called out, bringing Trixie out of her reverie. “Where’s Daddy?”

Trixie rapidly left her spot by the window, noticing for the first time that the wind was starting to howl rather than whistle through the trees. She gently sat on the edge of the child’s bed, pulling her into her arms. “Daddy’s still at work, munchkin. Will I do?”

Erica nodded, snuggling into her lap. “There was a monster after me, Trixie. Don’t let it get me!”

“I won’t,” she promised her. Almost instinctively, she soothed back the already tangled black curls. “I’ll keep the monsters away.”

“Promise?” Erica asked, her lip quivering. “It was mean and wanted to eat me!”

“Well, if it comes back, I’ll scare it. How about that?”

“How? It’s an awfully big monster! What if it gets you, too?”

“I’ll make it wait until your daddy comes home, and sic him on it. He takes care of all the bad guys, you know.”

“I know,” she smiled sleepily. “Just like you will one day.”

“Shh….” Trixie whispered, realizing the child was practically asleep again. She moved back so that she was leaning back against the wall, and the little girl’s arms tightened around her neck. Another tear slipped down her face as she marveled once again at how much she had come to love the child she now held in her arms.

“I can’t believe I’m entrusting you with my daughter,” he grumbled. “You do know what to do, right?”

“Yes, I do!” She assured him, tenderly taking the infant from him. “You two have fun tonight, and don’t worry. Erica will be fine.”

“She better be,” he scowled.

“She will be,” Trixie replied softly. “Ask Heather. She trusts me.”

He shook his head in mock wonderment. “For reasons I’ll never understand.”

She simply smiled. The lectures of old had morphed into a familiar habit since she had first started working at the police station, and she knew full well that the animosity originally present had long since disappeared. Yet, she was well aware that this was the first time the new parents had left their daughter with anyone and that the doting father was uncharacteristically nervous.

“Come on, Wendell, we’ll be late.” Heather Molinson entered the room. “You know Trixie and Erica will be perfectly all right while we’re gone.”

He leaned over to kiss the baby’s head, and then with a final reminder of where they could be reached, they were gone.

“Well, it’s just me and you, Erica. Think we’ll have fun tonight?” Trixie asked, gingerly sitting down in the rocking chair. The baby gurgled happily, and she smiled. “Yes, I know we will.”

Lost in her reminscences, it wasn’t long before Trixie drifted off to sleep. The first rays of dawn were peeking into the room when she awoke, her limbs stiff and sore from holding Erica for so long. Shivering at the chill in the air, she snuggled into the afghan that covered them, her eyes opening wide at the realization that it was the same afghan she distinctly remembered leaving in the other room. A deep blush stained her cheeks, and she carefully maneuvered the child off of her so that she could get up.

The radio playing softly in the kitchen let her know that he was in there, and she first slipped into Erica’s small bathroom so that she could look in the mirror. Her hair was tousled from sleep, and although she hated the realization that it mattered to her how he saw her, she took the time to do what she could to it before going to greet him in the kitchen.

She found him at the table, and to her surprise, his head was in his hands. He looked up, and she could tell his slow smile was forced. She manufactured a smile of her own. “You should have woken me.”

He shook his head, and the smile lost some of its falsity as he gestured towards the book that still lay open on the table. “I don’t know which is more exhausting- Erica or inorganic chemistry.”

“She had a nightmare,” Trixie explained softly. “I managed to get her back to sleep, and somehow fell asleep in the process.”

“A nightmare? That’s unusual for her.”

“I know,” she admitted, leaning against the counter. “Something about a monster after her. Bobby used to have those dreams when he was her age.”

He nodded shortly. “Do you have a few minutes?”

“Yeah,” she agreed, glancing at the clock. “I don’t have chemistry until nine.”

He halfway smiled, then moved from the table to stand beside the window. “Trixie, I think it’s time we make other arrangements for Erica.”

Stunned, she stared at her employer, her heart in her stomach. “What?” she gasped, feeling as if her heart was literally breaking in two.

“I’m sorry, Trixie,” he answered, refusing to turn his gaze from the window. “I really appreciate all you’ve done, but it’s time for you to move on. There’s an opening down at the station; with your experience, you would be a shoo-in.”

“Erica loves me, Dell!” she protested. “I love her!” She bit back the words she wanted to say, “I love you!”

“I know she does,” he admitted softly. “But we both knew this would be a temporary arrangement.”

“We never said that!” she snapped. “I’ve been taking care of her since her mother died. Why do you want to get rid of me now? What did I do?”

“You haven’t done anything, Trixie!” he retorted sharply. “You only have one year left in your degree. You need the experience you would get at the station!”

“So you’re only concerned for me?” She raised her eyebrows. “According to Honey, there have been several openings on dispatch. You never mentioned them before, so why now?”

“I’m trying to do what’s best for all of us,” he stated, finally turning to face her.

She was surprised to see the pain in his eyes, anguish that so clearly mirrored her own. She softened her voice and laid her hand on his arm. “Tell me what happened, Dell. What’s wrong?”

He pulled away from her, turning back to the window. “Nothing that concerns you, Belden.”

He had changed so much over the years, and she had grown accustomed to the gentleness he displayed towards his daughter. With his change in tone and address, she suddenly felt as if she were fourteen again and being unjustly called on the carpet for something she had done. She strove to keep her voice down so as to not wake Erica, but she managed to convey her irritation just the same. “If you’re firing me, it most certainly does concern me! Tell me what changed, Sergeant!

His shoulders drooped, although he still wouldn’t look at her. “Trixie, I’m telling you that it is none of your concern. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I had a very long shift tonight, and I’d like to get some sleep.”

“All right,” she agreed, with a calmness that she was far from feeling. “You can either tell me now, or you can tell me when you wake up. It’s all the same to me.”

He turned to her, the expression on his face one she had never before seen. “All right, do you really want to know?”

“Yes,” she repeated, although she was suddenly uncertain that she really did.

“No, you don’t,” he answered her unspoken question.

She took a deep breath. “Tell me. Please.”

“If you insist,” he said slowly, turning his gaze away from her. “It was coming home this morning and finding you asleep in Erica’s room.”

“That’s suddenly a crime?” she exclaimed in disbelief. “It was late, and she was having a nightmare! Anyway, it’s never bothered you before!”

“You never looked so much like you belonged there before!” he retorted.

What if I told you
It was all meant to be

Her mouth dropped open in a silent “Oh!”, and he drew his hand over his face. “Trixie, you’ll never know how grateful I am that you and Honey stepped in when Heather died, nor how thankful I am that you’ve been willing to help me with Erica for the past three years.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but the words died on her lips as his eyes finally met hers. “I’ve got to let you go, for your sake. For my sake.”

Her heart pounding, she finally found her voice. “What if I don’t want to go?”

Would you believe me,
Would you agree

“You don’t understand.” He closed his eyes. “You’re not a teenager anymore, Trixie Belden. You’re a grown woman.”

“Then why do I suddenly feel seventeen again?” she wondered as she took another deep breath. She stepped closer to him. “I think I do understand.”

“No, you don’t.” Despite his words, he moved closer to her, lightly placing his hands on her arms.

It’s almost that feelin’
That we’ve met before

She closed her eyes at his touch and tried to will her heart to slow its frantic beating. “Yes, I do.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Breathe, Trixie!” she reminded herself, beginning to tremble when she sensed him moving even closer. “Yes, I do.”

So tell me that you don’t think I’m crazy
When I tell you love has come here and now…

She instinctively raised her hands to his shoulders, and his arms enfolded her, pulling her to him. “No, you don’t.”

Her answering retort died on her lips as he covered them with his own. Her pain and anger melted away as his kiss filled her reality.

Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this
Some people search forever for that one special kiss
I can’t believe it’s happening to me
Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this

He continued to hold her tightly in his arms as the kiss ended, pulling away just far enough to look into her eyes.

She fought against the urge to look away and met his gaze with her own. “I told you I understood,” she whispered.

He chuckled low in his throat, bending again to kiss the bridge of her nose. “Do you always have to have the last word?”

Her eyes twinkled as she nodded, but then she sobered. “So what does this mean, Dell?”

He slowly released her, although he didn’t turn away. “I’m sorry, Trixie. As much as I want it, we both know this can’t happen.”

“I know,” she admitted, trying not to think of how much she wanted to run back into his arms. “But it has.”

“Yes, it has.”

For a long moment, neither of them spoke, then he turned and walked out of the room. Trixie sank down into one of the kitchen chairs, unable to hold back her tears when she heard him speaking into the telephone.

He came back into the room a few minutes later and sat down beside her. “Look at me, Trixie.”

It took every thing she had to comply. She tried to sound sarcastic, even though her heart was broken. “Was one more night with Erica too much to ask?”

He reached over and took her hand in his. “This time, you really don’t understand, Trixie. You have other plans tonight.”

She felt a faint glimmer of hope as he wiped away her tears with his handkerchief. “Do I?”

“Let me rephrase that.” Her heart flipped as he smiled, and she suddenly realized that she had, in fact, not been asked to work that night. “I hope you have other plans for this evening.”

“What kind of plans?” she asked, hoping she was more successful in her attempt to make her voice sound light than in her attempt at sarcasm.

“Well, I was thinking dinner, and maybe a movie?”

Her hand felt warm in his as she nodded. “I- I’d like that.”

“Trixie, we both know this won’t be easy,” he spoke softly. “But do you want to try?”

Images of her family and friends flashed through her mind, and she knew that a relationship with him would never be easy. Yet, the thought of life without him was infinitely worse. “I do.”

Could this be the greatest love of all
I wanna know that you will catch me when I fall
So let me tell you this…

He leaned towards her, taking her in his arms. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” she whispered. She met his gaze, then closed her eyes as she lost herself in his tender kiss.

Some people wait a lifetime
For a moment like this
Some people spent two lifetimes,
For a moment like this
Some people search forever,
For that one special kiss
Oh, I can’t believe it’s happening to me
Some people wait a lifetime,
For a moment like this

Author’s Notes: Many thanks are due to Cyndi, not only for editing, but also for insisting that I write this story. Much gratitude is also due to those who read and enjoyed Emily, despite the unexpected pairing. Song lyrics (and my title) are taken from Kelly Clarkson’s A Moment Like This and are used without permission.