“Trixie? Do you have a few minutes?”
Trixie looked up from the case file she was working on, puzzled to see Jim standing in her office door. “Sure. Honey just left to meet Brian for lunch a few minutes ago. Do you want to wait until she gets back?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Actually, she and Brian came over for dinner last night. She told me about the problems Erica is having in school.”
A shadow crossed Trixie’s face, and she nodded. “It’s been a rough year so far.”
Jim sat down in the visitor’s chair. “That’s what I gathered. Was it this bad in White Plains last year?”
“No,” she sighed. “Erica had lots of friends and a teacher she loved. This year, she’s the new kid, and she’s having a hard time breaking into the already established cliques. Plus, it’s like there’s a personality conflict with her teacher. Every time I’ve tried to talk to the teacher, she just blames all of Erica’s problems on having a ‘new stepmother.'”
Jim’s frown matched Trixie’s. “Did you try to explain she almost died over the summer?”
Trixie grimaced. “Without going into too many details, yes, but it went in one ear and out the other. I didn’t want to make Erica’s problems worse by telling her the whole story.”
Jim grinned. “Probably a good idea. If I hadn’t been there at the seance, I wouldn’t have believed it, either.”
“I know,” she admitted. “But you can see the problem. It would help if she had a good counselor, but do you know how hard it is to find one who will believe Erica when she says a ghost tried to kill her?”
“Actually, that’s why I’m here,” he said. “Joeanne and I talked this over last night, and well, we have a very good psychologist on staff at the school. We also have a new upper-elementary teacher this year that actually has some experience with the supernatural.”
He took a breath. “Trixie, as you know, we made the decision when we opened the school to take day students from the area as well as having students who would otherwise be in foster homes or out on the streets. Our upper-elementary classroom has fifteen students right now in third through fifth grades, and about half of them are day students. If you and Captain Molinson are interested, we have a spot for Erica.”
“I don’t know what to say,” she said. She took a deep breath. “It’s not because of me, is it? I mean, I know you mostly have orphans, and I’m only her stepmother….”
“No!” Jim hastened to say. “Trixie, if I’d realized you would think that, I would have reassured you up front. While yes, the students that live at the school are either orphans or their parents have lost custody for various reasons, most of our day students do live with both parents. Some are attracted by the smaller class size and others, like Erica, aren’t happy in the public school system. Besides,” he sighed. “I know I said some things when you first announced your engagement that I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry. I really am. I was wrong. If I had any doubts, seeing the three of you last summer proved it. Even though Erica isn’t your biological daughter, you are her mother in every way that counts.”
“Thanks, Jim,” she whispered, blinking back a tear. “You, of all people, know how insecure I can be, and this whole issue with Miss Hill insisting that I’m the root of Erica’s problems hasn’t helped.”
“She actually said that?” he asked, incredulous.
Trixie nodded. “Several times, but never when Dell is with me. She’s all sunshine and sugar then. I don’t know if he intimidates her or what, but she’s only nasty to me and Erica.”
“Have you at least told him about it?”
“No,” she admitted. “Well, I’ve told him what she’s said to Erica, but I didn’t want to rehash what she said to me. But if you’re serious about a spot in your school…,” she said, changing the subject. “How much is the tuition? And what do we need to know? I’ll talk it over with Dell and see what he thinks. I do know he’s worried about this whole situation.”
“Definitely talk it over with him, and even if you decide against transferring her now, the offer’s open-ended. We can even make arrangements for her to talk with Miss Patterson, our school psychologist, if she doesn’t enroll. But as for things to know, we do have modified uniforms for the school day, but there’s just a standard dress-code comparable to the public school’s for extra-curricular activities. The uniforms are solid color tops in either red, blue, or white, and solid color bottoms in either black, navy blue, or khaki. Skirts and shorts must be at least knee-length.”
Trixie nodded. “So, basically, what she wore in White Plains. They went to uniforms a couple of years ago.”
“I’m convinced they make a difference,” he said, “especially in situations like our school, with students from widely disparate backgrounds. But we specify school hours only, because we don’t want our live-in students to feel like they’re living in an institution. We want them to feel at home.”
She smiled. “Good policy. I’d have died if I couldn’t have worn jeans at all as a child or teenager! But you didn’t answer my question about tuition. Do you have payment plans?”
Jim nodded. “Yes, but not for Erica. Joeanne and I agree that any children of the Bob-Whites should be able to enroll tuition-free. If it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t even be a school. There’s no way we’re going to charge you for her to attend.”
Jim’s set expression stifled the protest that sprang to her lips, and she realized that it would be easier to pay the tuition under the guise of a donation than to argue with her long-time friend. “Thank you. I’ll talk to Dell tonight.” She smiled. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”
His face softened. “We’re Bob-Whites, Trixie. That means we’re family. We’ll always do what we can for each other.”
“All for one and one for all,” she quoted softly. “Thank you for not letting me forget it.”
“Never,” he said, smiling as he stood. “I should get back to the school, but just let me know when you decide.”
“I will,” she promised. “Thanks again.”
It wasn’t until Erica was in bed that night that Trixie got a chance to talk Jim’s offer over with her husband, but she wasn’t surprised when he quickly agreed that they should at least talk to Erica about possible transferring and make arrangements to tour the school Jim had built on the grounds of Ten Acres. Trixie called Jim the next morning to make an appointment for the tour. He promptly invited the three of them to come by the following morning. They would be able to tour the school, meet the teacher that Erica would have, and to stay for lunch if they wanted. She made a brief call to Dell to make sure the timing worked for him, then cleared her own calender for the next morning.
Erica’s excitement was palpable as they arrived at Westchester Academy for their tour, and it did a lot to help assuage Trixie’s own feelings of nervousness. While they had all toured the school during the public open house shortly before it opened, it was different touring it as parents of a prospective student, and she knew she had seized on the idea as a lifeline to escape a bad situation, both for Erica and for herself.
Joeanne Frayne, the school secretary as well as Jim’s wife, met them at the door with a packet of information that included the forms they would need to fill out if they did decide to enroll Erica.
“I’m sorry, Jim had a phone call he had to take, but he should be done any minute,” Joeanne told them. “We’re both excited that you’re interested in the school.” She smiled at Dell. “I don’t know what would have happened to me and my family if it hadn’t been for Trixie and Honey, and Jim feels that way about both of you. We’re hoping to be able to help you for a change.”
Dell laughed. “I lost track of how many times your husband helped save Trixie’s life over the years, so trust me, I owe a lot to you two, too. But we do appreciate your offer.” He squeezed Trixie’s hand. “I admit that our school situation just isn’t working out like we had hoped it would.”
“Erica, why don’t you tell me what you like and don’t like about your current school,” Joeanne requested.
“I like learning,” she said, “and I love math. But last year, we got to do fun experiments and lessons in White Plains. I know I’m in third grade now, but we never get to do anything fun anymore. My teacher won’t even let me go out at recess if I miss one of my spelling words.” She ducked her head. “She also says I talk and act out in class when I don’t. If anything happens, she blames it on me.”
“Do you know why she does?” Jim asked softly, coming into the room.
“No,” Erica shook her head. “But she’s even mean to Mommy when she comes to pick me up.”
Dell looked at her startled. “I didn’t know that!”
“It wasn’t that important,” Trixie said softly. “I just know if I have trouble dealing with her for five minutes, Erica has to be struggling with the entire school day.”
Erica nodded, tears in her eyes. “She doesn’t think I should call Mommy ‘Mommy’. She keeps telling me that she’s not my real mother. I know I have two mothers, but Mommy Trixie is the only one I’ve ever known!” She wiped her eyes and looked up at Jim. “Uncle Jim, if I come here, will anyone mind if I call her Mommy?”
“Not at all!” he assured her. “She is your mother now.” He knelt down to look her in the eye. “About half of our students here don’t have either a mommy or a daddy. Everyone here will know you’re blessed to have her as your mommy.”
Trixie blinked back tears of her own as Dell put one hand on Erica’s shoulder and one hand on her own. He sighed. “I’m sorry, Erica and Trixie. I didn’t know that this was even an issue.”
“I know you didn’t,” Trixie said, reassured by the love for both of them she saw reflected in his eyes. She turned to Jim. “Should we start the tour? I seem to remember you have a really great gym.”
Jim laughed. “Sure. We can start the tour there, then work our way back to the elementary wing.” He picked a two-way radio up off of the reception desk. “Joeanne, I’ll let you know when we’re about five minutes from there. Would you ask either Eliza or Bethany to come down and sit in for Mrs. Franklin for a few minutes while we chat?”
She nodded. “Of course.”
“One of the advantages of having all grade levels here,” Jim explained as they started down the hallway, “is that the high school students have good opportunities to mentor and interact with the younger students. We have two seniors who are planning to be teachers, so they always jump at the chance to sit in with one of the younger grades.”
“How is the school divided?” Dell asked. “You mentioned an elementary wing.”
“Yes,” Jim said. “Wing is probably an exaggeration, and all grades share the art and music rooms, as well as the gym, media center, and cafeteria. However, we have one hallway set aside with classrooms for our younger students. We have one preschool classroom, a kindergarten room, and one lower elementary, which is first and second grades. This year, we have one classroom for third through fifth grades, which is where Erica will be. We have two classrooms for sixth through eighth grades, and our high schoolers alternate between subject-specific rooms.”
“Are there any issues with having the elementary grades combined?” Trixie asked. “I know you mentioned there were only fifteen upper elementary students.”
He smiled. “Not at all. It will change, of course, as the school grows, but it’s not that different in concept to the old one-room schoolhouses our grandparents attended. The classes are small enough that everyone gets enough individual attention, and the students actually learn more by listening to the lessons for the other grade levels.”
“What happens at the end of the day?” Dell asked.
“We don’t provide transportation for day students,” Jim answered. “We do have an extended day program, though, for students whose parents need daycare. While there are toys and games available, the emphasis is on getting homework done first, and we have tutoring available for those who need it. A lot of the live-in students opt to stay for the extended day program as well. For day students, it’s available on a day-by-day basis, too. I know you both have somewhat irregular and unpredictable work schedules, so Erica would be more than welcome to stay for extended day. Just let us know each morning if she will be staying or not, so that we can have adequate snacks ready.”
“Snacks are good,” Erica giggled. “Especially chocolate.”
“We do have chocolate once in a while,” Jim told her with a grin. “We try to have fruit and other healthy snacks more often, though.”
“I like fruit, too,” she said. “Oooh, is that the music room?”
“It is,” he confirmed. “Your class has music every Monday morning, gym every Tuesday and Thursday, and art every Wednesday. You have library time every Friday, so that you can get books to read over the weekend. Do you like to read?”
“I love the Lucy Radcliffe Notebooks and Encyclopedia Brown!” she exclaimed. “And the Baby-sitters Club Little Sister books.”
Trixie and Dell both looked pained at the mention of the two mystery series, and Jim laughed. “Do you want to be a detective some day?”
“Maybe,” she said seriously. “It may be too dangerous, though. I know Daddy and Mommy worry about each other a lot. That makes me worry about both of them, too. Sometimes I think I want to be an astronaut instead.”
“You have lots of time to decide,” Trixie assured her. “And you do not have to be a detective or a policewoman! You can be anything you want to be.”
Both Trixie and Erica grew nervous as the tour wound down and they reached the elementary wing, and Trixie was started to see a nameplate reading “Mrs. Franklin” outside one of the doors. She glanced at Jim, who chuckled. “So you do remember.”
“I’ll never forget Lisgard House,” Trixie admitted. “My first real ghostly encounter. So that’s what you meant by experience with the supernatural.”
He nodded. “Mrs. Franklin was halfway to her teaching degree, but she dropped out of school when Fay was born. She decided to go back to school when Fay started college and finish it. We were lucky to get her.”
“I’m the lucky one,” Karen Franklin said, coming out of her classroom. “I absolutely love working here. Now let’s see. I remember Trixie, and you must be Wendell Molinson and Erica.”
Erica nodded, suddenly shy. “Will you be my teacher if I come to this school?”
“I will,” she said. “We have a very good school, and I hope you do transfer here.”
“Will it bother you that I call Mommy Trixie ‘Mommy’?” she asked softly. “My teacher now doesn’t like it.”
“Not at all,” Mrs. Franklin assured her. “In fact, that’s exactly what you should call her. You’re blessed to have your parents, Erica. They’re both really good people.”
“I know,” Erica said, smiling broadly. “I love them and they love me.”
“As it should be,” Mrs. Franklin said. “Erica, Beth is just about to start reading a story to our class. Would you like to join them for a few minutes?”
Erica looked at her parents for permission, then nodded and followed the older woman into the classroom.
When the teacher returned a few moments later, Jim led the group to a small multipurpose room a few doors down.
“So, Mr. Frayne told me that Erica is having some issues in school right now,” she began once the group was seated. “I understand this is her first year in Sleepyside. Did the problems start in her previous school?”
“No,” Dell told her. “She had a difficult summer once we moved here, and she’s having trouble making friends because of it. There’s also apparently a personality conflict between her and her current teacher that isn’t helping.”
“What happened this summer?”
Trixie glanced at Dell, who nodded, then she asked, “Mrs. Franklin, when you lived in the Lisgard House, did you ever see Sarah? I mean, I know most of the haunting was faked by Lewis Gregory, but did you ever see the real ghost?”
“Yes, I did,” she admitted. “She told me to beware right before I fell that night. I never told Fay, though. She needed to believe that everything had been staged for her own peace of mind.”
“Imagine if she hadn’t been convinced of it,” Trixie said softly. “You’ve seen the real Sarah. I saw her, too. We know she was really there, protecting her home. When Dell and I got married last spring, we bought Rachel Martin’s old house. When we moved in, we didn’t realize that Emily Martin was still there. The ghost of Emily Martin, anyway. Erica was the only one who could see her, and we thought she had an imaginary friend. A lot of seven year olds do.”
Trixie took a deep breath. “We tried to convince her that Emily wasn’t really there. That night, the ghost wrecked our bedroom. I finally saw her in the mirror and realized Erica hadn’t simply dreamed up a friend. We left the house, but when we went back the next day to clean up, Emily persuaded Erica to follow her out into the marsh. It seems that she thought that if Erica died, she would no longer be alone.”
Mrs. Franklin gasped. “What happened?”
“We found Erica just in time and saved her life,” Trixie said. “We held a seance a few days later with a medium that Honey and I knew.” She sighed. “We were talking to Emily when Rachel Martin, who had died a few days earlier, appeared. She told Emily that she had come to take her with her to the other side. They both vanished, and we haven’t seen any evidence that either of them are still there, but none of us are that comfortable there anymore. We’re wanting to sell the house and find something else nearby, but it hasn’t happened yet. But anyway, from Erica’s perspective, Emily was her best friend, who then tried to kill her. You can understand why she’s having trouble trusting anyone enough to become friends after that.”
“Absolutely,” Mrs. Franklin said. “Has she talked to anyone about it? I mean, like a therapist?”
“No,” Dell told her. “We’ve considered it, but I only believe it because I was there for the seance. Part of me still doesn’t want to believe that ghosts really exist, let alone that one tried to murder my daughter. We want to help Erica, not have someone come after us for encouraging delusions.”
Mrs. Franklin smiled. “Having been in a similar situation, I can definitely understand that! Well, if it helps, I did minor in psychology, and I’ll always be glad to talk with her. Mr. Frayne and I can also talk to Miss Patterson, our school psychologist, and have her work with her, as well. She has always been understanding, and I suspect she will be open to accepting what happened.”
“And if not, at least having her in a better environment would help,” Dell said. “I had hoped that with time, she would at least get more comfortable where she is, but it’s getting worse, and the principal refused to even consider moving her to a different classroom. If we do transfer her here, what will you personally need? We still have copies of her records from White Plains, and we can get her current grades from Sleepyside. Progress reports won’t come out until next week, so we don’t have an official report yet.”
“Last year’s records will help, and of course, her current grades. I’ll sit down with her to see just where she is in each subject. With three grade levels in my classroom, I do a lot of one on one instruction, so she doesn’t need to worry if she’s ahead of our class or behind it.”
“What is the breakdown of your class?” Trixie asked. “Right now, since her birthday isn’t until the end of next month, she’s the youngest in her class. I admit I’m a little concerned about her being with even older kids.”
“Seven third-graders, three fourth-grade, and five fifth-grade,” she said. “I’ve found that the older students enjoy helping the younger ones, and of course, any sort of bullying is not tolerated. Given the nature of our school, we have a lot of new students through the year, and we also have several of the boarding students that leave to go to adoptive homes. However, it’s an atmosphere that makes the students pull together to welcome new students. It’s a spirit of camaraderie that you don’t see in many schools. Of course, parents are always welcome to come in and observe, too.”
“Thanks,” Trixie smiled. “Dell, do you have any more questions?”
“Just one,” he said. “How soon can she start?”
Jim grinned. “As soon as we get the registration forms on file. The absolute soonest would be if you withdraw her from her current school this afternoon and bring her in with the signed registration forms in the morning.”
Erica did indeed start at Westchester Academy the following morning, and as the days passed, she again began to thrive.
By the end of October, Trixie felt as though life was finally returning to normal, or at least, a new normal as the family spent their first fall in Sleepyside. At Erica’s request, Trixie volunteered to help with the party Jim would have for the students on Halloween night. In deference to the younger students, Jim requested that all students, teachers, and parents dress as non-spooky literary characters for the party, and with Honey’s help, Trixie dressed as Lucy Radcliffe, with Erica going as Sally Kimball.
The party was designed so that the live-in students would have something fun to do on campus instead of going out trick-or-treating, and most of the day students also decided to attend. The school cafeteria was packed with students of all ages when Trixie and Erica arrived. Erica introduced Trixie to several of her classmates, then joined them in playing the games set up in one section of the room. As previously agreed, Trixie found Mrs. Franklin and helped her and several other parent volunteers stuff the goody bags that would be given to the children at the end of the party.
An hour after they arrived, Erica came running up to them with a boy that Trixie assumed was in her class. “Mrs. Franklin!” he exclaimed. “There’s someone peering in the windows.”
“Is it someone you recognize?” she asked. “All the students should be inside.”
“It wasn’t another kid,” Erica said. “He’s wearing a mask, but he looks like a grow-up.”
“What kind of mask?” Trixie asked, a hollow feeling in her stomach.
“I think it was a ski mask,” Erica said.
The little boy nodded. “A black one. And he’s wearing a camouflage outfit, like my dad used to wear to go hunting.”
“Could it be your dad, Blake?” Mrs. Franklin asked softly.
“Maybe,” he frowned. He looked up at her with a frightened expression. “Mr. Frayne told me that the judge said my dad can’t see me anymore. What if he realizes it’s me under this costume?”
“We won’t let him find you,” Mrs. Franklin assured him. “We do need to let Mr. Frayne know he may be here, though.”
“I’ll go find him,” Trixie offered. “We may need to call my husband.”
Trixie left Erica and Blake with Mrs. Franklin with explicit instructions not to leave her side. She soon found Jim, and he agreed that a call to Dell was in order. “If it is Blake’s dad, there’s a restraining order against him.” Jim sighed. “If it isn’t, there still shouldn’t be anyone out there.”
It was only a few minutes before Dell arrived with Dan in a squad car, and Trixie quietly retrieved Erica and Blake to avoid having the other children panic at the sight of policemen in uniform. After talking with the children and assuring Jim that he should go back to the party, Dell led Dan and Trixie outside. The trespasser was long gone, but they found footprints in the flowerbeds underneath several of the windows. Dan took castings and photographs of the footprints, which were untraceable on the grass outside the flowerbeds. Dell and Trixie checked the windows and window sills for fingerprints, but found only smudges that indicated the intruder had been wearing gloves.
“Should we check the dorms, too?” Trixie asked. “I don’t like this at all.”
“I don’t, either,” Dell said, shaking his head. “And yes, we should.” He sighed. “I should, anyway. You really shouldn’t be out here.”
“I know,” she admitted. “But Erica and all of the students could be in danger. I’m trained, and I want to help.”
“I know,” he said. He smiled softly. “Besides, how can I deny Lucy Radcliffe the opportunity to sleuth?”
“You can’t,” she grinned. “I should have come up with this costume years ago if that’s all it took.”
“No,” he answered quickly. “It only works on Halloween. I have to warn you, though, be sure not to disturb any evidence, and anything we find has to go in my log book.”
“Of course,” she agreed. “Thank you for letting me help, though.”
“Thank you for helping,” he told her. He looked around to make sure Dan was still engrossed in footprints. “I do love you, you know.”
“I love you, too,” she said, smiling.
Their search of the dorms was fruitless, but reassuring in that nothing was found to indicate the prowler had tried to breach them. Once back inside the school building, Dell told Jim, “We found footprints under the windows that appear to be a grown man’s, but we couldn’t find anything else. I suspect he’s well away by now. To be on the safe side, I suggest making sure all of your students are well chaperoned when they’re outside; even going from the school to the dorms. Have them let you know at once if they see anything suspicious. Don’t hesitate to call me back in.”
“I won’t,” Jim assured him.
“Were you able to find anything else?” Trixie asked when Dell made it home that night.
He shook his head. “Not yet. To be honest, we took the footprint casts more as a show of doing something. On the off-chance we find someone else trespassing, we can compare, but it’s not like we can go around all of Sleepyside comparing footprints.”
“True,” she admitted. “I really hope it was just someone interested in the school, but I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”
“I do, too. We’ll increase our patrols for a while, and at least Jim is aware and will have everyone on high alert. Thankfully, that was the worst of our calls tonight. Halloween tends to bring out the worst in people.”
She shuddered. “I know. Remember the Halloween Honey and I almost drowned in the river?”
“I’ll never forget it,” he replied. “Trust me. I’ve tried. Have I mentioned how glad I am you don’t take quite as many chances any more?”
“It came with learning,” she told him. “Honey and I know now when we’re in over our heads.” She rolled her eyes. “Besides, most of our time is spent tracking cheating spouses or lost pets. How dangerous can those be?”
“Any case can be dangerous,” he reminded her. He put his arm around her as they sat down on the sofa. “Do you miss the excitement of your teenaged cases?”
“Sometimes,” she said softly. “But I think our cases will get more exciting once we build up a larger clientele. Plus, right now, having somewhat regular hours gives me more time to spend with you and Erica. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
“Me, either.” He kissed the top of her head. “On that note, is this a good time or a bad time to bring up our family discussion again?”
She took his free hand in hers. “As good as any, I suppose. I was actually thinking about it earlier today.”
“What were you thinking?” he asked quietly.
“I think I realized that if we wait for the so-called ‘right time,’ it will never come. There will always be new cases or new schools, or even waiting until we move again. I don’t want to wait any longer, Dell.”
“I don’t, either,” he said, pulling her even closer to him. “I’ve been trying not to rush you, but to be honest, I’ve been feeling selfish. We’ve both said we want another child someday, but I’d like to be around to see him or her grow up. To still be young enough to be an active parent.”
“That’s not selfish,” she quickly rebuked. “I want that, too.” She grinned. “I will say that given my family’s history, though, I can’t guarantee we won’t have any later in life surprises years from now.”
“That’s something I thought about when we first started our relationship,” he admitted. “I definitely want to try for a child now, but even if we have one ten years from now, we’ll still love that child.” He winced. “Plus, there’s always the vasectomy option if we get to a point we decide it truly is too late.”
“There are more permanent options for me, too” she reminded him. “But we’re a long way from having to make that kind of decision.”
“Still a few years, at least,” he sighed. “I hate getting old.”
“You haven’t been old to me since I was fourteen,” she said softly. “Yes, our age difference will never go away, but I’d rather have you, even if we were even farther apart in age, than not have you at all.”
“I just hope you don’t regret it twenty years from now when you’re still young and you’re stuck married to an old man.”
“I won’t think you’re old, even then,” she replied. “But I promise, I’m not going to regret it. I’m glad we’re married.”
“Me, too,” he whispered, kissing her gently.
Trixie deepened the kiss, holding him tightly. “Erica’s sound asleep, Dell,” she said afterwards. “I know it will take a little while for the pills to get out of my system, but maybe we could start practicing now?”
“Most definitely.” He kissed her again, then led her to their bedroom.
A week later, the phone rang while they were eating breakfast. As early morning calls tended to be for Dell, he answered the phone, then returned to the table moments later. “That was Jim calling. Someone tried to break into the school overnight.”
Trixie stared at him wide-eyed. “Did they get in? Was anyone hurt?”
“No. At least, it doesn’t look like it. Jim found scratches around the lock on the door and door frame, but apparently, that was it.” He patted Erica’s shoulder. “Erica, if the public schools here had half the security measures in place that your new school does, my job would have been a lot easier over the years.”
Trixie smiled. “Honey says he built the buildings like small fortresses.”
He nodded. “I’m going to go by there on my way in to the station and see what I can find. Erica, can you be ready in a few minutes? Since I’m going there anyway, there’s no need for Mommy Trixie to drive you this morning.”
“But,” Trixie started to say, then stopped as she realized why Dell didn’t want her there. The night of the party had been an exception as she was already present at the school, but given their relationship and her status as co-owner of the Sleepyside Detective Agency, they had to be vigilant in avoiding any appearance of impropriety or conflicts of interest. She forced down a feeling of disappointment. “Sounds good, Dell.”
He smiled at her, and she realized he knew just how hard that had been for her. “You’ll still pick her up after school, right?”
“Of course,” she said, her face brightening as she realized he was giving her a chance to investigate after all. She stacked the dishes in the dishwasher and soon kissed them both as they left the house.
“So let’s think about this,” Honey said after Trixie related the events of the morning. “A prowler, then an attempted break-in. Do you think they may be related?”
“I have a hunch that they are,” she replied. “I can’t prove it, but the school’s been open for two years now with no trouble at all. It would be too big of a coincidence for two unrelated incidents so close together.”
“I agree,” Honey nodded. “But with no real clues, we don’t have much to go on. An upset child saying the prowler was dressed like his father isn’t much proof. It’s too bad that Jim’s been so against installing security cameras. I know he spent a lot on high-security locks and steel doors, but a camera would really help us right now.”
“True, but it’s understandable,” Trixie sighed. “Half the students live on campus. Would you want to live under constant video surveillance?”
Honey winced. “No. Boarding school was bad enough without adding Big Brother into it.”
“Exactly,” she said. “But that doesn’t really help us.”
“One idea,” Honey said. “Do you remember Erica’s friend’s name? We can do a little digging and see if it is even possible that it might be his dad. Can you think of any one else who may have some agenda against the school?”
“Well, there’s always Jonesy,” Trixie reminded her. “But breaking and entering doesn’t seem like his M.O.”
“No, not really. I don’t think we can rule him out at this point, though.”
“True. It’s too early to rule out anything. The boy’s name is Blake Mathis. Erica said he started to school about two weeks before she did.”
“So recently enough that his placement was fresh and not at some point over the summer,” Honey deduced, turning to her computer. “Same age?”
“Nine. He’s in fourth grade.” She sighed. “It seems like they’ve become pretty close, though. I’m glad she’s making friends again, but why does it have to be a boy? She’s only seven!”
“She’ll be eight in three weeks,” Honey pointed out. “And it’s not that unusual for younger children to have best friends of the opposite gender.”
“No, but still,” Trixie said. “On the other hand, at least she is making friends, and I’m thankful for that.”
“Me, too,” Honey said. “I know how hard it is to be in school with no friends at all.”
Trixie nodded. “I’m so glad you came to Sleepyside!”
“Me, too,” she repeated. “I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn’t! So, getting back to the school, do you think that any of the other students may have family or friends trying to reach them? Like when Luke came after Dan, maybe?”
“Maybe,” Trixie answered doubtfully. “I admit I’m not that familiar with the teenagers yet. Is there any chance you could talk to Jim and ask him? Since it’s technically not our case, and especially since Dell and Dan are working on it, I really can’t push too hard on this one.”
“I’ll talk to him this weekend,” Honey promised. “I don’t know what he will tell me, but it’s worth a try.”
Trixie left work in time to be at the school a few minutes before Erica was dismissed for the day so that she would have time to see for herself the damage that had been caused in the attempted break-in. While Jim and Joeanne had already cleaned up most of it so as to not alarm the students, Joeanne had printouts of digital photographs they had taken that morning that she was willing to show her.
Trixie handed the photographs back to Joeanne. “Thanks. I’m assuming my husband took photos, too?”
“He did,” Joeanne confirmed. “He also dusted for fingerprints, but it sounds like whoever it was wore gloves.”
“Not surprised,” Trixie sighed. “It would be too much to hope for a break in the case.”
Just then, a teenager came in, glancing apologetically at Trixie as he held out a silver ring on a chain. “Is this yours by any chance?”
She looked at it and shook her head. It looked vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t hers. “No, but thank you for asking.”
“Mitch, where did you find it?” Joeanne asked, taking it from Trixie.
“At the edge of the parking lot,” he replied. “Jordan and I found it a few minutes ago when we were walking the kindergarteners back to their dorm.”
“Thanks,” Joeanne smiled. “I’ll keep it in the lost and found for now. I’m sure someone will ask about it before long.”
Trixie excused herself and walked to the elementary wing to get Erica. She was almost there when she remembered where she had seen the necklace before. What appeared to be a ring was actually a pendant of a snake eating its own tail, and the only one she had ever seen had been the one Miss Hill wore to school almost every day.
Trixie greeted Erica with a hug, but then quickly led her back to the office. “Joeanne, could we see that necklace again? I think I just realized who it belongs to.”
“Sure,” she said, taking it from her desk.
“Erica, does this remind you of anything?” Trixie asked, trying to stay calm. She didn’t want to alarm the child, but she wanted her memory refreshed before calling Dell.
Erica’s eyes widened. “That’s Miss Hill’s necklace. I asked her once why she wanted a snake on a necklace, but she wouldn’t tell me. She just told me to stop asking questions.”
“Miss Hill is Erica’s former teacher,” Trixie explained. “Is there any reason she would have been here? Dropping off paperwork or Erica’s grades, maybe?”
“No,” Joeanne said with certainty. “You brought in what we needed, but her former school also mailed official copies of her permanent records. I also know all of the parents, at least by name, and none of them have that last name.”
Trixie quickly called Dell’s cell phone, and he arrived within a few minutes. He winced at the grotesqueness of the necklace, even as he explained, “It’s an ouroborous. It represents a continuing cycle or infinity. It’s similar to the phoenix in symbology. Are you sure that this belonged to Miss Hill?”
“Yes,” Erica said softly. “It looks just like the one she always wore to school.”
He hugged his daughter, then asked Joeanne if he could talk to the boys that found it.
“We’re not in trouble, are we?” Jordan asked, somewhat shaken to see the uniformed policeman.
“Not at all,” Dell assured him. “I just need to ask a few questions about the necklace you found. Can you show me where you found it?”
He motioned for Trixie and Erica to stay inside as he followed Mitch and Jordan out to the parking lot. When he returned, he simply said, “It doesn’t look like it’s been there too long. Trixie, why don’t you and Erica go see if you can help with the after-school program for a little while? I want to talk to Jim, then make a few calls.”
“Mommy, do you think Miss Hill is the one we saw the night of the Halloween party?” Erica asked as they walked down the hallway.
“Maybe,” Trixie admitted. “I just wish I knew why.”
“Me, too,” Erica said. “I really hope she hasn’t come here because of me.”
“Do you think she would?” Trixie asked.
“I don’t think so, but she looked really mad when you took me to clean out my desk right before I started coming here.”
“I know,” Trixie agreed. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that, munchkin.”
“It’s okay,” Erica said with a small smile. “If I hadn’t, I might not have come here, and I love this school. Mrs. Franklin’s great, and I really like everyone in my class.”
“I’m glad,” Trixie told her, giving her a hug. “Your dad and I both want you to be happy.”
Erica smiled, then as they entered the cafeteria, she slipped into a chair at a table with a few of her classmates. Trixie went to explain to the teacher in charge that Erica would be joining them for a little while, then she headed back to the front office.
Dell frowned slightly when he saw her, but soon smiled as Jim laughed. “We were expecting you back a few minutes ago.”
She laughed in spite of herself. “So, what have you found out?”
The men sobered, and Dell explained, “While we don’t have enough proof yet that she is our prowler, we have enough evidence to at least question her. I’m going to call the school to see if she’s still there or to try to get her address. If I need to get a warrant to obtain that information, it will be tomorrow at least before I can talk to her.”
When he called the school, the information he received stunned all of them. “The secretary said she’s no longer employed there. She left a resignation letter in her classroom the day we withdrew Erica. She did give me an address, so I’m going to head out there.” He looked apologetically at Trixie. “I may be late getting home tonight. I need to move on this while we have a hot lead.”
“I understand,” Trixie said. “If she realizes she lost the necklace, she may be back, or she may flee. I’ll get Erica, and we’ll go on home.”
“Actually, Trix, would you mind not going home yet? At least, not by yourself. If there’s a possibility she’s after you and Erica and she realizes we’re on to her, you may be in danger. Maybe head to Crabapple Farm or Mart and Di’s.”
Her eyes widened, but she realized he was right. She had taken plenty of chances on her own over the years, but she wasn’t about to risk putting Erica in danger.
“Why don’t you two come home with us for the evening?” Joeanne asked. “I’m not sure what we’re doing for dinner yet, but we’d love to have you join us.”
“Absolutely,” Jim put in. “Then Captain Molinson can pick you up whenever he’s finished.”
Dell nodded. “Is your cell phone charged, Trixie?”
“Yes,” she said. She pulled it out to show him. “Full battery. I just charged it last night.” She turned to the Fraynes. “And yes, thank you. I really appreciate the invitation.”
“No problem,” Joeanne assured her. “You’re always welcome.”
It was late that evening before Dell arrived at the house Jim had built adjacent to the school grounds at Ten Acres, and Trixie could see just how tired and concerned he was.
“Nothing,” he told them, sinking into an armchair and stretching out his long legs. “Nothing at all. I talked to her neighbors who said she moved out in the middle of the night on what would be the night before the principal found her note. She’s now officially ‘wanted for questioning.'”
“Were you able to find out anything else from the school?” Trixie asked. “I’m assuming all of her credentials were in order. Wouldn’t they have a next of kin or emergency contact listed?”
“They did, but the emergency contact number had been disconnected six months ago. Not that unusual, though, since she’s been there several years. A lot of people simply forget to update emergency information when it changes.”
“Have you done much digging into her background?” Jim asked quietly. “Outside of work credentials, I mean. Since it looks like she’s going after Erica and Trixie, does she have any connection to any of your past cases? Maybe having Erica in her class triggered something for her.”
“Good idea,” Dell complimented him. “We’ll start looking into that.”
“Do I still get to go to school?” Erica asked in a small voice. “I don’t want to miss our Thanksgiving programs.”
“Of course you can still come to school,” Jim assured her. He turned to Trixie and Dell. “As you’ve seen, the school is very secure, and the staff has been on high alert since Halloween. We’ll make sure she’s safe at school.”
“Thank you,” Trixie said. “Are we putting the rest of the students in danger, though?”
“No more than we’re prepared for. We have Captain Molinson on speed dial.” He sighed. “I’m also having security cameras installed in the main school building tomorrow morning. I still don’t want them in the dorms, but this whole situation has made me realize that other students’ non-custodial parents could come after them, or even my own past could come back to haunt me. Until tonight, I wasn’t fully convinced that Jonesy hadn’t come back.”
“I can assure you on that,” Dell told him. He gave a wry smile. “He was one of our first suspects, too, but he’s in prison for a few more months at least.”
“That’s good to know,” Jim breathed a sigh of relief. “Is there any way I can be notified when he gets out?”
“Certainly. When I looked at his records, I noticed that your cousin Juliana is also to be notified, as she was his intended murder victim. I’ll add a flag that you should be as well.”
The next day, with Erica safely at school, Trixie and Honey both spent time searching the internet for any mention of Christine Hill or for any possible connection to any criminal they had ever helped to put away. In the end, it was Honey who discovered that Dennis de Boer, a counterfeiter they had helped capture during their sophomore year of high school, had two daughters: a daughter named Christine in the right age range, and a younger daughter named Anna. After her father’s arrest, Christine had gone on to finish high school and college, but Anna began getting in trouble as a teenager and was currently in a juvenile detention center.
Trixie called Dell, who promised to begin looking into the new angle. After hanging up the phone, she turned to Honey. “This may sound strange, but what would you say to a school lunch today? I just feel a need to check up on Erica, and if we go have lunch with her, you may spot a clue we’ve missed.”
“Sure,” Honey agreed. “When does she have lunch?”
Trixie glanced at the clock. “In about half an hour. I’ll give Joeanne a call to let her know we’re coming, then if we leave now, we’ll have a few minutes for you to look at the photographs they took.”
The two women arrived at the school about fifteen minutes later, and after spending a few minutes talking to Joeanne, they headed down the hall toward the elementary wing. To their surprise, a man in ragged clothes stood at the end of the hall beckoning to them. Not recognizing him, they approached warily. Trixie blinked and rubbed her eyes; the fluorescent light seemed to shimmer right through him.
As they got closer, he motioned towards the window that overlooked the playground. They looked out just in time to see Erica’s former teacher placing a small metal box next to the wall that she realized was part of Mrs. Franklin’s classroom. “Run get Jim,” Trixie hissed to Honey. “Have him call Dell and the bomb squad. I’ll get the teachers to get their classes out.”
Honey nodded and ran, while Trixie quickly got Mrs. Franklin into the hallway and explained that she had seen someone planting a potential bomb. Per the school’s emergency preparedness plan, Mrs. Franklin quickly had the class line up as Trixie notified the other elementary teachers. The classes were in the process of walking outside when Jim’s voice came over the intercom system, “The eagle has landed.”
“Our code to evacuate,” Mrs. Franklin whispered to Trixie.
Once they were safely outside and far away from the building, Trixie hugged Erica to her and took a deep breath. It wasn’t until Honey joined them a few minutes later that she remembered the man that had silently warned them. She turned to Mrs. Franklin. “There was an old man who urged us to look out the window when we were headed down to the classroom. We wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. Do you know who he was? He looked like he had just stepped out of a rag bin, since his pants and shirt were both faded and patched.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “All of our employees wear uniforms like the students, and I’ve never seen anyone like that here.”
“Mommy? Was he really wrinkly?” Erica asked. “I saw someone like that standing next to the windows the night of the Halloween party. I was trying to point him out to Blake, to ask him who he was, when we saw someone looking in the window. Blake never did see him, though.”
“Yes, he was,” Trixie confirmed. She turned to Honey. “Please tell me you saw him, too.”
“I did,” Honey confirmed, her brow wrinkled. “Where is he now, though? I hope he’s not still in the building, whoever he is.”
“I agree,” Mrs. Franklin said. “Actually, it would be a good idea to tell Mr. Frayne, as we may have another unauthorized person on campus.”
Joeanne walked up to them with a clipboard so that she could check off classes as they were accounted for. She frowned. “Another unauthorized person?”
“We don’t know,” Honey told her. “Trixie and I saw an old, wrinkled man on our way to the classroom. He motioned for us to look out the window, which is how we saw what we did. Erica saw him the night of the Halloween party, too.”
“Patched clothes?” Joeanne whispered slowly. “Did he look almost like a scarecrow?”
She sighed with relief. “Oh thank goodness. I thought I was going crazy.”
“Why? Is he supposed to be here?”
“Not anymore,” Joeanne answered. “I’ve been scared to tell Jim that he’s here, even though I’m convinced he’s just trying to protect us.”
“Who is he?” Trixie asked. “How do you know he’s okay if he’s not supposed to be here? What if he’s in cahoots with Miss Hill?”
“He isn’t, Trixie,” Joeanne sighed. “Didn’t you notice you can see right through him?”
Trixie gasped. “I thought that was just a trick of the light.”
“It was almost dark when I saw him yesterday morning,” Joeanne said. “He pointed out the vandalism to me. That’s why I think he’s trying to watch over us. Sort of like you told me about Sarah at the Lisgard House.”
Memories of a morning a decade earlier came to Trixie as she remembered the wizened old man that had chased her and Reddy off of his property with a shotgun, and she realized that Joeanne had reached the same conclusion. “Jim’s great-uncle.”
Joeanne nodded. “After this is all over, I’ll show you the photograph Mrs. Vanderpoel gave us. You can compare, just like I’ve been doing.”
It felt as though they stood out there for hours, but in reality, it was only about forty-five minutes before Jim came over to give them the all clear and to advise them that they were calling an all-school assembly in the cafeteria as soon as everyone could be gotten back inside. He smiled wearily. “It’s all over.”
Trixie found Dell waiting for her and Erica right inside the doorway, and he steered them to the small resource room they had used when they first talked to Jim and Mrs. Franklin before enrolling Erica in the school. Despite the uniform he wore, he wrapped them both in a close embrace that lasted for several minutes before they finally sat down at the conference table. “I don’t have long, because there’s a lot of ends to wrap up at the station, but I wanted to let you know that you’re finally safe again.” He briefly closed his eyes. “Miss Hill won’t bother you again.”
“Is she in custody?” Trixie asked. “I was too focused on getting the kids out of the school to worry about catching her.”
“Yes, Spider caught her running into the woods while Dan and I found and defused the bomb.” He sank wearily into a chair, pulling Erica into his lap as he did so. “It looks like it we got to it just in time. The fuse was almost to the explosives.”
Trixie shuddered. “Was it a big one? How much damage would it have done?”
“More than I want to think about,” he admitted. “The classroom would have been a total wreck, and possibly the ones on either side of it.”
“So Mommy, Aunt Honey, and the scarecrow man saved my life?” Erica asked softly.
Dell nodded, clutching her tightly. “Mommy Trixie and Honey definitely did. Who’s the scarecrow man?”
Trixie and Erica looked at each other. “Joeanne and I think he’s Jim’s Uncle James,” Trixie said.
Dell closed his eyes and sighed. “Please tell me we’re not dealing with another ghost. I don’t think I can handle it.”
“A ghost?” Erica asked. She gave a small smile as Trixie reluctantly nodded. “A good one, though. He didn’t want to hurt me. He kept me safe.”
“She’s right, Dell,” Trixie said. “It was his pointing that made me and Honey look out the window. Otherwise, we’d never have seen Miss Hill. You know what would have happened if we hadn’t.”
“I don’t understand, though,” Erica complained. “Why did she want to hurt me? What did I ever do to her?”
“You didn’t do anything,” Dell assured her. “Long before you were even born, Mommy Trixie realized that Miss Hill’s father was doing bad things, and she told me. When he went to court, the judge said he had to go to prison. Instead of being mad at him, she blamed me and Mommy Trixie for basically losing her father. She wanted to hurt you to get revenge on us.”
“But you keep telling me that we all have choices to make, and we can choose whether to do good or to do bad. Doesn’t she know that?”
“Sometimes it’s easier to blame someone else than to accept responsibility,” Trixie said, pulling her chair close to them. “It doesn’t make it right.”
They heard a knock on the door, and Mrs. Franklin poked her head inside. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to ask if Erica would be coming back to class today. Mr. and Mrs. Frayne are notifying the parents of what happened, and I’m sure some will come to pick up their children early. I decided it’s a good time to put in a movie for those of us remaining. Several of them have been asking if we could watch Charlotte’s Web again.”
“Erica? Do you want to go back to class or go with Mommy Trixie?” Dell asked. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to get back to the station. I’ve got to do the paperwork on this, but then I’ll be coming home early.”
“May I watch the movie?” Erica asked. “I kind of want to make sure everyone in my class is doing okay. They’re not used to things like this.”
“Neither are you,” Trixie grinned, gently tickling her. “But yes, that’s fine.”
Erica hugged them both, then left the room with her teacher.
“I’m going to go watch it with them, you know,” Trixie told her husband. “I don’t want to let her out of my sight right now.”
“I know,” he sighed. “This job is a double-edged sword. I’m glad I was here, but I want to be with the two of you. Not doing paperwork.”
“Paperwork that will help put her in prison,” Trixie reminded him. “And I’ll plan a special dinner tonight for when you get home.” She put her arms around him and buried her face in his chest. “It never dawned on me that someone we’ve put away might go after Erica.”
“Trixie, given what we do, there’s always a chance someone is going to come after us or after those we love. That doesn’t mean we give up, though. We just do everything we can possibly do to protect ourselves and our families. We can’t choose not to live our lives because of fear of what someone might do.”
“You’re right,” she said softly. “I can’t imagine not having you or Erica. I can’t imagine not having a second child someday.”
“Me, either,” he said, kissing the top of her head. “I don’t tell you enough just how grateful I am for you.”
“I’m the blessed one,” she told him, hugging him tight before letting him go. “You need to get back to the station, though.”
“Yes, I do. I’ll give you a call when I’m about to leave work.” He paused for a moment, then said, “One more thing. I’m still not comfortable with the thought of another ghost, but make sure that either you or Joeanne talk to Jim. He needs to know, but this may be a chance, too, to give him some of the peace he needs.”
“True. I’ll talk to Joeanne before Erica and I leave today.”
After leaving the resource room, Trixie was halfway to Erica’s classroom when Honey found her. “After you peek in on Erica, would you mind coming to the office?” Honey asked. “It’s a madhouse down there, and Joeanne needs all the help she can get.”
“Of course,” she agreed. “How is it going?”
“Better than I expected,” Honey admitted. “So far, it seems most of the parents have been impressed by how this was handled and how quickly. It’s helping that they can see security cameras being installed in the hallways, too.”
Trixie quietly peeked in the window of the classroom door, smiling as she saw Erica sitting next to Blake. She had a thought. “Do you think there will be any repercussions with social services because of this?”
“Doubtful,” Honey assured her. “Jim has a very good rapport with the case workers, and they’ve talked about the possibility that someone might try something. As it was handled quickly and well, there may be paperwork, but that should be it. If necessary, Mr. Rainsford will see to that.”
Joeanne quickly put both Trixie and Honey to work fetching students from their classrooms as parents checked them out for the day. Once it settled down, Trixie poked her head into Jim’s office. “Do you have a minute?”
“Sure,” he said, putting down the paper he was working on. “How are you doing?”
“Shaken, but okay. Thankful nothing bad actually happened,” she told him. “But I wanted to say I’m sorry. I never dreamed that enrolling Erica here would cause all of this, and I really hope it doesn’t affect the school.”
“Don’t worry,” he assured her. “Yes, we may lose one or two of the more excitable parents, but so far everyone has been more impressed with how quickly it was handled. They’re just taking their children home to hug them a little tighter for a while, as I’m sure you can understand.”
She nodded. “It was really hard to let Erica go back to class like she wanted to do. She loves it here, you know.”
“I do, and I’m glad,” he said. “We love having her here, and this hasn’t changed that. The way I look at it, the Bob-Whites have been protecting each other and our families for at least ten years now. There’s no one more prepared for things like this.” He cleared his throat. “Bad things happen in schools everywhere, Trixie. Columbine wasn’t the only school shooting in recent years, and those were public schools. No school is completely safe anymore, and our parents realize that.” He flushed. “And if not, we have a rather long waiting list for day students.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Then how did Erica get in so quickly?”
“Her mother happens to be a Bob-White,” he smiled gently. “We have fluctuating space for live-in students, so it worked out.”
She smiled. “I can’t thank you enough.”
“No need,” he told her. “We’re Bob-Whites. That’s enough.”
The bell rang, and with a few quick words of farewell, Trixie left the office to pick up her daughter.
Epilogue – Thanksgiving night
The school building was finally empty as the live-in students were back in their dorms after the school’s Thanksgiving feast. Jim walked quietly down the hallway, wondering why he was still there. He had urged Joeanne to take her visiting family to the Belden’s open house once the school meal had finished, and he had promised to join them as soon as the cleanup at the school was finished.
He sighed inwardly. He knew why he was still there. While his outlook had changed over the last few months, and he no longer doubted the existence of the supernatural, it bothered him that while others had seen the ghost of his great-uncle, he himself had not.
“Uncle James? Are you still here?” he whispered, feeling foolish. “Can you hear me?”
The room grew cold, and Jim looked around, startled despite himself to see a faint shimmer in the corner. He took a deep breath. “I just wanted to say thank you, Uncle James. Thank you for saving the school.” He smiled. “Thank you for making it possible in the first place.”
“It was the least I could do,” a thin, reedy voice answered him. “I certainly failed you enough while I was living.”
“I don’t think of it that way,” Jim told him. “If you had taken me in when I first came here, I might have never met Joeanne. She’s my strength, my life.”
“She loves you,” the voice said. “You found a good wife. Almost as good as Nell was to me.”
Jim smiled. “But you’re biased, Uncle James. I wish I could have known her, though.”
“She loved you, too,” the voice said. “She wanted children of her own so badly. We were never able to have any, though.”
“We’re having trouble, too,” he admitted. “We love all of the kids here, but there’s an empty spot in our lives. I know better than anyone that we could adopt, but it hasn’t felt right yet.”
“You’ll know when it’s right. Times have changed, too. You have options we didn’t have.”
Jim nodded. “We’re looking in to those, too. What’s next for you? Why aren’t you on the other side?”
“There was danger here. I needed to protect you. Wanted to do some good for a change.”
“You’ve done a lot of good,” Jim assured him. “I love you, and I’ll always be thankful. But you can rest now, Uncle James.”
The air shimmered again, and just for a moment, he caught a brief glimpse of his late great-uncle. The apparition smiled and faded away, and Jim knew that he’d been heard.
Author’s Note: I want to add that while Erica is young to be in third grade in most areas, White Plains, NY, where she entered school, has a December 31st cut-off date for children to turn five when entering kindergarten in the fall. So while Trixie states she’s the youngest in her class in Sleepyside, it’s really not by that much. While White Plains School District is a real district, and I have used their age guidelines, I used artistic license when I gave their students uniforms. School uniforms were becoming popular among quite a few districts around the country around the time this story is set, though.