As the school bus pulled away from the Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School, Honey Wheeler turned to her best friend. “I do wish you could come to the dance tonight, Trixie. It just won’t be the same without you.”

Trixie hugged her impulsively. “You’re going to have a great time! And once you see Brian in his costume, you won’t even notice I’m not there.”

Honey blushed and ducked to hide behind her hair. “You’ve seen him in his costume?” she asked.

Trixie rolled her eyes. “Yes. Of course, I can’t appreciate it the way you will, but...”

Honey changed the topic. “Did you decide on a costume, or are you going to skip dressing up this year?”

“Hey! It’s not my fault Jim had to go away to Virginia for college! If he were here, we’d all be going together and having a great time. Instead, I’m stuck chaperoning Bobby’s rec centre Halloween party,” Trixie pouted.

“I know,” Honey consoled her. “I wish Jim was here, too. You could come, you know. Jim wouldn’t want you to stay at home.”

It was Trixie’s turn to blush. “I know, Honey. It’s just that I can’t think of anyone else I’d really want to go with. And it’s not like the guys were lining up to ask me,” she finished glumly.

“Maybe because they think you like Jim? And they know that Dan and Mart would kill them if they tried anything?”

From the seat behind them, Mart leaned forward. “It’s true,” he agreed. “We would.”

Dan looked up from the algebra problem he was attempting to solve. “Need us to bloody anyone?” he asked hopefully.

“Loco,” Trixie said in a stage whisper to Honey.

Mart sighed and took a bite of a juicy red apple. “If I knew taking Spanish would assist you in insulting me in another language, I never would have encouraged you to sign up for it.”

Trixie sniffed. “I was including Dan in that assessment, if it makes you feel better.”

“Dan? Crazy for wanting to punch out your prospective suitors? No. Crazy for skipping the first dance of the year to help you chaperone,” and he shuddered, “Bobby’s Halloween party? Yes.”

“How bad can it be?” Dan asked. “All we have to do is make sure no one drowns while bobbing for apples, right?”

Trixie frowned. “I hope so. Mr. McEachern was a little vague on the particulars.”

Mart snorted. “Wouldn’t you be vague, too, if you were trying to recruit volunteers to supervise the little monsters?”

Trixie had to laugh. “Yes, I suppose I would. Anyway, it really can’t be that bad. And the kids are always adorable in their costumes.”

Diana nodded. “Larry and Terry are going as Indians this year. They were awfully cute running around with their bows and arrows.”

“Bows and arrows? Is that a good idea?” Dan asked, frowning.

“They’re plastic,” Diana assured him, and laughed at the look of relief on his face.

Trixie snorted. “Bobby wanted to go as a pirate, but Moms convinced him to go as a cop, instead. She figured a toy gun was safer than a plastic cutlass.”

“Plus, Bobby has seen enough of Captain Molinson to be able to imitate him perfectly. You should have seen the little guy reading Trixie the riot act this morning while she was getting him ready for school.” Mart chuckled at the fond remembrance.

Trixie groaned. “I’m just hoping he forgets all about me once we’re at the party. I can’t take any more lectures!”

“Dan, what kind of costume will you wear?” Honey asked.

He shrugged. “I haven’t really thought about it. If I can’t find something in my closet, I’ll just have to go as myself.”

With a mischievous twinkle, Diana suggested, “You could always wear a pair of Mr. Maypenny’s knickers.”

“I don’t think so.” Dan pictured himself in the quaint clothes of his guardian.

“Well, how about...” Honey leaned over her backrest and motioned for Dan to lean forward. She whispered in his ear, and watched as his mouth quirked in amusement.

“I might just do that,” he told her.

Honey nodded firmly. “It would be perfect for you.”

“What would be perfect? What are you talking about? What are you going to dress up as, Dan?” Trixie fired the questions in rapid succession.

“Oh, you’ll see,” he said evasively.

“Fine,” Trixie huffed. “Then I won’t tell you what Moms’ idea for my costume is. I wasn’t sure I was going to dress up, but if you are...”

Dan shrugged. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?”

Trixie scowled at his lack of curiosity. “You’re no fun, you know that, Dan?”

Dan smirked. “You won’t be saying that when you see my costume. Will she, Honey?”

Honey’s grin stretched from ear to ear. “No, the last thing you’ll be tonight is boring, Dan.” She paused and speculated, “It’s really too bad you won’t be at the school dance. I’m sure all the girls would enjoy seeing you.”

“You’re killing me!” Trixie exclaimed. “Aren’t you even going to give me a hint?”

“Nope.” Dan smiled and turned back to his homework. “You’ll see when I pick you up. Six o’clock, right?”

Trixie nodded. “Yes. I told Mr. McEachern we’d come early and help set up.”

“I’m sure you did,” Dan commented, with an affectionate smile.

The bus jerked to a stop, and the Bob Whites fought their way to the front. “See you tonight,” Trixie called as she ran up the driveway to Crabapple Farm, leaving the others choking in her dust and wondering why she was in such a hurry.

Trixie skidded into the kitchen of Crabapple Farm, intent on cornering her mother and asking for help with her costume. Instead, she found her mother, hands on hips, arguing with her oldest son.

“You look perfectly fine, Brian, and you are wearing that costume tonight. You promised Honey, remember?”

Brian sighed and tried to run a hand through his dark hair, but jerked away as his hand as he encountered the gooey styling product he had used to shape his thick locks into the trademark style required for his costume. “Moms, I look like an idiot! How can I show my face in public dressed like this?” he demanded, gesturing to his blue tights.

Helen Belden smothered a grin. “No one will be looking at your face,dear,” she promised.

Brian flushed and looked down at the red Speedos on top of the blue tights. “No, I suppose not,” he agreed.

Trixie, standing stone-still in the entranceway, couldn’t hold her laughter back any longer. Leaning against the doorframe, she laughed herself silly as Brian glared at her.

“Whose bright idea was it for me to dress as Superman?” Brian demanded, crossing his arms over his chest, completing the picture and causing Trixie to laugh even harder.

“It wasn’t me!” she promised. “I think Honey and Diana came up with the costume plans. And, you know, Di is going to make an extremely hot Lois Lane.”

“I don’t care about Di!” Brian shouted, his remarkable good temper pushed to the limit. “Whose crazy idea was it for people to dress in couples with someone other than their date, anyway?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure going to enjoy playing Antony to Honey’s Cleopatra,” Mart chimed in, grinning.

Brian scowled. “What was Honey thinking?” His eyes grew wide as he considered her costume. “She’s not going to dye her hair, is she? Is she?” He grasped Trixie’s arm.

Between giggles, Trixie said, “She’s wearing a wig. You know she’s wanted to ever since we visited that peruke place in Virginia. She’s really looking forward to it.” Trixie patted her brother’s shoulder. “Don’t ruin this for her, Brian. She’s really excited. And, for what it’s worth, I think you make a very handsome Superman.” She winked. “And so does Honey.”

Brian promptly forgot his worries. “She does? Really?”

Trixie nodded. “For some strange reason, she thinks you’re the only man in the world who should wear blue tights. Don’t ask me why.”

“Personally, I don’t think any man should wear tights--” Mart derided, but was interrupted by Brian.

“Coming from a guy who’s wearing a dress, I’ll take that under advisement,” Brian informed him.

“They were the height of fashion two thousand years ago,” Mart blustered.

Brian shrugged. “You just keep telling yourself that.”

Trixie snapped her fingers as she remembered her mission, and turned eagerly to her mother.

“Moms, remember what you said about helping with a costume? Do you think you could? I know it’s late and all...” Trixie’s voice trailed off as she realized that her mother was dealing with four children in Halloween costumes, three of them old enough that they should be handling it on their own.

Helen was unfazed. “Of course, dear. In fact, I got it all ready this morning after you left for school. I had a feeling you would change your mind.”

Trixie hugged her and fidgeted with impatience. “Well, where is it? Should I try it on? Do you need to do anything to it?”

“I laid it out on your bed. Why don’t you go up and try it on?” Helen suggested.

Taking the stairs two at a time, she raced to her bedroom, casting a wary glance at the clothes on the bed. She recognized the long-sleeved black cotton shirt as one of her own. The slacks, however, were her mother’s. Biting her lip and sucking in her stomach, she tugged the pants on, pleasantly surprised to discover that she was able to zip them without struggling. She studied her reflection in the mirror and nodded in satisfaction. The clothing was form-fitting without revealing too much, and accentuated her body in a pleasing way.

“May I come in, Trixie?”

Trixie hurried to open the door, a wide grin on her face.

“Darling, you look wonderful!” Helen exclaimed, after circling her daughter. “Now, you just need to decide between cat, and cat burglar.” Helen held up both hands. In one she held a black toque and a pot of black face paint; in the other she carried a makeup kit and a headband with cat ears.

“Cat,” Trixie decided at length. “It looks like fun,” she reasoned, “and I wouldn’t want Bobby to arrest me.”

“Good.” Helen placed the supplies on Trixie’s vanity. “If you’ll get changed, I’ll attach the tail while you eat supper, and then we’ll start on the make-up.”

Though she cringed at the mention of make-up, Trixie briskly removed the black clothing. “Dan will be here at six to pick up Bobby and me. Does that give us enough time?”

Helen handed her the top she had worn to school. “It does if you’ll help me with supper,” she suggested pointedly.

Trixie grinned. “Say no more. I’d rather make supper than try to convince Brian to go out in public in tights, or get Mart into a dress.”

Helen merely gave her daughter a gentle push to the door. “We’ll have an early supper of hot dogs. Your father and I will eat at the Wheelers’ after you kids are gone. You are picking up Larry and Terry, right?”

“Yes.” Trixie sighed and asked, “How exactly did I get roped into doing this?”

“You volunteered, dear,” her mother reminded her. “You said that it would be better than staying home alone. And it was very generous of you. If you hadn’t offered to take Bobby and Lynch boys either your father or I would have to leave the Wheelers.”

“That’s because of Dan,” Trixie disagreed. “He was the one who offered to drive us, since I don’t have my licence yet.”

“Well, then, you’ll just have to invite him in for apple crisp when he drives you home.”

“Yum!” Trixie licked her lips. “Maybe pumpkin pie, too?”

“Pumpkin pie, too,” Helen assented.

“You’re the best, Moms!” After a quick hug, Trixie was off again, hurrying downstairs to start dinner preparations. She found Bobby and Brian locked in a curious tete-a-tete. Brian had dropped to one knee to look Bobby in the eye as he addressed him gravely.

“Bobby, you know that Superman isn’t a real person, right?”

“Yes, he is,” Bobby argued. “His name is Clark Kent and he works for the Daily Planet.”

“But, Bobby, I don’t work at the Daily Planet, do I? I’m a college student.”

“That’s what you say,” Bobby replied doubtfully.

“Bobby, I have never worked for a newspaper. Not even the school newspaper. Mart wrote some articles for the Clarion, but I didn’t.”

Bobby continued to scrutinize his oldest brother, the earnest tone starting to sway him.

“And Clark Kent wears glasses, right?” Brian continued.

“But you’re Superman right now, and he doesn’t wear glasses,” Bobby reasoned. “And Superman is always doing dangerous things, like leaping tall buildings in a single bound, and going faster than a speeding bullet, and stopping bad guys, and...” Bobby tripped over his words as he tried to impress on Brian the exciting and dangerous nature of Superman’s life.

“And have you ever seen me do those things?”

“No,” Bobby reluctantly admitted.

“The only crime fighter in this family is Trixie,” Brian finished. “And, you, of course,” he added, gesturing to Bobby’s police uniform.

“Okay,” Bobby agreed, after mulling over Brian’s arguments. “But you’ll watch out for kryptonite, right?”

Brian hid a smile. “Yes, Bobby, I will.”

Breathing a sigh of relief that Brian had averted a serious meltdown, Trixie breezed into the kitchen. “Who’s ready for hot dogs?” she asked with a bright smile. Bobby’s eyes lit up, and Trixie knew that his attention had been successfully diverted, at least for the time being.

When the doorbell rang at six o’clock, Trixie was staring at her reflection in the mirror. Although the false eyelashes, green eye shadow, and glitter weren’t her style, she couldn’t deny the effect they created. In combination with the pointed ears, she was quite convincing as a cat. Just for fun, she practiced a lazy stretch and purr, but decided that the costume would have to be convincing enough on its own. Opening her bedroom door, she found her mother, poised to knock. With a suspicious twitch at the corner of her lips, Helen announced, “Your date is here.”

“He’s not my date, Moms,” Trixie reminded her.

Eyes twinkling, Helen leaned close to whisper, “He’s not Jim, dear, but you’re still going to have a good time tonight.”

“Moms! You know Jim and I don’t...he hasn’t...”

“I know, dear. But it’s pretty obvious that you and Jim have feelings for each other. All I’m saying is, have a good time with Dan tonight.”

Trixie rolled her eyes and started down the stairs. “I’m chaperoning a group of kids Bobby’s age. How could I not?”

“How could you not what?” Dan asked.

Trixie stopped short and stared, suddenly understanding the strange look on her mother’s face. Dan lounged in the living room, his back against the wall, both hands thrust in the pockets of his jeans. His chin was lowered and tilted to one side, and he stared up at her with an idle, smouldering gaze. He straightened casually, shrugging a black leather jacket over his tight white tee shirt.

“James Dean?” she finally managed, tongue-tied by the transformation of one of her closest friends into an undisputed hottie.

Dan dropped his cool demeanour and threw up his hands in relief. “Yes!” He turned to Mart, whom Trixie hadn’t even noticed. “See? I told you Trixie would get it right! Jason Priestley!” He shook his head in disgust while Mart shrugged and jammed the rest of an orange pumpkin cookie in his mouth.

“You should know better than to listen to a guy in a dress,” Trixie teased, smirking at Mart’s warrior costume.

“It worked for the Romans,” Mart retorted. “As you would know if you studied your history text book.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Trixie looked around the room. “Is Bobby ready?”

Mart gestured to the kitchen, where Brian was coaching Bobby on the proper protocol of police officers. “I endeavoured to convince the lad to commit to memory the amended Miranda rights, but, alas, he has been swayed.”

Trixie stifled a laugh as she watched Bobby handcuff Brian, and release him, over and over. “Come on, Bobby! It’s time to pick up Larry and Terry!”

Bobby scampered into the room, brandishing his gun. “Bang! Bang!” he shouted gleefully. “I got you, Dan!”

Dan clutched his chest dramatically and staggered a few steps. “” He slumped to the floor and lay motionless.

Bobby’s cheers were interrupted by Brian. “Um, Bobby, do you want to unlock the handcuffs now?”

Amidst much teasing and laughing, Dan, Trixie, and Bobby piled into Dan’s ’77 Volare and headed to the Lynch estate. After oohing and ahhing over Mandie’s purple and Jennie’s yellow faery costumes, and buckling Indians Larry and Terry in the back seat with Bobby, Trixie gingerly settled herself in the front seat.

“Tail giving you trouble?” Dan asked, trying not to smirk.

Trixie glared at him through her false eyelashes. “If a real cat’s tail is anywhere near as uncomfortable as this...” she shifted her tail again, “it’s no wonder cats freak out in cars. I’m tempted to claw the upholstery myself.”

Dan reached over and examined her hand. “You can’t scare me, Trix. You’re practically de-clawed.”

Giggling, Trixie took back her hand. “Moms wanted me to wear fake nails, but I had to draw the line somewhere. I’d only break them, anyway.”

“Well, I think you look great,” Dan said, pulling into town. “Very cat-like.”

“And you, my friend, are the perfect bad boy,” Trixie informed him as they pulled into the parking lot of the rec centre. “It’s a good thing we’re not at the school dance, because I wouldn’t get to spend any time with you at all. The girls would be all over you.”

“So, are you taking back your comment of me being no fun at all?” Dan asked with twinkling eyes.

Trixie rolled her own eyes. “Yes. Now, can we go in?”

Releasing the police officer and two Indians from the back seat, they entered the modern, sprawling sports building.

“I’m guessing the party is in the main gym?” Dan asked as the boys bolted ahead and disappeared around a corner.

But Trixie wasn’t listening. “I hope Mr. McEachern had time to finish decorating. I’m sure we’ll have lots of little monsters arriving soon.”

“Monsters? I thought scary costumes weren’t allowed.”

“They’re not,” Trixie replied. “I wasn’t talking about their costumes.”

Dan cringed. “It’s going to be a long night, isn’t it?”

“It’s still better than staying home alone. But you,” she frowned, “you could have gone to the dance. I know for a fact that Carrie wanted to go with you.”

Dan shrugged. “I’m taking her out next Friday.”

Trixie stopped struggling with the heavy gym door and turned to stare at him. “Really? You’re going out with Carrie?” Trixie’s shock at Dan’s choice had not, unfortunately, left her speechless.

“Why not?” Dan asked. “She’s pretty, and she seems to like me.” He reached across Trixie to swing open the door. “It’s not like I plan on getting serious with her.”

Trixie tried to picture blonde, flighty Carrie getting serious about anything or anyone, and failed. “I guess,” she said doubtfully. It was a relief to discover that Mr. McEachern had already arrived.

“Thank goodness you’re here!” he puffed, running across the gym to greet them. “The parent volunteers have cancelled, and I haven’t been able to find replacements. It’s just us tonight, and there’s a ton of work to do.”

“They all cancelled?” Trixie exclaimed, while Dan paled.

Mr. McEachern blinked. “There were only two sets of parents to begin with. One family was hit with a flu bug, and the other had a family emergency out of town. We’re on our own.”

“Okay.” Trixie snapped into action. “It looks as if you finished decorating.” She gestured to the orange Japanese lanterns and apple baskets filled with fall leaves. “What’s left to do?” she asked.

“We need to set up the apple-bobbing station, get hot apple cider and hot chocolate supplies ready, and ... Say, do either of you know how to make caramel apples?”

“I’ll call Moms,” Trixie promised. “Is that it?” she asked hopefully.

Mr. McEachern frowned. “One of the parents was going to do a game where the kids are blindfolded and have to guess what they’re touching. You know, things like cooked spaghetti, or tapioca. But she was going to bring all the supplies.”

Trixie sneaked a look at Dan, who had been silent since Mr. McEachern’s announcement. “That sounds a little too complicated for us to manage before the kids get here, but we’ll see what we can do,” Trixie offered.

The middle-aged man nodded distractedly. “Just do what you can. I need to make sure all the offices are locked and do a quick walk-through of the building. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Trixie and Dan stared at his retreating figure.

“‘How bad can it be?’ I asked!” Dan reminded her, then smiled to show he wasn’t upset. Handing Trixie his cell phone, he said, “I’ll fill the buckets for apple bobbing while you call your Mom. Good luck!”

Trixie sighed and dialled her home. “Hi, Moms? Do you know how to make caramel apples...”

When the first of the children arrived, she and Dan were still struggling with the preparations, and Mr. McEachern was nowhere to be seen. Eyeing the group of princesses, pirates, and assorted animals warily, Trixie was about to address them when Dan elbowed her.

“They can smell fear,” he reminded her, speaking out of the corner of his mouth.

Trixie rolled her eyes. “You’re thinking of bees, Dan.”

“Bees?” A little boy dressed as a cowboy yelled. “I’m allergic to bee stings!” He took off across the room, screaming, “Bees! Bees! Bees!” at the top of his lungs. In a matter of seconds, the other children had joined him, creating bedlam and making enough noise to scare any bees within a twenty mile radius. Trixie and Dan exchanged frustrated glances as the children ran around the room, screaming and laughing.

“Well, we’re off to a good start,” Dan said drily.

Trixie sighed as Larry and Terry caught up to Bobby and tackled him, all three boys yelling in excitement. By the time she and Dan had the elementary school age ruffians sitting calmly in the middle of the gym, they were both exhausted, and more children were filing into the room.

“A Grand March to decide who has the best costume?” Trixie suggested in desperation.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, but, yes,” Dan agreed, watching a young lion who looked as if he was plotting.

Twenty minutes later, they cheered the winner, a young boy dressed as a cell phone. There was still no sign of Mr. McEachern. Dan looked curiously at an older boy in a sheet.

“I didn’t think scary costumes were allowed. What are we going to do about the ghost?”

Trixie frowned. “What ghost?”

Dan pointed out the Casper wanna-be. “Really?” Trixie asked. “I thought it was a really bad toga.”

They grinned at each other. “Problem solved!”

Knowing that they needed to keep the children occupied, Trixie and Dan hurried to set up the Bobbing-for-Apples station. “Can you handle this?” Trixie asked. “I need to start on the caramel apples.”

Dan set down the bucket of water. “I’ll be fine,” he assured her, and tossed her his jacket. “Wouldn’t want to get it wet,” he explained.

“Am I supposed to swoon now?” she asked, eyes twinkling. She slipped into the cool black leather. “I’ll just take it to the kitchen with me. Where I’m melting caramel.” She cocked her head. “I really hope I don’t spill any.” Chuckling wickedly, she ran off before Dan could react.

Entering the kitchen, Trixie placed the jacket out of harm’s way. Eyeing the stove darkly, she addressed it directly. “Look. You don’t like me, and I don’t like you. Let’s get this over with as quickly as we can, okay?” When the stove didn’t argue, she sighed in relief. “Good. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get cracking.”

Her supplies ready, she approached the seemingly compliant appliance with a mixture of determination and trepidation. Frowning, she studied the elements. “Natural gas?” she gasped, and could have sworn that the stove smirked at her. “You haven’t won yet,” she warned, and set to work. After turning the element to the highest setting, she unwrapped the package of caramel and dumped it into the pot with a satisfying clunk. With the pot on the stove, she placed her hands on her hips and tried to remember everything her mother had said.

“Put the apples on the sticks,” she muttered. “Okay.” She found the pile of sharp wooden skewers and dragged a stool to the counter with the basket of apples. With a frown, she started to drive the first skewer into an apple, but paused. How far should it go in? she wondered, and pictured an unfortunate child biting into the treat and jamming the stick into the roof of her mouth. Is it like a popsicle Or a sucker? In the end, it didn’t matter, because the apples were crisp, and the stick refused to move past the middle.

The tedium of spearing apples soon allowed Trixie’s mind to wander. I wonder what Jim’s doing? It’s Friday night. He’s probably at a party, or out with his friends. She sighed and tried not to think about Jim and beautiful, sophisticated girls at UVA. I wonder how Dan is doing with the kids. Maybe I shouldn’t have left him...Nah, Trixie chuckled. He can handle it. Her nose twitched as it caught a new smell. Must be the furnace coming on, she thought, and energetically speared what felt like the millionth apple.

I hope Brian spends some time at home this weekend, instead of being glued to Honey the entire time, she thought, then winced at her selfishness. Stop it! she told herself sternly. Brian still makes time for you, and you get to see Honey all week. Besides, if Jim were home for the weekend, you would want him to spend time with you, and not just the Wheelers. She stabbed the apples viciously, remembering the last few weekends Brian had been home. It’s couples, couples, couples, she groused. I’m getting tired of watching Honey and Brian, and Mart and Di cuddling all the time, and talking in non-verbal languages. At least Dan keeps me company, but it sounds like he’s started dating, too. Trixie’s lips compressed into a thin line. Tomboy Trixie. With no social life.

Her insecurities taking centre-stage, she didn’t notice the smoking caramel until it was too late. The smell she had attributed to the furnace was, in fact, the highly pungent aroma of burning caramel. Trixie leaped from her stool and snatched the pot off the element, scattering apples across the counter and floor. “We had an agreement,” she hissed, as her breathing returned to normal. “You’re just lucky the fire alarm didn’t go off,” she warned the stove, then took a step backwards as the appliance silently mocked her. “Oh, no,” she muttered, and searched for something--anything--to fan the smoke detector.

Dan’s jacket was the closest candidate, and Trixie put it to good use, waving it frantically under the flashing red light of the smoke detector in the hope that she could divert the smoke and prevent the ear-piercing alarm from engaging. When she was certain that the sprinkler system wasn’t about to soak her and everybody else in the building, she lowered her aching arms and tossed the jacket on a stool. All the apples she had speared were rolling across the floor, gathering dust as they went. The caramel was an unappetizing smouldering mess. With a sigh, Trixie returned the pot to an element and set it on low. This better work, she thought, and turned to deal with the apples. She filled a sink of water, and began tracking down the rolling orbs that littered the floor. Tossing the apples in the water, she gave each a quick rinse, and hoped that the germs and lint had been removed. When she checked the caramel, she found that the stove was co-operating and that the gooey treat was almost ready. Lining all the available counter space with wax paper, she screwed up her courage and carefully dipped each apple. When the messy job was complete, she surveyed her work with satisfaction.

On leaving the kitchen, however, Trixie was greeted by the exuberant cheering of children. Familiar with Bobby’s age group, she knew it could only mean one thing: an adult in trouble. She hurried to the Bobbing-for-Apples station, only to discover that an adult was, indeed, in trouble. It took her a minute to recognize him in his current state, but no one else fit the description. Surrounded by excited children, Mr. McEachern was a soaked, shivering, disgruntled mess. Catching a flash of motion out of the corner of her eyes, Trixie spotted Dan forcing two young boys back to the bobbing station. Dan led the boys directly to Mr. McEachern.

“What would you like to say to Mr. McEachern?” Dan asked, forcing the boys in front of him.

“We’re sorry,” they chorused, but they were obviously enjoying the sight of their very wet leader.

“For...” Dan prompted with a stern look.

“We’re sorry for dunking you in the barrel,” one boy said, and elbowed his friend.

“Sorry,” his friend agreed.

“All right, boys. Perhaps you would like to make amends by mopping up the water,” Mr. McEachern suggested. “Mr. Mangan? Would you escort these young men to the utility closet and help them find mops? I need to dry off.”

Dan nodded and motioned for the two pranksters to follow him. Although his face was stern, in his eyes Trixie could see amusement. And a plan for revenge.

“And Miss Belden is here to take you to the pumpkin carving station,” Dan announced, and winked at Trixie. “Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

Visions of large carving knives dancing in her head, she winced, but bravely faced the children. “This way!” she called, and led them to the designated area. She was relieved to see that instead of carving pumpkins, the children would only draw faces on the pumpkins. Bobby scowled in disappointment.

“I want to cut up a pumpkin!” he protested, and several other children joined him.

Hoping that the parents would forgive her, Trixie said, “You can draw the faces here, and then take them home to carve!”

Somewhat mollified, the boys and girls happily set to work fighting over the markers and choosing pumpkins. Trixie looked up sharply when the heavy gym door opened and closed again with a resounding bang. A girl of about Bobby’s age stood shyly just inside the gym. Her nervousness was almost palpable as she watched the other kids and took a few steps toward them before stopping. Trixie hurried to greet her.

“Hi! My name is Trixie,” she said, forgetting that she was supposed to be Miss Belden for the evening. “Would you like to join us? We’ve just started carving the pumpkins. Well, not really carving,” she laughed. “More like decorating. It looks like fun, though. Would you like to join us?” she encouraged.

The young girl peeked around her to watch the activity.

“What’s your name?” Trixie asked, hoping to draw the child out.

“Anna,” she whispered. “I just moved here.”

Trixie smiled sympathetically. “Sleepyside is a wonderful town. I hope that you’ll like living here.” She hesitated before saying, “That’s a great witch costume, Anna, but, well...” Trixie hastily removed her own cat ears. “How about we switch? You wear these cat ears, and I’ll take the witch’s hat. Would that be okay?”

Anna was clearly confused.

Trixie sighed. “We’re trying to wear friendly costumes tonight. I think your witch costume might be a little too scary.” She held out the cat ears, hoping that she wasn’t alienating the young girl.

“I don’t understand.” Trixie was relieved that Anna seemed more confused than offended. “I thought Halloween was supposed to be about ghosts, and goblins, and witches, and vampires...” She removed her hat and studied it before handing it over. “What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing, nothing at all!” Trixie assured her, wondering why Anna seemed to be looking for confirmation that her perception of Halloween was correct. “You make a great witch--very Halloween-ish. We’re just focusing on the fun costumes tonight.”

Anna nodded and hesitantly reached for the black ears. Trixie tried to help her settle them, but didn’t quite know how to deal with the plaited blonde hair. Finally managing to tuck the band behind her ears, Trixie asked curiously, “Where did you used to live, Anna?”

“The Summer Rose colony,” she whispered.

“Oh!” Trixie’s eyes widened with surprise as she thought of the ultra-conservative group that had separated themselves from society as much as possible. For the life of her, she couldn’t imagine living such a secluded life, or adapting to society after leaving such a life. But before she could ask any of the questions tumbling through her mind, Anna was asking a question.

“Did you say you were carving pumpkins?” Anna asked.

“Sure! Well, not carving,” she reminded her. “We’re just drawing the faces, not cutting them out.”

“Why?” Anna asked.

“Because we want everyone to leave with the same amount of fingers they had when they got here!” Trixie laughed.

“No, why are you decorating pumpkins?” Anna looked at her expectantly.

“Oh! Because...” Trixie stopped. “Well, I think...” She paused again and wrinkled her forehead in concentration. “I have no idea,” she admitted. “But it’s fun!”

Anna smiled. “Okay. Thank you, Trixie,” she said, and joined the group of kids while Trixie watched.

She was pleased to see Max and Sam mopping the spilled water, supervised by Mr. McEachern. She had to look harder for Dan, but finally spotted him setting food and drinks on the counter that separated the kitchen from the gym. He gave her the sign that he was nearly ready for the kids. Trixie nodded, and returned to the pumpkin decorating station, where the children were happily using thick black markers on the pumpkins and each other. Sighing at the black moustaches on several of the boys’ faces, Trixie inspected the pumpkins and complimented each child on his or her artwork. She sent them over to the refreshment table and stopped to replace the caps on the markers before they dried out. When the area was as tidy as it was going to get under Trixie’s management, she joined everyone else at the kitchen counter.

“Well, little lady, what will it be?” Dan teased. “We have apple cider, caramel corn, regular popcorn, and caramel apples.”

“What’s with the cowboy talk? I thought you were supposed to be James Dean,” Trixie demanded.

Dan shrugged. “I kind of lost the James Dean look when I took off my jacket.” He narrowed his eyes. “Hey, what happened to the black cat? Or did you change your mind decide to go Goth? Although, if you have, I have to say, that’s not nearly enough make up.”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “No.” She nodded her head in Anna’s direction. “I traded Anna for her hat.” She smiled affectionately at the young girl cautiously biting into a caramel apple.

Catching on immediately, Dan nodded. “Good trade.” With a mischievous glint, he sneaked a peek at Trixie’s backside. “I see you kept the tail. Good choice. That’s my favourite part,” he confided.

Trixie rolled her eyes. “Then you can have it,” she told him, and reached behind her to remove it.

Dan’s grin grew. “Need some help?”

“I forgot Moms stitched it on,” Trixie muttered. “And I most certainly do not need help.” She gave up on the tail. “And you were offering to beat up other guys for looking at me?” And added under her breath, “Not that they do.”

Dan shrugged. “I’d only have to answer to Mart, and I’m pretty sure I can take him.” He sobered, and touched Trixie’s arm. “I’m sorry, Trix. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Trixie couldn’t help laughing. “You couldn’t offend me if you tried. I know you didn’t mean it. Besides, guys don’t look at me like that.”

Dan handed her a caramel apple. “Suit yourself. I’m telling you you look great, and lots of guys know it. But, right now, I’m more concerned about that kid who’s trying to eat a caramel apple through his mask. What is he thinking?”

Trixie followed Dan’s gaze to a young boy dressed as a clown. “You’d better hope he’s trying to eat,” she said grimly.

“What?” Dan’s eyes widened as he took a closer look. “Oh, no, you don’t!” Grabbing a waste basket, he raced to the clown’s side. “How are you feeling, Mike?” he asked.

Mike had time enough to give Dan a sea-green look of misery before struggling out of the clown mask and covering him in caramel apple vomit. Dan sighed and closed his eyes. Trying not to inhale, he asked, “Better?”

Mike nodded, and Dan carefully led him to a bathroom where they could clean themselves.

“Nice jeans,” Trixie complimented Dan on his return.

Dan looked down at the large patches of wetness. “I’m just glad none landed on my shoes. But, I guess the James Dean look is pretty much out the window.”

“I’d say so. Right now, you look more like Mart after he tries to eat nachos and salsa during a movie.”

“That bad?” Dan asked.

Trixie’s eyes twinkled. “If only Carrie could see you now! Oh, look! The parents are arriving!” Trixie’s relief was evident. “We made it!” she beamed.

“The night isn’t over,” Dan reminded her. “This place is a mess.”

Remembering the state in which she had left the kitchen, Trixie groaned. “I’ll tidy up out here if you do the kitchen,” she bargained.

“Um, Trix, I saw the kitchen. I think I’ll stay out here.”

Mr. McEachern joined them. “Don’t worry about the gym,” he told them. “The caretaker will be in early tomorrow morning to give the place a good cleaning. All we need to do is put everything away. If you two will get started, I’ll greet the parents.”

“I guess we should put away the food,” Dan commented as Mr. McEachern walked away.

“What food?” Trixie asked, as a little boy jammed a handful of popcorn in his pocket. “All we have to do is have Bobby, Larry, and Terry wait for us right here. By the time we clean up everything else, the food will be gone.”

As if on cue, the boys ran across the room and stopped in front of them. “We don’t have to go already, do we?” Bobby pleaded.

Trixie smiled affectionately and ruffled his unruly curls. “Not yet, Officer Belden. But stay in the gym, please. We might need some help keeping the room safe. Could you three watch for bad guys?”

Bobby nodded, pleased with the responsibility. “Sure!” he said. “I have my gun, and Larry and Terry have their arrows. We’ll keep you safe,” he promised.

Trixie left for the kitchen, chuckling at the sight of the three boys standing stock-still, watching the other children play and greet their parents. She quickly threw away the wax paper lining the counter tops and drained the industrial kettle that Dan had used to boil water for the apple cider. With great reluctance, she picked up the pot she had used to melt the caramel. I really wish I had put this in the sink to soak. But she hadn’t, and was forced to scrub vigorously for several minutes. “I didn’t know I needed to make an agreement with you, too,” she told the pot. “Not that your friend the stove did a very good job of keeping his end of the deal.” She scowled at the gleaming stainless steel. “There. Now, let’s agree that we’ll never let this happen again, okay?”

With great satisfaction, Trixie put the pot away and gave the counter one last wipe with the cloth. “Done!” she exclaimed, and returned to the nearly deserted gym. She was just in time to see Dan disappear through the other door, carrying a child’s decorated pumpkin out to a vehicle. Larry and Terry sat quietly, munching popcorn and watching Bobby. She had to laugh at Bobby’s dramatic facial expressions and exaggerated hand gestures. I wonder what story he’s telling, she thought, and sneaked closer, hoping to eavesdrop without Bobby noticing.

“And just when school master was about to make it out of Sleepy Hollow...” Bobby paused to enjoy the wide eyes of his audience, “his horse turned back in to the Hollow, and headed towards...” This time the pause was truly dreadful as Bobby made eye contact with the listeners. “The bridge!”

Larry and Terry gasped, even though they had heard the story countless times.

“Not the bridge!” Terry exclaimed in horror.

“Did the Headless Horseman get him?” Larry demanded.

“He was almost free, when suddenly, the Horseman picked up his head...” Bobby mimicked the motion, raising his right arm into a throwing position, “and threw it at Ichabod!”

The sharp intakes of breath were audible.

“The next day, all the people found was a smashed pumpkin at the side of the bridge. No one knows for sure, but some say the Headless Horseman was really just Brom Bones, scaring him away from Katrina. Others say that the Headless Horseman made Ichabod Crane vanish, because he was never seen again.” Bobby nodded knowingly. “But everyone agrees that Sleepy Hollow is a strange place. Some people say they still hear the horses, galloping madly in the middle of the night. And,” he confided, “Sleepyside was named after Sleepy Hollow. Who knows? Maybe the Headless Horseman will ride tonight!”

After an appropriate silence, Bobby reached for more popcorn, and the spell was broken. Larry and Terry promptly joined him, and, for the first time, Trixie noticed the slight figure in black that had been blocked from her view.

“Anna!” Trixie exclaimed. “I didn’t see you there!” She glanced at her brother before adding, “I hope Bobby hasn’t been scaring you with his stories.”

Anna’s eyes were still wide, but she shook her head. With a quick motion, she removed the cat ears. “Thank you, Trixie. I really enjoyed the party.”

Trixie smiled and took back the ears. “I’m glad, Anna,” she said sincerely. “I hope we’ll see you around. Oh! I almost forgot!”

Trixie hurried to the corner where she had placed Anna’s pointed black hat. “Here you are!”

Anna accepted the hat. “Thank you!” she called before leaving the gym, nearly knocking Dan over as he returned.

“Whoa!” Dan steadied her before holding the door open. “Thanks for coming, Anna!”

Trixie and Dan set to work tidying the paper plates and cups that littered the table. When the gym was free of children and the table was clear, Trixie asked, “Are we done, do you think?”

Dan looked around. “The place looks pretty good to me,” he said. “I think we can leave now.”

“Bobby, Larry, and Terry, it’s time to go!” Trixie called.

Silence was the only response.

“Bobby?” Hands on hips, Trixie scanned the gym. Empty. With a heavy sigh, she turned to Dan. “I think we have some practical jokers on our hands.”

Dan studied the gym, listening intently. “I know where they are,” he said, the beginning of a devious grin creeping over his face. “Want to have some fun?”

Trixie’s smile was just as sneaky. “You know I do,” she replied. “What’s your plan?”

Dan pointed to the utility closet in which he had located the mop and pail used to clean the Bobbing-for-Apples incident and handed Trixie his cell phone. “Hide in the closet,” he whispered. “I’ll make a show of closing the gym. If you leave the door ajar and open the flip, it will light up, and I’ll meet you.”

Trixie nodded in understanding and entered the closet as quietly as she could, trying not to tip over the precariously stored collections of cleaning supplies and storage boxes. By the time she had moved aside a broomstick and cleared a box on which to sit, the industrial fluorescent lights were dimming, and she could hear Dan carrying on a conversation with himself.

“Okay, Trixie,” he called in an overly loud and casual voice. “I’ll meet you at the car. I’m sure that’s where the boys are, anyway.” Closing the door firmly, he stepped into the darkening gym and crept unerring to the closet.

Trixie bit her lip, trying not to giggle. When the door creaked loudly, she pulled him in quickly, and swung the door almost shut behind him. Trixie tried to return to her position sitting on a dusty box, but found Dan wouldn’t even have enough room to stand if she did. Instead, they stood, Trixie’s back against Dan’s chest, and put their ears to the door. For several minutes, there was complete silence.

Then, just as they had suspected, the kitchen door swung open, and three shadowy figures emerged. They walked more and more hesitantly as the lights grew dimmer and dimmer. With a squeak of a laugh, Bobby whispered, “Well, I guess they went to the car. I bet they’re wondering where we are.”

“It’s really dark in here,” Terry said, trying to sound braver than he felt.

“Yeah,” his brother agreed. “Let’s go to the car, too, okay?”

“Sure,” Bobby said, secretly relieved that he hadn’t had to suggest it himself.

The boys were drawing near to the closet when Dan lowered his head to whisper in Trixie’s ear. “May I borrow your back for a minute?” he asked. Slowly at first, he tapped. Pat-a-pat. Pat-a-pat. Pat-a-pat. As Trixie grasped his plan, she snickered silently and waited for the fun to begin. As the boys approached, Dan increased the volume and tempo, using the flat of his palms against Trixie’s back so that the sound echoed in the closet. In a matter of seconds it sounded as if a horse were galloping madly. Peering through the door, Trixie nodded to Dan when the boys were right in front of them, and they both jumped out, yelling at the top of their lungs.

“The Headless Horseman!” the boys shouted, and ran screaming to the door as fast as their legs could carry them. Trixie and Dan doubled over with laughter while the three boys pounded on the door Dan had locked.

“It serves you right!” Trixie exclaimed as she and Dan joined them. “I can’t believe you told that story to Anna! She’s probably terrified.”

Bobby was still breathing too hard to answer.

“Okay, boys,” Dan said. “Let’s go to the car for real this time. It’s way past your bedtimes.”

The boys groaned, but didn’t have the strength to argue. They fell meekly into file behind the two teens, pausing only to say good-bye to Mr. McEachern as they left.

Trixie frowned. “Why was Mr. McEachern looking at me so funny?” she asked. “You don’t think he heard us, do you?”

Dan shook his head. “The gym is practically soundproof. He’s probably just tired. I’m sure it was a stressful night for him.” Dan unlocked the rear doors, and they herded the boys inside. When certain that the boys were strapped in, he turned to unlock the passenger door, and took his first real look at Trixie since they had emerged from the closet. He quickly turned away before she could see the laughter in his eyes.

“All aboard!” he called, and the little boys recovered their spirits and cheered.

After leaving the Lynch twins in the care of the nanny, Trixie and Dan were surprised by the quietness of the youngest Belden. Bobby sat still in the back seat, staring out the window at the full orange moon hanging low in the sky. When Dan pulled up in front of Crabapple Farm, Bobby followed them slowly up the porch steps. Trixie turned to hurry him through the door, but stopped when she saw the expression on his face.

“You go on, Dan. Bobby and I will just be a minute.”

Dan smiled at the pensive seven-year-old. “Sure. See you inside.”

As the door closed, Trixie sat on the bench and motioned for Bobby to join her. Together, they watched as sooty clouds crept across the sky, sometimes obscuring the moon, sometimes framing it, and sometimes leaving it bare and clear, an orange disk bathing the earth in an eerie glow.

Bobby jumped as a small blob of black rustled in the bare arms of a tree. “Was...was that a bat?” he asked, a pudgy lip trembling.

Trixie worked diligently to keep from smiling. “Listen,” she instructed.

A moment later the hoot of an owl broke the silence.

“Oh,” Bobby said sheepishly. “Trixie, do you really think I scared Anna?”

Trixie studied him. “How well do you know her?” she asked.

Bobby shrugged. “She’s in my class in school. She’s pretty smart, but her clothes are funny. And she’s never heard of Captain Underpants, or Scooby Doo, or--”

Trixie cut in before he could get carried away. “Does she have many friends?”

Bobby played with his toy pistol. “No. Some of the kids tease her.”

“Do you tease her?” Trixie asked softly.

“No. But I didn’t stop the others,” he admitted. “And tonight, I was just trying to include her. I didn’t think about the story being scary.”

Trixie hugged her brother. “It’s okay, Bobby. I don’t think you scared her. In fact, she seemed pretty happy when she left. But, if it would make you feel better, maybe we could drop in at her house tomorrow and you could tell how glad you are she came to the party.”

Bobby looked at her doubtfully.

“Or, you could wait until Monday and tell her at school,” Trixie suggested helpfully.

Bobby’s head shook so fast his blond curls bounced. “Tomorrow sounds good,” he agreed.

Trixie ruffled the little boy’s hair. “Good choice, Bobby. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it. Now,” she continued, “it’s time for bed, Officer Belden.”

Bobby sighed, but he was too tired to protest. They hung their light jackets on pegs and met Dan in the kitchen.

“Okay, Bobby, say goodnight to Dan, and let’s go upstairs,” Trixie instructed.

“But, I was hoping Dan would put me to bed,” Bobby pleaded with innocently round blue eyes.

“Bobby,” Trixie began, but Dan interjected.

“I don’t mind,” he smiled. “But you better go straight to sleep,” he warned, attempting a serious expression.

Trixie laughed as Bobby scampered up the stairs. “Good luck with that.” She patted Dan’s arm in mock sympathy.

When Bobby and Dan were safely upstairs, Trixie checked the kitchen for any chores her mother hadn’t had time to complete. Not only was the room spotless, Mrs. Belden had set out snacks for the returning Bob Whites. Trixie dropped into a kitchen chair, prepared to wait for Dan, but was immediately reminded of the hindrance attached to her backside. Leaping up, she flicked the tail to one side and started up the stairs. Revelling in the unexpected freedom of someone else putting Bobby to bed, Trixie couldn’t help smiling as she listened to Bobby plead with Dan.

“Just one ghost story! Please?”

“I thought you liked Peter Rabbit,” Dan said.

“That’s for little boys,” Bobby told him disdainfully. “I’m a big boy now, and I want a Halloween story.”

Trixie darted into her own bedroom and softly closed her door, hoping that Bobby wouldn’t change his mind and ask for her. She stripped off her cat costume and slipped into her most comfortable presentable jeans and a sweatshirt. She opened her door, but stopped abruptly, leaving the door open a crack as she listened to Bobby wear Dan down.

“Please?” Bobby whined.

Dan sighed. “Okay. I’m not telling you a ghost story, but there is a song I used to listen to when I was a kid.” There was a pause, and Trixie could picture the situation clearly with Bobby tucked in bed, staring up at Dan with an expectant expression while Dan sat on the foot of his bed. “You have to promise not to be scared, though, okay? And no laughing at my voice, either.”

Trixie could practically hear the bedsprings creak as Bobby nodded vigorously. A moment later, Dan’s rich baritone voice began:

An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw
Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry
Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi yaaaaay
Ghost Riders in the sky

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat
He’s riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain’t caught ’em yet
’Cause they’ve got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire,
As they ride on hear their cry
As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies
Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi Yaaaaay
Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky
Ghost Riders in the sky

Transfixed, Trixie stood in the doorway and listened until he finished, shivering in sympathy for the cowboy. When the song ended, she stepped back into her room, just in case Bobby was in that strange state of dozing when the sight of her would send him into a whiny state of badgering her to let him stay up later. She stood still, and waited until she heard Dan successfully leave Bobby’s room and close the door behind him.

As she turned to leave, though, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror of the vanity, and stopped short. Her eyes widened as she took in the sight of her barely shoulder length hair covered in silver, clinging cobwebs. She lifted a hand to her hair and vainly tried to remove the unwanted accessories, but merely succeeded in tangling the webs deeper into her hair. With an impatient jerk that cost her several strands of hair, Trixie removed her sticky hand and stalked down the stairs as loudly as she dared.

“You could have told me,” she told Dan bluntly, poking him in the chest with a web-covered finger.

Dan laughed. “And have you blame me for suggesting the broom closet? I don’t think so. You may not realize it, but I have a fairly well-developed survival instinct.”

Trixie raised an eyebrow and pointed to the front of Dan’s jeans. “I suppose instinct was on break when Mike threw up on you?”

Dan grimaced. “Please don’t mention it. I washed them as best I could with paper towel in the bathroom, but I can still smell something funny.”

Trixie stopped teasing and wrinkled her nose. “Oh, yuck, Dan. Now I can smell it, too!” She furrowed her brow in thought. “Okay. Here’s what we’ll do. While I’m taking a quick shower, you can change into my brother’s jeans. I’ll throw your jeans in the wash as soon as I’m out of the shower.”

“Are you sure? I can always just go home,” Dan offered.

“No way. Everyone’s coming here after the dance, and I refuse to face the couples by myself. No, you’re staying here,” she commanded, and started up the steps to get him a clean pair of jeans.

“Trix, while you’re at it, do you mind grabbing a shirt, too? I think some might have splashed on mine.”

Trixie soon returned with a pile of clothes. “Enjoy,” she said with a wink. “I’ll be back in a minute.” Chuckling, she hurried to the shower, and returned downstairs ten minutes later with a cleanly scrubbed face and wet hair hanging in loose spirals. She found Dan standing in the porch beside the washer and dryer, his body hidden by the door.

“Trixie,” he started, “exactly whose jeans am I wearing?”

“Mart’s,” she grinned. “But they’re from last year. His good ones are still drying and his other ones are too full of holes and rips to wear for anything other than cleaning the chicken coop. And he hasn’t washed them in a while. Why?” she asked innocently, eyes twinkling.

“Because I think Mart and I have both grown a little in the last year,” Dan said, and came out from behind the door. Trixie’s eyes widened inadvertently at the sight of Dan in the ultra-tight jeans.

“Oh, wow,” she breathed, blushing. “I didn’t think they would be quite that small on you. I would have given you Brian’s jeans, but his are still on the clothes horse, too.” She snickered. “I have to admit, I like the way your ankles stick out. Very stylish,” she assured him.

Dan shook his head. “My clothes better be dry by the time the others get here, or they’re going to have some fun with this.”

Trixie giggled. “I could always take a picture. I tend to chop off heads, but I don’t think that would matter in this case.”

“Don’t even think about it,” he warned.

“How are you going to stop me?” Trixie challenged, and ran for the camera in the den.

Dan caught her easily, but Trixie continued to struggle, laughing as he tickled her ribs. Luckily for Trixie, the phone rang, and Dan released her immediately so she could answer it before it woke Bobby. She found Dan in the living room a moment later, leafing through the T.V. guide.

“That was Moms,” Trixie said. “She wanted to make sure Bobby is in bed.”

Dan snapped his fingers. “I got distracted by the jeans,” he admitted. “You had a phone call while you were in the shower.” Trixie looked at him expectantly. “Jim called. He wanted to wish you a Happy Halloween before he went out.”

“Oh,” Trixie said, and looked away to hide her blush. “That was nice of him. Did you have a good talk?”

Dan shrugged, and decided not to mention the awkward silence when he had answered the Belden’s phone and told Jim that Trixie was in the shower. “He seemed to be in a hurry, so we didn’t talk long. I’m sure he’ll call you tomorrow.”

Trixie nodded and plopped down beside him on the couch. “Is there anything good on T.V.?” she asked.

“If you like Pet Sematary, there is.” When Trixie shook her head, he looked at the guide again. “Friday the 13th marathon?”

“I’ve never seen those movies, and I’m not sure I want to start now,” Trixie said, and turned on the T.V. “I’m sure we can find something.” She flipped through the channels, but could only find horror movies. “This is ridiculous!” she exclaimed. “I like Halloween as much as the next person, but these movies are just too gruesome.” She clicked off the television. “I’ve got it!” she said happily, and searched for a tape in the entertainment unit. When she found the one she was looking for, she held it up triumphantly, but wouldn’t hold it close enough for Dan to identify. She popped it in the cassette player, then laughed at the expression on Dan’s face when the sound of a door creaking, then an owl hooting, filled the room.

“It’s a special effects tape Mart made with one of his friends a few years ago. He tried to scare me with it, but I got him back by rigging up a skeleton to jump out of his closet when he opened it. You should have heard him yelp!” Trixie chuckled, savouring the memory. She handed Dan the deck of cards she had found hidden in the entertainment unit. “Are you up for some Dutch Blitz?” she asked.

Dan sighed and took the cards. “I’m going to have to talk to Mart. I told him to find a good hiding spot.”

Trixie shrugged. “He’s going to have to do a whole lot better than that. And it’s not my fault I always win.”

“We’ll see about that,” Dan challenged, and began shuffling the green deck as Trixie claimed the blue. When Honey, Brian, Di and Mart arrived much later, they found Trixie and Dan engrossed in the game.

Mart groaned as he entered the kitchen. “Not Dutch Blitz!” he exclaimed. “I hid that!”

Without looking up from the fast-paced action, Dan snorted. “Not nearly well enough.” He slapped a card on one of the stacks in the middle of the playing area.

Shrugging his cape aside, Brian stood behind Trixie and nodded as she played three cards in rapid succession. “I’ve taught you well,” he said smugly, and drew Honey close beside him so they could watch the outcome of the game.

Diana slipped out of her high heels and sank into a chair. “Are you almost finished?” she asked.

“It won’t be long,” Dan assured her, placing two cards.

“Dutch! Dutch!” Trixie exclaimed, halting the play.

“What? I didn’t do anything!” Dan protested. “Check the cards if you like. They’re in order.”

“Don’t bother denying it, Dan,” Trixie said. “I saw you use your left hand to play the three. You know the rules. You can’t switch hands.”

“Ah, but the rules don’t take into account ambidexterity.”

“First, the rules don’t say you have to use your dominant hand. They say you have to use one hand. Second, you’re not ambidextrous!”

“Did I say I was?”

Trixie threw down her cards. “I give up,” she laughed. She cleared the cards and began sorting them. “But I’m counting this as a in.”

Dan shrugged. “Whatever helps you sleep at night,” he said, gathering the rest of the cards.

Mart chuckled at the sight and carried the apple crisp to the table. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m starving. Let’s eat!” he invited, and sat down at the kitchen table, awkwardly arranging the “dress” of his warrior costume.

Everyone crowded around the table, laughing and joking. Mart doled out generous portions of one of the desserts for which Crabapple Farm was famous. He handed a plate to Dan, but the dark haired young man pushed back from the table.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Dan said, exchanging a wry look with Trixie. “I’ve been around apples enough for one night.”

Trixie checked the fridge and smiled. “Would you prefer pumpkin pie?”

Dan reached for a plate. “Yes. Yes, I would.”

“There’s pumpkin pie?” Mart yelped.

“Enough for everyone,” Trixie assured him.

“I’ll get the milk,” Dan offered, and stood up. For the first time, the rest of the Bob Whites noticed what he was wearing.

“Dan!” Brian exclaimed. “What’s with the jeans? I thought you were going as James Dean, not Bruce Springsteen!”

Dan cringed into the open refrigerator and straightened slowly. Turning to face his friends, he found an easy out.

“Yeah, I guess I do look pretty goofy.” He paused and let the others laugh and make cat-calls. “Oh, Brian?” Dan smiled. “Nice underwear.”

Brian’s face dropped. “Honey! You said everyone loved the costume!”

“They did!” Honey assured him while everyone else snickered.

Diana wiped her mouth with a napkin. “Well, the girls loved it. Plus, you’re the handsome college freshman at a high school dance. A lot of girls were asking about you.” Di winked and removed her glasses, smoothing the jacket of the practical suit of her Lois Lane disguise. “The guys, on the other hand...”

Mart threw an arm across the back of Diana’s chair and continued the narrative. “The guys were tempted to beat you up, but none of them wanted to get that close to you. You know, just in case the tights spread by osmosis.” His lips twitched. “I told them it was a valid concern.”

Brian buried his head in his hands. “I knew it! I’m never dressing up for Halloween again,” he declared.

Honey laid a soothing hand on his upper arm. “Well, I think you look awesome. You’re the perfect Clark Kent. And, it was for charity, you know.”

“That’s right!” Trixie exclaimed. “Do you know if the costume guessing was a success? Did they announce the results?”

Honey shook her head. “There were too many entries!” she said excitedly. “Ruthie Kettner and Lester Mundy offered to calculate the results over the weekend and announce it over the intercom on Monday. It was a lot harder than I thought to identify all the couples. Some of them were really tricky.”

“Like Bonnie and Clyde,” Di nodded. “It took me forever to figure out who they were.”

“And having to dress in partner with someone other than your date made it even harder,” Mart said. “Since it only cost two dollars to submit an entry, lots of people filled out more than one after they figured out more people. Why not? It’s all going to a good cause.”

“The music department always needs to raise money,” Honey agreed. “Even the small instruments are expensive.”

“I still think having Honey instead of Di go as Cleopatra was pure genius. I bet that confused a few people,” Trixie said.

“You’re just thankful Mart didn’t have to wear the Superman costume,” Dan teased.

Trixie laughed. “That’s true. Although, the dress is almost as disturbing.”

“It’s not a dress!” Mart exclaimed. “That’s it. Let’s get out of these costumes,” he suggested to his brother.

“Oh, don’t do that!” Honey pouted and adjusted her black, straight, chin-length wig. “I was hoping Superman would walk me home.”

Brian stood and offered Honey his arm. “At your service.” He pushed aside the lock of dark hair that had fallen into his eyes again, and glanced at the clock. “It is almost time to get you home.”

Di sighed. “Mummy and Daddy said I have to be home by midnight, so I should be going, too.”

Mart scrambled to his feet. “Brian?”

With a knowing grin, Brian tossed Mart the keys to his car. “Drive carefully,” he warned. “You know how finicky it is.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Mart rolled his eyes. He was familiar with Brian’s jalopy, as he had been driving it almost daily since Brian moved into the city.

“Well, as Samhain is ending, I’ll wish you all a Happy All Saint’s Day,” he said as he helped Diana with her jacket. When the others looked at him blankly, he explained, “Samhain is the Celtic holiday marking the end of their year, October 31, and it’s the holiday on which Halloween is based. It was a very religious and serious time, when people marked the end of the growing and harvesting season and prepared for the winter. One ritual they practiced was to extinguish all the home fires, and then re-light them from a common source. After a time, a few Roman holidays were combined with Samhain. Of particular interest is the origin of the tradition of apple bobbing.”

Trixie and Dan shared an amused glance, remembering the fiasco from earlier in the evening. “Oh?” Trixie questioned, knowing that Mart would explain it whether he was asked or not.

“It’s believed that apple bobbing was in honour of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.”

“Oh, wait!” Trixie interrupted before Mart could go on to explain All Saint’s Day. She darted into the porch and came back with a handful of plastic baggies filled with roasted pumpkin seeds and decorated with orange and black ribbon. “Moms and I put together a little treat.”

She handed bags to everyone, then gave Diana four more. “For the twins,” she explained.

“Perfect! We haven’t had any yet this year. Our cook threw the seeds out,” Di lamented.

“Oh!” Honey turned to Trixie suddenly. “I almost forgot! How was your evening?”

Trixie and Dan exchanged wry looks.

“The important thing is, it’s over,” Dan summarized.

Mart snorted. “I told you you should have gone to the dance with Carrie.”

“It wasn’t all bad,” Trixie protested. “It was hectic and disorganized, but I think the kids had a good time.” She frowned and turned to Mart. “What do you know about the Summer Rose colony?”

Mart blinked. “What does the colony have to do with your party?”

“A girl from Bobby’s class came to the party tonight,” Trixie explained. “I talked to her a little, and she said she had just moved to Sleepyside from the Summer Rose colony.”

Mart shook his head. “From what I understand, it’s a very close-knit, traditional community that focuses on religion. I can’t see them celebrating Halloween. You said she moved to Sleepyside?” At Trixie’s nod, he continued. “It’s rare for anyone to leave the colony. I wonder why they’re here?” he mused.

Brian groaned. “Mart! Trixie doesn’t need help finding mysteries!”

Trixie laughed with her friends. “Anna wasn’t mysterious, just interesting,” she assured them, and the two couples quickly donned their outer gear and said good-bye.

Trixie watched Brian, Honey, Mart, and Diana disappear into the dark night, then turned to Dan. “I’m sorry I forgot to put your clothes in the dryer,” she apologized. “I guess I got caught up in the Dutch Blitz game.”

“That’s okay.” Dan walked stiffly to the entranceway, and tried unsuccessfully to bend down to put on his shoes.

Trixie fought against laughter as Dan lowered himself to the bench and slid his feet into his shoes, leaving them untied. “I’ll get them to you tomorrow,” she promised, biting the insides of her cheeks.

“No hurry.” Dan struggled to his feet. “I’m thinking of wearing them to school on Monday. It’s about time to start a new trend, isn’t it?”

Trixie snorted. “I’m sure Carrie, and every other girl in the school, would love it. But those jeans might me a little too, um, distracting, don’t you think?”

Dan nodded. “It would be hard for me to focus on my studies if I don’t have any feeling in my legs.”

“That’s not exactly what I meant, but...I’ll get those clothes to you tomorrow.”

“That would probably be best,” Dan agreed. He turned to leave, but Trixie stopped him.

“Wait! I’ll send some more pumpkin seeds with you. Mr. Maypenny likes them, right?”

Dan snorted. “Mr. Maypenny likes everything Mrs. Belden makes.”

“Good.” Trixie handed him a large bag of roasted seeds.

“So, are you ready for another night of watching the happy couples tomorrow?” Dan asked, causing Trixie to scowl.

“If it’s another night of watching chick flicks, I’m leaving,” she declared.

Dan shrugged. “We could stage a revolt and take over the VCR.”

“Have you ever tried to get between Honey and a tear-jerker movie? It’s not pretty.” She looked at Dan curiously. “Does this mean you’re not bringing Carrie?”

Dan’s eyebrows arched. “Somehow, I don’t think Carrie is a camp-out-on-the-couch-and-eat-nachos kind of girl.”

Trixie giggled. “No, I guess not.”

“I’ll be there tomorrow, Trix. Between the two of us, I think we can keep a lid on the sappiness.”

Trixie handed Dan his leather jacket. “If you say so...”

“I do,” he promised. “Besides, if your brothers get out of hand, all I have to do is flirt with you a little. That would distract them quickly enough.”

Trixie hooted aloud at the image of Brian and Mart laying the law down on Dan. “Can you imagine? We would end up with me sitting on the couch between my brothers. Of course, that would leave you, Honey and Di to keep each other company. Somehow, I don’t think Brian and Mart would stay with me for long, and then we’d be back to square one, except they would glare at us every time we talked to each other or made fun of the movie.”

“It’s not a perfect plan,” Dan admitted, “but it would be fun!”

Trixie shook her head as Dan left the house and slid behind the driver seat of his Volare. “Thanks for a...memorable night, Trix,” he called softly. “I’d say we should do it again, but...”

Trixie stood in the open doorway and shivered both from the cold and from the idea of enduring another night in the same way. “I hope it’s a good, long while before we do anything like that again,” she said fervently.

Dan paused before turning on the engine. “You might want to give Jim a call. I got the impression he didn’t plan to stay out very late, so I bet he’s home already.”

“You think?” she asked doubtfully.

“I think,” Dan responded, watching the sudden hope light up her face.

Trixie stared thoughtfully into the darkness as Dan pulled away. She walked into the house and stared at the telephone. Should I? Chewing her bottom lip, she considered the possibilities. If he’s still out, he just won’t answer. Or Clay will answer. Picturing Jim’s party-minded roommate, she shook her head. Clay won’t be there. And, if Jim is home, I can just say I’m returning his call. Her decision made, Trixie made her way to the upstairs phone.

“Hi? Jim? Happy Halloween!” She smiled happily at the friendly voice on the other end of the line and plopped down on her bed, all thoughts of ghosts, goblins, and galloping horses drifting away into the black night.

Author's Notes

Disclaimer: The Trixie Belden series and all characters taken from it are the property of Random HOuse. I am using them without permission, but with great affection and respect, and I am making no profit from their use.

Halloween Apples takes place a few weeks after You Don’t Know Me.

Thank you to Dianafan (Mary N) and chromosnake (Terry) for editing. You ladies are the best! And a special thank you to Mary, who provided these beautiful graphics! I’m lucky to know such talented people.

I used as many elements as I could from the Halloween challenge. I missed a few, but I’m not saying which ones!

Superman is a DC Comics character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. And, for the record, I think Brian Belden would look just fine in blue tights.

The James Dean and Jason Priestley confusion is taken from Clueless, one of my favourite movies. A male character holds up a leather jacket and asks if it makes him look like James Dean, or Jason Priestley. As in Clueless, Dan is really hoping for James Dean, and not Jason Priestley.

I do not know how to make caramel apples, so if Trixie’s experience is way off, that’s why. I asked my MIL, but she hadn’t made them since her own kids were small. Would you believe that she unwrapped multiple packages of those tiny little caramel candies in order to make them? Well, she did. I decided Trixie wouldn’t have that kind of patience, so I let her have one big chunk. I’m told they’re available in grocery stores.

Anna’s character is based the children at the Hutterite colony at which my dad used to teach. No disrespect is intended.

Captain Underpants is a series of books by Dav Pilkey. In my opinion, Bobby would love them.

Scooby Doo is a Warner Brothers cartoon series. I can see Bobby being a big fan.

Peter Rabbit is by Beatrix Potter.

Ghost Riders in the Sky is my all-time favourite camp fire song. And if you haven’t heard the Tucson Boys Choir sing it, you should.

Pet Sematary is a movie based on the book by Stephen King. My friends and I scared ourselves silly with it in high school. Larry, if you’re out there, I hope you’re not still scared to open closed shower curtains. And that you don’t still jump when you catch your reflection in a window. And that you...well, you get the idea.

Friday the 13th is a series of movies I have never watched. I’m told it’s scary.

Dutch Blitz is a card game that I loved as a kid. I can see the Bob Whites playing it as teens, and being highly competitive.

Copyright 2006 by Ryl

anchorIn the Blink of an Eye anchorBagatelles

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional