Act 1

“No! No. Way.” Trixie Belden shook her head emphatically. “I am not going out on a date with your cousin Ben. No, no, no!”

Honey Wheeler threw up her hands in exasperation, narrowly missing Di Lynch's head.

“Watch it!” Di laughed, popping a mozza stick in her mouth. Perching on the edge of the bed, she reached over to pat Trixie's leg. “I don't blame you one bit,” she soothed. “If you don't want to go out on a date with Ben, don't!”

“Thank you!” Picking up the almost-empty bowl of popcorn, Trixie rooted through the old maids, hoping to find a popped kernel. “It's not as if I don't like him. I just don't like him like him.”

Diana nodded while Honey sighed in resignation. “Besides,” Diana continued, “I know that there are plenty of boys here in Sleepyside who want to date you.”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “Right. They're practically lined up, just waiting to catch a glimpse of me.” She strode to Honey's bedroom window and flung it open, allowing the frigid early-January air to ruffle her hair. “In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they've formed a line right here,” she confided. Clutching a hand dramatically to her chest, she called down, “Really, boys, there's no need to fight over me. Please, go home. Hey!” Trixie stumbled as two pillows made contact with her.

“I'm serious!” Diana exclaimed. “Just the other day, a very handsome, very talented young man was asking me about you,” she said, waggling her dark eyebrows suggestively.

Trixie gave up on the popcorn and chose a brownie from a plate of assorted desserts. “Oh? Has Bobby been pestering you again? He was pretty hyper when he came home from visiting with the twins yesterday.”

Diana and Honey exchanged amused looks. “Think older. Darker hair,” Diana suggested.

“Brian?” Trixie choked. “I hope my ever-responsible older brother hasn't been checking up on me.”

“Older, darker, and artistic,” Diana amended.

Trixie stared at her blankly.

“Nick! Nick Roberts is interested in you,” Diana exclaimed. “Sheesh! And you call yourself a detective.”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “Nick Roberts is not interested in me.”

With a sigh, Honey said, “As much as I hate to admit it, Di is right, Trixie. Nick is totally interested in you.”

“Why do you hate to admit it?” Di demanded. “Trixie and Nick would be great together!”

Honey shrugged. “Maybe. I still think she and Ben would make a cute couple.”

“Hello! Earth to Di and Honey!” Trixie waved her arms in front of their faces. “Does it matter to either of you that I'm not interested in them?” She let out her breath in a huff and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Just because you two are over-the-moon happy with my weird-o brothers does not mean that I need a boyfriend!”

Honey slipped an arm around her best friend's shoulders. “We know that, Trix. We just thought you might like a date for Di's Mardi Gras party.”

Diana nodded. “That's right. Of course, you don't need a date. It's just fun to have one once in a while.”

Trixie scowled and took a second brownie. “I wouldn't know.”

“That's just it!” Honey exclaimed. “If my idiot of a brother isn't going to get off his duff and ask you out, I say it's time you started looking at other guys. Guys who actually have the guts to ask you out.”

“But I don't want to look at other guys,” Trixie said, flopping back down on the bed. She clutched a pillow to her chest. “You know how I feel about Jim.”

Honey and Di exchanged worried looks. “Chocolate. We need more chocolate,” Di decided.

Honey sighed. “Chips, too.”

“But this isn't over,” Di warned, pointing a newly manicured nail at Trixie. “We're going to get you out on a date.”

“Not tonight, you're not. Besides, wasn't the point of this sleepover to finish planning the Mardi Gras party?”

Di tucked a strand of ebony hair behind her ear and gave in gracefully. Eyes sparkling, she said, “The only thing left to discuss is our costumes. And boy, do I have some ideas...”

Madeleine Wheeler tapped her finger on a stack of papers on her desk, a thoughtful expression on her face. “Matthew,” she said, “what would you think of inviting the potential Fresh Start Riding Academy investors to a weekend at the Manor House?”

Matthew Wheeler looked up in surprise. “Here? This isn't where the program will take place.”

“I know. But since the new facility isn't ready, this is the next best location. The investors can spend some time with Regan and the horses, and have a country weekend.” She shrugged a slim shoulder. “You know how a lot of the business men like to feel as if they're getting in touch with nature.”

Matthew nodded slowly. “That's not a bad idea. Not bad at all. I'd have to clear it with Regan first, of course...”

Madeleine grimaced. “I hadn't thought of that.” She exchanged a look of amusement with her husband as she considered the agoraphobic groom. “You're going to end up buying him that new horse he's been looking at, aren't you?”

“I would have bought it anyway,” Matthew retorted, though he knew his wife was right.

Madeleine hid a smile. “Whatever you say, dear.”

Matthew leaned close as he stood behind her. “You're beautiful when you're right,” he said, his tone low.

Madeleine laughed and touched his face. “After two decades of marriage, I'm surprised that you still think so.”

“Perhaps I only started thinking so recently?” he teased, and tapped her nose.

Madeleine laughed and turned back to her papers. “If we're going to host an event with outdoor snow activities, we should probably do it soon,” she mused. “Before the snow melts, at least.”

She and Matthew compared calendars. “The third weekend of February, then?” Matthew asked.

Madeleine nodded slowly. “The kids are planning a Mardi Gras party at the Lynches', but that shouldn't interfere with our plans.”

“Shh...” he cautioned. “Not so loud. If you even think something like that, they're sure to be embroiled in a mystery or some other trouble that weekend.”

Madeleine started to argue, then stopped. “It's a good thing you're handsome when you're right,” she stated.

With a rakish grin, Matthew tossed the calendar aside.

“Honey!” Di called. “Over here!”

Honey hurried across the cafeteria to join her friend. “Sorry,” she apologized. “I got held up by Mr. Sanborn.”

“You're not failing math, are you?”

“No, no.” Honey paused. “At least, I don't think so. I'm sure he would have said something,” she added with a frown.

“Well, what did he say?” Di asked.

“Oh! Right. Mr. Sanborn asked me to show this new guy around.”

Di raised her eyebrows. “Is he cute?”

Honey hesitated, her nose wrinkling involuntarily.

“Well?” Di asked, but Honey's attention was focused on a point just above Di's head.

“You found me!” Honey said brightly. “I thought you were going to eat with some of the guys from our home room.”

Di turned to greet the newcomer, but he was already sliding into the empty seat beside her.

“Why would I eat with them when I already have an in with the most beautiful girls in the school?” he asked.

Di blinked rapidly as she studied the newcomer. He was good-looking; that much was certain. Carefully mussed light brown waves fell into his brown eyes. Confidence exuded from him, and Diana saw immediately that the newcomer expected to be welcomed with open arms. And that he would prefer the arms to be female. Di raised an eyebrow and glanced at Honey.

“Di, this is John Ash. John, this is my good friend Diana Lynch.” Honey performed the introduction with her natural tact, ignoring the familiar looks he was levelling at both of them.

“Jack,” he said with an easy smile. “You can call me Jack.”

“Is that what your friends call you?” Diana asked.

Jack paused. “Well, that's what people call me.”

“How do you like Sleepyside so far?” Diana asked, edging closer to Honey.

“Well, the scenery is nice,” he said, winking.

Diana winced as he slid his chair closer to hers and put his arm on the back of her chair. The sudden scraping of a second chair across the linoleum floor was a welcome diversion. “Mart!” she exclaimed, a brilliant smile replacing her frown.

Mart plunked a food-laden tray down on the table, and seated himself. “Greetings, Oh Dove of Peace,” he said, adoring eyes fixed on his girlfriend.

“Mart, have you met Jack?” Honey interjected, forestalling Mart's inevitable lapse into verbosity.

Mart smiled and stretched out his hand. “Hi. I'm Mart Belden.”

“Jack Ash,” the other boy replied.

Mart's lips twitched dangerously.

“Jack just moved here,” Diana broke in, kicking Mart's foot beneath the table. “He and Honey are both in Mr. Sanborn's math class.”

“Should be an easy class,” Jack boasted. “We covered this material last term at my old school. But it can be pretty tricky.” He looked at the girls out of the corner of his eye. “I could always tutor you...”

“That's very kind of you,” Di said sweetly, “but my boyfriend Mart helps me with my studies.” She shared a smile with Mart. “He's very smart, you know.”

“Well, just let me know if you change your mind,” Jack said, winking. “I bet I could teach you a lot.” The thinly-veiled proposition hung in the air.

Diana raised her eyebrows, while Honey stifled a smirk. Mart's original expression of polite friendliness faded.

“Jack, if you have Mr. Crider's art class next period, you should probably get going. You'll want to introduce yourself before class,” Honey suggested.

Jack glanced at his watch. “That's a good idea.” He smiled ingratiatingly. “Do you think you could show me where the classroom is? I'd hate to get lost and walk in late.”

“Of course,” Honey agreed, mentally kicking herself for walking into the trap. “I did point it out when we were coming out of Mr. Sanborn's math class, but it's easy to get turned around.” She glanced at Diana, a mischievous glint in her eye. “Di, don't you have art next period?”

Diana stifled an inward sigh as Jack looked at her with interest. “Yes, I do,” she admitted, smiling politely. “I'd be happy to walk with you.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Jack said with a wink.

“Maybe I'll walk with you,” Mart said, eyeing Jack suspiciously.

“I thought you had intramural basketball,” Di said.

Mart glanced at his watch. “You're right. I'm going to have to hustle.” In a completely uncharacteristic move, he leaned down and kissed Diana squarely on the lips. “See you later!” he called, and rushed to the gym.”

Diana stared after him. Mart was fine with public displays of affection. They held hands almost all the time. Pecks on the check were not uncommon. But a real kiss? In front of the entire student body? She shook her head. Mart Belden was staking his territory. It was probably sweet, Diana reflected. But it wasn't right. Mart needed to be taught a lesson...

“Bri, man, you don't understand. He is totally hitting on Di and Honey.” Mart clutched the cordless phone in one hand, his blond crew cut in the other.

“What's your point?” Brian asked, his tone patient. “Guys hit on Honey and Di all the time. It doesn't mean anything.”

Mart grabbed a handful of chips and stuffed them in his mouth to keep himself from grinding his teeth. “He's different, Bri. Trust me,” he said, talking around the chips. “I don't like the way he looks at Di.”

Brian snorted. “Probably Mr. Lynch doesn't much like the way you look at Di, either.”

“Well, I can guarantee you won't like the way he's checking out Honey,” Mart retorted.

“You're probably right,” Brian agreed. “But, really, all that matters to me is how Honey looks at him. And she's not looking at him, is she.” It was obvious that it wasn't a question in Brian's mind.

Mart hesitated.

“Is she?” Brian asked, his tone more amused than worried.

“That's just it!” Mart exclaimed. “I can't tell! They're certainly being friendly.”

“Honey and Di are friendly girls,” Brian reminded him. “If he's new in town, I'm not surprised that they're taking an interest in him.

“Stop being reasonable!” Mart demanded. “It's not helping!”

Brian chuckled, confident that, by now, Mart was aware that he was over-reacting. “Frankly, I'm surprised that Trixie hasn't called to tell me about the mysterious new-comer to Sleepyside.”

Mart's lips twitched. “Our beloved female sibling is once again in danger of failing math, and is currently being tutored at noon hours and after school.” Though his older brother was silent, Mart could hear him worrying. “She'll be fine, Bri. She'll get used to not having her two favourite tutors at her beck and call, and she'll adjust. It's not as if she's a poor student; she just needs more confidence.”

“Just tell her she can call me if she needs help,” Brian finally said. “I'm sure Moms and Dad won't complain about the long distance bill if it's to help Trixie with her homework.”

“And if you're not available, I'm sure Jim would be willing to help,” Mart said with a grin.

Brian chuckled, a deep baritone rumble. “I'm sure he would.”

“So, you're coming home for Di's Mardi Gras party, right?” Mart asked.

“That's the plan,” Brian said, his tone light.

Mart sighed in relief. Though he was a half-ashamed to admit it, he felt better knowing that his older brother would soon be home.

Trixie wriggled in her seat as the bus pulled away from Sleepyside Junior-Senior High School, practically dancing with impatience. “He asked you out?” she demanded, her voice beginning as a whisper and ending as a squeak. “What did you say?”

“Shhh!” Di hissed, glancing at the other students filing onto the bus. “I haven't said anything. I found a note in my locker at the end of the day.” She pulled a piece of loose-leaf from her pocket. She opened it, and read the words in a hushed voice.

Darling Diana,
I've thought of nothing but you and your beauty all day. Please say you'll meet me.

Trixie raised her eyebrow. “To the point, isn't he?”

Beside her, Honey reached into her backpack. “Not to mention redundant.” Withdrawing an identical piece of paper, she smoothed it and showed it to her friends.

Sweet Honey,
I've thought of nothing but you and your beauty all day. Please say you'll meet me.

Trixie clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling. “Do you get the feeling that Jack isn't overly bright? I mean, honestly. How does he expect to flirt with both of you at the same time?”

“Maybe he doesn't think we're overly bright,” Diana speculated. “Maybe he thinks we're so overwhelmed by the honour of his attention that we won't mind that he's flirting with both of us.”

“Then he's even more stupid than I gave him credit for,” Honey said crisply.

“The question is, what are we going to do about it?” Di asked, her violet eyes thoughtful.

“Do?” Honey looked at her in surprise. “Why, ignore him, of course. What else would we do?”

A slow, sneaky smile spread across the dark-haired girl's face. “We have some fun, of course. And teach a few males a few lessons.”

The three girls huddled together, formulating a plan.

Elaine Lynch crossed her ankles neatly as she sat on the delicate Queen Anne chair in Madeleine Wheeler's morning room. “The guest list looks fine,” she said slowly, rearranging the stack of papers she held. “But are you sure you want to invite Richard Cox?”

Madeleine shrugged helplessly. “He's already donated a substantial sum to the Fresh Start Riding Academy. I can't very well not invite him.”

With a sigh, Elaine placed the neat stack of papers on the ornamental, yet fully functional desk. “I suppose it can't be helped. It's just that he's so...”

“Icky,” Madeleine supplied.

Elaine snickered. “Is that the technical term?”

The honey-haired beauty pulled a face. “It may not be technical, but it's accurate,” she claimed.

Elaine nodded. “You're right. Icky is the perfect word to describe Richard Cox.”

“Although, I believe Matthew has used other words...” Madeleine recalled.

“Was that before or after the time Richard 'accidentally' let his hand slip when you were dancing?” Elaine asked.

Madeleine laughed. “After.” She shook her head. “Poor Richard. He probably had no idea that my nails were that sharp.”

“Or that scratches could bleed so much,” Elaine continued.

Madeleine laughed. “Well, now I'm almost looking forward to him coming. We haven't had any excitement for a while...”

“And, if nothing else, Richard is always good for entertainment,” Elaine observed.



Author’s Notes

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been a Jix Author for a whole year now! I’d like to thank CathyP, the current owners, admins, mods, authors, members, and everyone else who makes Jix such a great place. I’m proud to call Jix my home away from home.

The Merry Maids of Sleepyside is the first story in a brand new universe entitled A Rose By Any Other Name. In this universe I will be *cough* borrowing *cough* the plots from Shakespeare’s plays and fitting them to the Bob-Whites. This story is a take-off on The Merry Wives of Windsor, and is written in five acts, like the original play. I hope you enjoy!

Thank you to MaryN for editing and graphicing, and encouraging me in this crazy endeavour. From the first time I sent Mary a story (back in the summer of ’05!) she has encouraged me to grow and improve as an author. Without her, I very much doubt that I would have come as far as I have, and I definitely wouldn’t be a Jix Author. Thank you, sweetie!

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Title image from Ryl's personal vintage copy of The Merry Maids of Windsor; background tile from Absolute Background Textures Archives; images manipulated in Photoshop by MaryN. Graphics on these pages copyright 2007 by Mary N.

Copyright by Ryl, 2009

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