I’m pulling a “LOST” here and flashing back in time.  The girls have returned to college after Christmas break, just weeks after the “incident.”

 

To be very cautious, I would rate this as “purple” at Jix and “pink” at the Clubhouse due references to past events and mentions of similar sensitive topic/s.  I’m being very conservative with my rating. 

 

 

 

 A Different Kind of RISK

(Sometimes taking a RISK can be a good thing)

 

 

The dorm loomed ominously. Memories of recent weeks were still fresh in some minds. The red brick stood out, in contrast, to the deep blue of the cloudless January sky.  It was a glorious Saturday morning. For some it felt great to be alive.  For others it felt good to just to exist. 

 

“You don’t have to do this,” her best friend and roommate reminded.  “Housing did promise to move us to the dorm of our choosing.”  She added a shoulder nudge of encouragement at the end.

 

Taking a slow breath, holding and releasing it with a sigh, her hesitant companion replied.   “No, I have to do this…move on. I’ll be fine.” Eventually.

 

Trixie shifted the box she was carrying and lead the way toward the entrance.  

 

Honey closed her eyes, breathed a prayer and followed her troubled friend.

 

A sign taped to one of the doors greeted them.  Silently they read the notice before attempting to enter. 

 

Trixie placed her box on the ground and tested the door handle. As per the information on the sign, it was locked. She was in the midst of searching for her keys when a friendly, familiar face appeared through the glass and opened the door.

 

“Oh, hey there,” came Lindsay’s cheerful greeting.  “I see that you two were able to arrive early.” She kept the smile on her face, despite the fact that she was mentally kicking herself.  She was aware of the circumstances behind their premature arrival.  It had been discussed in the meeting held earlier among the dorm’s Residence Assistants and work-study students.

 

The two adjusted their loads, squeezed through the door’s opening and into the lobby, thankful that they had chosen to transport the lightest boxes in Honey’s car.

 

“We read the notice.  It looks like there have been a few changes since the break,” Honey commented, her eyes shifting to watch Trixie’s reaction.

 

Lindsay held up a small, teardrop shaped object.  “In time, we will all have one of these.  It is called a fob, or is it fab?”  She scrunched her forehead and stared in confusion at the device, contemplating the correct term for the electronic unlocking gadget.  After a few moments, she shook off her uncertainty and continued.  “Anyway, it will take the place of the exterior door keys.  The key to your individual rooms will still work.  The sensors connected to the front doors will also be able to keep track of after-hours’ entries.  The other entrances will not be on the same system.  Those doors will continue to remain locked after hours.”

 

Trixie gave a start.  “Dan!  Come on, Honey.  We forgot about Dan.” Their fellow Bob-White was meeting them at the back portico with the rest of their things.

 

“Excuse us,” Honey apologized as she backed away. “We will still be able to use the other doors, right?” 

 

Nodding vigorously Lindsay responded.  “Yes, there won’t be a problem with that.  They will stay unlocked during normal, daylight hours.  Just don’t prop any doors open otherwise.”

 

The desk worker watched, and recalled the night when Dan burst into the lobby desperately barking the order to call for help.

 

Lindsay shuddered at the memory of the police, ambulances and the high emotions that were in play that evening.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

By the time the two arrived at the back entrance, there was a stack of boxes, Rubbermaid tubs and other miscellaneous items lined up just beyond the doors along the covered entry. 

 

Trixie tentatively pushed the trip bar with her elbow and peered through the glass looking for a, (hopefully) patient, Dan. He had just closed the hatch on the camper topper and was brushing his hands on the back of his jeans when he turned and acknowledged her.

 

“I figured you two would get sidetracked.  I was able to unload everything.  All that is left to do is to carry it to your room.” 

 

Hearing fatigue in Dan’s voice, Honey made a mental note. We’ll offer to take him out to eat as a treat for helping us.

 

It took four trips to transfer the girls’ belongings. The bulk of their things stayed behind during the Christmas break. They took only their clothes, linens, a handful of personal items and few key electronic components.  The remainder, they were informed, would be safe in the vacated building during the holiday season.

 

Dan had fewer personal possessions. It took only one trip to his fifth floor room.  

 

As per Honey’s silent pledge, the three made plans to meet for dinner later in the afternoon.   The cafeteria would not be open until the next evening.

 

Since Dan’s campus security job required him to attend a meeting the next morning, the girls were inclined to follow him.  They were able to manage to pack a few odds and ends in Honey’s small car; however, they needed Dan, with Regan’s truck, to transport the rest. This would also give Trixie an extra day to adjust to her return. The last few weeks had been tense, not only for Trixie, but for her family and friends as they watched her struggle to come to terms with the assault.

 

The girls returned to their room and began putting away their things.  They made a list of items they would need to stock up on as they went.

 

Their task was nearly complete when a rapid, light knocking came from their hall door.  Honey opened the door to reveal a very jovial Shameka on the other side.

 

“We thought we heard someone across the hall,” she beamed, a row of white teeth flashing.  “We all arrived early this morning.  Coach has already had us on the floor and running off those holiday pounds.”  She patted her flat stomach for emphasis, as if she had actually gained weight during the interlude. “We missed when you two arrived.”

 

“Tell them we want to join up for dinner later,” called Delmonica from the open door across the way.

 

“That sounds perfectly perfect,”   Honey answered, glancing at Trixie for her input. “We had already discussed going out tonight.  It would be fun to go as a group.”

 

“I have my mom’s minivan.”  Shameka jangled the keys as evidence. “There should be plenty of room.  I was also about to make a run to the store.  Would either of you like to join me?” 

 

Trixie waved off the invitation.  She still had one last box to empty.  Honey took a few moments to consider the invitation, not wanting to leave her friend behind.   However, Trixie insisted that she would be fine. “I could use some time alone anyway,” she justified.

 

After the brief hesitation, Honey grabbed her purse, the list they had compiled and followed after Shameka.

 

Trixie watched as the door closed, the latch clicking into place.  She paused before taking the lid off the final box.  It was as if she were afraid of what might happen when certain contents were revealed.  Carefully removing and laying the lid to the side, she ran her hands over the items lying on top.  Biting her lower lip, she began scanning the room, searching for an appropriate location for what rest at the tips of her fingers.

 

She recalled the pharmacist’s warning to not place the medication in a bathroom.  The hot, steamy environment was not good for pills.  Deciding that the top drawer of her nightstand would be best, she began making room for the prescriptions.

 

Before storing, she studied each bottle, trying to recall the hasty information the technician shared when she and Moms picked them up.  Moms had been diligent with making sure that Trixie followed the dosing instructions the past two weeks.  Trixie wished she had paid better attention.  Moms had even made it a point to hand her the information sheets for each medication while she was packing. Trixie was sure she would find them, later.

 

From reading the labels she knew which two were to be taken once a day, another was twice-daily.  The fourth bottle, she would take only if she had trouble sleeping or staying asleep.  The night terrors had decreased significantly.  Lastly, she held her prescription of Trivora.  This, she knew how and when to take.  She had been taking it for the past several months.

 

The precautions and warnings of the medications, however, were what Trixie was unsure of.   Oh well, surely this stuff can’t harm me. She tried to convince herself.  I’m certain that I’ll run across the instruction sheets sooner or later.

 

She had just closed the drawer when another knock came from the hall door.  That can’t be Honey, could it?  Not unless she locked herself out.

 

Trixie froze, placing her hand on the door knob for a full ten seconds before asking, “Who is it?”

 

A muffled, “It’s me, Greg” answered her question.

 

 

 

 

---------------------------------------------------------

 

“It’s great to see you back.”  Greg smiled, nervously.  As if he had some unseen force prodding, he continued. “I was hoping to talk to you alone.  I realize that you just got in but is now a good time?” 

 

A bit puzzled by his request, Trixie opened the door allowing him to pass.

 

“You’re going to need to sit,” he instructed. “This is something that I want to get out in the open, before I chicken out and change my mind.”

 

Her confusion grew as she sat on the edge of her bed.  She watched as he began pacing the room.  He was obviously troubled about something. It seemed as if it were taking him forever to begin.  She was no longer curious.  His demeanor began to concern her.

 

Out of the frustration of watching his wavering she blurted, “What did you want to talk about?” 

 

He stopped pacing and backed against the door, arms firmly folded against his chest. “I did something really stupid.  It may cost me my job.  I could get kicked out of school.”  He ran his hands over his face, shoving his glasses to the top of his head.  “Heck, I might even be arrested.”

 

The color drained from Trixie’s face.  She could feel her heart rate increasing.  Before full panic set in, she took a deep breath and tried to remember the calming techniques the nurse suggested.

 

Noticing that she was becoming distressed, Greg apologized. “I didn’t intend to frighten you.”

 

He eased his long body onto the floor in front of Trixie.  He looked at the ground for a few moments, as he gathered a final bit of courage.

 

From his seated position, they now were practically eye to eye.  Yet, he found it hard to look her.  He started to speak, but kept falling short.  Finally, he said with a hoarse murmur, “I kind of gave Robert some help.” 

 

Trixie stiffened.

 

“I swear.  I wasn’t thinking at the time.”  He laughed mirthlessly at his error.  “I actually believed him. I let him con me.” 

 

“Go on,” Trixie demanded in a whisper.  While at the same time, she was reluctant to hear what he had to say.

 

He gave Trixie a sideways glance. “I went to the jail. It was Sunday visitation.  I had some of his essentials, mostly toiletries.  The Head Resident suggested that I should do that at the very least.”  His confidence growing, Greg continued.

 

“While I was there, Robert begged that do him a favor.  He claimed that he was worried about his parents, that his one phone call had not been enough to communicate to them what was happening.”  A scowl grew across Greg’s face.  “He persuaded me to buy a cell phone and slip it to him.  He swore that he was concerned with keeping in contact with his family.  He alleged that he knew that they would be devastated and ashamed and that he was afraid for their health. He had me convinced that he was telling the truth and was only worried about his parents.”

 

Trixie, her blue eyes riveted on an imaginary spot on the wall, gave no response as Greg continued.  Her mind was recalling events from the past weeks.  Now, I know.

 

“So, I went to Best Buy, bought a pre-paid cellular phone.  I managed to pass it to him when I returned that afternoon with some of his text books and supplies.  The guards are kind of lax in checking packages. Apparently they get a lot of visitors on Sunday.  It would take forever to check every bag.  They only wanded me for weapons,”

 

“As soon as I walked out of the lock-up facility, I knew I had screwed up.   For crying out loud, I was one of the first ones to walk in that night.  I was just trying to do the right thing for his family, so they wouldn’t be cut off from him.  I could only imagine what was going through their minds.   Then it hit me, how wrong I was to interfere.  At that point, I could do nothing but wait until the following Wednesday, the next visitation day.  It was either that or turn back and report myself for passing contraband.”

 

He had been observing Trixie as he spoke, preparing himself for an outburst of emotion. 

 

She finally broke her silence. “This explains a lot,” she commented blankly, her attention still fixated to that one spot on the wall.

 

Greg cleared his throat. “I did go back that Wednesday and demand that he hand it over. At first I didn’t think he was going to relinquish it.  Then, he got the strangest look on his face.  He was smug,” Greg huffed, “arrogant!”

 

Greg grasped Trixie’s hands.  “I swear Trixie, had I known…  I am so sorry.  When I saw the call history and realized that it was your number he had been calling and texting, it confirmed to me that I had been duped.  After I read where it logged that he had been doing so for almost four days, I wanted to go back to that jail, pull him through the bars and beat the living snot out of him.”

 

Greg would have, too.  At first he was unsure just who had been called.  When the number didn’t match any emergency number listed in Robert’s personal information file Greg knew then that he had been taken.  His gut told him to check the popular number against Trixie’s information. Her cell phone was the match.  There had been dozens of calls and messages made to that number.   As he continued through the history, the text messages that he was able to access horrified him.  Why Robert had not completely deleted the memory was bewildering.  Greg chalked it up to Robert being over confident and assuming that he, Greg, wouldn’t be willing to implicate himself. Two other numbers that appeared were unknown, untraceable.  Greg had no indication as to whom or what else had been contacted. 

 

He unfolded himself from his cramped position and stood. “Please, do you forgive me?” he pleaded.

 

Trixie tried to smile.  She had just been dealt a huge blow.  Someone she trusted had committed a serious mistake, an error that added to the insult and injuries that she had already sustained.  “Yes,” she forced herself to say.  Before Greg could respond she held up a hand to stop him.  “But, this is going to take time for me to digest.  Give me that time.”

 

“You know, I wouldn’t blame you at all if you turned me in.  But just so that you will know, I did give the phone to the police after I realized what had really been going on. I admitted my ignorance to them.  I’m still waiting to see what fine or charges I will face.” 

 

“I am sure that you meant well,’ she said, although inwardly she wanted to scream about how he could have been so foolish.

 

Greg saw himself to the door, leaving Trixie to process what she had just been told.  

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Trixie’s hand trembled against her mouth as she stifled a sob.  Memories came flooding back.

 

The phone calls began that Sunday afternoon.  Jim had barely left when they started.  Honey had made herself scarce, to allow the two of them time to say their goodbyes. 

 

She was alone when the first call was received.  The fact that he was allowed to have any communication with the outside world, especially with her, left her mystified. 

 

At first, Robert was apologetic.  She hastily asked him to stop, hanging up on him each time he called back.  Feeling flustered, she decided to let her voice mail pick up.  He called several times that evening, leaving voice messages. 

 

She decided against sharing the messages with Honey. She felt Honey had already excelled as best friend with all the time and the care Honey took to help her after the incident. She decided that Honey didn't need to be bothered by a few mysteriously made calls. Besides, they had better things to look forward to such as Christmas break. That is after they made it through final exams.

 

The next day, however, it was obvious that he had become desperate.  Since she wasn’t answering directly, he began leaving text messages in addition to voice. He implored her to forgive him. He made an attempt to explain away his actions.  Her annoyance and worry grew.  However, her curious nature would not allow her to ignore the messages.  She found herself going to secluded places to check them.  At the same time, she remained determined to not worry Honey with the latest developments.

 

Reporting the calls to the police was out of the question.  She was still too embarrassed by what had happened to dredge it up and bring about additional police interviews.

 

Last, came the threats, the taunts and the explicitly provocative accusations. Try as she might, she was unable to ignore the troubling messages.  She felt drawn to what he had to say.  What drew her most was the fact that he was questioning what she had been assured of by the police, doctors and family had not happened.  Where doubts had begun, they grew and soon festered. Finally, out of dismay and revulsion, she deleted all traces of his communication.  She didn’t want any reminders of his disturbing cellular contact. Unfortunately, however, she could not erase the memory of those messages from her mind.

 

Had he really succeeded?  Uncertainty began to consume her.  He told her that she had been lied to.  He had taken what was hers, claiming it as his trophy. He attempted to convince Trixie that her family and ‘so called friends’ covered up the fact that much more went on in the dorm room than what she was told.  He then thanked her for that night and expressed his regrets that they were interrupted.

 

With the confession that Greg just made, Robert’s last few calls must have occurred just prior to Greg retrieving the phone.  That was when he threatened Trixie by promising to get revenge by doing explicitly detailed harm to her family and friends, especially is she chose to report his communications.   The idea horrified her to the point that she could not rest.

 

She attempted to piece together what Greg had just professed, with what had transpired while Robert was behind bars.

 

The calls had started once Jim had left her dorm and was on his way back to his University.  He had to have known my schedule. He was stalking me. I suppose that is how he knew when to time his calls during the day, but how could he have known that Jim had just left?”

 

How did he know so much about my family, my friends, and our homes? He did hack our computer and had access to practically everything we did, including email.  But how could he describe Crabapple Farm?  How did he know what our home looked like?  How was he able to know so much about Glen Road and our neighbors in such detail?  Did he really know which bedroom was mine?  He couldn’t possibly get out of jail to…to…

 

 

Trixie had clamped her eyes shut so tight that when she opened them she was seeing spots.  She was beginning to hyperventilate. A cold sweat had broken out across her forehead and the palms of her hands were now clammy.

 

“No” she told herself out loud, determination growing.  “I can’t go through this again. I won’t.”  She stomped her foot for emphasis.  Her focus went to the drawer in which the medication lay.  The only one that was not a scheduled dose was the sleep aid.  It was too early in the day to go to sleep.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to either.  No more nightmares. No more nightmares.  No more nightmares.  No more nightmares.  No more nightmares…

 

 

---------------------------------------------------

 

Greg pulled the door shut behind him and began a slow walk back to his room, his feet barely lifting off the floor.  He could tell she was hurt.  He saw the look of shock that spread as he revealed his confession.  He was relieved that he had admitted his guilt. A huge weight had been lifted. However, he knew that he would forever live with the fact that he had caused someone additional pain after such a horrific event.  She had already been through so much.

 

Once at the stairwell, he had just set foot on the bottom step when he heard, “Stop right there!  Don’t dare leave without filling me in.”

 

He started to ignore her as he raised and put the other foot on the next step.

 

“I mean it.  Halt!”

 

How does she DO that? He shook his head in bewilderment.

 

He made a one-eighty turn and reluctantly headed toward the source of the commands. Just beyond the stairs was an open door. He stopped at the threshold, leaned against the door frame and observed.

 

She sat with her back to him, facing the monitor, fingers flying across the keys.  A nearby printer was spitting out paper.

 

“So?” she inquired, not turning from her work.

 

“We talked. I told her. I confessed.” 

 

Lori spun around in the desk chair. “How did she take it?  You did tell her everything?”

 

He entered the room and claimed a seat on her bed, scooting to where his back touched the wall.  He grabbed a pillow and held it in his lap.

 

“I confessed to everything, including the fact that I wouldn’t blame her if she reported me.  I explained that I was only trying to help, and that I’ve saved her the trouble by turning myself in.”

 

“You were being gullible,” she sniffed.

 

He gritted his teeth.  “We went through this the other day. I was trying to be nice. I was thinking of his family.”  He gripped the pillow tighter for emphasis.

 

She ignored his protest and nonchalantly reached behind the work area to retrieve a file folder.

 

“Here.”  She handed it to him.  “I had some extra time during the Christmas break.”

 

Curious, Greg opened the file.  It took a few seconds for things to register.

 

“This is a copy of Robert’s school records.” He flipped through the pages. “It’s from the other colleges he’s attended.”  

 

“According to this he’s moved three times. His grades look good” A realization hit him.  “Wait! This is his personal information.  How did you manage to get a copy of his records?”

 

She rolled her eyes. “I got it, ok?   Don’t ask so many questions.  There were no complaints or reprimands from the other schools against him.  It does appear that he has been hopping from college to college for a ‘whatever’ degree.” She drew quotes in the air again to signify the type of degree.

 

She took the file from his grasp and handed him another file from the stack. “Now, check this out.”

 

He opened the file and his eyes widened. He sat back and thumbed through the pages. 

 

“Some of this goes back years,” he commented as he skimmed one of the documents. “What lead you to find all of this?”

 

“I have an associate degree in journalism,” she reminded.  “I’ve made a few connections, and I have subscriptions to several on-line newspapers.  I just had to know who, what and when I was looking for.” She nonchalantly adjusted her class ring as she spoke.

 

Greg nodded with admiration. She could have left the JuCo when she got her first associate degree, the one in journalism.  Instead she chose to stay and was now working on her third.  If professional student was in the dictionary, Lori’s picture would be beside it.  Were it not for her fiancé, Kelly, who was stationed in The Gulf, he would have asked her out.

 

“Just read or at least skim,” she urged.

 

He began reading.  The only sound in the room was the scritching sound of the nail file as she honed her nails.

 

Occasionally he would pause long enough to grab a previously reviewed page and go back.

 

“Wow.” Greg blinked.  It was apparent that he was overwhelmed by what he had just read.

 

“Oh, and for the record, what you just read is public knowledge.  Nothing in that is confidential.  It all came from news archives.”

 

Greg sat back in silence as he contemplated the information.

 

When Robert was in seventh grade his family was killed in a tragic accident. They perished in a house fire that occurred during the early morning hours. Miraculously, he had escaped the flames due to a misunderstanding concerning school science club meeting. 

 

Although arson was suspected, it was eventually ruled out.

 

The loss of his family had left him an orphan.  An uncle and aunt were awarded custody.

 

Greg shook his head in disgust, “He really had me snowed.  His real parents aren’t even alive.  I doubt that he was truly concerned about his guardians.”

 

“Do you want to know ‘the rest of the story’?”

 

His eyebrows rose.  “There’s more?”

 

“Dear heart, you don’t know the half of it,” she said in a fake southern twang complete with head bob and finger snap.

 

“I managed to find the reporter that did the bulk of the reporting on the ‘accident’.”  She drew imaginary quotes in the air again at the word accident.

 

“He remembered it quite well and still had his notes stored on an old floppy. I sweet talked him into opening the files and emailing them to me,” she added with a wink.

 

She cleared her throat. “The reporter also seriously doubted the fire was an accident and thinks that much of the investigation was swept under the rug.  Apparently someone on the city counsel or a county official took pity on young Robert and thought he had been through enough.”

 

Greg leaned forward and encouraged her to go on.

 

She continued with what the notes and her conversation revealed.  Taking a deep breath she started from the beginning.

 

 

 

Robert left his home just before 6:00am the morning of the fire.  He insisted that he thought that there was a science club meeting before school.  He rode his bicycle since the bus would not arrive on time.   They lived in a rural area and his bus often arrived just prior to the last bell.”

 

“According to all accounts, he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary and had let the family dog out before leaving, assuming that his parents would let her back in.  She, along with Robert, were the only survivors of the flames.”

 

“The school district had been informed of the tragedy later that day.  The fire and rescue unit wanted to perform a search of the scene before they would release any information.  Robert was pulled aside near the end of the day and was informed of his parents’ and sister’s demise.   The school officials wanted to be sensitive of Robert’s mental status before breaking the news and had requested a licensed therapist to be present when this occurred.”

 

“The fire had been discovered after the home had burned leaving only a shell.   The nearest neighbor was well over a mile away. Thick woods and the hilly terrain would have shielded any flames.  Although the reporter wondered how such a large volume of smoke went unnoticed, most land owners burn off their fields and brush piles that time of year.  If it were noticed, it would have been shrugged off as just that.  None of the neighbors questioned had witnessed any smoke or flames.”

 

“It was determined that a natural gas leak must have occurred.  However, Robert could not recall smelling any gas as he got up and left for school.  As with the smoke and flames, the neighbors had not heard an explosion as one would expect from a gas leak.”

 

“There was a brief investigation as to the deaths, but it was ruled inconclusive.  The bodies were badly burned.  It was all but impossible for the local medical examiner to determine a true cause of death.  All three were found in what was left of their beds. Due to their location, smoke inhalation was given as the probable cause.   The remains of the family cat were never discovered.”

 

“A custody hearing was ordered.   A paternal uncle and wife were awarded guardianship.  They were older and had no children of their own.  The family dog was remanded to the animal shelter.”

 

“There was also in question a large sum of money.  The reporter discovered that there were insurance policies on the home and contents, as well as life insurance policies on both the parents.  The parents also had several investment accounts. In addition, there were trust funds started on behalf of both the sister and Robert.  It was ruled that Robert would gain partial access to the funds in order to further his education.”

 

“The total figure of the life insurance and home owner’s policies climbed well into the six figure category.   Mr. Robert would stand to inherit much.   The interest accrued would add even more to the amount.”

 

 

 

 

She paused to take a breath after telling the story.  “Now comes the disturbing part. The reporter decided to dig deeper. The younger sister had been seeing the counselor stationed at her elementary school.”

 

Greg grimaced. “I don’t think I like the sound of this.” 

 

Lori nodded knowingly and continued to fill him in.

 

 

 

 

Robert’s younger sister had been visiting with her school’s counselor.  She had made veiled references and expressed worry over activities that had been occurring in the home.   The counselor was in the process of filing a FINS or Family In Need of Services report on behalf of the sister.  The professional was very much concerned that the sister may have been sexually abused.”

 

“Due to the nature of her death, it was impossible to verify any such suspected abuse.”

 

Greg covered his mouth in repulsion as Lori continued.

 

“The reporter also interviewed the science teacher.  His judgment had been called into question for holding a meeting so early in the morning.  It was school policy to have club meetings only in the afternoon.  He denied that there was even a discussion of a meeting.”

 

“The fact that Robert claims that he departed from home before 6:00 and still did not manage to arrive at school on time did not support his reasoning to not ride the bus.  He parked his bicycle just prior to the last bell. There was virtually no time difference.”

 

“The reporter attempted to duplicate Robert’s route from that morning, using his own bicycle.  Even taking into account Robert’s age and physical abilities, he was able to beat Robert’s alleged trip time by several minutes.”

 

 

 

 

 

Lori handed a third file to Greg. “Finally, I have this.”

 

He opened it, only to close it immediately.  “This is stamped ‘confidential’.”   He cracked it open again.   “It looks like court records.  HOW did you get THESE?”

 

She waved off his concerns with her hand.   “I got the records,” she simply said with a toss of her head and a huff.

 

“But how did you---”

 

“I got the records,” she deadpanned with a stare down that caused Greg to quickly shut his mouth and open the file.

 

He held the pages tight in his hands, as if he was worried that at any moment some type of Information Gestapo would barge in and take the file from his grasp.

 

 

 

 

There had been a juvenile record started on Robert.  Included was a statement was by a juvenile court caseworker.  They declared that Robert was merely an innocent victim of a tragedy that claimed his family that he should be exonerated from any suspicion. 

 

One page stood out.  It was a portion of an evaluation by a psychiatrist. Concern had arisen over Robert’s losses and how well he was accepting them.  Grief counseling was recommended.

 

The evaluator wrote in their summary that Robert appeared to have come to terms with the sudden loss of his family. He seemed to be adjusting well, considering the circumstances.  He did show some outward emotions, but apparently was exhibiting resolve over the matter.  He demonstrated a level of maturity beyond his age.

 

The rest of the file contained copies of the guardianship papers placing him in the uncle and aunt’s home.  There was a question over their childless status and their ability to suddenly care for a pre-teen.  The couple vowed that they would make the best of situation, and welcomed Robert into their home with love and open arms.

 

Finally, a trust fund was established for Robert.  An allowance was awarded to his guardians for his care until he turned eighteen. There was also a tidy sum set aside so that he could further his education after high school.  Then, on his twenty-fifth birthday, he would receive the remainder of the inheritance.   The estimated remaining balance was approximately a half of a million dollars.

 

 

 

 

Greg closed the file, handed it back to Lori and sat in contemplative silence for several moments.

 

“Unbelievable,” was all he could finally manage.

 

Lori responded in a monotone voice, “When I first started researching, I had no idea what I was going to come across.  I just thought I would find some previous record or complaint against him, similar to what he’s been charged with now.  Yet there was nothing, other than what the police here suspect.  When I came across the article on the fire, it just started building.”

 

“What does the reporter think?”  Greg inquired.

 

 “He said that he often thought about the story.  He didn’t like the way some things seemed to be covered up or ignored.”  She paused again, clearing her throat.  “He said that his gut told him that Robert had something to do with the fire.  He was ordered by his editor to stop his investigation and leave it alone.  He did so while at work, but apparently continued to gather information during his off time.”

 

“Good for him.  Thank God he didn’t quit.”

 

“Oh and when I explained to him what he was accused of and why I was trying to find some background information, he told me that he was not surprised.  He had a feeling that he would hear the name again, which is why he kept his notes.  He’s going to try to contact police and media outlet here and see if they are interested in what he collected all those years ago.”

 

Greg shook his head in wonderment. “It is hard to believe that someone at that age could be capable of such a crime.”

 

“Did you think that he would be capable of anything like that now?” she replied sarcastically.

 

“No comment,” he answered as he stood to leave.  “Thanks for pushing me to talk to her and nagging me to turn the cell phone over to the police.”  He motioned towards her stack of files. “Oh, and thanks for not letting this rest.”

 

She studied her newly, filed fingernails for a moment, before tossing her head back with a half-hearted smile.  “You’re welcome.  Let’s just hope that justice is served this time.”

 

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By the time Honey returned from shopping, Trixie had not only finished putting away her things, but placed fresh sheets on both their beds.  She was sitting on hers when Honey came through the door.  A magazine lay in her lap serving as a prop.

 

Trixie needed the activity as a distraction. She had spent the last hour contemplating the most recent events, while trying to convince herself to not have another anxiety attack.  The stress and concern she put her family and friends through when she had her inward melt-down during the break was something that she did not want to repeat.  I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for that doctor.

 

Honey observed her friend for a moment before speaking. “I got a few of the things that we had on our list.”  She hoisted the plastic sacks as she spoke.  “I’m sure we will need to make another run before classes start. Oh, and I have our fobs. Now we can get into the building afterhours. Lindsay was kind enough to issue them to us.”

 

She set the bags on the counter and handed Trixie her fob before announcing, “Shameka and the other Sugar Bears are going out to eat later. They repeated their invitation for us to join.  I think we can all fit in her mom’s vehicle.”

 

“And Dan?  Will Dan be able to squeeze in?”  Trixie reminded as she absentmindedly slipped the electronic gizmo into her pocket.

 

Honey smiled, “I’m sure we can make room.  I want to pay for his meal, too.   He’s gone above and beyond the Bob-White call of duty to help us lately.”

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

A quick confirmation from Shameka that one more passenger would not matter and, with a phone call to Dan, the plans were set.  They would meet in the courtyard of the dorm.

 

The girls spent the interim calling their parents, as well as Jim and Brian, letting them know that they had arrived safely.

 

Dan caught up with the girls as he descended the stairs.   As they crossed the lobby, they gave Lori and Lindsay a wave and continued out the door.

 

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Lori waved back.  “Thanks for helping me.  Annette would have, but she’s still out of state until tomorrow.  You can’t always count on the guy RAs to show up to help.  Although Greg is usually an exception, I happen to know he’s been a bit preoccupied.”

 

“Do you think these new visitation regulations will help?”  Lindsay quizzed hopefully.

 

Lori secured the last corner to the bulletin board before answering.  “No, not really.  This is something the college is doing to save face.  No amount of rules and regulations can prevent everything.”

 

They took a final look at the new policy before sorting the sign in sheets.

 

In a move to become ‘safe,’ the Residence Life Board had adopted a new visitation policy for the co-ed dorms.  The current single sex dorm policies were deemed adequate.   For the co-ed dorms, a non-dorm resident would have to sign in on a log in the front lobby.  Desk workers such as Lindsay would be on duty to monitor and to check their identification.   Once they entered the floor, they would be a sign a registry, but only if they were entering a floor of the opposite sex. Residents of the same dorm visiting the opposite sex would have to do likewise when traveling to the opposing floors.

 

They gathered the rest of the materials and headed upstairs to place the signage on each floor.

“By the way, how do you like your move?”  Lindsay asked.

 

Lori shrugged. “I prefer the Quiet Floor, but Housing likes to gradually induct the newbie Residence Assistants.  Hannah should have a good first year as an RA, not that the rest of the dorm is a party place. Although, Annette’s new floor assignment may prove to be a bit lively.  Other than ‘the Robert Incident,’ Wingo has been a fairly calm building.” Her voice trailed off, she concluded, “At least Hannah will be able to work in a few softball games.”

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The Sugar Bears were already in the courtyard.   The foursome was in deep discussion when the trio of Bob-Whites arrived.

 

Noticing distress on the girls’ face, Dan questioned, “What’s wrong?” 

 

“We would like to report a theft,” Terri answered.

 

“Yes!  They were here before we left for Christmas break,” Natalie added, with a swoop of her arm.

 

Shameka held up her hand to interject.  Addressing Dan, she inquired.  “Do you think you could write a report?”

 

“Well!?”  Delmonica demanded impatiently before Dan was able to respond.   She added her signature ‘intimidated stance’ from the basketball court for emphasis: hands on her hips, with forward lean and head tilted.  It appeared to be working.

 

Dan shook his head in bewilderment. “Just what do I need to write a report on?”

 

He glanced at Trixie and Honey for support.  They could only look at each other in equal confusion.

 

Finally, Shameka clarified.  “The benches.” She pointed at two blank spaces between the outdoor furniture.   “Our benches are GONE.”

 

It took Dan a few seconds to survey the area. Then he, too, noticed the missing patio pieces.

 

He folded one arm and placed the other on his chin as he circled area, as if he were looking for clues.

 

“I see it now. The two tables are still here.” He put his hand on one as if to test its solidity.  He bobbed his head as he counted the chairs silently.  “The chairs are also accounted for.”

 

“There were two benches.”  Trixie added enthusiastically.   Excitement filled her voice as she realized what had caused the Sugar Bears’ perturbation. 

 

Honey breathed an audible sigh a relief.   This was the first sign of life Trixie had shown in weeks.  Thank you, Lord, for small favors.  And now, just WHO would want to take lawn accoutrements?

 

“SO?”  Delmonica huffed.   “Are you going to write a report or what?  Someone has stolen our seats!”

 

The ladies all began talking at once.  Dan gave a shrill whistle to silence them.  “It’s obvious there is something that is missing, but that does not necessarily mean that anything is amiss.  They may have been taken or moved by the maintenance department.”

 

“Did I come at a bad time?” Mike had walked up on the scene, just as Delmonica demanded Dan to jump into action.

 

“The ladies insist that two of the dorm’s benches have been stolen.  I’m trying to calm them down before they commission me to go out and start arresting suspects.”  Dan explained a hint of exasperation in his voice.

 

Mike looked at the wrought iron set and nodded, a slight smile tugging at his lips.  “I don’t think that you would have to look too far.”  He put his hands in his jacket and continued to try to keep a straight face.  “I think I’ve seen a similar set at my dorm, State Hall.  Not an entire grouping…but…maybe….a couple of ….benches.   They appeared that last weekend before the dorms closed.”

 

Delmonica closed the distance between herself and Mike in just three strides. She grabbed his hoodie at the chest area and held tight, pulling him to her, her height advantage adding to the effect. “What are you trying to say?” she demanded, a smile softening her lips as she ended.  She finished with a wink as she released her grip.

 

The other Sugar Bears rolled their eyes at the Hyde and Jekyll display.

 

Embarrassed by being put on such a spot, Mike turned a bright crimson.  “I’m just saying that, before leaving campus in December, two benches materialized in our garden area.  I have no idea where they came from.  I got in a couple of hours ago with my folks.   I thought that I would stop by for a quick visit.  I assumed that I wouldn’t be the only athlete that had to come in early.”  Blushing, he stole a quick glace at Delmonica.

 

Natalie nodded in agreement. “I think most of the coaches wanted us here early.  After tomorrow’s chapel services, Coach Blair, our conditioning trainer, has us scheduled for more drills.”

 

Delmonica stared in deep concentration at the voids in the outdoor furniture grouping.

 

“We were all about to go out to eat.  You’re welcome to join us. I think we can squeeze you in,” Shameka invited.

 

Mike smiled appreciatively.  “Thanks, but no.  My parents and I had a rather large lunch before we arrived.  I’m still full. I’ll try to stop by for a visit when you get back.”

 

Delmonica gave a start, as if a light bulb went off in her head.  “But we can still take you to your dorm.  It’s not that far.  Surly we wouldn’t get stopped just driving across campus.”

 

Trixie eyed Delmonica suspiciously.  Her offer seemed a bit sudden if not odd.  She looked toward Terri.  It seemed Terri had the same idea as she did.  Terri answered a non verbal ‘what’s up with that’ look.

 

Honey also noticed the rushed invitation.  Her crossed arms and quirked eyebrows gave silent testimony that she, too, was curious as to Delmonica’s true objective.

 

Dan sighed.  “Since I don’t know that Shameka’s van will hold all of us, I’ll just walk and meet you all there.”

 

“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” Shameka told him. “We will only be going across campus. It’s not on a public road.  I don’t think there will be time for security to pull us over.”

 

Dan’s “Ahem” reminded her that he was campus security. His reminder was answered by silent stares.  Seeing that he was outnumbered, he raised his hands in defeat, but warned, “If we do get pulled over, just remember, you all kidnapped me and forced me to ride along.”

 

“Just how many officers are on duty right now?”  Honey wondered aloud.

 

“None of us student workers are officially on duty,” Dan informed them.  “There’s only a skeleton crew of the full-time, certified paid force….maybe five, unless they are still on leave.  If that is the case, there could be as little as three.”

 

“That’s not very reassuring,” Trixie responded under her breath.

 

Delmonica clapped her hands in anticipation. “It’s a deal.” 

 

“How do I let these ladies talk me into such things?”  Mike looked at Dan.

 

Dan put his arm around Mike’s shoulder. “That’s what I have been asking myself for years.”

 

As they waited their turn to take a seat in the vehicle, Trixie and Honey kept a watchful eye on Delmonica.

 

Since Mike would be the only one getting out, he took a spot on the edge of one of the second row’s captain’s chairs, next to Delmonica.

 

The mini-van had barely come to a stop before the side passenger door slid open.  “Move it!”  Delmonica barked at Mike, as she ushered him out of the van.  “Please,” she added with a quick apology.

 

She bolted from the van and headed, with determination, toward the front of the dorm.  She skidded to a stop as she neared the small, garden area.

 

In plain view, nestled between three planters, were what appeared to be the missing benches.

 

The remainder of the van’s occupants had now caught up.   Their curiosity over their friend’s behavior was answered.

 

“THERE!”  She pointed and turned to Dan. “THAT. IS. OUR. STOLEN. FURNITURE.”  She poked him in the chest with each enunciation.  “NOW, what are you going to do about it?”

 

There was a dramatic pause as all eyes turned to Dan.  He took a deep breath and held it for a second before answering.

 

“Nothing,” Dan answered curtly.  “We will need to wait until the maintenance department, as well as the Residence Life offices, open to see there was some type of authorized switch.  Until that time, I suggest we all calm down and go to dinner.”

 

There were nods of agreement all around, from all but one.

 

Delmonica folded her arms and let out a loud snort of resignation, and admitted she was overruled.

 

“Ok, ok I guess it can wait,” she voiced, however, the wheels began to turn in her head.

 

“I’ll see you all later, maybe,” Mike announced.  “I need to reorganize my room and plan my workout schedule.   If I get it done in time, I’ll come by for a visit.”  He looked directly at Delmonica as he spoke, as if the last statement was intended for her benefit alone.

 

 

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The discussion was as lively as the atmosphere of the pizza restaurant. Each time the pizza parade came past, hands waved eager to try the newest offering.

 

“This is fun; don’t you think so, Trixie?”  Honey asked before biting into a slice of Chicken Alfredo with Artichoke Pizza.

 

Trixie acknowledged that she was having a good time.  An authentic smile spread across her face.  A true smile had not been seen on Honey’s friend in almost a month.

 

“I’ve got to go to the ladies room.  Does anyone else need to go?”  Terri announced.

 

“I’ll go,” Trixie answered as she tossed her napkin on her plate.

 

When the two were out of ear shot, Shameka leaned across the table and asked, her question directed at Dan and Honey.  “Is she all right?  We heard she had some problems just before the semester ended.”

 

The pair looked at each other for a few moments, as if they were mentally deciding which of them should answer.

 

Honey spoke for the duo, choosing her words carefully, as if not to divulge too much embarrassing information on her friend. “Yes, she did have some problems.  It was sudden.  She just shut down. She refused to talk about what was going on or even acknowledge anything had happened.  It was like there was a delayed reaction after the attack.  She appeared nervous, as if on edge.  She would check doors and windows to make certain they were locked.  Blinds or curtains had to be closed.  If a phone rang, she jumped.  She also seemed concerned the Robert would be able to get out of jail.  She kept asking if we were sure that he could not be set free on bail.”

 

Dan held up his hand to interrupt, “His bail was denied, by the way.  The police have not finished their investigation.  Even if he were released, he would not be allowed to leave the area and there is no place for him to stay while he awaits trial.  He is banned from stepping foot on campus.”

 

Honey concluded with, “There were nights she woke me in the dorm and her family once she was home.  She began having night terrors.”

 

“Is it kind of like post traumatic stress disorder?” Natalie suggested.

 

Honey nodded. “Something like that.”

 

“But she is better now, right?” Shameka asked hopefully.

 

Dan put a comforting arm around Honey, “We can only hope and pray,”

 

As Honey leaned into Dan’s shoulder she added, “We were all so very worried, her family especially.  Out of concern for her health, her mom made an appointment with a doctor in White Plains.  Trixie refused to see their regular physician.  She declared that she was too embarrassed to go to anyone that she knew.  Whatever the new doctor did, it seems to have worked.”

 

I have her on my prayer list. Just let us know if there is anything else that we can do,” Shameka offered.

 

“Thanks, we will,” Honey replied appreciatively.

 

Delmonica had been passively listening, eating slowly.  Inside, she was formulating a plan.  A plan that she would share once they returned to their dorm.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

Shameka guided the van into the dorm’s parking lot.

 

“That was fun,” Terri exclaimed. 

 

“It was cheap and the food was good,” Natalie added.

 

Terri held up three fingers. “That meets all three of the criteria for great places to eat: fun, cheap and good food.” 

 

As they filed out, Delmonica made a bee line to the patio area, urging the others to follow. “Just follow me,” was her only answer when quizzed to just why they were assembling.

 

“You all don’t have to do this,” she began.  “In fact, you can walk away right now.”

 

Curious to know she had to say, no one moved.

 

She began pacing back and forth in front of the listeners, as if she were a sergeant addressing their platoon. “Here’s what I’ve been thinking.  I am convinced that the guys from State Hall took what was ours, and I’ve come up with a plan to get them back.” 

 

“I say we take them back, and we take them back tonight.  Dan’s already told us that security won’t be as tight.”

 

“Wait a minute,” Dan objected.  “Leave me out of this.”

 

Ignoring his protest, she continued. “I think we should wait until after midnight, when there is less of a chance of being seen and strike.”  She pounded her fist into the palm of her hand at the last word, causing the others to jump.  Bemusement showed on their faces.  No one was brave enough to look away; however, a few eyes darted to their neighbor to check their reaction.

 

“If we are organized and do it quickly, we can be there and back in thirty minutes.  That’s taking into account that we will be carrying the benches.” She turned to stare down Dan.  “That is, unless Officer DAN wants to offer the use of the truck.”

 

“Thanks for asking, but NO.  Like I just said, keep me out of this.”  Dan, however, continued to stay rooted in place.  He was captivated by, what was sure to be, a hare-brained scheme.

 

“It’s starting to get a little chilly,” Shameka reminded her teammate.  “Why don’t we continue this inside?” She held her fob out for emphasis. There was no argument from the others.  The cold won out. They proceeded inside the much warmer building.

 

As the girls exited the stairwell on their floor, Dan decided to not follow but rather wished them luck, all the while reminding that he did not approve. “I need to check Face Book to see what all Amber has sent to my FarmVille.”  He mentioned as he excused himself for the evening.

 

Honey and Trixie dropped their purses off in their room and crossed the hall to the Sugar Bear’s suite.

 

Sitting in a semi-circle, Delmonica finished presenting her idea.

 

“Mother and Father are not going to like this,” Honey whispered to Trixie.  She contemplated backing out like Dan.  However, when she saw the interest and enthusiasm Trixie had for joining in any type of activity, something that she had not shown when she had been in her withdrawn state, Honey relented and agreed to the scheme.  Just please, don’t let this end like the milk-crates. Thank goodness the ‘forking’ happened without incident.  Why do I let people talk me into their schemes?  Oh yeah, I’ve had a lot of practice, especially when you consider who my best friend is.

 

“So, we have a plan!”  Delmonica proclaimed as she stood. 

 

The rest of the semi-circle joined her.  “We meet at midnight.  Wear something warm and dark.  I like Natalie’s suggestion of wearing a disguise or a ski mask of some sort.”

 

“What do we do if we get caught and coach finds out?” Shameka asked hesitantly.

 

“We are not going to get caught,” Delmonica maintained confidently.  “And if we do, I am sure coach will have plenty of red-lines for us to run.”

 

The worried look that flashed crossed the athletes’ faces dissipated after Delmonica raised her arm in the air, waited on the others to join her and directed, “Benches on three.”

 

With a chant of “one, two, three…benches,”   Honey and Trixie left for their room and to prepare for the night’s adventure.

 

 

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Promptly at midnight the girls left their rooms and entered the hallway.

 

“Will we be able to get in the front doors?”  Terri worried.

 

“I believe the fobs work on the front doors during after hours.  It’s only the side and back doors that we won’t be able to enter through,” Honey answered, trying to remember what Lindsay had told them earlier.

 

Shameka polled, “Does everyone have a disguise or mask?” 

 

Honey and Trixie produced ski-masks, as Shameka removed her own from her coat pocket.

 

Terri and Natalie pulled out paper sacks.  When the sacks were unfolded, they revealed that the girls had drawn faces on the outside, cutting out holes for their eyes and mouth. This brought a chuckle to the others.

 

The five then gave their attention to Delmonica who had turned her back to them.  When she spun around, she had her disguise in place.  Upon the revelation of the disguise, they had fight to keep from doubling over in laughter. 

 

“WHAT?” demanded Delmonica. 

 

“Um,” Shameka’s voice cracked.  Del, uh…. Your disguise…It’s….It’s….”

 

“What’s wrong with it?”  Delmonica wanted to know.

 

“Well, don’t you think it is a bit ‘Obvious’?”  Terri added, choosing her words carefully.

 

Honey and Trixie were both biting the inside of their low lip to keep from guffawing.

 

“It’s a mask, isn’t it?”  Delmonica insisted.

 

No one knew how to respond.

 

“OK.  Then can someone please explain to me why you don’t like it?”  She shook her head for emphasis, the Groucho Marx nose, mustache and glasses responded in kind at the movement. 

 

“It would probably help if it were more… Ebony?” suggested Shameka.

 

The pale, Caucasian, plastic showed very prominently against Delmonica’s dark complexion.

 

“Well I like it, and besides, it doesn’t come in our skin tone.”  A smirk peeked underneath the black, bushy mustache. The smirk disappeared as she removed the novelty disguise and placed it in her pocket.

 

 “Now that we have this out of the way, let’s move it to the guys’ dorm,” Delmonica urged before the others could change their minds.

 

 

 

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Crossing the campus took less time than anticipated.  They avoided the sidewalks and took the direct rout, across the buildings’ lawns and parking lots.

 

Arriving at the men’s dorm, they were out of breath and giddy from the excitement about what they were about to do.

 

Dividing themselves into two sets of three, they had just begun lifting when- - -

 

“Oh, there you are.”

 

The benches were dropped with a thunk as the girls attempted to collect their hearts from their throats.

 

“What are you doing here?” an astonished Delmonica demanded.

 

With an incredulous look, Mike answered, “I live here?”

 

Natalie clasped her hands in mock begging and pleaded.  “You’re not going to turn us in or say anything to our coach, are you?” 

 

“No way.  A ‘little bird’ told me to look out for you and make sure that the coast would be clear.  That’s just what I have done.”  Turning away he added, “Now, just make sure that the campus fuzz doesn’t catch you.”

 

As he disappeared into the darkness, Honey asked to no one in particular, “Little bird?”

 

“Dan, of course,” Trixie deduced with a snap of her fingers.  “It doesn’t take a Lucy Radcliffe to figure that one out.”

 

“Dan called and asked him to look out for us, how sweet,” Terri surmised.

 

Delmonica concurred with a hasty, “We can thank Dan later,” as she began lifting her end of the bench.

 

Putting it down quickly, she sheepishly reached into her jacket and announced, “We almost forgot our disguises.” 

 

With a giggle, each perpetrator put on their mask.

 

The benches were hoisted, and the ladies began a slow shuffle back to their dorm, the benches original home. 

 

Shameka grunted as she struggled to keep her end up.  “This may take longer than we thought.”

 

They gradually made their way over and around obstacles, all the while avoiding the street lights and illuminated areas of the walkways. 

 

They discovered that it wasn’t the weight as much as it was the bulk of what they were carrying.  They stopped several times, rearranging their positions, until they were able to evenly distribute the weight according to each others’ height and strength.  There were also a few stumbles as they encountered obstacles hidden by the darkness.

 

Trixie thanked her experiences of growing up on a farm.  Due to that fact, she did have some muscle mass as well as stamina.  She felt sorry for Honey, who was obviously fighting to keep up.  However, Honey had yet to voice her struggle.

 

As they neared one of the campus street lights, Terri broke their almost silence with, “CAR!”

 

Hastily setting the benches down, the girls looked for a place to get out of sight. With no hiding place to be found, they quickly took to the benches, sitting and carrying on as if it was a sunny afternoon rather than the dark wee hours of the morning. 

 

Shameka took out her Blackberry as if texting.  Trixie and Honey turned to each other, in mock conversation.   The others took similar poses.

 

The car slowed and rolled past.  The girls’ eyes were opened wide as they froze in their position.

 

Busted” they all assumed.

 

The campus patrol car merely slowed before continuing on.

 

A collective sigh of relief escaped the crew.

 

“That was close,” Natalie commented directing her words to Delmonica. “It’s a good thing we were not directly under that lamppost or he would have made us.”

 

Delmonica ignored the remark and turned her attention to her end of the bench.  “Let’s go before he turns around. We’ve gone too far to stop now.”

 

Motivated by a surge of adrenalin they had the benches lifted and seemed to be able to pick up the pace.

 

With their dorm in sight, they had one more lawn to traverse.  Once they crossed the road in front of their dorm, they would be home free.

 

They arrived at the crosswalk grateful that there was a sloped, handicap ramp.  This would help to cross the street.

 

“CAR!”  This time Honey sounded the alert.

 

Plopping themselves down for a repeat performance, they waited for the vehicle to pass.  This time, they were under the glow of a street light.

 

The campus patrol car came to a stop directly in front of the girls, blocking their path to the dorm.

 

The driver’s window came down.  All six waved nervously at the officer, fingers waggling. He stared for a few moments and shook his head as the window rolled up.  He then continued his patrol.  The car’s tail lights fading in the distance.

 

Shameka let out the breath that she was holding. “Was that the same one?”

 

“Who cares?” barked Delmonica. “Let’s get these across the street NOW!”

 

The last few yards seemed to be the hardest.  Their energy spent, they haphazardly placed the wrought iron furniture near their original positions and raced to the front doors.

 

“Come on, come on, work,” Trixie urged as Honey waved her fob in front of the electronic locking system.

 

The lock clicked, the green light came on and the girls pushed their way through the opening to make it safely inside.

 

With high-fives and giggles, they began congratulating themselves on a mission accomplished.

 

It was when they started walked across the lobby that they noticed that they were not alone.  There was a lone figure sitting in one of the lobby’s chairs.

 

They stopped in midstride before recognizing the person.

 

“I’m happy to see your plan worked,” congratulated Dan.

 

“Thank you,” Delmonica answered smugly.  “Oh, and thanks for asking Mike to be our lookout.”

 

“I didn’t want someone over at State Hall reporting you.  He made sure that none of the Residence Assistants were near any of the front windows.”

 

A squawking noise came from the vicinity of Dan’s belt. 

 

Terri’s mouth flew open. “A radio?  You’re not turning us in, are you?”

 

“NO, I’m not turning you in.  I’ve been monitoring the campus frequency just in case you did get caught.  Not that my word means much as a student patrolman, but I thought I would be able to explain that you all were responding to a prank played on you by another dorm..  At least that is what I planned that I would do.”

 

“So, you’ve been listening the entire time?” Natalie blinked in amazement.

 

“Yep, and there were a couple of interesting calls,” Dan answered with a twinkle in his eye and a knowing grin,

 

“About twenty minutes ago, there was a broadcast from the patrol car concerning a suspicious group that was lounging on some benches near the Snow Fine Arts center.  The officer couldn’t get a clear view, but assumed it was some students enjoying the last few hours of Christmas Break.  He questioned the timing, but assumed they were not up to any trouble.”

 

Dan paused before continuing, faking a cough.  He was fighting to keep a strait face.

 

“The next call came when you all were across the street.  This time he got a better look.”  Tears began trickling down Dan’s face.  “The call went something like….. ‘The students are now across from Wingo Hall.  They appear to be wearing some type of masks or disguises.  It must be some type of prank or back to school initiation.’” As he continued relaying the broadcast, Dan could not hold his amusement.

 

Dan barely managed to finish between fits of laughter, “He added that one looked like an African-American Groucho Marx.”

 

With a shriek the girls quickly removed their disguises.  With all the excitement, they had forgotten to remove them.

 

Six grateful, blushing faces thanked Dan for his concern, inviting him to their celebration party.

 

Dan had to decline. “Thank you, but I need to head on up to my own room and try to get some sleep before my security orientation.  I can’t wait to read the blotter from tonight.”

 

Bidding Dan a good night and adding another round of thanks, the girls headed to their floor.

Filing into Shameka and Delmonica’s side of the Sugar Bear’s suite, each girl collapsed on the floor.  No one said a word for several seconds.  It was as if they were individually allowing the moment to soak in.

 

“I knew we could do it,” Delmonica reminded the others.

 

Honey breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m just grateful that we didn’t get caught.” 

 

Trixie’s eyes laid heavy as she let out a very audible yawn.” I think I’ve had enough excitement for one day.  Honey, are you ready to go?”

 

Honey stood and helped pull her friend into a standing position.

 

“We’ll see you all tomorrow,” she promised, as she led her sleepy friend to the door.

 

The Sugar Bears merely nodded their goodbye.  They had also become too tired to celebrate the night’s activities.  Between team chapel time and conditioning drills, they knew they would be exhausted tomorrow.

 

 

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“That was fun,” Trixie admitted as she dove onto her bed.

 

Honey plopped onto her own bed, resting against the headboard.  “It was exciting. It is nice to see you have fun and smile.”  She added the words cautiously

 

Trixie shrugged.  “I know I wasn’t a barrel of laughs at Christmas.  I’m glad that Moms took me in for some help.”  She worried her bottom lip.  “I only wish I had gone earlier, especially considering I ruined Jim’s plans for New Years.”

 

“Don’t worry about it.  He understood.  You were our main concern. We’re Bob-Whites. We stick together. Always.”

 

She was going to say more, but noticed that there was the rhythmic breathing of someone asleep in the next bed.

 

“Please, let her continue to heal and return to her old, Trixie, self.”  Honey whispered the prayer.

 

If tonight was any indication, Honey’s prayer could very well be answered.

 

 

 

 

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It has taken a while for me to finally post this.  There have been other things that have taken priority in my life.

 

I have many thanks to several folks that had a hand in editing.   I kind of felt like this was a sort of relay race, each person taking the baton and moving the story forward.

 

Ryl took the first leg and got me started in the right direction.

Amber and Andrea (moon-spinner) took the next two turns, helping with areas that I was unsure of and with commas

Pam then took over and weeded out some areas, especially with those dratted commas

Apriliz was great in helping come up with a title

Lindsay helped fact check on a couple of spots.

 

Any grammar, comma or “what the heck is that supposed to mean?” moments are my fault, not the fault of the above mentioned ladies. I went back several times to tweak this on my own.  I am certain there are a hunk of errors.

 

I have no ties to Trixie Belden, her friends, their world or the publishers that do.  Please don’t come after me if you do.

 

I don’t text.  Please overlook any mistakes in texting and text memory storage on cell phones.

 

The taking/re-taking of the benches actually happened while I was in college.  There was a bench that my dorm and a couple of others would move back/forth during weekends while at UCA. (University of Central Arkansas, Conway Arkansas)  It was originally in front of our dorm, until another dorm decided they wanted it.  We “re-claimed” it back and forth several times, until a third dorm got into the feud.  I was VERY pleasantly surprised to see that “the bench” had made its way back to my old dorm, Wingo, during my last visit to my alma mater.                              

 

And yes, some of us DID wear disguises…..

 

The unseen Hannah is based on a former student. I’ve taught with and attend the church where her father is the pastor.

 

Several of my invented characters are based on some very real friends, both from grade school, college and elsewhere.  The Sugar Bears are patterned after four of Arkansas’ best female college basketball players, ever.  (From both UCA and UofA)

 

Coach Blair is a nod to Gary Blair, former Arkansas Lady Razorback coach.  He is now at Texas A&M.  Our loss was very much the Aggies’ gain.

 

Lori is based on a very dear school friend.  We became friends during elementary school.  We were also in JH/HS choir.  We hung out during our summers while home from college.  She and her husband had lived in NW Arkansas for a brief period of time.  We lost her a few years ago to a motorcycle accident.  Lori, I miss you.

 

I don’t know if the state that the JuCo is in has a FINS petition or not.  My home state does.  I would think that all states have something similar.

 

I must include the fact that the REAL Robert person has been arrested for sexual perversion.  It was in the local paper a few months ago... I *shudder* to think that he lives in Northwest Arkansas.  This kind of prompted me to begin this again.

 

Some may wonder just what will become of the Greg, the cell phone and the information about Robert’s past….