Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Five Hundred and Thirty : All in

CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY

Saturday afternoon — 4:45 p.m.

Paris, France

“See you Monday,” Sissy’s friend, Brigitte, said in thickly accented English.

Brigitte had been the most advanced student in their class before Sissy arrived. Since then, Sissy had gradually taken Brigitte’s place. Sissy’s down-to-earth nature and her genuine friendliness caused Brigitte’s resentment to fade away. They were friends, which was a blessing to them both. Sissy had been helping Brigitte with her English and Brigitte helped Sissy with her French.

“Au revoir, Ivan!” Brigitte said with a little wave. She blew him a kiss.

Ivan scowled at the impropriety but Sissy laughed. Sissy tucked her hand into the crook of Ivan’s arm, and they walked out of the Opéra National de Paris, where Sissy was going to ballet school

“She should not be so forward on your partner,” Ivan said with a sniff.

Sissy kissed his cheek.

“You must assert yourself or be overlooked,” Ivan said.

“By whom?” Sissy asked. “Will I be overlooked by you?”

Flustered, Ivan looked down. As they walked, he couldn’t help but pull her closer.

“You danced beautifully today,” Ivan said. “I can see the results of your hard work here. You are more even, side to side, not favoring the side you were shot. You are stronger, more confident, and yet … light on your feet. You took my breath away.”

Sissy smiled, and he kissed her nose.

“I forget how good you are,” Sissy said.

“I am an old man,” Ivan said.

“I have seen lots of men dance since I’ve been here,” Sissy said. “Ben and Claire take me to watch ballet every Saturday and sometimes on Sunday. Here in Paris. We’ve been in London a few times as well. There really aren’t men who dance like you.”

“Of course, we are best together,” Ivan said, with a hint of pride.

“I’m kind of old news, but you!” Sissy gave him a bright smile. “You had everyone mesmerized.”

It was such a Sissy thing to say that he couldn’t help but smile.

“It felt so good to dance with you again,” Sissy said in a soft, secret way.

Flushed with delight, his face nearly broke with his smile. Sissy gave him a bright smile and continued on.

“I have other ways of asserting myself,” Sissy said. “I’ve done really well by being friendly and open. Brigitte and Bastien have stood up for me more than once when I’ve forgotten a word or been less than Parisian. I am their friend. My classmates introduce me as ‘Sissy’ and not ‘l’Américain’ as they did at first.”

“That is only because they expect that you will benefit them in some way,” Ivan said. “You must always be aware of this give and take. If you get out of balance, either way, it can affect your career forever.”

Sissy smiled. They continued to walk.

“Why do you smile?” Ivan asked.

“Because not so long ago, the only thing I could expect was another argument with my mother,” Sissy said. “Or possibly that Charlie would die on the streets. Or another battle with eating. My expectation was that I would never, ever get out of the clutches of that awful eating disorder. Sandy was gone. You were in New York. Then there were the months of pain and recovery from being shot. My terror of losing you to injury or infirmity or death, I expected …”

She cleared her throat rather than complete the sentence.

“The mere fact that these French people expect something from me other than dysfunction and immanent death?” Sissy asked.

Sissy kissed his cheek again.

“It’s nothing short of miraculous,” Sissy said.

Flushing, Ivan cleared his throat and looked down. After a moment, he glanced at her and she smiled.

“We are living a miracle,” Ivan said, softly. “This is true.”

“Shall we take the subway?” Sissy asked.

“I’d rather walk,” Ivan said. “If it’s not too much for you, my love. You have had a long week of dance.”

“Can we walk along the river?” Sissy asked. “That is my favorite.”

“Of course,” Ivan said.

They turn onto the path along the Seine. The smell of the river was heavy on this warm summer day but neither of them minded it. The dank air and the thick smell of the slow moving river were all just a part of this experience.

“How has my dancing changed?” Sissy asked.

“Oh …” Ivan said. “Your body is stronger, leaner. We would expect that as you are growing into a woman. You …”

Ivan smiled softly.

“You look like a prima ballerina,” Ivan said. “There aren’t words to describe it. You are beginning to possess a sense of the dance and yourself that translates into power. You have been competent at the skills for a long time, but now you are using the skills to create sometime more vivid, more emotional. This school has been a very good choice, much better than if you’d stayed in New York.”

Sissy nodded. They walked along in silence.

“How do I seem to you?” Ivan asked. His heart clenched with his fear. “Like an old man?”

Sissy grinned. He looked at her and shrugged.

“I feel like an old man,” Ivan said.

“You are just tired,” Sissy said. “Letting go of all that you’ve been through, leaving your home, being in a new place … It’s like releasing an entire life. Exhausting. You will recover.”

“How is it that you are so sure?” Ivan asked.

“I know you,” Sissy said. She gave him a soft smile and continued, “Let’s see … How do you seem to me?”

Sissy sighed and searched for words.

“Stunningly handsome, deeply …” Sissy’s words faltered. “I …”

Embarrassed at her own feelings, she looked down. They walked for a bit as Sissy searched for words.

“You are the best dancer I’ve ever seen, even now, when we are both older,” Sissy said. He gave her a fond look. “But to me, you look like my heart and soul. My very breath. I am so proud to see you dance and not surprised at all that they were begging for more.”

Sissy looked at him for a long moment.

“I am very glad that you are here,” Sissy said. “I’m afraid of what will happen when you leave again.”

“What will happen?” Ivan asked.

“I will be very sad,” Sissy said.

At her sweet words, Ivan’s hand covered her hand on his elbow. For the rest of their journey to the apartment where Ivan was staying, they lightly held onto each other in a silent acknowledgement of the miracle that was their life.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 10:45 a.m.

Denver, Colorado

Yawning as she moved, the fairy envoy from Queen Áthas’s Queendom came out of a downstairs bedroom. She arrived at the kitchen table at the same time as the envoy from Queen Shanti sat down. The Queen Fand’s envoy was standing in front of the large pantry next to the refrigerator.

Edie was drinking a cup of coffee and leaning against the kitchen counter.

“There is nothing here!” Queen Fand’s envoy said. Her voice was laced with horror.

“Surely, there is something yummy,” Queen Áthas’s envoy said.

“I’m sorry,” Edie said. “The humans left.”

“All of them?” Queen Fand’s envoy asked.

“All of them,” Edie said.

“Left?” the envoy from Queen Shanti said, her voice rising in hysteria. “What do you mean they ‘left’?”

“Where did they go?” Queen Áthas’s envoy asked.

“But there is nothing for us to eat!” Queen Fand’s envoy said.

“Coffee,” Edie said.

“Where are the cakes? Cookies?” Queen Áthas’s envoy asked.

“They took them with them,” Edie said, mildly.

“Where did they go?” Queen Áthas’s envoy asked.

“We’ll just have to go with them,” Queen Fand’s envoy said. The other fairy queen envoys nodded.

“Where is Fin?” Queen Shanti’s envoy asked. “Surely, he will work this out for us.”

“Fin has returned home to the Isle of Man,” Edie said. “His school starts again next week. He wanted to check in with the Queendom before he becomes focused on his school work.”

“Abi?” Queen Áthas’s envoy asked. “Where is Abi?”

“Where she always is; wherever she wants to be,” Edie said. “My guess is that she is with Fin. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of work to do since the queens are on retreat.”

None of the envoys dared to utter a word.

“You mean they left us?” Queen Áthas’s envoy whispered.

“They left,” Edie said. “I believe they told you they were leaving.”

“Yes, but …” Queen Áthas’s envoy said.

“We didn’t think they’d take all of the food!” Queen Fand’s envoy said.

“But where did they go?” Queen Shanti’s envoy asked.

“The humans?” Edie asked.

“Of course the humans,” Queen Áthas’s envoy said. “If you are hiding them, Edie, so help me …”

Edie gave Queen Áthas’s envoy a hard, threatening look and said, “Don’t ever threaten me.”

“She’s not threatening you, dear,” Queen Fand’s envoy said. “She’s merely wondering where we might catch up with the humans, our hosts and friends.”

“As you said, they did tell us they were leaving,” Queen Shanti’s envoy said. “We were just confused as to what that might mean.”

“Now …” Queen Fand’s envoy said. “Where did they go?”

“They have gone to the desert to help some people dig water wells,” Edie said.

“Using magic,” Queen Áthas’s envoy said.

“Using equipment and shovels,” Edie said. She took a drink of her coffee as the envoys watched her intensely. “No magic.”

The envoys gasped in unison.

“You know as well as I do that water wells drawn with magic don’t run for very long,” Edie said.

“Yes, but …” Queen Shanti’s envoy said. She looked at the other two envoys in desperation.

“When are they coming back?” Queen Áthas’s envoy whined.

“Ten days,” Edie said. “Maybe longer.”

The envoys gave each other a panicked look.

“I made this coffee,” Edie said. “You are welcome to a cup.”

Without ceremony, Queen Áthas’s envoy disappeared from where she stood. Queen Shanti’s followed a moment later.

“Are you coming home, Princess Edith?” Queen Fand’s envoy asked. “If Fin is needed, I’m sure there’s a lot for you to do.”

“I’m going with the humans,” Edie said. “I’ve agreed to help with the children.”

“In the desert?” Queen Fand’s envoy asked. “Work with your hands?”

Edie gave her a slight nod. Queen Fand’s envoy gasped in horror.

“I get so much out of living here that it’s important to me to help out when and where I can,” Edie said, working to keep the judgment out of her voice. “The children need me. That is enough for me.”

Queen Fand’s envoy gave Edie a long look. Edie blinked, and her mother’s envoy disappeared. Laughing to herself, Edie drank her coffee. It really was awful.

“Are they gone?” Abi asked as she came out from their apartment.

“Finally,” Edie said.

“Good work,” Abi said with a grin. “I will say that they wore out their welcome.”

“At the very least,” Edie said.

Abi clapped her hands.

“What was that?” Edie asked.

“They must be invited back,” Abi said.

“But I can …” Edie said. “Fin?”

“You are family as is Fin,” Abi said. “Jacob and Delphie have said that family never needs an invitation in this household.”

Edie rushed to Abi and hugged her tight. Abi kissed Edie’s cheek.

“Are you heading to the Isle of Man?” Edie asked.

“For all of that drama?” Abi asked. “Not a chance. Fin can handle all of that by himself. I sent the girls with him to give him something to do.”

Edie grinned at the idea of Fin taking care of the children. Of course, in reality, Fin would find some relative of his father’s and she would care for the children.

“I notice that you aren’t heading home to your mother’s Queendom,” Abi said, mildly

Edie grinned.

“I am going to see this Navajo Nation,” Abi said. “I’ve not been there in a long, long time. Gilfand will likely join us.”

Edie nodded.

“Come with me?” Abi asked.

“Right behind you,” Edie said. “I need to check the house. I promised Jacob that I would.”

“Your gear is in Blane’s SUV,” Abi said. “The house is clear. They are going to be driving for a good ten hours.”

Abi smiled an invitation that made Edie scowl.

“What did you have in mind?” Edie asked.

“Let’s have some fun,” Abi said.

“What were you thinking?” Edie asked. Her eyebrows furrowed with concern.

“Did you know that little Ares is here in Denver?” Abi asked.

“I’ve seen him a few times,” Edie said. “He says he’s ‘investigating modern life.’ Why?”

“That means that his home in Olympia is Ares-free,” Abi said.

“And?” Edie asked.

“He has wonderful servants,” Abi said. “The best masseuse I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. An amazing chef and a wine cellar full of the best vintages.

“Will they let us in?” Edie asked.

“They are bored out of their minds,” Abi said. “Ares won’t let them go home because he might need them. They will be glad we are there.”

“Are you sure?” Edie asked.

“I just came from there,” Abi said. “We can enjoy a little break and return to the family ready for action.”

With Edie’s smile, the fairy and Abi disappeared.

The Castle seemed to sigh. For the first time in a very long time, the house was devoid of humans, fairies, dogs, a God in the shape of a cat, a bunny, Gods, and other creatures.

Abi appeared again.

“Rest for now, noble home,” Abi said. “We shall return soon enough.”

Abi blew a kiss to the house itself and disappeared.

Safe from intruders, the Castle would enjoy a little break from the noise and mess of its inhabitants.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday mid-day — 11:35 a.m.

Somewhere on the I-70

“A Templar?” Blane asked.

Nelson was taking a drink of his soda so he just made an agreeing sound.

“What does that even mean?” Blane asked.

“What do you mean?” Nelson asked.

Blane shot Nelson an irritated look, and Nelson smiled.

“Irritated,” Blane pointed at himself. “With you.”

“With me?” Nelson asked as if surprised.

Blane scowled.

“Start at the beginning,” Blane commanded as if he were talking to a child.

“Beginning?” Nelson asked. “You mean like 1100 CE?”

“For you,” Blane said.

“Oh, that’s easy,” Nelson said. “Both of my parents are descendants.”

They drove in silence for while Blane waited for Nelson to explain.

“Why is this so hard?” Blane asked.

“Well, it’s a secret,” Nelson said. Continuing in French, he added, “Something you never speak about to those outside the order.”

“And that means?” Blane asked.

Nelson turned to look at Blane. After a moment, he turned to look out the wind screen again.

“It means that I would really be going all in,” Nelson said.

Blane laughed.

“Why is that funny?” Nelson asked.

“Tell me,” Blane said. “How are you not already all in? You met a Goddess!”

Nelson turned back to look at Blane. After a few miles in silence, Blane sighed.

“Just tell me about your parents,” Blane said. “Where did they meet?”

“Oh, okay,” Nelson said. “That’s easy.”

When Nelson didn’t say anything for a while, Blane slowed down to pull off the highway at Kipling Boulevard.

“What are you doing?” Nelson asked.

“Letting you out,” Blane said.

“Wha …?” Nelson started.

“You’re clearly not ready to be honest,” Blane said. “You are not ready to be ‘all in.’ You have to be all in. That was our agreement. You’re not there yet.”

Blane pulled over to a sidewalk.

“Out,” Blane said. “Keep your secrets. Keep your silence, your aloneness. You know where to find me when you decide uphold your end of a relationship.”

Nelson didn’t move. They sat in silence for more than five minutes.

“Out,” Blane said. “I am as sick as my secrets. With you in my life, everything is some fetid secret. I cannot have that in my sincere, sober life.”

Nelson gasped a breath. Blane turned to look at him.

“What is going on with you?” Blane asked.

“I feel like I’m being cut in two,” Nelson said.

Blane groaned and leaned his head against the headrest. They sat in the SUV. The air conditioning blew cold air. The car vibrated slightly as it idled. But neither man said a word.

“I want to,” Nelson said, finally. “And you’re right. I need to be honest. No secrets. You’ve said that from the beginning. ‘You’re as sick as your secrets.’”

“Why is this such a big deal?” Blane asked. “You’re talking about things that happened more than 900 years ago.”

“You are such an American,” Nelson said.

“You’re right,” Blane said. “I was born and raised here. What does that have to do with anything?”

“900 years ago is today,” Nelson said. “Today is 900 years ago. It is how life works.”

“I only have this life,” Blane said. “Only this moment in time. Even the next moment is a gift. 900 ago, a bunch of men had a moment in time. They used it as they chose. It’s not their time to choose what we do with our time. It is up to us.”

Blane turned to look at Nelson and found that he was weeping. Blane put his hand on Nelson’s shoulder. Nelson turned to look at Blane.

“You’re right,” Nelson said, in a flood of tears, words, and snot. “I find myself not ready to tell you about … everything. Me. I’m not ready and … I feel like if I leave this car, you, I will be split in two. I will never survive it. I can’t live without you. I cannot speak the truth. You cannot live with secrets, and my entire life is secrets. Everything about me is secrets. I love you and give away my truth. I love my truth and destroy any chance of us. I am being torn in two.”

Nelson dared to look Blane in the eyes. Blane’s eyes reflected a brotherly concern and worry for Nelson, but not a reaction to Nelson’s expression of love. Shocked, Nelson took a steadying breath and then another. A thought occurred to him.

“I said all of that in French?” Nelson asked.

“You did,” Blane said. “French and snot.”

Despite his tears, Nelson chuckled. Blane leaned over to open the glove compartment. He took out a container of tissues and put them in Nelson’s lap. Nelson mopped up his tears.

“I met Heather on this trip to Maine,” Blane said. He started down the street. “We used to go every summer. I think Jake still owns the house, well, more like an inn. Anyway, we got everyone together and headed out. It was just the adults, and Katy. It was before all the kids. Even Delphie went, which was a big deal because Delphie hates to fly — hated to fly, she’s better now.”

Blane made a U-turn and started back toward the highway.

“I met Heather there at this place by the lake in Maine,” Blane said. “We hit it off right away. Not like lovers, but like best friends. She’d been a med tech for people with Hep C so she knew about the treatment. I wanted to get Interferon treatment from the Hep C I caught from Enrique. I was just healthy enough to try it.”

Nelson didn’t respond so Blane kept talking.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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