CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FORTY
“Why aren’t you in the hospital?”
“I woke up this morning with these marks on my chest,” Ava pulled up her T-shirt to show the faint outline of black sharpie drawn on her chest. “My mother planned breast augmentation surgery! Today! For ME!”
“I guess Maresol told me that,” Seth said. “I don’t really get it, Ava. How could she do that?”
“She has a medical power of attorney,” Ava said. “See my face?”
“She had the plastic surgeon fix the bump in my nose,” Ava said. “You know. The bump in my nose that I got when Beth and I both broke our noses playing volleyball in high school? Mom hated that bump. She was always on me about the stupid bump. Well, while I was unconscious, she had the doctor who was fixing my cheek recreate my nose. She gave him a picture. This is the nose I had when I was twelve!”
“But your breasts…?”
“She and my sisters have fake boobs,” Ava said. “She says I look like a boy. With her power of attorney, she was going to boost me to a D! Today!”
“Why is today significant?” Seth asked.
“Because tomorrow is Beth’s funeral. If I had the surgery, I wouldn’t be able to go,” Ava hiccupped a sob. “They sold my car! They sold the condo! I…”
A few renegade tears rolled down Ava’s cheek before her anger pushed them away.
“The nurse, you know the one who was Sandy’s nurse?” Ava said. “She woke me this morning because she didn’t like what was going on. I’ve been unconscious since I got there. She helped get me released. She had to give me clothes. ‘Do you have a place to go?’ she asked. ‘I’ll just go home,’ I said. We made sure I had the keys and all my prescriptions. She got me a cab and I went home. And…”
“It had been sold,” Seth said.
“I have no home! The locks were changed! The condo is empty. I looked in the window and there was nothing there,” Ava said. “My car? Sold. That stupid power of attorney wiped Beth right out of my life. Mom’s said it over and over again: ‘Ever since you met that girl, you’ve been off track. She’s a bad influence on you.’
“So I called her.” Ava paused to catch her breath.
“Beth?” Seth raised his eyebrows. He’s eyes worked to assess her mental state.
“Mom!” Ava flicked her hands at him in frustration. “My mother told me I was being ridiculous. I should get back to the hospital and have the surgery. It was time for me to stop fooling around and get on with my life. What man would marry a girl like me? Did you know they sent my resignation to the captain? Tuesday morning. I was in surgery to repair my carotid arteries. And they sent a letter of resignation in for me. Power of attorney and all.”
“I heard that,” Seth said. “Did you hear what the lead forensics officer said?”
Ava shook her head.
“When Amelie wants to quit, she can do it to my face. The Coroner threatened to take the entire mess to the Denver Post. Your parents backed down,” he said. “You know, if you resigned you wouldn’t have medical insurance, sick leave or vacation. That’s an expensive hospital bill not to mention the Medivac bill. How many surgeries did you have?”
“Four,” Ava’s face reflected her rage. “Three for my neck and throat and one with the plastic surgeon. The doc who released me said I’ll need a couple more surgeries depending on how my throat heals.”
“Without medical insurance, that’s a lot,” Seth said. “Your union rep has been working with the hospital and the insurance company so you’re covered. But if you quit? You’d be screwed.”
“My parents want me to do what they say,” Ava crossed her arms over her chest. “But I didn’t face down the Devil to be dependent on anyone.”
“That’s my girl,” Seth said.
“Even you,” Ava said.
“All right then,” Seth said. “Listen, Sandy’s coming over at two. Rachel came home this morning. She’s bringing the baby over for my Rachel time. I haven’t seen her in a couple days. The older kids only work half days on Friday and they want to play in the pool. Sissy should hear if she made the summer troupe this afternoon. Why don’t you join us? It would be good for you to have something else to think about.”
“Around the kids?” Ava gasped. “They’d laugh at me! Have you seen what I look like? My face is one big purple bruise and I’m bald!”
“You’re beautiful,” Seth said. “Plus, these are really sweet kids. They know what it’s like to go through hell. You probably don’t remember but they were there at the barn. They’ve asked about you. I know they’d love to see you.”
“I don’t have anything to wear,” Ava said.
“We bought all of your things from the guy who purchased your condo,” Seth said.
“Of course,” Seth said. “I found her boyfriend, you know, Dale? He was standing outside your condo. He had no where to go. He’s just destroyed. Hadn’t slept since he found her. God knows, I’ve been there, so I invited him to live here.”
“My car?” Ava asked.
Seth shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” Seth said. “Your parents sold your Golf for two thousand dollars. I was able to buy your personal belongings from the guy who bought it but not the car. He got a great deal. And honestly, he needs the car. He has a baby and a job in Littleton. Are you disappointed?”
“Oh no, Seth. No. Thank you for all you’ve done,” Ava held out her arms and they hugged. After a moment, she pushed him back, “Shower?”
“Yes ma’am,” Seth said. “I’ll be right out. Think about joining the kids. Sandy will probably make something yummy. Maresol warmed some soup for you.”
Seth took a fast shower. Drying off, he came out to find Ava was crying. He held out his arms and she cried into his shoulder.
“I have no one,” Ava said. “Nothing and no where to go.”
“You have me,” Seth said. “And my odd family. For as long as you want or need to, you have a home here. There’s plenty of space. You can have your own room or a dozen rooms in the house. Dale’s moved into the apartment over the carriage house. There’s an extra room there if you prefer that.”
“Will you go with me tomorrow?” Ava asked.
“To the funeral?” Seth asked. “If you’d like me to go, I’m happy to go. I thought you didn’t want your parents to know about us.”
“I don’t,” Ava said. “At this rate, they’ll probably sue you for… whatever they can think of.”
“Stealing their daughter from right under the plastic surgeon’s knife,” Seth smiled.
“Do you think I need them?” Ava asked.
“Big boobs,” Ava said.
“I don’t,” Seth said.
“Big boobs only attract other ignorant and foolish people…”
“Yes, big boobs attract other boobs. It’s a like attracts like thing.”
Shaking her head at Seth, she had to smile.
“You need some boobs in your life?” Seth asked.
“Only you,” Ava said.
“Then I don’t think you need them,” Seth said. “How about if we try to enjoy the afternoon and let all these tomorrows work themselves out?”
“Would you like to join us on the patio?” Seth asked. “We’re having burgers and hot dogs. Aden bought a gas grill as a thank you to me for something, I’m not sure what. You can rest in a lounger. I got your big bug glasses from your car. They’ll hide some of the bruises.”
“Good,” Seth said.
Seth pulled on a T-shirt and some shorts. Taking her hand, he helped her to the room where Maresol had put her clothing. They found a one piece bathing suit that covered the remaining sharpie marks. She took a big T-shirt as a cover up. Leering to cheer her up, he helped her change.
They went downstairs together where Maresol insisted she eat two bowls of soup. Maresol was in the middle of making sopapillas when Sandy, Aden and the kids arrived. Noelle ran through the house to hug Ava. Seeing Ava’s bruises, Noelle charmed Ava completely with the story of her broken cheekbone. While feigning indifference, Charlie and Nash wanted make sure she was all right. Sissy swore she was going to shave her head. Then, like a thunder storm, the children blew out into the backyard patio and the pool. Maresol gave Aden the key to the gate so he could wheel in the new gas grill.
Seth took Rachel from Sandy. He was about to take her to his music room when he heard, “Rachel looks so much like Seth.” He turned to see Sandy smile. With a nod to Sandy, he retreated with his granddaughter to his piano room.
“Seth’s Rachel’s grandfather,” Sandy said. “He wanted me to know.”
“So he told me to tell Sandy,” Maresol laughed. “You may have noticed he doesn’t talk about the past.”
“Why is that?” Ava asked.
“Just how he is,” Sandy smiled. “I guess his college girlfriend is my real mother.”
“From Eastman,” Maresol said. “He was twelve when they met. Child protégé. She was twenty. They dated off and on for a long time. She played the violin. She played with a rock band so she traveled the country ten months of the year. They got together when she was in town. He visited her in the summers. One of those times led to the beautiful Sandy.”
“Then she died. He’s not sure how or why. There doesn’t seem to be a record of that,” Sandy said. “Seth didn’t know I was born or anything until they met me, you know, when I was ten. I guess I look like her. Charlie and Sissy’s mom is my real mom’s cousin. When she and my father didn’t get pregnant right away and she was worried she’d lose him. She passed me off as their child after my real mom died. Anyway, it’s a big mess. I’ve been trying to call her but she won’t take our calls again. So I don’t know her side of the story.”
“You seem to be all right about all of this,” Ava said.
“I guess, I kind of expected it,” Sandy said. “Delphie told me that Seth was really my father. I thought she meant he was like a father to me, which he is. Aden says Sam’s his Dad but Sam’s not his real father, you know? Anyway, the NICU nurses used to go on and on about Rachel and Seth. You’ve seen them together, right?
“It’s like they know each other,” Maresol said.
“Rachel always seems so happy to see him,” Ava said.
“Exactly. The hardest thing for me was my Dad,” Sandy said. “You know, my step-Dad, Charlie and Sissy’s Dad. I loved him completely, without reservation. I think of him as my Dad. I was worried that Seth would want to be called Dad or whatever. Luckily, Seth loved my Dad completely too. So it all worked out.”
Just then they heard Rachel’s mewing cry.
“Just a second,” Sandy trotted off toward the piano room.
The women watched as Sandy paused at the door. Hearing Rachel coo, she turned in place.
“Anyway, today is a celebration of life, not all this stupid stuff,” Sandy said. “How shall we celebrate?”
Sandy’s smiled brightly at Ava.
“I was thinking cake. Maybe cupcakes so Charlie doesn’t eat the whole thing in one bite.” Turning to Maresol, Sandy laughed, “Have you seen him eat?”
“I have four boys,” Maresol said. “I know what they are like at that age.”
“Can we have chocolate cupcakes?” Ava asked.
“Chocolate it is!” Sandy reached for a sopapilla. “But after we finish these. Do you have some of Delphie’s honey?”
Maresol went to the cabinet and brought out a honey bear filled with Delphie’s organic honey. In the sunny kitchen with the friendly company, the woman polished off the warm fried bread pockets. Sandy gave Ava some sunscreen and shoed her out in to the patio.
Outside, in the bright sun with the laughing children, Ava finally felt like her painful odyssey was coming to an end. Dale came down from the apartment to sit with her. Together, the two friends, surrounded by friendly strangers and good food, began to look at a future without their beloved Beth.
Saturday morning — 2:15 A.M.
“What is it?” Aden asked.
“Rachel’s hungry,” Sandy said.
As they had been taught, Rachel slept between them in their bed. Studies said Rachel would have all kinds of health benefits if she shared their bed for the first four months of her life. Sandy was just glad to not have to get out of her warm covers, get dressed, drive or walk to the hospital, sit nursing in the NICU, stay for an hour or two, then go through the heart wrench of leaving Rachel at the hospital to come home.
“Are you all right?” Aden asked. He switched on the light.
“Of course,” Sandy scooted up to lean against the headboard. “Are you?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Aden chuckled. “I’m so used to being… on guard, I guess.”
“Can I get you anything?” Aden asked.
“I’m happy as a peach,” Sandy looked down at Rachel. “It’s great to have her home. She’s so healthy and happy.”
Aden leaned over to look into Rachel’s face. Rachel’s eyes were closed while she breast fed.
“You seem uncomfortable,” Sandy said.
“It’s all new,” Aden said. “All of this.”
“You never had two A.M. feedings with Noelle or Nash?” Sandy asked. “You did them in the hospital a bunch of times.”
“Noelle’s sleep was always weird,” Aden shook his head. “And Nuala took care or rather didn’t take care of Nash. I didn’t like it but I figured it wasn’t my place to interfere.”
“Does it feel weird?” Sandy asked.
“I feel great, Sandy,” Aden said. “Every single thing is perfect. Charlie and Sissy? I feel like they’ve always belonged here with us. You know, like we weren’t really a family until they came home. Noelle is in heaven. She and Sissy had their first screaming fight yesterday. By the time I got there, they were crying and laughing at how great it was to have a sister. Nash is happier than I’ve ever known him. And Rachel? She’s amazing. The kids adore her. I can’t believe that I could possibly love another child but I do. I…”
Sandy looked up to catch his eyes.
“I love you more every day,” Aden said. “Watching you and Rachel… I feel like my heart is going to explode out of my chest.”
She touched his face. He put his arm around her and Rachel fed for a while. When Rachel was done, Aden took her to change her diaper and burped her. Sandy got up to use the bathroom and they all snuggled down again.
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Aden said.
“Me too,” Sandy said.
Aden took her hand and kissed it. She settled Rachel near her chest in case she wanted to feed some more. In the early morning quiet, they relaxed into the warm safety of their love and the joy of sleeping children.
Saturday morning — 2:45 A.M.
“Are you awake?” Ava whispered.
Seth opened then shut his eyes.
“You seem awake,” Ava whispered.
Seth looked at her. Ava was leaning on one elbow looking at him. Her face was tear stained and her eyes puffy.
“You’ve been awake a while,” he said.
“I didn’t go to sleep,” she said. “I couldn’t.”
“Did you take your pain meds?” Seth moved to get up.
“This pain is something they don’t have meds for,” Ava said.
Seth gave her a soft smile. He lay back and held out his arm. She rested her head on his shoulder.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Everything,” Ava said. “Nothing.”
“Did you enjoy the little party?” Seth asked.
“The kids are fun,” Ava said. “Sissy twirled in place when she learned she made the summer troupe. I remember the feeling of winning a spot on my own dream team.”
“She’s pretty excited,” Seth said. “She’ll start tomorrow. Sandy’s worried she won’t be able to keep her weight up. We’ll see how it goes.”
“She is skinny,” Ava said.
“She’s just gained back enough weight to survive,” Seth said. “Why does Sissy joining the summer ballet troupe make you sad?”
“Oh, it doesn’t have anything to do with Sissy,” Ava said. “I’m being selfish.”
Seth tipped his head up to look at her.
“What?” he asked.
“When I made a team, I made the team with Beth. If I heard first, I was terrified she wouldn’t make the team. She was the same way. By the time we were in high school, we made sure we were together when we heard.”
“So you didn’t have to worry alone,” he said.
“We would both know right away,” Ava said. “I’d always say, ‘I’ll quit the team if you’re not on it.’ She’d say the same thing. She was… an incredible person. She made everything easy.”
Knowing she needed to talk, Seth didn’t respond. He stroked her shoulder and held her close.
“I feel like she’s joined a team without me,” Ava said. “I’m so angry. I want to have a big screaming fight with her and share a pint of Ben and Jerry’s to make up. But she’s not here to fight with. She’s not here. She’s not…
“Why did she leave me? How could she do this? I can’t make sense of it. My Beth would never ever leave me. Ever. But she’s gone. And I’m here. With every breath, I feel like I’m betraying her. I feel like should quit this team because she’s not on it anymore.”
Ava began to sob. Seth continued stroking her shoulder until her sobs eased. Stretching out his arm, Seth grabbed the box of tissue from the bed stand. When she looked up, he gave them to her. She wiped her face and nose.
“I haven’t seen or talked to her parents,” Ava said. “After what my parents did, I bet they’re furious with me.”
“I saw them when Dale and I brought Beth’s stuff over,” Seth said. “They aren’t angry with you. They understand that your father couldn’t politically manage a connection to them.”
“Like there’s something wrong with them!” Ava said.
“They’re here illegally,” Seth said.
“Oh whatever,” Ava said. “My father would come up with any excuse possible.”
“I think what’s hardest for them is that they left Bosnia so their children could have a better life,” Seth said. “Her mother kept saying, ‘This cannot happen here. Kosovo, yes! Not here.’”
Ava’s arms held Seth closer.
“The Coroner didn’t release the… Beth until today,” Seth said. “Her parents have help, their faith, but… Losing a child… you don’t you get over it.”
“You are so sweet for returning her stuff,” Ava said.
“I’ve lost a lot of people I loved,” Seth said. “I know how it feels, how horrible the first days and weeks are. That sense of betrayal for living… I’ve lived that.”
“I don’t have anything to wear tomorrow,” Ava said. “Beth and I… we didn’t buy any black.”
“You wear black jeans,” Seth said.
“Jeans are an exception because they make us look thin,” Ava said.
“We’ll work something out,” Seth said. “Between all the woman around here, we’ll find you something to wear.”
“I have to ask you something.”
Tucking her knee under her, Ava sat up. Seth sat up against the headboard.
“Did he rape me?” Ava asked. “Saint Jude. Did he rape me?”
“I don’t know,” Seth said.
“Surely they did a rape kit,” Ava said.
“They did,” Seth said. “They found residue of lubricant. He gave you an enema and a vaginal wash. They found no semen. Anywhere.”
“No semen?” Ava asked.
“Do you feel like you were raped?” Seth asked.
“In every way – mind, body and soul,” Ava said.
“Just because we don’t have physical proof doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Seth said. “I’m so sorry.”
“I supposed it’s better anyway. I wouldn’t want everyone to know about us.”
“They know about us,” Seth said.
“I told them,” Seth said. “I talked to the forensics team. Of course, the Coroner already knew. I spent a lovely afternoon with IAD. They’ll want to interview you to make sure I didn’t use undue pressure to coerce you to be with me.”
“Gabby?” Ava asked.
“I went through the academy with her,” Ava said. “She wants to know all the details. She’s an incredible gossip.”
“I told her about your tight jeans, fabulous rear, seductive laugh at all of my lame jokes, not to mention all those provocative breakfasts where you licked those gorgeous lips,” Seth smiled. “A guy can only take so much. I think they’ll charge you with using undue influence to seduce me.”
“I’m serious. She’s a gossip,” Ava said. “How do you think everyone knows everything?”
“We’re cops,” Seth said. “We know everything about everyone.”
“We’re cops…” Ava smiled. “Yeah, I’m a cop.”
“Your uniform is blackish,” Seth said. “You could always wear that. Didn’t you tell me that Beth encouraged you to become a cop?”
“Relentless pressure,” Ava said. “I’ll wear my dress uniform. Is it clean?”
“Maresol had it cleaned,” Seth said. “It’s hanging in the closet in the room with your belongings.”
“That’s good,” Ava said.
“You should try to sleep,” Seth said. “You’ve been through hell and tomorrow’s going to be hard, harder than you can imagine.”
“I asked a friend to drive you,” Seth said. “The limo will get here early. You’ll have it all day. Dale borrowed a suit. I thought the two of you could go together.”
“Who’s the driver?” Ava asked.
“Mike Roper,” Seth said.
“Valerie Lipson’s husband? The painter?”
“He used to drive limos,” Seth said. “He has an in with the owner and can get a car when he wants. He said he’d be happy to do it. He also got a car for Beth’s parents.”
“Did you go to the funeral for the policewoman?” Ava asked.
“I did,” Seth said. “So did every cop in the state. I don’t know where Saint Jude is but he better not show his face in some dark alley. Cops don’t like it when you kill one of their own. But kill a cop and over forty kids? We’ll be lucky to take him alive.”
“That is if we can find him,” Ava said.
“I’m going to New Mexico on Sunday to look at all his stuff,” Seth said. “I bet we’ll find him.”
“Delphie has no idea?”
“He’s somehow able to cloak himself from her,” Seth said. “She thinks it’s that thing you called the Devil. She has some experience with it. When you’re ready, she might be a good person to talk to about it.”
“I’ll do it after we find him. You and me.”
He lay back and held out his arm to her again. She lay down with her head on his shoulder. Ava fell silent. Seth felt her shift away from him. He rolled over to see if she was all right to find her asleep. He closed his eyes to join her. She took a breath and rolled over to him.
“I keep forgetting to tell you,” Ava said. “I saw Bonita.”
“Maresol told me,” Seth said. “They are at peace. What a blessed relief.”
“Bonita told me to tell you to remember what you noticed but forgot,” Ava blinked her tear swollen eyes. “Or something like that.”
“I will remember what I noticed then forgot,” Seth said.
Ava put her head down on her pillow. When he looked again, she was asleep. He was just drifting off when his eyes popped wide open.
Bonita’s accident. The car. All that blood. And…
Waffle shoe prints on the floor mats. He and Bonita lived in a remodeled stucco house with sheet rock walls. No exposed brick. He’d leaned down to touch the dust. Where had it come from? He’d found the same dust in the truck.
Where did he see that again?
Northfield, second burial site. He gasped. It was at the chapel burial site under the Castle. Third burial site. His mind ticked through the other burial sites. Same waffle foot print. Same mortar dust.
Seth felt a bolt of lightning run straight through him.
He knew where Saint Jude was holding up.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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