CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and THIRTY-NINE
Wednesday morning — 11:25 A.M.
Making her grocery list, Sandy looked around the apartment to see if she’d missed anything. Delphie had resumed overseeing the groceries for everyone. With Rachel in the hospital, and still recovering from being ill, Sandy was grateful she didn’t have to shop for her ever expanding tribe. She’d hoped to complete the list before going back to the hospital to be with Rachel.
Hearing a noise, she looked up to see Charlie standing in the doorway to the living room. She smiled at his sleep tussled hair. His eyes were barely open and his pajamas were twisted. Thinking he must be sleep walking, she walked over to herd him back to bed.
“Charlie?” Sandy asked.
“I need a tutor for school.” Charlie’s voice was pressed and anxious. “I can’t afford one. I’m smart enough. I just never tried. If I’m going to really try, I have to study. I can only work part time which means I’ll get behind on my reparations.”
Sandy puzzled at the full thought coming from her sleeping brother.
“I can’t sleep until I figure this out,” Charlie blinked his sleepy eyes.
“Consider it figured out,” Sandy said. “Now back to bed. Aden is going to stay here with you guys. I have to get to the hospital. They’re going to see if Rachel can make it without oxygen today.”
She touched his shoulder and he jerked awake.
“What’s happening?” Charlie asked.
“You asked me for a tutor,” Sandy said. “For school.”
“I did?” Charlie scratched his head. “I can’t have a tutor. I have to work to pay off my share of the punishment, I mean, reparations.”
“I’ll talk to Aden about the tutor,” Sandy said. “I bet we can afford one. We’ll meet with Alex and her team to see if you can have a little more time in paying off your debt.”
“We can do that?”
“The point of all of this, even your reparations, is for you to be successful, Charlie,” Sandy said. “Now back to bed. You still have strep. And you know, Noelle’s a bear if she doesn’t get at least eight hours of sleep. If you wake her, you have to deal with her even if you’re sick.”
Charlie trotted down the hall to his little room.
“Charlie?” Sandy whispered.
He turned to look at her.
“Don’t worry,” Sandy said. “We’ll find a tutor.”
He smiled. She heard him drop onto his futon. She picked up her grocery list.
“I saw Aden downstairs. He’s on his way up,” Jill stuck her head in the door. “Today’s the big day.”
“If Rachel can do this, she can come home,” Sandy beamed.
“Come on,” Jill said. “I’ll drive.”
“Let’s walk,” Sandy said. “I could use the exercise. Baby weight and all.”
Jill shook her head at her fit friend. Aden passed Jill at the door. With a kiss and a good luck from Aden, Jill and Sandy headed down the stairwell. Delphie was waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs. She took Sandy’s marketing list and wished them good luck. Stepping outside the Castle, they saw Tanesha and Heather pull up.
“What’s going on?” Sandy asked.
“We didn’t want to miss watching our Rachel’s first big step,” Heather said.
“Today is a very big deal!” Tanesha said.
“I’ll drive,” Heather said.
“No, we’re walking,” Jill said. “Someone is worried about her baby weight.”
Laughing at Sandy, they began the short walk to the hospital.
Wednesday evening — 6:47 P.M.
Sissy swallowed hard. The head judge on the three person panel had called her name. Ivan, her old teacher, said she was at the perfect age to work, work, work and that’s what the troupe was looking for. Sissy took one last hug from Sandy and stepped out onto the stage.
Walking in toe shoes, she stepped across the floor. She was about to start when she heard a cheer.
“GO SISSY!” Noelle yelled.
She heard Charlie’s distinctive whistle and Nash’s cheer. Peering beyond the lights, she saw Teddy and his father jogging down the steps to sit with Aden and the rest of her new family.
“If the audience will settle down, we can begin,” the head judge said. “Do we have music?”
Sissy looked over to see her Dad’s best-friend, and Sandy’s Godfather, Seth sitting down at the piano. The other girls had danced to a tape but Seth had wanted to play. He nodded to Sissy and put his hands on the keys.
“Mr. O’Malley? You’re comfortable with this music?” the head judge sniffed at Seth.
“I’ve been playing this piece since… well, you weren’t alive then,” Seth said. “Will that do?”
“We’ll see,” the head judge said.
“Come on, Sissy,” Seth said. “Let’s knock ‘em dead.”
Sissy struck her best pose and Seth began to play.
Sissy waited just a moment, letting the music swell, then took off. She twilled, bent in a deep grand-plié and leapt into the air. She scissored her legs back and forth in a sissonne. Mid-way through Ivan joined her on stage. They partnered each other’s movements. He lifted, twirled her, and retreated back stage. As the music began to slow, Sissy moved into her last pose. With one last pirouette, she ended in an arabesque on pointe with the other leg pointed at the ceiling.
The audience erupted with cheers. Embarrassed but wanting to impress the judges, Sissy did her best curtsy. Charlie ran up the stage steps with a bouquet of a dozen roses. He picked her up in a hug and twirled her around. Sandy was right there with Sissy’s warm robe. Sandy hugged her tight. Ivan ran out to give her a hug.
“You nailed it,” Ivan whispered in her ear.
“We can see who the audience favors,” the head judge said.
The judge looked at the man to her side. He nodded at her then pointed to his sheet.
“I’m wondering,” the woman to the head judges left said. “Would Mr. O’Malley mind playing for me when I audition next?”
“Would be my pleasure,” Seth said.
“I have one question,” the male judge said. “You haven’t practiced in how long?”
“A year and a half,” Sissy said.
“That explains the rust,” the male judge said.
“Rust is easily eliminated with practice,” Ivan said. “Her family has arranged for me to work privately with Sissy.”
“That may be necessary,” the male judge said. “Thank you.”
“We will notify the entrants by the end of the week,” the head judge repeated what she’d said to every dancer. “The troupe begins Saturday morning and will continue all summer. You have a copy of the schedule. Clear your schedule’s now so you can participate if selected. Thank you.”
Charlie put his arm around Sissy and they walked off the stage. Noelle waited for Sissy at the bottom of the stairs. Noelle’s shining face said everything Sissy wanted to know. Sissy hugged Noelle tight.
“I think we should celebrate,” Aden said. “What would you like, Sissy?”
“Can we go to Little India’s?” Sissy asked.
“You haven’t even been there,” Noelle said.
“I don’t like Indian food,” Nash said.
“You’ve never tried it,” Noelle insisted.
“Let’s go to Little India’s. It’s good stuff,” Sandy ruffled Nash’s hair. Leaning in, she whispered, “They have hamburgers if you really can’t stand it. Are you guys coming?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Teddy’s Dad, Zack Jackman said. “Great job Sissy.”
“Thank you, sir,” Sissy blushed at the handsome pilot’s attention.
“Sissy needs to change her clothes,“ Sandy said. “Why don’t you guys go ahead? We’ll catch a ride with Seth.”
Sandy nodded her head toward Seth. Seth was talking to the woman judge while she flirted with him. They watched the woman press her phone number into his hand. He gave her a nod then walked down the stage steps.
“What?” Seth asked.
Laughing at Seth, their jovial, excited mood continued the rest of the evening.
Wednesday evening — 10:47 P.M.
“What are you doing up so late?” Captain Andrew “Trece” Ramirez asked Teddy.
Teddy was sitting on the basement couch staring at the wall. He looked up at his legal guardian when he spoke.
“Don’t you have work tomorrow?” Andy asked.
“Are you sick?” Andy asked.
Teddy shook his head. Puzzled by Teddy’s behavior, Andy scowled.
“You know my kids?” Andy asked. “I can’t get them to shut up. You? I don’t have any idea how to get you to talk.“
“Sorry,” Teddy said. “I don’t talk when I’m confused.”
“About what?” Andy asked. He sat down in an armchair next to the couch. “Tell Uncle Andy. You’ll feel better.”
“I don’t think you’ll understand.”
“I might,” Andy said. “Try me.”
“I like a girl. I mean I really like her, maybe love her,” Teddy said. “Everybody talks about having sex and stuff, but I…”
“You’re kind of young for sex,” Andy said.
“Charlie had sex by the time he was my age. Dad had lots of sex by the time he was my age,” Teddy said. “You should see Seth? You know the police detective? He’s an old guy and the women kind of throw themselves at him. I know he’s rich and stuff but he has a cute girlfriend.”
Teddy stopped talking. He went back to staring at the wall.
“And?” Andy asked.
“I should want to have sex with Noelle, but I don’t,” Teddy said. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Why don’t you want to have sex with Noelle?” Andy asked.
“I don’t know,” Teddy said. “It doesn’t seem right. She’s so sweet. I think of my mom and little sister and…”
“Have you kissed her?” Andy asked.
“Twice,” Teddy said.
Blushing bright red, Teddy shook his head.
“How were the kisses?” Andy asked.
“Really nice,” Teddy said.
“Have you touched her breasts or…?” Andy asked.
“No!” Teddy said. “I really like her. I feel great when she’s around. I like to hug her or sit close and the kissing was nice, but anything more and I…”
Teddy stopped talking again.
“I guess I’m not much of a man,” Teddy said.
“Why is that funny?” Teddy asked.
“Because you’re twelve!” Andy said. “You’ve still a child. You’ve got your entire life to be a man. What’s the rush?”
“I might lose Noelle to some sexy guy,” Teddy said.
“Unlikely,” Andy smiled. “I’ve met Noelle. She’s very pretty. She looks very grown up, but she isn’t. She’s just a little kid.”
“You know what I think?” Andy asked.
“That I’m a total loser?”
“Well, that’s true,” Andy said.
“You think I’m a total loser!?!”
“Anyone who jacks a DOD satellite is a total loser,” Andy said. “Period.”
“Oh,” Teddy said. He returned to staring at the wall. After a few minutes, he turned to Andy. “What about this other stuff?”
“I don’t think you’re a loser because you haven’t jumped Noelle,” Andy said. “I think you’re not ready.”
“What’s that mean?” Teddy asked.
“It means that you’ve met a great girl that you care about,” Andy said. “You want to be careful and do it right. When you’re ready, you’ll know it. Noelle will know it. But for now, you’re just kids. Why not just enjoy that?”
“And that’s okay?” Teddy asked.
“Of course,” Andy said. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I’m the oldest son of Zack the Stallion,” Teddy said.
“I think we should ask Mrs. Alex or Mr. Max about Zack the Stallion,” Andy said. “They paint a fairly different picture of your father growing up. According to them, young Zack was pretty unsexy. I doubt he was much different than you.”
“Really?” Teddy asked.
“Let’s ask,” Andy said. “Now, off to bed with you. It’s been a full couple of days and you need to rest.”
“But you don’t think I’m a loser for not wanting to have sex with Noelle?” Teddy asked.
“I think all hackers are losers,” Andy thumped Teddy on the head. “Are you a hacker?”
“No, sir,” Teddy said. “Not anymore.”
“Good. As for the rest of this, I don’t believe you don’t want to have sex with Noelle,” Andy said. “I think you want to, you just know it’s not right, for her and for you. She means something to you, so you don’t want to screw it up. I bet if you asked Charlie, he had sex with someone he didn’t care about. That’s pretty different.”
Teddy threw himself into the bodybuilder’s arms. Andy kissed the top of his head then herded him into his basement room. Feeling better, Teddy crawled into bed. Like he did when he lived with Sandy and Aden, he thought about the story Sandy was reading them and said good night to Nash, Charlie, Sissy and his Noelle. Just the thought of Noelle put a smile on his face. He fell asleep.
Two days later Friday mid-day — 1:10 P.M
“It’s about time!” Maresol said to Seth as he ran down the front walk.
“It’s a long drive in the pickup and the traffic was stiff,” Seth said. “How is she?”
“She’d be better if she hadn’t run into Lizzie,” Maresol said. “She thought Lizzie was your wife. She would be gone if she hadn’t collapsed on the walk.”
Seth followed Maresol into the house.
“I paid the cab out of the household funds,” Maresol said. “So don’t complain if we come short this month.”
Surprised, Seth stopped walking and stared at her.
“When do I complain?” Seth asked.
“You might start,” Maresol pointed her index finger at Seth. “Don’t start.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Seth said. “Where’s Ava?”
“She’s in your bedroom,” Maresol said. “I gave her a bath. She’s asleep. My guess is that she’s starving. I have some broth and noodles ready for her. If she can keep that down, I’ll make sopapillas.”
“Yum!” Seth said.
“For Ava, not for you. To strengthen her soul,” Maresol pushed him toward the stairwell. “Go on. Sandy and the kids are going to be here at two.”
He was halfway up the stairwell when Maresol said, “Seth?” Seth leaned over the stairwell to see her.
“She saw my Bonita,” Maresol said in Spanish. Her eyes filled with tears. “Bonita and the boys. When she was at that horrible barn… She said they are safe and at peace. She said they are here. Every day. My Bonita, my baby boys, are here.”
Maresol wiped her face, spun in place and moved out of sight. He was at the top of the stairs when she yelled, “I’m not crying,” in Spanish. He chuckled at his tough as nails, soft hearted mother-in-law. He leaned into the door to his bedroom. He heard movement on the other side of the door. Not sure what to expect, he opened the door a crack. After a second, he stepped in. Dressed only in one of his T-shirts and panties, Ava was rifling through his closet.
“Hi,” Seth said.
“Where is her stuff?” Ava asked. Her voice had the deep rasp usually associated with whiskey and cigarettes. Her bald head showed peach fuzz growth.
“Your wife’s stuff,” Ava’s angry face turned to look at him. She had two black eyes, deep purple bruising on her cheeks and a series of stitches on her right cheek. “She must be pissed that I was in your bed every night the last month. Where was she then, huh? I don’t remember seeing her and I don’t do threesomes.”
Ava flipped around to face him. He stepped up to her and held her tight. He kissed her neck.
“I’m not married,” Seth whispered in her ear. “You met my daughter, Lizzie. Lizzie O’Malley?”
Ava pushed him away from her.
“You told me your daughters don’t have your name. Either you lied about them taking your name or you’re lying about having a wife,” Ava said. “Plus she said her name was Elizabethe or something like that.”
“Lizzie and Julie Ann took back my name. I didn’t know until the Coroner’s meeting about Bonita and the boys,” Seth said. “It’s a long story. Julie Ann joined the Marines and her step-father threw her out. Lizzie… she…”
“Let’s get you back in bed,” Seth said. “You have enough sadness without dealing with this crap.”
“No,” Ava shook him off her. “I want to hear it now.”
“Lizzie’s named after my mother who was named Lizzie. Her mother was also named Lizzie as was her mother. The name goes back to old Ireland,” Seth shrugged. “It’s not very sophisticated but it’s on her birth certificate. “
As if he was avoiding the topic, Ava raised an eyebrow at him.
“She graduated from college and moved home last year,” Seth said. “For reasons I don’t understand, reasons she won’t explain to me, her father, she and her step-father had a sexual relationship behind her mother’s back. When she got pregnant, she told her mother. Her mother flew into a rage. She disowned Lizzie and threw all of her things onto the front lawn, even her baby pictures.”
“Your ex-wife is crazy,” Ava said.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Seth said. “Anyway, Lizzie talked Sandy into living at her condo so she had a place to stay. Sandy didn’t know she was pregnant. Lizzie has no money, no friends, and a baby on the way.”
“That’s horrible,” Ava said. “Did he molest her as a child?”
“She says no,” Seth said. “But you know how a man can groom a young girl. Julie Ann is a lesbian. That’s why she was disowned, according to Lizzie. She was of no use to him. The whole mess makes me crazy.”
“The whole thing is gross,” Ava said.
“Lizzie stayed here while I was gone so Maresol could pamper her. She hadn’t been to a doctor, didn’t have any clothing or… anything, really. Maresol’s been mothering her.”
“She’s good at that,” Ava said.
“Maresol’s the best,” Seth said. “Now back in bed. You should be in a hospital.”
“Did you hear what happened?” Ava asked.
“Not really,” Seth straightened the down comforter and fluffed her pillow.
“I like your pillow,” Ava said. “So no wife?”
He leaned over the bed to grab his pillow.
“Not since Bonita.”
After fluffing his pillow, he helped her into bed.
“Yes, Ava,” Seth said.
“You smell like cows,” she said.
“That’s because I’ve spent the last two days with cattle,” Seth said.
“Why?” Ava asked.
“My family homesteaded outside of Granby,” Seth said. “It’s summer pasture for a couple of high country grass fed cattle ranches. Since I was off a few days, and I couldn’t visit you in the hospital, the ranchers agreed to move the cattle yesterday and this morning.”
“Do you have a cabin there?” Ava asked.
“A house,” Seth said. “With a caretaker, his wife and a bunch of kids. I stay in the work house. There’s a piano there. I haven’t showered in a couple days.”
“You need to shower,” Ava said.
“Yes. I do,” Seth said. “You were telling me about the hospital.”
“So… you’re a cop, a composer and a cowboy?”
“And crazy,” Seth smiled. “How’s that for irony?”
“Can I have a drink of water?” Ava asked.
Seth nodded and retrieved a glass of water from the bathroom. He gave her the water and she drank it dry. He refilled it.
“Sorry, my throat hurts,” Ava said. “I feel like I’m always thirsty.”
“Why aren’t you in the hospital?”
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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