Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal : Chapter Eighty-Six : Boundaries

CHAPTER EIGHTY-SIX

Thursday Night — 7:15 P.M The Castle

“I made dinner.” Sandy rushed around their apartment. “Delphie will be here…”

Sandy ran to answer a knock at the door. Delphie came in and hugged Sandy. Seated at the dining room table, Noelle watched Sandy run through the apartment. Her mouth hung open and her eyes tracked Sandy from room to room.

“Come on Nash,” Sandy yelled down the hall. “You have to get up.”

“NO,” Nash yelled. “I told you before. I’m sleeping. I’m tired. I don’t know what your problem is but I worked and worked and worked and…”

“I’ll get him,” Delphie said.

Sandy nodded to Delphie.

“Sandy?” Noelle asked.

Sandy had run into the bedroom to change into something warmer.

“Sandy?”

Sandy didn’t respond.

“SANDY!”

Dressed in her underwear, Sandy poked her head out of her bedroom. Noelle blushed at Sandy’s puzzled eyes.

“What’s going on?” Sandy pulled a long sleeved T-shirt over her head.

“Where are you going? You haven’t said. You just got of the phone and started running around!” Noelle began to cry. “I don’t know what’s going on and…”

Dressed just in the T-shirt, Sandy pulled the little girl close to her. She held her arm out for Nash when he came into the room. He joined their hug.

“Your father and his friend, Mr. Pete, have been injured. They’ve been airlifted to a trauma hospital in Colorado Springs,” Sandy said.

“What?” Nash and Noelle broke into tears.

“Uncle Seth is coming to get me. We’re dropping Jake off to take care of Mrs. Molly’s kids. She’s coming with us. I don’t know any more than that.”

Sandy held them. Delphie peeled Nash then Noelle off her.

“Sandy has to run,” Delphie said. “It’s a two hour drive and Seth is almost here.”

“Are you coming back?” Noelle’s face was wet with tears. Her partly healed cheekbone left the little girl with a black eye and a yellow streak of a bruise on her face.

“Of course,” Sandy mussed Noelle’s hair. “We’re going to see the baby tomorrow afternoon.”

“We all are going to meet him, right?” Nash asked.

“Her, Nash. She’s a girl,” Noelle said.

“We are all going to meet your new brother or sister for the first time tomorrow,” Sandy said. “I only get a half hour to see your Dad. And I only get that because of Seth and my Uncle Howard. I guess the prison screwed up or… I don’t know. You know what I don’t have any idea what’s going on.”

Sandy shrugged.

“I should know more when I get back,” Sandy said.

“But you’re coming back,” Nash said.

“I’m definitely coming back,” Sandy said. “Definitely.”

“I’m sorry I was…” Nash’s wet, sorrow filled eyes tore at Sandy’s core.

“We’re fine,” Sandy said. “I need to get dressed!”

Sandy ran into her bedroom. Delphie asked Noelle to clear her school work off the table so they could have dinner. Nash went to get the silverware and set the table. By the time Sandy returned, the kids were seated at the table. Delphie was serving them Sandy’s spaghetti and meatballs. Sandy kissed Noelle and Nash’s head. She took Noelle’s right hand and Nash’s left hand.

“I will be back tonight,” she said. “Should I wake you?”

The children nodded.

There was a knock at the door and Seth stuck his head in.

“Sandy, we have to go,” Seth said.

She kissed the children again then ran out the door. She was just about to close the door when Noelle ran up to her.

“Give these to Daddy,” she said. “Please.”

Sandy looked at the pictures Noelle and Nash had drawn and smiled.

“I will,” Sandy said.

With a wave, she was out the door.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday Night — 8:12 P.M. City Park

Blane and Mack rounded the Martin Luther King monument circle and turned toward the tennis courts. Dressed in his fleece suit, Mack was strapped into the three-wheeled jogging stroller. Usually, Blane and Mack met Jacob and Sarah for an evening run. But tonight, Jacob was caring for Molly’s kids. They would catch him in the morning.

Mack liked to eat about every four or five hours. They found that he was restless and irritable after his evening breast milk meal. One night, Blane took him out in the stroller and Mack settled down. Walking was good, but running was better. Their evening runs had become a part of their regular routine. Heather dressed them up in warm reflective gear and out the door they went. Jacob and his yellow Labrador, Sarah, often joined them to spend some time with Blane.

The last few weeks had been sheer heaven for Blane. He could only describe them as falling in love. He was absolutely in love with Mack and Heather. Every cell in his body vibrated with real happiness. Everything that mattered before – acupuncture, work, hockey, money, status – took a second place to Heather and Mack. He was positively swept off his feet by his own happiness. While he knew he wasn’t ‘in love’, he had no other way to describe the intoxicating feeling of holding his son and being around his son’s mother.

‘In love’ would have to do.

Blane and Mack ran the circle near the tennis courts. As they crossed Twenty-First Avenue, Blane saw a man run toward them. Not thinking anything of it, he continued around the circle. They were almost to the Graham-Bible House when the man caught up with them. The man slowed to run next to Blane.

The man said something that Blane didn’t understand.

“What?” he asked in English.

Turning toward the man, Blane groaned. Enrique. He stopped running.

“What do you want? My life is really happy right now. Are you here to fuck it up again?” Blane asked in Spanish.

“Whoa,” Enrique said in Spanish. “I deserve that. I do. But, whoa.”

Mack let out a sound somewhere between a squeal and a cry.

“I have to keep moving,” Blane said. “He likes to keep moving.”

“Keep moving, Daddy?” Enrique asked.

“He likes to keep moving,” Blane began jogging again.

Enrique fell in next to him. They ran down the road then turned East toward the Thatcher Fountain.

“Why are you here?” Blane asked.

“I miss you. I want to make things right between us,” Enrique said. “And I’m really sorry. You’ve heard me say this before. I’ve said it before, but you really have no idea how sorry I am. I totally fucked up.”

“Why did you do it?” Blane asked. “Why did you smear me everywhere? I lost my career! I couldn’t find another job because the entire city knew I had AIDS. I lost everything – my home, my career, my friends. If it hadn’t been for Jake, I would have killed myself.”

“I freaked out when I found out I had Hep C.”

“You mean, you freaked out when you found out you infected me with Hep C that you caught at a bathhouse while you were whoring around the city.”

“That’s a way to put it,” Enrique said.

“Let me get this straight,” Blane said. “Instead of telling our friends that you were a cheating lying whore that almost killed me with Hep C, you told them I used to prostitute for money when I was a starving drug addicted homeless orphan.”

“Yes. That’s what I did,” Enrique said. “But I left out the starving part.

“And the homeless orphan part.”

“And the homeless orphan part. Yes, I left that out too.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” Enrique said. “I told everyone. Your boss. Our friends. Everyone.”

“I don’t know doesn’t cut it, Enrique,” Blane said.

“I know.”

They ran in silence through the circle and past the Thatcher fountain. Blane turned toward Ferril Lake.

“Let’s start with lying cheating whore,” Blane said. “After you promised to stop, you kept going to the bathhouses and book stores. Why?”

“I have a sexual addiction,” Enrique said.

“That’s honest.”

“I cover my addiction by saying this is how gay men behave. But I know better.”

“You should. We knew plenty of men who don’t whore around,” Blane said. “Why did you come around pretending to be single when you’re with Calvin? My God, you came to my home, had dinner with Heather… You hung around like you were available. But it’s just another lie from the cheating whore.”

“Calvin and I have a complicated relationship,” Enrique said. “We weren’t together when I came to the clinic. He found out I quit smoking and wanted to start again. I…”

“You were living together entire time, right? Still having sex?”

Enrique was silent.

“Just another lie,” Blane said. “How do you live with yourself?”

“Not well,” Enrique said.

They ran to the path in front of the Natural History Museum, they were almost to the road before Enrique spoke again.

“How’s your Hepatitis?”

“I no longer have virus,” Blane said. “I’m very healthy. My liver seems to be healing with acupuncture and diet. You?”

“I’m still sick.”

“Why not do the ribavirin?”

“Who would take care of me? Calvin?” Enrique snorted. “I’m a lying cheating whore. I’m surrounded by liars, cheaters, and whores.”

“What did the doctor say?”

“I need a liver replacement but I won’t live long enough to get one,” Enrique said. “I’m rotting on the inside… dying the way I deserve.”

Blane stopped short to look at Enrique. Enrique nodded. When Mack cried, Blane went around the stroller to pick him up. Under the moon and stars, the two men stared at each other.

“Why are you doing this to yourself?” Blane asked.

“I’d think you’d be delighted,” Enrique said. “I’m finally getting my just deserts for being such an asshole.”

“I don’t want this,” Blane said. “I don’t wish you harm. If anything, I’m grateful for you. If you hadn’t done what you did, I would still be cooking and trying to fix you. I’d never have gone to acupuncture school or worked at Lipson. I own shares in that company now. Me! I’m an owner. I’d never have met Heather or have had Mack.”

The men looked at the tiny bundle nestled in Blane’s arms. Mack yawned. His fluorescent lime green fleece cap shifted to the side. Blane put the cap back on his head.

“He looks just like you, Blane,” Enrique said. “You’re sure he’s…”

“His biological father has dark hair and hazel eyes. It’s fairly common. We don’t know if his blue eyes will change. I like them like this.”

Enrique gave a curt nod.

“You’re life has really taken off,” Enrique said. “If I had a dying wish, it would be that you were happy.”

“You’re not dead yet,” Blane said. “Why give up?”

“I don’t see any other way,” Enrique said. “You and I tried everything to break my addiction. I…”

“Go to therapy. Get honest. Clean up your life, your diet and your mind. Hell, join a 12 step program. You belong in any of them,” Blane said. “God, I can’t believe you never went to therapy.”

“I didn’t,” Enrique said. “I think about going but then… Why bother going now?”

“Because you’re young and strong,” Blane said. “You can beat this thing.”

“Come on. I’d like to run while I still can.”

Blane settled Mack back in the jog stroller and they took off down the road toward the Duck Lake. They were almost to the tennis courts again when Enrique broke their silence.

“I’m scared, Blane.”

“I know,” Blane said.

“If I go to therapy, will you go with me?”

“Not until you clean up your life,” Blane said. “Get honest. Either commit to Calvin or get out of that relationship. Quit the job you hate. You can freelance and you know it. You gave me such a gift by throwing me out of my comfortable, horrible old life. It was awful, terrifying, and very liberating. You need to give yourself the same gift.”

Without saying another word, Enrique ran down Twenty-First Avenue back toward his house. Blane shook his head at Enrique and continued toward home. By the time he arrived, Mack was sound asleep. He helped Heather bathe Mack and put him in his bassinette.

“What happened?” Heather whispered over Mack’s sleeping form.

“A lot.”

He told her the entire story. When he finished, Heather hugged him.

“What can we do?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “He has to do this himself.”

“What if he doesn’t?”

“Then there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

“That boundaries thing again,” Heather said.

“Boundaries,” Blane nodded.

~~~~~~~

Thursday — 10:20 P.M. Memorial Hospital Central, Colorado Springs

Aden shifted in the bed and Sandy jumped to his side. She took his hand then sighed. He was still out. He had a turban of bandages around his head from his brother’s boots and the surgery to relieve the pressure in his brain. His nose was splinted. He had a dozen broken ribs. The fingers on his right hand were all broken as well as a few bones in his hand.

And according to the nurse, he was better off than Pete.

Poor Pete. He’d covered Aden with his body to protect him from his brother’s kicking feet. Pete was still in surgery. Molly was a complete wreck. Caught between guilt and outrage, she’d wept in the surgery waiting area. To make matters worse, Pete had spent all their savings on his last drug binge. They were broke and didn’t have enough insurance to cover everything. Sandy assured her that she would help. But Molly was inconsolable.

Aden was lucky.

Sandy was about to return to her chair when he stirred again. The nurse said that he should wake up, just for a little while, before they put him in a medical coma.

“Pleee…” Aden’s voice came softly. Sandy bent down toward his mouth. “Dooonnn leee go.”

“Don’t let go of your hand?” Sandy said. “I won’t.”

Aden’s mouth shifted to a kind of smile. He’d lost two teeth in the front and a few molars were broken.

“Miissss,” Aden gasped a breath. “you.”

She kissed his cheek. Keeping her voice light and cheerful, she told him about their lives.

“The kids made you these pictures.” Sandy held up Noelle’s then Nash’s. “They do them every day. It’s kind of their letter to you. We’ve been waiting to find out where you would be so we could mail them to you.”

“Hoowww?”

“Nash’s arm is still in a cast. We had to get a new cast because he broke the old cast on a job. He was using the old cast as a kind of lever. Anyway, the new cast is smaller and more manageable. He’s been working at Lipson every day. They put him on Jerry’s crew. He and his friend Teddy. He likes it and he’s making some money. Do you remember Melinda? The daughter of my client? He wants to take her to the movies now that he’s rich. I think he’s too young. But, we’ll see.”

Aden gestured toward his face with his bandaged hand.

“Noelle’s face is still healing. It seems like forever, but the doctor says she’s healing well. It’ll take a couple more months for her eye to clear, but her sight is almost normal. We’ve been looking at some cool glasses for her. The ophthalmologist says that she may have needed glasses all along. You know Noelle, she’s happy to have something new.”

Aden’s eyes closed but his hand held hers.

“The kids are lost without you, but overall they’re doing well,” Sandy said. “They’re such good kids that it’s not surprising. Noelle and Katy play a lot in the afternoons. Noelle is really patient with Katy. I think Noelle’s so overwhelmed with grownup stuff that it’s nice, healing even, to play little girl games. Nash and Teddy are still doing martial arts. Teddy’s dad, Zack, is taking them skiing next weekend. They’re both really excited about learning to snowboard. You know, since they’re rich.”

She laughed at Nash’s riches. Aden’s hand moved up and down.

“Me?”

He seemed to sigh.

“Drama central. I got shot at but Alex Hargreaves saved the day, of course. I still have to deal with my father’s crap. At least once a week, I meet with the Feds or the police to look at photos or whatever. Drama. But Jake set up a salon for me. I’ve been working Tuesday through Saturday. It’s really nice to work and we need the money. The Feds are keeping the millions in my father’s house and…”

His hand pointed to him.

“We can’t use your money,” Sandy said. “Something wrong with the signatures or something. And we’re not married. It’s one of the things I thought we’d work out when you get settled. That’s all right because I’m making enough money to cover expenses. Delphie over fills our refrigerator and Sam’s taken the kids shopping a couple times. We eat dinner with them most nights. So, we don’t really need a lot of money.

“I’ve been driving your car.”

He patted her leg.

“I know. Good thing because it’s been dumping snow. March in Colorado,” Sandy said. “Crazy weather. When you get back, you’ll find that the stations have been reset. But I figured you could change them back.”

His hand moved toward her belly.

“Baby?” Sandy asked. “We’re going tomorrow to have the first ultrasound. Hopefully the baby only has two legs and two arms. The kids are coming with me. They want to be involved and I don’t see any reason to keep them out.”

Aden collapsed back against the bed. It was almost as if his desire to know about her and her news drove him to consciousness. Now that he had an update, he could rest. Sandy held his left hand until she was sure he was out again. She went to get the nurse.

A doctor came in and woke Aden again. Sandy winced when Aden yelped with pain. They tested his reflexes and made sure he could move his limbs. Finally, an anesthesiologist put Aden into a medical coma.

The doctors told her Aden would be under until his brain had time to heal. Once Aden was stable, he would return to Canon City’s hospital ward. He and Pete might spend their entire prison sentence in that hospital ward.

Sandy watched the doctor’s mouth and hands move as he talked. Aden owned that same Tag Hauer watch. Aden used to have the same manicured nails and perfect haircut. Her eyes flit back and forth from the doctor to the man in the bed. When the doctor stopped talking, she nodded because she knew he expected her to. The nurse escorted her back to Molly.

Molly looked up at Sandy and took her hand. Together, the two women waited for news about Pete.

~~~~~~~~

Friday early morning — 2:30 A.M. Between Colorado Springs and Denver

“I’m worried about you,” Seth said as they sped along I-25 back to Denver.

“Why?” Sandy asked.

“You have a lot on your plate,” Seth said. “Most of it has nothing to do with you. Aden’s kids, Aden’s problems, Aden’s injuries, your father’s legal issues, your mother’s horrible greed, your father’s estate. The list goes on and on. Here we are at 2:30 in the morning trying to get back to your temporary home because?”

“The kids need me at home,” Sandy said.

“They aren’t your kids, Sandra.”

“Whose kids are they? Come on, Seth. They have no one. Their psychopath mother’s in prison. Their father’s in the hospital or prison or hospital-prison. They have no grandparents. They just have me.”

Seth’s silence spoke more than any words he could have said.

“And who do I have?” Sandy asked. “I have you, the girls, and them.”

Seth glanced at Sandy then nodded.

“We need each other.” Uncomfortable, Sandy changed the subject. “What did you find out about what happened to Aden and Pete?”

“Aden has a brother,” Seth said. “According to his records, he didn’t list any family in prison.”

“I doubt he knew his brother was there.”

“I did his background check,” Seth said. “His story checked out. He arrived at home from school and his family was gone. He was fifteen years old. Youngest of seven kids. He was the only Norsen, of those still living, who is not in prison.”

“Until now,” Sandy said.

“I supposed it’s my fault for not telling him about his sibling. It just never occurred to me. Anyway, Aden’s brother should never have been at minimum security,” Seth said. “Canon City is overcrowded. There’s no room for the hard cases. Aden’s brother has done well in with the structure of prison. They thought it was a safe risk.”

“What is he in for?”

“Murder. He’s a lifer.”

Murder!? A murderer was in minimum security!?”

“The overcrowding is really horrible. They built a new prison for the hard cases but the state can’t afford to open it. These guys are scattered around the system. There’s been five or six murders by these hard cases this year alone. Aden was lucky he wasn’t killed.”

“What happened?” Sandy asked.

“According to the tapes, Aden and Pete walked into the exercise area and were attacked by Aden’s brother. It was frenzied attack - quick and deadly. Aden was out with three punches. When Aden fell, he was kicked and stomped on until Pete jumped in.”

“Where were the guards?”

“Another great question,” Seth said. “They were in the middle of shift change. Something Aden’s brother would have known, but no way Aden could have known.”

“How did it end?”

“A couple prisoners had worked for Lipson Construction. Big black guys. One held Aden’s brother while the other got in the way. As soon as they intervened, all the black guys got involved. It could have been a riot. But one of the guys, the first guy, kept repeating, ‘Dis man’s gonna hire me. Promised me when I went in. Alls I gots to do is stay off drugs. Can’t hire me if he’s dead.’ If it wasn’t so horrible, it would be pretty funny. They had everything under control by the time the guards showed up.”

Digesting the story, Sandy fell silent.

“How’s Pete?”

“They did what they can do,” Sandy said. “It’s 50-50. One of his ribs punctured a lung, he had multiple brain injuries and his heart is messed up. I don’t really understand it. Pete’s a drug addict. They think his heart was damaged by the drugs. The doctor said he would either improve tonight or they’d need to talk about when to terminate care.”

“Terminate care?”

“Pull the plug. Delphie’s having one of her transition ceremonies for him tonight.”

“Oh,” he said. “Is Aden that bad?”

“I don’t really know. He has brain injuries too. The doctors said they would put him out for a few weeks to see how he does. I… I have to believe that he’s strong enough to get well.”

“You wish you could stay with him.”

“Yes, I wish I could stay with him,” Sandy said. “But I wish a lot of things. I wish he hadn’t gone off at my father. I wish he wasn’t stupid enough to believe my father had molested Noelle. I wish Dad was still alive. Every day, I wish that. I wish my mother hadn’t lost her mind or could see that I was the one victimized. Not her, me. I wish…”

She stopped talking when Seth patted her leg.

“I have to focus on what’s right in front of me, Seth. I have two frightened traumatized kids to deal with. Whatever else, including Aden, has to come after them. He made his choices. He takes his consequences. That’s what he always says.”

“He fails to see that you have to deal with the consequences of his actions.”

Sandy patted her belly and Seth smiled.

“How’s the baby?” he asked.

“The one thing I’m doing right,” Sandy said.

“Wait until it’s born,” Seth said. “The moment it’s born, you cease to feel like you do anything right.”

“Good to know,” she said.

“We have another hour,” he said. “Why don’t you rest? I’ll make sure you’re updated if anything happens with Norsen or Pete.”

“The doctors said I could call. We left Molly there. She’ll need…”

“Just rest for a while Sandy. You can take care of the world later.”

Sandy smiled.

“Plus, there’s donuts at the end of this journey.”

Sandy drifted off with a smile on her face and lingering thoughts of donuts in her dreams.

~~~~~~~~

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