Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal : Chapter Eighty-Two : Worth it

CHAPTER EIGHTY-TWO Wednesday evening

Aden spent most of the day waiting. After the hearing, he had waited in a holding cell at the courthouse. It wasn’t awful. It wasn’t even all unexpected. He’d simply forgotten what it was like. He’d started the day as a President of a large construction company. Everything he said or did was important.

Now, his time no longer mattered. What he thought no longer mattered. What he said or did no longer mattered. The only thing that mattered was his compliance and the passage of time. Some hours later, he was taken to the main Denver Police station.

The policemen who processed him couldn’t have been more polite. Oddly, Aden was a bit of a celebrity. Everyone knew he was the guy who beat up the pedophile and embarrassed the DA. They didn’t make him change or do anything humiliating. Instead, they put him in another large holding cell. A tall Hispanic policeman told him that the DA wanted him moved to DRDC, the diagnostic center, right away. People can wait months to get into DRDC, but Aden would go today.

“Out of sight, out of the voter’s mind,” the police officer had laughed.

The other prisoners gave him wide berth. For the first time in a more than a decade, his senses were inundated with the scent of unwashed human bodies, alcohol detoxing through pores, industrial cleaners, filth, and despair.

How had he ever been used to this life?

Why had this been so normal for him?

He tucked his emotions away. He would have time enough to think about them later. Instead he tracked time against his old life. He always called Sandy at twelve-thirty on her lunch break. His heart squeezed with panic around three. He’d forgotten to pick up Noelle from school. With a sigh, he realized he wouldn’t pick her up today or any of the next ninety days. Nash usually went to soccer practice at six o’clock.

What had been his regular, boring, uneventful routine only a week ago seemed like a dream right now.

As he waited, his mind jumped from one vague worry to the next: what would happen to his car? Would Sandy dump him? He would dump him. How stupid could he possibly be? He was the dumbest man in the world. Why had he given his Blackberry to Samantha? He could work now. Would his kids survive the next months? Why hadn’t he prepared for this? God, poor Sandy was going to have to deal with all his crap. And on and on.

Under the cover of darkness, they were escorting him to DRDC. Once there, they took the Tag Hauer watch he’d bought when Jake had offered him a job. They took his sobriety ring, his wallet, his keys, the gold chain bracelet Sandy gave him for Christmas, and every other symbol of his former life. They stripped him down, made him shower and redress into an orange prisoner jumpsuit. They gave him a blanket then escorted him to a cell.

No one was happy to see him. No one made jokes. It was all business, all prison. He was just another one of the livestock housed in this barn.

The guard opened the cell and he stepped inside. He barely had time to clear the gate when the door clanged closed. The lock made an ominous ‘click’ when it closed. Aden stood at the bars staring out into the prison.

“It’s hard to get used to at first,” a man’s voice came from behind him. “But you’ll do fine.”

Aden turned around to see who spoke to him. A man stood from a bunk on the right side of the room. Aden blinked. That’s Molly’s husband. Jacob’s bookkeeper Molly’s husband. Pete.

“Pete?” Aden asked. “What?”

“Hi Aden,” he said. “They told me they were putting us together. They thought since we knew each other, I wouldn’t be influenced by your fame.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Drugs,” they said together.

“I thought you kicked it,” Aden said. “You’ve been driving for us for a year. And I know they pee test you every time you step into a truck. Hair follicle test every three months.”

“Yeah, I had a year and three days,” Pete said. “Then… I don’t know what happens. I miss the life, I guess. Molly’s been working a lot for Jake. They’ve gotten really busy. She’s making great money.”

“Too much of a good thing?”

“Nah, I swear she and Jake have a thing.”

“Molly and Jake?” Aden shook his head. He sat down on the bunk across from Pete. “Have you seen Jake with Jill?”

“I was at the wedding reception. But otherwise, I haven’t.” Pete shook his head. “I went to high school with Jill. She and Trevor were always a thing. It’s hard to believe she could be with someone else. But Molly says I’m a fool to think that she’s with Jake. Anyway, I got pissed off and stupid jealous.”

“Started using again,” Aden said. “I’ve done that. Rewarded myself. I deserve a little….”

“Right, that’s exactly right,” Pete said. “Fuck this, I’m going out. I was gone for three days. When I got home, Molly was mad. I’ve never seen her that mad. We argued and the neighbors called the cops. I was angry, high, drunk, obnoxious, and on parole.”

“Revoked your parole?”

“Yeah,” Pete said. “I either get three years community corrections or three years in Cañon City. Depends on what they say here.”

“Wow, I guess that was worth it.”

Aden got up to review their space. Two bunks, sink and toilet. Nothing fancy. At least it was clean. Pete watched him look around.

“Why am I famous?” Aden asked then sat down again.

“You beat up that chester,” Pete said. “It’s not such a big deal here at DRDC, but in the general population, you’re a hero.”

“Lucky me.”

“I guess that was worth it,” Pete repeated what Aden has said.

“Not so much,” Aden said. “I haven’t done this in a while.”

“Don’t worry,” Pete said. “I’ll walk you through it. It’s pretty easy.”

“Thanks.”

“There’s something you could do for me,” Pete said. “In return. If you don’t mind.”

“What?”

“I have three kids. And Molly. I love them. And when I sit here, I know they’re the best thing in my life, the only thing that matters. Without them, I’m nothing.”

“But getting high takes all that away?”

“I love getting high,” Pete said. “I can’t have both. Molly says she’s done. I either get high or have a family. That’s what she said. And I believe her. I’ve put her and the kids through too much. She’s doesn’t deserve to have a drugged out husband.”

Aden nodded.

“Can you help me get straight?” Pete asked. “You did it. You’ve been sober for…”

“Five years in March. Six years off and on before that.”

“How did you do that?” Pete asked. “The longest I’ve been clean is a year and three days. I don’t think I can do it.”

“If I can, anyone can,” Aden said. “But the question isn’t how I got sober. The question is how are you going to get sober? What’s it going to take?”

The lights in the prison shut off. Hoping for some sleep induced oblivion, Aden got under the covers of his bunk. He lay staring at the ceiling.

“But you’ll help me, right?” Pete whispered.

“I’ll help you help yourself.”

“Good.”

~~~~~~~~

Thursday — 12:13 A.M.

Sandy shooed away Tanesha and Heather around nine. She had to force Jill to leave. After receiving a firm promise that Sandy would call her, Jill made Sandy another cup of Tension Tamer tea and left around eleven.

Sandy had laid down to sleep. But the tears seeped out of her eyes.

Overwhelmed, she tossed and turned for what felt like an age before she got up. Sitting at the antique dressing table Aden had bought for her, she peered at her image in the mirror. She could see why Jill was worried.

Her hair was clean but messy. Her skin looked pale and her face drawn. She smiled at herself in the mirror. Even her smile looked faded. She had the stunned look of someone who’d just seen a ghost or witnessed something horrible. Her eyes were blood shot and puffy from unshed tears. Wrinkles sprouted along her forehead.

Looking down at her left hand, she slid off the engagement ring Aden had given her. No point wearing it now.

There was little point to anything anymore. She hadn’t worked in forever. She was sure her clients had moved onto other hairstylists. She couldn’t go back to her home, the condo that her father bought for her. She couldn’t go out and get drunk because of the baby.

And her knight in shining armor was in jail.

And her knight was in jail.

In jail!

Tears seeped again.

Cleo walked across the dressing table. She rubbed her face against Sandy’s tears. Sandy picked up her black and white cat then set her in her lap. The cat kneaded Sandy’s lap with her nails before jumping off. Cleo hopped onto her favorite perch on the mantle in front of the fireplace.

Sandy and Aden hadn’t talked about him going to jail. It was stupid. She was an idiot for not making him talk about it. But with everything else going on, and two traumatized children to care for, they just hadn’t gotten around to talking about it. She had no idea what he wanted to do with his house, what he wanted to do about the kid’s school, what he wanted to do about… almost everything. Not only was her knight in jail, she had no idea what he wanted her to do with his life.

She only knew she was responsible for his entire life. Samantha Hargreaves gave her Aden’s checkbook and his power of attorney.

No. There was no point in wearing his diamond now.

If he got out of jail, they would decide what to do next. But for now, she needed to focus on all of her responsibilities – Noelle, Nash, her obligation to her father’s crap, Aden’s financial mess, and the baby. That’s assuming she never worked again.

Sandy dropped her head into her hands. It had been a long time since she’d felt this sad and overwhelmed. She wanted to wail, beat her fists against the floor and kick her heels. But that wasn’t going to change anything.

For the next ninety days, she was on her own. That’s assuming everything went well. And Aden did easy time. And he got through testing. And community corrections had space. And a whole bunch of other things she didn’t understand.

She heard a floorboard creak in the hall. There was a sound of a small knuckle against the wood. Sandy got up to open the door.

Noelle stood on the other side. Her hair was sleep-tangled and her face wet from tears. Her eye filled with ointment and her bruise covered in cream. She was a vision of sorrow and pain.

“Oh, you’re awake.” Noelle’s face shifted to a detached cool girl look. She moved her weight onto one leg to stand more casually. “What are you doing?”

“What are you doing?”

“Oh. Well.” Noelle’s face dropped its cool mask. She began to weep. “I miss Daddy. Except when I had to stay with Nuala, I’ve never slept without Daddy. Even sleepovers, Daddy usually comes to get me after everyone goes to sleep.”

Sandy hugged the broken-hearted little girl. She was about to invite Noelle inside when they heard a door open in the hall. Nash stuck his head out. He ran down the hall to join their hug.

“Can we sleep with you?” Noelle asked. “Would that be okay? We sleep with Daddy sometimes when we get scared or really sad.”

“Like when we made him let us watch the Shining,” Nash said.

“Or when Nuala didn’t show up for a visit,” Noelle said.

“I’ll tell you what,” Sandy said. “There’s some of his undershirts in the laundry. Why don’t we change into them then cuddle up?”

“We could smell like Daddy!” Noelle brightened.

She ran into their closet. Nash followed her. The children dug in the laundry bag until they came up with three white t-shirts. While Sandy watched, they changed into the shirts then climbed into bed. Turning away from them, she changed into as well.

“You go in the middle,” Noelle said.

Sandy climbed onto the bed. She used the remote control to shut off the lights. With Noelle on one side and Nash on the other, she settled in the middle of the bed. She had just laid down when there was a yip at the door.

“BUSTER!” Noelle said.

Noelle jumped out of bed to let the dog in. Buster the ugly dog hopped on the bed near their feet. Not to be out done, Cleo wandered across the tops of their pillows until she found a spot near Sandy’s head. Snug in the bed, the children let out a collective sigh.

“Sandy?” Noelle asked.

“Yes, honey.”

“Are you going to stay with us?” Noelle said.

“Yes, honey.”

“Until Dad gets out or forever?” Nash asked.

“I don’t know what forever holds. I don’t know what forever even means. What I know is that I’ll be here with you for as long as it works for us.”

Nash stretched up to kiss Sandy’s cheek. He nestled into his pillow and fell asleep. Sandy could almost hear Noelle’s mind hop from worry to worry.

“What would help?” Sandy whispered.

“I don’t know,” Noelle said. “I wish Daddy were here.”

“Me too.”

~~~~~~~~

Thursday — 8:20 A.M.

Hearing a knock, Sandy wandered from the kitchen toward the door. The kids were still sacked out in her bedroom. After such a rough night, she had let them sleep. Sleep was better than waking up to the reality that Aden was gone and not coming back. After checking in with Jill, Sandy had spent the morning reading the corrections website.

It looked like she might be able to visit Aden but only after she’d been approved by the prison system. And that took at least ten days. While she doubted that she would be approved, after all there were still death threats against her, she filed applications for herself and the kids. She had just finished transferring money into an account for Aden when she heard the knock.

She trotted to the door after hearing another knock. Looking through the eyehole, she saw Sam Lipson on the other side. She pulled her bathrobe closed then opened the door.

“Hi Sandy.” Sam stepped into the room. “Where are the kids?”

“They had a rough night. I was letting them sleep.”

“Well, it’s time to get going.” Sam beamed a bright smile in her direction. His kind eyes took in her sorrow filled face.

“Going, sir? We don’t have anywhere to go.”

“Ah, that’s the problem,” he said. “You lot have been sitting around for way too long. Certainly the kids needed some convalescing but enough is enough.”

“Sir?”

“Let’s get the kids up,” Sam said. “Noelle needs to be back in school. Nash can come with me to work today.”

“Sir, they’re exhausted, heartbroken, I…”

“They need to get moving,” Sam said. He touched Sandy’s arm. “You need to get moving. This moping around is killing all of you. Noelle can go back to school. Nash can come with me.”

“Oh.”

Sandy’s face went blanch white. She dreaded the idea of spending the day alone.

“And you need to be doing hair. My secretary is sick of getting calls for you.” Sam walked across the apartment. “Are they in with you?”

Sandy nodded.

“Well, that’s not true. She’s not sick of you or getting your calls,” Sam said.

“Who, sir?”

“My secretary,” Sam smiled. “Please just call me, Sam. I know this has been an awful time for you. We’ve got to get through these months together. That makes us a kind of family. I’m Sam. People call me Big Sam.”

“Why do people call you Big Sam?” Sandy asked. “I always wondered.”

“That, my dear, is a long story,” Sam smiled. “There’s a guy from Brazil, I never remember his name, anyway, he says, ‘Life sometimes separates people so that they can realize how much they mean to each other.’ I get that one right because I have it written down in my wallet. That’s why Aden’s gone, Sandy. That’s all.”

He moved into the hall toward her bedroom.

“I know you’ve had your fair share of troubles, more than anyone deserves. I’m not discounting that. But it’s time to get moving.”

“But sir, I mean Sam, I can’t work. The FBI says my life’s in danger and…”

“It’s not who you know, Sandy, it’s who you know!” Sam beamed. “Let’s get the kids up. Delphie’s making breakfast. We’ll take Noelle to school, where she’s sorely missed. Then I’ll take Nash and you can go to work.”

“I can’t go to work, Sam! I just said that. The FBI…”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Sam said. “Jill didn’t say anything?”

“Say what? Jill’s at school today.” Sandy looked around for her cell phone.

“Life with psychics. I’m so glad to have another person on my side. You can’t imagine all the years I was alone. Now there’s Jill and Val too. But we still feel outnumbered. Maybe with you here…”

Sam stuck his head in her bedroom.

“Noelle? Nash?”

The kids gave him a groggy look.

“Time to get up. Let’s get dressed. We have to hurry to make sure we get some of Delphie’s waffles while they’re hot.”

Nash jumped out of bed. He hugged Sandy then went down the hall to the bathroom he shared with Noelle. Noelle went into Sandy’s master bathroom.

“Delphie makes the best Pecan waffles. Have you tried them?” Sam asked.

“Sir, you were talking about me working?”

“Oh, right, sorry. Jake found a building a couple months ago. Well, not a whole building. The owner of an established commercial building on east Colfax decided to sell individual storefronts. He basically gave one to Jake in return for helping him fix up the place for the sale. Jake’s figured it would be great place for a hair salon, so he rehabbed the bones of the building last month. Jill didn’t tell you?”

“No, she didn’t say a word.”

“She was there all night painting it,” Sam said. “Tanesha helped after her shift at the hospital. I was just there. It’s gorgeous. The plumbing was finished last week. You’ll have to take a look.”

Sandy’s heart beat quickened. She’d always wanted her own salon. Salon owners make really great money. She’d dreamed out loud with Aden. He could take care of the business stuff and she could do hair. Maybe this dream could come true!

Then she remembered the whole ‘life in danger thing.’

“I can’t go there,” Sandy said. “Someone might kill me.”

“Well, someone might,” Sam said. “MJ and Honey are taking the day off the trial too. I guess they’re showing the films of the attack. Honey didn’t want to see that. They’ll spend the day with you.”

“Oh,” Sandy said.

“We’ll work something out for tomorrow. Maybe Anjelika can stay with you. She can be pretty scary. But MJ will stay with you on Saturday. My secretary has set up your schedule for today, tomorrow, and Saturday,” Sam said. “She also has a cousin who just finished hair school. She’s going to help out as your assistant so you don’t have to mix colors, clean up, or whatever. We didn’t want to affect the baby.”

Sandy blinked.

“Hey kids, the waffles are getting cold,” Sam yelled.

Nash came out of his room dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. He made a slow, sleepy progress to Sandy. He latched on to her.

“Your friend Teddy is coming to work today as well,” Sam said.

“Really?” Nash brightened. He let go of Sandy.

“Really. You boys are working the roads until we figure out what to do about your school,” Sam said. “Fighting at school. You don’t get to hang out and play video games all day because you’re kicked out of school! You’re going to work.”

“But Dad didn’t…”

“Your Dad set this up,” Sam said. “He picked the crew and talked to the boss. He even arranged everything with Captain Jakkman so Teddy can join you today.”

“Yes, sir,” Nash said. “May I go to breakfast?”

“Go on,” Sam said. Nash skipped out of the apartment. “And you, Noelle…”

Noelle came out of her room wearing a short skirt and a low cut blouse.

“Did you forget your semester assignment is due tomorrow?” Sam asked.

“My… oh… oh goodness!” Noelle said. “I read all the books but…”

“You need to be in school,” Sam said. “But after you change! Ten year old girls don’t get to dress like they’re going out to bars. Your Dad wouldn’t let you go to school like that and I won’t either.”

“I’ll help,” Sandy led Noelle back to her room.

She coaxed Noelle into jeans and a pretty top then sent her on her way to breakfast. Sandy took a quick shower then changed into her work cloths. She smiled at herself in the mirror.

Maybe, just maybe, they would make it through this mess.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

~~~~~~~~

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