Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Denver Cereal : Chapter Ninety : Gratitude and grief

CHAPTER NINETY Saturday morning — 1:20 A.M.

Sandy opened the door to her condo apartment and took a deep breath. She’d always loved the smell of her very own home. Even after being closed up for so many weeks, her home still smelled safe. That’s how she had felt first time she’d stepped into the condo – safe and at peace. She sighed. She needed safety and peace this morning.

Tomorrow, her Godfather’s daughter would move into the condo for the summer. Seth hadn’t asked. Instead, his daughter Elizabethe (not Lizzie like she used to be called) had telephoned and begged her for a room in her condo. Now eighteen years old, Seth’s second daughter from his second marriage wanted to see if she could forge a relationship with her father the summer before she started college. Sandy had agreed to let her stay for three hundred dollars a month. Of course, Sandy had set the terms when she thought she had access to Aden’s money to help cover their expenses.

Luckily she liked to work. But not today. At the hospital last night, she’d called all her scheduled clients to cancel their appointments. Today, she would sleep until two, maybe three.

Sandy checked the guest bedroom where Lizzie, no Elizabethe, would stay. She put fresh sheets on the bed and made sure all of the kids’ stuff was out of the closets and cabinets.

Delphie had been to the condo when Sandy was in the hospital after getting shot by her father. Delphie had packed up Sandy’s clothing, cleared out the refrigerator, and got the flat ready for Sandy’s stay at the Castle. She’d even arranged for Rosa and her team to clean the condo top to bottom. Looking around her home, Sandy saw tokens of Delphie’s usual love and care.

Delphie. Beloved Delphie.

Sandy felt too tired, too raw, to continue thinking about the woman. Instead, she checked the refrigerator out of habit. She took a box of Girl Scout cookies from the freezer and sat down on her couch. She was already late to see the kids. They would have to wait another fifteen minutes while Sandy ate a few frozen Tagalogs in peace.

For a moment, Sandy missed her old carefree life. A year ago, she was single, able to do what she wanted, and unencumbered. She hadn’t met Noelle or Nash, the children who now thought of her as their mother. She hadn’t been on even one date with Aden, her baby’s father, current resident of the Colorado Department of Corrections hospital ward. She wasn’t a business owner and she had plenty of spare money. She was free last year.

On a night like tonight, Sandy might have gone clubbing or spent the evening with a handsome man for dinner, drinks, and an uncomplicated romp. She might have had a girl’s night of drinks, make up, and laughter with Jill, Heather and Tanesha. Or she just as easily could have spent the entire night trying to perfect the flaky crust of a delicate French pastry.

But this morning, she was pregnant, exhausted, and late to get her boyfriend’s children from her best friend’s mother. Sandy put her sore feet on the table and leaned into the couch’s comforting embrace.

She’d spent the last two nights at a hospital. One night at Aden’s bedside and last night waiting for news about Delphie. Tonight, Aden was still in a medically induced coma. He and Pete would be moved to Canon City hospital ward in the morning.

And Delphie…

Sandy’s eyes welled with tears.

Somehow, Delphie had survived the horror of yesterday. Dr. John Drayson came to tell them that the surgery had gone well. He said there was extensive bleeding but somehow there was only minor brain damage. He gave Jacob a lingering look then shrugged. Dr. Drayson knew there was some funny business going on, but he was too polite, too British, to ask. He went on to explain that the doctors had filled the aneurism with platinum coils. The coils protected the area from breaking or leaking. Delphie would need follow up care for the rest of her life but she was healthy overall and should recover with minimal lingering effects.

Only Delphie’s immediate family, Jacob, Valerie, and Sam, were allowed in the ICU. They were each given five minutes before they were escorted back to the waiting room. There was nothing anyone could do for Delphie now.

Or Aden for that matter.

Except wait.

And pray.

Jill and Sandy promised each other they would go to the Cathedral today to light candles for Delphie and Aden. Maybe the Holy Mother would save them. Sandy never felt all that confident in the Holy Mother’s abilities. Still, she felt better when she asked Mary to help her. Maybe Mary would help Delphie and Aden if Sandy got Jill to ask.

Sandy sighed again.

She needed to get to the Castle. Noelle and Nash were waiting for her. She was supposed to follow Jill home when she took this detour. She had needed a moment to herself in her wonderful home.

And some Tagalogs.

Sandy looked inside the box hoping there were twenty hidden cookies inside. She shook the empty box and set it down.

“Mother Mary,” Sandy said out loud. “Please help the ones I love to recover.”

The peaceful silence of her beloved condo echoed back to her. She almost expected Cleo, her black and white cat, to jump up on her lap.

But Cleo, and the children were at the Castle, where Sandy should be. She was grateful for a moment of peace.

“Mother Mary, thank you for sparing Delphie and Valerie and Aden and Pete. Thank you for helping me survive to see these busy days.”

Sandy felt a little better. She was grateful Delphie, Valerie, Aden and Pete survived. She was grateful she survived everything. She just wished she had a few more cookies. Her cell phone rang with the latest Miley Cyrus ringtone courtesy of Noelle. Shaking her head at the ringtone, Sandy answered.

“Hey Jill,” she said. “I wanted to change the sheets before Lizzie comes tomorrow. I know when I sleep, I’ll sleep all day. She’s supposed to be here in the morning.”

“Elizabethe,” Jill exaggerated the ‘beeth’ then laughed.

“Yeah,” Sandy said. “Her.”

Standing from the couch, she gave her condo one last look. She shoved the empty box of cookies and moved toward the door.

“The girls are here,” Jill said. “Heather brought the lovely Mack. He’s sound asleep. Can you believe it? He didn’t wake up in the ride over. Remember how Katy was when she was this age?”

“She didn’t sleep more than an hour until she was almost two,” Sandy laughed at her own memory of Katy’s infancy. “Didn’t want to miss anything. That’s Katy.”

“Heather says after the evening run, he sleeps until 3 A.M.”

“Wow,” Sandy said. “Maybe I’ll get lucky like that.”

“What?” Jill said to the voices in the background.

“We’re wondering if you will make us some…”

Jill put her hand over the phone. Sandy heard her ask, “What do we want?” She heard Heather and Tanesha say something. Jill laughed in response.

“Mostly we just want you to come home,” Jill said. “We’re in the loft. Noelle and Nash are crashed out in the guest bedroom. Cleo’s looking for you.”

“I’ll be right there,” Sandy said.

She closed the door to her home and went down the hall.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 3:45 A.M. The Castle

Jacob crept across the open loft space. Jill and her friends were asleep in the sitting area near the fireplace. The empty wine bottle and pan of brownies indicated that they had a girl’s night. Jill and Sandy were so grim when they left the hospital; he hoped the wine, brownies and company helped.

He smiled. Sound asleep, the women were draped around each other like some romantic oil painting. Jill was sitting near the end of the couch with Sandy’s head in her lap. As he approached, Sandy’s eyes opened. When Sandy shifted off Jill’s lap, Jill opened her eyes. She turned to look at Sandy and Sandy pointed to Jacob.

Jill stood to hug Jacob. Sandy gave them a wave and lay back on the couch.

“Come to bed,” Jacob whispered in Jill’s ear.

Jill nodded. He took her hand and led her across the loft. He closed their bedroom door.

“Bath or bed?” he asked.

“Bath,” she said. “How’s Delphie?”

He gave her a soft smile. He led her through their bedroom to their master bathroom where he filled the tub. He gave her the bath salts then went out. When he returned, she was waiting for him in the tub. He plucked off his clothing and stepped in across from her. His knees pressed against the tub and hers rested against his knees. He smiled. For that moment, sitting in the warm scented water with his love, everything in his world was right. He kissed the palm of her right hand in thanks.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Dad, Blane and Valerie are staying at the hospital,” he said. “I’m home to close Lipson for the day. I have about an hour before I have to work.”

Jill reached back to get a washcloth.

“I’d like to spend the time with you,” he said. “If that’s all right. I know your friends are here but…”

“I’d like that.”

Jill smiled one of her beautiful smiles. A flush ran all the way through him. She giggled at his reaction.

“How… I mean, when…?” he asked.

“The healing thing?” Jill asked.

Nodding, his eyes tracked the washcloth moving across Jill’s skin.

“I’ve been able to do it all my life. Everyone in my family has some healing in them. I’m the strongest or at least stronger than Mama. Mike’s not as strong as Mama, but he was able to keep those soldiers alive when they were hostages.”

“Mike?” He took the wash cloth from her. He indicated for her to twirl around. She slid between his legs. “That’s just weird. When did Mike get any healing power?”

“Ever notice how Mike never really gets hurt?” Jill asked. “He plays hockey hard, but he’s never injured. He even has all his front teeth. How many hockey goalies have all their teeth?”

“He has those scars on his head and face,” Jacob said.

Jill nodded.

“Oh, you mean, the injuries must have been very severe for him to have those scars,” Jacob said.

Jill nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jacob said. “Why didn’t you heal me?”

“When you were injured?” Jill asked. “I did. I mean, I did what I could for you. Remember the compression dressing?”

“The doctors said it saved my life.”

“It was kind of an accident with you, Honey and Katy. Today… no yesterday was the first time I’ve done it intentionally since my Dad died.” Not wanting to talk about her father, she rushed on, “It’s some genetic thing. It’s why my grandfather rose so fast in the Russian Mob. He’s supposed to be gifted. Mama thinks I’m stronger than he is, but I’ve never met him. We used to do it as kids. When my Dad went… crazy, we’d heal the bruises, broken bones and stuff. On Mama too. Sometimes I think he allowed himself to get so crazy because he knew we could heal it.”

“And the little prayer?” Jacob caressed her with the washcloth.

“Take in this healing with love, for the best use of your soul and body,” Jill said. “It’s something we said as kids. We did it yesterday out of habit, mostly.”

She tipped her head back and he kissed her lips.

“You’ve said that your powers are stronger when I’m around,” Jill said. “It’s probably this thing. Or that’s what Katy said when we were in the Chapel.”

“Katy,” Jacob said. “How is Katy?”

“Asleep, but happy. She and Paddie ate all kinds of cookies and cupcakes and chocolate. Mama said they kept everyone entertained by running in circles and giggling. They’re very happy right now.”

“So am I,” Jacob said.

For a brief moment, his heart filled with the joy of Jill. Reality dropped in a moment later. He sighed.

“Tell me about Delphie,” Jill said. “It was awful to come home and not have her here. The downstairs is a wreck. I… Tell me about Delphie.”

“She’s stable,” Jacob said. “She seems to have turned a corner or that’s what John said. There is some brain damage but they aren’t sure it wasn’t there before. It’s centered around areas of reality testing. They asked us if Delphie ever thought she ‘saw things like ghosts or spirits.’ We laughed after they left.”

“Sounds like good news,” Jill said.

“I guess so. They’ll keep her a couple days, but she should be home by Monday or Tuesday,” Jacob said. “Dad’s a wreck. He’s sure the whole thing is his fault. He says he should have killed Johansen when we saw him in Leadville.”

“He wouldn’t have survived,” Jill said.

“Probably,” Jacob said. “Do you think we’re together because…”

“Delphie told me once that people like us are drawn to each other,” Jill said. “When I was helping her, I heard her say that she tricked you into creating Katy.”

“Huh,” Jacob said. “She probably did.”

“What does that mean?”

“She was the connection to the project in California. She had a friend who wanted an ashram or something like that,” Jacob said. “Totally out of our scope and place. Val and I had to go to see it to vote against it. That’s how I got to California.”

“We should go back,” Jill said.

“We should,” Jacob said.

Standing from the tub, he grabbed a towel from the rack.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“I only have a half hour more…” he said. Still damp, he pulled the sheets back on the bed and wagged his eyebrows at her. “You promised to heal me.”

Laughing, she hopped from the bath to follow him to the bed.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday afternoon — 3:45 P.M.

“Are you all right?” Mike asked.

They were walking down Eighteenth Street. Delphie was still unconscious. Jacob was sitting with her while Sam went home to shower. Blane was holding down the fort in the waiting room. Mike had been bugging Valerie to eat for hours. After Blane promised to call if anything changed, she finally agreed to leave the hospital for food.

“I’d rather have dessert,” Valerie said. “If I have to eat, I’d rather have dessert.”

Valerie felt as if the roots of her very existence had been ripped from the ground. Delphie was her anchor, her long roots into the soil allowed Valerie to take risks and live. They turned down Humboldt Street toward Seventeenth Street.

“There’s a place here,” Mike said. “Next to Strings. D Bar. Oh crap.”

A car screeched to a halt beside them. Four paparazzi photographers jumped from the car. The camera’s whirred and the flash popped. Mike put his arm around Valerie to protect her.

“Where you going Val?”

“What’s going on Val?”

“How are the babies, Val?”

“Hey Mike, is she wearing your pants? They’re pretty big.”

“Show us your baby bump, Val!”

“Why are you in Denver, Val”

The questions flew as fast as the flash from the cameras. She smiled and waved.

Turning on left on Seventeenth, they scooted into the D Bar.

“Are they for you?” the Maitre d’ asked about the photographers.

Valerie nodded.

“Do you want them in?”

Valerie shook her head.

“Easy.”

The Matire d’ informed the photographers that they should leave. As if to accentuate her point, a Denver police cruiser pulled up in front.

“Thanks,” Mike slipped the woman a twenty dollar bill.

They were escorted to a two person table near the back. Mike held Valerie’s seat then came around to sit across from her.

“Sit next to me,” Valerie said. “Please.”

Mike moved next to her on the bench. She held his hand.

“I’m so sorry about the baby, Mike. I wanted to give you babies… a boy to play hockey with and… I….”

Her large hazel eyes filled with tears. Mike put his arm around her. He kissed her cheek. Retrieving a clean handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped her eyes. She took the handkerchief from him.

“Where did you get this?” she asked. “I made a mess of your other one.”

“Jake brought me two clean handkerchiefs,” Mike said. “Just figured I’d need them.”

Valerie gave a soft smile for her brother’s lie about his psychic abilities.

“I’m sorry about our baby too,” Mike said. “Feel caught between gratitude for the miracle that you’re alive; joy that we still have a baby girl to look forward to meeting; and heartbreak over losing our boy, our son.”

“Feels crazy,” Valerie said.

“Feels crazy,” Mike said.

“I called the producers. They are giving me next week off to be with Delphie and get checked and stuff. They want me back, but are being nice about it. My agent said they are really happy with my work.”

Mike’s big rough hand cupped her soft cheek. He smiled into her face.

“We need to sleep, recover. We’ll see our doctor on Monday,” Mike said. “I say we celebrate the short life of our son, our daughter on the way, and your precious life.”

“I need to grieve, Mike,” Valerie said. “And eat some chocolate.”

Mike signaled the waiter.

“Please bring us every chocolate dessert you have in the house,” he said. “And some water. Hot tea for Val. Something herbal. We’re pregnant.”

“Congratulations sir, ma’am. I’ll bring that right away.”

Valerie smiled.

“What?”

“I love it when you take charge,” she said.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday evening — 5:45 P.M. St. Joseph’s Hospital

“Sam.”

Or at least that’s what he thought he heard. Sam moved from the chair by Delphie’s bed to sit on the bed.

“I’m here,” he said.

Delphie opened then closed her eyes. Hoping she might wake up, he waited for a moment. The doctors thought she’d be awake by now. Every passing minute she remained asleep, her prognosis got worse. He sighed and moved back to his chair. He must have imagined her voice.

“Sam?” He heard five minutes later.

He moved back to the bed. Delphie’s eyes were open and she seemed alert.

“Where am I?” she whispered.

“St. Joe’s,” he said. “Do you remember what happened?’

“I remember Levi.” Delphie shivered and closed her eyes. “Awful.”

“He’s dead,” Sam said.

Delphie looked surprised.

“I’m sorry. I know how much he meant to you.”

“Did Jacob kill him?” she asked.

“Jill,” Sam said. “Although the coroner said he was riddled with cancer. He probably wouldn’t have survived the week. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you. We still haven’t figured out how the security system failed.”

“I doubt it did,” she said. “He would have been able to get around it. Everything but the dogs. Can’t trick a dog. They would have kept him away. I should have remembered that. I thought they’d be happier if they went to the groomers all together than if they went by themselves.”

“They’re at home waiting for you,” Sam said.

“Home.” Delphie’s voice echoed with longing. “I’d like to be home.”

“Tomorrow or the next day,” Sam said. “You’ve been very ill.”

“I died,” she said.

“Listen,” Sam said. “I’ve had a lot of time to think and I’d really like to marry you while we still have time left.”

Delphie laughed.

“Why is that funny?”

“Because you’re Celia’s husband. What would Celia think?” Delphie asked. “Plus I like the idea of you being my super hot boyfriend. Gives me a little thrill.”

“Celia would want us to get married. You’ve told me over and over again that she wants us to be happy.”

“You are a sweet man,” Delphie said. “What I can’t figure out is why you can talk to me. Did you gain some psychic skill?”

“Me? Psychic skill? Not a chance,” Sam laughed.

“You must have gained some,” she laughed.

“Why?”

“Because I’m dead!”

Denver Cereal continues next week…

~~~~~~~~

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