They had just finished breakfast. While Sandy had put on her makeup, Noelle went to get ready for school. Sandy noticed that the door to the bathroom Noelle and Nash shared was closed.
She tried the knob. Locked.
“Noelle! We have to go,” she said. “Finish up and let’s get going.”
Leaning her head against the door, she thought she heard Noelle crying. Slipping off her shoes, she trotted out of Noelle’s room and into Nash’s room. She tried his door to the bathroom. The knob turned.
She said a silent prayer of thanks to whatever saint looked after guardians of children whose father was in a medically induced coma in prison. Shaking her head at her own insanity, she opened the door.<
“Noelle?” Sandy stuck her head in the door.
Noelle sat in front of the toilet weeping. When she saw Sandy, she made an animal-like moan and pulled her knees up to her eyes. Sandy rushed to her side.
“What is it, honey? Are you sick?”
Noelle jerked away from Sandy. Curling herself into herself, the little girl pressed her face into a corner of the bathroom. Noelle made sounds somewhere close to an injured cat. Unsure of what to do, Sandy wrapped herself around the weeping girl. Slowly, gently, Sandy began rocking Noelle like an infant. While the clock ticked past the start of school, Sandy rocked Noelle in the tight corner of the bathroom.
Noelle cried until the flood of sadness was released. When the desperate storm passed, she sighed. She rubbed her face against Sandy’s shoulder.
“What happened?” Sandy whispered.
“I’m fat,” Noelle whispered. “I’m so fat. Everybody says I’m fat. I tried to eat less and I’ve been working out but I’m still fat. FAT! I hate being fat.”
“Honey, you’re not fat,” Sandy said. “Your Daddy is tall. Your… Nuala is tall. You’re going to be tall like Daddy and Nash. That’s all. You’re almost taller than me already. That’s not fat, it’s healthy.”
“The cute girls throw up to stay skinny.” Noelle’s eyes welled with tears. “I can’t even throw up right. I tried and tried and tried but I can’t do it.”
Tears fell from Noelle’s eyes.
“I can’t do anything right. I’m fat and ugly and I can’t even throw up right.”
Sandy rocked Noelle until she stopped crying again.
“Who do you know that’s skinny?”
“The cute girls at school,” Noelle said. “They have really cute clothes and…”
“You wear a uniform!”
“They have theirs tailored to be cute,” Noelle said.
“Ok, besides school,” Sandy said. “Who do you know that’s skinny?”
“You used to be,” Noelle said.
“Before the baby made me look like an elephant? Yes, I was thin and small,” Sandy said. “But I never made myself throw up. Never. Heather and Tanesha? They’re look great. Don’t you think?”
“They don’t throw up food,” Sandy said. “Do you think Mrs. Valerie looks good?”
“She’s beautiful,” Noelle said. “But I don’t want to be that skinny.”
“She’s downstairs,” Sandy said. “Let’s ask her how she stays so skinny.”
“She’ll probably lie,” Noelle said. “Everybody throws up.”
“Not me or Heather or Tanesha or Jill,” Sandy said. “Jill’s in great shape, don’t you think?”
Sandy hefted herself off the bathroom floor. She held a hand out to Noelle.
“Come on, let’s ask Mrs. Valerie,” Sandy said.
“What about school? I’m late for school!” Noelle’s voice rose with hysteria. “I can’t miss school. Everyone will be mad at me. And…”
“I thought you could spend the day with me today,” Sandy said. “I was going to run some errands. Maybe we can get your uniform fixed. Do your hair. I bet Heather would help you figure out some nice makeup to wear.”
Noelle took Sandy’s extended hand and stood. Sandy hugged the little girl.
“Can we have lunch with Nash and Teddy?”
“I don’t see why not,” Sandy said.
Noelle visibly brightened at the idea of having lunch with her brother and his friend.
“But first, let’s go talk to Mrs. Valerie,” Sandy said. “This is a serious thing, Noelle. You can really hurt yourself and your health by throwing up food. Not to mention it makes your teeth ugly.”
“Oh… oh… I don’t want to mess up my teeth! They are the one thing that’s actually okay. I won’t even need braces,” Noelle said. “I just want to be…”
“Perfect,” Sandy said under her breath. “Why don’t you change into some regular clothes and I’ll meet you up front? I’ll call school. Bring your uniforms so we can get them fixed.”
“Ok,” Noelle said.
Sandy went to get her shoes then waited for Noelle in the front room. She pressed her hand against eyes to keep from weeping herself. She wondered if she should call Noelle’s therapist. Not that the therapist did any good. Clearly, Noelle had thought she was fat for a long time. No, the therapist wasn’t going to help.
Sandy had no idea what might help. Noelle came out in jeans and a cute top. The little girl had washed her face but there was no disguising the swollen blotchy mess that her tears had created.
“Let’s find Mrs. Valerie.”
Taking the uniforms from Noelle, she followed the girl down the stairs.
Monday midday — 12:12 P.M.
On her first day back to work after the trial, Honey decided to go home during her lunch break. She wanted one last check of the pantry before she and Jill went shopping. Wheeling through the kitchen, she saw that Jill had posted her dinner schedule on the wall. Tonight’s welcome home dinner for Delphie was roasted chicken, baked potatoes and a salad. Sandy was making rolls and Blane was bringing by one of his amazing cakes.
<Honey smiled. Everything was working out perfectly. Jill and Sandy treated her like she was one of their friends. Last night, Valerie introduced her to everyone as her sister. For the first time in Honey’s life, she was apart of something, a family.
She wheeled herself into the pantry to check supplies.
The pantry that had been nearly empty last night! Somehow, someway, the pantry was now full. There were even three boxes of Captain Crunch with Crunch Berries. Last night, there was not a Crunch Berry in the house. In fact, Jacob went to Walgreen’s to get some after he, Mike and Blane returned from Midnight Hockey. MJ helped them finish the box before coming to bed.
No Crunch Berries in the house last night. Not one.
Now, three unopened boxes of sat on this pantry shelf.
Wheeling as fast as she could, she sped to stairs. She hooked herself into the stair lift and rode down to the basement. She plopped herself into the sport wheelchair that waited for her there. She sped to their temporary apartment.
Even though the kitchen was set up for standing people, MJ had worked all weekend to create a managable arrangement for her. Now, everything was mostly accessible to her. Yanking open the cabinet, she saw…
More Crunch Berries.
Her pantry was full of real food and Crunch Berries.
“What the hell?”
Monday afternoon — 1:35 P.M.
“I wonder if you could help me with something,” Sandy said to Valerie.
Valerie had gone into such a graphic description of what happens when you throw up food that Noelle and Sandy were thoroughly disgusted. To remedy <their green looks, Valerie insisted on treating them to a girl’s day.
They had taken Noelle’s uniforms to the tailors and bought Noelle some pretty undergarments and flattering clothes. They even stopped to eat from the ‘roach coach’ with Nash and Teddy. They were now on their way to get a pedicure at the Woodhouse Spa.
“Sure.” Valerie turned right on Seventeenth Avenue.
“I have this ten thousand dollar check that I got from my father’s life insurance,” Sandy said. “But I can’t cash it because my bank will put a hold on it for six days. Jill said she could cash it but they would hold it for three days.”
“And you need the money now?”
“I need the money now,” Sandy said. “I’m putting my condo on the market and…”
“You’re putting your condo on the market?”
“The kids want to move out of state,” Sandy said. “That suits me as well.”<
“What about Aden?”
“The Social Services lady said Daddy will see us in the summer if he stays out of jail,” Noelle said from the back seat of Valerie’s Mustang. “We’ll spend the school year with Sandy. But if Daddy can’t keep himself out of prison, we’ll just spend our time with Sandy. Daddy’s fight in prison made it so we don’t have a choice. We aren’t very happy about it. In fact, I don’t like it at all. Nash either. But we don’t have a choice. That’s what the Social Services lady said.”
“Does Aden know?”
“He’s asleep,” Sandy shrugged. “I think Social Services will notify him. Our social worker saw the news about Delphie. Since Delphie was one of the kid’s guardians, and now she’s sick, they are giving me custody. We saw the Social Services lady on Saturday then again this morning. They filed papers this morning.”
“Oh,” Valerie said. “I’m so sorry Sandy. I can hear it in your voice… You’ve really suffering.”
“Right now, I’m suffering with this check,” Sandy said. “If you cash it, I’ll give you five percent.”
“ Sandy, Jake can help you rent your apartment.”
“It’s my responsibility. I’ll take care of it myself,” Sandy said.
They drove a few more blocks in silence.
“Maybe it’s time to do something new,” Valerie said. She pulled up at a stop light.
“I’m doing a lot of new things,” Sandy said.
“You’re doing new things.” Valerie placed her hand over Sandy’s heart. “But not doing new things here. I did that for a really, really long time. Hurts like hell.”
Sandy squinted at Valerie.
“You’re in pain and you have to trust someone.”
“I trust Jill,” Sandy said. “But that doesn’t get my check cashed.”
“Fine,” Valerie said. “Is this your bank?”
Sandy nodded. Valerie pulled into the Bank of Denver next to her condo building. While Sandy gawked, Valerie flirted with the clerk until he released the funds for Sandy. Using her credit card, Valerie even deposited ten thousand dollars into Sandy’s savings account to cover the check. They were back in the car before Sandy said a word.
“Thanks,” Sandy whispered.
“Easy. Before you light a torch to all these bridges, you need to think about what you want.”
“I want to get my nails done,” Noelle said.
“So do I,” Valerie said. “Let’s get our nails done. After my doctors appointment, Sandy and I will talk about what we really want.”
Nodding at the confidence in Valerie’s voice, Sandy wondered what she really wanted. Valerie pulled in front of the Woodhouse. Pushing away a tidal wave of sorrow, Sandy followed Valerie and Noelle into the spa.
Monday — 3:15 P.M.
“Oooh don’t move too fast,” Jill said when Aden jerked up from his hospital bed.
<“Where am I?” Aden asked.
“Canon City Hospital Ward,” Jill said. “What do you remember?”
“Nothing.” Still waking up, Aden moved his head back and forth. “I guess I remember the ride to Canon City. How did I get in the hospital?”
“You and Pete were attacked by your older brother the first night you were here.”
“Pete!” Aden looked around the dormitory style room.
“He’s in the bed next to you,” Jill said. “I visited him first. He’ll be okay. I left him asleep.”
“You don’t remember me healing you?” Jill asked. “Most people have some memory or sense of it.”
Aden’s face twisted into a puzzled look then he nodded.
“How?” Aden asked.
“It’s a long story,” Jill said. “Listen, I woke you up to talk to you.”
“Where’s Sandy?” Aden asked.<
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Jill said. “Sandy’s not coming. Not now, and probably never.”
“What do you mean?”
“You and Sandy? You guys are over,” Jill said. “At least that’s what she says.”
“She always says we’re over,” Aden smiled at Jill. “She’s just like that.”
“Not this time,” Jill said. “I’ve never seen her this angry.”
“She’ll calm down.” Aden gave Jill a broken toothed confident smile. “We have a baby on the way.”
“She’s putting her condo on the market,” Jill said.
Jill’s simple statement wiped the confident look off Aden’s face.
“Social Services gave her permanent full custody of Noelle and Nash,” Jill said. “Social Services has filed to terminate your parental rights in Family Court.”
“Oh, I see I finally have your attention,” Jill said. “That’s good.”
“Why are you here?” Aden asked.
“Sandy asked me to heal you,” Jill said. “She wants you to be well. That’s Sandy. You shit on her and she wants you to be well.”
“How did I shit on her? When?”
“You made a lot of promises and didn’t follow through on any of them,” Jill said. “Sandy is now a hundred percent responsible for every aspect of your life while you sleep.”
“How is it my fault that…”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” Jill said. “Well, I’ve done what I can. Good luck Aden.”
Jill got up from his bedside.
“Wait, Jill, please. Just wait,” Aden said. “I’m not processing very well. Give me a second. Please. Please. I need your help. Please.”
Unable to turn away from the pathetic look on his face, Jill sat back down.
“Thank you,” Aden said. “I can see it’s hard for you to be here. I don’t know what miracle you worked… even to get in.”
“Sandy’s uncle made it happen,” Jill said. “He’s delighted that she’s dumping you. He doesn’t want his great-niece or nephew to have you as a father.”
“I’m a great father!”
“Yeah, a great father who abandons his children because he wants to beat someone up? A great father who says he’s going to financially support his children, then leaves them penniless?”
“One mistake,” Aden said. “And it’s perfectly reasonable…”
“To abandon your children? To leave your girlfriend penniless? To dump every aspect of your life on your pregnant girlfriend and expect her to take care of it?”
“I didn’t think it through,” Aden said. “But I took responsibility for my actions.”
“No you didn’t. Sandy took responsibility for your actions,” Jill said. “You’re here, asleep.”
“Slowly Jill,” Aden said. “I’m sorry. I really am, but I need you to go slowly. How did Sandy get responsible for my life?”
“Because you couldn’t control your anger, or simply use a telephone to call the police, Sandy’s life exploded.”
“Let’s start with her father’s death. Big nightmare. Her mother has severed their minimal relationship. Sandy’s was shot at. That’s not to mention the FBI, Denver Police and whoever else that pick her up and take her to grilling interrogations at least once a week.”
“That’s horrible but you said my life. She was responsible for my life.”
“You said you would marry her. You didn’t. You said she wouldn’t have to worry about money. She’s flat broke. You said you would be there for the pregnancy. You’re not. You said you were a great father and frankly, dumping your kids on a woman who is basically a stranger to them isn’t really a great father move.”
“I fucked up pretty big time.”
“You fucked up really big time.”
“2 percent,” Jill said.
“Sandy caught Noelle trying throw up this morning because she thinks she’s fat,” Jill said. “Nash is a total wreck. He says that everything is his fault. He’s not sleeping, has lost weight, he…”
“But wait. Delphie and Nash are like best friends. Delphie knows what…”
“Delphie had a stroke last week,” Jill said.
“Delphie… Oh my God…”
“Delphie had surgery. She’s coming home from the hospital today. No one really knows if she’s be all right.”
Aden looked crushed by the news.
“You haven’t asked about your unborn child,” Jill said. “Not like you’ve taken any responsibility for that child.”
“How can I? I’m here!”
“And why is that?” Jill asked.
Jill let the question linger in the air. She’d hoped beyond hope that Aden would really get what was going on. She’d hoped Aden would be the man Sandy needed him to be. She sighed. So far, he’s acted like a defensive addict or maybe a twelve year old boy. But certainly not a man. When she moved to get up he touched her hand.
“I get it,” Aden said. “I went after the pedophile. Even if I feel justified in my actions, the result is that Sandy and my kids have had to deal with the consequences. I get it.”
“Your water heater broke yesterday,” Jill said. “At your house? Remember the house you own that Sandy now cares for along with your children, your car and every other thing in your life?”
“I knew it was getting old,” Aden said.
“Flooded the basement,” Jill said. “The neighbor called because water was running out of a window. That’s a tidy bill. Who’s going to pay for that?”
“What happened with the money?”
“Sandy can’t access your money. Even from the ATM,” Jill said. “The papers you signed only work to make Sandy responsible for your debt, not to get access to anything you own. Did you ask a lawyer to set them up?”
“No,” Aden said. “I went to the bank and they gave me the forms.”
“How responsible,” Jill said.
“I tried, Jill. I did,” Aden said. “And before you say it again, I fucked up.”
“Well, you’ll have plenty of money when you get out,” Jill said. “Just no children, no girlfriend. Oh and no house. It’s either house payments or food for your children, and food wins out.”
“Ok, ok, ” Aden said. “How do I make this right? I don’t want Sandy to suffer because I’m an asshole. I don’t want to lose my kids. I hate that I’m here, that I screwed up. I hate it. But I can’t change what I’ve done. I can only look at what I can do next.
“And I have to believe that you think there’s something I can do, or you wouldn’t be here.”
Jill looked him full in the eyes as she tried to decide what to say next.
“Is there a reason you didn’t heal my hand?” Aden asked. “It hurts like hell.”
“I don’t want you to forget,” Jill said.
“What a fuck up I am? How likely is that?”
“What can I do, Jill?”
“First, you need to make a real apology,” Jill said. “Not a ‘yes, but’ apology or an ‘it’s not my fault’ apology. You need to listen to how awful it’s been for Sandy and apologize for that. I don’t know if she’ll listen to you but that’s where you start.”
“Ok, what’s next?”
“Fix the money crap,” Jill said. “I don’t know what that will take, but fix it.”
“Done. What’s next?”
“Sandy’s started her own salon. You promised to set up her books. She’s completely lost and thinking of closing and moving out of state. Set up her books. Not because you want to make her happy, but because you promised.”
“Ok, then what?”
“Fulfill the rest of your promises. Take care of your shit. Stop being such a baby.”
“Got it. If I do all of this, what are my chances?”
“Three percent, maybe four,” Jill said.
“So why bother? I’ve already lost her,” Aden said.
“Because a real man honors his promises and cleans up his own messes. A real man doesn’t let other people suffer needlessly because of his own actions. Do it because that’s who you are, not because you want to get something. Be a better person.”
“And maybe she’ll come around?”
“And maybe you’ll come around.”
Monday afternoon — 4:25 P.M.
“Thanks for coming,” Valerie said to the Denver Post reporter at the door. “They are in here.”
<“This is a huge story, Val,” the man said. “I could win a Pulitzer for this.”
“And I still get a photo of your baby bump?” Remembering his manners, the man’s bright smile dropped. “I’m sorry to hear you lost one.”
“Yeah, I drop the act,” Valerie said. “Our deal stands.”
“Why do they want to talk to the press?” the man asked.
“They tried to talk to the Board of Education and even the superintendent. They are backing the Principal,” Valerie said. “The boy wants to go to school and is blocked because of a jailed child pornography buff. We weren’t sure what to do. Then I remembered that we have this agreement.”
“The Post doesn’t run gossip about you or paparazzi photos in-exchange for exclusives.”
“Right,” Valerie said.
They walked into a small sitting area off the main Castle living area. The man gasped.
“That’s the girl… the one who’s father was…” Whispering to Valerie, the man all but pointed at Sandy. “No one has interviewed her. Can I ask her…?”
“Do this first. Get the boy back in school,” Valerie said. “Then, she might share her story.”
Valerie followed the man into the room and closed the door.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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