CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and EIGHTEEN
Wednesday afternoon — 3:40 P.M.
“Why don’t you start?” the group therapist asked. “Tell us who you are and why you’re here.”
“I’m Sandy. Mitzi’s older sister,” Sandy said to the group. “I’m here to help Sis… I mean Mitzi get better.”
Sandy smiled at Sissy and took her hand.
“I’m Charlie. I’m Sissy’s older brother.” He took Sissy’s other hand. “I’m here to help Sissy.”
“You mean Mitzi,” the group leader said.
“She doesn’t like that name,” Sandy said.
“Is that true, Mitzi?” the group leader said.
“I hate the name Mitzi,” Sissy said. “No one’s called me that since I was little.”
“And why is that?” the group leader asked.
“Because I hate the name?” Sissy gave the group leader a confused look. “Sandy always called me Sissy so everyone else did too.”
The group leader gave Sandy a hard look and wrote something on her pad of paper. The family members continued to introduce themselves.
“Today, we’re going to talk about enabling,” the group leader said. “For every addiction, such as an eating disorder, there are family members whose actions make the eating disorder worse. Their actions don’t create the disorder. Enablers add fuel to the fire of the addiction.”
Sandy nodded. She’d been learning all about enabling in the Alanon meetings she and Molly went to twice a week. She caught Charlie’s eyes. It was good for him to learn about addiction and enabling at the same time.
“I wanted to focus on something that happened earlier,” the group leader said. “Mitzi doesn’t like her name. Rather than correcting the name herself, her brother Charlie steps in to protect her. When I questioned Charlie, Mitzi’s sister Sandy stepped in to protect Charlie.”
The group leader turned her attention to Sandy.
“I understand Charlie is getting treatment for addiction,” the group leader said.
“I’m in rehab for drug addiction right now,” Charlie said.
“How does it feel to be responsible for both Charlie and Mitzi’s addictions?” the group leader asked Sandy.
“I’m not sure what you mean.” Feeling a searing pain in her abdomen, Sandy put a protective hand on her belly. “As an enabler, I may have participated in their addiction but I’m not responsible. Isn’t it correct that the person is responsible for their own actions?”
Sandy heard the timpani of her rising blood pressure in her ears. The group leader said something she didn’t hear. She heard Charlie’s voice.
“Are you all right?” Sissy’s face appeared in front of her.
Sandy nodded. The group leader moved on to yell at another family. Sandy watched the clock. She didn’t dare get up or the group leader would be after her again. She had to practice her deep breathing to keep from passing out in pain. She felt someone move toward her.
“I’m sorry,” she heard Charlie say. “My sister’s not feeling very well. I’m going to enable my sister to get out of this room. Come on Sis.”
With Charlie on one arm and Sissy on the other, they helped her out of the room.
“Is that woman still screaming?” Sandy whispered.
“I think so,” Sissy said. “She’s just like that. It’s supposed to wear down denial. Or that’s what my therapist said.”
“I just need to catch my breath,” Sandy said.
Charlie and Sissy helped Sandy to a chair in the hospital corridor. Her abdomen radiated with unbearable pain.
“I’m calling Aden,” Charlie said.
Sandy nodded. Sissy ran to the nurses’ station.
“Can you help my sister?” Sissy asked.
Sandy passed out.
Wednesday afternoon — 3:40 P.M.
Jacob looked across the kitchen table at Valerie. She scowled at him.
“What I don’t get is…” she started just as he said, “Who the hell are you to…”
They glared at each other. Valerie sighed and tried another tack.
“Why didn’t you call me?” she asked.
“You were here when it happened!”
“I was here when it happened but not when you quit,” she said. “As a board member…”
Jacob groaned. She glared at him again.
“What’s your problem?” Jacob asked.
“I don’t know why you’ve just abandoned Lipson Construction,” she said. “You love the company and the work!”
“Remember the state of Colorado is reviewing our contracts?” Jacob asked.
“When have you cared about the state?” Valerie asked.
“Why are you on me!? Why not go after Ava the evil secretary?” Jacob asked. “She’s the one behind all of this.”
“I just got home, Jake,” Valerie said. “I’m pregnant and don’t want to over tax myself.”
Jacob gave her a sour look.
“You’re driving everyone crazy moping around here,” Valerie said. “Everyone has complained to me.”
“Well…” Valerie said. “You’re driving me crazy.”
“I’m trying to decide if I want to get into rehabbing haunted buildings,” Jacob asked. “I can’t decide.”
“As your older sister, I’ll decide for you.”
Shaking his head, Jacob leaned back in his chair.
“No,” Valerie beamed at him. “You’re not going to rehab haunted buildings because you are going back to work at Lipson Construction this summer.”
“What about the state!?”
“The state is going to resolve their issue this week,” Valerie said.
“How do you…?” Jacob asked. “Wait, what do you have planned?”
“Planned? Me?” Valerie bat her eyes at Jacob.
“This is not going to be good,” Jacob said.
“Good?” Valerie said. “It’s going to be great! Trust me.”
“That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” Jacob said.
Wednesday afternoon — 3:40 P.M.
“Who exactly are you?” Seth O’Malley asked the man in front of him.
He was standing on the corner of 13th Avenue and Cherokee.
“Baxter Gaston. I work for Westword,” the man said.
Seth looked up to see Delphie waving to him. He smiled at her. The last thing he wanted was to be caught talking to a psychic by some punk reporter for Denver’s illustrious alternative paper, Westword.
“You caught me at a tough time,” Seth said. He watched Delphie approach. “I’m just about to go into a meeting.”
“Baxter!” Delphie said. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Turning toward her, the reporter smiled.
“Nice to see you, Delphie. I was just talking to Detective O’Malley.”
“Don’t let me interrupt,” Delphie said. “We were going for some coffee.”
“You and Detective O’Malley are…”
“Friends,” Delphie said. “We’ve known each other a long time. His nephew is living with us now. Nosey uncle wants a full report.”
Baxter laughed in response to Delphie’s gossiping tone.
“Then you won’t mind me asking about the murder…” Baxter turned to Seth.
“What murder?” Seth asked.
“The man who was murdered last night downtown,” the reporter said. “They haven’t released the name or any information about…”
“Not my case,” Seth said. “You’ll need to speak with someone else.”
With his arm over Delphie’s shoulder, he directed Delphie away from the young man. They were a hundred feet away from the man when he yelled:
“Wait! There’s more than one murder?”
Without looking back, Seth and Delphie scooted up the steps into Dozens. They were seated near the windows on 13th Avenue. Through the windows, they watched the young man decide whether to follow them.
“Can I take your order?” the woman behind the counter asked.
And Baxter Gaston disappeared.
Seth blew out a breath. So far, they’d avoided coverage of his mysterious serial killer. It couldn’t last forever. The longer the killer went without press attention, the more they drew him out of hiding. Some day he would make a mistake, and Seth would be there to catch him. Their waitress had just dropped off Delphie’s green tea when he heard:
“I don’t know anything about last night’s murder, Baxter,” Delphie said to the approaching reporter.
Defeated, Seth closed his eyes. The press silence was over.
Wednesday afternoon — 4:35 P.M.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “Who are you?”
“I’m Charlie,” he said. “My sister is in…”
“Your sister Sandra?” the doctor asked. “Are you here with an adult?”
“Her husband is on his way,” Charlie said. “I promise you. She’s my sister. I was with her when… What happened?”
“She’s spiked a fever and her white count is up. She’s reported pain in her abdomen. We gave her something for the pain and she’s sleeping now,” the doctor said. “The baby is fine. Everything with the pregnancy seems fine.”
“Charlie!” Jill said.
Jill, Heather and Tanesha ran to his side.
“What’s happening with Sandy?”
“Who are you?” the doctor asked.
“They’re Sandy’s best friends,” Charlie said. “How could Sandy have pain in her abdomen and have it not be the baby?”
Jill shook her head.
“Miss, why are you shaking your head?” the doctor asked. “If you know something that might help…”
“No, I don’t know anything,” Jill said. “She was sick last night and… Upset. I told her she needed to rest but she…”
“She’s lucky she was already in a hospital,” the doctor said. “She was at Children’s…”
“Our little sister is in the eating disorders clinic there,” Charlie said.
“So you’re not here by yourself.” The doctor looked relieved. “I’m glad. Sandra is going to be with us for a while.”
“Would you mind checking to see if her appendix burst?” Jill asked.
The doctor blinked at Jill. Jill gave him a bright smile.
“Appendix?” he asked. “I…”
“It runs in our family,” Charlie said.
The doctor looked at Charlie then Jill. Without another word, he spun in place and jogged back into the emergency room.
“So…” Tanesha said. “Does it?”
“Does what?” Charlie asked.
“Does appendicitis run in your family?” Heather asked.
“How would I know?” Charlie said. “I just said that so he would look.”
“Thanks Charlie,” Jill said.
Heather hugged him.
“Why did you say that?” Tanesha asked.
“Last night, Aden said Sandy needed Jill’s touch,” Charlie said. “I remembered when I was a kid Sandy used to say Jill could heal anything. Can you?”
“Some things,” Jill said. “Not this. She didn’t want me to heal her. She wants you and Sissy to be well. But I can’t help you with what you need. Only you can.”
Charlie wilted under Jill, Heather and Tanesha’s gaze. They turned to see the doctor jogging toward them.
“Her appendix burst,” the doctor said. “We’re taking her into emergency surgery. I’ll update you when I know anything more.”
He nodded to them and ran back into the emergency room.
“Where’s Aden?” Charlie asked.
“He can’t get away,” Jill said.
“Because of his ankle bracelet,” Heather said. “He’s so close to being done, they didn’t want to give him the time. I guess most people screw up in the last couple days on the ankle bracelet. He’s with the kids.”
Charlie gave Heather a puzzled look.
“Blane told me,” Heather smiled.
Charlie nodded as if he understood. Tanesha pointed toward a row of chairs and they went to sit down. Charlie sat down on the end. He sat for a moment then punched his leg.
“What?” Tanesha asked.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” Charlie said. “I didn’t go out. I didn’t go out. I didn’t go out.”
He began to cry. Jill got up to sit next to him. She rubbed his back. Tanesha reached over to hold his hand. Heather bent down in front of him.
“We don’t know what you’re talking about,” Heather said.
“Delphie said…” Charlie swatted at his face with his hands. “She said if I left, Sandy and the baby would die. But I didn’t leave and Sandy and the baby are going to die!”
“Don’t give up hope,” Tanesha said. “Sandy is very strong, resilient.”
“But… Aden can’t be here and Noelle and Nash… Just me…”
“Seems like just you did a pretty good job of getting Sandy help,” Jill said.
“Think of it this way,” Heather said. “If you’d left the Castle, Sandy would have spent all day looking for you.”
“Delphie said I would die,” Charlie said through his tears.
“If you died it would be worse,” Tanesha said. “Sandy would have lost her shit completely. She’d be far away from any hospital.”
“That’s right,” Jill said. “Sandy was lucky to be in group with you and Sissy. I bet that saved her life. You’ll see. Tanesha’s right. Don’t give up hope.”
“We never give up hope,” Heather said. “And we’ve been through a lot of shit.”
“Lots of shit,” Tanesha repeated.
Jill nodded. Through watery eyes, Charlie looked at Jill, Heather and Tanesha. Wiping his eyes, he nodded.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Why?” Tanesha asked. “We’ve seen you cry before.”
“When?” Charlie asked.
“Remember!” Heather laughed. “You broke your leg. You kept saying your face was crying but not you. You were too manly to cry.”
Tanesha and Jill laughed.
“That’s what’s happening here,” Charlie said.
“What happens now?” Charlie asked.
“We wait,” Jill said. “Tanesha has a gift for finding great junk food from hospital machines. We’ll send her off in a little while.”
“That’s all? We wait?”
“We hope and we wait,” Heather said.
“Again,” Tanesha said.
“Again,” Jill said.
Not liking the sound of their Again pronouncements, Charlie excuse himself to use the bathroom. When he came back, they were laughing and talking. This how he always remembered them. No matter what was happening, Sandy and her friends always laughed. He sat down in the middle of them to listen for a while.
Wednesday night — 8:35 P.M.
In the Castle driveway, Tanesha woke Charlie, hugged him then shoed him out of the car. Rubbing his eyes, Charlie waved to her until she backed out onto Race Street. With a sigh, he walked into the Castle. Today had been a long, exhausting, heartbreaking day. He slipped into the side door. Making his way to their apartment, he turned into the living room and stopped short.
Aden was walking away from him. He opened his mouth to say something when Aden turned. Aden was carrying a pajama clad Noelle in his arms. Noelle’s face was pressed into his shoulder. When Aden stopped walking, Noelle looked up at him then turned to look at Charlie. Noelle’s face bore the wounds made from hours of crying.
“Charlie!” Noelle said.
Hidden by the couch, Nash popped to his feet. Aden, Noelle and Nash stared at him. Embarrassed, he looked down. He felt more than saw Nash come over to hug him.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” Nash said.
“What happened to…?” Charlie gestured to Noelle.
“We’re upset about Sandy,” Aden said.
Charlie looked up to see they were standing around him. He nodded. Aden gestured to the couch and Charlie went to sit down. He watched Aden and Noelle whisper to each other.
“She’s just like that,” Nash said in his ear.
“Soft?” Charlie asked.
“You’ll get used to it,” Nash said.
“How is Sandy?” Aden asked.
“Did you get to see her?” Noelle asked.
“I called you from the hospital…” Charlie started.
“She wants you to tell us in person,” Nash said.
“Tell us the whole story,” Noelle said. “How did you know she was sick?”
“She wasn’t herself,” Charlie said. “I noticed it when she picked me up from rehab. She threw up… or I think she threw up in the bathroom before we got back in the car. She just looked a little green. We went to Sissy’s group and I guess it’s some kind of beat down denial group or something. It didn’t go very well.”
“Like the hot seat?” Noelle asked.
“Not that bad,” Charlie flushed. Noelle had remembered his story, his pain. “The group leader asked Sandy something and she didn’t respond. I figured she was sick. So I got us out of the group. Sissy found a nurse and Sandy passed out. They zoomed us to the Emergency Room at that hospital, then took her to the grown up hospital.”
“What did you do?” Noelle asked.
“I wasn’t allowed to go with her in the ambulance because I’m so young,” Charlie said. “Sissy was really upset. I stayed with Sis until she was feeling better then ran over to the other hospital.”
“Ran?” Aden asked.
“Yeah, that didn’t go so well,” Charlie said. “I got there just as a doctor was looking for me. The girlfriends…”
“The girlfriends?” Nash asked.
“That’s what I call them,” Charlie said. “Jill, Heather and Tanesha arrived just then and kinda took over. The doctor told us Sandy’s appendix burst and they did surgery. We waited and waited. Finally, they came out and said they had cleaned up everything and they thought she would be all right.”
“And the baby?” Aden asked.
“She’s fine,” Charlie said.
“He,” Nash said.
“She,” Charlie said. “I saw the ultrasound. They did one while I was in there. She’s a she.”
The kids looked at Aden. He shrugged.
“But she’s all right?” Aden asked.
“I guess it was a big question,” Charlie said. “Lots of poison from the thing…whatever it’s called. But they said the baby… she’s tough. Like Sandy. That’s what I said. They called a baby doctor who said the baby is small. Like Sandy.”
“That’s what you said?” Nash asked.
“That’s what the lady doctor said. Called the baby a ‘little lady’,” Charlie said. “Sandy has to rest until the baby is due. Now. The girlfriends will make her do it so she’ll probably do it.”
“Did you get to talk to Sandy?” Noelle asked. Her eyes welled up with tears. “I wanted to talk to her to make sure she’s all right.”
“We couldn’t use cell phone to call you,” Charlie said. “Some dumb rule. Sandy made a video for you guys on Jill’s camera.”
Tears still spilling on her face, Noelle cheered. She scooched closer to Charlie so she could see. Charlie fumbled with the camera until Aden took it away from him. Aden set it up. They watched Sandy with their four heads pressed together to see the tiny screen. Heather had done Sandy’s make up and Jill had done her hair. The little bit of theater helped Sandy seem less life threateningly sick. Even Charlie felt better watching the video.
And Sandy was Sandy. She smiled her big smile, told them she was all right. She promised to try to get home as soon as possible. Then she was all Mom. She reminded Noelle to bring her art supplies case for art class after school. She encouraged Nash to do well on his test tomorrow. She ended by telling them all to get to bed.
They watched the short video three times before Noelle declared they should, in fact, go to bed. Nash and Charlie followed Noelle up to the apartment. Charlie waited until Aden helped the kids to bed before telling him that Sandy made a video for him. Touched, Aden nodded. Aden helped Charlie through teeth brushing and finally into bed. Charlie had just snuggled down with Cleo the cat when he heard Aden turn on the video. Like his children, Aden watched it three or four times. Charlie was sure Aden was going to bed when he appeared in the doorway of his closet room.
“I wanted to say Thanks,” Aden said. “It was brave of you to get Sandy out of that group. And really thoughtful to make these videos.”
“How did you know…?”
“Sandy told me on the phone,” Aden said. “She said you insisted. I wanted to thank you. Noelle’s… She’s…”
“Fragile,” Charlie said. “Special.”
“Right,” Aden said. “She’s lost so much – her real mother, her home, me… Sandy stepped into that mess and became her anchor. With Sandy sick, Noelle’s adrift again. She needs that kind of visual confirmation to feel all right. She’ll probably watch the video five or six times before school. How did you know?”
“I didn’t,” Charlie said. “I just knew what I’d want if I was at home and they were there.”
“Must have been awful for you,” Aden said.
“Get some sleep,” Aden said. “I have to go in early but I’ll be back to get you guys up. Do you mind going with MJ again?”
“Nope,” Charlie said.
Aden nodded. Charlie lay back on his bed when Aden appeared in his doorway again.
“I’m really glad you’re here,” Aden said.
He was gone before Charlie could respond. Closing his eyes, Charlie was really glad he was there too.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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