Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Fourteen : Not alone anymore


Thursday early morning — 4:52 A.M.

Charlie wandered down the hall toward the living room. He wanted to talk to Aden when no one was around. Last night, he’d heard Sandy say she was too tired to get up when Aden left for work at five in the morning. Aden had assured her he could get his own breakfast. She’d laughed and made pumpkin muffins.

And Charlie had made a plan. Not wanting to miss his chance, he’d barely slept. When he heard Aden moving around, he got dressed and waited until Aden came out of the bedroom. Sliding into the living room, he saw Aden tying his shoes with one foot on a dining room chair.

Aden had a black box on his ankle.

“What’s that?” Charlie said.

Aden looked up at Charlie and finished tying his wing tips. He pulled out a chair and nodded for Charlie to sit down.

“Join me for breakfast?” Aden asked. “You look like you have something to say. I bet your sister’s pumpkin muffins will make this easier.”

Charlie nodded and sat down. Aden set two muffins on Charlie’s plate. He took some eggs and passed them to Charlie. For a few minutes, they ate in silence.

“The box is an ankle monitor,” Aden said. “I’m on house arrest for beating up Sandy’s biological father.”

“Did you beat him bad?” Charlie asked.

“I did,” Aden said.

Charlie raised his hand. Laughing, Aden gave Charlie a high five.

“I did the deed. I have to pay the price,” Aden said. “I also hurt and betrayed Sandy. I’m much less proud of that.”

Not wanting to know anymore, Charlie nodded.

“Your Uncle sentenced me,” Aden said.

“Uncle Howard?” Charlie laughed. “How did you get that unlucky?”

“It’s a long story,” Aden said. “Suffice it to say, your uncle and I have some serious history.”

“You’re lucky he didn’t throw you away for good,” Charlie said.

“Three months in prison. No good time,” Aden said.

“Prison?” Charlie asked. “That sucks.”

“I ran into my brother there,” Aden said. “Let me tell you about suckage.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing good,” Aden said. “On Friday, I’m getting all new teeth.”

Aden smiled to show his broken teeth.

“Life goal?” Charlie asked.

“Sort of,” Aden said.

“Me too,” Charlie said.

“Sandy’s taking Nash to the orthodontist next week for braces,” Aden said. “Why don’t we schedule a visit for you?”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Charlie said.

“Braces?” Aden raised his eyebrows.

“You guys have been nice,” Charlie said. “Paid for everything. Hospital, new glasses, food and even gave me my own sort of room.”

When Charlie fell silent, Aden picked up the thermos of coffee.

“Are you drinking coffee?” Aden asked.

“Don’t like warm drinks,” Charlie said.

They ate in silence for a few minutes.

“You were saying something,” Aden said.

“I don’t know how to pay for all of this,” Charlie said.

“Pay for it?” Aden asked.

“My hospital bill, glasses, food, my rent, bedtime stories… I…”

“Charlie,” Aden said. “When we first met, I thought you were a danger to us, to Sandy. Remember?”

“Outside the hotel?” Charlie asked.

“Yes,” Aden said. “I saw myself in you. I was pretty dangerous when I was your age.”

“You were?”

“I was. My family moved while I was at school one day. I was about a year younger than you. I spent the rest of the school year living on friend’s couches then I was out of doors.”

“Then you know how it is,” Charlie said.

“I know how it was,” Aden said. “I think it’s worse now.”

Charlie shrugged and took another muffin.

“They’re good,” Aden said. “Sandy makes them for me.”

“Oh,” Charlie put the muffin back on the plate. “I don’t want to…”

“Please eat,” Aden said. “There’s enough for everyone. It feels really good that she makes them for me. She puts a lot of love into her baking. But she’s happiest when what she makes is eaten by those she loves. She’s amazing.”

“She’s amazing,” Charlie said.

“Listen,” Aden said. “The more I get to know you, the more I see how much you belong here with us. Doesn’t it feel that way to you?”

His mouth full of food, Charlie nodded.

“The kids love you,” Aden said. “How is it for you?”

“I like them,” Charlie said. “I mean Nash is a little bossy, but that’s okay. He takes care of Noelle.”

“And you,” Aden said. “That’s what I saw last night.”

Charlie nodded.

“Nash’s friend Teddy may be staying with us this summer,” Aden said. “His Dad asked last night. I guess he’s been asked to do a rotation in Afghanistan. Something only he can do.”

“You probably need my room,” Charlie said. “I can just…”

“We need room,” Aden said. “But not your room. We never planned on staying here forever. We live here so I can do my house arrest. Sam and Delphie signed off on me.”

“Oh,” Charlie said.

“We have a baby coming,” Aden said. “He’ll need some space.”

“She,” Charlie said. “Sandy says she’s a girl.”

Aden laughed at having this conversation with Sandy’s brother. He ruffled the boy’s long hair.

“I think the question is: Do you like living here?”

“I do,” Charlie said.

“There are a lot of rules,” Aden said. “We’ll expect you to work this summer. We’ll expect you to get back in school.”

“I’m not very good at school,” Charlie said.

“Nash and Teddy are helping you,” Aden said. “Aren’t they?”

“Assholes,” Charlie said. “What did they tell you?”

“They said nothing,” Aden said. “I just know my son. He would want to help you. Is he?”

Charlie nodded.

“You can get a GED,” Aden said. “It’s good enough. I always wanted a high school diploma. It’s better in subtle ways. Sandy’s looking into what you need to do. Summer school is definitely on the menu.”

Charlie nodded.

“Rehab,” Aden said. “You’ll start next week.”

Charlie groaned.

“We have a lot of rules,” Aden said. “We expect a lot of each other.”

Charlie took another muffin. He put it on his plate and stared at it.

“How am I going to pay for all of this?” Charlie asked.

Aden set his fork down and looked at Charlie. He chuckled.

“I’m not kidding,” Charlie said. “Sissy’s still stuck at Mom’s and…”

“We need to get your sister,” Aden said. “We will.”

“How am I going to pay for this?” Charlie asked. “Even if I work, I can’t…”

“Okay, okay.” Aden raised his hands to quell Charlie’s rising anxiety. “I laughed because you truly are Sandy’s brother. She’s just like that.”

“Is that bad?”

“No, it’s just not how a lot of people are,” Aden said. “First, you are family. You feel like you belong here. We feel like you belong here. I think Noelle would be devastated if you left. She’s been telling everyone about her new brother.”

“She’s really great,” Charlie blushed.

“So are you,” Aden said. “I know Sandy always feels better if there’s something she can do. So let’s make a deal.”

“What do I have to do?” Charlie asked.

“You’ve been doing our laundry,” Aden said. “Why don’t you continue that as  your household task? You will participate one hundred percent in rehab.”

“Oh man,” Charlie groaned.

“No drugs, no alcohol, no exceptions, period.”

“But…” Charlie started.

“No buts,” Aden said. “You asked me how you could pay for everything. I’m giving you the list so you can make a choice.”

“Fine,” Charlie crossed his arms. In this moment, he was every bit the sixteen year old boy. “Go on.”

“You’ll get caught up in school. No matter what it takes,” Aden said. “You will follow the household rules to the best of your abilities.”

“What are those?”

“Brush your teeth, shower, eat meals, be polite, try to get along with Noelle and Nash,” Aden said. “Help Sandy and me when asked. Respect us. And whatever else I’m forgetting.”

“What do I get for all of that?”

“A home,” Aden said. “Food, clothing, medical help for your Hepatitis…”

“You know about that?”

“Yes. You still have pneumonia,” Aden said. “Cracked bones. Broken teeth. We will give you everything you need, love you and welcome you into our family.”

“Noelle and Nash don’t have to do this stuff,” Charlie said.

“Yes, they do,” Aden said.

Charlie sat in sullen silence.

“I have to get to work,” Aden said.

Charlie didn’t move while Aden picked up their plates and took them into the kitchen.

“I know it’s a lot to think about,” Aden said. “We ask a lot of you. And we give a lot. You can let me know later.”

Charlie looked up at Aden.

“I’ll do it,” Charlie said. “I’m not going to be perfect.”

“No one is,” Aden said.

“I like it here,” Charlie said. “I want to stay here so I’ll do it.”

“Great,” Aden said. “I’ll talk to Jake about moving into a bigger space. Jake says there’s plenty of room.”

Flushing, Charlie nodded. Aden ruffled Charlie’s hair again. He was almost to the door when Charlie stood.

“What do I call you?” Charlie asked.


“Too weird,” Charlie said. “You feel like family… like a Dad but not my Dad.”

“I have a friend who’s very close with his mother’s brother, his maternal uncle,” Aden said. “He calls him ‘shi-dai’.”

“What’s that mean?,” Charlie said.

“Little father or something like that,” Aden said. “It’s Navajo.”

“Shi-dai.” Charlie tried out the foreign word. “That’s weird but somehow right.”

“Like found family?”

Charlie smiled. Aden ruffled his hair and turned toward the door.

“What about Sissy?”

Aden turned back to face him.

“We’re meeting with Social Services this evening,” Aden said. “Sissy is on our agenda.”

Charlie nodded.

“Go back to bed, Charlie,” Aden said. “You need the rest.”

“Yes… Shi-dai,” Charlie said.

Aden gave the boy a tight hug. Stepping back, he waved and went out the door. Charlie watched the place where Aden stood then went back to bed. Laying on his futon, he replayed their conversation. He liked the way Aden treated him like a real person, not a stupid child. He liked having a choice to make and something he could do. And it was pretty great to have a real family. Smiling, he fell asleep.


Thursday mid-day — 12:02 A.M.

Honey waved to MJ as she pulled into the parking lot. They were meeting at Jill’s old apartment building to talk over the plans with Steve Roper’s step-father. From the driver’s seat of her van, Honey saw MJ laugh at something Steve’s step-father said. She watched them talk back and forth for a minute and realized MJ knew Steve’s step-father.

Ah the secret life of MJ.

As if he’d heard her, MJ turned to look. She was setting her wheelchair outside the side door when he appeared. With his usual exuberance, he lifted her into his arms. He nuzzled her neck then helped her into her chair.

“Shall I?” MJ asked.

“Sure,” Honey said.

MJ pushed her sport wheel chair to where Steve and his step-father stood. Watching the two men, she saw Steve’s nervousness and the older man’s calm. Trim and muscular, Steve’s step-father had an air of competence about him. Honey wondered if he was a military person. Knowing MJ would never tell her, she smiled her way through introductions.

Steve’s father went by the name Perses. The Titan God of Destruction? Seeing her look, Perses laughed and said it was a family name. Honey nodded because she should, not because she believed him.

“She’s smart,” Perses said to MJ. His accent was British with something mixed in.

“A lot smarter than I am,” MJ said.

Honey smiled. With MJ pushing, she rolled into the building.

“Steve and I discussed the deal, but I wondered if we could go over it while I’m here,” Perses said. “It will help me cement the details into my mind.”

“The building is owned by Honey’s brother Jacob Marlowe,” MJ said.

“He’s the man you live with?” Perses asked.

“We live at the Castle,” Honey said. “The Castle is owned by Delphie.”

“I met a Delphie at my daughter Jillian’s wedding,” Perses said. “Powerful psychic?”

“That’s her,” MJ said. “Jake’s mom bought the building for her so that she would always have a place to live. We all live there.”

“How is that?” Perses looked from one to the other.

“Wonderful,” Honey said.

Perses held the door for them.

“Psychics,” Perses said. He let the door go and joined them at the elevator landing. “There are so many people who say they have a gift. A true psychic is a rare commodity. I’ve traveled the world, speak many languages, and still I’ve only met a few real psychics in my entire life. Delphie is the only one I’ve met with that much… power.”

Stepping onto the elevator, he added, “This elevator is horrible.”

“The building was pretty beaten up when Jake bought it,” MJ said. “This is a vast improvement.”

“He bought it so Jill and Katy wouldn’t have to move after Trevor left,” Honey said. “Jake’s tried to fix it up without displacing the original tenants. For many of them, this is the only place they’ve lived. Our goal is to allow the tenants to live out their lives here.”

Perses nodded. They followed Honey and MJ on to the elevator. Honey looked up at Steve. Steve seemed completely shut down. She smiled at him and he nodded. He was shut down but still present. The elevator jerked to a stop at the third floor.

“I’d forgotten Jillian lived here,” Perses said.

The elevator doors groaned. They made an effort to open then stopped. Perses pressed the open button and the doors opened.

“How did you…?” Steve started.

“I’ve been on my share of crappy elevators,” Perses said.

“Over the last year, Jake has moved most of the residents to reconditioned apartments on the first floor,” Honey said. “The elevator is slated to be fixed this summer.”

Steve and Perses went out onto the third floor. MJ pushed Honey behind them. The floor was stripped to the subflooring and the walls were down to the studs. Jacob had even taken down the ceiling. They could look straight into the rafters of the roof.

“New roof?” Perses asked.

“Yes,” Honey said. “Everything on this floor has either been replaced or will be replaced. Jake has the contact at building department who is helping us figure out what we need to make this hospital grade electricity, water, gas, etc.”

“Sounds expensive,” Perses said.

“Jake’s a contractor,” Steve said. “He’s putting in the building and his company. That’s his portion. We just need money to…”

Perses gave Steve a broad smile. Steve gave him a sheepish look. Honey watched the older man’s obvious love for Steve and Steve’s unfamiliarity with it.

“I have to tell you,” Perses said. “I’m excited. Did I say that before?”

“No sir,” MJ said.

“When I look at the bones of this building, the work that’s being done,” Perses said. “I’m delighted Steve’s getting involved in this project. Now tell me, what’s the ownership look like?”

“The financial partners are Jake and… well, you,” Honey said.

“You mean Steve,” Perses said. “This is Steve’s money. He either gets it now or when I die. I’d much rather him have it now.”

Steve’s eyes went wide with surprise.

“That’s why you wouldn’t sign the papers?” Steve asked.

“Yes son,” Perses said. “This isn’t my project. It’s yours. You and Jake should be equal partners. Unless Honey and MJ are partners as well.”

“Yes sir,” Honey said. “The four of us will be equal partners.”

“I can’t think of better people to be in partnership with,” Perses said. “Let’s look at the plans again.”

For the next half hour, they went through the construction plans. They walked the top floor imagining what their new business would look like. There would be ten apartments a floor with an apartment for a caregiver or nurse. The apartments would be a hundred percent wheelchair access. A crew of nurses would arrive in the morning and at night to help people. Otherwise, it would be an apartment building.

After learning he was a full partner, Steve joined the conversation. By the time they were standing at the elevator landing, Steve, Honey and MJ were as excited as Perses. Honey wondered if Perses was in fact some kind of God.

“I have to get back to work,” Honey said as she rolled out of the elevator. “My boss is at some mother–daughter thing at her daughter’s school.”

Perses took her hand and kissed it.

“Thank you for including us,” Perses said. “When does Jake get back?”

“Saturday,” Honey said. “We’re meeting with the lawyers on Monday.”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Perses said. “Shall we men get some lunch?”

MJ looked at Honey and she nodded to encourage him to go.

“Sure,” MJ said.

MJ helped her into the van. He kissed her good-bye. She was pulling out of the parking lot when she saw him walk toward Steve and Perses. She nodded to herself. She couldn’t think of better partners either.


Thursday afternoon — 12:02 P.M.

Wearing the special dresses they’d bought for the Mother-Daughter tea, Sandy and Noelle entered the Marlowe School auditorium. The auditorium was set up with round white tables. Men and women in black tuxes moved through the tables serving drinks. Lunch was set up in a buffet at the front.

Sandy looked around to see if there was anyone she knew. Jill was in Mexico. Heather was frantically trying to find a liver for Blane. Plus, Mack was still a baby, and a boy. She reached for Noelle’s hand to keep her close. As they approached the tables, she heard a ripple go through the women.

“That’s the woman,” the whisper went.

Sandy blushed.

“Let’s sit over here,” Noelle tugged on Sandy’s hand.

“Of course,” Sandy gulped back her anxiety.

Noelle made a beeline for the noxious popular girls’ table. The tiny, perfect girls sat with their perfect mothers. Even though she could never stand these kinds of women, Sandy put on her best smile. The women wore similar smiles. At least the girls were nice to Noelle.

After an uncomfortable period of chit chat, there was an announcement that the girls could get plates for their mothers. Giggling, Noelle and the other girls ran up to the front. Sandy watched Noelle to make sure she was all right.

“Sandy,” one of the extra blonde women said. “That’s your name, right?”

“Hi,” Sandy said.

“We wanted to speak to you,” the woman continued. “Our daughters have become very sexual in the last six months.”

“We feel your influence is responsible,” a platinum blonde woman said.

“How could I influence your children?” Sandy almost laughed that the idea. “I’ve never seen them before.”

“You’re a prostitute right?” the only brunette at the table said.

“No, she was a prostitute,” the platinum blonde woman said. “Remember?”

“We certainly can see how you tricked Aden into marrying you,” the first woman nodded to Sandy’s belly.

“Tricked Aden? What are you talking about?” Sandy asked. “I met Aden…”

“As a prostitute. Yes we know,” the brunette woman said. “Can’t blame a single man for seeking a little company.”

“Aden’s never seen a prostitute,” Sandy said. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Denver Cereal continues next week…


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