CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SEVENTEEN
Charlie stopped in his tracks.
Sandy was crying about… him.
He took a step back into the hall. Unbidden, his mind flashed on Sandy’s bright face. She was the light of his life. No matter what he did, she had always loved him. He remembered seeing her outside the Hotel Teatro. She was so small, tiny compared to him, but the bright beacon of her essence drew him to her like a magnet. He had ran to her just to be near her, by her side. Wherever Sandy stood was a perfect place for Charlie.
He stared at Sandy and Aden for a while before he felt a hand on his arm. He looked down to see Nash. Nash gestured toward his room. When Nash opened the door, Buster zoomed into the hallway. Noelle was sitting on Nash’s bed. Feeling left out, Charlie anger and attitude returned. He grunted at Noelle.
“We hoped we’d catch you,” Nash said.
“Catch me?” Charlie grunted.
“Delphie talked to me after dinner. She said you were leaving tonight and if you left…” Noelle panted with excitement. “You would die and Sandy would die and the baby would die. Nash set his alarm so we could stop you.”
“Why do you care if I die?” Charlie asked. “Sandy’s fine.”
“Sandy’s in trouble,” Nash whispered.
“The doctor’s worried about the baby,” Noelle whispered. “That’s why Sandy’s so upset.”
“She feels responsible for us and you and your sister,” Nash whispered. “She feels like she’s failing at everything. The doctor said the baby isn’t gaining weight like it should.”
Stunned, Charlie’s attitude slipped a tiny bit.
“The doctor wants to put Sandy on bed rest,” Noelle whispered. “But she won’t be able to help you or Sissy and us. She refused.”
“Sandy’s health is coming apart,” Nash whispered.
“Her hair is falling out!” Noelle whispered.
Realizing Nash and Noelle knew something about his sister that he didn’t, he was angry again.
“How do you know this and I don’t?” Charlie asked.
“Delphie knows stuff… psychically. She told Noelle you planned to leave tonight,” Nash said. “You won’t survive tonight. You and your loser friends will get high, but you’re still too sick. You’ll die.”
“And Sandy will be so heartbroken that she’ll lose the baby,” Noelle said.
Not willing to give up his anger so easily, Charlie said, “Why should I care about some stupid baby?”
“This is Sandy, you idiot!” Noelle said. “You may not care what happens to you, but Delphie said Sandy and the baby will die. I remember life without Sandy and I don’t want to do that again.”
“Dad’s trying to convince her to go on bed rest, but she won’t because she’ll miss your stupid rehab,” Nash said.
“She’s willing to risk her life for you but you just want to be an jerk off,” Noelle said.
Nash’s door opened and Aden walked in.
“What’s this?” Aden asked.
“This isn’t what you think,” Nash started.
“How do you know what I think?” Aden asked. “Noelle get to bed. Nash get in bed. Good lord, don’t we have enough trouble without you guys misbehaving?”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Aden said.
“What about Charlie?” Noelle asked.
“Charlie’s coming with me,” Aden said.
Shrugging, Noelle went through the bathroom to her bedroom.
“But Dad!” Nash said.
“In bed now,” Aden said. “I don’t want to hear it.”
Aden grabbed the back of Charlie’s jacket and pushed him toward the door.
“Get in bed,” Aden said to Nash.
“Fine,” Nash said. “But…”
Aden glared at Nash and Nash got into bed. Aden pushed Charlie into the hall.
“Where is it?” Aden asked.
“What?” Charlie asked.
“Your pipe, your drugs,” Aden said. “I told you no drugs.”
“I don’t have drugs,” Charlie said.,”
“If you think I won’t strip search you right here, you should think again,” Aden said.
Charlie took his pipe out of his pocket. He held it out. Aden dropped the ceramic pipe on the ground and crushed it with his heel of his boot.
“Where’s Sandy?” Charlie asked. “I want to talk to my sister.”
“Your sister is upstairs with Jill,” Aden said. “You and I are going to talk to your friends.”
“Seems someone named Razor is downstairs waiting for you,” Aden said. “He and his merry band of boys seem to think you’re being held hostage here. Hostage? Really? Are we torturing you too, Charlie?”
“I had a bad day at rehab,” Charlie started.
“Whoop de fucking do,” Aden said. “You’re going to have plenty of bad days at rehab. That’s why you have to go, dumbass.”
Aden grabbed the back of Charlie’s collar and pushed him through the apartment. He pushed Charlie out the door.
“Go,” Aden said.
Charlie swallowed hard. He opened his mouth.
“Don’t give me that look,” Aden said. “Your sister perfected that look. You can’t rip the heart out of me. Your sister already completed that task tonight.”
“I’m not kicking you out. You need to tell your friends you’re not available. And it would be nice if you told him you’re also not being held hostage.”
Charlie slunk down the stairs and Aden followed. At the bottom of the stairs, Charlie saw this big guy with bushy beard and a mean look.
“This is the hostage?” Mike asked.
Aden nodded. Mike grabbed Charlie’s arm and pushed him through the doorway. Razor and Charlie’s friends stood in the middle of the Castle living room. There was another big red haired guy and the guy he knew as Jake. The old guy, Sam Lipson, stood near the kitchen.
“Your friends appear to believe they can rob the house tonight,” Jake said. “They believe you were going to let them in to.. ‘rob the rich people blind’… yes, I think that was it.”
“Punk ass,” MJ, the big red haired guy pushed one of Razor’s friends.
“I never said that,” Charlie said. “I was going to meet them. I…”
When Jacob gave him a long look, he felt like he was stripped to the bone. Jacob nodded and turned back to Razor and the guys.
“What do you want?” Jacob asked Razor.
“We’re hungry,” Razor said.
“Val’s making food for you,” Mike said.
“Charlie, you have something to say?” Aden asked.
“I know I told you I was a hostage here,” Charlie said. “My sister lives here. She and her husband are letting me stay… here… with them.”
“Anything else?” Aden asked.
“They’ve been taking care of me – food and clothing and medical stuff,” Charlie looked from face to face then looked down. “I really like it here. I was just pissed off this afternoon so I said all that stuff.”
“So your friend is fine. You’ll get a warm meal,” Jacob said. “Anything else?”
“Place to sleep?” a young boy Charlie called Jeffy said. “It’s still cold out and…”
“You can sleep here,” Jacob said.
“But you should know prick,” MJ said. “The house has premium security. You stray from this room and I’ll know it.”
The boys eyes went wide with horror at MJ.
“And… I don’t like you,” MJ said.
Coming into the living room, Valerie carried a pot of beef stew. Delphie followed her with bowls and loaves of sour dough bread. Seeing Valerie, the boys nudged each other.
“You made all of this?” Mike asked Val.
“Delphie made it this afternoon,” Valerie smirked at him.
“You’re a movie star,” Razor said.
“I am a movie star,” Valerie said. “Right now, I’m the only person who stands between you and my husband.”
She nodded toward the big, mean looking guy. Charlie gulped. Aden grabbed the back of Charlie’s coat and pushed him out of the room. Behind him, he heard the sound of soup being dished out. Aden nudged him up the stairs. He turned to talk to Aden at the top of the stairs.
“What’s going to happen?” Charlie asked.
“You need to be in bed, son,” Aden said. “You’re still sick. Get going.”
Charlie shuffled toward their door.
“No really, are they going to call the police?” Charlie asked.
“No,” Aden said. “The boys will get a warm meal. They can stay in the living room tonight. It’s all locked. They can’t get out. Jake’ll get them cleaned up and wash their clothes. Tomorrow morning, we’ll offer them work if they want it. If not, we’ll try to contact their families.”
“Why would they do all of that?”
“It’s what they do,” Aden said. “Your friends aren’t the first homeless people to arrive on the doorstep of the Castle. They won’t be the last. This is what Sam, Val & Jake do when anyone needs a warm meal and a place to stay.”
“How did they know they would be here?”
“Delphie,” Aden said. “She’s usually one step ahead of stupidity.”
“You haven’t met her yet?” Aden asked.
Charlie shook his head. They walked to the living room door.
“Why don’t you wait here and I’ll get her?” Aden asked. “You’d do well to talk to Delphie tonight. Go on in. I’ll meet you back here.”
“Sir?” Charlie swallowed hard.
“Yes,” Aden turned back to Charlie.
“It was my fault Nash and Noelle were awake,” Charlie said. “I was going to leave tonight. They were trying to talk me out of it.”
Smiling, Aden gave him a tight nod. He turned back to walk down the hall.
“Yes, Charlie,” Aden said.
“Is Sandy going to die?” Charlie asked.
“She’s very upset,” Aden said. “We all count on her as our anchor. Each of us uses her to make our world better. She can’t do that right now. We have to make our own world’s better so she can rest. But she won’t do that until you and Sissy are safe and stable.”
“Oh,” Charlie said.
“You can make a big difference,” Aden said. “If you choose to. Think about it.”
Charlie nodded. He went into their living room and sat down on the couch. After a few minutes, Aden appeared with an older woman. The woman had a bright smile, dyed red curly hair and wore a flowing flowered dress. She looked somewhere between an aging hippy and a gypsy. Aden nodded to Charlie and moved to leave.
“Where are you going?” Charlie asked.
“I’m going to see if I can do something for wife,” Aden said. “Delphie offered to stay with you kids tonight. Sandy and I will stay upstairs so Jill can fuss over her.”
Charlie felt a stab of sorrow that surprised even him.
“She’ll be back in the morning,” Aden said. “Don’t worry. Jill’s touch is exactly what Sandy needs.”
The aging hippy lady smiled at Charlie and led him to the kitchen where she made some green tea for herself. Without asking, she made Charlie’s favorite Raspberry tea and poured it over ice. She smiled when she gave it to Charlie.
“Why don’t we drink our tea then clean up a bit?” Delphie asked. “I’m Delphie.”
“Charlie,” he said.
She smiled at him. He followed her into the living room where they sat down. She got up to turn on the gas fireplace.
“Jake’s installed these fireplaces all over the house,” Delphie said. “They’re perfect for relieving the chill. Are you cold Charlie?”
“I’m okay,” Charlie said. “How did you know I was going to leave tonight?”
“I know things,” Delphie said. “That’s what I do.”
Charlie’s eyes squinted as he puzzled out what she said. Taking a drink of his ice tea, he shrugged.
“How did you know the exact time?” Charlie asked. “Nash set his alarm by it.”
“I could see the clock in the mirror behind your head in the hallway,” Delphie said. “Just a single image and a knowing that you were angry and leaving. The rest was simple. Go check yourself.”
Charlie walked over to the hallway. Sandy’s antique mantle clock reflected off the glass of a painting and was easily visible in the full length mirror in the hallway.
“I usually see exactly what I need to see,” Delphie said. “You have something you wanted to ask me. I could feel it when we were downstairs.”
Charlie looked over his shoulder to see if Nash or Noelle were still in their rooms. Discovering they were alone, he went back to the couch and sat next to Delphie.
“What’s wrong with me?” Charlie asked.
“What do you mean?” Delphie asked.
“I’ve never been quite… normal,” Charlie stumbled and rushed his words. “When my glasses broke, I was glad ‘cuz I didn’t have to try so hard any more. I can’t read or do what other kids do. The first time I felt even sort of normal is with Teddy and Nash and Noelle. And let’s face it. They aren’t really normal.”
“They aren’t,” Delphie said. “They’re special kids.”
“But I’m not special,” Charlie said.
Charlie stopped talking. He collapsed into himself.
“Your father had these same problems,” Delphie said.
“My… father? My father was a saint.” Charlie repeated what his mother had said a billion or more times.
“Hardly. You should ask Seth about him,” Delphie said. “Or Sandy. They knew him better than anyone. They’ll tell you that he struggled a lot. He had a drug addiction, like you do. He wore reading glasses, like you do. He was tall and handsome, like you are. He had been with both women and men, like you have.”
“Hey, I was just with men for money,” Charlie said. “I’m not gay.”
“You’re not,” Delphie said.
Charlie had been troubled by this. If he was gay, he could accept that. It was a genetic thing, plus it explained why he felt so weird all the time. At the same time, the things he did to get drug money didn’t bother him too much. If he was really straight, wouldn’t they bother him? He didn’t feel gay or straight.
“No, you’re not,” Delphie said.
“I’m sure,” Delphie said. “Your father had some of the same confusion. There was a lot of experimentation in his day.”
“What was wrong with him?” Charlie asked.
“Your father?” Delphie asked. “Not a thing.”
“You expect yourself to fit into some box, Charlie,” Delphie said. “You’re not a box fitting guy. You’re creative and sharp. You see through dishonesty in a heart beat. You refuse to play the game most people play. Your father was the same. Ask Seth. He’ll tell you.”
“Don’t you fit in?” Delphie asked. “Because normal doesn’t appeal to you. You’re special like Nash, Noelle and Teddy.”
“But I really want to be normal,” Charlie said.
“Too bad,” Delphie said. “Jake wants to be normal too. He doesn’t have much of a choice either. It seems like a huge crisis at your age. But you’ll do just fine. You’ll see.”
Charlie nodded. They sat in silence for a while. Charlie fought with himself to stay awake.
“Come on,” Delphie stood. “Let’s get you to bed. I can clean up in a jiff so don’t worry about that.”
“I’m sure.” Delphie herded him toward the hallway. “Sam told me you liked this little closet.”
“It suits me,” Charlie said.
“That’s not quite normal,” Delphie said.
Charlie stopped walking. She gave him a little girl smile and he laughed.
“I guess it’s not,” he said.
“Sleep,” Delphie helped him under the covers. “You did a brave thing by choosing to stay tonight. I’m glad you did.”
“I might leave tomorrow,” he said.
“You won’t,” she leaned over to kiss his cheek. “You’re a good man, Charlie. Just be yourself and you’ll do fine.”
Pushing Cleo out of the way, he lay down on his futon and fell into a deep sleep.
Wednesday morning — 6:20 A.M.
“Wake up,” Charlie shook Nash’s shoulder.
“What wrong with you?” Nash asked. “You scared me half to death.”
“Oh, sorry,” Charlie said. “I said your name and tried to wake you gentle but…”
Nash’s alarm went off with a blast.
“That’s how you get up?” Charlie asked.
“Alarm,” Nash said.
“I made breakfast for us,” Charlie said. “Sandy and your dad stayed upstairs last night. Delphie’s asleep on the couch.”
“I’ll wake her,” Nash said.
“Who wakes Noelle?” Charlie asked.
“She’s awake,” Nash said. “She sleeps very lightly. She wakes up when my alarm goes off.”
They heard the bathroom door close.
“Crap, I missed my chance,” Nash flipped off his covers and popped out of bed.
“Use Sandy’s,” Charlie said. “Breakfast in ten minutes. Is that doable?”
“Sure,” Nash said. “I’ll tell Noelle.”
Delphie stuck her head in Nash’s room.
“Oh great, you’re up,” Delphie said.
“Charlie made breakfast,” Nash said.
Charlie blushed in response to Delphie’s big smile.
“Come on,” Delphie put her arm around Nash. “Let’s get you ready for school.”
Charlie followed them out and went back to the dining area. He continued setting the table until Noelle, Nash and Delphie came in. Delphie gave him the same big smile when he gave her a cup of green tea. Unsure of what was going on, Noelle and Nash sat down at the table.
“Ok, I know it’s weird,” Charlie said. “I’ve been a slug since I’ve been here. I used to make breakfast for my sister and Mom every day. I made pancakes this morning.”
Noelle and Nash looked at each other.
“If you don’t like them, I’ll get the cereal,” Charlie said.
“Deal,” Nash said.
Charlie set a plate of animal shaped pancakes down on the table.
“They’re animals!” Noelle said.
“Yeah,” Charlie sat down next to Nash. “They take a little practice but they’re fun.”
“So…” Nash started. “Why?”
“I did a lot of thinking last night,” Charlie said. “I’ve been a real tool since I’ve been here. If you’re willing, I’d like to be more like a brother than a jerk.”
Bouncing in her chair, Noelle squealed and clapped. Delphie got up to kiss Charlie’s cheek. Nash pointed at him with a fork full of pancake.
“Deal,” Nash said.
“Your dad said I could make a difference in what happens to Sandy,” Charlie said. “I’m going to do what I can. I know I need to go to rehab, it just sucks.”
“Why?” Noelle asked with her mouth full of pancake.
Charlie smiled at her.
“They’re mean,” Charlie said. “Yesterday, they put me in a chair in the middle of the group. They call it the hot seat. Then the whole group joined in to tell me what an asshole I am. It didn’t go very well.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Nash asked.
“I’m a lying, cheating, drug addict?” Charlie asked.
“Sounds about right,” Nash said.
Noelle held her breath and Delphie’s eyebrows pinched together. When Charlie laughed, they joined him.
“I should tell you that my friends where here last night,” Charlie said. “That’s where I went… you know with your dad. But I didn’t break my promise. I was going to meet them outside. They were downstairs when your Dad came to get me.”
“Jake and the guys were coming home from playing ice hockey. They found the boys outside,” Delphie said. “That’s why they were so aggressive.”
“They’re really hyper after hockey,” Noelle said. “Did they hurt your friends?”
“Hurt?” Charlie asked. “Scared them nearly to death. Me too.”
“They still here?” Nash asked.
“They left this morning,” Charlie said. “I checked. Razor and Jeffy went to work with your dad. The other guys just left.”
“I know it sounds weird coming from me,” Charlie said. “But if I can do anything to help Sandy, I’m going to do it.”
“Help Sandy do what?” Sandy said as she entered the apartment. “Oh great! Charlie made his world famous animal pancakes. Did you save a sheep for me?”
Noelle ran to Sandy with Nash on her heels. Sandy hugged and kissed them then stretched up to hug Charlie. He held her tight. She kissed his cheek.
“Look! My favorite.” Sandy used her fork to pick up a sheep pancake. “I’m starving.”
Delphie went to the kitchen for a plate. Sandy sat down next to Charlie. Her sunny presence brightened their breakfast. They ate and talked. Delphie began to clean up while Sandy got ready to take Nash and Noelle to school. Ready to go, Charlie helped Delphie with the dishes.
“Ready for another day?” Sandy asked Charlie. He could see the worry in her eyes.
“I hope so,” Charlie smiled.
“That’s my Charlie,” Sandy said.
There was a knock at the door and the big red haired guy stuck his head in.
“MJ’s going to take you,” Sandy said. “He’s working out in that direction this week.”
Charlie raised his hand in a wave. MJ gave Charlie a toothy smile.
“Come on,” MJ said. “Can’t be late to rehab. You might miss the most important thing.”
Following him out of the door, Charlie didn’t respond. They were downstairs before MJ said:
“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “I think I got the most important thing last night.”
Nodding, MJ smiled. They walked to his black SUV.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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