CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SIXTEEN
Four days later Tuesday — 11:20 A.M. Children’s Hospital
“Where am I?” Sissy said as she sat up in her hospital bed.
“Children’s Hospital,” Sandy said.
Sandy sat down on her little sister’s bed.
“How did I get here?” Sissy asked.
“You don’t remember?” Sandy asked.
“I remember seeing Charlie. I remember meeting Noelle and Nash and Teddy and his Dad. He’s your pilot. Right?”
“I remember thinking I was going to see you!” Sissy said. “We went to some place…”
She shook her head.
“Everyone ordered burgers and fries,” Sandy said. “You ate most of yours then collapsed. You had a seizure at the restaurant. The EMTs thought you were stable but you had another seizure in the ambulance.”
“A seizure? I’ve never had a seizure before,” Sissy said.
“You almost died.” Tears ran down Sandy’s face. “Well, you did die in the ambulance. They were able to get your heart started. You…”
Sandy shook her head. Her hand swiped at her tears.
“My heart didn’t stop! You’re making this up,” Sissy said. “I’m not even sick!”
Overcome, Sandy began to cry into her hands. She’d promised herself she’d be the grown up, she wouldn’t cry, but this was too hard, too painful.
“You’re making it up,” Sissy repeated.
Sandy raised her head to catch her sister’s eyes. She shook her head.
“Why did I almost die?” Sissy’s voice was no louder than a whisper.
“Because you haven’t been eating,” Sandy said. “Why, Sis? Why? Why would you stop eating?”
“Well, I don’t know.” Sissy’s voice was more annoyed than defensive. “After Charlie left, Mom stopped shopping. The only food in the house was cheese. I hate cheese and the cereal ran out a couple weeks ago. She’d give me money for lunch. I always gave my lunch money to Charlie. He really needed it. He didn’t have a home like I did.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” Sandy asked. “Come by. You know where the salon is…”
“I don’t know,” Sissy said. “I thought you were mad at me.”
“Why would I be mad at you?” Sandy asked.
“Because I didn’t help you when Mom was so awful,” Sissy said.
Shaking her head, Sandy hugged Sissy to her.
“Where’s Mom?” Sissy asked.
“That’s a long story,” Sandy said. “You’re on the Eating Disorders ward, Sis. They want to keep you here until you’re well. Right now, it’s still touch and go. You have to participate in therapy and groups and…”
“How am I going to pay for this?” Sissy asked.
“You have medical insurance through Dad’s Police Union,” Sandy said. “They’re paying for most of it.”
“Oh,” Sissy said. “Will I get fat?”
“I hope so,” Sandy said.
“No really,” Sissy said. “I don’t want to be fat.”
“You, Sis, are tall and thin. You’ll probably never ever be fat. Was Dad fat?”
“No, but Mom is.”
“We don’t ever want to be like Mom,” Sandy smiled.
“Never like Mom,” Sissy agreed. “Can I touch the baby?”
Sandy sighed. She took Sissy’s hand and placed their hands on her belly.
“Is Charlie all right?” Sissy asked. “He seemed really happy, happier than I’ve ever seen him.”
“He started rehab yesterday,” Sandy said. “He’s not as happy as he was on Thursday.”
“He needs rehab,” Sissy said. “I know you hate her. And I know she deserves it. She’s been awful and is crazy. But I love Mom. She can’t make it without me. I should be with Mom.”
“Mom’s in a six month treatment program,” Sandy said. “We had it all set up. Social Services, the Police Union Rep and Seth went to her work. They were going to give her the option to go to rehab or get treatment at home. You know how she can be when someone tries to make her do something. Stubborn. Defiant.”
“Right. The Police Union rep told her she’d lose the stipend for you and Charlie. Anyway, I guess it was chaos,” Sandy said.
“Of course,” Sissy said.
“When you collapsed… She was charged with reckless child endangerment. The Police Union rep told her it was jail or treatment. She was still being stubborn. The Police arrested her and everything.”
“What changed her mind?” Sissy asked.
“You remember my friend Heather?” Sandy asked.
“Mom works with her mom,” Sissy said.
“Right,” Sandy said. “Heather’s Mom. That’s what changed her mind. I don’t know what Heather’s Mom said, but somehow she got through to Mom. The Police took her to the treatment place. It’s a locked facility so she couldn’t get out for seventy-two hours.”
“Oh,” Sissy said.
“Get this,” Sandy said. “I’ve called every morning and every night to see how she’s doing. Last night’s the first time she took my call. She wanted to know where Charlie was and how you were doing. She told me she was sorry for everything that happened to me. She said she’s exactly where she needs to be right now.”
“We’re all in treatment,” Sissy’s eyes were luminous.
“I hope you get better,” Sandy nodded. “If you get better, we’ll go and visit Mom in a month or so. If she does well there, she can stay there up to a year.”
“What about the house?” Sissy’s voice dropped to a whisper. “There are rats there.”
Sissy held her hands out a foot apart.
“Yuck,” Sandy said. “I hired a service that takes care of places like that. Mom signed a power of attorney over to Heather’s Mom. Heather’s Mom is helping me get everything set up. By the time Mom’s better, Charlie’s better and you’re better, the house should be ready for her to live there, and you, if you want to.”
“What about Charlie and me? Do we have to live with the rats?” Sissy asked.
“You’ll live with me,” Sandy said. “I’ll take care of you. If Mom is able to be a mom again, then you can move back with her. If you don’t want to or she can’t be a mom again, then you’ll stay with me.”
“What about your new husband? And…” Sissy touched Sandy’s bulging belly.
“We’ll live together,” Sandy said. “Aden…”
“The gym guy?” Sissy asked. “You married the gym guy? Mom said it was some old guy but…”
“I married the gym guy,” Sandy smiled. “Nash and Noelle are his kids.”
“We’ll live all together?”
“If you want,” Sandy nodded.
“I do want!” Sissy moved to get out of bed.
“Sorry Sis,” Sandy said. “You have to stay here for a while.”
“Are you sure I need it?” Sissy asked.
“I am,” Sandy said.
“Don’t be sad, Sandy,” Sissy said. “If Charlie gets well and I get well and Mom gets well, we could be a real family again. Like before Dad died.”
“I need you to do something for me, Sis,” Sandy said.
“Anything,” Sissy said.
“I need you to work really hard in treatment,” Sandy said. “It will seem stupid sometimes, boring other times, and you might hate it. But this is where you need to be right now.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Good,” Sandy said. “You have to do most of it yourself.”
“I can only visit you a couple times a week. We’ll be here for visitation and family therapy. The doctors and your therapist are waiting for you outside the door. They let me come in to wake you. But you have to do the rest alone.”
“I can do it, Sandy. You’ll see,” Sissy said.
Sandy stood from the bed. She gave a little wave then walked to the door. At the door, she paused. Unable to stop herself, she ran back to the child’s bed. Clasping the skeleton that had become her sister, she whispered:
“Please get well. Please get well. Please Sis, for me, please get well.”
Crying, the sisters held each other. Sandy felt hands on her shoulders. The therapist peeled her from Sissy. Sandy gave Sissy another wave and walked to the door. Standing at the door, she caught her sister’s dark eyes. Sissy waved and Sandy went out the door. She made it all the way through the hospital to the front entrance where Aden was waiting for her. In his arms, she cried her heart out.
Thursday — 12:56 P.M.
Walking down the Art Institute corridor, Jill looked from door to door until she found the room for her first class on Interior Design. She’d taken an entire semester before taking this class. She was lucky to have an Interior Design class at all. A lot of schools don’t teach specialty classes until the very end. She was about to turn into the class when a woman pushed past her and into the room.
Jill stopped. That was the awful woman who’d made fun of her all last term. The awful woman already made a joke today about whether the secretary went with them on vacation. Everyone laughed. At Jill. About that stupid lying woman. Now that awful woman was in Jill’s dream class.
“I won’t let her get to me,” Jill repeated in her head what Megan had told her. “She will not get to me.”
The teacher looked up when she came in the room. A direct descendent of the painter, Salvator Rosa was one of Denver’s top interior designers. Intimidated, Jill went toward the back of the class. Seeing the awful woman smirking in the back, she found a seat near the middle. She took out her paper, mechanical pencil and eraser. No matter who was in this class, she was not going to miss a word of what this man had to say.
“Ok, let’s get started,” the man said. “Most of you know who I am. Rather than take our time with ego, you can read the catalog about me. You may call me Sal.
“I have a list of your names,” Salvator said. “Over the next twelve weeks, we will get to know each other very well. And at the end of twelve weeks, you will know whether you have a chance of being an interior designer in this city.
“If you don’t already know how this class works, I will teach a concept a week. Every Friday, we will hold a contest for who creates the best room. Many of my colleagues say you’re too new, too young to face such pressure. But working in someone else’s home is a lot of pressure. You have to know their taste, what they like, and make them very, very happy or you will never get work again. If you can’t handle a little friendly competition now, you will never handle the pressure later.
“I can understand if you would like to transfer into Dr. Donavon’s course,” he said. “He’s one of the top academics in the field. You have this week to transfer. I’d encourage anyone thinking of transferring to do so. In this class, we will work hard. I don’t have time for egos. I don’t have time for lazy people. And I don’t have time for anyone who doesn’t want to be the very best they can be.”
Jill sat up a little straighter in her chair. She wanted to be the very best she could be. She liked to work hard. And she didn’t think she had too big of an ego. She glanced around the room to see how the other students were responding. Most students seemed excited. Awful woman sneered at Jill. Jill turned her eyes back to the teacher.
“Who is Jillian Roper?” Salvator asked.
Jill raised her hand. Awful woman snickered.
“Stand beside your chair when I call on you,” he said.
“I’m Jillian Roper, sir,” Jill popped to her feet.
“I had dinner last night at the Biatchi mansion,” Salvator said. “I understand you and your husband did some rehabilitation there?”
“Yes sir.” Jill swallowed hard.
“Can someone get the lights?” the teacher asked.
The room went dark. Jill moved to sit down, but the teacher indicated she should keep standing. An image of the room she, Jacob, Mike and the team at MLR properties had refurbished came on the screen.
“Can you explain what you did?” Salvator asked.
“Yes sir,” Jill said. “This room had been a formal dining room. Sometime in the last two hundred years, the room was flooded. The water was allowed stand on the wood for some time. If you had seen this room, you would have thought it was impossible.”
“I thought it was impossible when they asked me,” Salvator said.
He leaned over the computer and clicked a photo of the original condition of the room.
“My husband, Jacob, brings out beauty in things that are broken or destroyed,” Jill said. “He and a crew of our guys worked for three months to restore the room to its original condition.”
“Mrs. Biatchi said he rebuilt many of the features by hand,” Salvator said.
“He’s a carpenter,” Jill said. “He likes to recreate things in the way they were originally built.”
The screen flashed to the room before Jill started her work.
“This is the blank palate you will all work with this week,” Salvator said. “First, let me show you what Jillian Roper did.”
The screen flashed a photo of the whole room. The room was a wash in Rose color. The top half of the walls were painted a rich cream color. Pink, yellow and purple flowers in what looked like wall paper adorned the bottom half of the walls. A period piece crystal chandelier hung over the twelve person mission style cherry dining room table. The table was covered in a deep maroon table covering. The floors gleamed in a cherry wash. The students shifted restlessly.
“Wait,” Salvator said. “Let’s take a closer look.”
The next photograph was a close up of one of the walls.
“You thought it was wall paper,” Salvator said. “I did as well. But look, it’s actually painted. And look!”
He zoomed in on the picture. A small human face looked out among the flowers.
“This is the owner’s youngest son,” he said. His voice was elevated in excitement. “The Biatchi’s, their four children, even the owner’s dog are hidden among this floral display. Mrs. Biatchi was over the moon. Will you tell us Jillian why you chose this?”
“At the time this room was built, wall paper was a sign of status,” Jill said. “In the high end homes, the wall paper was hand painted. Rather than paint the paper, I decided to paper the walls with a cream colored paper. My brother, Mike, and I painted the walls together. He drew the flowers and the people before he left for Prague. I filled in the color while he was gone.”
“Why put the people on the walls?”
“Mrs. Biatchi asked us to personalize the room,” Jill said. “It seemed… natural.”
“You would think all this pink makes the room feminine,” Salvator said. “The choice of the cherry floors and this table even out the pinks. Tell me about the chandelier. Where did you get it?”
“My husband found it, sir,” Jill said.
“Yes sir,” Jill said. “He owns an underground utility company. They were working a job out in Northern Colorado. A contractor was refurbishing a farmhouse near Greely. They left this chandelier by the side of the road. They offered to pay Jacob to haul it to the trash. Jacob got a number of fixtures from him.”
“Was it in this condition?”
“No sir,” Jill said. “It was an original gas fixture. I had to power wash it to get the dirt, grease and tar off it. After a day of cleaning, we realized it was copper. Our electrician rewired it. We had to get a few of the crystals remade but otherwise it was perfect.”
“And why this chandelier?”
The screen switched to an image of the chandelier.
“When it’s lit, it looks like rain,” Jill said. “Even with new CFC bulbs.”
“For the garden on the walls?” Salvator asked.
“Yes sir,” Jill said. “With any luck, the copper will turn green.”
“This is a brilliant room.”
“Thank you, sir,” Jill said. “We’re proud of how it turned out.”
“You may sit down,” her teacher said. “Mrs. Biatchi will allow us to tour on Friday afternoon after you turn in your designs for the room.”
“Sir, we meet Tuesdays and Thursdays,” a man near the back asked.
“And you turn in work on Friday. When available, we’ll take field trips to see the actual redo of the rooms we work on,” Salvator said. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“No sir,” the man said.
“Good.” Salvator pointed to Jill. “This is your competition. I’d understand if you wanted to transfer. Go ahead. Ms. Roper is already well ahead of the curve. I could apologize, Ms. Roper, for painting a target on your back. But this is a competitive business. If you’re talented, and you are, your first lesson is to get used to people gunning for you.”
“Let’s move on,” Salvator said.
For the next two hours, Jill wrote furiously. After the class let out, she looked over her notes to make sure she didn’t have any questions. Awful woman knocked into her shoulder. Jill looked up.
“Ahead of the curve my ass,” awful woman said as she passed.
Jill grit her teeth. She was going to win the weekly competitions if it was the last thing she did.
~~~~~~~~ Thursday — 9:25 P.M.
Charlie woke up with a start. He hadn’t intended to fall asleep. But like always, lying on Noelle’s bed, he’d fallen asleep. He shook himself to make sure he was awake.
He hated rehab. He wouldn’t speak to Aden in the car on the way home. He’d made sure everyone felt his rage. From snide comments to sheer defiance, he’d forced everyone into his angry world. Aden shook his head at him. Sandy hugged him and told him she loved him. Nash and Noelle rolled their eyes at him. More than once, Noelle told him to stop being such a jerk.
But Charlie wouldn’t stop.
He’d had enough of the rules and the bullshit. He was fine on his own, on the streets. He’d planned to leave after the ‘little kids’, his new term for Nash and Noelle, went to little kid bed. But he fell asleep on Noelle’s bed listening to Sandy tell a story.
Rage coursed through his veins. How could he be stupid enough to lie down? Stories were for little babies, not men like Charlie. He pulled on his new jeans and the jacket Sandy bought for him. He was leaving tonight.
No more rehab. No more rules. No more bullshit. Just his friends, his pipe and the open night. His buddy Razor was meeting him at 9:30 outside the Castle.
He slid down the hallway toward the living room. He saw Sandy sitting on Aden’s lap in a high back dining room chair. Their dinner lay uneaten on the table. Staying in the shadow, he could see them but they couldn’t see him. When Sandy flipped her hair, he saw that she was crying. Sobbing really.
Charlie felt like he’d been punched in the gut.
He’d never seen Sandy upset. She might drop a tear or two, but never like this. Her face was red. Her eyes were almost swollen shut. Sandy’s black and white cat, the one that slept with him every night, pranced on the dining room table trying to get her attention. He heard Buster, their ugly dog, scratch at Noelle’s door. Like Cleo, Buster was drawn to help Charlie’s sobbing sister.
He could only make out a word or two she said. ‘Failure’ was one. ‘Child endanger’ was another. He heard Aden’s low soothing voice but not his words. He was about to storm in when he heard:
“Charlie’s going to die. He’s going to die.”
Charlie stopped in his tracks.
Sandy was crying about… him.
Denver Cereal continues Monday…
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