CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and TWENTY
Thursday afternoon — 3:05 P.M.
“Whatever it is, I didn’t do it,” Charlie said.
Seth glared at him. Charlie stopped walking.
“Seriously, I’ve been in this place every day all week. You can ask them.”
When a worried nurse called him out of group therapy, she’d said the police wanted to talk to him. He’d spent the walk to the lobby trying to figure out what he might have gotten caught for. He let out a breath when he saw Seth.
When Seth looked up at him, Charlie was terrified by his intensity. Charlie stopped in his tracks.
“It’s not you,” Seth said.
“Sandy? Oh my God, is Sandy okay?” Charlie rushed to Seth.
“She’s asleep,” Seth said. “Jill’s Mom is with her. She’s very sick but the nurse, Jill’s brother Steve, thinks she’s turning a corner.”
“And the baby?” Charlie asked.
“Baby seems to be fine,” Seth said. “It’s not any of that.”
“Then what?” Charlie asked.
“I need you to come with me,” Seth said.
“I can’t come with you,” Charlie said. “I promised Aden I would do this rehab thing. This isn’t fun and games, Uncle Seth. If I blow it, I’m on the streets again.”
“Aden suggested I come to get you,” Seth said.
“I need to talk to Aden myself,” Charlie said. “I’m not saying you’re lying. I just can’t afford to be a fuck up anymore. I’m getting sober and have a real family and I’m learning to read and Sissy might come home this weekend and…”
Seth took out his cell phone and called Aden. He held up the ringing cell phone to Charlie.
“Aden? It’s Charlie. You know, Sandy’s little brother,” Charlie said.
“I know who you are,” Aden laughed.
“Oh right. Okay,” Charlie said. “Seth wants to take me somewhere and I’m supposed to be at rehab. MJ’s coming at 6 and…”
“I’ll call MJ,” Aden said. “You need to go with Seth.”
“Oh, okay,” Charlie said. “What about these guys? I don’t want to get crap for…”
“I already called,” Aden said. “That’s how you got out of treatment. Sandy and I are your legal guardians, remember?”
“All right then. Bye,” Charlie said.
Seth and Charlie walked out of the facility. They were at Seth’s police car before Charlie asked:
“Where are we going?”
Seth opened his door and they got in the car.
“Downtown,” Seth said. “Listen, I suck as a father. You can ask my daughters.”
“That’s okay,” Charlie said. “I suck as a son.”
“You’re almost a man, so I’m going to treat you like a man,” Seth said. “Aden told me to be nice, gentle, but I don’t know how to do that.”
“What do you know about you friend, Jeffy?” Seth asked.
“Nothing,” Charlie said. “He’s not my friend.”
“God damn it, Charlie,” Seth said. “This isn’t a game. I need to know everything you know.”
“Okay,” Charlie said.
They drove out Union Boulevard and got on Sixth Avenue toward downtown. They were almost to the downtown Police Station when Seth pulled into DazBog coffee shop.
“You like coffee?” Seth asked.
“You buying?” Charlie asked.
“There is no question in my mind that you are your father’s son,” Seth smiled. “I’m buying. You can get something to eat too. I bet you’re starving.”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
Seth ordered coffee and Charlie ordered an iced mocha. They picked out a few snacks. After a few minutes, they took their food and drinks to a quiet corner of the café. Charlie had eaten a banana chocolate chip muffin and was almost through a second when Seth cleared his throat.
“Jeffy?” Seth asked.
“Yeah, okay,” Charlie said. “So you know, it was like this. It wasn’t like BAM I was out of the house. Mom would get mad at me and I’d be gone for a few days here or there.”
“So you could do drugs?”
“Drugs, sex,” Charlie said. “Freedom. Whatever I wanted. I didn’t like the way Mom acted toward me or Sissy. I’d get mad and… I don’t know… After everything that’s happened, it seems pretty dumb.”
“Until you see your mother again,” Seth said.
“Yeah, that’s probably right,” Charlie said. “But I don’t have to. I have Aden’s word, we shook hands and everything. If I follow the rules, I can live with them even if Mom gets out. Sissy too. We want to live with them.”
“I didn’t forget,” Charlie said. “Why are you so interested in the little guy?”
“He died this morning,” Seth said.
“WHAT?” Charlie jumped to his feet.
“We’re going to the Coroner so you can identify the body,” Seth said. “Has to be someone who’s known him a while.”
“Oh,” Charlie sat down. “Okay. Well, I have to think…”
“You mean cover yourself,” Seth said.
“That’s not fair,” Charlie said. “I have to think because I was high a lot.”
Seth scowled at the boy.
“I was high.” Charlie shrugged. “A lot. My memory is a little… warped.”
Seth sat back and waited. Charlie ate his second muffin and drank his iced mocha.
“I can’t remember when I met Jeffy first,” Charlie said. “I knew Razor from school. His real name is Roger Hampden. His dad’s some kind of big deal at Qwest. He and I used to skateboard together.”
“I talked to Roger,” Seth said. “He’s in the Urban Peak shelter and working at Lipson for the summer.”
“That’s good,” Charlie said. “Razor’s a great guy. He deserves a break.”
“Roger said you and Jeffy were close.”
“We were,” Charlie said.
“How’d you meet?”
“Right, when I was out one night and saw this little boy. I mean little. I don’t think Jeffy was eight when I met him. He was sleeping in a box by the river. We kind of adopted him or maybe I adopted him.
“See I get confused,” Charlie said. “When I was around, Jeffy was around. I liked the kid. But I don’t know if Jeffy hung out with Razor and the guys when I wasn’t around. I always looked after him. I gave Jeffy my old clothes, old skateboards and even my books. He was smart, a better reader than me. His safe sleeping spot was at the downtown library.”
“That’s not possible,” Seth said.
“You’d be surprised what’s possible when you’re small,” Charlie said. “I think the librarians knew. They’d leave their lunches for him, sometimes money, but… He was good on the computer. Had an email account and… I used to get email from him when I was home. I’d let him know when I could leave him food and stuff. He’d come and pick it up. He slept on my floor a few times too.”
“You’re Mom didn’t know?”
“Never,” Charlie said. “You’re sure it was Jeffy?”
“Wow,” Charlie said.
“No one has a record of Jeffy,” Seth said. “His fingerprints don’t register. He’s had zero Social Services contact, no Coalition for the Homeless contacts and none of the outreach people from the Goodwill or Urban Peak have ever seen him. It’s like he doesn’t exist.”
“He was a lot better than me at not getting caught. He was a natural,” Charlie said. “That’s Jeffy. How did he die?”
“He was found hanging by his shoulders with a noose around his neck,” Seth said.
“I always thought it was a story, you know like the boogeyman.”
“What story?” Seth asked. “Charlie, this is important. What do you mean?”
“A guy would take you in,” Charlie said. “You’d get a good dinner, then he’d like… hang you up and watch. It wasn’t sexual. Well, maybe for him. He’d… you know… jerk off while you’re there. Anyway, the guy’d hang you so you could barely breathe. You’d hang all night then he’d let you go. He’d give you like twenty bucks just to hang there. It seemed like a good deal.”
“Did you ever do that?”
“Too big,” Charlie shook his head.
“Jeffy told Aden he had to be somewhere yesterday afternoon, some kind of appointment. Aden had the impression it was a legal thing,” Seth said. “Do you have any idea what that was?”
“No,” Charlie said. “It’s like I said. Jeffy had a whole life when he wasn’t with us. When he was with us, he was one of us. When I wasn’t there or he wasn’t there? Who knows?”
“Who told you this story?”
“I guess Jeffy did,” Charlie said. “Yeah, that’s right. He said the guy is like an uncle or a brother or some kind of relative. But… that could be a lie or some part truth or… Jeffy didn’t remember his parents. He said he’d always been on the streets. His first memory was of being one or two and living on the streets.”
Charlie stopped talking. He sucked on the straw until his iced mocha made a loud noise.
“Sorry,” Charlie said. “I guess that’s rude. Sandy would be mad.”
“Manners are important to Sandy,” Seth said. “You were saying something about Jeffy.”
“The rest is just stuff I think,” Charlie said.
“I don’t think he was from here,” Charlie said. “I think he got here around the time I met him. And he’d disappear for months at a time. Usually the winter then show up again.”
“Grifter,” Seth said.
“I don’t know what that is,” Charlie said. “The old lady across the street from Mom’s place paid some people to do construction work for her one summer. But they didn’t do it. I kinda thought that’s where Jeffy came from. Some kind of Amish thing or whatever.”
“Aden said he was no stranger to work,” Seth said. “He was very cheerful about working.”
“Jeffy was cheerful about everything,” Charlie said.
“Sure,” Charlie said. “Jeffy was a part of anything that went down. But he never seemed to seek it out, you know? If it was there, he was game. And… I can’t believe he’s dead.”
“I have to take you to the Coroner,” Seth said. “You’re the only one we’ve found who knew him. There will be a lot of people there, reporters, social services, just stay with me.”
Charlie nodded. Seth threw out their trash and Charlie followed him to the door.
“If you remember anything, Charlie, you should call me right away. No matter what time of day or night,” Seth said. “Any little detail can help.”
Seth opened the passenger door for Charlie then went around to the driver’s side.
“Did he have his necklace?”
“What necklace?” Seth asked.
“Jeffy wore some Saint on a chain around his neck,” Charlie said. “He said it was the reason he survived so long on the streets.”
“He was naked. We’ve just started going through the crime scene,” Seth said. “So far we haven’t found anything.”
“If they do, I’d like to have it,” Charlie said. “More than once, I protected Jeffy from some pretty bad shit. He…”
The loss of his little friend caught up with him and Charlie began to cry.
Thursday afternoon — 4:35 P.M.
“I think that’s the last one,” the DNA collection woman said to Heather. “I’ve gone through my samples. I think I have what I need.”
Blane needed a new liver. There was no way around it. Even Jill couldn’t make his liver better. Because Blane had a unique blood subtype and no known relatives, Heather had felt really hopeless. Every day that passed, Blane’s liver fell apart a little more. He was starting to show the signs. Of course, as soon as Enrique had stopped drinking, the jerk started getting better. And her Blane was getting sicker. She refused to focus on negative unfairness. Instead, she poured her energy into finding a donor for Blane.
Not sure what to do, she’d talked to Jacob. Jacob, in turn, insisted on paying for a woman to come to the Castle to collect DNA from anyone willing to be a live donor. If someone matched, they might be able to donate a small portion of their liver.
Someone had to be a match.
Everyone wanted to help. Every adult who lived at the Castle and all of MJ’s military team had volunteered to be tested. Bambi, Honey’s boss, let it leak to the sites that they were looking for a donor, and a long line of men and women showed up to be tested. The DNA lady had collected thousands of samples.
“I’m going to check to see if there’s anyone else,” Heather said.
“Would you mind if I used the restroom before I go?” the DNA woman asked.
“Oh sure,” Heather said. “Do you know where it is?”
The woman nodded. Heather watched her walk toward the kitchen and went out the side door to the Castle driveway.
Katy ran through the living room and hid behind an overstuffed chair. Paddie skipped into the room looking for her.
“Boo!” Katy said.
Paddie squealed with joy. The two best friends laughed.
“What’s this?” Katy ran over to the DNA samples.
“I don’t know. My Daddy did this and Auntie Alex too,” Paddie said. “They said it was important.”
“Did you do it?”
“Nope,” Paddie said.
“How come?” Katy asked.
Paddie gave an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders.
“How do you do it?” Katy asked.
“Like this.” Paddie picked up sterile plastic DNA brush. Holding onto the plastic stick, he brushed the bristles along the inside of his cheek. He pulled it out. ”It kind of hurts.”
“I want to do it!” Katy said.
Katy clapped her hands together. Giggling, he gave her his plastic DNA collector.
“You have to scrub but not too hard.” Paddie repeated what the DNA lady had said to his father and his Aunt.
“Do you think it matters if we were barfy?” Katy asked.
“Nope,” Paddie said. “Daddy was barfy today too. The lady said it didn’t matter.”
Katy took the implement and scrubbed it along the inside of her cheek.
“Now what?” Katy asked.
“You put it in one of those things and write your name on it,” Paddie said.
Katy took the Sharpie pen from him.
“I’ll write, Paddie Hargreaves,” Katy said. “Your handwriting isn’t so good.”
“It will be when I’m four!” Paddie said.
“But you’re not four yet,” Katy giggled.
He nodded sincerely and gave her a tube. She put his implement inside the tube. Using her best handwriting she wrote his name on the tube. She wrote her name with her tube.
“What do we do with them?” Katy asked.
“They go over here,” Paddie said.
He pointed to the thousands of samples. Katy stuck the samples in empty holes near the middle of the container. Katy began spinning in circles and Paddie spun in circles with her. They spun into the middle of the room.
“What are you two up to?” Valerie asked.
“We were waiting for brownie time!” Katy said. “Is it brownie time yet?”
“Brownie time!” Paddie jumped up and down.
The DNA collector smiled at Paddie and Katy as she walked passed them. She picked up her samples and Heather came in the side door. The two women spoke for a moment.
“You’re absolutely right,” Valerie said.
“We’ll be in touch soon,” the DNA lady called as she left the Castle.
“It is brownie time!” Valerie said.
“Brownie time!” Heather said. “May I join you?”
“Yes,” Katy and Paddie said at the same time. They almost fell over giggling.
Valerie held out her hands for the children. They took her hands and went into the kitchen. Heather stood and stared at the space where the DNA collector had been.
“Auntie Heather!” Katy called.
Smiling, Heather jogged into the kitchen.
Thursday evening — 7:35 P.M.
“I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.”
Tanesha repeated this phrase over and over in her mind as she walked down the corridor toward the surgeon’s break room. This was the first day he’d worked at Denver Health when she was on. She’d checked his schedule and knew he was on a break now. They didn’t share a work day together for another month. She either asked him now or she waited another month.
She was about to turn a corner when she heard laughter from the surgeon’s break room. His voice, with its distinctive British accent, talked over another accented male voice. The men laughed.
She leaned against the corner. She was about to chicken out when she remembered she would have to face Heather, Jill and Sandy if she didn’t ask. She gathered her courage. She wouldn’t face her best friends with her failure.
“What have you go to lose?” she whispered to herself.
Turning the corner, she took the last few steps to the surgeon’s break room. She stood in the doorway for a moment to get her bearings.
“Tanisha!” Dr. John Drayson said.
“Tanesha,” she said.
“Oh crap, I’m sorry,” John said. “Alex will kill me if she knows I messed up again. You won’t tell her will you?”
John smiled an endearing hand-in-the-cookie-jar smile. The man sitting next to him said something in the other language. John laughed.
“He’s sure Alex always wanted to kill me,” John said. “May I introduce my esteemed colleague from… Wales, is it?”
The man nodded.
“Tanesha, this is Dr. Cas Morgan.”
The man’s head turned to look at Tanesha. In that moment, she could have sworn that the world stopped moving. His brown eyes seemed to gobble her whole. Her face felt like it was on fire. Her eyes flicked to John. John seemed amused.
“Cas has taken a faculty position at CU,” John said. “He will be one of your professors next fall. You’re still going, right?”
Tanesha nodded. She tried to speak but sound was lost on her. Cas recovered first.
“I wanted to arrive early in Denver,” Cas said. “I thought I’d take in the sights, get settled.”
Tanesha turned to look at him. His face looked almost as red as hers felt. John stood and stepped into her line of sight. He walked to Tanesha.
“I’m sure you’re not here to meet my old nursery mates,” John said.
“IwaswonderingifIcouldshadowyouthissummer,” she said.
Concerned at her anxiety, John touched her arm and looked into her face. She wasn’t sure why, but his warm gesture brought her back to herself.
“I work twelve hour shifts twice a week,” Tanesha said. “Otherwise, I’m off. It would be great experience for me to observe you in surgery. I was thinking maybe once a week?”
There she’d said it. So why hadn’t her heart stopped pounding? She didn’t dare look at this Cas again.
“Sounds like a great idea,” John said. “I did the very same thing the summer before I started med school. Although, I was fortunate enough not to have to work.”
“He has a wealthy wife,” Cas said from behind John.
Tanesha’s eyes flitted to him. She registered a visceral shock. John said something to Cas in that other language, but Cas didn’t respond. John looked back at Tanesha.
“Would you like to follow me here or at Anschutz?” John asked. “I do emergency surgery here and primal vascular bypass at Anschutz. There’s more real patient care at Anschutz. CLI patients with some reasonable support. Here it’s just patch them up and out the door they go.”
“I don’t really know,” Tanesha said. “It just occurred to me to ask you.”
“How about trying both? See which one you like. Why don’t you speak to Trish, my surgical nurse?” John asked. “She’ll set you up. You’ve met Trish?”
Thrilled, Tanesha nodded in such a way as to make a slight bow. John smiled at her. John’s name was called on the overhead speaker.
“That’s my call,” John said. “Shall we walk back to the ED? Cas?”
Cas stood behind John. Keeping Tanesha on his right, John walked her to the Emergency Department.
“Don’t forget to speak with Trish,” John said.
He and Cas continued to consult on a patient. As Cas passed her, she felt a well of heat that seemed to emanate from his body. She stopped to stare at his back. Before he turned the corner, he turned to look at her. Their eyes caught and he was gone. Tanesha shook her head to clear the cobwebs. Returning to her job as an orderly at the ED, Tanesha couldn’t help but wonder about Cas.
And why Dr. John Drayson didn’t want her to have anything to do with him.
Thursday night — 10:35 P.M.
“If you need anything…” Steve Roper said to Sandy.
He pulled the covers up to her chin then checked her IV again.
“I will call you,” Sandy said. “You put your number in my phone. I’ll just press the button.”
“Don’t hesitate,” he said. “I’m only five minutes away and…”
“Thanks Steve,” Sandy said. “You’ve been really great. I… Yeah, thanks.”
“Aden’s waiting outside,” Steve said. “Should I let him in?”
“I’d like to see him,” Sandy said.
“Don’t overdo it,” Steve said. “You’re still very sick.”
Sandy nodded. Steve adjusted her blankets one last time then left the room. She heard Aden show him out. She closed her eyes for a moment.
Feeling movement on the bed, she opened her eyes to see Buster had joined her on the bed. He gave her an adoring look and scooted over. She rubbed his ears. There was a sound at the door. With tears streaming down her face, Noelle stood at the door. Sandy gestured and Noelle ran to the bed. Noelle got in on Aden’s side.
“Hey!” Nash ran to the bed and scooted in the bed next to Noelle.
Sandy caressed Noelle and Nash’s hair. She didn’t look up when she heard Charlie come into the room. She held up the covers and he slipped in next to her.
“Oh my God!” Aden exclaimed. “What are you doing?”
“But Dad!” Nash started at the same time Noelle said, “Daddy, I…” Charlie joined in with a “Listen…”
For a moment, they were all talking at once. Buster barked. And they stopped talking to look at Sandy.
“This is a little slice of heaven.” Sandy said. Holding Charlie’s hand, she touched Noelle and Nash’s heads.
“They cannot sleep with you,” Aden said. “I cannot. It’s too dangerous. You’re too sick.”
“Please Aden.” Sandy’s voice shook exhaustion.
“I can sleep on the floor,” Charlie said.
Charlie jumped out of bed and lay down on the floor. Not to be outdone, Nash rolled out of bed to the floor by her feet. Noelle looked at Sandy and then at her father.
“Noelle!” Nash said.
“Oh all right,” Noelle said.
She leaned over to kiss Sandy’s cheek then ran out of the room.
“What are you doing?” Nash yelled after her.
“Getting my covers,” Noelle yelled
Charlie and Nash trotted after her. Aden adjusted Sandy’s comforter.
“Please,” Sandy said.
“No,” Aden said. “I won’t risk it.”
Tears seeped from her eyes. She silently implored him to let the children stay.
“You promised you wouldn’t do this. No faking,” he said. His voice was firm but kind. “We need you to get well. How can we get married next year if you’re not there?”
She put her hand over his and nodded slightly. The children returned with their blankets and made makeshift beds on the floor.
“Come on Buster,” Noelle said. The dog jumped from the bed. Noelle lifted her blanket and he tucked up against her. “Daddy, where will you sleep?”
“I don’t know,” Aden said. “Looks like all the good spots are taken.”
He took a comforter from the closet, grabbed his pillow from the bed, and set them on the empty floor next to the bed.
“Can I bring you anything?” he asked Sandy.
She shook her head. Aden was turning off the light when Cleo came into the room. Purring, the cat walked around Charlie’s head then hopped on the bed. She walked along Sandy’s side until she settled on the pillow next to Sandy’s shoulder.
“Dad, you should move Cleo,” Nash said.
“They’ll be all right,” Aden said.
Shutting off the light, the little family settled in for the night. Sandy watched the ceiling for a few minutes as she counted her blessings. These four people had put their needs, wants and desires aside to do what was best for her. She’d never felt more loved. Closing her eyes, she fell sound asleep.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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