Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Twenty-Two : Secret deal


One day later Saturday — 6:30 A.M.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse smiled at Sandy when she was wheeled into the unit.

“I wondered if I’d see you this morning,” she said. “How are you feeling?”

“Better than I have,” Sandy said.

“You’re still pretty sick,” she said.

“I’m still sick,” Sandy said. “They say it’ll take a while. That’s all right. I’d be here at the hospital anyway. I’m kind of grateful to have a bed.”

“Do you need some help getting into the chair?”

“No, I can do it,” Sandy said.

Sandy mustered her strength and moved from the wheelchair to the chair. The nurse held her arm for support.

“Can you open your gown?” the nurse asked. “I’ll bring her.”

Sandy settled into a chair near her daughter’s incubator. The nurse lifted the tiny child from her incubator. The baby had a CPAP oxygen tube in her throat and an intravenous line in her tiny leg. EKG and Blood pressure monitors were taped to her chest. She was wearing a diaper and a gold colored hat Delphie had knit for her. The nurse set the tiny bundle with her head to the side between Sandy’s breasts. The baby’s belly was against Sandy’s in Kangaroo position. Sandy held her close in a light hug. The nurse laid a soft cotton blanket over the baby and helped Sandy tie her hospital gown in place.

“You’re not breast feeding,” the nurse said.

“Can’t,” Sandy said. “Too many drugs. I’m pumping in case I get better. How is her infection?”

“She’s a fighter,” the nurse said. “I bet she’ll be ready for formula in a few days. The doctor thinks she’s closer to twenty-nine weeks than the twenty-seven we first thought.”

“She’s small,” Sandy said. The baby nestled into Sandy.

“You’re a natural,” the nurse said. “How many children do you have?”

“She’s my first biological child,” Sandy said.

“But you’ve been around infants,” the nurse said. “That’s obvious.”

“Younger brother and sister,” Sandy said. “They weren’t this small but…”

“Look, Daddy’s here,” the nurse said.

Sandy looked over to see Aden come into the NICU. She hadn’t seen him since the night before she’d gotten sick. She’d required long hours of sleep to recover from last night’s visit to the NICU. She’d missed him when he’d been here to help Kangaroo the baby. He leaned to kiss her cheek, touched the baby’s back and sat down next to Sandy.

“I looked for you in your room,” he said.

“I wanted to be with her,” Sandy said. “We only get a couple hours today.”

Sandy sighed. There was nothing better than the warm feeling of her baby on her chest. Because she and the baby still had the infection from her burst appendix, the baby could only be out of the incubator for short period of time. This Kangarooing was so vital to her growth and health, it was worth the risk. If she improved, they would increase the Kangaroo time.

“How are you?” Aden asked.

Sandy shrugged. He smiled to encourage her.

“Are you working today?” Sandy asked.

“I’m on paternity leave,” Aden said. “Jacob met with the state a couple days last week, you know, after Valerie set it up. As long as he stays away from female employees, he’s can return as CEO. I’m off for at least six weeks.”

The baby shifted her head toward his voice.

“She knows you’re here,” Sandy said.

“Sam promised me I could take as much time as we need,” Aden said.

“She could be here ten weeks,” Sandy said. “Then we have to get home.”

Exhausted at the thought, Sandy sighed.

“Everything depends on both of you getting better,” he said. He stroked her hair.

“I’m sorry to be so sick. I…” Sandy said.

“It’s a miracle you and the baby are alive,” Aden said. “We’ll get through everything else.”

“She’s already out of the radiant warmer and in an incubator,” Sandy said.

He smiled. Even ill, Sandy and their little bundle were beautiful.

“How are the kids?” Sandy asked.

“In seventh heaven,” Aden said.

Sandy raised her eyebrows at him. Her eyes tracked another mother and father coming into the NICU.

“You haven’t heard?” Aden asked.

“I haven’t heard any news, anything,” Sandy said. “I’ve just been here or unconscious.”

He touched her shoulder and she looked at him.

“You’ve been very sick. You had major surgery and delivered our baby yesterday,” he said. “It’s a lot. I’m glad you’re resting.”

“Where are the kids?” Sandy asked.

“Everywhere,” Aden said. “Teddy and Nash moved into the basement of Alex and John’s house. It’s like boy’s camp. Today they’re going to learn to shoot bows and arrows at some club in Morrison. Yesterday, to celebrate being done with school, they went horseback riding. Charlie went with them.”

“Alex and John? But…”

“They can stay there until you’re feeling better and the baby’s home,” Aden said. “At least that’s what Alex said. The boys will go to work on Monday. And so far, they’re really happy.”

“How do you feel about that?” Sandy asked.

“They’re happy,” Aden said. “That’s all I care about.”

“And Noelle?”

“Valerie took Noelle and Sissy on a shopping trip to the discount malls in Silverton,” Aden said. “They left last night. They’re staying at a posh condo owned by some movie director Val knows. They plan to shop morning to night today and tomorrow.”

“Sissy too?” Sandy smiled.

“Sissy has the weekend off treatment,” Aden said. “They want her to integrate into our family. You should see them. Noelle and Sissy. They aren’t sisters. They don’t look like sisters. But if you heard them talk? They’re sisters. They bicker, talk over each other, and laugh. They’re thrilled to have a movie star take them shopping. Val paid for a stylist to fly in to help the girls find their style.”

“Val needs pregnancy clothes,” Sandy said.

“That’s what she said. She’s a good liar. Jake said she’s already signed contracts with a couple companies for their clothes. Of course, Claire Martins is starting a line of maternity clothing for her to wear.”

Sandy smiled. She touched her tiny baby and looked back at him.

“How is Noelle? She’s never had a sister.”

“Noelle is thrilled,” Aden said. “We’ll see how she is by the end of the weekend. Sissy goes back to treatment on Monday. Noelle will stay with Delphie and Sam.”

“Would you like some time?” Sandy asked. She nodded at the baby on her chest.

“I like watching you,” Aden said. “I’ll take a half hour this afternoon when you’re resting later today.”

Sandy smiled. She closed her eyes to enjoy the moment.

“Noelle and Sissy named the baby,” Aden said. “I told them I would tell you and we don’t have to…”

“What did they name her?” Sandy asked.

“Rachel Ann,” Aden said. “Norsen, of course.”

“Are you Rachel Ann?” Sandy asked the baby. “Seems like a good name. What do you think?”

“Works for me,” Aden said. “The girls will feel good if we use their name.”

“What if she doesn’t make it?” Sandy asked.

Aden closed his eyes at the thought. They sat in silence for a few minutes until the sad words dissipated from the air around them.

“Where’s Charlie staying?” Sandy asked.

“He’s staying with Pete over your shop,” Aden said. “He was here with you and Rachel almost all night last night.”

“I thought Pete couldn’t be around him,” Sandy said.

“Charlie’s really doing recovery,” Aden said. “Plus Molly wants to see how Pete does caring for a child. Pete’s up for the challenge. Charlie’s going with the boys today.”

“They’re all… everywhere,” Sandy said.

“They’re everywhere so we can focus on Rachel, so you can get well,” Aden said.

“I hate that they have to sacrifice for me,” Sandy closed her eyes.

“They’re happy.” Aden shrugged.

“You only have a few more minutes,” the nurse said. “I’m sorry. I know it goes quickly.”

Nodding to the nurse, Sandy smiled.

“How are you here?” Sandy asked.

Aden raised the cuff of his jeans to show the pale skin where the ankle monitor had been. Sandy smiled.

“Congratulations,” she said.

“I’m on probation for a few years, but…” he said.

“I noticed your teeth,” Sandy said.

“Straight and white,” Aden said. “Am I brutally handsome?”

“Yes,” she said. “What happened to your chin?”

“Cleo scratched me with her claws.” Aden raised his hand for her to see. “My hand too.”

“Cleo?” Sandy laughed. “Now I’ve heard everything.”

The bell rang and the nurse came for Rachel. Sandy kissed her tiny face and the nurse put her back in her incubator. They watched the nurse check their daughter’s oxygen and IVs. She covered Rachel’s eyes and turned on the bili lights. Their daughter was awash in radiant blue.

“Now’s a good time to get something to eat and some rest,” the nurse said. “Come back in a few hours for touching and another Kangaroo session.”

“But…” Sandy said.

“I know you want to be here,” the nurse said. “But you need to get well. This is a lot to deal with, even for someone who’s well.”

Aden helped Sandy to standing and held her in his arms. He took charge of the wheelchair and Sandy sat down.

“Are you eating?” he asked. “The cafeteria isn’t bad or I can get something for us.”

“For us?” Sandy asked. “Don’t you have to…”

“Oh, I didn’t say that?” Aden laughed at himself. “I’m here. With you. Until Rachel is released. Until you’re released. They’re putting a cot to your room. I can sleep there. I’ll hit the Castle for showers or whatever but otherwise, I’m here.”

“We finally get some alone time,” Sandy said.

Aden laughed.

“We need to take a honeymoon,” he said.

“We have six kids now,” Sandy said. “I don’t know how we’ll ever get another chance.”

“We’ve never had trouble before,” Aden wiggled his eyebrows at her and she giggled.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “I wish I felt better to enjoy it.”

“Me too,” Aden said. “Food?”

Sandy nodded.

“Cafeteria or…?”

Aden looked down at Sandy. She was fast asleep. Smiling to himself, he wheeled her back to her room. The room’s surfaces were covered with bouquets of flowers from friends and family. He had to move a forest of metallic ‘Get Well’ balloons out of the way to get in the room. With the help of her nurse, he got her into bed. She opened her eyes to smile at him then fell sound asleep. Aden settled in for the duration. Asleep or awake, he would be here for her.

He just hoped she survived.

The doctors had told him Rachel had a better chance of surviving than Sandy. Sandy’s infection was so far resistant to antibiotics. The doctors encouraged him not to give up hope. She could still survive. She was just very ill. And everything she had, she gave to Rachel in her Kangaroo sessions. He swallowed hard.

She had been there when he needed her friendship. She had been there when he needed her support. She had been there when he needed an ear to listen. She had been there to laugh at his lame jokes. She had even been there to love him, and his children, through some of the worst days of his life.

He might not have Jill’s skill to heal. But he could love her. He only hoped that would be enough.


Saturday — 12:30 P.M

Holding Sissy’s rejected garments, Noelle left the dressing room. They’d taken turns. Noelle had gone first and they’d bought a few cute outfits for Noelle. This was Sissy’s turn. And these clothes were not right. Noelle stopped at Valerie’s dressing room to pick up a few hangers. Happy to be shopping with Sissy and Valerie, Noelle beamed as she left the dressing room.

And ran right into a popular girl from school. The girl sneered at Noelle.

“I wondered who hogged up the dressing rooms,” the girl said.

The girl started making snorting noises. Noelle scowled and put the hangers on the take back rack. On her way out to the main area, she passed another popular girl. ‘Look it’s the piggy,’ the girl said and joined her friend in snorting. Another blonde head looked up and began snorting. The sounds chased Noelle to the clothing rack where she picked up a smaller size for Sissy and a bigger size for Valerie. Clutching the clothes to her, she ran into the dressing room. She put Valerie’s over the door and went into Sissy’s room.

“Here,” Noelle said.

She was turned to leave when Sissy touched her arm.

“What happened?” Sissy asked.

“You wouldn’t understand,” Noelle said.

“Try me,” Sissy said.

“You girls doing all right?” The stylist came into the room. “Here’s a few more things to try. I think you’ll like them.”

The woman smiled at Sissy and Noelle then left to help Valerie.

“What happened?” Sissy whispered.

“There are these girls at school who hate me,” Noelle said. “I try to be friendly but they hate me.”


“I’m not cute or blonde or thin or…”

Sissy hugged Noelle to her. Pressed against Sissy’s shoulder Noelle kept talking.

“Stop!” Sissy said. “You have to stop or you’ll end up like me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at me!” Sissy said. “I’m a skeleton who hates herself. Everyone’s too nice to say anything, and I don’t think I really noticed it until we started shopping. You look great. Really fit. I look… like a Halloween decoration. They told me in treatment but…”

Sissy shook her head.

“I hate myself,” Noelle said.

“What did they do?” Sissy asked.

“They made snorts like a pig,” Noelle said. “They said we were hogging the changing rooms.”

“Short? Blonde? Rich?”

Noelle nodded.

“Let’s sic Valerie on them,” Sissy said.

Wearing just her bra and underwear, she went out to Valerie’s dressing room. Noelle watched Sissy’s protruding hip and back bones move as she walked.

“Val? We have a problem,” Sissy said.

Valerie opened the door to her dressing room. Noelle couldn’t tell what Sissy said, but Valerie’s face pinched in anger. She came over to Noelle.

“Are you all right?” Valerie asked.

Noelle shrugged.

“I’m going to take care of this,” Valerie hugged Noelle. “You know, they used to make fun of me too.”

“They did?” Noelle’s mouth fell open with shock.

“I wasn’t any good at school social crap. I had to work. I had Mike. I played sports and… I wasn’t popular, short, blonde or rich,” Valerie said. “I’m not now.”

“But you’re a beautiful movie star,” Sissy said.

“I’ve been successful because I look like me,” Valerie said. “No one in the world looks like me. No one looks like Noelle or you Sissy. That’s our beauty.”

“The weirdest thing just happened.” The stylist came up. “I went out there and a bunch of little girls were snorting like pigs. When they saw me they stopped but…”

“They thought you were me,” Noelle collapsed into herself. “I’m the pig.”

“No you’re not!” Sissy punched Noelle’s shoulder.

“Are the pigs mothers here?” the stylist asked.

Noelle nodded.

“And they let their daughter’s behave like that?” the stylist asked.

“They were mean to Sandy at the luncheon too,” Noelle said.

“Then we have to do something big,” Valerie said. “Noelle, do you still have your video camera with you?”

Noelle nodded.

“I’ll get a film editor I know to cut it into a show stopper of a video,” Valerie said. “He likes these little projects.”

“A video?” Noelle’s eyebrows pinched together.

“These little piggy’s went to market or something like that,” Valerie laughed. “I can post it on my Facebook page so lots of people will see it.”

“Let’s do it!” Sissy said.

“I’ll take it,” the stylist said. Noelle gave her the Flip camera. “Go on Noelle. Make us proud.”

Valerie gave Noelle more clothing to take out. When she left the dressing room, the blonde girls began snorting. When she returned to the dressing room door, they were standing in a line snorting at Noelle. Noelle had to push past them to get in the dressing room. All of the women in the dressing room cheered Noelle’s safe return. While Noelle watched, Valerie uploaded the video via her Blackberry. She sent the video and an email to her friend.

“Let’s get out of here,” Valerie said.

Valerie and Sissy collected their purchases. Of course the girls would never dare snort at Noelle while Valerie was there. Valerie paid the bill. Gossiping about mutual Hollywood friends, Valerie and the stylist left the shop. Sissy and Noelle followed close behind. It wasn’t until they were on the sidewalk that Noelle let out a breath.

“Come on!” Sissy said to Noelle. “Your turn!”

Noelle had only ever just had Nash and her Dad. And now she had both a mother and an older sister and a baby sister and a movie star auntish person. Smiling, Noelle followed them into the next shop.


Saturday — 7:30 P.M

Aden had helped Sandy get back into her hospital bed after her last Kangaroo session. She needed to have her vitals checked and get her medication. Aden had left to check on the kids and get her some ice cream. The nurse had just left when her door opened.

“Hi,” Blane said. He set a courier bag on the chair next to the bed.

“Blane?” Sandy asked. “What…?”

“Heather said they haven’t been able to get at your infection,” Blane said. “I thought I’d stop by and see you if some acupuncture could help.”

“Acupuncture?” Her eyebrows pinched together with concern.

Blane smiled at her skepticism.

“I don’t want you to go to any trouble,” Sandy said. “Plus, you’re sick. You need your skills for Mack and Heather and yourself.”

“I’m happy to help,” Blane said.

“I’ll be okay,” Sandy said.

“Well since I came all these three long blocks,” Blane winked at Sandy. “Why don’t you let me try?”

Sandy raised a disbelieving eyebrow but nodded. He gave her a beautiful smile as a reward. He picked up her right wrist to begin taking her pulses.

“You know, Alex Hargreaves had sepsis from a knife cut a few years ago.” He let go of her right hand and went around the bed. “She tried everything. You know what finally worked?”

He picked up her left wrist. Seeing his concentration, she didn’t answer. When he set her arm down, she said:

“Some super secret Army thing?” Sandy asked.

“Yes, she turned into the Incredible Hulk. She has to live with the green skin, but it did kick the infection,” Blane laughed. “Show me your tongue.”

She stuck her tongue out at him.

“They’ve called Dr. Tomogura,” Blane said.

“I don’t have any idea,” Sandy said.

“The nurse told me. He’s the best infection doc in the country,” Blane said. “I’ve worked with him before. He was Alex’s doc. He was with me through every step of Alex’s treatment. Ancient Chinese Treatment saved Miss Alex’s life or at least her arm. The other option was to amputation. That didn’t go over very well with the super secret Army people.”

Sandy smiled at his attempt to cheer her up.

“I’m just really sick. I don’t think I’ve ever been this sick.” Sandy tightened her lips together as if she’s admitted an awful truth.

“You’re very weak,” he said. “Mostly, you need peace and rest. I’ll drop by a CD with some music that will help. Even if you’re asleep, the music will help peace enter your body.”

“No peace in my body?” Sandy asked.

“You’ve had an awful year,” Blane said.

He waved off her immediate protest and sat down on the bed.

“Almost everyone you love has been in the Emergency Room this year. Aden’s been in jail and had the shit kicked out of him there. Your brother and sister are messed up,” Blane said. “And I know that crap with you bio father was awful.”

“Is awful,” Sandy said. “The nurses all know who and what I am.”

Blane put his warm hand over hers.

“I’m going to put some needles in,” Blane said. “Okay?”

“If you think it will help,” Sandy’s skeptical voice made him smile.

He opened his courier bag and took out a sheath of steel acupuncture needles.

“Here, you can help me,” he said. “Just open the end of these. Like this.”

He opened the end of the sealed package of disposable acupuncture needles. Sandy tried one and he nodded. While Sandy’s attention turned to opening the packages, he began inserting the needles.

“You and I have a lot in common,” Blane said.

“How so?” Sandy asked.

“We have similar histories,” Blane said. “We’ve been publicly humiliated. We live off the kindness of relative strangers and not real family. A lot of people depend on us to hold their kite strings. And right now, we both need other people to help us get better.”

He took the packages from her and gave her another set.

“That’s a lot of needles,” she said.

“Yep,” Blane said. “It’s horrible for me to think that someone will give up their liver to help me.”

“But you have to do it!” Sandy said. “You have a child and..”

“So do you,” he said. “Jill says you won’t accept her help.”

He picked up her right wrist to take her pulse.

“You’re fighting this treatment,” he said.

“Jill doesn’t need to be worrying about me,” Sandy said.

“She has a gift,” Blane said. “Why not let her help you?”

Sandy crossed her arms. He smiled and continued putting in needles. When he finished, he took the chair Aden had been sitting in.

“We wait about twenty minutes now,” Blane said. “How do you feel?”

“Tired,” Sandy said.

“I bet,” he said. “This should help you sleep. You didn’t answer my question.”

“I did so,” Sandy said. “You asked how I felt, and I told you.”

“The other question,” he said. “Why won’t you let Jill or me help you?”

“I don’t know,” Sandy said. “It always feels like people are so stretched and I’m just stealing from them.”

“Huh,” Blane said. “Very altruistic. I thought it was because you weren’t sure what you’d owe someone if they helped you. I had a foster father who used to say ‘Every thing has to be paid for.’ It totally sucked when the bill was due.”

Sandy reached out to hold his hand. He smiled at her. Their eyes held in understanding.

“You know Jill better than any person on the planet. What could Jill possibly want as payment?”

Sandy shook her head. She opened her mouth to defend her position. Seeing the understanding on his face, she closed her mouth.

“I’ll make you a deal,” Blane said. “I’ll help you receive help and get well, if you help me receive help and get a new liver.”


“Please don’t tell Heather,” Blane said. “She’s everything to me and she…”

“It’s our secret deal,” Sandy said.

“Secret deal,” Blane said.

Sandy held her hand out. They solemnly shook hands. Blane stood to take out the acupuncture needles. She was asleep when he finished. He touched her shoulder in good bye and she opened her eyes.

“Thanks,” she said.

“I’ll hold you to your promise.”

“I’ll remember.”

He opened his mouth to say something else but she was out. He met Aden down the hall. The men talked for a moment, then Aden returned to Sandy’s room. Seeing she was asleep, he ate her ice cream and settled in on the cot.

One day down. Rachel was one day older and stronger. And Sandy was stronger. Closing his eyes, Aden was simply grateful for the one day he’d had.

Denver Cereal continues next week…


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