CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY-SEVEN
Saturday morning – 8:15 A.M. Tucson, Arizona
“Will you stop that?” Charlie growled at Sissy.
Sissy’s foot touched her opposite ankle then tapped the floor in front in a ballet frappé. Her foot was a blur as she repeated the movement over and over again. Nervous, she’d been doing this for almost an hour. They were sitting in the middle of the suite waiting for their mother to call. Noelle, Teddy and Nash were already at the pool.
“Sissy!” Charlie yelled.
“Fine,” Sissy said. She began moving her foot from her ankle to side in the same rapid motion.
“Stop it,” Charlie grabbed her leg.
“Ow! Let me go!” Sissy squealed. “You’re hurting me.”
She resumed the motion the moment he let go of her leg.
“Sissy!” Charlie yelled.
“Hey! Hey!” Sandy came into the sitting area. “What’s going on?”
“She won’t stop doing that!” Charlie yelled. “She’s driving me crazy!”
“I have to practice!” Sissy said. “I’m supposed do at least a hundred a day in every direction and…”
“You’re driving me crazy!” Charlie yelled.
“That’s a short trip,” Sissy yelled.
For the first time since they’d come to live with Sandy, the siblings were face to face screaming at each other.
“ENOUGH!” Aden yelled.
Surprised, Sissy and Charlie looked at Aden.
“We’re all nervous today,” Aden said. “We can’t take it out on each other.”
“He started it!” Sissy said.
“Come on, Sissy, you know those Frappés drive people crazy,” Sandy said.
“Right!” Charlie sneered at Sissy.
“You’re not off the hook, Charlie,” Sandy said. “You have your reading exam as soon as we get back. Your high school placement depends on it.”
“I would be studying, but she’s making me crazy!” Charlie yelled.
“You were already crazy, Mr. Short Bus,” Sissy yelled.
And they were off. Charlie hurled and insult at Sissy. Sissy returned the favor. Like all siblings, they each knew the vulnerable territory and launched laser targeted verbal bombs. Rachel started crying at the top of her lungs in the other room. Aden pointed toward the bedroom and Sandy nodded. He left to take care of Rachel.
Sandy put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder and another on Sissy’s. Not speaking very loud, she said:
Charlie clamped his mouth shut and Sissy followed suit. They turned to look at their sister.
“This is what she does,” Sandy said. “She rejects us. It’s so wretchedly painful that we take our pain out on each other.”
“Oh Sandy,” Sissy threw her arms around her sister. Charlie put his arms around the two of them. The three siblings held each other for a few moments before Sandy shifted back a bit.
“How about this?” Sandy asked. “Why don’t we figure out what we’d like to do today? We can fit Mom in after she calls.”
“But what if Mom calls while we’re out?” Sissy’s eyes were huge orbs of sadness.
“We can have the room phone forwarded to our cell phones,” Sandy said. “That way Mom can get us at the pool or horseback riding or whatever we decided to do.”
“I don’t understand it,” Sissy said. “She called every night last week and told me we should come to see her as soon as we get here. Then…”
“She bailed,” Charlie glared. “What a surprise.”
“Listen,” Sandy said. “I know the whole thing sucks. I know that. But we…” She put her hand on her chest, then Sissy’s, and finally Charlie’s chest. “We have each other. We love each other. We have friends and family and work we like and everything that matters. We can afford to be generous with Mom.”
“I can’t,” Charlie said.
“Charlie!” Sissy gave a teary plea to her brother.
“Fine,” Charlie said. “What do you want to do?”
“The boys are going on a horseback ride in a half hour,” Sandy said. “Aden, Nash, Jacob, Mike, Teddy, all the boys. MJ came in this morning. You and MJ always have a great time, Charlie. Why don’t you go with them?”
“But what if Mom calls?” Sissy asked.
“We’ll make a plan to meet her,” Sandy said.
“What will I do?” Sissy asked. “I don’t want to be alone.”
“Noelle, Valerie, Jill and I are going to get our nails done,” Sandy said. “Honey picked up MJ on the Navajo reservation last night. She’s coming with us too.”
“Honey too?” Sissy smiled. “She makes everything fun.”
“She didn’t tell you they were coming to surprise you,” Sandy said. “Have you ever been anywhere with Valerie?”
“No but Noelle told me about it,” Sissy said. “It’s pretty wild.”
“And very fun,” Sandy said.
Aden came out of the bedroom with Rachel. The baby’s entire body was bright red and her face wet with tears. She fussed until Aden gave her to Sandy. Aden pointed toward the door. Sandy nodded. He left to get the kids from the pool.
“What’s wrong with Rachel?” Charlie asked.
“She can feel everyone’s anxiety,” Sandy said. “I can too. We have to get on with our lives. For all of our sakes.”
Charlie picked up Rachel from Sandy. He nuzzled her face and blew on her stomach. She giggled and patted his face. He set Rachel back in Sandy’s arms.
“I think we should wait for Mom,” Sissy said.
“I don’t,” Charlie said. “I’m going horseback riding. Jake said we were going to see some cool old Indian caves today and tomorrow we’re going to hot springs. You should go with the girls, Sis. When will you ever have a chance to hang out with a real movie star?”
“Go clean up,” Sandy said.
Undecided, Sissy stood for a moment. Charlie turned her around by her shoulders. Sissy gave a woeful sigh and slunk off to the bathroom. With Sissy gone, tears welled in Charlie’s eyes.
“Mrs. Anjelika is here,” Sandy said. “She said she’d go horseback riding with you if you wanted.”
“She can go with you,” Charlie said. “I’m supposed to study with her this afternoon. If Mom wants to see us then, I can’t go.”
“What do you think she’s up to?” Charlie asked.
“I don’t know,” Sandy said. “In the last year, I’ve been so happy. You’ve been pretty happy in the last few months. I think she can’t ever be happy. She’s kind of broken in that way. She sees our happiness and it makes her mad.”
“That’s not right!” Charlie’s voice was indignant.
“It’s not,” Sandy said. “I can’t help but feel sorry for her. Who could want better kids than you and Sissy?”
“And yet she feels like she has nothing,” Sandy said. “I tell you this all the time, but I think when you spend your time focusing on what you give, you miss the love that surrounds you.”
Charlie reached his finger over to stroke a renegade tear off Rachel’s cheek and nodded.
“She only sees herself,” Sandy said. “So she only has herself. When I’m feeling sad or blue, I can talk to you or Aden or Jill or Sissy or play with the dogs or cuddle Rachel or… I have so many options.”
“She doesn’t have any,” Charlie said.
“She doesn’t,” Sandy said.
“Did we take it away from her?” Charlie’s eyes blinked at his mother’s cruel words that lingered in his heart.
“No,” Sandy said. “I’ve known her a long time, longer than you or Sissy. She’s always been like this. I think Dad thought he could help her, make her better, but…”
“Dad was really great,” Charlie said.
“He was amazing,” Sandy said. “The kids look up to you like everyone looked up to Dad.”
“That’s ‘cuz I’m tall,” Charlie smiled.
“No,” Sandy said. “It’s because you have the same strength and brightness. Everyone has had a tough week. We killed a serial killer, two evil creatures…”
“And all those baby creatures,” Charlie nodded. “Noelle has nightmares about them.”
“I need you to be a leader today,” Sandy said. “Help me by being stable and strong for me and the kids. I want Mom to be all right too.”
“I’ll try,” Charlie said.
“Good,” Sandy said. “Now go get dressed.”
“Do we have time to eat before we go?” Charlie asked on his way to his, Teddy and Nash’s bedroom.
“You just ate!”
“I know but…” Charlie rubbed his stomach.
“Go! Get dressed!” Shaking her head, Sandy laughed.
“Thanks,” Charlie gave Sandy a nod and disappeared.
Sandy sat down on the couch to feed Rachel. The baby grabbed her breast but couldn’t seem to clamp on.
“I don’t know, Rachel,” Sandy said. “Are you worried too?”
Rachel looked up at Sandy and blinked her beautiful eyes. Sandy smiled. She offered Rachel the other breast and she began to nurse. Sandy sighed.
“We’ll find out soon enough,” she said.
The door burst open with a whirl of noise and excitement as Noelle, Nash and Teddy rushed in from the pool
“EW!” Nash gave his usual response to Sandy breast feeding.
Teddy dragged him into their bedroom to change. Noelle stopped to say hi to Rachel then went to change. Aden came to sit next to her.
“You okay?” Aden asked.
“Not really,” Sandy said. “Makes me furious to see the kids upset. Again. By the same bullshit from the same woman. I feel like an idiot for dragging everyone here.”
“I thought you took care of it well,” Aden said.
“Do you have another plan?” Aden asked.
“While you guys are out, I’m going to that treatment center and put an end to this once and for all,” Sandy said.
“I won’t let you go alone,” Aden said.
“Thanks,” Sandy gave him a vague smile.
“And Rachel?” Aden asked.
“I was going to ask Anjelika or Delphie if they could sit her,” Sandy said. “They plan to hang out together and gossip. Or that’s what they said.”
“Have you pumped milk?” Aden asked.
“I brought some frozen. It’s in the hotel freezer downstairs,” Sandy said. “Rachel doesn’t seem to mind the substitute.”
“I’ll go ask Delphie and get the milk,” Aden got up from the couch. “What will you tell Charlie and Sissy?”
“The truth,” Sandy said. “I think they’ll probably be relieved.”
“Why don’t I tell them?” Aden said. “I can be the bad guy.”
Sandy’s eyes scanned his face to see if she could determine his motivation. He gave her a soft smile.
“I love you,” Aden said. “That’s why I’m doing it.”
Nodding, Sandy gave him a worried look.
“You’re a great mother, Sandy,” Aden said. “To them all. We’ll mother your mother together.”
He bent and kissed her cheek then went into the boys’ room. Sandy settled back to Rachel.
“I don’t know, Rachel,” Sandy said. “This isn’t going to end well. I just know it.”
Saturday morning – 8:15 A.M.
“What the hell is that?” Maresol asked.
She’d been in a downstairs bedroom getting ready for Seth’s homecoming when she heard something. Something definitely barky was going on in the hallway.
“Oh no, you are not bringing that thing into my house!” Maresol pointed to the chocolate Labrador puppy playing with Dale and Ava.
“It was a present,” Ava said. “For Seth.”
“I don’t care,” Maresol said. “It’s a peeing, pooping, and chewing nightmare.”
“She’s so cute,” Dale said. “How can you not love this face?”
“I do not like…” Maresol started. Ava was holding the puppy up so that it was near Maresol’s eyes. “Hrmph.”
Maresol turned away from Ava and the puppy.
“Why don’t you hold her?” Before Maresol could react, Ava set the puppy in the woman’s arms. The puppy started licking Maresol’s chin. She let out a little laugh.
“I knew you didn’t hate dogs,” Ava said.
Maresol gave Ava a sad smile and kissed the puppy.
“So what’s the story?” Dale asked.
“My Bonita had dogs,” Maresol said. “She loved those dogs like she loved her children – with fierce laughing love. After the children were killed, we had the dog for five more years, maybe more. Seth and I… We were both destroyed when he died. It was almost like losing the boys and Bonita all over again. I don’t think I can go through that.”
Maresol’s hand went automatically to rub the puppy’s ears.
“She is very cute,” Maresol said. “Where did she come from?”
“One of the families of the kids,” Ava said. “They wanted to thank Seth for finding the man who killed their son and bringing him to justice. They breed Labradors and I guess she’s some prize.”
“The pick of the litter,” Dale said. “That’s what they said. They gave us a crate, bowls, food and stuff. ”
“Well, pick of the litter,” Maresol said. “Do you have a name?”
Ava and Dale shook their head.
“What were your other dogs called?” Ava asked.
“Seth named them after composers,” Maresol said. “The one we had after Bonita and the boys were killed was called Mozart.”
“How about Clara?” Dale asked.
“Clara?” Ava asked.
“Clara Shumann, the greatest pianist of the nineteenth century” Dale said.
“How…?” Ava shook her head in wonderment that he came up with something so fast.
“I looked up composers before they dropped her off,” Dale blushed. “And I like Clara. It seems to fit her.”
“I like it,” Ava said.
“Hello, Clarita,” Maresol set down the puppy and brought up her index finger. “You two will clean up the yard and the house after this thing. You will potty train her immediately. You will obedience train her and walk her at least once a day until Seth is better. And you will not let the puppy eat any, and I mean not a single piece, of my furniture.”
“Yes ma’am,” Ava said.
Dale was so surprised at Maresol’s change in demeanor, he just stared at her. Ava knocked his shoulder with the back of her hand.
“Yes ma’am,” Dale said.
“Good,” Maresol said. “Now put Clara in her crate and help me finish Seth’s room. He will be home in a few hours.”
“Yes ma’am,” Dale repeated.
She smiled at him and he laughed. Ava put Clara in her tiny puppy crate and went to help.
Saturday mid-day – 11:45 A.M.
“Okay,” Sandy stopped her pacing in front of Aden. “I was mad, but now I’m really pissed.”
After being told Sandy’s mother would be right out, they had been waiting in the lobby for nearly two hours.
“She gets fifteen more minutes, then I’m leaving,” Sandy said. “And not coming back. No matter what.”
Aden tried to hug Sandy but she shrugged him off. She continued pacing.
“I can see why Charlie was mad,” Aden said.
“Why?” Sandy asked.
“Your pacing isn’t much better than Sissy’s frappé,” Aden said. “Did you know that frappé means ‘struck’? It refers to the dancer touching the floor and their ankle.”
“It may as well mean stuck,” Sandy said.
“I looked it up on your iPhone,” Aden said.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting,” a nurse said as she entered the waiting room. “Your mother is ready to see you now. Will you follow me?”
“In the nick of time,” Sandy said under her breath. “Why am I not surprised?”
“I’m sorry,” the nurse said. “Did you say something?”
“No, nothing,” Sandy said.
“Is this your husband?” the nurse said.
“This is Aden,” Sandy said.
“Your mother’s talks a lot about how proud she is of you,” the nurse said. “She’ll be right in with her therapist.”
“She didn’t ask about Sissy or Charlie?” Sandy asked.
“She wanted to make sure they weren’t here,” the nurse said. “I know they’ve been begging to see her but it’s just too much for the poor dear. Your sister, Mitzi, has called her every night this week. She’s just too fragile for such a needy child. Mitzi is fourteen. She should be more independent, but you know how your mother is. She smothers with love.”
Behind the nurse, Sandy looked at Aden and made a vomit gesture. He almost laughed out loud. The nurse opened the door to a small room with a table in the middle. She gestured to the chairs.
“I’ll tell you,” the nurse said. “Mitzi and Charles are going to have to grow up if your mother is ever going to come home.”
“Grow up?” Sandy asked.
“Jobs after school, hell, clean up after themselves,” the nurse sniffed at Sandy. Sandy gawked at the woman. “They are too old to require such babying. So are you. You kids are going to have to take some responsibility for yourselves.”
Before Sandy or Aden could respond, the nurse pulled the door closed. Sandy tried to move her foot in a frappé but failed.
“Did you hear that?” Sandy moved tried again to move her foot in a frappé. “Sissy? Needy? She just helped take down a serial killer and a nest of evil creatures. She a super hero! Charlie too! He beat his addiction and helped Seth and… Those kids practically raised themselves!”
“I answered the phone this week,” Aden said. “Your mother initiated every call.”
“Lying bitch,” Sandy tried the frappé again.
“Like to strike her?” Aden smiled.
Sandy nodded. He pulled out a chair at the table and she sat down. They settled in for another wait.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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