Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Seventy-Seven : Tree


“I think every doctor in this room would like to section some part of your body,” Dr. Zeit said.

Jill gasped. Remembering Katy’s dream, Jill shook her head.

“I came to help my husband’s cousin,” Jill said. “Not to be some research project for bored doctors.”

Reassessing her, Dr. Zeit blinked.

“Jill,” Blane’s doctor moved toward her like a Coast Guard cruiser toward a sinking ship. “We believe we’ve come up with a way you can help Blane without becoming someone’s lab rat.”

As if to tell Dr. Zeit to back off, Blane’s doctor emphasized the last two words.

“How can I help Blane?” Jill asked.

“First. When are you due?” Blane’s doctor asked.

“We hope I can go as close to full term as possible,” Jill said. “My best friend’s daughter was a preemie and none of us want to go through that again.”

“And when would that be?” Blane’s doctor nodded.

“Sixteen weeks,” Jill said.

“Four months from now,” Blane’s doctor said. “I don’t know if Blane will make it that long.”

“Why are you asking?”

“There are a couple of interesting studies of using cord blood stem cells to cure liver disease,” Blane’s doctor said. “With your genetic type, you might also cure his HIV.”

The room fell silent as every doctor’s attention focused on Jill.

“Valerie’s due in a couple weeks,” Jill said. “And Honey a week or so later.”

“Valerie?” Blane’s doctor asked.

“My husband’s sister is married to my brother,” Jill said.

“This brother of yours,” Dr. Zeit said. “Does he have the same parents?”

“Yes,” Jill said.

“We’ll have to bring him in and…”

“Jill,” Blane’s doctor interrupted. “Why don’t we talk downstairs?”

Relieved, Jill smiled at Emily and left with Blane’s doctor. He took a tight hold of her arm and led her to the elevators. To her surprise, he pushed the button for the elevator to the lobby. With his tight hold on her, he walked her to her car.

“Go,” Blane’s doctor said. “Get out of here.”


“We’ll work this out,” Blane’s doctor said. “If you can talk to Valerie and Honey that may buy us time for Blane. But if you don’t go…”

He glanced back at the building. Jill opened the door to her Lexus SUV and he helped her inside.

“They want your… whole family,” Blane’s doctor said. “They think experimenting on you will get them a vaccine or a cure or…”

Blane’s doctor shook his head.

“I’ll call Blane,” Blane’s doctor said and closed Jill’s door.

She was a mile away before she realized what the Blane’s doctor had meant.

The doctors wanted her babies! The doctors wanted to experiment on her babies!

With a protective hand over her belly, she drove to the Castle.


Tuesday afternoon — 4:15 P.M.


Charlie poked his head into Mike’s carriage house studio. Up to her elbows in paint-soaked brushes, palettes, and containers, Noelle was busy cleaning. The scent of turpentine hung on the air. Charlie moved the fan to blow the fumes out of the small space. Noelle smiled her thanks and went back to work.

“That’s a lot,” Charlie said.

“An apprentice cleans up after her master,” Noelle said brightly. “I’m happy to do it. Mike’s grandfather is coming in tonight, so we want to clean up a bit.”

They heard a crash inside the carriage house. Mike swore. Noelle turned to look.

“I’m okay. I’m okay,” Mike yelled. “Everything’s okay.”

Noelle turned back to her work. Her hair fell into her face. Using her forearm, she tried to push the hair out of her face. As soon as she started cleaning again, her hair fell into her face. Charlie stepped behind her and scooped up her renegade hair with one hand. He took a hair tie from his pocket and put Noelle’s hair back into a ponytail.

“I keep those in my pocket for basketball,” Charlie said.

“Thanks,” Noelle said. “I’ve been trying to wear my hair down so I don’t look so much like a boy.”

“You don’t look like a boy,” Charlie said.

“Yeah, I do,” Noelle gave him a sad smile.

“You actually don’t,” Charlie said. “You’re just not a stupid mousey little girl.”

Noelle shrugged as if it was the same thing.

“Can I help?” Charlie asked.

“Don’t you have basketball?” Noelle asked.

“It’s ballet today,” Charlie said.

“Not until six,” Noelle said.

“Mrs. Anjelika’s father is coming tonight,” Charlie said. “She’s busy. And… I wanted to ask you something.”

“I’m not telling you about Teddy or me and Teddy or Dad or Dad and Sandy for that matter,” Noelle said. “And Sissy’s private business is her private business.”

“I’m not asking about Teddy or Aden,” Charlie said. “And I could care less about Sissy’s secrets. Plus, I know everything anyway.”

“What do you know?”

“I know that you and Teddy have kissed a couple times, but mostly hold hands,” Charlie said. “I know Aden and Sandy get busy…”

“I don’t want to know,” Noelle held her hands over her ears.

Charlie laughed.

“Here.” Noelle shoved a wet brush at him. “You can dry. I’ll teach you so you don’t mess up the brushes.”

Noelle gave Charlie detailed instructions. He practiced rubbing the brushes just so while she made minor adjustments to his technique before cleaning more brushes. They settled into a rhythm of cleaning and drying.

“You wanted to ask me something?” Noelle asked.

“I’m high on turpentine,” Charlie said.

“That’s not good,” Noelle said. “Do you have to start over your sobriety? Did you lose all your time? Maybe you should leave.”

“I was joking,” Charlie said.

“It’s not very funny,” Noelle said. Repeating what Aden often said, she added, “Sobriety is no joke.”

Charlie gave her a wry smile. She laughed.

“What did you want to ask?” Noelle asked.

“Why do you think life isn’t fair?” Charlie asked.

“Oh. Huh,” Noelle said.

“It’s okay if you don’t know,” Charlie said. “It’s something you’ll probably get when you get older.”

“You’re not that much older than me,” Noelle said. “They talk about it at the meetings Nash and I have gone to since we were little. Plus, it’s about all my mother Nuala talks about. ‘My life’s so unfair. Blah, blah blah.’”

With dirty brushes in her hands, Noelle waved her arms around like a Muppet.

“Fine, if you know so much, answer the question,” Charlie said.

“Life is a part of all of us,” Noelle said.

“That’s supposed to mean something?” Charlie asked. “Listen, if you don’t want to answer…”

“I’m trying to answer. You’re not listening,” Noelle said.

“I am too.”

“Ok, I’ll try again,” Noelle said. “You can think thoughts, right?”

Charlie nodded.

“I can think thoughts,” Noelle said. “Most animals and people can think thoughts. Delphie says even bees can think thoughts.”

“Some think more than others,” Charlie smirked.

“Right,” Noelle said. “Because we can think, we get… um… separate from life itself.”


“We think about life instead of just living it,” Noelle said.

“Um, okay.”

“See that tree,” Noelle pointed toward a fruit tree in the backyard.


“That tree doesn’t think about life,” Noelle said. “It just lives.”

Noelle stopped washing and looked at Charlie expectantly.

“And how does that relate to life being fair?”

Noelle rolled her eyes.

“Listen, I asked you a serious question,” Charlie said. “You don’t have to make fun of me.”

“I would never make fun of you or anyone,” Noelle said. “I’m trying to figure out a way to explain it.”

“When the tree gets watered, does it judge that it’s getting too much water or too little?” Mike asked from the doorway. He was so clean shaven that Charlie didn’t recognize him until he spoke.

“Right,” Noelle said. “A tree can’t think. It uses what it gets and grows.”

“People think,” Charlie said.

“And?” Noelle asked.

“People use their minds to judge,” Mike said. “I like this color. I don’t like that brush. I don’t like this person. I like that cereal.”

“This is fair,” Noelle said. “Or this isn’t fair. But judging or thinking isn’t living so we can’t ever know if life is fair or not fair because every time we think, we have to let go of living to think.”

Noelle and Mike looked at Charlie expectantly. He scowled at them.

“How do you know this?” Charlie asked Mike.

“I learned it from Noelle,” Mike said. “I read some things but it didn’t make sense to me until Noelle and I talked about it.”

“We were talking about painting. I can draw or paint a great picture of a…” One of Delphie’s bees hovered in the doorway. “…a bee. But the picture isn’t the bee. Even if I draw it as close as possible to the bee and it looks just like it. It’s still just a picture.”

Mike and Noelle looked at Charlie.


“Thinking about life isn’t life,” Noelle said. “Like a picture isn’t a bee.”

Standing dead still, Charlie’s eyes blinked.

“Thinking life is fair or not fair isn’t life,” Noelle said.

“Because it’s thinking,” Charlie said. “And thinking is like a picture. It’s not really life.”

Noelle nodded.

“Oh,” Charlie said.

“Like when those girls were mean to me,” Noelle said. “It hurt my feelings and I thought they were pretty mean. But those were just thoughts. They weren’t real. When I let go of the thoughts, and just live, it all seems pretty silly because I’m really okay.”

Charlie nodded.

“Even looking like a boy is okay,” Noelle said.

“You don’t look like a boy,” Charlie said.

“Does that help?” Noelle asked.

Charlie hugged Noelle.

“Good because we have a lot more to do,” Noelle said.

“She’s a task master,” Mike said and went back to cleaning up the carriage house.

Charlie settled into drying the brushes that Noelle cleaned. The information rattled around in his brain. Sometimes, he was sure he understood what she’d said. Other times, he was just confused. By the time, everything was clean and dry he knew one thing for sure: his new sister was a very special girl. He was going to do everything in his power to help her stay that way.


Tuesday evening — 6:15 P.M.

“You’re sure this is okay,” Sandy asked Jacob. “I mean we live here and take so much and…”

“We have plenty of space,” Jacob said. “Plus, we’ll be done before the kids finish their exercises with Ivan.”

“But…” Sandy started.

“Stop,” Jill said. “Sandy, you’re just putting a few boxes here.”

“It’s all of Andy’s stuff from the storage unit and everything from the apartment and…”

“If you don’t put it here, how can I go through it?” Valerie smiled. “I have mad skills Sandy. I’m telling you mad skills.”

Sandy smiled at Valerie’s fake gangster talk.

“We’re still trading for hair services,” Valerie said. “You’re going to make sure my hair is not wild girl weird.”

“I promise that you will not look crazy weird in any paparazzi photos,” Sandy said.

“See, that’s a fair trade,” Valerie said.

Sandy smiled at Valerie’s bright face. Wearing a pair of Blane’s old overalls, Heather hugged Sandy.

“Come on,” Jill said.

“Aden’s here with the movers,” Tanesha said.

They started walking toward the door of Honey and MJ’s old apartment. Since the apartment wasn’t quite ready for MJ and Honey to move in, all of the furniture was still stored away. They had easy access to move the boxes through the apartment and into the basement.

“Where’s your guy?” Jacob asked as he walked past her.

“What guy?” Tanesha asked.

Surprised, Jacob stopped short. Tanesha laughed at his surprise.

“I don’t know! I can’t keep track of his drama,” Tanesha said. “He said he wanted to be here but you know how men are.”

Jacob and MJ shared a look and went out into the driveway. In her sport wheelchair, Honey was in the middle of the driveway directing the truck. It backed up to the apartment door. The friends and movers began unloading. After making a few trips, Jill was coming back for another load of dresses when she ran into Aden.

“Can I ask you something?” Aden asked. His eyes scanned for Sandy.

“Sure,” Jill stopped to look up at him. “What’s going on?”

“Has Sandy talked to you about her mom?” Aden asked. “I mean Andy?”

Jill shook her head.

“And the FBI?” Aden asked.

“Sandy didn’t tell you?” Jill asked.

“She won’t talk about it,” Aden said. “She’s been acting strangely and I…”

“One thing I know about Sandy is that she will only talk when she’s ready. It’s hard to wait, but Sandy has to… “ Jill shrugged. “She has to work things through before she talks about them.”

“I know she’s like that but…”

“You know Tanesha? If something’s going on with her, she’ll tell you. Right there,” Jill smiled. “I’m sure she told Jeraine exactly what she said to Jacob; Tanesha does not hold back. Heather is more up and down than that. She’s as likely to spill everything all at once as go off in a huff. I’m somewhere in between. I talk to people I trust and don’t say anything to anyone I don’t trust.”

“I think Sandy trusts me,” Aden said.

“She does,” Jill said. “Sandy’s different than us. She’s painfully private. If you pressure her in any way, she’ll feel threatened and she’ll clam up. But you have to know, she will let you know what she wants you to know.”

“She wants to control things.”

“It doesn’t seem like control to me,” Jill said. “I think it doesn’t occur to Sandy that anyone would want to know little things about her and her life. You know, before she met us, she was alone a lot. Her interactions with people were… not healthy. She forgets that other people want to be included in her inner world.”

Aden nodded. He smiled at Sandy when she walked by.

“So you don’t think she’s not talking because she’s really upset or there’s something wrong with… us?”

Jill smiled at his insecurity. He shrugged.

“Why don’t you tell her you care?” Jill asked. “Tell her you’d like to know when she’s ready to share?”

Aden nodded.

“I’ll tell you this, Aden,” Jill said. “Sandy is happier than I’ve ever seen her. She’s so thrilled that Charlie and Sissy are close. She adores Nash and Noelle. And you’ve seen her with Rachel.”

“But me?”

“You’ve made all this happen,” Jill said. “I doubt Sandy will ever be able to tell you how much she cares about you.”

“She shows me every day,” Aden said.

“So hold onto that,” Jill said. “And don’t worry. I promise you, if something’s wrong, you’ll be the first to know.”

Aden nodded.

“Come on,” Jill said. “Let’s finish up.”

Heading back to the truck, Aden walked into Sandy. He wrapped himself around her small form.

“I love you,” he whispered in her ear.

She gave him a lovely smile, kissed his lips, and continued into the Castle. He watched her hips sway. She turned at the door and winked at him. Smiling at his own insecurity, he picked up one of the last boxes.


Tuesday evening — 7:15 P.M. MST (6:15 P.M. PST)

“I have to leave in about twenty minutes,” Ava said to Seth via her webcam.

“Sorry we were so late getting back,” Seth said. “Traffic.”

They ate dinner together via Skype every night they could make it happen.

“You can’t control traffic,” Ava said.

“I hate to miss our time together,” Seth smiled.

Blushing, she smiled. There were voices in the background and Seth turned for a moment listening to something.

“Schmidty is taking Lizzie out to dinner,” Seth said. “See you later.”

He was silent for a moment and she heard the door shut.

“They seem really happy,” Seth said.

“That’s great news,” Ava said. “She’s been pretty miserable.”

Seth nodded.

“Is he going to be all right with her giving the baby up?” Ava asked.

“He thinks her relationship with her step-father was more like rape and less like love,” Seth said. “He thinks it’s better for the child if he’s with parents who don’t have that baggage.”

“He’s right,” Ava said.

Seth nodded. They fell silent as they each opened their foil wrapped dinners.

“What did you get?” Seth asked.

“Veggie enchiladas,” Ava said. “You?”

“Yum,” Seth said. “More salad and tomato soup. I’m the salad king.”

“It supposed to help you get better,” Ava said. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” Seth said. “The doc’s trying to set up some physical therapy to get me moving again. But I don’t know when I’d have time.”

“Between a cold case and a movie?” Ava smiled. “Who has time?”

“Bingo,” Seth laughed. “How did your review go?”

“Not great,” Ava took a bite of her enchilada.

“You just received commendation from the FBI, the UN, the President, and… well, everyone,” Seth poked at his salad. “What’s his problem?

Ava pointed her fork at him.

“Me?” Seth asked.

“Interdepartmental relationship,” Ava said. “He told me I should think about leaving the DPD. He gave me a week to make a decision.”


“Seriously,” Ava said. “I’ve been offered a job at the FBI but that’s inVirginia. I’ve been offered a job at the UN but that’s in Geneva or New York. And the DPD are getting that new building. The Captain promised us that we could have our own lab. Once the new building is done, the CBI will be secondary to what we could do.”

“What options did he give you?”

“Leave, of course,” Ava said. “End it with you. Step down lab head and let Bob run the lab. But Bob doesn’t want to run a lab. He’s retired. No one on my team wants to deal with all this departmental crap. That’s why we work this shift.”

“Why is this happening now?” Seth asked. “If he had something to say, I would think he would have said it when we were in IAD review.”

Ava shrugged.

“We could always say we broke up and not,” Seth smiled.

“I don’t want to lie,” Ava said. “It’s too much work. Plus, what would we do when we have kids or whatever?”

“I’ll be home this weekend,” Seth said. “Don’t do anything until then.”

“I know that look O’Malley,” Ava said. “You have a plan.”

Seth nodded.

“What are you going to do?” Ava asked.

“I’m going to quit,” Seth said. The Denver Cereal will continue next week…


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