CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SIXTY-FIVE
Wednesday mid-day – 12:30 P.M.
Charlie hopped off the bus and ran down Colfax to Race Street. Cursing Valerie’s fame, he rushed through the procedures at the gate. He slammed the gate and jogged though the parking area to the side door. Breathing hard, he looked around the living area for Anjelika. Hearing laughter, he rushed into the kitchen to find Delphie and Anjelika drinking tea over a plate of Sandy’s scones.
“Scone?” Anjelika asked. “Sandy made orange scones for our studies this afternoon. You don’t mind if Delphie has one do you?”
Charlie shook his head. Unsure of what to do, and not wanting to endure Anjelika’s wrath, he waited for what felt like forever before Anjelika said good-bye to Delphie.
“You seem excited to get to work today,” Anjelika gave Charlie a wry look.
“Did you get them?” Charlie asked.
“Get what?” Anjelika asked.
“My scores,” Charlie’s impatience seeped through his words. “You know, what we’ve been working on forever and ever?”
“We’ve had your scores since Monday, Charlie,” Anjelika blinked.
“Ugh,” Charlie leaned back and groaned. Anjelika smiled at him.
“Sandy picked up your evaluations after her last client,” Anjelika said. “She brought them to me when she went to feed Rachel.”
“And?” Charlie asked.
“Why are you so impatient today?” Anjelika asked. “You know a man’s…”
“Greatest gift is his patience,” Charlie said. “Yes, I know.”
“And?” Anjelika asked.
“I’m not very patient today, ma’am,” Charlie said.
“Why is that?” Anjelika asked.
“Because… well…” Charlie looked away from her for a moment. Looking back, he began talking in a flurry of words. “I was at work this morning, you know at Lipson, and I was talking to a guy about the pick-up basketball game I play at the Twentieth Street Gym. Dad played there for like forever. He used to take me when I was a kid. I started playing there when I was at home, you know, with Mom. I even went a few times when I was on the streets. There was a guy who would pay for me to get in because he liked to have ‘good people’ to play. He’d come and get me fromSixteenth Street. Now I go every chance I can – on the weekends, at night, mid-day if we have a job downtown, whatever. I just play pick-up so…”
“The one you’re planning to go to this evening when we’re done,” Anjelika injected into the stream. “Yes, I remember.”
“Right, Jake got me a membership there, at Twentieth Street, you know the rec center downtown, where I play,” Charlie said. As if he was Noelle, Anjelika’s words only served to punctuate his steady stream of words. “So this guy I was talking to, he’s really into high school basketball and… well… He said that Regis Jesuit won state the last three years in a row and that George Washington has a good team and so does East. I mean I always figured I would go to East, you know, like Jake or Machebeuf like Sandy, well and Steve and Mike and Jill. I am Catholic, well, sort of Catholic. Sissy’s more Catholic than I am but she wants to go to East in the Fall, I don’t know why, and she can go anywhere she wants. So…”
“Stop!” Anjelika said. “Just stop. You are doing exactly what Noelle does when you accuse her of ‘jabbering on.’”
Charlie clamped his mouth closed. The effort was so sincere his eyes bulged. She smiled.
“Slow down, Charlie. You have something interesting to say, but you sound like a drug addict or a ten year old girl,” Anjelika said. “Calm down in the manner we’ve practiced so you are understandable. Let’s take a few breaths and see if we can’t come up with what you want to say.”
Frustrated, but knowing she was right, Charlie took one deep breath, held it and let it out. He opened his mouth resume his verbal diarrhea.
Anjelika shook her head. He took another deep breath. His eyes shot at her and she shook her head. He blew out his breath. Looking away from her, he took another deep breath and then another. He looked back and she nodded.
“The guy I talked to called some guy named Shaw from Regis Jesuit,” Charlie said. “He’s the coach or something. He’s going to come to basketball tonight to watch me play.”
“How wonderful,” Anjelika smiled. “And?”
“I’d like to know if I was placed in high school so I can go to Regis,” Charlie said.
Anjelika smiled her ‘go on’ to him.
“To play basketball,” Charlie said.
Anjelika gave an exaggerated nod.
“Because that’s my sweet spot right now,” Charlie said.
“Your reward for working so hard,” Anjelika said.
“Right,” Charlie said. “And Sandy agreed that if I do the ballet exercises with everybody, I could play more and…”
“Please take a moment,” Anjelika said. “You may ask me anything Charles, but you must ask me.”
“I know but…” Charlie said.
“No buts,” Anjelika said. “I’m not going to guess at what you want. You must ask.”
Irritated, mostly with himself, Charlie nodded and looked away. He’d had no idea this ‘becoming a man’ thing would be so difficult. He knew he had a lot to learn, but outside of reading, school was pretty straight forward. He’d always struggled with the communicating stuff.
And yet, what he’d learned so far had really paid off. Grown ups talked to him at work. Sandy and Aden understood what he needed. When he was upset inTucson, Jake and Mike were able to help him. Even his girlfriend Addy had noticed the difference. Nodding, he looked back.
“Mrs. Anjelika, I’d like to know if my exams placed me in high school.”
“Thank you,” Anjelika said. “Yes…”
Charlie felt a flood of relief. He hooted with joy.
“And no,” Anjelika said.
“No?” Charlie asked. “What do you mean no?”
“There is no question that your math is at least high school level,” Anjelika said. “But your reading…”
“Sucks,” Charlie slumped into himself. “So what?”
“Your reading does not qualify you for traditional high school,” Anjelika said.
“And if you want to go to a Liberal Arts university like we talked about,” Anjelika said. “Even MIT will require you to have the capacity to read well.”
“What if I don’t…”
“Do not start with me, Charles,” Anjelika said. “Basketball is fun, but it is not your future. You and I both know that you need to finish college, for yourself, forSandy, and for your father. We have worked, you have worked, for six weeks to create that future for you.”
“It’s not fair!” Charlie launched a familiar rant. Anjelika raised her eyebrows at him. “You know it’s not fair! How is this fair?”
As she did whenever he started this rant, Anjelika walked out of the room. When she returned, she had her purse and her keys.
“No!” Charlie yelled. “I don’t want to do to some orphanage or see something horrible or know how lucky I am. I want you to answer the question. You TOLD me that I could ask you anything. So I have a question.”
Anjelika set her purse down on a table next to the couch. Charlie practiced a few deep breaths so she wouldn’t ride him about being upset.
“What is your question?” Anjelika said.
“It’s not fair that I can’t get ahead because I can’t read,” Charlie said. “My father died! My mother is a crazy, lying, cheating person. I had to live on the streets! I was an addict! And…”
He shook his head and plopped down on a couch.
“You act like it’s fair, but it’s not,” Charlie said.
“Your question?” Anjelika asked.
“Why isn’t life fair?” Charlie asked.
“That’s a good question, Charlie,” Anjelika said. “Why do you think life isn’t fair?”
“Because I’ve had a hard life,” Charlie said. “And I can’t do what I want to because I can’t read and I can’t read because I lived on the streets and can’t see! And don’t tell me life isn’t fair! I hear that at meetings all the time. Life isn’t fair; get used to it. Well I want to know why!”
“Is that the biggest unfairness in life that you’ve seen?” Anjelika asked.
“It’s still not fair,” Charlie said.
“The question about fairness is a question for the philosophers,” Anjelika said. “We will read…”
“No,” Charlie said. “I want your answer to why life isn’t fair.”
Anjelika sighed. She sat down on the couch with Charlie. For a moment, she just looked at him. Tall, handsome, smart, fair-skinned Charlie wanted to know why his life wasn’t fair. After all of the suffering she’d seen and endured in her life, she had to wrestle with her own indignation.
“Why isn’t life fair?” Charlie repeated.
“I will give you my opinion,” Anjelika said. “But you must know that this is just my opinion based in my experience. If you are truly interested, you should ask the wise adults around you. Your sister, Sandy, my Jillian, Delphie, Sam, Jacob, Aden and your friends at work. I’d further encourage you to ask Noelle. She has a deep understanding of how life works. I will also research the philosophers and we will read what they think.”
“So what’s your opinion?” Charlie asked.
“I believe the issue of fairness is an issue of our perception of time,” Anjelika said. She raised a hand to the ‘but’ rising on Charlie’s lips. “As humans, we perceive time right this minute. Now! Right?”
“In this moment, we tend to see only ourselves,” Anjelika said. “You are right this moment thinking only of yourself and your plight. Right?”
“When we ask, ‘Why isn’t life fair?’ we are asking about right this minute,” Anjelika said. “When my ex-husband was beating me, I wanted to know right this minute why this injustice was happening. Why was it happening to me? It was very unfair.”
“That is what I mean about perceiving only this moment,” Anjelika said. “Something overwhelming or unfair happens and we perceive two things. One, it is unfair and two, it is happening to me. Is that what you are feeling?”
“Yet at that same moment, billions of people are experiencing their lives in ways that are either fair or unfair.,” Anjelika said.
“What do you mean?” Charlie asked.
“We can both agree that it wasn’t fair for your friends Jeffy and Razor to suffer so much and die so young,” Anjelika said. “Right?”
“That was a great injustice,” Anjelika said. “Much greater than your inability to read. You would agree?”
“At that same moment, someone was treated fairly,” Anjelika said. “You, for example. You were living with your new family. And at the same moment, an animal was abused and a child went hungry and someone who worked hard achieved greatness and…”
“But we only see what’s happening to us.”
“That’s exactly right, Charlie,” Anjelika said. “In the moment, which is where we perceive our plight, we decided things are unfair. We feel great rage at our injustice. How can life be fair?”
Anjelika stopped talking and looked at Charlie. Noticing her pause, he turned to look up at her.
“But the truth is, we are uniquely incapable of perceiving anything outside of this moment, particularly when we’re upset.”
“We can’t know the answer to why life is unfair,” Charlie nodded.
“Because we live in the present and the question is about everyone’s present at and all of time.”
“Very good Charlie,” Anjelika said. “You need to improve your reading. You know this.”
“It’s still not fair that my inability read as a result of my difficult life screws up my future,” Charlie said.
“It is very difficult,” Anjelika said. “And very human. We all have challenges in the moment that we must overcome. This is yours. Whether it’s fair or not, we will have to leave to someone else to decide.”
“Fine,” Charlie said.
“There are some obstacles…”
Having heard her say this before, he continued the next part of the conversation.
“I will not be able to overcome. I can change course.” Charlie smiled.
“Like a boat tacking against the steady wind,” Anjelika said. “Letting go in the moment to hold onto your final destination.”
“So what can I do?” Charlie asked. “I only have a month before school starts.”
“Sandra spoke with Aden about your scores.”
“So everyone knows I’m a retard?” Charlie’s face turned bright red.
“Don’t use that word,” Anjelika said. “It is an insult to everyone who hears it.”
“Everyone knows I’m stupid?” Charlie asked again.
“You are not stupid, Charlie,” Anjelika said.
“Fine, I’m not stupid,” Charlie said. “Everyone knows?”
“Your soon to be step-father knows that you struggle with reading,” Anjelika said. “It may surprise you, but it was not news to him.”
“Fine,” Charlie said. “And?”
“You may not be able to play for Regis this year,” Anjelika said. “We’ll have to look at their admission requirements. But you might be able to play at another school. Maybe you’ll get their attention and go to Regis next year.”
“Oh,” Charlie said. “Let go in this moment.”
“Exactly,” Anjelika said. “Change tack.”
“What about school?” Charlie asked.
“Sandra heard that Denver Public Schools has an online program,” Anjelika said. “She spoke with Aden about the program. He is going to call and to learn more. If you do well, you might be able to transfer to Regis next year.”
“I can’t play basketball online!” The exasperation crept back into Charlie’s voice and Anjelika gave him a stern look. He looked away from her, gained control of himself, then looked back. “What about basketball?”
“Sandy’s client said you can play any sport at any DPS school,” Anjelika said.
“Any one?” Charlie asked.
“Any DPS high school, any sport,” Anjelika said. “Jacob and Aden are talking to schools and will bring the information home for you. There are other sports than basketball.”
“I really like basketball,” Charlie said.
“It’s good to do things we aren’t good at,” Anjelika said.
“Like reading,” Charlie said.
“Yes,” Anjelika said. “Are you ready to get to work?”
“Did you clean up?”
“At work,” Charlie said.
“Do you have your glasses?”
Charlie pulled his reading glasses from his bag.
“We are reading The Door in the Wall today,” Anjelika said.
“Out loud?” Charlie asked.
“Yes, Let’s read it out loud,” Anjelika said. “I’ll start then you go. We can talk about it one chapter at a time.”
“To our dear friend H.R. I know thy works: Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man shall shut it: for Thou hast a little strength and hast not denied my name.”
“Isn’t that some bible thing?” Charlie asked.
“Revelations,” Anjelika said. “Go ahead.”
Charlie swallowed hard and began reading.
Wednesday mid-day – 12:30 P.M.
“You don’t have to go in with me if you don’t want to,” Lizzie said.
James Schmidt, Schmidty, Seth’s music agent pulled his BMW to the curb. He’d known Lizzie most of his life and loved her almost as long. She glanced at him and smiled at the look on his face.
“What did Lupe say?” Schmidty asked what Lizzie’s childhood caregiver had said to her before they left.
“Don’t be stupid,” Lizzie said. “It’s just that…”
“What?” Schmidty asked.
“I don’t exactly have a scarlet A but…,” Lizzie said. “Maybe I should.”
“I think you’re beautiful,” Schmidty said. “And as usual, you’re doing something wonderful for someone else.”
“Do you think I’ll ever have a life?” Lizzie asked.
“I think you’re having a life,” Schmidty said.
“Of ill repute,” Lizzie said.
Schmidty smiled. Trying to assess what he was thinking Lizzie furrowed her eyebrows at him.
“I mean get married, have my own house, a sane life,” Lizzie pushed her old friend Schmidty on the shoulder. “You’re my age and you have all that stuff. Well, not a wife, but… I want my own BMW.”
Blushing bright red, Schmidty gave her an odd smile.
“What?” Lizzie asked.
Schmidty shook his head and unbuckled his seat belt. She put her hand over his and he stopped moving. He looked at her hand then at her face.
“What?” Lizzie asked.
“I’d buy you any house you wanted, settle into a sane life, you can have my BMW or any other you want and…” Schmidty skin matched his red hair. “Will you marry me?”
“What?” Startled, Lizzie spoke before she realized what she’d said.
Schmidty panicked and opened his door. She grabbed his arm.
“Why don’t we start with dinner?” Lizzie asked.
“I…” Lizzie blushed.
Schmidty looked at her.
“I’ve always thought you were too good for me,” Lizzie said. “I mean, I’m not really your type.”
“What’s my type?” Schmidty asked.
“Blonde, big plastic torpedo…” Lizzie gestured to her breasts. “Rich, cheerleader, Jewish.”
“My only type is you Lizzie,” Schmidty said.
“What about all those girls?” Lizzie asked. “Every time I saw you, you were with some pretty…”
Schmidty nodded and she blushed.
“I saw you with those girls because you wanted me to be jealous?” Lizzie asked. “You didn’t like them at all.”
“That’s not true,” Schmidty said. “I’m not that much of a cad. I did like them. I’ve just always liked you a lot more.”
“I don’t want to be your shicksa,” Lizzie said.
“Yes, you’ve told me that since we were ten years old,” Schmidty said.
“What about your mother?” Lizzie asked.
“What about my mother?” Schmidty asked.
“What about…” Lizzie waved to her step-father induced pregnant belly.
“Seems to me like you’re doing what you always do Lizzie,” Schmidty said. “You’re making someone very happy.”
“What will your mother say?” Lizzie asked.
“Why do you care what my mother says?” Schmidty asked. “For the record, my mother has always said I could do a lot worse than you.”
“That’s not much of a compliment,” Lizzie said.
“We’re talking about my mother,” Schmidty said.
“Hmpft,” Lizzie crossed her arms and leaned into the seat.
“They’re watching from the doorway,” Schmidty said. “They probably think you changed your mind.”
“Oh,” Lizzie looked over at the large early twentieth century home. Seeing Colin and Julie, she waved. Turning back to Schmidty, she kissed him on the lips and got out of the BMW. Stunned, Schmidt took a minute to gather himself before he joined her.
“Dinner?” Schmidty asked.
“Dinner,” Lizzie said.
“Please come in!” Julie said.
Lizzie took Schmidty’s hand and went up the stairs to Julie and Colin’s home.
Wednesday afternoon – 1:30 P.M.
Pulling up to the storage unit, Sandy swallowed hard. She was going to have to do this alone. Seth still wasn’t walking. Just back to work, Aden was reviewing sites with Jake.
And there was no way Sissy and Charlie were coming. At least not this first time. No way. No how.
That meant Sandy was there alone.
Of course, alone meant Heather, Tanesha and Jill. With Tanesha in the passenger seat, Heather pulled up next to her. Jill pulled in on the other side. They didn’t really count.
She needed someone tough to help her think. The girls were nice and smart and certainly had her back. And no one was tougher than Tanesha.
But Seth was a police officer. He knew all the ins and outs of what happened to her. Seth wouldn’t be here today.
Sighing, she dropped her head and took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heart.
“Hey!” She heard Heather greeting someone.Sandy looked up to see Ava stepping out of Seth’s unmarked police sedan. Curious, Sandy got out of the car.
“Seth was devastated he couldn’t come today,” Ava said. “I thought I’d come to see if I could help. I know the forensics team, so we’ll get the inside scoop.”
“Thanks,” Sandy beamed.
“Don’t thank me yet,” Ava said. “This afternoon is going to suck. No matter what we do, it’s going to suck.”
Sandy nodded. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Heather, Tanesha and Jill nod. She saw the Agent Angela Montiz, the nice FBI agent fromTucson, and waved.
“Angie!” Ava said.
“Amelie!” Agent Angie said. “What a treat! I thought I was only going to see you at pizza last night.”
“Seth couldn’t make it today,” Ava said. “I wanted to be here with my friend, Sandy. Do you mind?”
“Not at all. I’d love your eye on some of this stuff,” Agent Angie said. “You have good taste in friends, Sandy.”
“Are you ready?” Agent Angie asked.
Jill slipped her arm into Sandy’s elbow and Sandy nodded.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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