Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Denver Cereal - Chapter One Hundred and Sixty-Four : Talent


“Of course,” Anjelika said. “But there won’t be any trouble. Rachel’s going to be fine. Soon, she’ll be making friends. Mack here has already romanced all the six month olds and is working his way through the one year olds.”

The women laughed.

“I wanted to talk to you about Sissy,” Anjelika said.

Sandy, Heather and Tanesha stopped laughing. Their entire focus went to Anjelika.

“Oh,” Anjelika smiled. “It’s nothing bad.”

“What did you want to say about Sissy?” Sandy asked.

“She wanted to dance this afternoon,” Anjelika said. “I went with her so she wouldn’t be alone. I studied dance for many years. We had a great time stretching and playing. I wanted to see her dance so I put on some music. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Sorry Anjelika,” Tanesha said. “We’re kind of freaked out about Sissy and Charlie.”

“It would be easier for us if you just told us,” Heather said.

“I understand,” Anjelika said. “Sissy danced for a while. Just for fun, nothing serious. And… Well, you probably know this, but she’s very good, like prima ballerina good.”

Trying to figure out what she was saying, Sandy, Heather and Tanesha stared at Anjelika.

“My family has supported the ballet in St. Petersburg since the time of Peter the Great,” Anjelika said. “My father was a huge benefactor. In fact, it is how he met my mother, how they fell in love. She was a soloist… a prima ballerina.”

The women nodded in unison.

“Sissy is better than any I’ve ever seen,” Anjelika said. “And she’s only…”

“Fourteen,” Sandy said.

“And she doesn’t have a company yet?” Anjelika’s voice echoed with horror.

“We don’t know what you mean,” Heather said.

“Girls enter ballet companies when they are young, usually very younger and usually younger than Sissy. Ulyana was ten when she entered Kirov.”

“Ulyana?” Sandy asked.

“Kirov?” Heather asked.

“Russian ballet company, maybe the best in the world,” Anjelika said. “I think Sissy is better than Ulyana Lopatkina or at least as good. She will be tall, but Ulyana is tall as well.”

“Sissy’s already been to New York,” Sandy said. “She went when she was ten but she hasn’t had lessons in a couple years.”

“Because of her family problems,” Anjelika nodded.

“They asked her back this summer,” Sandy said.

“Why didn’t she go?” Anjelika asked. “She wants to dance, yes?”

“Sissy?” Sandy asked. “She came out of the womb wanting to be a ballerina.”

“Why did she not go toNew York?” Anjelika asked.

Sandy flushed with rage. Feeling her mother’s anger, Rachel squirmed. Sandy looked down to comfort her.

“Her mother,” Heather said.

“She told Sissy that they would live together,” Tanesha said. “Sissy didn’t want to miss the chance for her family to be together.”

“And now?” Anjelika asked.

“They gave her spot to another girl,” Sandy said.

“Surely, they will take her back,” Anjelika said.

“I…” Sandy shook her head. “I can’t do that to Sissy. I’m sorry.”

“Well, my father is coming to Denver to see Valerie and Mikhail before the baby is born,” Anjelika said. “I’d like him to see Sissy dance.”

“She’s at dance every afternoon,” Sandy said. “She’s with Ivan in the evenings three times a week.”

“She had to agree to see Ivan in order to get back in the Denver Ballet,” Heather said. “They said she was too rusty.”

“I think you misunderstood them,” Anjelika said. “I believe they want Sissy to see Ivan because she’s too good for their school. Ivan is Russian trained. He is what she needs. The rest is mindless exercise for a talent like Sissy.”

Sandy, Heather and Tanesha were so surprised they could only blink at Anjelika. Sandy recovered first.

“Are you sure?” Sandy asked.

“Oh yes,” Anjelika said. “She needs more practice. The good thing is that she knows it.”

“I don’t know how she could fit it in,” Sandy said.

“I’d be happy to run drills with her on the nights she’s not with Ivan,” Anjelika said. “She needs to practice every day.”

“She’s had such a hard time,” Sandy said. “She needs to heal and be a kid for a while.”

“Yes,” Anjelika said. “I gave this lecture over my children. You have heard my Jillian’s version?”

Sandy, Heather and Tanesha nodded.

“We have to be crafty,” Anjelika said. “Give Sissy enough practice to perfect her talent and also give her a life. I bet between us, we can make that happen. Does Charlie dance?”

“No,” Sandy said. “Too girlie for him.”

“I’ll speak with Ivan,” Anjelika said. “I am confident we can find an exercise program for all the kids that will help Sissy and still be fun.”

“Sure,” Sandy said. “And I’ll talk toAdenabout the rest of it. Have you met Ward?”

“He likes Sissy,” Heather said.

“Sissy likes him,” Tanesha said.

“Is he a dancer?” Anjelika asked.

“Ivan said he has the lines,” Sandy said. “But I don’t think he’s ever trained.”

“Why don’t we get him involved in our program?” Anjelika asked.

“I’m seeing his mother this week. I’ll ask,” Sandy said. “I know I could use more exercise.”

“Me too,” Heather said.

“Good,” Anjelika said. “We’ll set something up for the rest of the summer.”

“The next four weeks,” Sandy smiled at Sissy’s oft repeated words.

“Yes,” Anjelika said. “And I’ll see if we can get some real ballet talent here to watch Sissy. In the meantime, my father will be here next weekend and stay for a week or so.”

“How can he…?” Tanesha blurted out.

“That’s a very long story,” Anjelika said. “Let’s just say, if everything works out, he’s coming toDenverto look at properties.”

Not sure what she meant, the women nodded.

“Would you mind if he watches Sissy dance?” Anjelika asked.

“I’ll talk to Aden,” Sandy said. “But I don’t see why not.”

“I need to collect Charlie for our work,” Anjelika passed Mack back to Heather with a smile. “It’s such a pleasure to know such smart, beautiful and confident women.”

Too surprised to respond, Sandy, Heather and Tanesha watched Anjelika move across the plane before laughing.

“It’s going to be a big four weeks,” Sandy said.

“Three until my school starts,” Tanesha said.

“Then what?” Heather asked.

“Exactly,” Sandy said.


Sunday night – 11:05 P.M. MDT

Sitting in a wheelchair, Seth glanced across the bed at Ava’s sleeping form and listened. The house was silent. After their marathon detox, they’d had more juice, long showers and slept.

Blane and his wife Heather had come straight from the airport. Working as a team, Blane had given Ava, Dale and Seth acupuncture. Heather had taken out the needles and given them their herbs. Blane, Heather, and Bumpy had worked together to come up with what they hoped was an effective treatment for Seth.

He felt a lot better than he’d felt when he woke up that morning. He could move most of his limbs without mind searing pain. His terrible pain lingered in his small joints: the bones of his feet and ankles, his wrists and even his ears. Every once in a while, he felt a jolt of pain from what Bumpy called his coccyx. Blane told him the small joints of his body would take more time because they had the least chi and blood flow.

Whatever that meant.

To Seth, it meant that he needed this wheelchair to get around. Trying to be as quiet as possible, he wheeled out of the playroom that served as their bedroom. He stopped in the hallway to listen again. Dale was asleep upstairs and Maresol had gone home. He was doing so well they had dismissed the night nurse. He glanced down the hall.

He was alone.

He wheeled down the hall to the elevator he’d installed for his father. He had to wait a moment as it made a journey from the second floor. It made a ‘plunk’ sound and the doors scraped open. He looked behind him to see if anyone had heard him.


He wheeled in and pushed the button to the basement. The doors were just closing when he heard the scramble of little feet on the wood floors. He held the door for Clara, his new brown Labrador puppy. She scratched at his leg and he lifted her on his lap. He pressed the button again and they took the jerky trip to the basement. He groaned with pain when the elevator slammed at the bottom. He wheeled out of the elevator to his piano room.

Seth was shocked to find the door open a crack. His heart raced. Who could have been in this room? His mind flipped through the list of people who had the key: Maresol and Sandy. Only. Pushing the door open, he leaned into the room.

By the light of the hallway, he saw that his piano room was still and silent. Outside of a thorough cleaning, the room was untouched. A fire was built in the fireplace. There was a piece of paper taped to his piano bench.

Wheeling into the room, he bent to light the fire and went to his piano. He lifted the note from the bench. Maresol’s open scrawling handwriting. He held it at the end of his arm to be able to read it.

You were in the hospital (again). And I missed you. That’s how your room got cleaned. Don’t yell too much. okay?

Please survive Seth. I want more babies to play with. I want your face to light up with joy again. Mine too. our home has been drenched in sorrow for too long. Let’s live for a while more.

I hope the next time I see this note is at the end of your hand and not because you’re gone.


He wanted to be angry, but Maresol’s sweet note brought tears to his eyes. He tucked the note into the pocket of his robe. He looked down at Clara. She hopped off his lap and jumped onto the leather couch. She wandered the couch for a moment until she found a warm spot to settle in. Seth slipped onto the piano bench and closed his eyes.

He was home. For the next few minutes, he sat absorbing the sense of safety and joy he felt at this piano. As if moving on its own, his right hand began to touch the keys. Not to be excluded, his left hand began to caress the keys as well. Opening his eyes, he let out a breath.

He was lost in the music.

The next time he looked up, Maresol was standing in the doorway holding a cup of coffee.

“Thank you,” he said.

She gave him a soft smile. Lifting Clara off the couch, she left the room.


Monday afternoon – 1:17 P.M. MDT

Lizzie and Sandy sat in the waiting area at Catholic Charities waiting for their counselor, Lee. In a few minutes, they would meet the three families Lizzie had picked out as possible parents for the baby.

“I feel really confused,” Lizzie said.

“I’m not quite sure why you’re confused,” Sandy said. “You picked a family and…”

“I talked to Lee and…” Lizzie shrugged. “She was so… confident. She said I should pick three families. The two families she added are ‘perfect’ she said. I told her that my Dad was an alcoholic. But I guess these families are more perfect.”

“I guess we’ll meet them and see how perfect they are,” Sandy said.

Lizzie nodded. She looked over her shoulder.

“Do you think…?” Lizzie asked.

The outside waiting room door opened. Pushed by Ava, Seth rolled through the door in a wheelchair.

“Sorry, I’m late,” Seth said. “I’m not getting around very well.”

“Oh Daddy,” Lizzie hugged him. Sandy leaned over to hug him.

“Where’s Rachel?” Seth asked.

“She’s at her first day at school,” Sandy’s eyes became big. “I stopped off to feed her but she seemed happy there. So… Anjelika’s with her.”

“Did you work today?” Seth asked.

“No appointments. Clean up and organize day,” Sandy said. “Jake sent Pete with a crew to clean and paint everything. What a mess! I can’t tell if the serial killer made more of a mess than the police.”

“Police,” Ava said. “Hands down.”

“She’d know,” Seth said.

“I’m supposed to call later to see if I can start seeing clients tomorrow,” Sandy said. “Seth, you smell like the piano room.”

“I had to wrench him away,” Ava said.

“I haven’t played in a week or so,” Seth said. “I think that’s the longest time I’ve gone…”

“Since I learned to play,” Sandy and Lizzie said together.

“Or the last time you were shot,” Lizzie said.

“Or broke a limb,” Sandy said.

“Or…” Lizzie started.

“I always say that?” Seth asked.

Laughing, Sandy and Lizzie nodded their heads.

“Listen I don’t need to stay,” Ava said. “I’m just here to help Seth get around.”

“You can stay,” Lizzie nodded. “Two cops in the room might help me figure out who to pick.”

“I’m glad to help,” Ava smiled.

As if on cue, a dark haired woman opened the inner door.

“Lizzie!” the woman said. “I’m glad you’re here. Sandy how nice to see you!”

“Lee, this is Lizzie and my father Seth O’Malley,” Sandy said. “And his fiancé Amelie Alvin.”

Lee’s eyebrows furrowed. She looked from Seth to Ava.

“Are you Detective O’Malley from the papers?” Lee asked. “I recognize Ms. Alvin from photos after your… assault.”

“We work for the Denver Police,” Seth smiled.

“Nice to meet you,” Ava’s eyes shifted to Lizzie. Lizzie gave her a look that seemed to say, ‘I told you she was like this.’ Ava smiled.

“Seth is only a few days out of the hospital,” Sandy said. “But we wanted to come to meet the families. Lizzie’s due in less than a month. I know these families would like to start planning.”

“Yes, yes,” Lee said. “Please come in.”

Standing, Sandy helped Lizzie up and they followed Lee into a hallway. Ava pushed Seth behind them.

“I have the families in these three rooms,” Lee said. “I thought you could spend a few minutes with each of them and we can talk in between.”

“We go between rooms?” Seth asked.

Lee nodded. Nervous, Lizzie backed up until she was standing next to Seth and Ava.

“It’s like the interrogation rooms,” Ava mumbled to Lizzie. Lizzie smiled.

“This is the Hendersons,” Lee said. “You remember them, Lizzie? They live in Castle Pines. They go to Saint Francis in Castle Rock. I thought you’d like to see them first since you liked them so much.”

Lee opened the room door and went in.

“They’re perfect,” Lizzie muttered. Sandy put her hand on Lizzie’s arm.

“Why don’t you go in first?” Sandy asked Seth. “Break the ice.”

“Of course,” Seth said.

Ava gave a little wave and wheeled Seth inside.

“Are you all right?” Sandy asked.

“Nervous,” Lizzie said.

“Why?” Sandy asked again. “This is your choice.”

“It doesn’t feel like it,” Lizzie whispered.

“Why?” Sandy whispered back.

Lizzie shrugged.

“This is your choice,” Sandy said. “You don’t like these families, we’re out of here. We can easily go to another agency. Your Dad’s not going to put up with crap. I’m not either.”

Lizzie hugged Sandy.

“Let’s get this part over with,” Sandy said.

Lizzie nodded. Sandy opened the door and helped Lizzie inside. A middle aged former beauty queen sat next to a salt and pepper haired man with the look of a second husband. There was a sullen teenage girl in skin tight jeans and heavy makeup at one end of the table. A blonde, almost too handsome teenage boy sat next to her. Sandy spotted a five or six year old coloring in the corner of the room. The man was talking to Seth about his music when they had entered. When Lizzie sat next to Seth, he held out his hand. She took his lifeline into her hands. Sandy sat down next to Ava.

Mr. and Mrs. Henderson sat down and Lee made the introductions.

“You’re Sandy, right?” the sullen teenager asked.

Horrified that the girl had spoken, the Hendersons gave her a stern ‘shut up’ look. Mrs. Henderson put her hand over the girl’s hands. The girl sneered at her.

“I thought I recognized you,” Sandy gave the girl a bright smile. “You’re one of Charlie’s friends Aren’t you? Tink, right?”

She gave a jerk of a nod.

“Tiffanie,” Mrs. Henderson said. “I didn’t realize you knew, Mrs. Norsen.”

The girl scowled at her mother then looked at Seth.

“You’re O’Malley right?”

Before he could respond, she pulled a St. Jude medallion from under her shirt. The girl’s brother put his arm around her. Ava, Seth, and Sandy reacted with a mixture of horror and sorrow for the girl Charlie called “Tink.”

“Thanks,” she said to Seth.

“My pleasure,” Seth said.

In an effort to wrench the conversation away from the out of control teenager, Mr. Henderson cleared his throat.

“While I’m sure you have questions for us,” Mr. Henderson said. “We have a few questions for you. They are deal breakers for us. Do you mind?”

Lizzie shook her head.

“Have you used drugs or alcohol at any time in your pregnancy?” Mr. Henderson said.

“No,” Lizzie said.

“Do you have any proof?” Mrs. Henderson asked. “I know it sound horrible, but we were told no drugs and alcohol by the last girl and…”

Mrs. Henderson nodded her head toward the little girl coloring. Horrified by his mother’s implication, the boy got up to sit with the child in the corner. Mr. Henderson shot an angry look at Lee, the counselor.

“I don’t lie?” Lizzie asked. “Would that work?”

“What are your other questions?” Seth asked.

“We hate to ask,” Mrs. Henderson looked at her husband. “But Lee doesn’t have any information on the father.”

“Before we get down the road and regret it,” Mr. Henderson said. “We want to know. Is your baby white?”

Sandy was so surprised that she fell back in her chair. Her head jerked to look at Lizzie who flushed bright red. Seth looked angry. Ava squinted at the man.

“This is of great importance to you?” Ava asked.

“Vital,” Mrs. Henderson said.

“The Hendersons can provide your child with every opportunity, Lizzie,” Lee said. “They only want a child to love.”

“A white child,” Lizzie said.

The interview deteriorated from there. Before they left, Sandy was able to slip Tink her card under the table. The girl smiled and squeezed Sandy’s hand.

The next couple was similar to the Hendersons. They’d adopted previously through Catholic Charities and felt they didn’t get what they’d hoped for. Like the Hendersons, Sandy couldn’t find anything wrong with the child they had. Lee had the same mixture of embarrassed anxiety with them. Clearly, these families felt like Lee had messed up their previous adoptions. Lee was trying to make it right by getting Lizzie to pick them. Lizzie was so uncomfortable that Sandy and Seth did most of the talking.

They got to the third room and found it empty. Lizzie broke down.

“Let me go ask,” Lee marched off.

“Ava?” Seth asked. “I think there’s a sticky right there?”

In the middle of the table was a yellow sticky note.

“We went to the playground. Come and get us when you’re ready.”

“This way,” Sandy pointed down the hallway to a glass door. “We saw it when we had the tour.”

“Older kids play while their adoptive parents evaluate them,” Lizzie said.

Sandy pushed open the door. The fresh air and bright sun felt like heaven to her. Colin Hargreaves was swinging Katy’s best friend Paddie in a baby swing. Julie was sitting on the swing next to him. Sandy took a step forward to let them know they were there.

“Can we just watch?” Lizzie asked.

Oblivious to their audience, Paddie cheered, “Higher!”

Colin glanced at Julie and she nodded. He swung Paddie higher and higher.

“He’s too little for the baby swing,” Lizzie said.

“It’s so he’ll stay in,” Seth said. “We used to do that with Julie Ann. You remember, she liked to go really high.”

Lizzie glanced at her dad.

“Col?” Julie asked. “What if…?”

Letting Paddie swing, Colin knelt down to hug Julie.

“That’s my family,” Lizzie said.

“You’re sure?” Seth asked.

“I know it,” Lizzie nodded.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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