CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and SIXTY-SEVEN
One and a half days later Friday morning — 4:20 A.M.
When he turned off the shower, Aden heard Rachel fuss in her bassinette attached to Sandy’s side of the bed. Sandy was curled up on her side and sound asleep. Not wanting to wake Sandy, and still dripping from the shower, Aden picked up Rachel and took her into their closet. He set her in her portable bassinette so he could dress. He went through quick proficient motions of changing her diaper. Hearing a noise, he watched Sandy’s black and white cat Cleo settle in next to Sandy’s belly. He was about to lay Rachel back into the bassinette by the bed when she cooed at him.
Aden stared at the baby. Outside of the frantic kangarooing when Rachel was in the NICU and Sandy was on death’s door, Aden hadn’t spent any time with her alone. Rachel was tucked away in a sling on Sandy’s shoulder, pressed against one of Sandy’s bursting breasts, or carted around one of the kid’s hips. In a classic Sandy move, Rachel lowered her chin and smiled at him. When he tried to set her down, she reached her tiny arms out to him.
He couldn’t let her go.
He picked up her portable bassinette and carried her to the living room. The kids would be up in a half hour and their day would be a flurry of activity and noise.Aden usually used this small window of still quiet for meditation and working on his daily affirmations.
“My sobriety depends on it,” Aden said in a soft voice to Rachel. Rachel bat her big eyes at him. “You know how important my sobriety is to everything.”
Rachel reached her hand out to his face. He felt a flood of emotion that almost burst him open. He leaned down to kiss her face. She’d started life looking more like a creature than a child. She’d fought back from near death over and over again. She’d struggled just to take each breath, to be his daughter, to live. For a moment, he felt the weight and beauty of all she’d done in her short life.
She kicked her legs and moved her arms. No one would ever know all she’d been through. Sandy’s dedication to breast feeding had helped her grow to newborn size. Her doctor said there was no reason to expect she wouldn’t live a healthy life. Aden smiled at her and she smiled back at him.
He lowered his face closer to hers just to look at her. In her eyes, he saw a tiny glimmer of Noelle. She closed her eyes like Nash did when he was thinking. Her smile was all Sandy. In the shadow, he saw the tiniest reflection of Seth and his parents.
She was his daughter. She was Sandy’s daughter.
In the way of infants, Rachel squinted her eyes and pursed her lips. Her face puzzled. She squirmed at the rumblings of her belly. Aden chuckled.
“She’s amazing, isn’t she?” Charlie’s voice jolted him out of his revelry. He looked at Charlie. Rumpled from sleep, he was standing in the doorway. “Every time I think about using, I think of Rachel. She wants to live so much. She doesn’t care if it hurts; she just wants to live. Who the hell am I to numb out?”
Aden nodded at the young man. Rachel cooed again and he looked at her again.
“I’ll make breakfast,” Charlie said. “Is there something special for Noelle’s birthday?”
“Cinnamon rolls,” Aden said. “Sandy left the instructions on the pan.”
“I’ll put them in,” Charlie said.
Aden’s ear picked up the sound from the kitchen but his attention was on the baby in his lap. He laughed.
“What’s funny?” Charlie asked.
“I can’t believe this is my life,” Aden said.
“Pretty great,” Charlie said. “I feel that sometimes.”
“I better wake Sandy,” Aden kissed Rachel’s cheek.
Charlie waved a spatula at him. With Rachel on his hip, he went toward their bedroom.
“Hey, before you go,” Charlie said. “I wanted to ask you…”
Aden turned to look at him.
“Why isn’t life fair?” Charlie gave an embarrassed shrug. “Mrs. Anjelika assigned me to ask everyone.”
“I could just tell you what they say at meetings…”
“I have to find out what you think; that’s the assignment,” Charlie said.
“I think life is life. It just is,” Aden said. “Like the mountains or the sun or the sky. These things aren’t good or bad, they just are. Life is like that.”
“Why isn’t life fair?”
“The mountains aren’t fair, they just are,” Aden said. “Life is the same way.”
“Ok, thanks, I guess,” Charlie said.
Aden nodded and went into the silent hallway. In the last still moment of the morning, he shook his head at the mind of a sixteen year old.
Smiling, he went to start the day.
~~~~~~~ Friday morning — 8:20 A.M.
Schmidty waved to Lizzie and started upSeventeenth Avenue. He stopped almost immediately at Ogden. In his rearview mirror, he saw Lizzie wave one last time then head into the condo. He smiled.
He hadn’t thought he’d stay on Wednesday night. They’d laughed through their pizza then sat on the couch listening to music. He’d shared Seth’s new symphony with her. They’d talked while his iPod played through her father’s music. Somehow, the time slipped away until a glimmer of light shone on the horizon. Morning was on its way.
Out of necessity, more than romance, she’d taken his hand and led him to bed. They slept ten hours straight through. She was mortified when they woke. He convinced her that he’d go get breakfast while she showered. By the time he’d returned, she’d talked to Sandy, showered and was smiling at him.
“Sandy says I worry too much,” Lizzie gestured to her belly. “I think I don’t worry enough.”
Over bagels and coffee, decaf for her, she told him about her relationship with her step-father.
“It sounds like sexual abuse, Lizzie,” he’d said when she was done.
“Oh you remember how sexy I was when I was fourteen or so. I flirted with every man. Low cut tops, tight jeans, and stuff,” Lizzie said. “He was right. I did want it. I was very attracted to him… and confused. I mean, there’s nothing right about sleeping with your mother’s husband. But… you know what I mean.”
“Why were you so sex-focused then?”
“I don’t really know,” Lizzie said. “I was like that until I was out of the house. I had a couple boyfriends in college but nothing real serious. Then when I got home from college, I fell back into this thing with… him.”
Lizzie shrugged. Unwilling to press the issue, Schmidty let her direct the conversation. He liked watching her talk. Her face lit up when she smiled. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. Her father was so directed in his life and her mother so passive. Lizzie wasn’t sure which she was.
Schmidty was sure he’d head home after breakfast, but they’d slept the morning away and… They’d talked, watched television, and listened to music. He didn’t realize the day had slipped by until it was dark. And he was leaving for LA in the morning.
Lizzie had wanted to see his house. They got there around dinner time. He’d barbequed some salmon while she made a salad. Like they had as kids, they’d devoured Ben and Jerry’s straight from the carton.
He knew she should go home. He knew he should take her home. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it. When she fell asleep on his couch, he slept beside her. She woke up at some point. In a round of tears and recriminations, she begged him not to leave her. Not tonight. He took her to his bedroom and held her close all night.
She’d made a rushed breakfast while he packed. They laughed and ate. Lizzie could be so funny about the most normal things. This morning, she seemed so happy, so safe. He’d tried to talk her into staying at his house, but she wanted to go back to the condo.
“You’ll be here when the baby comes,” she’d said when they arrived in front of the condo.
“I’ll be here every weekend except this one. I’ll be here when the baby comes,” he’d said. “Seth’s leased a plane and hired a flight crew. We can leave there on a moments notice.”
“But you’ll be here, with me.”
Her voice had an edge of begging. Her eyes were filled with unshed tears and huge with sincerity. He couldn’t help himself. He’d leaned forward and kissed her. Their first ever kiss led to another. They’d sat in the car in front of the condo making out like teenagers. If he’d had more time, they would have…
But he had to go.
His phone rang. Without thinking about it, he clicked the button on his steering wheel to answer the phone.
“I just heard some disturbing news,” his father said.
“Hi Dad,” Schmidty said. “How are you this morning?”
“I warned you about this,” his father said.
“About what?” Schmidty asked. “Aren’t you missing your foursome?”
“We’re waiting to tee off,” his father said. “Don’t change the topic.”
“I’m not sure what the topic is, Dad,” Schmidty said. “I’m on my way to get O’Malley. We’ll be in LA in time to catch our noon meetings. He’s meeting the orchestra and conductor this afternoon. They were able to work this weekend to make up for not being there on Wednesday. No one’s features are ruffled. They all seem to understand O’Malley’s condition. And everything’s on schedule.”
“What are you doing with O’Malley’s daughter?” his father asked.
“You know what, Dad?” Schmidty pulled up in front of Seth’s house. “I just spent the best three days of my entire life.”
“Takes more than sex to make a life, son,” his father said. “There’s no way that a gentile woman can understand you. And a marriage…”
“Don’t you dare talk to me about marriage,” Schmidty said. “You’ve been married five times to five nice Jewish women. How it turned out for you? You’re working on convincing your sixth nice Jewish girl to marry you while keeping your nice Jewish mistress on the side, and lining up the seventh nice Jewish wife in the wings. I just spent three days with a woman I’ve loved since I was in diapers. No amount of Jewish or non-Jewishness is going to change that fact.”
Unwilling to give his father a chance to speak, Schmidty plunged on.
“And you know what? I’m not you. I don’t need entire football stadiums filled with women. I just want one. I’ve always wanted just one. I want Lizzie,” Schmidty said. “And, if she’ll have me, I’m going to spend every day of my life trying to make her happy. So you can keep your advice and your judgments to yourself.”
The line was still. Schmidty flushed.
“Listen Dad, I don’t mean to…”
He heard his father chuckle on the other end.
“Finally found your balls, son?” his father laughed. “It’s about time. Have a good trip.”
The line went dead. Shaking his head, Schmidty looked at the phone. He looked up to see Maresol standing in the doorway. Time to work.
He’d be home in seven days. Home with Lizzie.
~~~~~~~ Friday afternoon — 1:00 P.M.
Nervous, Noelle straightened her black beret. She cleared her throat and tried to knock on the carriage house door again. She raised her hand, but couldn’t make it knock. She was about to turn around when Mike opened the door. Wearing a pair of tattered jeans and paint stained dress shirt, Mike’s hair was as wild as his beard. Noelle was more than a little intimidated by the tall, powerfully built man.
“Ready?” Mike asked.
“We have a month before school starts,” Mike said. “You sure you want to spend your afternoons with me?”
“Dad said…” Noelle’s voice squeaked with anxiety.
Mike gave Noelle a kind smile. She beamed at him in return.
“I want to learn how to paint with oils and watercolor,” Noelle said. “This is my birthday present from Sandy and Dad and Charlie and Nash and Teddy.”
“And from me,” Mike said.
“And from you!” Noelle smiled. “I’m eleven today. Don’t you think that’s a good time to apprentice with a master painter?”
Mike scowled at the idea of him being a master painter.
“You’re scaring the girl,” Valerie’s voice came from inside the studio.
“Valerie’s here?” Noelle bounced up and down on her feet with excitement.
“She’s modeling for us,” Mike said. “Couldn’t keep her from meddling.”
“Meddling?” Valerie laughed. “You say meddling, I say modeling.”
Mike rolled his eyes.
“You may as well come in,” he said. “Kinda hot for a beret though.”
“I thought all artists wore a beret,” Noelle said.
“I don’t,” Mike said.
“Oh,” Noelle said. “I don’t have to wear it?”
“Makes you look a little A-R-M-Y.”
He saluted her and turned into the carriage house leaving Noelle standing on the doorstep. Confused, Noelle stood there for a moment.
“Coming?” Mike asked.
Noelle pulled the beret off her head and stepped into her first art apprenticeship.
~~~~~~~ Friday afternoon — 1:20 P.M.
Sissy had been talking so much that Sandy almost didn’t hear her words. Sissy was excited for the start of school. She was excited for Noelle’s birthday. She was excited that dance was winding down. She loved the extra dance workouts because everyone worked out together. Sandy was pretty sure Sissy hadn’t stopped talking since they’d gotten into Aden’s SAAB twenty minutes ago.
Sandy also knew Sissy was nervous about going to her mother’s storage unit. Still. Did she have to talk so much?
“I guess I’ve been talking a lot,” Sissy said.
“Really?” Sandy raised an eyebrow. “How about some more ice tea?”
Sissy laughed like it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard.
“Ok, we’re almost there,” Sandy said. “Remember you don’t have to stay. You don’t have to even go in. We were just running out of ideas.”
“You didn’t find what you wanted?” Sissy asked.
“We found a lot of stuff,” Sandy said. “Jill says there’s a room with the information we want. We asked Delphie and she also sees a room. They both say the same thing. The room is connected to this room. But we can’t find it.”
“So you want me to take a look?”
“I’m hoping you might have seen something when you were here before,” Sandy said. “Was Mom coming from some other direction? Was she right here? Where did you and Dad go? At this point, anything would be helpful. We’re pretty frustrated.”
“Mom’s not really smart enough to hide this for so long,” Sissy said.
“Right,” Sandy said.
Sandy put on her blinker and pulled between the median lines to turn into the parking lot of the storage unit.
“Where are you going?” Sissy asked.
“To the storage unit,” Sandy said.
“That’s not the storage unit,” Sissy said.
Sandy felt the wheels of the world come to a complete halt. She turned to look at Sissy.
“What do you mean?” Sandy asked.
“That’s not where we went,” Sissy said. “Not me and Dad. That’s not where I saw Mom coming out either.”
“But it’s where you pointed to on the map,” Sandy said. “Remember, we looked at it inArizona.”
“No Sandy.” Sissy shook her head so adamantly her pony tail whipped around in the small space. “Not there.”
Frustrated, Sandy pulled out of the medium and continued on Federal.
“Now you’ve gone too far,” Sissy said.
“Where is this place?” Sandy asked.
Sissy pointed toward the storage unit where Sandy was originally going to turn in. Sandy made a U-turn. She was about to turn into the parking lot when Sissy made a frustrated sound.
“You never listen to me!”
“What?” Sandy asked. “One minute you’re saying it’s not here. The next moment you’re saying it’s here. Where is it?”
Sissy pointed to a building across the street from where they were parked.
“What?” Sandy asked.
“I saw Mom coming out of that building,” Sissy said.
“That’s a nursing home,” Sandy said.
“No,” Sissy said. “It says storage right there.”
Sissy pointed to a sign that said in big bold letters: “STORAGE AVAILABLE.” Sandy turned to look at her little sister. Sissy nodded her sincerity. Without saying another word, Sandy pulled out into the street. She drove to the intersection and made another U turn. Driving along Federal, she pulled into the parking lot of the assisted care facility. She sat staring at the front door for a minute.
“What is it?” Sissy’s voice rose with anxiety.
“I’m not sure,” Sandy said. “Just a feeling.”
“What kind of a feeling?” Sissy’s voice dropped to a whisper.
“Like I’ve been here before,” Sandy said.
She took out her cell phone and called Seth.
“Schmidty,” said the voice that answered.
“Hey Jammy, it’s Sandy,” she said. “Can I talk to Seth?”
“He’s meeting with the orchestra,” Schmidty said. “Plus, you’re not supposed to call me Jammy anymore.”
“Why?” Sandy asked.
“I don’t know,” Schmidty chuckled. “My Dad says it’s unprofessional.”
“And Schmidty is better?” Sandy asked.
“There has been a Schmidty representing artists since the 1800s,” Schmidty laughed.
“Yes, very impressive,” Sandy said. “Listen, this is kind of important. And you owe me.”
“For keeping Lizzie calm,” Sandy said.
“I owe you big time,” Schmidty said. “You know I love her.”
“I know. And I know she loves you,” Sandy said.
“She does?” Schmidty’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat.
“You know she does,” Sandy said. “She’s just upset about her life and the baby. Now can you help me?”
“What do you need?” Schmidty asked.
“Can you ask Seth what his Eastman girlfriend’s name was?” Sandy asked.
“I don’t have to ask Seth that,” Schmidty said. “My Dad represented her. I represent her collection, her name, and her image.”
“What’s her name?”
“Andrea Menendez,” he said. “She toured under the name Andy Mendy. Her work is still quite famous. She has a number of solo albums and…”
“Who are you talking to?” Seth’s voice carried over the orchestra noise.
“Hey Schmidty, I have to go,” Sandy clicked off the call. She turned off her phone and tucked it into her purse. She turned to look at Sissy.
“You’re sure you saw Mom coming out of this building.”
Sissy nodded emphatically.
“Are you mad?” Sissy asked.
“A little scared,” Sandy said.
They sat looking at the building for a moment.
“Sissy, I’m going to go in there,” Sandy said. “You can come with me if you want or you can call your Dad. He’s not far from here. He can pick you up.”
“I’m going with you,” Sissy jumped out of the car.
Sandy closed her eyes for a moment. Saying a soft prayer to Mary or whoever might be listening, Sandy got out of the car.
“Stay close to me, Sis,” Sandy said.
Sissy nodded. With Sissy glued to her side, Sandy walked up to the building.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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