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CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and EIGHTY-FIVE
Sandy walked down the empty hallway past MJ and Honey’s apartment and Sam’s rooms. She paused for a moment outside MJ and Honey’s apartment before she remembered that Honey had gone to work. Sandy scowled at herself and continued down the hall until she stood outside the door to the storage room where they’d piled all of her biological mother’s earthly belongings.
She’d tried to sort through Andy Mendy’s things a few times. Valerie had even helped a couple of times. But each effort ended in Sandy being overwhelmed and quitting before they’d really started. Today, she’d promised herself she would make some progress.
Even though she usually spent every Monday with Rachel, she’d taken her baby to the Marlowe School mid-morning. She’d gone to her studio to do her weekly accounting early so that she’s have all afternoon to work on this space.
“You can do it, Sandy,” she said out loud to herself.
She turned the key and opened the door. The dusty darkness of the room made her cringe.
She never felt more vulnerable than when she was touching Andy’s belongings. All of her life, she’d longed for a mother. She touched her heart where the ache for a mother’s love still lived. Every fiber of her being screamed, “Why did she have to die!? Why did she leave me?”
It was a question no one had ever really answered. Sandy believed the mother who raised her, and used her so brutally, Patty Delgado, knew what happened to Andy. Patty wasn’t talking. Andy’s passing had been ruled a suspicious death with the probability of suicide.
Why would Andy kill herself? She’d just met Sandy again. She’d met Rachel. By all accounts, she was happy with her life. Everyone who knew her said that she was thrilled to see Sandy again. Why would she jump off a building only a few hours later?
Sandy didn’t dare ask the one person who could possibly answer that question—Seth. Even though he’d moved on in his life, she knew he had always harbored a deep love for Andy. His face flushed with sorrow when Andy’s name came up. No, Sandy couldn’t ask the great detective what had happened to her mother.
Sandy had her hand on door knob to pull the door closed when she heard a noise. She turned down the hall to see Charlie.
“There you are!” Charlie said. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Embarrassed by her own indecision, Sandy let go of the door knob.
“The DA’s office called,” Charlie said. “The testimonies ran long today. They want me to go in tomorrow.”
Sandy smiled at Charlie.
“They cancelled Tink too,” Charlie said. “She was already there. Heather’s dropping her off here instead.”
“That sounds fun,” Sandy said. She grabbed the door knob and pulled the door closed. “What should we do this afternoon?”
“I thought …” Charlie started. “Were you going to go through the room today? We could help. We’ve done …”
“We? What?” Sandy asked.
She opened the door and flicked on the overhead light to the room. Someone had meticulously organized everything in the room. All the clothing were hung on racks at the end of the room. Large photo albums took up the floor under the clothing. Like items were sorted together and filling cabinets lined one end of the room. Books sat on new bookshelves along the middle of the room. Violins and music gear lay in a corner. There was only one stack of old boxes in the far back corner of the room.
Sandy’s mouth fell open.
“W …what?” Sandy asked.
“Wait ’til Val finds out I was here when you saw it first she’s going to …”
“Charlie!” Valerie yelled from the end of the hall. “You promised!”
“I didn’t do anything!” Charlie said. “She was already here.”
Valerie sprinted in their direction. Knowing something good was happening, Keenan and Ivy peeked down the hall.
“I wanted to …” Sandy nodded as if they could understand what she wanted. “And …”
Valerie gave Sandy one of her brilliant smiles.
“How …?” Sandy asked.
“I knew you were having a tough time with this,” Valerie said. “And who wouldn’t? I haven’t had a lot to do since I’m really just hanging around for the twins.”
“We helped!” Charlie said. “All of us—Sissy, Noelle … Tink too.”
“I helped!” Ivy trotted down the hallway toward them.
“Right! Ivy helped when she was here,” Charlie said. “Nash and Teddy build the racks in the back. I mean, Jake told them what to do and how to build the bookshelves, but we helped. That guy Tim … You know the one who’s hot for Sissy? He did a lot of the cleaning and carting stuff to the dumpsters. He said it was therapeutic.”
“I just rounded up the troops,” Valerie said. “Kept them moving.”
“She was really great,” Charlie said. “She helped us think about what we would value, and made us be care. It was fun.”
Charlie nodded and Valerie blushed.
“We threw out a lot of stuff,” Delphie said. She had herded Keenan down the hallway and into the conversation. “Shoes, things we determined weren’t worth saving.”
“Is that okay?” Valerie asked.
“Absolutely,” Sandy said. “I would have never been able to make those decisions. Ever. I just …”
“I loved doing it,” Valerie said. “I love going through other people’s stuff when I have no real connection to them. They’re like characters I’d play in a movie. I get to see the inside of their life. It’s fun.”
“I don’t think I could have done this myself,” Sandy said.
“We left a few boxes,” Valerie said. “I thought you’d want to go through those boxes yourself.”
“Why?” Sandy asked.
“They’re filled with your baby stuff,” Charlie said. “A lock of hair, baby book …”
“Booties,” Ivy said.
“If you’d like help, we can help,” Valerie said. “But I figured you’d want to go through it on your own.”
Not sure what to say, Sandy smiled and nodded.
“Seth’s in town,” Delphie said. “Why don’t you call him? He can come over and help with the photos.”
“But Ava …” Sandy started.
“Ava won’t care,” Delphie said. “She’s not that kind of a woman.”
“He looks so sad when I …” Sandy started.
“Sadder than you look now?” Charlie asked.
Sandy shook her head.
“He is your father,” Delphie sniffed. “It would be nice if he acted like it every once and a while. In fact …”
Delphie spun in place. They heard her calling Seth from the landline in the living room.
“Andy,” Keenan said. He looked at Sandy. “Your mother.”
“Would you mind if I told you something?” Keenan asked. “Is that too weird?”
“Thank you for asking, Keenan,” Sandy said. “It’s good to be careful. I don’t think you’re weird, and I don’t mind.”
“She says the answer to what happened is in that box,” Keenan said. He pointed to the bottom box in the corner. Ivy ran over to the box. “She says you will know it when you see it. Seth?”
Keenan looked confused and then looked at Sandy.
“Your father,” Keenan said. “He needs to see the box.”
Keenan nodded. Sandy’s eyes welled with tears.
“I’m sorry if I caused you distress,” Keenan said. “I know what it’s like not to have a mother or a father for … years, and then to find them and …”
Sandy impulsively hugged him.
“We share this,” Keenan said.
“And the chance to be loved by those who can love,” Sandy said.
Keenan gave her a soft smile. Sandy glanced at Charlie.
“Things we have in common,” Charlie said. “Hey, I’m done with school. So’s Keenan. Is it okay if we …”
“Go ahead,” Sandy said.
“Basketball?” Keenan’s face lit up. “Can we please?”
“Ask Delphie, but I’m sure she’ll say yes,” Sandy said.
Keenan ran off to find Delphie.
“You gonna be okay?” Charlie asked. His brow furrowed and he looked so much like their father, Mitch, that Sandy hugged him.
“Of course,” Sandy said.
“Charlie!” Keenan yelled.
Charlie ran down the hallway to him. Ivy shrugged and followed him. Sandy turned to the room.
“You know …” Valerie said.
Having forgotten she was there, Sandy gave a little yelp.
“Why don’t I stay with you?” Valerie asked.
“Oh … I couldn’t …” Sandy started.
“Sure you could,” Valerie smiled. “Just take the help. You’ve helped me over and over again, especially with Jackie. You need help, and I can give it. Don’t fuss.”
“Let me show you around,” Valerie said.
Valerie gestured into the room, and Sandy went inside.
“That was ridiculous,” Aden said. He scowled at Jacob and said, “I bet you’re glad you left Jill and the boys to come down here.”
Jacob opened the door to the Village Inn for Aden and Tres. He looked up to see Blane and Sam getting out of a Lipson truck. Sam waved for them to go inside.
“How many?” the hostess asked.
“Five,” Aden said to the hostess.
“Right this way,” the hostess said.
They sat down in a large booth near the back of the restaurant. The waitress brought water and was taking their orders for coffee and pie when Sam and Blane reached the table. Blane ordered sandwiches for everyone, which they grumbled over.
“You need protein,” Blane said as he sat down. “We skipped lunch and …”
“You’re a good man, Blane,” Jacob said.
Blane grinned. Tres got out of the booth so Blane could sit next to Jacob.
“I just want pie,” Aden said. “Do they make a pie sandwich?”
The men laughed. They fell silent until after the coffee had been delivered and doctored.
“Well?” Sam asked.
“Fucking ridiculous,” Aden said.
“Tres?” Sam asked.
“Is there another word that means more than fucking ridiculous?” Tres asked. “I can’t think of one.”
“Moronic,” Jacob said. “But that’s not more.”
“Fucking moronic,” Sam grinned. “Blane?”
“I think they’ve said it all,” Blane shrugged.
The waitress returned with their pie and the men fell into their gloomy thoughts.
“What am I going to say to people?” Jacob asked. “Thanks for risking your life and limb on Friday, but the State is still pissed at us?”
“That about covers it,” Sam said.
“Should we file for compensation?” Aden asked.
“No,” Jacob said. “We can file, but I doubt we’ll get anything from it.”
“Good, let’s call that our cost-benefit analysis,” Aden nodded. “It feels … gross. The whole thing feels gross.”
“If we’re going to survive, we have to focus on what’s next,” Jacob said.
“What’s next?” Aden asked.
“We have enough work to keep us afloat,” Tres said. “Plenty.”
“The reserves will cover us for a year,” Sam said.
“I doubt we’ll need them,” Tres said.
“How long before we can do state work again?” Aden asked.
“I don’t think we should count on it,” Sam said.
“I don’t know why we would,” Tres said. “We have profitable work right now. We can do what we want to do, and make our own way. Why would we want to get back under the state’s control? They don’t want us to be employee owned. They don’t want us to profit share. They don’t want us to do what’s best for our company.”
“We did walk away from a large, lucrative contract four days before the site was swallowed by the earth,” Jacob said.
“There is that,” Tres grinned.
“Kinda makes sense that they wouldn’t trust us,” Aden said.
The waitress brought their sandwiches. The men fell silent while they ate.
“I didn’t realize I was so hungry,” Tres said.
“I know,” Blane smiled.
“How many offers have we had on that farmland?” Sam asked.
“Fifteen,” Jacob said.
“You’ve got to admit one thing,” Tres said. “Buying up all that land around Jake’s farm was sheer brilliance.”
“And makes us look worse to the state,” Aden said. “We may never get another contract from them.”
“It sounds like we either change or die,” Blane said.
Sam, Jacob, Aden, and Tres looked at Blane. He smiled.
“We were another kind of company before we started taking state contracts,” Blane said. “Right?”
“We took smaller contracts, subdivisions,” Sam said. “Federal work.”
“If we stop taking state contracts now, we’ll be a different company,” Blane said.
“That’s the benefit of being owner-operated,” Jacob said. “We have the flexibility to do what works.”
“Is the change bad?” Blane asked. “Will it kill us to be different?”
“No,” Jacob said. “It’s just change.”
“Right,” Blane said. “I think change is good, and good for the company.”
“It’s just not as secure as those big contracts,” Jacob said.
“I guess,” Tres said. “We’re set to build roads, sewer, and water, everything for a ‘green’ subdivision out on Stapleton. That work will take us through the spring. It’s through the developer so we’ll get paid on time and in full. I don’t see a down side.”
“Security,” Jacob said.
“There isn’t much security when the state is willing to cancel work with us over some stupid lying secretary,” Aden said. “Or pulling all of our contracts when we expressed concern over the safety of a site.”
“Well, there is that,” Blane said.
Tres looked at Blane and then at Aden.
“I get that you feel badly. It’s a blow, no doubt,” Tres said to Jacob and Sam. “This has been your company and you’ve done things a certain way.”
“It’s our company now,” Tres said. “We get to do things our way.”
Jacob smiled at Tres, and Sam nodded.
“Celia would be proud,” Blane said.
“She would,” Sam said.
“So we agree?” Aden asked.
Aden looked from person to person. The men were nodding. Aden raised his hand and the waitress came over.
“We’d like more pie,” Aden said. “That is what we agreed on right?”
The men laughed.
“Hi!” Tink said.
“Hi!” Charlie leaned in to kiss her. Tink’s kisses were really nice. He smiled.
“I only have a few minutes,” Tink said. “Heather and I stopped by on the way to pick up Chet. He’s coming to dinner at our house tonight.”
He took her hand and led her into his study room off the main Castle living room. He closed the sliding door, but Mike opened it less than a minute later.
“Nice try,” Mike said, and continued onto the kitchen.
“I thought you were coming over earlier,” Charlie said.
“Yeah, I did too,” Tink said. “Sorry.”
“Did something happen?” Charlie asked.
Tink shook her head.
“I had to go to the doctor,” Tink said.
“Are you okay?” Charlie asked. “Did something happen?”
“I’m okay,” Tink said. “Heather wanted me to see the brain doc today because I’ve been really stressed out about … you know, court and stuff. The brain doc wanted to do a scan of me when I was stressed out to see if they could find the source of the seizures.”
“Any luck?” Charlie asked.
Tink shook her head. She looked so cute that Charlie kissed her again. She kissed him back.
“No screwing in your school room,” Noelle said from the living room.
Tink stepped back.
“Hi Tink,” Noelle said.
Tink turned to say “Hello” but Noelle was gone.
“They’re on dining room duty tonight,” Charlie said.
“Oh,” Tink nodded. “So the brain doc said something funny.”
“Oh yeah?” Charlie asked.
“He said my brain is better,” Tink said. “Like he can see the scar, but he can’t see the injury anymore.”
“Wow,” Charlie said.
“Yeah wow,” Tink said. “It’s like a dream come true. Heather was really excited. Blane too.”
“Will you still have seizures?” Charlie asked.
“They don’t know,” Tink said. “But he thought it was a very good sign.”
“I think so too,” Charlie said.
“Heather told Blane it was ’cuz of Jill,” Tink nodded. “I had my headset on so she thought I couldn’t hear.”
“Jill?” Charlie shrugged. “What’s that mean?
“No idea,” Tink said. “I don’t care how it happened. I’m just glad it did.”
“Me too,” Charlie said. “You have a great forever family and you’re not going to have seizures anymore.”
“And they might adopt Chet too,” Tink said.
“Perfect,” Charlie said.
“You’ll be there tomorrow, right?” Tink asked. “Ivy said this Grand Jury thing was pretty brutal. They had pictures of her and everything. Since I was the worst hurt, she thinks mine will be bad too.”
“I’ll be there,” Charlie said.
Tink gave Charlie a rather dazzling smile. He pulled her to him.
“Tink?” Heather called from the living room. “We have to go pick up Chet.”
Tink gave Charlie a little wave and ran out of his study room. Charlie took a second to adjust “his private business” before entering the flow of dinner at the Castle. From the doorway, he watched Tink follow Heather out of the Castle. Everything was working out so well that he could only grin.
“Wipe the grin off your face,” Sissy said. “You look stupid.”
“I can look stupid if I want to,” Charlie said.
“Only if you set the table,” Noelle put the silverware in his hands.
He smiled and went to work.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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