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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE
Monday mid-morning — 11:35 a.m.
New York City, New York
“Here we go,” Schmidty said.
Sissy glanced at Schmidty before stepping through the door he was holding open. Schmidty was maybe ten or eleven years older, she wasn’t sure which, than she was. In those years, he’d made a happy life for himself. In this single glance, Sissy felt the distance between where she was now and what she wanted for her life.
Right now, her life was a mess. All of her hope and dreams had come crashing down onto the sidewalk in front of Bestat Behur’s apartment. Every dream had ended the moment the bullets had barreled through her rib cage. Sissy felt the yawning empty space where her certainty about the future had once lived. The space wasn’t filled with panic or despair or even worry. It was unnervingly empty, silent, and dark as if her plans for her life had simply evaporated without a trace.
Sissy hadn’t counted on the bullets. She hadn’t counted on Ivan, either.
And now, the ballet company wanted a chance to “speak to” Sissy.
Stepping into the building was like stepping in to that empty space. She wondered where her foot, and her life, would land.
“This way,” Schmidty said. “We’re meeting in the administration office.”
“How do you know?” Sissy asked.
“I was here this morning,” Schmidty said. He took her elbow and leaned near her ear, “You didn’t think that I would let Ivan come here by himself, did you?”
Surprised, Sissy looked up at Schmidty. He gave her a confident wink. They went into the administration office. Schmidty announced that he had arrived with “Ms. Delgado” and the woman behind the desk disappeared into the back.
“Your party is waiting in here,” the receptionist said when she returned.
Sissy looked at Schmidty. He kept her close to him as they followed the woman through what felt like a maze of hallways. Down the hallway, Sissy could see into a small room ahead of them. She saw the side of Otis’s face through the door. He was standing next to a small woman standing with her back to the door. The woman had her hair in a tight blond bun, wearing an expensive suit, and high heels. Facing the door, Seth saw Sissy first. Seth gave Sissy a big smile and touched the arm of blond-bun woman. Ivan sat nearest to the door with his head in his hands. A complete opposite of this morning, he looked exhausted and in pain.
Ivan must have felt her nearby because he looked down the hallway at her. His face shifted ashen exhaustion to sheer joy. He hopped to his feet and seemed to immediately regret it. He folded for the briefest second before moving to her. They stood in front of each other for a moment before she put her arms out. He held her tight.
“I’m so sorry,” he said in her ear.
“To every life a little bullshit must fall,” Sissy said.
Ivan laughed and pulled away. When he stepped back, Sissy saw that everyone was looking at her. Blond-bun had turned to look. In this light, she looked so much like Seth that Sissy wasn’t sure who this blond-bun could be. Then the woman smiled.
“Sandy!” Sissy said.
She skipped forward to hug her sister.
“What are you doing here?” Sissy asked.
“After you left, Delphie told me that I should come,” Sandy said. “I flew in with MJ, Honey, and Dale.”
“But…” Sissy waved her hand in front of Sandy to indicate her expensive clothing.
Sandy leaned forward.
“Bestat,” Sandy said. “She left the outfit for me. Pretty amazing, huh?”
“Grown up!” Sissy said with a smile and a nod.
Sissy turned to greet Otis and his girlfriend, Mari. Seth gave her a hug.
“Wow,” Sissy said. “You’re all here.”
Ivan put his arm around Sissy’s waist. Everyone smiled at Sissy.
“Why are you all here?” Sissy asked.
Everyone opened their mouths to speak, but Otis beat them to the punch.
“Is time to end this, once and for all,” Otis said with a nod.
The other adults nodded.
“You either stay here or we take you back on the market,” Schmidty said.
“What does that mean?” Sissy asked. Her eyes flitted from one face to the next before settling on Seth’s.
“If this ballet company wishes to keep you, that’s great,” Seth said. “They just need to decide. Today. Because this has gone on too long.”
“But what if they don’t?” Sissy asked.
She turned to face Ivan. He gave her a soft smile and nodded to Schmidty.
“Then we go to one of the seven ballet companies that have already contacted me,” Schmidty said. “Including Denver Ballet Company. Everyone has heard about the little ballerina who was shot by some very bad men. You are in demand.”
“And Ivan?” Sissy asked.
“Ivan is always in demand,” Schmidty said.
“But no one wanted me before,” Sissy said.
“Things change,” Seth said with a shrug.
Sissy knew there was more to it than that, but she knew better than to press the topic in public. Her eyes flicked to Sandy, who nodded that she would tell Sissy everything later. Sissy smiled.
“Ms. Delgado?” the woman from the front asked from the front of the room. “Would you follow me?”
Sissy started out the door. Schmidty appeared at her side.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Schmidty,” the woman said. “We only wish to speak with Ms. Delgado.”
“As Ms. Delgado’s representative, you cannot…” Schmidty started.
“I’m afraid they only wish to speak with Ms. Delgado,” the woman said. “Of course, if Ms. Delgado’s parents were…”
Sandy moved to Sissy’s side. Seth stepped behind her.
“We are Sissy’s guardians,” Sandy said.
Surprised, the woman looked from Sandy to Seth. Schmidty took a sheet from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and gave it to the woman. She read the paper.
“You’re Sandra Delgado?” the woman asked.
“I am,” Sandy said with a smile.
The woman paused for a moment before give a tiny shrug. She spun in place and started down the hallway. Seth held onto Sissy’s shoulder for a moment.
“No need to rush,” Seth said in a low tone.
“But she’s…” Sissy whispered.
“Don’t let them set the tone,” Schmidty said. He patted Seth on the back. “If you’re not out in an hour, I’ll come to get you.”
Seth nodded to Schmidty and they went to follow the woman. By this time, she had stopped to wait for them a few feet ahead. They reached the room a few minutes later.
“Here we go,” Sissy said under her breath.
They entered the room.
Monday morning — 10:02 A.M.
“My name?” Noelle blinked at the Deputy District Attorney. “Why, I’m Noelle Norsen. Most people call me, Noelle. I go by my last name, Norsen, for my art.”
Noelle scowled at the Deputy District Attorney.
“Didn’t that guy just say my name to call me up here?” Noelle asked.
“It’s just procedure,” the judge said, as he suppressed a grin.
“Oh,” Noelle said. She gave a curt nod. “That’s who I am.”
“Do you know why you’re here?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.
“You called my school and told me I had to be here?” Noelle asked. She gestured to her uniform. “This is my new school uniform. Today was my first day at the new school building. It’s not a new school or anything. And it’s not a new building. It’s a really, really old building that got fixed up and now my school is there.”
The Deputy District Attorney turned away from the jury to suppress a grin.
“I don’t mean to be sassy,” Noelle said. “Am I being sassy?”
“You’re fine,” the judge said to Noelle before turning to the Deputy District Attorney. “Can we get on with this so that Norsen here can get back to school?”
“Yes, judge,” the Deputy District Attorney said. “I wondered if you could tell us about what happened in the park the day you went to paint your boyfriend’s step-mother.”
“Oh,” Noelle said.
Her happy face dropped. She looked at the Deputy District Attorney before looking out into the audience to see her father, Aden, and Delphie.
“I guess I have to,” Noelle said. She scowled and nodded to the Deputy District Attorney. “Go ahead. Ask your questions. I’ll behave.”
“First, can you tell us about your painting?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.
“I paint things,” Noelle said. “I used to just draw stuff. I mean, my dad raised me and my brother. We spent a lot of time at daycare and stuff. I drew pictures there to pass the time. Turns out, I’m pretty good. Then, a couple years ago, we moved into the Castle, um, a big house, where Mike Roper lives. He’s a master painter, really amazing, and famous too. Most people don’t know that he’s a famous artist, more famous even than his wife, Valerie Lipson. And she’s an actress! Anyway, he took me under his wing and I’ve been learning about painting.”
The Deputy District Attorney turned away.
“Oh, and I went to an art school in New York for a month or so,” Noelle said. “Until someone tried to kill me and Sissy. Um… Sissy is my Mom — she’s not my birth mom, she’s my step-mom, but I call her ‘Mom’ because my mom is in prison. Anyway, Sissy is my Mom’s little sister. Her mom’s in prison, too. Sissy’s an amazing ballerina. She’s a couple years, well four years, older than me. We’re like sisters. She got shot. Twice. Boom. Boom. Right on the sidewalk!”
Noelle nodded and licked her lips. Thinking Noelle was taking a break from talking, the Deputy District Attorney opened her mouth.
“And died! Like dead. Right on the sidewalk in front of me,” Noelle said. “And she would have died if MJ hadn’t save her. He does medicine in the military. And I would have died, too! Except MJ picked me up and the bullets went into his clothes. He has bulletproof clothes. I didn’t even know they existed, bulletproof clothes, until he used them to keep me from being shot and maybe dying on the sidewalk like Sissy did.”
The Deputy District Attorney gave a quick shake of her head to clear her ears. She glanced at the judge and he nodded for her to continue.
“Why would someone try to kill you?” the Deputy District Attorney asked.
“Oh, that’s easy,” Noelle said. “That guy over there and the creepy jerk who financed the websites and stuff — they wanted to kill me so I couldn’t testify in this very trial! Like I am today! But…”
Noelle looked at the defendant and smiled.
“I guess that didn’t work out very well for you, did it?” Noelle asked.
Monday midday — 12:02 A.M.
New York City, New York
“Uh,” Sissy said. She licked her lips and fidgeted with the tube to the nasal cannula that was current in her nose. At this moment, she was glad Sandy insisted on hooking her to the portable oxygen tank before coming into this room. “Do you want the medical diagnosis? Or what happened? Or…?”
“You are in possession of Sissy’s medical records,” Sandy said in a firm voice.
The ten adults around the table started shuffling through the papers in front of them. After a minute, the man in the center pushed the papers aside.
“If I may speak for everyone,” the man said.
The man looked around the table at the five women and four other men. Sissy noticed that one of the men was the man that Nadia had talked to on the way into the building last night. Noticing her look, the man gave her a slight nod. The man running the show looked at Seth last. Sissy had the distinct impression that the man knew Seth.
“I believe the heart of the issue is very simply this,” the man said. “Ms. Delgado is an apprentice in our program. We take our responsibility for our apprentices very seriously. We want them to flourish as dancers without pernicious influence of lascivious teachers preying on our young people.”
Sissy blinked at him.
“Pernicious means…” Sissy’s morning warm up teacher started to say.
“I understand what he’s saying,” Sissy said in an irritated voice. “I’m not an idiot.”
The woman grinned. The man in the center’s lips flicked up in a fast smile before settling to more neutral.
“I just find the question irritating,” Sissy said. “You know Ivan! Many of you have known him intimately. How can you even think…”
“We have a tremendous responsibility,” the man in the center said.
“That you take seriously, yes, I heard you,” Sissy said. “I’m sorry. I’m very tired and my side has started to hurt. What is it that you wish to know?”
“We’d like to know about your relationship with Ivan,” the woman sitting to Sissy’s right asked.
“You know about my relationship with Ivan!” Sissy said.
The adults looked up from the papers in front of them to focus on Sissy.
“This woman,” Sissy gestured to the woman who’d just spoken, “the one next to you, the one over there, and I’ve seen a photo of Ivan with the one sitting there — they’ve all dated Ivan.”
The man in the center raised his eyebrows with surprise.
“Why don’t you tell the room what my relationship with Ivan was like when you were dating him, Janet?” Sissy asked the woman on her right.
“Uh,” Janet said. She blushed bright red.
“Go ahead,” Seth said.
Janet looked at the man in the center and he nodded.
“She was his student,” Janet said. “She was a child. He was quite fond of her. He worked with her every afternoon after school for an hour or so. I believe Mr. O’Malley paid him. Um…”
Under the table, Sandy gave Sissy’s hand a squeeze. The woman on Sissy’s left gave Sissy an ironic smile.
“I dated Ivan for a while when he was here in New York,” the woman said. “I’m Eva, Sissy. He had just returned after working with Sissy in Denver.”
“He told me about Sissy,” Eva said. “Sissy had a terrible eating disorder. He was worried that she might die. He also told me about Katia.”
Eva’s voice hardened.
“Frankly, I was more worried that Katia would murder me in my sleep than the insane idea that Ivan had molested Sissy,” Eva said. “The woman was completely mad. I cannot believe that we are even entertaining the idea that…”
The man in the center cleared his throat and Eva shut her mouth. The man gestured to another one of the women. She raised her eyebrows but he gave her an insistent nod.
“I have seen the video,” the woman’s voice had a thick German accent. “Isadora, Sissy dear. I saw my dear friend Ivan trying to save his student’s life. That is what I saw.”
“And your relationship with Ivan?” the man in the center asked.
“He was a dear friend to me,” Isadora said with a soft smile. “He still is a dear friend to me. As for his relationship with Sissy, I can only tell you what I saw when they were here as I had Sissy in class. She has an incredible talent, the best I’ve seen in a long, long time. Ivan treated her with the utmost professionalism. If that is no longer the case, then something has changed. They both faced death. I imagine a lot of things have changed.”
“I had Sissy for morning warm up,” another woman said. “Sissy, you might not remember but I’m…”
“Melinda,” Sissy said. “I remember you from Denver.”
Melinda smiled at Sissy.
“I dated Ivan when I was in Esprit de Corps in Denver,” Melinda said. “I met him because I wanted to improve my chances of moving to a New York ballet. I found him… captivating.”
“I can tell you that he loved Sissy, very much, in fact,” Melinda said. “I have been around the… what did you say? ‘Pernicious influence of lascivious teachers’?”
A beautiful woman in her prime as a Soloist ballerina, Melinda’s smile lit up the room.
“I grew up with such a pernicious influence,” Melinda said. “I know what it is to be groomed by a pedophile. That is not what was going on between Ivan and Sissy. Ivan loved her. Her father saved him from the gulag specifically so he could work with Sissy, for God’s sake. She’s extraordinarily talented. How could he not love her?”
Melinda sniffed at the man in the center.
“Are you married to Ivan?” a man on Sissy’s left asked.
“No,” Sissy said.
“Are you dating?” the man asked.
“I’ve never been on a date with Ivan,” Sissy said.
“But you’re involved?” the man in the center asked as a way to regain control of the room.
“Involved?” Sissy asked. “What does that mean?”
“I think they want to assess what’s going on with you and Ivan,” Seth said.
“Just tell them about Ivan,” Sandy said. “I can fill in what you don’t remember.”
Sandy looked up at the adults in the room.
“I’ve known Ivan most of my life,” Sandy said. “I can assure you that he has not been anything but appropriate and professional with Sissy, and every other child he’s been around for that matter.”
“Did something change?” the woman sitting on Sandy’s right asked.
Sandy nodded to Sissy.
“I died,” Sissy said. “I think that’s what happened. I died on the sidewalk and then again when I was saving Ivan from Katia. He died on the surgery table after Katia tried to kill him.”
Sissy sighed. She felt the weight of everything that had happened catching up with her.
“I think death has a way of clarifying things,” Sissy said. “Don’t get me wrong. I have always loved Ivan, and he has always loved me. Don’t most teachers love their students? I can tell you that most students love their teachers.”
“That is why it’s so important to ensure that our students are not vulnerable to their teachers!” an elderly man said with a distinctive lilt.
Sissy gave him an exhausted sigh.
“I know you’ve spoken with Ivan,” Sissy said. “And… I…”
“Just answer for yourself, Sis,” Seth said.
“Um…” Sissy licked her lips and took a breath. “Well…”
Monday midday — 11:02 A.M.
Noelle waited while the lawyers argued over this tiny, stupid stuff. She thought the jury was going to scream in bored frustration. The judge certainly seemed angry. Noelle was pretty sick of it herself. She’d hoped to get back to school. As the clock ticked, she knew they were going to break for lunch soon. She was going to be stuck here all afternoon.
The Deputy District Attorney turned to Noelle, and Noelle gave her a hopeful smile.
“Looking at the time, why don’t we take a break?” the judge asked. “Ms. Norsen, remember you are still under oath during lunch.”
“We don’t talk about the trial,” Noelle said. “None of us. It’s important to take out the garbage.”
Noelle sneered at the defendant and the jury chucked. The defending attorney jumped to his feet and started yelling. The Deputy District Attorney shook her head.
Noelle leaned back in her chair.
She was definitely going to be here all afternoon.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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