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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SEVEN
Monday evening — 6:32 P.M.
New York City, New York
“Thank you,” Honey said to the maître d’ when he gave her a napkin.
She and MJ were sitting in one of New York City’s nicest restaurants. Usually closed on Mondays, the restaurant was hosting a special meal for the Fey Team paid for by a grateful patron. Honey was the only life-partner there. The rest of the team was sitting around the restaurant floor in tables of three and four. She and MJ had been seated at a two-person table overlooking the Hudson.
Honey leaned forward in her wheelchair. A tall, lanky man, MJ leaned all the way across the table to kiss her lips.
“I hope this makes up for missing marriage classes,” MJ said.
Honey smiled. She looked up when MJ’s superior officer, Alex Hargreaves, and her work-partner Raz came by the table to say “Hello.” After a few minutes of happy chatter, they wandered off to check in with other tables. She smiled at MJ.
“I know that smile,” MJ said. “What’s going on?”
“I wondered when you’re going to tell me what’s going on,” Honey said.
“What do you mean?” MJ made a considerable effort to look indignant. He wasn’t fooling Honey., and he knew it. That didn’t keep him from laying it on thicker. “The team is getting this nice meal as a thank you. I thought you’d like to come!”
Honey grinned at his efforts.
“Don’t you want to be here?” MJ continued. “Look around. No other Fey wife or husband is here. Only you. That alone should mean something to you.”
He threw his hands up in mock exasperation.
“Sometimes, I just don’t know what you want,” MJ said.
Honey kept grinning. The waiter came up to offer them wine. MJ ordered a glass of red wine for himself. He and the waiter settled on some raspberry-infused water for Honey. She was on such a thick regimen of muscle relaxants and pain meds for her injured spine that alcohol was out of the question and carbonated drinks caused her Crohn’s Disease to flare up.
When the waiter disappeared, MJ shook his head. He opened his mouth to continue his odd rant.
“Stop,” Honey said.
“But…” MJ said.
He was never one to let anyone have the last word. She held her index-finger to her lips. He closed his mouth, and she leaned forward again. He leaned across the table toward her.
“How ’bout the truth?” Honey said. She raised her eyebrows in amusement.
“What are you talking about?” MJ started.
“Okay, okay,” Honey said with a chuckle. “I get it. You and the team are here for a special thank you dinner. I’m here because I happen to be in town. And yes, I plan to take photos to brag to the rest of the Fey wives and husbands. They will wish they were here with us. I feel very lucky.”
Honey gave him a curt nod that caused her shoulder length white-blond hair to bounce. Her hair was so fine that it flew up in a static halo around her head. He stroked the back of her head to smooth it down. Sure that he’d dodged her question, he leaned back in his chair.
The waiter brought their drinks and explained their dinner. The menu was a Prix Fixe, which meant that there was only one menu, no choices. He explained that one of the reasons this restaurant was so popular was that the Chef prepared the menus based on whichever customer had the most extreme dietary needs. Because Honey had Crohn’s Disease, the Chef had prepared a feast of food based on her restrictions.
“Are you sure?” Honey asked. “I usually just eat around…”
“It’s our pleasure,” the waiter said. “The Chef finds it to be an interesting challenge. And…”
The waiter knelt down to Honey’s wheelchair height.
“The staff eats dinner before we serve so that everyone knows the menu,” the waiter said. “I will tell you that this is the best menu I’ve tried, so far. Trust me. You’re going to love tonight’s dinner.”
“In honor of your service as a military wife,” the waiter continued, “the Chef has offered to provide you with the recipes, in case you’d like to make this yourself.”
MJ beamed at Honey and she smiled.
“Now sit back and relax,” the waiter said. “Let us do the rest.”
“Pretty nice, huh?” MJ said.
“Very nice,” Honey said.
MJ smiled and took a drink of his wine.
“Why am I in New York?” Honey tried a different question to see if he’d actually answer.
He squinted at her while he tried to come up with an answer.
“Why don’t we try the truth?” Honey asked.
She raised her eyebrows in expectation. MJ turned to look at the water. The lights of the city made the Hudson sparkle like tiny diamonds. MJ was silent so long that Honey began to worry. She touched his hand. When he turned, his eyes were filled with tears.
“I don’t know how to tell you,” MJ said.
“Are you sick? Cancer? You caught some deadly flesh-eating antibiotic resistant Ebola-like bacteria? Virus?” Honey said with a gasp. “It is your leg?”
“Oh.” MJ gave her a slight smile. “No. I’m fine.”
“Then what is going on,” Honey asked.
He opened his mouth.
“Just tell me the truth,” Honey said. “We’ll deal with whatever it is.”
He closed his mouth and nodded. Honey made every effort to wait patiently. But as the minutes dragged, she wanted to kick him. If she’d had working legs, she would have, in fact, kicked him.
The waiter came by to drop of some warm bread. He set a small cup of butter for MJ and another cup for Honey. He explained that the Chef found a recipe for a butter substitute that tasted good and shouldn’t cause a flare up.
“I’ll try it!” Honey said with a smile.
“Let us know if anything bothers you,” the waiter said.
Honey smiled and watched him leave to serve another table. When she looked back, MJ was watching her intently.
“Just tell me,” Honey said.
“You know how Blane used one of Jill’s twin’s umbilical blood to reseed his bone marrow?” MJ asked.
“Blane’s doing really well,” Honey said. “His AIDs is gone. I mean, no one’s sure if it’s forever but, for now, he’s virus free. He’s done the HepC treatment and his liver has healed. He says he feels better than he has since he was a small child.”
“Jill had twins, right?” MJ asked.
“Right – Tanner and Bladen,” Honey said. “Maggie and I spend Thursday afternoons with the twins and Jackie. They’re hilarious.”
“Well…” MJ nodded.
“Well?” Honey asked.
MJ blew out the breath she hadn’t realized he had been holding. Her eyebrows lowered with concern. MJ took a breath and began talking at a rapid pace.
“There’s a new technique that’s shown a lot of promise for people who are paralyzed. They use stem cells by injecting them into the injury sites. I’ve been following the studies in case maybe we have another child. If we did, we could use their umbilical blood or whatever. But Nadia, you remember Nadia?”
He looked up expectantly
“The woman who’s guest bedroom we’re staying in?” Honey asked. “Yes, in fact, I do remember Nadia. I expect we’ll see her after dinner.”
MJ chucked. He took a breath and started talking again.
“She learned about you from Nash. I didn’t ask her or anything but she called me last week. She asked for your medical records. I was busy with an action so I just sent them to her. I knew she was a close family friend and a doctor. I figured she would just look at them or review them or whatever. I didn’t know she was super-duper rich, you know?”
“What did she do?” Honey threw into his stream of words.
“She sent your records to this team of people. I never… I mean, how likely is it that we could ever afford it or even who knows when we’ll be able to have another child? I mean, this team, of scientists, you know, they’re doing it for free with two disabled veterans a year. And it’s working but it’s really expensive. Really expensive. And then, Jill talked to Nadia last weekend and you know how Jill is.”
As if he’s expressed an entire thought, MJ stopped talking and looked at Honey.
“And that means?” Honey asked.
“I brought the other umbilical cord with me. I mean, Tanner’s or Bladen’s or…,” MJ said. “You have an appointment tomorrow.”
“I have an appointment?” Honey asked with a shrug.
“They’re able to restore people to full functioning,” MJ said.
“But I function really well,” Honey said. “Maybe we should donate the blood to someone who really need it.”
“People can walk again,” MJ said. “It’s not perfect, so they don’t call it a cure. But they looked at your records. Because you’re so young and weren’t injured that long ago and something about your blood that I don’t remember, you’re a candidate. A good candidate.”
He looked up at her face and stopped talking. Tears streamed down Honey’s face.
“There’s a risk,” MJ said at a slower pace. “Stem cells aren’t always stable. It’s possible they’ll cause cancer or whatever, but…”
MJ leaned forward across the table again.
“It’s possible that you could walk again,” MJ said. “I mean, not tomorrow. Tomorrow’s just a visit with the doctors. They want to examine you and talk to you. They’ll explain everything a lot better. Then, you get to decide.”
“I get to decide?” Honey asked. “How will we pay for it?”
“Oh, I didn’t say that?” MJ asked.
Honey shook her head.
“Nadia has offered to pay for everything the insurance doesn’t cover,” MJ said. “Sandy offered to pay for your recovery — hospital visits, hotels, stuff like that so you can stay at home to recuperate between treatments. You know, she got that money from her mom’s music.”
Honey started crying in earnest. MJ fell to his knees and knee crawled to her side. He held her tight.
“You get to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” MJ said in her ear. “And I promised the LC that I would respect your decision and never bug you about it again. And a promise to the LC is unbreakable because she’ll kick my ass if I don’t do it.”
He held Honey for what felt like a long time to his impatient self.
“So what do you say?” MJ asked.
He pulled away from the hug to look at her. She nodded, and the room erupted into applause. She looked up to see that the entire Fey Team had been following their conversation. The restaurant staff clapped in support. Blushing at their attention, she waved. MJ hugged her again.
“And you know,” MJ said in her ear. “Jill has that healing thing. Her grandfather said that the cells could easily cure your Crohn’s.”
Honey gasped and looked at him. He nodded.
“Nothing’s sure,” MJ said. “But maybe it could be better.”
Honey hugged him tight.
“I hate to interrupt, but your first course is ready,” the waiter said.
“This might be your last meal for a while,” MJ said.
“And it’s going to be a good one,” the waiter said. He gave Honey a tissue box. “Shall I bring it?’
Wiping her face, Honey nodded. The waiter touched her shoulder.
“I’m very happy for you,” the waiter said before turning away to get the meal.
“How many people did you tell?” Honey asked.
“Just the owner,” MJ said.
“Then how does…?” Honey asked. “You mean that’s the owner?”
“He started as a waiter and says he’s planning being a waiter until the day he dies,” MJ said.
Honey smiled. She looked up as the waiter returned.
“Your first course…” the waiter said.
He explained everything in the first course but Honey was too caught up in this happy moment to understand what he said. She let out a breath and smiled. MJ grinned at her.
“Happy you married me?” MJ said. “It is all worth it now?”
Monday evening — 6:47 P.M.
New York City, New York
Sissy woke up in her room on Ivan’s floor. All of her pain, sadness, and indignation had caught up with her after lunch. Sandy had helped her to bed, set up her oxygen, and sat with her until she was asleep. She’d even unplugged Sissy’s clock. Sandy had promised to call when she knew about Noelle.
Sissy had a sense that she’d missed Sandy’s call. She’d most certainly missed her appointment with school. At this moment, she couldn’t care less. She rolled onto her back and her side erupted in agony. She tried to take a breath to deal with the pain, but the increased movement of her rib cage only caused more pain.
“Help,” Sissy croaked. “Charlie? Giovanni? Ivan? I need help!”
She tried to roll back onto her side but the movement only brought more pain.
“Please,” Sissy said, but her voice only came out as a whisper.
Sissy felt so helpless that she started to cry. The door opened in the dark room. In her pain, she felt more than saw the person enter the room. A small, cool, hand touched her forehead. Sissy opened her eyes to see Nadia.
“You’re burning up,” Nadia said. “Oh, Sis.”
Nadia’s face showed so much concern that Sissy started to cry harder. Nadia returned from the bathroom with a thermometer.
“What is it?” Giovanni asked from the door.
“She’s spiked a fever,” Nadia said. “And is in terrible pain.”
Giovanni ran out of the room. Mumbling to herself, Nadia stuck a thermometer in her mouth.
“Stupid fucking…” was all Sissy could make out until Nadia said, “God damn it!”
Sissy touched Nadia’s arm.
“No, no, it’s not you,” Nadia said. “It’s that stupid ballet. I told Ian that you were too sick to go. He said you were fantastic, by the way. ‘Like a movie star of old.’ Those were his exact words. You have a fan in Ian, that’s for sure.”
“He’s very cute,” Sissy said around the thermometer.
“He is gorgeous,” Nadia said. “And very gay.”
Sissy shrugged as if it didn’t matter. Nadia laughed. Her laugh brought Giovanni. He jogged to the bed. Nadia took the thermometer from Sissy’s mouth at the same time that she took something from Giovanni. She fiddled with the oxygen hose before turning back to Sissy.
“Okay Sissy,” Nadia said. “Take a deep breath when I tell you. We practiced this in the hospital. I’m going to give you some morphine.”
“Can’t breathe,” Sissy said.
Silent tears ran down her face as she shook her head. Sissy yelped with pain. Nadia gave her a soft smile. Sissy gave a slow nod, and Nadia connected the morphine to her air mask.
“Deep breath,” Nadia said.
Sissy did as she was told.
“Another,” Nadia said.
Sissy’s eyes floated to half-open.
“That’s enough for now,” Nadia said.
“Fever?” Sissy asked.
“Your temperature is about 100,” Nadia said. “High, but likely due to the pain. Did you take all your meds today?”
“Everything but pain meds,” Sissy said. “I needed to be clear headed.”
Nadia sat down on the bed and rubbed Sissy’s arm. Giovanni appeared with a cup of water and a straw which he set on the table. He disappeared for a moment and reappeared with a hot water bottle.
“For comfort,” Giovanni said.
He tucked the hot water bottle above Sissy’s knees. Sissy wrapped her arms around the warm rubber and focused on breathing. The morphine and albuterol worked on her lungs. After a few minutes, she felt better — high on morphine, but definitely better.
“School?” Sissy pulled off her air mask to ask. Nadia put the mask back on her.
“Charlie took the call,” Giovanni said. “The work that he has done this year has put you both at the same level at school.”
“This is good news?” Giovanni asked. Sissy nodded. “I was afraid you would be disappointed.”
Sissy shook her head.
“Then this is good,” Giovanni said. “You and Charlie will take summer school to get ahead. They see no problem with you both graduating on time or possibly a little early.”
“You can go faster,” Giovanni said. “But until you are both well, this is the best plan.”
Sissy closed her eyes for a moment to rest. Her eyes popped open. She pulled of the mask.
“Sandy? Noelle?” Sissy asked.
“Your sister testified this afternoon,” Giovanni said. “According to her father, she did very well. Noelle was disappointed not to speak with you, but glad you were resting. She hopes to talk to you tomorrow afternoon.”
Sissy smiled. For a moment, she let herself drift. She pulled off the mask again.
“Ballet?” Sissy said in a stronger voice.
“Schmidty? This is what you call him, yes?” Giovanni said. Nadia nodded. “He worked something out. He spoke with Ivan. It is all arranged. Ivan gave a tentative agreement that is not permanent until he speaks with you.”
“Where?” Sissy asked.
“He’s in bed, Sissy,” Nadia said. “He is also still very ill. Charlie, too. You have all been doing so well that I’m afraid you pushed it. The trip here, these stressful days.
“Charlie and Ivan took to bed right after you,” Giovanni said.
“Ballet?” Sissy asked again.
“The ballet company is allowing Ivan to take whatever time he needs to heal. Your contract remains if you’d like it. Everyone will meet at the end of the summer to see where you are. If you’re already dancing by then, great. If not, they have agreed to wait. They’ve also agreed to let your personal life be your personal life.”
Nadia leaned in.
“But don’t worry, Sissy,” Nadia said. “Everyone has agreed to wait.”
“Everyone?” Sissy asked.
“All of the ballet companies interested in you,” Nadia said. “All you have to do right now is rest.”
“And school,” Sissy said.
“And some school,” Nadia said. “Charlie arranged for you to start a week from today.”
“And speak with your sister tomorrow,” Giovanni said.
Sissy gave a slow nod as unconsciousness caught up with her.
“You don’t have to leave this bed for a week,” Nadia said in a low voice. “If then.”
“I will care for you, Sissy,” Giovanni said. “Sleep. Life will wait for you.”
Sissy opened her eyes to look at him and then closed them again. For the first time in a very long time, everything felt taken care of. Sissy fell into a drugged sleep.
Tuesday morning — 9:30 A.M.
Bestat Behur casually walked up to the witness stand. As usual, she left a trail of dazed people in her wake. She stepped onto the stand and was sworn in by the bailiff.
“Thank you for being here, Ms. Behur,” the District Attorney said. “For the record, Ms. Behur is a diplomat for the Egyptian government.”
“I won’t say that being here is my pleasure,” Bestat said with a smile.
The District Attorney blushed. The judge looked at Bestat and then at the District Attorney.
“Do you have questions for this witness?” the District Attorney asked.
Bestat looked at the judge. He seemed immune to her draw. The judge knew exactly what she was, which made her smile. He nodded.
“Yes,” the District Attorney said. “Can you tell us in your own words what happened in the park the day your step-son’s girlfriend…”
“Noelle,” Bestat said.
“Noelle Norsen, yes,” the District Attorney said. “The day Noelle Norsen went to paint your image.”
“The tiny creature sitting at the other table decided he was going to attack my dear Noelle,” Bestat said with a wave of her hand.
“And you know this because…?” the District Attorney asked.
“I heard him on the telephone, of course,” Bestat said.
The court became very still.
“What did you hear?” the District Attorney said.
“I heard that tiny creature…” Bestat started.
“By ‘tiny creature’ you mean…?” the judge asked.
“The defendant,” Bestat said. She sent an unnerving smile to the defendant.
“What did you hear?” the District Attorney asked.
“The tiny creature saw us sitting by ourselves,” Bestat said. “He called someone and told them to bring video equipment. He then started calling people telling them to come to our location.”
“Why didn’t you leave?” the District Attorney asked.
“That’s a good question,” Bestat said. “I don’t have a great answer for that.”
She looked up and to the right for a moment.
“I was pregnant at the time,” Bestat said. “My mind was not clear, plus…”
“And what happened to the baby?” the District Attorney asked.
“I lost the pregnancy,” Bestat’s voice dropped to a whisper.
Her sorrow was palpable. The District Attorney turned away from her to give her a moment to collect herself.
“Did your doctor tell you why?” the District Attorney asked.
“My doctor said it was from the…” Bestat’s eyes welled with tears. “…violence and…”
Bestat waved her hand.
“All of this,” Bestat said. “I’m not as young as I once was and this whole thing… I lost my child.”
Bestat gave a stiff nod. The mood of the court became serious and sad.
“At the time — that time with Noelle — I didn’t take him seriously,” Bestat said. “I mean, this is the United States. Little Denver, no less. We were not in some uncivilized corner of the world where roving bands of unemployed men look for women to destroy. We were not in the Sudan or Darfur or India or even Malaysia. This was a nice looking young man. We were sitting under the trees in Denver’s City Park. I… uh… underestimated, I guess is the word, the vile nature of this tiny creature.”
Bestat turned her eyes to the District Attorney.
“I was wrong,” Bestat said. “If I had understood what he wanted or even what he was capable of, I would have insisted that we left. But as I said, I was pregnant and…”
She lifted a shoulder and shook her head.
“As it was, it was only luck and good fortune that allowed us to escape with our lives,” Bestat said. “I believe this young man would have raped and murdered myself and Noelle. I know he wanted to do just that.”
“You know this how?” the District Attorney asked.
“He told me,” Bestat said with a smile.
“He told you,” the District Attorney said. “You can imagine that many would find that a little unbelievable.”
“Sure,” Bestat said. “But they weren’t there. They didn’t see the droves of young, angry, drugged out men rushing into the park. You didn’t see him leading the charge by telling us exactly what he was going to do to us. You weren’t there.”
“You simply cannot imagine the horror of the entire event,” Bestat said.
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…
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