Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Eighty-three: Warming up

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Monday morning — 5:00 A.M.
New York City, New York

Sissy knew that she was alone before the alarm went off, before she opened her eyes. The warm, large hand that had lain across her belly all night was gone. When she touched her stomach, it was quite cool. She rolled onto her back and felt for the space that Ivan had lain in. It was also cool.

He’d been gone a while.

She wasn’t sure how to feel. He’d stayed with her last night. He’d just held her tight. That’s all. And it was probably the best night of her life.

Now he was gone.

She’d heard about the “walk of shame,” but she thought that was when people “hooked up.” She realized she wasn’t really sure what “hooked up” meant. Did it mean sleep in the same bed, like she and Ivan had done? Did it mean something else? She made a mental note to ask Sandy when they had lunch on video today. Of course, Sandy would want to know how she felt.

How did Sissy feel? Good. Happy. Safe. She glanced at the clock. Late.

Sissy turned off the oxygen and set the nasal cannula on the register. She hopped out of bed and jogged to her bathroom. Her hair was ready because Ivan had perfectly braided in a long braid down her back. She would leave it. She made quick use of the bathroom and went to find something to wear. All of her ballet clothing hung on one side of the closet. Sissy changed into a pair of footless tights that were now a little too short; a now too tight sports bra, and a pink tank top with a whilte long sleeved T-shirt on top.

She went into the hall and banged on Charlie’s door.

“What?” Charlie yelled.

“Workout in forty-five minutes,” Sissy said as she leaned into the darkened room.

Charlie threw a pillow at her. Laughing, Sissy deftly tucked her head out of the room just in time. The pillow hit the door. Chuckling to herself, she went down the hallway toward the kitchen. She had just turned into the kitchen when the thought hit her.

Maybe Ivan was ashamed of sleeping next to the stupid little baby Sissy, who couldn’t even stand being by herself for a minute.

She stopped dead in her tracks. Her entire body flushed with shame. She closed her eyes and wished that she would do everyone a favor and just disappear.

“Hello, my love.” Ivan’s voice came from behind her. He touched her arm and continued into the kitchen. “I checked last night. We have the ingredients for our delicious and nutritious green smoothie.”

His voice became muffled as if he was in the refrigerator.

“Can you get down the immersion blender?” Ivan muffled voice asked. “It’s in the cabinet on your right. The other blender does a better job but it makes such a racket. After such a late night, I’d prefer peace over perfect texture. Wouldn’t you?”

She hadn’t moved. When she didn’t respond, he turned to look at her.

“What is it?” Ivan asked.

She opened her eyes and took in the sight of him. He was bent over with his head in the refrigerator. His head was cranked in her direction and his hands were full of vegetables for their usual pre-workout drink. She noticed that his skin held a slight wet sheen. The hair on the back of his neck was slightly wet.

She groaned to herself.

Ivan had been instructed to take an infrared sauna when he got up in the morning. He needed the warmth to get moving, especially now. That’s why he’d gotten up. He’d left her for the sauna. She had no idea there was one in the apartment.

“What has happened?” Ivan asked.

He stood up and set the vegetables on the counter.

“I thought…” Sissy said. “You…”

He smiled at her and put his arms around her.

“I had the best night’s sleep I think I’ve ever had,” Ivan said. “I had this amazing dream. You and I were swinging — yes, swinging! — in this amazing place of green grass as far as the eye can see and blue, blue clouds.”

“White puffy clouds?” Sissy asked.

“Like a painting,” Ivan said. “I kept trying to touch the perfect clouds. You were laughing and keeping up with me. I’ve never felt such peace and joy. Not at the same time. It was like being reborn.”

“Sounds like Olympia,” Sissy said.

“Olympia?” Ivan asked. He stepped back to look at her but didn’t let go. “Like your dream?”

Sissy nodded.

“Olympia is a real place?” Ivan asked.

“I don’t really know if it’s a real place,” Sissy said. “Maybe it’s a spirit place or a place where only our souls can go.”

“It felt so real,” Ivan said. “Tangible. Alive.”

He kissed her lips.

“Like this.” His mouth hovered near hers. She reached out her lips and kissed his.

“Yes, like that,” Sissy said.

Ivan raised his eyebrows in a “Wow” gesture.

“I am sorry to not be there when you awoke,” Ivan said. “I took it on faith that you would remember that I need the sauna.”

“Is there one here?” Sissy asked.

“In my bathroom; yours as well,” Ivan said. “Was I wrong?”

“I forgot,” Sissy said.

“I imagine that did not feel very good,” Ivan said.

Sissy nodded.

“Can I make it up to you with a refreshing and delicious green smoothie?” he asked with a laugh.

She smiled. He grinned at her. Before she could say anything, he gave her a peck on the lips.

“Don’t be sad, my love,” Ivan said. “We have another chance today to move our bodies, to dance, to live, to love. I am so… excited for it all.”

Ivan gave her a broad smile, and she realized he wasn’t wearing his glasses. He was breathtakingly handsome. He reached into the cabinet to get the immersion blender.

“Me too.” Sissy finally.

Ivan winked at her. Humming to himself, he put together their pre-dance smoothie while she watched.

“I wondered if you could run your brother and Dale through our warm up Pilates routine,” Ivan said. “That will give me a chance to get MJ and Honey started. Do you mind?”

Shaking her head, Sissy scowled.

“I don’t know if I can,” Sissy said.

“You will have to go very slow,” Ivan said. “It will be very hard for them. It might be hard for you as well.”

“Slow is better than injured,” Sissy repeated what he usually said.

“I don’t know what I can do as well,” he said. “We are just days from being in the hospital. We need to start slowly and believe we will be dancing again.”

“Time will tell,” Sissy said.

“Time will tell,” he said.

Sissy didn’t have anything to say, so she didn’t. She watched him get their drinks together. He was humming a noiseless tune. He glanced at her and then smiled.

“What?” Ivan asked.

“You seem really happy,” Sissy said. “It makes me happy.”

“Are you kidding?” Ivan asked. “I am not happy. I am over the moon. My life has just begun.”

Grinning, he began mixing their drinks with the immersion blender. She stoically drank hers down only to discover that it was quite good. He smiled at her reaction and continued making smoothies. He’d just finished when Charlie and Dale came in. They drank the green concoction down without complaint. Ivan gave two drinks to MJ when he stopped by to check in. Charlie and Dale followed Sissy into the workout area.

She was just about to start their Pilates warm-up when she turned to look at Ivan. He was watching her. Noting her look, he gave her a broad, confident smile. She nodded.

Her life had just started and she was over the moon too.


Monday morning — 6:57 A.M.
Denver, Colorado

“Ready?” Cody asked.

He was sitting on Tanesha’s couch. Tanesha was sitting in front of her laptop at the dining room table. She was connected to Jeraine and Jabari via a video chat. Tanesha turned to look at Cody. He raised his eyebrows conspiratorially and she nodded. Rodney came out of the kitchen where Blane was cooking up a storm. In the background, the shower was going.

“Here we go,” Cody said.

He picked up his phone and dialed a number.

“It’s Cody,” he said.

The person on the line spoke for a while.

“Yeah,” Cody said. “I found out who it was. I got a photo.”

The person on the other end spoke for a while.

“Yeah, you won’t believe it,” Cody said.

The person said something.

“Gorgeous,” Cody said. “Truly the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”

Tanesha could hear the person on the other end laughing.

“Hey, you have no idea what I had to do to get this,” Cody said while he looked at Tanesha. “They might kick me out of school.”

The person on the other end had a lot to say to that.

“Same deal,” Cody said. “I send half the image. You send the money.”

The person on the phone must have agreed because Cody nodded. He clicked a few buttons on his phone and sent a partial image of Yvonne. The picture was one from her and Rodney’s second wedding. Yvonne radiated beauty and joy. She was breathtaking. The person on the phone gave an appreciative whistle.

“I’ll send the rest when I get the money,” Cody said and hung up the phone.

He raised his eyebrows at Tanesha and then looked at her horrifying father.

“It’s done,” Cody said. “Now we wait.”

Rodney snorted at Cody and went back into the kitchen. He came out a few minutes later with a cup of tea for Tanesha and a cup of coffee for Cody.

“This is a good idea,” Rodney said to Tanesha. “We keep feeding the machine and they don’t know it’s us.”

“Exactly,” Tanesha said. “Give the image a week to work its way through all the sites, then we respond.”

“Schmidty’s already holding our response,” Jeraine said. “We never comment on…”

“Gossip,” Tanesha said.

“Thank you,” Rodney said to Cody. He put a hand on Cody’s shoulder before heading to the kitchen. “Breakfast in five.”

“You don’t think someone’s going to recognize your mom?” Cody asked. “You look like her.”

“I can assure you,” Tanesha said. “No one sees that in me.”

“And Fin’s not going to…” Cody grimaced.

“Fin’s having a baby,” Tanesha said. “By the time he gets back, we’ll just have a story to tell.”

“And enough money to pay for Brian’s school for a year,” Cody said with a smile.

“First, they have to pay,” Tanesha said.

Cody nodded. He set his cell phone on the table in front of him. Tink came out of the downstairs bathroom in a bathrobe and headed to the basement to get dressed.

“I’m going to…” Cody pointed toward the bathroom.

Tanesha nodded. He got up and left.

“This is good work, Miss T,” Jeraine said. “What made you… do this?”

“Heather,” Tanesha said. “I saw this asshole who betrayed me. She saw a human being in trouble. She thought we could help, while we take control of this a little bit.”

Tanesha shrugged.

“She was right,” Tanesha said.

“You won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work?” Jeraine asked.

“Sure,” Tanesha said. “But that’s life.”

“You’ve got to try new things,” Tanesha and Jeraine said in unison.

“How’s the tour?” Tanesha asked.

“Very fun,” Jeraine said. “I’m really glad we did this. Jabari’s having a blast. Your mom’s now best friends with the other mothers. It’s pretty awesome.”

Tanesha smiled.

“Yes, I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t end well,” Jeraine said with a shrug. “But that’s life, you know?”

“Breakfast’s ready,” Rodney said.

“Got to go,” Tanesha said. “Got to get the troops.”

“Love you, girl,” Jeraine said and clicked off the call.

“Love you too,” Tanesha said and closed her laptop.

She got up from her seat to get Heather and the babies. When she reached the stairs, she saw Heather and Cody deep in conversation at the top of the stairs. Tanesha undid the baby gate. She picked up Mack from the floor and brought him downstairs. A few minutes later, Cody and Heather, carrying their new son, came down after her.

“What was that?” Tanesha asked under her breath. She set Mack down so that he could wander around.

“He’s trying to help name the baby,” Heather said in a low tone. “He wants to be an Obstetrician.”

“Any suggestions?” Tanesha asked.

“I think they should name him, ‘Wyn’,” Cody said coming into the dining room. He took a seat at the table. “It means ‘blessed’ in Welsh.”

Tanesha nodded.

“Seems like a kid who missed being killed by a paid assassin and had his mom survive,” Cody nodded. “That kid is blessed.”

“Wyn,” Blane said. He set down a plate of warm biscuits. “I like it. Heather?”

Heather nodded. Rodney came in carrying a platter of eggs and sausage. Cody had just made a plate when his phone buzzed. He got up to see what happened.

“They sent the money,” Cody said. “All of it.”

Tanesha gave him a firm nod and Cody sent the image of Yvonne. He set the phone down on the table and came back to the table.

“Now we wait,” Blane said, rubbing his hands together.

“For me?” Tink asked. She jogged up the stairs. “Did you eat everything?”

“I made you a plate,” Heather said.

“Good,” Tink said.

She picked up Mack and set him on her lap. Mack lifted a sausage from her plate and started eating it.

“You don’t reprimand that?” Cody asked.

“It’s good that he’s eating,” Heather said.

“We have plenty of time to learn formal eating,” Blane said.

Cody smiled.

“This is a good morning,” Cody said.

“I’ll drink to that,” Rodney said.

He picked up his coffee cup. They clicked cups around the table and settled into eating breakfast.


Monday morning — 10:10 A.M.
New York City, New York

The simple stretch and easy movement of Pilates had been too much for Sissy. Her healing bullet wounds had seized with pain. Without saying a word, she rolled onto the side away from the pain. Ivan came right to her side, but he was struggling himself. Dale was able to get her to her feet. Ivan took it from there.

Leaning heavily against Ivan, she made her way back to bed. Ivan stopped in to see her before he left. He was sore, but ready to get back to ballet. He assure her that he wouldn’t do more than he could. With a kiss, he disappeared from her bedside.

She’d agreed to meet with Charlie at 10:30 a.m. to go over where they were with school work. They’d scheduled an appointment with Mrs. Anjelika every day from three to four. Sissy thought she might need the time today. But she would find out later.

She had lunch with Sandy at noon, and Mrs. Anjelika at three.

This morning, she could rest. For all of its light and openness, the apartment was remarkably quiet. She put on her oxygen mask and fell into a sound sleep.

“Madam?” an accented voice whispered.

Sissy woke with a gasp. She sat up in bed.

“I am so sorry,” Giovanni, the house helper, said. “Your brother said that you were sensitive when you wake.”

Sissy nodded.

“You have a visitor,” Giovanni said.

Sissy lifted the air mask to say, “I’m sleeping.”

“He was quite urgent,” Giovanni said.

Sissy shrugged. She knew she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do. She was Sandy’s little sister after all.

“It’s has to do with Master Ivan,” Giovanni said. “Seems he has had some trouble this morning. They wish to speak with you.”

Sissy pulled off the mask.

“Who is out there?” Sissy asked.

“He said his name was James Schmidt,” Giovanni said. “He said he was your lawyer. I told him you were sleeping, but he said something about circling wagons and Indians. I apologize, but I didn’t quite understand.”

“Circle the wagons because the Indian’s are attacking?” Sissy asked.

“Why would South Asians attack hand carts?” Giovanni asked.

“It’s a reference to covered wagons and the Plains Indian Wars,” Sissy said.

“Don’t you call them ‘Native Americans’?” Giovanni asked.

“Not in archaic sayings,” Sissy said.

Giovanni gave a vague nod.

“Can you help me?” Sissy asked.

“Of course,” Giovanni said.

He came to the bed to help Sissy to her feet. She was surprised of how a few hours of sleep had restored her. Giovanni helped her to the bathroom and took his leave.

Her hair was still perfect so she just tidied the ends. Her mind a little slow from the pain med, she tried to figure out what she needed to do next. One thought came to mind — get dressed. When she returned to her bedroom, she found that Giovanni made her bed and left a cute, easy to put on outfit for her to wear. She got dressed and went out into the kitchen. Giovanni waited for her in the kitchen. He gave her a travel mug of black coffee and helped her into the apartment. Schmidty sitting in an armchair by the window.

“This floor of Ivan’s always blows me away,” Schmidty said.

Schmidty turned to look at Sissy. She smiled.

“How are you?” Schmidty asked.

“Alive,” Sissy said. “I tried some Pilates today and it was too much for me. I…”

Sissy shook her head.

“I hate being sick,” she said with finality.

“I do too,” Schmidty said to confirm that he understood. He turned away from her to look out the windows. “You know they can’t see in, right?”

“Only at night when no one is there,” Sissy said with a nod. “Ivan has these amazing blinds that allow us to look out but no one can see in at night.”

“Amazing,” Schmidty said. “What gets me is that Nadia owns the entire building. The rest of the building is quite opulent, yet she chooses to live here, in the one place she does not own.”

“Ivan says that she would live on the streets if she didn’t live here,” Sissy said.

As if Nadia was a mystery, Schmidty nodded and shrugged at the same time.

“What’s happened?” Sissy asked.

“Ivan has run into some trouble,” Schmidty said. “They wish to speak with you.”

“What trouble?” Sissy asked.

“From their perspective, there were a lot of questions about you and Ivan, and then you disappeared,” Schmidty said.

“You mean because Kate stabbed Ivan and I hemorrhaged?” Sissy asked.

“From their perspective, they had questions, and you disappeared,” Schmidty said.

“They’re still caught up in Kate’s bullshit,” Sissy said. “Did you tell them she almost killed Ivan?”

“Ivan argued that point to no avail,” Schmidty said. In a softer, kinder voice, he said, “She almost killed you, as well.”

“I don’t want to think about that,” Sissy said with a scowl. “Or stupid Kate.”

Schmidty nodded that he understood.

“What do I have to do?” Sissy asked.

“I assured them that you are happy to answer their questions,” Schmidty said.

“Why?” Sissy asked.

“Because you’re hoping to re-join the company,” Schmidty said with a shrug. “If you blow off this company, you’ll have to deal with it at the next. Katia may be dead but her innuendoes linger on.”

“So, this is just the bullshit of life,” Sissy said with a nod.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Schmidty said.

“Sandy always says that,” Sissy said.

“Sounds like her,” Schmidty said with a broad smile.

“Am I dressed okay?” Sissy asked.

Schmidty looked her over and nodded. Without saying another word, Sissy went to the door to put on her shoes. Sitting down on the bench, she realized that Noelle had helped her put on her shoes. She couldn’t wear these. Giovanni appeared to help but Schmidty waved him away.

“I took the liberty to get the mistress some slip on shoes,” Giovanni said.

Giovanni held up a pair of Dansko clogs. Schmidty smiled his thanks and helped Sissy into her shoes. He sat down on the bench to put on his shoes.

“When shall I expect your return?” Giovanni asked.

Sissy looked at Schmidty.

“With any luck, this will only take an hour,” Schmidty said. “But it could easily take all day.”

“Why?” Sissy asked.

“O’Malley and Otis insist on coming,” Schmidty said.

“Oh,” Sissy said. She looked at Giovanni. “Can you tell my brother?”

“I will tell him when he wakes,” Giovanni said. With a straight face, he said, “I will prepare a remedy for arrow wounds.”

Giovanni winked at Sissy and Schmidty laughed. To Sissy’s surprise, Giovanni clasped her shoulders.

“Have courage, little bird,” Giovanni said. He kissed her cheeks in sequence. “Love always finds a way.”

Not sure how to respond, Sissy nodded.

“You will take good care of her?” Giovanni asked Schmidty.

“I will,” Schmidty said, suppressing a smile for the intense young man.

Giovanni gave him a curt nod and left to call the elevator.

“Shall we?” Schmidty asked.

Sissy nodded. Schmidty held out his elbow. Sissy picked up her traveling oxygen tank and latched onto his arm.

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

“That’s my girl,” Schmidty said.

The elevator bell rang and they left the apartment.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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