Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Seventy-five: Land of Pain

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Thursday afternoon — 2:25 p.m.

Charlie stifled a yawn. He’d been up on the witness stand for most of the day. The afternoon session started at two, but no one had asked him a question yet. They were busy arguing over whether or not his high school transcripts could be used as evidence. Charlie wasn’t sure why this was a big deal, but according to the Defense Team, it was vital.

Charlie’s biggest problem was that his arm itched under the cast. It had started to itch this morning, but Tink and everybody came to have lunch with him and he’d forgotten all about it. Now his itchy arm was all he could think about. He had spied the judge’s ruler when he was sitting here this morning. It was the perfect size for itching under his cast. In this boring moment, it took all of his will not to grab the ruler.

Plus, the judge seemed particularly annoyed this afternoon. As if the judge could hear his thoughts, the elderly man turned to look at Charlie. He glanced at his ruler and then back at Charlie. Grabbing the ruler, the judge tossed the metal object at him. Charlie caught it.

“Excuse me,” Charlie said.

The lawyers were so busy with their own words and voices that they didn’t notice. Charlie took the ruler and itched under the cast on his right arm. The judge put his hand over the microphone.

“Better?” the judge asked in a low voice.

“Yes, sir,” Charlie said.

“Keep it,” the judge said with a nod.

In a world that had been incredibly cruel, in a trial about some of the most brutal crime anyone in the city had ever seen, this judge’s simple gift of this metal ruler overwhelmed Charlie. His eyes welled with tears. He could only nod at the judge.

“Soldier on, son,” the judge said with a nod. He took his hand off the microphone and gave the lawyers all of his attention. “While it is lovely to hear your voices, I’m wondering if there’s a point to all of this.”

“We wish to determine that Charles Delgado is not… shall we say, an honor student,” the Defense Attorney said.

“If that’s an issue, I can tell you myself,” Charlie said with a nod. “When I was at Westy, I never went to school.”

The courtroom fell silent. Charlie glanced at the Defense Team and saw them lean forward in the hopes that he would give them their point. He glanced at the District Attorney. He was nervously licking his lips.

“I… uh…” Charlie said. Intimidated, Charlie swallowed hard.

He heard the judge’s words in his mind: “Soldier on, son.”

“I don’t think it’s too weird,” Charlie said. “My dad was the center of my world, and he died. No, he didn’t just die. My mom kicked him and us out of her house. We lived on the streets and in this horrible, smelly hotel. And then he died at Uncle Seth’s house. I was in school. I wasn’t even…”

To Charlie’s surprise, his eyes welled with tears.

“I wasn’t even there,” Charlie said. He felt tears roll down his face.”I… did drugs and… and… anything, everything that would make the pain go away. It drove my mother crazy or made her crazier. She kicked me out so she could get my dad’s pension and not have to spend it on me. My little sister started to starve herself and I was cold, hungry, sleeping on the street and… and… Pain. Pain. Pain.”

Charlie looked around at the stunned faces of the lawyers.

“All I felt all the time was pain,” Charlie said. “People say they don’t have any idea why I would help the girls who… you know… who this jerk hurt… but to me…”

Charlie ‘s swiped at his tears and took a breath.

“I know the contours of pain,” Charlie said. “I know what it tastes like, what it smells like, and what it feels like. I found those girls when they needed me the most because they entered my land.”

Charlie hit his chest.

“Horror and pain were all I knew for a very long time,” Charlie said. “My friends and I, we were like… like…”

Charlie’s mind searched for the best way to describe what he was thinking. When it clicked in, he nodded.

“We were like Charon, the ferryman, on the river Styx,” Charlie said. “We ferried these poor girls’ broken bodies and souls from land of pain to the land of the living where they belonged.”

Charlie felt like his entire body was on fire. He spoke his truth clearly and with authority.

“That’s why this jerk is so angry with me,” Charlie said. He locked eyes with the young man who was on trial. “He thought he could toss the beautiful girls of the world into the land of the tragically broken. And maybe he would have, but we were there to send them right back where they belonged — the land of the living.”

Charlie nodded.

“Why did you do it, Charlie?” the District Attorney asked.

“Because we had to hope that someday we too could leave the pain and horror we lived with every day, the land of pain,” Charlie said. “These girls were just visiting our horrible life, our horrible world. Every time they returned to the world, they proved that maybe, just maybe, someday, we might be able to join them.”

Charlie raised an eyebrow and nodded.

“And you know what?” Charlie asked. “We don’t live there anymore. Not any of us. And the girls he tried to destroy don’t live there either. We’re on the other side of that river.”

Charlie nodded head and crossed his arms. Oddly out of breath, he tried to cover his panting. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the judge shoot him a nod.

“I think you’re going to have to explain to them who Charon is,” the judge said. “And the river Styx.”

“No way,” Charlie shook his head and leaned forward. “You don’t know?”

He looked at the tables of lawyers. Samantha Hargreaves looked amused. She nodded for him to go on and he grinned. He heard Anjelika’s voice telling him that nothing looked worse than a bragging young man. Charlie checked his smugness and just told the court what he knew.

“The river Styx separates the land of the living from Hades,” Charlie said. “Charon is her ferryman. He takes souls across the river. The only way to get into Hades and return alive is on Charon’s ferry. That’s Greek, um, mythology. You know, like Hercules? Sartre’s Sisyphus? The Beautiful Psyche?”

Shaking his head in amazement, Charlie leaned back in his chair and attempted to stifle his his inner braggart.

“Thank you for the lesson, Charlie,” the judge said. “Shall we?”

“Charlie, we want to start with general parameters,” the District Attorney said. “When did you find your first rape victim?”

Nodding, Charlie settled in to give his testimony.


Thursday afternoon — 4:45 p.m.

“Ivan?” Sissy asked. She poked her head into MJ and Honey’s guest bedroom where Ivan was staying. “Are you there?”

The room was dark. As Sissy’s eyes adjusted, she saw his body, covered by a thin sheet, in bed. Normally, she would feel embarrassed at waking a boy or a man or really anyone of the male persuasion. She’d never awaken Aden, for example, or even Nash, especially if they were naked. Charlie was, well, Charlie, her stupid older brother. She didn’t mind waking him and he mostly slept naked.

This was Ivan! She’d seem Ivan in every state of dress. She’d found him in bed with a variety of beauties. She’d seen him in various stages of undress. They’d spent so much time together that she shouldn’t be embarrassed. She wasn’t, really. It was just that everything was different now.

“Ivan?” Sissy asked again.

“I’m here,” he said. His voice was low and thick with sleep.

“You asked me to come get you when I got back,” Sissy said. She was surprised at her own defensive tone. “I can come back.”

“Sissy?” Ivan asked.

When he called her, her body automatically moved into the room and sat on the bed. Her heart fluttered. He reached to turn on the bedside lamp.

“I have slept in so many place in the last few weeks,” Ivan said. He voice was very formal. “Remind me, my love, where are we?”

“Denver,” Sissy said.

She pursed her eyebrows with concern. Ivan spoke in this rigid, formal tone when he was upset.

“Yes,” Ivan said. “MJ and Honey are hosting me in their guest bedroom. I spent this morning playing with their magnificent daughter, Maggie. She is delightfully funny. I’ve never laughed so much with an toddler.”

“She likes to make people laugh,” Sissy said.

“Yes,” Ivan said. He sat up in bed and scooted back to lean against the headboard. “Do you remember why we’re not at my apartment?”

“Bruno and his wife are staying there,” Sissy said.

“That’s right,” Ivan said with a nod. “She wants to have her baby here.”

“Best hospital in the country,” Sissy said.

“That’s my friend, Bruno,” Ivan chuckled. “He wants the best for his wife, no matter what the cost.”

Sissy smiled.

“How was shopping with your sister?”

“Good,” Sissy said. “We got some clothes and some basic stuff, you know.”

“Basic stuff?” Ivan asked.

He opened his eyes wide in an attempt to wake up. He started stretching by moving his right arm across his body.

“Underwear, bras,” Sissy said. Blushing, she shrugged, “Stuff Sandy buys for me.”

“That’s kind of her,” Ivan said with a smile.

“She’s always bought that stuff for me,” Sissy said. “Even when I was a little kid living with mom. I like it because I feel like she’s close to me.”

“You didn’t wear yourself out?” Ivan asked.

“No,” Sissy said with a suppressed cough. “I mostly sat in one place while Sandy brought me stuff to try on.”

“Good.” Ivan smiled and Sissy returned his smile.

“How was Blane’s?” Sissy asked. “Sandy and I got there right after you left.”

“I apologize,” Ivan said. “I didn’t realize we were meeting there.”

“We didn’t agree to meet there,” Sissy said. “Blane called when we were out and arranged for us to come.”

Sissy gave a curt nod. She’d expected him to become less formal as he awoke, but his formality remained. She responded by being proper.

“How was it?” Sissy asked again.

“Exhausting,” Ivan looked past her toward the door. She’d left the door open a crack as she’d agreed with Aden to do when she was alone with Ivan. Noting the door, he turned back to her and said, “I feel like I could sleep for a week.”

Sissy scowled.

“What’s going on?” Sissy asked.

“What do you mean?” Ivan asked.

Sissy opened her mouth to respond. Instead, she shook her head and stayed still. Ivan watched her face.

“Okay,” he said. “You are correct. Give me a moment.”

When he got out of bed, Sissy was oddly relieved that he was wearing his boxer briefs. Sissy’s eyes followed him into the small bathroom off the guest bedroom. The moment the door closed, Sissy collapsed against her knees.

She grunted against the pain the movement caused. She coughed from the bottom of her lungs.

“What am I doing here?” Sissy whispered under her breath. “I can’t do this.”

Her arms went around her knees. She instinctively rocked back and forth. Her panic told her to flee this room immediately. Yet, her entire being was rooted in place.

“What is it?” Ivan asked from the doorway of the bathroom.

She jerked to look up at him. Her side spasmed with pain and she sucked in a breath. He read her face and gave her a slight nod.

“You’re walking,” she said.

“Da,” Ivan said. “A gift from Blane. You don’t have your oxygen tank.”

“Blane,” Sissy said. “I’ll probably get it though.”

Nodding, he went to the other side of the bed and climbed in. He held his hand out and she turned to face him. Her left leg tucked underneath her on the bed while her right foot held onto the ground. She was present with him and also ready to escape at any moment.

“You are frightened,” Ivan said.

“You’re sad,” Sissy said.

They stared at each other for what felt to Sissy like an hour or more. She finally had to look away. When she did, he leaned forward.

“It’s different,” Ivan said.

Sissy nodded.

“Bad?” Ivan asked.

Sissy shook her head.

“Tell me,” Ivan said.

“Forever, if I came in and you were upset, I’d just ignore it,” Sissy said. “But now, I’m… And it never meant anything to me that you were… And now…”

“I see,” Ivan said. “Yes. I feel the same way.”

“You do?” Sissy asked.

“If you were my lover and not my beloved…” Ivan sighed, “I would have pulled you into bed with me for a cuddle or maybe more.”

Sissy blushed.

“The door is open, and we are…” Ivan said.

“I don’t want you to be sad,” Sissy said. “I want to know… everything but I don’t know how…”

Ivan opened his mouth to speak.

“No,” Sissy said. “I need to…”

Her palms came to her chest. As if she was pulling something out of her chest, she pulled her hands away and turned them over toward him. He gave her a “go ahead” nod.

“What has happened?” Sissy asked. “That’s what Sandy says, but she also says, ‘You’d better tell me now while I’m here and have time to listen, because I won’t have time to listen later.’”

Ivan grinned and Sissy smiled.

“So… I’m here,” Sissy said. “I have time…”

“I went to see this magician you call Blane,” Ivan said. “He told me that I had wrapped all of my horror into myself. Then he stuck in five, no six needles, and…”

Ivan imitated her gesture by putting his hands to his heart and folding them over in her direction.

“I broke wide open,” Ivan said. “Your step-father, my friend Aden, stayed with me while all of my brokenness flowed out of me.”

“You cried?” Sissy asked.

“I cried,” Ivan said with a nod. “I vomited. I coughed up phlegm. I had terrible diarrhea. Aden got me to the toilet just in time. I…”

Ivan squinted his eyes and then looked back at her.

“Then your Blane comes meandering back in the room,” Ivan said. “He gives me tea that smells like feces and told me to walk. At that point, I was like a torture victim. I would have done anything anyone said. I drank his foul tea and…”

Ivan shrugged.

“He put me on the table and did another round of needles,” Ivan said. “There was some lighting of this incense which smelled like marijuana. Aden brought me here and I have slept. I dreamt of my delight in meeting you. Now, I realized I have to go back to see this magician again.”

“Blane’s coming here for dinner,” Sissy said. “He’ll treat us here.”

Ivan yawned and nodded at the same time.

“Was yours like that?” Ivan asked.

“No,” Sissy said. “But I have had something like that happen. When I was sick with the eating disorder the last time. It feels horrible and amazing.”

“Freeing,” Ivan said.

Sissy nodded.

“Would you want a child?” Ivan asked.

“Someday,” Sissy said. “Maybe. If I get better, if I can dance, I’d rather do that. Plus, I have the birth control implant.”

“You do?” Ivan’s eyebrows shot up with surprise.

“Sandy made me and Noelle get them before we left for New York,” Sissy said. “We thought it was stupid, but we’d do anything for Sandy.”

Sissy nodded and turned over her arm to show where the implant was located.

“Why didn’t I know?” Ivan asked.

“There was a lot going on,” Sissy shrugged. “Do you want a child?”

“Yes,” Ivan said. “But… I want…”

He sighed.

“Oh, Sissy, all I really want is you,” Ivan said. “You want to dance. Okay. You can to have a child or five? Okay. I just don’t know how to…”

“Get past this,” Sissy said.

“Clumsiness,” Ivan said.

They both fell silent. Sissy looked down at her hands. After a few moments, Ivan’s had appeared. He took her hand and pulled her to him while making sure she stayed on top of the sheet.

“Put your head right here.” Ivan encouraged Sissy to rest her head on his shoulder. “You can turn this way…”

She rolled so that her non-injured side pressed against him. Her arm rested across him. They both lay like cardboard cut outs for a few moments before the warmth of their familiarity and love caused them to relax. He stroked her hair.

“This is nice,” Sissy said.

“Heaven,” Ivan said.


Thursday night — 7:15 p.m.

“Hi!” Jeraine said. He peered into the screen at Tanesha. “You’re blurry.”

Tanesha pointed to her eyes. They were talking via video call over the Internet. He squinted at her before letting out a laugh.

“Of course,” Jeraine said. “Just a second.”

He set the computer tablet down and wandered away. Tanesha crawled into her new bed and laid down. She had settled in when he returned with his glasses.

“Where are you?” Jeraine asked.

“In my new bedroom,” Tanesha said with a smile.

“Where is that?” Jeraine’s voice rose with anxiety.

“The fairies, well, really Jake, made me a bedroom under the basement stairs,” Tanesha said.

“In the basement?” Jeraine asked. He shook his head. “I cannot imagine it.”

“You want to see?” Tanesha scooted out from the bed. “The bed is tucked against the stairwell. See?”

She turned the tablet around so he could see. The stairs went up at an angle creating a cubby where a bed was now located. Everything was a wash of bronze and rich cream color.

“That’s very nice,” Jeraine said.

“It’s a queen bed,” Tanesha said. “Perfect for two but not for three.”

She kept walking to show a small closet filled with her clothes.

“There’s a desk so I can study,” Tanesha said. A small wooden desk with a lamp and hook ups for her laptop sat under the basement window. “They moved the laundry to the area by the backdoor and made this… Here I’ll show you.”

She went in her tiny bathroom.

“Is that a shower?” Jeraine asked.

“Yep,” Tanesha said. “I can’t use it for a couple days until it dries.”

“You can use the one in the studio,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha nodded.

“It’s wonderful,” Jeraine said. “The fairies did all of this?”

“Jake and his team,” Tanesha said. “Blane said they were here most of the day. The fairies helped but most of it was Jill’s design and Jake’s hammer. He built a wall here between this area and your studio. He said he can take it out when you need him too, but it’s actually really nice.”

“That is nice,” Jeraine said. “Perfect for one person or a person and a child.”

“Akeem wants to move here when you get home,” Tanesha said.

“Akeem?” Jeraine bristled with jealousy. Tanesha laughed at him. “Why would Akeem live with us?”

“Another one of my dad’s mentees is getting out of Limon,” Tanesha said. “It’s time for Akeem to move on, but Jabari really likes him. Akeem’s hoping he can be Jabari’s nanny.”

“Oh,” Jeraine said.

“I’ve told you this,” Tanesha said. “He doesn’t want money. He just wants a safe drug-free place to live.”

“It sounds familiar,” Jeraine scratched his head. “I’ve been kind of…”

“Immersed,” Tanesha said.

“I’m going on in a bit,” Jeraine said. “Nervous.”

“Don’t be,” Tanesha said. “You’ll do great.”

“Do you miss me at all?” Jeraine asked.

“I do miss you,” Tanesha said with a reassuring nod. One thing they’d learned at couple’s therapy was that Tanesha needed to demonstrate how she felt toward him. “Jabari too.”

“He’s having fun,” Jeraine’s face brightened.

“Talked to him and mom between classes,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine nodded that he knew. Someone said something in the background and he nodded again.

“Well, Miss T…” Jeraine’s head continued to go up and down.

“Have fun,” Tanesha said. “It doesn’t do me any good for you to suffer. People have paid good money to see you. You may as well have fun.”

“Love you,” Jeraine said.

Tanesha smiled at him and he clicked off the video call. She looked at the dark screen for a moment before setting it on the small desk.

The house was quiet because Blane had taken Tink and his sons to the Castle to meet up with Heather, who’d been helping Sandy get her business going again. Tanesha looked up the stairs. She could go up and eat the dinner Blane had left for her — chicken breast, small salad, fresh roll, chocolate cake for dessert. Instead, she climbed back into bed and pulled the covers over her head.

She was okay. In fact, she was pretty good. Without Jeraine and Jabari here, she could really focus on finishing the term. No man and no son meant she could sleep as much as she wanted. She could stay at school until late. She could get up in the middle of the night to study in the way she liked but drove Jeraine crazy. She smiled at herself. Her little apartment was absolutely perfect for her. Everything was really good.

She just wished she didn’t miss him so much.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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