Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Seventy-one: Ow

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Tuesday evening — 5:12 p.m.
Denver, Colorado

“How are you, Sis?” Sandy asked.

Sissy gave Sandy a beautiful smile. Sandy wasn’t sure if it was the video link or if her sister had aged in the two days since she’d seen Sissy last.

“You look… great,” Sandy said.

“I gained weight in the hospital,” Sissy said. “It makes me look more human, less skeletal. Ivan says I will have to lose it.”

Sissy shrugged. Someone said something off the screen and Sissy laughed.

“Bestat said that suffering is causing me to grow into the edges of myself,” Sissy said.

She smiled at Sandy and waited a beat for something to happen off screen. Sissy leaned forward.

“Any idea what that means?” Sissy asked.

Shaking her head, Sandy laughed. Sissy smiled.

“How are you, Sis?” Sandy repeated.

“Okay, I guess,” Sissy said with a shrug of her shoulder. “I’ve been able to get around a little. Walk, I mean. The last couple of days, Bestat’s massage person, Yuia, has been working on me. Twice a day.”

“That sounds nice,” Sandy smiled.

“It’s awful,” Sissy said.

“Awful? How so?”

“Painful,” Sissy said. “Hard. It’s like he’s rearranging my muscles. But…”

Sissy shrugged.

“I can walk, now,” Sissy said. “So it’s kind of miraculous. I still have to wear this.”

Sissy pointed to the nose cannula pumping oxygen into her.

“How are you lungs?” Sandy asked.

“They’re healing,” Sissy said. “That’s the best they can tell me. It’s hard to heal something that I use all the time and need to live.”

“Your lungs?” Sandy smiled.

“I know,” Sissy laughed. “I keep remembering what you said to me when I was in the last eating disorder place.”

“What did I say?” Sandy asked.

“You told me that sometimes the thing we need the most is the thing we’re the most afraid of,” Sissy said. “You meant food. But…”

Sissy took a full breath.

“Now, it means breath,” Sissy said. “Yuia, the massage guy, says that I am afraid to breathe so my body holds my ribs tight.”

She gestured to her side. With her movement, Sandy noticed her sister’s fuller breasts. Sissy was becoming a woman. She gave Sissy a soft smile. Sissy blushed when she looked back at Sandy.

“You noticed how big I am?” Sissy asked. “It’s like the hospital gown made them big!”

Sissy held her hands in front of her to gesture to her breasts.

“Do you still want to cut them off?” Sandy asked.

Sissy shook her head.

“I’m coming to accept my precious body as it is,” Sissy said with a giggle. “That’s the mantra Yuia gave me. Well, his is: ‘I accept my precious and beautiful body as it is’ but that was too much for me. Bestat suggested the change. I think it works for me where I am now. Someday, I’ll be able to do the other one. I’m supposed to say it all the time.”

“He sounds pretty fantastic,” Sandy said.

“You wouldn’t say that if you had to spend an hour with him,” Sissy said. She leaned forward. Her face contorted in pain. “Ow.”

Surprised, Sandy jumped, but Sissy laughed. Sissy was only imitating her time with Yuia. Sandy smiled. It seemed like a hundred years since Sissy had been so joyous.

“How is Ivan?” Sandy asked.

Sissy’s face flushed. Her eyes seemed brighter and her lips turned up with a smile.

“Ivan is Ivan,” Sissy said. “He can’t walk yet, but he’s got a lot to say about what I should be doing.”

Sissy grinned.

“He’s been coming to see Yuia,” Sissy said. “I think Yuia is harder on him, but he doesn’t complain or groan like I do. He thanks Yuia for his treatment and is very sincere. It’s nice.”

“What’s his mantra?” Sandy asked.

“I am not the king of everything,” Sissy said with a laugh.

“They are good mantras!” Sandy said. “Next time I’m there, I’ll have to see this healer of yours.”

“When are you coming?” Sissy asked in a bright voice. She wrinkled her nose. “I miss you.”

“Well, it’s kind of why I’m calling,” Sandy said.

“What’s happened?” Sissy asked. “Did someone die? Did they kill someone else?”

“No,” Sandy said with an assuring smile. “Everyone is ridiculously healthy.”

“Give them a minute,” Sissy said.

Sandy grinned. Sissy wrinkled her nose again.

“I have to testify?” Sissy asked.

“Tink had a rough time today,” Sandy said. “You know I can’t talk about it, but they thought if you could testify before Charlie, we’d move forward faster.”

Sissy lifted her lip in a classic teenage sneer. Sandy smiled.

“You can testify from New York,” Sandy said. “It’s all set up but…”

“I should come to Denver,” Sissy said with a nod. “That would be a better show.”

Sandy smiled. Ever since Sissy was a little girl, she’d talked about the importance of putting on a good show. Sissy nodded.

“How would I do it?” Sissy asked.

“Seth and Ava will escort you,” Sandy said. “That way, there’s room for Ivan and Nadia and whoever else you’d like to come.”

Sissy gave a slow nod.

“I don’t really want to leave here,” Sissy said.

“I know,” Sandy said. “But real ballerinas travel around the world. This is a good chance to practice traveling.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be a ballerina,” Sissy’s voice echoed her sorrow.

Sandy stopped short. For the moment Sissy could talk, she spoke of dancing. From the time she could walk, she talked about ballet. Ivan didn’t bring ballet to Sissy. Her sister’s confidence that she would be a great ballerina brought Ivan to her via Seth and her father, Mitch. Sandy had never heard Sissy ever doubt that this was her future.

“What’s going on, Sis?” Sandy asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Sissy said.


“I feel… blue, I guess,” Sissy said.

“How come?” Sandy asked.

“It just seems like the meaner, richer guys always win.”

“What’s going on, Sis?” Sandy asked.

“You remember that ballerina?” Sissy asked. “The one who made so much trouble for Ivan and me?”

“Sabrina?” Sandy asked. “I remember her.”

“She’s dancing the lead in the spring,” Sissy said. “She’s advancing while I…”

Ever the teenager, Sissy’s mood jumped from pure delight to absolute sorrow in less than a second. Sissy sighed.

“Sissy Delgado!” Sandy said. “You know darn well that you’re going to get better. You know that you’ll be dancing again. It just takes time. In a few years, you’ll wonder why you have these scars.”

“Will I?” Sissy asked. She shrugged. “Maybe it’s good that I’m going home.”

“It feels like defeat,” Sandy said.

Sissy nodded.

“Well,” Sandy said. She tipped her head to the side to think for a moment. “What if we make our own plan? You can come home for a short trip like you’re a rock star. You’ll take care of this court stuff and return to New York by the weekend. This way you get to see everyone…”

“I miss Buster,” Sissy said of their ugly dog.

“And Buster,” Sandy said. “You’ll be back to the toil in no time.”

“But…” Sissy started.

“Seth has to be back in New York by next Monday, at the latest,” Sandy said. “You can go with him. He won’t let you down.”

Sissy gave Sandy a sad nod.

“Did you talk to Schmidty?” Sandy asked.

Sissy nodded.

“He told me that he got the company to hold your place for a year,” Sandy said.

“What if I can’t dance in a year?” Sissy asked.

Sandy smiled at Sissy, but the girl was looking down at the floor. When Sandy didn’t say anything, Sissy looked up.

“Oh,” Sissy read her sister’s look. “I was in surgery on Friday.”

“And Saturday,” Sandy said.

“That means that I’m still in active detox from the meds,” Sissy brightened. “That’s why I’m acting all weird.”

“Probably,” Sandy said.

“You don’t think it’s crazy that I still want to…” Sissy sighed. “…dance?”

“No,” Sandy said. “I think you’re Mitch Delgado’s daughter. If there’s a will…”

“There’s a Delgado to get it done,” Sissy said with a laugh. “Can Ivan come?”

“Of course,” Sandy said. “You can bring anyone you’d like.”

Sissy smiled.

“Oh, Bestat got me something to wear,” Sissy said. “That’s funny, I wonder how she knew.”

Sandy shrugged.

“When do I leave?” Sissy asked.

In the background, the doorbell rang.

“Now?” Sissy asked.

Sandy nodded.

“Great!” Sissy said. “I’ll see you in a few hours. Make sure that Buster isn’t sleeping with Noelle so he can sleep with me!”

Sissy waved and was gone. Sandy stared at the blank screen for a moment.

“She’s growing,” Delphie said. Sandy turned to look at her. “Don’t worry Sandy. She’s going to be fine.”

Sandy nodded. Standing, she took a breath.

“What can I do for dinner?” Sandy asked.

“Well…” Delphie turned and left the room.

Sandy glanced at the computer one last time before following her to the kitchen.


Tuesday evening — 7:02 p.m.
Denver, Colorado

Tanesha walked down the street toward the little yellow house. She’d had a long day of being terrified by all that she needed to learn before the end of the term. She had so much work to do that her work had work to do. She was glad that Fin was her lab partner. His arrogant confidence in her abilities was her only defense against her bone crushing fatigue and it’s dance partner — terror of failing. Everyone’s confidence that she’d do well this year in medical school only served to make her more certain that she would fail miserably.

She’d gotten off the bus a stop early so that she could walk off her nerves before seeing Jeraine and Jabari. Her little family needed her to be clear and calm. Especially since Jeraine was likely to leave on Friday for at least the rest of the spring and summer and… She didn’t know how long. She sighed.

She hated to admit it but she was going to miss him. Plus, he was taking Jabari with him.

Of course, Heather and her tribe were moving in the moment he left. They were going to add onto their tiny home. Plus, Heather had to leave for Olympia in a week or so. They needed a safe place to stay until all of the chaos was over. Tanesha had agreed to let them move in as long as Blane promised to feed her through the next few weeks of studying and finals. Blane wasn’t able to work, so he agreed to be her house frau.

She was still going to miss Jeraine, which bugged her to no end.

Turning onto their street, she saw the lights were on and music was filtering out into the street. Aunt Phy and her gran were sitting in the rockers on her porch. She squinted at them as she approached.

“Look!” Aunt Phy said brightly. “Our Tanesha is home!”

Tanesha’s gran turned to look at her. For the first time, Tanesha saw how much her gran had aged. She made a mental note to ask Fin if Gran was sick. The thought was pushed out of her mind when her Gran smiled. Tanesha couldn’t remember a time that her gran had smiled. As she moved through the white picket fence, she noticed that Gran and Aunt Phy were smoking from a pipe.

“Phy! Gran!” Tanesha said. “Marijuana? Really?”

The elderly women looked at Tanesha and giggled like little girls.

“It’s legal here now,” Aunt Phy said.

Tanesha scowled at the women which made them giggle more. Shaking her head, she went to the door.

“Oh, Tanesha?” Gran asked.

Tanesha turned to look at her.

“Will you bring us some of those brownies?” Gran asked.

“And maybe some lemonade?” Aunt Phy asked. “My mouth is just filled with…”

Aunt Phy stuck her tongue in and out of her mouth a few times which made Gran laugh. Shaking her head, Tanesha went inside. She stopped short.

A gorgeous woman with perfect straightened hair was sitting on her couch. The woman was wearing designer clothes and her makeup was as flawless as her hair. Jabari was standing on her lap. He had his arm around her neck. She was laughing and talking to the rapper who’d come by the house yesterday. The house smelled of delicious food, which meant that Jeraine had been cooking. The music was playing just loud enough so that no one heard her come in. She was invisible to the beautiful and extremely wealthy.

Tanesha’s heart stopped. Her hand instinctively went to her own small brother dreads. She felt small and stupid. Suddenly, the place that had been her home, her sanctuary, belonged to this modern Goddess who dominated the airwaves. Tanesha felt the loss with all the shock and horror of removing a limb.

Tanesha looked up to see her mother standing in the door to the kitchen. Her mother was positively radiant tonight. She heard the low rumble of her father’s voice coming from the kitchen. Rather than grounding her into her own life, the fact her parents were there only served to confirm that Tanesha had been supplanted by these superior people.

Tanesha put her hand on the doorknob to leave only to remember that Aunt Phy and Gran were stoned and sitting on her porch. She felt like a fox in a trap. She couldn’t leave and she couldn’t stay. Her anxiety rose.

Feeling someone near her, Tanesha turned to see Jeraine. He put his arms around her and held her tight.

“You okay?” he asked in her ear.

She shook her head.

“What can I do?” he asked.

She couldn’t respond. Tears came to her eyes.

“Does this help?” he asked.

She nodded, and he held on. For a few minutes or maybe an eternity, they stood in the entryway to their home holding each other tight. Tanesha took a breath, and then another.

“What happened?” Jeraine asked.

“Ow,” Tanesha spoke the only word that came to her mind.

He chuckled. He kissed her neck and let her go. He took her book bag and set it down next the table. Taking her hand, he led her into the living room.

“MOMMY!!” Jabari squealed. “You’re finally home.”

He climbed off the modern Goddess’s lap and ran to Tanesha. She picked him up and he hugged her tight. The modern Goddess got up from the couch as did her rapper husband. As Tanesha entered the living room, she saw that their daughter was sitting on the kitchen bar while Rodney changed the bandage on her knee.

Tanesha blinked and her life came into view. Jeraine brought the woman, her child, and her husband home so that Tanesha would have a chance to meet them before he signed onto the tour. Her mother and father were there to take a look at the couple. She blinked again.

Jeraine was actually doing what she’d asked him to do. She’d asked him to set up a time when she could meet them and Jabari could meet their daughter. She’d even suggested that Yvonne and Rodney come to make sure Jabari was taken care of. She’d just not expected him to do it so soon.

“I’m so sorry,” the modern Goddess said. “You look like we’ve disturbed you. We so wanted to get a chance to meet you that… well, we forced Jeraine to make us dinner tonight.”

The woman gave Tanesha a big smile.

“I love this house, Princess,” the modern Goddess said.

“Just Tanesha please,” Tanesha said.

The woman gave her a bright smile and said that Tanesha could call her by her own name. Tanesha smiled.

“If you’ll excuse me, for a moment,” Tanesha said. “My gran and Aunt wanted some lemonade and brownies.”

“I’ll get it,” Yvonne said.

“But Mom…” Tanesha started.

“Don’t worry, Tannie,” Yvonne said with a bright smile. “She’s not as mean to me when she’s stoned.”

Tanesha grinned. Yvonne winked at Tanesha and went to get the lemonade and brownies.

“She’s incredible,” the modern Goddess said. “So beautiful, smart, kind… I don’t think I would be able to…”

The woman nodded after Yvonne. Tanesha watched her mom for a moment and before smiled.

“Some people are simply special,” Tanesha said.

The woman smiled.

“Are you hungry?” Jeraine asked. “We waited dinner on you. Fin and Abi said they’d be here in…”

The door opened. Fin and a very pregnant Abi walked in. The modern Goddess and the rapper’s attention was distracted by the fairies giving Tanesha and Jeraine a quiet moment.

“Oh great everyone’s here,” Jeraine said. He kissed Tanesha’s lips and in an in breath said, “I love you.”

Feeling more like herself, Tanesha watched him head into the kitchen. The visiting couple’s daughter ran up and introduced herself. Jabari wiggled out of Tanesha’s arms and the children ran off to play with Toto. Yvonne came into the house from dropping off the snack to Gran and Aunt Phy. As she passed Tanesha, she muttered, “That woman is crazy.”

Tanesha laughed and followed her mother into the kitchen.


Tuesday evening — 10:12 p.m.
Denver, Colorado

“Ready?” Aden asked.

“I think so,” Sissy said.

Aden swooped Sissy off her feet. Sissy yelped with pain. He stood still for a moment to give her a chance to adjust. MJ set Sissy’s oxygen tank on her lap.

“I’ll come up to check on you after I get Ivan settled,” MJ said.

“Thanks,” Sissy said. She tried to grin but it was clear that she was in pain.

“Fast or slow?” Aden asked the age old question: Did Sissy want to get through the pain quickly or slowly?

“Um… fast,” Sissy said. “But I might need a break.”

“Say the word,” Aden said. “Here we go.”

Aden started up the stairs to the second floor. They made the landing.

“Break!” Sissy said.

Aden stopped on the landing. Sissy panted.

“I wanted to talk to you about something,” Aden said. “I don’t know if now is a good time.”

“Sure,” Sissy said. Her face was pale and she looked like she was going to throw up. “Is it anything distracting? I could really use something distracting.”

“Maybe,” Aden said.

“Go ahead,” Sissy said.

“You know Sandy and I are doing these marriage classes, right?” Aden asked.

Sissy nodded.

“One of our assignments is to make agreements with you kids around being married,” Aden said.

“That sounds kind of lame,” Sissy said.

“I’m not saying it right,” Aden said.

“Try again,” Sissy said.

“When I marry Sandy in the church, I am marrying you and Charlie too,” Aden said. “Sandy is marrying Nash and Noelle.”

“What about Rachel?” Sissy asked.

“Rachel is our biological child so we’re already married to her,” Aden said.

“Oh,” Sissy said. “Do you have that bag still?”

Aden nodded. He wiggled his right hand. Sissy looked down and took a grocery bag from his hand. She threw up all of the welcome home cake she’d just consumed in to the bag. She took a deep breath after throwing up and yelped with pain. Her color worsened.

“Maybe I should set you down,” Aden said.

“Not on your life,” Sissy said. “I made it half way there. I’m not losing the half.”

Aden grinned.

“Why’s that funny?” Sissy asked.

“It’s something Sandy would say,” Aden said.

Sissy smiled at the idea.

“Tie up the bag,” Aden said.

“What if I need it again?” Sissy asked.

“I have another bag,” Aden said.

“Ok,” Sissy tied up the bag and rest it next to her oxygen tank. “What’s it mean to be married to you?”

“Well,” Aden said. “The first thing is that I commit to you to be your father.”

Sissy’s eyebrows dropped with concern.

“I don’t want to take Mitch’s place,” Aden said. “I will just be your now father, a kind of second father, here to help you through the challenges of your life.”

“Don’t you do that already?” Sissy asked.

Aden was so overcome by her question that he welled up with tears. She looked at his face.

“You’ve been the best… I don’t know what you’d call it,” Sissy said. “You helped Charlie stop being such a dick. You’ve stood by me through all of this stupid stuff. You even made friends with Ivan, which is no easy task.”

“I like him,” Aden said. “He has a good heart.”

“So do you,” Sissy said. “You’re already my whatever you want to call it.”

“Legally, I’m your guardian,” Aden said.

Sissy mouthed the word for a few minutes before shaking her head.

“Do I have to call you, ‘Dad,’?” Sissy asked.

“Not if you don’t want to,” Aden said. They were silent for a moment while Sissy weighed her options. “Do you want to?”

“Not really,” Sissy said. “But I want to be able to say to other people, ‘That’s my dad’ or ‘My dad’s coming’ or… stuff like that.”

“I can be that guy,” Aden said. “I want to be that guy.”

“You already are,” Sissy said with a smile. “I mean look at you. You’re up here trying to get me to the apartment so I can sleep in my own bed with Buster. And you’re doing it just because I want to. I could stay down there with Honey and MJ like Ivan is.”

“You wanted to come home,” Aden said.

“That’s what a dad does,” Sissy said. She leaned forward with a grunt to kiss his cheek. “Thanks Aden. I want to be married to you or… oh that sounds gross… what do we say?”

“I want to be a family,” Aden said.

Sissy nodded.

“Ready for the next flight?” Aden asked.

“Onward,” Sissy said.

Aden raced up the stairs. When they reached the top, tears were streaming down Sissy’s face. Buster bounded down the hallway from the other way. Noelle and Nash were not far behind.

“Say something,” Aden said in a low voice.

“Ow,” Sissy said.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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