Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Sixty-one: One step forward

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-ONE

Saturday morning — 5:45 a.m.
New York City, NY

Standing next to the thick white door, Jill slipped a shiny brass key into the first deadbolt and clicked it open. The lock moved with ease. Taking the next key on the ring, she clicked the lock open. The third lock was older and more ornate. It reminded her of some of the old locks at the Castle. Jill found the key and slipped the key into the lock. The lock clicked open.

She pressed open the door. Like the locks, the apartment was clean, beautiful, and easy to use. For the briefest moment, Jill wondered how wealthy Seth O’Malley was. The thought disappeared almost the moment it appeared. Jill went into the small galley kitchen. Like everything else, the kitchen was immaculate. She opened the refrigerator and found it full of everything she needed — water bottles, trays of cold cuts, cut fruit, and bottles of white and sparkling wine. A case of red wine sat on the counter next to the refrigeration.

She closed the refrigerator and tried to remember what she’d said to Seth.

“I wonder if I can borrow your apartment,” she’d said. “I want to talk to everyone to see if we can find a way to protect our children from this trickster that wants to steal Katy’s soul.”

He’d smiled, nodded, and said, “Of course.”

That was it.

“Of course,” he’d said.

Jill went into the living room. Everything was perfect. The furniture was expensive but very comfortable. She recognized an African rug that had to have been Jeraine’s when he owned the apartment for a brief time. A large vase of cut flowers sat on the coffee table.

Just to be thorough, Jill checked the bathrooms — clean with plenty of toilet paper and clean towels — and the two bedrooms — clean with fresh linen. She was in the second bedroom when she heard the apartment door open and close. She went out into the main room to find a matronly woman standing in the kitchen.

“Hello?” Jill asked.

“You must be Jillian,” the woman said.

“Jill Roper-Marlowe.” Jill held her hand out. The woman gave her a hug.

“It’s such a pleasure to finally meet you,” the woman said. “Sorry if I seem informal. I feel like I’ve known you your entire life. You’re our Sandy’s best friend, isn’t that so?”

Overwhelmed, Jill swallowed fast and nodded.

“Poor love,” the woman said. “Sissy’s better though?”

“She is,” Jill said. “They’re not out of the woods, but it looks like they’ll both make a full recovery.”

“That handsome Ivan,” the woman said. “I’ve seen him dance.”

The woman nodded with just enough wiggle of the eyebrow to indicate that Ivan was sexy. Jill blushed.

“You’re probably wondering who I am,” the woman said with a wink.

“I…”

“I’m Seth’s next door neighbor,” she said with a smile. “I’ve lived in this building my entire life. Seth bought this place when he was ten years old or some such nonsense.”

The woman laughed. She started moving around the kitchen with a comfortable ease. She turned on an espresso machine.

“He was ten and in college,” she said. “I was fifteen and in high school. We’ve been friends since the moment we laid eyes on each other.”

The woman nodded and started taking out the ingredients for brownies. Jill could do no more than gawk at her.

“Latte?” the woman asked.

“Uh,” Jill said.

“It’s all right, Jill,” the woman said. “I take care of this apartment. I even did it for that rascal Jeraine.”

“But…” Jill started.

“My husband died while I was pregnant with my third,” she said. “Seth hired me on the spot. He’s helped me raise my girls and send them to college. My baby is just graduated from medical school — Columbia, no less.”

The woman went through the easy motions of making Jill the coffee. She placed the hot liquid in a travel mug.

“I’m sure you heading back to the hospital,” the woman said.

Jill took the mug from the woman. She felt a question formulate in the back of her mind.

“You’re not… interested,” Jill said, “in Seth, I mean.”

“Not in the least.” The woman laughed. “He’s like a brother to me. Plus, have you ever noticed that the man can barely care for himself?”

“Um,” Jill shook her head.

“He has Maresol in Denver,” the woman said. “Jammy when he’s on the road. Me in New York. I’m Claire by the way.”

The woman nodded and started making brownies.

“I love him, of course,” the woman said. “But a man like Seth is better suited for a woman like Ava. I really love that girl, don’t you?”

Jill gave a slight nod.

“My big brother died in Vietnam.” The woman looked up at Jill and gave her a soft smile. “Seth brought him home to my mother. She was able to die in peace. You just can’t repay that kind of thing.”

Jill took a drink of the latte.

“Are the fairies coming?” the woman asked. “They can’t have certain spices, makes them sick.”

“Uh,” Jill said.

“How about your father, Lord Perses?” the woman asked. “Your mother?”

Jill’s mouth fell open and she gave a kind of cough. The woman laughed.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” the woman said. “Now go on. I’m sure you have plenty to do.”

The woman picked up Jill’s handbag and the key ring.

“You’re sure?” Jill asked as she took her belongings from Claire.

The woman smiled and waved Jill to the door. A few minutes later, Jill was standing on the sidewalk below Seth’s Greenwich apartment and wondering about Seth O’Malley’s wealth. She glanced up at the apartment one last time before waving down a cab and heading back to the hospital.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 5:45 a.m.
New York City, NY

Sissy felt consciousness come in waves. One moment, she felt like she was asleep and the next she felt like she was waking up. Like being on the swings in Olympia, she swung back and forth between being awake and being unconscious. She felt someone grab her hand and opened her eyes.

“Hedone,” Sissy whispered.

“Here I am Heather,” she said.

“I remember,” Sissy said. “Our little game, you used to say.”

Heather smiled.

“Where’s the baby?” Sissy asked.

“Maresol grabbed him the moment I got here and won’t give him back,” Heather said. “I think she needed someone to care for.”

Sissy attempted a smile but it came out as a kind of grimace.

“How are you feeling?” Heather asked.

“Sick,” Sissy said.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Ivan?” Sissy asked.

“He’s in the bed next to you,” Heather said. “Asleep. They expect to move him out of here by the end of the day.”

“Where’s here?” Sissy asked.

“Private ICU,” Heather said.

“Seth?”

“Otis,” Heather said. “He didn’t want his star ballerina to have to mix with common people.”

Sissy’s eyes took in the statement while her eyebrows worked out the logic.

“He and Jill have been here quite a bit,” Heather said with a pointed nod.

“Nice of them,” Sissy grunted.

“Is the pain horrible?” Heather whispered.

Sissy nodded. Her eyes slipped closed. Heather fell silent. Sissy’s eyes popped open.

“Swings?” Sissy said with effort.

“In Olympia,” Heather said. “Children can slip in and out of Olympia when they are in dream. You had been there before so it was easy to get you there when you had… let go of being here.”

“It’s beautiful,” Sissy said. “Who?”

“My father, Eros?” Heather asked. “You asked him in Olympia too.”

Sissy shook her head.

“Woman,” Sissy said. “Goddess.”

“Oh,” Heather smiled. “Aphrodite. She’s my grandmother. Eros’s mother. She was quite cruel to my mother. Awful really.”

Heather shrugged.

“I try to stay out of it,” Heather nodded and leaned in. “They are all a little crazy.”

Sissy felt a giggle develop inside but wasn’t sure she expressed it.

“She likes me,” Heather shrugged. “I’m not sure why. And, for the record, I always feel quite guilty about her liking me and not my mother. You know what that’s like.”

Sissy nodded.

“Anyway, I asked her for help,” Heather said. “She was very interested in fixing this problem that her son created.”

“Why?” Sissy asked. “Isn’t it more fun for them if we suffer?”

“Right,” Heather snorted a laugh.

“So?”

“Oh,” Heather said. “She takes love very seriously. She feels like her son went crazy because of my mother, Psyche. She’s been helping me fix these dark arrows. That’s what we call them, ‘dark arrows’ because they cause people to fall in love with someone they’ll never meet. We’ve been working on it for a long, long time.”

Heather sighed. Sissy nodded.

“I mean, it’s easier now with the Internet and everything,” Heather said. “Someone in Romania can meet their beloved in Idaho on Facebook or whatever. In the last ten years or so, a lot of people shot with his dark arrows have met each other and lived happily ever after. My dad has no idea. He’d be so pissed.”

Heather chuckled.

“Won’t tell,” Sissy said. “Can I ask?”

“Anything.”

“You and Blane?” Sissy asked.

“We’re one,” Heather smiled.

“Sandy and Aden?” Sissy asked.

“Delphie fixed their dark arrow,” Heather nodded. “Just like she fixed you and Ivan. She just didn’t know she was doing it. If she had, she would have never gone up against Olympia. It’s part of her code. But you know how practical Delphie is — see a problem, fix a problem. I certainly am not going to tell her. You?”

Sissy shook her head.

“Charlie and Tink?” Sissy whispered.

“Not them.” Heather shook her head.

“Who else?” Sissy asked.

“Jeraine and Tanesha,” Heather said.

Sissy looked shocked.

“That’s a recent development,” Heather said. “He let them fall in love then shot them with the dark arrow. They could know love but never be together. It’s something he did because I dared to confront him.”

“When I was little,” Sissy said.

Heather nodded.

“Delphie, Celia, and Sam,” Heather nodded. She looked off in the distance as if she was thinking. “I’m trying to figure out who you know. You are so focused on ballet that you don’t know that many people.”

“Wanda?”

“Yes, Wade and his boyfriend.”

“Wanda,” Sissy said firmly.

“Right,” Heather said. “That’s the point. If Wade stays Wade, he can’t really be with his heterosexual beloved.”

Heather nodded.

“Your father’s an asshole,” Sissy said.

Heather chuckled.

“MJ and Honey,” Heather said. “Rodney and Yvonne, you know Tanesha’s parents.”

Sissy gave slight shake of her head to indicate that she thought it was incredible.

“You’re probably wondering why there are so many around me,” Heather said. Sissy gave a slight nod. “My father was trying to get me to tell him where and when my mother was living.”

Sissy made a sour face.

“If I told him, my mother would freak out,” Heather said. “When I didn’t tell him, he tortured the people around me.”

“He has your mom now,” Sissy whispered. “Why didn’t he want to fix this?”

“Punishing me for not telling him,” Heather said. “He wanted me to feel incompetent so that he would be forced to return to Olympia.”

“Because he doesn’t want to be with your mom?” Sissy asked.

“No,” Heather said. “By all accounts, they’re really happy together. It’s just that his ego won’t let him acknowledge that the world doesn’t need him as much anymore.”

“It doesn’t?” Sissy asked.

“There’s less violence and wars,” Heather said. “Love is a value now. Children are loved by parents instead of used as property. People get together in love relationships. Just a hundred years ago, love was some weird phenomena that happen sometimes when family honor and duty to your parents were fulfilled. Eros was needed then to remind people that there was something more, something beautiful. Now, the idea of the glory of love is ubiquitous.”

“How did you fix it with me and Ivan?” Sissy asked.

“That’s a long story for another time,” Heather said. “You should be resting.”

“Just glad it worked out,” Sissy said.

“Me too,” Heather said.

“Hedone?” Sissy asked.

Heather looked at the girl and she was sound asleep. Heather kissed Sissy’s forehead and leaned back to sit in a chair. She hoped Sissy never found out how it all worked. Some things were better left to the mystery and romance of life. Heather smiled. She was just glad it had worked out.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 7:55 a.m.
New York City, NY

Seth’s apartment was a buzz of activity and happy voices. This group of people not only knew each other, they were old friends. Tanesha had taken over the espresso machine the moment she’d walked. The screeching sound of the espresso maker created a back beat for the story telling and resulting laughter. Ava and Valerie had gone shopping while Maresol hung out with the teenagers.

Otis had sought Delphie out immediately. Worried that her intense grandfather would overwhelm Delphie, Jill had hovered around them long enough to learn that they played chess once a week when Otis was in town. Delphie set up a chess set and they started a game before anyone else had settled in their seats.

The fairies took the couch. Fin on one side and Mari on the other with Abi in the middle. Although Jill had worried that the siblings wouldn’t get along, she soon learned that Fin and his first wife had raised Mari. They bickered like siblings, but with Abi as referee, the love between them was obvious. Right now, they were arguing what to name the two babies — Abi’s and Mari’s. Bestat weighed in on the debate from an armchair next to the couch.

Heather and Jill’s father, Perses, were deep in soft conversation near the back of the living area. Jill wasn’t sure what was going on but she felt like it was better to stay out of it. Sandy was sitting in a dining room chair while Sam Lipson rubbed her shoulders. Mike and her mother, Anjelika were talking and laughing with Seth O’Malley at the other end of the table. Katy was taking everything in from her vantage point on Anjelika’s lap.

Every cup was filled with coffee or wine or the ridiculously expensive Scotch Otis had brought. The first round of snacks had been eaten. They were loose and laughing.

Jill cleared her throat and walked to the edge of the living area. Tanesha scooted from the kitchen into the living area. The people at the table turned their chairs to face Jill. Otis and Delphie put the chess game away. All eyes were on Jill. She swallowed hard.

“As you know, I wanted to get everyone together to talk about…”

And everyone spoke at once.

~~~~~~~~

Saturday morning — 7:55 a.m.
New York City, NY

“Hi,” Ivan’s voice woke Sissy. She opened her eyes. Puzzled, she tried to get up but found that she couldn’t. “You’re tied down. I’d come to you but I find myself unable.”

His hand came onto the bed where he felt around for the buttons to move the bed. As the bed lowered down, Ivan came into view. He was sitting in a wheelchair.

“Hello,” he said.

He gave her a bright smile which Sissy returned. She was surprised at how delighted she was to see him. She felt her face redden, and her hand instinctively went to straighten her hair. She rolled her eyes.

“What?” Ivan asked.

“Oh, I look like I’ve been hit by a bus,” Sissy said. “I smell and… here you are.”

“I’m in much better condition,” Ivan said with a laugh.

Sissy’s eyes took him in. His hair was clean but a mess. He had a few days stubble on his cheeks and his glasses were missing. He wore the same stylish blue hospital gown that she was wearing. To Sissy, he looked really good.

“You look good to me,” Sissy said and blushed.

“You are beautiful, as always,” Ivan said.

Sissy moved her hand and he took it. He kissed the backs of her fingers. Rolling his wheelchair closer to the bed, he held her hand to his heart.

“How are you?” Sissy asked.

“I’m…” Ivan sighed and nodded. “Angry. I have much regret. This entire thing is my fault. If I…”

“It’s not your fault,” Sissy said. “It’s just something that happened.”

“No,” Ivan said. “You don’t understand. If I hadn’t argued with Katia, she…”

“She was crazy,” Sissy said. “One way or another, she would have made trouble for you and for us.”

Ivan shook his head.

“Awful woman,” Sissy said. “It’s me she didn’t like. She only stabbed you so that I would have you.”

“No, Sissy,” Ivan said.

“Yes,” Sissy said. “Sandy talked to her husband. He came by to offer to pay the hospital bill and support us financially until we get on our feet.”

“He did?” Ivan asked.

“He said that he knew that Katia hated me,” Sissy said. “She talked all the time about getting back at me. She even talked about after the board meeting last night. I mean, I think Schmidty, Seth’s lawyer, encouraged Katia’s husband to do it, but he’s paying for everything. He says he could have stopped this and didn’t.”

“But, how…?” Ivan asked. “You were a child when she was in Denver. She had this whole big life and…”

“Some things just don’t make sense,” Sissy said. “Heather says…”

“Heather?” Ivan asked. “The woman who was here this morning? I saw her when she was leaving.”

“She’s one of Sandy’s friends,” Sissy said. “One of the girlfriends.”

“Ah, the girlfriends,” Ivan said with a knowing nod. “I had the strangest dream about her.”

“Oh?” Sissy asked.

“I was on a swing set in this gorgeous playground,” Ivan said. “You can’t imagine how beautiful it was — better than at the royal palace.”

Ivan glanced at Sissy and she smiled at him.

“You were there,” Ivan said. “Swinging. Your sister’s friend Heather was there too.”

“She was my babysitter when I was young,” Sissy said.

“I remember,” Ivan said with a nod. He opened his mouth to say something and closed it.

“What were you going to say?” Sissy asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Ivan said.

“I want to know,” Sissy said.

Ivan sighed and looked at her for a moment. She nodded.

“When I was a child, I loved the swings,” Ivan said. “It sounds ridiculous but I used to spend many hours swinging and dreaming of my future love. She would cherish me and I would make my whole world around her. It was very real to me on the swings, but in real life…”

Ivan shrugged.

“It sounds silly,” Ivan said. “But that time of the swings was the only time I wasn’t dancing or studying or doing chores. It was my time to dream of… love, life, dancing. I felt a terrible longing and loneliness. I never thought my dreams of love could possibly be real until I met you. And then you were four years old.”

Ivan’s face flushed with emotion

“I almost lost you to that woman,” he said.

“Shh,” Sissy said. “I’m here. You’re here. She didn’t take anything from us.”

Ivan kissed her hand again.

“I love the swings,” Sissy said.

“Then we shall go when we are better,” Ivan said.

Sissy smiled and he returned her smile.

“I am here until your sister comes back or we pass out,” Ivan said. “Would you like to watch television or play cards or…”

“Can we just talk?” Sissy asked.

“Perfect,” Ivan said. “What would you…?”

“You could teach me Russian,” Sissy said. “Sandy got me one of those courses on tape.”

Sissy held up an mp3 player. Ivan’s face lit up with delight.

“I thought I’d practice but you could help,” Sissy said.

“Where shall we start?” Ivan asked.

“Numbers,” Sissy said. “One is…”

“A-deen,” Ivan said.

“A-deen,” Sissy said with a smile. “And two?”

Ivan paused for a moment just to look at her.

“What is it?” Sissy asked.

“You are barely alive and you give me the gift of wanting to learn my language,” Ivan said. “It is more than any woman has ever given me. Ever. And you do it from your hospital bed.”

“I have all this time lying around!” Sissy said with a smile. “So, two?”

Grinning at her, Ivan set about teaching her one through ten in Russian.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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