Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Fourteen : Special

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND FOURTEEN

Friday morning — 7:25 am

Katy yanked on Jacob’s hand. They stood at the entrance to the Denver Zoo and she wanted to go ahead to see the elephants. Jacob pulled her back to him and picked her up. The zoo didn’t open for a couple of hours. They were there before hours for a special viewing.

“We’re waiting for Ms. Yvonne and Jabari,” Jacob said. “Remember?”

Katy nodded. She liked being held more than she wanted to run ahead so she didn’t complain about being picked up.

“What about Keenan and Ivy?” Katy asked.

“We don’t have to wait for them,” Jacob said. He gestured to where Keenan was standing with Ivy. “They came with us.”

Katy laughed at her own joke. Ivy rolled her eyes and Keenan scowled.

“What is this place again?” Keenan asked. “I know you’ve said, it’s just … odd.”

“It is odd,” Jacob said. “We collect animals so that people can see them.”

“But animals are living creatures,” Keenan said. “They are not born to entertain people. They belong in their native environment, in the world.”

“A lot of people feel as you do, Keenan,” Jacob said. “At the same time, many of these animals would no longer exist without zoos.”

“Why is that?” Keenan asked.

“Their environments have been polluted or destroyed,” Jacob said. “Some are hunted for their horns, like the rhinoceros, or their tusks, like elephants. If they didn’t live in the zoo, they wouldn’t live anywhere.”

“Let’s go see the elephants!” Katy said with a kick of her legs.

Jacob scowled at her and she laughed. He smiled at her and looked at Keenan.

“What do you think?” Jacob said.

“The whole thing seems a little crazy,” Keenan said.

“It’s a little crazy,” Jacob said. “Sometimes, things change and the animals can go back to their native environment.”

“But not very often,” Keenan said.

“Sometimes,” Jacob smiled.

“There they are!” Ivy pointed.

Yvonne and Jabari were walking hand in hand toward them from the parking lot. Jabari carried Toto. Even from this distance, they could see that the boy was talking. Yvonne smiled and waved at them.

“May I?” Ivy asked.

Jacob gave a quick nod of his head and Ivy took off. She sprinted to welcome Yvonne. For reasons Ivy couldn’t quite explain, the girl felt a connection to Yvonne. In return, whenever Yvonne was at the Castle, she made an effort to spend time with Ivy.

Ivy caught up with Yvonne. She kneeled to hug the girl. Ivy took Jabari’s hand and they ran to where the others waited. Yvonne walked behind them.

“We are very excited, Jacob,” Yvonne said. “Very excited.”

Yvonne touched Katy on the arm and said hello to Keenan. The boy blushed at the beautiful woman’s attention. He felt her beauty like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.

“Can we go now?” Katy asked the question all of the kids wanted to know.

“We have to find the man who is going to show us,” Jacob said.

“Jake?” a friendly looking man walked toward them with his hand out. “You probably don’t remember me.”

“Edward,” Jacob said.

“That’s right,” the elderly man smiled. He glanced at Yvonne and smiled.

“Jake,” Jacob said. “Thank you for this.”

“Of course,” Edward said. “Your family has been so generous with the zoo. This is the least we can do.”

Edward looked down the row of children.

“Now which one of you is Jabari?” Edward asked.

The children stared at the man. Yvonne nudged Jabari and he stepped forward.

“Would you like to see your namesake?” Edward asked.

Jabari spun in place and ran back to Yvonne. She picked him up.

“I’m sorry,” Yvonne said. “We had a very difficult week.”

“Maybe this will make it all better,” Edward said.

“He was hoping that his father can’t be here,” Yvonne said.

“He’s famous,” Katy said.

“I have no fame, so I’m filling in,” Jacob said.

“I see that,” Edward said with a smile. “Why don’t you follow me?”

Jacob gestured for the kids to go. Ivy took Yvonne’s free hand and Jabari clung to Toto. Keenan stayed close to Jacob. They made slow progress along the wide asphalt path. Ivy, Keenan, and Jabari had never been to the zoo. Katy acted at their tour guide from her perch on Jacob’s hip. The rounded a corner and followed Edward toward a building.

“They’re keeping the baby in the back,” Jacob said.

“Until he is self-sufficient,” Edward said. “That’s correct.”

“That’s where we’re going,” Yvonne said.

Jabari’s huge eyes took in everything. He hadn’t said a word since they entered the zoo. He nodded.

“Just this way,” Edward said. He turned to Katy, “You’re a fine tour guide, young lady.”

“I’ve been here a bunch,” Katy smiled at the man’s praise.

Edward smiled and held a door open. They shuffled inside a hallway behind the exhibit. Edward stopped to let Jacob past. When everyone was behind the exhibit, he went up ahead again. They went around a corner until they were standing next to a large pane of glass looking out into an exhibit.

Before them was six-foot-high at the shoulder, four-legged animal with what looked like zebra legs, a thick horse body, and a beautiful face. There were lighter brown rings around his neck and the underside of his head was white. The okapi had large dark eyes with long eyelashes. The caramel brown fur between his eyes met the white under his chin to give him a delicate look.

“Wh-what is it?” Jabari asked. He pressed his face against the glass.

“It’s an okapi,” Edward said. “It’s native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are endangered. This is the male, Sekele. They look more like zebras, but we know they are more closely related to giraffes.”

“But it lives here?” Keenan asked. “Not in the Congo.”

“Yes it does. His mother was born here,” Edward said. “This guy was born in the San Diego Zoo. If you excuse me for a moment, I’ll just let them know that we’re here.”

They waited a moment before a small Okapi came out from the back with a larger, more caramel brown Okapi. Edward came from the back.

“The larger one is named Kalispell,” Edward said. “The female okapi is larger than the male.”

Edward looked at Jabari and smiled.

“This is Jabari,” Edward said.

“I’m Jabari,” the child said from his spot on Yvonne’s hip.

“They named it after you,” Yvonne said.

“They did?” Jabari asked.

Edward nodded.

“How come?” Jabari asked.

“They heard about you in the paper,” Edward said. “Did you know your name means …”

“Brave,” Jabari said. “I’m very brave.”

“Yes you are,” Edward said. “This little guy needs to be very brave as well.”

The baby okapi looked up at Jabari, and the child smiled.

“Hi Jabari,” the child said through the window. “I’m Jabari too!”

Jabari laughed.

“What do you think?” Jacob asked Katy, Keenan, and Ivy.

“He’s beautiful,” Ivy said.

“I feel his strength,” Keenan said.

Ivy hit his arm with the back of his hand, and shook her head.

“Too weird?” Keenan asked.

Ivy nodded.

“Why don’t we try again?” Jacob asked.

“He is very beautiful,” Keenan said. “Special. Strong.”

Ivy nodded and Keenan smiled.

“May we look around more?” Keenan asked Edward.

“Of course,” Edward said.

“We’ll stay here for a moment, if that’s okay,” Yvonne said.

She pointed and Jabari the okapi started suckling his mother.

“Of course,” Edward said. “I need to stay with you if you’re going to be back here. But, Jake, you can take the children to look around.”

Yvonne and Jabari watched in silence while the little okapi suckled from his mother. When the animal was done, Yvonne thanked Edward. The elderly volunteer helped them find the entrance where Yvonne called Jacob from her cellphone. He told her where they were and they left to find him.

“You’re awfully quiet,” Yvonne said to Jabari. “Did you like Jabari?”

The boy nodded.

“A lot,” Jabari said. “But …?”

“But?” Yvonne asked.

“Toto really wants to see the elephants,” Jabari said.

“I’d bet he does,” Yvonne said. “You know where our friends are?”

Jabari shook his head.

“With the elephants,” Yvonne said. “They’re helping to feed the elephants right now.”

“They are?” Jabari asked. “We should help too!”

“My thoughts exactly,” Yvonne said.

They turned a corner and hightailed it to the elephant exhibit. They got there just in time to see an elephant take an apple from Katy. The little girl giggled with delight.

“Would you like to try it?” Jacob asked.

“We all did it,” Ivy beamed. “I gave him a banana!”

Jabari looked at the enormous elephant and shook his head. He turned back to hid his face in Yvonne’s shoulder.

“Let’s just hang out for a minute,” Yvonne said.

Jabari turned back to watch the elephants.

“What is it?” Yvonne asked the little boy.

Jabari shook his head. The Denver Zoo employee placed an apple in Jabari’s hands. The little boy smelled the apple and took a little bite. He was mid-chew when the elephant’s trunk appeared in front of him. Jabari stared with awe. The elephant snuffed Jabari through its long trunk, before grabbing the apple from him. Jabari laughed, and the kids cheered.

“Would you like to stay more?” Jacob asked. “The kids need to get to school.”

Yvonne looked at Jabari and he shook his head.

“We were thinking of getting breakfast,” Jacob said.

“Sounds lovely,” Yvonne said.

They followed Jacob, Katy, Ivy and Keenan out of the elephant area. Yvonne let a small space come between them.

“Are you okay?” Yvonne asked.

“Starving,” Jabari said.

“You are?” Yvonne asked. The child had not been hungry since before he first got sick.

Jabari nodded. Yvonne smiled.

“Why are you smiling?” Jabari asked.

“You’re getting better,” Yvonne said.

With that they went to their car and followed Jacob to Pete’s Kitchen for breakfast.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 8:50 am

Sissy cleared her throat and the elderly man looked up his newspaper. Anjelika had set up a meeting between her father, Otis, and Sissy at the Fluid Coffee Bar. Anjelika told Sissy that her father could help her get ready for her new adventure.

“Sissy!” Otis said in heavily accented English.

“Sir,” Sissy said. Her eyes flicked away from him for a moment, and then back to him. “I’m sorry but I’m not sure what to call you.”

“You may call me Otis,” he said.

“That seems kind of informal,” Sissy said.

“It’s a fake name,” Otis shrugged. “My American name.”

Sissy giggled nervously at his gesture and he smiled.

“Come, we’ll walk,” Otis said.

Otis picked up his cane. He took her elbow with his other hand and they left the coffee shop.

“Don’t you need your bodyguard?” Sissy asked.

“Bruno?” Otis asked. “No.”

“But isn’t your life in danger?” Feeling suddenly responsible, Sissy looked around for any possible danger.

“No,” Otis said with a laugh. “Jillian returned the items which were taken. Everything has been resolved.”

“Oh,” Sissy said. “That seems like a good thing.”

“Yes,” Otis said. “For the first time in many, many years, I breathe the free air. Bruno too! He’s been attached to my hip for more years than you’ve been alive.”

Otis laughed.

“Did he go somewhere?” Sissy asked.

“He got married,” Otis said. “Nice girl from Kiev. It is something he thought he’d never be able to do. He traveling for a while before he returns.”

“That’s nice,” Sissy said with a smile.

She felt a lot more comfortable since Otis said he wasn’t in danger. They continued down Pennsylvania Street toward Benedict Fountain Park.

“It’s a little bit cold,” Otis said. “Will you be okay on our walk?”

“I have lots of layers on,” Sissy said. “That’s what we native Coloradans do — wear lots of layers.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Otis chuckled. “In Russia, we just freeze.”

Sissy smiled.

“Now I wanted to talk to you about what it’s like to be a junior member of a ballet company,” Otis said.

“Okay,” Sissy said.

“You haven’t had a lot of experience with ballet companies,” Otis said.

“I’ve taken classes at the Denver Ballet since I moved in with Sandy,” Sissy said.

“But mostly, you’ve been with Ivan, yes?” Otis asked.

“That’s true,” Sissy said.

“It’s very different to be in a large ballet corps,” Otis said. “You are not so important, and …”

He looked at Sissy and motioned to a metal park bench.

“Let’s sit,” Otis said.

Sissy swallowed hard and nodded. She wasn’t sure what he was trying to tell her, and that frightened her.

“Are you saying you don’t think I can do it?” Sissy said in a low whisper.

“No, no,” Otis shook his head. “I’m saying you have to be smart. Many, many girls are destroyed in their apprenticeship.”

“Destroyed?” Sissy’s eyes went wide.

“Please,” Otis said.

Otis gestured again to the metal park bench. Sissy plopped down and he sat beside her. For a moment, they looked out onto the wide open grass area.

“I don’t …” Sissy started.

Otis smiled at her.

“I have been around the ballet almost all of my life,” Otis said. “I can tell you what happens, what to look out for. Would you like that?”

Sissy gave him a quick nod.

“How well do you get along with girls?” Otis asked.

“Good,” Sissy said. “I mean, I have friends and stuff.”

“Sometimes, ballet girls are very jealous,” Otis said. “Especially of one who has as much talent as you do. How will it be for you if everyone hates you?”

“Hates me?” Sissy asked. “Um, okay I guess. I mean, I won’t love it but I’ll probably make other friends.”

“Outside the ballet?” Otis asked and Sissy nodded. “Good. That will help. But you know, you will work a lot.”

“I know,” Sissy said. “I promised Sandy that I’d finish high school at the very least, so I’ll go to school at night.”

“Is it too much?” Otis asked.

“I won’t know until I get there,” Sissy said. “I’m going to have therapy too, you know, for my eating disorder.”

“That’s a good idea,” Otis said. “Most ballerinas have eating disorders.”

“I can’t just sort of have one,” Sissy said. “It’s like drinking one beer for an alcoholic. If I get started, I get dead.”

Otis nodded.

“Some ballet companies, I don’t know about American Ballet Theater, but some companies, they use the young girls — apprentice and chorus — to entertain their wealthy supporters,” Otis said. “That’s how I met Anjelika’s mother. That specific situation was all on the up and up, but it was not always like that. And not all companies are ever like that. Some encourage the girls to … entertain the men. The boys, as well.”

“You mean sex,” Sissy said.

“I do.”

“That’s prostitution!” Sissy gasped.

“They will tell you that it is not,” Otis said. “They will tell you that they never force the girls, but …”

“Oh gosh,” Sissy said. “What would I do?”

“You would tell your sister,” Otis said. “You can call me or Seth, but I think you’ll feel more comfortable speaking with Sandy.”

“I’ll do it,” Sissy nodded. “What will she do?”

“She will tell Seth and he will take care of it,” Otis said.

“Oh,” Sissy scowled and bit her lip. “Seth might make it really hard for me.”

“Maybe,” Otis said. “But you must remember — you have a patron. You are not stuck. While you are at the ABT on talent, Seth’s money will open doors for you.”

“If I need them,” Sissy said.

“If you need them.”

“Yeah, Seth promised he wouldn’t buy me a placement,” Sissy said.

“You don’t need him to,” Otis said. “You are very talented and clearly work hard. What do you know about a ballerina’s day?”

“Um,” Sissy said. “Misty Copeland was here. She told me she starts with a ballet class at ten. Then she practices from noon to seven. On days that there’s a performance, she cleans up after practice, gets dressed, and is on stage all night.”

Sissy nodded.

“It’s a long day,” Otis said.

“It’s a long day,” Sissy said. “I did some of it a couple months ago when I was in the Nutcracker.”

“How was that?” Otis asked.

“I liked it,” Sissy said. “I didn’t have to think about anything else. That made me really happy.”

Sissy fell silent thinking through what Otis had said.

“So I should expect people jealousy,” Sissy said. “That means I should watch being jealous myself.”

“Exactly,” Otis said.

“And I should be careful not to brag about Seth,” Sissy said. “That is if Seth is really freedom and everything.”

“True.”

“I need to keep an eye out on these parties,” Sissy said. “What if I never go? I mean, I’ll have school and stuff. I won’t really have time.”

“You cannot miss them entirely,” Otis said.

“Oh sure,” Sissy nodded. “I want to fit in, at least a little bit, have people like me and everything.”

“Exactly,” Otis said.

“What if I mess it up?” Sissy asked. “Everyone hates me and stuff.”

“Then you will find another placement,” Otis shrugged. “There are seven companies in New York alone. There are ballet companies all over the country and most of the world. You can always find another place.”

“But?” Sissy asked.

“You want to make it work,” Otis said. “If you’re miserable, leave the company. But if you can work it out, you’re in a more powerful position to find another ballet theater.”

Sissy nodded.

“You have so many people who love you,” Otis said. “Remember that. And don’t let anyone take advantage of you.”

Otis looked at Sissy.

“I think you’ll be fine.”

“I hope so,” Sissy said.

“Shall I take you to school?” Otis asked.

“Ok,” Sissy said. “Thank you very much, Mr… .”

“Otis,” he said.

He got up off the bench and gestured to an edge of the park where a limousine was parked. When they got closer, a gorgeous, buxom woman stepped out of the driver’s seat. She opened the door for Otis and helped him into the car. Sissy got in after him and they started toward East High School.

“She seems nice,” Sissy said after a few blocks.

“My situation has brought a change of fortune,” Otis said.

Sissy nodded.

“Don’t smirk,” Otis said with a smile. “I am also your patron. Don’t you forget it.”

“I won’t,” Sissy said.

Otis smiled.

“You’ll have fun,” Otis said.

“I hope so,” Sissy said.

The limousine pulled up in front of East High School. Sissy thanked Otis again and got out. Standing on the sidewalk, she looked up at the big brick building. In the early morning light, it actually looked pretty. A stab of regret flashed through her.

She would never graduate from here.

She would never see her friends graduate or go to prom or homecoming or have a crush on a football player.

Soon, she’d be in New York dancing for the American Ballet Theater.

Overwhelmed by the thought, she jogged into the building.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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