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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND NINE
Wednesday morning — 8:53 a.m.
“Charlie would want you to be here,” Seth said to Sissy.
Staring at the carpeted floor, Sissy nodded. Her long blonde hair was up in a tight bun that hid the pink that Sandy always puts in her hair. She wore jeans with a lovely hand-knit-by-Delphie sweater over her long sleeved T-shirt. She had spent the last two days under going physical challenges, dancing, and medical exams, and the last two nights with Charlie. Today, she would complete her last interview with the four American ballet companies looking to take on apprentices this year.
“He wants you to do this,” Seth said. “He told me himself.”
“But not today.” Sissy’s voice came out in numb syllables. “He didn’t tell you today, because today he’s probably going to die.”
Seth put his arm around her shoulders. She reached up to hold his hand. Seth looked up when a young ballerina and her mother came out of the room. The girl’s mouth smiled a row of large, white veneers while her eyes gave Sissy a venomous look. Sissy missed the entire moment by staring at the floor.
“Good luck,” the girl said.
Sissy looked up at the girl. Seeing the venom in the girl’s eyes, Sissy squinted at her and looked back at the floor.
“They’ve already found their candidate, of course,” the girl’s mother said. She straightened her daughter’s ponytail. “But it’s good of you to try, dear.”
Seth gave the mother a pained look. The mother’s face shifted to a kind of sneering smile before they walked down the hallway.
“Don’t let them get to you,” Seth said in a Sissy’s ear.
“Those two?” Sissy glanced down the hallway where they’d gone. She shrugged. “They’re always like that. They act like they already won. It’s just how they are.”
“That’s my Sissy,” Seth said.
“How did you do it?” Sissy asked. “I mean, you were younger than me.”
“I’ve never bothered trying to do it,” Seth said.
“What do you mean?” Sissy asked.
“I just get out there and kick their asses,” Seth said. “I’d never waste my time or energy on this kind of …crap.”
“Truthfully, I didn’t know any better,” Seth said. “By the time I figured out what was going on, I already knew your dad. You know how your dad was?”
“Who’s better than you?” Sissy imitated Sandy imitating her father’s voice. “They’re gonna look pretty stupid when you prove them wrong.”
Seth laughed at her imitation and Sissy smiled at him. Ivan came down the hallway toward them.
“We are last they see,” Ivan repeated what he’d said a few times already. “This is very good.”
He sat next to Sissy.
“You no feel good?” Ivan asked.
“It’s okay,” Ivan said. “You go in and you be yourself. If this isn’t the year? It isn’t the year. Why do we care?”
Sissy grinned at Ivan. He’d been adamant that she sign with a ballet company before she turned fifteen next month. But the moment he learned that Charlie was injured, Ivan had changed his tune.
“This will be your home, our home together, for years,” Ivan nodded. “They don’t care about Charlie? We don’t care about them.”
Ivan sniffed. Sissy didn’t know what to say so she went back to staring at the carpet.
“I call hospital,” Ivan said. “Your brother? He’s critical but stable now.”
“What?” Sissy asked.
“Doctor say Charlie is stable,” Ivan said. “Still critical, but stable too. This is good.”
Sissy bit her lip and nodded. She didn’t dare feel hopeful in case her hope jinxed everything and Charlie still died.
“Mitzi Delgado?” A woman looked out from the room. Seth and Sissy stood up.
“Charlie, he say to me, ‘You help Sissy find best place,’” Ivan said. He stood up slowly. “We make sure this is best place. Otherwise, they can take the girl with horse teeth.”
Sissy giggled at the reference to the other girl. Ivan nodded toward the door.
“We go,” Ivan said.
Sissy followed Seth inside. She turned and held out her hand to Ivan. He took it and they walked to the table.
“Miss Delgado?” the woman moderator asked. “May we call you Mitzi?”
“Sissy,” she said.
“Sissy?” the woman asked.
“My brother called me ‘Sissy’ when I was born.” She swallowed down her sorrow. “Now most people call me Sissy.”
“Sissy it is then,” the woman smiled. “Let’s begin.”
Wednesday morning — 8:53 a.m.
Sandy slipped into the back pew of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. She didn’t have a lot of time. She hadn’t had more than a few hours of sleep since Charlie got hurt.
Charlie got hurt.
She rubbed her forehead at the pain that lived there. Charlie didn’t get hurt. Charlie didn’t do anything wrong. Charlie went work so he could help out the family. Charlie walked home so that he could be present for his girlfriend, who was in crisis. Charlie had done everything right, so right that some men decided to hurt him because of some of the right things Charlie had done.
The men were in jail.
The DA was talking about a plea deal. If they admit to almost killing Charlie, they’ll get less time in jail. All she knew was that Charlie had struggled to breathe while the men who almost killed him wormed their way out of their responsibility. She’d told the DA that when he’d come to see her. She’d told the DA that “he could go to hell if he thought she wouldn’t fight tooth and nail for the men who almost killed her brother to spend the rest of their lives in jail.” He’d looked at her like she was crazy.
She was crazy. A light flashed across the lacquered pew and she turned to look. Tanesha slipped in the back of the church. Tanesha sat down next to Sandy and took her hand.
“I’ve lost my mind,” Sandy whispered.
“Welcome to the club,” Tanesha whispered back.
“I was thinking about killing those men,” Sandy whispered. “You know the ones who hurt Charlie.”
“I was thinking about killing Annette,” Tanesha said. “That woman. She …”
She turned to look at Sandy and raised an eyebrow. Sandy nodded. They sat in silence watching the church. Even though mass had been over for an hour, the church was oddly busy. A few elderly women shuffled around the vestibules cleaning up the mess of burned candles. The priest was talking to a group of people near the front. Tanesha and Sandy watched the activity and listened to their thoughts.
The light flashed when the back opened again. Heather squeezed passed Sandy to sit next to Tanesha near the middle of the pew.
“You okay?” Sandy leaned over to whisper to Heather. “Didn’t see you last night.”
“I couldn’t deal,” Heather said. “Went home to cry myself to sleep.”
“Hmp,” Tanesha said. “We’re thinking murder and you’re crying yourself to sleep.”
Tanesha glanced at Heather and then back at Sandy.
“I think she’s more honest,” Tanesha said. Sandy nodded.
“Why?” Heather whispered. “What did you think?”
“Murder.” Sandy raised her eyebrows.
“No, I think murder is more honest,” Heather said. “I’m just not sure who I’d kill.”
“Enrique?” Tanesha asked. “He gave Blane Hep C.”
Heather became very still while she thought through what Tanesha was saying. She shook her head.
“I don’t have the energy to murder anyone today,” Heather said. “You?”
She looked at Tanesha and then at Sandy. They thought about it for a moment before acquiescing that they were too tired for murder as well.
“But …” Sandy started. She stopped talking and stared at the altar for a moment before shaking her head. “You’re right, of course.”
“How’s Sissy?” Heather whispered.
The light shone on the pew again and a second later Jill sat down next to Sandy on the aisle. Jill put her arm around Sandy and nodded to Tanesha and Heather. She leaned over to Tanesha.
“You’re mom called, Tanesha,” Jill said. “The hospital is releasing Jabari. They can take him home as soon as he’s released. He should be home by the time you’re done with school.”
Tanesha looked surprised and Heather did an air clap.
“I got the call in the parking lot. That’s why I’m late,” Jill said. “I called Seth. Maresol was moved to a private room this morning. She should be out by the end of the day today.”
Heather did another air clap.
“Any word on Detective Red Bear?” Tanesha asked.
“He’s in jail,” Sandy said.
“Trying to get a deal from the DA,” Heather said. “I heard that on the radio. He doesn’t want to ‘suffer’ in jail.”
“Because he’s risen from the dead?” Tanesha asked.
“Being a cop and all,” Heather said.
Scowling, they digested this thought.
“How’s Sissy?” Jill repeated Heather’s question.
“She’s doing her last interview,” Sandy said. “I … She’s been at auditions or at the hospital since Charlie got hurt. I don’t think she’s slept much.”
“Sissy is so good under stress,” Jill said. “Remember how she was in the Nutcracker?”
“Cool as a cucumber,” Heather said. “She’ll be fine.”
“I don’t know if I want her to be fine,” Sandy said. “I feel like locking them all way in some dungeon someplace so I know they’re safe.”
“I’d believe you if you didn’t work so damned hard to make them independent,” Jill said.
Sandy glanced at Jill. For a moment, their eyes held, and then Sandy broke down. She began to sob. Her friends sat with her while she cried.
“If I hadn’t forced Charlie to be independent, he wouldn’t be …” Sandy whispered. “And Sis … did you hear what those horrible men had planned for her?”
“And Maresol?” Sandy shook her head. “That scourge Red Bear! Now he’s looking for a deal and the men who hurt Charlie and …”
Sandy bent forward and cried into her lap. Jill rubbed her back while Tanesha held on to her hand. Heather leaned forward to put her hand on Sandy’s leg. They held on through the storm of Sandy’s tears.
“Aden’s talking to the police again this morning,” Sandy said through her tears. “They told him that they might have to violate his parole. You know, he got in that fight in prison and now this. Staying out of trouble is a contingency of him staying out of prison and …”
Sandy sucked in her bottom lip, wrapped her arms around herself, and bent over.
“How can so much bad stuff happen all at once?” Sandy asked, her voice was no more than a whisper.
No one had an answer for her.
“I might not know why bad things happen,” Jill said. “But I do know that good coffee and great food helps.”
“Ours is not to reason why,” Tanesha said.
“Ours is to drink great coffee,” Heather said.
“And eat great food,” Jill said.
Sandy looked at Jill, and then Tanesha and Heather.
“Or we can sit here,” Tanesha said.
“And let all of these bad things stay bad,” Heather said. “At least if we get up, have breakfast, and laugh a little bit, we allow time to pass.”
“And figure out what’s next,” Sandy said.
“And see all the wonderfulness of our lives,” Jill said. “Rachel’s huge, Nash and Noelle doing so well, my twins have stopped moving things in their sleep …”
“Jabari’s coming home,” Sandy said.
“And he’s getting well,” Heather said.
“I’m still in medical school,” Tanesha said.
Jill, Sandy, and Heather air clapped for her.
“The water was hot for my shower,” Sandy said. “I live in a safe home, among people who love me. My mother left me a symphony that is amazing, according to my father, who also loves me.”
Sandy gave a watery smile.
“I’d like some coffee,” she said and stood up.
“Not that crappy hospital coffee,” Jill said.
She got up and moved out of the pew. Tanesha and Heather stood up. Sandy slipped out of the pew to stand with Jill.
“That’s right,” Tanesha said, as she got out of the pew. “Good coffee.”
“And lots of it,” Heather said.
Sandy, Jill, and Tanesha gave Heather the stink eye.
“Not for me,” Heather said. “For you. I’m thinking of you and your enjoyment.”
Wednesday afternoon — 1:50 p.m.
Tanesha jogged across the marble floors to the couches on the third floor. As she rounded the corner, she knew her decision to come up had been the right one. That same jerk was watching the entertainment news from the couch. She skid to a stop. The television was playing advertisements.
“They said they would play it next,” the jerk on the couch said.
Tanesha scowled at him and crossed her arms.
“For what it’s worth, I’m glad he’s doing better,” the jerk on the couch said.
Tanesha nodded. The television went blank for a brief second, and then they were watching a video tape of Jeraine and Jabari at the Atlanta airport. Jeraine walked with Jabari on his hip. Jabari was covered in a soft blanket with elephants on it. His face was pressed into Jeraine’s chest so all you could see was the back of his head. Jabari’s arms were wrapped around the stuffed elephant, Toto. Schmidty moved between the camera man and Jeraine. Bumpy was walking next to Jeraine while Yvonne and Dionne were slightly ahead.
“Whatcha you doing, Jeraine?” the man taking the video asked. “Where ya goin’?”
“We’re taking my son home,” Jeraine said.
“So you can send him back again?” a voice yelled from somewhere off to the right of the video.
Jeraine shook his head.
“Why’s he wearing an eye patch?” another voice yelled.
“Our friend Mr. Chesterfield’s lost his eye in this … incident,” Jeraine said. Jabari leaned back to look at his father. Jeraine looked down and gave Jabari a loving smile. He pulled the blanket around Jabari. “Toto and Jabari wear eye patches in commemoration of the sacrifice Mr. Chesterfield made trying to keep Jabari safe.”
Jabari’s head went up and down. He leaned back into Jeraine.
“Now if you’ll excuse us,” Jeraine said. “We’re heading home. In case you’re wondering where that might be, our home is in Denver. We live in Denver. Isn’t that right?”
Jeraine looked at Jabari, and the child nodded again. There was a noise, and Jeraine turned to look. Risa, from Denver Human Services, jogged toward them. Jeraine nodded toward the video camera. They turned and went into the terminal.
“That was Jeraine Wilson and his son, Jabari,” the announcer said. “They are heading back to Denver where the custody battle is sure to continue.”
“So you get the child back,” the jerk on the couch said. “Care to make a comment?”
Tanesha squinted and looked down at the jerk. He was filming her with a handheld video camera.
“You’re a reporter?” Tanesha asked.
“Why did you force Jeraine to send Jabari away?” the reporter asked. “Jealous? Clearly the man loves the child.”
Tanesha shook her head. She turned in place and walked back down the hallway.
“You can run, but you cannot hide,” the reporter yelled after her. “You’re going to talk to me.”
Tanesha saw that Fin was waiting for her at the end of the hallway. She glanced back at the reporter and then at Fin.
“Shit,” the reporter said.
Tanesha reached Fin before she turned to look. The reporter yelped and dropped his smoking video camera. She gave the reporter a little wave. She and Fin jogged down a flight of stairs to their next class.
“How’d it go?” Fin asked when they were seated.
“They were at the airport,” Tanesha said. “Jabari looked healthy, strong. I think it was a good piece for Jeraine too. But …”
Their professor asked for their attention.
“But?” Fin asked.
Tanesha leaned in.
“I didn’t see Abi,” Tanesha said.
“She’s with Jabari, isn’t she?” Tanesha asked.
Fin’s head went up and down in a nod.
“Good,” Tanesha said.
Their class started.
Wednesday afternoon — 2:10 p.m.
“The police want to talk to you, Charlie,” Honey said.
He opened his eyes when he recognized her voice. For the intensity of the beating, Charlie had managed to protect most of his face. While his eyes were swollen and bruised from the injury to his head and his mouth was bruised, the rest of his face was remarkably unaffected. Honey wheeled to the bed. She picked his hand up from the white sheet.
“Now?” Charlie whispered.
“They want to find out what happened,” Honey said. She leaned in close to his head. “This sucks the most.”
Charlie’s eyes flicked across Honey’s face.
“I had to do it too,” Honey nodded. “They want to talk to you as soon as possible so they can build their case. They only have a little bit of time or they have to release the guys.”
“A-den,” Charlie said.
“They’re holding them on assaulting Aden,” Honey said. “But Aden admits to attacking them first.”
“S-aa-v-d me,” Charlie said.
Honey nodded. She leaned in again.
“We’ll be strong together,” Honey said.
Charlie’s eyes flicked to where the detectives were standing. The nurse was standing in front of them. She was giving the detectives the ultimatum — upset the boy and they had to leave. The detectives nodded at the nurse as if they’d heard it before. The nurse shook her head at them and stepped aside.
The detective pulled a chair near the bed. Charlie was surprised to see that it was the policeman who’d driven him around when this whole thing started. The detective nodded at Charlie’s recognition.
“Do you remember me?” the detective asked.
Charlie nodded. He glanced at Honey.
“I don’t think he knows your name,” Honey said.
“I didn’t give it.” The detective smiled at Honey. “I’m Reed — Reed Wood. I just made detective.”
The young man grinned at Charlie.
“You may call me ‘Detective,’” he said.
Charlie coughed a kind of laugh, and the detective smiled.
“They assigned me because I drove you around that day,” Detective Wood said. “The day it started. This is my partner, Detective Allan Strauss.”
“Charlie,” Detective Strauss said. He nodded to Charlie. “I knew your dad. Worked with Magic …”
“He means O’Malley,” the apparition of Mitch Delgado, Charlie’s father, appeared next to Charlie’s bed.
“I thought your father was a son-of-a-bitch,” Detective Strauss said. “But I respected him.”
“That’s the truth,” Mitch said.
“If you can, Charlie,” Detective Wood said. “Can you run through what happened?”
Detective Wood held his phone to Charlie’s mouth.
“I’m going to tape it,” Detective Wood said.
“Sammmm,” Charlie said.
Detective Wood looked up at Honey.
“He’s asking for his attorney,” Honey said. “After everything that’s happened, you can imagine why.”
“What …?” Detective Wood started.
“This is exactly what Samantha was afraid of,” Honey said. “She was afraid that Charlie would be injured or murdered simply because he was trying to get these rapists off the streets. You can see why he’d want her help now.”
Detective Wood nodded.
“How ’bout we give her a call?” Detective Strauss said.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Honey said.
The detectives left the small space around Charlie’s bed in the ICU. Charlie sighed with relief.
“They’ll be back,” Honey said.
Charlie closed his eyes and hoped the detectives would never come back.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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