Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Ten : Shield

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND TEN

Wednesday afternoon — 2:40 p.m.

“Charlie.”

Charlie opened his eyes and looked into Samantha Hargreaves’ baby blue eyes. She was so lovely that he tried to smile like he’d always done. He managed a groan, and she smiled. Her body was physically close enough for him to tell that she was in early labor.

“Baby,” Charlie said.

“That’s why I wasn’t here earlier,” Samantha said. “Let’s get this done so I can have the baby.”

“’Sok,” Charlie said. “You can …”

“Not a chance,” Samantha said.

Samantha kissed his cheek. She flipped around to face someone standing further away from the bed. Charlie felt someone pick up his hand. He found Aden sitting on the other side of him.

“Do what you can,” Aden said with a nod.

Aden’s eyes were kind. Charlie felt relieved that Aden didn’t think he had to fix everything. Charlie looked away from Aden as the men came close to the bed again.

“Gentlemen, you have this single chance to speak with my client,” Samantha said. “Otherwise, you will have to wait at least another week.”

“Can you tell us what happened, Charlie?” the once uniformed police officer now a police detective, Detective Wood asked.

“I stayed late and …” Charlie licked his lips.

“Did you hear what he said?” Aden asked.

Detective Wood shook his head. Charlie saw the detective’s phone come close to Charlie’s mouth.

“If you can repeat that,” Detective Wood said.

“Stayed late,” Charlie said in what he thought was a louder voice.

He glanced at Aden, who looked at the Detective. The detective shook his head.

“Okay gentlemen …” Samantha started.

“We have you on the traffic cams,” Detective Strauss said. His voice was forceful and loud. He looked down at a notepad in his hands. “We can see you walking up 15th Street. Why did you stop at Glenarm?”

“Tink,” Charlie said. “I wanted … something … Tink.”

“Charlie’s girlfriend, Tink, has been having a rough time,” Aden said. “He had permission to get her something at the Pavilions on his way home.”

“They would have been closed at that time,” Detective Strauss said.

Charlie tried to nod. The detective looked confused.

“Is that why you didn’t go in?” Detective Wood asked.

Charlie tried to nod again.

“Went …” Charlie tried to lift his hand to show that he went on. His movement came with a jolt of pain and Charlie cried out.

“It’s okay,” Aden squeezed Charlie’s hand.

“We have you and the suspects on the traffic cam just after you leave that girl …”

“Sofff …” Charlie said.

“Right Sophia, the waitress,” Detective Strauss said. “She your girl?”

Charlie gave a slight shake of his head.

“You want her to be your girl?” Detective Strauss asked.

Charlie gave a slight shake of his head.

“Good,” Detective Strauss said. “That’s what she says too.”

Charlie tried to nod again but couldn’t. He realized he was wearing a neck brace.

“You run into some guys after you leave the girl,” Detective Wood said. “Do you remember?”

Charlie gave a slight shake of his head.

“They say you called them names,” Detective Strauss said. “Told them you were going to kick their asses and arranged to meet them in the park.”

Charlie looked confused. He glanced at Samantha.

“The assailants claim that you provoked them,” Samantha said. “My brother found a tape of the incident from a surveillance camera in the parking. You were looking in your backpack?”

“Hat,” Charlie said. “Gloves. Cold. Sandy …”

The sounds of his sister’s name brought a wave of sorrow. Charlie sputtered.

“Felt loved,” Charlie said as tears fell down his face. “Sandy … put gloves … hat … in bag … for me to find. Not angry, loved.”

“You claim you didn’t provoke them,” Detective Strauss said.

“No,” Charlie said. Tears continued to flood from his eyes. He felt the gauze on his face get wet. “No.”

“We’ve spoken with the bellman at the Hyatt Regency,” Samantha said. “He’s willing to testify to the fact that he saw the men come up behind you. He thought they were going to rob you. He also said you didn’t seem to notice them. We’re of the opinion that they were trying to be certain of your identity before they attacked.”

Charlie couldn’t seem to stop crying. He heard Samantha’s words but he couldn’t understand why anyone would think he started the fight.

“Why did you take off running at the parking structure?” Detective Wood asked.

“Bat,” Charlie said.

“The men say you provoked them and then ran off,” Detective Strauss said. “They figured you were going to rob them in some dark area.”

“Bat,” Charlie said. “Tackle in park.”

“What?” Detective Strauss asked.

“He said ‘Tackle in park,’” Aden said.

“Tackled,” Charlie said. “Me.”

“Do you have that tape?” Detective Strauss asked Samantha.

“For the park?” Samantha asked. “Not yet. As you know the video surveillance for the parking garage was disabled, as were the lights.”

“They say the kid did that,” Detective Strauss said.

“Me?” Charlie started to sob. “Me?”

“Okay,” Aden stood up. “That’s enough.”

“Just one more thing,” Detective Strauss gave Aden the evil eye. Aden shook his head. “Did you plan with your step-dad to beat up these guys? A little vendetta.”

“No!” Charlie spit out. “No! They beat me, were going to kill ME. I …”

The monitors started to scream. Charlie tried to say something else, but nothing came out. Charlie heard the sound of running feet.

Aden came into his view. Aden’s mouth was moving. What was he saying? Charlie couldn’t hear him. He couldn’t hear anything.

Suddenly, the sound came back.

“Love you Charlie,” Aden said.

Samantha Hargreaves came into his view. She gave him a beautiful smile.

Charlie tried to smile back, but everything went black.

Charlie was terrified of the dark. He tried to say something and no words came out. He tried to move and nothing happened. He was trapped in the pitch black silence.

The warm love that he’d felt since being on 15th Street was gone. Just gone. It had completely evaporated in the face of the detective’s belief that Charlie was responsible for the beating he’d received.

Defeat overwhelmed him.

Everyone believed that Charlie had caused everything. He’d made the boys rape those girls. He’d made their brothers beat him to death. He’d made his mother lose her mind. He’d killed his father. He’d caused his sister to starve herself almost to death. He’d gotten Noelle beaten up and Nash …

It was all his fault.

All of it!

The dark seeped into his mind. His veins filled with shadow until his heart pumped only darkness. The night clung to his skin.

Charlie Delgado was in the dark without his shield of love.

Alone.

Without warning, he was walking along the Cherry Creek Path. The river was placid and the day warm. The sunlight was glorious and golden. The dark was no match for the simple beauty of this day and this place. Charlie shook himself like a dog. He let out a breath and watched the grey hopelessness leave his lungs.

His father appeared and grabbed Charlie in a tight hug. Mitch only let go after the last of the dark slipped away. Charlie looked into Mitch’s face, and his father grinned. They started walking along the path. Charlie closed his eyes to soak up the golden light.

“I always knew that Strauss was an asshole,” Mitch said.

Charlie tried to speak, but he wasn’t able to.

“I’m going to seriously haunt that asshole,” Mitch said. “Totally going poltergeist on his ass.”

Charlie laughed.

Wham!

Charlie was back in the ICU. He felt someone holding his hand. He looked up and saw Aden standing next to the bed. Aden smiled at him. He leaned down and kissed Charlie’s face.

“Welcome back,” Aden whispered.

Charlie heard Samantha Hargreaves yelling at the detectives. He felt someone touch him and saw the familiar face of Dr. John Drayson. Charlie’s eyes flicked to Samantha.

“She can be very mean,” John said in his clipped London accent. “Especially to the slow of mind. They’ll be lucky to leave with their bits intact.”

John nodded to Charlie while his gloved hands were working fast on something near Charlie’s chest. John looked up to the nurse and said something Charlie missed.

“Looks like you’ve sprung a leak, my lad,” John said. “Lucky for you, one mean Hargreaves leads to one very nice Kelly.”

A woman with a familiar voice said something, and John laughed.

“We’re all here for the big arrival.” John wiggled his eyebrows to indicate Samantha’s baby. “She was set up in a posh birthing facility — foot massage, facial, back rubs, the works. But when Sami heard you needed her …”

John turned his head to where Samantha Hargreaves was still yelling at the detectives. Charlie knew that John was talking to keep him awake, but he listened anyway. Charlie liked John’s accent and the intimate, let-me-tell-you-a-secret way he was talking.

“She came straight away,” John said. “Imagine our surprise to find her gone! The rest of us had to follow her bread crumbs. When we got here, Alex and I wandered around looking for something to do. So you see, you’ve done me and the wife a huge favor by giving me something to do!”

The woman with the familiar voice said something that sounded funny. Charlie tried to look. John laughed and dug around in Charlie’s bandages for a few minutes. Charlie noticed a simple ball chain hanging on John’s neck. Charlie reached out to touch it.

“It’s Alex’s identification tag,” John said.

If Charlie hadn’t been so ill, he’d have felt embarrassed for invading John’s privacy. But at this moment, the idea that this man wore his beloved wife’s tag around his neck made Charlie feel somewhat safer.

Love did exist in the world, even if Charlie didn’t feel right now. John gave him a kind smile.

“We’re going to put you to sleep for a while,” John said. “When you wake up, with any luck, you’ll be leak free and stronger. We may even have a baby by then.”

John leaned in very close to Charlie.

“Just rest for now,” John said. He looked up to someone and nodded. “You must know one fact more than anything…”

Charlie’s eyes focused in on John’s eyes. Charlie had never seen such incredibly blue eyes. The blue of John’s eyes went on and on. For a moment, their eyes locked.

“You are loved,” John said.

“Loved,” Charlie repeated.

He was asleep.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday afternoon — 3:45 p.m.

Sissy sat in a chair in the hallway and cried. When the moment had come for her to decide which ballet company to go to, the only thing she could think about was Charlie.

“Don’t ruin your future over something that’s happening today,” one woman from the ballet company in Chicago said.

Sissy had nodded to the woman, but her words hadn’t changed Sissy’s mind. Charlie had died in the ICU today. He was brought back by some magic and was in surgery right now. What future mattered more than today’s awful reality?

The lady hadn’t liked it when she’d asked that.

“You’ll regret this day for a very long time,” a man from California said. “We may not have an opening next year.”

Sissy had nodded at his words. She might not have a brother next year, so she understood that sense of questioning the future. She’d said that and the man gave her a mean look. She glanced at Ivan.

Ivan was furious. He’d taken her arm and marched her out to the hallway. She’d waited to start crying until he went back inside. Her flood of tears came the moment the door closed behind him.

Her future was over.

Her brother was almost dead.

For the first time in her life, she felt like her very existence was a waste. If she could, she would wish every bit of her life in to her brother. Why did it matter where she went to dance? The only thing that mattered was Charlie. He was her big brother, her friend, and … he was Charlie!

Sissy fell forward and cried into her hands. A few minutes later, she felt a small, strong hand on her back. She glanced at the person. It was the elderly woman from this morning’s interviews. The woman had deep wrinkles in her translucent white skin. Her hair was white, but her body was muscular and strong. Sissy thought she was incredibly beautiful.

The woman had said that she’d come to the interviews to see Seth. She had flirted mercilessly with Seth, which Seth handled with great ease. Seth had left them to have lunch with the woman.

When Sissy looked up, the woman put her arm around Sissy as if to shield her from a cold wind.

“I’m not going to tell you not to be sad, child,” the woman said. “I have no comfort to offer.”

Nodding, Sissy tried to wipe away the flood running down her face. The woman smiled at her effort.

“This is life, Sissy,” the woman said. “Sad and beautiful. Hard and breathtaking. You’re living life right now, and, while I’m sure you don’t want to hear it, you will be a better dancer for it.”

“Why?” Sissy was embarrassed by her own sorrow filled voice.

“Because the dance is about sorrow and joy,” the woman said. “These dances were intended to tell stories, to convey emotions. If you’ve never felt sorrow, how will you convey the desperate sorrow of the dance?”

Sissy nodded.

“You will bring all of this — sorrow, joy, happiness, laughter, fear — to your dance,” the woman said. “And we will all be the better for it. That’s why you feel it so strongly. You are feeling it for all of us.”

Sissy didn’t know what to say. She looked at the woman’s beautiful face. Noticing Sissy’s look, the woman gave her a kind smile.

“My brother is dying,” Sissy said.

“He may die,” the woman said in a matter of fact way. “Today or ten years from now. It’s also possible that you will die before he does. We don’t know. That’s what life is.”

“I have to live today, not tomorrow,” Sissy nodded.

“Yes you do,” the woman smiled. “All the while, you’re preparing for tomorrow. What tomorrow are you preparing for right now, Sissy?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Sissy said.

The woman gave Sissy another kind smile. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Sissy’s overwhelming feelings faded while she thought about the question.

“Do you?” Sissy asked.

“I think you’re preparing for dealing with creative directors of ballet companies,” the woman chuckled.

“How so?” Sissy asked the question that Aden always asked when he wanted more information.

“Because you’re saying, ‘I’m real. I exist. I have feelings and thoughts. I’m not a paper doll you can exploit.’” The woman nodded. “I’d bet they didn’t like that much.”

“No,” Sissy shook her head. “Ivan got really angry.”

“I’m sure he did,” the woman said. “Ivan is no fool. He will not allow his prize student to be treated like a puppet.”

Sissy didn’t know what to say. She glanced at the woman again and went back to staring at the carpet. After a few minutes, she glanced at the woman.

“You’re saying it’s a good thing that I got upset?” Sissy asked.

“I’m saying that you are amazing to be able to hold your own in the face of the Kings and Queens of the ballet,” the woman said. “Most girls would just do whatever they were told to do. You didn’t do that.”

“They were kind of mean,” Sissy said.

“Did that stop you from turning them down?” the woman asked. “I assume you turned them down.”

“Just until I knew about Charlie,” Sissy said. “Just until this evening when Charlie’s out of surgery and …”

The woman smiled.

“They don’t like to wait,” the woman said.

Sissy nodded.

“I’d rather never dance again than have Charlie die,” Sissy said. “It would kill my sisters and …”

“Of course.” The woman gave Sissy a broad smile.

Under the woman’s knowing smile, Sissy felt her sorrow and hopelessness lift. This woman seemed to really understand her. They sat together for a few more minutes before Ivan came out of the room. Seeing Sissy with the woman, Ivan gaped.

“Would you be troubled if she came to dance with us?” the woman asked Ivan.

“It would be a great honor, but …” Ivan started.

“There’s the matter of the brother,” the woman said.

“Sissy won’t …”

“Yes, yes,” the woman said. “We’re in no hurry. Get back to me by the end of the week or next month. We’ll set it up. I assume she’ll stay at Seth’s place?”

“Yes ma’am,” Ivan said.

The woman leaned over and kissed Sissy’s cheek.

“We’ll talk soon,” the woman said.

The woman smiled at Ivan. Before he could say anything else, the woman got up and went into the room. Ivan sat down in the chair she’d vacated.

“What just happened?” Sissy asked.

“You were hired by your first ballet company,” Ivan said.

“Where?”

“American Ballet Company,” Ivan said. “New York.”

“Seth’s place?” Sissy asked.

“Seth has an apartment in Greenwich. He just bought it back from Jeraine,” Ivan said. “She was asking if you could afford to live in New York on their pittance of an apprentice salary. Of course, you can. You will live at Seth’s home. He will continue as your patron.”

“Is that bad?” Sissy asked. She leaned in so no one would hear her. “Did horse teeth get more money?”

“Much more money,” Ivan said. “Not so great company. What do you care about money? You have Seth. Plus, you’ll catch up soon.”

Ivan nodded.

“Are you coming with me?” Sissy asked.

“They will hire me,” Ivan said.

“How do you know?” Sissy asked.

“They will.” Ivan shrugged. Sissy imitated his shrug. He smiled and stood up.

“Come,” Ivan said. “Let’s go see Charlie.”

“He’s in surgery,” Sissy said.

“He got out,” Ivan said. “They call when I was in there.”

“And?” Sissy stood up. “How is he?”

“Good,” Ivan said. “Sandy say he has color in his face for first time since beating.”

Ivan nodded.

“This is good,” Ivan said.

Sissy stared at the floor for a moment.

“Come along, little ballerina,” Ivan said.

Sissy looked up at him and smiled.

“What?” Ivan asked.

“It all worked out,” Sissy said.

Ivan smiled. They left for the hospital.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday evening — 5:35 p.m.

Jabari woke up the moment Jeraine’s car stopped in front of Rodney and Yvonne’s house. Groggy from the plane ride and his illness, Jabari fumbled with his car seat and finally waited for his dad. While Jeraine unhooked the straps on the car seat, Yvonne went ahead into the house with Dionne and Bumpy. Jeraine lifted the boy and the elephant Toto out of the car.

“Are you excited?” Jeraine asked.

Jabari nodded his head. Jeraine kissed his son’s forehead.

“When do I get to move home?” Jabari asked.

“Well, there’s a big mess, of course,” Jeraine said. “Our lawyers were able to get the court to agree to let you come back here. We’ll work the rest out over the next few days.”

“Okay,” Jabari said. “I like it here with Ms. Yvonne.”

“I know you do,” Jeraine said. “I think we’re pretty lucky to have them to help us.”

“They’re family,” Jabari said. “My mommy’s mommy and daddy.”

Jeraine smiled. He got to the door and hesitated for just a second. He looked down at Jabari and flipped the door open.

“SURPRISE!!”

The room was full of people wearing eye patches over their left eyes. Everyone was smiling at Jabari. Sandy, Tanesha’s friend, kissed Jabari’s cheek when Jeraine passed. Most of the big kids and the little kids that Jabari had played with were there. Dionne and Bumpy were standing with Yvonne and Rodney. Rodney took Jabari out of Jeraine’s arms and hugged him tight.

“Love you, Jabari,” Rodney said in Jabari’s ear, and the boy grabbed onto the big man. After a few minutes, Rodney gave Jabari back to Jeraine.

Abi, the fairy from his hospital room, was trying to look normal over in a corner with a man Jabari had never met. Jabari waved and she smiled. There were even people there that Jabari didn’t know.

“Welcome home, son,” Jeraine said.

Jabari held his arms out to the crowd and Tanesha appeared. She lifted him from Jeraine’s arms.

And finally, Jabari knew the scary ordeal was over. He was home.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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