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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY
Saturday afternoon — 5:37 p.m.
Noelle looked up from the book she was reading. Her arm had started to hurt again and it was time for her medication. The medication made her throwup, so she didn’t want to take it. Sandy wasn’t there to convince her to take it. Her dad wasn’t there to get it for her. Delphie wasn’t there either. Even Nash wasn’t there to bully her into taking her pills.
For the first time ever, Noelle was on her own.
Noelle sniffed back a tear and looked down at her novel. She could take her own medication. She could make her own way in the world. Her dad had been only a little older than she was right now when he returned home from school to find his parents gone.
Noelle swallowed hard and nodded to no one. She was on her own now.
The thought, combined with the airplane air, made her feel cold. Pulling the blanket around her, she managed to bump her arm wound. She gasped with pain. Sissy, who was asleep in a chair across the aisle from her, moved in her sleep but didn’t wake up.
“Are you all right?” Seth O’Malley asked.
Noelle nodded. She was more than a little intimidated by this man. Technically, since Sandy had become her mom, he was her grandfather.
“I’m okay, Mr. O’Malley,” Noelle said.
Mostly, he seemed like a scary old man. Noelle swallowed hard. He smiled, and Noelle realized he was actually movie star handsome. She blushed at her thought.
“My arm hurts,” Noelle said.
“I bet it does,” Seth said. He took a pill bottle from his pocket. “I believe you’re due two of these.”
“Oh, are you sure?”
Noelle wasn’t sure why she asked that question. She felt kind of dumb. He smiled.
“I’m sure,” he said. He looked at the bottle. “I bet these are making you sick to your stomach.”
“Makes my stomach hurt,” Noelle nodded.
“I know just the thing,” Seth said.
He walked down the aisle and talked to the woman at the front. She glanced at Noelle and went in the back. In a few minutes, Seth came back with a couple of pieces of buttered toast and a cup of strawberry preserves.
“Try this,” Seth said.
He gave her the toast and a cup of preserves. Noelle smiled because she liked toast and strawberry preserves. She tried to put the preserves on her toast, but her arm ached at the effort. He sat down in the chair in front of her and swiveled around to put the preserves on for her. She took a bite of her toast to try it. Finding it good, she ate quickly.
“Are you hungry?” Seth asked.
“I guess you just got out of the hospital,” Seth said.
“The food there is gross,” Noelle said. “I gave it to my brother.”
At the mention of Nash, an errant tear ran down Noelle’s face. She looked out the window of the plane to steady herself. She looked up when Seth got up. He went to the front and talked to the woman again. She nodded and looked at Noelle. He came back down the aisle.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” Seth said.
“Okay,” Noelle said.
“I hate planes,” Seth said.
“You do?” Noelle asked. She was surprised because she knew he traveled a lot.
“I do,” Seth said.
“But why?” Noelle asked.
“I can’t explain it,” Seth said. “When I was a kid, regular people didn’t fly on planes.”
“You’re not really regular people,” Noelle said.
Embarrassed by her own sassy response, Noelle blushed.
“I’m not,” Seth said. “You’re right.”
“Are you doing this because you’re my grandfather now?” Noelle asked.
“No,” Seth said. “I’m doing this because I know what it’s like to be talented and on your own at a young age.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Noelle said. “My dad was only a little older than me when he was on his own.”
Noelle’s voice cracked on the words “his own.” She looked down to keep from crying.
“I was packaged off to music school when I was ten,” Seth said.
Noelle looked up at him.
“One moment I was fishing at City Park with my brothers and the next, my father was putting me on a non-stop bus,” Seth said. “I had no idea where I was going or why. I cried the entire way to New York. There are parts of that highway that are burned into my memory. I still can’t drive there and not remember being a little guy and on my own.”
“I was at the hospital and then suddenly I’m on this plane!” Noelle said.
“Like me,” Seth said.
Noelle sniffed at her sorrow. He held out his handkerchief and she looked at it.
“What do I do with that?” Noelle asked
“You wipe your tears, blow your nose, and thank me for the handkerchief,” Seth said.
“I’ll get it ooky,” Noelle said.
“That’s what they’re for,” Seth said. “I’ll get it laundered and it will be perfect again.”
“Won’t Maresol complain?” Noelle asked.
“Sure,” Seth smiled. “But not about cleaning a handkerchief.”
“Oh,” Noelle said.
She took the handkerchief and wiped her eyes. She looked at him and he touched his nose. She blew her nose.
“I’m really scared,” Noelle said.
“I’ll bet!” Seth said. “I was so scared I didn’t get up to pee the entire bus trip. In fact, I didn’t want to leave my seat. I was hoping the bus driver wouldn’t notice me there and I could go home.”
“Did he notice you?” Noelle asked.
“He did,” Seth said. “He found me in the back. I think he felt sorry for me because he took me to the bathroom and stayed with me until they came to pick me up.”
“Who came to pick you up?” Noelle asked.
“People from the school,” Seth said. “Sandy’s mom, my advisor, and the school President.”
“The school President?” Noelle asked.
“I’d already sold a piano symphony,” Seth said. “I was kind of a big deal.”
“Why did Andy come?” Noelle asked.
“Sandy’s mom?” Seth asked. “She was supposed to be my peer-mentor. She called me the ‘baby’ and swapped with me for my hunky roommate.”
“Did you love her right away?” Noelle asked.
“No,” Seth said. “She was kind of mean to me.”
“She was?” Noelle couldn’t imagine Sandy ever being mean to anyone. She looked surprised.
“She thought I was just a stupid kid,” Seth said. “Which I was.”
“I’m just a stupid kid,” Noelle said.
“Every kid is,” Seth said. “Goes with the territory.”
“I looked up this school on Nash’s phone and I’m supposed to sleep there,” Noelle said. “In the dorm! With some kid I don’t know!”
“You are,” Seth said. “But you’re not going to.”
“I’m not?” Noelle asked.
“You’re going to stay with Sissy at Bestat’s home,” Seth said.
“I don’t have to stay in a dorm with some kid I don’t know?” Noelle asked.
“No,” Seth said.
“How come?” Noelle asked.
“Because it sucks to be in a dorm room with some older kid,” Seth said.
“It was hard for you?” Noelle asked.
“Actually, my roommate took care of me,” Seth said. “He was a wonderful friend, almost a brother. He had a few younger brothers and sisters, so he knew how just be there for me.”
“Oh,” Noelle looked crestfallen. “Will I miss out on that if I don’t stay in the dorms?”
“I think you’ll be just fine,” Seth laughed.
The woman attendant brought a plate of chicken fingers and mac and cheese for Noelle. Seth helped her get settled. Noelle wolfed down her food.
“Hungry?” Seth asked.
Noelle nodded. Seth raised a finger to the attendant and she brought Noelle, a piece of blackberry pie with a big scoop of ice cream on top.
“Did Sandy make this?” Noelle asked.
“She did,” Seth said.
“It’s my favorite,” Noelle said.
She ate fast while Seth watched.
“Are you going to eat?” Noelle asked.
“I haven’t been in the hospital,” Seth said.
“Will you go with me to school?” Noelle asked.
“I planned to,” Seth said. “I’ll help you get signed in and go with you to your first class.”
“Will you be there when I get out?” Noelle asked.
“I think so,” Seth said.
“Every day?” Noelle asked.
“Do you think you’ll need me to be there every day?” Seth asked.
“No,” Noelle shook her head. “But maybe the first day or two.”
“Why don’t we play it by ear?” Seth asked. “If you need me to stay, I will. If not, I won’t.”
“Is that okay?” Noelle asked. She leaned into Seth. “Sometimes people don’t like me very much.”
“It’s true,” Noelle gave a sincere nod.
“That’s what happens when you have real talent,” Seth said.
“No idea,” Seth blew out a breath.
“Does it happen to you?” Noelle asked.
“Not as much now that I’m an old guy,” Seth said. “But when I was your age, I was the guy to beat. You know, get a better grade than O’Malley and win a beer; write a better song; stuff like that. I wasn’t competitive. I was just some pawn in someone else’s game.”
“Oh,” Noelle nodded. “I know what you mean. Mike says you have to just focus on your art. YOU control your art. YOU make it better or worse. That’s all that matters.”
“That’s what Mike says,” Noelle said.
“Mike and Val will come to check on you in a couple weeks,” Seth said.
“Sissy too?” Noelle asked.
“Sure,” Seth said. “Sissy was ready to go, prepared. Plus, she’s Mitch’s daughter.”
“Sandy’s dad?” Noelle asked.
“My best friend,” Seth said. “He was always in his element when he was meeting new people, new places. Everyone loved Mitch. Sissy is like that. She loves new situations and thrives on challenge. She doesn’t have Mitch’s innate charm, yet.”
“You mean like Charlie’s charisma?” Noelle asked.
“Charisma, sure. Charm the spots off a leopard? That’s Charlie,” Seth said. “I’d bet a year from now, Sissy will have grown into herself and there will be a lot of spotless leopards!”
Noelle smiled at the idea of a spotless leopard. After a moment, her face fell and she shook her head.
“I’m not prepared,” Noelle nodded.
“You’re not,” Seth said. “Frankly, I’m really glad you and Sissy are here together.”
“Because you’ll help each other,” Seth said. “When I was a kid, I had an older brother and a younger brother. We were our own tribe. We helped each other out with everything. My older brother was my hero.”
“Like Nash and Charlie?” Noelle asked.
“Like Nash and Charlie,” Seth said.
“I think I’d like to sleep now,” Noelle said.
“Here are your pills,” Seth said.
“You’ll be here when I wake up?” Noelle asked.
“I will,” Seth said.
“Thanks Grandpa,” Noelle said.
Seth smiled and pulled the blankets up around Noelle. She leaned into her pillow and close her eyes. A moment later, her eyes popped open.
“Is it okay to call you, Grandpa?” Noelle asked.
“If you like,” Seth said. “You can also call me Seth. Most people call me O’Malley.”
“Oh,” Noelle thought for a moment. “I like Grandpa.”
“Then Grandpa it is,” Seth said.
She closed her eyes. While he watched, she relaxed into sleep. He gave her blanket a final tug and went to call Sandy.
Saturday afternoon — 5:47 p.m.
Sandy tapped on Yvonne and Rodney’s front door. Rodney opened the door. He was so tall and big, and Sandy so short and small, that Sandy had to step back to look at him.
“Mr. Smith,” Sandy said and looked down.
“Sandy!” Rodney said. He gave her a bright smile that reminded her of Jabari. “Come in! Get out of the cold.”
“I only have a minute, sir,” Sandy said.
“What’s all this ‘sir’ stuff?” Rodney leaned down to Sandy. “Are you all right?”
“No, sir.” Sandy shook her head. “I’m not all right.”
Rodney wrapped Sandy in his long, muscular arms and held her while she shivered. In his embrace, she began to cry.
“What is it?” Yvonne’s voice came from outside the cocoon of Rodney’s arms.
“She looks like she’s had a terrible fright,” Rodney said.
Sandy felt Yvonne’s cool, small hand on her back. Sandy closed her eyes and let these two life-battle scarred survivors will their strength into her. After a moment, she took a breath and Rodney let go. Yvonne put her arm around Sandy and guided her through the house to the warm kitchen.
“Where’s Jabari?” Sandy asked.
“He’s resting,” Yvonne said. “His schedule is all messed up from being in Atlanta.”
“I was on my way to get him when you knocked,” Rodney said.
“I’m sorry, but I need to speak with Yvonne,” Sandy said. “Alone.”
“I was just going to ask if you’d forgive me for leaving you here,” Rodney smiled. “Jabari likes some guy time after his afternoon nap.”
Rodney raised a hand in goodbye and left the kitchen. Yvonne turned on the tea kettle and Sandy sat down on a bar stool.
“How can I help, Sandy?” Yvonne asked.
“I know it’s not fair to bring this up,” Sandy said. “I know I shouldn’t, and if I was Rodney, I’d be angry and …”
“What is it?” Yvonne shook her head at the flood of Sandy’s words.
“I need you to look at your old journal,” Sandy said. “I know it’s …”
“Okay,” Yvonne said.
“Sure,” Yvonne said. “If I can help, I’m happy to.”
“Oh,” Sandy gave a slight smile. “Thanks.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” Yvonne said. “My memory is better, but not perfect.”
Sandy took the copy of the journal out of her enormous handbag. She glanced at the clock.
“I’m supposed to be meeting with the police at 6:30 p.m.,” Sandy said.
“Well, let’s get to it,” Yvonne smiled.
Sandy started flipping through pages.
“Why are we looking at this?” Yvonne asked without looking at the book. Sandy stopped flipping through pages.
“There were these men,” Sandy said. “Friends of my father’s.”
“Seth?” Yvonne still hadn’t looked down.
“The one who said he was my father,” Sandy said. “Before I knew Seth or my dad.”
“Your monster,” Yvonne said.
“Yes, my monster,” Sandy said. “He’s dead.”
“There’s a good thing,” Yvonne nodded.
Sandy found the page she’d marked with a post-it. For a moment, she stared at the page. She looked up at Yvonne. Taking her look as a call to action, Yvonne came around the counter to stand next to Sandy.
“I’m going to show you a couple pages,” Sandy said.
“What do you need from me?” Yvonne asked.
“I need to know if you know their names,” Sandy said. “Anything about them.”
“I’ll do my best,” Yvonne said.
Sandy opened the page to one man. Yvonne touched the picture she’d drawn and then tapped her chin. She scowled.
“Can I see the others?” Yvonne asked.
Sandy showed her two other pictures. Yvonne nodded.
“I know these men,” Yvonne said. “They are business partners in some financial company, some kind of private bank. Lots of money. They finance a lot of businesses here in Denver.”
Yvonne flipped through the pages. She looked at one and then the other.
“They say they are good Catholics,” Yvonne snorted. “These men are into some kinky shit. You would not believe …”
“I don’t need to believe,” Sandy said. “I know.”
Yvonne tipped her head and gave Sandy a sideways look. For a moment, the two women sized each other up.
“I’m sorry,” Yvonne said at the same time Sandy said, “It must have been horrible for you.”
The women hugged.
“It’s over now,” Yvonne said.
“Not really,” Sandy said. “I just had to send the kids away because some freak is trying to keep them from testifying at this rape trial.”
“It’s not over for everybody,” Yvonne nodded.
“Just for us,” Sandy said.
“I should have figured,” Yvonne nodded. “What can I do?”
“Nothing,” Sandy said. “I’ll take care of this.”
“But you have to go to your meeting with the police,” Yvonne said.
“I could talk to my handsome Homeland Security agent,” Yvonne said.
“He’s in hiding,” Sandy said.
“He’s in danger too!” Yvonne’s face flushed with rage. “How …?”
“They own politicians, agents, police … They get away with it and …” Sandy panted from the rage that squeezed her heart.
“What can I do?” Yvonne asked.
“There was an FBI agent,” Sandy said. “Out of Arizona. Her name is Angela Montiz. She helped me with my mom’s case. I think she’s our best bet.”
“What does Seth say?” Yvonne asked.
“He remembered her name,” Sandy said. “Do you remember these men’s names?”
“Better than that,” Yvonne said.
She went around the corner to a closet where the trash and recycling were stored. She knelt down and flipped through the stack of old newspapers. Pulling the Business section from the Denver Post, she stood up.
“This is an article about them,” Yvonne said.
Yvonne put the newspaper on the counter. Yvonne and Sandy put their heads together as they leaned over the paper.
“That’s them,” Sandy said as an out breath.
“They are evil,” Yvonne said. “What can I do?”
“Seth is supposed to be getting me Agent Montiz’s home address,” Sandy said.
“How can he do that?”
“He has connections almost everywhere,” Sandy said. “We need to get this information to her.”
“Tonight?” Yvonne asked.
“As soon as we can,” Sandy said. “I can’t go tonight. I have to meet with the police and check on Charlie and …”
“I’ll go,” Yvonne said.
“What about Jabari?” Sandy asked.
“What about him?” Yvonne asked. “I’ll call my friend Dionne. We’ll head to Arizona tonight and the men can have a boys’ night.”
“You’re sure?” Sandy asked.
“I’m more than sure,” Yvonne said. “I know stuff about these men that would …”
“Me too,” Sandy said. “If we stop them now …”
“They can’t set up again,” Yvonne nodded. “Good thinking.”
“I have to go,” Sandy said. “I’m going to keep your book, if that’s okay.”
“No bother,” Yvonne said. “I have a copy.”
Yvonne jogged out of the kitchen. Sandy heard her moving around, she came back with another copy. Together, they found the right pages. Yvonne turned down the pages.
“What about telling Alex Hargreaves?” Yvonne asked. “She’s been taking care of a lot of this.”
“Her hands are tied,” Sandy said. “Colin is her brother.”
Sandy looked at the clock.
“I have to go!” Sandy said.
She jumped off the stool and stuffed her copy of the journal into her bag.
“You’re sure?” Sandy asked.
“I’m almost already there!” Yvonne said.
Yvonne walked Sandy to the door, and Sandy ran out to her car. Yvonne dialed her cell phone.
“Hey Dionne,” Yvonne said. “You want to go on an adventure with me?”
Saturday afternoon — 11:07 p.m.
Sound asleep, Jacob felt the air in their bedroom change. Jacob opened his eyes.
“Brother,” Fin’s voice came from the end of the bed.
“What is it?” Jill sat up in bed.
Jill turned on the bedside lamp. Fin was on one knee with his head down. He was breathing hard. His shirt was wet with blood.
“Fin?” Jacob asked.
“I need your help,” Fin said to Jacob.
“What’s happening?” Jill asked.
“The curse is not lifted,” Fin said. “At least for me.”
“She’s carrying our son,” Fin said. “She’s dying. Our healers say the curse hasn’t lifted for her.”
Their bedroom door opened and Keenan was standing in the doorway.
“You will need me there,” Keenan said.
“Jacob?” Fin asked. “The healers said we need you and the Oracle.”
“Keenan?” Delphie whispered. She put her hands on his shoulders. “What are you doing here?”
Her eyes took in Fin.
“What’s going on?” Delphie asked.
“The curse hasn’t lifted for me, for Abi,” Fin said. “Please.”
Jacob looked at Jill.
“Go,” Jill said. “We’ll be fine.”
“Go,” Jill said.
Jacob jumped out of bed and started to get dressed.
“I am going, mother,” Keenan said. “It is my curse that lingers. He will need me before it’s over.”
“The healers say that need the Oracle too,” Fin said.
“I just need to change,” Delphie looked at Jacob and then back at Fin. “How bad is it?”
“The kingdom is rotting from the inside,” Fin said. “We have been here so we haven’t been affected.”
“Yet,” Delphie whispered.
“Yes,” Fin said.
Delphie gave a curt nod. Jacob closed the door to the bathroom.
“Come on, Keenan,” Delphie said. “Let’s get dressed.”
Delphie and Keenan rushed out of the room. Fin fell to all fours to catch his breath. Jill got out of bed and knelt down to him.
“Show me,” Jill said.
Fin turned his hand over and the events on the Isle of Man unfolded. He brought Abi there. The healers stemming the flow of blood only to have it rip open again. Over and over again, Abi was healed and injured until she started to lose her life force. Fin’s desperate eyes looked up at her.
“I can’t leave the boys,” Jill said. “They are too young for curses and evil jealousies, too young to be without me.”
“But Katy?” Fin asked.
“No,” Jill said.
“We will not succeed without her,” Fin said. “We need a Titan.”
Jill closed her eyes to his desperation and pain.
“Please,” he whispered.
Jill gave him a long look before she sighed.
“Father,” Jill said in a soft voice. “I need you here.”
Perses appeared in her room. He lifted her to her feet with one arm and brandished a sword at Fin with the other. Fin dropped his head in submission.
“What have you done?” Perses asked. “Confess now and I might spare you.”
“No,” Jill said.
Perses looked at her.
“He’s still affected by the curse,” Jill said. Perses set her down. “He needs a Titan. I can’t go because of the babies. He could use Katy, but …”
“I cannot ask for a child,” Fin said. “I would never ask for a child.”
“And your husband?” Perses gestured toward the bathroom.
“He and Delphie are going,” Jill said. “Keenan too.”
Perses nodded. As if by magic, Jacob appeared from the bathroom at the same moment, Delphie and Keenan were standing at the door.
“What are you…?” Jacob started.
Perses nodded and they disappeared. The room was absolutely silent. Jill knelt down to touched a drop of blood on the carpet.
“It’s starting again,” Jill whispered.
Denver Cereal continues again…
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