Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Three Hundred and Fifty-seven: Why are you here?

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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-SEVEN

Friday early morning — 2:12 a.m.
New York City, New York

Sissy awoke with a start as a wave of pain came over her. She automatically looked to the couch where Sandy had been sleeping, and glanced at the chair where Delphie had sat. For the first time since she was admitted to the hospital, Sandy and Delphie weren’t there. Abi was gone, too. The doctor had said that in order for Sissy to be released early, she would have to make it through a night alone. After all, if she couldn’t make it through the night alone in the hospital where she had twenty-four hour care, how would she make it at home?

Sissy was determined to get out of this hospital. She stared straight ahead. Counting the holes in the sound tile above, she tried to figure out why she wanted out so badly. Leaving the hospital meant she was leaving New York. Leaving New York meant leaving her dream of being an apprentice ballerina. Sissy heard her door open and close. She pressed the button on the bed so she could see.

“Don’t,” Ivan said. “You need to be flat.”

In typical Ivan fashion, he took the control from her and laid her flat. She touched his hand.

“I’d rather see you,” she said in a low tone.

His eyes flicked to her face.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

As if it was working out the question, his left eyebrow moved up and down.

“I…” he stared. He set the bed control down. He gave her a slight smile. “I’m sorry. I treat you like a child.”

“You do,” Sissy said almost as a sigh. “I’ve been a child most of the time you’ve known me.”

Ivan eyes scanned her face.

“And you are not a child anymore?” Ivan asked.

Sissy looked away from him. Unsure of what to do, Ivan watched her face.

“I don’t feel like a child,” Sissy said after a few minutes. “I… remember dying — being outside of my body and my dad… Delphie and Abi have done these… shows of your life.”

“My life?” Ivan asked.

“Some of it.” Sissy made a small nod. “I’ve known you my whole life and I don’t know you at all.”

“Big mysterious Ivan,” he grinned. “I am, at my very heart, completely boring.”

She smiled.

“I… I feel like I used to see things as they related to me,” Sissy said. “Now, I’m starting to see bigger things. I’m starting to understand the world outside of me. You, me… I mean, for all the times I thought about dying, tried to kill myself, and…”

Sissy shook her head with such fervor that she gasped in pain. She panted for a moment before her eyes returned to him.

“I don’t want to die,” Sissy said.

“I’m glad,” Ivan said.

“I want…” Sissy’s eyes flicked to his face and she stopped talking.

They looked at each other for a while. Sissy looked away first.

“Are you coming to Denver?” Sissy asked.

“I cannot,” Ivan said.

As if she was in pain, Sissy gasped. Tears fell down her face. As he’d always done, Ivan grabbed her hand to stabilize her.

“Why?” Sissy whispered.

“I took a contract that would ensure I would be able stay here with you,” Ivan said. “It never occurred to me that they would dismiss you and…”

“Kate,” Sissy said.

“How did you know that?” Ivan asked. “Did Delphie… They were not supposed to tell you anything.”

“It sounds like her,” Sissy said. “She hates me.”

Sissy’s eyes flicked to his face.

“I’ve always known that Kate hated me,” she said after a moment.

“She has married well and is on the board of many ballet companies,” Ivan scowled.

“Is that why no one would take me as an apprentice?” Sissy asked.

“Da,” Ivan said.

“I knew it didn’t have anything to do with Charlie.” Sissy looked away from him.

“Charlie? Your brother?” Ivan shook his head. “No. It was Katia.”

“Just as well,” Sissy said. Tears rolled down her face. “I’ll never dance again.”

“Sissy,” Ivan said.

“No one will say it,” Sissy said. “But I see it on their faces. I’ll never dance again and you…”

She started to cry outright. Unsure of what to do, Ivan glanced at the door before bending over the bed to wrap her in his long arms. Sissy pressed her face into his shoulder.

“There is no certainty,” Ivan said in Russian.

“What?” Sissy pulled back to look at him.

“There is no certainty,” he said in Russian. “We don’t know that you won’t dance again.”

“I don’t speak Russian.” Sissy shook her head.

“Why is that?” Ivan said in English and smiled. “It is the language of the Gods.”

“Greek.” Sissy sniffed at her tears. She dabbed her eyes with the edge of her sheet. “Hebrew.”

“Yes, this is true,” Ivan laughed. “Greek and Hebrew are the languages of the Gods.”

Ivan scanned her face and she gave him a watery smile.

“Will you tell me what you said?” Sissy asked. “Please.”

He looked into her tear strained face.

“I said that we don’t know,” Ivan said with a shrug. “We don’t know if you will dance again and we don’t know that you won’t. Even the Oracle will not hazard a guess. But I…”

He smiled at her and set her down onto the bed.

“I know you,” Ivan said. “If you wish to dance again, you will dance again.”

“Not without you,” Sissy said. “I’ve only ever danced my best when you were with me.”

“Not true,” he said. “You were a spectacular Irish dancer.”

“How do you know about that?” Sissy asked.

Ivan grinned.

“You saw me Irish dance?” Sissy asked. “I thought you were in New York!”

“There are planes,” Ivan said.

“Will you come to Denver to help me dance?” Sissy asked.

“Nothing could keep me away,” Ivan said. “Two days a week and holidays. When you are ready, we will work. Your sister has asked if I will help Charlie too.”

Ivan nodded.

“Would be my pleasure,” Ivan said.

“Oh,” Sissy said. She stared at the ceiling for a moment.

“What is it?” Ivan asked.

“I…” Sissy sighed and looked back at him. “You’ll be here. With Nadia.”

“Nadia?” Ivan asked.

“And I’ll…” Sissy said. “I don’t know if I can…”

She felt a flash of irritation with herself.

“Why are you here?” Sissy asked again.

“I came to ask you…” Ivan stumbled. His words seemed to get stuck in his throat. “Would you… I mean, I would understand if you didn’t, of course, but I thought I should at least ask…”

Sissy turned her head to look at him. She’d always known him to be sure of himself. Tonight, he seemed almost frightened.

“What is it?” Sissy asked.

“I wondered if you could ever see me as anything other than your teacher,” Ivan said.

“What do you mean?” Sissy asked.

“I wondered if you might want to explore a different kind of relationship,” Ivan said.

“I love you.” Sissy felt the words burst out of her. “I’ve always loved you.”

“You have?” Ivan asked.

“Yes,” Sissy said. “But you had Kate and Nadia and Lisa and Yolanda and Camille and Kathleen and Maria and the other Mary and Terry and Janet and Diana and Liz and Adele and Jen and Jenni with an ‘i’ and Jennifer and…”

Sissy stopped to catch her breath.

“A whole bunch more,” Sissy said. “That awful Sabrina just the other day.”

She looked at Ivan and he gave her a sheepish grin.

“What did you mean a ‘different kind of relationship’?” Sissy asked.

“More romantic,” Ivan said. “Less teacher and student.”

“Why?” Sissy asked. “You have all of those…”

“I have always loved you, as well,” Ivan said. “Always.”

“No,” Sissy shook her head.

“It is true,” Ivan said. “Always.”

“You’re so formal with me,” Sissy said. “Mean. Controlling.”

“I am trying to…” Ivan said. “I don’t know. I want you to…”

Ivan shrugged.

“I don’t want to be the old guy who takes advantage of the young, naïve girl,” Ivan said. “I wanted you to grow up free of the burden of my… want for you.”

“You don’t want to be the pervert,” Sissy said.

“Yes,” Ivan said. “They called me a ‘pervert’ at your first eating disorder treatment. That is why your mother sent me away.”

“My mother sent you away so she could pocket the money for your lessons,” Sissy said in a wry voice.

“Oh?” Ivan asked. “That is why?”

Sissy nodded. He reached for her hand again.

“Did you starve yourself to be perfect for me?” Ivan asked.

“For you?” Sissy burst out laughing. Imitating his voice, she said, “Ballerinas must eat for strength.”

He grinned at her imitation. For a moment, they smiled at each other. Ivan’s smile fell and sorrow filled his face.

“Why, then?” Ivan asked.

“I…” Sissy shrugged. “Sandy found a book that says that starving creates a kind of insanity which supports starving. Once I was in the starving zone, the mental illness took over.”

“But how…?”

“My life was… bad,” Sissy said. “I was scared all the time that Charlie was dead or that mom would disappear. Sandy and Mom were in a fight. If I talked to Sandy, I betrayed Mom. If I didn’t talk to Sandy, I betrayed Sandy. I wanted to make everything right. I felt like it was my job to make everything right. But I couldn’t tell anyone what was going on — at home or inside me — so nothing changed.”

“You couldn’t tell even me?”

Sissy shook her head.

“I cannot have the… silence,” Ivan said. “If you… and me… you must tell me. If we are together, we take on the good and the bad of our lives together. Can you promise?”

“I promise,” Sissy said with a nod. “But…”

“But?”

“I think we should date,” Sissy said.

“Not get married tomorrow?” Ivan grinned.

“Are you asking me…?” Sissy flushed. Her hands went to cover her mouth.

“Nothing would make me happier,” Ivan said. “So you know, I have spoken with your sister, Seth O’Malley, Ms. Behur, and…”

“You have?”

Ivan nodded.

“What did they say?” Sissy asked.

“It’s about time,” Ivan said with a shrug.

“That’s what they said?” Sissy asked.

Ivan nodded.

“I will speak with your brother and Sandy’s husband when I am in Denver next,” Ivan said.

“Wow,” Sissy said.

“I am thorough,” Ivan said.

Sissy nodded and he smiled.

“I didn’t know you felt…” Ivan said. “I couldn’t have hoped…”

Sissy smiled. He took her hand and kissed the back of it.

“Would it be okay if we just try it for a while?” Sissy asked. “You know, go really slow? You’ve been the most important person in my life. I don’t want to lose that because we couldn’t make it work.

“Of course,” Ivan said. “I thought you should have boyfriends, go to dances, and enjoy your young life before being saddled with me, but Nadia said I was being stupid.”

“That is stupid,” Sissy said.

“Why?”

“My teacher, Ivan, always said…” Sissy shifted her voice to imitate him again. “Once you know what you want, you should go after it with all your might. If you go halfway, you waste all the effort and get nowhere.”

“Okay, okay,” Ivan said as she laughed.

“Will you and Nadia…?” Sissy wasn’t sure how to ask the question.

“Nadia shares my apartment,” Ivan said. “She has no mind for a home and would sleep on the street if she didn’t live with me.”

“Oh,” Sissy’s disappointment was palpable.

“We do not share a bed,” Ivan said. “Not since before I went back to Denver to dance with you. She has her own rooms. I have mine. We are family.”

“I wouldn’t like it if you had other girls,” Sissy said. “Do you… need to?”

“No,” Ivan grinned at her. He raised his eyebrows at her. “You?”

“No.” Sissy laughed.

Overwhelmed, Sissy stared at the ceiling. Ivan was silent. After a few minutes, she glanced at him. He smiled at her.

“You’re quiet,” Sissy said.

“My dreams are coming true,” Ivan said. “Have a little respect.”

Sissy grinned at him.

“Should we kiss to seal the deal?” Sissy asked.

His lips were on hers. Sissy felt she’d stuck her finger in a light socket. Every cell in her body woke up at the same time. Her heart pounded in her chest and on the monitor. He stopped kissing her to look at the machine.

“How embarrassing,” Sissy said.

He grabbed her hand and pressed it to his heart. His heart was beating fast too. At that moment, the nurse came in.

“I wondered what made our girl’s heart go pitter pat,” the nurse said with a smile.

“He’s…”

“Your sister told me,” the nurse said. “You know, there’s space if you want to get in bed with her.”

“I…” Ivan looked embarrassed.

“No hanky panky,” the nurse said.

Ivan looked at Sissy and she nodded.

“No,” Ivan said. “We agreed to go slow. We will go slow.”

Sissy watched him closely.

“I am not going to blow this now,” Ivan said with a smile. He turned to the nurse, “May I sit right here?”

“Of course,” the nurse said.

Ivan took a seat near the bed. With the nurse hovering close, Sissy felt like a stupid idiot. But when he took her hand, she was sure that she was exactly where she belonged. He kissed her again.

Her heart went crazy.

“You probably have to stop that,” the nurse said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Ivan said.

“No one will know you’re here if I wake you when I leave,” the nurse said.

“Thank you,” Ivan said.

The nurse nodded to him and left the room.

“Is it okay?” Ivan asked.

“It’s awesome,” Sissy said.

“I love you, Sissy,” Ivan said.

When she didn’t respond, he leaned over to look at her. She was sound asleep with a wide smile on her face. Chuckling, he sat down and closed his eyes.

~~~~~~~

Friday early morning — 2:12 a.m.
Denver, Colorado

“Hello?”

Valerie yelled from the front door of the Marlowe School. Hearing nothing, she grinned to herself. She’d waited through dinner and a whole bunch of ridiculousness and even long after Mike was asleep, to sneak out. She glanced down at where Jackie was sleeping against her in a tight sling.

“I’m going to find out what they were hiding,” Valerie said out loud.

She started out at an even pace, but found that the dark silence of the new school made her uncomfortable. She reduced her walking speed and carefully placed her feet. Silently, she made her way to the kitchen where she’d been when Jacob had arrived to escort her from the building.

She stopped at the door to listen. The entire building was silent. Smiling to herself, she peeked into the kitchen to see if she’d missed anything. Everything was still. She let the kitchen door swing closed and continued her quiet walk down the hallway.

She turned the corner and stopped short. A translucent woman floated in the middle of the hallway. Valerie blinked. She remembered that Jacob has said that a ghost still lived in the old house.

But Valerie had never seen a ghost.

“Hello?” Valerie whispered.

The ghost pointed in a manner that Valerie thought looked like Jacob Marley in the 1938 version of the “Christmas Carol”, her all-time favorite movie.

“Me?” Valerie gasped. Slightly quoting the movie, she gasped, “I’m forging a chain link by link and yard by yard! I’ve gartered it on of my own free will and by my own free will, I wear it!”

The ghost gave her a confused look and floated closer. The ghost’s mouth moved.

“Groaning from the pain, no doubt,” Valerie said. “Poor thing.”

The ghost’s mouth moved again. Valerie couldn’t help but notice that the ghost seemed to be saying something. She watched the ghost’s mouth.

“Turn on the lights?” Valerie asked. “You mean, I should turn on the light to my own greed and thoughtlessness.”

Valerie’s head moved up and down.

“I should be more grateful,” she said.

The ghost pointed again. Valerie’s eyes followed the ghost’s arm. The ghost was pointing to a light switch.

“Oh.” Valerie felt a little silly. “You want me to turn on the lights.”

Valerie flicked on the switch.

“Are you afraid of the dark?” Valerie turned toward the ghost and gasped.

She was looking at a large formal portrait of her mother, Celia Marlowe. Celia’s face was in a partial smile as if she’d just said something funny and was waiting for the other person to laugh. Drawn like a magnet, Valerie slipped across the hallway to the painting. Celia was seated in front of the large marble fireplace. The mantle of the fireplace held individual pictures of Valerie, Jacob, and a picture of her father and mother together.

“Mom,” Valerie whispered.

Her fingers reached out toward the painting.

“It turned out nicely, didn’t it?” Jacob’s voice came from behind her.

Valerie spun in place.

“How…?” she started.

“I was up with the boys and heard you leave,” Jacob said.

“I just…” Valerie turned back to the painting. “Why did you hide it?”

“It wasn’t ready,” Jacob said.

“Mike?”

“He’s worked on it for most of the last year,” Jacob said. “He started it here and shipped it to New England while you worked on the movie.”

“How did I not know?” Valerie asked.

“You were working or with Jackie,” Jacob said. “He wanted to surprise you so he just kept it to himself. With Noelle’s help, he was able to finish it up.”

Valerie glanced at him and turned back to the painting. Jacob came to stand right behind her.

“It’s fabulous,” Valerie said.

“A true masterpiece,” Jacob said.

He put his arm around his sister’s shoulder and she leaned into him.

“I miss her,” Valerie said.

“More now than ever,” Jacob said. “Have you noticed how much the boys look like her?”

“I was just thinking that,” Valerie said.

They stood staring at the paint for a while.

“Come on,” Jacob said. “I’ll buy you breakfast.”

“The Cap’n?” Valerie asked.

“You read my mind,” Jacob said with a smile.

Arm in arm, they left the school.

~~~~~~~~

Friday morning — 8:24 a.m.
New York City, New York

“Da,” Otis said into his phone.

He rolled over to turn on the bedside lamp. Mari leaned against him.

“Otis?” Jill asked. “It’s Jill.”

“Jill?” Otis asked. His voice indicated that he didn’t know who she was.

“Jillian?” she asked. “Anjelika’s youngest daughter.”

“Jillian!” Otis said. “How are you, my dear?”

“I need some help, actually,” Jill said. “I’m wondering if you could meet me in Denver this weekend.”

“Oh Jillian,” Otis’s arm went around Mari She looked up at him and kissed his cheek. “It’s not a convenient time. I’m right in the middle of something.”

“That’s too bad,” Jill said. Her voice was hard. “Tell Mari that Fin and Edie are here. She needs to be here too.”

“Who?” Otis asked.

“You’re funny,” Jill said. Her voice was unforgiving. “You can pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. You can even pretend that you’re too busy to come to Denver. But you cannot pretend one simple thing.”

“And what is that?”

“You owe me,” Jill said.

Otis was so surprised by her words that his mouth fell open. It had been a long time since anyone had dared to question his answers. His first response was absolute rage. He opened his mouth to say something to Mari when he realized something.

Jill was right. He did owe her. He owed her for giving him the bearer bonds that Roper had stolen. In fact, he owed his entire new, wealthy, and free from fear life to her willingness to save the bearer bonds and return them to him without strings.

He looked at the cellphone before putting it back to his ear.

“You are my granddaughter,” Otis said with a chuckle.

“See you tomorrow morning at the Castle,” Jill said and hung up the phone.

“Who was that?” Mari asked.

“My granddaughter, Jillian,” Otis said. “We need to be in Denver tomorrow morning .”

“Why?” Mari asked. “We just got here.”

“I don’t know,” Otis said. “Can you ask your sister?”

“Sure,” Mari said.

She got out of bed. She walked into the sitting area of the suite. Holding her hand out, she whispered Edie’s name and requested a chance to talk with her. A small version of Edie appeared in her hand. They talked back and forth for a moment before Mari nodded and returned to the bedroom.

“So?” Otis asked.

“A trickster tried to steal Katy’s soul,” Mari said.

“Bastard!” Otis asked.

“Jill is gathering everyone she can think of to figure out a way to protect Katy and the boys,” Mari said.

“Is that possible?” Otis asked.

“Not that I know of,” Mari said. “But…”

“But?”

“I’d like to know,” Mari said. “For our child.”

“Our child?” Otis asked.

“It’s spring in the Queendom,” Mari said. “I guess it’s babies all around.”

Mari smiled and Otis grinned.

“Come back to bed,” Otis said. “We’ll celebrate.”

She did just that.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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