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CHAPTER THREE HUNDRED AND FORTY
Friday early morning — 5:34 a.m. EST
New York City, New York
“I don’t believe it,” Ivan said.
They were standing in her room at Bestat Behur’s palatial New York City apartment. Sissy’s private room was almost as large as their entire apartment at the Castle in Denver.
“But they caught him,” Sissy said. “The guy is in prison!”
“No, you cannot go.” Ivan shook his head at her. “Get your stuff. We are late.”
“Noelle and I were invited to an art opening and to a real live play on Broadway!” Sissy said. “Everyone from my year is going to be there! Everyone!”
“No,” Ivan said. “No, let’s go! Do you want to be late for class?”
“Why no?” Sissy’s voice rose with frustration.
“You are young,” Ivan said. “You have no idea how these men work. This man, this horrible man is responsible for much pain and suffering. He has much money, many connections. All he has to do is find you, find Noelle, find Charlie, and his problems go away.”
Ivan snapped his fingers.
“How is he going to find us?” Sissy asked. “We’re just going to an art opening and a play. You’ll be there the entire time!”
“No,” Ivan said. “I am in charge and I say no.”
“Why are you in charge?” Sissy asked. “Who made you God?”
Sissy’s words were so sassy that she gasped at herself. She covered her mouth with her hands.
“You do what I say,” Ivan said. “That is our arrangement.”
“You do what I say and you stay alive,” Ivan said.
“You want to go to movie, to play, to restaurant, to see art,” Ivan said. “I know this feeling. You are young and in a big city from little Denver. You want to look around, see everything, have fun.”
“Be free!” Sissy nodded in agreement to his words. She was sick of him treating her like a child. “I’m not little baby anymore, Ivan!”
“You have many, many years for much freedom,” Ivan said. “Many decades to see every play, laugh at every joke, eat at every restaurant, see art all over the world. But…”
Ivan swallowed hard.
“But what?” Sissy asked.
“But you have to survive this time to get there,” Ivan said. “You go to play tonight, you might not live. Is it so important to risk seeing this play now when you have so much time later?”
Sissy scowled at his words. She hated fighting with Ivan because he was always right. He gave her a curt nod and turned to leave the room.
“I heard you had to work for the KGB so they wouldn’t hurt your brother,” Sissy said.
Ivan stopped walking. His back stiffened indicating that he was upset.
“Sister,” Ivan said. “Little sister.”
“Is that how you know about all of this?” Sissy asked.
“Yes,” Ivan said.
“What happened to your sister?” Sissy asked. Ivan turned around to look at her. “I never met her in Denver. Is she okay now? Is she still in Russia? Is she a dancer too?”
“No, she’s not in Denver,” Ivan said.
“Then what?” Sissy asked in an impatient voice. “You can tell me. I’m not a child!”
The moment she said the words she regretted it. Ivan’s face pinched tight with pain. He reached forward and put his hand under her chin. His thumb stroked her cheek. He made a kind of snort or maybe a sad laugh, before he spun in place and left the room. Sissy was so stunned that she stood gawking at the space he’d been in.
The space was empty for only a few moments before Ivan appeared again.
“You want to know about my sister?” Ivan asked. His voice came in fast puffs of angry words. “Since you are so grown up, I will tell you. They took me, took her, told me I could save her — just do what we say and she’ll be protected. But she wasn’t okay. My sister, she was very beautiful. They took her and made her sell herself to many, many important men. They gave her drugs and told her they would kill me if she didn’t do what they said. She was trying to save me! She didn’t complain or protest so that I could have a career in ballet. She gave up her self so that I could be a solo performer, a famous ballerino. She did everything they asked so that I could have my dream.
“And I… I snuck around like a filthy hyena, whispered secrets, betrayed inside details thinking that my beautiful sister was safe. I did it so that she could go to school to be surgical nurse. I would spy and she could have the dream she so deserved, my beautiful baby sister. What did I care? I had what I wanted. She deserved as much joy, if not more than, me. I…”
Ivan had been talking so fast that he was breathing hard. He sucked in air.
“You want to know where my sister is?” Ivan asked. “My sister is dead, thrown into the ground, forgotten by all, like stinking garbage. Her death killed my mother. She had a heart attack when she received the news. You see, like I, she had been deceived. We thought my sister was surgical nurse in big hospital in Moscow. But no, my sister was… And my father drank himself to death. And I, the great ballerino, I… She…”
Ivan scowled at her and stopped talking. For a moment, they stared at each other. He gave her a curt nod and stalked out of the room. He was halfway down the hallway when he yelled, “Time to leave!”
Sissy let out a tiny sob. She heard Ivan say something in Russian to Bestat and Bestat respond in kind. Noelle came down the hall.
“Now, Sissy!” Ivan yelled.
Sissy began to cry for Ivan and his poor sister. She grabbed her bag and marched down the hall. She turned the corner and ran into Bestat.
“He loves you,” Bestat said.
Sissy was so surprised that she stopped short. Bestat raised her eyebrows and nodded.
“I see,” Bestat said. She gave Sissy a soft smile. “You love him too. I wonder if he knows that.”
“That you were made for each other. The only question is in what capacity will you love?”
“We are leaving!” Ivan yelled from the stairwell. “You will have to take ‘the gross cab.’” He said the last words in an imitation of her voice.
Sissy pulled on her heavy coat, hat, and scarf. She grabbed her bag and ran out of the apartment. She was on the sidewalk before she realized what Bestat had said. She shook her head at Bestat’s words and stepped in to the limousine. She sat down next to Noelle. MJ was sitting next to the driver in the front seat. He pointed to Sissy’s seat belt, which she put on.
“Ballerinas never cry…” Ivan gestured to her face.
“They get even,” Sissy and Noelle said together.
Ivan laughed. He gave Sissy a tissue which she used to wipe her face. Noelle threaded her arm through Sissy’s.
“Are we going to the show tonight?” Noelle asked.
Ivan opened his mouth to respond, but Sissy beat him to it.
“I don’t think so,” Sissy said. “I’m so tired. I can’t imagine it.”
“Okay,” Noelle grinned at Sissy. “If we stay home, we get to talk to Sandy tonight. She said we might be able to meet Heather’s new baby boy.”
“The boy with no name,” MJ said from the front seat. “I have no idea how that’s going to work.”
“I think it’s sweet,” Noelle said. “They’re waiting to name him until Blane comes home.”
Noelle continued talking. Sissy nodded at the appropriate times, but she was too emotionally shocked to follow what Noelle was saying. Instead, Sissy’s mind filled with the horrors experienced by Ivan’s sister. She glanced up to see Ivan looking at her.
“Ms. Behur says she can show me where my sister is buried,” Ivan said when Noelle took a breath.
“That seems really good,” Sissy said.
“I will go on summer break,” Ivan said.
“So soon?” Sissy’s voice rose with either surprise or happiness for him. She wasn’t sure which. “I’ll be in Denver.”
Ivan gave a curt nod.
“I’m glad,” Sissy said. “I’ll ask Seth if he will help so you can bring her home.”
Ivan’s eyebrows moved as he seemed to work out what she was saying. He nodded again and went back to staring out the window. Sissy closed her eyes for a moment, and Bestat’s words, “In what capacity will you love?” came into her mind.
She’d always thought of Ivan as just Ivan, just old-Ivan. She knew that he loved her, and that she loved him. That was a given — like the sun or the moon or the sky. But hearing Ms. Behur say the words, she realized that loving him meant something, something bigger.
She opened her eyes to look at him. He’d always seemed desperately old and definitely bossy. At this very moment, she realized that he was almost too handsome. His hair was thick and still naturally dark with some flecks of grey. He had a sharp nose that would dominate someone else’s face. His high and wide cheekbones normalized his nose. His full lips eased the transition to his sharp chin. When she’d met him, his teeth were broken in places. Over the years, braces and caps had given him a mouth full of gleaming teeth. His eyes were piercing brown or dark blue depending on what he was wearing. He mostly kept his eyes hidden behind sunglasses or eyewear. His eyebrows were thick.
He was lean and fit from a lifetime of dance. He was a beautiful dancer. Even now, he could still dance an entire ballet plus warm-ups. Last week, he stepped in to perform in the place of a ballerino whose wife was giving birth. And everyone said he was a great teacher.
All of the girls in her year were in love with Ivan. They flirted miraculously with him, and whispered about him in the bathrooms. She’d had girls who danced in the Esprit de Corps ask her about Ivan. She’d seen a couple of the real ballerinas slip Ivan their phone numbers. Sissy had just thought it was because he was new. She saw now that it was because he looked like a model.
She wasn’t sure why , but the idea made her heart beat a little faster. She looked down at the floor of the limousine and smiled. She leaned over to touch Ivan’s arm. He looked at her.
“Thanks,” Sissy said.
“For?” Ivan scowled his fiercest scowl. “Telling you horrible stories that make you cry?”
“Dealing with me when I’m a pain,” Sissy said.
Ivan gave her a curt nod. Just before turning to look out the window, she saw that he gave her a soft smile. She smiled back to him.
“What do you want to do this weekend?” Noelle asked.
“I don’t know,” Sissy said.
“Well…” Noelle launched into a long list of their possibilities. Noelle had a gift for filling the silence with happy chatter. By the time they reached Sissy’s school, they had both agreed that they wanted to sleep in and watch movies. She and Ivan got out of the limousine and started into school.
“You will practice this weekend,” Ivan said. “This is a new school. You have much to learn.”
“But…” Sissy started.
Ivan raised an eyebrow at her and she nodded. He turned into the administration office. Staring at the floor in glum silence, she started down the hallway to the locker room. She almost immediately ran into a soloist ballerina.
“Sorry,” Sissy mumbled. “I didn’t see you.”
“No, I ran into you,” the soloist said. “On purpose.”
Sissy looked up at the beautiful woman. She was everything Sissy wanted to become. She was tall, beautiful, confident, and very talented. She carried herself with an unnatural grace brought about by decades of perfectionistic practice. Sissy felt a wave of admiration infused with envy.
“I wanted to ask you…” the soloist said. “I mean everyone one said that you would know…”
“Know what?” Sissy asked.
“Um, gosh, this is embarrassing,” the soloist said with a touch of false modesty and a bat of her long eyelashes. “But I wanted to know about Ivan. Is he your… uncle?”
“Teacher,” Sissy said. “Since I was four.”
“Oh?” the soloist seemed relieved. “So you and he…”
Sissy shook her head.
“And he’s not married?”
Sissy shook her head.
Sissy shook her head. The woman smiled.
“And you’re sure about you and he?” the woman asked. “You seem really close.”
“We are.” Sissy nodded.
She was about to tell the woman that Ivan didn’t date ballerinas — it was one of his rules — when the woman gave Sissy a confident smile. She raised her eyebrows in the same way Charlie and Nash did when they said, “Game on.” Sissy blushed.
“Thanks,” the woman said. She looked down at Sissy. “You’re a life saver.”
Sissy watched her glide down the hallway. As if by magic, she ran into Ivan when he left administration. Sissy watched the woman flutter like a gorgeous butterfly. Sissy felt a ball of angry confusion burn in her stomach. She must have been staring because Ivan felt her eyes. He raised an eyebrow to her and pointed in the direction of the locker room. She turned in place and trotted down the hallway.
When he came into class, he was all business. But the knot in Sissy’s stomach remained.
Friday morning — 9:54 a.m.
Anschutz Medical Center, Aurora, Colorado
Tanesha rounded the corner in the hallway and turned into the large lecture hall. Between dropping Jabari off at school, checking in on Heather, and a quickie with Jeraine, she was late getting to class. It was the class before their midterm exams so the room was packed. Everyone who’d regularly skipped class managed to make it to this review. She was scanning the crowd for a free seat when she noticed a familiar head. Fin turned to wave her over to the seat he’d saved for her. Still hurrying, she slipped in front of fifty students to get to the seat he’d saved in the middle of the row. She was just settling in when the teacher appeared at the front of the class.
“Good morning,” the teacher said. “I see we have a full house. We also have a full agenda. Keep your questions to a minimum so we can get through it all. There will be time after class to ask questions. My teaching assistants have scheduled three review sessions in case we don’t get your questions answered.”
“Hi,” Tanesha whispered to Fin.
He reached over and squeezed her hand. She smiled. She started writing copious notes. A half hour into the lecture, the professor stopped to answer a question from a particularly obnoxious student.
“How did you get back here?” Tanesha asked out of the side of her mouth.
“Was I gone?” Fin asked with a grin.
“Yes.” Tanesha leaned over her notebook to say quietly. “Remember when Abi was shot and you had to go home?”
“If you check the school’s record, you’ll see I was here the entire time,” Fin said while leaning into her.
“And if I check with the serpents?” Tanesha asked.
Fin just smiled. The professor gave an annoyed answer to the questioner and continued on with the lecture. He started by speeding through the material he’d just covered. Tanesha was checking that she got everything when Fin pushed his notepad onto her desk.
“Saw you in the cave,” Fin wrote. “After you went home first time.”
Tanesha nodded. He pointed to the paper.
She wrote: “Saw you leave when the volcano erupted.”
“How did that happen?” Fin said out of the side of his mouth.
“Zeus,” Tanesha wrote.
“Smelled like Olympia, as do you.” Fin wrote. “You have that glow.”
“H. had baby,” Tanesha wrote. “Hera came.”
“Hera?” Fin was so surprised that he failed to lower his voice. They were shushed by everyone around them.
“H. saved Z. from sea of amber,” Tanesha wrote.
Fin raised his eyebrows and Tanesha nodded.
“I love the glow of Olympia,” he said under his breath.
“Now…” the professor took a deep breath and blazed on with new topics. Tanesha pen moved furiously across her page. She glanced at Fin to see if he was doing the same thing. He smiled at her and raised his left hand. There was a gorgeous band around it. The ring had a base of yellow gold and white gold leaves and flowers overlaid on top. There were tiny rubies, diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires to accent the design. Tanesha touched the band.
“Pretty,” she whispered.
“Family crest,” he said. “Yours too.”
Tanesha nodded. An hour of furious writing and listening went by before they were able to come up for air. The obnoxious student had another know-it-all question, and the professor started lecturing him on the protocol of asking questions.
“Married?” Tanesha asked.
Fin beamed a smile at her.
“How?” Tanesha asked.
“Manannàn,” Fin said. “He was furious when we returned home from the sea of amber. He pushed mother to removed Celeste from the court. Mother agreed to put her in a home for infirmed fairies. Manannàn told the court that if they didn’t accept my choice of partner they should leave. It was very tense. A few of the elders said they didn’t realize Abi was a serious partner because we weren’t married.”
Fin rolled his eyes.
“After a child, a few centuries, moving to Denver together, our relationship is a big mystery?” Fin asked.
“Manannàn talked to Abi himself. Changed her mind,” he said with a nod. “We had a lovely private ceremony and came back.”
“Are you disappointed you weren’t there?” Fin asked.
Tanesha shook her head and pointed to the professor. The professor talked for the next fifty minutes without a break. When the class was ended, he announced that he would be there for another hour to answer questions.
“You want to?” Tanesha pointed to the front of the lecture hall. “You probably have questions.”
Fin shook his head.
“But you’ve missed so much class,” Tanesha said.
“Only according to you,” Fin grinned at her. “Plus, I’ve studied all of your notes.”
Tanesha smiled. She stuffed her notepad, pen, and pencil into her bag and stood up. She followed Fin out of the class.
“Lunch?” he asked.
“You buying?” she asked with a smile.
“Of course,” Fin said.
They walked down the hallway and out of the building toward the restaurants.
“You know your mother’s in danger,” Fin said.
“Dad said he got the guy,” Tanesha said. “He said that O’Malley was tracking down the killers for hire.”
“All true,” Fin said.
“If O’Malley’s on the job, he’ll find them,” Tanesha said. She looked at his face. “What?”
“This man, the one that Yvonne found?” Fin asked.
“The financier?” Tanesha asked.
“Him.” Fin nodded. “He’s a cancer that must be eradicated from the world.”
“Eradicated like the serpents were?” Tanesha asked.
“Deeper and more thorough,” Fin said. “Abi and the fairy corps have been tasked to find a way to stop him.”
“He’s in prison,” Tanesha shrugged.
“You sure about that?” Fin asked.
He picked up an old newspaper and passed it to Tanesha. The headline read, “FINANCIER MAKES BAIL.”
“Bail?” Tanesha asked. “Why would anyone offer him bail? I thought the judge said no bail because he was a flight risk.”
Fin pointed to the newspaper.
“So he’s out of prison?” Tanesha’s voice rose with anxiety.
“He is,” Fin said.
“He had plans,” Fin said.
“Oh, she had plans too,” Fin said with a smile.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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