CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and TWENTY
Friday afternoon — 9:25 p.m.
Ava looked up to see Tanesha’s grandmother standing in the doorway to the dining room. Behind her, the rest of the guests were arriving for dessert. Yvonne got up from her seat to greet her mother. Not needing an invitation, Teddy Jakkman ran around the women and into the room. He plopped down at the empty seat next to Noelle. She whispered to him and they both looked over at Charlie and the girl he called Tink.
Seth put his arm around Ava and kissed her cheek before getting up to welcome Colin, Alex and Max’s father and mother, General and Mrs. Hargreaves. Ava watched him greet the cluster of people at the doorway to the dining room before she looked across the table.
Claire Martins and her husband had been seated right across from them. Benjamin, Claire’s husband, was at least twenty years older than Claire and they looked so happy.
When she was trying on the dress, Ava had made a vague comment about Seth’s age. Claire had smiled and told her about meeting her own husband when she was sixteen. She had married him when she was eighteen. They’d been married for a little more than twenty years. Sitting across the table, they looked like newlyweds. The best thing about being so much younger than her husband, Claire had said, was being able to have small children when he’d retired and was home.
Somehow, Ava couldn’t imagine Seth ever retiring.
Ava looked from happy couple to happy couple. Most of the formal parties she’d attended were stiff occasions put on by her mother. Older men brought young buxom women wrapped tight dresses. Outside of lewd jokes at the end of the night, her father’s friends had ignored their dates and spent the entire evening tucked away with her father.
As a young girl, Ava knew she could either be tight-dressed mistress to a wealthy man or a first-wife veteran of a nasty divorce burdened with heartbroken children. Neither option had much appeal. She’d never considered that she could marry and be happy for twenty or more years. The thought had never crossed her mind until she met Seth and he’d introduced her to this bounty of happiness.
Benjamin stood up to greet the Hargreaves. She’d never seen her father give her mother even the moment’s attention Benjamin gave Claire just before he stood. Prior to all of this, she’d never seen two men greet each other with such trust and fondness.
No, her father’s so called “friends” were much more interested in what they could get from every interaction. Sharing a laugh? Love? That just wasn’t a priority.
Ava heard her name and saw Alex Hargreaves waving her over to say hello. Excited to have been picked by Alex, Ava went to the doorway. Before Ava could react, Alex hugged her. Alex’s gorgeous husband hugged her and even kissed her cheek. She was overcome with the feeling that she might never wash her cheek when she was passed to Raz who also hugged and kissed her other cheek. Ava blushed. She was about to say something awkward to Samantha, Raz’s girlfriend and Alex’s sister, when Samantha hugged her.
Seth appeared at her side.
“Slow down,” Seth put his arm around her. “This one’s taken.”
They laughed and more people came in. From her vantage at the door, Ava watched everyone talk and laugh.
She’d never really been to a party where everyone laughed, hugged each other, and joked at about their own foibles. Delphie had clearly been off her rocker today, but no one held it against her. Everyone hugged her and laughed at her moment of overwhelm as if it was normal and expected.
Ava felt like an anthropologist studying a hidden tribe. She had no idea what was going to happen next.
Katy and her friend Paddie rushed around them. The children skid to a stop at Jill’s chair. Katy had a long, long story to tell. When it was over, Jill had laughed, looked at Jacob, and given the girl a bite of her chocolate cake. Ava smiled at Jill’s generosity.
Then Katy did something weird. The child took only half the bite and shared the fork to her friend Paddie. The children jumped in place with excitement and gave the fork back to Jill for more. Jill laughed.
Ava felt like she was witnessing something so foreign and strange she should document it like Darwin on the Galapagos Islands.
“You okay?” Seth whispered in her ear.
“Just feel weird,” Ava said.
“Just not how I’m used to people behaving at… parties.”
“Not your parents; scene,” Seth said.
Ava nodded and looked at him.
“I guess you have to wonder if it’s your scene,” Seth said.
“I…” Unsure of what to say, Ava shook her head.
“I try to draw it all in,” Seth said. “I see so much death, despair, troubles, and petty competition over power or money. I try to remember every moment I’m surrounded by people who love each other. It sustains me when I’m around those who don’t get it.”
“I guess I don’t get it,” Ava said.
“What do you mean?” Seth asked.
“I guess I don’t know what I mean,” Ava gave a little sad shrug. “I mean Yvonne doesn’t like her mother, says she’s ‘mean’, but there they are laughing and talking. When I say it, it sounds like Yvonne is fake, but there’s nothing fake about Yvonne.”
Seth looked into her face.
“You feel bad about your father,” Seth said.
“My life,” Ava said. “I can’t let go of the feeling that I don’t belong here. I should be… suffering… striving… getting ahead like he and Mom and…”
“I know what you mean,” Seth said.
“You do?” Ava asked.
“I do,” Seth pulled her into his arms and kissed her. “Your whole life has changed in a matter of days.”
“My life has been destroyed,” Ava whispered.
“Changed,” Seth kissed her nose. “It’s a lot to adjust to in a short amount of time. You’ll find your feet again.”
“How can you be so sure?” Ava whispered.
“Because I know you,” Seth smiled. “Look around the room.”
Seth turned her around so he could hold her from behind. She looked around the room.
“Is there anyone here whose life hasn’t been turned upside down by… fate?” Seth asked in her ear.
“Uh,” Ava looked around the room.
“The kids have all had their lives torn apart,” Seth whispered in her ear. “The General and Mrs. Hargreaves just left their life in Washington; Delphie and Sam lost Celia; you know about Yvonne and Rodney…”
“Do you think that’s why they’re… like this?” Ava asked.
“I can’t really say for everyone. For me, I think it’s about acknowledging how hard and fragile life can be and not pretending the hard times don’t exist,” Seth said. “Once you know life can change on a dime, you tend to enjoy the happy moments while you can.”
“My Mom pretends that won’t happen to her,” Ava said. “They all pretend it won’t happen to them. They have enough money, enough power, enough big gates to keep the bad out… It won’t happen to them.”
“How’s that worked out for them?”
“Everything went to shit anyway,” Ava said.
“You can’t stop the storms of life,” Seth said. “So you may as well enjoy the joy while it’s here.”
He nuzzled her neck.
“You just have to decide if you want pretend life is some way it’s not or just be here,” Seth said.
“How do you know all of this?”
“Mitch,” Seth said. “He took it upon himself to instruct his much too severe and somber best friend in the finer arts of living. He used to tell me I had to choose between living life and trying to control everything.”
“What did you decide?”
“What do you think?” He nipped her ear and she laughed. “Come on.”
He took her hand and led down the hallway by Honey and MJ’s apartment. He used a key and they slipped down a half flight of stairs into a small room. There was an old grand piano in the corner, a big fireplace, and a couple chairs.
“What is this place?” Ava asked.
“It’s the chapel’s piano room,” Seth said. “Jake found it in the rehab. The room was walled off in the late ‘30s, we think. You remember when told you that I had a new love?”
“A new piano,” Ava smiled. “Maresol teased you mercilessly about it for a week.”
Seth stroked the piano.
“Here she is,” he said. “Steinway, 1890s or so. Gorgeous sound. It took a bit but we were able to restore her.”
He gave Ava a long suggestive kiss.
“She’s beautiful, gorgeous sound, and wonderful to play,” Seth said. “Someone at some time played this piano a lot; loved this piano a lot. She’s the kind of joy that has to be savored and loved. Like you.”
He kissed her again.
“What did you decide?” he asked with his face only an inch in front of hers. “Do you want a life of striving for control or would you like to live a little?”
She unbuttoned his pants.
Friday afternoon — 9:35 p.m.
“So, I have to ask you,” Tink said.
Charlie was in the middle of hoping he hadn’t spilled food on his shirt and his “private business,” as Aden called it, wasn’t as obvious as it seemed to him. He looked at her and hoped she wasn’t going to ask him about something sexy because then his “private business” might not be so private any more.
“Yeah?” Charlie asked.
“What about Addy?” Tink asked.
Heather said something to Tink and she turned around to talk to Heather. Aden appeared right in front of him. Charlie used the tight space to make the necessary adjustments. Aden patted his shoulder and went to help Nash get something for Delphie.
“They want me to sit with them,” Tink said.
“You can walk with us though,” Blane said. “We just want some time… you know, you guys have been friends for a while but to us, it’s all new.”
Charlie nodded to Blane and Heather hugged him. Tink took Charlie’s arm and they started to walk to the chapel.
“So…?” Tink asked in a low tone.
“Addy’s with some other dude,” Charlie said. “She unfriended Nash on Facebook, but not before he saw she changed her status to be dating some senior at Westy High.”
“That’s not really what I meant,” Tink said. “I knew she was dating someone else. What else is new?”
Tink looked sad and Charlie felt stupid. Heather and Blane stopped walking to talk to Honey and MJ. They were invited for a fast, impromptu tour of MJ and Honey’s fixed up apartment. Tink let go of his arm and he followed her like a lost dog. At least the apartment was really neat and he liked MJ. They were back in the hall and on their way to the chapel again when Charlie realized what Tink was asking.
“You mean do I like her still?” Charlie asked.
“I don’t know if I ever liked her,” Charlie said.
Tink stopped walking to look at him.
“She was always different from me and the rest of us,” Charlie said. “She’d get kicked out, sure, but she could always go home after her Dad cooled off. She mostly stayed out to get back at him. I mean, her family is f…”
Sandy hit the back of his head as she passed them.
“Er… messed up,” Charlie said. “But nothing like mine.”
“So why’d you date her for so long?” Tink asked.
“I wanted to be like her,” Charlie said. “Normal.”
He wasn’t sure why he’d said that. It was the truth, but he wasn’t sure why he’d said that out loud, to her. Mrs. Anjelika was wearing off on him. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She nodded.
“And now?” Tink asked.
“I’m starting to get happy being me,” Charlie said. “Mrs. Anjelika, Sandy, Aden, the kids, Rachel, I… I guess normal doesn’t seem so great in the face of all of…”
Charlie gestured with his hand toward the people all around. They were standing at the top of the stairs. Most of the party was either on the stairs or talking in the coal tunnels below. Delphie must have just opened the doors to the chapel because there was a loud “oooh and ahh.”
“Tink!” Sissy yelled from the bottom of the stairs. “Come on!”
Tink kissed his cheek and ran down the stairs to her friend. Charlie watched Tink and Sissy talk. Tink took Mack from Heather’s arms and they turned into the chapel.
“You okay?” Sam asked.
“It’s hard when they grab you,” Sam said. “You’re just going along and then they grab you. Wham! The roller coaster starts. Makes a lot of guys mad at their power.”
“I’d rather just enjoy the ride. There’s nothing like it. You can keep it going for years and years. You’ll see,” Sam said. He spotted someone behind Charlie’s shoulder. “Anjelika! Perses! How lovely that you could make it!”
Charlie turned to hug Anjelika. He saw Jill’s brother, Steve, behind Perses and went to say hello. The tightness in his chest and pants eased under their friendly presence. When he finally made it to the chapel, he was himself again. He looked for his family and made his way to an empty seat next to Nash. He took Rachel off Sandy’s lap. Sitting down, he realized he was sitting right behind Tink.
And wham, the roller coaster took off again.
Friday afternoon — 9:55 p.m.
Piano music filtered through the chapel indicating the ceremony was about to start. Valerie and Jacob got up to light the candles. Somewhere near the back a baby cried. Always the medic, MJ turned to see if one of his teammates needed help. He smiled at a woman he didn’t know and turned around again.
“Did you see her? Is she there?” Honey whispered.
“Not yet,” MJ said.
“You seem really excited,” MJ said.
“It’s like a dream come true for Rodney,” Honey nodded. “The whole thing is a miracle and we get to see it happen. Aren’t you excited?”
“I’m excited too,” MJ said.
He leaned over to kiss her. He touched her belly and felt a tight twitch.
“Are you in labor?”
“I think so,” Honey said.
“We should…” MJ moved.
The piano music shifted and Delphie started talking. MJ’s anxiety rose. If he interrupted Delphie, she might curse him or whatever; and he certainly knew what it was like to suffer. No, he didn’t want to suffer the wrath of Delphie.
People started standing and saying this or that. MJ scooped Honey into his arms and stood. MJ didn’t really know what was going on, but he didn’t really care because Honey was having his baby.
“You need to be in the hospital,” MJ whispered to Honey.
“I’m okay for a while,” Honey said. “Remember the doctor said it was better if we wait a bit.”
MJ put his big foot next to Steve’s who was standing next to them. When Steve didn’t look up, he squashed Steve’s toes.
“Ow,” Steve scowled at him.
“Honey’s labor,” MJ whispered.
Steve raised his eyebrows at Honey. While Yvonne and Rodney came down the aisle, Steve checked Honey’s pulse and belly.
“You ready?” Steve asked.
“When we’re done here,” Honey said. “Delphie said it won’t be a long ceremony.”
“But…” MJ started.
“I really want to be here,” Honey said. “It’s important to Delphie… and me.”
Steve and MJ shared a look.
“You may be seated,” Delphie said.
Feeling like he should run out of the chapel, MJ hesitated for a moment. With Honey in his arms, he was the last person standing.
“Sit,” Delphie looked across the crowd to him. “The baby will arrive after we’re done. Honey will suffer more if you don’t stay. You’re better off waiting a bit.”
The word “baby” moved through the crowd. His teammates cheered and a few hands clapped his back. Smiling faces turned to look at them but MJ stared at Delphie.
“You’re sure,” MJ said.
Delphie nodded. MJ sat down.
And the ceremony began.
~~~~~~~~ Friday afternoon — 10:00 p.m.
Delphie looked out over the chapel. Every thing was in place. Everyone she’d wanted to be there had come. Her heart raced with excitement.
“Thank you for coming,” Delphie smiled. “I know I’ve been a bit… harsh today.”
Everyone chuckled. Delphie took a deep breath.
“This…” Delphie gestured around the chapel, “…is the culmination of lifelong dream of mine. As a child, I lived under the power of a competitive, dark force that cared only for the accumulation of money and power. Even as a young child, I knew that love was only force that could combat the darkness.
“As a child, I wondered: what if there was a sanctuary filled with love?” Delphie nodded. “What if it was a place where people could go and feel surrounded by love? They could come, rest for a while, and when recharged head out into the world filled with the power of love. The chapel, this chapel, is one of the first things Celia and I ever talked about.”
“I honestly think Celia bought this home to create the chapel to celebrate love,” Delphie said. “Of course, the original Castle chapel was consecrated by the Roman Catholic church in 1882. People would come from all over the Denver region to celebrate their faith here. Because the chapel was mostly hidden from view, people could come to the house, worship, and no one would be the wiser. The very founding of the chapel was laced with the fear of discovery.
“The chapel was destroyed when the dark force came for me,” Delphie said. “Luckily, neither the chapel nor I were quite ready to go. Jacob?”
Delphie nodded to Jacob. He turned on lights which shone on the stained glass windows from outside. For the first time, the audience could see the windows. Each window depicted a scene of love – a mother and child, a friend helping another friend, a gardener caring for a garden, and the love from the creator. Even the fourteenth station of the cross scene, the only window saved from the explosion, had transformed into a depiction of a beloved burial.
Everyone in the chapel seemed to take a breath in and then, almost as an out breath, they applauded.
“The windows are gorgeous, but they are only windows if we don’t do what we need to do tonight,” Delphie said. “Tonight, together, we will create a sanctuary of love, and with it’s power, heal the strong, unbroken love between Yvonne and Rodney.
“I invited you each here for a reason,” Delphie said. “Each and every one of you has an incredible capacity to love. You don’t see it. You might even believe everyone has it. They don’t.
“I need you to use your gift to help me create this sanctuary,” Delphie said. “Will you help?”
No one said anything. Delphie licked her lips. She couldn’t tell them what to say. Jacob, Valerie, and Sam couldn’t say anything otherwise they might influence other’s free will. They needed to agree of their own free will.
“I will,” Jill stood up from her seat.
“Me too!” Katy stood up next to her. Paddie stood up next to her and nodded.
“I will,” a richly accented man’s voice said from near the back of the chapel. Jill’s father Perses stood up. “I, myself, have always longed for such a refuge.”
“In the darkest places of this world,” Alex Hargreaves stood. “I have longed for such a place to rest my head.”
“We’ll do everything we can,” her identical twin Max Hargreaves stood next to her.
“Me too,” Sandy said. “I will help.”
And soon everyone rose to their feet repeating the same words, “I will.”
Will you help Delphie in creating her sanctuary to love? Next week, Denver Cereal continues…
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