Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Twenty-seven : NO!


Tuesday midday — 12:15 p.m.

“So I wanted to ask you …” Dale started.

Ava turned to look at him. They sitting in her car behind a long line of cars at the intersection of 17th and Colorado Boulevard. Ava was taking Dale to meet a new PTSD therapist for movement therapy.

“What?” Dale asked.

“What do you mean ‘what’?” Ava asked. “You just asked me if you could ask me something.”

“Oh, sorry,” Dale said. “I got distracted by that bumper sticker.”

They peered forward to look at a blue sticker showed a Tyrannosaurus Rex attempting a push up.

“You know, they think now that they were covered with feathers,” Ava said.

“Bumper stickers?” Dale asked.

“Dinosaurs,” Ava said.

“Not in the movies,” Dale said with a grin.

“I have something to tell you, Dale,” Ava said. They moved up a few car lengths and stopped.

“Yes?” Dale asked.

“Movies are not real life,” Ava said.

Dale gasped as if he was horrified. His eyes welled with tears and he looked away. Ava hit his arm and he laughed.

“What did you want to ask?” Ava asked.

“So Seth’s dad,” Dale said.

“Bernie?” Ava asked with a shrug. “What about him?”

“He and Maresol …” Dale said. He paused to choose his words. “ … you think …?”

Ava laughed.

“No really,” Dale said. “What does O’Malley say?”

“It’s none of my business,” Ava said.

“Oh come on, Ava,” Dale said. “If I don’t ask you what O’Malley thinks how will I ever know!”

“No, that’s what he says,” Ava said.

“Oh,” Dale said. “So he thinks they’re …”

“Maresol tells me that they have a lovely time together,” Ava said with a smile. “She hasn’t had anyone to accompany her in a long time. Since Delphie is with Sam, she’s had to go alone to events with her friends and their husbands. In the last few months, Bernie has gone with her to parties. He’s funny and charming. Their husbands really like him. She says that he’s a perfect fit for them.”

Dale looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. She nodded.

“He’s never been to most of the museums, so Maresol’s had a great time showing him around,” Ava said. “They spent a day with Mike Roper and came back laughing. We went to dinner with them and he was pleasant, asked intelligent questions, and had interesting things to talk about.”

Ava glanced at him.

“Why?” Ava asked.

“I’m just going to tell you,” Dale said.


“I saw Maresol coming out of his room this morning,” Dale said. “You know, doing the post-coital walk.”

Ava gave him a horrified look, and Dale laughed. They said nothing more as they finally crossed the intersection and continued toward the treatment center.

“You think he can still get it up at ninety?” Dale asked.

Ava looked somewhere between shocked and disgusted.

“Maybe it’s all about the manual …” Dale said. “But then again, I guess there’s Viagra. Do you think he’d be offended if I asked him?”

Ava looked disturbed. He grinned merrily in response.

“You know what?” Ava’s voice and posture became firm. “It really is none of our business.”

“What if Maresol gets pregnant with Seth’s brother?” Dale asked.

Ava laughed. Dale smirked at her.

“I’ll tell you one thing — you and I are never going to speak of this again,” Ava said.

“Yeah, right, just until you have a chance to ask Seth,” Dale said.

Nodding, Ava made something like a grunting laugh, which made Dale laugh.

“Hey!” Ava said. “Everyone at every age has a right to be happy.”

Dale started laughing so hard that he struggled to catch his breath. The harder he laughed, the more prim Ava became. Pulling into the gym where Dale was going to take his workout treatment, they both stopped laughing. They stared at the door for a moment in silence.

“I hope when I’m ninety that I’ll be half as brave as Bernie,” Dale said.

Nodding, Ava got out of the car and they walked into the facility.


Tuesday afternoon — 1:12 p.m.

“No,” Blane said.

They were driving down the mountain toward home.

“We need to go back the cemetery,” Sam repeated. “We need to figure this out. Fix it.”

“No,” Blane said again. “We do not.”

Delphie was awake, but still lying across the seat with her head in Sam’s lap. Every time she sat up, she felt light headed.

“But Blane,” Delphie started, but was too weak to continue.

“No ‘buts’,” Blane said. “This is clearly a natural phenomenon that’s been going on for a long, long time. It’s not up to us to fix it.”

“But Blane!” Delphie said.

“No buts,” Blane said. “We fixed the stupid serpents and look where that got us. We busted our asses for the stupid Isle of Man fairies and look where that ended us? Let me finish that — with Abi and Fin hiding out from the evil queen, who we put back on the throne. And don’t even get me started on all of the time and energy wasted in the Sea of fucking Amber and how it almost killed Jacob.”

Blane stopped talking to catch his breath.

“I for one and done trying to heal the world’s wounds,” Blane said. “It’s someone else’s turn to risk life and limb to make the world a better place.”

“But …” Delphie said.

“No soul sucking ‘Fire of Hell’ for us,” Blane said. “We’ve done enough. The world should build a monument to what we’ve done so far. And …”

Blane shook his head.

“All we do is fall into one hole after another,” Blane said. “I, for one, am going to live my life for a while. I’m going to raise my kids, help Mack learn what he needs for what’s next, love the hell out of Wyn, worship my beloved Heather. That’s how I’m spending my time from here on out. I am done fixing another freaky fucking issue in some random ass place on the planet.”

“But Blane!” Delphie started again.

“Did I stutter?” Blane asked. “No. I am not turning around. I’m not going back there. I’m driving us to Denver and calling it all good.”

They drove in silence as Blane passed exit after exit.

“Can we at least stop to go to the bathroom?” Delphie asked.

“Oh,” Blane said. “Sorry. I thought you wanted to go back and …”

“Not today,” Delphie said.

“Not any day,” Blane said. “No.”

“You can’t decide for all of us,” Delphie said.

“Yes, in fact, I can decide for all of us,” Blane said. “I am the destroyer of the Sea of Amber. Me. Well, with the help of some cartoon dwarves, but it was my idea. I helped kill two serpents and their children. I’ve been on the Isle of Man and every other fucking adventure. This one, we’re skipping.”

“We’ll talk to Jake,” Sam said.

“Jake is going to say ‘no,’” Blane said. “I know this because he told me that if we came up here and had some weird crap happen, I should tell you, ‘no.’ Trust me. Jake and I are in absolute agreement on this issue. We need time to live our lives!”

Delphie gave an indignant snort.

“How long has the Fire of Hell been there?” Blane asked.

His look in the rearview mirror burned a hole on the side of Delphie’s face.

“A long time,” Delphie said finally. “But …”

“Then, the world will survive without us fixing it,” Blane said.

“It’s worse now,” Delphie said. “Levi must have …”

“No, stop talking,” Blane said. “I don’t want to know.”

“But …” Delphie started.

“No,” Blane said.

He pulled off at the next exit. They went to a fast food restaurant. While Delphie used the facilities, Blane bought drinks and French fries. Delphie came out of the bathroom her old cheerful self. They ate their French fries and got back in the car. Blane drove them back to Denver without incident or argument. He dropped Delphie and Sam back at the Castle and headed back home.

At the door, he held Heather tight.

“You smell like the Fires of Hell,” Heather said. “Were you able to save Delphie?”

Blane nodded.

“And?” Heather asked.

Blane swore, jumped up and down, and marched around while Heather nodded.

“Are you glad I warned you?” Heather asked.

Blane nodded.

“How long do I have?” Blane asked.

“Until Delphie starts having nightmares?” Heather asked. Blane nodded. “Seven hours?”

Blane fell on his back on the floor. Heather laughed.

“God only gives you what you can handle,” Heather said in an annoying voice.

“Which god is that?” Blane asked.

Laughing, Heather went into the kitchen. She returned with a cup of coffee and a piece of Jeraine’s cake. She sat on the floor next to his head. She gave him the cake and coffee.

“You think we’ll ever be able to stop fixing the world?” Blane asked.

“Not likely,” Heather said. “Didn’t you tell me that Mack is going to be dragon rider?”

Blane nodded.

“Then it’s the family business,” Heather said.

“Mack’s not …” Blane said. “Oh never mind. He’s my son. My precious baby boy.”

Heather grinned at him and Blane sighed.

“We’ll get through this,” Heather said.

“And then what? Another monster to slay?” Blane asked.

“Imagine how bored you’d be if we didn’t have one?” Heather asked.

Heather laughed and Blane ate his cake in sullen silence.

“What do you know about the Fires of Hell?” Blane asked.

“Funny you should ask,” Heather said.

“And?” Blane asked.

“Nothing,” Heather said. “There no information here or in Olympia. You’re going to have to talk to Delphie.”

Blane grunted.

“Can you make more the cake float over here?” Blane asked.

“No, but I’ll get you some,” Heather said.

Before he could respond, she jumped up and got him the cake. When she returned, he was sitting in the living room on Tink’s couch-bed reading about the Evergreen Cemetery in Leadville, Colorado on his laptop. She set the cake down and sat down next to him.

“So?” Heather asked.

“I’m not going to like this,” Blane said.

“What?” Tanesha asked as she came in the room. “Did you eat all the cake?”

“I saved a piece for you,” Heather said. “I can get it.”

“That’s okay,” Tanesha said. “What stupid ass thing are we about to get involved with?”

“Fires of Hell,” Heather said.

“That does not sound good,” Tanesha said. “I assume this is some quest for Delphie.”

“Exactly,” Blane said.

“Since we all owe her our entire lives, I suppose we could possibly inconvenience ourselves to deal with this,” Tanesha said in a mild tone.

Blane threw a pillow at her.

“If you think you can brutalize me for my cake …,” Tanesha started before laughing. She looked at Blane’s face and then Heather’s. “Is it that bad?”

“Sort of,” Blane said.

“Good thing I’ll be here to clean up your mess, then,” Tanesha said with a sniff.

She looked from Blane to Heather and they all laughed.


Tuesday evening — 5:11 p.m. EDT (3:11 p.m. MDT)

New York City, NY

Sissy turned the corner from the hallway and slipped into the loft’s dance studio. Ivan was at the Russian Spa and Nadia was working. Ivan and Nadia would return around seven and the loft would fill with their laughter and conversation. Sissy had to loft all to herself from five to seven.

Sissy had a secret. When Charlie and Dale were there, they would help her with her secret. Now that they had returned to Denver, Sissy was relying on another friend for help. Sissy turned on the laptop like Charlie had told her to do. She pressed all of the buttons until her Internet video phone rang.

Anjelika answered. Sissy beamed her joy at seeing the woman. They chatted for a moment before Anjelika held up a hand.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to tell him?” Anjelika asked.

“No, I mean, yes, I’m sure,” Sissy said. “I want to surprise him.”

“Very well. We have only a tiny bit of time,” Anjelika said. “If we are going to surprise Ivan, we need to use our time well.”

“I can’t be sweaty or anything when he gets home,” Sissy said with a nod. “That will ruin the surprise.”

“Did you talk to the doorman?” Anjelika asked.

“He’ll call when Ivan arrives at the door,” Sissy said with a smile.

Anjelika gave Sissy a fond look. These last months of near death, pain, and love had pushed the girl into young womanhood. Sissy blushed.

“What?” Sissy asked.

“You’ve blossomed into a woman,” Anjelika said. “Very beautiful.”

Sissy looked embarrassed.

“Thank you, Mrs. Anjelika,” Anjelika said.

“Thank you, my dear,” Sissy said in an imitation of Anjelika’s accent.

Anjelika laughed.

“I’d forgotten how much fun we have,” Anjelika said. Sissy grinned at her. “Now, let’s get to work.”

Sissy moved away from the computer to the center of the room.

“Let’s see how you do with our drills,” Anjelika said.

“That’s what Charlie and I did,” Sissy said.

“I know this because your brother is worrying over my shoulder,” Anjelika said.

She moved the camera so that Charlie’s face came into view. He waved.

“Hi Sissy!” Tink yelled from behind Anjelika.

“Charlie told them how well you’re doing,” Anjelika said. “They wanted to see.”

Anjelika move the camera to show Tink, Wanda, and Ivy sitting on pillows near the back of the room.

“This is Frangelico,” Wanda pointed to a brownish colored terrier mix that was standing next to her.

“He’s very cute,” Sissy said.

The camera moved back to Anjelika.

“If you would like to talk to your friends, I can always …,” Anjelika said.

“I apologize, Mrs. Anjelika,” Sissy said. “We may proceed.”

“We will start with the basics so that I can see how you are doing,” Anjelika said.

Sissy pulled off her big top. While her breast were larger than they had been, she’d dropped any weight she’d gained.

“You look very beautiful dear,” Anjelika said.

“Thanks,” Sissy said with a smile. In imitation of Anjelika again, she added, “Compliments will not get you awards.”

“They will not,” Anjelika said. “Now, your positions, please.”

Sissy began an easily moved through the positions.

“Can you run through the Arabesques?” Anjelika asked.

Sissy did as she was asked.

“I see what you mean,” Anjelika said. “It’s good, easy, but different from what it was.”

“What can we do?” Sissy asked.

“I’m not sure, but between us, we’ll figure it out,” Anjelika said with a nod. “Let’s continue through the basics. Now, remember, we don’t wish to injure you further.”

“Any pain or pulling and I’ll stop,” Sissy said. “I promise.”

“Good,” Anjelika said. “Body Facings.”

Sissy ran through the nine positions facing forward.

“Piqué,” Anjelika said.

Sissy beautifully did an inside turn, stepped on point and finished behind the knee.

“Piqué soutenu,” Anjelika said.

Sissy stepped on pointe and turned in soussus.

“See what I mean?” Charlie said in a low tone.

Sissy looked up to see Anjelika nodding.

“What was that?” Sissy asked.

“It’s hard to explain,” Anjelika said. “Except to say that you move a little differently than you did before. That’s to be expected, really.”

“Worse?” Sissy asked.

“Actually …” Anjelika glanced at Charlie before nodding. “I agree with Charlie. You are moving differently, but … somehow it’s better.”

“Better?” Sissy asked.

Charlie’s face came in view.

“I’m sure Ivan will have a lot to say when he sees this, but honestly, you look better …” Charlie said.

“More fluid, more mature, less like a child,” Anjelika said.

“A child?” Sissy said.

“You’ve always been very talented,” Anjelika said. “But you’ve had a kind of loose jointedness of a child. You still have it in your legs and knees. We will need to make you match.”

“Do we want it to match?” Sissy asked in a panicked voice. “Should I be looser all over? I’m just sixteen!”

“No,” Anjelika said. “The looseness in your joints can make you prone to injuries. Remember all of the work we did? That was to help stabilize your loose joints.”

Sissy gave her a worried look

“It’s very likely from all of the work you’ve been doing,” Anjelika said. “Are you working out in the gym?”

“Twice a day,” Sissy said. “Stretching work outs with Melinda first thing in the morning. Then weights at gym, school, back to gym for cardio. Ivan goes to the Isba. I’m supposed to be resting but I’ve been coming here.”

“How is your pain level?” Anjelika asked.

“Sometimes good, sometimes not,” Sissy said. “There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason. Mostly, if I sleep after working out, even for just twenty minutes, I’m a lot better.”

“It is good to hear that you are doing well,” Anjelika said. “Have you tried our exercises?”

“Yes,” Sissy said. “Charlie was helping me with them when he was here.”

“Let’s go through them now,” Anjelika said. “One, two, three …”

Sissy began to dance the drills Anjelika had worked with her in Denver. The air in her ears, Sissy felt the rush of sheer joy that she always felt when she was dancing.


Tuesday night — 5:35 p.m. MDT

Denver, Colorado

“What do you mean you have to cancel our flower order?” Jill’s voice reflected her panic.

She was standing over a pot of boiling macaroni in the main Castle kitchen. Katy, Maggie, Ivy, Rachel, and Jackie got to pick their dinners for a week because they were so good when Jacob was sick. Tonight, Jackie had picked macaroni and cheese.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Lipson,” the florist said. “We were asked at the last minute to do a large wedding for …” He said the name of a very wealthy family in Denver. “At this late date, our supplier is out of flowers. We’ve checked around and there simply are no other flowers in Denver that day. We need to use the flowers ordered for their order!”

“But we were there first!” Jill said.

“Yes, that’s true,” the florist said. “But we can make three times the money on the other order.”

“We have a contract!” Jill said. “You’re penalizing us for ordering in advance.”

“This is with the … !” the florist said the rich people’s name again. “Certainly, you can’t expect us to turn down such a high profit order from …”

The spoiled-rich do-thing children of some rich guy,” Jill edited his words in her mind.

“ …for your measly little order!” the florist finished.

“It might be measly to you but it’s important to us!” Jill said. “What can I do to change your mind?”

“Nothing,” the florist said.


“Nope,” the florist said. “I wanted to give you plenty of notice so you don’t sue.”

“How is this plenty of notice?” Jill asked. “The wedding is in five days!”

The florist hung up on her. Jill looked at her cell phone. She wanted to throw the phone, but they couldn’t afford to replace it. She set the phone down on the counter and tried to think of what they were going to do.

Nothing came to mind. Her phone rang.

“Jill?” Jill’s sister, Candy, asked.

“Don’t tell me you can’t make the cake,” Jill said. “I can’t handle it.”

“Can’t make the cake?” Candy asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Why did you call?” Jill asked.

“I was thinking of substituting the chocolate kids cake with cupcakes,” Candy said. “I witnessed a, uh, we’ll call it a disagreement, between Paddie and Katy over some chocolate. I thought cupcakes might be wiser than a single cake.”

“Good thinking,” Jill said.

“And don’t worry, Jill,” Candy said. “I’ve already made the cakes. They’re frozen and just need frosting. I’ll make the cupcakes tonight. Everything will be ready for Friday’s rehearsal dinner and Sunday.”

“Thanks Candy,” Jill said.

“Why did you think I’d cancel?” Candy asked.

“The florist dumped us for …” Jill said the name of the rich jerks.

“Oh, Jill,” Candy said. “I’m sorry.”

“He said he has to use our flowers because there aren’t any other flowers in Denver for that day,” Jill said.

The sister were silently thinking on the phone.

“Isn’t O’Malley coming in from New York City?” Candy asked.

“Yeah, why?” Jill asked.

“Nothing,” Candy said. “I’ll take care of it. Can you fax me your original order?”

“But …” Jill started.

“No, buts,” Candy said. “I’ve got this covered, Jilly.”

“Really?” Jill asked.

“What are sisters for?” Candy asked. “I’d better go. Bye.”

Jill clicked off the call and looked at her phone again. She’s never felt such a rush of tortured rage followed by desperate relief. But then again, she’d never put together a big wedding. Sighing to herself, she got back to making her culinary delicacy.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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